A big thanks to Gordon for handling some of my duties while I was gone. The family and I took a vacation in Glacier National Park. It is an astoundingly beautiful place and I highly recommend it to anyone who is able to go. It is also a really long ways from my Oklahoma home. It is roughly 1,700 miles one way from my house. That’s about 25 hours of drive time, not counting pit stops for gas, lunch and the occasional - my ass is hurting so bad I just have to get out and stand up for awhile. We broke each trip up into three days, with about five days in the park.
It was great fun, but I am happy to be in my air conditioned home with plenty of entertainment to consume. So let’s get to it.
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
Regular traveler that I am, I did a lot of pre-planning for that long drive. I made half a dozen MP3 CDs full of all the songs that the wife and I love. I loaded my phone, the wife’s phone, plus a couple of old iPods with various albums of great music. I grabbed a copy of Stephen Fry reading the first Harry Potter book and I did some Googling to find interesting podcasts for the whole family.
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a narrative podcast for kids that tells the story of the pre-pubescent and totally precocious Mars Patel and his band of misfit friends. Strange things are afoot at their school as children start going missing and nobody but our heroes seem to notice or care.
Its a well-made podcast with a good voice cast. Each episode runs about 20 minutes and is periodically interrupted by the (probably) nefarious Oliver Pruitt, the richest man in the universe who discusses the show, who answers (fake) audience questions and generally seems like he’s up to no good. All of which is perfect for six-year-old attention spans.
At first, my daughter remained busy playing with her toys and coloring books while “listening” but after an episode or two, she wouldn’t let me play the show until she was finished doing whatever it was she was doing at the time. On a long road trip, it was great to have something besides music to pass the time.
On our last day of vacation, before the long road back, we decided to forsake the mountains and just relax. We drove about an hour to the closest piece of civilization, took the kid to a waterpark, ate at a decent restaurant, and went to the movies.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a film I really enjoyed at the time but the more time I spend thinking about it, the more problematic it becomes. There were little annoyances like how at what must be a very prestigious private school, none of the teachers seemed very engaged. There were larger problems like how Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance felt completely phoned in. But this is "Five Cool Things" and not "Five Complaints about another Marvel movie" so I’ll let it drop.
It really is a lot of fun to watch and I appreciated that they finally got the comedy in a Spider-Man movie right. In the previous movie incarnations, Spider-man is more brooding, more grappling with the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” line than he is here. And while that philosophy is certainly a part of Spider-Man in the comics (and I should say I am not in anyway a Spidey expert, but I’ve read enough to get a feel for the character), it was a pleasure to see this film show how exuberant Spider-Man is over his powers. This is a boy absolutely thrilled that he’s a superhero. That makes the film feel really fun as well.
For a brief period in the late '90s, Asian horror was all the rage. I was totally on board. Asian horror came in two categories: utterly violent and utterly insane, or quiet, moody, and atmospheric. Pulse is of the later variety and it's quite good. Told through interconnecting stories, Pulse is about how ghosts are seeping into our world through our technology and how that very technology is isolating us all. Arrow Video has just released an excellent Blu-ray of the film, of which you can read my review here.
Jordan Peele’s excellent horror film works just as well as a social satire skewering the way so many white progressives handle racial issues. It's about a young black man, dating a white woman, and the awkward weekend they spent at her very rich, very liberal, very white parents' house, where things may not be exactly as they seem. It takes its time to get to the true horror elements but the ride is very much worth it. Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford play the parents who try to prove how un-racist they are by saying things like “my man” and that they would have voted for Obama a third time if they could have. As a white progressive person, I both cringed and laughed at so many of these conversations as they really hit home. The film works so well as a satire it's almost a shame it moves into true horror territory for its back half. Almost. Peele works those elements so well, and blends them together with such an expert hand that together they’ve formed one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long while.
Mad Max: Fury Road
When we watched this in the theater during its initial run - just about the time the dude strapped to a car playing an electric guitar that shoots flames - I turned to my wife and said “you just have to embrace the ridiculousness.” There is a lot of that in George Miller’s revisit to the desolate world of Mad Max, but if you can get past the flaming guitars, deformed warriors, and general over-the-top insanity, you’ll find a really well crafted and artistic action film that’s one for the ages. I was able to do that much more this time around (I wasn’t much in love with it the first time through). It is nearly wall-to-wall action sequences and Miller is one of the best directors for that sort of thing. Eschewing CGI for practical effects (though he did use a lot of digital work to create the atmosphere of the film), Miller has made a big car-chase movie feel intimate and real.
Glacier National Park