Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided is on-line, on-demand now!

by on May.24, 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

Coming soon to:
ITunes
Playstation Store
XBox VOD

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Mad Max: Fury Road

by on May.24, 2015, under Movie Reviews

mad max fury roadI enjoyed every frame of this action-packed extravaganza. Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t a re-boot, it’s more a chapter in a much bigger story, a story they’re making through a series of films. The second film The Wasteland is already written and the third film is already a novella they’ll be adapting into a film. Either way, get ready for more Max!

If you’ve seen the other 3 films, imagine (mercifully) that the 3rd film never happened and that you were somewhere around the middle of the second film, The Road Warrior, that’s roughly where Fury Road kicks in. Max finds himself being chased by group of marauders in the desert ultimately ending up their captive eventually being used as a living blood bag for one of the gang that’s injured. He eventually crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa who is betraying the leader of the gang by trying to help his wives escape a terrible life of captivity and rape.

From there, the movie basically continues as one long, exciting chase. The pacing of the film is intense, some slow parts here and there to establish story and character and then back to the action. It’s a blast to watch and the stunts are amazing! Not so much CG in here, it’s mostly organic and you have to marvel at the orchestration and the level of skill involved in the end result.

George Miller is back in the director’s chair and is also one of the writers. He brings back an old favorite from the first Mad Max film too, see if you can spot the actor who played Toecutter in the original, you’ll have to look for his eyes as you won’t be able to see the rest of his face too well. He also brings back the spirit of the first two films in terms of intensity, the vision of the post-apocalyptic landscape, and the bad-assary of Max himself.

The actors are all amazing! Tom Hardy is perfect as the new Max, defining the character in his own way. Any insecure males that were complaining about the action sequences involving women can shove their narrow-minded lack of insight here, I’ll watch Charlize Theron kick ass as Furiosa any day of the week. Nicholas Hoult as the psychotic Nux nearly stole the show too! Also included in the lineup: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Josh Helman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne.

If you liked the earlier films or you enjoy great action films, you won’t be disappointed with Mad Max: Fury Road! They have a dude playing a guitar that shoots flames out of it while driving maniacally through the desert on top of a death car, what’s not to like?

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Noah

by on May.17, 2015, under Movie Reviews

noahI’m not Christian so I come from a non-religious standpoint on this one, just FYI… I’d put this film in the same classification as a film like The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Cleopatra and the like; basically an epic with religious overtones. Taken from the bible (with some creative license), Noah focuses of course on the man and his family responsible for building the ark that saved the innocent when God was on a bit of a rampage to cleanse the world of the wicked.

I know there were various groups in a tizzy for a number of reasons – religious groups being pissed about inaccuracies and non-religious types bent out of shape because Darren Aronofsky made a film based on a story from the bible. Can’t people just enjoy a film because it’s entertaining? And if it’s not entertaining, maybe just don’t watch that one. It doesn’t seem like a hard choice to me.

Ultimately, I thought the film was pretty well done. Aronofsky brings his usual creative flair to the film with some moments that feel like they have his specific touch, much of it just feels like an epic without being attached to anyone in particular stylistically speaking overall. The story is decent although at times a bit preachy (it is a Bible story after all) but the moral messages are somewhat universal nonetheless. The dialog seems mostly natural but there are some points that feel stiff in terms of wording and delivery.

The visuals are mostly pretty decent. I say mostly because there are few moments that look super-digital which was a distraction. The look and feel are well designed for the most part although I did have some questions about the authenticity of some of the clothing which again proved to be a bit of a distraction. Noah and his family’s clothing seemed almost like the designer version of the rags they were supposed to be wearing.

The actors bring strong performances to the table but again are stiff at times due to some of the dialog delivery. I felt that Russell Crowe delivered a passionate performance as the tortured Noah making some impossible decisions along with another passionate performance by Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s equally tortured wife. The lineup includes Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Douglas Booth.

If you like epics, give this one a shot, it’s worth a viewing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Horns

by on May.10, 2015, under Movie Reviews

hornsDaniel Radcliffe sheds his Harry Potter past playing Ig Perrish, a man accused of murdering the love of his life thereby becoming the scourge of his hometown. Everyone hates him, even his own family doesn’t believe his innocence displaying their disbelief in a not-so-subtle passive-aggressive kind of way whenever he visits. The only one who believes his innocence is his lawyer and childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella) who grew up with Ig and Ig’s love Merrin.

After Merrin’s murder, Ig is beyond consultation and at one point decides to test the karmic landscape by desecrating a memorial at the site of her murder following a vigil. The next day (this is where the film gets a bit supernatural), Ig finds he’s grown horns which people react to in very interesting ways, mostly in the form of brutal confessions. Ig soon learns that there are other powers on the horizon as he starts to accept having the horns after a tough initial trial period of growing into them or moreso as they continue to grow on him.

The story is pretty well written, the way he gets the horns is a bit cheesy but things improve afterward. The plot has some twists and turns as well as the mystery of Merrin’s murder unravelling in some ways you may see coming and in other ways not so much. The ending provides a nice philosophical note about revenge while showcasing some of our moral shortcomings as humans. The confessions are surprising at times, even shocking here and there as Ig endures hearing those thoughts we usually filter so people don’t get hurt.

Alexandre Aja directs and does a fine job stitching the visuals together along with guiding the actors and storytelling process in a way that keeps things compelling across the board. I know I was really curious how everything was going to be resolved and enjoyed the trippy eye candy that was presented along the way.

The actors are tight, I thought there were some passionate performances here. Radcliffe is back in suffering mode like we’ve seen in some of his other roles but doesn’t phone it in. The other members of the cast all do a fine job although I can’t say there was anyone that was a particular standout to me. The lineup includes Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, David Morse and James Remar.

Personally I like supernatural, avant-garde-ish films like this, you might too…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

by on May.03, 2015, under Movie Reviews

avengers age of ultronAvengers: Age of Ultron picks up where the first film left off and after Captain America 2. Shield is still dismantled but our heroes are keeping busy. The movie starts with the team trying to retrieve Loki’s scepter from the first installment and more specifically the glowing orb that powers it. In a be-careful-what-you-wish-for type of scenario, the Avengers claim the orb and the AI power within it that emerges through Tony Stark’s Ultron program.

The film is nearly non-stop with plenty of action along with some dramatic moments, some funny moments (the contest to pick up Thor’s Hammer is worth the price of admission), and the exploration of new characters such as Vision, Scarlett Witch, and Quicksilver. War Machine and Falcon show up in here too. There’s a lot going on and it’s every bit as much fun as the first movie as this film shares the same magic touch of writer/director Joss Whedon. There’s some twists and turns to the storyline with some pleasant surprises and unexpected moments along with some set up for Infinity War.

The effects are amazing to watch on the big screen of course, I would highly suggest seeing this one in a theater (the first time anyway). One of the more gratuitous moments for me was the Iron Man vs. Hulk fight with Iron Man balancing the scales using his Hulk container unit, such a blast. As usual, the Marvel quality seal of approval is all over this, that company knows how to do it right. My buddy Paul put it best “I don’t know how you couldn’t like that film”.

In terms of the talent, it’s a major lineup including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bethany, Cobie Smulders, and James Spader as the voice of Ultron. Spader’s voice and demeanor make for a great AI villain hell bent on saving the world by destroying humanity. As for the rest of the actors, simply put, they all kick ass.

If you’ve seen the first one, if you appreciate fun, entertaining, action-packed popcorn flicks, this is right up your alley.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Tricked

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Movie Reviews

trickedThere are more people in involuntary captivity now than in any other time of our nation’s history. In other words, there is more slavery and human trafficking taking place than ever before. How can this be? This seems like such an outrageous concept to me, I had thought (hoped) that we, as humans, have evolved a bit more than I’m giving us credit for I guess as evidenced by this documentary…

Tricked dives into the world of human trafficking and more specifically how people are forced into sex slavery. Several cities are examined including Las Vegas and Denver among other locations. The topic is shown from several different angles including from the women that were forced into these positions, their families, the police, the johns and the pimps. Some of the pimps are surprisingly cavalier about how they view the women as commodities rather than humans. Their ignorance and cruelty pushed me to the point where I wanted to jump in there and just punch them right in the mouth; some of them were just truly loathsome people (if they really classified as people at all).

The stories are shocking. I know at first for me, it was hard to imagine how someone got “forced” into this kind of a position. I mean, why not just run away? It turns out, it’s not that simple. Threats against their families are made by the pimps as they really take time to get to know their victims and then work to exploit weaknesses and put the girls in a position where they think there’s no hope and no escape. They fear for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.

The frustration of the police is evident too as they’re forced to arrest the women but the pimps and the johns tend to not be pursued with the same vigor, if at all. I would think the other way around would be more effective, that sentiment was echoed by the police officers involved as well. Either way, our system here is broken as confirmed by the interviews throughout the doc.

Tricked is a great resource for learning more about this disturbing problem, a problem that’s being tragically ignored and dismissed as being unimportant. If you think that way, take a look at this film and tell me if you think the families and the victims of this issue find it “unimportant”.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Ayahuasca: Vine of the Soul

by on Apr.19, 2015, under Movie Reviews

ayahuasca vine of the soulIt’s not often I get to provide an insider viewpoint when I’m reviewing a documentary but this time I do. I was fortunate enough to experience the ceremony myself and since I’m a filmmaker too, I have unique insight to share with relation to both the experience and the documentary portraying it, so here we go…

Ayahuasca: Vine of the Soul provides an overview into the ceremony conducted by shaman using a drink brewed from the ayahuasca plant. The plant is protected by the South American government and is seen as a national treasure, kind of the opposite how the US regards plants like this and marijuana which fall into the same category as heroin in the government’s eyes.

The documentary follows several people going through the ceremony and focuses a bit on their lives both prior to the ceremony and after it. People have different reasons for trying the medicine (in circles close to it, the plant is referred to as a medicine) including addiction, self-esteem issues, traumas from their past, as well as wanting to see the face of God, among many other reasons. In terms of it being medicinal, it’s also being used for cancer treatment and other physical ailments.

The presentation of the film is done pretty well. My only complaint are the production tricks like some of the transitions they use for example that are used to make the film feel “trippy” at times. There’s no way to capture visually what happens when deep in the process and visual production effects make the film feel cheapened as a result. The ceremony is typically done in the dark, night filters are used which gives the night shots a green, alien kind of feeling which again kind of makes it feel a little hokey. These distractions diminish the important, underlying messages about the experience at times but luckily the message is still there (just disregard the cheesy parts).

It’s interesting to see the transformations some people go through, it’s not for everyone and you need to be open to it. Most of the people featured in the doc seem to be receptive to it in different ways. They each get different messages and lessons to go through in varying degrees, sometimes nothing happens at all, it’s all dependent on the person. The shaman plays a central role in the process and is instrumental in guiding the journey so there are various factors that influence the overall experience.

If you have an interest in shamanism, as well as spiritual and mental exploration and development, this documentary is definitely worth a viewing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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August: Osage County

by on Apr.12, 2015, under Movie Reviews

august osage countyWell, this one’s a bit of a downer, it’s very well done, but damn, it’s a downer… Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), August: Osage County features the story of a family broken, very broken, mostly by their own devices and attitudes. Plagued by dreary, depressing attitudes, drug abuse, cancer, suicide, incest and a lot of denial, the whole story feels doomed and at times is hard to watch as there’s very little joy found anywhere in here. Even during the few moments of positivity in the film they become quickly overshadowed by the dour outlooks of the main characters…

This is the kind of film I’ll only watch once and only out of curiosity and wanting to watch the actors do their thing. Rightly so too as the actors are great. The screenplay is well-written for what it is, the dialog seems true to the characters and is compelling (which is hard to pull off in a drama sometimes). The problem is that the attitudes of the main characters are so hopeless and depressing that even when some light is offered from the less-depressing characters, it just doesn’t cut through the dark of the leads with the exception of an outburst from Chris Cooper’s character towards his wife in the film. Meryl Streep’s character has just lost her husband to a suspected suicide, she’s battling cancer herself and her 3 daughters are a complete mess too. Julia Roberts is the oldest daughter, going through a divorce and dealing with a teenage daughter that doesn’t like her. Juliette Lewis is the youngest of the 3 and is engaged to a materialistic man who is definitely going to cheat on her if he isn’t already (he even hits on her 14 year old niece) and the middle daughter just found out that she’s involved in a incestuous relationship with a brother most of the family thought was a cousin. Wow.

While the story sounds dramatic and interesting (and it is), the delivery is hard to get through and if you’re looking for relief at the end of film, you’ll be sorely disappointed as noone seems to find redemption. I’m not sure why people write stories like this or what compels people to even watch a film that’s so entrenched in darkness and depression. That’s what I found this film to be, simply a character exercise exploring depression and hopelessness. John Wells directed and does a great job capturing the dire sentimentality that runs through the spine of the script.

The only quality that kept me wanting to finish watching the film was the actors. Streep is her usual tour-de-force and sets the bar high for everyone else to match. Luckily the cast is strong enough to match her intensity and authenticity. Julia Roberts is especially good and stands out on her own as one the more engaging, intense actors to watch which is impressive considering the lineup of talent here. The lineup includes Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martingale, Dermot Mulroney, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, and Misty Upham.

Bottom line: if you appreciate films just for the acting or you’re ok with films that offer no redemption or happy ending, you may like this one.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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You Laugh But It’s True

by on Apr.05, 2015, under Movie Reviews

you laugh but it's trueCoincidentally, I just happened to watch this documentary/comedy film a few weeks before Comedy Central announced Trevor Noah as the successor to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. It was cool to see him get the hot seat but he has some big shoes to fill, it will be interesting to watch him and how his style compliments the show.

You Laugh But It’s True is a little hard to define, it’s a hybrid for sure. Docu-Comedy? Comediomentary? I’m sure there’s a name for it but there’s way too many sub-genres to keep up with. It’s a bit documentary and a bit stand-up performance, and no matter what you want to call it, it’s worth checking out. There are interviews with Trevor, his friends, his family, and his fellow comedians from South Africa, some of whom have no love for Trevor. The main complaint about him is his ego, and they’re right to a degree, the guy’s got a big ego. Some of their disdain is also based on jealousy though because not only is Trevor a seemingly natural talent, but his career is also really taking off both in South Africa and beyond it’s borders as well.

And you know what? Once I heard more of his story, the less I cared about his ego and the more I appreciated his talent and what he’s gone through to get where he is. He earned his success and is still in touch with his roots and his humility when with his family. He’s working hard to take care of his mom too, gotta love that.

There are lots of laughs throughout the doc with various stand-up performances from Trevor and a number of other comedians. There are some emotional and insightful moments too. If you want to get to know a bit about the next host of The Daily Show, You Laugh But It’s True will provide some great insight.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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