Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

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

by on May.01, 2016, 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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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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Pee Wee’s Big Holiday

by on Mar.20, 2016, under Movie Reviews

pee wees big holidayHere in 2016, we find Pee Wee pretty much the same person as he was 30 years ago. It’s amazing to think that it’s been that long since we last saw everyone’s favorite boy-man in action. This made-for-Netflix film fits right in with the universe created from his earlier adventures. The usual ingredients are here including the silliness you are probably imagining along with some faces from the past and a whole new road trip for our intrepid hero.

It all begins when Pee Wee runs into Joe Manganiello (as himself) in his hometown. They immediately becomes fast friends (as most do when they meet Pee Wee) with Joe inviting him back to NYC to attend his birthday party. Pee Wee has just 5 days to get to Manhattan for the big party and the quest begins! From there on it’s pretty much the antics you’re anticipating and perhaps even hoping for.

The film is fun and wacky and one of those things you watch just because it’s fun and wacky. The production is tightly put together with a slick production atheistic accompanied by a raucous soundtrack from Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame. Paul Reubens co-wrote the screenplay with Judd Apatow serving as one of the producers.

Reubens is enjoyable to watch and hasn’t really skipped a beat since the last time he donned the red bowtie. I did notice some subtle moments where he seemed like an older, slightly crankier version of himself. But wow, it has been 3 decades and for the most part, he’s aging pretty well, this in contrast to the train wreck that was Dumb and Dumber To by comparison.

If you enjoy the character and liked the first films, you’ll have a good time with this one. It’s on Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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10 Cloverfield Lane

by on Mar.13, 2016, under Movie Reviews

10 cloverfield laneLet’s start with this, 10 Cloverfield Lane is about 90% drama and 10% sci-fi, so if you’re looking for heavy sci-fi in the film you won’t be a happy camper. Being cool with that, it’s a decent drama/thriller with a sci-fi nod in the last 15 minutes or so. The sci-fi part of this mainly is the temporal backdrop as this film is set on the same timeline as the original Cloverfield movie.

The premise is that through a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself in a bunker being nursed back to health by a man who isn’t the most stable individual in the world during a time of world crisis. The crisis itself isn’t clear, but it’s some kind of attack (if you’ve seen the first film, you know the deal here) and it’s not safe outside of the bunker. The film unfolds as Michelle is held there against her will for her own safety along with the safety of another inhabitant named Emmet and their captor Howard. Meantime, outside the bunker is a whole other story…

The film is well written and directed. The director being Temple graduate Dan Trachtenberg (go Philly!) who did a great job putting everything together under producer JJ Abrams. I’ll say the same thing about this film as I did the first Cloverfield, it’s one of the few films I really liked that JJ is involved with and it’s because he’s producing, not writing and directing. Sorry folks, but for me his writing and directing is really hacky and formulaic  these days with much more flash than substance. This film however, doesn’t have those problems. The suspense is well orchestrated and the outcome is one of those things you keep wondering about in terms of where things are going without relying on a big, vacuous use of effects.

The actors are great. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does pretty well playing her part with some strong emotion and nice subtleties in her delivery. John Goodman as Howard is especially good in his role. He’s unnerving and unstable and yet balances that out with trying to be fatherly and protective of Michelle, he’s not so fond of Emmet. John Gallagher Jr. performs well as Emmet playing the character in a way that showed him as kind of a naive, innocent guy that is trying to do his best in resolving their situation while trying not to upset Howard in the process. For some bizarre reason, Bradley Cooper does the voice on the phone as Michelle’s boyfriend. *Sideline note here – this is a stupid-ass vanity move and a waste of budget, he brings nothing to this role other than a higher paycheck and a really dumb way of spending money on a film.

When the film concludes is when it hits the big effects sequence and the dramatic tie-in with the first movie. If you’re a fan of the original Cloverfield, it’s worth a look in the theater. If you’re just into dramas, you might wait for Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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San Andreas

by on Mar.06, 2016, under Movie Reviews

San AndreasI had a term pop into my head to describe a movie like this. Go with me on this one; if The Expendables is gun porn, and a film like Hostel is torture porn, than movies like San Andreas should be considered either effects porn or disaster porn. As far as which is the better term, I’ll leave that for the cultural zeitgeist to decide…

So, genre being established, the film itself is the typical disaster film Hollywood feels compelled to regurgitate out into the public now and again. In brief, it’s a popcorn flick with a terrible story and a huge effects budget. The story isn’t really worth going into but suffice it to say it’s the typical paint-by-numbers formula that typically gets injected into a film like this. This is one of the biggest things that pisses me off, they have an opportunity to reinvigorate the genre and do something original but instead they just churn out the same assembly line kind of film they usually produce.

The good thing about the film is the effects but even they get a little tired after you’ve seen the same kind of destruction throughout the majority of screen time. They mix a tsunami in there too but the funny thing is, given that the quake originated from the San Andreas fault, the tsunami would be going away from our west coast, not towards it. That thought was distracting when I had it. Most of the effects are pretty grandiose and look great although there are times it crosses into the CG looking obvious once in a while. As far as effects go, I’d give a B.

The acting is pretty standard, nothing really challenging here. They’re scared, they’re upset, they’re tense, and repeat. Dwayne Johnson plays the lead as a rescue operations expert, Carla Gugino portrays his ex-wife and both are fine but nothing out of the ordinary in performance terms. Alexandra Daddario is their daughter Blake, who the filmmakers continually find ways of stripping off layers of clothing until they actually just dunk her in water to make her clothing wet and clingy. There’s one point where her love interest actually just blatantly stares at her chest, it’s like he couldn’t help but just stare. The best actor in the lineup is Paul Giamatti as the concerned earthquake expert, but even he can’t save this one from falling apart.

It’s formulaic and will possibly lower your IQ, but if you like effects or disaster, that might be enough.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Zoolander 2

by on Feb.28, 2016, under Movie Reviews

zoolander 2Your favorite dufus model is back, only this time it’s over a decade later and things haven’t panned out so well for Derek Zoolander. He’s lost his wife, his son, his dream for his center for those-that-can’t-read-good is gone and Derek has chosen exile as his way of dealing with the loss. Zoolander is once again recruited for another fashion show and scores an opportunity for redemption to get his son back. Sound serious? Nah. It’s still a Ben Stiller film, don’t worry.

The plot is over the top like it’s predecessor and like any follow up they take things to a higher level. Which is where the film isn’t as strong as the original; the original had more of sense of flair and originality but No. 2 relies more on cheap jokes and repeat gags probably more than it should. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to watch but you might want to wait for this one to hit Netflix.

There’s a ton of recognizable names involved again and they’re all pretty damn funny. The only one that came off contrite was Justin Bieber, which, really doesn’t matter given what happens to him in the opening segment (which alone makes the film worth seeing). The lineup includes Penelope Cruz, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Justin Theroux, Milla Jovovich, Kristin Wiig, Billy Zane, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christine Taylor along with cameos from Jane Pauley, Katie Couric, Sting, and Christine Amanpour among many well known fashion designers such as Tommy Hilfiger.

Z2 definitely has some laugh-out-loud moments but you don’t get the belly laughs you did on the first ride. Still, it’s worth a viewing if you enjoyed the first one as it’s got the Stiller style who wrote and directed.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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