WHAT’S IN MY QUEUE? || Stranger Things (season 2)

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photo credit: wired.com

Like most viewers, I wasn’t sure what expect going into the second season of Stranger Things.

Without a missing Will Byers to locate and “El” seemingly out of the picture, I couldn’t help but wonder: would the second season be as magical as the first? Or would the 1980s  throwback lose its luster and fall into an oh, so common sophomoric slump?

But as everyone else continued to rave about it, I knew that my watching it would be fast-approaching… lest I be smacked in the face with a dreaded spoiler.

It’s only  fair to admit I was pretty late to the party with the series.

I only watched the first season AFTER  season 2 came out — though I devoured it in a matter of days — and clearly took my time getting to the show’s second installment.

BUT.

It did not disappoint.

In fact, it was better.

The second season picks up with central character Will Byers being put through the ringer. I’m just going to say it — the season was not kind to him (not that the first season was either!). The trauma of being in the “upside down” for so long has a powerful grip on him… though to say more would be giving too much away.

It’s worth noting that while Will Byers is in many ways the conduit between the characters’ hometown of Hawkins, Indiana and the unknown dimension referred to as the “upside down,” Stranger Things is an ensemble show in every way imaginable. The actors play well off one another and each shines in their own personal relationship to the plot at large.

With nine episodes in the season, there are quite a number of  twists and turns to keep track of. We see the evolution of Nancy and Johnathon’s relationship while they grow into a roles that protect their younger siblings. Winona Ryder is brilliant as Joyce… and the most attentive parent in the series.

Now, this is a personal pet peeve of mine in ANY series: when the kids are SO MUCH smarter than the adults. I mean, unrealistically so.

While I understand that many kids are, in fact smarter than their parents, that does NOT mean all common sense and rational thought has to elude the adults in scenes opposite their kids.

However, I can let that one slide because focus is mainly pulled to the many new and exciting characters introduced this season.

“Mad Max” appears on the scene as the perfect addition to the eighth grade gang’s posse, albeit with an abusive stepbrother who introduces the element of racism to the show with his clear contempt for Lucas.

On that tricky subject, I will express an annoyance for the scenes Lucas’s sister is in. They are few, thankfully, because her portrayal of the stereotypical “sassy black girl” is highly offensive, and something I positively CANNOT abide.

I don’t care if the series is set in the ’80s. This is 2018. Shame on the Duffer Brothers for directing her to act that way.

Other than that, the writing and directing was spot on… though this is coming from someone who was not alive in the ’80s.

However, the intricacies of the fictitious world of the “upside down” continues to create a beautiful and haunting allegory for forces beyond human understanding… and an unwillingness to give up.

The question remaining is: will there be a third season?

I certainly hope so.

The January Book Review: Halsey Street

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photo credit: Vox / Little A

Let me start of by saying that as 2018 approached,  I felt a TREMENDOUS amount to pressure to choose the next book I would read.

I know… silly, right?

But I felt that with the late start I had in staying true to my New Year’s resolutions, I had to just relax. And by relax, I mean quit dwelling on the things I CAN’T control and begin focusing on what I CAN.

Things I can’t control: other people’s opinions, what my bosses assign me at work, what my roommates do, the state of our country… basically, an infinite amount of things.

Things I can control: My attitude, how I handle things, how I manage my time, how to do things that make me happy, WHAT BOOK I READ… not as many as the first list, but a lot more than what I’ve just written.

Boy, did I take that last one to heart. I love to read, and figured the first book I ready of 2018 would really set the tone for what is shaping up to be another chaotic year. However, despite the unnecessary stress I put on myself to make what is usually a completely arbitrary choice…

I finally picked up Halsey Street.

Friends… I made the right choice.

THE BOOK

Halsey Street  is the stunning debut novel by Naima Coster.

It was released on the first of the new year.

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Naima Coster

photo credit: Jonathan Jimenez

The story takes us on the journey of 28-year-old Penelope Grand, an artist who moves from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn to care for her ailing father. The story unfolds beautifully between the past and “real-time,” all set against the disarming backdrop of gentrification.

Early in the book, we are introduced to the Harpers… the white family Penelope lives with because she just can’t bear the thought of living with her father again. The Harpers mirror everything Penelope isn’t; they have everything she doesn’t have. They’re white,  well-off, and happy.

Noticeably absent from Penelope’s thoughts in the first chapter of the novel is her mother, Mirella. An intelligent, independent Dominicana, Mirella has struggled to maintain a relationship with her independent, multi-racial daughter.

Halsey Street compares and contrasts the lives of Penelope and Mirella, while skillfully pivoting between their strong voices. As the story unfolds with the Harper Family looming in the background, we see how thin family ties can quickly come unbound with the help of a drastically changing landscape.

WHY IT MATTERS

This novel offers a glimpse into the lives of people from marginalized communities, battling tooth-and-nail for their livelihood (and at the heart of it, very existence) due to the circumstances of an unjust society.

Halsey Street is the story of surviving in a world of racism, colorism, elitism, and suffocating inequities. It’s the story of driving oneself down a dark path to both conform to and rebel against what such a society demands of you.

It’s about crumbling family ties, and incredibly strong women.

If you can relate to the experiences described in Halsey Street, this book is for you.

If you can’t relate to the experiences described in the story, this book will educate you.

The January Movie Wrap Up: The Shape of Water… Lady Bird… I,Tonya… The Post & Molly’s Game

It’s proving to be an exciting time for lovers of the silver screen.

2017 has seen blockbuster film after blockbuster film… and diverse voices are FINALLY being heard. It wasn’t too long ago that the twitterverse blew up with #OscarsSoWhite, and I’m happy to say marginalized communities have been winning small victories in the battle for fair media portrayals. We still have a long way to go… but for now I choose to focus on the positive.

photo credit: thenewscasters.com

THE SHAPE OF WATER

I went to see this charming film the day after Christmas, without knowing a single thing about it. It’s rare that I see a movie without watching the trailer first, but for this one I’m glad I didn’t.

As it happens, the movie (directed by Guillermo del Toro) takes place in America at the height of the Cold War and race for technological supremacy between the United States and Russia… but there’s a twist.

The story follows the journey of a non-verbal Latina named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins). Esposito works in a government agency developing what is supposed to be the country’s greatest weapon in the war against Russia… but again, there is a twist.

Adding the perspectives of Espositio’s homosexual neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and black co-worker (Octavia Spencer), the movie was polished with the painfully accurate experiences many from marginalized communities faced during a time fraught with stifling injustice and despicable societal inequities.

The performances of the trio were exquisite. They played extremely well off of one another in roles that were not “easy” to embody (is any role really easy to portray?).

“The Shape of Water” opened ( and ended) in one of the most haunting, ethereal ways imaginable. I don’t believe in spoilers, but I will say that I encourage everyone to see it. Were it up to me, this would be MANDATORY viewing for so many reasons.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

photo credit: The New York Times

LADY BIRD

“Lady Bird” (written and directed by Greta Gerwig) was the scrappy coming of age movie I expected it to be… and so much more.

The story played with some interesting themes: mother/daughter relationships, gratitude, truthfulness, and the always interesting dynamic between the person one is versus the mask they show the rest of the world.

While I haven’t always been a huge fan of watching movies in public spaces (more on that later), this particular movie was a blast to see in theaters. Everyone reacted in similar fashion to various show-stopping points in the movie… which is not common in so diverse a city as New York.

Gerwig knocked it out of the ballpark with “Lady Bird.” Coming of age stories are always hit or miss (pardon the baseball puns… completely unintentional!) simply because everyone grows up in a different way.

However, when you can capture enough voices and perspectives to have nearly everyone in your audience reflecting on an relating to misguided stories of their youth… you know you have a winner.

Rating: 4.8 / 5

photo credit: Rolling Stone

I, TONYA

I will admit… I did NOT know much about Tonya Harding before going out to see this docu-style feature. I knew the basic story of how she and her ex-husband allegedly sabaotaged her fellow figure skaters career by hiring a goon to bust her kneecap during  practice.

Now, this movie is said to have shed a true light on what really happened on that fateful day and the circumstances leading up to it. It’s all highly debatable, and we, as the public may never know the true story. There is no proof.

BUT.

This movie did teach me a lot about the Tonya’s journey as a figure skater. Through domestic abuse, dealing with elitism, domestic abuse (again) and abandonment issues, it’s clear that Ms. Harding did not have an easy life.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Splicing the real interviews of Tonya, her ex-husband and his friend into the end was a nice touch.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

ThePost_1photo credit: susangranger.com

THE POST

To be honest,  the only reason I went to see “The Post” was for the performances of acting legends Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. 2016 and 2017 have been such politcally charged years, that I wanted no parts in watching historical drama about he follies of the Nixon administration. I go to the movies to ESCAPE reality, after all… and dare I say, history has a funny way of repeating itself.

But it was a great film, which isn’t unusual of a Stephen Spielberg picture. Considering the star power behind The Post, its greatness was practically demanded.  Again, I don’t believe in spoilers… so I won’t delve too much into it. However, if you don’t know much about the infamous Pentagon Papers during Nixon’s presidency, this movie is a great place to start.

Rating: 4.75 / 5

 

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 photo credit: rottentomatoes.com

 

MOLLY’S GAME

Aaron Sorkin wrote it. Need I say more?

Molly’s Game is the brilliant re-telling of a true story. Molly Bloom was an olympic-class skier until the day a nasty tumble on the slopes ended her career.

Facing unresolved issues from her childhood and a need to escape the suffocating  mindset of perfectionism, Ms. Bloom leaves her home town for Los Angeles and ends up working for a rather shady character running an underground poker game.

She takes control of the game, loses it… and loses herself.

The movie takes place in both the past and present… where Ms. Bloom is helped out by her intuitive and charismatic lawyer (Idris Elba). A lot of themes come into play, and Molly’s voice shines brilliantly throughout.

Did I mention Aaron Sorkin wrote it?

Rating: 5 / 5