Here are a couple of reviews for you. Mild spoilers.
NETFLIX: STRANGER THINGS
Season 1, Episode 1
|Wynona Ryder as Joyce. Photo: NETFLIX|
The first episode of Netflix's new series STRANGER THINGS is Eh, okay so far. Thirty minutes in, I wasn't yet convinced to watch episode two, but by the end I was curious as to what would happen next.
WHAT'S NEW: Not a lot, yet.
WHAT'S NOT NEW: Small, isolated town with a morally questionable sheriff. Mom (Wynona Ryder) who is overworked, over stressed, and raising her sons alone. Dad is out of the picture and might be anywhere with any number of girlfriends. Ryder's younger son is abducted by what may or may not be a supernatural evil created in the lab.
Part of that evil (possibly) is a girl who is around the same age as the four boys on whom the show focuses. An X-FILES-style secret lab sends out forces to track her down. She obviously originated in the lab and seems to have been part of or birthed by a huge Mordor-ish tree-trunk-looking-thing, growing out of the wall, sporting short tentacles and a clickety-smacky kind of maw.
WHAT I LIKED: Story is set in the 1980s, and since I am a child of that era, the show sparks a lot of nostalgia for me. The music--even the background music that sets the mood--sounds like the synthesizer horror-movie riffs you'd hear in a John Carpenter flick from the '80s. That's a nice, subtle touch. Spoiler here, but I gotta tell ya: In one scene, Ryder shows her son that she bought tickets for them to watch a movie. The movie is POLTERGEIST. I think it would have been funny--cheesy, but funny--if the movie had been BEETLEJUICE. (Even though we're six years too early for that one.)
PREDICTIONS: I have not watched episode two yet, but . . . . Ryder's son most likely has been pulled to The Other Side (whatever its name will be). Hence the POLTERGEIST reference. He will act as liaison between the human realm and that of the monster(s) always under great risk of losing his innocence and becoming one of Them. The three other boys (his friends) will form a sort of Hardy Boys/Stand By Me kind of club to search for their abducted friend--a mystery that will last at least the entire season. The club will always be closer to the truth than are the adults and especially the police. The only adult the boys will trust will be some sort of Mentor, a grandfather- or uncle-type, who sends them on missions (probably secondary missions that aid in the main goal) but cannot participate beyond sage advice and will be unreachable when they most need him. The escapee girl, who we are not yet sure about, will probably be an on again/off again ally with whom we must work to build our trust while she does the same towards those around her.
Wynona Ryder will always be worried and weepy.
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|Ecto-1, Tulsa, OK convention. Photo: Sam Reeves|
Part of me thinks the movie is overhyped, part thinks that the movie is smart but not brilliant.
I mean, let's face it, the comedy in the first half of the movie rarely ascends above fart jokes.
When I first heard about the GHOSTBUSTERS reboot and saw that they were all women, I thought that this was another unfortunate bastard of political correctness. The less sexist part of me said, "Stop wondering how they eat and breathe and other science facts. It's GHOSTBUSTERS, not Shakespeare." Besides, nobody said four guys were the perfect match for this story.
One of the main reasons I wanted to watch the movie was Melissa McCarthy. I have loved everything I have seen from her. She is naturally hilarious, seems affable, gorgeous, and umpteen million other adjectives that boil down to just plain awesome.
She didn't stand out in this movie. I mean, she's good, but I felt that her character never really got off the ground in the explosive way a person might expect from a fantasy, special-effects driven movie. Then again, she is trying to recreate and renew the slot of Peter Venkman's character. Bill Murray is pretty hard to outshine. And maybe that is McCarthy just being smart. If she had done something totally new and alien, we might have been put off.
Leslie Jones is Patty Tolan, who represents (is that the right word?) Winston (originally played by Ernie Hudson). I liked her from her first second on screen. She is snarky and brilliant without falling into the Angry Woman stereotype. Patty knows the history of the city in what seems like a School of Hard Knocks versus Ivy League College educated way. The only thing I found incongruent with her is that she is obviously a history buff, yet she had never heard of ley lines. I mean, I have no history expertise (most of what I know about the US Constitution, I learned from the old School House Rock song) but even I know what ley lines are. Maybe I am just nitpicking there though.
Kate McKinnon might be my favorite of the bunch. She is Jillian Holtzmann, or Egon, if we are going to keep comparing. McKinnon's version, however, is probably the more original. Her look with the blonde pompadour is more like the Egon from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon than it was Harold Ramis. She is a loveable rogue (the woman can't keep from propping her feet up onto the furniture) but she is not an intentional charmer. She is goofy without being bumbling. She is having fun with every second.
Holtzmann loses credibility for me because of the speed in which she creates impossibly theoretical, nuclear-physics kind of equipment. The Ghostbusters are barely more than leaving one scene, when Holtzmann is already presenting them with the next phase of the invention they just used.
CONS: What the hell is it with that whirlygig-looking thing that Abby (McCarthy) keeps using to detect ghosts? I mean, we've all seen sixty or seventy seasons of the Syfy Channel's GHOST HUNTERS. We know what KVM and EMF meters look like. It's not a kid's night light toy that can also cool you off during a ball game.
|Sam Reeves with Ghost Hunter founder Jason Hawes. Photo by Tonya Reeves|
PROS: The first half of the movie was the new crew trying to terraform a VERY familiar country. Rebuilding an iconic world is no easy chore. They did a pretty good job of it, though. While this movie may not be as immortal as the Summer 1984 blockbuster, it will be one of the best movies of this year. Once the contemporary version made it past the midpoint, they started mixing in the new with the old. It no longer felt completely like a reboot and more like a different flavor of the same story.
The special effects were not just cool, they were beautiful.
There were a few hilarious moments. Plenty of cute cameos. And my wife and son roared with laughter throughout.
Reboots have an inherent handicap: they must recreate (and outdo) the magic of the original. The originals became iconic because they expanded the borders of what we knew. STAR WARS took an old story and gave us visuals that rewrote the books for the special effects industry. One of the most significant reasons the original GHOSTBUSTERS succeeded was that it gave us a ghost story without the nightmares. Changing the genders of the main characters was a good start, but it shouldn't have stopped there.