Monthly Archives: July 2016

Stranger Things Season 1 Review


Of all of the Netflix Original Series so far, Stranger Things feels like the most attuned to the binge-watching model. Despite their serialized natures, series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards are still relatively episodic, giving each hour some semblance of its own story. Stranger Things, though, feels like an 8 hour movie. The episodes give the viewer decent stopping points, but there’s never any suggestion that the show is meant to be consumed one episode at a time. The show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, mean to hook you at the start and keep you attached until the very end.

They’re quite successful, too. It’s true that Stranger Things borrows from a whole host of 80s movies, especially those written and directed by Stephen King and Steven Spielberg: ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, It, The Goonies, The Shining, and more. The influence of other filmmakers can be felt as well; the teenage storyline feels like a direct engagement with the work of John Hughes, and the creature designs are inspired by the work of John Carpenter (this connection is even directly acknowledged when a couple characters are watching The Thing on TV). But just making a series of nostalgic references doesn’t make for good TV. The most impressive aspect of Stranger Things is how engaging its individual storylines are and how perfectly it weaves them together in its later chapters.

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Dueling Conventions of Love and Hate: Comic Con vs The Republican National Convention


The best horror movie of the last week has been the Republican National Convention. The event pushed the narrative that we are all part of a huge battle between the “real” Americans and…well, everybody else. There are the Muslims who supposedly hate us, the immigrants and criminals who are more prevalent than ever (or at least it “feels” that way, which New Gingrich says is more important than facts), and the dastardly liberals and their Lucifer-following ways. It all painted a picture of a society on the brink of collapse, unless an orange, toupeed “blue-collar billionaire” can come to our rescue.

And yet, at the same time, another gathering suggested that maybe all of the above blustering is a crock of shit. The San Diego Comic Con kicked off on the night of July 20th, just as the Republican National Convention was winding down. The massive convention center south of San Diego’s Gaslamp District flooded with an irresponsibly large body of fans, all of whom had happily made their pilgrimage to the event.

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Orange is the New Black Season 4 Review


Season 4 of Orange is the New Black is the best of the series. It fights back against criticism of the third season (which I actually liked) with a darker tone, a weightier central arc, and a renewed focus on the series’ central characters. And yet, simply calling this year’s run of episodes the best of an already-great show still feels like damning it with faint praise. This season is the most socially relevant piece of television released this year, and probably the strongest overall as well.

Without going too far into specifics (although I will later in a spoiler-section), this season is far more concerned with race and power dynamics than previous seasons. The women’s prison setting of Orange is the New Black provides the perfect scenario to delve into such topics, which have been touched on in the past but never to the degree that they are here. The show’s complex characters and continued appeal to empathy help to reveal how complicated such matters often are. While a few characters are cast as outright villains, the ones who cause the most damage this year are ostensibly decent people, thrust into difficult positions that they are in no way ready for, or simply doing what they believe is right.

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The Conjuring 2 Review


I enjoyed watching The Conjuring 2. It’s competently made, features a few clever scares, and Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson lend the film a gravity that many horror pictures are missing. But the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am in the result. The first Conjuring film is one of the best horror features in years, a testament to traditional horror filmmaking and craft. In comparison, its sequel just feels routine.

There’s a good reason for that: this film was very much rushed through production. It’s public knowledge that the demon-antagonist was completely redesigned just three months before the movie’s release, leading to a number of reshoots well into post-production. That sort of seat-of-your-pants filmmaking explains a lot about the movie, from the script, to the production, to the general lack of innovation on display.

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Inside Review


Despite having little-to-no promotion before its release, Playdead’s “Inside” has garnered lots of discussion and rave reviews. There’s a good reason for this: Inside is a great game, absolutely worth your time. However, because much of Inside’s joys come from its surprises, I have no intention of detailing the specific moments that make the game so interesting. Still, there’s plenty to say of Playdead’s technique here, and why Inside stands so high above other indie platformers.

First of all, like Playdead’s previous game Limbo, Inside is a 2D platformer. However, unlike Limbo, Inside utilizes its foreground and background in much more significant and game-altering ways. It’s an interesting scenario, in which one must be aware of a three-dimensional environment while only actually interacting within two. This has a unique effect; it allows the environment to feel large and open, but also allows the developers to retain more control over the game and level design.

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