“Stranger Things” Season 1 – A Powerful Sci. Fi. Coming of Age Story Reminiscent of the Best of the 80’s Sci. Fi. Films

Stranger Things Poster

   “Stranger Things” is a show born out of love and appreciation for so many great films during the 80’s. You can see elements of Stephen King, “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” “E.T.” “Goonies” and countless others that were clearly inspiration for a show that in the end isn’t any of them and clearly stands on it’s own as a drama and show. Non-spoiler thoughts, if you like any of the things I listed above you should watch this show. Netflix has once again created gold and if you are looking for a timeless and classic story, this is the show for you.

Their will be some SPOILERS coming up.

     The series was created by the Duffer Brothers for Netflix and produced by Shawn Levy.

     The story involves the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers in a small town in Indiana and what his family (his mother and brother) and friends do to find him as a mysterious entity is on the lose and government agents hunt a young girl with superpowers named Eleven, who joins Will’s friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin to find and rescue Will.

The Pros: The World – The world has the small town feel with the greater mystery as we have a small town where everyone knows everyone yet the threat from both El, the State and the alien entity making the small town threatening beyond the bullies who already inhabit the town.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures both the fun of Dungeons and Dragons when the boys are playing it, to the alien nature of the Upside Down where the alien entity comes from and is breaking through into our world.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is awesome and has wonderful 80’s songs littered through the entire show with a haunting 80’s synth for the opening. It is a film level soundtrack. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein did a great job on it.

The Writing – The writing feels real…the characters don’t speak contrived dialogue and the kids sounds like kids, teens like teens and adults sound like adults. It is surprising how rare this is in shows and films but this series doesn’t have that problem.

The Alien – The alien looks like a misshapen grey human from the back with long arms and am mouth like a Venus fly trip. It is terrifying in that you hardly ever see it fully. It is also deadly too as it kills Nancy’s friend Barb and has pumped Will full of it’s possible young even after he is rescued and it is defeated.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and each of them are more compelling than their stereotype or trope they represent in 80’s film.

Nancy Wheeler – Nancy is the nerd who joins the popular kids but after sees they are bullies leaves them. This is her trope that she goes beyond by building a relationship with Jonathan after both of them lose people to the alien and they take the fight to it. She becomes a leader and shows that she is awesome with a gun.

Jonathan Byers – Jonathan is the awkward creeper outsider who we learn is actually sensitive and respectful. That is his trope and how he goes beyond it is building a relationship with his mom when he learns she was telling the truth of talking to Will through the lights and seeing the alien. He’s also a cool older brother to Will and introduces him to great rock.

Chief Jim Hopper – Jim Hopper is the alcoholic divorced Police Chief who lost his daughter and never recovered from it. He changes in that he is the first to back Joyce when he discovers the State base and the area where the alien has made it’s home and the government wipes his memory. He is a dealmaker who doesn’t want to lose people and makes a deal for the State to get El back if he can save Will since he doesn’t want Joyce to lose a child too. For the bitter Police Chief he has a lot of compassion and empathy, and is quite good at his job.

Joyce Byers – Joyce is the main character besides Will’s friends. She is the one who is seen as crazy and in many ways did crack after Will went missing. She is also the one who sees the unknown and takes the risks and discovers the alien entity first. She is great in that she is someone who is doing the best she can with so much working against her. When she helps rescue Will we also see her begin to heal from her past abusive relationship and now having good relationships with her sons. Winona Ryder is wonderful in this role.

Dustin – Dustin is the guy who perceives a lot. He guessed the lunch lady was hiding the chocolate pudding, he knew when the State was coming and to get away and in the end it hints that he knows greater threats are on the horizon too. He is also the one who helps Lucas and Mike resolve their issues and brings the group back together. He is a pretty awesome kid with a lisp.

Lucas – Lucas is the member of Will’s friends who is the most driven and connected to those in the group. He distrusts El when they meet her partially out of fear of losing Mike but also because he wants to protect his friends. In the end he comes around though and even after he and Mike fight he warns and protects them and Eleven from the State as he sees who the real threat is.

Eleven – El is a character with superpowers who was taken from her mother in a government experiment and was being used to spy on the Russians during the Cold War before she escapes after she ends up opening the portal to the world the alien comes from. She is an amazing character who is learning how to control her powers and discovers what having friends is actually like and what it means. In the end she uses her power to hold away the entity and to keep it from our world after she and Mike basically admit love for one another. It is powerful and sad and we get the idea she is still out there fighting the entity.

Mike Wheeler – Mike is the main character and his arc is healing his relationship with his friends, his love for El and saving Will. He is a cool character and we see him willing to risk his life to protect those he cares about. He is also the DM for the boys’ Dungeons and Dragons game.

Coming of Age and Loss – This is the town’s coming of age and Nancy has sex for the first time and discovers her sexuality, Will discovers attraction, El discovers her own beauty and wants for the first time and Joyce and Jim confront their grief and loss and in it come together to heal as they try to save Will. It is powerful and these themes are always their below the surface in the many events and confrontations that take place through the show.

The Cons: The State and Their Motivations and Execution – I get they are fighting the Russians during the Cold War but beyond a faceless entity there was no depth to them at all. Even El’s “Papa” was just a monster who had no depth. This was a major con as every good show needs a good villain.

Leaving the Ending Open – The series could have ended and even though I want to see more I’m putting it as a con since they could have easily wrapped everything up and had the perfect show.

  This was a series that could have ended amazing with just 1 season and not setting up future seasons. I like that there will be more of this show, but like any story that keeps going, especially with television…I fear how it could bring around the overall quality of the show if it isn’t handled well. After defeating the alien things could have ended and it would have been perfect. Leaving it open brought it down a little for me. This is a world well worth your time though and the acting and writing is absolutely amazing. I have yet to have a bad experience with Netflix shows and this one is easily one of their best.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

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Rick and Morty – Season 1, Episode 11 – “Ricksy Business” – Rick Can Solve Anything

Ricksy_business_screencap

    “Ricksy Business” made me want to watch the film “Risky Business” since it if it is anything like this episode, it will probably be a lot of fun. This is an episode that showed just how big of dicks Summer and Rick are as Morty is playing damage control through most of the episode.

    The episode was directed by Stephen Standoval and written by Ryan Ridley and Tom Kauffman.

     The story involves Jerry and Beth leaving on a romantic getaway to a Titanic Recreation as Rick and Summer throw giant parties that soon get out of control as Morty tries to control the situations.

The Pros: The Party – Rick’s friends (Aliens and some members from the Council of Ricks) is a lot of fun as is Summer’s party where her desire to be popular alienates her friend Nancy as Abradorf Lincler (a Clone with the combined DNA of Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler) is also seeking acceptance from his creator Rick.

Rick, Lincler and Nancy – These three team up to get the crystal Rick requests that will bring them back and they have a great moment where the Lincoln half of Lincler comes out in his  heroism as he risks all to get the crystals for Rick. Sadly Rick just wanted them to get high.

Summer and Rick – These two just don’t care about anyone at all and because of it they are great partiers, Rick especially is the life of the party in both the young crowd and among the aliens.

Rick – Rick saves the day by freezing time giving them time to clean and repair the house before Jerry and Beth get angry.

Morty – Morty in trying to make things right and courting Summer accidentally sends the house into another dimension and does all he can to fix it. Through this episode he realizes just how little influence he has with his Sister and Grandpa.

The Cons: The Titanic Arc – A janitor kidnaps Jerry to do the scenes together from the film and she is eventually defeated by Beth. It just wasn’t all that strong and there weren’t any good Titanic jokes.

This was a great episode but not a favorite and a good end to the Season. One thing I like that this episode does is Rick breaking the 4th Wall as he announces this is the Season Finale and says good-bye. It fits him being aware of everything and I like how he’s made reference to knowing he’s on a show in prior episodes. Overall it was a solid end to a great show and season.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Flirting with Disaster (1996): An Attempt to Explore How to Make Relationships Work

Flirting with Disaster

    “Flirting with Disaster” is not my kind of comedy. I liked a lot of the ideas it had, and the acting was good…but the execution of the plot and humor just didn’t do it for me. Knowing humor is a subjective thing I could see people loving this movie though. It reminded me of a another Ben Stiller Comedy “Meet the Parents” which for me was in a similar vein in humor and characters. Which was okay, but for me not a great comedy.

     “Flirting with Disaster” was directed and written by David O. Russell and produced by Dean Silvers.

     The premise is that Mel (Ben Stiller) and his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) are deciding what to name their newborn son but Mel won’t let them decide on a name until he meets his biological parents, since he was adopted. The adoption agent Tina (Tea Leoni) is there to help and ends up sending them all over the place as the initial information on birth parents was wrong as Nancy and Mel’s relationship falls apart. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: Ben Stiller – I usually put the character name for the pro but the character didn’t full fully realized. Ben Stiller did great with what he was given, but his character fully embracing every person who he thought were his parents felt unrealistic to the point that it ruined what comedic moments it tried to create. Stiller did great with what he was given, which wasn’t much.

Alan Alda – Played Mel’s hippy biological father Richard and was one of the better performances too. You may know him from “M.A.S.H.” and he does a good job here, just isn’t given much to do. From his conflict with his biological son, to escaping to Mexico when his son accidentally gives LSD to a Federal Agent. He was a lot of fun and carried all the scenes he was in. He’s got a lot of charisma.

Patricia Arquette – Plays the wife Nancy who stands up for herself when Ted is trying to get together with Tina. She hooks up briefly with a bisexual Federal Agent who is having problems in his relationship with his husband the other Federal Agent and is the most open minded and closest to good we have in any of the characters as she is primarily focused on taking care of the kid and in the end standing up for how much of a jerk Mel is. Patricia played this perfectly with going between the very soft spoken person going along with anything Mel wants to standing up for herself. Her part in almost having an affair was very poorly written though.

Okay: The Supporting Cast – The rest of the actors I didn’t name cause their performances didn’t really stand out.  They were good as far as the script let them be good. Which is a shame as relationship drama is a fascinating subject to explore, especially in regards to marriage and divorce.

Okay/Con: Cinematography – At times this looks like a found footage film, which clashes with the times it doesn’t and actually looks good. Sadly most looks like it was filmed like a family movie which hurts as it doesn’t give us any shots that elevate tension or the script. It’s standard fair.

The Cons: The Writing – Is terrible. All the cliches are there (Tina is going through a divorce and is the temptresses, Mel is the neurotic husband orphan whose obsession drives away his wife, Nancy is the soft spoken wife who eventually stands up for herself, the FBI agents are the young man wanting an escape and his husband and partner who is obsessed with duty who needs drugs to relax, Mel’s biological parents are hippies and his other folks are other stereotypes…from the Dixie Republican, to the Anti-Semitic Trucker, etc.). These cliches don’t get beyond the cliches and that really hurts the script. This is a huge con for me as the writing is the thing I pay the most attention to in the movie and how it is expressed through the characters. Because the script failed on writing, it failed on the characters.

Direction – It was hard to for me to be invested in the characters in their struggles because of the writing (some of the jokes were pretty flat for me) and direction didn’t help. It felt like many of the side characters were phoning it in and nothing was done to elevate the poor script.

    This was a film that had an interesting idea that it could have done a lot more with. The problem was I think length (only 92 minutes long) and I’ll say it again, for me the script was terrible. I didn’t get why some of the characters did the things they did since no one was listening to anyone, which didn’t feel like it fit. Obliviousness on the characters part was the problem most of the time which lead to miscommunication. Would I recommend this film? If you like Ben Stiller comedies, you’ll probably like this one. But I’ve never been the biggest fan so it just didn’t do it for me.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Above average drama comedy with a poor script.