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by admin on Apr.13, 2014, under Movie Reviews

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Paranoia

by admin on Apr.13, 2014, under Movie Reviews

This film didn’t do so well in the theaters, with some of the talent involved I was surprised by that but after seeing the movie, I understand…

It’s not an original concept by any means, but the story is still entertaining overall conceptually. It’s just that it’s pretty predictable and doesn’t offer any real twists that you wouldn’t see coming. So I would stay that the story is competent, but that’s not really much of a compliment I guess. I think people are hoping to be surprised by something during the course of watching a film, unfortunately Paranoia just doesn’t offer that.

Here’s the set up: set in NYC (but shot largely in Philly), the story centers around Adam Cassidy (played by Liam Hemsworth), a hotshot software up-and-comer trying to make his way up the fast track ladder working in the tech world. He ends up getting his wish but in a way he didn’t quite expect. He has to take care of his father, his father’s medical expenses since they don’t have insurance and his own livelihood too. He ends up in the middle of a power struggle between two corrupt tech titans  using him as a pawn of industrial espionage battling for the marketshare of the phone tech industry.

There’s a number of problems with Paranoia. For one, there seems to be a lot of reasons for getting Hemsworth shirtless at different points in the film which adds an air of superficial story writing along with the lame sex scene between Hemsworth and Amber Heard. Another issue is that there are very few likable characters in this movie. Most of them just seem to be assholes with the exception of Richard Dreyfuss who plays Hemsworth’s father. The directing and editing aren’t great either. The film is supposed to be a thriller but trendy editing tricks and fancy motion graphics don’t make up for shitty acting and writing which has a big impact on the thriller aspect. Speaking of shitty acting…

Unfortunately most of the weight is placed on Hemsworth in terms of carrying the film but he’s just not very good in this. His performance is one-note for the most part without much range of emotion. To put it frankly, he’s boring to watch. Luckily Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss make the film watchable but just barely…

Heard isn’t anything special to watch either. She has about the same amount of range as Hemsworth which just doesn’t cut it as far as turning in a compelling performance that lights up the screen. Neither of them heighten the tension with their deliveries, they just kind of say the words and go through the motions of what the script tells them to do.

I have friends in this film and wish I could recommend it (I’m also a huge fan of Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford) but Paranoia just isn’t one to go out of your way to watch.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Assumption of Risk

by admin on Apr.06, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Every once in a while I get an opportunity to review something that isn’t out for public consumption just yet, I had a chance to check out an online screener of Assumption of Risk and thought I’d share my thoughts on this upcoming thriller…

Put together by independent Philly filmmaker Mark Kochanowicz, the film was made for a modest budget (compared to Hollywood’s main stream standards) but doesn’t look that way. Professionally shot, this thriller is just further proof that independent film is alive and well and doesn’t have to have a major studio behind it to produce quality work.

The storyline centers around some unsavory practices behind some major health organizations whose clients strangely die off just in time for the companies not to have to pay out any benefits. One employee of these companies smells something foul and starts to initiate his own investigation into their practices. The further he digs, the more dangerous his world becomes as he unlocks the truth behind these greedy companies and their unethical methods.

Overall, the writing is well crafted. There are some points here and there where the story is a little hard to follow but it’s not difficult to get back on track. The cinematography is well done although I thought there could’ve been a bit more imagination during some of the scenes. The editing has the same stigma unfortunately as it’s a little slow paced for a thriller. There are times when the dialog hangs on a 2 or 3 shot instead of the use of closeups which could’ve helped the pacing as well as showing more emotional expression and depth. There are also a couple technical bugs as I spotted some jump cuts and some moments where the lead looked into the camera…

Speaking of the actors – most of them turn in admirable performances. Brian Anthony Wilson is particularly good as the menacing muscle for the company he works for; it’s nice to see Frankie Faison lending his skills to the film as well. Patricia Mizen is pleasant whenever on screen and delivers her lines convincingly. The weak spot for me was the lead Dan McGlaughlin. Unfortunately he doesn’t put in a very passionate or emotional performance even though his career and his life hang in the balance at times throughout the film. He plays his character in a very one-dimensional way that isn’t all that exciting to watch.

My recommendation – see the film and support independent filmmakers. If you enjoy intelligent thrillers, Assumption of Risk is worth a viewing, keep an eye out for it coming soon!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

by admin on Mar.30, 2014, under Movie Reviews

If you like Rush, you’ll really enjoy this in-depth documentary. It’s like a Rush history/diary of evolution, since their inception up to about 2010. Luckily Rush continues today as one of “those bands” that have reached legendary status alongside such luminaries as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

I don’t need to go over this point by point but would like to discuss some highlights…The music is great. They play songs throughout every era of the band up through 2010. There are live tracks as well and footage from when they were playing in high schools in Canada in the pre-Neil Peart days. Two of the clips come from Canadian TV shows that happen to catch the band before they were signed by a label. The way the band came together is really enjoyable to watch. The three of them seem to form a perfect musical bond that’s ever lasting (I’ve been in bands, this is not easy to do).

The musicianship and craftsmanship of their music is also discussed and turned out to be one of the more inspiring moments in the doc for me as a musician. The first difficult song I learned to play was “Tom Sawyer”; that song along with the Moving Pictures and 2112 albums changed my life as a bass player… As I said, Rush is just one of “those bands”.

The band is very candid during their interviews which is refreshing. There’s no pretense. Even Neil Peart (who admits he is not the most social guy in the world) talks openly about everything, including how he dealt with his wife’s death, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson discuss this topic with equal openness.

Some of the people interviewed include: Jack Black, Les Claypool, Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammett, Taylor Hawkins, Vinnie Paul, Gene Simmons, Trent Reznor, Sebastian Bach and more. Matt Stone from South Park pops in here too.If you’re not familiar with the band and just enjoy good, progressive, smartly written rock, take a look at this documentary, you just may find a new band to add to your list. If you’re into Rush, don’t miss this film…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Europa Report

by admin on Mar.23, 2014, under Movie Reviews

This sic fi thriller sets the stage as a report comprised of video feeds from a shuttle on it’s way to one of the moons of Jupiter. The moon (Europa) supposedly has a surface of ice with what scientists think is water beneath (these are real theories from NASA scientists and more). The thought is if there is water, there is life, hence the discover of new lifeforms outside of our own.

A group of scientists/astronauts embarks on this mission, to travel to Europa and take samples to prove the existence of life on another planet. Things start to go in different directions for them which leads ultimately to a landing for the astronauts and a series of events that draw the movie to an ending which some will debate I’m sure. I don’t want to spoil it here but suffice it to say I liked the ending and found it a satisfying conclusion.

The writing is excellent and seems spot on (admittedly I knew some information about the subject of the Jupiter moon but have no idea of the scientific accuracy behind the details the film uses). The dialog is intelligently written and well delivered by the talent. The pacing of the whole film starts as a slow build with some emotional peaks along the way before the climax. It’s not an action film really, it’s more a drama.

The effects were fantastic, it looked very authentic from the space footage, the interior of the shuttle and the surface of the Jupiter moon.

The look and feel of the film had a strong organic quality behind the realism of the technology. The presentation style is well done but a pretty common vehicle as the movie is told from the POV of digital cameras placed all over the shuttle’s interior and exterior as well as on the crew’s spacesuits. In a way, it felt like the ship was the storyteller.

The actors were all strong. Sharlto Copley was a standout as he brought an instantly likable quality to his engineer character. His character was likable and smart to boot. Michael Nyqvist and Christian Camargo both turn in emotional performances as do Karolina Wydra and Embeth Davidtz.

If you like a more serious and realistic sci fi thriller, I’d recommend taking a look at Europa Report.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Jedi Junkies

by admin on Mar.16, 2014, under Movie Reviews

This documentary explores the cultural movement of Star Wars fans and how the movies have effected their lives. It’s a fan’s documentary about the fans that take fandom to a different level.

Some of the level of collecting that is done I found is interesting to discover. Entire houses are filled in some cases of some of the most extensive and obscure items purchased through the Star Wars universe.

Then there’s the prop building and costume construction – much of it is extremely well done and created with intense focus and dedication. One particular fan built a quarter scale Millennium Falcon in his back yard that could accommodate several people climbing into it.

It could be said that some of these people’s obsessions might be a bit over-the-top where the lifestyle impedes on people financially or keeps them from interacting with others and building relationships. Everyone has obsessions of some sort, but there can be too much of a good thing.

Olivia Munn and Peter Mayhew (the actor who played Chewbacca) are interviewed. Munn is enjoyable and funny and is also a big Star Wars enthusiast. Ray Park (Darth Maul) is featured as well.

The production quality is ok but nothing to write home about it. It was shot in 2010 but looks low definition.

This is a documentary by fans for fans providing an interesting look into the subculture spawned by Star Wars.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Room 237

by admin on Mar.09, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Sometimes I think people see a lot things that aren’t really there… Room 237 is a good example of my sentiment.

This documentary examines the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. More specifically, Room 237 breaks down the subliminal context of the film that Kubrick supposedly included for different reasons. Before I continue, it should be noted here that the people that act as the commentators of this process are passing along speculative opinions, this is not fact from Kubrick himself. Upon examination of the film through the eyes of the commentators, there are definitely some moments that seem like valid subliminal connections. One of those things is a look that Jack Nicholson gives during the film that actually occurs in other Kubrick films through different actors to convey a sense of malice or evil.

To be honest, I thought most of these connections were kind of a stretch. Through the dissection of the film, Kubrick’s vision of The Shining is tied to everything from the slaughter of native Americans to the Holocaust to another theory that Kubrick was the filmmaker responsible for staging the first moon landing video.

Room 237 breaks down this movie in a way that just seems hyper-sensitive. There’s one notation about what seems like a simple continuity error (a chair in the background that doesn’t appear in a consecutive shot where it should still be), that gets linked to indicating some super natural occurrence instead of maybe just a chair that was accidentally moved.

The thing that surprises me most about this project is that it got made and distributed in the first place. It’s purely speculation and opinion and has no grounding in fact whatsoever. So basically this “documentary” is 5 people sharing their opinions about what they think are subliminal messages left behind by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining.

I can share something for the people that made this documentary very plainly, without any subtext – get over yourselves. Sometimes a pile of luggage on the floor is just that, it doesn’t necessarily represent the Holocaust. And sometimes films are just films and what you see is what you get, quit trying so hard to find things that aren’t there.

subjective opinions by Sean McKnight

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12 Years A Slave

by admin on Mar.02, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Based on a true story and a book from 1853, 12 Years A Slave tells of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northrup was living in upstate NY and had a family including a wife and children…

The story is brutal, painful to watch. The pain inflicted makes the film hard to watch at times; one marvels that as humans we’re even capable of these things. Sad, really. Films like this serve as an important lesson to remind us of why we need to continue to grow and evolve so we never repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past.

Brilliantly written, the story sets the tone with Northup’s family and how close he is to them. The set up has all the more impactful resonance when he is ripped away from these people he loves so much and becomes lost in a world of beatings, hard labor, and hardship beyond measure.

The acting for the most part is superb. There are a couple of weak moments with side characters as the dialog is a mouthful. The main characters are portrayed expertly by an impressive lineup with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead giving a command performance. He deserves the Oscar if he wins, just FYI. The lineup includes Brad Pitt (who also produced), Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, and Michael Fassbender (another powerful performance here as well).

Steve McQueen directs and brings an authentic touch that sets a realistic world of that era. The clothing, the props, are all spot on. He also knows how to work with pacing to set nice dramatic moments offset by the more violent points.

Definitely worth seeing why this film has 9 Oscar nominations…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Movie 43

by admin on Feb.23, 2014, under Movie Reviews

This has got to be in the top 10 list of the worst movies ever made. Movie 43 is Peter Farrelly’s attempt at making an homage to movies such as The Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women From the Moon. The film is comprised of a collection of shorts that are suppose to be humorous or outrageous or both. Sadly, it just comes off as really, really poorly written and produced…

The plots are ridiculous, it’s shocking for the sake of being shocking (the word tasteless fits in here as well) while ultimately losing its shock appeal through the terrible writing and plot design. The quality of it is what is really shocking here. The Farrelly brothers have always delivered films that challenged taste but usually had a point in there somewhere. This is just shock and cheap for the sake of being shocking and cheap but with no real rewards.

The writing is well, bad. Here’s a prime example – one of the stories consists of a date between 2 people – Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman. Jackman’s character has balls on his chin. This is the big gag. That’s right, balls on his chin. That drives the whole concept of this segment – balls on his character’s chin. That seems to be the basis for most of these segments – some cheap gag that comes off as something created for the novelty of shock value with nothing else behind it. Another story premise centers around a woman wanting her boyfriend to poop on her which serves as the main plot point while everything else circles around that idea. Wow.

The directing comes off as lazy and just going through the motions as it’s very un-imaginative and doesn’t present the material in the same fun way that other films in this style were delivered in. It looks like it was shot on a low budget and just pieced together without much effort behind it. The acting is pretty bad too as most of the actors look like they’re phoning it in to repay a favor to Farrelly. Ugh.

There’s only one thing that’s impressive here, and that’s the lineup of talent. I read several articles online that mentioned that noone helped to promote this film and some even tried to squash the film from being released. The impressive credits of actors include (besides Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet): Richard Gere, Liev Schriber, Naomi Watts, Justin Long, Halle Barre, Jason Sudekis, Patrick Warburton, Anna Ferris, Chris Pratt, Greg Kinnear, Dennis Quaid, Johnny Knoxvile, Sean William Scott, Emma Stone, Common, Will Sasso, Seth McFarlane, and more…

If you liked The Kentucky Fried Movie or Amazon Women From the Moon – watch those movies instead.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Punch Drunk Love

by admin on Feb.15, 2014, under Movie Reviews

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Punch Drunk Love stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson in this artsy love film. The movie has Anderson’s visual flair anchored by his often off-beat characters moving the story along in unconventional ways. Sandler’s character is painfully awkward while still making you root for him, sometimes reluctantly. Watson is awkward as well in a way that compliments Sandler nicely.

The story centers around Barry Egan (Sandler) who has issues with shyness and fits of rage which makes an interesting counter-balanace throughout the movie. Along his journey through every day life, he decides to call a phone sex line more for companionship and less-so sex. Unfortunately his call backfires as the phone sex line turns out to be a direct line to some con artists who come after Egan just as he meets a woman who wants to actually date him. Violence escalates as Egan and the con artists clash while he rises to protect himself and his loved ones.

Sandler turns in a pretty intriguing performance. He’s similar to some of his awkward comedic characters sans the comedy. Kind of like a slightly smarter Waterboy but without the accent and silly humor. He’s a bit darker and even can make the audience feel a bit uncomfortable when he’s in freak out mode. Emily Watson is quite good in her role as well convincingly playing the slightly less weird love interest.

Anderson does great work directing and writing. He’s created an intriguing story complimented by an entertaining visual presentation. The wide shots breathe nicely while the tense moments ratchet up at the right times. There are some interesting transitions blending the seques in an arthouse way that keeps things popping off the screen. My only complaint is that while the music nicely accents certain scenes, there are times it overpowers others and becomes a little distracting.

If you’re in the mood for an avant-garde kind of love story, take a look at Punch Drunk Love.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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