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Who You Gonna Call? Stranger Things Season 2 Gets the Gang Back Together For the Apocalypse



“Don’t you think it’s weird…that we only seem to hang out when the world’s about to end?” – Nancy, aka Nance

The residents of Hawkins, Indiana have been through a lot. At least the ones we got to know back in Season 1 of  Stranger Things: the Netflix show that unexpectedly became a meme-generating, merch- selling phenomenon last summer (#justiceforbarb). Whether it was losing a best friend, getting trapped in a supernatural underworld by a demonic presence, or having their very first crush on a girl, these characters endured some heavy stuff.

And that’s where Season two picks up. Enough time has passed (almost a year, or 353 days to be exact) so that it feels like things should be back to normal in this small Midwestern town. But “should” doesn’t always line up with reality, especially when trauma is involved. And that incongruity  is highlighted from the first episode of this surprisingly strong sophomore effort. On the surface, it seems like Will Byers has settled back into his old life after having almost died in the Upside Down. Remember how we barely ever saw Will in Season 1, except in flashbacks or as an unconscious prisoner? Well he’s now a main character, with the 80s bowl haircut that all of our moms really should have had the good sense to avoid. But in truth neither his mental nor his physical health have fully recovered – he’s secretly coughing up strange things into the sink and losing time to what appears to be flashbacks to the dark world he was caught in for so long.

I’ve seen other articles praising Noah Schnapp, the young actor who plays Will, and I agree that his impressive performance holds so much of this season together. From the minute he appears on-screen, there’s a specter of sickness and foreboding that hangs over Will, even as he tries so hard to fit back in with his family and friends. As much as they care and worry about him, they can never really understand what he’s experienced, so his isolation from them becomes another heartbreak he has to endure.

Of course Will may be the most traumatized of everyone – if that’s the sort of thing you can even measure – but he’s certainly not the only character dealing with grief, confusion and shock. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) seems happily coupled up with Steve (Joe Keery), but can’t get past her guilt at losing Barb (yes, Barb, she was a thing, RIP Barb and just fyi that Shannon Purser is on Riverdale now). Will’s mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a wonderful new boyfriend named Samwise, I mean Bob (Sean Astin), but can’t feel safe whenever Will’s not in her sights. And Chief Hopper (David Harbour), who never tried to hide being a screw-up, is having secret rendezvous with someone in the woods. And then there also are plenty of new characters, all of whome seem just as damaged as everyone else.

And I haven’t even talked about Will’s brother, Jonathon(Charlie Heaton), Will’s friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas(Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin(Gaten Matarazzo), and this Eggo-fiend with a shaved head, you might remember she went by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). One of the strengths of this show is that with an ensemble cast so big, you figure you’re bound to get stuck with a few dud characters or storylines that drag. But in the world of Stranger Things, every subplot or side character is moving enough, endearing enough, or at least has ridiculous enough hair, to keep you interested. And Season 2 plays to that strength by mixing things up and pairing people off in new ways. Ever want to see a buddy comedy starring John Hughs-esque heartthrob Steve and the adorable moppet/smart aleck Dustin? You will after this. And while none of the new characters really steal the scene (good luck with that with the incomporable Millie Bobby Brown around) – Paul Reiser’s suspicious doctor, the very sweet Bob and Max, the new kid in town, all come close – none of them diminish the amazing chemistry the original cast already established.

If the show – and particularly this season – has a weakness, it’s in the recycled feel of the scifi elements in some storylines. Why did it feel so fresh last year to see a bunch of rag-tag kids taking on all kinds of evil – real world and supernatural – as they biked through the 80s, the decade perfectly recreated with every shoulder pad and hair metal band on the soundtrack? Maybe because we weren’t yet in the middle of a Stephen King-assaince? (Seeing Finn Wolfhard in this and IT definitely blurs the line). Maybe just cause this season was bound to feel like a call back to itself? Anyway, it’s not the perfect pop culture reverence that bothers me – put an ET doll in a scene where a character feeds his new alien pet some candy any day – I get it and I love it. But some of the plot starts to feel like a paint-by-the-numbers for anyone who’s followed sci-fi movies or TV for the past 30 years. The aforementioned “cute” alien pet that quickly gets not so cute. Check. A ragtag group of rebel youth, some with special powers. Check. A bitter father-figure and precocious but violent child who team up to battle evil. Ugh, Logan was great though, wasn’t it? Let’s just say there were times when I wanted the show to surprise me and it didn’t get quite there.

But that’s not to say I was ever bored. I binged the entire thing in one day, and sure, maybe that’s partly because I was on deadline for this, but the truth is I would have done it anyway. Once things really start rolling at the end of episode two – and that’s the Halloween episode, so get ready for some throwback costume perfection – I was along for the ride. And I suspect you will be too. The Duffer Brothers – who created the show and write and direct a good percentage of the episodes – are just too good at getting you hooked, at making you care. You’ll notice in the first few paragraphs of this review I mention a lot of words like “trauma”, “foreboding”, “heartbreak” and “isolation”. So you might have been asking yourself if you were gonna have any fun watching this. Absolutely you are – it’s also a riot – with the jokes and callbacks you’ve been dying for since you binged season 1 last July. And that’s what gets you – that combination of so many great, original characters, who go through some really interesting and serious emotional development, plus all the meme-able dad jokes you could want. All that makes Stranger Things a highly addicting TV show and thoroughly satisfying way to spend nine hours on your couch, even if the world will be ending soon.



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“Kung Fu Panda 4” — A Letdown for True Fans



As a longtime fan of the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, I eagerly anticipated the release of “Kung Fu Panda 4.” Unfortunately, this latest installment feels more like a blatant cash grab than a heartfelt continuation of Po’s journey. Despite its dazzling animation, the film falls short in delivering the magic that made us fall in love with the series in the first place.

A Recycled Plot

The storyline of “Kung Fu Panda 4” lacks originality. Po’s quest to save yet another endangered village from an ancient threat feels redundant and uninspired. Instead of the rich character development and emotional depth we’ve come to expect, we’re left with a series of disjointed action scenes and lackluster jokes. 

Neglecting the Furious Five

One of the most disappointing aspects of the film is its treatment of the beloved Furious Five. These characters, who played crucial roles in Po’s previous adventures, are now relegated to the background with minimal impact on the story. Their interactions with Po, once a highlight of the series, are reduced to mere cameos.

Stunning Yet Hollow Animation

While the animation in “Kung Fu Panda 4” is as visually stunning as ever, it can’t mask the film’s weak script. The vibrant landscapes and expertly choreographed fight scenes are impressive, but they feel empty and superficial without a compelling story. It’s as if the filmmakers hoped that impressive visuals alone could carry the film.

Flat Humor

The humor, which was a cornerstone of the earlier films, falls disappointingly flat in this installment. The jokes rely heavily on slapstick and recycled gags, lacking the wit and charm that made us laugh in previous movies. This reliance on tired humor only reinforces the sense that “Kung Fu Panda 4” is more interested in maintaining a profitable brand than in telling a meaningful story.

Final Verdict

In conclusion, “Kung Fu Panda 4” is a letdown for true franchise fans. It fails to capture the heart, creativity, and narrative depth that made its predecessors special. For those hoping for a return to form, this film may feel like a disappointing attempt to cash in on past successes rather than a genuine effort to continue Po’s journey. Let’s hope DreamWorks learns from this misstep and returns to what made “Kung Fu Panda” great in the first place.

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The Idea Man



Disney’s latest documentary, “The Idea Man,” offers an enthralling and intimate portrait of Jim Henson, the mastermind behind the Muppets and a pioneer in the world of puppetry and children’s entertainment. This documentary not only honors Henson’s legacy but also delves deeply into the creative processes that made him a visionary in the entertainment industry.

“The Idea Man” begins by chronicling Henson’s early years, showcasing his initial forays into puppetry and television. The documentary paints a vivid picture of a young, ambitious Henson who dared to dream beyond conventional storytelling methods. Through rare footage and personal anecdotes from family, friends, and colleagues, viewers gain a comprehensive understanding of Henson’s innovative spirit.

One of the documentary’s strengths lies in its exploration of Henson’s multifaceted personality. Interviews with those who knew him best reveal a man driven by an insatiable curiosity and a profound desire to connect with audiences of all ages. The film highlights how Henson’s unique ability to infuse his creations with humor, heart, and a touch of whimsy made characters like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Big Bird beloved worldwide.

“The Idea Man” delves into the meticulous craftsmanship that went into Henson’s work. The documentary showcases behind-the-scenes footage of Henson at work, providing an insider’s look at the creative process behind iconic projects like “Sesame Street,” “The Muppet Show,” and “Fraggle Rock.” These glimpses into his workshop reveal the painstaking detail and boundless imagination that characterized Henson’s approach to puppetry and storytelling.

The documentary also emphasizes Henson’s contributions to the broader landscape of entertainment and technology. His pioneering work in animatronics and special effects, particularly in films like “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth,” is explored in depth. Interviews with contemporary filmmakers and special effects artists underscore Henson’s lasting impact on the industry, cementing his status as a trailblazer whose influence endures.

“The Idea Man” does not shy away from the emotional aspects of Henson’s life. The documentary addresses the challenges he faced, both professionally and personally, and how he navigated the pressures of creative success. This balanced portrayal adds depth to the narrative, making it not only a celebration of Henson’s achievements but also a poignant reminder of his humanity.

Disney’s “The Idea Man” is a must-watch for fans of Jim Henson and anyone interested in the magic of creative storytelling. The documentary is a heartfelt tribute to a man whose imagination knew no bounds and whose work continues to inspire generations. Through a blend of archival footage, personal interviews, and expert analysis, “The Idea Man” offers a rich and engaging look at the life and legacy of Jim Henson.

For those searching for an insightful and inspiring documentary on one of the entertainment industry’s most influential figures, “The Idea Man” is an essential addition to your watchlist.

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Beach boys documentary



**Rating: ★★★★☆**

Disney Plus’ new documentary, “The Beach Boys: Endless Harmony,” dives deep into the tumultuous, yet harmonious journey of America’s quintessential surf rock band. Directed with a keen eye for both nostalgia and narrative depth, the film offers an intimate look at the band’s rise to stardom, their internal conflicts, and their enduring legacy.

From the outset, the documentary captures the essence of The Beach Boys’ musical genius, spotlighting Brian Wilson’s unparalleled songwriting and the band’s signature harmonies that defined a generation. Archival footage, including rare studio sessions and candid home videos, paints a vivid picture of their creative process and the carefree California lifestyle that inspired their biggest hits. The inclusion of previously unreleased tracks and demos adds a layer of authenticity, giving fans a rare glimpse into the evolution of some of their most iconic songs.

Interviews with surviving band members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine, alongside insights from music historians and contemporary artists influenced by The Beach Boys, enrich the narrative. These personal accounts are heartfelt and, at times, poignant, particularly when addressing the darker chapters of the band’s history—Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental health, the impact of drugs, and the tragic loss of Dennis and Carl Wilson.

The documentary’s strength lies in its balanced portrayal. It doesn’t shy away from the band’s internal discord and the challenges they faced, yet it also celebrates their artistic achievements and cultural impact. The visual style is vibrant, with a seamless blend of past and present, creating a tapestry that feels both nostalgic and fresh.

However, “Endless Harmony” occasionally veers into fan-service territory, glossing over certain controversies and perhaps offering a more sanitized version of events. Despite this, the documentary succeeds in providing a comprehensive overview that will satisfy long-time fans while introducing new audiences to the magic of The Beach Boys.

In conclusion, “The Beach Boys: Endless Harmony” is a must-watch for music lovers and history buffs alike. It captures the spirit of an era, the brilliance of a band, and the timeless appeal of their music. Disney Plus has delivered a documentary that is as much a celebration of The Beach Boys’ legacy as it is a testament to the enduring power of their sound and soul.

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