Stranger Things season two: justice for Steve!

So Stranger Things, season one on Netflix a while back, arrived with some hype. But then, actually, more or less lived up to it; as it was entertaining, engaging and, pop culture wise, pretty savvy, as it tapped into our continuing obsession with the ’80s. And by tapped I mean it drank heavily from the well of that decade, from the obvious influence of The Goonies through to ET, Stand By Me and a host of others, the force of nostalgia was strong in this one.

But ’80s love aside, people also had a soft spot for the show because, by and large, it was simple, had a clear story and a bunch of interesting, relatable characters. It went: kid called Will (Noah Schnapp) gets lost in the ‘Upside Down’, aka hell or some such place, and his friends Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), along with his mum Joyce (Winona Rider) and police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) try to get him back, with the help of a rather gifted girl called Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

And that slightly thin plot was teased out to us gently and expertly, bit by bit. So it went that, for the majority of season one, none of the characters entirely knew what had become of Will – and by the time they figured out what the Upside Down was and how to get him back, we were already well into the final episodes. This meant there were a lot of loose story threads come the finish, but we forgave them because the show was cool and fun and season two was under way.

So with this second season the story picks up about a year on. Will is trying to live a normal life with his friends – and Eleven, last seen in the Upside Down, has gone awol.

And if almost dying in the Upside Down wasn’t bad enough, the other kids at school – thinking Will back from the dead – start calling him ‘zombie boy’; around the time he becomes troubled by visions of a shadow monster. Poor Will, there’s literally no rest for him.

And without giving too much away it’s fair to say the threat from the Upside Down grows, to the point where most characters are drawn back into the fight once again. Although this time round they’re more clued up and, in a nice wrinkle, have help rather than hindrance from the government scientists that were a thorn in their side first time round.

Moreover, as is the way with a popular show, a second season means bigger budgets, more effects and more characters. So with Eleven out of the picture (in a sense) we get a new arrival to town in the form of redhead gamer girl Max, who immediately becomes the focus for Lucas and Dustin, who just want to impress her. Mike, though, isn’t having any of it, as he stills pines for Eleven and believes she’s still alive somewhere out there.

Another addition this season is Max’s brother, who has moody rebel written all over him. He’s got mullet hair and looks like the lovechild of Rob Lowe and Bon Jovi. He smokes angrily, lifts weights whilst angrily listening to heavy metal. He drives angry (shout out Nic Cage) and, in short, he’s just angry. We find out why, but by that point it was obvious and I just didn’t care. He adds nothing to the season’s overall story and seems to get far too much screen time considering the lack of development of his character either in terms of getting a comeuppance or some sort of redemption.
Max, also, adds little to the story and feels like a stand-in for Eleven, which is not the actor’s fault, she’s just not given much focus or character. This season goes much like season one, in that it feels like the show’s creators are just setting stuff up for the next season, which is actually quite frustrating.

Eleven is an example, in that she’s on her own journey for most of the season, away from the main group. This could have worked for a show with twenty episodes, but in the tight ten that’s come to define modern TV, it feels like an unwelcome detour. We want her back with the gang being the bad ass, deeply complex, troubled, gifted girl that she is.

 

Other characters from the first season also suffer from a lack of love. Steve (Joe Keery), the ex-boyfriend of Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) springs to mind. There’s memes going round of how Steve ends up in an exasperated babysitting role for a large portion of the season, forced to look after the younger characters as they go gallivanting off after monsters. This is true, but it’s the most interesting thing about him. He goes from borderline bad guy in season one to selfless hero, protector and mentor (of the younger kids like Dustin) in season two. Basically, what I’m saying is, I wanted more Steve. (As well as more Eleven.)

As an overall show though, it was a decent enough second season and the above points are minor gripes. Perhaps it’s just testament to the fact that I care about the characters that this season’s disjointed feel bothered me so much.

Still, season three is on the way I’m sure and I’ve got to hope it’ll push some characters on further. Maybe I’ll even get to see some sort of justice for Steve.

Nerds never say die

I recently read a book called Ready Player One that’ll soon be a movie.
Which got me thinking how growing up nerd was absurd.
So yeah, go ahead, shoot me.
Cos I get it.
Everyone’s obsessed with the 80s.
Which I confess, is so crazy.
As when we look back, we just remember the gravy.
Nostalgia goggles set to rose-tinted and hazy.
But it is what it is.
So let’s begin.
Now I could lie and say this begins in a violent and bloody way with our hero of the silver screen, Lucky Day.
Stealing scenes in Little Neddy Goes to War.
As telling you this, My Little Buttercup, would help settle a score.
But it’s not really true.
So I should start with when you and I got robbed.
By that bastard El Guapo.
Cos he wanted us to die like dogs.
But I confused him with moves more sly like fox.
And could define the word plethora.
(But I’ll keep that under my fedora.)
Next thing, I’d been smacked on my Dusty Bottoms.
And sent Back to the Future for being a loser.
Left in a flux, with no capacitor to be a true challenger to the powers that be.
Seduced by Delirium.
Fearing the Sandman had devoured my dreams.
Leaving behind his punk rock sister.
Till it was all I could do not to cower and scream.
But, somehow, she took pity.
And I found a reprieve.
So yeah, my life, until recently, has not been much fun.
I mean, everyone’s so serious.
Forever telling me that there can be only one.
But am I really deserving?
Lately, I’ve been fearing the Kurgen and when he’s returning.
As he’s the most devious type of vicious baddie.
Incidentally, shout out the mighty Mr Miyagi.
The way he taught me to treat my enemies was a gift and so savvy and kind of uncanny.
I remember how he and I would have a laugh in that amusement park.
Scaring the crap out of Scooby and Shaggy.
But to step back for a sec.
For most of my youth, I’d keep my mask in place.
Praying for an intervention at detention.
Because, in principle, I was a basket case.
But also a brain, an athlete, and a criminal.
So my teens were pivotal and perhaps my pinnacle.
Cos it meant so much to be part of that club.
A group where I could express and be free.
Which leads me to say, please… Don’t You (forget about me).
But remember when Jake and I ate cake when I was sweet sixteen.
Or when science helped me create a woman from my wildest dreams.
Or that time I gave jewellery to Hoggle cos he liked its gleam.
Forgotten that?
You know… it’s when we hung with Ludo and got our rocks off.
Before playing ‘let the wookie win’ got me stranded on that Starship Destroyer.
Oddly, dressed as Inigo Montoya.
Which resulted in a fight with the man in black.
Telling him, with conviction, that I’ll be back.
Cos his boss, the Emporer, had killed my father and should prepare to die.
Which didn’t have the effect I had come to expect.
Cos I’m a T-800.
I don’t have the flair to lie.
Even though I’m the scary type.
But bad things do happen when I embrace my machismo.
Think food after midnight, a glass of water, and a face-off with Gizmo.
But as you’d expect.
The point came when I started getting too old for this shit.
I’m a family man.
Fair cop, I’m good at my job.
But I can’t be bolder than Riggs.
He’s a mad man, with dark undertones.
I should have known something was up when he invited me to his vast thunderdome.
But anyway.
Maybe I’m better off freezing enemies in carbonite.
But if their force is strong.
There’s only really a half chance they’ll die.
Simpler to knock ’em out and toss ’em to the sarlacc.
See how far they fly.
Yet the obvious solution for a nerf herder like me, always seems to be the last to try.
So I tend to end up surrounded by bad guys.
Which gets me all pent up.
Makes me want to rip off my shirt.
Phone box style, like Clarke Kent does.
But yeah, there’s bad guys.
And then there’s me, a joker with my rifle and my gun.
Ready for fighting and ready for fun.
Cos I’m a ticking time bomb type of package.
Shouting Good Morning Vietnam to motivate the troops.
Trying to minimise their damage.
Cos I can’t help it.
I’m a funny guy, and a devil of habit.
Ready to travel to battle, all g’eed up in my Full Metal Jacket.
Hoping I can save Toon Town from these clowns and clear the name of Roger Rabbit.
But missions go wrong.
So I often spend time lying low.
Playing cards with my buddy Lion-O.
But he’s too good.
So I cheat harder.
Which doesn’t cut it with Cheetara.
Cos she’s smarter.
So I tell her it’s cool.
That we’re having a laugh.
And this behaviour is in no way damaging Snarf.
But any good will she has, at this point, vanishes fast.
Cos he’s so impressionable.
And we do lead him astray in a silly way.
Which makes me want to trade places.
Like Winthorpe and Billy Ray.
Then take a flight back in time as the navigator.
Till I end up clashing Nazis in a fight cos I’m the raider.
But as I was named after the dog, I won’t excuse my behaviour.
Even though, in archaeological circles, my methods have kinda fallen out of favour.
So I’ll just say this.
Remember that, there, up there, it’s their time.
Down here, it’s our time.
It’s our time, down here.
So with life it’s best just to plunge in, have adventures and say fuck it.
Cos it’ll all be over the second we choose to ride up Troy’s bucket.

30 best films from the ’80s

I heard somewhere once that our obsession with the 1980s has gone on longer than the decade itself. And with Back to the Future being in the news for reaching the ‘future’ date not too long ago (and, alarmingly, accurately predicting loads of inventions and tech we now take for granted), I thought it a good time to revisit 30 (don’t ask why I picked this number) of my favourite films from that decade.

Aliens (1986)
Written and directed by James Cameron (and building on the foundations laid by Ridley Scott in the first film) he took the franchise to chilling and thrilling new places.
Batman (1989)
Michael Keaton as Batman, Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Tim Burton directing. At the time, a bit of a risk. But one that paid off handsomely, critically and commercially.
Back to the Future (1985)
Famously, Robert Zemeckis, shot a lot of this film with Eric Stoltz as the lead. Only to feel he wasn’t right. So he recast Michael J. Fox and the rest is history. Or future.
Beetlejuice (1988)
Michael Keaton again. Wild, unhinged and brilliant, chasing Geena Davis and Alec Balwin around the place. Held together by the magic of Tim Burton.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Whilst Eddie Murphy made his screen debut a couple of years earlier, this is the film that made him and introduced his character of Axel Foley to the world.
Big (1988)
The whimsical nature and freedom of youth. In case you ever forget, Tom Hanks helps you to remember, dancing on a giant piano in this sweet-natured movie.
Die Hard (1988)
The great thing about the first film in this franchise is that John McClane, as a cop, was an average guy in the wrong place, not an action hero. That, and Alan Rickman.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
The original American PieFast Times introduced us to Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and also Phoebe Cates catching Judge Reinhold masturbating.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick set a benchmark when it came to Vietnam war movies with this entry, the story following Private ‘Joker’ as he witnesses a fellow recruit lose his mind.
Good morning, Vietnam (1987)
Blending comedy and poignant drama, Robin Williams made this film what it was, and rightly received critically acclaim for his affecting and committed performance.
Goonies (1985)
Sean Astin as Mikey (same as my name, a connection!), a story by Spielberg and a race to find treasure, this was the ultimate adventure film for kids. Endlessly watchable.
Gremlins (1984)
With a screenplay by Chris Columbus (now a talented director), an executive producer in Spielberg and Joe Dante at the helm, this was a monstrously delightful treat.
Ghostbusters (1984)
This film went on to be, commercially, the most successful comedy of the ’80s. And rightly so, it’s a classic. It also has Bill Murray at his odd and quirky best.
Highlander (1986)
With a Scot playing an Egyptian, a French actor playing a Scot and a soundtrack by Queen, there’s no way this should have worked. But it did. Instant cult classic.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Widely seen as the most violent Indy film in the trilogy and received mixed reviews on release; it’s since been seen in more positive light over the years. Good thing, too.
Labyrinth (1986)
You remind me of the babe.’ David Bowie in leather trousers singing his heart out. Honestly, do you need to know more? Odd, disturbing, yet kind of perfect.
Platoon (1986)
Oliver Stone at the top of his game directed this Vietnam film, winning an Academy Award for Best Picture in the process. A must-see for your Vietnam catalogue.
Raging Bull (1980)
Paul Schrader scripted this Martin Scorsese film with De Niro ‘going method‘ as boxer Jake LaMotta. De Niro won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Nominated for nine Academy Awards at the time (it won five), Raiders is one of the highest grossing films of all time and just a thrilling adventure from start to finish.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Undisputed heavyweight champ of the coming-of-age teen movie in the ’80s, without a doubt, was director John Hughes. This remains one of his sweetest stories.
Scarface (1983)
Written by Oliver Stone with Brian de Palma at the helm, this film divided people at the time for its violent excesses, but has since been come to be regarded as a classic.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Surprising to some perhaps, but this second instalment in the Star Wars saga wasn’t well received initially and has built over time. Now one of the best films of all time.
The Three Amigos (1986)
Loosely based, amazingly, on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, Seven Samurai, this film didn’t make much commercially, or get great reviews. But I don’t care, it’s still great.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Following in the footsteps of Rocky, this film probably seemed light on the surface, but go watch it back again and again to see new things. It’s deeper than you think.
The Money Pit (1986)
In a remake of a 1948 Cary Grant film, Tom Hanks here proved his comedy chops in this silly, yet sweet flick which sees him crack up as his house slowly falls apart.
The Untouchables (1987)
Written by David Mamet with Brian de Palma directing and Ennio Morricone scoring, this film saw Sean Connery bag an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The Princess Bride (1987)
‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.’ Shun this film at your peril, it’s so sweet, ridiculously silly and wonderful. With one of the best sword fights you’ll see in cinema.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Quite simply, John Hughes’ best film. The most well-observed coming-of-age teen movie you’ll ever see, and one of the best of the decade. Don’t you forget about it.
The Terminator (1984)
The film that launched director James Cameron’s career and cemented Schwarzenegger’s as an acting force to be reckoned with. It hasn’t aged either.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Directed by ’80s legend John Landis, this unholy mess of a movie is kind of part of its charm. I mean, imagine a John Belushi under control, why would you want that?

Whatever happened to ladies of the ’80s?

Hey Hollywood, what gives? I suppose young regularly replaces old, but some of the women from movies I loved growing up during this decade must still be acting. They can’t have all retired, right? Ladies like Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Kelly Lebrock (Weird Science), Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club), Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid) and Geena Davis (Beetlejuice).

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Phoebe Cates
She made her film debut in 1981 and a year later landed a role in a Cameron Crowe movie, Fast Times At Ridgemont High – probably the high point of her career. She also had a modest part in both Gremlins movies. After that, very little, and she retired in 1994 to raise a family. Such a shame, from an acting point of view of course.

fast-times

Jennifer Jason Leigh
Another Fast Times alumni whose career was more substantial than her colleague. Following a strong performance in Fast Times in 1990 she received high praise for two films; Last Exit to Brooklyn and Miami Blues, although she got a slightly backhanded compliment at the time being called ‘the Meryl Streep of bimbos’. Five years later she put in another great performance in Georgia. Since then she’s worked steadily but in recent years focused more on the theatre.

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Kelly Lebrock
Born in New York but raised in England, Lebrock was always more of a model than an actress. Beyond Weird Science in 1985 she never really added much else to her filmography. And no, starring opposite your then-husband Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill in 1990 does not count. In recent years she’s moved away from acting to devote her time to the terminally ill.

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Molly Ringwald
Kicking her career off in expert fashion Ringwald appeared in no less than three John Hughes films in three consecutive years (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles), making her the go-to chick for teen angst in the ’80s. Allegedly she turned down the lead roles for both Pretty Woman and Ghost, after that her career never really reached the same heights.

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Elisabeth Shue
Shue made her debut with The Karate Kid in 1984 and has enjoyed a fairly robust and consistent career since then. She has starred in films like Leaving Las Vegas (1995) with Nic Cage – for which she received an Oscar nomination – and she’s worked with a host of credible actors throughout her career… but, sadly, she never really reclaimed the position she held in the mid ’90s following her Oscar nod.

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Geena Davis
Employing an ‘it’s better to fade away than burn out’ approach, Davis has had some meaty roles in her career which have garnered strong praise. In particular Beetlejuice in 1988, The Accidental Tourist in 1989 (a performance which won her a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) and Thelma & Louise in 1991 (for which she received an Academy Best Actress nomination). She also gained critical acclaim for A League of Their Own (1992) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Since then she’s moved more into TV work.

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