Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided is available on ITunes, Amazon Fire TV and on-demand!

by on May.29, 2016, under Movie Reviews

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Fantastic Four

by on May.29, 2016, under Movie Reviews

fantastic fourOk, so I would guess you heard by now that the re-boot here of Marvel’s longest-running superhero team sucks. I don’t like to make up my mind until I see a film for myself, but I’ll confirm too that the film is pretty bad. As for why, well…

Starting with the script, there are some interesting ideas here but there’s a lot of backstory that isn’t necessary, especially in the beginning to establish the friendship between Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. And that’s part of the problem, there a numerous points that are kind of unnecessary and don’t really move things forward which really slows the pace of the film making it pretty boring throughout much of it. Then there’s the tone of the film, which is dark. Ever since Chris Nolan rebooted Batman with a darker tone, everyone thinks that dark is the way to go. Well, that worked for Batman because he’s a dark dude but that doesn’t work for all comic characters (cough, cough, Superman, cough, Zach Synder, cough, cough). And the dark tone doesn’t work here either. If you read the Fantastic Four comics as I did, you know there was some humor with them and it never creeped into too ominous of a theme overall. They were always one of the more lighter superhero teams that were fun but not overly serious or depressing. Here, the tone is not fun, just dark and I’m afraid that approach just fails here.

Josh Trank directed and I have to say I lost some respect for him when he came out and said how disappointed he was with the film and blamed the studio primarily for it. As a director myself, I understand his complaints but ultimately, he’s still the director and holds some responsibility here himself. I can’t believe he was blind to the problems of the film from the get-go so I’m sorry but I feel he’s equally accountable for the shortcomings of this movie. Take the blame here Trank, it’s your film too.

The actors are lackluster at best. There are no memorable moments here with everyone seeming kind of muted in terms of their performances. I know that Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are capable of much more than I what I saw them deliver, it’s a shame, it feels like they were told to hold back when they should’ve had more opportunity to run with the ball. Miles Teller who plays Reed is kind of blasé on camera as well. I don’t know if it’s him or the way he was directed but he’s very milquetoast as far as his portrayal of the lead. Jamie Bell is ok as Ben Grimm/The Thing but he’s just ok. Even the Dr. Doom role came off boring played by Toby Kebbell. He tries to come off in a menacing way but he just seems quiet, not threatening. Overall, the whole thing performance wise feels like most of them were just phoning it in for the paycheck.

Ugh. Dont’ bother. If you really want to see a Fantastic Four film, go back to the original from 2005 with Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd, which was at least a decent film and fun to watch. This one is neither…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Captain America: Civil War

by on May.22, 2016, under Movie Reviews

captain america civil warThis is the film that Batman v. Superman should have been. The contrast in terms of quality and organization is astounding by comparison when looking at the Marvel Universe, which is extremely well thought out and organized, against the discordant mess that is DC’s world. Captain America: Civil War is the film to see if you want to see a serious hero fight with a highly entertaining story…

The writing is fantastic. There’s political intrigue, some great character development and arcs, as well as other topical subjects like freedom and the cost of it. The main basis for the conflict between the heroes is an accord they’re asked to sign where they will need to answer to a special UN council that will decide if they are needed or not. Unfortunately for our heroes, there’s been a bit too much collateral damage as a result of their confrontations trying to save the world from certain doom. Overall, the story is compelling and interesting to follow without being muddied up, it has some unexpected twists here and there and resolves itself in a way that is familiar but a little surprising too. I’ll let the story speak for itself but suffice it to say, it’s a great script and is expertly executed.

Action-wise the film is going to grab your attention right away with The Avengers on a mission that gets them in trouble when things go awry with one of Cap’s arch enemies, Crossbones. The film is packed with action but not constantly and not in a gratuitous way, all the sequences moved the film forward nicely. The action sequences themselves actually SHOW you the action (cough, cough Zach Snyder and your bullshit shaky cam). The clash between Team Iron Man and Team Captain America is super entertaining! It was great to see them all tangling and seeing how they combat each other. One of my favorites is Ant Man penetrating Iron Man’s armor to dismantle him from the inside out, fun stuff! The action is peppered throughout the film that helps pace it nicely with the slower moments giving the audience a nice ebb and flow through the excitement and intrigue.

The introduction of new characters was also really nice to see. Marvel is gearing up for the next wave of heroes and of course retiring some along the way. Among the newer lineup of heroes in the film is Black Panther, Ant Man, and the introduction of the new Spider-Man! Spider-Man’s inclusion in here is a blast! Tom Holland does a great job as the webslinger and the way he’s written in here was one of the best moments of the film. He gets in on the fight too and goes up against Captain America and his brother Bucky.

Speaking of the actors, the powerhouse lineup in the film does not fail to deliver! Great performances all around with some profound emotional moments delivered by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bethany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, and Emily VanCamp. Overall an excellent cast that worked well under the direction of Anthony and Joe Russo.

Clean the bad taste out of your mouth from BvS and go check out Civil War in theaters while you still can! Don’t forget to stay the whole way to the end of the credits! And I mean, until the VERY end!!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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We Are Twisted F**king Sister!

by on May.15, 2016, under Movie Reviews

we are twisted sisterChronicling the early chapters of the band, this documentary is jam packed with interviews from the members, crew, management, family and fans related to the band over it’s considerable history. Going back to 1973 and leading up to when the band exploded internationally in 1984 is the primary era focused on in this over 2 hour film.

Guitarist JJ French leads through much of the film as he was one of the founding members with Dee Snider being added later on after numerous singers before him. There was even a time when JJ tried his hand at lead vocals just prior to Dee joining the lineup. The band’s past is much more complicated than you would think if you only came to know them in the 80’s as I did. I discovered the band during their “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” days after they had already evolved through 3 or 4 other variations of themselves. That’s one of the things that’s interesting about the band, they’ve morphed from a cheesy cover band that played in bars to a hard rock band that was packing halls of 3,000 people without a record contract or radio airplay before the days of the internet.

Record companies in the states ignored them and said they were a joke because of the makeup and costumes. However, a punk label out of the UK recognized something was going on when they attended one of the band’s massive shows and saw the reaction they were getting and off the band went to London to record their debut. After many Spinal Tap moments that followed the release of their first album, the US labels finally showed up a bit late to the party to help take the band to the national stage.

There are a lot of interviews in here to fill in all the details and I have to say the film kept moving and kept my interest the whole time. Sometimes interviews can drag even through interesting material but this film was fun to watch, had a great pace and plenty of compelling moments peppered in there as well.

If you’re a fan of the band or of music documentaries in general, catch this one on Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Dracula Untold

by on May.08, 2016, under Movie Reviews

dracula untoldDracula Untold can best be described as a vampire action flick. While it has serious tones to it, the action sequences are where things occasionally slide over into cheese territory. It’s a shame too, the story has an interesting take on the mythology of the character that manages to work in a way that the original take on the story fits without the character changing in a way that seems out of their nature.

Prince Vlad (known as Vlad the Impaler) has hung up his armor and is now living peacefully with his family in his kingdom. Enter Turk warlord who demands all his kingdom’s boys (along with his own son) to which Vlad doesn’t react well. War ensues, the warlord deciding to come claim his prize. Since Vlad has no army, he has no choice but to make a deal that will allow him to protect his family and kingdom but at a terrible price.

Overall, I liked the original way that the story was told. While Vlad was a monster, the film manages to spin him in a more sympathetic light. Part of that stems from the performance of Luke Evans and the craftsmanship of the script. The film is dark and intense at times. The thing that kept this from being a great film are some of the effects and action sequences. Some of the sequences are realistic and tight, some of it’s a bit too grandiose and CG looking unfortunately.

I also had some issue here and there with some of the vampire’s powers, most notably how the bats were turned into a kind of “bat fist”, that was a bit much.

The actors are fun to watch. Evans proves himself to be strong lead while Dominic Cooper makes a formidable foe. Charles Dance as the Master Vampire was my second favorite performance of the film. The rest of the cast is tight as well and includes: Sarah Gadon, Art Parkinson, Paul Kaye, and William Houston.

The film is entertaining overall though. If you can get past some of the weak points, it’s worth a night at home with some popcorn.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Big Short

by on May.01, 2016, under Movie Reviews

the big shortOscar winner for best adapted screenplay, The Big Short offers the explanation of the stock market / housing bubble crash that wiped out many people’s retirement accounts and forced others into foreclosing their homes. And just as you may have suspected, yep, it was greedy Wall Street pricks that were just trying to line their golden parachutes a little more at the population’s expense.

Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B is one of the forces behind the film and the production looks and feels like one of theirs. You can watch World War Z to see what I’m talking about. Regardless, it’s a quality production with a well written script and strong performances. Speaking of the script, the story in terms of the explanation of the whole mess is actually pretty well explained. This is kind of a miraculous feat as they’ve taken some pretty boring, hard-to-understand material and made it digestible for someone who knows nothing about Wall Street. They even offer different bullet point explanations to help break down details and when they do, they often have a celebrity like Anthony Bourdain help to explain the point which was entertaining to be sure.

I’ll forego the explanation of the storyline; if you were an adult in the last 10 years, I would guess you lost some money during the debacle as most did so I’m sure you can relate from your own experience. Suffice it to say, the film is based on true events and the bottom line is that we all got screwed and our government managed to arrest a total of one person in a colossal display of favoritism for an industry that only cares about the bottom line and not the people who get crushed along the way.

The actors are great, really great. The lineup is impressive and does not fail to deliver. Given the complexity of the script and the fact that most of the material involves finances and investment, it’s pretty hard to make that interesting but luckily the performances convey the concepts in a compelling way. The standouts for me were Christian Bale as the doctor who was the architect for betting against the housing market as well as the neurotic, quirky character portrayed by Steve Carell as one of the heads of Morgan Stanley. The lineup includes Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling.

If you like a challenging film with great performances involving some intellectual material instead of super heroes, you’ll want to check out why The Big Short won an Oscar.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Apr.24, 2016, under Movie Reviews

lemmyChronicling the life of Lemmy Kilmister, the legendary frontman of Motorhead, this documentary covers the man from his humble beginnings as a kid growing up with an average family in the UK to his 2010 status as established heavy metal icon. Of course Lemmy sadly passed away in 2016 so that information was thankfully not part of this project.

I say thankfully because this doc is more of a celebration rather than a mourning which was great to see after his passing. Speaking of those celebrating, the film includes many, many interviews all discussing why they hold Lemmy in such high regard or how he effected their lives through music. The list of interviewees includes: Dave Navarro, Kat Von D, Nikki Sixx, Billy Bob Thornton, Duff McKagan, Dee Snider, Alice Cooper, Slash, James Hatfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Joan Jett, Dave Grohl, and many more.

Lemmy’s musical history is covered at length from his very first band in school, through his years in the influential druggy prog-rock band Hawkwind to his extensive history with (as) Motorhead. Motorhead has had numerous members come and go but Lemmy has always been there up front slinging his Richenbacher beneath the slanted/perched mic that was part of his stage signature. The impact Motorhead had (and still has) is palpable through the passionate testimonials of the musicians that are almost giddy talking about the songs that shaped their own musical endeavors. There are emotional moments as well with the inclusion of some screen time with Lemmy’s son.

I had the pleasure of seeing Motorhead live a couple of times and have to say they were great. But also loud, really, really loud. Loud to the point where I had to walk out of a showcase I saw them play in Burbank during the Foundations Fest. That was loud in an unreal way that was just a bit too punishing, they pushed limits like that and were once regarded as the loudest band in the world by the Guiness Book of World Records.

If you are a fan of the band or of metal and hard rock in general, I highly recommend checking out this doc on Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Apr.10, 2016, under Movie Reviews

trainwreckWritten by and starring Amy Schumer, Trainwreck marks her big screen debut directed by Judd Apatow. And what a debut it is with the film borrowing somewhat from Schumer’s real life (at least if her standup is any indication) to put her character’s raw, brazen personality front-and-center for all to see.

She drinks, sleeps around, works as a writer at a soul-less job and never stays in a relationship. All that changes when she’s given the task of writing a story about sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). They hit it off and start a relationship only to have it go off the rails when Amy’s old habits come back to haunt her and she ends up pushing everyone away. Don’t worry, despite the turmoil, there’s a happy ending.

While it’s not an original story, it’s one that’s well written, interesting, funny, and kept my attention the whole time. Schumer’s humor and style are laced throughout the film and work well to keep a laugh worked in while exploring themes such as family, growth, and how times change. There are some strong character arcs in here as well with both Schumer and Hader’s characters figuring out some life lessons along the way.

Put another notch in Apatow’s belt since he produced and directed a fine film to add to his continually impressive library of work. The film is well constructed and paced. The emotional tone ebbs and flows with a nice natural rhythm as they only peppered in the dick jokes without shoving them in your face all the time while maintaining a solid narrative that tied everything together nicely.

The lineup is impressive and entertaining as the cast includes a number of other standup comedians and talented actors. Schumer is really enjoyable in the lead role and Hader reminds me once again just how flexible and solid he is. The cast includes Colin Quinn, John Cena, Tilda Swinton, Randall Park, Brie Larson and the hilarious Dave Attell whose one-liners make the film worth the price of admission alone.

If you appreciate Apatow’s and Schumer’s brands of comedy, you won’t be disappointed!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Batman Versus Superman

by on Apr.03, 2016, under Movie Reviews

batman versus supermanI have to start this honestly and say this is a terrible movie and the only reason you’re going to see it is for the fight. And that’s how the movie feels… It’s like some executive in a room somewhere said “we should make Batman and Superman fight, and that’s the movie.” But that was all the idea was really, then they decided to try to catch up with Marvel’s Avengers and attempt to introduce Justice League, and by the way, we should maybe have a story too. That’s how this film feels, like some patchwork afterthought built around a fight.

The writing and directing is what makes this film so bad. Starting with the writing – it’s a disjointed mess. The narrative is all over the place (again) with a lot of things going on to put things in motion that are coming later, so there’s a lot of set up. The trouble is, the set up often doesn’t lead anywhere or by the time it does, it’s been convoluted to the point where you forgot about the previous events anyway. Then, there’s also the reboot aspect. Yes, this is yet another Batman reboot as the film starts with the Batman origin story of a young Bruce Wayne losing his family, falling down the well with the bats, etc. I couldn’t believe this is how the movie started, like a Batman origin story. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, I think everyone’s seen this before and knows who Batman is. This was self-indulgent and unnecessary. The ending is trite and disappointing too as it feels very manufactured and formulaic. All this is on top of a ton of plot holes and continuity issues…

Then there’s the interpretation of these characters (which is also a part of the problem wth the writing). Zack Snyder’s redefinition of these beloved icons is just too damn dark. Not everything needs to be so utterly angry and depressing; Snyder needs to get his hands off these guys. His gloomy vision worked well with Watchmen but doesn’t belong in DC’s universe. Case in point – just before the fight, Superman hints at possibly killing Batman which is so not within his wheelhouse. Then, the real kicker is how dark and different Batman is. If you thought Nolan’s Batman was dark, you haven’t met the current psycho that Snyder is unleashing. Batman this time around is – now using guns, kills people, is into scarification as he brands his victims, and doesn’t seem to mind innocent people getting hurt (ironically since this is what pisses him off so much about Superman in the first place). And oh, both he and Alfred are now alcoholics.

Gone is any joy with any of the characters in the DC universe thanks to Snyder and his bleak vision. I’m a fan of Zack Snyder’s other work, but honestly, they need to get him away from these characters and onto other projects.

As for the performances; the one that stole the show for me (and the only character to get a response from the audience) was Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She was beautiful on screen, compelling as a character and kicked serious ass during the confrontation with Doomsday. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was ok but didn’t bring anything to the character we haven’t seen before other than stupidity when he’s running toward a collapsing high rise in an attempt to do what? I have no idea. Other than that, he’s the usually broody, pouty, angry dude that we all know. Cavill as Superman is pretty much the same as we saw last time. I swear they were just trying to find things to do for him in this film without any real story there or character development. And then there’s Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor which was going to turn out to be really good or really bad. Unfortunately his performance falls on the latter in that he basically comes off like an annoying, neurotic child molester and less so super intelligent villain. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is ok too but was muted by a bad script. The lineup includes Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Kevin Costner and Lauren Cohan.

In terms of the fight, it’s ok and fun to watch but it’s not the mind-blowing spectacle you might be hoping for. There’s some shaky cam footage that makes things hard to see at times during the fight and the way it gets resolved is sudden, cheap from a writing standpoint, and feels like it just sort of petered out without a very satisfying conclusion. The fight just kind of “stops” over one thing that unites the embattled titans during their not-so-epic clash. And suddenly, they’re great friends who don’t want to let each other down. Shit. One side note about the fight between the “heroes” as well as the confrontation with Doomsday – Metropolis gets somewhat destroyed again and so does Gotham a bit this time. What this means is that once again the film implies that thousands are getting killed in the background during these conflicts and noone seems to give a damn. This time Batman and Wonder Woman are there to inflict damage too instead of taking the fight away from the innocents, hmmm, doesn’t seem very super-heroish to me…

Make up your own mind here, if you decide to chance seeing it the theater, I think that ends up being a 50/50 bet whether you’ll actually like it or not. Me? Knowing what I know now, I would’ve waited for Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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