Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided is on-line, on-demand now! Coming to ITunes soon!

by on Aug.30, 2015, 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

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Goon

by on Aug.30, 2015, under Movie Reviews

With regard to ice hockey, the term “goon” refers to the person (or people) considered the muscle of the team, the enforcers if you will. In other words, the goon is the guy that’s going to hit you hard and put you into the boards, an action often instigating a fight…

This film revolves around Doug Glatt (played by Seann William Scott) who currently works as a bouncer and ends up discovering a talent for hockey. Well, sort of hockey, he eventually learns to skate but he starts at being good at the hitting part and eventually picks up the hockey end of things after a rocky start. During his new career he starts on a small local league only to be promoted to a semi-pro team a little later. Eventually Doug picks up the game as well as skating and finds himself on a collision course with the guy who’s considered the number one goon in the game (would this be top goon?). Liev Schreiber plays the veteran goon on his way to retirement and ends up clashing with Scott’s character in the final, climactic game of the season.

I enjoyed the film pretty much overall. It’s funny, warm-hearted at times, full of action (I used to play in a minor league myself so I have some appreciation here), and has a satisfying ending. The things I would offer as problems in the film is that the swearing and fights are a bit ridiculous. Not so much the acts themselves but more the frequency of both. The swearing just gets tired and boring after awhile with about a thousand f-bomb drops (fuck is my favorite word for swearing but geez it’s nearly constant sometimes). And the fights, yes, there are fights during hockey, I’ve been one or two myself but the frequency in this film is a bit over-the-top. There are fights in all levels of hockey (except kid’s leagues) but wow, there are a ton of fights. A number of fights happen before the puck even finishes hitting the ice.

Jay Baruchel is one of the forces behind the film (apparently he’s into hockey and has writing and producing credits) and plays the obnoxious best friend of Scott’s character. Baruchel’s character is ok in limited doses but gets a little annoying after awhile as his schtick starts to get a bit old. Scott is good in this, he’s passionate (even blocking a shot with his face), a bit goofy and too nice for his own good, but still manages to be fierce when the situation warrants it. Schreiber as the bad guy is cold and kind of dickish but in a way that seemed realistic and not cartoony; he’s a damn fine actor and highly underrated in my opinion.

In terms of classic sports films, I would put this somewhere near but below Slapshot (the classic with Paul Newman); ultimately worth a night at home with popcorn and Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Godzilla

by on Aug.23, 2015, under Movie Reviews

godzillaI was looking forward to this movie as I grew up on Godzilla movies and always loved monsters as a kid. Unfortunately since the first re-imagining of Godzilla in 1998 and now with the latest version from 2014, there just hasn’t been “the” Godzilla movie to catch. Both versions are ok (2014 being the better version) but ultimately I’ve found them to be underwhelming.

The story in the 2014 version goes something like this – Godzilla has already been here only his existence was covered up by the government and he hasn’t shown himself for decades by this time. It turns out there’s some other monsters floating around too, this detail is worked out in the storyline through an accident at a nuclear power plant that stirs the hidden threats awake which in turn leads to the return of Godzilla whose job it is to keep bad monsters in check. The notion of Godzilla as a misunderstood protector goes back to the early films with the actors in the rubber suits. The story conveniently moves this idea into place but in a way that has tons of holes in it. There’s actually a point where one of the “scientists” recommends that the military not attack Godzilla and just leave him to take out the nasty new monsters that he’s fighting with. Really? Is there an automatic good guy/bad guy paradigm that was somehow established with relation to monsters through these scientists?

Bad writing aside (and there’s a lot), the effects and design are pretty good although at times the effects look digital and obvious. For the most part though, the monsters and destruction of the city they’re fighting in is pretty fun to watch. Ultimately I enjoyed the action scenes and found that they took me back to when I was a kid enjoying the Saturday afternoon creature-double feature days of television. Speaking of the old films, if you’re a fan, you might enjoy the modern interpretation of the old mothra monster that Godzilla used to fight, only this time there are two of them and yes, Godzilla whips out the white flame breath he’s famous for. Just had a thought about that – wouldn’t Godzilla be considered a dragon with the whole flame breath thing? Why haven’t other people caught on to that?

The talent is somewhat inconsequential as we’re all here for the big guy, but the cast does include some notable actors. The lineup includes the always-superb Bryan Cranston and the one-dimensional Aaron Taylor-Johnson who is very cookie cutter and not super convincing, as the initial principal characters. The rest of the actors are ok but are all just there to serve as your conventional characters in a film like this, noone (aside from Cranston) stood out or turned in what I would consider a break out performance. The lineup includes Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Richard T. Jones, and Sally Hawkins.

While the film is better than the ’98 version with Matthew Broderick, it’s still not “the” Godzilla film I’ve been waiting for…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

by on Aug.16, 2015, under Movie Reviews

a million ways to die in the westA Million Ways to Die in the West opens up and sets the stage as what seems like an epic western. This is a Seth MacFarlane film so of course this isn’t going to be an Outlaw Josie Wales kind of thing but more of a comedic romp with the whole western theme serving as more of a backdrop and vehicle for MacFarlane’s humor…

The film starts with MacFarlane playing Albert the farmer who isn’t known for his gunfighting or ass-kicking qualities. He’s more of a peaceful gent whose wife loses respect for him and leaves him for a more successful, assertive alpha male in the form of moustachery store owner Foy (portrayed by the always-awesome Neil Patrick Harris). To win back his wife, Albert challenges Foy to a gunfight only to learn that he has no gunfighting skills and has basically signed his own death warrant. In order to prepare for the fight, Albert enlists the help of town newcomer Anna who has some skills of her own due to her shady past which eventually catches up to her and MacFarlane.

So part of the gag here and the running joke to the film is that everything in that old west time can kill you: disease, bad meat, crazy people, villainous gunfighters, a paper cut, etc. The gag eventually loses some steam though as the repetitive exclamations of the things that can kill you gets a little old after awhile. Let me point out that I am a MacFarlane fan – I enjoy Family Guy, American Dad as well as the movie Ted. I dig Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor, but I think it falls a bit flat in this film. There are moments of clever humor but there’s also some of the more cartoony / exaggerated humor in here as well but it doesn’t always translate effectively. For instance, there’s a moment where a giant block of ice crushes somebody; unfortunately it was supposed to be funny but it comes off in a more serious tone which of course kills the joke and creates more sympathy than laughter.

Another issue interfering with the humor is the dialog. The film seems to have a bit of an identity problem where some characters have an old-school western twang that is somewhat authentic to the time period and some don’t. As a result there’s a weird blend between traditional and contemporary dialog, only a few characters speak old-school western like Liam Neeson’s bad guy Clinch and Giovanni Ribisi’s Edward. Most of the rest of the people in the film use the same vernacular that is used today so it makes for an odd exchange of dialog that throughout the course of the film creates a distraction from whatever the joke is supposed to be about at the time. This doesn’t happen all the time but when it does happen, it pulled me right out of the film and made me think about it.

As much as I wanted to like this film I have to say it was pretty clunky and inconsistent in terms of delivery. Sometimes it’s a slapsticky Airplane/Naked Gun/David Zucker kind of film and at other times it’s trying to be something else that I was never quite sure of. The lineup of talent includes Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Alex Borstein and the hilarious Sarah Silverman.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Maze Runner

by on Aug.09, 2015, under Movie Reviews

the maze runnerThis film grabbed me from the first frame until the very end, loved it! While the film is another take on the post-apocalyptic genre, it adds some interesting, original angles that are only getting started here in the first film. Tonally and storyline-wise, it comes off part Lord of the Flies mixed with The Hunger Games…

The Maze Runner starts with protagonist Thomas, unconscious, on the floor of a lift that is ascending to an unknown destination. Thomas awakens at the top only to find he’s outside with a group of boys staring at him and no knowledge of where he is, how he got there, or even his own name. Slowly, Thomas starts to unravel his situation as he gets assimilated into what is seen at first glance as some sort of prison that wipes the memories of its all-male inhabitants and keeps everyone confined in the middle of what is revealed as a gigantic maze.

I thought the story and the way it’s presented was fresh and interesting even though we’ve explored the whole dystopian landscape in a lot of various ways throughout many movies. This one has an air of mystery to it in terms of where the series is going without revealing much here in the first installment. That’s one of the qualities I found most intriguing – the nuggets of what is really going on are scattered here and there through the film (especially the last 20 minutes or so) in a way that made me really curious about where things are going…

The production design and effects are definitely high end even though at points look some things look digital here and there. Overall it’s a movie with an impressive offering in terms of looks and production value. The director, Wes Ball, does a fine job overseeing the design of the film and keeps the storyline consistently forward-moving while getting strong performances from a mostly-younger cast.

Dylan O’Brien serves well in the lead role showing a decent range of emotion and holding his own physically. The rest of the cast seemed tight and passionate in their performances as well. The lineup includes Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson and Don McManus.

This film is only the first installment of the films based on the books by James Dashner and it’s definitely worth a viewing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Jurassic World

by on Aug.02, 2015, under Movie Reviews

jurassic worldI have to say that I enjoyed this film mostly but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s now the 3rd biggest grossing film of all time. It was pretty good, but I didn’t think it was that good to warrant such a high spot on the list knocking the first Avengers film down to 4th (the superior film in my opinion). So let’s examine why I feel that way, shall we?

First, the premise – fast forward after the first Jurassic Park films to the future. The dinosaurs are back only there’s no origin story, we’ve already been there. So this time ‘round we have a fully imagined dino park in the form of the attraction Jurassic World. The park takes up most of an island off the coast of Costa Rica and has been getting visitors for a few years at this point. Only now, people have a seen-that-done-that kind of attitude about dinosaurs and are looking for some new thrills as well as the usual triceratops, stegosaurs, etc. Luckily the new people in charge (as well as some faces from the past) who have taken over the park are cooking up a new breed of dino sure to knock your socks off. Unfortunately the new variant they create gets a bit out of their control (surprise, surprise), breaks free and starts ripping up the place…

Not exactly a new premise for this series of films, in fact that whole losing control of nature thing has been the theme all along for every film in the collection. So, this isn’t a movie I would classify as “original” in any way whatsoever. The real pleasure for me was seeing the dinosaurs obviously, which is usually the reason to go see the films in the first place. And I must say that the film delivers there. The effects mostly look great and the way the actors interact with them is convincing too. My problem with this particular area of the film is that there are times the effects look super digital so much so that I lost the whole suspension-of-disbelief vibe on numerous occasions which presented a distraction. With the kind of insane budget they had, you’d think they could’ve been a little better with this. Don’t get me wrong, the various creatures look pretty bad ass, especially during the big fight at the end between the new breed and the other dinosaurs she locks horns with the exception of the very end of the battle which looked very digital.

What really bummed me out was the lazy writing in this movie and the continuity issues. Along the way through the storyline the film sets these rules of existence and interaction with the dinosaurs that it just seems to toss out for it’s own convenience whenever the opportunity presents itself, even to the point of violating various laws of physics. Ultimately the film contradicts itself at various points as if it never established it’s own rules in the first place. Lazy ass writing in my book. One example of this is how Chris Pratt’s character keeps stressing that he can’t control raptors but he keeps doing that anyway even to the point of riding alongside them on a motorcycle during a hunt without them being even mildly interested in eating him, hmmmm. The there’s the whole thing about Bryce Dallas Howard’s shoe issues. She’s wearing super high heels but is somehow able to run and jump full speed through various trying conditions including wet surfaces, mud, deep grass and so on. And I mean she RUNS through these things supposedly wearing high heels, even Chris Pratt points these shoes out as being problematic but there she is anyway somehow mastering this art of high speed running in heels through mud. Again, lazy ass writing.

The directing is ok but pretty standard, nothing that sticks out as being special, just another installment in this established series without anything too new to offer aside from some new dinosaurs. The actors are all pretty good but are mostly playing cookie cutter characters. Pratt’s the smarmy hero (obviously), Howard is the hot-but-distant exec playing hard to get to Pratt’s love interest guy. Vincent D’Onofrio is the main bad guy trying to weaponize raptors (yep, he’s trying to find a military application for raptors since they are the perfect killing machines). And yes, the phrase “perfect killing machine” is used a couple times in the film as if we haven’t heard that a zillion times in these films.

It’s a fun film to catch in the theater but despite the giant dinosaurs, I can’t say it’s all that big of a deal.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Ant-Man

by on Jul.26, 2015, under Movie Reviews

Ant ManThe latest addition to the Marvel universe comes from a comic I didn’t expect them to make into a film with the addition of Ant-Man. I collected this one as a kid too and enjoyed the adventures of Ant-Man and Wasp, so this film was a pleasant surprise when I heard it was being made. The film turned out to be a solid superhero film with some great action, a well written story and tight performances from the cast…

Dr. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man played by Michael Douglas) is retired now and has passed the reigns of his company on to his protege’ who has less-than-honorable motivations for the future. Pym has kept his shrinking technology that gave Ant-Man his power a secret because of what he fears it could unleash in the wrong hands. Darren Cross (portrayed by Corey Stoll from House of Cards) has discovered some of Pym’s notes and has tapped into the technology with the hopes of selling it to the highest bidder, which in this case turns out to be Hydra. So yes, Ant-Man is tying in with the rest of the Marvel universe with references to the Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America along with an appearance from Falcon.

The story is entertaining and well written with one of the writing credits going to Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc.) who was also supposed to originally direct the film as well. Word has it that Wright’s vision didn’t line up with Marvel’s so he decided not to stay on the film which is a shame as his style would’ve really been interesting to see applied to this movie. Peyton Reed directs and does a fine job but doesn’t have the flair that Wright does so Wright stepping down was a bit of a disappointment for me.

The effects and design are great. The miniaturizing scenes are well-crafted and look believable even when Ant-Man is leading a charge of an army of ants during his various assaults. Among the things that make this film entertaining are the battles between Ant-Man and nemesis Yellowjacket (aka Darren Cross) when they’re both shrunk down and interacting with the scene around them. The scenes are full of action but with some comedic moments thrown in that make this movie a lot of fun to watch.

The acting is tight. Paul Rudd is the lead as Scott Lang whose smarmy style of acting fits the film and the character well. Evangeline Lily turns in an intense performance as Pym’s emotionally distant daughter while Stoll does a fine job as the menacing Yellowjacket. It’s good to see Michael Douglas in pretty much anything he does. The talented cast is rounded out by Judy Greer, Michael Pena, Hayley Attwell, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Bobby Cannavale.

If you enjoy superhero films, take a look at Ant-Man.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

by on Jul.19, 2015, under Movie Reviews

going clearGoing Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (based on the book by Lawrence Wright) provides a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain of the religion known as Scientology based on the writings and beliefs of sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Interviews are conducted throughout the documentary with people who examined the religion from different angles, as well as Hubbard’s ex-wife and former members of the church itself. The majority of the former members interviewed were long-time members and high officers in the organization including one such member who belonged to the church for over 27 years and reached the highest rank possible within the church’s spiritual chain of command. The origin of the church with Hubbard through the church’s meteoric rise in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s after Hubbard’s passing up to current day are all part of the film’s timeline. Part of what makes this examination of events so compelling is the discussion of the inner workings and policies of the organization and just how manipulative it is.

The discussion of the more famous members is part of the material including some in-depth background information on both Tom Cruise and John Travolta and how they’re involved. It makes you look at them in different lights, especially when you gain an understanding of how unstable and deceptive Hubbard was and how the church has been accused of everything from torture and kidnapping to brain washing and human trafficking. One of the validating themes through which these sentiments are conveyed are the testimonies of the former members themselves. One such member recants a situation when she went to claim her child from what would have been the Scientology version of a daycare program only to find her daughter covered in flies, her eyes pasted shut from an eye infection and wearing diapers that hadn’t been changed in a very long time.

Bottom line – it’s a scary organization which was founded for the purpose of making tax-free money that literally attacks its critics, threatens its members, and gets people to believe stories of aliens creating the human race along with people being infected with evil souls that cause you to do bad things. Oh and to find out that last part about the aliens, they don’t tell you that up front, you only find that out after you’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars and spent years and years studying the beliefs of Hubbard.

Directed by Alex Gibney, this is a super-interesting documentary and a most revealing look at a “religion” that’s spent a lot of time trying to hide its secrets. After seeing this, I understand why they’re so secretive…

The film is on HBO now but is being re-released in theaters and wide soon.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Edge of Tomorrow

by on Jul.12, 2015, under Movie Reviews

edge of tomorrowIf you take the film Aliens and mash it up with the concept behind Groundhog Day, you’ll have a good sense of what this film is like. So instead of Bill Murry and Andie MacDowell with Punxsutawney Phil, we have Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt alongside a ton of soldiers and aliens fighting each other. As popcorn sci-fi action movies go, this was entertaining…

An alien force has invaded and taken over most of the planet quickly and easily, knowing everything we’re doing before we do it making it very hard to defend ourselves. The alien force in question turns out to be able to bend time and use it to their advantage when conquering a planet. Through some twists of fate, Cruise’s character comes in contact with one of the aliens during a fight and temporarily inherits the ability to reset time. As implausible as it sounds, the way it’s conveyed works in a sci-fi platform since it is after all, alien DNA that’s allowing these abilities. The story was fun to watch play out, had some lighter moments to break up the pacing and had a happy ending to wrap it up. The ending is one of my few complaints; it was too neat and unrealistically convenient when it could’ve been really interesting and dramatic, they went more pedestrian here (probably a focus group thing).

Visually, the effects are mostly pretty impressive. I say mostly because the aliens at times look very digital. When they’re moving quickly (and they move really quickly which is jarring in a welcome way), the effects are better, when they’re settled or moving slowly they lose the organic sheen that blends them into the film more naturally.

The actors are good. Cruise is convincing in his character who starts off very clumsy (initially he’s a military journalist, not a soldier) and then evolves into a streamlined fighter after he dies a few hundred times. Emily Blunt is a badass and the hero that leads the charge to bring Cruise up to speed as a badass himself. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Madeleine Mantock and Tony Way.

Yes, there are some serious plot holes here and there but overall it’s worth a viewing if you like sci-fi action flicks.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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