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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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.

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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

Look, I liked the first go-round of Stranger Things (Season 2 premiere Friday, Oct. 27, Netflix) just fine, sort of like Panda Express takeout: filling, not quite dog food, coulda been worse. But then you people whipped up a breathless hype frenzy like it was The Greatest TV Show of All Time, and things just got ’80s-romanticizing-stoopider from there. And Barb? She’s dead; get over it. Season 2 of Stranger Things picks up a year later, on Halloween 1984, with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) returning from The Upside Down to help the gang take on a new crop of weirdness in Hawkins. Meanwhile, Joyce (Winona Ryder) as cray as ever. (Hey, if ain’t broke.) There’s also the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign to deal with—boo!

What an ambitious year 2015 was for broadcast network dramas—successful, not so much. Scream Queens, Limitless, Blood and Oil, Heroes Reborn, The Player, Wicked City, Rosewood, Minority Report—all dust in the wind. Quantico is (sort of) still alive, as is Blindspot (Season 3 premiere Friday, Oct. 27, NBC), the crime-conspiracy thriller that went from “The next Blacklist!” to Friday-night filler in two seasons. There are still mysteries to be solved in Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and her tattoos, but first, she has to face her vengeance-bent bent brother Roman (Luke Mitchell) and rescue her former FBI team from his clutches (which really raises questions about said team’s competency). So, Blindspot … still on.

Saturday Night Live was a groundbreaking, counterculture oddity in the ’70s; today, it’s a meme generator. Tom Hanks’ “David S. Pumpkins” appeared twice on SNL last season, which has somehow led to The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special (special, Saturday, Oct. 28, NBC) being a thing. But it’s not much of a thing: It’s just a half-hour, barely animated special featuring the voices of Hanks and ex-SNLer Bobby Moynihan, as well as Peter Dinklage (!), wherein nonsensical character Pumpkins shows kiddies “the true meaning of Halloween”(?). The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special is just another pointless, cynical SNL cash-grab that should make Lorne Michaels roll over in his grave.

Some of us were lucky enough to see Ozzy and Co. on their final tour last year; for the rest of you, there’s Black Sabbath: The End of the End (special, Saturday, Oct. 28, Showtime), the concert film capturing the finale of the influential metal band’s 49-year run. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler put on a hell (ha!) of a show for being 60-something vampires, backed by a younger sit-in for drummer Bill Ward who literally looked like Jesus; and an inaudible off-stage keyboardist/guitarist whom I’m assuming collected an equal paycheck. With the exception of anything from 1978’s underrated Never Say Die! album, The End of the End features every classic Sabbath song. Play it loud.

So far, there are not a lot of scary Halloween recommendations, right? Might I suggest a few selections from RiffTrax (streaming, Amazon Prime), the guys who spun off from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy) into something completely … well, the same? They still hilariously mock terrible movies, and there are a handful of their horror offerings available on Amazon Prime, like When a Stranger Calls Back, The Last Slumber Party, Frankenstein Island, House on Haunted Hill, The Revenge of Doctor X and the incomparably awful Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare. (Seriously—I challenge you to make it through that one.) Or just keep binge-ing Stranger Things.

Why is Stan Against Evil (Season 2 premiere Wednesday, Nov. 1, IFC) returning the day after Halloween? And, while we’re at it, why isn’t Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead coming back until February 2018? You B-level cable outlets are killin’ me. Anyway: Stan Against Evil, a thinly veiled rip-off of/homage to Ash vs. Evil Dead that will do for now, I suppose, remains a reliably goofy/scary vehicle for comedy vet John C. McGinley to rage-shrug as the former sheriff of a demon-plagued town built on the site of a 17th-century witch-burning. This time, he’s begrudgingly trying to save his replacement sheriff (Janet Varney), who’s trapped in another time. (February 2018? Take me!)

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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

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens (Sunday, July 31, Syfy), movie: Who’s joining Ian Ziering and Tara Reid (apparently, the #AprilLives campaign from Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! worked) this time? David Hasselhoff (Baywatch), Gena Lee Nolin (also Baywatch), Alexandra Paul (again with the Baywatch), Gary Busey (snubbed Donald Trump VP candidate), Cheryl Tiegs (elderly model-shamer), Carrot Top (elderly prop comic), Stacey Dash (pretend Fox News “conservative”), Duane Chapman (“Dog” the Bounty Hunter), Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour), various “personalities” from Bravo reality shows, and more from the “Is Pepsi OK?” department of central casting. After chomping on Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C., the next logical (?) locale to be hit with a Sharknado is, of course, Las Vegas. (Don’t fret; Palm Springs will probably get its turn by Sharknado 16.) Now the story … doesn’t matter in the least, duh.

2016 Teen Choice Awards (Sunday, July 31, Fox), special: The Teen Choice Awards are voted by kiddies age 13-17, so can anyone explain the nomination of Jennifer Lopez’s barely-seen cop serial Shades of Blues for “Choice TV Drama”? Or geezers like Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton in the music categories? Or R-rated Deadpool for, oh, everything? Technically speaking, these are not “teen” choices, nor are any other nominations recognizable to the writers, and readers, of publications such as this one—if it can’t be experienced at an outdoor amphitheater in a $200 camping chair with pinot, brie and a golden retriever within reach, it doesn’t exist. The YouTube and Vine “Star” categories, however, make complete sense—expect Nash Grier to clean up at the 2028 Teen Choice Awards for his dramatic work in Chicago A/V, produced by Dick Wolf Jr.

Squidbillies (Sundays, Adult Swim), new season: Both Squidbillies and Duck Dynasty premiered for their respective 10th seasons this month, just a week before the 2016 Republican National Convention—coincidence? All three represent modern ’Merican (note, not necessarily American) values: god, guns, gumption, plus a general rejection of science, facts and reality. But while one is a tedious, worn-out, idea-depleted show about a crew of self-absorbed fakes who are only in it for the money, and so is Duck Dynasty, Squidbillies remains a vital, instructive window into the soul and “thoughts” of Redneckia, USA, whether it resides in the Deep South, at your neighborhood Walmart, or in those “Hussein Obama” emails your parents keep forwarding. These characters are among us …

Ghost Hunters (Wednesday, Aug. 3, Syfy), season premiere: … and they watch Ghost Hunters, guaranteed. This is the Season 11 premiere—11! More than a decade of finding no ghosts! Would you be able to keep your job if you produced zero results in that timespan? (No need to answer that, chiropractors and TV critics.) Like Finding Bigfoot (still not “found”) and Keeping Up With the Kardashians (nothing ever happens to “keep up with”), Ghost Hunters is an explicably long-running reality series that spawns even-worse imitators every year and … wait … did you hear that? I’m sensing something over there in the corner! Let me turn on my EMF meter … hmmm, it’s not picking up anything … BECAUSE GHOSTS DON’T EXIST! HUNT OVER! JUST! STAHP! Oh, this is the final season? I’m off to see my chiropractor then.

Stranger Things (Streaming, Netflix), new series: I could use the “There’s Too Many Shows” excuse yet again for letting the premiere of Stranger Things slip by me—but it stars Winona Ryder, so the whole incident is just unforgivable. This retro-creepy fright fest throws Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and a dizzyingly giddy amount of ’80s horror-flick references into a blender and hits “Puree,” becoming progressively scarier as episodes roll out. Ryder plays—and occasionally overplays, but NBD—a grief-stricken Indiana mom holding out hope that her missing teen son might be found, but Stranger Things isn’t just her story: There’s also a Goonies-worthy troupe of misfit kids, a telekinetic girl, a government conspiracy, a flesh-eating monster, a parallel dimension and … well, you should be all in, or completely out, by now. Note that this will be the one and only time I’ll ever recommend ’80s revivalism.

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