Five Cool Things and the Grand Tetons

After a week off, I'm talking about Stephen King, Doctor Who, Humphrey Bogart, and independent film.
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A big thanks to Gordon and Shawn for filling in for me last week.  As noted, I spent the week in Wyoming visiting both the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone.  Both were extraordinarily gorgeous.  For those of you playing along, the man in the photo posted last week was fly fishing.  I didn’t get word on whether he caught anything or not.  

During that week I did not consume much pop culture as that’s just not what you do while standing in some of the most beautiful parts of the world.  However, the week before (and my vacation really went Wednesday to Wednesday so I’m configuring the term “week” a little loosely) was spent by myself due to my wife and child heading out on vacation earlier than I could.  This mean lots of movie and TV watching.  So let’s have it.

Stephen King’s IT (1990)

I’ve been pretty obsessed with Stephen King over the last few months.  I’m currently reading his behemoth of a novel, IT.  I rather enjoyed the recent cinematic adaptation of the book so when I discovered the TV miniseries on Hulu I decided to revisit it.  I had very vague notions of watching it when it first aired in 1990.  My memories mostly consisted of terrifying images of Tim Curry in his Pennywise the Clown outfit, but I think I liked it.  I was worried it wouldn’t hold up very well because few mini-series from that time period do (I once tried to rewatch the TV adaptation of another Stephen King novel, The Stand, and could only abide a few minutes).

While the mini-series does show tell-tale signs of its time and medium - the budget constraints, the cast (including such '80s-TV luminaries as Harry Anderson, John Ritter, and Tim Reid) not to mention some very bad special effects, it's actually pretty good.  It was a two-part series when originally aired and the first part holds up a lot better than the second.  Strangely, the child actors pull off their parts a lot better than the adult ones, but that is due in part to the writing and an adults-only ending that is really quite bad.  If you throw in all the caveats about it being early-'90s TV, it's really quite worth revisiting.

Doctor Who: City of Death

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Tom Baker’s Doctor and Romana II land in Paris circa 1979.  There, they meet a rich sophisticate who is trying to steal the Mona Lisa, except he’s actually a tentacle-faced monster who crash landed on Earth millions of years ago and who got split into multiple versions of himself which were tossed throughout time.  He’s stealing the famous painting (actually seven of them as he made Da Vinci paint multiple copies of it in his time) to sell them to private collectors in order to fund his time-machine scheme so he can go back in time and rescue himself.

That’s a classic, convoluted Doctor Who plot if I ever saw one.  The script was co-written and edited by Douglas Adams so it's full of great zingers and it finds Tom Baker at the top of his physical-comedy game.

The Left Hand of God

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We mostly just ate and went to bed after we got in from the day’s hiking during our vacation but one evening we managed to turn on TCM and catch this late-period Humphrey Bogart film.  He plays his usual tough guy with a soft center.  This time he’s in China on the run from a Chinese warlord.  When the bad guys kill a priest, he dons the collar and flees to a tiny village.  There he meets a girl and wins the hearts of the villagers.  The writing isn’t great and there are some serious issues with race (the warlord being played by Lee J. Cobb chief among them) but it has enough charms if you are a Bogie fan to make it worth watching.

The Rider

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During the week my family was gone, before I met them in Wyoming, I had these plans to go to the movies multiple times and see basically everything. Trouble was it is the middle of the summer-blockbuster season and I’d already seen all the films at my local theater.  Luckily, there is a small, independent theater in Tulsa and I made a weekend of it.

The Rider is a small drama about a cowboy who has to try and figure out who he wants to be after he suffers a head injury that makes it dangerous to ever ride a horse again.  It stars Brady Jandreau, who was a cowboy in real life that really did suffer a similar head injury. Director Chloe Zhao cast the film with a lot of other non-actors basically playing themselves and gets convincing performances out of every last one of them.  While it is based upon real life, it's not a documentary and she allows herself plenty of leniency with the truth to make the film more dramatic, yet it never loses its realistic feel. It's a simple, but beautiful slice-of-life film about a part of the American West we rarely see in cinema.

Beast

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The second art-house film I saw was this one about a troubled woman living in an isolated island community trying to become her own woman while living under the guidance of her oppressive mother.  When she meets a secretive, perhaps violent (he might possibly be a serial killer) young man, her life changes and not necessarily for the better.  I’m being intentionally vague there as it's a film best left unfolding while you watch it without knowing a lot about its plot.  It's a strange, imperfect film with a wonderful lead performance by Jessie Buckley who has big things in her future.

The Grand Tetons / Yellowstone National Park

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I know I normally talk about pop culture in these articles, and Gordon already shared one of my photos from the vacation, but I had a lot of fun and our National Parks are well worth writing about.  I grew up hearing about Yellowstone and the world famous Old Faithful geyser, but I knew next to nothing about the Grand Tetons.  My parents have been there but the way they talked about it I thought it was just a little mountain pass you drove through on your way to Yellowstone.  It is so much more than that.  Encompassing approximately 310,000 acres, the park includes multiple mountains, lakes, rivers, and all sorts of plant and animal life.  It's full of trails with breathtaking views.

Yellowstone is gorgeous as well.  We barely scratched its surface.  We mainly stayed in the geyser region.  Going in, I wasn’t expecting much out of Old Faithful but it is surrounded by over a hundred of other geysers and boiling hot, bubbling water spots, all of which is like nothing I’d ever seen.  If you get a chance to visit the area, I highly recommend it.

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