The Sunday Magazine: Vina Falernia Carmenere Reseva from Elqui Valley, Chile

I think my favorite part of drinking wine these days is discovering a new region for myself. It is like discovering a new perfume brand the exhilaration comes in the exploration. Like perfume it all starts with a sample. I was at my local store and asked about something to go with my Easter leg of lamb. I was asked if I’d tried the Chilean carmeneres, which I had. It didn’t seem like the best match, but I was told of a small region in Chile that takes the grape and treats it like they do for Amarone in Valpolicella, Italy. That got my attention because Amarone della Valpolicella is exactly what I would pair with lamb but for just a dinner at home I wanted something more moderately priced. Enter the Chilean version from the Elqui Valley; Vina Falernia Carmenere.

The Elqui Valley turns out to be one of the more unique vinicultural areas in the world nestled between the Atacama Desert and the Andes while being close enough to the Pacific to get the cooling sea breezes. It is also unique because there is almost no precipitation or below-freezing temperatures. The saturated sunlight matched with the altitude creates a singular terroir for wine.

Aldo Olivier (l.) and Giorgio Flessati

Vina Falernia was founded in 1999 as an off-shoot of the Olivier family’s production of table grapes and Pisco fortified wine. Aldo Olivier realized there was potential for winemaking. He hired winemaker Giorgio Flessati and they began. They planted predominantly Syrah and Carmenere grapes. Because of the climate Sig. Flessati thought it would be ideal to try and emulate the Amarone-style of harvest.

That style is to allow the grapes to dry out on the vines by leaving them there for up to two months past peak harvest. Sig. Flessati can shorten what takes four months in Valpolicella because of the intense sunlight and the moderate temperatures.

Falernia Vineyard in the Elqui Valley, Chile

The wine which follows the Amarone-style procedure is Vina Falernia Carmenere Reserva. The current vintage available in my area is the 2015. This vintage is made from 60% of the dried on the vine fruit with the remaining 40% made up of the grapes harvested earlier. It turns out to be a lovely stand-in for the much more expensive Italian version.

The 2015 vintage is a contrast to the aggressively herbal carmeneres from the rest of the Chilean viniculture areas. By using the dried fruit that seems to have been tamped down. What remains is a deeply satisfying mixture of cherries, chocolate, and cinnamon on the palate which are all also evident on the nose.

This turned out to be just what I was looking for as it was ideal with Easter dinner. In my area it goes for $14/bottle. Which is an outstanding value if you compare it to an Amarone.

I am going to seek out more of the Vina Falernia wines as I can. There is also one other vineyard in Elqui Valley called Mayu and is run by a cousin of Sig, Olivier. If they’re all as good as this one, it is yet another of the South American regions producing quality wines at moderate prices.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Warren Zevon

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There is a deep pleasure in my ability to go deep down any rabbit hole I find because of technology. One of the triggers for this is usually a song which comes out of my iTunes library when I put it on shuffle. My latest experience came after the song “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” by Warren Zevon played through my headphones. In what would be an eerily prophetic song for Mr. Zevon when it was released in 2000; foreshadowing his battle with cancer. It would lead to his death in September 2003. That would happen days after the release of his last album “The Wind”. That album contains what I consider the companion piece to “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”; “Keep Me In your Heart”.

Mr. Zevon was part of the Southern California singer-songwriter community of the 1970’s. I first learned of him through a song written by him done by another artist; Linda Ronstadt. One of her biggest hits off her 1977 album Simple Dreams was “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”. It was my favorite song on that album. One of my more clued-in friends asked if I had heard the original version. When he played Mr. Zevon’s version it was a revelation, to me, of a new artist. I was just in time to catch on with everyone else with his second album Excitable Boy in 1978.

Mr. Zevon’s more ironic, darker themes delivered in a hard-edged folk-based style was an alternative to the pop versions his peers were releasing. That they knew he was a unique talent who needed opportunity came when close friend Jackson Browne produced and invested in Mr. Zevon’s first two albums. Mr. Browne would then take him out on tour. That was where I saw him live for the first time.

I saw him live in a much more intimate setting the second time. When I was in graduate school in Athens, Georgia in 1984 it was a time when the music scene was exploding. One of the cool things about being there was other artists would come into town to collaborate. Through a whisper stream the word would go out that so-and-so was playing with this band at one of the smaller clubs under a fictitious name. When the rumor of Warren Zevon plus REM made it to me. I closed the lab for the night and headed out to see a band called Hindu Love Gods. I was treated to a night of covers plus new songs being worked on. In this setting I saw Mr. Zevon’s love of rock music as he clearly enjoyed being on stage with the other musicians. They closed the night with “Werewolves of London” his biggest hit but it was everything prior to that which was memorable.

The final year leading up to his death was about recording a final album with all his friends. Informed by his coming mortality it could have been a mess. Instead Mr. Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Don Henley, Mick Fleetwood, Joe Walsh, T Bone Burnett, and Emmylou Harris joined in over the songs on the album to produce a moving musical elegy.

There are few of us who can choose how we leave this world. Mr. Zevon did it with his music. Herd to ask for more than that.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: BOOM! Studios Abbott by Saladin Ahmed

One of the best things about comics is the amazing writers who will participate in writing them. No longer seen as something less than, novelists from all genres are willing to take on the cape and spandex protagonists. One novelist who has caught my attention over the last year is Saladin Ahmed. He has been the author of a truly amazing series featuring the King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt. If you’re saying, “who?” that’s not surprising. Many of the novelists are drawn to taking a character from the shelf and giving them a new spotlight. For forty years Black Bolt has been a stiff. In Mr. Ahmed’s hands he is fascinating. Even so he is still hemmed in by the accumulated canon history of the character. As I’ve appreciated the Black Bolt Series I wondered whether he would continue. Turns out he had an original character he wanted to do, Abbott, and the first two issues have been released from BOOM! Studios.

Mr. Ahmed grep up in Detroit during the 70’s and 80’s so he decided to set Abbott in that era. The title refers to black female journalist Elena Abbott. The time period sets her apart for her skin color and her gender. One thing I like about the first two issues is the way it isn’t dwelled upon, but it isn’t ignored. We know that Abbott has more than a mystery to deal with in her life. It is essentially one of my favorite genres of urban supernatural mystery.

Saladin Ahmed

Abbott is out doing her job when she comes across a couple of mutilated bodies. It reminds her of the “unexplained” attack which killed her husband. She is still dealing with that loss because she saw something otherworldly take him. Mr. Ahmed gives Abbott personal quirks which give the reader a clue to what’s going on inside. The bodies provide her an opportunity to find some answers.

Mr. Ahmed has fully captured early 70’s Detroit. Abbott is a bit like the old Blaxploitation movies of the same era. Although the writing is better. Freed of some of the commercial restrains of corporate comics artist Sami Kivela saturates many of the panels with monochromatic hues to give a presence to the scene being portrayed.

The story is just getting ramped up only two issues in, but this has become one of my most looked forward to titles in 2018.

Now I have to go grab a copy of his fantasy series, “Throne of the Crescent Moon” to pass time between issues.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Optimism vs DC’s Nihilism at the Movies

I imagine over at the Warner Brothers DC offices there must be a lot of envy as another Marvel movie takes off. The latest release, Black Panther, must really sting because it took in as much money in the first weekend that the big team-up movie, Justice League, did in its entire run. I’ve been thinking about why this is so. I think I’ve figured out one part of it.

To start with I return to the comics themselves back in 1986. That was the year that DC was releasing two of the most lauded comics ever produced. They were part of the movement from comic books to graphic novels. One was “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller and the other was “Watchmen” by Alan Moore. They stood out for being different from the other titles surrounding them. One reason for that was they both had nihilistic protagonists more interested in winning than anything else. Collateral damage was just part of the job. Forget vigilante these heroes were the executioner when it was necessary. Now I adore both stories for giving that style to the comic book realm. Except it has become a pervasive infection, especially at DC. They would race to make ever darker grittier versions of their recognizable heroes. Retconning their origins if necessary. It was not a resounding creative success.

Director Zack Snyder would film an excellent version of “Watchmen” which captures much of its nihilistic charm. After that he would take over as the creative force of the DC movie universe hoping to create a similar series of films to what Marvel had done. There were expectations.

Marvel was taking a different path. During the same time as DC was trying out the darkness Marvel decided they needed a giant crossover event. Thus, was born Secret Wars which spanned 12-months from 1984-1985. The numerous different creators of all the main Marvel heroes agreed to have a universal battle where every hero would have their moments. There was lots of humor. The universe was saved with a smile and “Kapow”. Marvel would continue this lighter side of things without deciding to go all in on what their competitors were doing. Although there were some notable exceptions in series like Daredevil, for instance. For the most part there was a Marvel style which was not gritty.

When director Jon Favreau laid the first brick in the Marvel movie universe, 2008’s Iron Man, he brought with him that same humorous style. Robert Downey Jr. inhabited a hero unafraid to laugh while also throwing a punch. He looked like he was enjoying being a hero. That is what the essence of Marvel movies have been; the characters understand the responsibility while also showing a joy at having these powers.

Mr. Snyder would take the darkness and shroud the DC movies in it. For a character like Batman that has always been part of the undercurrent. For a character like Superman it was not. Yet he was turned into a killer who destroyed a city at the end of his movie. This nihilism is the glue which holds the DC universe together except for one which doesn’t; Wonder Woman. One reason is the director Patty Jenkins didn’t see her heroine as anything but noble she used humor and optimism to power it to the biggest DC universe movie to date. Inclusive, funny, and heroic instead of exclusionary, grim, and nihilistic.

Compare this to Marvel’s latest releases; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Three different filmmakers who stamped their movies with their perspective while also never losing the optimism which binds the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is why there is much more faith in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War which will blend 20+ heroes over the disastrous Justice League which couldn’t pull off the same trick with six.

I think nihilism only appeals to a very small slice of the moviegoing public. Mr. Snyder is an embodiment of that as a creative concept and seems unable to see the DC universe in anything but shadows. I wonder what it would look like with Ms. Jenkins in charge?

The fun optimistic world which the Marvel universe inhabits shows time and again where people want to spend two hours in a movie theatre. It is a lot more fun to feel like part of a positive universe than one which seems intent on reveling in what is bad.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Black Panther

I have mentioned in previous columns that I am always pleased when one of my geek touchstones is realized well on the screen. There have been extremely rare opportunities when what is portrayed on the screen not only exceeds my expectations it provides a new perspective; Marvel’s Black Panther has done this.

I have seen the movie three times now and the richness of the story Director/ co-writer Ryan Coogler uses continues to allow for me to find new things to enjoy on each showing. Mr. Coogler has poured himself into making this movie and his cast has joined him. I am not going to dwell on the plot very much but instead talk about some of the things which make this movie stand apart.

Ryan Coogler

I will start with the nearly entirely black cast and main characters. This was discussed endlessly prior to release. After seeing the movie it is necessary to have this cast to tell this story. It is also refreshing to see Africans as the pre-eminent technological society in the world. Every character displays competence without speaking of it by performing their jobs. There is also a lovely inversion of movie tropes with the inclusion of the two white actors in the spots people of color occupy in most action movies; the low-level bad guy and the plucky sidekick. Played by actors Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman I saw them referred to as the “Tolkien White Guys”. Mr. Freeman’s CIA agent smiles and nods at the end completely in the background as hundreds of black sidekicks have done before.

(l. to r.) Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Okoye (Danai Gurira)

The title might be Black Panther but the movie could also be called Women of Wakanda. There has never been a superhero movie with so many women characters who pop off the screen. The tech genius sister Shuri, plaved by Letitia Wright, as the film’s fierce intelligence. The ultimate warrior Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, always in control of the elite military guard of the country. The spy who is also the conscience Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o. These characters are as integral to the plot as the name in the title. Truth is, that I see them in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War has me even more excited about that film.

Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger

The villain matters when he is given such incredible tones of grey instead of monolithic black. Erik Killmonger’s story could have resulted in the hero’s quest as easily as T’Challa’s but for one crucial decision. Killmonger’s motives have some reason behind them even some which are sympathetic. What makes him villainous is his method for achieving them; pure ruthlessness. By the end of the movie T’Challa stands victorious but Killmonger and his philosophy effects a change. So much of this is due to the performance of Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger his performance is the equivalent of Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa-The Future King of the Marvel Universe?

My final thought on the movie is this. When Iron Man was released ten years ago there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was a movie taking chances with the style of telling a super hero story on the movie screen. Fueled by the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. That movie was the first cornerstone laid in what has become one of the greatest movie sagas. With Black Panther and an equally charismatic actor in Chadwick Boseman; the cornerstone, I hope, has been laid for what comes after the Avengers finish with Thanos. The next part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe story needs to be firmly set with Wakanda as its center and this rich vein of characters as the glue which unites the movies. Black Panther ends with a scene reminiscent of Tony Stark telling the world he was Iron Man at the end of the movie. That seems a good start to the next decade of Marvel movies.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Black Panther The Album

Yes, I have many thoughts about the movie, but I want to see it one more time before diving into all of them. I have found equally as inspiring the music for the movie which is what the topic will be for this column.

One of the things I admire about albums by innovative artists who interpret a movie is it provides a different artistic perspective on the same material. One of my favorite Prince albums is his music inspired by the first Tim Burton Batman. It was the work of a musician firing on every creative cylinder. The same has happened for Black Panther: The Album as an equally precocious talent, Kendrick Lamar, adds an authentic musical signature to a movie which lives its authenticity.

When director Ryan Coogler approached Mr. Lamar about providing a song or two he asked if he could see the movie. When Mr. Coogler showed him what he had Mr. Lamar wanted more than just a couple songs he wanted the whole thing. He has provided a fantastic musical companion to the movie.

In the hip-hop world of 2018 it is all about collaboration and Mr. Lamar and Sounwave took on the majority of the production duties pulling from a number of current stars to form a killer line-up of talent.

The most recognizable song is the one which plays over the end credits “All the Stars” with Mr. Lamar and SZA. Like I mentioned above it is the songs which pick up threads from the movie and elaborate on them which connect with me.

“King’s Dead” might as well be the villain of the movie’s Killmonger, theme song. The lost son of Wakanda full of swagger. “Pray for Me” is the internal dialogue of T’Challa as he fights for his kingdom. Every song on the album does this. I had listened to it enough that when I saw the movie for the first time I was cued into picking up the musical backing vocals to the action on screen.

Black Panther: The Album is the kind of collaboration that adds to the enjoyment of the very movie which inspired it. Just another reason for the success of the overall enterprise.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

There are times when I worry that one of my favorite literary forms is slowly disappearing; the short story. With less and less of the print literary outlets available the basic topsoil, where the form thrived, is eroding away. I was talking to a colleague about what we were reading, she told me she was reading an incredibly relevant book of short stories about women. When I asked she told me the name of the book was Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin. After finishing it I am still considering the perspective that was presented to me.

I am not sure how Ms. Lazarin convinced a publisher to release a book of short stories. One way might have been that there is a connective thread which runs throughout. These are stories of women at all stages of life mostly dealing with experiences anyone has gone through. In one story a girl experiences the loss of her mother and the bloom of first love. There is one which covers the nature of how women experience power as a transaction becomes a battle. An emotionless summary of the men a woman has no love for until she ends her narrative with, “I’ve forgotten too much, or maybe I just refused to learn it.” It is that kind of summation that recolors the story I just finished in a different hue. Is the narrator a free spirit or an empty one? Allowing every experience to flow through her without sticking?

Danielle Lazarin (Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff)

Throughout all the stories they feel like snapshots of the mundane female perspective. Like a conversation I will never be privy to because of my gender. Ms. Lazarin finds a way to make it all seem spontaneous

The story which continues to rattle around in my head is “Gone”. It is the story of two teenage girls who start keeping a book of the dead in a composition notebook. Entwined through the incidents they would record are the joys of best friends who, at that age, feel like the only one who understands you. As the ledger is discovered, with lots of parental concern, there is a pivotal moment of defiance practiced with silence and crossed arms. This leads to their separation and knowledge that this relationship was on its way to being added to their list. Ms. Lazarin’s style of writing is evocative in every single story here but the loss of friendship feels like a death in this story.

In these early days of 2018 with #MeToo movement in ascendance stories of women living their lives showing that each of those acts also carry significance too seems especially prescient.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Hero Looks Like Me

I love being a geek in this present time. For over forty years I have been a fellow traveler with my heroes as we journey to fantastic new places or protect the world from bad guys. For most of those years it was easy for me to see myself as Mr. Spock, Frodo, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker. They shared a skin color with me; I could pretend to be any of those. The first time I became aware of this was in high school as my social circle read J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”. We all took alternate names from the books. I remember my friend Rodney, who was black, also played along. Except he chose a white character to take a name from because there wasn’t anyone who looked like him in the story.

Nichelle Nicols as Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek"

The other affirmation of the power of having someone who looks like you doing heroic things comes from actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. After the first season had finished she said to the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, that she was going to leave the show. Soon after she was at an NAACP meeting and she met someone there who was a fan; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He told her how Star Trek was the only television show he let his young children watch because of her character. A black woman on the bridge seen as equal to everyone else there. She was there not to preach but simply to show that equality comes in funny guises. Ms. Nichols would be instrumental in recruiting female and non-white candidates to NASA as astronauts. It is what it means to see someone who looks like you, being heroic.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the last year there have been so many examples. The female centric heart of “Wonder Woman”. The new core of heroes in the new Star Wars trilogy. The spectacular re-imaging of the superhero through an African-American lens in “Black Panther”.

Poe, Rey, and Finn from "Star Wars"

That each movie was helmed by directors and writers, intent on making these visions seem normal without feeling like you’re being told it is special. As Diana Prince faces down the villain in the epic final act of Wonder Woman there is no thought that she is weaker. When Rey ignites her lightsaber she is every bit as formidable as anyone who has wielded one. Literally, the entire set of characters in Black Panther show strength of character is not the exclusive property of Caucasians.

The Cast of Black Panther

I have mentioned this in the past, but I use the cosplayers at Comic-Con as barometers of how far things have progressed. Last year there were a lot more Wonder Women and Reys walking around as women found new ways to represent themselves. I can’t wait for this October because I suspect Black Panther is about to have a similar impact.

The great mass of us geeks are often referred to as “fanboys” and as recently as five years ago that was accurate. With the inclusivity of heroes who look like more of the world I think we’re going to have to find another word.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

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Makeover shows have been a staple of the high numbers on the cable television channel list for many years. They all tend to work on the same principle, ambush someone who is clueless about their way of dress and show them a different way. The great majority of these are for women subjects which is why the 2003 debut of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was so different.

The Origianl Queer Eye Fab 5

Queer Eye was a show with five openly gay men, dubbed The Fab 5, would drop in on a slovenly guy and show him not only how to dress better, but also how to cook a nice meal, grooming tips, social niceties and decorating. Each member of The Fab 5 had a specialty and would spend a part of each episode with their straight guy giving him a new perspective on these things. It also gave those who watched the show a perspective that there wasn’t “gay culture” there was just culture. The episodes were sweet in the way they would develop. It was also a refreshing change from the mean-spirited reality shows which delighted in making fun of those who were different. Queer Eye always attempted to keep the quirky aspects of each of their subjects while improving the parts which needed the assistance.

The 2018 Version of The Fab 5

Queer Eye was a surprising success. It also garnered its share of blowback for reinforcing stereotypes. I think it succeeded despite that because it showed everyone participating was working from a genuine place. After the show was canceled in 2007 many of the original Fab 5 went on to further careers in their respective fields. I thought it was a concept which had found its time but had done its job.

I was surprised when I was cruising Netflix looking for the things coming up that there was a new season of Queer Eye coming in 2018. I was really wondering if this would succeed eleven years later. I’ve only watched the first two episodes, but I think it is going to be as good as it used to be.

There is a new Fab 5 and they are all enjoyable to watch. The biggest difference in this new version is instead of taking place in the Tri-State area of New York City, as the first one did, this time all eight episodes are taking on subjects in Georgia. It changes the dynamic when the suggestions of the Fab 5 are transported from the Northeast corridor to the Deep South. It adds new subtext to some of the conversations which have me looking forward to watching the final six episodes of the new Queer Eye.

In the end all makeover shows are like fairy tales where the rough edged sincere hero is turned into a prince. Even in 2018 it turns that a Queer Eye can still lead to happily ever after.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Stranger Things 2

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I’ve written a lot in this column about how much the right characters can make me overlook a lot of plotting flaws. If I enjoy the time I’m spending with the characters what’s an improbability or two? Like many who were big fans I watched Stranger Things when it was first released. The thing was I was more enthralled by the quilt of obvious 1980’s “inspirations” The Duffer Brothers were employing. It felt like I had watched a greatest hits of 1980’s genre movies by the time it was done. I enjoyed it but thought one season was going to be enough. I thought the characters had not connected over the nostalgia. After the New Year my Netflix queue was surprisingly clear. I thought I’d watch a couple of episodes; remind myself why I had checked out and be done. Nine hours later I sat there surprisingly satisfied.

It wasn’t because The Duffer Brothers stopped using the 1980’s as plot devices. I would say Stranger Things 2 was even more obvious in what they cribbed from. What hooked me were characters who I didn’t realize snuck up on me in the first season. They were given lots to do which kept me wanting to see what was next. I want to call out a few of them because the actors behind the characters did such a good job.

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin

First is Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin. To get an idea of how charming he is you only must see him in the Verizon commercials extolling the virtues of FiOS. In 30-second clips the actor makes you smile and sells the service with that charisma. In Stranger Things 2 he is given the Gremlins sub-plot where he brings a strange creature home and as it grows things get out of hand. The other half of his story is his bond with the older high school boy, Steve. Dustin is from a one-parent home and Steve takes him under his wing. Mt. Matarazzo steps up and becomes the heart of the Stranger Things series.

Millie Bobbie Brown as Eleven

The soul is Millie Bobbie Brown who plays Eleven. A child who was experimented on to hone her telekinetic properties she escaped the government at the end of season one. Season 2 finds her in a safe place one which is explained over the first few episodes. Once she decides safety is less important than understanding who she is that propels her last half of season 2. Ms. Brown does all of this with an earnestness which had me rooting for her while also lamenting her leaving her safe place.

David Harbour as Chief Hopper

David Harbour plays Chief Hopper who is always caught in the middle as the weird ratchets up in his small Indiana town. In season 2 he is much more the linchpin which holds it all together. He has relationships to every other character in the cast. That allows Mr. Harbour to highlight that. From telling hard truths to the kids to making the adults understand the stakes. He admits his flaws while standing in front of the danger.

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

Finally, Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers the frazzled single mom who has her son being taken over by the monsters in both seasons. I have always thought highly of Ms. Ryder as an actress. In season 2 her fiercely protective mother has found some happiness, but those moments are fleeting in the Stranger Things universe. Ms. Ryder shows the joy and the pain in equal amounts sometimes within a few seconds of each other. She has a showcase where her talents are fully on display.

These four characters and the actors who play them made me realize how much I am enjoying Stranger Things for them and not the plot.

Mark Behnke