Movie Review – The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie (1987)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Paul Newman

“Write what you know” is some advice often given to writers struggling to know where to start. Tennessee Williams was an artist who often practiced this, sometimes literally but also metaphorically. In the case of The Glass Menagerie, it was a very personal play that touched on his relationship with his mother and sister. He kept coming back to it in different forms until he found the way that worked, even writing a screenplay (The Gentleman Caller) that would be repurposed for the play. The result is a moving story of a family displaced from the American South struggling to find their way in an increasingly cold, cruel world.

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Movie Review – Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman (1985)
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff

Some pieces of art are monolithic in that you know some things about them even if you don’t actively seek them out. They just made such an impact on the culture and became interwoven into our language and our contemporary understanding. I can’t point to exactly when I first knew of Death of a Salesman, but one of my earlier memories was it being referenced in Seinfeld. In an episode, Jerry says George reminds him of Biff Loman from the play. I was a teenager and had never read the play, so I can’t say I ever fully comprehended that one. It made the play stick out to me, though, as it must be important, at a minimum, to understand some aspect of the “discourse.” But time flowed on, and I never sat down to experience Death of a Salesman until now.

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Movie Review – True West

True West (1984)
Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Allan A. Goldstein

Sam Shepard was a playwright that seemed to know what to say about the time he was living in perfectly. He was particularly interested in the transformation of the American West from a mythic landscape used to feed the imaginations of Americans to its incorporation as just another part of the urban & suburban sprawl that took over the country. In his screenplay for Paris, Texas, his protagonist emerges from the desert only to disappear back into it at the story’s conclusion, in a parallel to John Ford’s The Searchers. People who cannot change their perspectives and, at minimum, understand the times they live in will be left on the sidelines, drifting away until forgotten. 

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Comic Book Review – American Flagg! The Definitive Collection

American Flagg! Definitive Collection (2007)
Reprints American Flagg! #1-12
Written & Illustrated by Howard Chaykin

An acceptable madness. That’s what you are pressured to find under our current system. The development of technology & societies certainly has brought much comfort to people’s lives…well, for a minority of us. The comforts you and I experience are actually rarities on this planet. Most humans can’t just walk over, flip a switch on a wall, and have light. They can’t go to bed confident they have enough food to make it through the next week, much less the next day. They can’t turn on a showerhead and easily bathe themselves. They can’t flush their waste away and not think about it again. If you are reading this, more likely than not, you are part of that minority of people who can take comfort in the seeming ever-presence of these amenities. A vast system of propaganda ensures you always take them for granted and never think about the rest of the world. That is the acceptable madness of our times.

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Movie Review – Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas (1984)
Written by L. M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard
Directed by Wim Wenders

By the time 1984 rolled around, New German Cinema as a formal movement was over. The directors (still with us) were still making movies, and many still are. Rainer Werner Fassbinder died from an overdose of cocaine and barbiturates in 1982, the same year this new wave of cinema is said to have ended. Germany was just five years away from reunifying its West & East fragments. The country’s fate was now tied even more closely with the rest of the continent and America. Wim Wenders’ work has always held a fascination with that link between nations, and Paris, Texas, eschews Germany to focus entirely on America. Wenders recontextualizes the Western genre, placing it in modern-day Texas and exploring the return of a “stranger” from out of the wilderness. The story is steeped in the mystery of a blazing romance that burned up everyone involved.

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Movie Review – Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Written & Directed by Werner Herzog

After seeing seven of Werner Herzog’s feature films, I can confidently say I’m still not sure I “get” him. That makes him all the more fascinating because I can’t say I’ve had this experience with too many other directors. Having watched a few Fassbinder films lately, I understand the core themes on a basic level, but there is still plenty more to unpack. Wim Wenders is the most straightforward to me. Herzog, though. This guy is wild. He is fascinated with man’s ongoing struggles with nature, but I’m always unsure of his perspective. Is he someone who sees man as having too much hubris against an opponent who will obliterate him? Or does he see humanity’s domination of nature as a necessary feat for the species to progress? I lean toward the former more than the latter, but it can be hard to pin this guy down. Herzog does have a sort of hybrid admiration-disgust for insanely ambitious people.

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Movie Review – Christiane F.

Christiane F. (1981)
Written by Herman Weigel
Directed by Uli Edel

“Scared Straight” is a subgenre of exploitation cinema focused on discouraging the youth from engaging in certain activities. A movie like Reefer Madness falls into this category, an ignorant to the point of farce examination of smoking weed. You could even throw something like America’s Most Wanted into this mix too. I can remember the way homosexual men were portrayed on that show was always in the context of being child molesters. Needless to say, scared straight media rarely presents a solid foundation of facts, instead opting for reactionary panic. In America, the book Go Ask Alice was published as the “real diary” of a teenage girl who succumbed to drug addiction. It’s much less well-known now, but when it came out in 1971, it fueled a lot of parents’ and teenagers’ minds with horror movie-level fears about drugs. That isn’t to say movies about the dangers of drugs are all bad. In the same way, not all drugs are harmful to you. I’m highly progressive in my views on drugs and their use, but there is one drug that scares me; maybe I’ve just been successfully brainwashed, or maybe not. The one that I would never touch is heroin.

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Comic Book Review – Hawkworld (1989)

Hawkworld (1989)
Reprints Hawkworld #1-3 (1989)
Written & Illustrated by Tim Truman

From their heights, the privileged in our societies can see the full scale of what they do. The people forced to live at the bottom, the ones who toil the most fruitlessly, for whom every day is a struggle to make it to the next, rarely having the means or the time to take in the state of their world. When they do, it is always a time when those at the top are brought down, when the people have had enough. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics wanted to transform their shared universe of superheroes. Books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen revealed something about the genre; its audience had matured and were interested in stories that explored more than heroes beating up villains. There were moral spaces that had never been explored. Hawkman was a character in need of such a freshening up. Tim Truman, an artist/writer known for pulpy comics, was brought in to reinvent Hawkman, and he did so in dramatic fashion.

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Comic Book Review – Superman: The Exile and Other Stories

Superman: The Exile and Other Stories Omnibus (2018)
Reprints Adventures of Superman #445-460, Superman v2 #23-37, Action Comics #643-646, and Action Comics Annual #2
Written by Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens, Tom Peyer, and Keith Giffen
Art by Jerry Ordway, Mike Mignola, Kerry Gammill, Dan Jurgens, Paris Cullins, Curt Swan, George Pérez, Keith Giffen, Dennis Janke, P. Craig Russell, John Beatty, Brett Breeding, John Statema, Art Thibert, Klaus Janson, Tim Gula, and Andy Kubert

I have reached that age. You know it. The age where a guy with graying hair on his head and beard says things like, “I liked [insert] character here better when I was a kid.” I see this and acknowledge the silliness of it. A character like Superman has never been a static thing, but exists in a never-ending flow state where tweaks are happening to the narrative and mythos with every new issue that comes out. Superman couldn’t fly for his first few appearances, and things like Smallville were rectons. There is no ultimate version of Superman and the one you like is probably the one you first encountered. I was always a Christopher Reeve fan because that was my first Superman and when it came to comics the post-John Byrne era was when I joined in. 

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Movie Review – Midnight Run

Midnight Run (1988)
Written by George Gallo
Directed by Martin Brest

The 1980s was a decade rife with mismatched buddy comedies. 48 Hours paired the perpetually crotchety Nick Nolte against Eddie Murphy. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles centers on the tension between two traveling workers and their conflicts while trying to get home. Twins goes all-in on the drastic difference in visual appearance and personality of its leads. Lethal Weapon was an ur-text for the genre, the archetypal mismatched pair. Midnight Run has always seemed to have an outsized & loyal cult fanbase from what I can tell, and I have always wondered what the big deal was. It looks like any other buddy comedy to me. I had never seen this movie from beginning to end, so this viewing was my chance to try and understand the hype. 

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