Feelin’ TV: October 23-29, 2017

Stranger Things returned last weekend after unprecedented levels of hype for its much anticipated second season on Netflix. I was excited, you were excited, everyone was excited to see the next chapter of supernatural happenings in Hawkins, Indiana. In this viewer’s opinion, Stranger Things 2 lives up to the hype and maybe even surpasses it, providing 9 episodes jam-packed with expert world-building, top-notch story-telling, fantastic performances and loads of 80’s nostalgia. Because of the nature of the shows release, and the knowledge that not everyone has had the chance to watch the entire season yet, our review today will be spoiler free. If you don’t want to know anything at all about the season, I’d slide on down to the Channel Surfing portion of this column, but if you’re just avoiding spoilers, proceed with confidence. And if you’re looking for a place to discuss the show in depth without holding back, let’s chat on Facebook.

Stranger Things 2 succeeds primarily because it succeeds in all of the ways that it did when it took the TV world by storm in 2016. With a story that feels like it could have come straight out of the period, the show plays to our desire for nostalgia without feeling like an appeal to score cheap points with the audience. Like season one, the situation our characters find themselves in feels like it could have come from the mind of Steven Spielberg or Stephen King without being a blatant rip-off of either creator.

To avoid spoilers, I’m going to avoid talking about plot and focus on character. For all of its creepy plot and throwbacks to 80’s movies, to me what makes Stranger Things stand apart is its characters. While most of America (understandably) fell in love with Eleven and Mike (Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, respectively) during season one, I was immediately enamored with the foul-mouthed, wildly enthusiastic spark plug Dustin, played by the incomparable Gaten Matarazzo. Season 2 capitalizes on his irresistible charm by giving us more Dustin early and often. And in a stroke of storytelling genius, much of the season sees him paired up with the character who saw the largest measure of redemption last season, the slimy other-man with a heart of gold, Steve Harrington. Joe Keery is delightful as Steve, who becomes a mentor/reluctant babysitter to Dustin and his friends. The time spent with these two together really sings. I’ve remarked on social media since completing the season that I’m lobbying for a spin-off where Steve somehow becomes Dustin’s guardian. I don’t know what they’d do, some people have suggested that they should be private detectives or just pick-up artists, but I’d be all-in on that show.

The second character highlight to me this season was the addition of Sean Astin to the cast as Bob Newby, the nerdy love interest for Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers. I’ve heard the Duffer brothers talk about how they didn’t have a large role for the character, but Astin’s appeal and charm caused them to expand the role. I think you’d have a hard time finding anyone who thinks that was a bad decision. Besides the meta aspect of his casting as the former leader of the Goonies, an obvious influence on Stranger Things, Astin brings an earnestness and commitment to the role that puts Bob the Brain in the conversation with Rudy Ruettiger and Mikey Walsh for the second-best performance in his long career (let’s face it, Samwise Gamgee will always be #1).

Overall, other than a late standalone episode that didn’t quite feel like it belonged (you’ll know it when you get there), I really have no complaints about the season. It was everything I had hoped it would be based on what we got from season one. There are bigger stakes, a bigger cast and a bigger foe, but it’s all handled wonderfully to create a satisfying second season. Now it’s time to wait impatiently for the third.  Stranger Things can be streamed in its entirety on Netflix.

Channel Surfing:

  • The Walking Dead squandered any goodwill it might have gained during the premiere with one of its all time worst episodes. The only redeeming factor is that rather than sitting around and having conversations that we’ve already had over and over again, they were shooting people while they were having conversations that we’ve already had over and over again.  I think that at the end, we’re supposed to think that something bad is around the corner, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. There’s someone named Morales who it appears I’m supposed to remember who has gotten the drop on Rick. There was a walkie-talkie discovered by Carol and friends that apparently means something bad. Someone else got shot in the stomach and the music indicated to me that I’m supposed to care. I’m not sure why. I believe that the show-runners think that they have  created a world with many rich and fully fleshed out characters, but in reality there are 6-7 characters that we care about, and everyone else might as well be a walker. I don’t have any idea who Morales is. I think the guy who got shot in the stomach is the husband of the guy with the curly hair. I’m really not sure. And that’s a problem. But at least someone got mauled by a tiger. The current season of The Walking Dead can be streamed on the AMC app. 
  • Can you imagine a show that featured Dana Carvey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK and Robert Smigel? Did you know it really happened? It was at the height of Dana Carvey’s career after leaving Saturday Night Live in the mid 90’s and it was a complete and total flop. Airing on ABC, The Dana Carvey Show created 8 episodes and aired only 7 before the plug was pulled by the network that had only recently been acquired by Disney. The story of its failure is now being told in the great new documentary presented by Hulu called Too Funny To Fail. Full of clips from the show and interviews with the cast, the doc provides a fun oral history into the show’s creation, production and cancellation in the spring and summer of 1996. I haven’t seen The Dana Carvey Show (although I do plan on watching it on Hulu having seen this doc), but as a fan of all of the aforementioned cast, I found it to be a really fun way to spend 90 minutes. I highly recommend it. Too Funny To Fail is currently streaming on Hulu.  

That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Join in the conversation about Stranger Things 2 or the Arrowverse there too. Happy viewing!


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes (2017)


Going In

In 1973, a tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs became the most watched televised sporting event of all time. Riggs was past his prime and in an effort to regain the lost spotlight, he claimed that even at the age of 55 he would be able to easily beat the best female tennis player. Billie Jean King (one of the women he challenged), was both extremely successful and an outspoken advocate for gender equality. This biopic starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell covers the famous match as well as the effect it had on their personal lives. I truly believe that Emma Stone can do no wrong, and in recent dramatic performances Carrell has proven to me that he is more than just a comedian. It feels like a movie year where Hollywood has embraced empowered female characters and this film should join that list. I love biopics. I love sports. And I expect that I will love Battle of the Sexes.



COMING OUT

Can we just take a moment to recognize the incredible talent of Emma Stone? Every year she seems to wow me more.  Her career has skyrocketed recently beginning with her wonderful supporting role in Birdman , then her Oscar-winning leading performance in La La Land, and now she has equaled that with her portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. From her fiery, outspoken strength on gender equality to her passionate, awkward confusion over her feelings for a same-sex lover to her determination and physical dominance on the tennis court, Stone captures every quality of BJK perfectly. Though the eventual famous tennis match between 29-year old BJK and 55-year old Bobby Riggs may give the film its central plot, make no mistake that this is truly King’s story.

The film’s retelling of Billie Jean King’s fight for equal pay and equal rights was very insightful. In getting back to the core of what feminism truly is about, we repeatedly hear BJK expressing the strengths that women can bring to the tennis association (and in other aspects of life) without ever speaking ill of men. She fights with facts, and the comedic way in which the film displays a widespread chauvinistic response to her logical claims is uncomfortably realistic for the time. Riggs, played wonderfully by Steve Carrell, is an excellent contrast. Generally known as a hustler with major gambling problems, even BJK acknowledges at one point that his extreme chauvinism is more likely for show to help sell the spectacle of their match than truly how he feels about women. We get to explore some aspects of his home life like a broken relationship with his son, a reliance on drugs to keep his body in top shape, and a failing marriage as they lead him down the path to the main event.

But again, Battle of the Sexes is really all about King, and very little about tennis. Despite the titular match being incredibly well shot and riveting, there wasn’t much other tennis. The film focuses greatly on BJK’s exploration of a same-sex relationship resulting in a love affair that would affect her deeply.  This wistful romance, however, occurs while King is still married to her husband Larry, and this is where the film lost me. I watched closely, waiting for the moment when consequences would come, but ultimately the movie has nothing good to say about commitment in relationships, and instead promotes a message of “love who you love” without being ashamed. That’s all well and good, if you’re single, but BJK wasn’t.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017)
Emma Stone
Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Twentieth Century Fox
Verdict

Battle of the Sexes is a compelling and hilarious biopic that will keep viewers engaged and interested for its entire runtime. It is also a welcome history lesson and reminder that though we’ve come far in women’s rights, there are still more bridges to cross. The film’s romanticizing of King’s affair, coupled with showing no attempts at marriage reconciliation, was a real downer for me despite the beautiful way in which the relationship with her lover was depicted. Its cinematography and stellar score by Nicholas Britell  are also major positives and create a solid all-around picture. BJK was a pioneer of her time and everyone should know her story.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: September 17-23

LESSON #1: FOR AT LEAST ONE FILM, DEFENDING OF INTEGRITY STILL EXISTS— I absolutely love Paramount Pictures’ statement of support for Darren Aronofsky’s mother! after its low box office debut and an “F” CinemaScore.  Here it is:

This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.

Other studios in other situations could have gotten in the bus driver’s seat, made up excuses, or assigned blame to everyone but themselves.  Love or hate the film (and plenty feel both), mother! deserves its chance for success and an audience no matter how large or small those results add up to be.  Bravo to the balls on Paramount brass!  That’s as forward an example of integrity as you’re going to see in a profit-driven business where art is secondary.

LESSON #2: BARRING HUGE UPHEAVAL, YOU CAN LOCK IN THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI AS ONE OF THE NOMINEES FOR BEST PICTURE AT THE UPCOMING 90TH ACADEMY AWARDS— Every year since 2008, the winner of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival has gone on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Three eventual Best Picture winners since 2006 were TIFF champs.  Go ahead and write in permanent marker the title of Martin McDonagh’s newest film to the field.  I think you’ll also see star Francis McDormand’s name on the Best Actress short list as well.  Any and all Oscar buzz will float through this column all season.

LESSON #3: STRONGER IS THE BOSTON MOVIE WE DESERVED MORE THAN PATRIOTS DAY A YEAR AGO— The resonance surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing has always been more about the people than the bravura.  We deserved the real thing, not an overly convenient composite character in a Mark Wahlberg glamour project.  The most and maybe only genuine portion of Peter Berg’s film came in its extended epilogue of testimonials given by the actual citizens and participants.  Real respect and passion showed up after two hours of exploitative action.  David Gordon Green’s Stronger flips that ratio to deliver and demonstrate true dignity and tribute.  His film is outstanding.

LESSON #4: RESPECT WOMEN, PERIOD— On the heels of the metaphorical misogyny found in mother! arrives a debate-filled dramedy of a real-life climate of misogyny in Battle of the Sexes.  The Emma Stone/Steve Carell duel is an unabashed crowd-pleaser and stand-up message film that inspires and challenges gender equality then and now.  Someday, a time will come when the blazed trails of women like Billie Jean King will lead to a true level field.  Until then, every measure of respect paid to women is a step toward an acceptance and understanding that should be commonplace.  Make a greater effort, period.  If you’re part of the problem, change your ways.  Teach not only our daughters better, but our sons as well.  The old Lauren Barnholdt axiom says “you have to give respect to get respect.”  Women have been giving of themselves for far too long.  It’s time to pay the respect back.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.