If You Liked Stranger Things, Try These Shows

If you have Netflix and even the merest interest in sci-fi, you’ve watched Stranger Things by now. I mean, I have a couple of friends who are managing to watch the series very slowly, one episode at a time, but most of us flew through it in less than a week. My husband and I have actually watched the whole thing twice already, and we’re thinking about a third go-round.

It’s just so good! The characters! The creepiness! The nostalgia! And it’s hard to find something worth watching after you’ve finished such a good show. So here are some ideas for you from a very picky sci-fi/fantasy fan.

On Netflix (streaming)

TV Shows

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I am so pumped that this is on Netflix now! We’ve been trying to tell people about it for a while. We watched it a few months ago via nefarious means, and it is fantastic. We’d both read the wonderful book by Susanna Clarke before watching the series, but I think the show is at least as good as the book in this particular case. I highly recommend it if you have any tolerance for fantasy. It’s not very creepy though, so if you need something creepier, read on.

2. Black Mirror. Everyone said DON’T WATCH THE FIRST EPISODE, so we never have. The episodes we have watched were futuristic and thought-provoking. Not creepy the way Stranger Things is, exactly, but creepy in different ways.

3. The Walking Dead. Super creepy, gory, etc. Fun survival/zombie horror. There’s something that really hooks you, at least for a season and a half, which is when I peaced out.

4. Dark Matter. This one isn’t super great, but it’s entertaining and I enjoyed it, even with my low tolerance for cheesy TV shows. It’s an interesting twist on the motley-band-of-space-pirates theme. Sci-fi, not very creepy, zero nostalgia factor.

5. Freaks and Geeks. You’ve seen this already, right? It’s set in the ’80s, it’s about a teenage girl and her tween brother & their respective groups of friends. I had to mention it because it’s good and it relates to Stranger Things in that way. It’s a comedy, though; not the least bit creepy or fantastical.

Movies

1. Contact. It’s an excellent movie. I hated it when I was a kid, but I get it now. Worth re-watching.

2. Europa Report. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember this one perfectly. I need to re-watch it. But I remember thinking that it deserved a higher rating than it has on most sites.

Not on Netflix

TV Shows

The Magicians1. The Magicians. This is another case where a book I loved was turned into a TV series. Don’t be fooled by the dumb artwork. They did change it in ways I don’t love, but it’s still very good. Rather bloody at times, fun in the way fantasy can be but the characters act like real people in the real, modern world—no orcs or dragons or anything like that. Highly recommended.

Movies

1. Coherence. This movie is one of those mindfuck sort of things. It’s really fun to watch, and creepy in a mostly not horrifying sort of way. Not very related to Stranger Things, but we’ve been telling people about this one for years and I don’t think anyone we know has watched it yet. So please do!

2. Super 8. Okay, the acting isn’t perfect, but it’s a Goonies-type sci-fi that’s related to Stranger Things, so give the kids a break. It’s a fun movie.

3. Under The Skin. There were scenes in Stranger Things that reminded me of this movie, but mainly in a visual way. It’s an odd one, but really interesting. Definitely worth watching.

Nothing really compares to Stranger Things, at least in my mind. But hopefully there will be something on this list that entertains you while we wait for a second season to be made. If you have TV show recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments!

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Playing Catchup

I got sick of that WordPress theme, so i switched to the most generic default one available. That ought to motivate me to get off my butt (or on it, really) and design a new one. Ugh, maybe.

I really need to write more often. I feel like nothing much happens in my life and yet there’s so much that i find i ought to have written about when i take a long break.

I saw The Great Gatsby. And then i read it for the second time.
I took my mom to see the movie for Mother’s Day. I read the book in high school but i couldn’t really remember much of anything about it. I think we powered through it in just a few days and i vaguely recall being left scratching my head.

Great Gatsby poster

I really like Baz Luhrman’s movies and his style, and i thought The Great Gatsby was a perfect story for him to tell. Nobody could’ve done a better movie rendition of it, if you ask me. It was spectacular, romantic, tragic, well-cast for the most part (i could’ve done without Toby Maguire, but i just don’t like him much in general), and possibly the most enjoyable movie i’ve seen since The Hobbit (Part 1 of Eleventyhundred). It inspired me to re-read the book, and this time i loved it. Fitzgerald truly was an artist, and it’s such a pleasure to read a book that’s written with so much skill and passion. It’s not the most epic story ever told but it’s just told so well. Truly an American classic.

We went to Decorah for a weekend.
To celebrate our second anniversary and to procure a particularly excellent and rare beer, we drove 3.5 hours each way up to Decorah, Iowa, and spent two nights at a charming bed & breakfast there. Decorah, by the way, is a perfectly beautiful little place. My brother drove an even longer way for the aforementioned beer; he met us at Toppling Goliath on Saturday for the event, which was crowded but well organized and turned out really well for us because Nathan and i got our numbers early enough in the morning (7:20 a.m.!!) that we were able to garner a second bottle each. People were passing around rare beers to sample just for fun, and i had a good time visiting with my family and discovering lovely new beers. After lunch that day we walked out to what is probably Iowa’s only waterfall, and it was a very pretty sight to see. (Photos courtesy of Nathan.)

Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout by Toppling Goliath
Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout by Toppling Goliath

Did you know that Iowa has a waterfall?!
Did you know that Iowa has a waterfall?!

Nathan went to Seattle for a long weekend
And i was kind of lonely i missed the poop out of him. This was the longest we’d been apart since probably our second date, and being without him was totally alien and wrong to me. I went out Friday evening with a couple of girlfriends and then i was mostly at home working on a logo for a family member the rest of the weekend, but i went to my grandpa’s house for a couple hours of people time both evenings. I do not like living alone one bit, even with a dog. Does that mean i’m actually an extrovert? I prefer to be around people for at least 2/3 of every day (working alone at home wasn’t so bad).

I got stressed out about food and then remembered Michael Pollan.
All the low-fat / gluten-free / low-calorie / paleo / clean / vegan / sugarphobic / locavore / sustainable / organic / good calories, bad calories / moderation / best-body / health-obsessed food talk that pops up seemingly everywhere was starting to make me feel guilty every time i put something in my mouth, and so i bought In Defense of Food and have started reading that to try to get back to a place where food is not a tool or an enemy or a sin but above all things a pleasure. And even reading this is kind of wearying, because it says a lot of the same stuff that Nourishing Traditions and Why We Get Fat say about how the Western diet is terrible for people’s health (yeah, duh), but i think the difference will come in the latter half of the book where Pollan presents an eater’s manifesto. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And as long as you can tell the difference between actual food and laboratory-created foodlike substances, that’s all he says you really need to do. No worrying. I’ve hardly ever worried about food in my life except for when i was a vegetarian, and i don’t plan to allow it to become a habit.

Year In Review 2010: Movies

About time, eh? I’m trying to get the blog ball rolling again, so let’s go ahead and talk about last year’s movies.

movies

In 2010 Nathan and i watched something like 75 movies, and i had only seen about five of those before. So we beat last year’s count by a handful. The theme of the year ended up being Awesome Old Geeky Movies, whereas 2009 was more about Classic Old Movies. We watched about 7 Star Trek films, two Superman flicks (which i LOVED!), two Planet of the Apes movies (the originals), Legend, and many other sci-fi/fantasy movies that i had missed somehow. It was pretty great.

We also saw a few movies in the theaters, including Eclipse, Harry Potter , Tron and Inception. For some reason i thought it would be a good idea to see the latter film in an IMAX theater, which turned out to be a horrible notion. Have you ever tried watching a movie on TV with your face two inches from the screen? Yeah, that’s what it was like. I watched it through half-closed eyes, for the most part. I think i liked the movie. But i need to watch it again. The original Tron film was one of the older movies i watched at home this year, and I thought Tron: Legacy was actually quite good. It was visually exciting, had good music, and the storyline was solid enough. Not life-changing, but i’m not complaining.

My favorite flicks of the year were probably Up In The Air and Sunshine, which was released in 2007. Wow—that one keeps you on the edge of your seat. I watched it, too, with half-closed eyes sometimes, but for entirely different reasons. It’s not gruesome though, really, and it’s very very good.

And since i named a Worst Movie of the Year last year, i’ll go ahead and crown The Ugly Truth with that title for 2010. It’s supposed to poke fun at stereotypes. Except the plotline itself is really, really demeaning. I lost a lot of respect for Gerard Butler on that one.

I rarely have much of an idea about what movies are coming soon to theaters these days since i only stream TV shows off the internet and therefore don’t see a lot of trailers, but the one film that i know i’m really looking forward to seeing in 2011 is the first part of Breaking Dawn. Not even gonna lie about that.

Can’t Stop the Serenity

Yesterday evening Nathan and i attended an event called Can’t Stop the Serenity. (Here’s the page for the Des Moines Chapter.) Basically, it was a showing of the cult movie Serenity down at the Fleur, but it was so much more than that.

Serenity

The first time i saw this movie was about three years ago and I pretty much hated it. I was told that without the context of the Syfy show Firefly on which it’s based, it probably wasn’t as good. So this spring when Nathan started watching episodes of Firefly on Netflix Instant Play, i wasn’t very interested at first. However, unlike Stargate which failed to interest me even after several chances, the show soon drew me in and Nathan and i finished up the one and only season together in no time. Afterward we watched Serenity, which was SO MUCH BETTER the second time.

So then a couple weeks ago i heard via twitter about this event called Can’t Stop the Serenity. There are a lot of Firefly fans out there (called “browncoats”) whose love for the series has only been fueled by the fact that it was canceled so early on and by their hopes that it might be revived again some day. These fans get together once a year in quite a few different cities around the world to watch Serenity on the big screen. I figured the event would probably be a nerdfest and thus a pretty awesome time. I had no idea.

First there was a costume contest which we missed and which we realized once we got there that we probably could have won if we’d dressed up. There were door prizes which included Anime box sets, chopsticks-and-pocky combinations and Firefly fanclub memorabilia. We won some fake Firefly universe currency – w00t! There was a showing of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which we discovered is a short musical starring Neil Patrick Harris that was directed by Joss Whedon, the same guy who did Firefly (and a lot of other stuff, it turns out). That was pretty enjoyable. And then, of course, there was Serenity. (Which was STILL BETTER the third time around.)

But besides all of the delightful nerdery, there was a really good cause for all of this. I knew that the proceeds were going to be donated to a charity, but i was excited to learn that Equality Now is an organization that essentially fights against the things i hate the most in this world: rape, domestic violence, reproductive rights violations, trafficking, female genital mutilation, and gender discrimination. Unfortunately, i didn’t learn about this until after the silent auction had ended or i probably would have ponied up at least fifty bucks for a graphic novel to benefit this organization right then and there. (I can still donate, of course, but i won’t get a sweet comic book out of it.)

The main aim of Equality Now is to facilitate awareness about the atrocities being committed against women every day all over the world. It upsets me enough that i find it hard to write about, but this is something i think is really important so please check out their website and be sure to like them on facebook!

So nerdy sci-fi love + proceeds going to a great cause = a really awesome event that i’m already planning to attend again next year. And with that, i’ve just destroyed whatever “cool points” i may have gained with my big bro by drinking IPAs with him over the past couple of weeks. 😉

Up In The Air

We went to see Up In The Air this weekend, and i can’t wait to tell you all about it. Well, i won’t give too much away, but i really loved this movie and i encourage everyone to see it. It’s not exactly the kind of film you need to see in theaters, but add this one to your netflix queue for sure.

Up In The Air

I loved everything about it, from the double entendre title to the meaning it has because of current events. It’s about a man (played by George Clooney) who travels for a living and helps companies downsize by firing their employees for them. He calls the sky his home and gives seminars on how not to be tied down by possessions or even relationships. He likes people and is good at firing them with a firm but understanding hand, yet doesn’t want to commit himself to any one person or place.

For parts of the movie, they actually interviewed real people who had lost their jobs and recorded their thoughts on the matter. It made me think back to when i lost my first job a year and a half ago and how the awkward conversation with my boss quickly dwindled down to nothing, and how in a state of shock i had to pack my things and go. I remembered going to the grocery store that night looking for a pint of ben & jerry’s for consolation and just standing there, looking at the ice cream, crying. Because your future isn’t in that pint, it’s – well – up in the air.

So i identified with the movie in that way, and i also happen to be a sucker for a movie that reminds you that the important thing in life is the people you love. If you’re a fan of It’s A Wonderful Life, The Family Man, Garden State, etc., you’ll probably enjoy this one, too.

2009 Wrap-Up: Movies

OMG movies! This was a Year of Movies for me & Nathan. He signed up for Netflix despite my bitter hatred of the company (because they put un-blockable pop-unders on EVERY FREAKING WEBSITE EVER), and we decided to work our way up through IMDB’s top 50 movies of all time, so our ambition to watch more than one movie a week was high. And that’s just what we did! I’ve written down the titles of 63 movies we watched this year, and there are possibly a few i missed. I believe 16 or 17 of those were released this year.

movies

First of all, we didn’t get through all 50 IMDB picks. We got up to about #36, but we didn’t go perfectly in order and the list is always fluctuating. We also skipped the ones we had already seen. I didn’t enjoy any of them very much except for To Kill a Mockingbird and Alien. I really liked Alien. And it was then that i realized that my love of sci-fi extends far beyond Star Wars, and i was a little bit ashamed.

Speaking of sci-fi (or is it syfy now?), my favorite movie that we watched this year was Metropolis, a silent sci-fi made in 1927. It’s weird and awesome and it’s amazing what they dreamed up and brought to life way back then. The acting is so interesting, and you realize that you’re viewing an artifact when the missing bits of film are filled in with text summaries. Wonderful.

We saw Avatar and District 9 recently, and we discovered that the two movies actually share some plot elements, which explains why so many people are comparing them. Avatar is of course spectacular, and the story isn’t bad (even if it is kindof a recycled Pocahontas). The aliens looked cartooney in the previews, but we found that they didn’t feel that way when we watched the movie. It was better than i was expecting, and while it’s not one of my new favorite movies, i definitely recommend seeing it, and in theaters (*and* in 3-D if you can stomach paying that much for one movie). District 9, on the other hand, is gritty and gory and I’m still not entirely sure whether i liked it or not. I don’t think i did, that’s not the kind of movie i tend to like (we both really hated Taxi Driver, by the way).

I thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Gran Torino were both overrated. Coraline and Up are both fun and worth watching. The Hangover was funny, and so was Bruno. Harry Potter and the… Whatever It Was This Year and Angels and Demons were entertaining, as anyone could have guessed. And i must say i found Twilight and New Moon to be pretty entertaining as well. They’re really fun to laugh at (sparkly vampires? werewolves running around in cutoffs??), and it’s also just fun to wonder if Bella will ever become a vampire?! (DO NOT tell me.) A lot of young women adore the Twilight saga, and i’ve discovered that a slew of others abhor it just because the former group loves it, which i think is a lot more retarded than being obsessed with it. Like what you like, don’t dislike something just to be “different”.

Slumdog Millionaire and Milk are really genuinely good movies, so if you’re looking for actually *good* stuff and not just entertainment, those are the only ones i watched this year that i can recommend.

And finally, because i can’t possibly mention the remaining fifty-or-so movies we saw in 2009, i’d like to award Worst Movie I Watched This Year to: Henry Poole is Here. If you didn’t already think Luke Wilson a douchebag for his AT&T commercials, go ahead and watch this movie and join the rest of us.