Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

Jason Statham and James Franco star in this piece of silliness from the pen of Sylvester Stallone. While I can’t say I liked Homefront, I can say that fans of Statham and Franco won’t be too disappointed, because they do good jobs of presenting the stupid material.

Statham stars as Broker, a former drug-enforcement agent looking for a new life with his young daughter—in a place he obviously should’ve avoided. Franco stars as Gator, a small-time meth dealer looking to go bigger. When Statham’s daughter punches his nephew out on the school playground, Gator decides to get involved, and things go haywire.

Statham is better than usual here, while Franco is actually kind of great as the bad guy. The problem: Stallone’s screenplay is so routine that you can guess the plot points 10 minutes before they happen. Still, it does have Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as meth-heads, so you could do worse at the movie theaters.

Homefront is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Michael Shannon is his usual terrific self as Richard Kuklinski, aka The Iceman, one of the most notorious killers in American history. During his run, Kuklinski killed as many as 250 people as a solo assassin and mob hitman.

The Iceman director and co-writer Ariel Vromen has made an impressive-looking movie, and he stocked it with good people, including Winona Ryder as Kuklinski’s wife, who allegedly didn’t know about her husband’s deadly ways until the day of his arrest. Chris Evans (Captain America!) is great as Mr. Freezy, a murderous accomplice who shows Kuklinski how to murder with cyanide.

Ray Liotta reminds viewers that he is one of cinema’s great bad-asses as real-life crime figure Roy Demeo, who initiated Kuklinski into his gang by having him murder a random, innocent man. Yes, that’s David Schwimmer of Friends fame playing a long-haired, mustachioed Demeo henchman.

The film looks great; the subject matter is captivating; and Shannon brings a true menace to the role. However, it does feel a bit mundane and formulaic at times. Much of this can be attributed to a weak, generic musical score by Haim Mazar. He adds a level of melodrama that seems out of place, deadening dramatic moments rather than heightening them.

Considering the the work Shannon does here, it’s a shame the picture doesn’t totally come together. I’m convinced a reworked music soundtrack (or heck, even deleting the soundtrack) would make this a more-powerful viewing experience.

The real-life Kuklinski died seven years ago in prison after a series of infamous interviews that ran on HBO.

Special Features: You get a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes—and little more. The film is slated for Blu-Ray release on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tim Burton directs Frankenweenie, an enjoyable black-and-white stop-motion-animation film about a family dog being resurrected ... FRANKENSTEIN STYLE. (It’s based on a short film Burton did 28 years ago.)

While the story isn’t especially electric, the art direction is superb, and there are enough good laughs to make it worthwhile. Also worth noting: Winona Ryder voices a young-girl character who looks suspiciously like Lydia, her character in Burton’s Beetlejuice.

Other voices include Burton alumni such as Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau, once again utilizing his Bela Lugosi voice from Ed Wood. A finale sequence involving a giant, Gamera-like turtle and rabid sea monkeys gives the film a nice retro-horror feel.

The year 2012 was fun for stop-motion animation, with this film and ParaNorman. I would have to give a slight edge to ParaNorman, because that one felt so fresh and new. This one has Burton up to his old tricks. Granted, his old tricks are fun tricks, but they are old tricks just the same.

Special Features: There’s a fun look at the Comic-Con exhibit folks were able to visit last year. You also get a behind-the-scenes look at the London production. (I’m always surprised by the size of the sets for these films.) Best of all, you get the original live action short starring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern and a very young Sofia Coppola.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing