Movie Review – Arlington Road

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.

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Movie Review – The Fisher King

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.

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Movie Review – Living in Oblivion

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.

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Looking at Art – Winter 1946

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. 

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PopCult Podcast – In Front Of Your Face/The Rainmaker

South Korean cinema continues to deliver incredibly thoughtful movies about the human condition. And Coppola continues making bonkers movies that wildly vary in quality.

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Comic Book Review – Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: The Secret of the Petrified Tablet

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: The Secret of the Petrified Tablet (2020)
Reprints Amazing Spider-Man #68-85 & Annual #5
Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita & John Buscema (with Larry Lieber & Marie Severin)

One of the things I’ve noticed while reading through these issues of Amazing Spider-Man is how John Romita’s art style is what I think of when I imagine Silver Age art. There’s a cleanness to the linework, a certain way he draws textures, an overall simplicity compared to modern art, as well as development compared to earlier comics and the art happening over at the Distinguished Competition. However, this collection starts with a story illustrated by Larry Lieber, whose style is similar to Romita’s. Lieber served as a man of many talents while at Marvel. He scripted Stan Lee’s plots for Thor, Iron Man, and Ant-Man, with his first superhero work being the first appearance of Thor. Lieber is actually the younger brother of Stan Lee and thus has had a long-running relationship with the company. He illustrated the Spider-Man newspaper strip from 1986 to 2018, retiring at 86. He’s still alive today, having turned 91 in October 2022. 

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Movie Review – What About Bob?

What About Bob? (1991)
Written by Tom Schulman
Directed by Frank Oz

For the last few years, there has been a renewed interest in the 1990s, becoming an interest in the early 2000s. This is nothing new. I remember being a teenager in the 1990s and noting the interest in the 1960s turned into the same for the 1970s in the early 2000s. American culture seems caught in a loop of cultural recycling that operates on a 20-30 year scale. What often happens during these nostalgia-driven periods is that the most obvious relics of eras get all of the attention. Unfortunately, that means other media from these periods become increasingly forgotten as time goes by. I wanted to spend a couple weeks looking at some movies from the 1990s that I’ve seen & wanted to revisit or have heard about for years and finally sat down to watch. My hope is that I can highlight some overlooked movies from the 1990s.

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Patron Pick – The Menu

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.

The Menu (2022)
Written by Seth Reiss & Will Tracy
Directed by Mark Mylod

Horror is certainly a hot genre at the moment. Not since the 1970s has there been a more fruitful period for the genre. We have so many different styles & flavors of horror to choose from so that no matter what type of person you are, there’s something to pick from. The Menu represents a growing social satire horror that’s become more prevalent in recent years. It makes sense that this would be a burgeoning subgenre in the face of growing massive inequality in the West. Outside of horror, these themes of bringing the wealthy to heel & pointing out the many cases of abuse of the working class have picked up steam. Yet, I have to question when such an important topic becomes so embedded in popular culture. The main question I ask about these films is, “Is this a genuine expression of frustration on this issue from an authentic voice, or is this just a filmmaker/studio chasing a trend?”

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Movie Review – American Movie

American Movie (1999)
Directed by Chris Smith

We close out our first volume of American documentaries with a film about making a movie in America. Today, making a decent-looking movie is not hard if you have the passion. With numerous video distribution platforms, you can likely get your film up somewhere streaming for free if you simply want people’s eyes on it. In 1999, the process was more challenging. Equipment & film were always the most expensive part of shooting a movie before the digital age took off. To get that kind of money, you would have to be a smooth talker & a hustler. Nothing better describes Mark Borchardt, an absolutely fascinating example of pure white American mediocrity. Borchardt drifts from thing to thing, often in a circular pattern, returning to unfinished fragments and adding a little more to them over time.

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