Posts Tagged ‘stranger things’

30 Movies to Watch If You Like ‘Stranger Things’ [or Don’t!]

October 25, 2017

The Last Unicorn (1982)

One of the most beautiful, melancholy, magical, and genuinely adult animated features in American film history. This adaptation of fantasist Peter S. Beagle’s novel comes to us courtesy of Rankin/Bass Productions and Japanese animation studio Topcraft — the former responsible for the stop-motion Christmas classics Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, the latter eventually evolving into Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. Together, they produced the J.R.R. Tolkien cartoons The Hobbit and The Return of the King, plus this gut-punch of a film, about a unicorn who becomes trapped in the body of a young human woman. With a body-horror subtext worthy of Cronenberg and a ridiculously impressive voice cast (Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, and Alan Arkin), it’s like a cross between Stranger Things and a story from the Dungeons & Dragons game its characters play.

Paperhouse (1988)

Directed by Bernard Rose — who would later adapt Hellraiser writer-director Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into the acclaimed urban-horror film Candyman — this harrowing supernatural/surrealist film centers on an 11-year-old girl who discovers her dreams and drawings are coming to life and consuming her reality. She’s got to figure out how to take charge and reassert control. Paperhouse is what I think of when Stranger Things is at its best.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Recast the relationship between Eleven and Mike Wheeler as a tragedy instead of a heroic fantasy, and you might wind up with this morbid proto-romance between a bullied kid and the young vampire who simultaneously befriends, protects, and uses him. There’s stuff going on here about abuse and loneliness, for characters of all ages, that digs way deeper than anything Stranger Things has done; if Netflix’s series is a 101 entry-level course, this is graduate work.

What should you watch after (or instead of) Stranger Things and its obnoxiously titled second season Stranger Things 2? Whether you like or dislike the show, I think I’ve got you covered with the list of 30 movies I wrote for Vulture.

“Westworld,” and When TV Uses Pop Music to Do Its Emotional Heavy Lifting

November 7, 2016

Maeve’s walk through the Westworld theme park’s behind-the-scenes house of horrors is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the instant in which one of Westworld’s unfortunate, unwitting robots receives undeniable, unforgettable confirmation that their life is a lie. It’s a crushing concept all on its own, and the guided-tour-of-hell structure of the scene adds to the pathos. By rights it should stand alone as one of the series’ most powerful moments.

And yet, Westworld’s treatment of it falls flat. Like park technicians fiddling with a host’s intelligence or empathy on their control panels, the show’s filmmakers artificially increase the sequence’s tear-jerking levels by soundtracking it with a chamber-music version of the closing track on one of the most acclaimed albums of all time: “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” the achingly sad conclusion of Radiohead’s electronic-music breakthrough Kid A. It’s not the first time the hyperactively overscored series has relied on the band, having previously gone to the Radiohead well with their suburban-ennui anthem “No Surprises.” Hell, it’s not the first time it did so in this episode, which opens with a similarly heavy-handed accompaniment by a player-piano version of the band’s ode to falseness, “Fake Plastic Trees.” But it is the show’s most egregious example yet of using a song with preexisting cultural clout to do its emotional work — a syndrome we’re seeing, or hearing, with increasing frequency as Peak TV prestige dramas attempt to cut through the clutter and grab viewers, or listeners, by the heartstrings.

Rather than let the power of the scene emerge on its own, Westworld leans on a preexisting work of art to doing the heavy lifting for it. It’s a cheat, a shortcut to resonance. That particular work of art has far more cultural purchase, impact, and history than a first-season TV show. Even if you don’t rate Radiohead, substitute the gut-wrenching classic-album closer of your choice — “Purple Rain” or “Little Earthquakes” or, to cite an artist Westworld’s already employed to dubious effect in that over-the-top orgy scene last week, “Hurt”— and you’ll get the point.

Over at Vulture, I went long on how shows like Westworld, Stranger Things, and even The Americans have used preexisting pop music as a cheat code to score emotional points they haven’t earned. I also talked about shows that have done pop music cues right, from The Sopranos and The Wire to Lost to Halt and Catch Fire and The People v. O.J. Simpson. It’s basically a prose version of what Chris Ott and I talked about on his Shallow Rewards podcast a few weeks ago. I quite liked writing this piece and I hope you enjoy it.

What “Stranger Things” Is Missing from the ’80s Horror Genre

August 23, 2016

Saying Stranger Things wears its influences on its sleeve is like sayingBarb had a lousy time at Steve’s party: It’s true alright, but it understates the case considerably. Entire articles have been written detailing the themes, concepts, creatures, fonts, sound effects, and imagery swiped more or less wholesale from other films — here’s Vulture’s, just for example. And any fan of genre entertainment, particularly (though by no means exclusively) from the ’80s, can rattle off the creators whose original visions fueled the Duffer Brothers’ own without breaking a sweat. Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter are the most obvious touchstones, but you can also spot Judd Apatow, Shane Black, John Byrne, James Cameron, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Wes Craven, Joe Dante, Richard Donner, Fred Dekker, Jonathan Glazer, Gary Gygax, Tobe Hooper, John Hughes, Richard Kelly, John Landis, David Lynch, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Robert Zemeckis from a mile away. Any show assembled from building blocks that solid is going to be entertaining, at the very least; factor in universally fine performances from the show’s many child and young-adult actors, the strongest such cast assembled since Game of Thrones, and you’d be tempted to move Stranger Things out of the “hey, that was kinda fun” column straight into “this is a stone classic, gimme season two immediately” territory.

But unlike many of its countless forerunners, Stranger Things’ story of small-town terror communicates little beyond the contents of its creators’ Blu-ray collections. It’s so fixated on stirring nostalgia for the science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and adventure tales of yore that it has no time or energy left over for what made those horror tales compelling in the first place: wrestling with the fears and desires of the time period, and the different kinds of people — boys and girls, men and women, parents and children, kids and teens and adults — who found themselves struggling with them. Nearly everything difficult about the original works, everything weird, gross, uncomfortable, unexplained, and hidden beneath the surface (“occulted,” to use an evocative lit-studies term) has been stripped away in favor of a lowest-common-denominator pastiche that retains the surface elements but loses the power within.

The more I saw of this show, the more what it did with its source material bothered me. I went in-depth on how Stranger Things squandered its potential to actually be a stranger thing for Vulture.