Movie Review – A Simple Plan

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). 

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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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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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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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Movie Review – Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams (1994)
Directed by Steve James

Since the first African people were captured, sold through European markets, and forcibly transported to “The New World,” Black bodies have been commodified by white supremacy. African people were not the first slaves, but their subjugation under the institution of chattel slavery is a defining aspect of humanity in the Western world. To pretend that it “was a long time ago,” that we live in a “post-racial world” or any other white copium is just that. It’s a complete dismissal of material facts and accurate historical analysis. Today, Black people are still seen as white commodities in capitalism’s gaze. Instead of working the fields of cotton plantations, American society works Black men as gladiator figures, tossing them in arenas to destroy their bodies and damage their brains for our entertainment. The thought of what these men will do when natural aging & physical strain catch up to them is not even contemplated by most people.

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Patron Pick – Before Sunrise

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 Matt Harris.

Before Sunrise (1995)
Written by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan
Directed by Richard Linklater

I never stepped foot in Europe until 2021, at 40. Although, I did have friends & acquaintances in college who found their way to the small continent, primarily through study abroad programs. So, I don’t know anyone who just floated around Europe for a few months. Yet, director Richard Linklater works his movie magic, and I feel like I know what that would be like after watching Before Sunrise. Beyond the unfamiliar circumstances, there are some universal experiences here. Mainly thinking we know what it means to love a person and coasting on that interpretation or misinterpretation. The pair in this movie lives in limbo, entirely convinced & devoted to this single day of love but also firmly planted in reality, knowing this is a lark, a fun fantasy for a day that cannot last.

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Patron Pick – One True Thing

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.

One True Thing (1998)
Written by Karen Croner
Directed by Carl Franklin

Movies like One True Thing weren’t on my radar in the late 1990s. I was a teenager, a year away from college, sheltered & homeschooled, working at my local public library and discovering all sorts of exciting niche things I would cultivate over the decades. So something like this movie wouldn’t have even been a blip for me. Instead, I was far more interested in exploring weird movies, inching my way towards becoming the art house snob I lived as during college. Now, at age 41, I appreciate this type of movie more, particularly in the face of its near extinction, as something you can see in a theater. The cineplexes are dominated by blockbuster incoherence, and streaming seems to be a flood of mediocrity devoid of soul. So while One True Thing sounds like a Lifetime movie in its description, the performances, mainly Meryl Streep’s (coming as no surprise to anyone), elevate the picture to something of note.

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Movie Review – Scream 2

Scream 2 (1997)
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Wes Craven

Since the 1980s, there haven’t been too many long-lasting horror franchises. Paranormal Activity is probably the most recent series to have legs for a while, but it seemed to have burnt out just before the pandemic hit. Scream is the only other one I can think of, and it represents the end of the 1980s slasher obsession. In my brain, I often associated Scream with grunge as they both were subgenres that deconstructed what had come before. Grunge was a response to 1980s metal and its overproduction, while Scream serves to comment on the movies that inspired it. Kevin Williamson, the screenwriter, decided he wanted to make this a franchise from the start and sold a five-page treatment for Scream 2 with the original film’s script. This is also one of the first films altered by the internet as the screenplay leaked online during production revealing four killers. Rewrites were made, and actors weren’t given the final pages until a few days before the scenes were shot. It was a hit then, but is Scream 2 as good as the original?

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