“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

¬† ¬†If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Tim Burton’s Magnum Opus

Edward Scissorhands

 

“Edward Scissorhands” is the best of Tim Burton’s work I have seen and without a doubt his magnum opus. It is this story that captures his eclectic darkness that satires the usual, which in this case is suburbia while giving us the story of an outcast who happens to be the most human of all the characters. Suffice to say, I am glad this film was requested for the holidays, as it had been sometimes since I’ve seen it.

“Edward Scissorhands” was directed by Tim Burton, who also co-wrote the original story and was one of the producers on the production as well. The screenplay was by Caroline Thompson, who also co-wrote the story with him, and the other producer was Denise De Novi.

The premise of the story begins with an old lady telling the story of why snow exists by telling her about Edward (Johnny Depp), a boy who was created by an inventor (Vincent Price) but died before he could finish Edward leaving him with only scissors for hands. From here it kicks off with an Avon saleswoman named Peg (Dianne Wiest) who takes him after she decides to try the old mansion on the hill and discovers him there. From here the story unfolds as Edward reveals the dark underbelly and artificiality of the town and is found to be the most real person there.

The Pros: The Beginning and Flashbacks – One thing that the beginning does well is capture the inventor (Vincent Price’s) desire and love of creation. His mansion is full of robots and we see how wanting to give a robot a heart lead to his creation of Edward. We also see how the inventor treated Edward just like a son and how much he meant to him. These flashbacks are our only glimpse of Price’s character, but they are great as they reveal a mad scientist who has a heart and cares far more about people than most of the folks in the town.

The Outsider – Edward Scissorhands is the outsider and how he is treated is at first fear, but later he’s exploited as he’s a genius at using his scissorhands to do haircuts, groom dogs and shape hedges…this leads to the town taking him for granted and turning on him the moment he goes against their wishes. The only allies he has are the black cop, Kim and Peg.

Social Pressure and Ostracization¬†– As accepting as the Oggs are initially of Edward, they don’t stick up for him when others like Jim and Kim or the neighbors exploit him. They stand by powerless except for Peg who screams to leave him alone and Kim who at this point has fallen in love with him and takes his hand to show the mob after he has saved her from her abusive boyfriend Jim. This is after the cop fakes killing him so he can escape…showing that there are people who understand that feeling of being outcast.

Peg Oggs – Peg Oggs is a woman who takes in Edward because she sees he is alone and cares for him. She never exploits him, unlike her husband which is a nice contrast to her blatantly trying to do that as a saleswoman. This contrast adds depth to her character, though she is powerless to social pressure and never stands up for herself, so never stands up for Edward. Dianne Wiest does a good job.

Kim Oggs – Winona Ryder is great as the selfish teen who grows to become selfless by the end. This first happens when she sees how kind Edward is but later when Edward is exploited by Jim when Jim is stealing from his father she leaves him and realizes how unhealthy Jim was for her. Her arc is fantastic and she sticks with Edward till the end as a friend and eventually as a lover. She is the one telling the story too and there is a sadness since she never went to see him again for his own protection and won’t anymore. In that way snow are her tears of loss as much as Edward’s.

Edward Scissorhands – This is one of the greatest roles I’ve seen Johnny Depp play. He plays a sensitive character just trying to fit in, who is the outcast and doesn’t understand society. He does understand how he was used in the end though. His heart is pure and you can tell his Inventor put the most investment into that versus on finishing up his body. The only ones who really appreciate it are Kim and Peg, which is part of makes it such a tragedy. This character is Burton in his zone and he never reaches this level of quality storytelling again, at least so far in my experience.

Okay: The Neighbors – The neighbors function mostly as ideas and that hurts the satire as true characters are the best forms of satire as they pay tribute to reality and pull from reality. The neighbors are all stereotypes…there is the religious woman afraid of all who are different and the one who sleeps around with all the guys. It isn’t bad but the fact that they are stereotype and archetypes doesn’t help the script. Mr. Oggs and his son are the same way.

The Music – The music isn’t super memorable, but isn’t bad either. It is not Elfman’s greatest work for sure.

The Cons: Jim the Bully – One dimensional baddie with an abusive father. He’s never sympathetic and is the kind of bully you see on the shallowest of kids shows or films. Wasn’t impressed given how great all the other aspects of this film are.

This film is about finding that love and acceptance and how tragic the fear of the mob can be against those are different. The characters and cinematography are unique and rich and the world feels lived in…and you actually care about what happens to Edward and the Oggs as society exploits and later rejects them. This is a tragedy and a romance as well as being a great satire of what suburbia and other groups can become, when people are lost and all that is seen is what you can get out of them.

This was the perfect film to end for the films that were requested on facebook related to the Holidays. The theme of love and sacrifice are things that Edward and Kim exemplify well in how they care for each other and in Edward’s case care for the tow, as well as the story of outcasts which is a such a major part and why giving and caring for the less fortunate is so important. The world is full of outcasts, just looking for acceptance or a warm place with friends or family over these winter days. Happy Holidays all.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. One dimensional caricatures do bring it down in places but besides that it is solidly great and a favorite film.