What are your plans this weekend? Kidding, don't care. Your answer is irrelevant, because what you absolutely should be doing is binging all eight episodes of "Stranger Things," which debuted in full on Netflix Friday (July 15).
Starring Winona Ryder and billed as a love letter to supernatural flicks of the 1980s, the Duffer brothers' new series is seriously excellent. Full of nerds, alien-like lifeforms, and government conspiracies, "Stranger Things" is a must-see on any Spielberg fan's queue.
The premise is equal parts sci-fi intrigue ...
After a boy mysteriously vanishes one fall night in a sleepy Indiana town, his distraught mother (Ryder), ostracized older brother, and "Dungeons and Dragons"-playing best buds are determined to find him. They get some help from a strange girl with cagey origins and abnormal talents (newcomer and Person You Should Watch, Millie Brown) and a gruff anti-hero, Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour). Soon, it becomes clear there's something even more unusual about his disappearance than we initially thought, and it just might have to do with a shady government "research facility" nearby.
... and nostalgia.
Subtle references to the '80s abound but are never too explicit, and that's what keeps the series from becoming hokey. The essence of classics like "Escape to Witch Mountain" and "E.T.," especially, are captured indirectly through certain tropes (boys on bicycles and telekinesis, for instance) so that the decade becomes less of a plot point and more of a wistful feeling of sentimentality imbued throughout. Soundtrack choices are also on point and appropriately of-the-era, featuring music by The Clash, Toto, and one particularly haunting use of Peter Gabriel's "Heroes" cover. The original scores are super evocative, too.
Ryder is brilliant.
She plays the distressed, grief-stricken mother grappling with the dubious status of her sanity perfectly, and it's wonderful to see her in a leading role like this again. Winona for the win!
But then again — so is everydamnbody.
It is actually remarkable how well this series was cast. Where the nerd-boy-squad is concerned, their wit-peppered dialogue and friend dynamic feel so authentic, one could easily be convinced they're watching a real-life group of adolescent pals. They give each other no shortage of shit, with plenty of playful jabs thrown around, but ultimately their bond feels real (and very "Stand By Me"-esque, come to think of it). Their geeky references are also a delight (like when they argue over whether Mirkwood is a "Lord of The Rings" or "The Hobbit" reference).
Also, despite my earlier nod, I feel the need to emphasize again: Millie Brown is just amazing (even Stephen King thinks so). There's practically no information about her on the interwebs beside her IMDB page, but what I can tell you is this: She's young (maybe between 9-11 years old), talented as hell, and she's going places. Her expressions were some of the most controlled and yet dazzlingly emotive I've ever seen on so young an actress. I kid you not — she's that good.