Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

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by on Dec.04, 2016, under Movie Reviews

Is now available! Check it out online through Vimeo On Demand before it comes out everywhere else!

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Hitchcock/Truffaut

by on Dec.04, 2016, under Movie Reviews

hitchcock truffautI am trying my damnedest to avoid politics right now so I decided to watch something inspirational for myself as a filmmaker. And what a better way to do that then to go back to the classics and the masters who created them. In this case I decided to watch Hitchcock/Truffaut. This documentary focuses on an interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock covering each film in Hitchcock’s career for a book. The interview took place over a week in 1963. There’s also a photo series included with the book and it’s fantastic.

Truffaut was from a different generation and had a lot of respect for Hitchcock who also felt much respect for Truffaut and his work. It was great to explore the results of this week long interview by two legendary directors who really admired each other. Truffaut did have some tough questions for Hitchcock too. One such example is when Truffaut addresses what the critics would complain about in reference to Hitchcock’s approach to plausibility. Hitchcock’s response was that plausibility for the sake of plausibility gets in the way of the storytelling. His controversy is explored as well such as when Hitchcock refers to actors as “cattle”.

The doc is largely about Hitchcock and his tremendous influence on directors of many generations. Interesting facts include Hitchcock directing the first British talkie which is quite a historic moment as well as being known for his innovation like creating a glass floor to shoot beneath a subject walking around a room. His mastery of emotion and suspense is delved into deeply; I remember seeing The Birds as a kid and feeling terrified, the sound was unnerving.

Backstory on Truffaut is also part of the doc’s substance examining some of the moments from his childhood that shaped his work and how he approached films with innovation of his own.

Various directors are featured discussing the influences of both Truffaut and Hitchcock. Included on this list of illustrious film directors is Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, James Gray and more.

If you’re a director or just a fan of the art of cinema, I highly encourage checking out this film.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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I Am Your Father

by on Nov.27, 2016, under Movie Reviews

i am your fatherEvery great story has a dark side. Star Wars is no exception. In this case however, I’m not referring to the storyline of the movie but to the making of it. When I first started watching I Am Your Father, I had this feeling that the documentary would both break my heart knowing what happened while helping to satiate a fascination I’ve had with Star Wars since it was first released in ’77.

The subject of this story is David Prowse, the actor who embodied the legendary Darth Vader in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Prowse’s backstory is laid out from his humble beginnings in the UK working as an actor doing commercials, TV shows here and there along with some B movies. His movie credits include a lot of monster roles as the man stands at 6 foot 7 and was in amazing shape that gave him a naturally imposing presence. I only later in life came to appreciate how he well he was actually able to convey emotion through the legendary mask he wore through the series…

And this ultimately, is the source for the dark side of the production. Happening at the last moment, David was replaced with another actor for the scene that finally revealed Vader’s face to Luke. This is the scene that was both the climax for his character but also a moment that would have imprinted his face on everyone’s memory as the fallen jedi. A legendary moment in cinematic history denied to the man that brought that character right up to the threshold, all because he looked “too young”. Funny that they had no problem creating aliens out of thin air but they couldn’t make Prowse look older? Seems like a huge ripoff to me and a shitty detail that I can’t un-know now. Jedi was always the least popular of the first 3; I think moments like this lend to those feelings of the film not being great on multiple levels.

The documentary includes Interesting factoids like that David Prowse didn’t find out about Vader being Luke’s father until he saw Empire in the theater. That plot point was kept secret until after the scene was shot and they went back and picked up some additional scenes and recorded new voice over work. The doc points out that there’s some debate about the origin of this particular detail in the story in terms of the relationship between Vader and Luke.

On the bright side – Prowse is being acknowledged at comic cons and sci-fi conventions with standing ovations and lines of fans waiting for an autograph. As an offer perhaps of catharsis, the director of the documentary offers David Prowse the chance to re-shoot the scene he was denied in Return. With regard to the outcome of the offer, like any great story, I won’t reveal the results of said offer here, you’ll have to watch the film on that one. He continues to be recognized at sci-fi conventions but as of yet has not been invited to any official Star Wars conventions; something this writer finds wildly un-fair and as it turns out, looks unfounded too.

Come on George! Step up and acknowledge this actor before the day comes when the opportunity passes. Life’s too short for this shit!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Dr. Strange

by on Nov.20, 2016, under Movie Reviews

doctor strangeI have yet to see a bad movie come out of Marvel Studios. They deliver consistently strong films with Dr. Strange being no exception. The latest installment from Marvel comes from one of their less prominent heroes but a compelling hero nonetheless which is one of the things that makes Dr. Strange very entertaining. This was among the comics I collected when I was a kid but I have to confess that I was surprised yet very excited when I heard they were taking this book to the big screen.

The story revolves around Dr. Stephen Strange who has to face the reality that due to an unfortunate car accident, he can no longer use his magic hands for surgery and instead has to find a different kind of magic to heal them. The path he takes on his quest leads him to a multi-dimensional world he never saw coming or even had a clue existed. Once he enters this world, he decides to embrace it completely and forego his ambitions of the past. Along his journey he discovers the potential of manipulating matter to reconstruct it as he wishes; he also discovers that there are dark forces at work trying to use that power for nefarious purposes…

I thought everything was great about this film. Really. I really felt that way when I saw it. I can usually pick out one or two kinks in the chain of a production, or the way a script is written, or in the minutiae of an actor’s performance. But this time, nada. The story was solid and compelling with the right dash of hubris at times and humor at others while maintaining the drama but without it being exhausting. The actors are at the top of their games as well with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the way playing the title role. I have to say his casting was perfect. He has very strong support as well with Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor providing an excellent backbone through professional and passionate deliveries alongside the rest of the cast.

The effects is one of the best things about the movie for me. Sometimes effects can hinder a film if they’re used as a crutch (i.e. almost every film from Michael Bay). In Dr. Strange they were crucial as these characters live in a place of supernatural dimensions and abilities. Fortunately, much effort went into the design and machinations of the effects and it paid off with a stunning display that is a must see on the big screen.

And yes, the film does drop some references to other branches of the Marvel universe including The Avengers tying the family all together neatly as usual. Sorry, no spoilers here but as always with a Marvel movie you’ll want to hang out all the way through the credits.

I would strongly recommend catching this one in theaters while you still can.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Mascots

by on Nov.13, 2016, under Movie Reviews

mascotsIf you’re a fan of Christopher Guest films like A Might Wind, Spinal Tap, and Best in Show, you’ll be happy to know of his latest offering through Netflix. That’s one of the great things about streaming outlets like Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc., they’ve all provided an outlet for filmmakers that may not be able to get their work into the corporate controlled theater chains reserved for the major studios that own them.

Luckily for us, Guest is still making movies and he’s always funny. Mascots is another in the mockumentary style of Guest’s work this time focusing on the world of sports mascots and the plights of the modern mascot performer. His formula for this film is the same as his earlier work in that there’s an introduction to each main character which includes a bit of a profile study along with what’s going on with them currently as they prepare for the big mascot competition. Many walks of life are represented including the son carrying on his father’s proud tradition of mascot performing to the failed actress who is trying to pay her bills with her “art”. There’s also plenty of background tension as each of the mascots brings their own specific dramatic twist to the story.

The writing and character development are fun as always, one of my favorites being former mascot now author Gabby Monkhouse (played by the amazing Jane Lynch). Monkhouse is snooty and full of her own success clashing humorously with her judge colleague portrayed by Ed Begley Jr. who lands more in the “has-been” category. Guest’s scripts for these films typically include many moments of improve in addition to a somewhat structured story. I found myself wondering how much was scripted and how much was invented on the spot as the actors drift seamlessly in and out of both states with great precision and effect.

Speaking of which, the cast includes some familiar actors with Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Jennifer Coolige, alongside fresh faces like Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods and Sarah Baker. It was great to see a mixture of both new and familiar as they all played off each other well while exposing some talent that perhaps wasn’t as well known across the board. The film itself is not only fun and light-hearted to watch but it seemed like when they were making it, it looks like they had a blast. That kind of vibe usually translates to a fun viewing experience and who couldn’t use that right now?

If you’ve got Netflix and dig the genius of a Christopher Guest film, then be sure to give a cheer for Mascots!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Poltergeist (2015)

by on Nov.06, 2016, under Movie Reviews

poltergeistThere are certain things in art that you just leave alone. This list for me would include Led Zeppelin songs, paintings by Salvador Dali, and pretty much any film directed by Stephen Spielberg. Yet, every once in awhile someone’s ego gets all distorted and they think they can take something that’s a masterpiece and somehow make it better by throwing money at it. Unfortunately Sam Raimi and Sam Rockwell are both involved with this one and seemed to suffer that same delusion…

I’m not going to bother going over the story as that’s been long established since 1982. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty much the same, ridiculously so. Why cover a story beat for beat? What’s the point? What are you bringing to the table other than a lack of originality? This was true of the foreshadowing moments too, not only were they unoriginal but they provided an insultingly clear road map of what was coming which took all the surprise out of it. This whole film played itself out by about the mid point I would imagine even for those that never had the pleasure of seeing the original. It was like they just said screw it, let’s make everything the same but with nicer effects. The thing is, the effects actually cheapened the film for me as they relied on them to make the film “better” instead of trying to make their own, true vision of the script.

The actors are all ok but I’m not sure everyone was bringing their A-game here. I like Sam Rockwell typically but he’s put into such a stereotypical mold that his performance comes off as mostly generic parts inserted into the performance simply for the purpose of moving things along. I wasn’t really getting a feeling of passion through any of the actor’s portrayals, it seemed like everyone was playing their roles super safe to make sure they constructed the formula correctly. And that’s the way the whole film feels, formulaic, like a formulaic cover band playing a Beatles song in a hotel lounge.

If you’ve never seen the original and are interested in checking out either film, please, do yourself a favor and see the original and only see this one if you truly have nothing better to do. The remake is not even close to the original in terms of capturing the creepiness of the visuals, the intensity of the actor’s deliveries, and the originality of not knowing how the family will make it through their ordeal and who will be there on the other side.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Within

by on Oct.30, 2016, under Movie Reviews

withinMy apologies to my faithful readers for not offering up a review last week. As for why, I was a bit distracted by something new that I wanted to pass along some thoughts about this week. And that, is the new frontier of VR (virtual reality) which I have the fortune to experience through PS4 VR. I’m not going to go into a review of the PS VR itself but rather some of the films I saw through this amazing medium, for you see, this is the next step, the next evolution of storytelling for us filmmakers and you, the movie enthusiast…

Within is a viewing app that delivers VR content to your device. Through Within you can watch everything from an incredible U2 music video to a documentary about scuba diving in an amazing reef, to sitting in the audience during an SNL taping. There’s some great short film and animations on here too. The experimental Take Flight starts you on the street level of a city and suddenly elevates you into the night sky to witness several people floating in the clouds in various poses of playfulness and slowmo action. By the way, a couple of the people you’ll be floating with include Michael Fassbender and Benecio Del Toro.

In terms of immersion, there’s nothing like VR and it’s hard to give it justice with just words. Suffice it to say, you’re in the center of whatever experience you choose to explore. The U2 video for instance puts you on stage with the band just before their concert. Only, you have U2 all to yourself and they’re all singing right to you as you’re sitting in the middle of them. From there, the video morphs into different rooms with different musicians from all around the world as they join in on the song itself. I’ve never been so emotionally moved by a music video in my life to the point where tears were just pouring out of my eyes almost beyond my ability to stop them from coming…

The animation based Invasion! (narrated by Ethan Hawke) places you into the film as a character which serves as witness to the 3D bunny who has an encounter with some alien visitors. While the film isn’t an interactive game, it still kind of feels that way even though the story plays out in an automatic way. It was like being digitally transferred into a Pixar movie, especially when the main character comes up and starts sniffing you. The Evolution of Verse is like a moving, breathing art piece that unfolds in front of you as you’re transported from one animated presentation after another that will leave you breathless and inspired. For any fans of Mr. Robot on the USA network, there’s something here for you too as they’ve developed a short story from the show specifically produced for VR.

I normally stick to film reviews from theaters and outlets such as HBO and Netflix on this blog but I’m feeling compelled to continue reviewing more coming from VR… Just so you know dear readers, my blog will evolve as the tools for storytelling do.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Sisters

by on Oct.16, 2016, under Movie Reviews

sistersStarring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, as well as a ton of SNL alum, Sisters pair up the dynamic duo as siblings sending off their childhood home in style after their parents sell it and move into a retirement community. The film has some great moments while at the same time feeling very generic so I had some mixed feelings about whether I liked it or not.

The story itself showcases the characters as being in their 40s and missing having the fun they had when they were young and didn’t carry the burdens that adults have to shoulder. As a way of compensating for their lost youth, the sisters throw a party to show they can still let loose. In terms of their roles, Fey really breaks the mold for herself as an actor and takes on a character that you don’t normally see her play. Poehler’s fun to watch too but in a familiar skin we’ve seen her wear before.

The film gets going as the party builds and the house gets trashed. Lessons are learned, party jokes are celebrated and the conclusion comes to a satisfying, but unsurprising ending. The writing does offer some surprises here and there but it’s mostly something not super challenging. It’s not a constant LOL comedy but it has some standout moments. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film drags a bit to the point where as the viewer I just wanted them to be over with the party already with some of the scenes starting to feel gratuitous after awhile. The film just about hits the 2 hour mark when it could’ve shaved off about 20 minutes or so.

Overall, it’s an ok film and has some great talent in it with an extensive lineup that includes Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Samantha Bee and more.

Ultimately, this one you should probably just judge for yourself if you’re a Fey and Poehler fan, they’re always worth checking out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Steve Jobs

by on Oct.09, 2016, under Movie Reviews

steve jobsBased on the book by Walter Isaacson and adapted to the big screen by Aaron Sorkin, the film Steve Jobs brings a lot of street cred to this project along with the lead role played by Michael Fassbender. All these talented artist equate to a great film and an inside look at a complex, passionate man who changed 5 different industries with his innovations.

There was some controversy surrounding this film coming from Steve Jobs’ wife who supposedly asked Fassbender to not play the main role. I kept wondering why she was so against this project, especially since it’s based largely on the book by Isaacson that Jobs approved of. Once I saw it though, I understood her trepidation. The crux of the film focuses on 3 launch events during Jobs’ lifetime – the launch of the very first Mac, the launch of NeXT (Jobs’ company after he was kicked out of Apple), and finally the launch of the IMac which brought Jobs back to Apple and put the company squarely back on the map.

Each launch event is accented by Jobs’ life at that time and particularly his troubled relationship with his first child Lisa. Jobs at first tried to deny her as his daughter, even after a DNA test proved it. So, basically he was a real prick about it at first but eventually came around after quite some had passed. The drama of the film includes his strained relationships with his partner, Steve Wozniak (portrayed by Seth Logan) as well as his assistant Joanna Hoffman played by Kate Winslet.

While the film doesn’t really have a beginning, middle and end so much as it does chapters in a story that we know the eventual end of without having to relive onscreen. Overall, I felt the film was unique, emotionally compelling and interesting to watch thanks to a strong script, dedicated cast and directing contributed by the immensely talented Danny Boyle. Boyle is known in part for his visual flairs on screen but with this film they’re there but muted so as to not overpower the dramatic backdrop.

If you have any interest emotional dramas, the tech world or Jobs in general, you’ll probably want to check out this film. And if you saw the film Jobs with Ashton Kutcher, just forget that one exists and check this one out instead.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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