Friday, September 23, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven – The Western Is Back With a Vengeance

In many ways it has never left, but director Antoine Fuqua’s phenomenal remake of The Magnificent Seven reestablishes the Western as a cinematic force that demands attention. By teaming up with Denzel Washington (who won an Oscar under Fuqua’s direction in Training Day) as the leader of a group of misfit but highly able gunslingers, Fuqua captures our attention and doesn’t let us go for one moment.

The cold opening involves big bad rich guy Bartholomew Bogue (the always good at being bad Peter Sarsgaard) and his men descending on the town of Rose Creek, torching the church, killing townsfolk, and giving them an offer of $20 for their land our else. Bogue personally kills one of the men, and his widow Emma Cullen (a radiant Haley Bennett) will not go quietly away.

mag1-4When we first see Washington’s Chisholm, he is coming down from the high country like a dark angel descending from the mountaintop. While this scene is reminiscent of the great classic Shane, from here on Fuqua liberally borrows from such films as True Grit, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, and probably all of Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns (there are more than enough close-ups of gunslingers’ beady eyes to go around for everyone). None of this matters though, because Fuqua is paying loving homage to the genre and it is part of the film’s appeal and success.

Chisholm has a back story that we only get hints about, but as a man in black who is black, he defies the expectations of those he meets as a bounty hunter who is determined to get his man. When Emma approaches him and offers to pay him handsomely to help her get justice, Chisholm is at first reluctant, but when he hears Bogue’s name he suddenly has a change of heart, and for reasons that will only become apparent later he decides to assist Emma.

Chisholm begins rounding up a gang that can shoot straight and drink all night long. Recruiting card playing and hard drinking Josh Faraday (the fantastic Chris Pratt) after a bar altercation, the two of them go about rounding up the rest of the gang – mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent Donofrio), wanted man Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Chisholm’s former adversary during the Civil War Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife-throwing Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). While each of these fellows is more than rough around the edges, they are just the right mix to take on Bogue and his army of thugs.

Of course, the rest is spoiler territory, but Fuqua manages to make the tension rise continuously as we march inexorably to the final showdown. Basically following a good deal from the 1960 film starring Yul Brynner, that story came from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but writers Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk have added traits and quirks for the characters, and the dialogue is solid and sometimes downright beautiful. When Chisholm and Robicheaux try to sort out whatever went down between them in the war, Chisholm says it’s time to move on with these poetic words: “What we lost in the fire we found in the ashes.” Those kinds of memorable lines are threaded throughout the film.

mag1-2Simon Franglen and James Horner’s lush score lends itself well to the landscapes captured so distinctively and breathtakingly by Mauro Fiore’s cinematography, and Rose Creek becomes a living and breathing place filled with smoking chimneys, dirty streets, and townspeople who seem to be genuinely from a time about 15 years after the Civil War.

The glue that holds the film together is Washington, who for so long has been a powerful presence on screen, but here his stature as Chisholm looms over all, and even the rag-tag group he has assembled seem in awe of him and follow out of respect. As they work together and formulate a plan to take on Bogue’s much larger army of hired killers, it becomes clear that this is the first time any of these men has ever really bonded with others and trusted someone other than themselves.

The Western has a unique place in American cinema, having had its popularity peak in the 50s and 60s, but it still reflects something about our country that is appealing. Yes, it was a time of cruelty, violence, and suffering, but it was also one where the frontier seemed to stretch on forever, where people with dreams could keep going until they wanted to stop, and then build something of a life for themselves. Of course, there would always be bad guys like Bogue who would want to stomp on their dreams and steal them away.

mag1-1The Magnificent Seven is in some ways the sum of all the cinematic Westerns that came before it, but in another way it makes a case for a new era of films in the genre. With Washington in the saddle and the likes of Pratt, Hawke, and Donofrio at his side, you could not help but want some more helpings of this slice of American pie that still tastes mighty damn good.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

TV Review: Designated Survivor – What Would Jack Bauer Do?

There is a problem inherent for me in reviewing Designated Survivor, the new television series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, an everyday kind of guy who suddenly gets thrust way up the political food chain and becomes President of the United States. My problem is that I – admittedly and very unfairly – do not want Sutherland in this part, but rather wish that he were still playing Jack Bauer in 24.

This is not to say that this new show does not have a terrific premise – it does and then some – but instead of Sutherland playing the POTUS, I cannot escape the feeling that he should be the guy the new Commander in Chief is calling for help. Instead the guy Kirkman will be probably calling is a woman – the beautiful Maggie Q. – who plays an FBI agent with perhaps a little of that Jack Bauer edge about her, but it’s too soon to be sure yet. It is also good to see Kal Penn in the role of a speechwriter who will probably become an important member of Kirkman’s team.

That said, it is not a spoiler to reveal that Kirkman is just an ordinary dude who wears a hoodie (sly nod to Jack Bauer’s hoodie wearing days) and drinks beer while watching the current POTUS on TV while he’s talking to a joint session of Congress that includes all the other big and little wigs that could assume office if something happened to Numero Uno. In a matter of seconds something does annihilate them all as the Capitol Building is decimated, and Kirkman – the unlikely but nonetheless “designated survivor” – must assume the presidency.

jack-bauerThe basic goodness and decency that most fans of 24 knew was at the heart of Jack Bauer, despite the sometimes despicable and cruel things he had to do to save his country, is to be found in Sutherland's portrayal of Kirkman this time around. It is a credit to Sutherland that he can display a range of emotions with facial expressions that it takes most actors ten pages of dialogue to accomplish.

Like Bauer in the early episodes of 24, Kirkman is a family man who loves his wife, played by the lovely Natasha McElhone, and his job as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development makes him an insider even though there are hints that as his wife’s career has been evolving quickly and that he is not so keen on the Washington scene. Now he has no choice as he assumes the role of POTUS and his life and America will never be the same.

There is something at the heart of the show’s premise that seems prescient considering the upcoming election, and it is almost too eerie to make the comparison, but when 24 premiered in 2001 it was unsettling in relation to the 9/11 attacks, and now Designated Survivor comes along right before this whole divisive presidential campaign comes to what promises to be a combustible conclusion.

While it is great to see Kiefer Sutherland on TV, I wonder if this series can overcome the limitations of its dynamic of throwing the everyday guy into the White House. How long it can keep going depends a good deal on Sutherland, who can carry a series with his eyes closed, but we will have to see how long it can keep humming on all cylinders as it did in the first episode.

Designated Survivor is off to a great start, but I must admit when I see Sutherland talking on the phone that I am secretly wishing that he was playing the guy speaking to the POTUS rather than playing him. Even Sutherland must be secretly thinking, "If Jack Bauer were here…." Well, let’s leave it at that for now!

Klaatu Barada Nikto!  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September Beach Days Can Be Glorious

The summer isn’t officially over yet – that comes on Thursday – but Labor Day usually signals the end of our carefree vacation days. Now we aren’t supposed to wear white anymore; the kids are back in school, and the beach is a fond memory; however, the weather has been so lovely and there is no reason at all to stay away from the surf and sand.

September has always been my favorite beach month. My father taught me to savor these days at the beach whenever I could because the crowds are gone, the water is still warm enough for swimming, and the slightly cooler air temperatures are more conducive to sitting on the beach in the sunshine.

With the kids in school and having a day off, I ventured down to my favorite surf and sand spot in Nassau County, Long Island – Long Beach – to enjoy some time there. I wouldn’t stand a chance trying to park my car anywhere near the boardwalk during the summer, but on this day I easily found a spot right off Lafayette Boulevard.

lb-4There were a few people walking along the now totally refurbished boardwalk (the original had been decimated by super-storm Sandy), and a couple of bike riders whizzed by in the central bike lane. I walked over to the railing and gazed out at a beautiful panorama of white sand, blue sky, and sparkling sea.

There were a small number of people sitting in chairs or on blankets on the sand, while only several ventured into the water. After Labor Day the lifeguard stands are gone along with those who sit on them and watch over swimmers. While the water seemed a bit calm on this day, I did notice a couple of surfers down the beach a ways trying to catch a wave.

I walked along the boardwalk heading east, and had a clear path mostly to myself. Encountering only an occasional jogger, walker, or bike rider, there was none of the negotiating for space that I would experience on a midsummer’s day at 11 a.m.

lb-3After getting my 2 miles of walking in, I returned to Lafayette Blvd. and sat on one of the many benches that dot the boardwalk. I saw an oil tanker way out near the horizon, a few other smaller vessels, and I enjoyed the serenity of being able to breathe in the sea air while I sat and meditated. Nothing lifts my spirit more than being near the ocean, closing my eyes,  and hearing the waves come in to shore. 

During this blissful time of getting some exercise and away from my desk and computer, I was simply clearing the cobwebs out of my mind and breathing in clean air. Now I felt ready to get back in the car, have a quick lunch, and then go home to do some work until I had to pick up the kids at school.

If the weather cooperates, I plan on returning again next week on my day off, but this time wearing a bathing suit and armed with my beach chair, towel, and carrying a picnic lunch. Summer’s lease does indeed have all too short a date, but I am going to enjoy this good weather and the sun, surf, and sand until it inevitably expires.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

15th Anniversary of 9/11 – Never Forgetting Not a Choice For Some of Us

Every September it comes again, like a hammer to the head or a punch in the gut – there is no solace in watching TV shows about it, no recompense that assuages the pain or mitigates the loss, and those who would profit from 9/11 or use it for political reasons are beneath contempt. 9/11 is an anniversary no one wants to remember but is impossible to forget, and we are compelled to mark the day out of respect and dignity for those lost, for their friends, family, and loved ones who still suffer not just on 9/11 but every day of their lives.

For me and for some New Yorkers and Americans 9/11 is personal. If you know someone lost that day at the World Trade Center, or in Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania, there is grief beyond what other people can know or grasp. 9/11 is not just a number or a day on the calendar – it is a horrifying reminder of what happened, a day that not only will live in infamy as much as December 7, 1941, but one that qualifies the sanctity of memory and the value of grief.

My sister lost her Steve that day; he was part of her life and our family for many years. He went out that door after borrowing $20 to get the guys at the firehouse bagels for breakfast, saying goodbye to her and his beloved dogs. In that casual and everyday way of seeing someone off to work, there is no marking of the inherent importance of last words said, no way of knowing that the person won’t be back.

bates-2In the days that followed 9/11, my sister waited and hoped that Steve would be found. Each time the front door opened, the dogs would look up longingly hoping to see their master who was never coming home. In the weeks, months, and years that have followed, my sister has come to terms with her devastating loss, but she is never over it – the it is never ending, and those people who want everyone to move on and forget have no understanding of what happened and continues to happen not just on 9/11 but every day of the year between anniversaries.

My sister dedicated herself to honoring Steve’s memory and legacy, creating a scholarship in his name and holding an annual golf outing and dinner to raise money to support it. The scholarship provides funds to less fortunate students to attend a fine private grammar school, and so many children have benefited from her efforts these last 15 years. She has kept the essence of his bravery and generous spirit alive in this way, and in doing so she has also made me and her family extremely proud of her beyond what words can express.

But Steve was just one of the many firefighters who went up the stairs while everyone else was coming down, and 343 of them were lost that day. There is no qualifying the heroism, the bravery, and the call to duty that these men displayed that day, just as there is no rectifying their loss. Memorials, ceremonies, and monuments are all appreciated, but nothing – absolutely nothing – can overcome the pain and suffering that endures for those who lost these valiant heroes, who rose to the impossible challenge to fight the fires and save lives that day.

And yet 9/11 is not just about firefighters but all first responders; it is about the people who worked in the towers and the Pentagon, the passengers on the doomed jets and the flight crews, and it is about all the Americans who were witnesses in person or on TV that fateful day. Someone can watch the footage now, read about it in books, or listen to stories, but nothing is truly the same as having lived through that day.

bates3My children only know of Uncle Steve from what we tell them. They know their aunt goes to Ground Zero every year for the ceremony; we show them pictures of Steve and they can see him dancing in our wedding video. We can construct as much of Steve as we can for them – and he was beyond question a larger than life personality who was intelligent, funny, and charismatic – but the worst part is that they will never really know him, and that is the enduring theft that his loss brings to their lives.

We can magnify that by 2,996 people who died that day and the grim reality emerges. The loss of these people – citizens from 115 nations of the world in all – had a similar impact on their friends, families, and loved ones. The depth of grief and despair radiates across the planet, and there is no ability to gauge the incessant pain and suffering this day has caused and continues to inflict on those who lost someone that day.

bates-stevenNow, fifteen years later, my nephew (who was the ring bearer at our wedding) is now in the New York City Fire Department Training Academy and will participate in 9/11 ceremonies. While there is a great pride in his accomplishments as he prepares to graduate and join the ranks of New York’s Bravest, there is deep sadness that Steve is not here to welcome him into the ranks.

Indeed, life goes on, and the friends, loved ones, and family members of those lost know that only too well. Each day is a reminder of the gift of life, but also that this precious gift was taken from those killed on 9/11. 15 years have gone by, but it is like 15 seconds in eternity. We can say we will “Never Forget” and we never shall nor will we truly move on, even though many people tell us it is time to do so. We keep living our days but the pain endures, and a vacancy remains in our hearts that is forevermore.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Movie Review: Sully – A Humble Hero Stands Tall

Sometimes we know how a film is going to end – James Cameron’s Titanic comes to mind – and despite that salient impediment, it doesn’t matter. People weren’t hesitant about seeing that film; they cared little about already knowing the ending; they wanted to see how the movie got there.

Most New Yorkers and many other people the world over know the story of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that took off from LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, and shortly thereafter hit a flock of birds, promptly knocking out both engines. Somehow the plane ended up in the Hudson River, all 150 passengers and crew of five survived, and the captain became a hero. In director Clint Eastwood's new 
film Sully, knowing  how the story ends is only the beginning.

Starring Tom Hanks (in a deep, moving performance as Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson,”) the film is about heroism, but it is also about the quality of leadership, about someone who does not shirk the responsibility he has been given for every life on every plane he has ever flown over a 40 year career.

11sully-master768When that plane goes down, Sullenberger acts like a teacher on a field trip, wanting to account for every one of the 155 souls under his care. Sully stays on board until everyone is evacuated from the craft, even double checking the back of the plane that is taking on an increasing amount of icy cold water. This exemplary behavior puts the captain as the last of those saved, showing that he was willing to “go down with the ship” if necessary to ensure that all under his watch survived.

When speaking about the film, Eastwood noted, “I wanted it to be like it was. It’s a New York story,” and indeed the actions of the brave and seemingly fearless Captain Sullenberger are ultimately successful thanks to the quick first responders and crew of the New York Waterway ferries (depicted with thick authentic New York accents) who rush to the rescue to make certain that Sullenberger’s brilliant maneuvering of the crippled jet was not in vain.

Sully is not just a true New York story, but one of that is also America’s, a post-9/11 tale of heroism and perseverance that a country in 2009 (and now in 2016 as well) weary from the terrorist attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq so desperately needed. For a population still jittery (as this New Yorker is to this day when I see passenger jets flying over my city) about airplanes being used as weapons, the realization that a jet could be part of something positive and uplifting came not a moment too soon.

However, since this is an Eastwood film, Captain Sullenberger doesn’t just walk off into the sunset as a hero after successfully guiding the plane into the water. As we know from Eastwood’s films like Unforgiven, heroes tend to be dragged upon by different sides, and who is good and bad gets lost in the shuffle, sometimes making the walk off into the sunset difficult, and in the end the hero usually won’t leave unscathed.

11sullyjp2-master675Here Sullenberger must stay in New York as aviation safety experts dissect his actions, wondering if “human error” was the reason why Sully couldn’t fly the plane back to LaGuardia Airport after both engines were taken out by flocks of birds. The experts find that one engine may have been partially operational, and computer simulations indicate that the jet could have made it back to the airport. The questions mount and the direction of the panel would seem to be to charge Sullenberger with some kind of dereliction of duty.

Feeling the pressure of being under intense scrutiny about his actions before and after the event, Sully is peppered with questions about his sleeping habits, his family life, and “When was your last drink?” Sully starts second guessing himself, falling into nightmares where the plane didn’t make it to the river and crashed into the city. Hanks navigates these moments with credible angst and horror, and as Sully imagines the plane swooping through the cityscape and eventually diving into buildings, those 9/11 memories and wounds are once again opened for the audience, and the thought of what could have happened if Sullenberger hadn’t been so calm and steady is indeed frightening.

The scenes inside the plane of the passengers and the cockpit and the exterior shots of the jet skimming over bridges and buildings are harrowing (credit cinematographer Tom Stern for exceptional work). Eastwood is able to capture the fear of those characters whom we get to know briefly, but enough to make it clear that there are 155 distinct people on this plane in jeopardy of losing their lives.

One may scoff at how the National Transportation Safety Board, a panel of experts, and flight simulators could have ever called into question Captain Sullenbeger’s actions or intentions on that day, but Eastwood uses that as the dramatic external conflict necessary to drive the internal conflict Hanks’s character must endure.

It should be noted that the NTSB has called into question the way events have been portrayed in the film, claiming that their inquiry ended up praising Sullenberger, but whatever the case may be, Eastwood no doubt has employed dramatic license to adapt these events to create the gravitas and tension necessary for the film to work.

Supporting Hanks is a fine cast, led by Aaron Eckhart (finally finding a role worthy of him since his fine turn as Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight) as co-pilot Jeff Skiles, who brings the only bits of levity to the film and also supports Sully throughout. Laura Linney portrays Sully’s wife Lorraine as a frazzled mess with all the reporters camped outside her house, and one only wishes that Linney and Hanks would have had a scene together instead of only over the phone. Jamey Sheridan and Anna Gunn make the most of their roles as the investigators who appear to be on a witch hunt and seem to care more about losing a plane than 155 people.

In the end this powerful film is an uplifting tale that tells a true heroic story in dramatic fashion, highlighting the extraordinary achievement of one man and all the other people on the plane and in the city who helped him succeed. After you hear the last line of dialogue in the film, you will have a smile on your face as you prepare to exit the theater, and that is the way it should be because Sully is a film meant to make everyone go home happy.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back to School Blues – It's Not Just Kids Who Have Them

Millions of children all over the country are going back to school this week, and there are some sad faces going out the door in my house each morning; however, it’s not just my kids who are down and out – I feel it too.

I got accustomed to having them around all summer, and we did things together, went on vacations, and also jumped in the pool without regard to time of day. We thought nothing of staying up late, going out for that ice cream, just lingering on the beach, or staring up at the stars. Any night could be movie night, and we had quite a few of those; the smell of popcorn still lingers in the air as a memory of a freedom that is now gone.

There is something very liberating about not having the kids on schedule – as well as not having after school activities and homework – and now that is over. I am back to making early breakfasts (oh, and no one can have the same thing two mornings in a row during school time), preparing lunches, and being chauffeur to school and activities.

There used to be that silly Staples commercial with the father gathering all the school supplies in his shopping cart to the dismay of his bummed out children, while Andy Williams sang “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Sure, that was a funny one, but not all parents are celebrating with so much gusto, and some of us are going through our own form of the blues as we experience kid withdrawal now that the house is quiet all day.

You could be thinking that I should cherish this time now. I am free to go about my day doing whatever I please. Well, besides a little inconvenient thing called “work” that intrudes upon my day, there is also a to-do list of countless things I didn’t do the last few months because I had the kids around. I am feeling too down and out to even get started on these projects, but those adults close to me (who are as giddy as the guy in the Staples commercial) keep telling me in a few weeks that I’ll be fine. The image of me hammering nails, spackling walls, and getting other items on my list done comes to mind.

back-to-school-teachers-liquor-store-400x200The other group of adults – many of whom I know – that is experiencing the back to school blues is teachers. I have been hearing some of them complaining since mid-August about “the horrors” that awaited them upon returning to school. One of them kept circulating a photo of a liquor store welcoming them all back to school. Again, this is funny stuff, but I also hope my children’s teachers don’t feel this way or that they are coming into school hung over either. The humor stops there for me.

When I was a kid I always dreaded the calendar turning to September, and now I feel the same way as a parent. Perhaps my friends are right even though I can’t get there quite yet, and I do know from experience that by October I’ll be raking leaves, putting up Halloween decorations, running errands, and cursing the clock when it’s time to rush to school to get the kids. The back to school blues will be long gone by then.

For now I mourn the silence in the house, the eerie feeling of emptiness because I don’t hear the kids bickering or chasing each other around the halls. I walk past the vacant sofa in the family room, the darkened TV screen and tables free of snacks and drinks all seem infinitely sad to me. I go in the garage and note the beach chairs with sand still resiliently clinging to the rungs, the buckets and shovels, and the closed up umbrella, and I know the next beach day is a long way off.

Yes, I have the back to school blues now, as do many other parents, our kids, and the people who teach them. We all know it takes a while, but soon other things will be on our minds. It just seems like that it will take too long to get here, but then I remember how quickly the last school year went by, and before I know it we’ll be cranking up Alice Cooper singing “Schools Out” again.

Now, where’s that to-do list?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

TV Review: Stranger Things – An Eclectic Brew to Scare and Delight

If you were looking for something new and yet oddly familiar to watch on TV this summer,Netflix’s original series Stranger Things should have been on your agenda. The series’ debuted all of the first season’s eight episodes on July 15, 2016, and they are available now for your binge watching delight.

Combining familiar tropes from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Lost, and Twin Peaks, showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer have made certain that Stranger Things also cuts its own unique path through the dark and stormy night of the mind, revealing and concealing things alternately to delight, confuse, and scare the crap out of the viewer.

The story drops us in the 1980s small town of Hawkins, Indiana, which is like a postcard to the Cheers theme song – everyone knows your name and then some. Here young friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matazzaro), Caleb (Lucas McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) play Dungeons and Dragons in Mike’s basement even on a school night. Their close friendship is quickly established, but Mike’s mother (Cara Buono) breaks up the proceedings because it is getting late.

MV5BOTcyNjU2MTM3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjc0ODE0OTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1496,1000_AL_The other boys leave Mike’s house on their bikes (I was hoping one of them would have a basket on it like Elliot’s in E.T.), but it quickly becomes that dark and stormy night and Will separates from the others and finds himself stuck in a scary situation in the woods not far from home.

The next day Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder in her best performance in years) and his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) discover that Will never came home the night before. This causes the hysterical Joyce to go to the police, where she has to beg the hungover and weary Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to help her find her missing son.

This is the basic premise of the series – taking us on a search for the missing Will Byers (becoming an obsession akin to the Laura Palmer mystery in Twin Peaks). Along the way we encounter many quirky characters in this small town, including the boys’ geeky but earnest science teacher Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens).

MV5BMTY4MDUxOTIwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg0ODE0OTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,998_AL_As search parties comb the woods for Will, we get what at first seems to be an unconnected story of a young girl known as 11 (a fantastic Milly Bobby Brown) who runs around with a shaved head in a hospital gown with the number 11 tattooed on her left arm. This girl who barely speaks encounters the boys in the rainy woods, and soon she is being hidden in Mike’s basement because some very bad people are after her.

Those bad people seem to be government agents and scientists who are searching the woods, Will’s house (where they find a strange substance in the garage), and other locations. Led by the sinister looking Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), it appears that they are not only after 11 but also on the trail of whatever took Will and apparently other people.

MV5BMTEzNzk3MDY5MDdeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg4NDgxNDkx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,998_AL_It is difficult to go any further as to not reveal spoilers, but there are many little delightful and scary twists and turns throughout. There is also a most annoying subplot involving Mike’s teenage sister Nancy (Natalie Dyer) and her hot in the pants suitor Steve (Joe Keery) that is only notable because the much better for her Jonathan likes her too and they figure into the main storyline in later episodes. The intimate scenes between Nancy and Steve are cringe worthy when you’re watching the show with a 7 year old boy who wants to know “Why are they kissing like that?”

Overall, Stranger Things is gloomy, bright, inventive, and draws the viewer in and won’t let go. It invokes elements of some our favorite 80s films (when Mike shows 11 his Star Wars toys I couldn’t help thinking of Elliot doing the same thing with E.T.) and, while the 80s seem now to be a more innocent and idyll era, it also was a time that Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, and Michael Myers reigned supreme in the eerie forests and dark suburban alleys of our worst nightmares, so all was not well either.

The extremely good news is that a second season of Stranger Things is forthcoming in the summer 2017 (thank you, Netflix), so you do have time to catch up on all the weird happenings in Hawkins, Indiana well before then.

It is highly recommended not to watch this show alone, and you must be warned, once you watch episode one you will be unable to resist heading right into the subsequent episodes. One thing is for certain – after Stranger Things, binge watching will never be the same!