Strange Questions about “Stranger Things”

Best of 2016, Nostalgia, Television

Now that most of the internet chatter discussing theories and motifs and other such complexities about Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has died down, it’s my time to throw my hat into the ring about the show’s clearly constructed mythology.

While most forays into the alluring cinematic power of “Stranger Things” focus on its obvious homage to the 80’s, there have only been a few true articles on the show’s deliberate narrative vagueness.  This is what I find most interesting and innovative about the series – unlike its counterparts, it doesn’t neatly tie up every plot point into a nice package that the reader is bound to understand. While there are some semblances of closure to the show’s main narratives, there are still boundless, tangential questions that linger. This is what I would like to focus on. I’ve got a few questions, too, and it’s the speculation as to their potential answers that I think  is most fascinating.

The Christmas Lights

For those reading this, I’m trusting you’ve watched the show in its entirety. If you haven’t, then there are major spoilers, obviously. The show’s main focus is on finding Will Byers, the child who goes missing right in Episode 1. Until, and after, his alleged body is found a few episodes in, the boy communicates with his manic mother Joyce (played by a sensationally emotionally crazed Winona Ryder) via the flashing of christmas lights that Joyce has hung all around her home.

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This  ‘communication’ via the blues, reds and whites of the lights is conversational while silent. Even when her son’s alleged body is found, Joyce refuses to believe that her son is dead and so continues to communicate with him with these flashing lights. So, to this I raise my first question. What do the lights mean? Why is it via this strange channel does Will attempt to communicate with his mother from the parallel universe that he is stuck within?

Judging by the meticulous plotting of the entire series, I doubt that the decision of communicating through lights was an arbitrary decision by the shows creators. Yes, the lights and its colors clearly reside within the 80’s era that the show embraces, but I think there’s more to it than that.

The Toy

In some of the show’s particularly moving scenes near the end of the season, we learn how Chief Jim Hopper’s daughter had died of cancer some years ago. Whilst attempting to help Joyce find Will in the ‘Upside Down’ parallel universe in episode 8, Jim finds a toy that his daughter was clutching when she passed away. Not only was this scene extremely emotional, it also upended the tone of episode. Why was this toy in the ‘upside down’? Is this where his daughter now lives? Is his daughter Eleven (El)?

Karen Wheeler

I found Karen Wheeler, Nancy and Mike’s mom, to be a very mysterious character. She’s given more screen time than the other supporting roles, implying that her role carries more weight than it appears to be. She’s shown reaching out, trying to communicate with her children several times throughout the series, her attempts shut down by her children’s lies when they say they’re ‘ok’. We all know they aren’t.

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A Mother’s Knowing Expression

So I ask why is Karen so seemingly prevalent in the show? Is she just a representation of a concerned parent in a small town, or is she somehow more closely entwined with some of the show’s larger narrative constructs, most notably, the mysterious El? For a character who runs a tight household, it seems odd that she didn’t discover a girl living in her basement. Don’t you?

Just a few of my thoughts. Weigh in with your opinions – I’d love to hear them. And if you haven’t seen the show, please do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s pretty awesome.

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Take This Walk: A Review of Creepy “The Road Cain Walks”

Book Reviews

It’s one thing to watch a horror film, and it’s a whole other thing to read one. Written words tend to spark something in the imagination that triggers such imagery that could never be recreated for the screen. This is precisely why I don’t tend to read them all too often (The Honorable Stephen King being the obvious exception). I’m glad, however,  I decided to read Matt Kilby’s “The Road Cain Walks”.

Tensely written, the novel is set in the picturesque, quiet and quaint town of Pine Haven, North Carolina. Seemingly out of nowhere and atypical of town behaviour, a horrendous murder occurs, giving instant infamy to Grady Perlson, convicted murdered and a complicated major character.

Perlson is serving his time at Starks County Prison, a place that certainly matches its namesake in terms of ambience and void of human empathy. Here, alone, Perlson suffers in reliving the awful tragedies of his past. But things around the world are starting to converge with Perlson’s despair. This is where the true horror of the novel comes into play.

The author cleverly denounces the typical horror trope formula wherein there is
a focus on one character, his or her horrific past, and either the continuance of horror or a redemption. Instead, the merging of inexplicable global events being documented by one ambitious psychologist who is trying to find an explanation to tie these apparently random events together. It is Joe Richard, the psychologist, who embarks the walk referenced in the book’s title. It’s both an allusion on the path of evil, and the quest for being understood.

Wading With Blake Lively in “The Shallows”

Film, Rave!

First things first – Blake Lively is gorgeous. The camera loves every unconventional angle of her face. Her long, fairy-tale blonde hair flaps as though in sync with wind patterns. She really is Barbie Goes Surfing. But, that is as shallow as “The Shallows” gets. It’s a clever way for the director to subvert the viewers’ expectations that the film they are about to see is a story of a pretty girl in distress. Once all pretences have been plucked away, “The Shallows” becomes a bona fide thriller.

The plot of “The Shallows” isn’t all that original or unique. In this genre of filmmaking, originality isn’t necessarily as pivotal to a film’s success as the actor’s willingness to survive throughout the following 90 minutes or so. Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams, a recent medical school dropout due to the emotional duress of her mother’s death. She decides to visit the same beach her mother visited years ago around the time she found out she was pregnant with Nancy. Therefore, the visit to this beach is setting up the film to be an exercise in healing and closure. The imagery here becomes integral to the plot’s development. The clear, blue waters represent the confrontation of one’s past, and the beaches’ absence of people can only set up our protagonist on a journey to confront her emotions and feelings without any distractions.

When Nancy leaves her cell phone in her backpack on the beach before embarking on what is to be a very terrible surfing adventure, she’s saying goodbye to the life she lived and immerses herself into a baptism of sorts. A symbolic rebirth, if you will. I don’t know if this is what the director envisioned, but as someone who has seen many, many films, I feel like this subtext is too coincidental to let slide by.

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Aside from meeting two local surfers, Nancy is solo on this journey. After speaking with her father and sister (represented by some smart visual methods by the director) on the cell phone she leaves back on the beach, she gets in the water. After taking in some waves, she sees an enormous whale carcass floating in the water. Clearly noticing it’s a sign of danger, she decides to take the next rolling waves back to the beach. This is where the action starts.

A big, menacing shark decides to bump Nancy’s surfboard and take a big chunk out of her leg. Running on adrenaline, she takes refuge on a nearby reef, where she devises a makeshift tourniquet for her profusely bleeding wound. Spending the night in intense pain, she has a glimmer of hope the next morning where she sees a local man on the beach. Trying to signal him to get help, she only succeeds in having him get in the water (after stealing her cell phone) and getting eaten by the shark. This shark is ruthless…and hungry. And clearly only frequents this particular beach.

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There’s more waiting for help, and there’s plenty more blood. Instead of becoming the stereotype victim in thrillers, Nancy is resourceful and resilient. She seems to understand that there might be a way to safety, and with the comic device of an injured seagull by her side, she tries to outsmart the shark and get to a nearby buoy which has flare guns.

What follows is a little bit of cat and mouse between Nancy and Shark. They’re both great swimmers, and begin to mirror one another in terms of motion and behaviours. The film is relatively short and clocks in under 90 minutes, thus the tension is not drawn out. This short running time also prevents the viewer from screaming out “Bad Idea!” or tsk-tsking aplenty at the screen.

In films such as “The Shallows” where a lone popular star is in peril for two hours, (see Gravity or Cast Away), the story is often just a way to showcase a certain actor’s acting abilities. There’s no really getting way from bad acting in a film where there is only one actor on-screen (minus a CGI shark, of course). Blake Lively certainly does not disappoint in this respect. She commands the screen, her likeability radiating in every scene. I don’t quite get why there’s so much ambivalence regarding Lively’s screen presence. It’s actually sort of hypocritical in that when Lively is being criticized for her acting, critics usually comment on her beauty. The two can be mutually exclusive but not in Hollywood, apparently. It’s like some big revelation that a pretty actor can act.

Pleasantly surprised by “The Shallows,” I recommend it to those who like fun, and thrilling, summer blockbusters. It won’t change your life, but it will certainly entertain you for a good 86 minutes.

 

 

Jason Tanamor’s “Drama Dolls”

Book Reviews

If you want to release a novel that maintains readers’ interests, it’d better have a LOT going on. Throw in a car chase, some crimes (both of the high and low kind), and some flawed heroes and you’ve got the key ingredients for modern fiction. Instead of losing his voice amongst conventions and familiarity, author Jason Tanamor puts a signature spin on a high-octane thriller and makes it both funny AND intense. Now that’s a combination that’s extremely rare these days.

A Review of the Sweet “Gingerbread” By Victor A. Davis

Book Reviews

Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions.  I keep my visions to myself.

Like the meaningful words sung by the legendary Fleetwood Mac, Victor A. DAvis’ “Gingerbread” is ethereal and born out of the dreams. Putting the essence of a dream into words is no easy task. In fact, it’s mostly an unsuccessful task. However, in Davis’ sinister reiteration of “Peter Rabbit”, it’s the chimerical imagery that makes this story better than your average re-imaginings.

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The plot has two friends, Edgar and Arainy, entering a candy factory under the pretense to steal some sugary gold. Despite reservations, Arainy accepts her friends’ challenge to get her hands on this candy, despite the looming threat of the ever-present Candy Man. One does not want to get caught by this being for reasons you can only infer.

 

Instead of becoming a tale of warning against crime and the inevitability of comeuppance, Davis’ weaves themes of guilt and the propensity to inflict pain upon another. There’s commentary on humanity and the balances that fatalism can bring, but also a presentation of style by an author that clearly knows his way with words.

Positive State of “Auguste and The Condition” By M.L. Sanford

Book Reviews
Set in exotic locales that only add to the urgency of the author’s writing style, “Auguste and The Condition” is a must-read for fans of thrillers and intrigue.
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It’s quite difficult to effectively summarize the books tendency to subvert genre formulas and norms. The lead character, Auguste Kensley, has such a sordid history full of disappointment, poverty, and sadness that his eventual survival is a testament to his willingness to endure as a person.
There are many varied plot developments that are intrinsic to understanding Auguste’s motivations. His relationship  with his childhood Raj is joyous and realistic – a presentation of a true co-existence with his best friend. There are curveballs thrown into Auguste’s path towards the navigation through life, some in the form of beautiful women and the previously mentioned beautiful locales, but the author’s tendency to return to the larger, overriding thematic constructs of redemption and forgiveness is what really catapults “Auguste and The Condition” onto another literary level.

Warming Up to L.D. Beyers’ “In Sheep’s Clothing”

Book Reviews

Full of authentic thrills and clever word play, L.D. Beyers’ “In Sheep’s Clothing” is master storytelling. It takes a thriller and upends it, reverses it, and then lets it settle while the reader is trying to wrap their minds around what exactly is happening.

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Moving at lightning speed, the plot of the novel has one very strong-willed President who will do anything to save the country. New to the White House, President Kendall quickly learns that what goes on in the oval office does not necessarily stay in the oval office. He also soon learns that the walls have ears and nothing is as it appears to be.

Thrown into these stark revelations, the author introduces the downtrodden but resourceful Secret Agent Matthew Richter. With his own set of baggage, including a very extensive knowledge of White House operations, he partners up with the President to literally try and save the day.

Crisp and clear, Beyers’ prose is elegant and forthcoming. Details are pertinent and storylines are all relevant by the book’s end. I appreciated the lack of red herrings because I feel if you have a strong plot, then you don’t need to throw off the whiff of the reader. “In Sheep’s Clothing” is an exercise in talent and patience.

Checking Out “Windfall” By Brian Lutterman

Book Reviews
A nicely written and taut book, “Windfall” would be a welcome addition to any library for fans of corporate thrillers. The novel finds the atypical heroine Pen Wilkinson intending to prosecute a shady businessman. However, as the trial begins, Pen experiences some truly awful events that bring to her awareness the true nature of the justice system that she is actively participating in.
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Commencing with the sudden disappearance of her star witness, Pen goes on a wild pursuit to find them. Along the way, she comes across some unsavoury characters that shed light on the crime that is happening behind the crime, so to speak. Pen’s eyes are opened to the true extent of of her targeted congressman.
What makes “Windfall” so interesting is having a disabled protagonist at its core. Pen Wilkinson’s character does not use her disability as a crutch – instead, the reader forgets that there are any hindrances to her accessibility or ability to reign successful by book’s end. It’s a well written piece which provides more of a background and development of its characters than the usual common fare political/courtroom thrillers that are always so popular. It’s a fun read.

Some Thoughts on “Skeleton Run” By John L. DeBoer

Book Reviews

A thriller full of intrigue and emotion, Skeleton Run by John L. DeBoer is riveting from start to finish.

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As with many popular thrillers, the plot of Skeleton Run deals with the handling of a secret involving reckless teens and the power the hiding of said secret holds over them as they navigate through life. Unfortunately for the four boys in the book, someone finds out about their little secret and begins to blackmail them.

The kicker is, one of these boys is now Alan Granger, the man. A governor with White House aspirations, he is possibly most affected by this blackmailing. What follows is a tale of suspense of the propensity of keeping secrets and the underpinnings of sometimes shady politics. The author has crafted a great story that is at once insightful and entertaining. Check it out!

 

Spiralling Out with James Gilmartin’s “The Spiral Effect: The Collector”

Book Reviews

I haven’t read a good sci-fi novel in a while. James Gilmartin’s glossy yet profound The Spiral Effect: The Collector is a juicy read that while borrowing from the sci-fi genre, it manages to tell a human story about saving lives.

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It’s apocalyptic but contemporary. The story find a strange disease wiping out scores of the Earth’s populations. It’s origins, and more important, its cure, is unknown.  Gilmartin presents a world where most people have ESP, allowing the protagonist here to flex his skills at saving the world.

He’s the Collector. He’s immune to this rampant virus, therefore he naturally decides to embark on a journey to find information on how to find a cure before the Earth is completely decimated. Using his special telekinesis skills, he ventures into the minds of those he comes upon, trying to piece together facts or some semblance of action to combat the evil sickness.

The messaging about the savagery of humanity does not go unnoticed. Nor does the immediate embracing of a life of violence that people will take to save themselves and their loved ones. It’s a bit Dawn of the Dead-y but so much more. The Collector carefully takes his time and watches his steps carefully as no one is to be trusted around him.

It’s a fairly dark and heavy read, but Gilmartin manages to present hope in subtle ways. His knack at depicting a world that is at the mercy of science and those immune few who hold their salvation in their hands. It’s a good one – check it out.