Friday, August 26, 2016

I Saw This!! What I Have Been Watching (Pt. A)

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of stuff they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. But we can't not write cuz that would be bad, very bad.

In February I ended off a 6-parter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) of what I had been watching over the last year. In the cyclical nature that is current TV viewing, it's about time I did another round.

Stranger Things, 2016, The Duffer Bros (Hidden) -- Netflix

Might as well start at the end.

This is easily the best thing on TV at the moment. Of the moment, is probably a better term, as per the new Netflix paradigm you can watch an entire season in one shot, should you wish to. We don't, as I like to pace out my joy. No point in losing it so quickly. And yes, The Best.

The show is a throwback to 80s style, not any one particular genre or director or movie or TV series, more a collection of nostalgic memories. Think Close Encounters, think E.T., think D&D in your parent's basement, think alternative pop music from mixtapes, BMX bikes and John Carpenter movie. The series does a painfully familiar mid-80s, which is weird considering these guys would have hit the 90s during their formative years.

A group of pre-adolescent boys finish an epic D&D campaign and head home, Will via the scary road through what they call Mirkwood. A monster startles him and gives chase. And catches him. The entire town gets mixed up in the disappearance of the boy, but it centres on the three remaining boys, and the strange girl who emerges from that mysterious facility on the edge of  town. You know the one, from a dozen X-Files episodes, where the monster also emerged.

This show isn't about hiding the juicy bits from you. The cards are tossed on the table amidst the D&D figures. The girl Eleven, has powers. The monster comes from The UpsideDown, your classic dark & scary alternate dimension. Both are dangerous and the facility wants them back. They are Bad Guys. Will's mom (an INCREDIBLE Wynona Ryder) believes he's alive. So does Sheriff Hopper. But the best parts of this show come through the eyes of the kids themselves.

Go watch it; now. It is not all nostalgia, but uses enough of it to make people my age smile regularly. As for the rest, it is just incredibly well constructed.

Ash vs Evil Dead, 2015, Starz -- download

On the bedroom wall of one of the kids in Stranger Things is a movie poster for The Evil Dead. Despite the fact it hadn't reached its popularity at the time of its release, it's a nice reference. By way of the intent of the show, it establishes exactly how much nostalgia is around that Sam Raimi movie. But really, the movie didn't reach cult status until much later. And now, 35 years later the cult status is still strong. Strong enough to generate a new TV series from Starz.

The core idea of an Evil Dead series has been talked about for years, always from the point of view of picking up after the third movie, with Ashley back working in the S-Mart. And 30 odd years later, that kind of makes even more sense. He was always kind of a loser.

Ash begins the series as the 40+ guy working at a ValueStop among similarly go-nowhere 20sumthins. Cringe. And when he tries to resurrect some infamy in his life by reading from that book, the one he cannot seem to get rid of, well he just ends up calling Deadites back into the world. And while he doesn't want to be that guy anymore, he really doesn't have a choice as they start killing his customers, neighbours, etc. So, on the road he goes with two of his coworkers, to find someone who can undo the new curse he has unleashed.

It is a fun, dumb show. Shot in New Zealand pretending to be the American North-East, it has a weird vibe to it. Locales definitely contribute to a show's character and, as this is a road show, it feels left of centre already. But it works in the show's favour.

As expected, Bruce Campbell lords over the show with his aged, convinced he has wisdom Ash. The dynamic he has with his protegee Pablo is great, and who wouldn't dump dead-end retail life to hunt down Deadites. And of course, the show is as gross as hell, owing a lot to Peter Jackson's original splatterfest movies. Down there, they just know how to have fun with the gore, right down to the "perfectly clean in the next scene" trope.

Season Two will have an extended mythos including an immortal Lucy Lawless as a Deadite hunter.

11.22.63, 2016, Hulu -- download

Not dumb at all, but still a lot of tense fun, is the time travel show based on the Stephen King novel. James Franko plays Jake, a school teacher who gets dragged into a time travel plot to undo the assassination of Kennedy in 1963. If Kennedy had not been shot, America would just be better right? Without any reason, explanation or time travel pseudo science inserted, there is a portal to October 21st, 1960 in the closet of his favourite diner. Al, the owner of the diner, convinces Jake to take up the mantle of rewriting history for the sake of America, before he dies of cancer. And prepared with all of Al's notes, back Jake goes.

There are only two quirks of time travel inserted into the story, the first being the reset. If Jake comes back from the past, sees the stepped-on-butterfly changes and then goes back again through the portal, everything is reset. He always goes back to the same date, thus having another chance to make things go the way he wants to. But he continues to age along his own timeline, which is why Al just got older and older and eventually succumbed to cancer.

The second is more metaphysical. Time pushes back on any major changes Jake tries to make. Any key differences in the timeline cause a mystical, mysterious reaction from the universe. Power flickers, people act weird and things become a little more dangerous. The bigger of the impact of the change he is making, the stronger the push back. Is it a living force getting angry? Is it metaphysics trying to stabilize? Who knows, who cares. We are not given anymore explanation then Jake gets.

So, Jake has three years or so to further investigate Lee Harvey Oswald and whether the common theory fits, that he was the shooter. Or do any of the other conspiracy theories hold water? Jake has to insert himself into a world with a fake identity, gather enough information to find out what really happened and ... stop it.

The problem is that Jake falls in love. He becomes attached to a lovely (startlingly beautiful Torontonian Sarah Gadon) schoolteacher named Sadie. Does he carry through with the investigation or does he leave it alone and live happily with her? He carries on, even though the pushback leads to worse and worse consequences, for him and for their relationship. As he gets closer and closer to the day, there are more questions that when he started and then.... he stops the assassination.

I won't spoil the show's ending.