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A Simple Plan (1998) Written by Scott B. Smith Directed by Sam Raimi
The 1990s were an eclectic decade for Sam Raimi. Darkman was his entry into the 90s, which helped to get his third Evil Dead film, Army of Darkness, greenlit through Universal Pictures. That was followed a few years later by the western The Quick and The Dead. Then came A Simple Plan (He would wrap up the decade with the Kevin Costner baseball movie For Love of the Game, so he wasn’t sticking to a single genre).
Notorious (Always Checkers Publishing) Written & Designed by Jason Price Artwork by Torben Bökemeyer You can purchase Notorious here
When I was a little kid playing, pretending was a big part of my life. We did not have a lot of money, so action figures & elaborately manufactured play accessories were just not something I ever had. When I wanted to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I got a spare piece of purple fabric, cut eye holes, and wore it on my face. I put my backpack on for my shell & used a cardboard wrapping paper tube as my bo staff. I was a Donatello type of kid. When I wanted to play Ghostbusters, I took that same backpack, tied one end of yarn around a strap, punched a hole in a paper towel tube, and tied the other end to make my proton pack. I even took a shoebox and some yarn to make my ghost trap. Superman was easy: safety pin and some fabric for a cape. Star Wars was another wrapping paper tube to serve as my lightsaber. Big confession I used to be embarrassed about: I never had many action figures, so I would make paper cutouts of every comic book hero & villain I could think of, keep them organized in a series of envelopes, and bring them out to play when I was bored. Being the oldest of four siblings and homeschooled, I didn’t have many friends, so imaginary play was a solitary time. In playing Notorious, I felt taken back to that sort of joyous solo imaginary play, which is about the biggest compliment I could give a tabletop rpg.
Since I was a kid I have loved film music. Like most people my age, the scores of John Williams were an iconic piece of my childhood. The themes from Star Wars, Superman, and Indiana Jones were ever present in my consciousness from a young age. Film music is quite different now, less anthemic and more ambient in many films. My tastes have also changed as I’ve matured. Williams’ work is still incredibly rousing when you’re wanting the sense of adventure but film music is able to reflect so many tones & moods. Here are the composers I find myself listening to the most these days. I’m not a music expert so I don’t really have the vocabulary with which to talk about the intricate details of the form. I just know what I like and want to share it with you.
Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: The Death of Captain Stacy (2021) Reprints Amazing Spider-Man #86-104 Written by Stan Lee & Roy Thomas Art by Gil Kane & John Romita with John Buscema
This was my least favorite of the four Amazing Spider-Man collections I read for this series. The art changes, but it’s not the art that made me dislike it; it is the writing. Stan Lee was clearly running out of steam with his ideas for Spider-Man. It also supports the claims that Lee relied on his artists to handle many plots to which he would add flourishes. I won’t say these are terrible stories, but you definitely get the sense he was reaching for ideas, and a lot of this doesn’t feel as powerfully written as the earlier issues.
Arlington Road (1999) Written by Ehren Krueger Directed by Mark Pellington
On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was destroyed by a domestic terrorist truck bombing. The people responsible were Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, right-wing extremists. They met during U.S. Army basic training in 1988 at Fort Benning. Radicalization came via right-wing propaganda spurred by the Ruby Ridge standoff. This incident involved the FBI, who suspected Randy Weaver was involved in a gun smuggling operation for white supremacists, surrounding the Weaver family home. The result was the death of Weaver’s wife and son, with Weaver himself being captured. The white supremacist survived until May 2022, when he passed away after serving time in prison. As with all reactionaries, McVeigh & Nichols lashed out at innocent people resulting in the murder of 168 people, including children, in the Federal Building’s employee childcare facility.
The Fisher King (1991) Written by Richard LaGravenese Directed by Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam is a director I can’t quite decide on. There are movies of his I think are brilliant (Brazil, 12 Monkeys), but so much of his work, even the stuff I like, feels messy & cluttered. That’s the charm of Gilliam, though. He’s a filmmaker whose personality is imbued into his work, much like David Lynch. This means his movies are polarizing. People love or hate most of them, with a few managing to find that middle ground of neutrality. The Fisher King seems to be one of the more universally liked Gilliam pictures, and I can see why. The story is grounded for the most part, the fantasies are never presented as potentially real, and the characters experience a pretty traditional arc where they get to live happily ever after.
Living in Oblivion (1995) Written & Directed by Tom DiCillo
1990s America was fertile soil for independent film. We all know the ones that got the most attention: Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Dazed & Confused, etc. This was when the Sundance Film Festival became something many people outside the festival circuit might talk about if they loved movies. By the 2010s, many of these pictures’ elements had become cliche. The quirkiness of an indie film that was once a unique strength had become a joke. What once was seen as edgy was now looked at as old-fashioned. Some filmmakers have proven this true. Look at what Kevin Smith has been up to lately. Yikes. Several directors just kept making movies, whether the big audiences kept showing up or not. Tom DiCillo was already experiencing frustration with making the kind of movies he wanted in 1995 and expressed that in the strange, intriguing comedy Living in Oblivion.
Welcome to Looking at Art. Here’s what we do: I just spend some time looking at the piece, writing down thoughts & questions I have. Thinking about how it makes me feel and trying to make connections. Then I will do some research and report back to you with any details that are relevant to the piece. Finally, I put all that together and contemplate how the piece’s meaning has changed for me & what my big takeaways are. Today’s selection is:
Winter 1946 (1946) Andrew Wyeth Tempera on board 79.7 cm × 121.9 cm
We’re around midwinter, so I thought this would be an excellent painting to discuss. I’m not terribly familiar with Andrew Wyeth beyond one other image, Christina’s World. I’ve always found that piece to be highly evocative, bringing up horror and cinematic suspense ideas. You have to look closely at it to see those elements coming out, but they are there. The same sort of danger you might encounter in a Coen Brothers film.