2022 TV & Movie Reviews: Stranger Things / Elvis / The Black Phone / Yellowjackets

A soccer team, a masked sociopath, a Demogorgon, and Elvis walk into a bar…

Stranger Things (Season 4, Part Two)

With these final two mega episodes, Stranger Things establishes its fourth season as its best since season one. However, it’s still nowhere near the quality of that first season. It’s lost a lot of its grit and edginess in favor of a Target Graphic Tee artificial representation of the 80s, and yeah, I get it’s supposed to be “campy” but is that the whole joke? That the 80s happened? How quirky! That’s how time works!! Let’s get to the real problem here though, there are too many characters. The only time I’ve seen a show work while juggling this many substantial characters is The Wire, or maybe Deadwood, both of which could go several episodes (or sometimes, seasons) without re-visiting characters. This is because some of those characters were almost incidental to the progression of the plot – if they were there, it was about them, if their characters weren’t, we’d revisit them the following season. In season four of Stranger Things, the Duffers are trying to give every existing and new character a major storyline, almost half of which are tedious – Lucas’ basketball career, Nancy being boring, Jonathan becoming a weed guy, to name a few — all could have been little side notes throughout the season instead of major plot points. The other thing is when you have this many characters and storylines that you’re juggling because your storylines are completely built from your characters and not vice versa, there’s no way to maintain a coherent structure. As frequently entertaining as this season’s 150 minute finale is, it often feels like the Avengers: Endgame of prestige TV in that we’re revisiting the same beats over and over and over again but mad-lib swapped with different characters. It’s fucking exhausting, dudes.

Now that I’ve spent the first paragraph shitting on this season, let me just say that despite its problems I really enjoyed. Sure, we didn’t need fifteen Return of the King mini-endings, but five of those fifteen endings were genuinely touching and satisfying. These last two mega episodes are definitely superior to the first part of seven mega episodes, because they are all payoff. The 150-minute finale in particular plays like an epic Hollywood movie from the 1980s, Goonies meets Aliens with some Freddy Krueger dressing on the side. It’s 80% entertaining because it’s all falling action, but sometimes you get plucked out of interesting stuff to check back in with a character lacking real dimensions.

The cast is back and about as good as always, Millie Bobby Brown continues to be excellent while most of the kids are all pretty good at acting. Most. One is terrible. Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin had a really good season, in particular, but let’s talk about Sadie Sink as Max who snagged the MVP cast member title away from a criminally underused David Harbour this season. She’s effortlessly great in that she has can have virtually no lines in a scene and still manage to steal it. It’s unfortunate Joe Kerry and especially Maya Hawke were given less to do seeing as though they’re infinitely more interesting characters and better actors than Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton).

I’m excited for the final season because even with how critical I am of this show (and any and everything I watch), I really enjoy and am invested in a lot of these characters. Stranger Things never really blows my mind the way shows like Succession, Better Call Saul or Atlanta do, but it’s accessible and comforting, like a big bowl of buttery mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes and I’ll eat them till I explode. Grade: B (Netflix)


What a great surprise this weekend to find I actually really liked Baz Luhrman‘s Elvis movie. I profoundly dislike Luhrman, not because I have anything personal against him, but because his movies typically irritate me in a way that threatens to be traumatizing. Watching Moulin Rouge is an experience only rivaled by the most embarrassing social experiences of my life, a gaudy, loud, gross, in-your-face mess that treats you like a toddler it’s dangling car keys in front of. Romeo + Juliet is a film that only could have been made in the 90s, feeling less like a human drama and more like a hilariously self-serious episode of Dawson’s Creek parodying the Bard. It’s like an episode where the gang is studying for their big Shakespeare English Lit exam and fall asleep and have a dream they’re living out Romeo & Juliet mixed with their own dumb relationship drama. And the less I say about Australia, the better, mostly because I never saw it.

However, Elvis is a fantastically entertaining ride with riveting musical sequences and a truly transcendent performance by Austin Butler. On the other hand, Tom Hanks is pretty terrible as the human equivalent to the German caterpillar in A Bug’s Life. He’s supposed to be Dutch but sounds Eastern European, and is ultimately so distracting he threatens to throw the movie off its tracks every time he pops up to do some dumb schtick. It’s not all Hanks‘ fault, after all he’s one of the best actors in the entire world. The scripting around his character as a cliche comic book villain posing as a “good guy” and the Eddie Murphy-in-the-Klumps-esque fat suit don’t mesh with aesthetic of the rest of the film. I understand this guy really existed and he did really seem this goofy, but there has to be a better way to fit this real-life character into this already overstuffed movie extravaganza. As far as costumes, sets, cinematography, film editing, sound — this movie is a shoe-in for every technical category at the Oscars next year. It’s gorgeous filmmaking, with an incredible lead performance, ultimately though, the Hanks character and a really paint-by-numbers biopic story structure hold it back from being truly great. Grade: B (In Theaters)

The Black Phone

I had such high hopes for this but what a disappointment. The Black Phone, the new horror thriller by Sinister‘s Scott Derickkson, adapted from a reportedly very good short story by Stephen King‘s son, Joe Hill, tries to do so much that it ends up not doing a single thing right. It’s a kidnapping movie on top of a ghost movie on top of a coming-of-age movie on top of a premonition movie with a side order of hit-and-miss dark comedy and a heaping over-serving of real-world child abuse. Basically it’s about a tween brother (Mason Thames) and sister (Madeline McGraw) in a small town in 1978 plagued by a local child killer abducting neighborhood kids. Of course, the brother ends up getting kidnapped and the sister, who is clairvoyant, starts having dreams about where he might be. Ethan Hawke plays a disappointingly one-dimensional boogeyman whose only personality trait seems to be he wears a mask, on top of being broadly crazy. This character seems like a lazy amalgamation of real-world serial killers (based on their psych evaluations), and whatever local paper would give this kidnapping maniac the moniker “The Grabber” is most certainly a shit rag. Hawke is usually very good but here he seems to be doing an underwhelming cocktail of Heath Ledger‘s Joker and Double Dare‘s Marc Summers. It seems the writing and the part are more at fault than Hawke himself. The real standout of the movie is the young actress who plays the sister, Madeline McGraw. She’s the most believable person acting in the movie and really funny in the few moments of levity the film offers. I guess I’m an idiot for thinking a movie about a child killer and a kid using the help of dead kid ghosts and his psychic sister to escape molestation, dismemberment and death would be a fun thrill ride, but the trailers certainly made it out to be more Stranger Things than what we ended up getting. The Black Phone is overwhelmingly depressing most of the time and doesn’t have the gravitas to handle that. There’s a really dark child abuse scene where the siblings’ drunk dad (an utterly wasted Jeremy Davies) is beating the girl mercilessly with a belt for talking to the cops. McGraw plays it so real it stops the movie dead in its tracks. I understand this is a dark story but it needed to be a bit more accessible to function as an engaging thriller. What it ended up feeling like is just a movie that really fucking hates kids. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

Yellowjackets (Season 1)

(L-R): Jane Widdop as Laura Lee, Alexa Barajas Plante as Mari, Mya Lowe as Yellowjacket #1, Courtney Eaton as Lottie, Sophie Thatcher as Natalie, Princess Davis as Yellowjackets #2 and Sophie N?lisse as Shauna in YELLOWJACKETS, “F Sharp”. Photo credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME.

The real surprise for me this past couple of weeks is how incredibly addictive Yellowjackets is. Sure, it’s super campy at moments and there’s a healthy argument to be made that it jumps the shark towards the end of the season, but I found myself twice as invested in these kids-in-peril characters than I’ve been in the Stranger Things characters in years. It’s like a 90s, alternative/punk-rock update of Lord of the Flies about a high school girls soccer team whose plane crashed on their way to nationals, forcing them to live in the wilderness for a year and a half and eventually become cannibals. The story switches between this timeline and them twenty-five years later, preparing for their reunion and also being blackmailed by a mysterious entity threatening to reveal what really happened out there in the wilderness. The awesome thing is the show teases exactly what happened to them all those years ago so we don’t even know. Characters we initially like or dislike are revealed to be much different than we thought. That’s about all I’ll tell you about the plot as I do not want to ruin it for you. The adult cast is comprised of Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, Tawny Cypress and a fantastic Juliette Lewis and the teen 90s cast is comprised of exceptionally talented newcomers as well as existing up and comers like Scream 5‘s Jasmin Savoy Brown or The Kid Detective’s Sophie Nelisse. Season One has been out for a while but I’m only now getting around to watching it. The show’s biggest hurdle is being on Showtime, an app that most viewers don’t have, but let me tell you, this show is worth a $10 one-month subscription to it. Just watch all ten episodes in a span of 30 days and cancel before they rebill you. If you’re a fast streamer, you can even get a one-week free trial and not have to pay anything. It’s more than worth it. Grade: A- (Showtime)

Also Streaming and In Theaters


Barry (Season 3)HBOMax

Stranger Things (Season 4, Part One)Netflix

Better Call Saul (Season 6, Part One)AMC+

Under the Banner of HeavenHulu

Atlanta (Season 3)Hulu

The StaircaseHBOMax

The Flight Attendant (Season 2)HBOMax

We Own This City HBOMax

Severance (Season 1)AppleTV+

Pachinko (Season 1)AppleTV+

Heartstopper (Season 1)Netflix

The Kids in the Hall (Season 6)Amazon Prime

Ozark (Season 4, Part Two)Netflix

RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 14)$19.99 Purchase on Amazon

Top Chef (Season 19)Peacock


Jurassic World: Dominion (D) – In Theaters

Top Gun: Maverick (B+) – In Theaters

Last Night in Soho (B-) – HBOMax

House of Gucci (C+) – Amazon Prime

Fire Island (B-) – Hulu

Cha Cha Real Smooth (B) – AppleTV+

Pleasure (B) – $5.99 rental on YouTube

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (B-) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

The Northman (B) – Peacock

Moonfall (F/A+/Whatever) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

The Worst Person in the World (B+) – Hulu

Everything Everywhere All at Once (A-) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

Candyman (B) – Amazon Prime

Paranormal Activity 7: Next of Kin (D-) – Paramount+

Old (C-) – HBOMax

Freddy’s Nightmares

Freddy’s Nightmares (Season 1)Screambox

Freddy’s Nightmares (Season 2)Screambox

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