Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

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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Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2

by admin on Jun.30, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 picks up where the first film left off with our hero Flint Lockwood trying to make the world a better place with his inventions, only this time he’s trying to land a job working for his idol Chester V. Flint gets the opportunity to work for Chester V only to find out later that the motivations for him landing the job weren’t quite what he thought…

Flint finds himself back on his hometown island and learns that the invention that brought him fame (and ultimately a device he thought he had destroyed) is still working and has transformed the island into something of a reservation for new breeds of creatures based on different types of food. Fun! He also learns that his hero Chester isn’t quite the person he portrays himself to be and that his intentions aren’t exactly admirable.

This is obviously a movie geared towards kids but that adults will be able to enjoy as well. Cloudy 2 has a lot of the silly humor that the first film featured along with a storyline that’s nothing new but does what it’s supposed to do in terms of getting the audience through the plot points as it should. Yes, there’s a happy ending of course with the good guys winning and the bad guys getting their due. The dialog is written well and has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments along with some emotional moments.

The design and animation is a blast with some great animation and beautiful visuals. My favorites were the food creatures like the taco dinosaur and the hamburger spider monster. Good stuff.

The actors were all great lending their vocal talents to their 3D animated counterparts. The lineup includes Bill Hader and Anna Faris returning in their roles as Flint and Sam alongside James Caan, Andy Sawberg, Neil Partick Harris, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal and Will Forte as Chester V (who seems to be somewhat modeled after both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates).

If you have kids or not and enjoy fun 3D animated films, there’s a good chance you like this one…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by admin on Jun.22, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Set in the future, the sun has overheated the Earth and has changed the landscape of humanity. What’s left behind is a lawless world bent on survival at any cost, including stealing whatever supplies possible, whenever possible from whoever possible. Humans are quick to attack each other for whatever is needed, even to the point where some have resorted to cannibalism. Long exposures to the sun will kill you with the night being the only break in the temperatures.

This German import does a great job painting a bleak world ravaged by our big, bright neighbor. The film has a post-apocalyptic as you might expect and includes various buildings in ruin as well as forests with no leaves on the trees looking like they’ve been cooked under a broiler for too long. Overall, it’s well produced and has a good look and feel to it with stark but deep colors, nice shot composition and tight editing. The script is smart and keeps a good pace. The ending might challenge your thinking but if you pay attention to the dialog earlier on, it will make sense.

The biggest name attached to this is Roland Emmerich who serves as a executive producer of the movie. But don’t hold that against the film, this isn’t one of his big action extravaganzas like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012. Hell has more of an independent vibe without trying to appeal to a giant audience.

The actors are understated but effective. They look and feel desperate. Even some of the people working together seem ready to run away or turn on each other if given the chance. The unfortunate run in with the cannibal group plays out in a great, psychological way without being gory for the sake of gory. There’s a good deal of suspense rather than an overly bloody approach that made the film bite your lip a bit in anticipation at the appropriate times and still shock you with a flash of intensity at well thought out plot points.

Kudos to writer / director Tim Fehlbaum. Check out Hell.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Good Guys Wear Black

by admin on Jun.15, 2014, under Movie Reviews

I like to check out older films here and there during the course of my reviews. This time, I went back to a classic action film, and one of my favorites featuring Chuck Norris. It’s funny to watch films like this again and how your perception of them changes, unfortunately it’s not always for the best as was the case with Good Guys Wear Black.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a classic action film and worth a viewing despite how the review plays out from here. It’s just not the great film that I had remembered as a kid. This was actually one of my favorite Chuck Norris films growing up as a kid in the 70’s. Films like this one, The Octagon, A Force Of One were all huge at the time, and fun to watch.

In this particular film, Chuck is home, is ex-military covert ops (naturally) and has his life back in order after the last tragic mission of his unit in which most of them were killed after being betrayed by others in the chain of command. Now, the surviving members of his old team are starting to be killed off with Chuck being among the last in the crosshairs. Classic Chuck.

The story is sufficient and predictable with a twist here and there. The directing, shooting and editing are what stand out as the most problematic. Some of the shots and editing are just bad, with weirdly amateurish kind of mistakes like some jump cut edits and choppy camera movements which the editing could’ve fixed. The action is great at times (like Chuck jumping in the air and going through the windshield of a car with one of his famous kicks) or it’s not so great where some of the fight scenes just come off kind of slow and clumsy. Fight scenes now (when not consumed by shakey-cam) seem much more realistic and intense.

The actors aren’t great, but they’re ok, meaning they get the job done in predictable ways but noone in particular lights up the screen. Norris is kind of wooden, doesn’t offer much range and is mostly one-dimensional. The lineup includes Anne Archer, Lloyd Haynes, and James Franciscus.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

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

The latest installment in the X-Men universe harkens back story-wise to some of the storyline from the comic books involving time travel and the sentinels. So if you’re a fan of the comics, you might really like this one. I grew up with those books and stories so I was really enjoying this film and appreciating seeing those concepts up on the big screen. This film also marks the return of Bryan Singer directing (thankfully although First Class was really well done but X-Men III directed by Brett Ratner is the one we’re all trying to forget, sorry Ratner but you suck, stick to doing car commercials).

Interestingly, X-Men III is borrowed from story-wise a little bit here and there as this one kind of picks up in some ways with detail left over from the third installment. It’s a bit inconsistent though. Jean Grey and Cyclops are still dead (mostly) but Magneto has his power back and Prof. X is alive and kicking (as was hinted at during the end of the 3rd film). While those things aren’t explained, it may not have been really necessary to do so, suffice it to say you may have to just accept some things that just ARE without the detail being filled in.

As far as the story goes, it’s well crafted but you will need to pay attention as there’s a lot going on in here as there are jumps in time. The overall premise is that the X-Men are in the future and are being hunted by the sentinels, who are out to eliminate all mutants and humans that might breed future mutants. But, this isn’t the old clunky robot-ish sentinels, these futuristic models are bad-asses and have adapted to the ways of the mutants and their powers, making them nearly invulnerable. Wolverine is sent back in time to help prevent the sentinels being created in the first place. Of course when you mess with time, things don’t always go as planned…

Your favorite mutants are all here along with some old faces and new faces. It was great to see Colussus in action again along with Beast, Quicksilver, Magneto, Mystique, Iceman, Havok, Toad, Storm and more. The actors all play their roles with great dedication and passion. Hugh Jackman is back as Wolverine of course as is James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart as Prof. X and Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen as Magneto. The lineup also includes Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lawrence, Shawn Ashmore, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Halle Berry and Evan Peters as Quicksilver (the prison break sequence with Quicksilver and Magneto is worth the price of admission alone) alongside a really strong lineup of talent.

Singer brings his signature directing style back to the film and does a great job balancing a strong story along with great acting and amazing effects.

As usual, this is a Marvel comic book film so you’ll want to stay the whole way through the credits! I highly recommend this one…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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American Hustle

by admin on Jun.01, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play hustlers that get busted by the FBI with their only option to cooperate with the bureau so they can avoid their own jail sentences. Bradley Cooper plays the FBI agent who’s in charge of working with them in order to bring down corrupt politicians and the mob in order to further his career ambitions.

This is a great film to watch unfold so I won’t spoil anything with more detail. The writing is smart, stylish and interesting. The storyline will keep you guessing at times as to who’s hustling who. The dialog is well crafted with each character sharply defined and fun to watch. The way the story unfolds is really satisfying as well…

The actors are top notch across the board. I can see why this film had so many award nominations. David O. Russell is really at the top of his game. Bale is uptight and yet cool as a cucumber in equal amounts where necessary, Amy Adams is alluring and passionate in her role, Bradley Cooper plays the slightly twisted and naive, yet ambitious agent convincingly too. Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence are both strong in their parts and prove that they both have significant range in their talents.

A period piece set in the 70’s, they did a hellauva job recreating the time periods from the clothing, to the cars, to the hair styles, you feel like you’re there. The music and set designs are spot on too with everything having the slick feeling of that time period. This is a really well directed and crafted film, really enjoyable to watch.

If you like smart movies with a great cast and David O. Russell’s style, you’ll dig this film, I did.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Only God Forgives

by admin on May.25, 2014, under Movie Reviews

If David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and Quentin Tarantino had a baby, and then that baby was raised by the Yakuza, that baby would grow into the person who made this movie…

A twisted tale of revenge between a corrupt police organization and a crime family hell-bent on getting payback for the death of one of its members. There are no winners here, in fact, there aren’t even any likable characters that you want to root for, except for maybe the unfortunate prostitutes stuck in the middle of the whole mess. Ryan Gosling plays the twisted brother of the fallen family member whose even more twisted mother arrives to oversee the vengeance process.

The film is surreal in places and just plain weird in others. Gosling’s character is intense, quiet and disturbed, a set of traits that permeates throughout the film. His mother in the film is beyond twisted and obviously responsible for turning both of her sons into psychotic, broken men. On the flip side, there’s a sadistic police chief who’s methods involve dismemberment and torture along with karaoke on the side for relaxation (not kidding).

Beautifully shot, there’s amazing use of color and shot composition. The story is told in a style of long pauses, meaningful moments and intense bursts of violence that are often shocking but in a way that’s effective. The writing is great and keeps you guessing as the characters are unpredictable in a way that keeps you hoping someone will change and not be so bad only to realize that won’t happen. The acting is tight with Gosling playing the awkward lead who can’t be repaired in a way that’s very convincing and consistent.

The film is quite well directed and produced, a solid film across the board. Don’t expect the film to be the most uplifting thing you’ve ever seen, but if you like dark, disturbing thrillers, I would recommend giving Only God Forgives a viewing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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