Alex Schor

Washington, D.C, UNITED STATES


Joined September 1st 2009

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ROAD RAGE

May 17th 2015 15:00
If there's any justice, George Miller's MAD MAX: FURY ROAD will be the standard by which all other action movies will be judged for the next 30 years. It would only seem appropriate since it took about 30 years to return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland he charted out in the previous three Mad Max movies. He may be older, but Miller has lost none of his gonzo storytelling instincts or taste for bizarre imagery. Throw in a simple but by no means extraneous plot, robust performances, and unmatched choreography into the mix, and you've got the most imaginative actioner of the year. I say this just having barely recovered from THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, which was fun, but a pale shadow of the brilliance on display in FURY ROAD.

A brief recap for those not in the know: we first met Max Rockatansky in MAD MAX, then a traffic cop trying to keep his family safe from the violence of a world (or at least, an Australia) coming apart at the seams. He failed and lost a piece of his soul. This, as it turned out, equipped him to survive when the world finally gave up the ghost and was transmuted into wasteland by nuclear fire. Max then became a scavenger, killing and stealing what he could to keep himself and his car running. But he appeared to regain what soul he had lost in MAD MAX 2 (THE ROAD WARRIOR) and, later, BEYOND THUNDERDOME to defend what few remnants of innocence and civilization were left from the overwhelming hordes of savages surrounding them.

Which brings us to FURY ROAD, with Max (Tom Hardy) once again alone and scraping by, until he is captured by the followers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tumor-ridden despot who rules the Citadel, a colony of fanatical warriors and desperate hangers-on, that has managed to flourish as long as Joe controls the stuff of life: water, gasoline, and food. Food in this case is anyone unlucky enough to be captured by his raiding parties and used as a Blood Bag -- having their blood siphoned into the veins of his elite fighters, the War Boys.

Max seems doomed to become a Blood Bag to War Boys, until Immortan Joe's lieutenant, the Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) commits mutiny by driving a rig out of the Citadel for parts unknown, carrying Joe's most prized possessions -- five fertile women, or breeders, that he has enslaved as his own personal harem. Immortan Joe is not pleased, and he leads his own party of warriors in pursuit. Max ends up accompanying them, strapped to the hood of a vehicle driven by the War Boy (Nicholas Hoult) to whom he's unwillingly donating his blood.

Eventually, Max and Furiosa meet and form an uneasy alliance to get the rig to its intended destination: a clean, unpolluted area where Immortan Joe's wives can live in peace. Of course, things don't quite work out that way. But the pursuit, the balls-to-the-wall, full-throttle action, is what FURY ROAD is mainly about. Which is not to say character takes a back seat: it's simply of the "deeds, not words" variety, which is a refreshing change of pace from emotionally detaching exposition or artificial stabs at character development symptomatic of most action films.

I'm sure Mad Max purists will wish Mel Gibson was once again portraying Max rather than Hardy, but circumstances put Hardy in the role, and he does a good job. The point being, this is really for the most part Furiosa's story, and Theron is incredible in the role. She's kickass, badass, and supremely capable, and also one half of the emotional heart of FURY ROAD.

The other half is provided by Hoult's War Boy, Nux, who has the most interesting arc: he starts off as one of Immortan Joe's frothing zealots, brainwashed into believing his unquestioning loyalty will lead him to paradise when he dies. Through a trial by fire, he becomes disillusioned and ultimately joins Furiosa's cause.

Miller and his co-writers are economical with dialogue (which for this kind of film is a blessing), while the wastes he explores in this installment are more of a character than in the earlier films, thanks in large part to John Seale's amazing cinematography, with a little digital expansion here and there.

Arguably the most appealing thing about FURY ROAD and its predecessors is Miller's ability to find humanity amid all the inhumanity on display, mainly through imagery and action. With a budget dwarfing that of all the previous Mad Max movies, plus the latest technology, Miller gives FURY ROAD the scope, energy, and emotional wallop to make it his crowning achievement.

The other films are mere Sunday drives in comparison.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE

May 4th 2015 17:23
Going into THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, I had two expectations, one based on the law of averages and the other based on the Law of Whedon. In accordance with the first law, it would not be as fresh as the first Avengers movie, while the second law dictated it would be much, much better than THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 because Joss Whedon was again assuming writing and directing chores. Consequently, while the likelihood of overwhelming (sometimes numbing) action set-pieces seemed inevitable, there would be few extraneous plot details and some interesting character development.

I’m pleased to report that AVENGERS: AOU complied with the second law while almost, but not quite, transcending the limitations of the first law. At the end of the film, I certainly felt, like no doubt most of the superheroic characters felt, all punched out – but at least it was a good, solid workout. It also restored my flagging faith in the Marvelverse franchise, after I found a couple of movies featuring spin-off characters, like THOR: THE DARK WORLD and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, to be less than stellar. Of course, AVENGERS: AOU falls prey to the same tendencies that sank those movies: too much action, too many effects, and too many characters. But there’s less to complain about because the cast’s chemistry is still strong.

The movie jump-starts with the Avengers leading a raid on a wintry stronghold in a mountainous Eastern European country, where the bad guys have been jerking around with Loki’s staff, a relic left over from the first movie. The results of their experiments include two enhanced twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen). One’s super-fast, the other’s super-weird and can plant visions in people’s minds. One apocalyptic scenario Wanda slips into Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) brain inspires him to experiment on the staff against the team’s wishes.

The result is an artificial intelligence called Ultron (sleek voice and body, via motion capture, by James Spader) that learns exponentially. Although programmed by Stark to protect humanity, Ultron re-interprets its purpose to “evolve” the human race into lifeforms similar to itself – through worldwide destruction. Yup, here we go again… Once Ultron breaks free from Stark’s cage, it uses the Internet and a host of robot bodies to duplicate itself in legion, and reunites with the Maximoffs to effect a two-pronged plan: it will destabilize the Avengers by attacking them from without, while the twins tear them apart from within.

Everybody got that?

I acknowledge that Spader’s Ultron is not as compelling an arch-villain as Loki was in the first film, in view of the emotional detachment that sets in from watching most computer-generated characters. But Spader gives it his all, and the persona remains fascinating throughout. Equally intriguing is Paul Bettany’s late-in-the-game but welcome portrayal of the Vision, another sentient A.I. whose purpose is quite different from Ultron’s.

Then there’s the camaraderie and the quieter moments of the Avengers as they rest between battles. These include a hilarious sequence where everyone tries lifting Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) hammer, and an interlude at a safe house following a severe defeat, where we meet one of the Avengers’ previously unknown family. Also spicing things up is a subplot wherein the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) engage in a tense, roundabout courtship that has advantages and disadvantages for both of them, most notably Banner’s tendency to turn into a destructive green behemoth when he has a violent mood swing. Nobody said love’s perfect.

But duty calls, and with global annihilation imminent, the Avengers must race around the world and against time to bring Ultron to heel. This, of course, requires a huge battle that tops the half-dozen or so other skirmishes that precede it. It makes the last film’s final standoff in New York City look slow, but I wish Whedon tamped down the impulse to shoot everything at hyperspeed. One battle starts to blur into another in these movies, and even though some of it is fun, it starts to feel generic. Even the new toys the Avengers unveil, such as Stark’s Hulkbuster armor, lose their charm after a while when everything’s flying at you at 100 mph.

So there you have it. Apparently, the next Avengers installment will be a two-parter, without Whedon’s directorial participation. And naturally, the individual franchises will go on as long as they remain profitable. We can only hope that the people they are entrusted to will take as much care with them as Whedon did. Still, the law of averages may bend, but not break. Of course, that principle is supposed to apply to superheroes, too.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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HOLLYWOOD & VILE

March 1st 2015 20:29
Let me caution you before I start this review: MAPS TO THE STARS is a very, very hard movie to like. It's directed by David Cronenberg from a script by Bruce Wagner, a novelist whose books are chiefly focused on Tinseltown and its singular attraction to some of the most toxic examples of humanity, outside of the Tea Party.

Cronenberg, meanwhile, started in horror movies that were often a cut above their B-movie roots, such as THE BROOD, SCANNERS, and SHIVERS, and eventually his interests seemed to evolve from physical to spiritual rot. And MAPS has plenty of spiritual rot on display, with Hollywood as its nexus. It follows a clique of characters, all of them deeply damaged and in many ways mostly dead.

There's celebrity psych guru Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who spouts meaningless catch-phrases and whose "therapy" is equal parts brutal insults and invasive massaging for his clients. His son Benjy (Evan Bird) is a movie star who, at the ripe old age of 13, is a recovering druggie and full-blown douchebag (Justin Bieber, take note). His horrendous behavior is enabled by his remote father and frigid mother (Olivia Williams). Newly arrived is Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a starry-eyed waif with burn scars. There's also Robert Pattinson as a chauffeur/actor who's nursing a screenplay and is thinking about joining Scientology as a career move.

These and other incipient train-wrecks circle Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a superannuated actress, like a queen bee. Havana is struggling to overcome memories of maternal abuse while also striving to star in a remake of a film that starred her late mother (Sarah Gadon), in the role her mother portrayed. Unfortunately, mommy's ghost is undercutting Havana's confidence, berating her from the beyond that she'll never get the part.

All the performers do first-rate work, but Moore is the standout. I've become convinced it's impossible for her not to make even the flimsiest role interesting. She's also not afraid to go all-out in MAPS, which sprinkles into its story such ingredients as incest, menage a trois, insanity, and other corrosions that are bubbling to the surface. When they finally break through, what happens is a mini-apocalypse for most of the characters. Hollywood, however, doesn't even blink.

MAPS seems a bit scattered in terms of plotting, but Cronenberg's direction, Wagner's razor-sharp dialogue, and the performances give the movie a jack-hammering pulse, even if the heart generating it is putrescent. Still, I admire the film more than actually like it. It should be required viewing for all you wanna-be celebrities, movie stars, and others hearing Hollywood's siren call, of what fate may await the unprepared.

You have been warned.

Alex Schor

The Psychocinemapath!
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HIGH TIMES

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

1. I expected it to be funny


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

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


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THE IMMUNITY FACTOR

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

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


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WINGING IT

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

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


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HE SAID, SHE DEAD (OR AT LEAST MISSING)

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

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


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

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

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


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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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