Resin Heroes

Direct Beam Comms #36



TV

Stranger Things – Grade: A

6f1c7f40664543.5787e03bf042cEvery so often a series comes along that’s so good and unexpected that’s like a bolt of lighting to the head — and this year that series is Stranger Things on Netflix.

Stranger Things takes place in the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983 where one dark and stormy night a boy goes missing while at the same time a mysterious girl known as “11” or “El” for short (Millie Brown) appears. El isn’t quite normal — she can only speak in very short words/sentences, is wearing only hospital garb and, most of weirdly of all, has telekinetic powers. On her trail is Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) who was trying to use El’s powers for his own purposes and wants his property returned. But on El’s side are a group of misfit boys who’re looking for their missing friend while at the same time discovering just what El’s capable of.

Best of all Stranger Things stars the wonderful Winona Ryder playing the missing kids mother, David Harbour as the town sheriff and Natalia Dyer as Nancy, Shannon Purser as Barb, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan…

I think that’s the first thing that Stranger Things co-creators the Duffer Brothers got right — they had a great cast and great characters. And let that to be a lesson to other series creators out there: if you have a great cast and great characters you’re more than halfway to having a classic series.

And that’s exactly what Stranger Things is: a modern day classic.

Stranger Things has taken flack from some corners saying that it’s a nostalgia driven show. That it borrows too freely from what’s come before and isn’t that original. Which is totally true. But only if those same people who ding Stranger Things for taking elements from what’s come before are also willing to ding things like the band The Rolling Stones from feely borrowing from the blues or Nirvana from punk.

I’ve never understood why when bands “borrow” from the past and are successful they can be considered top acts, but when movies or TV series do the same thing — well, apparently those are only supposed to be completely original, new and unique.

Which is total hooey. Is there anything these days that’s totally new and unique?

Sure, Stranger Things borrows elements from the works of Stephen King and some of the visual stylings of Steven Spielberg — though much less than talk and internet marketing would lead you to believe. It also uses elements from slasher horror movies of the 1980s, especially how some of their scenes are constructed, and a bit from the manga/film Akira too.

Which, admittedly, could be the recipe for disaster. Except here what the Duffer Brothers did with Stranger Things was rather than to just copy those elements they created something new with them. Stranger Things shares no direct link with any Stephen King story but it feels like it could, and the same goes with the films of Steven Spielberg too. There are certainly visual cues from Spielberg’s movies like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stand By Me here, but on the whole Stranger Things is its own thing that’s building upon previous works of others.

Just like The Rolling Stones and just like Nirvana and just like 1,000 other pop culture things have built new things on the previous works of others.

My only concern with Stranger Things is that recently Neflix has strongly hinted that a second season of the series will soon be in the works. My concern is that the first season ended so perfectly that it’s this brilliant encapsulated story with just the right amount of questions answered and, more importantly, unanswered. I’d hate to see the Duffer Brothers come back and do a season two of the series that was a let down to the first. I’m not sure I want or need all the questions raised in the first season to be answered. Some things are better left to the imagination.

Then again, what do I know? Here I am giving suggestions about a series I hadn’t even heard about a few months ago that knocked my socks off this summer. My guess is that whatever the Duffer Brothers do next is going to be interesting regardless of which angle they take to tell it.

Now I feel like I need to go re-watch/read the Akira series and the movie The Mist again to keep on this Stranger Things high!

Angie Tribeca season 2 – Grade: B

angie-tribeca-tbs_article_story_largeThe second season of the TBS series Angie Tribeca finished this week. I enjoy this goofy series that’s in the vein of an Airplane or Naked Gun but I think I enjoyed the first season a bit more. The second season of the Angie Tribeca told a season long throughout all the episodes which felt a little forced to me. The series is essentially a comedy where goofy fun takes precedence over plot but having a season long story means that plot becomes important.

I think where Angie Tribeca works well is when the episodes are just off the wall humor where literally anything can happen between scene to scene let alone episode to episode, so to have to follow the plot to a story was a bit constraining.

A third season of Angie Tribeca is set to debut sometime in 2017 and I’m genuinely interested to see where the series goes from here.

Animal Kingdom season 1 – Grade: B-

14ANIMALS-master768The last year has seen a slew of darker series that all takes place in California. Always before California series used to focus on the sun, beaches and fun of the state but lately a lot of series have been taking place in a much different version of California. These bleaker series focus on a dirty, and dangerous place that’s as likely to give you a staph infection from swimming in the polluted waves as send you home in a body bag when you’re caught in the middle of a drug/guns/whatever deal gone wrong.

These are series I call “California Dark” like True Detective, Flaked, Sons of Anarchy and Animal Kingdom, the first season of which wrapped up last week on TNT.

Animal Kingdom, based on the Australian movie of the same name, follows the Cody family who live in Oceanside, California and make their living by stealing and robbing from unsuspecting folks. Thrown into this den is “J” (Finn Cole), forced to live with his uncles and a matriarch nicknamed “Smurf” (Ellen Barkin) who controls her sons through manipulation, deceit and guile. If J is somewhat an innocent then his uncles are hardened criminals who’ll take whatever they can get their hands on and kill whomever when necessary. But after they accidentally kill an off-duty police officer moonlighting as a security guard, the crew is thrown in disarray since they no longer have enough loot to sustain themselves and now have the police actively looking to bust up the gang after one of their own was murdered.

Animal Kingdom started off strong enough for me to watch the entire series, but I have to admit I lost interest in the show somewhere about the halfway mark. To me the series existed in their weird netherworld between two styles of show. On the one hand there’s similar series like True Detective that goes into the deep end of dark and almost play out like a horror series. On the other hand there’s network series like CSI or Chicago P.D. that are so light and unrealistic they’re soap operas with cops. And I think that Animal Kingdom fits somewhere in between these two styles. There’s a hard edge to the show, but it’s also very light in other ways.

Animal Kingdom plays out like these lite shows when it comes to the crimes the Cody family pulls off. The two big ones of the season, the first where they rob a jewelry mart of expensive watches and the final where they steal bails of cash from the US military, play out like scenes from a James Bond movie. Where there are so many intricate steps to the plan that if just one thing would go wrong the entire crew would spend the rest of their lives in jail. And in a series like Animal Kingdom while things do go wrong, they go wrong in a very TV like way.

It doesn’t help matters that in Animal Kingdom the stakes are never made quite clear for the J character. In the movie he’s in mortal danger from his uncles when he’s the only witness to the murder of two police officers they committed. In the TBS series he seems to be in danger, but not much. Here, it’s like the uncles may kill J, or they may send him out for ice cream.

I think where the movie version succeeded so well was in that palpable sense of danger for J. He’s just a kid and doesn’t really know what he’s gotten himself into — or even when he does he really doesn’t have anywhere else to go. But the TV version replaces that danger with a lot of flashy toys for the Cody family and minor heists as the uncles try to keep themselves in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.

I think when the TV version of Animal Kingdom succeeded was when it went dark. I especially liked Shawn Hatosy who played the unhinged just out of jail and very dangerous uncle “Pope” very well. He’s the kind of character you wouldn’t want to be around but you’d be afraid to leave his side lest he get it into his head that you have something against him and come after you one night when you least expect it. And he does something so unexpected in the second to last episode of the first season it made me shutter.

Animal Kingdom has already been renewed for a second season on TNT set to debut sometime in 2017. Depending on what else is on at the time it premiers I may, or may not watch the second season of the show. It’s not bad but it’s not something people are going to be talking about for years to come either.

Luke Cage promo

Movies

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Trailer

“The world is coming undone — Imperial flags reign across the galaxy.”

Arrival trailer

Books

Out this Tuesday is the final book to list all of the Topps Star Wars trading cards from the 1970s and 1980s; Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Three. You may have to be a die hard fan of Star Wars, the original trilogy and of trading cards to want this book, but luckily I am. 😉

The Reading & Watch List

This week in pop-culture history

  • 1954: James Cameron, writer/director of Terminator, Aliens and Avatar is born
  • 1986: The Fly opens in theaters
  • 1987: The Monster Squad premiers



Direct Beam Comms #27



TV

Cleverman

5760Cleverman, airing on Sundance Channel Wednesdays at 10PM (EDT), takes place in a slightly futuristic, slightly alternate Australia where another group of humans, the “Hairies,” emerges from the outback and are discriminated against by the government. These people are covered in fur, are much stronger than the average person and because of this have to live in ghettos away from regular Aussies.

Regular humans feel threatened by the “Hairies” because — well I’m not sure? Because they’re stronger? Because they’re covered in hair? Because they kill when threatened? Otherwise they seem pretty normal to me so I don’t totally get this.

I feel like if I lived in Australia and were familiar with their culture Cleverman would make more sense to me. I was never sure if the “Hairies” were supposed to be stand-ins for how the Aborigines were (are?) treated in Australia or something else. But some of the main characters of Cleverman are Aborigines, so I suppose not. And some of the characters, the “Cleverman” actually, can summon monsters up from the sea and reattach severed fingers— which maybe in their culture is something they can do?

Not being Australian and not understanding the underlying culture I was totally lost in most of Cleverman. The series looks nice and is well-written, it’s just so specific to people living in Australasia I don’t think outsiders will have a hard time connecting with the show.

Grade: No ordinary man can judge the Cleverman

Feed the Beast

Jim Sturgess and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast

Jim Sturgess and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast

The new series Feed the Beast premiered on AMC last Sunday, with a second episode airing Tuesday night where the show will regularly air.

Feed the Beast is about two friends and restauranteurs Tommy Moran (David Schwimmer) and Dion Patras (Jim Sturgess) who’s lives fell apart one year ago. Tommy’s wife was killed in a car accident which sent Tommy and his son’s lives spiraling out of control and then Dion was sent to prison for burning down the restaurant both worked at. Now, out on parole and owing $600,000 to the mob for the fire, Dion wants to open a new restaurant with Tommy that they, along with Tommy’s wife, were planning before everything fell apart.

Feed the Beast has an interesting concept but it’s got a few things going against it. First, it seems like everyone in the cast from Tommy to Dion to Tommy’s father Aiden (the wonderful John Doman from The Wire) is damaged in some way. Tommy started drinking too much after his wife’s death and has become an alcoholic. Dion is addicted to cocaine. Aiden is a racist. Tommy’s son TJ (Elijah Jacob) was so scarred after his mother’s death that he stopped talking…

In a world where most people are pretty good at hiding their pain and sins from outsiders, it seems as if everyone in Feed the Beast wears their pain and sins proudly on their shoulders.

Also, there was way too much going on in the first episode. There’s Tommy dealing with his son acting out at school. Tommy’s alcoholism. Tommy dealing with his wife’s death. Tommy meeting a woman at a grief counseling session. Dion’s drug addiction. Dion being threatened by a mobster who pulls other’s teeth when he doesn’t get what he wants that would seem more at home in Daredevil than Feed the Beast. Dion wanting to flee to France. Dion wanting to open a new restaurant to clear his name with the mob. And that’s just what I can remember in a jam packed first episode.

It seems like rather than taking the simple approach here the creators of Feed the Beast decided instead to throw every story idea they had for the season into the first episode.

The second episode does back off of this jam-packedness somewhat, but there’s still a ton going on and probably three too many characters for a show like Feed the Beast to be able to realistically support on a weekly basis. Still, I enjoyed the show and am interested to see where it goes this season.

Grade: B

Animal Kingdom

MV5BMTQ4MjU4MDU0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU5NzU5ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Based off an Australian movie of the same name, the new series Animal Kingdom is set to start airing this Tuesday at 9PM (EDT) on TNT.

If I were to use one word to describe the Aussie film that word would be “brutal.” In the movie, teen Josh “J” (James Frecheville) moves in with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and his four adult uncles after his mother dies of an overdose. But while J’s home life might have not been ideal, life at grandma’s is dangerous with the family business being bank robbery and the local police having a tendency of shooting first and asking questions later when they find a suspected robber.

After the police murder one of the uncles the others kill two cops in revenge. Things really get bad when psychotic uncle (Ben Mendelsohn) realizes that the only person tying the family to the murders is J, and if he and his girlfriend disappear they’d be nothing liking them to the killings.

The crimes of Animal Kingdom aren’t pretty or cool looking. They’re dark and disturbing and I’m not sure how that would translate to TNT’s version of Animal Kingdom, the super-sized first episode of which is currently available to view on iTunes with new episodes airing Tuesdays.

In the first episode, much of the core of the movie from the grandma, now played by Ellen Barkin, to J (Finn Cole) to the family business being robbery remains intact. What’s different here is that much of the brutality of the movie has been replaced with action. In fact, TNT describes the series as being “adrenaline-charged.” It’s not a totally negative change since I’m not sure how a long running TV version of Animal Kingdom could do the things that are done in the movie version and sustain any sort of long-term story that doesn’t involve most of the main characters dead or in jail in a season or two.

To me, this first episode of Animal Kingdom felt like parts of the movie Animal Kingdom — the dysfunctional nature of the family, the family business… — mixed with parts of the movie The Town (also from 2010). More specifically; the spectacular nature of the robberies in The Town and some of the character dynamics of the robbers there too are mixed into the TV version of Animal Kingdom.

That being said, I actually enjoyed the TV version of Animal Kingdom a great deal. My worry about the show is that it’s going to turn into something like Sons of Anarchy-lite where it’s a lot about these outsiders doing these spectacular crimes on a weekly basis. And since much of the plot of the first episode came directly from the movie, it’s tough right now to see where the series is headed. I guess we’ll have to wait for the second episode and beyond after the creators of the TV version of Animal Kingdom run out of story from the film and have to start coming up with their own plot.

Grade: B+

Wrecked

img_25333_001_1082_r_0The TBS series Wrecked premiers this Tuesday at 10PM (EDT) and, like with Animal Kingdom, the first episode is available for viewing on iTunes.

If the first episode of Animal Kingdom was quite good, then the first episode of Wrecked was mostly dreadful. This spoof of the ABC series Lost with castaways stuck on a deserted island after a plane crash comes off as being a few years too late since Lost has been off the air for six years and audiences have moved onto new and different things.

Even so, Wrecked might be interesting if the comedy in the series weren’t so broad with almost every joke being delivered at a LOUD VOLUME to connote, I guess, WHAT I’M SAYING HERE IS A JOKE! Which is extremely annoying to say the least. It doesn’t help matters that it seems like every character on the island is cribbed from other characters from other series don’t feel realistic in the least. These characters feel like they were ordered out of a comedy catalog rather than having any traces of humanity.

Wrecked, like the series Angie Tribeca, seems like they were originally developed for Adult Swim yet somehow ended up on TBS. Which makes me wonder if this is a new model for TBS to try and get in on a younger demographic of viewer, moving away from being known as the place to see re-runs of Family Guy and Big Bang Theory? Which is fine when they develop a show like Angie Tribeca that’s quite good. But isn’t so great when a real stinker like Wrecked gets through.

Grade: D

Cool Sites

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This week in pop-culture history

  • 1973: Battle for the Planet of the Apes opens
  • 1983: Superman III premiers
  • 1987: Predator opens in theaters
  • 1990: Gremlins 2: The New Batch is released
  • 2008: The Incredible Hulk premiers in theaters