Stranger Things: Eerie, Indiana Darkly (Review)

Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Stranger Things feels like a journey through Eerie, Indiana darkly.  The horror/thriller is set in 1983 and has a great blend of humor, nostalgia and a  behind the scenes dose of irony.  Two of the show’s protagonists, Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder had breakout roles in  the late 80s.  Modine playing Joker in Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Ryder paying Lydia Dietz in Beetlejuice (1988).

In another touch of irony, Modine appears to work for a sinister governmental agency.  Joker has grown up  and become a man in black for Uncle Sam (although to be fair, it  looks like Modine’s character is a doctor…in black.)

The Duffer Brothers have produced something that is a mix of horror and science fiction featuring  a look back at the 80s with its brilliant music and Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Apart from feeling like “Eerie, Indiana” (sans Marshall Teller and the tongue-in-cheek humor and in-jokes) Stranger Things is also evocative of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Modine’s Dr. Brenner being the show’s Peter Coyote character and Ryder as a dark haired Dee Wallace-type mother figure makes the whole thing complete. (Eleven could even be the female version of Elliot only this time the child appears to be fully connected with the alien…)

The opening episode starts in Hawkins, Indiana with “Chapter One; The Vanishing of Will Byers.” The US Department of Energy at Hawkins has a problem; a man in a white lab coat runs down a corridor as an alarm sounds. Reaching the elevator he gets in only to be grabbed and lifted from view.

(At the time of the scientist’s apparent demise a series of clicking insectile noises are heard, a nod to SyFy’s Hunters perhaps?)

At Mike’s house he and his friends Lucas, Will and Dustin are finishing up a 10 hour stint of D&D.  The lads have to stop their game and Dustin offers Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyera slice of pizza, someone has a crush. Will tells Mike the final number thrown was a seven;  the demogorgon, he says,  got him.

Shortly after something else gets Will. He races Dustin home and pulls out ahead. Riding past the energy facility a tall alien type figure appears after his lights flicker. Will crashes his bike. Running home he grabs a rifle and loads it. As he aims the weapon the light in the shed flares up and Will vanishes.

Dr. Brenner and a team inspect the energy lab and he is told that not only did  the “alien” escaped but so did “the girl.” The young lady in question arrives at a diner/cafe wearing a torn hospital gown. The barefoot child enters through the back and starts eating french fries. The owner grabs her.

Later he feeds the starving girl and starts asking her name and where she is from. He learns that her name is Eleven. He calls the child welfare agency and asks for help. Eleven appears to have special “talents.”

In town Chief Hopper is about to have his day ruined when Joyce comes in to report her son Will missing. Joyce is a single mother who relies on her eldest son to help run things.  The D&D crew discover that Will is not at school and we learn that they are bullied.

At the school Dustin shows he can yank his shoulder out of its socket. Something that will probably be crucial at some point in the near future.

Nancy, Mike’s older sister, is dating Steve and he is a guy more interesting in making out than doing anything else.  Joyce meets with Hopper and the search for Will begins.  Hopper finds the boy’s bike.

At the cafe, a woman shows up claiming to be from he agency. As the owner says she sounds different in person, she shoots him with a silenced pistol. Eleven heads for the back exit only to be stopped by two men with guns.

Out front Brenner comes in the building and there is a noise out back. Heading to the rear of the diner they find the two men  laying on the floor and the girl gone.

The search for Will continues and his friends decide to help. In the wet woods they stumble across Eleven.

Stranger Things looks to be a good one.  Ryder is always excellent in what ever role she appears in and Modine  has thus far impressed as well. David Harbor is effective as the grief stricken police chief and the child actors are holding their own.

The series is a Netflix original and, as is the custom, all episodes are streaming at the moment.   The season one open has started off very well and this one seems to be  one to watch.


SyFy’s Dark Matter Promising Space Opera [Update]

Anthony Lemke as Three

It has been pointed out that in the last part of this article two characters had been “mixed up” and that has been corrected. Number One is now referenced correctly in the plot breakdown. Apologies to the creators and the actors concerned.

SyFy’s newest offering, three episodes in, is a promising sort of space opera called Dark Matter that features the splendid Jodelle Ferland (and if you don’t know who she is, check out Case 39; it explains everything and if still in doubt check out her brilliant cameo on The Cabin in Woods) along with Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl, Patch Town) and is the from the creative minds of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie both alumni of the Stargate verse.

Thus far the series feels like a mash up of several different shows and genres. A hint of Firefly, a touch of Alien Resurrection, a taste of The Magnificent Seven and a tiny bit of Identity…maybe and a large dollop of Farscape…definitely. In the first episode a disparate group of people wake up from stasis when the space ship they are on malfunctions. None of them know who they are or why they are there. Until their memories return, they refer to themselves as numbers, based on when they woke up.

In a short time all the players, one through six, seven including the android, reveal that their minds have been swept clean but not their personalities and soon the group begin to meld as a team, with the exception of two members. They all learn that before waking up with a “clean slate” each number in the group was a murderer, pirate and severe lawbreaker. The only exceptions are the android (Palmer) and Five (Ferland); who cannot be found in the fractured ship’s data base.

By the second episode, the show moves from mystery to action when the group decide to help a group of miners who they were originally meant to kill. Apparently the members were part of a mercenary team hired to take care of the planets independent miners and the memory wipe enables the killers to swap sides and fight for good. With the exception of Three (Anthony Lemke) all of the former criminals seem to be pretty decent.

As the group engage in a prolonged shootout with the big corporate baddies who want to kill off all the miners and take over their company, One, brings in another company to compete for against the evil corporation and the battle is over.

Jodelle Ferland as Five
Five in the ducts…

Episode three begins with a young teen boy’s body being found in the storage area by Five, who is visibly shaken by the incident and the group learning that the girl apparently has all their memories in her head. She accesses them via her dreams and one of her recollections includes a reference to the ship being sabotaged. While the group are taking in this information, the ship drops out of FTL and is placed in a high gamma radiation area which endangers them all.

The android risks her “life” to save the ship and crew and One and Six risk their lives to rescue the “robot” from outside the hull. By the end of the show, another element of surprise has been introduced, One, is apparently being chased by his former self. The question now seems to be whether or not all the numbers have a “doppelgänger” and if so, why?

Each of the characters have distinct personalities and while some are a bit of a stereotype, they are portrayed with enough depth to make them all interesting. Ferland, as Five, is the wild card, and Android is the Joker in this abbreviated deck. Five solves puzzles, compulsively and obsessively. The robot provides humor (in a Joss Whedon sort of way; think Cordelia or Anya or even Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as well as fitting the gravity boots of Winona Ryder’s Annabelle Call.

This is a promising new show and one that already keeps the interest level high and has the viewer trying to guess where the series will go from this excellent beginning. Dark Matter airs Fridays on SyFy.

Black Swan (2010)

My take on Black Swan and I highly recommend you folks see the film! This was made back in February 2011. Enjoy!

Bob Hoskins Another Fallen Idol

Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins (Photo credit: lewishamdreamer)

Some folks may well dispute my referring to Bob Hoskins as an idol. But to me that is exactly what he is. I first saw him work in the brilliant low budget gangster film The Long Good FridayHe mesmerized me as the small time hood with big ambitions,  Harold Shand was going to move up in the world. At the end of the film, Shand’s face is that of a cornered animal who knows that it has been caught and is going to die. Hoskins performance in that film turned me into an instant fan. For life.

By that point in his career Hoskins had already been working steadily for years. Eight to be exact. He was busy learning his craft and it showed. Like another of my favourite actors, Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins was the ‘real deal.’ Although he was born in my neck of the woods in Suffolk, he learned his acting spurs by doing it, not learning it in some classroom.

Mona Lisa was the next thing I saw him shine in. As George  the hapless jailbird who falls in love with the hooker his performance actually made me cry. Moving stuff, especially considering that he’d just finished making me laugh at his performance in Sweet Liberty.

Then adopting an American accent he played  gumshoe Eddie Valiant whose partner was murdered by a ‘toon in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.This role not only saw him win the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor, with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, but also resulted in Bob suffering from a nervous breakdown from exhaustion. The demanding role of Eddie knocked Bob down but not out.

Once again he adopted another American accent to play opposite Cher and Winona Ryder in the popular film Mermaids. Whether Hoskins is making us laugh as Smee in Hook or Neverland or impressing us with his characters ‘hardness’ in Doomsday he never fails to impress. Hoskins is one of those actors that makes you believe that he is the character he”s portraying.

Now after appearing in over 70 films, he’s retiring from the acting world because he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

It is news of the most depressing sort.

He is now a member of that bitterly exclusive club of actors/celebrities who have been stricken by this debilitating disease. His fellow sufferers include Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali. Parkinson’s affects some 127,000 people in the UK and has no known cure.

Michael J. Fox has publicly fought for more education about the disease and increased funding for research to find a cure.

Hoskins has released a public statement saying that he intends to spend more time with his family. He will be sadly missed by his fans, but if anyone has earned a right to retire, it’s Mr Hoskins.

Enjoy your rest Bob, and know that we’re hoping that a cure can be found, not only for you but for the rest of the 127,000 sufferers in the UK and the rest of the world as well.

Press advert for Parkinson's Disease Society
Press advert for Parkinson’s Disease Society (Photo credit: HowardLake)

Black Swan (2010): Repulsion in a Tutu

Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie PortmanMila Kunis and Vincent Cassel with knock out performances in smaller supporting roles by Barbara Hershey (as Mum) and Winona Ryder (as Last Years Girl) Black Swan  grabbed you by your metaphorical lapels and shook the hell out of you.

When I watched this film, I instantly thought two things. Firstly, that Black Swan made me think of Roman Polanski‘s    Repulsionand secondly that this was a “coming of age” film. Although at twenty-eight Portman’s character was a little too old to be reaching ‘self awareness’, but after watching her relationship with her mother, you can see why it has taken so long.

The plot in a nutshell is this: Girl is in a ballet company. The company decides their next performance will be of the Black Swan. Girl auditions for the lead in Black Swan. The director pushes the girl to explore her ‘dark’ side as the lead for Black Swan must be Apollonian and Dionysian in turns. In other words the lead must be both the white swan and the black swan. Girl experiences a lot of mental problems in her pursuit of self awareness. Girl gets the lead role. Girl performs.

The plot sound pretty innocuous but it packs a mean punch. Like Polanski’s Repulsion, Black Swan shows us the mental deterioration that is occurring in Portman’s character ( Nina Sayers) in her quest for the darkness in her soul.

Nina is obsessed with giving the perfect performance, period. She spends all her energy on getting everything technically perfect and as the White Swan she is just that, perfect. But the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) tries to explain to Nina that perfection is not enough, that she needs passion and abandonment for the dual role. He shows her Lily (Mila Kunis) a new member of the ballet company. Lily’s performance shows fire and passion and reckless abandonment. This, he tells Nina, is what she must achieve.

Where this film excels is in showing us why Nina is so repressed.  Her mother, played brilliantly by Barbara Hershey, is scarily obsessed with her daughter and her career. Mother has controlled Nina’s life with the goal of Nina succeeding where mum failed. Mother is constantly reminding Nina that it was her birth that destroyed her career. Little wonder then, that at twenty-eight, Nina is obviously still a virgin.

Nina begins hanging around with the Dionysian Lily in the hope that she can find her own passion. After a night out on the town, the two girls wind up having lesbian sex in Nina’s bedroom. Or do they? As the film progresses, we begin to question what is real and what is imagined by Nina. Some scene we know are real.

The scene where Nina, after being told by her director to go home and “touch” herself, wakes up in the morning and begins to masturbate. As she comes closer to a climax, she twists her head and see’s her mother sitting in a chair by her bed, asleep. Nina’s reaction is one of horrifying embarrassment. Her passion is gone as if she’d been dowsed in ice water and the fact that her mother could have caught her masturbating is mortifying.  This scene we know is all too real and we cringe at the notion of Nina’s almost being caught by mum.

Other scenes cannot be real, Nina’s fixation with last years Black Swan,  Beth Macintyre  (played brilliantly by Winona Ryder) with the resultant effect of Nina seeing Beth in her house and during her lesbian sex session with Lily. These sightings can only be in Nina’s mind.

As a psychological horror film, Black Swan hits the nail so firmly on the head, that I was “creeped out” for three days after I watched it. I also took showers for the next three days, I was a bit leery of the bathtub after seeing the movie.

This is a “must-see” film. Set in the world of Ballet, it is about losing yourself and your mind. About what is real and what is not. It’s also about disturbing you and getting under your skin.