Alex Schor

Washington, D.C, UNITED STATES


Joined September 1st 2009

Number of Posts:
128

Number of Comments:
18

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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.

A digression: everyone in the movie is great, but Fiennes is a wonder as the dandyish Gustave, who melds a certain upper-class snobbery with both composure and vulnerability. He may seem to consider himself above everyone else, but he looks after Zero, even apologizes after denigrating him a few times.

Gustave, in addition to concierge, offers his sexual services to elderly lady guests. After one of them (a heavily made-up Tilda Swinton) pops off under suspicious circumstances and bequeaths to Gustave a precious heirloom, things begin to snowball. What ensues is a zippy mélange of conspiracy, murder, jailbreak, pursuit, and hiding, with Gustave towing Zero around the alp-strewn country. Looming like a storm cloud above these proceedings is the specter of war, as Europe slips into fascism. This mood, despite the more or less lighthearted shenanigans, adds a somber color to the story. Anderson is a little darker (and a lot more European) in GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and I think it illustrates his development as a filmmaker.

But sometimes he can’t help injecting zaniness into the dark moments. Case in point: in one scene, a very nasty character (Willem Dafoe) tosses a Persian cat out a three-story window. When the cat’s owner rushes to the window to see the results, Anderson shows us a corpse splayed out spread-eagle like Wile E. Coyote after one of his epic cliff-tumbles. There’s some blood, but it’s not gory.

That said, Anderson does not shy away from other scenes of violence, but even then he sustains his jaunty, whimsical tone throughout. Whether you see GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL as another exercise in style or a deeper meditation on a way of life that no longer exists, it reflects Anderson’s dedication to his craft. Such filmmakers and stories seem awfully rare these days outside of independent cinema, which is why this particular tale is worth treasuring.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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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:

Take a break. For all our sakes. This is getting out of hand and you're depressing a lot of people. You might argue that it comes with the territory, and I'm not saying you're devoid of feeling (at least, if you're the kind of Death I read about in the Sandman comics). But you're giving the impression of being a touch more discriminating in your recent batch of clients...

I'm talking about Peter O'Toole. And Shirley Temple. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sid Caesar. And now Harold Ramis. You've been taking a lot of funny people lately, and it's a major bummer. Did someone play a practical joke on you, and this is your revenge? If it is, it's beneath you.

True, some of your recent dispatches lived long (and/or hard), and they all leave behind a formidable body of work and art, which is nothing to sniff at. But you've really been cruel in some cases, and it's not doing your public image any favors.

I may sound glib in my request that you "take a break," given that you really can't (except in dull movies with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins), but perhaps you could do a world of good by organizing more...constructive departures. You know, focus your energies on people who've really earned an appointment with you. Like, oh, say...Kim Jong Un.

You could arrange a date with him and bolt of lightning, a swarm of rabid rats, a tsunami--you have options! And most people will thank you for it!

Be creative. Show us you have a sense of humor. Remember a short time ago, when you had those suicide bombers accidentally blow themselves up during a training exercise? That's the way to go!

Just lay off the nice people who still have something to give the world. At least for a while.

You have thousands of potential clients at your mercy: serial killers, greedy investment bankers, corrupt politicians, racist demagogues, polluters, poisoners, pedophile priests, tyrants, neoconservatives...

If you need a to-do list, you've got my number. Hell, you've got all of our numbers, come to think of it.

Consider it, Mr. Reaper. It's a tough old world and we need all the joy we can get. Just remember: you'll never get a date if you keep acting like Mr. Alienation.

Sincerely,

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
18
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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).

BYZANTIUM follows a double act, Clara Webb (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), as they eke out a living in England. Clara employs her wiles and powers of seduction to make money and put food on the table, said food being liquid and of the type A, B, A-B, and O. Eleanor is by no means helpless, but unlike her mother, she hunts and feeds more sensitively, only dispatching those craving death. The cynical Clara, however, views it as her and Eleanor against the world, eliminating anyone she sees as a threat. And in her defense, there are plenty of human as well as not-quite-human creatures menacing them.

But Eleanor feels stifled under Clara’s smothering benevolence, and rebels in little ways, most notably by writing her and her mother’s life story over and over, and always casting it to the winds because no one can be allowed to read it. Something’s got to give, but unfortunately both women’s pasts are catching up to them. After a particularly bad and blood-soaked night, the duo vacate their urban squat and flee to a coastal community. Clara worms her way into the heart of a local sad sack and she and Eleanor take up residence in an old, rundown hotel. Clara wastes no time setting up shop—in this case a brothel, secured once she knocks the town pimp off his perch, permanently.

In checking out the local scene, Eleanor meets Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a sickly teenager, and embarks on a tentative, fraught relationship that she tries to keep off her mother’s radar—because she knows Clara’s knowledge could have lethal consequences. But she can’t stop seeing him since she’s desperate for some kind of connection, if only a reminder of what it was to be human.

BYZANTIUM is a mesmerizing experience, a fever-dream that slips backwards and forwards through time, where we learn the hellish circumstances under which Clara and Eleanor were born—and reborn. Arterton is one hell of sexy tigress while Ronan is a classic, tragic beauty. Jordan, working from an expert script by Moira Buffini, opts for a more subtle version of vampirism, refusing to let special effects and action sequences overwhelm the narrative and performances—although they’re in there, and they’re used well. This is a film about characters rather than set-pieces. In addition to Buffini and his cast, Jordan has rallied some excellent, seasoned collaborators, including composer Javier Navarrete (PAN’S LABYRINTH) and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt.

BYZANTIUM deserves a long and robust life on home video. Far more intimate, unpredictable, and disturbing than even INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, Jordan creates yet another bold vision of the Children of the Night. Other vampire flick-makers should take notice and learn what they can if they want to keep the genre from getting long in the fangs.


Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
18
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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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SPACE AGE (AND MY PROLONGED ABSENCE)

November 19th 2013 17:47
Dear Folks,

I’m sure some of you have noticed that I’ve been quiet for a while since my last installment. The truth is that I haven’t been out to the movies for various reasons, the main one being that my enthusiasm for going has waned – a lot – lately. It’s becoming less and less fun to see a film – no matter how good it turns out to be – in a cinema. I’m tired of being held captive while I’m assaulted for 30 minutes or more with obnoxious commercials, featurettes for crappy TV shows, and trailers for dumb films. To say nothing of the inflated ticket and concession prices


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THE ELUSIVE ELYSIAN FIELDS

September 1st 2013 13:40
In his album, It's Not Funny, comedian David Cross cracked wise about plans to put a robot on the moon, with the possibility that such automated missions could be used to build a base for eventual colonization. The rub was that the moon would ultimately be inhabited by rich people, so they could have a place to live while the rest of humanity sweats it out in poverty and misery on Earth.

That seems to be the operating premise of Neill Blomkamp's ELYSIUM, a follow-up to his hit movie, DISTRICT 9. It's hard to say if Blomkamp intends ELYSIUM to be a parable about modern times, with the volatile economy, the swelling population, and the yawning gap between the have-it-alls and the have-nothings. That's because the theme is often overwhelmed by a lot of gunplay, a high body count, and special effects. It's still a very entertaining movie, but it's not quite up to the level of sophistication as DISTRICT 9


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MEN IN SUITS

July 14th 2013 14:15
It's been five years since Guillermo del Toro's last movie, HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY, and he's weathered several aborted projects, such as THE HOBBIT, which Peter Jackson eventually took over, and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, a labor of love that got shafted because Hollywood, in its infinite lack of boldness, didn't want to wager on a $150 million R-rated horror film.

But del Toro came skyrocketing back with PACIFIC RIM, a two-hour-and-ten-minute FX extravaganza that pays homage to several long-cherished fanboy loves: Japanese monster movies and giant robots


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DO WE REALLY DESERVE THIS?

June 16th 2013 16:56
We may not necessarily get the movies we want, but sometimes we get the movies we deserve. Question is, did we deserve a movie about a Superman with feet of clay? Perhaps that's the central theme of MAN OF STEEL, the reboot directed by Zach Snyder from a screenplay by David S. Goyer, who crafted the story with Christopher Nolan. In the times we live in, do we require a Superman with existential crises? Grounding superheroes psychologically is now de rigeur in almost all comic books since Alan Moore published his magnum opus, Watchmen, which Snyder also brought to the screen. But what about old-fashioned escapist entertainment?

The gold standard for that in the superhero department still remains Richard Donner's 1978 SUPERMAN, which brought the last son of Krypton into modern times after a spell toiling in cartoons and reruns of the program with George Reeves. Christopher Reeve brought an aw-shucks appeal to the Man of Steel, blending both humor--lots of humor--and a certain knowledge of his own absurdity. Not so Henry Cavill in MAN OF STEEL. His Kal-El is serious and tormented, feeling like a complete outcast at times yet compelled to help his adopted planet. Not that humanity appreciates him in these savage, paranoid times, where levity is apparently in short supply


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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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