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Tag Archive: Stranger Things


Review by C.J. Bunce

Every fan of Stranger Things will likely approach a Stranger Things novel looking for something like an “X-File.”  Adam Christopher’s new novel Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is about Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour in the Netflix TV series), and it takes place in 1977, seven years before a Christmas in 1984 where he is enjoying a winter in his cabin with his newly adopted daughter Eleven (played on the series by Millie Bobby Brown).  A few weeks after the events of Season Two, Eleven finds a box of Jim’s mementos and wants to know more about his past, so he decides to tell her a crime story from his days as a New York City detective.  So it will help the reader’s 432-page journey to know this is not an X-File–there is nothing fantasy or science fiction about Hopper’s past to be learned, no demogorgons or other monsters, and although it includes a few scenes with his wife Diane and daughter Sara, we never learn more about why they aren’t around when the series takes place.

Understandably reader expectations might be wrongly set by the folks advertising the book.  This is how Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is marketed:

Chief Jim Hopper reveals long-awaited secrets to Eleven about his old life as a police detective in New York City, confronting his past before the events of the hit show Stranger Things.  

I don’t know what “long-awaited secrets” could mean for Stranger Things fans other than learning what happened to his wife and daughter.

But if you can get beyond a sci-fi/fantasy assumption, or if that is not even your expectation, then you’ll learn more about what makes Hopper tick.   In a story laid out like a 1970s prequel Law & Order episode, Hopper goes undercover in the style of Donnie Brasco or The Departed, except the undercover work begins and ends not over several months but inside of 12 days (making Hopper very lucky or some kind of supercop) between the Fourth of July 1977 and the aftermath of the real-life July 13-14 city power outage.  As a crime story for beginning readers of the genre, Christopher’s storytelling provides a thorough tale of an alternative cause for a real-life event.   He uses gangs, connecting Hopper, a new partner, federal agents, and research on returning prison inmates to the public after serving out their sentences in a hot summer where the Son of Sam was still yet to be captured.  It may very well say something about Hopper’s character, that he would select this story to tell his daughter.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a bigger Trivial Pursuit fan I don’t know who it is.  Whether it was the classic 1981 Genus Edition, the 1983 Silver Screen edition, the 1984 Genus II edition, the 1989 1980s edition, the 1992 10th Anniversary Edition, the 1994 Genus III, the 1996 Genus IV, or 1998 Millennium Edition, or the dozens of tie-ins and card deck supplements since, you can pretty much count me in anytime.  But the latest may be the most fun yet.  Adding to the Stranger Things season three Hasbro Gaming tie-ins Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Ouija board, Screen Test, and an Eggo card game is an all-new throwback 1980s version of Trivial Pursuit I thought I was a Trivial Pursuit purist, but the new Stranger Things Back to the ’80s Trivial Pursuit convinced me that the classic game had some problems and they’ve now been fixed.

The questions come from movies, TV, music, people, events, technology, fashion, sports, and more, and that classic orange sports/wild card category is now questions about your knowledge of the Stranger Things universe.  Don’t worry, that last category will be easy to dodge for anyone at the game table not familiar with the series, but new rules and gameplay also make it possible to give anyone a leg up toward an ultimate win.  “Roll again” spaces are gone, meaning there’s more time answering questions and less time rolling multiple times per turn.  You still need six wedges to win, but you no longer need a pie wedge from each category, so the game time is shorter.  If you aren’t a pro in any given category, you’re also no longer hamstringed into riding out a losing game because of the new “walkie talkie a friend” feature.  As with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire gameshow concept, so long as you’re not playing in Upside Down mode, you can enlist a helper, and if you win, share the spoils with a pie wedge for both players.

 

The Upside Down is an easy, clever board add-on that allows the entire board to be switched from real world mode to the dark Upside Down the series is famous for.  When you’re in the Upside Down you can lose pie wedges by answering incorrectly, and you can’t ask a friend for help.  It fits the Stranger Things story, and it further helps level the playing field among a diverse group of players.

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Funko Pop! figures seem to have taken on a life for kids and collectors like Beanie Babies, if Beanie Babies pulled in every licensed property under the Sun.  The latest Funko Pop! figures tie in to the latest season of Stranger Things.  Their marketing team even mocked up a Tiger Beat magazine spoof that brings it together.  Maybe it’s because the Duffer Brothers succeeded at pulling together some good nostalgia, or maybe these new likenesses are some of Funko’s best so far, but whatever the reason, we think Funko fans are going to want to take a good look at this new line.

The 2017 Toy of the Year and People’s Choice award winning figures seem to be getting better.  More clever designs?  The more… odd… the combination of characters and styles, the better these seem to appeal to Funko collectors.  Stand-outs for the first round of characters include Scoops Ahoy Steve, Will the Wise, Flayed Lifeguard Billy, Date-Night Hopper, and Joyce with her magnets.  This time there’s an over-sized monster available, too.

Three other new figures announced this month will appeal to that good guy in you.  Funko has released Mr. Rogers Pop! figures previously, but the latest comes from the new film starring Tom Hanks.  Two others feature everyone’s favorite Australian animal lover, the late Steve Irwin.  Funko has two designs, a common type with Steve and an alligator and a rarer chase figure with Steve holding a turtle.

Most of these figures are available now and others have just been posted for pre-order.  Click on any of the first 14 images below to find out more about the main line of figures, or to order any at Amazon, and don’t miss the pre-order for the new exclusive Eleven figure available only at Amazon.  Below you’ll also find preview images of Stranger Things retailer exclusive Funko Pop! figures from Target, Wal-Mart, and more.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not every location for a TV series that becomes the best part of the that series.  For the third season of Stranger Things, which arrived on Netflix this Fourth of July weekend, the big win was Starcourt Mall.  Maybe it’s the fact so many of us have vivid memories of their own mall for their first jobs, for birthday parties, or where they bought their favorite shoes, rendezvoused with friends, and watched their favorite movies–or just as likely, the fact that so many younger viewers weren’t around to witness malls of the 1980s and can only guess what they were like–whatever the reason, Stranger Things showrunners the Duffer Brothers (Ross and Matt) made a wise move setting a major part of this year’s eight episodes there.  Initially Netflix kept its Starcourt Mall intact for a possible tourist attraction (actually a rebuilt section of Duluth, Georgia’s Gwinnett Place Mall, far away from Indiana), but early crowds and the inability to make a deal resulted in trashing the sets entirely (except Scoops Away, which went into storage).  Now nothing remains of the rented space in the mall used for the series, but what a great idea gone to waste!

So what other than the mall makes for the good and bad this season on Stranger Things?

Six writers concocted interwoven storylines that matched the prior two seasons–the series is consistent, neither better nor worse than past seasons, but just as good and even great in places.  That fandom phrase “I’d rather watch bad [insert: Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. here] than anything else” rings true for Stranger Things, although you’ll rarely find much that qualifies as completely “bad.”  Each season has those early season episodes that make the story seem like the greatest thing since the 1980s, and yet other episodes stumble.  That was true this season.  The best thread tracked older teen Joe Keery′s Steve Harrington and one of the series’ main four kids, Gaten Matarazzo′s Dustin Henderson.  Dustin has just returned from a science camp, to find the two series kid leads Finn Wolfhard′s Mike Wheeler and Millie Bobby Brown′s Eleven/El inseparable in their young romance.  The best recurring question of the season is whether Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie is real or imaginary.  Steve works at the mall now with a grumbly gal named Robin, played by Maya Hawke, who becomes another high point of the season, and integral to moving the story forward.  What better way to launch the career of the daughter of popular and acclaimed actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke than a fun season of Stranger Things (Her work and quick development of a likeable character promises a huge career is in store for her).  Growing out of the events of last season, Dustin and Steve, with co-worker Robin, embark on a mission to save their friends, Hawkins, and the world from a beast connected to El, Noah Schnapp′s Will Byers, and the Demogorgon of past seasons, and a new, perfectly timed 1980s nemesis: the Russians, led by Andrey Ivchenko as a thug mash-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick in their Terminator series roles.

The other series cast members are divided into three teams, each slowly piecing together clues to solve the season’s riddles, with older teens Natalie Dyer′s Nancy Wheeler and Charlie Heaton′s Jonathan Byers still a couple, but now struggling against 1980s office politics, including a vile co-worker played in typical Busey fashion by Jake Busey.  The other kids–El, Mike, Will, Caleb McLaughlin′s Lucas Sinclair and Sadie Sink′s Max Mayfield, also still a couple, reflect most of the “coming of age” story that dominated past seasons.  The best of this is the visual nostalgia accompanying an El and Max outing to the aforementioned Starcourt Mall.  The adults are back, with top-billed star Winona Ryder getting some better development this season as Joyce Byers, the first to realize something is again wrong in Hawkins.  David Harbour is back as police chief Jim Hopper, but unfortunately his character is the low point of the season–he gets tossed around and becomes the butt of jokes as with last season, instead of carrying forward that decisive, strong, cool personality we met in Stranger Things first season.

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When you’re discussing Sylvester Stallone, a discussion of Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be too far behind.  Both reigned as the box office action heroes of the 1980s and 1990s, with Sly always a bit behind Arnold.  I was pleasantly surprised in 2013 when Arnold returned to acting in his first lead performance in a decade as a past-his-prime sheriff of a sleepy southwest town in the sleeper action movie The Last Stand It could have been worked into a sequel from all sorts of his past works, but it was a re-introduction of what the action hero looks like in his 60s, and the result should be fun for any fan of the arguably the biggest movie star Hollywood has seen.  Unlike Arnold, Stallone never took a break to try another career.  He’s been in essence a working actor since he created Rocky in 1976.  He also seemed to try to reach beyond celebrity star status to the more dramatic in James Mangold’s Cop Land, which could have easily earned him an Oscar nod.

In Stallone’s sixth return to his Rocky Balboa character in Creed, Stallone’s performance again was something that pushed the action norm to something different, like Cop Land.  And like Arnold’s The Last Stand, audiences saw what this action hero looks like in an acclaimed movie in his 60s.  Stallone has had a great career, with three major franchises under his belt in Rocky, Rambo, and The Expendables And soon his fifth foray into the character of John Rambo will reveal the action hero in his 70s.  John Wayne, the prior decades’ version of Arnold and Sly, made several action films in his 60s, but never made any films in his 70s, and here is Stallone on his second major franchise film in his 70s.  Take a look at the first trailer for his next film, Rambo: Last Blood, below.

Stallone’s John Rambo could have taken a more dramatic turn when introduced in 1982 in First Blood, but instead the movie opted to be another blood and guts revenge story, the kind that Chuck Norris would later be known for.  Followed by more forgettable films Rambo: First Blood Part II in 1985, Rambo III in 1988, and Rambo ten years later in 2008, the franchise keeps returning because audiences keep going back for more.  His fans could easily have figured that, as with his sixth Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa, his 2008 film in this franchise, Rambo, was going to be his last.  But this is the era of 1980s nostalgia, thanks to binge-watching television shows on Netflix and the throwback elements celebrated in the streaming provider’s series Stranger Things.  So now is the time movies like Creed can happen.  And another Rambo.  Check out the first trailer below for Rambo: Last Blood:

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The annual Star Wars Day, May the Fourth, is back again–an excuse to watch the movies again and meet up with friends and talk all things of a galaxy far, far away.  And again it is overlapping with Free Comic Book Day, a good excuse to visit your local comic book shop and get re-introduced to some series you may have missed.

You can’t beat the “gold line” of comics this year, with Jody Houser writing two free comics, Doctor Who and Stranger Things Jason Aaron serves as a writer on the Avengers issue (including a great Wolverine story), which is always a good FCBD title.  Archie Comics has a new Riverdale Season 3 FCBD story.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman is back writing the featured TMNT issue.  And fans of the Whedonverse won’t want to miss their copy of the BOOM! Studios twofer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, complete with a great cover by Moon Knight cover artist and Vampironica creator Greg Smallwood.  And for adults, Vampirella fans should check out its Issue #0/FCBD issue, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the character, complete with art by Bruce Timm and work by the late Forrest J. Ackerman.  Two other interesting titles for the older crowd worth checking out are Antarctic Press’s Punchline with great art by Matthew Weldon, and Shout Comics’ Midnight Sky.

 

The above issues are also good choices for kids, but some other titles are more targeted at the younger set including Casper the Ghost in Casper’s Spooksville.  Dear Justice League lets kids go one-on-one with their favorite superheroes.  Go Fish! is a great looking fish tale.  You can never go wrong with a new Little Lulu story.  Lumberjanes is back with another campfire story.  And last but not least, Star Wars Adventures is a great pick for any Star Wars fan this May the Fourth.

Take a look at some covers and previews to books available free (supplies may be limited) at Elite Comics or your local comic book shop today only:

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Netflix released the first trailer for the third season of Stranger Things, on its way to the streaming platform this Fourth of July.   The main cast is all back, with David Harbour‘s Sheriff Hopper trying to raise teenager Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown), who is now best buds with Max (Sadie Sink)Following up on last season, Gaten Matarazzo‘s Dustin is still pals with Joe Keery‘s Steve Harrington, and everyone else looks more than a bit older.  With last season’s hero Bob Newby (Sean Astin) obviously not returning, backfilling the fan favorite actors from the 1980s means the introduction to the series of newcomers Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Psych) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, Contact) taking on more than guest roles this season, as revealed in the trailer.

It’s now the Summer of 1985, but we’re back in Hawkins, so that means more bad things are coming our way from the Upside Down.  More music you remember that was played to death on the radio.  More fashion, big hair, and 1980s designs.  New villains, new beasties.  And a big new addition: The Mall and the battle at Starcourt.  But we hear the pretzels aren’t even that good, so…

Take a look at this great preview for Season 3 of the next best thing since the 1980s, Stranger Things:

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Hasbro has big plans for New York Toy Fair 2019 this weekend, and already has released marketing information for two new Stranger Things tie-in games with a retro theme.  Trivial Pursuit fans who’ve been waiting for some new trivia questions will get their wish and more in an updated version of the popular 1980s board game.  And the in-universe Dungeons & Dragons references from the kids in Stranger Things will spill into the real world with a tie-in edition to reel in new roleplay gamers.  Both of these are now available for pre-order for the first time at online pop culture collectible store Entertainment Earth.

Up first is the Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set from Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast.  New as well as seasoned D&D players can experience the D&D adventure Stranger Things character Mike Wheeler created for his friends in the series.  Will you be Will the Wise or Dustin the Dwarf?  The set includes a Stranger Things Adventure book, Rulebook, five Stranger Things character sheets, six dice, a painted Demogorgon figure, and a paintable Demogorgon figure (and take a look at the nicely distressed box design).  Find out more and pre-order the game for only $24.99 now here at Entertainment Earth.

It doesn’t matter how many editions you already own of Trivial Pursuit (the original, the 1980s, the 1990s, the Millennium edition, etc.), this new version is unlike any other edition of the game.  The Stranger Things Back to the 80s Trivial Pursuit Game features 1,500 trivia questions from six categories: Movies, TV, Music, Famous People and Events, Trends, Tech and Fun, and a new one:  Stranger Things. The familiar board game also includes Portal Spaces–land on one of these and you have to flip a section of the board over and send all players to the Upside Down, where wedges can be lost.  As always, the first player to collect six wedges wins.  At a pre-order price of $19.99 here at Entertainment Earth, this game is hard to beat.

Here are several images of the games, courtesy of the first distributor marketing the games, Entertainment Earth:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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This week the creators of Stranger Things are releasing the first comprehensive look behind the scenes of the popular Netflix series’ first two seasons in Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down–The Official Behind-the-Scenes Companion Along with a sneak peek at next year’s third season, the book is full of nostalgia from the series, a sci-fi/fantasy adventure all about nostalgia for the 1980s.  That comes through in the unique design on the cover, which intentionally resembles a battered, old book fresh off the revolving used book rack at the local supermarket.  Check out a preview below courtesy of Random House.

Look for full color photographs, concept art, and even some pull-out material.  Many of the photographs have not been published before.  Details include:

• original commentary and a foreword from creators Matt and Ross Duffer
• exclusive interviews with the stars of the show, including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, and David Harbour
• the show’s earliest drafts, pitches to Netflix, and casting calls
• insights into the Duffers’ creative process from the entire crew—from costume and set designers to composers and visual-effects specialists
• deep dives into the cultural artifacts and references that inspired the look and feel of the show
• a map of everyday Hawkins—with clues charting the network of the Upside Down
• the Morse code disk Eleven uses, so you can decipher secret messages embedded throughout the text
• a look into the future of the series—including a sneak preview of Season 3

It also includes classic retro character sheets from Dungeons & Dragons, filled in for each key cast member.

You can pre-order Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down now at more than $5 off the cover price here at Amazon.  Check out this preview:

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