Series Review: Stranger Things Season 4 – Vol. 1 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

It speaks volumes for a show to still be as captivating as Stranger Things is four seasons in, and yet somehow this series only gets better with time. Within seconds of it starting, you’re instantly sucked into its world, and forgot about everything and anything else going on around you, the ingredients of not only great, meticulous writing, but flimmakers who actually care about their art.

This latest season contains so many subplots, I’m not sure if I can even sum it all up accurately without giving too much away. Long story short, a new evil in the form of a demon named Vecna is threatening Hawkins, and after the popular school cheerleader (Grace Van Dien) is killed in the house of local metal head and leader of the local D&D club, Eddie (Joseph Quinn), the kids get wrapped up in solving the mystery while trying to stay alive.

Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who has since lost her powers and struggling to adjust to living a “normal” life, is brought back to a facility by Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) to help regain her strength back. And while all this is going on, Hopper (David Harbour), who survived the events of season three but has since been imprisoned in a Russian hell, is plotting his escape while Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murrary (Brett Gelman) get tangled up in a kidnapping while attempting to free him.

While the show has always paid homage to ’80s films like E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial (among many others), this particular season has a strong influence from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, with dream-like sequences similar to those from said franchise (there’s even a brief appearance from Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund). And the tributes to such metal bands as Dio and W.A.S.P. via the Eddie character are a nice touch as well.

Since the show first started in 2016, it’s caused an unprecedented pop culture phenomenon, and rightfully so, considering the care and attention to detail put into Stranger Things is immaculate. There’s an artistic integrity often not found elsewhere these days, and I find myself wanting to go back to revisit the earlier seasons each time a new one emerges. There’s a simple reason why we respond so strongly to ‘throwbacks’ like Stranger Things; maybe it just reminds us of a time when the world – and life itself – was just a simpler place.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Willy’s Wonderland (Saturn Films/Landmark Studio Group/Landafar Entertainment/JD Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

This Nicolas Cage-driven horror/comedy hybrid romp, directed by Kevin Lewis, ranges from being part harmless homage to such goofy ’80s guilty pleasures as Killer Klowns From Outer Space, to part demented (and ridiculous) Toy Story-induced nightmare.

Cage stars as a silent drifter (literally – he utters zero dialogue throughout the entire film) who gets roped into a diabolical scam by small town locals when his vehicle is abruptly disabled while passing through the middle of nowhere. He ends up in an old, rundown, Chuck E. Cheese-type joint called Willy’s Wonderland (suspiciously similar to Five Nights at Freddy’s, too), where he must fight for his life against maniacal machines that come to life. Lucky for him, there’s also a group of local teens (lead by talented newcomer Emily Tosta) who know the real secrets of Willy‘s, and are hell-bent on taking it down once and for all. This of course leads to some very surreal, A Nightmare on Elm Street-esque moments that range from legitimately creepy, to over-the-top, cringe-worthy deaths.

Character actress Beth Grant (who you may recognize from such films as Rain Man or Child’s Play 2) pulls a worthy performance as the town sheriff, and Killer Klowns… alumni Grant Cramer even makes a brief cameo. And even the soundtrack features some impressive work by Emoi (watch for the mesmerizing scene where the film’s theme song is played during an epic battle between Cage and a pinball machine).

But for every time I found myself getting completely lost in the film, something overly juvenile or absurd would usually come along and instantly snap me back into reality. I really wanted to like the film, and for the most part I suppose I did. But perhaps just a little more effort in the dialogue and acting departments would have put it that much more over the edge. If you’re simply looking for mindless entertainment though, then Willy’s Wonderland is hands down the place to go.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars