Still Alive

It’s been a rough few days here at SFTC HQ, and I apologize in advance for being quiet.  I’m not going to get into the details here, but suffice it to say that I needed a bit of a break from the internet / the world / people in general.

I’m still kinda in hibernation / cocooning mode, and so I expect it’ll be quiet here for a little while longer.  I thank you in advance for your patience.

The Week In Review: Stranger Things Indeed

1. My buddy Sara returns serve with more Uncharted 4 correspondence over at Videodame.  I hope to volley back later next week.

2. I’m busting outta the ‘burbs and will be at the NYVCC summer shindig at Barcade this coming Monday, July 25.  If you’re in town, come on by!

3. I’ve been wanting to write about Stranger Things all week, but knew I should wait until I finished the season; my wife and I started on Sunday after the kid went to bed and pushed through 2 episodes per night, and so we finished it on Wednesday evening.  I woke up later that night at 3am and had one of those middle-of-the-night timeless intervals trying to figure out what I wanted to say about it.  Now it’s Friday and I’m still floating out to sea, somewhat.  (There’s a reason for that, though.*)

If you don’t know what Stranger Things is, here’s my very abbreviated elevator pitch: imagine Steven Spielberg directing a Stephen King novel, with a John Carpenter soundtrack, in 1983.

This essay from Paste goes into a bit more detail, especially in terms of what exactly it’s stealing from; here’s a TL:DR excerpt:

If you were a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, chances are you’ve seen Stranger Things before. An eight-part sci-fi spectacle and shiny new Netflix original from filmmaking brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things is spooky supernatural entertainment unashamedly in the 1980s popcorn mould. It won’t be a problem for today’s kids less familiar with that period in film, but for those that recognize the influences—anyone who’s been paying attention to pop culture over the last 30 years, probably—there’s nothing surprising about Stranger Things. In fact, there’s barely an original idea across its six-and-a-half hours. Instead, it constantly recalls old stories.

There’s an argument to be made that this is in fact Stranger Things’ ‘original’ concept: arranging shopworn ideas in a new and interesting way. Collaging is considered an art, and it no doubt takes talent to make a worthwhile season of television almost entirely out of borrowed parts. Which isn’t to say Stranger Things is like some scrappy mish-mash; like Quentin Tarantino, the Duffers only cadge ideas from the best, but are more importantly talented enough as storytellers to use those ideas in effective ways.

I don’t know if I would count it among the greatest seasons of capital-T Television I’ve ever seen, but it was incredibly fun, and I guess the thing I appreciated the most is how, while it’s obviously borrowing heavily from a lot of 1980s tropes, it’s also incorporating a lot of today’s story-telling methods.  Let’s be honest – if you go back and revisit a classic 80s movie that you haven’t seen in a number of years, a lot of them haven’t aged particularly well; they are better in your memory of them than how they actually are.

A few key examples of this:  the first Tim Burton Batman movie, from 1989.  I saw this movie in the theater as a kid and LOVED it, but hadn’t watched it again until a few years ago.  And for all its stylistic Tim Burton-ness, there’s just a whole bunch of nonsense that 14-year-old me just didn’t notice at the time.  There’s a scene in the back half of the movie where Jack Nicholson’s Joker pays Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale a menacing visit.  But there’s literally no reason for him to show up there.  The scene doesn’t accomplish anything.  It’s a fabricated excuse to give Jack and Kim a scene together, and when you watch this with the benefit of watching 20+ years of movies in the interim, suddenly it sticks out.

Or, alternately, Big Trouble in Little China, which I loved to death back in the day.  It’s still fun, and it’s visually interesting, but the movie itself barely hangs together.

Anyway, back to Stranger Things.  Here is a bullet-pointed collection of thoughts, which I am currently too distracted to properly formulate into an actual essay.  (See the above-referenced footnote below.)  It’s hard to be specific without getting into what are technically spoilers, but I should also note that this isn’t the sort of show where you’re being knocked over by plot twists; there’s a tremendous amount of forward momentum here and so anything spoiler-y is less about a BIG REVEAL and more about a moment of character development.  Still, be warned.

  • This story could certainly have been told in a 2-hour movie.  But by stretching it out to 8 episodes, we’re able to have these characters actually talk to each other.  And, in what feels like a genuine first, we’re having characters have conversations where they actually say all the things I wish that characters would say.  I don’t know if that’s a testament to the writing, or the acting, or if it’s simply that I am the target audience for this show and so I related to every single goddamned pixel on my television screen.  But, like – it’s great to be able to follow Winona Ryder into what for all intents and purposes looks like a psychotic break, and to have her fully acknowledge to anyone who asks that yes, she is very much aware that she knows what she looks like, but for us to know that she isn’t.
  • How great is the casting?  This is some of the best work Winona Ryder’s done in her whole career – and while casting her is no accident, she knocked it out of the park.  The kids are great: the girl who plays Eleven looks an awful lot like young Wil Wheaton, wouldn’t you say?  And of course the older brother looks a lot like young River Phoenix.
  • OH GOD THE MUSIC.  Obviously one of the things that makes this show so great is how it mixes lots of 80s things together, but especially how it takes a Spielberg-ian look at childhood in the 80s but eschews the John Williams orchestra and instead goes for the John Carpenter minimal-synthesizer thing.  I only wish they could’ve gone a little bit further and added some David Lynch/Twin Peaks weirdness, though I suppose having this story take place in an unusually strange town might’ve been pushing it a bit too much.
  • As noted above, I am the target demo for this show – a child of the 80s, thoroughly steeped in 80s movies and music and clothes and Trapper Keepers and D&D (well, in my case, piano lessons), and so I of course related to both the junior-high AV Club kids and the high school hormonal teenagers.  (And on behalf of all the teenaged girls I knew when I was a teenager:  I’m so, so, so sorry.)  But I am also currently a 40-year-old parent, and I also thoroughly related to the adults on the show, especially with regards to how those parents care about their children.  Like the scene between Nancy and her mother where the mother knows what just happened to Nancy and her boyfriend and desperately wants to reach out to her daughter because she’s been there and wants to be cool about it, and how heartbreaking it is for her to have the door shut in her face.  Or the deep sorrow that Chief Hopper carries around with him in losing his very young daughter; I don’t know what that feels like first-hand and I hope I never do, but I can certainly imagine what it would like to lose my son, and jesus I have to move on because I can’t finish this sentence.  Point being, I related to everyone, in intensely different ways.
  • BIGGEST SPOILER, SINCE IT’S ABOUT THE LAST TWO EPISODES:  In the last two episodes, how great was it to have all the good guys, who’d previously been in their own groups, finally come together?  And to also appear in completely different pairings than they’d been in for the rest of the season?  It’s so nice when people don’t have to keep secrets from each other.  The sense of relief the little kids must’ve felt when not only did Chief Hopper rescue them from the bus, but that he believes them.

I loved the show; you should watch it.


* This week’s been a shitshow – work has been busy, and the RNC is a waking nightmare, but on the lighter side of things I’ve also been pleasantly obsessing over music, which carries its own set of distractions.  I know I’ve talked numerous times about how impressed I am at whatever algorithmic alchemy Spotify manages to achieve for the weekly Discovery playlist; the hit-to-miss ratio is more than acceptable, especially considering that the songs that qualify as “hits” more often than not end up becoming profoundly affecting.  Part of the reason why I couldn’t write anything yesterday is because I spent, like, 5 hours just listening to the bridge in Moses Sumney’s “Everlasting Sigh”.

Pokemon NOPE

I am not playing Pokemon GO.  But neither am I one of those cranky old fuddy-duddys who’s making fun of people who are.

I am, instead, one of those people who were simply born in that very specific date range where Pokemon means absolutely nothing to me whatsoever.  I was too old when they first came out, and I was again too old when the videogames started coming out, and I remain too old and too limited in my free time to pay attention to it now.  This is not me complaining; this is me simply being realistic.

Normally I get that “Fear Of Missing Out” anxiety when 90% of my Twitter feed is about something that I’m not actively participating in, but not in this case.  Even if I were to download it – and I may still do it, just out of pure curiosity – I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do with any of the various Pokethings I might come across, nor would I bother looking for any of the various Pokemon Go explainers that have popped up.

I’m also not sure how long this mania is going to last.  Remember just a short while ago, when Miitomo was all the rage?    Has anyone even looked at that thing in, say, the last 3 weeks?

I must stress, again, that I don’t hate Pokemon GO; I just don’t care about it.  I’m not reflexively angry about it, like all those idiots who hate the new Ghostbusters film without having seen it.  To those of you who are currently obsessed with it – please, by all means, tell me about it.  Is it approachable for the Pokemon neophyte, or do you have to already know how Pokemon works before bothering with it?  And does it kill your phone battery as quickly as I hear it does?  My iPhone 6’s battery is already starting to wither and die if I use it too much – like today, for instance, where I caught a 7:45am train with my battery at 95% and got into the office a little before 9:00am with the battery all the way down to 53%, and that was just because I was listening to Spotify and reading Twitter.  I worry that if, by some chance, I did end up downloading it and starting playing it during my various walks, that my phone would simply catch on fire.

I know it seems silly to write up a blog post to announce that I’m NOT playing the thing that everyone else in the world is playing, but I felt it important to differentiate myself from the other various thinkpieces out there.

 

A Lack of Patience

1. My latest Uncharted 4 correspondence for Videodame’s Co-Op Campaign is up!  Check it out here.

2. Earlier this year I wrote that I was done with Lego games, having struggled to finish Lego Marvel Avengers..  To be more specific:

The voice acting is mostly taken from the movies, except each line reading feels strangely sleepy and deadened in its delivery; the action is relentlessly tedious, endless waves of enemies descending out of nowhere, for no particular reason except to pad everything out.  Plenty of bugs.  A whole bunch of puzzles that do not explain themselves at all, which is all the more frustrating because the game doesgo out of its way to explain the dumbest shit in agonizing unskippable camera swoops.  I know, I know – I’m 40 years old, I’m at least 25 years past the target demographic, etc.  This doesn’t stop a shitty game from being a shitty game.  Remind me that I said all of this when Lego: Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in a few months.

Well, for some stupid reason I decided to rent Lego Star Wars TFA, and, lo and behold, everything I said in the above paragraph applies to this new game as well.  I am no longer interested in having to repeat the same platforming exercise dozens of time because the game is too stupid to recognize where I’m jumping.  And while it’s great that they added some new stuff to break up the formula – 3rd-person cover shooting, space combat – the new stuff is so poorly executed that I’d rather they kept it out.  I barely got through 2 chapters before deciding I’d had enough.  I’d rather watch the movie anyway.

3. I realize that I never updated my progress with respect to INSIDE.  Well, I finished it, and… um… yeah.  I stand by my initial assertion that it packs one hell of a first impression, and that the animation and sound design are particularly excellent.  That being said, I have literally no idea what the hell happened there at the end, and I was left with a lingering sense of “what the hell did I just play, and why?”  Hard to explain unless I get into spoilers, though even with spoilers it’s not like it gets any easier.  Would be curious to discuss it with someone who got it.  Otherwise, I’m starting to wonder just what it is about PlayDead and their fascination with child murdering.

4. I’m kinda drifting along through my gaming library at the moment.  I should be focused on finishing Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, but that requires a time commitment that I simply don’t have right now; that’s not the sort of game that I can play for just 30 minutes and then log off.  For some reason I bought the PS4 editions of Saints Row 4 and Gat Out of Hell, probably because they were stupidly cheap.  I do kinda love how ridiculously dumb SR4 is; it’s the Crackdown sequel I always wanted.  The PS4 edition barely qualifies as a “remaster”, but that’s not necessarily enough to ignore it completely; it’s a fun, dumb game, and I’m happy to mess around with it unless it completely crashes (which it actually did the other night).  I’d never played Gat out of Hell, and after 30-45 minutes with it I’m not sure I need to.   I am obviously going to start playing Red Dead Redemption again on Friday, once its transition to the XB1 is complete; I don’t know if I’m going to start over from scratch or just pick up where my cloud save left off, but all I really want is just to hang out with it again.