Stranger Things: The Weirdo on Maple Drive – Demogorgon (Review)

Winona Ryder as Joyce in Stranger Things

Chapter  two of Stranger Things “The Weirdo on Maple Drive” shifted firmly into E.T. territory with 11 as E.T. and Mike as Elliot. The only thing missing is that elongated bulbous finger and that cute/ugly mug and 11 has about the same knowledge of the English language as well. Although she quickly gets the concept of D&D and the demogorgon being the big bad who is after Will.

The previous chapter saw the death of Benny,  the owner of the hamburger shop, which was made to look like a suicide in this installment and the appearance of 11 right after Will went missing.  Joyce got a phone call that she believes was from her youngest and it fried her phone.

Joyce Byers is struggling to keep in control of her emotions and she manages to have  the funniest moment in the episode. Going into her place of work she gets another telephone, to replace the fried one, and  Joyce asks her boss for an advance to pay for it. She also asks for two weeks pay and he hesitates. After some hedging about paying her temporary replacement, she shames him into agreeing. Flushed with her small success Joyce then  blurts out:

“And a pack of Camels.”

Sticking with Joyce for a moment, there is something intrinsically likable about the slightly scatty single mother of two. A mom who can communicate with her youngest and enjoys both her kids equally.

11 is at MIke’s house and the drenched girl is scared and confused. The trio of boys attempt to communicate, although Lucas starts to get a bit too physical and Dustin decides the girl is deaf.

Another humorous moment occurs when Mike gives  11 dry clothes. She immediately starts to change in front of the boys and both Lucas and Dustin freak out.  Mike shows her to the bathroom and offers to close the door. She agrees to having it open a crack and she changes. Comically, after Dustin has time to think about it, he is obsessed with the idea of 11’s nudity.

While Joyce is out getting her two weeks advance and another phone, there is a real E.T. moment where Dr. Brenner and his crew show up at the Byers’ residence in white hazmat suits. All that is missing are the giant white tubes and the house being encased in white sheeting.

Brenner heads to the shed, another E.T. touch sans candy, and discovers some goo on the walls.

Meanwhile Nancy is invited to party at Steve’s place and she accepts. She also offers her sympathy to Will’s older brother Jonathan.  Mike stays home from school to look after 11 and, once again, this takes on an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial tinge. Mike Wheeler showing off his dinosaur collection and the ending bit with the T-Rex is very evocative of the Elliot “plastic” shark scene.

Hopper continues to search for Will and he also starts investigating the suicide of his friend Benny.  Jonathan goes to see if his little brother is at his dad’s house and later stops to take pictures where Will went missing.

Joyce hooks her new phone up and sits down with the  instrument in her lap and waits for Will to call her again.  He does and this time Joyce hears his voice clearly. The new phone is fried like the first. She then hears music coming from Will’s room and she sees his lights are on as well.

She goes into her son’s room and sees something bulging out of the wall, a’la The Haunting of Hill House or A Nightmare on Elm Street. This terrifies the woman and Joyce rushes from the  house and starts her car.  The music and lights come on again and she hesitantly walks back to he house and goes in the front door.

Hopper learns of “the boy” at Benny’s diner before he died and earlier the police chief says he feels cursed. Nancy talks her best friend Barb (Shannon Purser) into going with her to Steve’s (Joe Keery) party. 

At the party Nancy is having fun while Barb is feeling pretty left out.  Jonathan stumbles across the party and takes pictures.  Steve and Nancy “chug” a beer and she urges Barb to try. Barbara cuts her finger and while she is stopping the bleeding Nancy is pushed into the pool.

Later Nancy tells her friend to go home. Instead Barbara sits on the diving board dripping blood from her finger into the pool. The lights go  out and some growling thing grabs Barb and takes her away.

Jonathan misses it.

Mike and his friends learn that Eleven has “superpowers.” One of her powers seems to be the ability to know which character Will plays in Dungeons and Dragons.   The lads ask eleven if she knows where their friend is. She tell them that Will is hiding. They then ask from who.

Turning the game board over she places Will’s character in the center of the black board. She then places the demogorgon next to “Will.”

More is revealed about Eleven in this installment. She calls Dr. Brenner “Poppa” and she was put into a small dark room, presumably as punishment.  This disturbing flashback shed a lot of light on her relationship with the doctor.  She can also speak but thus far her vocabulary is limited.


The two big ’80s songs, and bands, in this episode were The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and The Bangles’ “Hazy Shade Of Winter.”  (The next chapter features an ’80s classic; Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is.”)

Joyce is going to run out of her two week advance pretty quickly if she has to keep replacing her phones. Brenner and his crew have bugged Joyce’s house and Hopper may be led to Brenner based on evidence found in the woods.

So far there have been two disappearances and one death attributed to the electrical company and its lab.

Stranger Things is streaming on Netflix and all eight episodes are available to watch right now.  Check this one out. The acting is top notch, especially the younger members of the cast and the storyline is addictive and nostalgic to the extreme.


Terrordactyl (2016): Tremors in the Air (Review)

Poster Image courtesy MarVista

Two handy men who want better things out of life get caught up in a world changing invasion of space born pterodactyl’s that are hatching at an alarming rate. This MarVista movie could be called “Tremors” in the air except that the threat is to a much larger area; Los Angeles, and the creatures are not unknown.

Written and co-directed by Don Bitters III (Geoff Reisner was the other director on the feature) “Terrordactyl” is a bit of horror and science fiction hokum dressed up as an action comedy. It is not incredibly violent, there are not buckets of gore and the language may just be the roughest thing in the film.

Starring Christopher John Jennings as Lars, the “smarter” of the two gardening men, Jason Tobias, who plays the Kevin Bacon role in the film, Candice Nunes is Candice, the love interest and kick-arse female lead and character actor Jack E. Curenton channels his inner Rip Torn (think “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” here) to good comic effect.

A meteor shower hits LA and Candice, the bartender that Jonas has a crush on, tells him of how valuable these rocks from space are. He talks Lars into finding one and they do, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. After taking the thing to Candice to look at, they realize a pterodactyl is following them everywhere. Soon the group learn that there are a lot more than one.

The action is not over the top and sometimes the comedy feels a little flat. However, the infection enthusiasm of Tobias as Jonas is compelling and the chemistry between the actors is spot on. Not a film to be taken seriously, this is a nod and wink to all those “it came from outer space” horror and science fiction films.

While the filmmakers could be seen as taking a leaf from The Asylum production team, the FX are more acceptable and work well in the context. Apart from the swearing, this is a film that could be enjoyed by the entire family.

The flying and attacking pterodactyls look an excellent cross between practical and CG effects and help deliver on the comedy front quite well. All the actors really sell their reactions to the menacing creatures and this alone helps make the movie that little bit more believable.

The storyline works and the locations, the film was shot around LA, also feed into the plot line very well. This could have been a SyFy film with its low budget and quirky menace but it plays a little bit better than the average creature feature on the channel.

Available on Demand and via HD streaming this is an amusing little gem that will make you chuckle. A solid 3 out of 5 stars for entertainment value alone and the enthusiasm of Nunes and Tobias. At a running time of just over an hour and a half, the pacing is good and there are no lags in the storyline.

“Terrordactyl” will be available to view on June 14. Give this one a go and see what you think.

Infini (2015): The Thing Meets the Data Stream

Whit Carmichael aka Daniel MacPherson
Directed and co-written by Shane Abbess (written with Brian Cachia) and starring Daniel MacPhersonLuke HemsworthLuke Ford and Bren Foster (who has been garnering a lot of attention as SCPO Wolf Taylor on the US TNT drama The Last Ship) Infini is an Australian treat posing as an odd sort of horror/science fiction/thriller. Set in a future where the vast majority of the world is poor and forced to take dangerous high paying jobs to survive, the film follows an elite search and rescue team on a special mission.

The film opens by informing the audience that methods of space travel have advanced to such a degree that people travel as “data” via the Slipstream. Volunteers, aka poor people in those dangerous jobs, have devices (an APEX) attached to their central nervous system that allows them to use this mode of travel. We are also told that corruption of data is commonplace, as are deaths caused by this controversial method of space travel.

Infini starts with a group of people being questioned under bright lights and behind glass walls. The tone is frantic, loud, aggressive and panicky, the importance of this opening sequence will become relevant, and clearer, at the end of the film. The next thing on screen is Whit Carmichael and his pregnant wife. This is Carmichael’s first day in his new job. His wife is concerned and worried about this new high paying but dangerous position.

Before his first mission, things go catastrophically wrong. A group of soldiers go on a mission and return, their numbers are decimated and the survivor’s are bloody, in shock, and very volatile. The station is put on lockdown and put under lethal quarantine. Whit is slipstreamed to the place the soldiers came from and a new team are sent to retrieve him.

There are a lot of things going on here. Time is very relevant. The rules of the film are that the person using the data travel system is gone for seconds on the station, while on the actual mission their time at the destination equals hours. This factor becomes important as the film progresses.

Infini seems to combine John Carpenter’s The Thing (or Howard Hawk’s version The Thing from Another World, sans James Arness dressed as a giant carrot.) although Carpenter’s setting; the frozen arctic, does seem to be mimicked here. The planet the “perfect” organism calls home is a deep freeze where the natural habitat is icy and uninhabitable.

Abbess and Cachia have come up with a scenario that delivers some pretty decent horror and science fiction thrills that also requires the viewer to think. By the end of the film one does not know if the whole thing was a result of corrupted data, a perfect parasitic organism, space madness or something else entirely.

Performances by all the actors were spot on. Rather interestingly, most of the cast appear to be refugees from the Aussie soap <a href="; target="_blank"Home and Away. The film clips along at a good pace and while there are moments that jar, mainly because of the plot and the storyline rather than bad editing or holes, these incidents help to keep the unease and uncertainty on line.

If there is any complaint at all about the film it would be the rather wordy and philosophic speech given by the main protagonist toward the very end of the film. It does not really fit the scenario, although, that could be matter of misinterpretation, if one considers the data corruption plot thread.

When the film ends, the viewer will be uncertain as to just what happened to the crew who went to rescue Carmichael and Whit himself. This ambiguous end is the frosting on this outer and inner space trippy vision and makes the film work on many different levels. It is precisely the reason that I adore Australian cinema, as the filmmakers down under specialize in thinking so far outside the box that it may as well not exist.

Infini will not be to everyone’s taste. For those who like a film that makes them think and ponder about what they’ve just seen, this is a 4 out of 5 star bit of brilliance. Streaming on US Netflix right now horror and science fiction fans should pop some corn and prepare to be entertained and perhaps just a bit confused.

Ex Machina (2015): Frankenstein Meets Bluebeard

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina
Written and directed by Alex Garland, the 2015 science fiction film Ex Machina feels a little like “Frankenstein Meets Bluebeard.” This is Garland’s first time in the “big chair” but his name may seem familiar to fans of horror and science fiction. Alex wrote the brilliant 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go which are just three cinematic treats from this man’s pen. This tale of A.I., the Turing Test, and its surprising conclusion is a sublime and clever offering.

Starring Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Drive), Domhnall Gleeson (Black Mirror, Unbroken), Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Seventh Son) and Sonoya Minuzo (Beauty and the Beast, Venus in Eros) Ex Machina, pronounced “makina” follows Caleb Smith (Gleeson) as the winner of a contest to spend a specified time with tycoon super scientist Nathan (Isaac) where he will participate in a Turing test of Ava (Vikander) his latest A.I..

On top of Garland’s film proving that there are different levels, and kinds, of Geeks, it appears that the director wanted to pay homage to several different films, books and themes. All this, while almost subliminally planting the idea that search engines are the windows to our souls. Nathan’s billions are all made by his search engine, Bluebook which he realized provided information to the owner while giving results of searches to the users.

The curious thing about this modern prometheus, aka Frankenstein, is that his creation of life, actively hates and loathes him. Perhaps the message here is that only one Deity should be creating life. While alluding to the Mary Shelly story, the film also gives a nod to The Seven Wives of Bluebeard. Not just in that Caleb’s keycard will only open so many doors, which follows Bluebeard’s last wife and her set of keys but that at least one, if not more, are off limits.

Added to this Bluebeard theme are the “dead” A.I. bodies kept in Nathan’s room in their own personal closets/coffins. While there are not seven, there are four, five counting the “live wife” Ava, and six if one counts the mute Kyoko, whom Nathan tells Caleb speaks no English and is human.

Techno geek Nathan as creator leaves much to be desired. He treats his children with little empathy and can conceivably be seen as cruel. Rather interestingly, it seems that each A.I. longs to be free and while Nathan kills each creation, wiping their memories clean, enough residual information remains to influence the new machines to resent their creator.

The interactions between, first, Caleb and Nathan – awkward and, from Caleb’s end dully pragmatic, and then Caleb and Ava are mesmerizing. At the beginning the young contest winner is overawed and uncertain of how to talk to his benefactor. He goes through the same agonies of poor communication when he first converses with Ava. Treating her as a subject to be studied rather than a person. Something that she not only picks up on, but apparently resents as well when she turns his own questions back on Caleb.

As the story progresses, Isaac changes from benevolent and eccentric creator to something a little more menacing.

Garland expertly blends in several nods and winks to the audience. For example, when Kyoko attacks Nathan later in the film, the music on the soundtrack which accompany the incident is from the 2002 Japanese horror film by Sion Sono Suicide Club, aka Suicide Circle. The notes played are from the character Rolly’s song titled, aptly enough, Suicide Circle. Kyoko is clearly a Japanese styled A.I. making this a wonderful and deft touch by the first time director.

Oscar Isaac turns in a brilliant performance as the driven, awkward and lonely creator. Isaac is one of those actors who can portray menace and touching vulnerability all in, seemingly, one breath. In the scene where he is drunk and believes he has lost his keycard, the actor becomes a small frustrated and lost boy. This man has been dangerous (A Most Violent Year)and toughly tragic (Drive) and in this film he really is the guy that most people would love to spend time with.

Domhnall Gleeson is brilliant as the contest winner who undergoes several realizations through the course of the film. Finally learning that he has been “played” from day one.

Alicia Vikander may well go down in history as being the only actress able to exude so much attractive sensuality with only a portion of her face showing. Regardless of her beauty, the performer conveys volumes with her eyes and facial expressions. A slight curve of the lip, eyes that light up with either interest, anger or delight and the ability to make us not only care about this artificial intelligence but to fall in love with her just as Caleb does.

This film has a mix of humor, pathos and gives us a fascinating look at man as creator. It also asks the question, that Ava asks as well. How would it feel knowing that your creation hates you? Ex Machina is thought provoking and damned entertaining. There are moments that will make you chuckle and others will provoke tension and a certain amount of uneasiness.

Alex Garland has given us a real 5 out of 5 star film. Do not wait to watch this one, head over to any of the streaming services online and watch this first time masterpiece.

Just brilliant.

Dark Matter: Episode 10 (recap and review)

The Raza crew interact with their guests
Just when it seems there is a discernible pattern to Dark Matter, the show features a “game changer” that will shock and upset you. If you have not watched all of episode 10 stop reading now or the surprise that occurs before the end credits roll will be lost. After a show where Two kicks another mercenary team leader’s a** and breaks his wrist. (And badly bruises his left testicle a fact that The Android helpfully shares with the group.) Two apparently becomes a first season casualty.

Or has she?

Watch the episode carefully and listen to the beaten leader’s little speech while he gloats at defeating Two who is shut in the air lock. He actually reveals that one reason he and his group have double crossed the Raza crew is for the collective bounty. (He also tells Two that they get to keep the ship as well, “it’s what I like to call a win, win…win.”)

While this “eviction” may result in a character’s death, one that we have yet to learn everything about, it will, at the very least, be a talking point regardless of whether Two survives or not.

The episode itself started right where episode 9 left off;  the Raza surrounded by three Ferrous ships who have ordered the ship to stand down or be destroyed. They have 30 seconds to comply.  The Raza’s FTL drive is broken, due to missile damage and as the crew and The Android talk options the opposition launches a nuclear missile aimed at the Raza.

Two tells The Android to speed up and head toward the 20 megaton nuclear missile. The plan is to get close enough to the launching ship that they will be caught in the blast causing them to disarm the nuke. The plan works. Before it does, however, the men of the Raza are pretty alarmed.

After the missile is disarmed, three more ships drop out of FTL drive that are Mikke ships. Commander Truffault from the MCS Murakami boards the Raza and after talking trash about the mercenary’s reputations, something that prompts Four into offering to cut her tongue out, she asks the group to do a job for the corporation  stealing something from a research facility. Truffault refuses to tell Two what the item is and she turns the job down.

*Sidenote* Loved the nod and wink to the 2013 science fiction Tom Cruise film “Oblivion” and the character of Sally, “Are you an effective team?” (Played by Melissa Leo in the film.) While this may not have been intentional (although with Joseph Mallozzi there can be no coincidences)  when Truffault states, after essentially questioning the teams reputation, that she is just trying offer them an opportunity to prove they are still an effective team it certainly feels like a Melissa Leo (Sally) moment.

Truffault is an annoying character, as played by Torri Higginson the commander is a smarmy and condescending a**, “See, we’re finishing each other’s sentences already,” she coos while trying to convince the mercenaries to work for the Mikke corporation.

Most of the episodes of Dark Matter have peeled back the apparent personalities of each character to reveal fascinating backstories. As each reveal is made, the crew become more real and three dimensional. Whether the information shared is through a past experience or through some action that is part of the episode, each mercenary member becomes more visible.

In episode 10, Five reveals that her talents as techno-girl are deep. The segment also shows that the team have become attached to the teen. Surprisingly it is Three who sings Five’s praises, sounding quite proud of her accomplishments. Clearly, after initially distrusting the teenager, Five has become a convert. When Five volunteers to join the heist at the Traugott research facility, Six is upset while Three supports her move.

The men on the team have a meeting and decide to over through Two’s decision. Cue a comedy moment where One is picked on by Three and the rest about his relationship with Two. He objects that just because he and Two are an item, that they do not have to be “together on everything.” When One tells Two about their group decision she does not take it well. In fact she tells One that they may just have to rethink their “sleeping together.”

*Sidenote* During their conversation, Two reminds One about what happened the last time they took a “blind” assignment. “Remember what happened,” she says. One answers in the affirmative and he references the still bandaged “healed” wound on her neck. “How is that healing by the way,” One asks. Two, still lying about the now nonexistent injury, says its “getting better.” Question: Will this “ability” to heal so quickly somehow influence the outcome of Two’s being ejected from the Raza sans spacesuit?

The team meet up with Truffault and her second team of mercenaries. The second group are not “as nice” as the Raza team and it is obvious that there will be friction. Meanwhile, back at the Raza, the Android creates a simulation of herself to record and observe her behavior. Android’s simulation is more robotic than she is, and in keeping with her “flaws” Android has set up the simulation to report only to her. When the Android replica asks if Android will tell the crew if something is not right with her programming, the robot lies and says yes. Just as she lies to Five who asks if Android is talking to someone.

The two teams are briefed and Three is alarmed to learn that they will not have weapons. Wexler (Ennis Esmer) is to break into the vault holding the target of the theft. He foolishly agitates Two and she ends up putting him out of action and into the infirmary.

*Sidenote* As usual the choreography of Two and Wexler’s fight is spot on and looks convincing. We have no doubt that the female leader of the Raza can and does defeat big mouth Wexler. Later in the research facility when Three, One and Cain (Conrad Pla) fight the security android the fighting also looks realistic, as it can when fighting a robot.

Kudos are in order for the comic exchange between Three and Five. Three, who has his own bad memories of fighting another android, calls it a robot, “It’s an android,” Five corrects him. As the fighting commences, Three states that he “hates robots,” again. “Android,” Five shouts. “Whatever,” replies Three.

The three men fight the android until Five zaps it into submission. She then breaks into the vault, not using the battery, and Three is proud of her. Earlier in the show, Five was a bit upset at having to “hide” from the other mercenary crew. After Two puts Wexler out of commission she had to ask Five to step in for him. Cue a little gloating from the teenager who then excitedly accepts the invitation. Six, needless to say, is not pleased.

After the heist is over, the other team doublec-ross the Raza crew and Wexler locks up Two in the airlock. He zaps The Android on the Raza like Five did the security robot (sorry, Android) on the research facility. When the other team take the crew hostage, Cain uses Three’s gun and he is not happy.

Wexler threatens to shoot Two out of the ship unless the combination to the the ship’s storage vault is disclosed. He then reveals that if they do not give up the code, they will then “do the kid.” Wexler counts down and as the Raza crew all look increasingly desperate Three crumples and tells Wexler the combination just before One starts to mouth the code. “Maplethorpe,” Three says, “The code is Maplethorpe. With an e.”

The code works and Wexler opens the airlock anyway releasing Two into space.

This must be the most jaw dropping episode thus far. The sight of Two shooting out into the black void leaves the viewer speechless and horrified. While we may not know too much about her backstory, there is something about Two that inspires empathy. This woman can kick butt better than anyone on the Raza, with the possible exception of Four, yet when she killed in front of Five, she was horrified.

We can only hope that Two survives what appears to be certain death. This disparate group of outlaws who are all desperately trying to “do the right thing” has a tycoon who wants to catch his wife’s murderer but continues to blur the lines of who he really is and a kid who desperately wants a family, even if they are cutthroats and thieves. It also has an android who may be the most human of the lot.

Dark Matter is part of SyFy Friday and ranks as one of the best shows on television do not miss this show.

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