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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

Filmmakers somehow found a way to totally muck up the greatest Godzilla premise ever with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a movie that is all things great and terrible at the same time.

The movie has some terrific monster battles, and the special effects are mind-bogglingly good. Godzilla squares off against legendary foes including the multiheaded Monster Zero and Rodan, while getting some much-needed assistance from the great Mothra. All of these monsters, including the title character, are wonders to behold. As for the online bitching about the movie’s appearance being dark and murky, the darkness was actually fitting, made things scarier and didn’t diminish the effects.

But … and this is a big but … I cannot endorse this movie. The human stuff in between and during the fighting is DREADFUL. Homo sapiens get too much screen time. The writing and staging is so bad that the film gets derailed every time it goes to military types in a war room.

The plot has the world in a state of disarray after the 2014 attacks on San Francisco and Las Vegas depicted in Godzilla. OK, that’s kind of cool. How do we dust ourselves off and find a way to co-exist with the likes of Godzilla and big-monster-moth things after the decimation of the Bay Area? Apparently, according to writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus), we deliver inane dialogue very slowly, and inexplicably play with a sonar gadget that calls out to the monsters in a manner that either chills them out or fires them up.

That gadget is created by Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who lost a child in the San Francisco attack and is attempting to talk to the monsters with her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) while husband/dad, Mark (Kyle Chandler), is off taking pictures on safari. There’s a moment when Mark seems to be sort of getting off while listening on headphones to the sounds of wolves tearing into the flesh of a dead deer. It’s a strange moment; I think he has some issues.

The gadget thing sends out a call that basically kicks off the monster apocalypse, and the action goes from full-on, nicely staged monster battles featuring beautiful close-ups and battered landscapes—to a bunch of lost actors sitting around in a situation room observing and commenting.

Bradley Whitford basically gets the role Jake Johnson had in Jurassic World—he’s the nerdy guy cracking wise from afar while monsters eat people, and military folks scratch their heads. While Johnson had great line deliveries and some funny moments, Whitford looks like the victim of a director who said, “Hey, Bradley, say some funny shit about monsters!” and Whitford had nothing.

Millie Bobby Brown is OK, but there’s not much she can do with material so bad. She has the movie’s dopiest moment: When fleeing Monster Zero as it is destroying Fenway Park, Godzilla comes up behind her; she turns and offers a calm, satisfied smile. There’s no paralyzing fear, and no screaming in terror at being between two massive charging monsters. Instead, there’s a calm, movie-star smile, because Godzilla might be her friend or some shit like that. Give me a break.

Brown has already completed her shots for Godzilla vs. Kong, due out next year, so she’s not escaping this franchise. Dougherty, who messed up this movie, has a resume with some OK low-grade horror films (Krampus, Trick ’r Treat). The next film’s director, Adam Wingard, is also a director of horror films (You’re Next, the awful Blair Witch reboot). Dougherty, who co-wrote this messy movie, helped write the next film as well. These are not good signs.

Perhaps Warner Bros./Legendary should stop putting large blockbusters into the hands of relatively new and mediocre horror-film directors. They got it right with Gareth Edwards on Godzilla (2014). They blew it with Dougherty, and I fear for the future.

Seriously … how is it possible to produce suckage with a great-looking movie featuring Godzilla, Rodan and Monster Zero in it? How does that happen? My summer is ruined, and it isn’t even summer yet.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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

The Duffer brothers are definitely tipping their figurative hats with numerous homages in with their enjoyable Netflix series, Stranger Things: These boys definitely like their late ’70s-early ’80s Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter.

Yeah, Spielberg has gotten his share of tributes before (most notably from J.J. Abrams and his mediocre Super 8, and Jeff Nichols with his awesome Midnight Special). Here, Matt and Ross Duffer have managed to pay homage to a lot of people and films without making their enterprise feel like a ripoff.

Yep, that’s Winona Ryder front and center as Joyce, a mom freaking out after her son disappears and starts talking to her through lamps and walls (shades of Poltergeist). Neighborhood kids band together and hop on their bicycles to find their friend (shades of E.T.) while the local sheriff tries to put the puzzle together (and he’s got Indy’s fedora).

There’s some sort of homage in nearly every frame of this series, to go along with opening credits and a soundtrack reminiscent of John Carpenter. Thankfully, the story stands on its own, and remains intense up until the final showdown between a Stephen King-inspired monster and a Stephen King-inspired telepathic girl (played by excellent newcomer Millie Bobby Brown).

Some of the references are a little too obvious (somebody is reading Cujo at one point), but most of them work well and contribute to the fun.

I’m curious to see if the saga will continue—and whether it will include a scary clown at some point.

Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing