Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided is on-line, on-demand now!

by on Mar.01, 2015, under Movie Reviews

Is now available! Check it out online through Vimeo On Demand before it comes out everywhere else!

Undivided on Vimeo on Demand

Coming soon to:
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Robocop (2014)

by on Mar.01, 2015, under Movie Reviews

robocopWhen I saw the trailer, I have to admit I got kind of excited. I’m a big fan of the original and thought it was ahead of it’s time in some ways. It was also a film that pulled off a lot without having an immensely gigantic budget like this new version did ($100M, yes, 100 million dollars).

Unfortunately the reboot turned out to be a huge flop when it hit theaters and even with the budget, the effects, and yet another role for Samuel L. Jackson, it doesn’t hold up against the original. The story is the same pretty much – Alex Murphy is cop who’s betrayed and ends up at death’s door and the new cyborg / robot / cop program is his only hope. Problem is, there isn’t much of him left to work with as he’s been brutalized by his attack. Here’s one of the areas where the remake goes in a not-so-great direction…

In the new version, the only think left to Alex Murphy is his brain (mostly), his head, his lungs, and part of a hand. At one point, this is revealed when his armor is removed. The scene this visual includes is weird and uncomfortable. It made it hard to root for him, you just kind of wish they let him die. In other words, they took the body decimation thing too far. The rest of him is a robot and yet his wife wants him back without question and just “wants their old life back, just like before”. Really? Is she supposed to be that delusional?

Another problem here is that the villain in the film is not greatly defined as it gets kind of wrapped up in politics and deludes who the bad guys are. The film centers more around Murphy and the struggle with his identity and less so on a villain everyone can latch onto. The first version of the film had Kurtwood Smith who made a great nemesis along with his gang. He made you root for Murphy where here it gets distracting by just how bad off this new version of Murphy is.

The action sequences are pretty good and the effects are beautifully crafted. I would’ve like to have seen more action along with some more subtle things that went with his gadgets as well. Overall though, there’s plenty of eye candy that’s fun to watch. You can see where a lot of the budget went.

The rest of it went to the talent probably, in addition to Jackson, the lineup includes Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, along with the lead Joel Kinnaman. All the actors were strong, although I don’t think Kinnaman had the same charisma that Peter Weller brought to the original. Weller managed to make a robotic man personable and interesting. Kinnaman seems to be missing the same spark but was decent.

I’d say make up your own mind on this one and at least check it out once but don’t go out of your way to do it.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Feb.22, 2015, under Movie Reviews

oldboyIt’s not often I like a reboot better than the original but I’m afraid that’s the case this time. I’m sure some purists reading this will be exploding with rage over that sentiment but phhhhhbbbttttt, I’m entitled to my opinion too…

A quick summary – Oldboy is a twisted tale of revenge, incest and psychological manipulation. Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a bastard who had bad stuff coming to him if there ever was one. And that’s just what happens, his past actions catch up to him with him held prisoner in what looks like a really tacky hotel room that gets one channel and the same things on the menu for each meal. Which doesn’t sound terrible until you realize he’s held there for 20 years and there’s absolutely no human contact with anyone else, ever. His television choices aren’t great either and consist of cheesy exercise videos and a news show that happens to be covering the story of him being a murderer of his own family and where his daughter is now. Joe eventually gets released and embarks on a quest to find his captor of the last two decades.

The story goes down some roads that you may not see coming. As the tale unravels, so does Joe, becoming crazier and crazier as he learns the truth and what’s really happening to him. There are some great unexpected moments that make this story feel original and at times, shocking. For those of you who have seen the original, what I like better about the Spike Lee version is that it doesn’t get nearly wrapped up in the torture porn aspects of the original. There are some brutal moments and we never find out why Joe is suddenly a fighting expert, but hey, gratuitous moments are going to be expected with a film like this.

Lee does an excellent job with the directing tasks. I especially enjoyed the fight sequences which pay homage to the original in terms of style. There is some really interesting camera work being used to create tension as well as sadness and drunkenness to great effect. The interpretation from the original was more dynamic and compelling to follow as well. The first version was more flash where this version feels more about the emotion without the cartoony and extreme exaggerations of the original.

The actors are top notch. Josh Brolin is engaging as usual and has no trouble carrying most of the film. Elizabeth Olsen and Michael Imperioli (from Sopranos fame) are both convincing and passionate. Samuel L. Jackson is tight as a bad guy although his performance is pretty formulaic for him here. Sharlto Copley continues to prove himself a chameleon and plays his character with a style that dominates the screen, even alongside Brolin which isn’t easy to do.

Not for the timid of heart, this movie has some intensely violent and emotionally jarring moments. If you like challenging films that don’t necessarily offer the typical happy ending, you might like this one.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Stand By Me

by on Feb.15, 2015, under Movie Reviews

stand by meBased on the novella called The Body by Stephen King, Stand By Me tells the story of four boys at the age of 12 who hear the location of a dead body and go to investigate. The heart of the film lies in the journey of the boys getting to the body and less-so about the body itself. Among the things that are great about this film is that it conveys such a sense of the classic adventure that boys that age have, albeit in the context of the 50’s, but still, I had my version of these experiences when I was that age and can relate…

Each boy is a very distinct character and exemplifies the kinds of friends many people have while growing up. King does a masterful job at putting this story together through the boys and their adventure while managing to keep a mystery to it with the allure of the body and what’s going to happen when it’s discovered. On the way to their goal, the boys experience everything from train dodging, a legendary junk yard dog, and some bullies who elevate the tension to finding out more about their own emotional demons. Their backstories is part of how the characters are developed and frames their responses as the storyline progresses.

The film itself is a bit older and would be considered a classic now and served as the launchpad to some prominent actors including: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell and Kiefer Sutherland as the bully Ace. It’s interesting to watch these actors again knowing what they’re like as adult actors. Feldman’s really good in this, ironically he seems better here than I’ve ever seen him as an adult where he’s usually a cartoon version of himself. All the actors are really good in fact, especially considering their age. They’d have to be good for a film like this to be carried on the weight of their shoulders the whole time. Check out Jerry O’Connell during the bridge crossing scene, he and Wheaton put in convincing, intense performances trying to escape a train.

Rob Reiner directs (this is during Reiner’s heyday as a director). He inserts Richard Dreyfus as the grown up version of Wheaton’s character who serves admirably as the narrator and storyteller. Reiner’s direction is spot-on as he inspired tight deliveries from the actors, some beautiful shots of the landscapes, funny and gross 12 year old boy moments, and a emotional, entertaining and bittersweet interpretation of King’s original work.

If you’ve never seen it, you should, Stand By Me is a classic.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Women Aren’t Funny

by on Feb.08, 2015, under Movie Reviews

women aren't funnyThis documentary, created by comedian Bonnie McFarlane examines the idea that there are people that consider women comedians to genuinely not be funny, at all. Ironically, most of the people that feel this way are the male comedians that work in the same circles. I’ve actually heard of this mentality before seeing this film so it was interesting to see the interviews with the guys that feel this way…

Rich Vos, another well known stand-up (and Bonnie’s husband) serves as a writer, executive producer and guest of the doc. At times he’s very supportive of Bonnie during the process and then at other times, he’s kind of a dick. He sticks himself in the background of some of the interviews she conducts, disrupting the interview in the process, and at some points acts like a negative ass towards his wife and her methods. I’m always surprised to see this mentality in that I can’t believe it still exists. Men can still be idiotic cavemen and unfortunately Vos embodies that sentiment at various points throughout. The bottom line, Vos becomes an annoyance when he’s trying to do whatever he’s trying to do in terms of trying to be funny or charming or maybe he’s just a camera-hog. Whatever his motivations, he’s proving men to not be so damn funny.

Speaking of the men behaving like jackasses – some of the interviews show just that. Adam Corolla’s interview is an example of a guy who thinks he’s hysterical and that women just are not funny at all. When confronted with comments he’s made along those lines, he back-peddles and claims the interview he was part of was taken out of context, which is not true. There are other males who share the same ridiculous ideal who are interviewed. Some try to dance around the subject and others admit to it but can never give a solid reason why they feel that way. Chris Rock is featured having a moment here as well when he freezes a bit at the idea of women being funny. Hmmm, jealous much fellas?

The industry is examined as well as interviews are conducted with club owners too. The complaint is that there aren’t many female comedians getting booked into clubs so it makes it appear that there aren’t any funny women. The fact is, that there aren’t as many female comedians compared to the number of males which is why there aren’t as many women getting booked. But how this translates into “women aren’t funny” is beyond me. You have to give Bonnie credit for tackling such an absurd mentality in what I’m sure is a very frustrating world dominated by dumb-ass males.

To counter the stupidity of the males that say that there are no funny women, I’m listing SOME of my favorite female comedians, most of which are interviewed, featured or mentioned in Women Aren’t Funny: Aisha Tyler, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, Ellen Degeneres, Lisa Lampanelli, Maria Bamford, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Tammy Pescatelli, Chelsea Handler, Rita Rudner, Sarah Silverman, Whitney Cummings, Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Lucille Ball, Lily Tomlin, Kristen Schaal, Gilda Radner, Maya Rudolph, Sasheer Zamata, Amy Poehler, and Margaret Cho to name just a few for the morons who think that women aren’t funny.

Overall, while the doc suffers at times from some lame moments here and there (mostly due to the males I might add), it’s a film worth seeing for the moments that are funny and for exposing a mentality that really needs to change…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Interview

by on Feb.01, 2015, under Movie Reviews

the interviewSo the set up here goes like this: James Franco plays Dave Skylark, the host of a celebrity tabloid show called Skylark Tonight. Seth Rogen plays the show’s producer Aaron Rapoport. Upon reaching episode 1,000, Rapoport starts to question his professional integrity based on episodes of his show showcasing Rob Lowe’s baldness or whether or not Eminem is gay. In order to validate himself professionally he decides to move the show in a different direction and takes a swing at serious journalism when the show gets the opportunity to interview Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea.

What starts as political satire quickly (d)evolves into a cheesy, action comedy which was disappointing. The film might have worked here but it went from something you could escape into to something that became pretty outrageous and barely watchable. The film becomes suspect when the CIA gets involved and wants to turn Skylark and Rapoport into assassins with the intent of killing Kim Jong-un. That was where my eyebrows went up. From there, the film goes downhill much faster…

As far as the writing goes, there are some clever and funny moments, but they’re few and far in-between in favor of more slapstick, poop jokes, and stupidity-based humor. Oh, and somehow both characters (who have never done anything action-oriented in their lives supposedly) seem to know how to fight, shoot guns and drive tanks. SPOILER: The real treat in the action comes during the fight sequence featuring fingers being bitten off (no, I’m not kidding, this happens multiple times).

The acting is ok but a little forced at spots. Franco’s character starts off somewhat fun but keeps getting bigger and more annoying as the film progresses. Eventually he becomes cartoony and a bit hard to watch. Rogen’s character is typical of the characters he usually plays – uptight but likes to party, clumsy but can shoot a gun, etc. Rogen seems to be a caricature of himself in each film he does nowadays without any kind of growth. The role he plays here could easily be switched with Pineapple Express or The Green Hornet (and that includes the slow-mo party segments). Is he even really trying anymore?

You may remember hearing of the hype surrounding the film when it was first released due to the threats from North Korea following the Sony hack. Well, preliminary reviews for the film weren’t great, just before the threats. The film was only delayed a very short time before it was released anyway, ignoring the threats and capitalizing on the hype. Hmmm, kind of begs the question if there was ever a threat in the first place…Either way, I wasn’t impressed.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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To Be Takei

by on Jan.25, 2015, under Movie Reviews

to be takeiTo Be Takei examines the life of George Takei, the legendary actor who played Sulu in the original Star Trek TV show and movies. I say legendary because he is. He’s legendary both to Trek fans of course but also to other Asian-American actors who look to him as an influence and source of inspiration. You have to remember that when the TV show Star Trek was first produced, there weren’t a lot of Asian actors getting work.

This documentary covers George in his current day activities as well as acting as a chronicle of his acting career. His professional history is pretty interesting as the film goes all the way back to 1955 when he appeared in one of the early Godzilla films. He speaks of his time as an Asian actor in Hollywood and his different experiences along the way working on everything from Twilight Zone to the show Heroes. There are plenty of Star Trek stories too.

The issue of George’s sexual orientation is discussed as well. George is of course gay and talks about what it was like to be a closeted gay actor in Hollywood but having to keep up the appearance of being a ladies man. His husband George (who also works as his manager) is interviewed too and discusses his perspective as well since they had to hide their relationship for a really long time.

George’s humanitarian efforts are explored as well as his work developing a play that showcases Takei’s experience as a Japanese prisoner here in the US during the first world war. He spent some time in an internment camp as a child with the play centering around his experience. George worked to get restoration payments for Japanese prisoners that were treated poorly as well so he’s spent some time doing government work too!

There are plenty of celebrity appearances speaking fondly of George including: Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, John Cho, and Nichelle Nichols. Shatner is a bit of jerk in here (surprise, surprise) saying that he hardly knows George and really just worked with him occasionally which begs the question as to whether he was razzing George or just being an ass…

If you liked Star Trek and are a fan of Takei’s (OH MY, who isn’t?) – check out To Be Takei!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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I, Frankenstein

by on Jan.18, 2015, under Movie Reviews

I, FrankensteinBased on the graphic novel of the same name, I, Frankenstein basically sets up the Frankenstein monster as an action hero, and yes, it’s as bad as the premise sounds…

The film picks up where the book ends, with Victor Frankenstein pursing the monster into the arctic and consequently freezing to death under the extreme conditions. The monster buries his creator and is left to his own devices. Others in the supernatural world (demons and gargoyle-angels more specifically) discover the monster and begin pursuing him, each for their own reasons. At some point, the hunt for the monster falls apart and we move forward about 200 years to more modern times. Eventually the monster picks a side, gets some nifty weapons and becomes the hunter of those that still pursue him.

The demons are led by Prince Naberius (played by the excellent Bill Nighy) who is determined to unleash his demon army on the world using technology developed by Victor Frankenstein. So there’s a lot going on here but it’s basically an action film with lots of effects and monsters but not a lot of depth. The writing is formulaic and predictable and the dialog is super cliche’ at times. There’s no real character development here, not that a film like this is going to deliver that anyway but it would’ve been helpful to add some depth to the film.

There a plenty of big-budget effects (the film had a 65M budget) but they don’t make up for the bad writing or directing or the gimmicky mechanisms used in the film. One oversight with regard to the effects is that the monster, otherwise known as Adam (played by Aaron Eckhart) doesn’t look very much like a monster. Actually, he looks like an action hero actor with some extra scars. Even when he’s shirtless, he just looks like a dude with some scars. This creature is supposed to be comprised of different body parts from different sources charged by electricity, this incarnation has none of that. Other than the theory of how he was created, there’s nothing here that backs him up as being a monstrous threat.

The actors are ok (Nighy is always good) but noone really jumps out for me as being particularly compelling to watch. Even Aaron Eckhart is ok at best in this film when I’ve seen him turn in much stronger performances. In this film he’s just kind of angry-monster-guy the whole way through not really offering much else to his character’s personality even though he shows a lot of intelligence, so brainless monster doesn’t really apply here. The cast includes Miranda Otto, Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney, Mahesh Jadu, Caitlin Stasey and Steve Mouzakis.

If you remember the film Van Helsing, this film has a similar vibe although it’s not quite as cheesy but it’s not too far from that either… Ugh, the film tanked in the theaters and it’s pretty evident as to why.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Gambler

by on Jan.11, 2015, under Movie Reviews

The GamblerThe Gambler is one of those films based around a character study. Unfortunately the character is an asshole and this doesn’t really change at any point in the film. Even at the end of the movie, the moment of his character’s arc, he’s doing something that would still be considered kind of an asshole thing to do…

Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a college professor and compulsive gambler. He lectures by day although it’s more like creative belittlement and blatant favoritism towards his students. When he’s not lecturing he’s gambling. Although, that doesn’t seem accurate either as his gambling seems to be more about just throwing away his winnings and then acting like the world is a terrible, desolate place because of it. On top of his losing his winnings, he’s also borrowing money from people he shouldn’t be borrowing money from which comes to a bit of a head when he owes each quite a sum after borrowing from one to settle debt from another. Oh, and he’s really gloomy about it, and so is the film.

The thing with a character study like this is that unless there’s some sort of epiphany (which the film sort of has but the moment doesn’t come off very effectively), the film becomes just a drawn out exercise circling around whatever drama surrounds the main character. Sad to say, that’s the case here. There’s just no redeeming qualities to the main character. He’s an asshole to everyone: the person who’s supposedly his love interest, his mother (who bails him out financially only to have the money gambled away), his students, the loan sharks, everyone. Even at the end during the moment of epiphany, he’s still an asshole, doing asshole things. I ended up not liking his character at all and had absolutely no respect or sympathy for him since all of his problems are based on his own stupid decisions which he takes no responsibility for choosing to blame fate and humanity instead.

Wahlberg’s performance is ok. There a few times he’s engaging to watch but he’s mostly one-note here – stuck in asshole mode which makes the film very one-note as well and just kind of depressing. Jessica Lange plays Bennett’s mother and she’s a jerk too although at least she’s a jerk that shows love and support of her son. Neither actor really expands far beyond the initial base of the character although I think this is more due to the writing and directing. John Goodman, Brie Larson, Omar Leyva, George Kennedy, and Michael Kenneth Williams round out the cast and are all competent.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, there’s a slick visual style to the film and some interesting character traits (Wahlberg’s character uses an umbrella to hold off the sun, because that just how dark and tortured that he is). The visuals are interesting a times and well designed but don’t make up for the lack of dimension and the monotone feel of the film.

I wouldn’t recommend paying money to see this one (not even for a rental). You might want to check it out once it hits cable or Netflix but just don’t expect to walk away from it with any kind of upbeat sensibility, it’s pretty much a downer from start to finish.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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