Alex Schor

Washington, D.C, UNITED STATES


Joined September 1st 2009

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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.

Into this enterprise Riggan's dragged his estranged, freshly rehabbed daughter (Emma Stone) in the hopes of bonding with her, and it's not exactly working out. But Riggan can't escape his past, especially as it nags him in the voice of his winged alter-ego. He's also seeing objects move, either by this invisible presence, or under his own power. This is the worst time for him to go schizo, as his play is in previews and one of his co-stars is being less than dramatic.

When said co-star is concussed by a falling spotlight -- an evil portent if ever there was one -- Riggan manages to wrangle a much more talented replacement (Edward Norton), who unfortunately comes with his own baggage, including a relationship with the lead actress (Naomi Watts). In addition, Riggan is involved with another actress in the production (Andrea Riseborough). Then there's the small matter of a sour New York Times critic (Lindsay Duncan) who's determined to smite the play with a cruel write-up.

Inarritu and his co-writers make us witness a series of ever more tragicomic disasters as the previews fall apart, each worse than the last one, approaching what augurs to be an apocalypse on opening night. Tempers and grudges flare and each character's insecurities are exposed. And through it all, Riggan soldiers on to defy the voice in his head's claims that he's not an actor, he's a movie star. When he finally stops to listen to that voice, he sees a possible way out of his predicament -- or has he simply cracked up?

There are two anchors to BIRDMAN -- Keaton's wise performance and the fluid camerawork by Emmanuel Lubezki, which swoops, soars, and follows the goings-on, with creative edits making it look like the entire film is a single shot. The fact that Keaton participated in a superhero franchise in the same capacity as his character is an interesting bit of meta, but he transcends it.

In addition to the fine performances by Norton, Watts, Stone, Riseborough, and Duncan, we have Zach Galifianakis as Riggan's manager, to whom being constantly on the verge of hysteria must have been part of the job description; and Amy Ryan as Riggan's ex-wife, who compared to everyone else is the sanest and most practical character.

BIRDMAN could be described as a crash course in the struggle to be a serious actor in a medium that has become increasingly commercialized and corporate. Today's film industry, obsessed with blockbusters and superheroes, is an obvious example; but the theater is no less vulnerable to this trend. The idea of a Raymond Carver story even getting as far as Broadway seems like an anomaly. Indeed, scenes taking place on the roof of the theater overlook other houses advertising pop moneymakers like Phantom, as if commercialism is overshadowing and crowding out serious art, much like Birdman overshadows Riggan's life. In this atmosphere a serious, human play makes sense as both an opportunity and a liability for an actor.

When Riggan reaches his apotheosis, it is accompanied by a bizarre vision involving Spider-man, Transformers, and a marching band onstage, which could be a metaphor for commercialism's conquest over art. Happily, the film BIRDMAN is the opposite.

So I left the movie crowing in triumph: "BIIIIRDMAAAN!"

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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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.

When Nick comes home one day to find evidence of a struggle and no sign of his wife, he calls law enforcement. This soon escalates into a media circus when Amy’s parents and fan base are rallied to help in the search. But what seems to be a clear case of abduction shifts gears when the police uncover clues – some intentionally planted – suggesting Nick and Amy’s marriage was not as picture perfect as it seemed, and that Nick may have played a hand in Amy’s disappearance.

Flashbacks and narration by Amy anchor our perception of Nick as less than chivalrous, even violent, once their wedded bliss goes sour. Nick’s increasing culpability seems academic as far as the public is concerned, especially when the media frenzy about Amy’s vanishing ramps up through sensationalistic news reports and judgmental TV pundits. Meanwhile, the meticulous detective handling the case, Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), keeps unearthing evidence that pushes Nick further and further toward incrimination.

And then, midway through GONE GIRL…things take a different tack. I will not say what happens, nor will I pontificate on its logic or illogic. What follows is a cascade of twists that may put M. Night Shyamalan to shame. Yet I bought into it for several reasons, including exceptional performances by all involved, and Fincher’s and Flynn’s unflinching take on the themes of deception and manipulation. The audience is put through a rollercoaster of reversing sympathies, but what holds GONE GIRL together is its playful and sustained sense of satire, even with the shocking and gory moments.

Affleck is very, very good, but Pike steals the movie. She’s come a long way from roles such as the Bond Girl in the insulting DIE ANOTHER DAY. With GONE GIRL, she can wipe crap like that off her resume. Still, I cannot reveal the depths of her multilayered performance without getting spoilery. The great thing about the script is that Flynn gives each character – even minor ones – something for the performers to chew on, from Tyler Perry’s slick celebrity defense lawyer Tanner Bolt (gotta love that name) to Dickens’s no-nonsense Boney to Patrick Fugit’s suspicious police officer. Only Neal Patrick Harris stumbles a bit as a former paramour of Amy’s (at least in his mind), perhaps because he’s uncomfortable with the creepy part.

Dark, ruthless humor is central to the film, and Flynn has it in spades. She’s also proficient, like Fincher, at rendering people in shades of gray rather than in black and white. GONE GIRL is an antidote to the usual clichés of character and story that infest most movies on average – it may taste slightly bitter going down, but it tickles as well as makes you think. In a movie season that‘s rarely held surprises, you can’t ask for more.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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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.

And then his troubles begin. He is detained by the government, placed in solitary confinement, and brutally interrogated, day after day, month after month. He is accused of being a spy, and all of his protestations and rationalizations matter not one whit in the eyes of his accusers: they have condemned him already. His interrogator relentlessly tries to break him down with both physical and psychological torment, and even when they secure a videotaped confession, they still detain him.

At his lowest point, Bahari holds conversations with his departed father, who was also a political prisoner, as a means of keeping himself sane and hopeful. His father's imagined counsel helps him endure his brutal conditions and figure out a way to fight back: humor. He uses his sense of irony, feeding his interrogator "information" to mock him. The biggest joke of all is that his accusers have no sense of irony themselves.

Bahari and Stewart do not demonize the torturers, instead shading them as human beings, albeit human beings indoctrinated by society to behave monstrously toward others. The interrogator, for example, is a married man, and it's clear it bugs him that his extended torture sessions keep him from his wife.

You'll have to read Bahari's book or see the movie to learn the ultimate outcome, but the main theme of the story is that tyranny's lack of irony is one of its biggest weaknesses. ROSEWATER is not without a few quibbles: Stewart's artistic choice to depict the spread of social media as a force in the Iranian elections feels like it belongs in another, more light-hearted movie. It involves a montage of digital graphics superimposed on people, similar to what Jon Favreau did in CHEF to show how tweets spread. There's also another montage late in the movie to show an important turn in the story, which could have been edited more subtly.

But these are minor points, because ROSEWATER is ultimately a triumph, and something to give us reason to hope, at a time when the entire world seems to be imploding, that tyranny ultimately fails.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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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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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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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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