Writer(s): William Bridges, Kate Trefey, Paul Dichter, Curtis Gwinn
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Maya Hawke, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Cary Elwes and many, many more.
Number of episodes: 8
Original Network: Netflix
**CONTAIN MASSIVE SPOILERS**
When Season 1 was released, Netflix’s phenomenally popular sci-fi-rites-of-passage-comedy-adventure-drama proved an excellent nostalgia-fest. Indeed, it evoked the 1980’s perfectly in design, sound and look, wearing Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences, not so much on its sleeve, but as a whole darned fashion show.
Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centred on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven, who’s on the run from a nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track down their missing friend during eight episodes containing weird and monstrous moments throughout.
I thought Season 1, while full of great design, style, suspense and mystery, was over-rated. It was still a fine work of entertainment but I found the story seriously padded out and stretched. While Season 2 is more generic it was a marked improvement as we got more pace and action. Season 3, though, is even better in terms of story-lines, pace and humour. Some may lament the move away from the mystery and darkness of Season 1, but Season 3’s humour, action and romantic sub-plots are turned right up to Eleven (pun intended).
Furthermore, amidst all the teenage romance crap, there is some fantastic gore and visceral monster goo on show. The Mind Flayer nemesis is an absolutely fearsome creature creation and way more convincing than the cartoon Russians. So, overall, I think this was my favourite season as it didn’t take itself too seriously. It just went for pure adrenaline and mind-bending chases and fights throughout. I didn’t even mind the John Hughes-style soppy romances.
Lastly, Season 3 isn’t perfect as it often verged on parody. This is notable in Episode 8, where we get a viral-bait version of The Never Ending Story (1984) theme song. Quite frankly, it was tonally inappropriate given the kids were being hunted down by Russian soldiers and an inter-dimensional monster at the time. Aside from this crime against genre occurring Season 3 is great because it featured a cavalcade of film references and homages. Well, let’s be honest, they basically stole a load of ideas from other movies.
So, rather than do a traditional review I will mark Stranger Things (2019) – Season 3, and then pick a TOP TEN movie homages or steals that featured prominently as a fun meta-bingo review. Obviously, I’ve probably missed loads out, so, if you care, let me know which ones.
Mark: 9 out of 11
TOP TEN META-REFERENCES IN STRANGER THINGS (2019)
RUSSIAN BADDIE — THE TERMINATOR (1984)
BILLY AND TOWNSFOLK ‘DOUBLES’ — INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956 / 1978)
THE MIND FLAYER – THE BLOB (1958) / ALIEN (1979) / THE THING (1982) / TREMORS (1990)
STEVE AND ROBIN’S “WILL THEY, WON’T THEY ROMANCE?” — ANY JOHN HUGHES FILM!
THE BLACK WATER VOID – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
USA VERSUS RUSSIA — RED DAWN (1984), RAMBO 2 (1985) & ANY COLD WAR FILM!
BILLY’S DREAMS — DREAMSCAPE (1984) / NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
ELEVEN’S TELEKINETIC POWERS — CARRIE (1976), THE FURY (1978) & SCANNERS (1981) ETC. . .
KIDS ON A MISSION TO SAVE THE TOWN/WORLD (AGAIN) — THE GOONIES (1985)
FANTASY OLDER WOMEN DYNAMIC — RISKY BUSINESS (1983) / WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
Eight years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film. The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television. Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too bad: www.whatculture.com
Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise or viewings. The first list and subsequent list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988), Tremors (1990), Locke (2014),Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) and many more.
My rules are simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
So, with these criteria in mind I present a further sequel to my previous article with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.
BEFORE I WAKE (2016)
Before I Wake tells the moving story of an orphaned boy fostered by Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth’s grieving parents. This was a dream-like and touching tale with a powerful element of horror which benefits from great performances by Bosworth and Jacob Tremblay. I imagine I’m the only person who actually rates this film but I think, despite some plot issues, it remains a beautiful hidden movie gem.
After the mostly horrendous Sylvester Stallone starring Judge Dredd adaptation, Karl Urban subsequently stepped into the boots of the ruthless cop hell-bent on bringing justice to Mega City One. It’s a lower budgeted, but tremendous action thriller with Dredd battling nefarious druglords in a fortified tower block complex; led by a grand turn from Lena Headey. Violent and darkly humorous, Dredd was not a box-office success, but it was short, sharp and loud with Urban, keeping his visor firmly to his face, giving a steely performance as the grizzled, veteran law-keeper.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2017)
This British independent period drama is not something I would usually go for. It’s a period drama and biopic about Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne and while these films are often by-the-numbers, this rendition of his life post World War I is a touching and emotionally heart-warming narrative. Thematically it is very strong with evocation of the post-traumatic stress Milne suffered after returning from war, plus the negative effect fame had on his family when his books became bestsellers. Domnhall Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald and Margot Robbie shine in their respective roles, but Will Tilston as young Christopher Robin/Billy Moon is a revelation as Milne’s young son.
THE MIST (2007)
Frank Darabont had tremendous success with a number of Stephen King adaptations, notably the now revered The Shawshank Redemption (1994). But, his rendition of King’s The Mist is an equally powerful movie. Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden and Darabont regular, Jeffrey DeMunn, the film centres on the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm in Bridgport, Maine. As townsfolk get trapped in a supermarket, any attempt at escape is prevented by a monstrous presence in the mist. With the supermarket representing a microcosm of humanity, the film poses the idea that religious fanatics are as much a threat as the aliens outside; with Marcia Gay Harden on ferocious form as the lead zealot. Thrilling and dark, The Mist is relentlessly frightening with a jaw-dropping ending.
THE OTHER GUYS (2010)
Adam McKay’s silly genre movie is an entertaining comedic cop film parody, thrilling action spoof and, on occasions, full of smart social commentary. It begins with an incredible chase sequence involving hero cops played by Samuel L. Jackson and Duwayne Johnson; only they are NOT the main protagonists because they are soon dispatched very early in the story. Enter the mismatched duo of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as the eponymous anti-heroes who pursue Steve Coogan’s crooked CEO. Further, McKay has digs at money-men who manipulate the stock market to save their dishonest hides. With a twisting narrative, brilliant running gags and Wahlberg and Farrell’s stupendous double act, this is a highly memorable comedy full of stupidity, hilarity and style.
Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction. Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Director Don Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. It may lack the polish of big budget productions but the scares and surrealism reminded me of the works of Italian horror-master Lucio Fulci and Spanish filmmaking genius Luis Bunuel. It’s a film I would wholly recommend for devotees of horror and for those who like their movies raw, inventive and nightmarish.
PUSHER II (2004)
Pusher II is even more relentlessly grim than the original featuring all manner of dumb, lower-class hoods trying to scrape gold from Copenhagen streets paved mainly with heroin and blood. It’s an unglamorous and honest realisation of criminal-life as low-level drug pushers fuck one another over on a regular basis. Mikkelsen’s Tonny is a tragic character, who is left rudderless by a manipulative father and just cannot cut a break due to both his own lack of intelligence or positive role models. Never has there been so much sympathy for a movie thug like Tonny as Mikkelsen extracts every bit of humanity he can from the poor beast.
RUNNING SCARED (2006)
This Paul Walker starring crime thriller is a proper B-movie and arguably isn’t even that good. Indeed, it does seem to fall into that sub-Tarantino narrative bracket. However, every time I have watched it I have been glued to the twisty plot and violent gun-play. Walker is the low level mobster in New Jersey, who, after a drug deal goes wrong, must locate an incriminating and missing hand-gun, or face a violent death. I think it’s the frantic pace and action that’s full of surprises and punchlines which kept me enthralled; and despite the generic nature of the story I really rate it as a proper guilty pleasure.
Cruelly buried by the Weinstein studio on initial release, this under-rated graphic novel adaptation is absolutely brilliant. Set in an apocalyptic future, the train becomes an analogy for class struggle between the haves and have-nots. The action is relentless as it depicts the working class struggle. Their revolution occurs with Chris Evans’ character leading the hungry poor to the top of the train where the rich and privileged live a life of luxury. Bong Joon-ho directs Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton expertly, as the film marries social commentary and blistering action with aplomb.
Written, surprisingly enough, by Wentworth Miller, the lead actor from Prison Break, this is a subtle and bleak contemporary Southern Gothic tale. Directed by genius filmmaker Park Chan-wook, it stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and the under-rated Matthew Goode as a dysfunctional family unit who all have secrets to hide. While the film moves slowly it creepily spreads a steady flow of dread as we never quite know which character holds the biggest threat. Inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), this psychological thriller is full of death, grief and mystery and if you prefer slow-burn suspense this is definitely a film for you.
Wow, Netflix just keep churning out the content; either original, bought and on hire. I just don’t know how they can make a profit; especially on their big-budget movies,which DO NOT get a cinema release. Perhaps it’s a loss leader gamble they hope will pay off in the long run? Nonetheless, Netflix remains a solid go-to-place for viewing pleasure.
So, over the last few weeks I’ve caught up on a number of horror films on Netflix; some good, some not too bad, and some dreadful. Anyway, here they are with marks out of the usual eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I felt that all the elements were there to make this a classic cult horror thriller and Dan Stevens was brilliant in it. However, his character was so rushed at the beginning I did not feel that connected to his drifter searching a religious cult for his kidnapped sister. Still, the film had some fascinating themes, searing gore and horror moments, which altogether made it well worth a watch.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BEFORE I WAKE(2016)
Having been impressed with Mike Flanagan’s direction of The Haunting of Hill House (2018), I decided to check out his other films. Before I Wake tells the moving story of an orphaned boy fostered by Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth’s grieving parents. This was a dream like and touching tale with a powerful element of horror which benefits from great performances by Bosworth and Jacob Tremblay.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE BOY (2016)
Lauren Cohan stars in this gothic chiller which flirts between intriguing suspense and silly horror moments. Cohan is Greta, an American nanny, who escapes to a big manor house in England, only to find herjob is to babysit a boy dummy for an eccentric old couple. Director William Brent Bell, despite the strange premise, gets a decent tune out of this story and I really enjoyed it; even when it goes pretty bonkers at the end.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GERALD’S GAME (2017)
Mike Flanagan directs again, this time adapting Stephen King’s psychological horror novel into a very satisfactory movie. Carla Gugino and Tony Greenwood play a middle-class and wealthy couple attempting to spice up their sex life with some role-play and bondage. Safe to say the “game” goes awry and Gugino must battle physical and mental challenges, plus a haunted past, in order overcome a grim and horrific ordeal.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
HOLD THE DARK (2018)
Jeremy Saulnier directs this ponderous thriller which centres on a search for a missing child on a Native American reservation. Jeffrey Wright, as a wolf expert and novelist, does his best with the paucity of material as Alexander Skarsgard sleep-walks through another role. Saulnier holds back a key piece of the narrative for no apparent reason and aside from gratuitous shoot-out in the middle I was bored.
(Mark: 6 out of 11)
I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)
Even the brilliant Ruth Wilson cannot save this horrifically slow and dull horror film which literally has NO story and hardly any scares. It is genuinely one of the worst and most pretentious films I have ever seen.
(Mark: 2 out of 11)
THE INVITATION (2015)
Another hidden horror gem I found on Netflix, this moves slowly but with brooding dread and suspense. Logan Marshall Green portrays, Will, a grieving ex-husband invited with his girlfriend to a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife. Soon the dinner takes a strange turn of events as the odd behaviour of the hosts raises his suspicion and paranoia. Overall, this is a compelling movie directed withsubtle aplomb by Karyn Kusama.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
Another attempt to re-do one of the best low-budget horror films ever made in Saw (2004), fails to engage or horrify. It is really just a pointless retread of everything we’ve seen before and while there’s some decent gore in it, the characters are paper-thin and one for franchise completists only.
(Mark: 5 out of 11)
Even the very talented Florence Pugh cannot save this bang-average medium-in-a-haunted-house story. The screenwriter Ben Ketai has some decent horror credentials but this one did not really make much sense narratively or emotionally. Lastly, Pugh’s brother in the film was so dislikeable that I could not wait for him to die horribly.
(Mark: 5 out of 11)
THE VAULT (2017)
This was almost a decent horror thriller as it had such a great premise. Bank robbers –includingFrancesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning – hold up a bank only to find ghosts haunt the Vault and are intent on hurting the criminals. Despite the horrific monsters in the basement and James Franco’s intriguing turn, the script doesn’t make much sense until the reveal at the end. But by that time I was too confused to care very much.
SCREENWASH CINEMA REVIEWS – SEPTEMBER 2017 – including: IT, WIND RIVER and KINGSMAN 2
I’m a tad tardy on my cinema reviews for last month mainly because I have been writing a couple of short script projects to be filmed. One is a sharp little horror story called Flatmates and I’m looking to shoot in November. The casting has been going well, after which I will rehearse and film on HD video. The other is a follow-up to our Star Trek fan film Chance Encounter (2017) released earlier this year online, which has now has over 40,000 views on YouTube!! Not quite Gangnam Style or dancing cats on a piano but pretty good nonetheless to have one’s work viewed that much.
Anyway, enough of the filmmaking hobby momentarily to switch back to the film reviewing pastime. Below are reviews of three excellent genre films, plus a little reprise of my opinions on Aronofsky’s two hours of hell that was Mother (2017). As usual they are marked out of eleven in tribute to This is Spinal Tap!
Stephen King is clearly a genius. To be able to maintain creativity and longevity as a writer, plus give birth, as it were, to any number of iconic narratives, characters and events is a testament to his massive energy and talent. When I was young one of the scariest things I ever saw on TV was the horror serial Salem’s Lot (1979), which was about vampires taking over a small town. His book Carrie (1976) was also adapted into one of the best horror films of the seventies too. Moreover, the ‘80s TV and cinema screens were peppered with King’s work notably: The Shining (1980), Stand by Me (1986) and the under-rated Pet Semetary (1989). In 1990, Tommy Lee Wallace directed a mini-series of IT, with the terrifying Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. IT proved to be an excellent horror story until the – faithfully sticking to the novel of course – ridiculously silly ending.
Flash forward twenty-seven years and Pennywise is back to haunt the dreams, drains and sewer pipes of Derry, Maine, using manipulation and fear to lure teenagers to their death. Developed by, among others Cary Fukunaga, the film was eventually directed by Andy Muschietti and has deservedly become a big box office hit. I say deservedly because, while it is not a particularly amazing cinema offering, it is a highly entertaining genre horror film. As an experienced Stephen King cinema and TV viewer all the staples are there such as: geeky-small-town-outsider-kids; abusive tough-guy-bully types; negligent parents or appropriate adult; monstrous beings hidden in the shadows; plus coming-of-age teenage friendship and love.
The clown in this case is portrayed with fiendish joy by Bill Skarsgard and there are some fantastic stand-out scares. My only criticism is, and this is my fault being over-familiar with King’s work, is that with the recent Super 8 (2011) and over-hyped Stranger Things (2016), I felt as if I had seen it all this before. I also felt they crammed too much into the two hours and some of the character emotion was lost at times. However, the cast of kids are excellent in their respective roles, the horror set-pieces are brilliantly staged and King’s iconic bad guy Pennywise makes it well worth the cinema admission fee alone.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017)
The first Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) film was one of my favourite genre films of the past couple of years. It showed a clean pair of spy heels to the, occasionally brilliant but overlong Bond disappointment Spectre (2015); while at the same time confirming Taron Egerton as an actor with great star potential. Having done the business at the box office then Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan have once again written and directed an explosive, funny, pacey and adrenaline-filled spy spoof sequel.
In this story, Eggsy / Galahad is back with Merlin (Mark Strong), battling with the United States counterparts The Statesmen, against Julianne Moore’s perky, yet deranged, Americana obsessed drug baroness. The Statesmen are represented by such heavyweight acting talent in Jeff Bridges and a cracking turn from Pedro Pascal as the hilariously named Jack Daniels. Channing Tatum pops up too but he is lightweight compared to the effervescent Pascal. Poppy’s fiendish plot is actually quite a decent motivation for the story and the subplot involving a Lazarus-type-return from a major character from the first film is well developed.
To be honest the story is just the bare bones to hang a series of fantastic set-pieces, car chases, shoot-outs and fights, as Eggsy and his kick-ass team once again attempt to thwart the end-of-civilisation as we know it. My main criticism is the film is probably too long with an unnecessary gratuitous sex-driven sequence set in the Glastonbury Festival. It also lacks that sense of characterisation from the first film which had the working class underdog Eggsy battling the upper-class sneers of the over-privileged. Nonetheless, Matthew Vaughan is a great gag-heavy-action-director and the plot has some decent twists and turns throughout making it well worth a watch.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
While Darren Aronofsky is a cinematic artist of the highest level, I connected badly with this two-hours-of-hell-excuse-for-entertainment. My full review can be found here but, in a nutshell, this is what I thought of it:
“It was an awful, pretentious heap of a film which exists as an entertainment void both nihilistic and dull. Because this film abuses the privilege and patience of the audience delivering a technically brilliant but overall clichéd, first-world-problems-poet-with-writer’s-block-world-murdering-art-fan-hating two hours I will never get back.”
Mark: 5 out of 11 (for the film) Mark: 9.5 out of 11 (for Darren Aronofsky)
WIND RIVER (2017)
Taylor Sheridan has carved himself a fine reputation for writing very solid character driven genre films such as Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). Wind River (2017) is his first writer-director effort and it is a fascinating study of: grief, murder, racial tension and dark humanity. Sheridan is adept at choosing specific areas of America with which to place his stories. Sicario reflected on the war on drugs, located betwixt the violent border of Mexico and the U.S.A. Hell and High Water illustrated the financial ruin of the sub-prime mortgage crash and its effect on West Texas. In his latest screenplay Sheridan focusses on the Indian Reservation territories of Wyoming and the people who inhabit the stark wintry landscapes.
The quietly impressive Jeremy Renner, as Cory Lambert, takes most of the acting plaudits as the respected, expert tracker and estranged family man. He is an individual who, while in perpetual control on the external Reservations and snowy terrain, finds himself crumbling internally due a horrific event from his past. Renner is ably supported by his Avengers co-star, Elizabeth Olsen, who imbues the rookie FBI agent with a steely determination, despite her lack of experience and confidence. The portrayal of the Native Americans I feel was sensitively presented as their lives are further marginalized by corporate America as its venal greed destroys the environment and humanity within the area. While this is a beautifully looking film there is a dark murderous heart within the stunning vistas and natural beauty.
Sheridan again confirms he is adept at combining social commentary with an impressive crime plot. Moreover, throughout the film he also bleeds in a compelling study of grief as well as a subtle critique of patriarchal capitalism and its’ destruction of the Native American’s land and people. Yet, the message could arguably have gone further in its criticism; however, as he proved with his prior screenplays Sheridan prefers subtext and a rising tension rather than polemics. Quietly, Sheridan is building an impressive filmic body of work and Wind River manages to be a thrilling police procedural drama, empathetic character study and socio-political examination of American corruption; all amidst the cold, harsh and white-washed landscapes of Wyoming.