Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided: The Preston and Steve Experience is on-line, on-demand now!

by on Dec.14, 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:
Playstation Store

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The Appendices from the extended Blu-ray edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

by on Dec.14, 2014, under Movie Reviews

In celebration of the release of the final Hobbit/Tolkien film (at least from Peter Jackson), I decided to do something different and review the Appendices from the Blu-ray version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll really enjoy the bonus materials included here. As a filmmaker, it was really entertaining and educational getting to understand how they constructed certain scenes. The gold chamber with Smaug was especially enlightening in terms of how they filled the room with gold coins. There isn’t as much CG as you’d think and since they effects are done so well on top of the live action pieces, it’s hard to tell where reality ends and digital begins. It makes you appreciate just how good Weta is at effects.

The appendices are loaded with material (about 9 hours or so) including a deconstruction of each of the major scenes and how they were orchestrated. It’s amazing to see how elaborate some of the sets are – for instance, they basically built what would be a canyon rapids ride in an amusement park for the barrel riding scene down the river. And as for the fish dumping? Yep, real fish. In fact, they dumped 400 pounds of dead fish on the one actor who happened to have a phobia about fish during the Laketown entrance.

There’s plenty of interviews with Peter Jackson and the cast. Some of the more in-depth interviews are with the side players which is nice since it doesn’t make the material feel star-centric. The inside stories are fun to listen to and include insight from the crew too. Everybody on a shoot is important, I don’t care what your job is, you’re important, and that’s a nice sentiment to be realized as you hear these interviews. Included in the lineup is Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Luke Evans and Orlando Bloom.

I couldn’t think of a better way to prepare for the premiere one last time. It’s bittersweet to know this is the last one but at the same time, I can’t wait to see it. This has been my favorite series of films ever, thank you so very much for your work Peter Jackson, cast and crew, you’ve created something beautiful, epic and timeless. I can’t wait to sit down with a friend and enjoy the final chapter…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

by on Dec.07, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are back but this time the games are over and Katniss is living underground with the members of the rebellion while Peeta is residing in the capital. The rebels are trying to hold their own against the forces of President Snow while his military obliterates whoever stands in their way…

This is where the story turns away from the formulas of the first two films that included the games and becomes more about the political undertones going on throughout both worlds of the rich and poor with Katniss caught right in the middle. The world of the rebellion is expanded upon in this film with the introduction of President Coin as their firebrand leader portrayed by Julianne Moore. Mockingjay Part 1 feels different from its predecessors and brings a sense of newness to the series as it explores both sides of the conflict and the people of Panem intertwined.

The film is well-directed with plenty of emotional moments as well as action along with some great effects too. Francis Lawrence directs with a great sense of moving the story along and getting passionate performances. From what I’ve heard, the films have been staying true to the books which is something that makes me want to read them as I haven’t had the pleasure yet…

Jennifer Lawrence is the lead once again playing Katniss as strong and as conflicted as ever. Josh Hutcherson is back as Peeta and does an excellent job with a degree of desperation and fear that feels genuine. Moore as President Coin is powerful while Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all put in command performances.

If you’re a fan of the books and the first two films, you won’t be disappointed here…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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I Am Santa Claus

by on Nov.30, 2014, under Movie Reviews

I Am Santa Claus is a documentary that delves into the life and culture of what it means to live life (at least part of the time) as Santa Claus…

The doc examines the Santa lifestyle though the eyes of several different men who embody the persona. We jump from one city and state to another including locales such as Fort Worth, TX and Santa Claus, IN. The various angles are fun and interesting to explore; here you’ll find everything from your typical mall Santa living in his daughter’s basement to the gay Santa from TX that takes part in hottest bear gay men contests. Interestingly, there’s more than 1 Santa in the alternative sex community (kinky!). Mick Foley of wrestling fame is interviewed as well as he pursues a dream of filling St. Nick’s shoes. By the way, there are a number of Santas that legally had their name changed to Santa Claus on their driver’s licenses, that’s dedication.

Digging into the sub-culture is where the passion behind the Santa lifestyle is really brought to the surface. Many of them are very dedicated and somewhat intense about how they feel about being the man in red and what it means. Santa Dana Caplan even holds a BA in Santaclausology (gotta wonder where he studied that) and mentors upcoming Santas.

The interviews are fun, heartbreaking, touching, and compelling. Although, there are times it’s hard to keep track of them since they all look like the big guy. It’s kind of like watching an interview with someone who has the same body but has a bunch of different voices and personalities. The Santas from NY especially stick out with their thick Brooklyn accents.

Morgan Spurlock is one of the executive producers behind the project and Tommy Avallone directs. The lineup from the film (besides Santa of course) includes Sid Haig, Tommy Dreamer, Artie Lange, Jerry Lawler, Roddy Piper and Dee Snider.

All around, this is a fun doc that sheds light into a world that goes a lot deeper than you think it does. Not necessarily something to watch with your kids, but still something that’s enjoyable to watch as we go through the holiday season. It’s on Netflix!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Killing Them Softly

by on Nov.23, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Brad Pitt plays a professional killer-for-hire in this stylish story of bad guys doing bad things. More specifically, some seedy, low-level gangster types decide to rob a bunch of other gangster types during a well known, high stakes poker game. After the heist goes down, Pitt’s character is brought in to find the perpetrators of the robbery and deal the proper justice to those involved…

Killing Them Softly combines the sentiments of a criminal/mob film with some political overtones to create a parallel between the nefarious ways of the underworld along with the nefarious ways our government conducts its own operations. These sentiments are passed along through the use of devices such as radio broadcasts in a car Pitt and his cohort travel around in as well as the occasional hints in the dialog. At times this conveyance is smooth and subtle and at others, it seems a little forced when trying to make certain political statements when maybe it should be a bit less obvious.

The directing and production is well put together (Pitt is one of the producers in the film.) The film has a slick feel to it and is engaging to watch. The camera angles and long takes are reminiscent of dramas from the 70’s. The acting compliments the look and feel well, the film feels like a very cohesive effort between the director and the talent. Andrew Dominik writes and directs.

Pitt plays the lead of Jackie with confidence and is fun to watch. James Gandolfini portrays a washed up hitman in a way that makes you feel a bit sorry for him, albeit a bit crazy, and he is a killer after all, but still, he manages to drum up sympathy for his character nonetheless. Ray Liotta is fitting as the mob-guy ringleader of the aforementioned poker game. Among the other members of the cast you’ll find Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, Trevor Long, Max Casella, and Scott McNairy.

Killing Them Softly is worth a viewing, check it out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Nov.15, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Very rarely has a film captured and kept my attention like this one. Captivating from the opening credits all the way through the entire film. Wildly original, Snowpiercer re-defines the post-apocalyptic genre. Set in the future, the Earth is frozen from mankind over-compensating for the climate change crisis. The cooling of the planet has killed most of the population with a small number of human beings still alive aboard a speeding train making its way on a track that crosses the globe.

The thing is, society as you know, isn’t always regarded equally among its members. Each car of the train contains a different social sect. The rear car contains the supposed dregs of society that the more privileged don’t want to deal with, nor do they want to share the niceties of life including good food, clean water and healthy living conditions. A revolution takes place aboard the train (this isn’t the first in the train’s long history) and the dregs have had enough. They start to fight their way toward the engine, encountering a different world in each car as they progress forward, which is where the adventure of the film emerges…

The rest of the story you’ll have to watch play out in the film. It’s too good for me to say anymore and spoil anything for you. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it…Suffice it to say, the writing is brilliant and the story very well crafted and imaginative.

Chris Evans plays the lead character and is much more complex than you originally may guess as he reveals his backstory. His portrayal is powerful and passionate, masterfully presented. John Hurt portrays the elderly leader that everyone looks up to while Ed Harris is the maniacal mastermind behind the creation of the train and the world within it. Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer and Jamie Bell all put in command performances as well. The lineup includes Kang-ho Song, Ewen Bremner and Ah-sung Ko. All the actors are quite good.

Pay attention to the voice overs during the opening credits, some of the concept is explained through that sequence, helping to set the stage. Not exactly a happy-go-lucky ending but one that does provide hope and very appropriate within the context of the story. Written and directed by Joon-ho Bong.

See this movie.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

by on Nov.02, 2014, under Movie Reviews

The story picks up after Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark emerge as the victors of the games and find themselves on a publicity tour to promote how great the capital is and how privileged they are for their fortunes. Meanwhile, riots are breaking out in the districts and a new symbol of inspiration is inspiring revolution and getting people killed…

I love the storyline. This kind of concept (upper class has all the power, no middle class, and the super-poor) has been explored in other projects but I really like the way the mythology of this one has been established, it has unique details. The design and conceptualization in terms of the visual design is also stylistic and smart. A good example are the “peacekeeper” uniforms which look like a cross between Star Wars Star Trooper uniforms and something you’d see in a fashion show (think about the wardrobe of the people that live in the capital of Panem live and you’ll get my point). Another point is the contrast between the starkness of the districts where people are starving and the decadence of the capital where they gorge themselves and drink a liquid which makes them vomit to make room for eating even more. They’re borrowing from the greeks a bit here but this modern application of the idea is nicely implemented.

Gary Ross does a great job as a director, the presentation of the film is epic (the stadium is amazing!) and the actors all turn in passionate, emotional performances. Everyone in the production brought their A-game to this film, the small and large details reflect that. Jennifer Lawrence returns in the lead role along with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Elizabeth Banks as Effie is fun to watch, Donald Sutherland delivers the President Snow character in a menacing way once again. The lineup includes Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Plummer, Sam Claflin, and Jena Malone. Excellent cast all the way around…

I admit that I haven’t read the books the films are based on but seeing these films makes me want to read them which says a lot. From what I heard the fans of the books dig the movies. Regardless, if you liked the first film, I would highly recommend the second. The next installment comes out in a couple weeks as I type this, I intend to catch that one on the big screen. My only regret with watching Catching Fire is that I missed it in the theater and caught it on Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Oct.26, 2014, under Movie Reviews

For this week’s horror review, I decided to go with the 1987 classic, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. I discovered Barker’s work in the 80s and enjoyed many of his books, including the short story this film was based on called The Hellbound Heart from the Books of Blood collection. Great stories, masterfully told…

The film centers around the concept of a box that opens up dimensional doors, mostly to hell it would seem. The door is opened by those seeking the darker arenas of pleasure and pain, only once opened they get much more than they bargain for. Such is the circumstances with Frank who manages to escape his torturous confines when an unfortunate accident with his brother Larry provides a way back to humanity.

Hellraiser marks Barker’s directing debut. The film was made for about a $1M budget and has moments where it feels a bit dated, especially with regard to the appearance of some the effects. Still, most of the film stands the test of time in terms of story, acting and overall presentation. It’s plenty creepy and jarring despite some of the 80s remnants of clothing and hair style. Even some of the bad effects moments will hold up to the gross factor of present day horror counterparts.

The actors are all strong. Andrew Robinson is a great balance of likable and then not so likable later on as Larry. Clare Higgins portrays Larry’s treacherous wife expertly and Ashley Laurence as Larry’s daughter plays her role passionately. All-in-all, tight, professional acting throughout the movie.

If you’re looking for another horror film to add to your must-see wish list, be sure to include Hellraiser as well as Hellbound: Hellraiser II. I wouldn’t go beyond that though…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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You’re Next

by on Oct.19, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Slickly produced but super formulaic, at least initially, You’re Next offers some moments we’ve seen many, many times but also the occasional twist, especially in the third act of the film. Ok, so let’s get past the formulaic part – there are some boobs, as well as gratuitous violence, some guys in creepy masks alongside many traditional horror moments. Even though the film is set up with many of the usual ingredients, it’s still done pretty well in terms of building tension, sound design and overall production values. Good camera work, nicely edited too.

The premise is that a family has reunited at the parent’s retirement home in the country. The family is your average well-to-do bunch with the usual relationship disfunction. Siblings bring their new boyfriends and girlfriends as well. Only, one of the girlfriends has a more dynamic past since she grew up in a survivalist compound (and also somewhat indestructible). Dunh, dunh, dunh!! There’s also another interesting plot twist with a couple of the other family members that I don’t want to spoil for you, but just know it’s a clever ingredient in the storyline.

The actors are pretty good. The downside is at times they’re put in really obvious set up kind of situations where you can see what’s coming about a mile away. It’s to the point where I actually thought on a number of occasions that noone could possibly be that stupid in terms of how people reacted to their plights. It just seemed really contrived at times with moments of poor writing.

The director and writer did a competent job but nothing that’s going to make the film a classic. The films that stand out as classics are the ones that break the mold and add their own signature to a genre. Films like Halloween, The Exorcist, The Strangers, all were able make their own mark. This film unfortunately tries to do that but still comes off formulaic and trying too hard. I will admit that there is a situation at the end and part of the storyline where they offer a pretty cool ironic element.

The lineup includes Nicholas Tucci, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Sharni Vinson, Wendy Glenn and AJ Bowen. Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett.

While it doesn’t offer much in terms of new moments, You’re Next is worth a look if you enjoy formulaic horror you’ve probably seen before.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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