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REVIEW: “Stranger Things” Season 3

StrangerThings_S3_Illustrated_Vertical_FINAL_RGB_Digital__ENI was late hopping onto the Stranger Things train. I tried watching the first season back when it was initially released in 2016 but I just couldn’t get into it. It featured all the things that so many Spielberg movies (many of which the series is clearly trying to emulate) have that annoy me – too much focus on the adolescent drama and not enough focus on the actual spooky stuff. So, I never got into it. Fast forward to December 2018, when I finally sit down to watch through the first two seasons of the show. I still stand by a lot of my initial thoughts, but it’s hard not to get into the show. It fetishizes the 1980s to the point where it almost feels masturbatory, never having anything interesting to say about its time period and merely mining the era for as many nostalgic references it cram into the show as humanly possible; it never explores its mythology with any of the depth you’d want it to; and it often gets too caught up in the kids’ needless drama and odd side stories, but it’s a mostly fun show. The two novels and comic series that have been released in the downtime between season two and season three have gotten me far more interested in the universe of the story than the show ever did, so, naturally, I’m interested in seeing what season three does with the storyline. Will it finally explore some of the more interesting elements of its mythology or will it just be more of the same frustrating balance the first two seasons had? Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. Season 3 of Stranger Things is more of the same stuff we’ve already seen and not much new. (Mild spoilers ahead!)

It’s 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana, and summer’s heating up. School’s out, there’s a brand new mall in town, and the Hawkins crew (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Sadie Sink) are on the cusp of adulthood. Romance blossoms and complicates the group’s dynamic, and they’ll have to figure out how to grow up without growing apart. Meanwhile, danger looms. When the town’s threatened by enemies old and new, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friends are reminded that evil never ends; it evolves. Now they’ll have to band together to survive, and remember that friendship is always stronger than fear.

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REVIEW: “Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Comic”

MST3K00In news that should surprise absolutely no one, Mystery Science Theater 3000 makes for a really funny, really enjoyable, and really good comic. I reviewed the first issue back when it came out and found it to be a pretty enjoyable read. Now, I’ve finished the final issue of the run and I can confirm that it remains an enjoyable read throughout its run, intertwining the signature MST3K humor with the world of public domain comics.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic by Joel Hodgson, Harold Bucholz, Matt McGinnis, Seth Robinson, Sharyl Volpe, and Mary Robinson; illustrated by Todd Nauck, Jack Pollock, Mike Manley, and Mimi Simon

The riffing hilarity of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 comes to comics when Kinga Forrester pairs her Kingachrome Liquid Medium with her latest invention–the Bubbulat-R! Jonah Heston, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo find themselves thrust into the 2-D world of public domain comics, with riffing as their only defense!

From its humble beginnings on a tiny mid-west TV station in 1988, through its years as a mainstay on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central and the SciFi Channel all through the ’90s, to its spectacular resurrection on Netflix in 2017, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has had a transformative effect on television, comedy, and the way old, cheesy movies are viewed. Now creator Joel Hodgson has set his sights on the comics medium, and the four-color pamphlets will never be the same!

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REVIEW: “Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Adam Christopher

91geul5xcolStranger Things is returning to screens this summer for its third season and it seems that Netflix is pulling out all the stops to promote it. With multiple novels and comic mini-series, the Stranger Things universe just seems to be growing and growing. And, here’s the thing: these Stranger Things novels are really turning out to be pretty enjoyable reads. I loved the first one, Suspicious Minds (written by Gwenda Bond) and I quite enjoyed this second one, Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s not quite as spectacular as the first one – and it doesn’t quite reveal anything as shocking or interesting as that book – but it ends up being a pretty solid crime novel with a Stranger Things twist. (Mild spoilers for the novel follow.)

“Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Adam Christopher 
Christmas, Hawkins, 1984. All Chief Jim Hopper wants is to enjoy a quiet first Christmas with Eleven, but his adopted daughter has other plans. Over Hopper’s protests, she pulls a cardboard box marked “New York” out of the basement—and the tough questions begin. Why did Hopper leave Hawkins all those years ago? What does “Vietnam” mean? And why has he never talked about New York?

Although he’d rather face a horde of demogorgons than talk about his own past, Hopper knows that he can’t deny the truth any longer. And so begins the story of the incident in New York—the last big case before everything changed. . . .

Summer, New York City, 1977
. Hopper is starting over after returning home from Vietnam. A young daughter, a caring wife, and a new beat as an NYPD detective make it easy to slip back into life as a civilian. But after shadowy federal agents suddenly show up and seize the files about a series of brutal, unsolved murders, Hopper takes matters into his own hands, risking everything to discover the truth.

Soon Hopper is undercover among New York’s notorious street gangs. But just as he’s about to crack the case, a blackout rolls across the boroughs, plunging Hopper into a darkness deeper than any he’s faced before.

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REVIEW: “Dumbo” 2019

dumbo posterDisney just keeps remaking their animated movies, huh? It all could be traced back to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland – fittingly directed by Tim Burton, the same director helming this latest live-action remake. From there, Disney just kept on going down the proverbial rabbit hole with remakes. Their latest trip down said rabbit hole – one of no less than three live-action remakes due to be released theatrically this year (with a fourth expected to premiere on the Disney + streaming service by the end of the year), Dumbo is a live-action remake of the classic 1941 Disney cartoon of the same name. This time, helmed by director Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger, Dumbo expands that fairly short animated film into a nearly two-hour long Tim Burton extravaganza. The problem is: nobody was really asking for a Dumbo remake. So, is it actually any good, or is it just another mediocre film from Disney, a company that seems to specialize in releasing mediocre films all throughout their various film studios? Answer: it’s the latter.

From Disney and visionary director Tim Burton, the all-new grand live-action adventure “Dumbo” expands on the beloved classic story where differences are celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight. Circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughingstock in an already struggling circus. But when they discover that Dumbo can fly, the circus makes an incredible comeback, attracting persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who recruits the peculiar pachyderm for his newest, larger-than-life entertainment venture, Dreamland. Dumbo soars to new heights alongside a charming and spectacular aerial artist, Colette Marchant (Eva Green), until Holt learns that beneath its shiny veneer, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.

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REVIEW: “Stranger Things: The Other Side”

Stranger Things - The Other SideStranger Things is massively successful. It’s probably Netflix’s biggest hit in the past five years, or so. So, it was only a matter of time before it started branching out into other mediums. Earlier last month, the first official novel – Gwenda Bond’s Suspicious Minds (my review of it here) – was released, but prior to that, Dark Horse Comics released a limited series – written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Stefano Martino – telling the unseen story of Will Byers during the events of season 1. It’s a great idea for a tie-in comic, but is the execution as good as the concept? Mostly, yeah.

When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him!

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REVIEW: “The Umbrella Academy” – Season 1

umbrella academy posterI remember reading the first volume of Gerard Way’s comic, The Umbrella Academy, back when it first came out in 2008 and I adored it. It was this really weird, really unique little comic that was unlike anything else my little middle school mind had encountered. As I got older, I continued to adore the series – and was always sad as year after year passed with no sign of a third volume. Thankfully, that third volume eventually came, as did the announcement of a Netflix adaptation of the series. Of course, any time an adored property gets adapted, there’s a risk of that adaptation not being any good or not really respecting the source material. This is especially true with comic book adaptations, even more so with adaptations of weirder comic books. So, as The Umbrella Academy premiered last Friday, I approached it with a massive amount of trepidation. Happily, the show is very, very good. (THERE WILL BE MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE)

Based on the popular, Eisner award-winning comics and graphic novels created and written by Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy is a live-action series that follows the estranged members of a dysfunctional family of superheroes (The Umbrella Academy) — Sir Reginald Hargreeves/The Monocle (Colm Feore), No.1/Luther/Spaceboy (Tom Hopper), No.2/Diego/The Kraken (David Castañeda), No.3/Allison/The Rumor (Emmy Raver-Lampman), No.4/Klaus/The Séance (Robert Sheehan), Number Five/The Boy (Aidan Gallagher), No.6/Ben/The Horror (Justin H. Min), and No.7/Vanya/The White Violin (Ellen Page) — as they work together to solve their father’s mysterious death while coming apart at the seams due to their divergent personalities and abilities.

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REVIEW: “Stranger Things – Suspicious Minds” by Gwenda Bond

suspicious mindsMy biggest problem with Stranger Things is that there’s too much pre-teen drama and not enough spooky stuff/weird government conspiracy stuff. I find myself far more interested in what’s going on in Hawkins Lab than I am in what Dustin, Mike, Will, and Luke are up to. So, getting through the show is always a bit of an ordeal for me as I just want the weird, spooky stuff. So, when Suspicious Minds was announced as the first official Stranger Things tie-in novel, I was pretty excited. It sounded like I’d finally be getting my wish. I’m happy to report that this novel is full of weird, creepy government stuff and I adored every page of it.

A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be farther from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, code-named MKULTRA. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tight-lipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than Terry could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

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REVIEW: “A Series of Unfortunate Events” – Season 3

asoue-posterAll good things must come to an end. The same remains true for unfortunate things, too. Even A Series of Unfortunate Events must come to an end. With season 3, that’s exactly what the Netflix adaptation on the Lemony Snicket series does. The books are pretty notorious for their lack of any kind of real resolution or concrete answers to the mysteries presented throughout the series. So, with that in mind, how does the show handle the ending? The answer: much the same, but a bit different. Featuring a bit more resolution than what was found in the books, season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events brings the somewhat uneven series to a satisfying conclusion.

Season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events adapts the final four novels of Lemony Snicket’s acclaimed novels. The series follows the Baudelaire orphans – Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith / Tara Strong (voice)) – after they’ve suffered a terrible tragedy: the deaths of their parents and the destruction of their home. The orphans are sent to live with Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a villain who will stop at nothing to obtain their fortune. Their journey will take then into the wilderness of a snowy mountain, to the depths of the ocean, to a mysterious hotel, and all the way to a deserted island. There are no happy endings in this story, so what will become of the Baudelaire orphans?

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REVIEW: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”

BM_Bandersnatch_Vertical-Main_PRE_RGBChoose-Your-Own-Adventures books are always a lot of fun. You’re able to explore multiple different endings to a story, some ridiculous, some serious, and you’re able to replay that story countless times to explore each different branch of the story. It’s a method of storytelling that’s never really been tried in film or TV before. Before Bandersnatch, that is. Bandersnatch is the first film in the Black Mirror series. Written by Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade, Bandersnatch is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure film that allows audiences to choose how the story of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) plays out. It’s a whole lot of fun and genuinely impressive to watch (and participate in). (NOTE: There will be spoilers for Bandersnatch. I will try to keep them minor, but it’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling some things.)

In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge.

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REVIEW – Death Note (2017)

mv5byzk5zjfhztutyzflmy00mdq0lwe5ogqtztk0ywq3yjdkn2u2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzgzmju4njm-_v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_On the bright side, it’s not awful. It’s not really all that good, either, though. Which is a shame since there’s really a lot of potential in the movie. And it’s even more frustrating since the movie is clearly set up for sequels that I’m not sure it’s gonna get considering the quality of this film. Death Note is Netflix’s latest original movie and is a somewhat loose adaptation of the Manga of the same name written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. In Netflix’s adaptation (written by Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, and Jeremy Slater and directed by Adam Wingard), the action is moved from Japan to Seattle and follows Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook (and the god of death that accompanies it, Ryuk (voice and facial motion capture by William Dafoe, physical actions by Jason Liles)) that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L (Lakeith Stanfield). (As always, this will contain spoilers.) 

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