Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided: The Preston and Steve Experience is available online, on-demand now!

by admin on Sep.28, 2014, 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

Coming soon to:
Playstation Store

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Jack Reacher

by admin on Sep.28, 2014, under Movie Reviews

So, this is your typical Tom Cruise action film -  he’s a rebel, former ex-military, breakin’ all the rules, fighting injustice, blah, blah, blah… Yeesh, you’d think actors like Cruise (who can do whatever the hell he wants to do) and the studios would get bored putting out the same films with the same characters and the same storylines but here we are, more of the same old formulas…

Speaking of the story, it goes something like this – Jack Reacher is called in to help with the case of a sniper gone rogue who starts taking out people seemingly randomly in a busy city. However, the rub here is that the killings aren’t so random and the sniper’s situation isn’t so cut-and-dry, hence the plot twist and Reacher’s involvement which of course is the nut we’re supposed to crack in terms of the “mystery” of who’s behind the killings. I won’t spoil it for you in case you decide to watch the film but suffice it to say the whole “twist” isn’t really all that hard to figure out and ultimately isn’t all that surprising…

The production itself is done very well with lots of action, slick camera moves and snappy editing. The colors are rich with a polished aesthetic that works well for the film. The soundtrack is standard as you’d expect and of course the effects and fight choreography is high-end too. The problem isn’t the production quality, it’s the lack of originality as the film just kind of feels tiresome to watch most of the time simply because it’s been done so many times before, a number of those times by Cruise himself. If Ving Rhames had shown up in here this could’ve almost been another Mission Impossible film without the tech.

The actors are all pretty competent without any major standouts. Ironically the only actor I thought was sort of a weak link in the chain is Cruise. This one seems like he’s phoning it in, whipping out one-liners that sound rehearsed without genuine emotion behind them. Most of the time he’s very one-note trying to play the distant tough guy character (who they try to make seem more interesting by pointing out that he only has one shirt) but unfortunately he just doesn’t seem to have much range here. “Flat” is a word I would use to describe Cruise’s performance; it’s a shame really, he can do more when he wants to in terms of emotional range (check out the excellent Minority Report), here, he’s the same Tom Cruise character as we’ve seen in other films such as any of the Mission Impossible films or even Days of Thunder. The cast includes Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog and Jai Courtney.

If you’re in the mood for an action film you’ve already seen, you might want to give Jack Reacher a viewing. I found the film to be one of those films I only need to see once, if at all…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by admin on Sep.21, 2014, under Movie Reviews

I was looking forward to this movie as there was a lot of controversy surrounding the life of Linda Lovelace, the movie that made her famous in addition to this film as well. Lovelace centers around Linda Lovelace of course, her rise to prominence and the trials she faced along the way.

The story itself is pretty interesting, unfortunately the way the story is told has some problems… The filmmakers should’ve relied on the drama of the events themselves to be enough, instead there are some timing tricks tried out that fall a bit flat. For example, the same series of events during the initial story set up is told twice – once in a way that shows sort the happy-go-lucky version of the events and then a second versions is told where Lovelace is getting beat up and abused throughout. I understand the idea but the execution of it comes off very clunky and drawn out.

The story has plenty of meat to it with compelling characters and the most successful independent film ever as something of a backdrop (Deepthroat cost around 20K to make and grossed over $600M, Lovelace was paid $1,250 for her trouble). And Lovelace herself is an intriguing person who, after changing the world of porn forever went on to leave the industry, condemn it and write a book about her experiences, she has since passed away due to a car accident.

Something else that gets in the way is how the film is directed. There were some odd moments where the music seemed out of place, the way the timeline jumps around is a little confusing and there are some issues with the lead and her performance…

Normally I think Amanda Seyfried is a decent actor in certain roles. This isn’t one of her better performances. She’s very one-note for most of the time she’s on screen (kind of like a deer caught in headlines) and when she does have to dig deeper into more complex emotions, it seems like she has to force herself to get there without it coming naturally. Lindsay Lohan was originally supposed to play the lead, it would’ve been interesting to see how she did it. Seyfried’s portrayal just isn’t very powerful or passionate, rather devoid of authentic emotion mostly. The support is quite good though with Peter Sarsgaard as her abusive, self-serving husband, alongside Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannvale, Hank Azaria, Chole Sevigny, Debi Mazar, Eric Roberts, and James Franco as Hugh Hefner.

It’s worth seeing the film just to learn more about the backstory to the making of Deepthroat, but other than that, I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it as the word “meh” comes to mind when figuring out how I feel about it.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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A Fantastic Fear of Everything

by admin on Sep.14, 2014, under Movie Reviews

A Fantastic Fear of Everything centers around a writer named Jack who starts to lose his mind while doing research for a book project. Jack is trying to break away from his successful kids books to become a more serious crime novel writer. In the process of researching various serial killers, Jack finds himself growing more fearful and paranoid about his own surroundings to the point that he starts to have trouble with day-to-day tasks and exchanges with other people. Along the course of his experience, he comes in contact with an actual serial killer that twists the theme into a more detective story kind of direction.

I thought the writing was interesting and challenging given some of the twists along the way. The story had the potential to go in a number of different directions which is one of the things I found intriguing about it. There are some predictable moments here and there but most of it keeps you guessing. The acting and the directing had an impact on this as well…

Co-directed by Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell, the presentation of the film definitely has an English vibe both in terms of locations since it was shot there, but then also in terms of editing and production quality. Some of this has to do with Simon Pegg’s involvement as he plays the main character and was also an executive producer on the project.

Simon Pegg is great in this as the neurotic, quirky Jack. He might be a bit over-the-top at times but never in a way that feels tiresome or monotonous. The support lineup is tight as well and fun to watch in their roles, lots of talent here. The cast includes: Clare Higgins, Paul Freeman, Alan Drake, and Amara Karan.

This one’s available for viewing on Netflix, check it out!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Spark: A Burning Man Story

by admin on Sep.07, 2014, under Movie Reviews

There is truly no way to capture the experience of Burning Man; many documentaries have tried, but it’s simply not possible. Sparks: A Burning Man Story doesn’t try to be the experience but rather relate the experience through different people’s stories. I’ve been to the event 5 times, served as a regional contact, run theme camps and performed in the Burning Man Fire Conclave. I can honestly say this might be my favorite documentary based around the event…

The images are fantastic. Ranging from the stark desert, to prepping on the streets of San Francisco to the peak of Black Rock City at its most intense height, even the dust storms, all of the best moments are there. The footage of the art work is particularly engaging to watch, I especially enjoyed the drone footage that was inserted throughout different highlights. The production quality here is great.

The stories of the film follow some of the artists that contribute their art projects to the scenery on the playa, alongside some theme camp organizers as well as the organizers from the event itself including many of the key founding members with interviews from: Larry Harvey, Crimson Rose, Marian Goodell, and Harley Dubois among others. The interviews are enlightening and entertaining with the variety of experiences and viewpoints.

One of the great aspects to the documentary (which is 90 minutes in length) is the historical backstory that’s included showing the early days of the event. The filmmakers got some great archival footage that includes the early days on Baker Beach in San Francisco as well as the 1996 events that scared the organization into having to institute some safety rules before there really were any.

If you’re interested in the event or just art in general, I can’t recommend this documentary enough, it’s on Netflix…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Expendables 3

by admin on Aug.31, 2014, under Movie Reviews

There’s maybe 15 minutes worth of dialog in this whole film, the rest is explosions, gun fights, knife fights, more gun fights and Harrison Ford flying a helicopter gleefully spewing one-liners. In other words, it’s just like the first two: gun porn. Which begs the question – why are we so ok with over-the-top gun violence but we’re so much more conservative with regard to nudity and sex? Oh, right, I’m reviewing The Expendables 3; now is probably not the best time for philosophical contemplation…

The storyline goes like this: Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his rag-tag band of mercenaries are in the midst of their latest mission. Things are going ok but some kinks in the armor begin to emerge with the seasoned members of the team. The second mission goes bad and the enemy of the film emerges, more mistakes made, someone gets hurt. Barney decides it’s time for a change, a new lineup of The Expendables debuts only to find themselves on the wrong end of the shit stick. The crew comes together once again and so it goes.

If you liked the first two, you’ll like this one. The Expendables 3 is the same kind of guilty indulgence as the first two, but that perhaps is also the film’s weakness. There isn’t anything being introduced writing-acting-directing-action-wise that’s new (other than a female Expendable and some new celebrities). The film presents the same kind of gun fights, fist fights, tank fights, and well, you get it. The premiere of the movie didn’t do well in theaters but it was still that kind of guilty pleasure film that turned out to be fun to watch. I just hope this is the last one because things are getting really repetitive.

The lineup is more indulgently enjoyable than ever with the aforementioned Ford and Stallone alongside: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson (who’s playing nearly the same Voz character he played in Machete Kills), Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kelsey Grammar, Ronda Rousey, Antonio Banderas, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz. No Bruce Willis this time, didn’t miss him.

The film is well-directed and well-produced. It’s fun to see on the big screen but only if you don’t mind more of the same in terms of action, dialog and presentation.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Nice Dreams

by admin on Aug.24, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Every once in a while you have to review one of the classics. This time I chose Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams (the sequel to Up In Smoke). Say what you will about this being a stoner film, but C&C were juggernauts during their heyday and put out some funny stuff while addressing social issues like immigration and pot legalization through their humorous exploits.

So, obviously this is film about Cheech and Chong, this time they’re pot dealers (naturally) who sell their product through an ice cream truck. During their sales route, the police plant a buyer to start the process of sting operation. The police eventually track down the guys at their source and initiate a raid. Various antics ensue along the way with a tongue in cheek and a joint in hand.

Not the greatest writing in the world but funny and goofy is more the approach here anyway, this ain’t Macbeth. I’ve always found the endings to their films to be kind of abrupt, usually going out on a gag, Nice Dreams has an ending that happens in the same way. The only part of the story I found kind of annoying was Stacey Keach’s character slowly turning into a lizard, that’s just stupid.

The actors are all good in their roles. Keach overacts a bit but that’s kind of what his character calls for, so it could’ve been the writing too. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong (who also directed) reprise their roles of course and are as funny as they ever were during this lofty high period in their careers.

The production quality and long takes are evidence of the style from the time this was shot in 1981 making the film look very dated. Nothing slick here, just some smokers having fun…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Pain & Gain

by admin on Aug.17, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Pain & Gain is a surprising movie. For starters, based on the poster and the name, it’s probably a bit misleading with regard to what you might think the film is actually about. The movie is about the true story of Daniel Lugo (played by Mark Wahlberg), a bodybuilder from Miami that wants it all. The big mansions, the millions of dollars, endless women, all of it. Trouble is, he doesn’t think he should have to work to get it; he thinks he just deserves it so much, that it’s ok to take it from someone else. So, he hatches a scheme to do just that.

Directed by Michael Bay (I know, I know, this would often be a red flag but Bay’s style really lends itself well for the presentation of the movie), the film has a slick look with big sky angles, stylish editing, eye catching graphics and beautiful colors to accent the Miami landscape. Bay does a great job putting this one together from a strong script that doesn’t seem to have too many plot holes or easy cheats that you’ll often find in the storyline of some of his other films. The dialog fits each of the characters well as they tell this compelling story of the ultimate identity theft caper that goes wildly off the rails.

The talent is tight with Wahlberg turning in a great performance as the lead, he seemed to be a very natural fit for this part and beefed himself up quite a bit to prep for the role of the ‘roid-addled weightlifter. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie play Wahlberg’s lackeys and do so with a convincing delivery of stupidity without either coming off cartoonish. Tony Shalhoub plays the victim who later returns for justice and is great to watch as usual. Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson and Larry Hankin also contribute their talents.

While it isn’t the action movie you may be thinking it could be, Pain & Gain is an entertaining film with an interesting storyline, great visual delivery and a strong cast. I would suggest checking this one out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Stake Land

by admin on Aug.10, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Stake Land centers around a man and a teenage boy trying to make their way to Canada. The kink in the chain is that the world is infested with vampires and it’s not quite so safe to be out in the open for humans anymore. The man (who’s referred to as Mister, kind of an odd character name) saved the boy (Martin) from death when his family was attacked and killed. Their quest is to make it to New Eden (aka Canada) as vampires hate the cold in this particular mythology.

The story is pretty solid without any big twists or turns. There are some decently written moments of tension and the dialog, while average, fits well with the characters. Nothing really seems out of place. While there are few innovations or unexpected moments, it’s still enjoyable to watch and has an ok ending. I only say ok because the ending is a little abrupt and tries a bit hard to be non-formulaic but still ends up that way anyway.

The production mostly is pretty good (especially for a $650K budget) although the vampire’s makeup and costuming falls pretty short looking borderline cheesy at times. The editing, sound, set design and wardrobe is solid but average. Makes me wonder where the budget went…

The talent does a fine job delivering their roles. Connor Paolo (who plays Martin) and Nick Damici (Mister) are the center pieces here and perform convincingly. The only other stand out is Kelly McGillis who plays a battered nun just trying not to become another meal. The lineup includes Traci Hovel, Gregory Jones and Danielle Harris.

I can’t say this one compares very well to other vampire classics but it’s a fine way to kill an hour and half or so. It’s worth a viewing for you to come up with your own opinion about it.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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