Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided is available on line on-demand now!

by admin on Aug.31, 2014, 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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The Expendables 3

by admin on Aug.31, 2014, under Movie Reviews

There’s maybe 15 minutes worth of dialog in this whole film, the rest is explosions, gun fights, knife fights, more gun fights and Harrison Ford flying a helicopter gleefully spewing one-liners. In other words, it’s just like the first two: gun porn. Which begs the question – why are we so ok with over-the-top gun violence but we’re so much more conservative with regard to nudity and sex? Oh, right, I’m reviewing The Expendables 3; now is probably not the best time for philosophical contemplation…

The storyline goes like this: Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his rag-tag band of mercenaries are in the midst of their latest mission. Things are going ok but some kinks in the armor begin to emerge with the seasoned members of the team. The second mission goes bad and the enemy of the film emerges, more mistakes made, someone gets hurt. Barney decides it’s time for a change, a new lineup of The Expendables debuts only to find themselves on the wrong end of the shit stick. The crew comes together once again and so it goes.

If you liked the first two, you’ll like this one. The Expendables 3 is the same kind of guilty indulgence as the first two, but that perhaps is also the film’s weakness. There isn’t anything being introduced writing-acting-directing-action-wise that’s new (other than a female Expendable and some new celebrities). The film presents the same kind of gun fights, fist fights, tank fights, and well, you get it. The premiere of the movie didn’t do well in theaters but it was still that kind of guilty pleasure film that turned out to be fun to watch. I just hope this is the last one because things are getting really repetitive.

The lineup is more indulgently enjoyable than ever with the aforementioned Ford and Stallone alongside: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson (who’s playing nearly the same Voz character he played in Machete Kills), Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kelsey Grammar, Ronda Rousey, Antonio Banderas, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz. No Bruce Willis this time, didn’t miss him.

The film is well-directed and well-produced. It’s fun to see on the big screen but only if you don’t mind more of the same in terms of action, dialog and presentation.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Nice Dreams

by admin on Aug.24, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Every once in a while you have to review one of the classics. This time I chose Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams (the sequel to Up In Smoke). Say what you will about this being a stoner film, but C&C were juggernauts during their heyday and put out some funny stuff while addressing social issues like immigration and pot legalization through their humorous exploits.

So, obviously this is film about Cheech and Chong, this time they’re pot dealers (naturally) who sell their product through an ice cream truck. During their sales route, the police plant a buyer to start the process of sting operation. The police eventually track down the guys at their source and initiate a raid. Various antics ensue along the way with a tongue in cheek and a joint in hand.

Not the greatest writing in the world but funny and goofy is more the approach here anyway, this ain’t Macbeth. I’ve always found the endings to their films to be kind of abrupt, usually going out on a gag, Nice Dreams has an ending that happens in the same way. The only part of the story I found kind of annoying was Stacey Keach’s character slowly turning into a lizard, that’s just stupid.

The actors are all good in their roles. Keach overacts a bit but that’s kind of what his character calls for, so it could’ve been the writing too. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong (who also directed) reprise their roles of course and are as funny as they ever were during this lofty high period in their careers.

The production quality and long takes are evidence of the style from the time this was shot in 1981 making the film look very dated. Nothing slick here, just some smokers having fun…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Pain & Gain

by admin on Aug.17, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Pain & Gain is a surprising movie. For starters, based on the poster and the name, it’s probably a bit misleading with regard to what you might think the film is actually about. The movie is about the true story of Daniel Lugo (played by Mark Wahlberg), a bodybuilder from Miami that wants it all. The big mansions, the millions of dollars, endless women, all of it. Trouble is, he doesn’t think he should have to work to get it; he thinks he just deserves it so much, that it’s ok to take it from someone else. So, he hatches a scheme to do just that.

Directed by Michael Bay (I know, I know, this would often be a red flag but Bay’s style really lends itself well for the presentation of the movie), the film has a slick look with big sky angles, stylish editing, eye catching graphics and beautiful colors to accent the Miami landscape. Bay does a great job putting this one together from a strong script that doesn’t seem to have too many plot holes or easy cheats that you’ll often find in the storyline of some of his other films. The dialog fits each of the characters well as they tell this compelling story of the ultimate identity theft caper that goes wildly off the rails.

The talent is tight with Wahlberg turning in a great performance as the lead, he seemed to be a very natural fit for this part and beefed himself up quite a bit to prep for the role of the ‘roid-addled weightlifter. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie play Wahlberg’s lackeys and do so with a convincing delivery of stupidity without either coming off cartoonish. Tony Shalhoub plays the victim who later returns for justice and is great to watch as usual. Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson and Larry Hankin also contribute their talents.

While it isn’t the action movie you may be thinking it could be, Pain & Gain is an entertaining film with an interesting storyline, great visual delivery and a strong cast. I would suggest checking this one out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Stake Land

by admin on Aug.10, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Stake Land centers around a man and a teenage boy trying to make their way to Canada. The kink in the chain is that the world is infested with vampires and it’s not quite so safe to be out in the open for humans anymore. The man (who’s referred to as Mister, kind of an odd character name) saved the boy (Martin) from death when his family was attacked and killed. Their quest is to make it to New Eden (aka Canada) as vampires hate the cold in this particular mythology.

The story is pretty solid without any big twists or turns. There are some decently written moments of tension and the dialog, while average, fits well with the characters. Nothing really seems out of place. While there are few innovations or unexpected moments, it’s still enjoyable to watch and has an ok ending. I only say ok because the ending is a little abrupt and tries a bit hard to be non-formulaic but still ends up that way anyway.

The production mostly is pretty good (especially for a $650K budget) although the vampire’s makeup and costuming falls pretty short looking borderline cheesy at times. The editing, sound, set design and wardrobe is solid but average. Makes me wonder where the budget went…

The talent does a fine job delivering their roles. Connor Paolo (who plays Martin) and Nick Damici (Mister) are the center pieces here and perform convincingly. The only other stand out is Kelly McGillis who plays a battered nun just trying not to become another meal. The lineup includes Traci Hovel, Gregory Jones and Danielle Harris.

I can’t say this one compares very well to other vampire classics but it’s a fine way to kill an hour and half or so. It’s worth a viewing for you to come up with your own opinion about it.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Guardians of the Galaxy

by admin on Aug.03, 2014, under Movie Reviews

This latest installment to the Marvel movie universe offers a sci-fi action film that you can enjoy whether you’re a fan of the original comic or not. I have to admit, I was aware of the comics and the characters but I never read too much of the original series other than having comics where some of the characters were introduced. I found that it didn’t matter anyway as I knew enough backstory that I understood the in-jokes and enjoyed the movie as a stand-alone as well.

The $170M budget is well spent as the film visually is breath-taking with some very elaborate effects, great action scenes, and beautiful alien worlds. There are quite a few of those worlds by the way as the storyline jumps around a bit both in time and location making the film challenging to watch. It’s a movie I’ll need to watch a few times to pick up on more of the subtleties.

The story is solid with some great dialog that didn’t bog things down or seem out of place. There isn’t a lot of backstory for the characters which is the only weak point in terms of story telling improvements as it would’ve been nice to know more about Rocket and Groot especially. There are some bullet points in here that help fill in a number of the blank spots. Additionally, some nods to the Avengers are in here too with an appearance from Thanos (who’s being put into motion for Avengers 3).

With regard to talent, Chris Pratt does a convincing and fun job playing the lead as Peter Quill (aka Star Lord) with Zoe Saldana turning in an intense performance as Thanos’ stepdaughter Gamora. Bradley Cooper is the voice of Rocket the Raccoon, Benecio Del Toro reprises his role as The Collector, along with Josh Brolin lending his talents as Thanos. The only actor that falls a bit short is Dave Bautista as Drax with a lackluster delivery at best making him look like an amateur. Vin Diesel’s voice work for Groot doesn’t really have any kind of an impact here either. Diesel’s inclusion to the lineup seems like a waste of budget as any actor with a deep voice could’ve played that role with equal efficiency and delivery. The lineup also includes Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, and Glenn Close.

Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely worth catching on the big screen. And if you’re any kind of fan of Marvel comics, do not, I repeat, DO NOT leave before the end of the credits.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by admin on Jul.27, 2014, under Movie Reviews

If you’re looking for a warm and fuzzy feel good kind of film, this isn’t it.

Set with the Civil War as the backdrop, Ravenous tells the story of Captain John Boyd, an accidental war hero who ends up with a promotion as third in command at Fort Spencer. The fort takes in a stranded expedition survivor who tells a story of peril, starvation and cannibalism all surrounding a madman the survivor was trying to escape from. The tables turn as the truth of the events surfaces leading to some twists and turns alongside a legend about a creature known as a Windigo.

The directing and design is well done. There are times the blood looks pretty fake during some of the effects shots but they should still be better than this, the film was released in 1999. The writing for the most part is solid although there are some poorly organized conflict scenes and a cheesy line here and there. Luckily, the directing overall saves the film as does the talent responsible for delivering the lines…

Guy Pearce plays Captain Boyd with Robert Carlyle as his nemesis Colonel Ives, both of whom are strong in their parts. David Arquette and Jeffrey Jones also add nicely to the lineup with solid performances. Just a side note about Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle – I’ve never seen either one give a bad performance in anything they’ve done, they’re always worth watching.

The violence is intense and brutal. If you’re squeamish, you’ll want to avoid this one too. Ravenous falls into a thriller/horror kind of category. Very well done if you like the genre, would recommend!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by admin on Jul.20, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up 10 years after the first installment left off. Man has been nearly wiped out by the virus that they were using to experiment on the apes in the first place. The apes have moved into the mountains to build a new life for themselves while the humans turn on each other and are now becoming desperate for fuel and power. The power part, they discover, could be solved by the hydro-electric dam that’s in the ape’s territory. Man and ape collide.

I had a lot of trouble with the Tim Burton vision of the original concept, this film soars far beyond the points where the other film fell tragically short. The film is very well written with a tight script that has some great big moments along with moments of high tension and emotion on both the ape side and the human side of the main story. The dialog is often told through sub-titles as the apes sign to each other and only occasionally speak, which helps make the concept feel more natural.

Speaking of things feeling natural, the design and effects are stunning with a sense of realism that makes you take the appearance of the apes and the environment completely for granted as if everything really exists. WETA (Peter Jackson’s effects company) were behind the effects for the first film and they build an even more ambitious presentation this time out. Andy Serkis plays Caesar doing the motion cap and facial expression performances that emote through the 3D version of the character.

The lineup includes Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman. All the actors turn in strong performances giving convincing, passionate performances. I thought Keri Russell and Gary Oldman were especially engaging on screen with Caesar being the most fascinating.

If you liked the first film and want to see where the story goes, I strongly recommend seeing this one. I really enjoyed watching this movie in the theater, it’s one of those films that’s great on the big screen.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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American Courtesan

by admin on Jul.13, 2014, under Movie Reviews

I’ve seen a number of documentaries about this subject and have to say that what makes this one unique is that the filmmaker is someone that used to be a sex worker herself. This project dives into the world’s oldest profession through a series of interviews with women that are all still in the industry or have retired from it and moved on to other things. The interviews seem less like interviews and more like conversations between co-workers and friends which provides a nice, honest tone to the piece that would be hard to accomplish without the familiarity and camaraderie that only comes from people who are on the inside of something secret.

One of the things I found interesting about the material is how the emotional moments would ebb and flow based on the subjects being discussed at the time. Sometimes, the conversations were light-hearted while they would wax nostalgic about funny moments during their experiences. At other times, it becomes deep, intense and emotional as darker areas are explored such as the unfortunate rape experiences some of the women had. It even gets a little weird here and there when the discussion turns toward the kinks of the customers. Compelling all the way through.

Kristen DiAngelo is the primary force behind the piece conducting the interviews, sharing her own experiences as a sex worker as well as carrying out producer duties in addition to being the executive producer. Her passion for this project is evident with the depth of the questions she brings up as well as the emotional breaks she goes through during her own personal confessions.

The production is well done as the shot composition and footage has a nice look to it with a compliment of rich colors that accent the visual presentation.

Would definitely recommend giving this documentary a viewing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by admin on Jul.06, 2014, under Movie Reviews

In the same vein as 300 and Gladiator, Centurion tells the story of a group of romans battling the picts for control over a portion of England while struggling for territory during Rome’s quest to conquer the world. In the center of the story is Centurion Quintus Dias who, after escaping the picts as a prisoner, goes back on the attack to rescue a roman general who finds himself under the same unfortunate circumstances. After a botched rescue of the general, a small band of romans including Quintus Dias, winds up being hunted by the picts while trying to get back to the roman army base.

Unfortunately, this film falls short compared to the other two films I mentioned at the beginning of this review. The film could’ve been pretty decent but there are a number of problems. To start, the writing just isn’t very authentic in terms of the dialog that would’ve been prevalent during that time. The story has many weak plot points, is inconsistent at times and gimmicky when attempting to move things forward. I also would question the cultural accuracies here, but I have to admit I’m speculating on that point…

The props and sets are decent and the effects are pretty good too. They definitely amp up the gore and violence during the battle scenes to the point where it gets a bit over-the-top and a little cartoony at times. I also thought that the women looked awfully good considering their circumstances, a little too good to really feel realistic.

The acting is ok but feels a little dispassionate and phoned in here and there. Over all the directing isn’t great but is average which makes the film feel the same way. The lineup includes Michael Fassbender in the lead role along with Dominic West and David Morrissey (the Governor in the Walking Dead) in support roles.

I would strongly recommend 300 and Gladiator; Centurion I can’t recommend with the same enthusiasm.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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