Stranger Things Season 2 Turns upside down…

Welcome, everyone! My next subject will be one that I’m sure is familiar with- “Stranger Things”! Since it was released two summers ago, it has developed a dedicated fanbase, with the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, and the cast members, all enjoying the elevated amount of success that the show has given them. Not long afterwards, it was announced that a second series had been commissioned, to air in 2017. Now, 15 months later, that moment  finally arrived, with the long anticipated second series being released on October 27th, just in time for Halloween.

We start off the new season in Halloween, 1984 in Hawkins, Indiana. After his ordeal in the Upside Down, a parallel version of our own universe, a year previously, young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is struggling to adjust to his normal life after his rescue. But it doesn’t prove to be as easy as it sounds, as Will finds himself still being drawn back to the Upside Down at distressing times, much to the worry of his stressed mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and protective older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton).

In other developments, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is still reeling from the sudden disappearance of Eleven, their ally with telekintic powers (Millie Bobby Brown), after she sacrificed herself to save Mike and her other friends, Dustin (Gaten Matazzoro) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) from the threat of the Demogorgen, a creature from the Upside Down. They are befriended by a fiery tomboy named Max (Sadie Sink), whose surly demeanor masks a vulnerablity and emotional bullying at the hands of her brutish stepbrother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Dustin gets into some mischief of his own when he uncovers a strange creature in a nearby trashcan, which leads him to adopt him as a pet, with unforseen consequences…

However, Eleven is in fact safe, as she has been taken to a remote cabin by Chief Hopper (David Harbour),  who keeps her out of harm’s way by supplying her with Eggo waffles (her Trademark Favourite Food). However, Eleven eventually gets restless over being constantly kept in the dark, and leaves Hopper in search of her catatonic mother, Terry Ives (Amy Mullins), where Eleven unearths her dark past, and uncovers another test subject  from Hawkins Laboratory…

Mike’s sister, Nancy ( Natalia Dyer), is dealing with guilt following the demise of her best friend Barb (Shannon Purser) in the Upside Down, and has fallen out of love with her jerk with a heart of gold boyfriend, Steve (Joe Keery). As she and Jonathan try to bring justice to Barb and get Hawkins Laboratory to admit that they played a hand in her death. Much like in the first season, all these plots gradually come together to form the thrilling conclusion, which is just as much of a nail biter as you might expect from this show.

As you can imagine, I was a huge fan of the first series of “Stranger Things”, and was not disappointed by the second installment. The show has certainly gained more of a fanfare since it was initially released in 2016. Part of the show’s appeal was the 80’s nostalgia which takes inspiration from many Stephen King works and science-fiction films from that era.

If I was to mention some drawbacks of the season, however, I would cite that the first few episodes are rather slow paced, and it takes until about the fifth episode for the plot to really start moving forward. The slog is definitely worth the wait, though, as the conclusion definitely leaves you yearning for more. Also, there’s the infamously divisive “Lost Sister” episode, which follows Eleven as she joins up with a gang led by Kali (Linnea Berthel), who resents Hawkins Laboratory for depriving her of a normal childhood, and regularly carries out revenge on the people she deems responsible for her imprisonment. The main criticism against this episode appears to be that it takes place entirely in Chicago, meaning that no characters from Hawkins turn up, and that Eleven eventually returns to rescue her old friends, with her exploits from this episode seemingly having  little to no impact on the reminder of the story.

Of the new characters introduced this season, my favorite would definitely have to have been Bob (Sean Astin), Joyce’s new boyfriend. He’s introduced as a nice, if overly dorky guy who likes “lame” things such as Kenny Rogers and the Michael Keaton flick “Mr Mom”,  and who tries to bond with Will and Jonathan, but constantly finds himself rebuffed by Jonathan. When he tries to help Will combat his fear of the Mind Flayer, he inadvertledly winds up giving him some dodgy advice, which ends in disaster. However, he does end proving his worth.

On the other hand, I wasn’t as fond of Max as a character, since her obvious purpose was to cause drama within the main quartet of boys, as Lucas and Dustin both harbor obvious crushes on her, and Mike acts hostile towards her out of fear that Max is trying to steal Eleven’s spot in their group. Billy was another character I had mixed feelings about, since he was clearly meant to be Steve without any of his redeeming qualities. In one of the final episodes, we get a revelation into his abrasive behavior, which may be explored in the upcoming season.

In summation, the second installment of “Stranger Things” proves to be just as impressive as its preceding series. I give this season 4 out of 5 stars, as it offers some intense scenes, enthralling performances and heartfelt moments. Season 3 is set for release on July 4th, 2019, so it’s something to get excited about! Happy binging!



Billy Elliot’s Brilliance into Ballet

For my next critique, I’ll be tackling the Stephen Daldry 2000 movie, “Billy Elliot”, which is about an 11 year old boy who has quite an unusual talent for his time. Set around the 1984 coal mining strike in rural England, it was one of British actor Jamie Bell’s first roles, and paved the way for a Broadway and West End musical, with music scripted by the legendary singer Elton John.

Jamie Bell stars as the titular Billy, a prepubescent youngster who lives in the mining town of Durham in the mid 1980’s. Billy lives with his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven), who both value their traditional, masculine backgrounds in the coal industry and his forgetful grandmother (Jean Heywood), with his mother having passed away a year earlier. With Jackie and Tony participating in a mining strike picket, the police have to be called in to restore some semblance of order to the community.

Billy keeps busy by taking boxing lessons in the local hall, but he proves to be less than stellar in the sport. Following a mediocre boxing lesson, he is cajoled into joining in on a ballet class taught by Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). There, he finds that ballet awakens an inexplicable need in him,  and so he begins to attend the class in secret, for some time at least. Eventually, an enraged Jackie finds out about Billy’s less than masculine extracurricular activity, and orders him to be pulled from the class. But can Billy deny his dancing dreams, or do greater pursuits beckon in his future instead?

The performances from all the actors are all superb. I simply can’t fault a single one of them for how authentic and natural they felt. Bell is excellent as the quietly determined Billy, the always fantastic Julie Walters is on top form in an Oscar nominated role as the encouraging dance coach, and Lewis and Draven are also decent in their roles as Billy’s initially distant father and brother, and Stuart Wells serves well as Michael, Billy’s best friend who is harbouring a secret of his own!

The story is propped with an array of memorable scenes, from the opening shot of Billy jumping on a trampoline in midair to the strains of T-Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer”, or Billy letting out some steam to the Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”. My own personal favourite scene comes about towards the end of the movie, where Billy is questioned about what dancing feels like. His response is simply heartfelt, and it inspired what is perhaps the musical’s most recognizable song, “Electricity”.

“Billy Elliot”, is possibly one of the best British movies that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. I used to watch it devoutly as a child, and Billy’s struggle to remain true to himself despite the adversity from his family resonated with me, as I’m sure it has for others. In fact, Elton John himself was inspired to write the music for the stage show as he related to Billy’s fraught relationship with his father, since it was similar to the one he had with his own.

“Billy Elliot” earns a grand total of five out of five stars. It offers a brilliant takeaway message of perseverance in regards to your dreams or ambitions, and to never give up, no matter how fruitless and impossible it may seem, as it just might pay off in the end. Plus, I’d recommend checking out the musical show if you loved the film, Elton John, or if you simply love musical theatre which has catchy songs and valuable messages, then it might just be up your alley!

Rio isn’t to blame for Misguided “Comedy”

Those of you who who are familiar with my blog may remember my review on the 1983 movie “Flashdance”, around this time last year. It was a mediocre movie at best, not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely far from being my most spectacular movie experience. As I detailed in that review, I was irritated by the characters, the plot and the whole implausibility of the premise. I was convinced that, at the time, I wouldn’t find need to review another  movie which annoyed me to the same extent as that one did.

Alas, I was sadly mistaken, as I came across one such film-  1984’s “Blame it on Rio”, starring British actor and Oscar Winner Michael Caine. I was hoping that due to Caine being a part of the cast, and with Hollywood starlet Demi Moore in her first movie role, that it would add an appeal to it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, as will be explained.

The Plot in a Nutshell: Matthew (Caine) and Victor (Joseph Bologna) are best friends and businessmen who operate multiple hotels in several areas. Each has a teenage daughter- Nikki (Moore) for Matthew, and Jennifer (newcomer Michelle Johnson) for Victor. Victor is going through a rough divorce. Matthew’s own marriage isn’t faring any better, which he isn’t aware of until his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) informs him that she intends to boycott their intended holiday to Rio de Janeiro, and take a separate vacation by herself “to think things over”. This prompts Matthew and Victor to take the journey to Brazil with Nikki and Jennifer.

While there, Jennifer seduces Matthew, and in a moment of weakness, they have sex right there on the beach. The following morning, Jennifer attempts to resume their tryst where they left off, much to Matthew’s reluctance and insistence that it was a once off situation. This doesn’t thwart Jennifer, and she goes as far as to publicly bombard him with racy Polarids of herself. In the meantime, Victor suspects that Jennifer has a new beau, and enlists Matthew’s assistance in uncovering his identity.

Actor/Character Observations: In my opinion, none of the actors appear to be comfortable in their roles. Even Michael Caine doesn’t seem to surpass the material long enough, despite the fact that he’s a very talented actor. Johnson does what she can with the material, in her first leading role, even though she was 17 at the time. This makes her romance with Caine’s character all the more icky, as he was in his 40’s. Nikki isn’t given much to do, save for a scene where she passive aggressively ignores Matthew after witnessing him kiss Jennifer, but that’s the extent of it. Joseph Bologna didn’t really convince me as his character , but he has some comic timing with Caine.

But out of all of these characters, none of them made me more angry than Karen did. Once Matthew inevitably comes clean about his fling with Jennifer, she has the gall to be livid with him, when ( as we eventually learn), she hasn’t exactly been faithful herself. And nobody, not even Matthew, points out that if she hadn’t been so aloof with him in the first place, then he might’t have been so easily tempted by a teenage girl. Yet all blame is directed at Matthew (and to a lesser extent, Jennifer), leaving Karen to escape all retribution for her actions.

Favourite Scene(s) in “Blame it on Rio”: The only time I laughed at all during this movie was during the scene where Victor is poring through Jennifer’s diary in vain to uncover her new partner’s identity. When he reads that he has “lovely blue eyes”, Matthew instantly dons a pair of sunglasses to cover up his eyes. However, my laugh was a half-hearted one, as I felt that the whole situation, despite it being largely played for laughs, was still rather creepy and inappropriate.

Least Favourite Scene(s) in “Blame it on Rio”: It’s hard to pick just one scene that I utterly despised in a movie which seemed to be crammed with unpleasant moments. But the one that takes the cake for me was when Matthew and Victor are forced to share a bed together whilst bickering. Again, it’s played to generate laughs, but the whole subject matter just didn’t seem funny to me in the slightest.

My Take on “Blame it on Rio”: In my opinion, “Blame it on Rio” had the potential to be a memorable movie, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t quite payoff as expected. None of the characters, except Matthew, garnered my sympathy at all, and the entire plot was milking a serious situation for laughs. Towards the end, I never got the impression that any of the characters had learned anything from their exploits, and that they would be likely to slip into their old habits again.

Ratings and Recommendations: I award “Blame it on Rio” with two stars out of five. It just wasn’t riveting enough to capture my attention. As always, if any of you like this movie, that’s dandy, but it just wasn’t to my taste. I wouldn’t recommend “Blame it on Rio” to anyone in particular. If you’re looking for a Michael Caine film to view, I’d redirect you to “The Italian Job” (1967) or Caine’s Oscar winning turn in “Hannah and her Sisters”, the latter which features Caine as a more sympathetic character.




Gremlins: The Unconventional Christmas Movie

Happy Christmas, all! I hope that you’re all having a Merry Holiday indeed! To commemorate the festive season, I’m taking a look at a movie most might associate more with Halloween than with Christmas:  Joe Dante’s 1984 hit, “Gremlins”. There has been many a debate as to whether the movie should be considered a Christmas movie.  However, seeing as most of the action primarily takes place in the festive period, it has made the list of my Yuletide viewing movies. It just happens to contain a series of seemingly harmless creatures which soon lead to chaos at the highest order…

As the movie opens, lovable inventor Rand Pelzter (Hoyt Axton) is searching in vain for a Christmas gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). He stumbles across the perfect present in a Chinese thrift shop, a cute, furry gremlin creature (“Mogwai”) by the name of Gizmo.

However, Rand is issued three warnings beforehand: not to get the creature wet, to avoid it from being exposed to direct sunlight, and most crucially, to never, ever feed it after midnight. As you can imagine, all of these rules end up being broken within a few short hours. This ends up causing multiple mogwais to revolt around the town. It’s up to Billy, his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) and Gizmo to put a stop to the riot…

“Gremlins” has always been my favourite flick to watch a few days days prior to Christmas, just to get me in the festive spirit. Although you may argue that “Gremlins” sticks out in comparison to other holiday movies such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” or even “Home Alone”, but the contrast doesn’t hamper the enjoyment of the flick for me.

Some aspects of the movie may be darker than expected for a Christmas flick, such as the scene where Mrs Peltzer (Frances Lee McCain) faces off against all of the mogwais, eventually leading to a  satisfying demise via microwave. Another memorable scene comes about when Kate reaccounts to Billy the reason she despises Christmas, which always never fails to send a shiver up my spine, no matter how creepy and unusual it may seem to some.

While to some, “Gremlins” may seem dated and corny by modern standards (including a few shots where the puppeteer controlling the mogwais can be clearly visible upon several rewatches), but I can openly say that despite those shortcomings, I prefer this movie to all of its contemporary successors. It’s a classic movie which simply can’t be replicated.

“Gremlins” receives a total of three and a half out of five stars from this reviewer, as it’s a fantastically thrilling movie which I’d recommend viewing if you’re not in the mood for traditional Christmas flicks. And for once, the sequel movie, “Gremlins: The New Batch” is worth a watch! Merry Christmas to all!