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The third season is the best yet for Netflix’s Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers’ 1980s throwback series.

Much of the action, including a showdown with the Mind Flayer monster from the Upside Down, takes place in the Starcourt Mall, a mighty authentic wonder of art direction. (Sam Goody and Ground Round make notable appearances.)

Of course, the Russians now play a prominent part as Hopper (David Harbour) tries to protect his adopted daughter, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), from the Reds, demons—and, most notoriously, her new boyfriend, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), who likes to kiss way too much. Steve (Joe Keery) has his best season yet, working in an ice cream store with new cast member and major standout Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) as his co-scooper.

The special effects this time around are top-notch, with more nice nods to John Carpenter, Stephen King and The Blob. Harbour gets a little goofier in this season, and it’s a lot of fun watching his Hopper trying to date Joyce (Winona Ryder).

The finale provides some major cliffhangers for the inevitable Season 4, which could actually wind up in a completely different series. It’s good to see the show make a comeback after a middling Season 2. It’s a total blast, and it features a nice ode to The Neverending Story.

The third season of Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A Hellboy movie without Guillermo del Toro proves to be a very unfortunate thing.

The new Hellboy—the third movie to be based upon the classic Dark Horse comic—isn’t a sequel; it’s a reboot … a cheap, sloppy reboot. David Harbour steps in for Ron Perlman to play the title role, while Neil Marshall (The Descent) haphazardly directs in place of Guillermo del Toro. While Harbour (Stranger Things) is OK, he does little to truly distinguish himself, basically doing some lightweight riffing on a character Perlman established. He’s a lot like Perlman … but he’s not as good as Perlman.

Gone is the richness and depth of Del Toro’s world, replaced by choppy CGI, unimpressive makeup and messy editing. The movie is just one lackluster action sequence after another, strung together by slow dialogue scenes that do nothing to make the film feel coherent.

The movie starts off goofy, with Hellboy in a wrestling match with his former partner-turned-vampire. That sounds stupid, and it is, as the narrative jumps from vampire-slaying to giant-hunting. Yes, Hellboy battles giants, who are represented with the aforementioned choppy CGI. Marshall apparently got the go-ahead to incorporate a lot of gore, and the movie indeed has a lot of blood—to the point where it has a numbing effect.

The main villain here is Nimue, also known as The Blood Queen and played, quite campily, by Milla Jovovich. One of the film’s many flashbacks shows Nimue in a showdown with King Arthur, resulting in her getting her arms and legs cut off. (As I write this, I realize that King Arthur cutting somebody into bits with his sword is very Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something that didn’t dawn on me while I was actually watching the movie. That would probably be because The Holy Grail was classic fun, and Hellboy is a miserable time.)

The film isn’t totally devoid of visual coolness. When Hellboy emerges from his hole with a fire crown and horns, wielding Excalibur, you get a sense of what might have been had Marshall found a consistent tone. But alas, the movie doesn’t know if it’s a horror movie, a comedy or a comic fantasy. As a result, it’s neither funny nor scary.

The film does offer something that I’ve never seen before: a psychic puke-ghost. Ian McShane has endured some embarrassing moments onscreen during his illustrious career, but this movie features what may be the most embarrassing of them all: a scene in which his character’s ghost is vomited out of somebody’s mouth. He has a grotesque body with a fairly normal head—flowing out of a person’s face. McShane is then forced to recite some earnest dialogue, all while appearing as a vomit ghost. It’s amazing, in an incredibly bad way, that puke ghosts made it into the movie. Some ideas need to die in the writer’s room.

The stated budget for this movie was $50 million—low by today’s blockbuster status, and lower than Del Toro’s Hellboy movies. Del Toro wanted to make a third movie, but he left the project due to creative differences. I’m thinking his exit probably had to do with producers being cheap. While Del Toro’s works were masterful pieces of art direction, this Hellboy looks like many other cheaply shot dark-fantasy films.

The final scene of the film seems to be setting the table for a sequel … a sequel that likely will never happen. This is a terribly shlocky restart to a franchise that most assuredly will stall again.

Hellboy is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Stranger Things gang is back—just one year later—for another round of 1980s horror and sci-fi nostalgia, but maybe the producers should’ve taken a little more time to let things settle in. The new season is intermittently enjoyable, but it feels a little stretched out and undercooked at times, with a lot of silly subplots mucking up the works.

Will (Noah Schnapp) is still seeing visions of the Upside Down universe, the place in which he spent a good part of Season 1 languishing while his pals searched for him. It turns out Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), after her huge Season 1 sacrifice, came back to our universe almost immediately after she left, and is hiding out with Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) in a storyline that makes little sense. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), in a shameless nod to E.T., has captured a creature in his garbage can, although he feeds it Three Musketeers bars instead of Reese’s Pieces. Winona Ryder overacts, while Paul Reiser basically replaces Matthew Modine as the scientist guy.

Notable movie references beyond E.T. include Jaws, Pretty in Pink, The Goonies (Sean Astin joins the cast!) Lost Boys and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Season 2 maintains the charm that made the first season so watchable, so fans won’t be disappointed. However, there’s no denying that the proceedings seem a little strained this time out, and the Duffer brothers are going to have to work overtime to make future installments worthwhile.

Stranger Things 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing