Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

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

by on Oct.04, 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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The Hamiltons

by on Oct.04, 2015, under Movie Reviews

the hamiltonsDespite some short-comings, as far as low-budget horror movies go, I found The Hamiltons pretty decent. Part of the recently re-invigorated After Dark horror series, The Hamiltons centers around a family comprised of 4 brothers and a sister who pull together in the wake of their parents death to live life as best they can. The trouble is that the family has a dark secret that puts them in danger and forces them to move around to avoid persecution (and possibly death) that could be inflicted by the public if their secret is discovered (insert ominous music here).

Don’t get me wrong, The Hamiltons are not your average family, they are some very bad people as evidenced by the opening scene profiling them through an exchange with one of their victims. I won’t say what The Hamiltons are so as not to give away the big reveal, but let’s just say they’re not taking people in because they offer bed and breakfast services.

Overall, I thought the writing was decent, not mind-blowing, but decent. Some of the dialog I thought was pretty boring and predictable but conceptually there are some interesting things going on and I thought the ending worked pretty well. I like when a film will take some chances and not offer the watered down generic Hollywood endings we continually see coming out of the west coast. No offense to my friends on the west side but LA isn’t the only hub for entertainment these days and thank god, otherwise all we’d see are super hero films, reboots and the same regurgitated comedies we’ve come to expect. And by the way – SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FILM!

Horror wise, there are some tense moments that manage to get the pulse rate moving a bit faster without being a gratuitous torture porn film. There’s even some drama involving the relationships between the family members that will keep you guessing here and there, especially with the conflicts that the second youngest son is facing as he questions the actions of his kin.

Where the film falls a bit shy is twofold both in moments of poor production quality along with some bad acting. The lowlight shots in the film made me gasp audibly at how bad the distortion was to the point I was questioning how the hell the movie got distributed in the first place. Then there was the eldest brother’s performance along with the sister who I felt both turned in pretty forced deliveries without feeling very natural in the skin of the characters they were embodying. There weren’t any actors in the film that I felt were exceptional, they were all pretty generic both in terms of delivery and dialog seeming more like placeholders rather than passionate human beings. The lineup includes: Brittany Daniel, Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Joseph McKelheer and Mackenzie Firgens. Directed by The Butcher Brothers.

In a nutshell, The Hamiltons is worth at least a viewing if you like suspenseful horror without huge expectations.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

by on Sep.27, 2015, under Movie Reviews

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesI was a little apprehensive about this one but overall, I thought it worked with a few exceptions here and there. There have been a number of Turtle movies made in the past including another live action version from 1990 that was a horrible train wreck. The animated version of the series entitled TMNT I thought was great and have reviewed it for a past blog. This version goes back to live action with the turtles designed in 3D animations rather than actors in bad rubber suits. Luckily, the tech has improved since the last live action version…

The film is basically another reboot (surprise, surprise Hollywood, do you have any original ideas anymore?) starting with some backstory and then bringing us present day with the turtles already into their teenage years. Shredder and the Foot Clan are up to their usual mischief in terms of world domination and it’s up to the turtles to save the day. Enter April the news reporter who is trying to expose what’s really going on once she discovers the truth of the turtles, the clan and the clashes that are taking place between the two. Little does April know that she’s part of the story herself which adds some new twists to where everything is going.

The writing is pretty average and although it tries to add some left turns, you can still seem them coming easily. But that’s ok, this film isn’t going to be the most challenging thing conceptually and doesn’t really need to be. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for with fun and action which is what you’re really looking for when it comes to crime fighting mutant ninja turtles anyway.

The acting is average for most of the actors with no standouts for me. The weakest link in my opinion was Megan Fox who just looks confused most of the time when she’s not trying to be scared. If you watch her face, I swear it looks like she’s not really sure what film she’s in or what these turtles are all about. Overall, she’s a terrible actress with little to no-range. I’m not sure why anyone really uses her in films to be honest. She’s nice to look at but there are many more attractive actresses that can actually act out there and I don’t think her name is all that big a deal these days so I don’t really get why she was cast here as she doesn’t bring anything to the film that’s interesting, unique or even beneficial. The cast includes Will Arett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg and voice work from Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shaloub.

The production is very well done. Michael Bay is a producer on this one (luckily he didn’t direct so no overuse of low angle crotch shots) and the effects are top notch. They did a great job of seamlessly blending in the 3D characters of the turtles with the live action in a way that felt convincing.

If you can tolerate Megan Fox and are fan of the series, you’ll probably dig this film, I did.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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John Wick

by on Sep.20, 2015, under Movie Reviews

john wickSimply put, John Wick is a revenge flick, and hot damn is it fun to watch! I can’t say revenge movies are big on my list of favorite sub-genres, but there are some that I’ve enjoyed over the years (like Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy) and this one is close to the top of my list of favorites…

Keanu Reeves stars as the main character who recently lost his wife and is in the mourning process. He also happens to be a retired assassin who finds himself in a position of becoming a victim when some gangster types decide to rough him up, steal his car and kill his dog. You can steal a man’s car, but you do NOT kill a man’s dog (the dog is kind of special but I’ll let the movie explain why). In a “every time I’m out, they pull me back in” type of scenario, Wick emerges from retirement to issue some retribution for the foul deeds of his assailants. By the way, the chief assailant happens to be the son of one of the underground figures Wick used to work for.

The storyline, while formulaic and not super-original, is still enjoyable to watch unfold and serves as an appropriate vehicle for delivering the film in a way that manages to feel fresh for being so familiar. There aren’t many (if any) unexpected twists but I found myself not really caring about that. I was more immersed in the action, the delivery of the actors and the catchy dialog. One of my favorite aspects of the John Wick character is that just about everyone knows who John Wick is and noone wants to tangle with him (except for the unknowing thugs who assaulted him in the first place). Even the police let him slide when they encounter him at his home with a number of dead bodies laying around preferring that he attend to his own issues.

Keanu Reeves is in fine form in this film. Reeves is often regarded as being very wooden in his delivery but in John Wick he demonstrates some range as he manages to pull off being distraught about his wife and dog in a convincing manner while also executing the thousand mile stare while in killing mode. Bottom line is that he’s really good in this film and is engaging on screen. All the actors in the film are quite good and make the most of their screen time, I found no weak links in the cast in terms of talent or performance. The impressive lineup includes: Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Michael Nyqvist as well as Toby Leonard Moore from Daredevil and Alfie Allen from Game of Thrones.

The directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch do a fine job crafting the film. The action sequences are exciting, well choreograhed and entertaining. Action can be hard to convey in a way that keeps the adrenalin up while maintaining a sense of originality, John Wick manages to accomplish both.

If you dig action oriented revenge stories, John Wick should be right up your alley. There aren’t too many films in this genre that I’d care to revisit for another viewing, but this movie is one I’ll take for another spin.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

by on Sep.13, 2015, under Movie Reviews

seeking a friend for the end of the worldSteve Carrell and Keira Knightley star in this apocalyptic romance… Is that a new sub-genre? I wasn’t sure how to classify this one which is a good thing now that I think about it. Regardless, the film was interesting and a bit of a refreshing departure from the usual fare we see from films that have romantic tones to them within a dramatic package.

Carrell and Knightley’s characters and the rest of the world have just found out that there is a comet on it’s way to earth that’s basically going to kill everyone. They’ve already taken a stab at destroying the thing “Armageddon” style but to no luck so the planet is basically doomed. Carrell’s wife decides she isn’t into her marriage all of a sudden so she bails leaving his character heartbroken as well as freaked out that he’s going to die soon. After some soul searching he decides to look up a lost love from his past to spend his last days with…

Eventually, he crosses paths with the free-spirited Knightley who ends up on embarking on the journey with him with the hope she’ll eventually be able to reach her family with his help. Along the course of their journey, they end up defend themselves from rioters, partying with drugged out hippies, reuniting with family, and finding love again.

I liked this movie. The script managed to feel original although similar themes have been explored before. The pacing is a little slow at times and Carrell’s character is written fairly monochromatically for the first 2/3rds of the film which makes him a bit drab to watch here and there. Think about his character from the 40 year old virigin but without the dick jokes, this guy isn’t too far removed from that. Luckily there’s a bit of an arc for him closer to the end that helps liven things up as does Knightley who is full of life and lightens the tone with her presence.

The ending is great! *SPOILER ALERT – They don’t let you off the hook at the finale by the way, the film is taken all the way to the end with the comet which was surprising. It was nice to see a film maintain it’s thematic integrity even though it may not be the happiest notion with regard to where the movie is leading everyone. Overall, I thought the film ended on a bittersweet, challenging note that I found very satisfying.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Hot Girls Wanted

by on Sep.06, 2015, under Movie Reviews

hot girls wantedIt’s hard to like a documentary like this given the subject matter, but I have to say it’s done well. Produced by Rashida Jones, Hot Girls Wanted examines the world of web porn, more specifically girls that are part of the Pro-Am world of adult film. Pro-Am is short for (irony coming, annndddd now!) Professional – Amateur porn. Basically, this branch is dedicated to girl-next-door types who are brand new to the industry in the age range of 18-25.

The documentary follows several girls entering into the adult film industry who, after answering a Craigslist ad, are flown to Florida to stay in a house provided by a booking agent who sets them up to appear in adult films. At first, the picture that is painted doesn’t seem terribly bad. The girls are there willingly, they understand that they’re having sex on camera for money (some of them are very enthusiastic about the notion) and they’re happy with the money they’re making. Like I said, at first…

Further in, the story takes on a different flavor. The average shelf life of one of these girls is anywhere up to about 3 months but not much beyond that. It turns out the novelty to these girls is that they’re new. If they don’t draw a major following or become some sort of porn superstars, their bookings quickly begin to diminish. The only way they can keep the bookings coming in once their novelty is waned is for them to get into alternative niches in the industry. Many of these niches however are very dark, abusive and downright scary which is largely one of the reasons girls drop out of the profession.

The bottom line is that the girls (while naive and responsible for their own decisions) are largely misled about what they’re getting into and what their future is like. There are a few that buy into the bullshit of the booking agent that draws them in and sells them on the idea of living in a dump while they sell their bodies to make him money, but most smarten up enough to get out. They come out of it as different people one way or the other; hardened, hopefully wiser, but aged and weathered a bit to be sure.

The production of Hot Girls Wanted is nicely done, there are some compelling interviews with the girls, some of their family members and loved ones, as well as booking agents, producers and other participants in adult film.

Hot Girls Wanted is a worthy doc that sheds some light on an aspect of adult films that could stand some illumination.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Aug.30, 2015, under Movie Reviews

goonWith 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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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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