Stranger Things – Season One
Wow, this show completely came out of nowhere. I’m definitely not as “in the loop” as I used to be concerning new shows and movies, and when I first saw the banner ad for Stranger Things on Netflix, I was curious but not particularly motivated to watch. But after hearing a few friends freak out about it, I decided to dive in with my wife. Two days later, we had finished the whole season. It’s just that addicting.
It’s also crazy to see the Duffer Brothers go from relative obscurity to being some of the most talked about creators over the course of just a few weeks. I can definitely understand why, as Stranger Things has that awesome 80s feel, and really takes you back to movies like The Goonies and E.T. Everything, from the music, to the costuming, to the cinematography, evokes a definite time and place. I wasn’t born until ’88 so I didn’t live that time period, but I’ve heard several people that are a few years older rave about its authenticity. This show obviously comes from a place of love for that time period, and for the movies that came out back then.
For those that haven’t checked it out, the basic story set up is that there’s a little town in Indiana where some strange stuff starts to happen. A young boy goes missing and there’s a mysterious girl on the run from the government. I really don’t want to spoil anything, because everyone should watch this. Even if you don’t care about the 80s, it’s just a really good show for anyone that enjoys mystery, horror, and science fiction. And it’s only eight episodes, so it’s a quick binge-watch (I know from personal experience). To be honest, once the show reached its climax, I wasn’t sure how they would do a season two. That’s been a common symptom of serialized shows that I’ve been watching lately. And while the story’s real conclusion was so perfect that it left me not even wanting a season two, I’m at least interested in where the show might go from here. Netflix has been absolutely killing it lately.
Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi
When all of the existing Star Wars books and comics were deemed no longer canon, I was crushed. I had spent hours and hours reading the different series, and now it was basically tantamount to fan fiction. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of said books was all over the place, but by and large, the stories were interesting and they did a great job of expanding the larger Star Wars universe. I completely understood Disney wanting a clean slate for the upcoming movies, but that didn’t really soften the blow. And I was skeptical that we’d get the same amount of variety in the books now that they’d be aimed at a much larger audience who would theoretically only be interested in the continuing adventures of the established cast.
After doing some research on the available books, I thought Heir to the Jedi would be a good starting point. It takes place between Episodes IV and V, deals with Luke exploring his new-found force abilities, and introduces a love interest for him. And all in all, it was a fun read. It’s nothing amazing, but I can happily report that Luke isn’t ruined as a character now. Luke’s new partner Nakari is definitely no Mara Jade, but that’s to be expected. And now that Grand Admiral Thrawn is being instituted into canon again by Timothy Zahn, there’s still some hope that Mara will reappear.
But let’s actually talk about the book. The story has Luke team up with badass chick Nakari to rescue a slicer currently under the forced employ of the Empire. The Alliance needs this slicer to learn more about the Empire’s tactics, but the slicer won’t turn on the Empire until she knows her family is safe. So basically the book is about a rescue mission that takes a large number of turns, both expected and surprising, before reaching its conclusion. There’s nothing insanely fresh feeling about Heir to the Jedi, but if someone is new to Star Wars fiction, I’m sure their mileage will vary. For me, I’ve read this kind of Star Wars story a dozen times before, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. I just love Star Wars so damn much, my tolerance for a lack of originality is much higher than average. But if someone is interested in diving into Star Wars books but doesn’t want to start with the new characters introduced in the lead up to Episode VII, Heir to the Jedi is a fun read.
I’ve never been shy about my general distaste for Michael Bay’s approach to filmmaking. He’s had some fun movies like The Rock and Armageddon, but lately, he’s just been spewing out Transformers garbage. He’s always been a style over substance kind of director. That doesn’t have to always be a bad thing, but when you take on subject material like Pearl Harbor and turn it into a love triangle covered in explosions, it’s hard to take you seriously as a director. So, I was understandably concerned when I learned that Mikey B was taking on the true story of an attack on a US compound in Libya. His track record with historical filmmaking is checkered, at best.
Color me surprised that I actually enjoyed 13 Hours. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a mostly shallow action movie, but it’s inoffensive and almost kind of touching at times. The characters are definitely archetypal soldier dudes with almost no backstory or character development other than “I’ve got a girl back home,” but I was still invested in their journey and drive to do the right thing. John Krasinski stars as the audience’s window into this world, and I have to say that I was unimpressed. I love John Krasinski; I think he’s a talented actor and director. But this role just was not right for him. I totally understand him wanting to break out from the “Jim from The Office” typecasting, but I just didn’t buy him as a badass soldier. His voice, his demeanor, his dopey yet handsome face, it just didn’t fit. That isn’t to say he was bad, per se. I was just taken out of the intensity sometimes. But, major props to him on attempting such a different role.
I usually make it a point to see every movie that’s nominated for Best Picture, but I don’t always make it in time for the awards. This was the case with Spotlight, but I’m definitely glad I went back and watched it. I know Mad Max was the fan favorite to win Best Picture, but I can’t say that I’m surprised it went to Spotlight. This was an amazing film, telling the story of one of the darkest times in the history of the Christian faith. Without having been privy to the actual events that unfolded in Boston, the movie seemed to keep pretty close to the truth, shying away from the Hollywood habit of over-dramatizing things.
The cast also all turn in stellar performances. Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams are predictably brilliant, but I was also pleasantly surprised by Mark Ruffalo. I haven’t always been his biggest fan, but I really enjoyed the character he created (obviously based on the real Mike Rezendes). The film was also deftly directed by Tom McCarthy, who I’ve seen act before but is newer to writing and directing. I saw a previous movie of his, Win Win, and really liked the humanity he gave the characters. The same touch is used here to great effect. Not only is Spotlight an important piece of filmmaking, it works as a great film story, keeping me on edge through the twists and turns. I absolutely recommend this to anyone, whether you knew the ins and outs of the horrific child molestation happening during that time period or you’re approaching it relatively fresh like I was.