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Stranger Things 2 Ep. 1: “Mad Max”

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To say the newest season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” starts with a bang is a bit of an understatement. Not only does the first episode of the second season begin with a cast of hoodlums we’ve never met before, but we follow the meth-head Scooby-Doo gang on a high-speed pursuit through the streets of Chicago.

A long way from Hawkins, Indiana.

From there this first episode “Mad Max” gets right back into the now-classic “Stranger Things” vibe we all know and love. And the episode couldn’t have kicked off better than to begin its new tale following our favorite character Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) around as he scavenges frantically for quarters.

Turns out Dustin and his buddies, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are all headed to the arcade were Dustin will realize someone – a mysterious entity know only as Mad Max – has (gasp) beaten his high scores to not only “Centipede” but “Dig Dug” as well.

Turns out this Mad Max cat is a redheaded girl new to the town of Hawkins. Maxine is played by series newcomer Sadie Sink and she is (almost) immediately a much-welcomed addition to the gang. Her brother, not so much.

But we’ll get to him later.

While our gang of misfits are lamenting Mad Max’s rule over their domain, plucky little Will Byers feels something odd on the breeze. He then steps outside and has a full-on living nightmare. One where the upside down has taken over Hawkins (and the world?) and the whole mess is lorded over by a tentacled creature straight out of Frank Darabont’s The Mist. Or Monsters Inc. for that matter.

Cut to the next day where we’re reintroduced to David Harbour as the rough and tumble sheriff of these parts, Jim Hopper. Dragging himself into work, Hopper is immediately met by the town conspiracy theorist played by Brett Gelman. The man thinks something is rotten in the state of Illinois, and boy is he right.

After that bit of setup, we join Hawkins’ two resident couples: Nancy and her boy-toy Steve (one of my favorite returning characters), and Joyce (Winona Ryder) and her new man, played by Mikey from The Goonies. Or, you know, if we want to go by his real name, Samwise from Lord of the Rings.

The two couples talk and kiss and we move back to Hopper.

Jim Hopper aka Hop has a problem: all of the pumpkins in Hawkins are rotten from the inside out. Being that Halloween is in two days, this presents a (slight) problem for the residents of Hawkins. Don’t worry, they’ll get over it.

We then meet another new series character in the form of Paul Reiser’s Dr. Owen, a doctor (natch) at the sinister energy plant upon the hill. Young little Will Byers has to have weekly checkups with the d*ck from Aliens and we learn that the tentacles monster from the mist that Will saw outside the arcade wants everyone in the world dead.

How are them pumpkins doing, Hopper?

Speaking of bigger fish to fry than sour pumpkins, Nancy and Steve have a dinner date… with Barb’s parents. Cue the KFC awkwardness. Turns out, and rightly so, Nancy feels guilty about Barb’s death, and how she has been restricted from telling the redheaded future librarian’s parents the truth behind their daughter’s disappearance.

Wrapping up the episode, Mike misses Eleven, Will sees more siniter visions and the Byers clan is forced to watch Mr. Mom. Just when things seem to be winding down, however, the show drops a bombshell. Eleven is alive and well and living in a cabin in the woods, protected and taken care of all these last 353 days by the noble Sheriff Hopper.

Cut to credits.

This first episode of “Stranger Things 2” is all we could have asked for in a re-introduction to the world of Hawkins. We meet all our old favorites again, while still finding the time to meet a few new friends along the way.

If “Stranger Things 2” can at the very least keep up the quality of this first episode, I think we’re all in for a killer season. But we’ll see soon…

Make sure to check back tomorrow for our recap/review of “Stranger Things 2” episode 2: “Trick or Treat, Freak”.

 

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual

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Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.

Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!

Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

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Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse

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Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins

Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson

Directed by Peter Howitt


Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.

Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.

While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.

In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.

  • Scorched Earth
3.0

Summary

Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.

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