Stranger Things: Season 1 (Netflix)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

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We looked at 1,000 kids. Most kids, you can turn off their auditions after five seconds, because there’s nothing authentic about it. -Matt Duffer, co-showrunner (w/ his twin brother, Ross)

There’s this idea of this Cold War, this looming threat, and everyone’s going about their business with their families and living their lives.  When we were kids, the reason we responded to this stuff so much is because we could relate to these characters, these families, the kids.  -Ross Duffer, co-showrunner

I wanted to see this show for a LONG time; I finally binge-watched ALL 8 episodes today (w/ my little brother).  I highly recommend it, even if you’re NOT a big fan of sci-fi!  It’s mainly a character drama, BUT w/ doses of suspense and danger.  The actors did a GREAT job, esp. the pre-teen boys (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin) who go out looking for their close friend, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), after he goes missing in the wood of their small Indiana town. (FYI: The show was shot on location in Jackson, Georgia.) 

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It was cool to see Winona Ryder (who plays distraught single mom, Joyce Byers) after a LONG time; she’s now 45 y.o. BUT still a petite dynamo of an actress.  The actor who played Joyce’s responsible, quiet, older son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) was a standout among the older (high school) kids. 

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I liked the character development of the town’s police chief, Jim Hopper (David Harbour); before I’d seen him in Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit playing shady/villainous guys. Veteran actor Matthew Modine has a pivotal role, too.  

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The Showrunners: Twins Ross & Matt Duffer (NYT)

…tribute to classic ’80s fantasy, sci-fi and horror, with nods to “Alien”; “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”; “A Nightmare on Elm Street”; and Stephen King’s 1986 novel, “It.”  -New York Times

If there is one word to describe this show, it’s be “authentic”- note the hairstyles (yikes), clothes (pastels, cords, etc.), bikes, and houses.  The kids/teens are dealing w/ real-life issues (bullies, confidence, dating, parties, parental/school rules), yet also deeply concerned re: the disappearance of one of their peers in such a peaceful, tight-knit community.  Try and check it out SOON, b/c there are spoilers everywhere out there re: this show!  I heard MANY positive things this Summer/Fall (on Twitter and several podcasts), BUT I wasn’t spoiled much.      

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A Monster Calls (in select theaters December 23, 2016)

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NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

I went to a free, pre-screening of this British/Spanish film this past WED at my local Regal theater.  The audience included some kids and teens, who attended w/ their parents.  However, this is NOT your typical “kid’s movie.”  The protagonist is a quiet, slight-framed, and thoughtful 12 y.o. boy named Conor (Lewis MacDougall in his first role).  He retreats into his imagination in order to deal w/ serious issues (bullying, divorce, and illness).  My friend/neighbor commented: “That was like a Landmark-type (as in indie) movie.”   

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The still-young director is a Spaniard (J.A. Bayona) who I’d never heard of before.  The animation sequences are VERY cool; they are narrated by The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson).  At moments, this film reminded me of E.T. and Pan’s Labyrinth; I’m sure those were two influences for Bayona.

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Conor’s mom is played by Felicity Jones, who is the lead in Rogue One.  Jones and MacDougall’s relationship is BOTH sweet and complicated (as we learn).  Sigourney Weaver plays the grandma, a real-estate agent w/ a NOT so warm/fuzzy personality.  See the trailer below.

 

 

Fences (2016) starring Denzel Washington & Viola Davis

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NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.  (You can read about the time I went to see this play on Broadway.)

Happy holidays all, and thanks SO much for reading!  No matter what we celebrate, MOST us can agree that Denzel Washington is a GREAT actor.   Last week, I went to a free pre-screening of August Wilson’s play-turned-film, Fences; it was directed by Denzel, who is also the lead- Troy Maxson.  FYI: I found out about this screening from the movie Meetup I’m a member of; a few of my friends/neighbors got passes from the Advanced Screenings DC web site.

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Everything that boy do, he do for you.  -Rose explains to Troy re: their son Cory (who has the potential to get into college based on his football skills)

There are 3 main aspects to this story: Troy’s bitterness/disappointment at his life as a garbage man and his (internal) demons; his relationship w/ wife of 18 yrs, Rose; his cold and recently-troubled relationship w/ 17 y.o. son, Cory.  This film was shot on location in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, lending to its authenticity.  

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The domestic drama is set in the mid-50s, when the world was changing for perhaps a FEW black individuals (such as Robinson), blacks (or “Negroes”) had to deal w/ the daily injustices of segregation, poverty, limited opportunities, and most of all-  racism.  There are more sets in the film than in the play; we get to see inside the humble Maxson home, as well as a few other places out characters inhabit (local bar, Rose’s church, the streets of Pittsburgh).

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We know Denzel and Viola Davis are phenomenal, but FENCES allows them to venture into places and show us shades that may not have been seen before. And I’m sure it feels liberating for all the actors involved in this film to just dig deep down, tap into those emotions and lay them bare for the world to see, and there’s no wrong way of doing it.  -Excerpt from an IMDB review

 It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for eighteen years!  -Troy

Well, I’ve been standing with you!  I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you!  -Rose

Denzel and Viola make a formidable couple- they have GREAT chemistry and are adept w/ the dialogue (which is a reflection of the culture and times).  ALL the original Broadway cast is back (Washington, David, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson), aside from Chris Chalk (who has aged out of the role of Cory).  In this film, Jovan Adepo plays Cory; he attended college in Prince Georges (PG) County, but is British-Nigerian.  I thought he was very natural as a teenager, relatable, and (obviously) capable enough to go toe-to-toe w/ Denzel! 

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Now don’t you go through life worrying about whether somebody like you or not!  You best be makin’ sure that they’re doin’ right by you!  You understand what I’m sayin’?  -Troy explains to his son, Cory

I highly recommend this film to ALL Denzel fans, as well as those who enjoy history, theater, and family stories!  Get ready to see Denzel as an unglamorous anti-hero (w/ dark aspects to his personality).  Viola is fabulous, too; she deserves a LOT of respect for her work here.  Check out the trailer below.