Stranger Things Season Three

Stranger Things is something I came to later than most. The hype began and I put it on my list of things to watch. Eventually season two came out and I thought, “no better time to start”. I enjoyed it, there was nothing ground-breaking, simply a show that did all the little things right and told a good story along with it. Bit rough in places, but what show isn’t?

When season three came out, I was in a similar spot. I put on the list of things to watch and I inevitably caved because it’s popularity now means that spoilers are everywhere. I enjoyed the previous seasons, but I didn’t love them. Other than a few minor spoilers, I went in as blind as most would to season three but without the rushing enthusiasm of a big fan. Despite this I had questions: What will this third instalment of the Stranger Things story entail? Will it match the quality, humour and lovable nature of the characters it created?

The simple answer: Yes. Season three feels slightly different than the first two because it has more to tell and more characters to tell it with.  Season two introduced a new main character in Max, but gave bigger roles to season one’s recurring characters, most notably Steve Harrington. Season three continues in this fashion, introducing Robin, and providing Billy and Erica more screen time to create what ultimately becomes quite a large ensemble adventure.

Due to the large size, this season is almost entirely split into three main parties, each unravelling different parts of the mysteries within Hawkins as well as combatting their own issues along the way. This makes the start of season three a little stilted. A consequence of telling a complex, ensemble story in the time allowed. Season three is only eight episodes, one fewer than season two’s nine, and so the opening part of the season is setting up what is to come because of the larger cast.

What follows the slow start is simply the quality we have come to expect from Stranger Things up to this point.  This season manages to interweave character issues better than before, as the distance and time between characters seeing each other adds further depth to their individual struggles. The characters all naturally progress from season to season, with only Hopper seeming a little forced in his development. Stranger Things overarching story about the Mind Flayer is good, but it is the characters that make the show compelling. The show may overuse some of its tropes during this season, the most jarring being the romantic subplot between Joyce and Hopper which unfortunately feels like a carbon copy of Nancy and Jonathan’s season two arc. That particular subplot brings some comedic value but really hurts from being so similar. However, I think it speaks volumes that despite these minor gripes season three feels substantially different than its predecessors due its other character developments.

In the end, season three is worth watching despite the minor flaws it has. Each parties story unravels nicely, with threads coming together in a way that makes the whole thing feel complete. It’s a natural progression of the story that deals with new challenges, new emotions, provides new satisfying additions to each character and still manages to be creepy and heart-warming at the same time.

A special note should be made of the VFX artists for this season. Five studios took up the task for season three: Crafty Apes, RISE, Rodeo FX, Scanline VFX (Munich | Stuttgart), and Spin VFX. The work created by these folks are what make the world of Stranger Things feel so eerie and this season takes it to a new level. The previous seasons had great VFX, but the way it is used in this season combined with what looks like even higher quality standards help to produce some particularly gruesome effects.

We always ask the question of “Is this going to hold up to the previous instalment?” no matter the media type. Stranger Things season three, likes its first two seasons, is not ground-breaking, but it doesn’t try to be. It adds to more to the story, its characters, and world with a quality that is unwavering. Simply put: if you enjoyed it before, you will enjoy it again.


Words by Rhys Campbell

The Good Place Season Three

The Brainy Bunch are back for a new season in Netflix’s ‘The Good Place’.

‘The Good Place’ follows demon architect Michael (Ted Danson), Janet Janet (D’Arcy Carden), Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) as they journey through the afterlife to become better people.

Now if you remember, season two finished off resetting everything that has happened so far and putting our four favourite humans back on earth to try setting them on a path to a better afterlife.

Michael and the Judge have agreed to save Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason at the moment of their original deaths in order to see if they can become better people with the knowledge they could have died.

This causes a small spike in the amount of good all four put into the world, they face their flaws to try to become better people… for about six months.

Things start going wrong as they always do in life; it never feels like the amount of good you have to give is enough for anyone, and if you aren’t getting noticed – what’s the point? After a while our four humans fall back into their ‘bad’ lifestyles and Michael can’t help but intervene.

After things go off the rails for the humans, Michael concludes that the only reason they started to get better in the afterlife, was because they were altogether for support. Michael gives them all a little nudge, and at soon they are all together again – a nice happy ending, right? Wrong!

With Michael and the Judge’s original plan failing, the gang try to find another solution to their inevitable eternal damnation, investigating just what The Good Place is, who has gotten in, and how did they get there.

Each episode this season always feels packed to the brim with lessons about philosophy and ethics, something the first two seasons have revealed as the main themes for the show. Chidi and Michael often guide the others through these lessons about morality and the reasons behind why something can be inherently bad or inherently good.

If you have enjoyed the struggles thus far of our friends as they search Earth, the afterlife and Janet for morality – you will be happy to know ‘The Good Place’ still has surprises for you.

 


Words by Joel Tuckwell

 

Joel is a twenty-two year old with a passion for art and animation. He likes to think of new ways to do things and works with computers. One day he hopes to have a pet pig named Pudge.

The Cheesiest Christmas Movies of 2018 (That you can watch from the non-judgemental safety of your own home)

Put on your ugliest sweater, grab some gingerbread and hit that remote because it’s December and that means it’s time for another year’s serving of cheesy, trope-filled Christmas movies. I’ve seen enough Christmas movies to last a lifetime so I’m here to give you the run down on some of this year’s brand new holiday flicks (that feel like they were shot in the 90s).

For the sake of length (and because there are only so many Christmas movies I can watch in November before I lose my sanity) this list is made up of Christmas movies released in 2018 on, and by, Netflix.

The Holiday Calendar

In this romantic Christmas flick photographer Abby (Kat Graham) finds herself in possession of a magical advent calendar (you know, the ones with a door for each day but you always open several doors in one go because a tiny piece of chocolate a day isn’t enough). Of course, instead of holiday treats, this calendar chucks a man Abby’s way. The guy in question is Ty (Ethan Peck), a single dad who is also a doctor and, through some kind of witchcraft, has enough free time to go on dates every single night. Oh, and he’s typical nice-rich-guy good looking, just in case that wasn’t obvious. But Ty isn’t the only man vying for Abby’s love. We also have Abby’s pal Josh (Quincy Brown) who is so deep in the friend-zone at the start of the movie that you know he’s the one.
This movie has all the classic tropes of a 90’s ‘working woman who doesn’t have time for love’ romance flick, with some equally outdated Christmas kitsch thrown in for good measure. Abby’s grandfather sports a fantastically tacky DIY Christmas vest and her family is so painfully middle-class they have a mantel-piece covered in annual family photos. This is like nostalgia porn with the odd iPhone thrown into the mix, just to remind you this movie came out in 2018.
Kat Graham gives a pretty solid performance but the rest of the cast struggles with dialogue so forced you’d think the script was causing them physical pain. Then there are the just plain bizarre and mediocre elements of the film: Abby’s photographs mostly look like she took them while being shot out of a canon, Ty somehow manages to lavish a woman he hardly knows with gifts and extravagant dates every night– making you wonder if he ever actually sees his daughter.
But the film isn’t without it’s saving graces. There are little touches of things you wouldn’t find in a mainstream Christmas movie twenty years ago. There’s the focus on Abby’s career. She’s bummed out with her current job, where her boss is a total jerk-off and she doesn’t get to express her real passion (taking Santa photos isn’t exactly what any arts grad would call ‘career fulfilment’). Her mother is constantly riding her about how photography isn’t a ‘real’ career which, for any arts worker watching, hits very close to home. Throughout the movie Abby’s passion for photography remains at the forefront of the story, placing the romantic plot more on the back-foot. In fact, even though there is a classic ‘career woman needs love’ element to the story, the more powerful message is that Abby shouldn’t give up on her dream.
The final verdict: The Holiday Calendar is an old-school Christmas romance with a bit of a modern touch to it. Easy watching if a little slow and with some seriously cliché and stunted dialogue. Best served with a glass of cheap red, in true arts-grad solidarity.

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Christmas With a View

Proving that Netflix doesn’t hold the monopoly on romantic Christmas movies, Christmas With a View is surprisingly charming despite its simple plot. Proudly toting itself as an adaptation of a Harlequin novel at just 15 seconds into its run time, this is a movie that delivers exactly what it promises.
The story centres around Clara (Kaitlyn Leeb), the manager of an ultra-modern ski resort restaurant who, like any working woman in a Christmas flick since time immemorial, doesn’t have time for romance. Of course, the arrival of celebrity chef Shane Roarke (Scott Cavalheiro) changes everything. Stuck between her growing feelings for Shane and her own career aspirations, Clara also has to deal with the demands of her boss, owner of the resort Hugh Peters (Mark Ghanimé).
This really does feel like stepping into a festive romance novel, complete with atmospheric shots of snow covered landscapes and cosy decorated rooms in almost every scene. This movie does well when it comes to setting but also delivers a simple but sweet story that feels both modern and timeless. There are no ugly DIY sweaters to be found in this Christmas flick, and while it has classical elements it feels decidedly modern.
Love interest Shane is such a nice, well-meaning guy that, honestly, it’s almost refreshing. Which, in 2018, seems a little crazy. But honestly, we’ve seen so many douchebag heroes and love-interests (thanks a lot, E.L. James), that Shane being a genuinely good guy felt like a breath of fresh air. Just ignore that really shocking green-screen cooking show introduction of his character (stock-image background of a blocky, fake kitchen, anyone?).
The only other characters of any note are Clara’s friend Bonnie (Kristen Kurnik) who seems so dumb that at times I cringed hard enough to cause myself physical pain, and the scummy Hugh Peters whose scheming led to a bit of a Scooby-Doo gang break in which was, admittedly, a little fun despite being ridiculous.
The final verdict: It ain’t half bad. Of course, don’t watch this movie expecting anything new and unique. This is a Christmas movie, after all. But if you want a cheesy, sweet and easy romance this is a good one to pop on with a mug full of cocoa.

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The Princess Switch

It’s a trope as well-worn as two characters landing a hotel room with only one bed. I’m talking about the old classic: ordinary, usually working-class person looks exactly like someone rich/famous/noble/royal and they switch lives. Now, I’ll admit I’m not a fan of this trope. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was in BoJack Horseman when Todd switched places with the tyrannical prince Gustav of Cordovia (which sounds like a country made-to-order for a Christmas movie). So you could say I came to this movie with a certain level of apprehension.
This movie is exactly what you’d expect. Our heroine, Stacy (Vanessa Hudgens) is a baker who finds herself travelling to an oh-so-cosy made-up country called Belgravia, where everyone is (a) talking like they’re auditioning for Downtown Abbey, and, (b) obsessed with good, old fashioned, wholesome Christmas traditions. Stacy is set to compete in the nation’s annual Christmas baking competition which is, for some reason, a really big deal. But she’s not alone. Her friend Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his daughter Olivia (Alexa Odeosun) are coming along for the ride.
But it isn’t long before Stacy has a chance encounter with Duchess Margaret, her doppelganger and future bride of Prince Edward of Belgravia (Sam Palladio). Margaret wants to experience living like a commoner so she strikes a deal with Stacy. They’ll switch lives for a few days and, in exchange, Margaret will give Stacy whatever she wants (I would have asked for a house or something else expensive, but Stacy has more humble things in mind). Naturally, Stacy starts to fall for the dashing prince Edward (whose riding pants are so tight they might as well be a second skin), while Margaret gets close to Kevin and dotes upon Olivia. Cue the cheerful snow-ball fight montage!
This movie has so many clichés you can set your watch by them. Cute orphans: check. Dead parents: check. Magical old man who shows up at random intervals to impart wisdom: check. It also wouldn’t be a switch-places story without both women knowing next to nothing about the other’s life, or way of life. We get treated to Stacy’s complete ignorance about Margaret’s home country of Montenaro (does this girl not know about Google?), Margaret’s helplessness when it comes to speaking like one of the commoners and the much known fact: all rich people are good at riding horses.
This movie is also so much like a certain other Netflix Christmas film involving royalty and an American girl falling for a Prince that when I sat down to write this review I had to keep asking myself ‘did that one piano scene happen in this movie or that other one?’ (it was this one. I think). Thankfully, The Princess Switch is so self-aware that it actually has a couple of the characters sit down and watch A Christmas Prince during the movie. But unlike A Christmas Prince, this movie never quite sticks the landing on the fairytale romance. The ending is too perfect. There was no conflict whatsoever. Seriously, no one cared about the switch. Literally no one at all.
The final verdict: It’s not terrible, but all the adorable orphans in Belgravia couldn’t sell this one for me. It was a little too light, too cheerful. The best cheesy Christmas films need some drama, some actual stakes. This one doesn’t deliver. Tackle this one with a glass of mead. It’ll be almost as sickly-sweet as this movie.

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A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

If you haven’t seen the first instalment of A Christmas Prince, do yourself a favour and give it a watch, then report back for some dirt on the sequel.
Is there anything that says Christmas more than British accents and the monarchy? Given the recent influx of royalty themed Christmas movies you’ve got to wonder if people in the US think that the whole holiday season is actually about snooping around old-school British traditions (and they may be onto something). In this second instalment of A Christmas Prince, Amber (Rose McIver) returns to the fictional quasi-British country of Aldovia to prepare for her wedding. But she’s in for a rough time. Not only is she forced to follow a bunch of old and tacky traditions, but she also has to deal with Aldovia’s financial troubles. Her husband-to-be, Richard (Ben Lamb), faces the nation’s financial crisis in the only way politicians know how to – by going to lots of meetings. Amber wants to play a more proactive role in the political sphere but gets stuck watching other people plan her wedding. Understandably, she’s a little salty about this, especially when she gets told she can’t blog (because blogs are still a pretty big medium in 2018, am I right?).
Teaming up with her best friends from New York, the king’s little sister Emily and the pathetic antagonist from last year’s movie, Simon, Amber sets out on a quest to uncover the mystery of where-the-flip-is-Aldovia’s-money-going (a mystery you’ll solve the moment they mention it). Unlike the adoption scandal twist from the last movie, the stakes in The Royal Wedding feel far lower. Plus, the movie spends so much time on cutesy sub-plots (Amber’s dad falling for the surly palace chef, Emily’s Christmas play and an obligatory green-screen tobogganing sequence, to mention a few) that the missing money plot feels shallow and tacked on. On top of that, the romance itself is thin on the ground. Richard spends so much time in meetings that sometimes I forgot he was even meant to be a main character. When he is on screen he adds very little to the story save for reminding everyone how stressful it is to be king (we get it Richard, being rich is hard).
The film’s saving grace is princess Emily, probably because she seems to have more intellect and skills than the rest of the characters combined. She’s a master archer, can hack into government files and she’s a DJ? She’s also played as less of the ‘loveable disabled child’ in this film, with the focus more on her skills and sass rather than her wheelchair and crutches.
But this brings up another issue I have with this franchise: why is everyone in Aldovia so overbearingly white? The only non-white characters in either film are Amber’s friend Melissa (Tahirah Sharif) and the super campy wedding planner Sahil (Raj Bajaj). I get that Aldovia is a small European nation full of people with British accents but surely at some point in its 700-ish years of fantastical existence people from other countries and ethnicities would have shown up? Or does Aldovia have some kind of weird ‘whites-only’ policy like a quaintly British version of the South African apartheid? Okay, maybe I’m expecting a little too much world-building from a Hallmark-style Christmas movie, but my point stands.
So what’s the final verdict on the second A Christmas Prince movie? It was alright as far as cheesy, predictable Christmas flicks go but as a sequel it was lacklustre. The first instalment at least had some glitz and glamour (which probably may have contributed to the Aldovian financial crisis) and a cosy, classical feel. This year’s serving felt pared back and far less Christmassy, mostly because it tried to cram so many little storylines into a 1 hour 32 minute movie. Give it a watch after a couple of glasses of white and report back on the only storyline that mattered: Emily’s romantic arc with the adorable Tom Quill (Billy Angel).

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Words by Lisandra Linde
Lisandra Linde is an Adelaide-based writer of fantasy and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Feminartsy, Empire Times, Bowen Street Press anthologies Pulse and Tattoo and elsewhere. She tweets at @KrestianLullaby

Fetishising His Own Sadness: The World of BoJack Horseman

Firstly, I must issue a spoiler warning. I can’t really talk about a series like BoJack Horseman without allowing spoilers into my discussion – that being said, they’ll be kept to a minimum.

 

The series’ protagonist, the eponymous BoJack Horseman, is the product of a poisonous relationship, and has subsequently been nurtured by alcoholism, drug abuse, and irresponsibility to become the well-meaning and deeply damaged man-child we all know and… well, know.

BoJack’s emotionally fractured nature is something the series never shies away from. He’s a damaged man (or horse) and he damages all who encounter him. It shows the remarkable complexity of the series that he doesn’t become the antagonist, even despite its recognition of his emotional failures.

BoJack’s insular spiral of self-destruction affects those who love him and he is held to account for this within the show’s narrative. The fact that he was shaped by his success in the care-free days of 1980s/90s excess with the privilege of a TV star is not used as some weak excuse for behaviour no longer tolerated in today’s updated ethics. A cartoon comedy is rarely so brave in delving the depths of the darker elements of humanity, let alone portray so nakedly the complexities of their situation. He is accused of fetishising his own sadness. It’s a heavy accusation to level but one borne out by the series. BoJack is unwilling to move on and points to his own – very real – damages as excuses in doing so.

BoJack is an individual given to disappearances, binges, and self-destructing spirals, in place of any real therapy. His medication is alcohol and his therapy is recklessness. The series holds separately, but equally, that BoJack has good reason for his behaviour but that it is also not necessarily excusable. Whether by deliberate action or mistake, BoJack has become a part of other peoples’ lives and with that comes a degree of responsibility to which he is not equal.

BoJack Horseman - Todd
Todd Chavez: not a gloomy roomy.

Perhaps the clearest example of how BoJack’s contradictory personality is not given carte blanche due to his own likely clinical depression is the relationship he has with resident couch-surfer Todd Chavez. He may be a victim of an abusive childhood home and trying to find a direction in life but he cannot bank on his once-victimhood for a lifetime excusing him of his behaviour to the friends of his present. The dynamic between BoJack and Todd may initially suggest that Todd is useless and a traditional slacker who offers little to the relationship but the series turns that on its head and continues to show the near-homeless Todd as more powerful than the reckless drunkenness of BoJack. He has an emotionally healthy understanding of the world and while he may not seek to reach the heights of success BoJack does, he goes about his interactions with others in a truly open and uncalculated fashion. Todd aims for little other than a good relationship with his loved ones – and, as the series continues – a better understanding of his own self.

BoJack is neither hero nor villain in his own story as he has shown himself unwilling to take control of the direction his life is taking. He is content to be passive in his own story all too often. He gives his agency over to alcohol, partying, and reckless thrills. So, what does this make him? He’s shown too great an understanding of his connection with the outside world to continue his directionless role as passive victim in his own life story and the collective understanding of his failing would surely be too much for him.

BoJack’s social privilege and financial success does nothing to keep away his own personal insecurities. The series uses this base as a perfect point from which to make brutally incisive commentary on the fleeting nature of fame, the predatory values of Hollywood, and the universal fact that depression, anxiety, and the horde of emotional concern they can bring with them, can find us even in the highest castles and the greatest peaks of success.

Princess Carolyn
Princess Carolyn, Hollywoo(d) agent.

The emotional stability of BoJack Horseman is all too often handed over to those close to him who have a stronger emotional maturity. Whether it be occasional lover and agent Princess Carolyn, biographer Diane Nguyen, or Todd Chavez, BoJack is surrounded by people willing to shoulder the burden of his emotional brokenness, not because they are the Hollywood hangers-on the series makes a profession of taking well-aimed shots at, but because they simply care for him. Seemingly unconsciously, BoJack abuses this connection. All these characters get pushed to the side by BoJack and their

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Diane Nguyen, biographer.

own feelings go without due care in his pursuit of his behaviours. The result of this is not some damning indictment on BoJack and all he stands for, nor an acceptance of his own moral frailties. The result is to see that BoJack behaves in a certain way for very understandable reasons and is neither to be condemned nor enshrined for his behaviour. His ability to bring such a tight bunch of determined friends around him shows that he is capable of better than he sometimes shows.

At the end of each progressively intense – and emotionally broad –  series, we have pealed back a little more of what makes this man- horse- horse-man, such a compelling character who speaks not only to the complexities of mental health but to privilege, Hollywood excess, and the absolute mess that relationships of all kinds can quickly become. BoJack Horseman forces you to will BoJack to better, knowing he has the ability (if not yet the strength) to do so. It doesn’t forgive him his failings but offers hope he can better himself. Truly, that is a real and grounded hope it offers its audience – there is always room for growth.

 


Words by Liam McNally.