18 July 2016

A Return and a Throwback

As I type this the digital clock at the right corner of the menu bar on the bottom of my laptop screen reads 12:53 a.m. (though I'm sure this won't be finished/published until well into the evening) which means that today is 18 July of the year 2016. That means that this blog hasn't been updated in well over a year. Well, why not, then? Did I lose my fingers? Was there a terrible accident? Have I run out of things to say? Respectively: no, kind of, and absolutely not. Over the past year-and-some-change I have had much to say about many of the many goings-on. For those of you just joining us in the middle of 2016, the past seven months have been quite eventful. There have been multiple mass shootings, killings, deaths, a slew of spilled blood, and two American presidential candidates who are both likely to disappoint an entire country, at the very least. But let's not get into that. What matters is I am back, here, right now, to talk about movies and stuff. I'm sure I'll go into yet another hibernation at some point in the near future, but for the time being, let's talk about Stranger Things.

This weekend Netflix released yet another first season of yet another promising new series, Stranger Things - a total throwback to 1980s science-fiction/horror/creature feature films. Imagine if Stephen King wrote E.T. and mashed it up with The Goonies and a little bit of X-Files (among other ingredients, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Twin Peaks, Poltergeist, Monster Squad, Super 8, Firestarter, and more) with Steven Spielberg at the helm, J.J. Abrams producing, and John Carpenter doing the score, and you've got one healthy helping of Stranger Things. And yet even with all of the nods and references and blatant inspirations, Stranger Things still manages to be a compellingly original masterpiece.

That word may be thrown around far too often, but make no mistake about it: Stranger Things is, in fact, a masterpiece. Granted all of this is subjective. Many folks out there who dislike '80s nostalgia and just don't enjoy horror and science fiction are likely to ignore this series. And that's fine. Let 'em miss out. If it ain't for you, it ain't for you. But for those of us who this is clearly meant for, well, you're going to love it. That is a guarantee.

In a small town in Indiana, 1983, someone or something has kidnapped young Will Byers. The whole town comes together in search for the missing child, but nobody seems to be quite as affected as his best friends - a tight-knit group of D&D-playing, Tolkien-reading 12-year-old boys who come into contact with a mysterious little girl who just might hold the key to finding their lost pal. Equally disheartened are Will's mother and older brother, played by the talented Winona Ryder and Charlie Heaton respectively. As their search continues, something is very amiss, and a handful of the town's denizens find themselves caught in the midst of something inexplicable; shrouded in mysteries, parallel dimensions, government conspiracies, and not nearly enough Eggo waffles. Paranoia runs rampant while the hideous truth unfolds - in the form of a foul and deadly beast known to the children as "The Demogorgon" - and our youthful protagonists are soon caught up in a Stephen King-worthy series of supernatural events.

Child actors tend to be hit or miss in general. Either they really nail the performance or they create something cringeworthy that just feels like a horrible pre-teen actor doing a poor job acting like a normal pre-teen human being. The young actors in Stranger Things - all of whom are relatively new to the game - each bring with them, individually, something unique and refreshing and utterly fantastic. Their acting chops are superb. In the case of Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the basically-mute and endlessly fascinating Eleven, the acting isn't just great: it's on par with most seasoned adult actors. Many have compared Brown's role in Stranger Things to that of Natalie Portman in 1994's Leon: The Professional, and this is a fair comparison. Millie Brown takes center stage throughout, and if there's any justice in the world she'll be a household name in a few years. But while Brown certainly steals the show, her youthful peers shine for all eight episodes as well. They capture with awe-inspiring ease the look, behavior, and mentality of 1980-something 12-year-old kids just like the ones we know by name in aforementioned flicks like The Goonies, E.T., and Monster Squad. Their performances are so believable, in fact, that it's at times legitimately difficult to remember that these are kids from the early 21st century in lieu of the early 1980s. While the kids themselves do a wonderful job, the adult performers - including Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Natalia Dyer, and Charlie Heaton - bring much to the table, too. The chemistry among everybody involved is seamless, endearing, and, most importantly, convincing. Were it not for the fact that this is a television series and not a movie, I'd say most of the actors in Stranger Things would be worthy of, at the very least, a nod from the Academy.

But is Stranger Things really a TV show, in the commonly-accepted sense of the term? It can be argued that this first season is more of a ~7-hour movie, as it plays out in a binge-worthy manner and so many of its viewers have chosen to treat it as such. This format - the Netflix-binged single-sitting TV-show-season - seems to really be picking up these past few years, and films released on the silver screen lately tend to exceed the common length of 90-minutes, often clocking in at two-and-a-half hours with no break or intermission. Could this be the dawn of a new era of epic-length motion pictures? For cinephiles who leave the theatre feeling dissatisfied and underwhelmed, such a new fad in film wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Anymore it feels as if a 90-minute runtime just doesn't cut it - we need more. We want more. And, considering we're perfectly okay with sitting through roughly seven hours of quality "television," it would seem as though we're perfectly content with having more.

And more we shall receive, as Netflix continues to dish out top-of-the-line original TV series that we love to shamelessly binge. A second season of the extraordinary Stranger Things is most likely to break through the Upside Down and find its way into our reality and, at the risk of being cliche, our hearts. Judging by the rave reviews this brand new '80s homage of terror and curiosity has been receiving, we'll be welcoming season two with open arms.

All eight episodes of Stranger Things are available on Netflix.