Stranger Things 1-3 2016-2019 ****


The brightest jewel in the Netflix crown is the Duffer Brothers riff on the kids sci-fi genre that apes Stephen King and various 80’s horror fads; with the latest series (3) taking place largely at a 4th of July carnival, Stranger Things is a cross-generational funhouse that, according to Netflix’s hall-of-mirrors figures, every sentient member of every household in the western world watched several times each within seconds of being put online. Stranger Things somehow found a sweet spot by fusing elements of King’s Firestarter (a girl on the run from authorities with telekinesis), plus the small-town kiddie-gang adventurers from It, then throws in the gelid alien attack from The Tommyknockers to boot. The big-draw name above the title name was Winona Ryder, although the series success has made pretty much everyone in the well-assembled cast a household name; Millie Bobbie Brown makes a big impression as Eleven, David Harbor exudes a gruff chemistry as police chief Jim Hopper, and the kids are great, with a smattering of 80’s names (Sean Aston, Paul Reiser, Matthew Modine, Cary Elwes) to keep older viewers engaged. As well as nailing the key font for the titles and the cod Tangerine Dream score, the key to the formula, kids and adults joining forces to fight to creatures leaking through government experiment portals, is that Stranger Things presents a warmly aspirational world, more focused on the likable characters than on the monsters. If the second series was too similar to the first, the third manages to balance up the gender issues and freshen up the team to good effect; Netflix need a dozen series that command loyalty like this to survive the streaming wars, so it’s likely that various expanded-universe incarnations of Stranger Things will be around long after the original lightning-in-a bottle cast have moved on.


Godzilla: King of the Monsters ***

GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERSThe third entry in Legendary’s constantly creaking MonsterVerse franchise is a somewhat turgid affair, lit by a few bright moments and performances. With Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla offering action but little to remember in terms of cast or character, Michael Dougherty’s sequel pulls a new family to the fore, with Godzilla-experts and concerned parents Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga struggling with a marriage in free-fall and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) caught in the middle. Meanwhile the Monarch group featured in the first two films has plans to revive over a dozen sleeping monsters from various locations, with Godzilla assigned to sweep up the mess when things get out of hand. King of the Monsters has a better cast than it deserves, including Sally Hawkins and Charles Dance, but it’s Millie Bobby Brown that really makes an impact and provides an original through-line for an otherwise rote monster-movie. With Ken Wantanabe regularly popping up to solemnly intone platitudes about Godzilla being our friend, King of the Monsters never convincingly marries the large-scale carnage with the human drama; a pity, because Madison’s character is considerably more compelling than Godzilla himself.