Stranger Things 2: The Second Season

Stranger things 2 poster

Stranger Things was an unexpected hit when it premiered last year on Netflix, not just with genre fans but the wider public. Everyone loved the series’ homage to ’80s sci-fi and horror films  and vintage Stephen King books. Given all that praise (and Emmy nominations), it’s not a surprise that a second season is now here.

Stranger Things 2 picks up about a year after the previous season in Hawkins, a small Indiana town that could easily double for a Spielberg setting. The preteen boys Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) try to carry on with their lives even though in the past season they had incredible, out-of-this dimensional experiences. Many of the characters like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the psionic girl raised in an evil government agency, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) return and they all have separate story arcs as the start of Stranger Things 2 deals with the aftermath of the previous season.

In a nod to Gremlins, Dustin discovers a creature that he keeps as a pet, which turns out to be related to the otherworldly demogorgon creature they faced. Meanwhile, Mike is preening for Eleven, who is supposedly dead, but in reality, the psionic girl who is kept hidden from the outside world by Hawkins’ sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour). But Eleven is starting to rebel since she wants to reunite with Mike and learn about her past. This desire brings about unexpected developments for both El and Jim.  As for Lucas, he falls for a new girl that the boys meet, Max Mayfield (Cadie Sink), and her arrival brings some friction to the gang. However the core of Stranger Things 2 lies with Will, who is suffering from being abducted by the demogorgon last season. Not just by being teased by bullies in school but by having nightmarish visions of a giant monster threatening our dimension that soon becomes real.This is odd to say for a TV series in its second season, but Stranger Things 2 feels more like a movie sequel. That is probably because of the second season’s structure. It starts off as a slow burn by taking its time to reintroduce characters and bringing in new faces and situations. The first few episodes are more of a mystery and we are not sure what is the main threat. However, by the fourth episode, Stranger Things 2’s tone shifts into full-on horror mode as genuine jump scares fill many scenes and the thrill factor is amped up as our dimension is threatened once more.Like the first season, Stranger Things 2 effectively captures the mood of those beloved ’80s genre films featuring believable kids that anyone can relate to. The homages this time subtly shifts to mid-80s classics like Ghostbusters (the boys even dress up like them for Halloween), Gremlins, The Goonies and even the nightmarish aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The boys and the other characters are for the most part three dimensional with their own quirks and faults. Even the government agents in the series (this time represented by Paul Reiser) are not cut from the usual bad guy stock. The characters have their own separate journeys and you can see how they are changed from what they experience.Although the second season is as good as the first, it must be pointed out that some of the characters don’t get as much attention as others. This should not deter anyone from watching the second season because it has so much to offer. Also, as mentioned before, the second season starts off at a slower pace. It lacks the immediate hook that the first few episodes had in the previous season. This may turn off some viewers expecting the same thing, but be patient, because Stranger Things 2 delivers the thrills and scares in a topnotch production.

 

Lewis T. Grove

Advertisements

Top 10 Stephen King Live-Action Adaptations That Should Be Remade

There have been countless live-action adaptations of Stephen King’s books and stories. Some are classics while others are best left forgotten.

Then there are the lesser or flawed adaptations that need to be remade. With some changes, these remakes could faithfully capture the true horror and thrills of Stephen King’s bibliography. The best example right now is It, which is the second live-action adaptation of the book and considered superior to the first adaptation. Now what other live-action adaptations of Stephen King’s works should be remade? Here are the candidates:

10. The Lawnmower Man Stephen King fans know all too well that the film adaptation did not have anything to do with King’s short story about a mysterious landscaper and his supernatural lawnmower, which would make an interesting film.

9. Dreamcatcher  – The Stephen King novel about old friends haunted by an alien entity was made into one of the most reviled Stephen King films. Still, the story and characters are interesting enough for another crack at a live-action adaptation.

8. The Langoliers The novella of the same name did not have enough material to warrant a mini-series as seen in the 1990s mini-series. This off-the-wall yarn about plane passengers dislodged from time would be better translated as a tightly edited film with a good F/X budget.

7. The Running Man The original film is best remembered for being a standard ‘80s Schwarzenegger action flick. A remake should better reflect the novel by casting an everyman type and ditching the original film’s revolution subplot as the hero tries to survive a deadly reality TV show in the future.

6. Cat’s Eye This anthology film from the 1980s doesn’t need a remake but deserves a sequel. The original adapted Stephen King’s short stories and worked them into a story surrounding a stray cat. A followup could simply adapt some more stories within the same framing device.

5. Cell Anyone caught the awful DOA adaptation that came out recently? Don’t bother. A properly executed film should be able to capture the disturbing essence of the post-apocalyptic horror tale about humanity turned into mindless killers due to a cell phone signal.

4. The Tommyknockers The mini-series was actually an underrated gem that could’ve used some sprucing up and a tighter pace. The story’s premise of aliens invading a small town is ripe for a terrific sci-fi/horror film featuring all of the novel’s thrilling and eerie elements.

 

3. Under the Dome The horrid TV series that ran for several summers was an injustice to the Stephen King book about a town cut off from the world. The story simply did not work as an ongoing series and deserves another shot as either a film or a mini-series.

Roland and Jake

2. The Dark Tower The film based on the epic Stephen King series of novels just came out and it already needs to be remade. The Dark Tower film left out so much from the epic novels that made them great. Thanks to its poor box office, plans for sequels are doubtful at this point. The best option going forward would be to forget about films and faithfully adapt the novels into several mini-series or an ongoing TV series on premium cable.

1. The Stand The mini-series based on the seminal Stephen King epic while competent, felt lacking. The Stand was hampered by TV network censors that worried that the post-apocalyptic story of plague survivors would be too much for audiences. Also, to be honest, The Stand meandered too much, which is a complaint about the unabridged version of the novel. A planned film trilogy was abandoned but talks continue for another adaptation. Whether as a new mini-series, films, or an ongoing TV show, The Stand must be remade and thanks to the success of It, this may happen.

Waldermann Rivera

KINO: Klingons In Name Only

klingon in name only

Whether fans love or hate or fall somewhere in between Star Trek: Discovery, one thing that nearly everyone agrees with is that the re-imagined Klingons are a bad misfire. In fact, many consider them to be the show’s biggest flaw. As the main villains in the latest Star Trek TV show, these Klingons bear little resemblance to the traditional mighty Klingons seen in previous Star Trek TV shows. They deviate so much that they can only be considered Klingons In Name Only (KINO) and this is a problem since they are the main adversaries in Star Trek: Discovery.

From Cold Warriors To Gruff Allies 

Klingons have had a long history with Star Trek going back to the first season of the original show. When they were first introduced, they were supposed to be a mix of Nazis and Soviets and their conflict with the peaceful Federation represented the Cold War going on at the time. Due to limited budgets, the makeup of the Klingons was simplistic: swarthy, greasy complexions with arched eyebrows and goatees. Needless to say, they could pass for humans.

kor and kirk

Later when Star Trek became a film series, increased budgets allowed for the aliens’ look to be enhanced. They were sported browed ridges on their foreheads and wore durable and elaborate body armor. They were bulky, formidable warriors that were more than a match for any human opponent. As the films progressed and new TV shows premiered, the Klingons were better developed until they became a rich alien culture with their own distinct language. This gruff, heavy handed tongue became so popular with fans that it is now the most spoken fictional language in the world today.

The alien race had evolved from simplistic Cold War stand-ins and became a complex civilization with a fascinating back story. They even became allies of the Federation, though the culture clashes remained. Of course, there was the continuity issue of how the classic Klingons looked more alien than the human-like ones from the original show. This was solved in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise where it was shown that the Klingon race contracted a virus that mutated them into having a more human appearance. It was outlandish, but it worked.

classic klingons

By this point, the Klingons were perfected. Yet, for some reason when it came time to reboot Star Trek the iconic Klingon look was changed. In their only full appearance to date, Star Trek Into Darkness, they didn’t have any hair and looked more alien. They still came off as savage, bloodthirsty warriors, but weren’t as hefty or burly as classic Klingons. The reaction to them was mixed, but everyone knew the reboots took place in an alternate reality, so the new look could be overlooked by some.

One of the most enticing details about Star Trek: Discovery was that the show would take place in the Prime Star Trek Timeline. This excited many fans who felt alienated by the action-oriented reboots. Then images and clips started appearing which discouraged fans. In addition to the advanced technology and contradictory plot details, the Klingons received yet another unwanted makeover.

Meet The KINOs

Everything about them looks different except for the browed ridges that now  are more prominent since they are hairless. Their skin tone is either purple, black or white with super flared nostrils. The KINOs wear ugly uniforms that looked more like bony dresses than armor and aren’t as formidable as real Klingons. What is worse is that brusque and clipped Klingon tongue sounds different, more unnatural. Maybe it is the makeup but now the Klingons sound like they have something in their mouths and it is difficult to listen to them. At no point in the episodes shown have we heard their famous battle cry “Qapla!”, meaning “Success!” Instead we get long, drawn out speeches that is hard on the ears and ponderous to read with all the subtitles.

It can be argued that these could be another unseen-til-now faction of Klingons or something along that line. But this is a needless revision. There wasn’t anything wrong with the classic Klingon look. Why did the showrunners feel the need to meddle with not only the look, but the complex culture of the beloved aliens? If the argument is to be different and update their look then why stop there? Why not update the Vulcans? As aliens go, they are not remarkable in this day; pointed ears and arched eyebrows. Not the most exciting look, but to try to change it would be blasphemy at this point.

klingon burial

What is probably worse for the KINOs is the way they are portrayed in Star Trek: Discovery. They do not seem very bright for vaunted military types. In the episode “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” the Klingons led by Voq are stranded near an abandoned Federation starship for six months. Voq boards the enemy starship to scavenge for parts, but if they were marooned for six months why didn’t he and the other Klingons scavenge the starship sooner? Then the way they perceive death is radically different than with classic Klingons. Both do the death cry when one of their own dies to warn the afterlife of a coming Klingon soul. However, once a Klingon is dead the corpse is casually discarded because the body is just a husk. These KINOs instead put their dead into elaborate sarcophagi and transfer them onto a special funeral ship. Huh?  Even their ships and weapons bear little resemblance to the iconic Klingon battle cruisers, birds-of-prey and bat’leths.

For a Star Trek show that is allegedly set in the Prime Timeline these Klingons are the best argument that this is not so. But debating about timelines and canon is pointless and would not be so heated if the Klingons were better realized. Frankly, whenever these KINOs appear onscreen the pace of the episodes comes to a screeching halt. There is an interesting subplot about uniting their separate clans to become a major power again. But that gets lost in the slow pace of their poorly written scenes. They simply are not as intimidating as classic Klingons. One attempt to make them frightening is to have them eat dead humans, which comes off as sickening.

Star-Trek-Discovery-Klingon-Kol

Even more distressing is that the showrunners are blind to the negative reception to their version of Klingons and are intent on doubling down on them throughout the season. Maybe this is not the final word on the Klingons, we can only hope that something is done about these KINOs. Until then the best we can do is either re-watch previous Star Trek shows to get our classic Klingons or fastforward Star Trek: Discovery whenever they appear or at the very least stuff cotton into our ears when they open their mouths to talk.

José Soto

 

 

This Beautifully Crafted Blade Runner 2049 Does Not Replicate The Original Classic

blade runner 2049 poster

Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to the Ridley Scott sci-fi neo noir classic film that came out 35 years ago. It takes place in the same dystopian Los Angeles introduced in the original film, which took place just two years from now, yet seems uncomfortably accurate today. Now thirty years later the world is even more ruined but further technologically advanced. Humanity is still utilizing  race of artificial humans called replicants as slave labor. Whenever a replicant escapes or rebels, special police officers called blade runners are dispatched to kill them.

In Blade Runner 2049, replicants no longer have limited life spans and are more integrated into society. However, they are still second-class citizens who are derided by humans. The main protagonist in this film is K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant who is actually a blade runner that hunts down his own kind without remorse. Early in the film during an assignment he uncovers a baffling mystery. He discovers a long-dead body and this leads him on a mission to find out more about the deceased person because it has important connotations for replicants and society itself.

Denis Villeneuve directed this sequel and he is an inspired choice for the job because his visual style and storytelling techniques are very reminiscent of Ridley Scott. The landscapes are still breathtakingly chilling with the towering and crumbling skyscrapers, large intrusive holographic advertising and constant rain, which signal the climate change ravaging our planet. Only now snow and ash pelt the inhabitants of the futuristic Los Angeles. This does not mean that Blade Runner 2049 is a copy of the original. It tells its own original story without rehashing the beats of the first film, while further exploring the theme of what it means to be human. Gosling does his usual stoic act, which fits perfectly with his soulless character. But as he digs deeper into the mystery, he comes to question his own self and wonders if he has a soul. If so would that make him human despite how he is treated?

The sequel even takes time to examine the nature of sentience with K’s holographic home AI, Joi (Ana de Armas). At first glance, Joi just seems to be a household tool to K, sort of an advanced Siri or a Google Home but with holographic projectors. What was interesting about this set up is that a subservient non-human intelligence services a second-class citizen who isn’t considered human himself by society. How K and Joi treat each other in their tender,  growing relationship formed the heart of this film and featured in its best moments.

Another highlight is Harrison Ford himself, who reprises his role in the first film as Deckard, the blade runner who fell in love with a replicant. He is a welcome face and believe it or not helps lighten the mood in this dour film. Ford’s Deckard is a reminder of a world that has been lost and only now exists as a distant, treasured memory. Although Ford is a scene stealer, Gosling with his tortured character is the focus in this film.The most important question is about how Blade Runner 2049 compares to the original. Honestly, this is the kind of film that will be many things to many people. Already, some are hailing this as a masterpiece, while others are writing it off as dull. Bottom line, the original is the better film for several reasons. Starting with the story, the first Blade Runner had a tighter plot that was quite clear: Deckard had to find a group of renegade replicants. In this film, the mystery (and plot) are laid out but it seems more muddled and sometimes it is easy to lose track of what is going on. Later in the film, a new development occurs that is disjointed and clumsily inserted into the film. What is worse is that this development does not lead to anything and just reeks of an obvious plot thread for a sequel. This does not mean the film is dull as some are claiming. Just like the first Blade Runner, this is a slower, more contemplative film than what most of today’s audiences are used to, which is not a bad thing. Also, while it emulates the look and themes of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 fails to replicate (pardon the pun) that memorable future noir atmosphere that made the first film stand out. For a film that centers on a mystery it feels less like a detective story than the first Blade Runner. Another vital drawback is with the villain. Roy Batty so wonderfully played by Rutger Hauer was a much more realized and dimensional villain. He was motivated by a desire to be free and extend his short life span. That is something we can all identify with, which is why we mourned his fate at the end of the film. The villain in this sequel does not have a clear motivation and as a result comes off as one dimensional.Blade Runner 2049 is nonetheless a beautifully crafted film that honors the original while being able to stand on its own. Denis Villeneuve demonstrates again why he is one of the most lauded film directors today and this is a great entry in his filmography. The film’s cinematography is simply gorgeous even though it depicts a sadly decaying world. Every shot is expertly composed and should be seen at least once in the big screen. It goes without saying that the special effects are as grand and spectacular as the first film. But these technical aspects are just window dressing for the film’s central themes about humanity and how we treat each other. Those are the film’s true highlights and what will leave the greatest impression upon audiences.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

The Orville Captures The Traditional Spirit Of Star Trek

When The Orville was first announced, many quickly noticed that the Seth-MacFarlane’s dramedy had strong resemblances to the vaunted Star Trek. If it was not a comedy, it would have been labeled a rip-off and for good reason.

The TV show, which airs on Fox, is about the adventures of Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his crew onboard the Orville, an exploratory starship in the 25th century. Like a traditional Star Trek show, each episode to date is a standalone where the crew would visit a strange planet or deal with some science fiction plot. Sounds familiar?

orville crew

Despite the overtly comedic tone of the early trailers, The Orville is not a laugh-out-loud comedy like MacFarlane’s Family Guy. It is very funny at certain moments but it’s more serious than one would think. This is probably why the show received so many negative reviews since the reviewers were probably expecting a yuck-fest. But if one would actually watch the show and put aside any preconceptions then what will be discovered is that The Orville is actually quite fun.

It is clear that Seth MacFarlane is not trying to make fun of Star Trek. It may be surprising to some that he is actually a huge Trek fan. This is why The Orville does not come off as a spoof that makes fun of the source material; it’s surprisingly respectful.

Anyone who misses Star Trek will be pleased to know that the spirit of Star Trek is alive and well with this show. This is not a knock against Star Trek: Discovery, but while the latest Trek incarnation has the burden of trying to be different, The Orville does not have that problem. It is free to capture the essence of Trek and show us why we loved Star Trek in the first place.

Typical episodes have the crew encountering alien cultures and planets where various themes are explored. In one episode, the Orville discovers a giant generational ship where the inhabitants believed they were living in a world. It was up to Mercer and his away team to expose them to the truth (the bothersome Prime Directive is noticeably absent) despite the efforts of the ship’s rulers.

Another episode centered on the plight of the Orville’s second officer Bortus (Peter Macon). He is a gruff Klingon-like alien that is part of a single-gender species. All the members are male but in this episode he and his mate have a baby girl and want to have her sex changed. This decision clashes with the human culture of the Orville crew and leads to ethical questions. While the episode did have jokes, the subject matter was treated dramatically and with respect, and in the end it was thought provoking like a classic Star Trek episode.

What completes the overt resemblance to Star Trek, especially the ‘90s versions, is the look of the show. The costumes, sets, and props look like they could blend in easily with Star Trek in the post-Roddenberry era. The ship has replicators, holodecks and the crew is adorned with communicators and phaser guns that only look slightly different than those seen on Trek. Of course, Star Trek: Discovery has much better effects, but it is comforting to watch the more downscale special effects in The Orville. It feels less pretentious and just a means to tell a story.

orville ship

With all those pluses for Trek fans, The Orville does have its problems. A lot of the attempts at humor falls flat or feels forced. More often than not, the jokes will only bring smiles, but when they land the humor is quite funny. Also, the natural banter between the crew tries too hard at times to sell the notion that they are everyday Joes. Somehow these characters do not seem like a good fit in an actual starship. Helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and navigator John LeMarr (J. Lee) seem too laid back and casual to be believable starship officers. In trying to make them so relatable to viewers the show instead makes their behavior seem unnatural for their setting.

As for Mercer, MacFarlane lacks the gravitas to pull off a commanding presence. Instead Captain Mercer is more of an officer manager type, although he is quite likeable. Making him more sympathetic is his dilemma of his first officer being his ex-wife, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki). Do not be surprised if the show soon veers into will-they-or-won’t-they shenanigans.

For those who are unable to easily watch Star Trek: Discovery because it’s held behind a streaming wall, The Orville is a perfectly acceptable substitute. After watching it, it is easy to see that The Orville in many respects outdoes Star Trek: Discover in carrying on the tradition of Star Trek.

José Soto