Ten thoughts about Stranger Things 3

Last year Michele started watching the first season of the horror series Stranger Things on Netflix.  I was on my own laptop, doing something else, but from time to time I would turn to her and ask “What are you watching?” and “What’s it about?” and “What’s happening in it?” and “What’s happening now?”

Michele finally got fed up with this and shouted “Just come over here and watch the damn thing with me!!!”  Not wanting to argue, I did, jumping in as she was watching episode six.  I quickly caught up on what has taking place, and I really enjoyed the rest of it.  I nicknamed it “John Carpenter’s The Goonies,” and was not at all surprised to learn that both that director and that movie had been influences on the Duffer Brothers.

Immediately after that we watched Stranger Things 2, which we both liked.  So when season three came out on Netflix this month, we also watched it.

ST3 logo

Here are some thoughts on the latest installment of the Duffer Brothers weird magnum opus…

1) The 1980s Sucked

Nostalgia can be a very dangerous thing. I grew up in the 1980s. I was nine years old in 1985, which is when Stranger Things 3 is set, so I would have been a few years younger than most of the characters in the show.  Honestly, I hated the eighties.  I’m certainly not the only one.  All of the faux machismo of the Reagan years and the worship of unbridled greed was anathema to me.  I was a geek who read a lot of books and comics, and I had very few friends.  I guess I probably would have fit in with Mike and Dustin and the rest of those guys, except…

2) Puberty Strikes!

The younger characters are now in their early teens, and it shows.  Actors Finn Wolfhard and Noah Schnapp both experienced serious growth spurts between seasons!  Millie Bobby Brown also looks older.  Character-wise, all of the boys have discovered girls, except for Will, and he’s understandably frustrated that his pals are now off hanging out with their girlfriends instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons with him.

I can certainly relate.  I was definitely a late bloomer emotionally.  When most of my classmates in high school were dating and hanging out and socializing, I was usually at home with my nose buried in a comic book.  Now that I’m older, I understand why Mike and Lucas are busy trying to mend things with Eleven and Max, and why Dustin is trying to get in touch with Suzie, but I also totally relate to Will’s frustrations at feeling left out.

ST3 Mike and Eleven
This is our “Attempting to look perfectly innocent and failing utterly at it” expression. How are we doing?

3) Slow the Plot Down

Strangers Things 3 had a lot of characters and plotlines.  I think it was a bit overloaded.  The plot concerning the Mind Flayer returning and turning the inhabitants of Hawkins, Indiana into a giant monster to kill Eleven never really intersected with the plot of the Russians building a secret base under the Starcourt Mall to re-open the gate to the Upside Down, other than the fact that the Russians’ experiments are what enabled the Mind Flayer to return in the first place.

There were also new characters being introduced, primarily Maya Hawke as Robin, adding to an already-large ensemble. All of the characters had their own subplots, especially the volatile romantic tension between Joyce and Hopper that lasted the entire season.

All of this resulted in the first three episodes of Stranger Things 3 moving at a glacial place as the Duffer Brothers had to take the time to introduce and position every element of the season.  I was getting bored, wondering when something was going to actually happen.  Each time something did occur, and it looked like things were finally picking up, there would then be a switch to another group of characters, accompanied by an almost-audible sound of someone slamming on the brakes.

Once episode four began events almost immediately rocketed into high gear, and didn’t let up for the rest of the series.  But those first three episodes were a drag.  I really think that all of that could have been condensed into two episodes.  There was so much padding that I started singing the song “Slow the Plot Down” from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to myself.

4) Assholes R Us

There are a lot of assholes in Hawkins.  The mayor, the entire staff of the town newspaper, the lifeguards at the town pool, random yuppie assholes who are passing through… so many assholes!  Even the stoic, curmudgeonly Sherriff Jim Hopper, portrayed so wonderfully by David Harbour in the first two seasons, descended into full asshole-dom.  The AV Club announced “Stranger Things season 3 ruined Hopper” although there is a lot of insightful back & forth in the comments section that does shed light on why Hopper’s actions are actually all-too-realistic.

Looking back from the perspective of 2019, if one re-examines the mindset of the Baby Boomer generation, it is definitely possible to perceive the deeply pervasive presence of toxic masculinity.  That was unfortunately the norm back then, the idea that men had to be tough and ambitious and in-charge and stoic, not showing any feelings except anger.  Even a basically decent person like Hopper falls into that trap, because that’s how he was raised.

Of course, there are two characters who illustrate this even more clearly…

ST3 Billy
Hide your kids, hide your wife…

5) Helloooo, Ladies!

Steve and Billy are opposite sides of the same coin.

Back in season one Steve was the arrogant school jock, the alpha male you loved to hate.  But along the way Steve actually began to grow up.  He helped Nancy and Jonathan fight the Mind Flayer at the end of season one.

In the second year of the show, Steve became like a big brother to the socially awkward Dustin.  When Nancy broke up with him, Steve was able to recognize that he hadn’t been a very good boyfriend to her.  Now in season three he tells Robin that he wishes he hadn’t spent so much time in high school worrying about unimportant things, with impressing other people, and that his priorities were messed up.  Steve is able to recognize his past mistakes, and is working to try to be a better, more mature person.

In contrast we have Billy, the current town asshole.  He is a bully and a womanizer.  In season two he was shown to be abusive to his stepsister Max, as well as racist.  He spends his summer days as a lifeguard at the town pool, strutting about, seducing bored, horny housewives.

We previously learned that the apple did not fall far from the tree.  In season two we briefly met Billy’s father, who was emotionally and physically abusive towards his son.  This is further explored in season three. When Eleven uses her psychic powers to delve into Billy’s mind in order to search for the Mind Flayer’s location, she sees from Billy’s memories that he used to be a really sweet kid, but that his father’s abuse, his attempts to “toughen up” Billy, drove away his loving mother and warped him into a monster.  It’s only at the end, when Eleven reminds Billy of his happier childhood days before his mother left, that he tries to be a better person, and he sacrifices himself to save Eleven from the Mind Flayer.

Joe Keery does good work playing Steve. As for Dacre Montgomery as Billy… wow, I was genuinely surprised to find out that in real life he’s an Australian who writes poetry. He does such a convincing job playing an American white trash douchebag. Now that is acting!

6) Russian Dressing

Michele and I both wondered if the plotline with the Russians was a commentary on contemporary American politics.  In Stranger Things 3 the Russians are able to infiltrate America, build a secret underground headquarters, and cause a catastrophic crisis in large part due to their collaborating with a greedy, arrogant, loud-mouthed politician with weird hair who sells them a bunch or real estate.   Yeah, that does sound more than a bit familiar.

7) Wait A Minute… That Was Who?!?

I don’t think I even noticed until at least a couple of episodes into the second season that Joyce Byers was played by Winona Ryder.  Yes, she’s quite a bit older than she used to be.  But Joyce is also the most un-Winona Ryder-ish part I have ever seen her play.  She does really good work portraying a working class single mother who has to cope with all sorts of tragedy and weirdness over the course of three seasons.  Ryder also has good chemistry with David Harbour, making the scenes between Joyce and Hopper both poignant and entertaining… well usually.  Occasionally the “will they or won’t they” antics do get a bit tiresome.

ST3 Joyce and Hopper
No, Jim, I am NOT going to start singing the theme song from Moonlighting!

8) Turn Around, Look At What You See

I’ve always liked the movie The NeverEnding Story, and I think the theme song by Limahl is cute and catchy.  So it was sort of fun to have Dustin and Suzie sing it… except the timing was oh so horribly wrong!

You see, Hopper wouldn’t have died if they hadn’t been singing that damn song! If Suzie had just given Dustin the number for Planck’s constant right away, Hopper and Joyce would have gotten the keys out of the safe two minutes sooner and been able to shut down the gate to the Upside Down before Grigori the Russian Terminator arrived.  Others also came to the same conclusion.  Thanks for nothing, Suzie!

9) R.I.P. Hopper???

A lot of people, Michele and myself included, are wondering if Hopper is really dead, and if David Harbour is going to return for Stranger Things 4.  We never actually see Hopper die on-screen.  No body usually means no actual death.

And then there is the mid-credits epilogue, where we find out that the Russians have an American prisoner looked up in a Siberian base.  That could be Hopper… but I’ve also heard it suggested that it might be Brenner.  Yes, he was attacked by the Demogorgon in the final episode of Season One, but again we never saw a body, and it was hinted in the second year that he might still be alive.

Even if that is not Hopper in the Russian prison, it’s been suggested that he might have jumped through the portal into the Upside Down before the gate exploded, hoping to find another way out.  That’s what happened to Eleven after the first season.  I guess we will have to wait and see.  When is Stranger Things 4 coming out, anyway?!?

ST3 Hopper
What do you mean, my character dies? Oh, well, at least I still have the Hellboy movie franchise to fall back on. Right?

10) To Be Continued

There is definitely going to be at least one more season of Stranger Things.  I am looking forward to it.  In addition to Hopper’s fate, I also what to see if Eleven and Mike stay together, and if Eleven ever regains her powers.  Plus it would be nice to see Sam Owens return.  At least Paul Reiser got a cameo in the final episode of this season.

Nevertheless, I really do hope the Duffer Brothers and Netflix will wrap up Stranger Things after the fourth installment.  While I definitely enjoyed the third season, it was not without its problems: too many characters, too many plotlines, three really slow opening episodes.  Also, each season the Duffer Brothers keep upping the threat levels.  They keep going too much longer and they are going to end up with some sort of giant monster trying to eat the entire planet.

Oh, well, we’re still at the point where the show’s strengths still outweigh its weaknesses.  Fingers crossed!

The Other Side of the Wind: The Redemption of Orson Welles

Welcome to the latest edition of Super Blog Team-Up, back from the dead after a long hiatus.  The theme this time around is “Redemption” which leads me to look at a movie that is quite far afield of comic books and sci-fi: The Other Side of the Wind, written and directed by the legendary Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil).

tosotw poster

The Other Side of the Wind was released with much fanfare late last year as the final film of Orson Wells.  Principle photography began in 1970, and continued on-and-off for the next five and a half years, with Welles finally getting 99.9% of the movie shot by early 1976.  As a creator who prided himself on striving for complete creative freedom, Welles was often plagued by difficulties in obtaining financing for his projects, and this played a major role in the length of the shoot.  It would also result in The Other Side of the Wind remaining unfinished when Welles passed away a decade later in 1985.

It has been said that Welles did as much of his work in the editing room as he did from the director’s chair.  The Other Side of the Wind certainly demonstrates this.  Welles filmed approximately 96 hours of footage for what was intended to be a two-hour running time.  By 1979 he had managed to assemble 40 minutes of the movie into a rough cut when, due to the extremely complicated financial circumstances of the project, it was taken out of his hands and literally locked up in a vault.

In the years following Welles passing, several efforts were made to untangle the legal Gordian Knot that The Other Side of the Wind had become.  After numerous false starts, it was only within the last couple of years that the project finally achieved momentum.

tosotw otterlake and hannaford

Peter Bogdanovich co-starred in The Other Side of the Wind.  He also knew Welles personally, sharing a close, but often contentious, friendship with the director.  Bogdanovich is himself an acclaimed director (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon).  Given his pedigree, his involvement in the production, and his relationship with Welles, it ultimately fell to Bogdanovich to at long last complete The Other Side of the Wind.

Collaborating with Bogdanovich on this Herculean undertaking were producers Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza, and film editor Bob Murawski.  This involved them taking Welles’ annotated screenplay, the footage that Welles had edited, and the nearly 100 hours of rough footage at long last rescued from the vault, somehow assembling the whole thing into a cohesive two-hour movie that was as true to Welles’ original vision as possible.  Words such as “formidable” and “daunting” immediately come to mind.

As others have noted, there really is no way to know how close Bogdanovich & Co.’s efforts come to achieving what Welles might have produced had he been able to complete the movie.  What we have is an approximation, a semblance… which is entirely appropriate, as Welles’ story is dedicated to severely blurring the line between reality and fiction.  It is simultaneous a mockumentary and a “found footage” movie.

tosotw hannaford

The Other Side of the Wind takes place during the last day of the life of Jake Hannaford, an aging movie director who is killed in a car crash on his 70th birthday. Prior to his death, Hannaford had been attempting to revive his faded career by making a flashy, sexy, cutting edge film that would appeal to the “New Hollywood” sensibilities of the early 1970s.  Hannaford’s movie, the film within a film, is also entitled “The Other Side of the Wind.”  On the last night of his life, at Hannaford’s lavish birthday party, he shows this unfinished film to his guests, hoping that someone will step up with an offer to finance the remainder of the production.

The movie The Other Side of the Wind that we, the audience is watching, is supposedly assembled from footage culled from the myriad cameras of the friends, fiends, hangers-on, sycophants, critics, journalists and voyeurs who attended Hannaford’s party, interspersed with scenes from “The Other Side of the Wind” film that Hannaford is screening for them.

There is definitely a prescient quality to this narrative device, in that it anticipates both the ravenous fixation with wealth & fame in 21st Century America, and the ubiquitous presence of cell phone cameras & social media documenting the minute-to-minute minutiae of celebrity lives.

tosotw cameras

The film within a film “The Other Side of the Wind” is parody of a late 1960s art house movie, with a jumbled narrative, explicit sex scenes, and extended sequences entirely absent of dialogue.  The plot, such as it is, involves a young man’s long, strange pursuit of a silent, erotic woman.  The man, John Dale, played by Bob Random, is the latest protégé of Hannaford.  The woman, known only as “The Actress,” is one of Hannaford’s lovers, and is played by Oja Koder, at the time Welles’ real life mistress, as well as the co-writer for the movie.

The reason why production of Hannaford’s “The Other Side of the Wind” has ground to a halt is due to John Dale abruptly waking off the set.  As the night progresses, we come to learn just why this happened.

It has been observed that Welles was very likely sending up Michelangelo Antonioni here.  Welles, ever the prankster, even shot much of the footage for Hannaford’s party at a house that was literally next door to where Antonioni made his 1970 film Zabriskie Point.

tosotw film

Among those in attendance at Hannaford’s party is Brooks Otterlake, a young, up & coming director already receiving critical acclaim.  Otterlake is a friend of Hannaford, as well as a disciple, having extensively studied the older director.  There is a clear implication that the young Otterlake has eclipsed his mentor, incurring Hannaford’s resentment, and complicating their already contentious relationship.

There has been quite a bit of debate regarding just how much of his own personality and experiences Welles drew upon when making The Other Side of the Wind.  Whether by intent or accident, or perhaps a combination of the two, there is a genuine metatextual quality to The Other Side of the Wind.  One can easily see parallels between Welles and the character Hannaford, and the relationship between Welles and Peter Bogdanovich bears similarities to that of Hannaford and Otterlake, who was played by Bogdanovich himself.

Hannaford is portrayed by another acclaimed aging director, John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen).  Before Huston was cast, Welles shot around him, and himself stood in for Hannaford.  As a result, in many scenes the actors were actually playing opposite the offscreen Welles, with footage of Huston as Hannaford recorded afterwards.

tosotw hannaford smoke

In particular, one scene between Hannaford and Otterlake appears to be very much about Welles and Bogdanovich.  Speaking to Coming Soon this past November, Bogdanovich explained:

“I think the scene in the car, when I say “our revels now are ended,” that’s a powerful scene. But I didn’t play it with John. John wasn’t there. I played it with Orson. Orson was off-camera, and his only direction to me was, “It’s us.” ”

I can only imagine how frustrated Welles must have been in the early 1970s, to see a new generation of young directors such as Bogdanovich achieving the creative freedom & acclaim that had so often eluded him.

The irony is that the arc of Bogdanovich’s own career would later parallel that of Welles; after his early successes Bogdanovich was often plagued by under-performing, critically lambasted films, executive interference, and severe financial difficulties.

There is also something of Huston himself in the character of Hannaford: the bravado, the quick wit & easygoing charm that masks a ruthless drive for control, the mocking, needling disdain for those he considers beneath him.  Huston, much like Welles, was reportedly a difficult, hard-driving director who often pushed his crew to the breaking point; it’s no wonder that the two men got along so well!

tosotw otterlake

Of course, it is possible to over-analyze these things. As critic Darren Mooney puts it:

“How much of The Other Side of the Wind is Welles turning the lens on himself, and how much is him smirking at us for thinking that?”

It is interesting to consider how The Other Side of the Wind might have been received if it had been completed during Welles’ lifetime. Perhaps audiences of the late 1970s would have regarded Hannaford as a flawed yet nevertheless sympathetic character. However, looking at Hannaford through the gaze of 2019, we can see that he is an example of toxic masculinity run amok.  And it is not only those in Hannaford’s orbit that suffer due to his hyper machismo, but Hannaford himself.

At more than one point it is suggested that Hannaford is a closeted gay man who is in deep denial concerning his sexual orientation.  The macho posturing, the well-publicized seductions of the various actresses who appeared in his movies, the booze-guzzling, cigar-chomping lifestyle, the fondness for firearms and fast cars; all of these may be Hannaford’s attempts to convince both himself and the outside world that he is as heterosexual, as “manly,” as can be.  If that is so, then in his desperate attempts to live up to the hyper-romanticized myth of the two-fisted American male, Hannaford suggests an incredibly tragic, damaged individual, full of a poisonous self-loathing that he projects upon those who surround him.

tosotw hannaford gun

There is a great deal more to The Other Side of the Wind.  It is a complex story that is open to analysis and interpretation.

In addition to streaming The Other Side of the Wind, Netflix has presented They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a full-length documentary about the movie’s long & tortured production.  Directed by Morgan Neville, it’s an informative companion piece, one that is as intriguing as The Other Side of the Wind itself.  I definitely recommend watching both.

Why do I consider The Other Side of the Wind to be the “redemption” of Orson Welles?  It has to do with the public perception of him as a creator.  Citizen Kane is considered one of the all-time greatest movies ever made.  This was a source of consternation to Welles, as it was his first film, and the clear implication was that people felt all his subsequent efforts fell short.

In other words, Welles hit a grand slam home run his very first time at bat, and even though he spent the rest of his career batting .300, people were disappointed that he wasn’t knocking it out of the park each & every time he stepped up to the plate.

tosotw the woman

For a long time a common perception of Welles was of a once-great director who failed to live up to the early potential of Citizen Kane in his subsequent films, and who eventually ended his career ignominiously, reduced to hawking frozen peas and cheap champagne on TV commercials.

The Other Side of the Wind lays bare this fallacy.  It reveals that in his later years, in spite of professional and personal setbacks, Welles was still a bold & ambitious filmmaker, still stretching his boundaries, still producing work that was interesting and frustrating and provocative.

If there is one good thing about The Other Side of the Wind finally being completed, however imperfectly, it is that it had led to a revived interest, and reappraisal, of Welles’ entire career.  It is certainly one that is long overdue.

Thanks for joining us.  I hope you will check out the contributions from the other Super Blog Team-Up participants.

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Between The Pages Blog:  The Secret Origin Of Spider-Man

Black, White and Bronze: The Redemption of Red Sonja

Chris Is On Infinite Earths: The Pied-Piper Reforms!

Coffee and Comics: Green Lantern #100

Comics Comics Blog : Elfquest :Cutter’s Redemption

Comic Reviews By Walt: SBTU Presents – Redemption/Coming Home: Shredder

Longbox Review: Nightwing’s Redemption

The Crapbox of Son of Cthulhu: Iron Man: Alcoholic, Part I

The Daily Rios: Thanos: Samaritan

The Retroist Via Vic Sage:The Redemption Of Magneto

The Source Material Comics Podcast: Penance – The Redemption of Speedball

The Superhero Satellite: The Walking Dead: “Redeeming Negan”

The Unspoken Decade: What If Vol 2 #46 and 47

Two Staple Gold: Just a Pilgrim