Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

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by on Aug.28, 2016, under Movie Reviews

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War Dogs

by on Aug.28, 2016, under Movie Reviews

war dogsInspired by real events, War Dogs centers around two American men in their 20s who end up as arms dealers for the US military. Yep, that’s right, these guys sold weapons and ammo to our very own armed forces. The film goes on to explain how this came to pass but let’s just say it boiled down to bullshit, contacts and some research on the internet. Ultimately, everything went south for our intrepid entrepreneurs when they sold Uncle Sam a bunch of bullets made in China which is so not cool to our government.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller portray Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz who sort of stumble into the world of weapons surplus and sales. I wasn’t sure I would find the film interesting based on the premise but I was pleasantly surprised to find the movie entertaining and well-paced. The locations bounce around between the states and more extreme locales in the middle-east. It’s a wonder these guys were never killed and left for dead in the desert somewhere considering how out their element they were. It’s also a wonder that the government doesn’t do more homework on who they’re getting their armaments from.

The script and dialog are tight as is the directing of the film. Bradley Cooper plays a supporting role and is also listed as one of the producers in the credits. The way the film plays out to its conclusion I thought was satisfying and surprising from the statistics presented at the end. It’s hard to imagine that you can sell illegal weapons, get caught and go to jail, only to get out and go back into business again doing the same thing. Yet, there’s more excessive punishment in some states for owning a small amount of marijuana. Wow. We really need to work on our priorities more.

The actors are tight, each one of them owning their share of the screen while not stepping on the toes of their counterparts. Although Cooper’s not in for very long, he’s creepy and menacing when he’s onscreen in a convincingly performance. Hill is a bit of a smart-ass but in a more serious way that reveals his character is kind of scam artist and in the end, a loser beneath the smarmy surface. Teller plays his character passionately as well and shows more of his range as an actor.

Overall, I don’t know if I’d bother seeing this one in the theater, but it’s definitely worth catching when it hits the small screen.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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He Never Died

by on Aug.21, 2016, under Movie Reviews

he never diedMeet Jack, he’s a bit of a odd bird as conversations with him are short, strange and direct. He’s also a bit eccentric and oh, he eats flesh and drinks blood. A vampire you say? Nope, judging by the scars on his back, he’s a misplaced angel although it’s never formally explained that he’s an angel and there’s never any reason revealed for his presence here on terra-firma. He does seem to have a purpose though as he never hesitates to hurt someone of an unsavory nature. Eventually, he discovers he has a daughter and of course that opens up a whole new can of worms…

He Never Died is a bizarre movie. But that’s one of the things that makes it compelling. It’s kind of a day-in-the-life (more than a day really) that shows what it’s like to live in Jack’s shoes as a strange creature in a strange world. The script is well written, has some smart, catchy dialog and an interesting arc for the main character. Jack does evolve once the interactions with his daughter kicks in although initially on the surface you’re not sure if this guy is ever going to change his ways. The ending is something that left me scratching my head a bit as the film ends super abruptly on a point that establishes the swing of Jack’s persona into new areas of responsibility but in a really short, direct way.

Henry Rollins plays the main character. And although Hank is primarily known as a writer, spoken word performer and as the voice behind The Rollins Band as well as Black Flag, he does a fine job in the lead role. Rollins’ delivery is as offbeat as Jack is with short bursts of dialog and blunted emotions. His performance is really intriguing and worth studying. The lineup includes Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, Steven Ogg, and David Richmond-Peck all of whom turn in solid portrayals with Rollins as the stand out.

Overall, He Never Died is an entertaining and engaging film if you like quirky dramas with some off-kilter personalities. You can catch it on Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Lucy

by on Aug.14, 2016, under Movie Reviews

lucyScarlett Johansson plays the title character who finds herself in a wrong-place-wrong-time kind of scenario when she ends up as a drug mule for a gangster. The twist comes in when the container containing the drug in her system bursts and Lucy begins to absorb the drug which is designed to be a new form of meth or something similar. Said drug stimulates areas in Lucy’s brain that have never been used before by anyone.

In some ways, the film reminds me of The Matrix; not in some rip-offey way, but more in terms of feel and towards the end, in execution as well. The script is well written and feels fresh with an interesting resolution. The dialog and development of the characters flows nicely with Lucy’s arc being entertaining to watch.

Johansson turns in a strong performance showing some range early on from her vulnerable beginnings to her powerful end. Alongside her are Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Analeigh Tipton, and Julian Rhind-Tutt all of whom bring their substantial skills to the table. Luc Besson wrote and directed.

Overall, the film kept my attention, made me wonder where it was going at times and looked great visually too.

A sci-fi thriller with an intelligent twist, Lucy’s worth checking out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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CBGB

by on Aug.01, 2016, under Movie Reviews

cbgbI have a history with CBGB in NY from my own days in the music biz. I’ve spent a lot of time in that club and was fortunate enough to see some legendary performances. CBGBs was the club to cut your teeth in for new bands as well as a place to pay homage for the seasoned veterans. It was one of those clubs that was a badge of honor both for playing the stage as well as seeing a band pour out a pint of blood during a performance on it.

Part historical film, part bio pic, part music video, CBGB is all of those things and more. Alan Rickman expertly plays Hilly Kristal who many consider the godfather of US punk having given the stage to play for bands such as The Talking Heads, Blondie, The Dead Boys, Television, Iggy Pop and many, many more. Over 50,000 bands played at the club during the course of its lifetime. Ironically the majority of the bands did not fit into the original musical vision of the owner given that the initials actually stood for Country Blue Grass and Blues.

The film plays out as a drama / bio pic of sorts centering mainly on Hilly and the birth of the club. Throughout the film, Hilly is constantly going broke, letting people into the club for free, bailing bands out of trouble and trying to stay afloat in general. His generous nature is one of the things the film touches on, especially during the end credits during The Talking Heads acceptance speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first thing the Heads do is thank Hilly Kristal, and then they thank him again.

The actors are great, especially Rickman who nails Hilly’s grumpy exterior which he balances out with an I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. If you’ve ever seen interview footage of Kristal, you’ll appreciate Rickman’s portrayal. Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters plays Iggy Pop and really does a great job, I have to admit I didn’t know he could act but he’s pretty good in this. Rupert Grint from Harry Potter fame shows up as Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome and does a fine job letting everyone know he’s more than just a wizard. Donal Logue, Malin Akerman, Freddy Rodriquez and Ashley Greene are all part of this talented lineup.

If you want to brush up on your punk history and discover the birthplace of The Ramones among many others, check out the entertaining CBGB.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trial

by on Jul.24, 2016, under Movie Reviews

scorch trialsThe Scorch Trials is the second installment in The Maze Runner series. The story picks up with Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) and the other escapees from the Glade trying to find their way in a devastated world. They’re being chased by the organization WCKD that was behind the Maze so they’re unsure of who their allies are. On top of that, there are the infected who are keeping everyone on the run. Not knowing where to turn, the group make their way to a band of rebels they hear about who might be able to find them refuge.

The story in this one is a little more non-linear and disjointed compared to its predecessor. There’s some bait-and-switch left turns that seem pretty obvious and isn’t really anything super compelling in terms of the direction the film goes. I also thought some of the plot points were a little far-fetched such as the doctor who will sacrifice the lives of thousands of children to find a cure for the disease that is zombifying everyone. One of the stranger plot points is that a cure of sorts is found but kind of forgotten about when one of the key characters is killed. It just seemed like there were a lot of moments like that, almost shoe-horned ideas that were wedged in to move things forward.

The pacing and structure of the film seem clunky, like they were figuring out a lot as they went. Some of the performances seem stiff as a result of the construct of the film. Wes Ball directed the film, which I’m sure wasn’t easy given the scope of it, however the direction of the film is what I think one of the main problems is. Overall, this release feels stuck awkwardly in different places where the first film flowed much more smoothly.

The acting for the most part is ok but there aren’t any real standouts here. Everyone feels competent but not passionate. There are some strong actors in the lineup but noone seems to shine. The cast includes Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, and Barry Pepper.

The Scorch Trials is an ok film but not the compelling second film you might be hoping for. Hopefully the next film will take it back up a notch…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Martian

by on Jul.17, 2016, under Movie Reviews

The MartianFrom one of my favorite directors, Ridley Scott, The Martian presents the story of a stranded astronaut who gets left on Mars when his crew thinks he’s dead and has to do an emergency evacuation of the planet. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney who needs to use science to survive until a rescue mission can be executed once NASA gets wind of him still being alive. Once again Scott delivers a compelling movie that keeps you hooked from beginning to end…

While Watney is by himself he has to face the notion of starvation, running out of water, in addition to storms that prove to be fatal as well as challenging for the structures he’s living in. As simple as it sounds, Ridley Scott manages to shape a film that can be terrifying and thrilling without monsters or serial killers. Damon’s passionate delivery of the lead role makes the film work as well.

The effects and design are expertly put together. They shot this in a desert somewhere obviously but manage to make it feel like a different planet with subtle nuances to the atheistic of the film through things like color grading and backdrop inserts. The storms feel especially brutal, the kind where you just want to curl up under the covers like when you were a kid just waiting / praying for it to die down, like a scary nemesis stalking your home that won’t leave.

The lineup of the film is impressive with everyone putting in a strong performance. Jessica Chastain plays the head of the astronaut team with a strong, authoritative delivery alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor contributing as the dedicated head of the Mars program at NASA. The whole cast is strong and includes Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Aksel Hennie, and Sebastian Stan.

If you like good, suspenseful sci-fi without aliens bursting out of anyone’s chest, definitely check out The Martian.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Vacation (2015)

by on Jul.10, 2016, under Movie Reviews

vacationThere are remakes and sequels and sometimes films that are both, this is a film that falls in the last category…

Rusty Griswold is back but this time he’s all grown up with a family of his own. Just as obsessed as his father in the original film, Rusty decides to take his wife and kids on the same trip to Wallyworld that he had to endure as a child. Hijinks ensue as said family treks across the country to fulfill their dad’s dream of vacation glory that was lost the first time ‘round with Clark at the steering wheel…

If you’re looking for something original here, you’ll want to look elsewhere; judging the premise and the poster, you’ve probably already figured that out. That’s ok though, this kind of film isn’t meant to surprise, it’s there to entertain. Unfortunately the film’s entertainment value isn’t great. This version plays out just like the original where Rusty and family drive across the country towards the promised land of Wallyworld with many obstacles thrown in their path along the way. The gags are hit and miss with some LOL moments but mostly not. The film feels and comes off much as a retread of the original rather than blazing any trail of its own.

The movie has some talented actors involved, most notably Christina Applegate and Ed Helms. Applegate is great, she’s funny, quick and enjoyable on screen. Helms comes off annoying unfortunately and kind of a dick so there isn’t much sympathy there where Chevy Chase in the original role managed to balance a smarminess with a sense of being pathetic that made him much more endearing. The real standout though is Chris Hemsworth who comes off hilariously in his bit role which you have to see for yourself as I can’t do it justice here. The lineup is rounded out by Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Regina Hall, Ron Livingston, Keegan-Michael Key and Norman Reedus. It’s a jam-packed roster to be sure, but it doesn’t help the film enough to pull it out of the mediocre mire it lands in.

I wouldn’t go out of your way to see this one, but you might want to check it out if there’s nothing else on. Ultimately, I would suggest to just watch the original and Christmas Vacation; those two should satisfy all the vacation you’ll really need…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Everest

by on Jun.26, 2016, under Movie Reviews

everestThis movie had a lot of potential – visually it’s stunning, there are some compelling characters, the actors are great, but the direction and the story is where it gets muddy…

The movie is based on true events around an expedition going to the top of Mt. Everest. Upon reaching the summit a storm hits that causes the members of the party to have to scramble down the mountain as quickly as possible. Not all the climbers make it and this film reveals the struggle they went through along the way.

The film sort of / but not really focuses on Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) whose story is somewhat of the basis for the movie. Ultimately the script revolves around the party mostly and not so much the individuals. That’s part of the problem here, you don’t have any one character to kind of latch on to or identify with making the emotional ties much more loose without a lot of motivation for sympathy. There are moments where the film does lock in on Beck’s character here and there but he’s not super-likable, in fact he’s kind of a dick. Considering he blew off his family’s wishes of not risking his life anymore and then nearly being killed (and losing some fingers and part of his face in the process), it’s hard to feel bad for the guy given his blatant disregard for his wife and kid’s feelings.

The movie starts with an expedition and ends up being more of a rescue story. However, there isn’t much actual rescuing, it’s more a portrayal of the attempts which are heartbreaking with most of them not ending well. So the movie’s a downer instead of being uplifting. I think that’s one of the primary reasons this film tanked, if they had made it uplifting and focused on one of the characters actually making it, the movie may have found its audience. With the tone going sour in the story about 2/3 of the way in, you don’t really feel too great by the time you get to the end of it. Beck’s survival doesn’t seem to be enough to lift this movie out of the mire.

The actors are quite good and there’s some strong performances here. Jason Clarke as the guide named Rob Hall is compelling and powerful, Sam Worthington stood out as did Emily Watson and Keira Knightley. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright are both very good too. You can tell everyone worked hard on their roles and played them with passion. The shame is that some of those performances get lost in the storyline and don’t get fully explored.

Watchable, but disappointing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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