Alex Schor

Washington, D.C, UNITED STATES


Joined September 1st 2009

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PIERCING THROUGH THE SNOW...

July 5th 2014 00:57
Summertime is always the time when the movies go nuts, in a corporate kind of way. They roll out the sequels, remakes, and superheroes, all dressed up in the latest digital gimmickry, expecting audiences (the preadolescent/adolescent/shor t-attention-spanning kind) to devour them. And devour them they do.

Nothing seems to sell more tickets these days than the apocalypse, or at least an apocalypse. We've given so much suck to the teat of spectacle that nothing less than worldwide destruction will do. We've seen it all -- fire (VOLCANO), water (WATERWORLD), snow (THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW), aliens (INDEPENDENCE DAY), killer rocks from space (ARMAGEDDON AND ON AND ON…), and sometimes the actual Rapture (THIS IS THE END). Give us a tub of popcorn, a liter of Coke, plop us down in a multiplex seat, and we'll watch buildings tumble into the sea and people mass-incinerated with pleasure.

Show us someone getting his throat cut, or his arm chopped off, and we'll flinch or look away (at least, if we have any sense of dignity and empathy). Show us a Transformer or a Kaiju reducing a famous landmark to dust, we'll cheer. Ain't we a wonderful species when it comes to entertainment?

Well, the post-apocalyptic film just got uncomfortable again. It's called SNOWPIERCER, it is directed by Bong Joon-ho (THE HOST), boasts an international cast, and is terrifically thrilling and terrifying.

Based on a French graphic novel, SNOWPIERCER resembles last summer's ELYISUM in premise but is much more claustrophobic. Through mankind's folly and hubris (as always), the world has entered a new ice age, and the last survivors of the human race live in a several-miles-long train that circles the frozen earth in a perpetual loop, driven by an eternal engine. The society that inhabits in the train is divided among the elite caste, who live in the front cars in idle and decadent luxury, and the poor, who live in unending squalor and misery in the tail. All pay deference to the train's engineer, Wilford (Ed Harris), who communicates to the lower masses through his mouthpiece, Mason (Tilda Swinton, who does virago like nobody else these days, except perhaps for Dame Maggie Smith).

The train has been running for 17 years. A few revolts have been staged, but have come to nothing. The film's momentum builds when a reluctant leader, Curtis (Chris Evans), sparks a revolution after witnessing Wilford's minions administer one cruel punishment too many. He and his followers push inexorably toward the front of the train, running gauntlet after gauntlet, to confront Wilford. Along the way there are reversals, betrayals, and revelations that threaten to derail (poor but apt choice of word) the revolt. A lot of blood is spilled and a lot of people are killed -- brutally -- but this isn't mindless, soulless entertainment. This is the kind of movie that should keep so-called filmmakers like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich up at night, because it makes them look like the pandering hacks that they are. This is an apocalypse with teeth.

Bong keeps the action confined to the train, and the violence realistic and sordid. He leavens the plot with lots of humor, most of it delivered by Swinton, who instantly transforms from towering, merciless ideologue to cowering, currying worm when she's captured by the rebels. In another sequence, a huge, bloody melee halts when the train passes over a particular bridge, marking the turn of a new year. The fighters -- on both sides, even the ones mortally wounded -- pause to acknowledge it.

Occasionally Bong cuts to the eerie wastes outside, or as seen through the train windows. Once-mighty skyscrapers have become skeletonized tombs, while ocean liners and massive freighters are canted over, dead hulks on an icy sea. Bong gives the audience breathing room at these moments to take in the momentousness of the world that has been lost, before the heroes move on to the next challenge.

Sometimes the train itself is the source of SNOWPIERCER's awe. As they move from car to car, advancing both physically and hierarchically, Curtis and his diminishing forces stop and stare at how Wilford and his servants strive to preserve the finer things: an aquarium car where manta rays glide within the walls and ceiling, and which also has its own sushi bar; a greenhouse where fruit and vegetables are grown for the upper classes; and a "rave car" where youthful celebrants carouse and dance in an endless bacchanal. It's beautiful, and beautifully horrifying.

A hallmark of a great film is that it takes us places we've never been before. SNOWPIERCER is great filmmaking, the kind of post-apocalyptic movie that few studios are willing to take a risk on. An unflinching political satire as well as a thrilling ride, it stands as an object lesson of where films should be transporting us. Not just to new worlds, but to the seldom-plumbed depths of the human heart. Your average summer movie, in comparison, is a road to nowhere.

Highest recommendation.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
19
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THE FEEL-HUNGRY MOVIE OF THE YEAR

June 9th 2014 17:24
It’s going to be a long summer. To be frank, I was fully prepared to dig in my heels and avoid the movies altogether, based on what I’ve seen already and what’s coming soon. Not that I am totally opposed to blockbusters, if they’re done well, but this is the stupid season and with the advent of Netflix I no longer have to suffer the usual agonies of multiplex viewing (lines, inflated ticketing, relentless commercials and trailers before the show, and so on). So I wait a bit longer.

But I broke that rule recently because word of mouth was particularly strong about CHEF, a comedy-drama from writer-director-star Jon Favreau. It’s a savvy piece of counter-programming, with no special effects and no big action set-pieces. It’s a decent way to purge oneself of the toxins ingested from a blockbuster binge. I can only speculate, but perhaps Favreau made CHEF to clear his creative conduits after his last film, the high-priced COWBOYS & ALIENS, flopped.

A word of warning: this film may make you salivate, with its luscious and lustful depictions of food preparation. Not all of us love cooking, but we all love food. All the computerized dazzle of a GODZILLA or an EDGE OF TOMORROW is just a trifle compared to the truffles, baguettes, Cuban sandwiches, and other delicacies on display.

Still, Favreau intends this to be a dramedy, not a documentary. Hence the travails of the title character, Carl Casper, a star chef who gives his all to cuisine, while his family life is secondary. It’s left him with a fractured marriage, although he and his ex (Sofia Vergara) are still friends and they share their son (Emjay Anthony). Father and son’s relationship is thin and tenuous, however.

Carl is in a comfortable rut, but he doesn’t realize it until his boss (Dustin Hoffman) instructs him to provide a “greatest hits“ menu for a prominent food blogger (Oliver Platt). Carl balks at first, but acquiesces. The blogger hates the food and tears Carl a new one online. Carl, who has never used Twitter before, sends the blogger an insulting riposte, not realizing it’s going out Web-wide. The insult goes viral, and things snowball until Carl quits the restaurant in frustration.

Unmoored and with no job prospects, Carl grudgingly accepts an offer from his ex to set up a food truck and see where it goes—on the condition that his son come along. Carl needs convincing, but his son’s proficiency with social media makes him essential to the venture’s marketing potential. Yeah, the “wise beyond his years” child is a cliché, but it’s not a glaringly insulting cliché in this film. Also eager to help is a fellow sous-chef (John Leguizamo) who quits his job in solidarity and joins Carl and son on what becomes a road movie.

As Carl and company traverse the interstates from Miami to Los Angeles, serving Cuban sandwiches and building a following along the way, Carl learns important lessons about himself and his relationship with his kid. There are also indications that his former wife still carries a torch for him, but Vergara is given little to do apart from change from one enticing outfit into another, and nudge Favreau in the direction he needs to go for his character to evolve.

This is minor flaw in an otherwise respectable recipe that goes down smoothly. CHEF may hold few surprises in terms of plot structure or development, but it never strays from its celebration of food and cooking. Nor has Favreau lost his ear for authentic dialogue or his way with actors. The cast does very well, with Leguizamo standing out in particular.

CHEF is the best movie I’ve seen so far this summer. In fact, unless something just as good or better comes along, it may be the only movie I’ll see this summer. The rest of the popcorn season’s crop appears to be numbingly predictable. I for one would much rather rejoice in a simple, unpretentious movie about cuisine than be assaulted by yet another moronic TRANSFORMERS movie and similar indigestible offerings.

Now I must go. I spy a baguette with my name on it.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
19
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First, let me say that THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is not as awful as SPIDER-MAN 3. The third entry in the first Spider-Man franchise, directed by Sam Raimi, was bloated and overlong, with too many villains and supporting characters, overwhelming action sequences, and extraneous plotting. Curiously, AMAZING 2 suffers from the same symptoms, but I enjoyed it more. But not as much as AMAZING 1, which was a tighter ship.

Let me call out the bad first: director Marc Webb appears to have fallen into the same trap that directors often fail to avoid when it comes to sequels—amplifying the eye candy up to 11 while sacrificing logic and characterization. Accompanying this is the impulse to shoehorn as much plot as possible into a two hour-plus window. This rushing about doesn’t do the audience any favors, unless they’re 14 and under.

But, you could argue, aren’t films like AMAZING 2 custom-made for that audience demographic, it being popcorn season and all? Certainly, I see your point, but AMAZING 1 also had cool action and effects while letting its characters breathe and develop. And Webb is pretty proficient at character development, having directed (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. So why does he mostly ignore his dramatic instincts this time around?

The obvious answer is money. With a $200 million budget there’s an awful lot of responsibility for Webb to shoulder, if the franchise is to continue to be viable and profitable. In such situations, filmmakers are no longer filmmakers but employees driven to deliver on the studio’s mandate. Of course, Webb isn’t a complete and utter tool who’s happy to make crap for money, like Michael Bay. He tries to give AMAZING 2 more substance than your average comic book-based popcorn flick.

And that leads me to the film’s successes: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, once again playing Peter Parker and his paramour, Gwen Stacy. Webb may engulf the two leads within a vortex of villains, stunts, and effects, but Garfield and Stone, with their natural chemistry, are the eye of the storm. It’s a testament to their craft as actors that they can carve out a lot of drama with their on-again, off-again romance. Contrast that with SPIDER-MAN 3’s Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, whose relationship was overwhelmed by plot and came off as stale and repetitive. You care about Peter and Gwen in AMAZING 2.

Also strong are the performances by the supporting players, at least up to a point. As the lead villain, Jamie Foxx is both funny and tragic, although his motivation is vague. A geeky genius at Oscorp who is a major Spider-Fan, Foxx’s transformation into the wall-crawler’s primary nemesis, Electro, is based on the flimsiest of excuses: Spider-Man rejects him, although said rejection is an obvious misunderstanding. And this is one of a number of logical faults that I suppose only 14-year-old boys are likely to forgive.

There’s also a subplot with Peter’s buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who returns to take over Oscorp and find a way to reverse his physical deterioration from a genetic disease. Like Electro, he becomes a victim, of corporate skullduggery, and in the course of his revenge is transformed into the Green Goblin. But this is a late development, and his eventual confrontation with Spidey is clumsy, being tacked-on to the conclusion of another climactic battle. There’s no room for the audience to recover, which leads to a lot of eye-rolling. But that’s par for the course for these summer blockbusters: too many climaxes.

What I think Webb, his writers, and the producers have to learn (or be reminded of) is that there should be a rule of thumb for these movies: one supervillain only. And one climax only. Comic-book writers have it down to a science. They usually don’t pummel readers with attack after relentless attack in a single issue—they make them wait a month to catch their breath. Hollywood should take notice. But there are enough 14-year-olds out there to make these movies successful, on a purely financial level, for Hollywood not to care. More's the pity.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
9
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A TRUE HISTORY OF…ZZZZ…

April 21st 2014 21:26
I was hoping, really hoping, that THE TRUE HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION, which aired its first installment on BBC America last Saturday night, would be something that both newcomers and veteran fans to that vaunted genre could enjoy. I was particularly enticed by its apparent promise to concentrate not just on famous SF films, but the books and authors that inspired them.

I said its apparent promise. Sadly, though, the program is just a dry, marginally interesting recap of movie milestones, with a lot of talking heads, occasionally intriguing documentary footage, and all-too-brief film clips. In retrospect, I feel like I was taken in by this series in much the same way a consumer might be at Macy’s when they see a sign that blares, in giant, bold letters, “50 PERCENT OFF!” only to discover at checkout that they’re not getting half off, because in point of fact the sign really said, above the big number, in text that’s usually close to microscopic and close to totally camouflaged, “As much as


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TWILIGHT OF THE CONCIERGES

March 24th 2014 15:48
Wes Anderson’s latest film, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, carries a lot of his usual trademarks: quirky characters and situations in abundance; wacky chases and plot twists; and fluid camera moves (no shaky-cam here, God be praised). Anderson-haters seem to dismiss these techniques and traits as signals of style over substance. In the case of this movie, I have to disagree.

Anderson isn’t afraid to challenge audiences right off the bat: GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL starts out in a cemetery, where a girl is reading a book by the author’s grave. Cut to the author himself (Tom Wilkinson), telling the narrative to us. Cut, again, to the author in his younger days (Jude Law), who strikes up a relationship with a distinguished gentleman (F. Murray Abraham) who narrates the tale, via another flashback, of his time as a lobby boy at the titular resort, based in a fictional European country during the 1930s. The lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori) becomes the protégé of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge


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AN OPEN LETTER TO DEATH

February 24th 2014 22:12
Dear Grim Reaper (or do you preferred to be addressed as Mr. Reaper?),

I know you're a busy entity, so I'll cut to the chase


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BLOOD AND WATER

January 28th 2014 18:29
I’ve railed in the past against what I perceive to be a thinning of originality when it comes to the vampire genre. Whether you prefer bloodsucking fiends or misunderstood romantics, Goth punks or refined aristocrats, subhuman beasts or tortured souls, the line between concepts had started to blur for me. With an assault by the likes of DAYBREAKERS, PRIEST, UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, TWILIGHT this, and TWILIGHT that, I had become disinterested, waiting with fading hope that someone would come along and inject some much-needed new blood into a weary vein.

Well, the transfusion has arrived, and you’ve got to leave it to an old hand to deliver it. That old hand is Neil Jordan, director of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE—one of the better adaptations—as well as enticing and unsettling fare like THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, THE CRYING GAME, and THE BUTCHER BOY. The film is called BYZANTIUM, and it leaves lesser vampire movies in the dust, flapping away into obscurity like frightened bats (at least I can hope


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SCORSESE'S BIG CON

December 29th 2013 18:59
The secret to enjoying Martin Scorsese's THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is to treat it as an epic black comedy. I can't imagine a saner way to witness a three-hour pageant of outright thievery, excess, and saturnalia that would put the bacchanals of ancient Rome to shame. And it all more or less happened, according to the book by Jordan Belfort that the film, adapted by Terence Winter, is based on.

Fueled by greed (and later, near-constant drugs and sex), Belfort and his handpicked cadre of ne'er-do-well investment bankers make killing after killing pitching penny stocks to vulnerable, mostly middle-class investors in the 1990s. Penny stocks are barely regulated, which allows Belfort and his cronies to collect huge commissions and get filthy rich. Their investors, meanwhile, are being robbed, but they're none the wiser because the bankers cook the books, lie, and obfuscate to convince their victims that they're making money


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CELEBRITY CULTURES

December 1st 2013 15:29
As I write this, the news feeds are buzzing about the untimely death of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS star Paul Walker, 40, in a car crash. Eerily enough, his death coincided with my viewing of an insightful and creepy thriller on our obsession with the famous, ANTIVIRAL. People who watch this movie may be reminded of the early work of David Cronenberg. That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as the writer-director is Brandon Cronenberg, David's son. And if ANTIVIRAL is any indication, young Mister Cronenberg has a long and fruitful career ahead of him.

I've often heard people talk about celebrities with a mix of jealousy and adoration. "I wish I was like her," they say. "I'd die to have a body as ripped as his." Others talk about collecting items of clothing, locks of hair, eyelashes, nail clippings... And while no celebrity, to my knowledge, has as yet offered their bodily cast-offs as commodities, the market is oversaturated with celebrity perfumes, aftershaves, apparel, and other products with famous people's imprimatur


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SHAMELESS PLUGS!

November 19th 2013 19:26
It’s been some time since I recommended any books, but I’ve got a pair for you. The first is Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art From the Underground by Matthew Chojnacki (Schiffer Publishing). This book can best be described as a showcase for a growing movement by movie fans in response to the complete and utter dumbassery of studios’ marketing departments. In their eternal quest to cut corners and save money, Hollywood’s artistically challenged bean-counters have over the past several decades squeezed the art out of one-sheets, replacing what was once lovingly painted and illustrated with enhanced head shots of a film’s actors. Consequently, printed film promos have become a virtually impotent marketing tool (that’s my opinion, anyway), and some people—hobbyists, artists, fans, and more—are infuriated at the loss of the art and are doing their damnedest to keep it alive. They’re producing posters for special screenings at specialty theaters and festivals, and winning over fans both old and new with unique takes on classics and cult movies.

Chojnacki offers a hundred or so pieces in the book, some whimsical, some abstract, some gaudy, and all of them gold in terms of the imagination on display. One particularly striking example is a pair of posters—one for THE GOONIES, the other for GREMLINS—that basically turn the movies into advertisements for breakfast cereal. It’s hilarious! Also clever are unconventional one-sheets for STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, rendered as fight promos a la Ali versus Frasier, only for Vader versus Kenobi in the case of STAR WARS, and Vader versus Skywalker in the case of EMPIRE. Some of the samples emphasize simplicity of design, such as a poster for BONNIE AND CLYDE that’s little more than an icon of a careering getaway car whose tire-tracks form an “S” as a pair of speeding bullets tunnel vertically to create a dollar sign. Included with the artwork is a profile of each artist, listing their inspirations, their favorite films, and other stats that inform their artistic process


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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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