Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

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

by admin on Oct.26, 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:
ITunes
Netflix
Playstation Store
XBox VOD

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Hellraiser

by admin on Oct.26, 2014, under Movie Reviews

For this week’s horror review, I decided to go with the 1987 classic, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. I discovered Barker’s work in the 80s and enjoyed many of his books, including the short story this film was based on called The Hellbound Heart from the Books of Blood collection. Great stories, masterfully told…

The film centers around the concept of a box that opens up dimensional doors, mostly to hell it would seem. The door is opened by those seeking the darker arenas of pleasure and pain, only once opened they get much more than they bargain for. Such is the circumstances with Frank who manages to escape his torturous confines when an unfortunate accident with his brother Larry provides a way back to humanity.

Hellraiser marks Barker’s directing debut. The film was made for about a $1M budget and has moments where it feels a bit dated, especially with regard to the appearance of some the effects. Still, most of the film stands the test of time in terms of story, acting and overall presentation. It’s plenty creepy and jarring despite some of the 80s remnants of clothing and hair style. Even some of the bad effects moments will hold up to the gross factor of present day horror counterparts.

The actors are all strong. Andrew Robinson is a great balance of likable and then not so likable later on as Larry. Clare Higgins portrays Larry’s treacherous wife expertly and Ashley Laurence as Larry’s daughter plays her role passionately. All-in-all, tight, professional acting throughout the movie.

If you’re looking for another horror film to add to your must-see wish list, be sure to include Hellraiser as well as Hellbound: Hellraiser II. I wouldn’t go beyond that though…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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You’re Next

by admin on Oct.19, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Slickly produced but super formulaic, at least initially, You’re Next offers some moments we’ve seen many, many times but also the occasional twist, especially in the third act of the film. Ok, so let’s get past the formulaic part – there are some boobs, as well as gratuitous violence, some guys in creepy masks alongside many traditional horror moments. Even though the film is set up with many of the usual ingredients, it’s still done pretty well in terms of building tension, sound design and overall production values. Good camera work, nicely edited too.

The premise is that a family has reunited at the parent’s retirement home in the country. The family is your average well-to-do bunch with the usual relationship disfunction. Siblings bring their new boyfriends and girlfriends as well. Only, one of the girlfriends has a more dynamic past since she grew up in a survivalist compound (and also somewhat indestructible). Dunh, dunh, dunh!! There’s also another interesting plot twist with a couple of the other family members that I don’t want to spoil for you, but just know it’s a clever ingredient in the storyline.

The actors are pretty good. The downside is at times they’re put in really obvious set up kind of situations where you can see what’s coming about a mile away. It’s to the point where I actually thought on a number of occasions that noone could possibly be that stupid in terms of how people reacted to their plights. It just seemed really contrived at times with moments of poor writing.

The director and writer did a competent job but nothing that’s going to make the film a classic. The films that stand out as classics are the ones that break the mold and add their own signature to a genre. Films like Halloween, The Exorcist, The Strangers, all were able make their own mark. This film unfortunately tries to do that but still comes off formulaic and trying too hard. I will admit that there is a situation at the end and part of the storyline where they offer a pretty cool ironic element.

The lineup includes Nicholas Tucci, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, Sharni Vinson, Wendy Glenn and AJ Bowen. Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett.

While it doesn’t offer much in terms of new moments, You’re Next is worth a look if you enjoy formulaic horror you’ve probably seen before.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Maniac

by admin on Oct.12, 2014, under Movie Reviews

A remake of the 1980 film, Maniac follows the story of a serial killer whose psyche was traumatized by an abusive mother (some shades of Norman Bates here only this guy is obsessed with mannequins and decorating them with the scalps of his victims). Elijah Wood stars as the twisted lead hellbent on trying to quell the voices in his head alongside the intense pain he suffers as a result of migraines. One victim after another suffers at his hands until he finds Anna, who he starts to have a genuine connection with, at least until things start to unravel again for him when she starts to learn of his true nature…

I find remakes to be a bit hit-and-miss but this one’s not bad. I remember seeing the original back in the 80s; both films have their merits. The original (especially compared to today’s production values) has a very low budget hack and slash feel to it. This update feels much more polished but is equally as gory and visually intense. Still, you gotta give props to the 80s version too for the efforts of effects master Tom Savini who worked on the original. The effects in the remake are really top notch, the bed scene towards the end is especially riveting and disturbing as the killer is confronted by his victims during a psychotic break.

One of the things I liked about the movie is how it’s told largely from the POV (point of view) of the killer himself. This viewpoint creates an interesting dynamic where instead of feeling like the victim (or a 3rd party watching from the outside), you’re in the driver’s seat for most of the ride. It conveys a sense of madness and power all at once.

Wood does a great job as the killer (no traces of Frodo in here) as he descends further into his character’s insanity. The rest of the actors are all solid as well. The lineup includes Nora Arnezeder, America Olivio, Genevieve Alexandra and Liane Balaban; Frank Khalfoun directs.

Don’t expect a happy, fluffy bunny kind of ending in this one folks. I would definitely recommend adding Maniac to the list of horror films you’re watching during the Halloween season!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

by admin on Oct.05, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Tyler Labine star in this fun, off-beat horror film. The film centers around 2 hillbillies who just want to enjoy their new fishing cabin when they cross paths with a group of college kids camping in the woods. Misconceptions from both sides lead to some crazy situations that continue to spiral out of control as the situation builds to a head.

This film is so much fun. It takes some stereotypical horror scenarios and turns them on their ear. There are some great moments between the characters on both sides of the story as they try to get a handle on the circumstances surrounding their conflicts. You’ll even find a bit of a love story intertwined in here as well which adds a whole new unexpected dynamic. There aren’t too many films I can classify as original these days but this would be a film I would put in that category. Similar to how Shaun of the Dead put its own stamp on the zombie-genre, this film re-defines the camping in the woods slasher.

The actors are great from the amped up college kids to the misunderstood country boys, all are strong in their roles. Tyler Labine is the big, lovable doofus while Tudyk plays the straight guy trying to be in charge. Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock is the female lead and plays a smarter character than she is more known for. She’s actually endearing and convincing in her role as well as being enjoyable to watch. The cast includes Jesse Moss, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons and Travis Nelson.

Eli Craig writes and directs. Craig does an excellent job on both fronts in creating this unique and entertaining film. You hardly know you’re watching a horror film sometimes, at least until they hit you with the occasional college kid getting massacred every now and then.

A great way to start off my horror movie reviews for the Halloween season. The ending is really satisfying and there’s a wicked chainsaw / pipe fight! Check out Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, it’s on Netflix!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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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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Lovelace

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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