EXPeriencing ‘Stranger Things’

Cover image via.

I didn’t mean to be late to the Stranger Things party, but that’s just how things happened.

Terry and I were binge-watching Wayward Pines on Hulu when Stranger Things was released on Netflix. The first thing I noticed is both shows are tied to the Duffer Brothers. Terry and I were really enjoying Wayward Pines, so when we finished Season 2, we knew we’d move on to Stranger Things.

About that…

In Episode 2 of Season 2 of Wayward Pines, we just… weren’t really feeling it anymore. The plot took a turn, a character committed suicide, and we were just pretty sad and dissatisfied with the direction of Season 2. So, we stopped watching TV shows on streaming services for a solid month.

Not for lack of trying on my part.

I’d seen talk of Stranger Things on Twitter, and none of it was bad. Every single tweet about Stranger Things I saw was that it was amazing. I learned that the show opens with the four main boys playing D&D. “D&D, Terry! How could you not want to watch this?” He just raised his eyebrows at me.

Last week, I sat in my garage with the car running listening to Ari Shapiro’s NPR interview with the Duffer Brothers. The moment they said their concept for the show wasn’t storyboards or test footage, but ’70s and ’80s films cut together, including scenes from E.T. cut together with the score of John Carpenter’s The Thing (one of Terry’s favorite movies), I knew we had. to. watch. this. show.

Finally, last Monday, we started watching. On Friday night, we finished. As soon as the credits rolled on the last episode, my first thought was, Why is this only eight episodes???

The reason it’s only eight episodes is because it didn’t need any more in the first season. It told a perfectly arced story in less than eight hours: There’s something fishy going on in a government facility, a boy goes missing, a girl shows up, and everything goes upside down. The best part about Stranger Things is the strange alliance between adults, teenagers, and kids that works better than I’ve ever seen it work before, even better than Harry Potter. Set everything in 1983 in a small Indiana town with a synth-y soundtrack and Star Wars references, and you have me hooked.

Stranger Things is on Netflix and you should watch it right now.

Just keep the lights on.

And try not to have your heart stolen by Gaten Matarazzo.

Stranger-Things-Gaten

Because he is the absolute cutest. Via.

Re-EXPeriencing My Love of [All] Movies

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Two weeks ago the Republican National Convention ended, and I needed a distraction from reality. After looking through my collection of movies I’ve seen a million times, I turned on Netflix to find something else. Criminal Minds didn’t seem appealing; neither did Fixer Upper. So I turned to the movie section and found that two of this year’s Oscar-winners had been added: The Big Short and Spotlight. Thursday night I watched The Big Short and Saturday afternoon I watched Spotlight. Neither ended up being very distracting from reality. Spoiler alert: they’re both based on true stories and kind of depressing. But they were both excellent and very deserving of their golden statues.

That’s not what I’m writing about today, though.

I enjoyed watching both movies because they were good. But what I enjoyed more was that they reconnected me with my love for movies—all movies.

Once upon a time, I went to the movies almost every weekend. If there was a new movie coming out that I wanted to see, I saw it. That was when the only thing I needed to spend my money on was fun things because I was a teenager and had no bills. Nowadays, I have to choose my movies more judiciously. And because I almost always go to the movies with my husband Terry, we go to something we both want to see bad enough to spend the money on. That means we almost exclusively see superhero/sci-fi/action/adventure movies.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, X-Men, you name it. I will gladly go see a movie with 100-foot-tall monsters destroying cities. But just as I don’t want to exclusively read books about wizards and dragons, I don’t exclusively want to watch movies with those things, either.

Watching The Big Short and Spotlight last weekend reminded me of two things: I can watch whatever movies I’m interested in, and I can do it by myself.

I have gone to the movies alone before. I saw Mad Max: Fury Road by myself just last year because Terry didn’t want to go with me. But that translates to home, too. I can turn on a movie I haven’t seen when Terry goes to bed and enjoy some me-time and excellent visual storytelling. I can get a Redbox DVD and see something new that isn’t on Netflix whenever I want. And it doesn’t have to be something that Terry wants to watch with me. We don’t like all the same books, music, or food. Why should like all the same movies?

In case you need the reminder like I did, remember to take time for yourself, especially in this contentious election season. Watch a new movie you’ve been wanting to see, just for fun, and just because you want to. It’s a worthwhile two hours.

EXPeriencing ‘The Flash’: Season One

Cover photo via MoviePilot.

I typically think of myself as a Marvel Universe fan. I immersed myself in Marvel in the early 2000s when I saw X-Men and Spider-Man in theaters. They were fun, had intriguing characters, and everyone was full of powers that I craved as a teenager. (To the point that I was writing X-Men fanfic before bed…) While I do love Christopher Nolan’s Batman, I’ve never really cared for Superman and my knowledge of the rest of the DC Universe is zilch.

I was looking for a new show to binge on Netflix late in December, mostly because I knew Terry was sick of being drawn into Worst Cooks in America. After scrolling through every TV show available on Netflix, and having heard good things about The Flash, that’s what we turned on. The pilot was very good. It was entertaining, and I liked Barry, Cisco, Caitlin, Iris, and Joe’s characters. All were interesting and layered and well-acted. Despite Terry telling me decades’ worth of backstory about Barry Allen and all the various Flashes, Reverse-Flashes, and the Justice League, I know so little about DC and The Flash I was able to watch the show with an open mind and let this be my first interaction with a new superhero.

I enjoyed the show at first. But man, it grew on me fast. To the point where it may be one of the best shows I’ve seen in the past couple years, right up there with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. (I like superhero shows, okay?) I think the reason it grew on me so quickly is because the pacing was spot on. It starts with the particle reactor explosion that causes a freak storm turning Barry into “the Streak” (thankfully that name doesn’t stick), and turns many other people in Central City–mostly criminals, of course–into “metahumans.” But the first season isn’t just about Barry growing as The Flash and catching metahumans. It swiftly evolves into that and his renewed quest to discover who killed is mom 11 years ago and set his dad free from prison. Now that Barry is a “speedster” (the dumbest name for an ability ever, sorry), he’s noticed some similarities between his abilities and those of the mysterious Man in Yellow who killed Nora Allen.

These two plots–catching criminals and investigating Barry’s mom’s murder–tie together nicely as you get more and more hints into who dun’ it. The viewers know much sooner than Barry himself does. Along with the pacing, this definitely helped keep me intrigued. When is Barry going to figure it out?  When is he going to go back in time to try and stop it? Oh yeah, did I mention there’s time travel? There’s time travel. And it’s a good kind of time travel–the kind where one changed decision creates a new future, the kind that changes everything…

For instance, the finale. I won’t get into the finale, but ho. ly. shit. That was Walking Dead levels of emotions I felt at the end of The Flash. Time travel is no joke, my friends, and when a dead parent is involved, well, let’s just say it gets you right in the heart.

The one downside to The Flash and it being my first foray into DC TV shows is that I completely skipped Arrow. I’ve heard good things about Arrow, too, of course, but Terry was vehemently against watching the show. His point of reference for the Green Arrow is “a poncy, goateed Robin Hood who shoots arrows with punching bags on the end of them.” I don’t blame him, that does sound pretty lame. But, there is a lot of crossover with Arrow where references flew right over my head and I had very little knowledge of who this random new character was. Not to the point where I didn’t understand the plot, but I knew I would have appreciated what was going on far more if I knew what had happened on Arrow that week.

Possibly needless to say, and after that intense finale, Terry and I started watching Arrow this week to get caught up before watching Season Two of The Flash. I’m looking forward to learning more about the characters in Starling City, especially Resident Bad Ass Felicity Smoak. And when Barry Allen shows up on Arrow, as he inevitably will, I will be a happy camper.

EXPeriencing Netflix’s Daredevil

Image via Newsarama.

I have four words for you regarding Netflix’s Daredevil series: Go watch it. Now.

Seriously, it is so. good. My husband and I binge-watched the whole season (as you do with Netflix shows) a few weeks ago, and just wow. I am hooked.

First, let me share two quick disclaimers:

1.) I love the Marvel cinematic universe. I may be of the fangirl opinion that it can do no wrong, even if/when it can/does. We saw Age of Ultron last week, and while no, it wasn’t the greatest Marvel movie of all time, I did quite enjoy it. Was part of that simply because it was a Marvel cinematic universe film? Quite possibly. I also am a big fan of the spin-off TV shows–Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D–so it makes sense that I would love Daredevil. However…

2.) I had no intention of watching Daredevil. Honestly, I didn’t even realize it was premiering in April at all, and probably knew more about AKA Jessica Jones at that point than I did about Daredevil. I can’t tell you why exactly I wasn’t drawn to Daredevil, but that was one Marvel venture I was going to let slide by. I am so glad I didn’t.

Not long after the show premiered, my husband Terry decided to sit down and watch the first episode. He texted me after watching it and said, “You need to watch this with me. It’s amazing.” This doesn’t happen terribly often–that he’ll watch something and love it and know I’ll love it, too–but in this case, he knew. So he held off on the second episode until I got home so we could watch it together.

Ho. Ly. Crap. I was drawn in during the very first scene, and completely hooked by the third (the first fight scene).

The first season of Daredevil is Daredevil’s origin story, which is always important when [re]introducing a superhero to the greater media world beyond comic books. The first scene establishes how Daredevil could even become Daredevil at all through an emotional depiction of how young Matt Murdock gets blinded by chemicals in an accident in New York City*. As we see peeks of throughout the first episode, and learn more in depth throughout the season, while Matt is technically blind in that he cannot see as you and I can, he can “see” through other means such as echolocation. He can listen to people’s heartbeats and know if they’re lying or telling the truth, and he can perceive where things are around him by hearing the faint noises they make (especially useful in fights where guns or other weapons are involved).

This leads us to the first fight scene, which quite possibly is one of my favorite fight scenes in all of television. Several mob henchmen are attempting to load some young women into a cargo ship container when a man in all black with a black mask drawn down over his face shows up (spoiler: it’s Matt). The stunts, the parkour, and, yes, the violence, were just what the first episode needed to draw a viewer in and keep them watching. There were just enough punches, just enough flashy flips, and just enough dodged bullets that I never wanted to stop watching the fight. I even yelled out multiple times throughout the fight, which doesn’t happen often considering the amount of action movies I watch. Truly, brilliant choreography and staging made that fight scene a success–and it was just the first one! Now imagine an entire season of fight scenes of this caliber…

But I promise there’s more than just well-filmed fight scenes. If you’ve read a couple of my reviews, you may notice that I’m a fan of well-written, compelling, authentic characters. Daredevil is full of them. Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox) is a complex character–as all masked superheroes must be. He’s very Catholic, and the Catholic Guilt is strong with him. He’s also a fairly brilliant lawyer, as we learn he and his best friend Foggy Nelson (played by Elden Henson) are just opening up their own law practice. Matt and Foggy’s friendship doesn’t seem overly complex at first, but as the season progresses and Matt’s little masked vigilantism gets harder to hide, their relationship necessarily progresses, and the viewer can’t help but hurt and root for them simultaneously.

We also meet several more characters throughout the first episode and season who both aid–and try to kill–this man in the mask. There’s Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) who is Matt and Foggy’s first client-turned secretary, confidante, and friend; Brett Mahoney (Royce Johnson) who is Matt and Foggy’s friend on the police force, and one of few non-corrupt cops; Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), a reporter at a local paper who provides quite a bit of assistance to both Matt and Daredevil throughout the season; and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a nurse who does the same.

Then we have the villains–a multinational crime and racketeering operation headed by Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), also known as Kingpin in the comics, who is trying to rebuild NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen in his [warped] image. He is the ringleader of the Chinese, Japanese, and Russian mobs through their respective leaders: Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), Nobu (Peter Shinkoda), and the Ranskahov brothers Vladimir and Anatoly (Nikolai Nikolaeff and Gideon Emery).  Together with his right-hand man James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) and his accountant Leland Owlsley (Bob Gunton, aka the Warden in Shawshank Redemption), Fisk basically has the run of Hell’s Kitchen.

But Matt Murdock has something to say about that. He doesn’t like the crime that’s corrupting his city, to say the least, and he’s here to kick some ass, take some names, and stop the corruption. Throughout the first season, we meet all these characters and learn to love them, hate them, or love to hate them as needed.

I especially appreciate that they’re all very real characters–and I’m not just referring to the authenticity of how they’re written. These are Christopher-Nolan-Batman-esque heroes and villains, not Avengers-aliens-magic-and-mutants heroes and villains. These are people we can relate to, who don’t have to be raised up on pedestals as gods and super soldiers. As much as I love Thor, he’s a demigod alien. Daredevil is a blind guy who is fighting for his city–not the universe–and can take a pretty wicked punch or two before he prevails (or doesn’t, as is the case).

If you’re looking for a new show to binge-watch, or even if you’re getting kind of sick of over-the-top superheros and want something more grounded to watch, I cannot recommend Daredevil enough. I talked a lot about the first episode (really, two scenes in the first episode and the characters who join the fray. I didn’t even get to Matt’s and Fisk’s childhood flashbacks), but there’s a lot of drama, a lot of fighting, and a lot of character- and relationship-building that happen throughout the first 13 episodes that make Daredevil a unique, compelling, and excellent show. Binge-watch it over a few days like I did, and try not to get hooked.

I dare ya.


*This is the same accident that created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Don’t believe me? Check this out: “The Fascinating Origin Story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”