Alex Schor

Washington, D.C, UNITED STATES


Joined September 1st 2009

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HIGH TIMES

February 12th 2015 00:39
I will admit on going into Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s INHERENT VICE that I had no expectations, apart from two things:

1. I expected it to be funny;

2. I expected it to be better than THE MASTER.

I left the theater on a natural – if befuddled – high, as the film delivered on both counts. INHERENT VICE (or I.V.) is Anderson’s wildest, most colorful parade of characters since BOOGIE NIGHTS, and a welcome return to form after the dark and serious doings of THE MASTER (which didn’t move me) and THERE WILL BE BLOOD (which did). I figure some critics, after seeing I.V., will continue to utter Anderson’s name in the same breath as Robert Altman, a director he is often compared to. I.V. invites comparison with Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE, which with it shares a certain soul-brotherhood. To wit: both films are mysteries transpiring as the Sixties ended; they both seem to take place along the same stretch of SoCal beach; and a former flame spurs the detective-protagonists into the mystery, and they follow a chain of iffy clues to all kinds of oddballs.

However, I.V.’s detective is no Philip Marlowe, whether you prefer the suave operator embodied by Humphrey Bogart or the rumpled sleuth played by Elliot Gould. They’re paragons of organization compared to Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). A hippie who seems relatively normal compared to the hippies he’s surrounded by, Doc is embroiled in the case of a missing real estate developer, egged on by the disappearance of his old squeeze, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), who had shacked up with the developer.

Doc embarks on an odyssey that stirs drug smuggling, murder, the FBI, counterculture, white supremacists, red-baiting movie stars, Nixon, and betrayal together into a heady brew laced with generous tokes of weed. Phoenix’s laid-back performance is in direct opposition to the edgy character he played in THE MASTER, and he’s a master of understatement when up against some truly bizarre folk with equally bizarre monikers.

On the side of law and order, Doc’s nemesis is Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, played by Josh Brolin as a walking volcano that spews hippie-hatred and police brutality like lava, in between appearing in commercials with an atrocious afro and on Adam-12 as an extra. Then there’s Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short), a cocaine-addled dentist who’s more than happy to share his stash with strangers.

Add Owen Wilson as a radical musician on the run who’s apparently working for the establishment, and you’ve got…well, what exactly have you got, anyway? I’m not too sure, and neither is Doc. Either he smokes too much pot or he’s simply a lightning rod for trouble – from the fuzz, the squares, and other sundry groups.

Let me put it in Sixties terms: I.V. is one weird, freaky-deaky, groovy trip. Like, far out, man. It’s a real cool vibe about a guy fighting the Man, power to the people, make love not war, shake it but don’t break it, and keep on truckin.’

Okay, I concede that the above summing-up likely won’t make sense to anyone under the age of 45, but it was that or ancient hierograms. As I said, I was slightly confused about the plot and the theme. Maybe that’s the point. Doc, and the story, get a bit rueful and sad near the end, especially when Doc learns more about Shasta’s participation in the illicit activities he uncovers.

If I had to make a statement on the film, at a guess, it’s about the redemption of the Sixties generation, and Pynchon and Anderson lump in the entire generation – hippies and straights, commies and snitches, all of them – as worthy of remembrance. Except for Nixon – he’s a scumball, always and forever. Whereas the elusiveness of story left me frustrated in THE MASTER, in I.V. it was just part of the scene. You had to be there, but you didn’t necessarily have to be square.

If any of you are left bewildered by this review, and you need elaboration, feel free to write me, care of: Casa de Whackos, 999 Paranoid Drive, Suite 101. I can’t guarantee I’ll be responsive, as I’m scheduled for a lobotomy. Slip the blotting paper under my door any time after 11:30 p.m., M-F.

Peace out!

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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We should be thankful that we have madmen like Terry Gilliam, who continues to make movies even though his films face marginalization as a result of the revenue-above-all mentality ruling the major studios. Gilliam, a true independent, often labors like Sisyphus to get projects made, only to have the boulder of bad luck (or short-sighted money men) roll back over him as his ideas are relegated to development hell. For anyone who saw the documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA, it seems as if sometimes God Himself is arrayed against Gilliam’s ambitions.

Despite these capricious, unsympathetic forces, Gilliam still manages to push the boulder over the hill. The latest example is THE ZERO THEOREM, a movie that came and went in the U.S. without much fanfare or distribution, a typical fate for an independent film whose helmer’s brand recognition pales beside that of your average Disney or Warner Bros. property. I urge anyone who cares about story, character, and originality to see it; the rest of you can go back to watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY on a Mobius loop.

Gilliam’s oft-visited themes are prevalent in THE ZERO THEOREM: idiotic bureaucracy and insidious surveillance; corporate overlords; pointless, soul-squashing labor; and technological decadence. With a décor that melds both cyberpunk and steampunk with his traditional over-cluttered style, Gilliam conjures a nightmare world from Pat Rushin’s screenplay, creating a society that’s a brighter, day-gloing cousin to the ministerial prison of BRAZIL, yet is just as corrupt, jaundiced, and ultimately superficial.

In one of the film’s many ironies, the protagonist, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), is not a superficial person, despite being essentially a blank slate. His individuality is in his lack of personality, the result perhaps of being a diligent drone at a massive, all-consuming corporation for countless years. The work can’t crush his soul because he has no soul to crush. That work consists of Qohen “crunching entities,” or maneuvering constantly rotating cubes on a display screen using an Xbox-like game console. The process cleverly combines our affinity for entertainment and distraction with mindless repetition, creating the perfect worker bee. During his off-hours, in his mind’s eye, Qohen envisions a churning, abyssal vortex while waiting for a phone call that he’s convinced will give his threadbare existence meaning at last.

But Qohen is not completely devoid of feeling: he senses that the work he’s been doing since time immemorial is slowly killing him, and he wants the option of working at home, which at least is familiar and calming, rather than the corporate headquarters. These pleas fall repeatedly on deaf ears, until the head of the company, a silver-maned viceroy simply known as Management (Matt Damon), offers to grant Qohen’s wish provided he spends all his waking hours working on the Zero Theorem – an equation that, when completed, should add up to the meaning of life. This dovetails with Qohen’s own motivation, so he accepts, and labors more than a year on the assignment, only to crack at its apparent impossibility of success. And we’re still less than a third of the way through the movie.

Complicating Qohen’s predicament is the nuisance of contending with other people, also working for Management, whom increasingly infringe on his crunchtime once he reaches an impasse with the theorem. There’s Bob (Lucas Hedges), a teenaged intern who knows an awful lot about philosophy, and helps get Qohen’s system back up when Qohen expresses his unhappiness with a ball-peen hammer. Even more distracting is the alluring Bainsely (Melanie Thierry), whose purpose appears to be awakening Qohen’s long-dormant romantic and carnal impulses. Less welcome intruders include Qohen’s supervisor (David Thewlis), a giddy functionary who keeps mispronouncing Qohen’s name and wears what must be a candidate for worst toupee in the solar system. And in the showiest role is Tilda Swinton as the Scottish-inflected Shrink-Rom, a computerized therapist programmed to keep Qohen focused, although her sessions usually have the opposite effect; this is likely due to the distraction of her huge chompers, which make the bridgework she had in SNOWPIERCER look positively plebeian.

Qohen, at first reluctant and angry at having to deal with these people, gradually comes to rely on them. At the same time, the nature of his existential conundrum begins to shift, and the theorem becomes less of a priority. But are these elements helping him in his task or hindering him? Is there some overarching conspiracy by Management in the works, or is there simply no all-encompassing truth? Sooner or later, external and internal forces cause Qohen to hit bottom, and there must be some kind of reckoning. But Gilliam can’t help but inject a bit of ambiguity – and a lot of playfulness – into the film’s climax, which leaves room for interpretation.

Gilliam’s films reflect an imagination that mixes visual dazzle (when he can afford it) and satire in abundance, and THE ZERO THEOREM continues in this vein. Qohen lives in a disused church, which is both intimate and classical, blending spaciousness and hominess while also leaving room for a sense of humor. The basin for holy water is now Qohen’s sink, while his bed is wedged cozily between the pipes of the vault’s organ. The city outside is a maze of constantly scrolling video advertisements and news updates, with streets navigated by blocky cars that can barely fit two people. The corporate building is equally garish, with accents emphasizing the insane work-as-play mindset: employees sit in cubicles, crunching entities while also pedaling on stationary bikes. No wonder Qohen prefers working at home!

Another thing THE ZERO THEOREM does so well is use real-life trends to create a darkly funny, inflated view of life in this future. A key example is a party Qohen attends where hardly anyone makes eye contract; they’re mostly staring at their constantly present tablet computers, dancing to music on their iPods or their future equivalents. Even further along than this are virtual reality scenarios that Qohen engages in with Bainsley. These and other touches point to a fragmented, disconnected society cemented together by corporate power. It’s a scary and all-too-current prospect, once you look past the jokey tone.

Waltz injects genuine feeling into Qohen without going over the top: but then, how do you go over the top with a character so bottled up? When he finally does pop his cork, it’s not scenery-chewing. It helps a lot that Waltz is surrounded by colorful characters and environments to keep his portrayal grounded. Unfairly downplayed by the movie industry, I can see THE ZERO THEOREM gaining the attention it richly deserves on home video, and Terry Gilliam continuing to push that boulder over the precipice.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
20
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THE IMMUNITY FACTOR

January 30th 2015 18:50
As I get older I find that, while my love for watching films is as strong as ever, the expenditure of energy to see them has declined. It’s not so much a sign of ill health, I think, as a lack of enthusiasm to see a movie, given the logistics. Unless I am absolutely rabid to see a movie, or I can wrangle someone to come with me, I probably will not bother to drive down (or take the subway) to the multiplex. There’s also a potential psychological downside, as I hate the torturous commercial cavalcade, and the 15- to 25-minute trailer pageant, that precedes the main feature. I can close my eyes and block out the visual aspect, but I still have to listen to it: I’m not yet of an age where I need a hearing aid, and can switch off the sound at my leisure. And there’s no option to wait outside the cinema until the pre-show’s over, lest I lose my seat, assuming it’s a popular film.

Besides that, there’s also the risk of the movie itself being a grave disappointment. Since most movies in this category tend to be mainstream, I find myself especially slow to catch up with them. I’ll go out and brave cold, rain, snow, and so forth, for a rara avis like BIRDMAN, but the usual fare the studios churn out seldom causes my interest-needle to quiver these days. So I wait until it’s available on home video, which is a less expensive and less frustrating avenue.

I was hoping GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY would prove to be the exception to the rule, given the huge love-buzz that moviegoers and critics had for it. That it made gazillions of shekels during its summer run added to the argument that it was not just a good film, but an amazing film. People grooved to its snarky vibe and its epic scope, supplemented by the usual plushy production values typical of a Marvel Studios film. It seemed everyone and his brother was recommending it to me.

So last evening, in the comfort of my man-cave, surrounded by Star Wars and Star Trek models, and with a bag of Twizzlers to replicate the theater experience as much as I could, I watched it. For two hours and one minute I experienced the adventure, in high-definition, speakers blasting as loud as I could tolerate.

And I found it lacking. It wasn’t a complete catastrophe, and I’m not about to spit bile all over it. It was just passably diverting at best. Mostly harmless, as the late Douglas Adams would say. Better than some films adapted from comic book properties, but nothing really wowed me. The movie had a “been there, done that” quality, and that has nothing to do with its retroactive Eighties songs, which I could take or leave.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a movie that, when distilled to its basics, is an archetypal entertainment. I think of it as Star Wars with more sarcasm and grunge. You’ve got the usual power-mad intergalactic warlord psychopath (Lee Pace) out on a fanatical genocidal mission; a peaceful planet he wants to destroy; a motley band of would-be, flawed heroes who bicker a lot, and who are said planet’s only hope of salvation; and an all-powerful relic as MacGuffin, threaded along a string of fights, escapes, and explosions.

People who gave this film top marks rated Chris Pratt’s performance as devil-may-care mercenary Peter Quill highly. He does an adequate enough job, performance-wise. But again, I’d seen this sort of swagger before: in Han Solo and Indiana Jones, in Tony Stark, in Jack Sparrow – all of them, like Quill, an archetype. Mixing clichés into different combinations creates something different, all right – a bigger cliché. Throwing in with Quill is a grab-bag of interplanetary misfits – green-skinned warrior woman Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who isn’t exactly stretching herself, having played this role with blue skin in AVATAR), hot-headed but honorable convict Drax (Dave Bautista), gentle Wookiee – uh, I meant to say gentle humanoid plant Groot (Vin Diesel), and short-fused, intelligent raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper).

A word about Rocket: I can see the suits at Disney soiling themselves over the commercial possibilities of a wisecracking raccoon whose usual response to tough situations is to break out a gun that’s bigger than him and blast everything in sight. But I didn’t find this rodent a laugh riot – like all the characters in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, I felt nothing. I think part of the reason is the choice of Cooper to voice Rocket – his delivery was bland and undistinguished. If I were casting this movie I would find someone with more personality in his voice, someone who can make angry funny – a rough-and-tumble comedian, like Lewis Black or Patton Oswalt. But that’s coulda, shoulda.

Aside from the core cast, the movie, like many blockbusters, also recruits talented actors and gives them little to do. For example, Djimon Honsou has only three scenes in the entire movie, and he’s not very memorable – typical henchman character. Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close, and John C. Reilly fare a bit better in slightly bigger parts, but their job is mainly to deliver exposition – not exactly meaty gigs. As for the action and visuals, they’re well done, but CGI brilliance has become so common it’s interchangeable. One special-effects extravaganza blurs into another, and distinction is eventually lost. Too much digital wizardry puts me into a trance.

My experience of this film feeds the slow siphoning-off of excitement I used to feel for event movies, even the well-reviewed ones. If anything I’ve built up an immunity to such films over the years as I explored other art forms – books, for example. In an average year I read far more enriching books than see truly enriching movies. It’s why I’m a strong advocate for literary adaptations, and I’m not talking about flavor-of-the-year tripe like Fifty Shades of Vomit. If anything they should try turning some really challenging books into movies, like Michael Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, to name a recent example that blew me away.

But if GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY represents, by popular consensus, the gold standard for blockbuster entertainment, then my immunity factor is going to be working overtime.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
20
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WINGING IT

December 27th 2014 18:15
When I first heard that a movie was coming out called BIRDMAN, I flashed back to my after-school ritual of immersing myself in cartoon entertainments, one of which was an Alex Toth-designed superhero of the same name, part of the lineup that included the immortal Space Ghost. He would rocket down from the sky, screeching "BIIIIRDMAAAN!" to terrify evildoers. Later, when the Cartoon Network revived Space Ghost as Space Ghost Coast to Coast, the transparent celestial crusader-turned talk show host revisited Birdman, who had fallen on hard times: alone and irrelevant, he pleaded for a job, whining that he couldn't even summon the strength to belt out his signature shout. Icarus had surely gone down in flames.

Whether director Alejandro G. Inarritu happened to catch that particular segment is anyone's guess, but a similar theme applies to BIRDMAN, OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE). The lead character, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), is desperate to regain the limelight as a serious, relevant actor after having portrayed the title role in a blockbuster superhero film franchise. A long downward spiral followed, it is implied, leaving him to bet everything -- his money, his relationships, and his sanity -- on a dramatic Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story


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HE SAID, SHE DEAD (OR AT LEAST MISSING)

November 6th 2014 18:34
I think director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller GONE GIRL can best be enjoyed as a savage black comedy about the lengths some people will go to maintain a public face in today’s media-saturated, celebrity-obsessed culture, where sympathy can turn on a dime and before you know it, you’ve gone from most loved to most despised. I say this without the benefit of reading the novel, but I have a strong hunch the adaptation is faithful, since Flynn wrote the screenplay herself.

We’re offered two competing points of view in GONE GIRL: we have that of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a formerly promising writer whose potential never panned out; and we have his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), a formerly successful writer who gave up her career and a cushy life in New York City to move with Nick to a dying town in Missouri after the recession hit. The best employment Nick can manage now is co-running a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), which swallows money – mainly Amy’s, who has had to make do with a dwindling trust fund


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For my final film at the Austin Film Festival, I decided to see ROSEWATER, the screen adaptation of Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival by journalist Maziar Bahari. It was written for the screen and directed by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. Although such a project and its subject matter might seem to be way out of the helmer's comfort zone, the craft and talent on display settled my doubts.

In June 2009, Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) travels to Iran to report on the presidential elections. When violence erupts over accusation of a rigged vote, Bahari bears witness, filming the violence and passing it on to Newsweek
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Hello, hello. For my third installment of the films I screened at the Austin Film Festival I'm focusing on a comedy-drama from Australia and a mocking look at the American educational system.

The first film is SKIN DEEP, and it starts with a young Australian woman, Leah (Zara Zoe), after learning she's been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. She wanders the streets of Newtown, waiting to be picked up by a boyfriend who proves to be not very reliable as time goes on. Idling at a music shop, looking at CDs, she is introduced to another young woman, Caitlin (Monica Zanetti, the film's writer), in the rudest way possible--Caitlin swipes the CD from her hand and buys it herself. Not exactly meet cute


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Hello again from the Austin Film Fest. The second film I saw is an intriguing take on the life of a man considered one of the greatest geniuses of all time, but most of the luster he attained was posthumous, and much of his life was tragic. It's anchored by a masterful incarnation that should make the lead actor a star, if he wasn't one already thanks to his television work.

Benedict Cumberbatch graduates from supporting player to leading man in THE IMITATION GAME as Alan Turing, the mathematician considered to be the father of computing and artificial intelligence, as well a critical influence in the Allies' victory over the Nazis in World War Two


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GREETINGS FROM AUSTIN, PART ONE

October 30th 2014 10:48
Hello, folks. I'm writing to you from Austin, Texas, on the eve of the final day of the Austin Film Festival. It's been a wild eight days of sun, beefy cuisine, movies, and workshops that have etched indelible memories on my brain, and I'd like to share some of those experiences with you.

A little backtracking: many months ago I entered a screenplay of mine -- a long- gestating project -- in three contests, one of which was the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition. The script got as far as the second round, which, considering only about 15 percent or so of the several thousand submissions got that far, is no small accomplishment for me. The competition organizers invited me over, and I decided to go with a minimum of prodding. For one thing, it would take me out of my comfort zone; for another, this was an opportunity to meet and greet with people of similar interests


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“I have seen the future of horror... His name is Clive Barker.”

With those words, Stephen King elevated a little-known Liverpool writer into the stratosphere of the fantasy and horror literary scene, and Barker wasted no time in proving he was no flash in the pan. A multimedia artist whose palette includes painting and filmmaking as well as writing, Barker has created or influenced the creation of everything from novels to movies to comics to video games. As a director, he struck a chord with audiences worldwide with HELLRAISER, a low-budget classic that birthed an entire mythos that continues to be explored today in various projects. The sky seemed the limit for Barker in anything he put his mind (or pen, or brush) to, and fans eagerly expected his next movie, NIGHTBREED, with baited breath


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Recent Comments

Comment by psychocinemapath
on Tron: Legacy

December 15th 2010 13:18
Great review, Bryn. I too have fond memories of the original, dated though it is. I'll see it in 3D and IMAX. It sounds like it's one of the rare films that actually lives up to the hype, though these days I tend to scorn anything made by the Mouse House (with the exception of Pixar). As for the Black Hole remake...ehh. I have fond memories of that one too, but as long as Kosinski makes the robots less cute and doesn't break any laws of physics too badly, I'll probably go see it. Case in point, in the climax, when they're outside the Cygnus sans spacesuits and surviving!?

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Comment by Alex Schor
on THE HORROR! THE HORROR! Part 5: WEIRD SCIENCE

October 22nd 2010 15:28
Bryn,

Yes, Re-Animator would definitely qualify as a weird science. Extremely, extremely weird science. Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft-inspired follow-up, From Beyond, would also qualify. Chances are there are a lot of worthy movies that I've just plumb forgotten from having seen so many. Unless they're in my library and/or I've watched them repeatedly.

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Comment by Alex Schor
on HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

September 17th 2010 21:55
Thanks, Anon. It is greatly appreciated. Nice to have you dropping in from time to time.

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Four years--wow. As someone who's approaching the one-year anniversary of his own blog, I only hope I can stick it out as long as you have. That takes commitment, baby! Here's to many more birthdays!

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Comment by Alex Schor
on Wrong is Right (1982) - Footage Included

August 3rd 2010 21:52
Dear JD:

YESSS!!! Even though I don't remember this film as a whole, I remember seeing it twice and being both fascinated and revolted by the violence depicted, such as the suicide bombings (which, considering how they've ratcheted up the level of violence in movies since then, are pretty tame). The sequence in which a nuclear attack on Manhattan is envisioned also stuck in my mind, although it didn't give me nightmares until much later.

With 9/11, the advent of reality TV, and the preponderance of sensationalistic journalism, WRONG IS RIGHT is definitely prophetic. No wonder it was ignored.

Alex

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Comment by psychocinemapath
on TRANSCENDING MERE EXISTENZ

July 3rd 2010 11:19
Wow, John. I just read your analysis of eXistenZ and was totally blown away. You nail it. I'm glad you saw the 3 STIGMATA connection too.

Alex

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Comment by psychocinemapath
on Manic Muppet’s Staring Contest.

June 29th 2010 22:05
An absolute scream!

The funniest Galifiniakis clip I've seen yet, and he doesn't even DO anything!

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As someone who loves his fair share of bad movies--'Lifeforce' isn't exactly high art--I look forward to all your reviews of films, garbagic and otherwise.

Still, some of the best critical writing I've read has been negative reviews. Seeing a bad movie is an opportunity to cut loose as a reviewer, to vent your spleen in a fun and clever way.

As for your current situation, I hope it gets better. Let me leave you with some sage advice from my parents that I always think of when I'm at a low point:

"Don't let the bastards grind you down!"

God bless.

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Comment by psychocinemapath
on John Doe's 13 Favourite Irish Themed Films

March 21st 2010 15:26
Quite an excellent list. Was glad to see Miller's Crossing and State of Grace in there. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is also pretty good, if harrowing to sit through.

I'm reluctant to see Boondock Saints, for the simple reason that Troy Duffy has such a bad rep. Of course, judging a film solely because the director may be a jerk is not the sign of a serious filmgoer. I suppose I'll get around to it, if it's on your list.

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Comment by Alex Schor
on THE 20 WORST SCI-FI FILMS I HAVE SEEN, PART 2

December 18th 2009 17:36
I agree, Spacehunter is pretty tacky. Still, I like Michael lronside. He had some of the better lines.

I'm also not a big fan of The Last Starfighter...

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