Saturday, August 06, 2016

Stranger Things

We've had Netflix for several years now but we don't really use it a lot. Enough to get our eight bucks a month worth but that's about it, really. For the past couple of weeks, though, all I've heard about is STRANGER THINGS. Too much hype for a show is usually a turn-off to me but last night, as Rene was watching the Olympics opening ceremonies, I decided to at least take a look. I'm glad I did.

Imagine having a stew that you really enjoyed and then the next time, someone tried to top it by adding more things you liked into the mixed. It isn't the same...but sometimes it's tasty and filling on its own. That's the case here. There is so clearly NOTHING original about STRANGER THINGS that the folks behind it purposely decided to play up that fact as a positive thing!

And it works. The plot is basically the kids from STAND BY ME and ET teaming up with the title girl from FIRESTARTER to take on John Carpenter's version of THE THING.  It's all stirred together by twin writer/producers Ross and Matt Duffer, neither of whose names I had never even heard before last night. As I understand it, they weren't even born until 1984 but there show is set in 1983. Risky but they succeed.

The photography is excellent with some gorgeous autumn shots throughout. The music, while appropriately matched to many scenes, is mostly modern and thus anachronistic.

The pacing seems a bit off at times and might have been better served as six episodes but the characters are mostly compelling so you don't ever really regret the chance to spend more time with them.

The roles are brought to life by a strong collection of well-cast actors including '80s icons Winona Ryder and an almost too-aged looking Matthew Modine. Standouts among the impressive cast include David Harbour, whom I only knew from THE NEWSROOM, Gaten Materazzo, Natalia Dryer, and Millie Bobby Brown. Harbour is the de facto hero here, although he starts out as an unsympathetic character whom we get to know better as puzzle pieces fall into place in the story about a vanished boy and a mysterious laboratory on the edge of town.

At the end of the day, though, young Ms. Brown steals the show as the telekinetic Eleven aka 'El." Kids tend to be natural actors and the other kids in this cast prove that well. But there's more going on with Brown, who brings to her mystery girl role a series of underlying layers that help...but probably weren't even needed! She's intense and vulnerable at the same time, all-knowing and naive. Visually striking with her buzzcut for most of the show, she is someone to watch, for sure.

The missing boy himself is essentially a maguffin, leading to alliances, friendships, estrangements and adventures amongst the others throughout in several ongoing plotlines.

By its climax, STRANGER THINGS has become all too familiar and yet somehow satisfactorily new. If you're a fan of '80s movies, horror movies, or just plain good old fashioned storytelling, make sure you catch it.

Booksteve Recommends!  

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