Netflix Notes

Stranger Things

StrangerThings

I’m not usually one for bandwagon jumping, but in this case, I am all for it.

You and your mother (yes, even your mother–mine loved it) need to start checking out Netflix’s latest original series, Stranger Things. Because guess what? Everyone telling you to watch it is right.

It’s part Stand by Me, part Alien (actually I’ve never seen Alien so don’t quote me on that), and part ET. Just your every day group of young best friends who stumble upon a government-run experiment and face a fantastical monster in the meantime. Sure, it sounds “out there,” and while it is, it’s also a wonderful homage to the 80s and the nerds who made it through the decade barely unscathed, and it also tells the story of some good ole, true at heart characters we don’t tend to see on regular television anymore.

Stranger Things focuses on four young best friends in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. Their science-obsessed, fantasy-playing after school hobbies suddenly take on real life importance when one of their own goes missing. While the adults around them, including a well meaning sheriff, focus on your standard CSI means of operating, these kids sense there’s something more to the story–you know, like telekinesis, alternate dimensions, and government conspiracies. I mean, stranger things have happened. (See what I did there? …If you never read this blog again, I’ll understand.)

However, one adult in town does think like the kids: the missing friend’s mother, played by my fave lady of the 90s, Miss Winona Ryder. (WELCOME BACK, WINONA. WE’VE MISSED YOU.) As the police go knocking on doors and walking through the woods in search of the missing boy, his mom senses her son is much closer than anyone else thinks is possible. He might be right in front of them; they just can’t see him. And here’s where the show gets not good but great: this adult starts thinking like a kid, willing herself to believe in the fantastical to find her son.

In addition to my 90s queen Winona, Stranger Things is made even better by a slew of great supporting characters who are each rightfully given an opportunity to steal the show. David Harbour plays Jim Hopper, a cop who doesn’t inspire much hope at first but may surprisingly have more heart in the case than anyone else. Then there are those who seem as if they’ve been handpicked from a John Hughes film: from Barb, the 80s girl personified, to Steve Harrington, the Jake Ryan of Netflix, these characters help capture that nostalgia for a time of over-fluffed hair and ill-fitting jeans.

I mean, my head is practically exploding with how much genuine awesomeness they’ve managed to cram into this show.

And the best part? Episodes are only 50 minutes long. And there are only 8 of them. Which means you can watch the whole series in, like, three days and not feel bad about it. (Come on, it’s like two two-hour movies, with a shorter one thrown in. It’s binge-watching, but guilt free!)

So grab your favorite bean bag chair and hit pause on that Toto song. Stranger Things is waiting for you to join the bandwagon.

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Peaky Blinders

TEVEVISION - BBC DRAMA PEAKY BLINDERS

Come at me, bro.

Well, hello, blog. It’s been exactly a year and one day-ONE DAY-since I last posted on you. At this rate, I’ll be posting about once year. That’s a pretty good track record, amirite?

Okay, so it’s actually a bit of a terrible track record. You know what else is terrible? How behind I seem to be on dark, British dramas…Penny Dreadful (luckily, cancelled, so I can take that off my must-watch list), Outlander (jk I watch this one religiously and then again), and Peaky Blinders.

Now I had two people-TWO PEOPLE (loving these all caps asides, aren’t you?)-tell me how much I would looooooove this show. So I was STOKED to check it out. Early 20th century England? Check. Gangsters? Check. Awesome soundtrack? Check. I quite believed I would love it as well. But sadly, well, I just can’t get into it!

And by “get into it,” I mean I slept through, hm, let’s guess 20 minutes of one episode?, refreshed Twitter a good ten times during another, and have spent most of my time overall cringing at Sam Neil’s Irish brogue.

Actually, perhaps my main issue with this show is Sam Neil and that brogue. Neil plays a copper looking to bring down the Shelby family gang AKA the Peaky Blinders (THE PAKEY BLYNDAS–I prefer to yell it, just like that). And Neil is just.so.darn. annoyinggggg. (Yes, I’m whining.)

And then there’s this barmaid, who’s, ah how do I say this…she’s zzzzzzzzzzzzz. (Although maybe I just have a thing against blondes, who knows? I never said I was above shallowness.)

However, Cillian Murphy plays the leader of the gang, Thomas Shelby, and he is excellent. A very interesting character who is a savvy businessman but behind closed doors is suffering from post traumatic stress from his time in WWI–which is something we don’t normally see play out on screen. WWII? Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? I feel like Hollywood loves to focus on these guys, but the poor men of WWI don’t get as much attention. So it’s neat that a show is actually taking the time to shed some light on that.

And then there’s Thomas’ aunt, good old Polly. Now HER I LOVE. Slightly masculine (she sports some fine ties) with more than a touch (actually, it’s more like a slap) of that tough mothering love, she’s my favorite. She’s the tie that binds this out-of-hand group of brothers together. And then there’s Thomas’ sassy sis Ada, who’s also mighty entertaining and reminds me of Lady Mary of Downton Abbey if she’d been born, well, not in an abbey.

So for the sake of these characters, I am WILLING MYSELF to ignore Sam Neil and the barmaid and carry on. (This post is so formal, isn’t it great?)

I’m about to start season two and I’m really hoping it grabs me because I’ve heard it is the bomb.com. (Yes, I’m still living in 1997.)

Hopefully my time put-in will be worth it! *insert praising hands emoji here*

CHEERS.

 

Once Upon a Time

I may be inconsistent when it comes to blog posts, but I am dedicated and invested when it comes to other pursuits of mine.

Like Netflix.

From Arrow to Revenge to bad 80s movies, Netflix always has something for me. (This may explain why I don’t get out much and have skin paler than a Tic Tac Freshmint.)

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten hooked on Once Upon a Time (OUAT). You’ve heard of it. It’s that ABC show with princesses and witches and magic spells. Sounds like your everyday show doomed to be cancelled after four episodes. And yet, the show has lasted three seasons and is about to embark upon its fourth.

Since its premiere, I’ve done little more than scoff at OUAT, assuming it would be full of nonsensical ridiculousness. Fairy tale characters transported to modern day Maine seemed a little far-fetched, even by my standards. But when I couldn’t stop avoiding articles about the addition of Frozen’s Elsa and Anna to the show, I had some serious FOMO and needed to investigate (FOMO=Fear of Missing Out, mom).

So  I decided to give the show a shot. The first episode moved along as I expected. There was some wonky CGI, a tad bit of overacting, and lots of sappy love business. But something in the pilot helped me stick around. The show’s main character, Emma Swann, is living her normal, magic-free life in present-day Boston when a young boy named Henry shows up at her door claiming to be the son she gave up for adoption over a decade ago.  He also has a theory that Emma is the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, and only Emma can save them from the Evil Queen’s curse.

Ridiculous, right? Absolutely. And Emma thinks so, too. Instead of just throwing the audience into this fairy tale insanity, the writers have given us our own voice and our own perspective in Emma, who is just as disbelieving and unimpressed as we are by this whole idea. And it is Emma that is the very important key to making this show work. When Emma scoffs and rolls her eyes, so do we. But all the show needs is this one hook. Once we’re aligned with Emma, the show is poised to move forward, and we’ve been suckered into the ride without realizing it.

But don’t worry, you won’t be mad about it. When Emma travels to Maine with Henry to deliver him back to his adoptive mother, things get interesting. His mother, Regina, is nothing short of lethal, and the town itself, aptly named “Storybrooke,” as if to invite derision, seems to exist in a hazy bubble of mundane regularity. Henry is convinced the town’s residents are all from a different world, called “The Enchanted Forest” (because why wouldn’t it be?), and that the queen cursed them to live trapped in time in modern day Maine, without any memory of their real identities. So the seven dwarfs don’t remember being dwarfs, Red Riding Hood doesn’t recall any encounters with any wolves, and Jiminy Cricket has no idea he’s a cricket. And where is Henry getting this theory? From his favorite book, “Once Upon a Time,” of course.

Due to Henry’s mentally unstable theories on life and the venomous personality of his adoptive mother, Emma can’t shake the feeling that she needs to stay in Storybrooke to watch out for the kid for a while. Which means we, too, get to invade this picturesque, boring as all get-out town. But with a stranger in town shaking things up, the people of Storybrooke find their lives getting turned upside down. Previously unnoticed things suddenly seem familiar, and stronger personalities start unexpectedly breaking through.

The only two people who seem keenly aware of these changes are Regina and the town pawnbroker, Mr. Gold. And as the flashbacks begin, we see exactly who these two were in “The Enchanted Forest”–the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin.

Now, Rumpelstiltskin–there’s a fairy tale creature you wouldn’t exactly count as memorable. He made people try guessing his name and for some reason he could turn straw into gold. But beyond that, I can’t say I have a strong recollection of his story. And that might be just what the writers of OUAT were hoping. Because they’ve taken this second fiddle fairy tale character and turned him into one of the darkest, most cunning, and most layered characters there has ever been on television.

Is that hyperbole? Maybe, considering the Walter Whites and Don Drapers of recent years, but only Rumpel is a character who exists in both the “modern world” and fairy tale world. Mr. Gold of Storybrooke, Maine, is a reserved sir with a steely demeanor that somehow still manages to inflict fear into those he meets. His Rumpelstiltskin past, however, is one filled with an ostentatious, flamboyant manner of speaking and an almost childlike joy felt in the pain of others. It is difficult to reconcile the two, and yet, you know they’re one in the same. He’s smarter than everyone else around him, and seems to understand the curse better than the Evil Queen herself. Because even though Regina was the Evil Queen, it would appear that Rumpelstiltskin really ran the show.

With these two characters–Emma and Rumpel–keeping me intrigued, I found myself more and more invested in the show. And with each new episode, I met a character whose flashbacks helped weave a complicated past that explains their present-day predicaments. Even the Evil Queen has more going on in that heart (or lack thereof) of hers than first meets the eye.

And sure, being a Disney fairy tale expert helps you appreciate everything just a little bit more, but the show in and of itself is a juicy web of past and present, truths and lies, hope and evil. The fact that it can take your favorite fairy tale stories and spin them on their heads is just an added bonus. Take, for example, the story of Peter Pan. Not one of my go-to Disney classics, but one admittedly loved by many. In OUAT’s world, Peter Pan isn’t a lost boy. He’s actually a boy very much aware of who he is and who he wants to be. Who is that? Oh, just a psychopath with a desire for world domination. It’s an unexpected twist, just one of many OUAT has hidden up its sleeve

So now, six weeks after I started watching this show on the God-given gift that is Netflix, I get it. Once Upon a Time may be ridiculous, but it’s the great, entertaining, shocking, all around most fun to watch kind of ridiculous. And if you, too, accept that your life will be better for having watched this show, then you, too, can know the wonders of the OUAT world, like how Prince Charming came to be called Charming, and why Hook should really be named People Magazine’s next Sexiest Man Alive. Stop pretending you’re not interested in this nonsense and get to watching. If you do, I assure you yours will be a happy ending.

I mean, hello. This is all you need to start watching, right? #hooktastic

Heathers: The 25th Anniversary

It has come to my attention that this year is the 25th anniversary of the film Heathers. Never seen Heathers? OH BOY. Get on Netflix now, my friend, and get watching. Oh, it’s on Instant. I’ve checked.

HeathersBack one day many moons ago, I caught the film Heathers as it began on the WB (remember when it was the WB? what does “The CW” even mean? anyone? anyone?). I had already entered a bit of a Winona Ryder phase, having seen Edward Scissorhands at least a half dozen times due to my obsession with respect for Johnny Depp at the time. I was 14 and he was, well, he was Captain Jack Sparrow. But I digress.

I remember watching Heathers and thinking, “Is this actually happening? Am I actually seeing what I’m seeing?”

Veronica, a less-than-enthusiastic member of her school’s most popular clique, suddenly finds herself committing accidental murders with the school’s resident sociopath. That killer of smile of his proves distracting though, and before she knows what she’s done, Veronica has become her own worst nightmare. But the craziest part of this film? How funny it is. I hadn’t seen a film before and I haven’t since that makes, well, death, I suppose, seem so funny. The only thing I can think of that comes close is This Is the End. But that didn’t have the smart wit of Winona Ryder or, more importantly, the flamboyant bombastic look of the 1980s. From the poufy red scrunchie Heather wears as her symbol of school dominance to the explosive ending, nothing in this movie is mellow or understated. Even as Veronica writes in her journal, she wears a monocle, showing in the most obscure of ways how different she is from her “best friends.”

Is this a style trend we can bring back?

Is this a style trend we can bring back?

Anyone who resented the popular kids in high school, or didn’t understand why they were popular in the first place, can relate in some way to Ryder’s character. Hopefully, you have more difficulty relating to J.D. the psychopath, played by a young Christian Slater, whose rye look quickly reminds one of Jack Nicholson at his schemiest of moments. (Schemiest, yes.)

Forget Mean Girls. This is the daring (and hysterical) high school film you need to see.

A Geek About Freaks and Geeks

In 1999 NBC premiered a show called Freaks and Geeks about the ugly but necessary journey of American life known as high school. I’m sad to say it’s taken me 15 years to discover it. Thanks to the blessing (or is it a curse?) of that Netflix ratings system, Netflix seemed to think I’d take a liking to the show “Based on my interest in…” I guess it was Heathers? I have no idea why Netflix thought I’d like this show. But man were they right. OH MY GOODNESS. I couldn’t stop watching this show for four weeks straight. Never has the greasy haired swagger of James Franco or the lovable goofiness of Jason Segel been more perfect. The show only lasted for a year (Nielsen ratings be damned) so I employed some self discipline for a change and limited the amount of shows I watched each day. If you’re looking for one Netflix binge that will actually make you enjoy life more, this is it. Follow the lives of Lindsay and Sam Weir as they navigate high school as freaks and geeks, respectively, and learn that being true to yourself is sometimes way more fun than learning to blend in.