Cinema Alliance Movie Reviews

Undivided is on-line, on-demand now!

by on Jun.28, 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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The Cobbler

by on Jun.28, 2015, under Movie Reviews

the cobblerThe Cobbler lands as one Adam Sandler’s more surreal and purposeful films. While having some comedic moments, don’t expect a Sandler comedy in this one. In fact, the film starts off with more of a somber, family tone, has some lighter moments here and there and evolves into something that you may or may not see coming. I have to admit, I saw some things coming but was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of some of the subplots.

The script centers around Max Simkin (Sandler), a simple cobbler following in his absent father’s footsteps running the family business. One day while repairing the shoes of a gangster, Simkin discovers that an old piece of machinery in the basement has the ability to create shoes that allow the wearer to experience life wearing that other person while wearing their shoes. Imagine being able to walk in someone else’s shoes/lives literally and you’ll see where this is going. Yes, the premise sounds a bit out there (and it is) but it’s rolled into the film in a way that is entertaining and intriguing to watch. Bear in mind, you have to just be willing to roll with it, but if you are, it’s an enjoyable ride.

The story evolves in a way that explores some moral landscapes as well as Simkin’s past with his family and a secret legacy. The writing overall is somewhat formulaic but has some refreshing original flairs and plays out in a way that was gratifying. Thomas McCarthy does a fine job directing but doesn’t really put a stamp on it that was unique.

Sandler is his usual self here and Dustin Hoffman is always nice to see in a film. The standout for me was Cliff “Method Man” Smith, he shows some range here and he’s pretty good, I didn’t know he had it in him but you can tell he did his homework studying Sandler’s performance as he had to mimic his behaviors a bit. Steve Buscemi, Ellen Barkin, Dascha Polanco, Miles Harvey and Melonie Diaz are all part of the lineup. Each of the actors I thought put in nice performances. My only criticism regarding the actors is that Diaz’s wardrobe person needed to put her in something that didn’t make her look like she was wearing clothing that fit like a trash bag.

The Cobbler is a decent Sandler film if you’re open to something a little unconventional from him.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Transformers: Age of Extinction

by on Jun.21, 2015, under Movie Reviews

transfomers age of extinctionBoy, for an unrealistically portrayed inventor that lives on a farm for some reason, Mark Wahlberg’s character sure knows how to fight. He can even beat up specially trained CIA assassins. Yep, it must be another Michael Bay flick. I’ve also noticed that each Transformer film he does, the girls that function as the sex objects keep getting younger. This time he decided to showcase a 17 year old girl’s short shorts from low-behind angles whenever possible instead of the 20 somethings he’s preferred in the past. Sorry, while ridiculously gratuitous as usual, this time he’s venturing into the creepy zone with this girl whose character hasn’t even graduated high school. Shame on you Michael Bay, not cool…

The story this time ‘round is that the Autobots (and all other Transformers) are being hunted by both human and another alien force that’s at work in the background. Optimus Prime and crew have gone into hiding but soon have to emerge to defend themselves from extinction. On the human side of the story, we have the aforementioned inventor who is a shitty dad but of course needs to rise to the situation surrounding him consisting of alien-war, government black ops and a new nemesis that’s a threat to the Transformers (in addition to his daughter’s boyfriend).

The movie is nearly non-stop action (although not nearly as well paced and exciting as the new Mad Max film), in fact, that’s one of the problems… There’s so much going on that it gets a little boring after awhile since the film clocks in close to 3 hours in length (yes, no shit, 2 hours and 45 minutes to be exact). There’s also the issue of being pounded almost constantly with corporate sponsorship. I’m a filmmaker and an entrepreneur, so I get it, but this kind of product placement was often distracting and overly blatant.

The effects and design is mostly pretty awesome although at times the new Transformers incorporated into the film look super-digital, especially when they’re transforming. Prime and his crew still look cool when they’re doing their thing and it was great to see the Dynobots join the fun. A lot of the green screen scenes are easy to spot too, kind of surprising for Bay, his films in the past have looked a bit more organic than this one, especially the third Transformers film. Oh well, maybe he’ll do better with number 5.

The acting is cartoony at times, even Stanley Tucci was a bit over-the-top almost annoyingly so. Wahlberg was ok but didn’t do anything out of his phone-it-in zone. Even his slow-mo fist drop to the ground looked pretty staged. Ugh. It seems like the actors mostly just fall into a plastic mold whenever they do a Transformer film without any major arcs or lines that require more skill beyond just a rudimentary paint-by-the-numbers approach. The lineup includes Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, T.J. Miller and Thomas Lennon.

This latest installment of the Transfomer series of films ranks as one of the worst, although not quite as bad as number 2, but pretty damn close.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Nightcrawler

by on Jun.14, 2015, under Movie Reviews

nightcrawlerNightcrawler centers around the videographers who get to accident / crime scenes, shoot the scene and then sell the footage to news organizations. Kind of like paparazzi for tragedy. The ultra-creepy Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) decides to get in the game after being rejected for other jobs in his search for work. Bloom finds that he has a skill for the work as he’s willing to cross some morally hazy lines that others aren’t as likely to bypass in order to get more graphic footage than his counterparts. This becomes more evident when, after arriving to an accident scene first, Bloom drags one of the crash victims into a better lit spot so he can get the shot he wants…

The story crafted here is masterfully put together. The dialog created for the Bloom character is especially compelling and well constructed. His demeanor is off-putting: he’s aggressive, direct, and just plain weird. Bloom is not someone you really want to be around or spend time with once you get to know him as he seems ok on the surface but upon further observation, he’s not what he seems initially. The rest of the written characters are your average filler with the spotlight centered on the oddball in the middle of film.

The actors all put in great performances with the standout being Gyllenhaal. His portrayal of the main character is fascinating to watch, he really embodies this guy in a way that makes the hair on your arms stand up while wanting to see what this guy is capable of doing. He tries to be charming but his version of charming seems more like not-so-veiled intimidation. Everything about him seems like there’s something wrong going on behind his eyes somewhere, even when he’s doing simple things like politely asking questions of other characters. Another notable performance comes from Rene Russo who portrays the news director purchasing the morally ambiguous footage, desperate for ratings and to keep her job. She plays the role in a way that shows her character as being strong but as someone who has her own gray areas ethically speaking. Also included in the lineup: Bill Paxton, Michael Papajohn, James Huang, and Leah Fredkin.

Nightcrawler is well directed and stylized. It’s slickly produced and well paced. There are some moments the pacing is slowed so we get to know who’s who and what they’re like but then speeds up again during the scenes when the shooters are arriving to the scenes to capture the drama. Overall, this is a smartly constructed thriller that’s entertaining to watch and worth checking out.

It’s on Netflix!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

by on Jun.07, 2015, under Movie Reviews

tinker tailor soldier spyBased on the intellectual spy thriller by John le Carre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a story involving espionage, an affair, murder, politics, and betrayal. With that kind of mix you’d think this movie would be a little more exciting but the film is not set up that way. Unfortunately the deliberately slow pacing is what hurts what could’ve been a much more compelling piece. It’s also a bit long at just a little over 2 hours and with the slow points in the film, it makes it feel even longer. There are films that pull off that balance between intellect and action like The Hunt For Red October, unfortunately this film doesn’t hit the same mark…

Set during the Cold War, George Smiley finds himself forced into retirement due to internal politics only to be brought back into the middle of the MI6 when the discovery of a mole raises questions Smiley needs to help find the answers for. Smiley discovers a trail in his investigation that leads him from a rogue agent to the top of the MI6 itself.

As I said, the story sounds interesting which is one of the reasons I finished watching the movie. The way the film is structured it relies a lot on intellectual dialog and a lot of flashbacks to the point where it gets a little tricky to follow at times. The mystery to who the spy is isn’t terribly surprising and there aren’t any moments I felt were really unexpected. So given those intellectual moments and less focus on physical action, this one isn’t for adrenaline junkies.

It was great to watch Gary Oldman in the lead as Smiley, I can watch him in anything he does. He played the role in a very straight-forward way with hints of emotional moments but with a controlled approach. Colin Firth is compelling in his role as fellow MI6 member Bill Haydon, also a master in his craft, his subtle moments come off big but still muted appropriately at the same time. The rest of the impressive lineup includes: Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Kathy Burke, Toby Jones, John Hurt, and Mark Strong. v

If you’re into slow, intellectual pieces without much action, you might want to check this one out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Inglorious Basterds

by on May.31, 2015, under Movie Reviews

inglorious basterdsInglourious Basterds starts off feeling like a western, but with Jewish U.S. soldiers and nazis. This time the story is one you wish really happened but in reality it’s Quentin Tarantino’s version of the ending of WWII. In Tarantino’s tale, a special unit of guerrilla soldiers (led by Brad Pitt) is in a collision course with a theater owner who are both hell bent on the same task – killing the entire German high command along with Hitler himself during a film premier. The theater owner happens to be the sole survivor of an attack on her family committed by Col. Hans Landa of the SS, who works out to be the person in charge of security at the event. The build up is great as is the pay off…

The pacing is as you’d expect from a Tarantino movie, it ebbs and flows between scenes of extreme violence and extensive dialog. The dialog really didn’t drag for me like it does sometimes in some of his other pieces (Jackie Brown and Death Proof both had some pacing issues I thought), the lines written and delivered kept things moving while filling in a lot about the characters. I thought Hans Landa (played by the excellent Christoph Waltz) and Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine were especially well written. Landa was unnerving while being simultaneously disarming somehow which made him all the more dangerous. Raine is equally as brutal as Landa but in a Tennessee-awwww-shucks kind of way while carving swatikas into nazi foreheads.

The actors are truly entertaining to watch, especially Pitt and Waltz. Waltz is really fascinating in how he delivers his lines; smooth, eloquent, intelligent, and ruthless. Pitt does some great character work too channelling his inner redneck. BJ Novak from The Office fame shows up as a Basterd and fits the role he plays nicely. Melanie Laurent as the theater owner Shosanna is passionate and tragic, convincingly so. The only odd ball in the lineup was Mike Myers. Yes, Mike Myers of Wayne’s World and the Austin Powers films. Myers is playing a British officer and comes off to me like him playing a character rather than a real character, it was a distraction having him in that part. Otherwise, the rest of the cast is excellent and includes: Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Eli Roth, and Daniel Bruhl.

The directing is as tight as the script. Interestingly the film was directed by Quentin Tarantino with an assist from Eli Roth on the “Nations Pride” segment. This has Tarantino’s touch all over it from the music choices, to the long dialog scenes, to the closeups he likes. He still borrows from Scorcese a lot but hey, it works. The color palette is rich as is the design of the sets, costumes, props and every detail that made the film feel like an authentic (albeit still stylized) presentation of the 1940’s.

I enjoyed this one and will probably watch it again.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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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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