Alex Schor

Washington, D.C, UNITED STATES


Joined September 1st 2009

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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 man considered to be the father of computing, as well a critical influence in the Allies' victory over the Nazis in World War Two.

The film's core is Turing's tenure at Bletchley Park, a facility created by British intelligence, where Turing and a team of similarly brilliant minds are enlisted to crack the Third Reich's Enigma cipher, the encrypted code system the Nazis use to transmit messages to their military forces as they wage war across Europe.

Turing wastes no time in alienating his coworkers and his commanding officer (Charles Dance) even before he settles in. His confidence in his scientific gifts is countered by a deep social maladroitness. While his colleagues sift through reams of numbers and statistics, Turing starts his own project and demands the funds to realize it. The brass balks, until he finds an unexpected ally in an MI6 director (Mark Strong), who allocates the money and makes Turing the project leader.

As Turing dives deeply and obsessively into building a machine capable of mining the astronomical number of code combinations to decrypt Enigma, the film flashes back to his school days as an isolated prodigy with no friends but plenty of enemies, as well as forward to several years after the war, when he is targeted by the police following an apparent burglary at his house. The inspector running the investigation (Rory Kinnear) suspects something's fishy, and subsequent digging convinces him Turing may be a traitor to the government. When he grills Turing about his wartime activities, he finds the truth is much more complex.

Turing was gay at a time when a public outing spelled ruin and prison, and Cumberbatch depicts his struggle to conceal it as well as his ambiguous relationship with others. According to this interpretation, there was only one true love in Turing's life, and the machine he is building to crack Enigma is a tribute to him.

But the project cannot succeed without his colleagues' participation, and Turing must eventually reconcile himself to this. Helping him come out of his shell is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a gifted woman whom he champions and brings to the team despite many objections. She becomes perhaps his only true friend at Bletchley.

Knightley does a good job along with the rest of the cast, but the film belongs to Cumberbatch. As Turing, he personifies both obsession and deep emotional scarring with precision. It should at the very least net him a Golden Globe and/or Oscar nomination.

I consider THE IMITATION GAME to be a step above another tortured genius movie, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, even though it has elements in common. Perhaps it's because I found THE IMITATION GAME to be better written, and imparting the sense that Turing's setbacks, psychological and otherwise, have much higher stakes, what with the outcome of the war hanging in the balance.

Ultimately, I think it is a fitting tribute to Turing, as a scientific pioneer and a man who was driven, as well as tormented, by the tenor of the times in which he lived, all too briefly.

Tomorrow, a double feature.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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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.

And to catch some films weeks, and in some cases months, before their general release. I will share my impressions of the films I saw in this and subsequent installments, beginning with an entry I call...

TREADING THE BOARDS

On my first night at the festival, I caught a screening of Barry Levinson's new film, THE HUMBLING, an adaption of Philip Roth's purported final novel. It follows the angst-ridden antics of Simon Axler (Al Pacino), a once-vaunted actor who suffers a loss of passion and memory on stage when the film opens. Unable to remember his lines, he jumps from the stage and injures himself. After this incident, he vows never to act again and, after a stint in a mental health clinic, retires to a secluded estate. Alone with insomnia and suicidal thoughts, his retirement is interrupted by Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), an old friend's daughter, who has harbored a crush on him since childhood.

Simon is astonished and perplexed at her presence, and even more surprised when she embarks on an affair with him, despite her claims she is a lesbian. Still, she brings a spark of life back into his dreary existence. However, this being a Philip Roth story, you can't expect their idyll to last very long.

Simon starts receiving vicious phone calls from Pegeen jilted ex (Kyra Sedgwick). He also finds himself and Pegeen being shadowed by someone else from his young lover's past. Then things really snowball, when a former patient from the clinic he stayed at shows up with an startling offer he wants no part of. Then there's Pegeen's parents (Diane Wiest and Dan Hedaya) to contend with.

Simon becomes more addled and distrustful of reality as his situation exacerbates, and in between these episodes of escalating misfortune we see Skype sessions between him and his analyst (Dylan Walsh) that accentuate his increasingly fragile state of mind. It's been a long time since I've watched a film with Pacino that is not a complete embarrassment to his craft, and he does an outstanding job thanks to Levinson's sensitive direction and the juicy dialogue, partly supplied by co-adapter Buck Henry.

Gerwig more than holds her own as Pegeen, and most of the supporting roles are well-fleshed out. It's a rare thing to see a tragicomedy that's laugh-out-loud funny and awkward at the same time.

THE HUMBLING was an auspicious start to the festival, and in the next installment I'll review a film that tries to fathom a real enigma. Until then, this is...

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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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.

Based on Barker’s novel Cabal, NIGHTBREED had audiences ride shotgun with Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), a fugitive wanted for murders actually committed by his psychiatrist (director David Cronenberg, in something of a casting coup, although he’s admittedly a far better filmmaker than thespian). Boone flees to Midian, an underground colony of shape-shifters and other freaks based in a city-sized necropolis. One freak munches on Boone, enabling him to survive being shot down. The now-deceased hero returns to Midian to apply for citizenship, but his plans to live in relative peace are shattered when his lover, Lori (Anne Bobby), comes snooping, with Boone’s murderous shrink in tow. The resulting fracas between the living and the undead attracts the unwanted attention of the local police, who declare war on the colony, and much mayhem ensues.

Having read and enjoyed Cabal, I looked forward to NIGHTBREED with excitement. However, as time went on and the film’s release was not forthcoming, I began to have doubts. This was in the days before the Internet and the only source of info on the film’s progress was coverage in horror mags and sporadically on E! or Entertainment Tonight. Then, in 1990, about when I had given up hope, NIGHTBREED opened. No fanfare. Just a small ad in the local paper, featuring a close-up of a woman’s terrified eyes, accompanied by the tagline “LORI THOUGHT SHE KNEW EVERYTHING ABOUT HER BOYFRIEND … LORI WAS WRONG!!!” Oy, I thought. They were plugging it as your average slasher pic. Was it that bad?

Nevertheless , the stars aligned and NIGHTBREED secured a run at my local multiplex – no small feat when you consider said multiplex was in the sticks. I ended up going solo, as there was no one in my immediate circle of friends, associates, or acquaintances brave or interested enough to see a horror film. There were maybe four or five other people besides myself in the cinema; two years later, however, Wes Craven’s THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS played to a packed house in the same theater. I know, I was there.

But to get back to NIGHTBREED… By that time, I was no longer going to horror films to be scared; at the ripe old age of 19 I was all screamed out – I had seen the Jasons, the Freddys, the Aliens, the Flies… and I went to be entertained. I was more interested in whether a film’s story, characters, and technical merits were worth the price of admission. So, how did NIGHTBREED stack up? It had a unique look and perspective carried over from the novel; Danny Elfman’s haunting score was fantastic; the optical effects were somewhat dated, even for 1990; the makeup was cool, and so was the action; the characterizations, with little exception, ranged from bland to cartoonishly over the top; the dialogue could have been improved…and there was the sense that there was something important missing.

Still, I liked it a lot, for what it was. As I left the theater I overheard some girl expressing disappointment to her boyfriend that the movie wasn’t scary. I sighed; some people just don’t get it. So I went home, satisfied that NIGHTBREED was worth the wait, and my money. What’s more, the ending left room for a sequel.

Of course, no sequel was made. It inspired a pretty good comic book that expanded the story, but apart from that, no filmic follow-up. Then I read in publications like Cinefantastique that NIGHTBREED was a victim of studio interference, forcing Barker to make cuts and additions that he didn’t agree with. Particularly deemphasized in the theatrical cut is the Nightbreed's nature as outcasts, and Barker's desire to make them tragic and sympathetic, while their human persecutors are revealed to be the real monsters.

Rubbing salt in the wound was a botched, low-gear publicity campaign that sold the film as yet another killer-on-the-loose flick, hence incompetent and uninspired promos like the one described above. NIGHTBREED sank like the proverbial stone. As the years passed and more material about the making (and unmaking) of the film came to light, it stood as an object lesson as to how poorly Hollywood treats singular talents. Barker had joined a long pantheon of artists who got the royal treatment and then the royal brush-off by glorified accountants – the population of which continues to swell to this day thanks to the reigning blockbuster mentality.

Hopes for a NIGHTBREED reconstruction were repeatedly discouraged by the convenient misplacement of the deleted footage, apart from some seriously deteriorated VHS tapes. I was resigned to the fact that the theatrical version was all fans would have. Still, interest in the film, and its legendary status as a broken gem, continued to build over the years. Several times in this blog I referred to a campaign to restore NIGHTBREED to Barker’s original vision, but it still seemed like a pipe dream. Yet enthusiasm for it kept accruing, and a mensch named Mark Miller made it a priority to locate the missing footage, with Barker’s blessing.

The end result of this cinematic search-and-rescue mission will be released on Blu-ray next week; but I can tell you, having received the NIGHTBREED: DIRECTOR’S CUT from Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint a week early, that it is a must for fans. After 25 years, the jewel has been cemented back together and burnished with utmost care – though there are still some rough edges, which enhance its charm. I won’t bore you with a list of the technical improvements: image and sound quality are satisfying throughout. The story, however, unfolds at a more leisurely pace, with scenes and sequences inserted that make the characters much more appealing and dimensional. Best of all, there is more footage of the Nightbreed themselves, showcasing the amazing makeup and design job -- and establishing sympathy for them.

Barker and Miller deserve additional credit for avoiding the George Lucas option to replace or “improve” the movie with CGI. I’m sure if someone was mounting a modern-day remake of NIGHTBREED they’d go that route, likely to the film’s detriment. I have yet to access the Blu-ray’s copious supplements, which no doubt shed light on the production of the film, the misfortunes Barker endured, the fan phenomenon, and the movie’s ultimate restoration. But I can firmly state that fans of the film, Barker, and the horror genre are in for a long-deferred treat.

It remains to be seen if the director’s cut will drum up new interest in continuing the story. Boom Studios has started publishing a new Nightbreed comic, so there’s hope that in one medium or another, the saga will go on. But the fact that a director’s cut now exists is testament to the power of grassroots support and fans’ undying love for a film that the studios had little appreciation of. Who knows? Maybe other mutilated masterpieces might have some hope of rediscovery and resolution. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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MILLER'S TALES

August 25th 2014 19:47
For an entire generation of comic-book geeks, Frank Miller was (and still is) the writer/artist most directly responsible for elevating the American comic into the realm of literature. That may sound pretentious, but his work speaks for itself: the gritty realism of his run on Marvel’s Daredevil reinvented the world of the superhero as one where good may not always triumph, and shades of gray color nearly every decision both heroes and villains make. Miller followed that up with his science-fiction samurai epic Ronin, which saw his artwork and story sense evolve even further. Then came the work that assured his stardom in the comic-book firmament: The Dark Knight Returns, which may have single-handedly created antihero chic by remolding Batman into a vigilante that would make Dirty Harry proud.

But Miller was only warming up. If The Dark Knight Returns made him a star, his follow-up, the Sin City tales, turned him into a mega-star. Sin City combined his by-now fully stylized art with his appreciation of pulp fiction and hard-boiled film noir. Miller imagined a sprawling, grimy, utterly corrupt metropolis where only the strong survive and the morally challenged thrive. Chiefly inhabited by a populace of lugs, thugs, mugs, babes, sluts, killers, gamblers, politicians, hypocrites, and a never-ending supply of victims, Basin City reflected the worst of urbanity and the struggle of a few to climb and crawl out the muck. Often the best these poor souls could hope for was a Pyrrhic victory, and the only rest they got was that of the grave. And some of them simply endured, living with the stain Sin City left on their souls, perhaps to fight another day


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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


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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


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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


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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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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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