As I have said before and hope to repeat for many years to come, NETFLIX is taking the cake when it comes to combing through international productions and finding top-notch stories. 

KINGDOM is brilliant.

Rated R for violence. No sexually explicit content at all. Not even a kiss. And yes, this is a zombie story, but with a twist, which I’ll explain in my longer review. However, be prepared for gore. I watched 2 seasons, but apparently a 3rd is being made to be released in early 2021.

First, the short review…

6 Reasons I Recommend KINGDOM

  1. Game of Thrones meets the Walking Dead. If the two stories got together and had a child, KINGDOM would be that child.
  2. Gorgeous costumes, especially the hats
  3. Palace intrigue galore
  4. Amazing performances by talented actors many of us have never seen
  5. A refreshingly different setting and world
  6. Lots of “scare” moments where you jump out of your seat. These filmmakers know the tropes and use them well.

Now, for the longer review…

The story is based loosely on the Manga series, The Kingdom of the Gods by Kim Eun-hee and Yang Kyung-il. The story for television was written by Kim Eun-hee, directed by Kim Seong-hun.

Set in late 16th century Korea (The Joseon Period), Crown Prince Lee Chang, our protagonist, discovers a plot to unseat him. His father is ill and dying and the Queen Consort (not the Prince’s mother) is pregnant with a son…potentially. She and her father are angling for this newborn to take the throne. However, the King must not die from his illness before this child is born, so the the palace doctors are asked to keep him alive at all costs. There is an herb, called the resurrection plant, that must be administered to him in a particular way at death. From this herb, the brain comes back to life, but the creature that resides in the body now has an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Thus, the zombie angle.

The audience is introduced to this creature, the King in the first episode, so no spoilers here. The King is not only a zombie ready to devour any attendant who comes his way, he is being controlled, in chains, by the Queen’s family. She bans the Crowned Prince from seeing his father and although he suspects the King is dead, he cannot prove it. Knowing his life is in danger without his father’s protection, the Crowned Prince flees and while he goes into hiding, the zombie plague is carried to a small village through a body in a coffin, whose death was caused by the King creature.

The Queen Consort

As the Zombie plague spreads and begins to ravage the region, the Prince comes into his own, fighting to protect his people, but this is a complicated two-front war. The Prince is being chased by his step mother’s clan while fighting the zombie masses. While on the countryside, he slowly unravels the mystery surrounding the condition of his father and does eventually come back to the palace, face to face with the creature. I say no more, lest I spoil…

A few of the secondary characters that emerge are wonderful and as compelling as the Prince and the Queen, including the Prince’s bodyguard, a nurse who escapes the scene of the first zombie outbreak, a perfect villain in the Father of the Queen (although the Queen gives him a run for his money on that score), and a rogue hunter who eventually aligns himself with the Prince.

I loved the writing, all the dialogue is perfect and no scene is wasted. KINGDOM often reminded of Shakespeare, Hamlet in particular…That is how well put together these characters are and the stage is…well, many lovely locations in South Korea.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough. If you do watch it, drop me a line and let me know what you thought of it.

To watch the official trailer, click KINGDOM trailer

Louis Hoffman as Jonas Kahnwald

Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, co-creators of DARK, sold their masterful production to Netflix sometime in 2016-17. It began streaming in December 1, 2017. Rated PG-13 (a couple of sex scenes more than graphic violence). This series is dubbed in English. It’s done well, you’ll likely not notice after watching for a few minutes.

Here are 5 reasons to check out DARK…

  1. DARK is part mystery, part scifi and part thriller…in a similar way that Stranger Things draws in the viewer, so does this tale.
  2. Yet…DARK is smarter than Stranger Things. Throw in human angst, religion, time travel, Goethe and Nietzche and you’ve got a jumble of ideas that provoke any viewer.
  3. Perfect for binge-watching over Christmas vacay.
  4. The casting was done well and there a number of brilliant performances, including those of the child actors.
  5. If you like a good soundtrack, this one is pitch perfect, utterly creepy and poignant.

 

Longer Review:

Black holes are considered to be the hellmouths of the universe. Those who fall inside disappear. Forever. But where to? What lies behind a black hole? Along with things, do space and time also vanish there? Or would space and time be tied together and be part of an endless cycle? What if everything that came from the past were influenced by the future?

H.G. Tannhaus

 

There are a number of reasons why DARK has been compared to Stranger Things. The main one is that it features a small town where an unnatural mystery is unfolding within its boundaries. Other ways in which it feels familiar: A couple of the main characters are policemen and youth are important to the story. DARK is “dark” and may not have the charm of the funny and sweet tween friendships at the heart of Stranger Things, but the narrative takes on the isolation and claustrophobia of small town life. It features a number of disaffected teens and adults, not often friendly toward one another, all living in Winden.

Winden is the fictional German town where a tunnel under a nuclear power plant holds mystery. The story opens with the suicide of one of the town’s people in current time and unravels from there. Tidbits of the mystery are revealed. Various families and their histories who live in Winden are revealed. Within a few episodes, the audience begins to see the tangled mess. Not only are these folks relationally connected, they are connected by a society of time travelers, who go by the name Sic Mundus, meaning “thus the world was created”. By the end of the first season, the audience understands that fate, individual choice and the agency of those who understand the dynamics around time travel, will continue to hinder or help Winden restore some semblance of order to their community.

The first season was much acclaimed and the second (I have not watched yet) apparently did not disappoint. A third season is under production as I write. I can’t speak highly enough of DARK, the story, the performances, the music and visuals. There is much artistry in this production and it is a welcome reality for story consumers to see another brilliant tale come from a place beyond Hollywoodland.

Congrats to these filmmakers and I look forward to viewing and reviewing season 2 in the coming weeks.

It’s August, which means we’re almost done with summer, but it is not too late to steer your teen away from screens and toward reading. I have a soft heart for parents of teens. I have two kids and know well the battle parents wage relentlessly to engage their teens with anything other than their devices. (Truth…we parents have an addiction as well…which is why tackling this issue is so tricky!).

But why even fight? Why fight the powerful riptide that sucks our kids into the digital universe?

I interviewed reading specialist, Dr. Marnie Ginsberg, who focuses on training teachers of early readers and has two teenagers of her own. Even she is familiar with the struggle! This is what she says about teen reading…

“Good teen readers read hundreds of hours more each year than average readers. As a result of this reading practice, they keep developing their reading achievement. And reading achievement is strongly correlated with so many positive outcomes for teens and their future selves that one can hardly count them all…”

Dr. Ginsberg’s list included these: “Higher reading achievement leads to…

  1. better school achievement–in all subject areas, including math
  2. stronger oral and written language knowledge and skills
  3. better job prospects
  4. higher wage earnings
  5. better health; and even better life expectancy!
  6. Besides these long-term benefits, time spent reading helps in immediate ways, too, such as mood regulation and stress reduction.”

RISE OF THE ROBOTS

Yet, Dr. Ginsberg said that most teens today are not reading enough to enjoy these varied benefits of high reading achievement. Multimedia usage instead, soaks up most of the typical teen’s day–upwards of 8 hours a day.

If you are an educator and want to learn more about how to better teach young readers the skills that will help them succeed at reading, check out her website. ReadingSimplified

Discovering Great Stories Your Teens Will Love…

The challenge for parents and teachers is to help the teens in their life discover great stories. Our kids still love stories, but they tend to take them in via the screen. Stranger Things, the Netflix hit, is one example, which became a must see event each season for most of our teenagers. Another must-see event, the latest Avengers’ blockbuster. Who will stand in line for a ticket and a seat? Those who want to engage the current story and amazingly, our teens want to do that in community. Great stories bring communities together.

Stories still matter us and they matter to our kids. Let this be your best ammunition as a parent. If you work hard at finding good stories in the books you are putting in front of them, your kids have a much better chance of actually reading.

Compelling stories are waiting to be uncovered by you/your teen, but how do you find them? Try going to Goodreads (book review site) or googling something like The Top 10 New Novels for Teens. Also, follow the lead of your teen who might have a favorite author or genre. I would advise heading to a library over a bookstore when looking for the right story because librarians are golden when it comes to know what is the latest great story for teens.

A goot librarian is like a matchmaker. Librarians read enough to know the answer to a question like this…What is the best Middle Grade book with a female protagonist who isn’t an orphan that is under 300 pages. A great librarian will be able to give your teen one or two books that fit that description.

However, if you’re in a hurry and a little stuck, check out reviews on my website (not all are teen appropriate), but here are a few I would put forward that are…

All these books except for AMERICAN BORN CHINESE are speculative fiction or sci-fi. To find out if the book is right for your teen, all of these books (with the exception of DOGSBODY) are reviewed on my site. You can find them via the search function.

  1. FEED, by MT Anderson. To buy the audiobook, click here.
  2. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, by Nancy Farmer. To buy this audiobook, click here.
  3. DOGSBODY, By Dianna Wynne Jones. Click here to buy.
  4. DESCENDER SERIES (graphic novel series), by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (See below for links to purchase)
  5. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE (graphic novel), by Gene Luen Yang. Click here to purchase.

    Cover Art for Machine Moon

DESCENDER, Volume 1 Tin Stars

DESCENDER, Volume 2, Machine Moon

DESCENDER, Volume 3 Singularities

DESCENDER, Volume 4 Orbital Mechanics

DESCENDER, Volume 5 Rise of the Robots

DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War

 

 

In addition to finding the right stories. Here are a few strategies that will encourage teen reading

  1. Take a road trip where screens are forbidden in the car and listen to an audiobook that everyone has agreed on. Bonus…if you pick the first book in a series (and there are many of those out there), your teen might pick up the subsequent books on his/her own.
  2. Make it a summer tradition (or an all-year tradition) to read aloud together as a family before bed each night. I know a few families that practice this habit and their kids cherish the time. Think of it in a similar category as watching television together…
  3. Don’t despise the graphic novel. There are sophisticated stories, characters and lengthy dialogue to be had in the modern graphic novel.
  4. Go on a phone-free, screen-free vacation where every member of the family gets to take his/her own book of choice This NY Times article gives tips on how to best unplug in case one phone must come along.

 

And…GOOD LUCK!

 

 

 

High praise for COLONY, Season 2. In case you have not seen the first season, this review will contain a few spoilers for those first episodes, but none for season 2. You can read my review of Colony, Season 1 here

There is a third season of this show that will come to Netflix sometime this year (a few fan blogs predict as early as April 2019), having already aired on USA Network. Beware of going onto the USA Network site. You might stumble upon a few spoilers. USA Network features a number of still shots from season 3 in their promotion of COLONY.

Short Review…

The main reasons I recommend watching Season 2 is for the superb story and the characters. The writing is spot-on, a continuation of Season 1. Let me elaborate…

  1. The characters, whom the viewer has come to admire, love and/or mistrust in Season 1, develop and continue to feel real and relatable
  2. The mystery of the invasion is explained a bit more, but the story still holds plenty of tension
  3. The narrative continues to raise important moral questions around living under occupation…The moral conflict goes deep and is unique for each character. The show highlights this well.

Long Review…

I loved all of season 2, but found the early episodes incredibly fun to watch because they are a goldmine of backstory.

Season 1 of COLONY drops the viewer into an already occupied, alien-invaded planet. The viewer attaches to the characters first and then begins watching for clues to explain what is taking place. Even the characters living through the ordeal don’t know much. Some mysteries are explained, but many remain.

What is wonderful about season 2…Three key backstory events are provided.

  1. First contact with the aliens
  2. What took place on the actual day of the invasion
  3. How the invading aliens strategized with an early group of collaborating humans

Episode 1 of season 2 begins with another day in the life of the Bowman family, but in this case, it is the day of the invasion, hours before the wall comes down, isolating the LA Bloc from the rest of Southern California. (During season 1, the audience slowly learns that similar events have taken place in cities across the globe)

Packed into this episode is a window into how Snyder was chosen to rule over the masses.

Snyder: Proxy Governor of the LA Bloc for most of season 1

Two men in suits, collaborators who know that the invasion is imminent, recruit him. They recruit him because he has embezzled from an educational institute for which he works. They recruit him not in spite of, but because his integrity is compromised.

“Even great men make two or three mistakes in their lives,” Snyder says, when confronted.

The men in suits answer: “It’s the choices you make today that will determine your future. All you have to do is say yes.”

Snyder says yes to this Faustian bargain. We already know he is an important character. The audience has followed his career, his successes and failures and the ways he has and continues to intersect with the Bowmans. His presence is constantly a tension, but always interesting.

Episode 2 is delightful as it gives a few interesting point of view shifts via some clever cinematography

  1. A view of what the Raptor’s see, those are the robotic drones (if they are truly robotic) that rule the skies on occupied Earth.
  2. A view of what lies outside the LA Bloc, including Santa Monica, but also beyond, outside of the Urban landscape
  3. A peek into the alien mindset and culture…I can’t say more without a spoiler

I’m looking forward to season 3, which might come to Netflix as early as April, but sad because USA Network has confirmed its end. Three seasons of COLONY and no more. That’s the bad news…the good new is…

Season 3 of COLONY is being touted as outstanding and possibly better than both the first and second. I look forward to watching it and following my binge watching, I’ll be sure to post a review here.

 

 

 

 

Watch and Enjoy. BIRD BOX is an Entertaining Film as Long as you Know that These Images and Themes Have Been Seen Before

BIRD BOX was produced by Netflix and released for public consumption on December, 21, 2018. According to Netflix data, 45 million people watched BIRD BOX in the week before Christmas.

For those who didn’t watch it over Christmas, like me, here’s the review…

This story is a Quiet Place, but without the husband (there is a stand-out dude…Tom, played by Trevante Rhodes…who becomes a stand-in husband and Father, but for a short portion of the film). The story portrays a mother, Sandra Bullock, as Malorie, who gives birth shortly after a catastrophic alien invasion? The film does not make this clear…Is it really aliens? At one point, there is a reference to North Korea and bio warfare…but one can be pretty sure it’s more along the alien invasion spectrum. Creatures are mentioned in one of the early scenes. Most eager scifi fans will swallow yet another apocalyptic scenario and accept the tragedy as instigated by something otherworldly that impacts every person, mostly in a negative way. (99% of the human race does not thrive under its influence…yes, that’s a spoiler of sorts, but then you probably knew this).

There is some challenge in writing a review of this film with zero spoilers, because the narrative is so familiar to so many of us, but I’ll try. 

Here’s the premise…After an alien invasion (I think) every person becomes infected with a psychosis. This is spread from person to person through what they see. What do they see? That remains a mystery, but the results can be seen and they are catastrophic. Those infected figure out ways to kill themselves. Society drifts into destruction. Those who survive either do so by covering their eyes or a few see and don’t kill themselves right away. However, they become crazy people who attempt to get everyone else infected. The aliens are never seen by the audience, though they are heard and they are drawn in charcoal on paper by one survivor (one of the crazies). The aliens appear (in his drawings) as demons or devils. It’s possible this is some kind of bio-tech warfare and the creatures/aliens are all imagined, part of the psychosis. The audience isn’t in the know on that one.

Sandra Bullock finds herself responsible for two children and needs to figure out a way to get them to safety and a place where they can thrive. For that to happen, she needs to float them down a river, blindfolded. The story opens with her getting on the boat after lecturing the two little ones on the dangers of the trip and the importance of never taking off the blindfold, but the real body of the film takes place in backstory.

BIRD BOX portrays what A Quiet Place never did…the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic alien invasion that jacks up humanity. In BIRD BOX, the audience sees the unraveling. In A Quiet Place the viewer needs to imagine that unraveling. However, in BIRD BOX, the audience needs to imagine the villain. In A Quiet Place, the audience gets a clear view, eventually, of the alien that is bent on destroying humanity and by the end, a possible way to defeat it. That “ending” note is missing from BIRD BOX. It does not deliver enough answers about the mystery. Does an unseen villain ruin this film? Not exactly, but if a sequel is ever made, I will expect answers.

Regarding the similarities between the two films…It did strike me right away that in BIRD BOX, covering eyes is important, while in A Quiet Place not speaking is essential…which begs the questions…is this a theme that our current audiences want to explore? What if we had to survive in a post apocalyptic world without our sight or without speaking? Maybe the post apocalyptic universe is too easy…or maybe too familiar? I suppose, the next film of this ilk will explore surviving without hearing, or how about without tasting. Apparently, the public hungers for the answers to these question. I suspect, the quandary has to do with our over-teched and over-connected reality, but maybe there is another yearning I don’t yet comprehend. Another similarity between the films is the prominence of a pregnant mom as a survivor during a horrid moment of human existence.

I will say, the film (free for Netflix users) BIRD BOX is an entertaining jaunt. If you can get past the unknowns that are never explained…watch it and enjoy the drama that can only unfold at the end of the world.

 

showers as gas chambers

Rating: PG-13 or thereabouts. This series was made for television by USA Network. There are a couple of steamy sex scenes in season 1, but no explicit nudity. In the photo you see here, the nudity is not explicit and is also relevant to the story.

COLONY, particularly the first season, is a methodical and painful study of society fracturing under the strain of a foreign occupation. The occupiers happen to be a technologically advanced alien invasion force, but for whatever reason (this is not fully explained in the first season of COLONY), those aliens have decided to rule through human governors.

The first season of this series portrays how human survivors figure out ways to continue life following a traumatic takeover of the globe. Writers, Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal, draw in the audience and give their viewers a window into the psychology of the various groups of people as they cope. (Note: regarding the writers, I have tried to give credit to writers who are on the team. It’s important for students, in particular, to know that television often utilizes teams of writers to keep the story going and flowing. Those writers will get credit for their episodes. They are named below, episode by episode.)

For youths studying the Holocaust and other historic occupations, like the Belgians in The Congo, The USSR across Russia and Eastern Europe and the Roman Empire across much of the ancient world, just to name a few, the opportunities for discussion come with each episode.

To order the first season dvds, click here.

Cuse, Condal and the rest of their writing team don’t shy away from giving a few more obvious discussion starters, like the gas chamber scene in episode 2. It’s horrific and frightening as it should be, but what should be just as frightening is seeing weak and fearful human beings turn so quickly against one another. Watching COLONY has the potential to draw out more reflection in those who might be bored by a history they think they understand in full. Most youth (and to be fair, most adults) do not comprehend what it was really like to live in Nazi occupied Holland for example, where some courageous citizens hid Jews and/or helped them escape. Everyday people performed heroically even though their actions endangered their lives. Their families also assumed huge costs. I know of one family that sent their youngest children away, out of the city, to protect them from any retribution that might come if they were discovered. Those children were raised by relatives, their family life shattered not just by the occupiers, but because of the choices their parents had made to do what they understood as right and just. This family also had to kill a neighbor who was about to turn them into the authorities.

We all like to think we would be heroes, but what would it really feel like to pay the costs and resist an occupying power? COLONY gets under the skin and forces the viewer to think about these questions.

Here are a few potent questions that emerge out of COLONY…episode by episode…to get the discussion juices flowing. (Warning: spoilers written in this next section)

Episode 1…Pilot written by Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal. This episode juxtaposes Katie with Will. Will Bowman, after a failed attempt to find his son, decides to collaborate with The Transitional Authority. What convinces Will to work alongside the collaborators? What lengths would you go to in terms of collaborating with the occupiers, if you or your family were directly threatened? Katie decides to go a different route, which will involve her spying on her husband. What do you think of her choice?

Episode 2…Written by Wes Tooke. Being sent to The Factory has been mentioned a few times. This episode culminates with the gas chamber scene. How do the occupiers use fear to ensure order? How does fear impact normal citizens in the LA bloc? Do you fear people in power in our society? Who? How does that impact you?

Episode 3…Written by Daniel C. Connolly. In this episode, Katie takes part in the hijacking of a supply truck, in which civilian and Resistance lives are sacrificed to determine drone response times. Do you think the Resistance has a right to sacrifice these lives for the greater good? Why or why not?

Episode 4…Written by Anna Fishko & Dre Alvarez. In this episode Broussard, a key friend to Katie and Resistance member, executes Phyllis (one of the heads of Homeland Security) and her bedridden husband. They do this to send a message to Homeland Security and to the Transitional Authority. Strange sacrifices are made by those living under occupation. Why do you think Phyllis pleads for Broussard to shoot her husband when she knows she is about to die? What does that say about the living standards under the occupation, even for those who are most elite?

Episode 5…Written by Carlton Cuse. Watch the interrogation scene that starts around minute 15. Does the Transitional Authority understand who is on its team and who is rebelling? If you were living in this world, would you resist and if so, how? 

Episode 6…Written by Ryan J. Condal. More and more, Will is disillusioned with the Transitional Authority as Katie is with the Resistance.  In COLONY, what is portrayed is a broken system on either end of the spectrum. There are good people trying to make sense of the world who are collaborators. There are bad people, trying to overturn the system within the Resistance. The world is complex and it forces choices on human actors at every turn. What do you think would be the most difficult choice for you if an occupier took over your city/state/country and why would that be the most difficult choice?

Episode 7…Written by Sal Calleros. An insidious character, introduced a few episodes before, is the Bowman’s personal tutor, Lindsey. Lindsey is a true believer in the occupation. She understands the coming of the aliens as an answer to a prophesy, associated with a religion promulgated by the alien invaders and the collaborators. Why do you think Lindsey believes and why does she try to convert the Bowman’s daughter, Gracie, into this belief system?

Episode 8…Written by Wes Tooke. Betrayal at the top of the Resistance. The episode drives home the truth that in an occupation, even the rebels have a messy house. Those who collaborate with the occupiers  and those who resist must watch their backs. Information becomes a commodity for both sides. How do you respond to the betrayal of trust by Quayle? If you were to have a conversation with him before his betrayal, how would you try to convince him to remain true to the Resistance?

Episode 9…Written by Ryan J. Condal. Loyalty is a confusing maze in the case of the occupation What do you value? Who is most important to you and what would it take for you to betray that person? At the first anniversary of the alien invasion, those who remember it are persecuted, those who rebel are at risk by one of their own and those who collaborate understand that their positions of power are always in question. In a situation such as this, who does one trust? Who would you trust? 

Episode 10…Written by Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal & Wes Tooke. One might get lucky…friendship and loyalty might make a difference…In the case of Will Bowman and his relationship with the collaborator, Snyder, this might be the case. In the case of Will and his relationship with Jennifer (the Homeland head) will friendship make a difference? In the case of Katie and Broussard, how will it all shake out? There are many questions emerging in this season finale. Katie and Will epitomize the conflict regarding loyalty. Both want the same thing…the recovery of their son, Charlie, but they take different tacts. Does their loyalty hold when everything is on the line? What does loyalty mean to you? Is there someone in your life you would be loyal to even if it meant you might die for that loyalty?

 

 

 

 

Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies as Will Bowman and Katie Bowman

Short Review: 5 Reasons You Need to Watch COLONY

Watch it for the…

  1. Superb story-telling
  2. Compelling characters
  3. Action-packed scenes
  4. Subtle historic allusions that drill home how humans fail and struggle during an occupation
  5. Gripping mystery and tension

 

To order the first season dvd, click here.

Longer Review

USA Network’s COLONY has been around for a couple of years. The premiere of season 1 aired in January of 2016, the finale of season 3 aired July of 2018. The show first caught my attention as I was viewing CW’s The 100 and Netflix’s algorithm as if sensing my waning interest in the dystopian teen drama, suggested other shows I might be interested in. COLONY was at the top of their list. I decided to watch episode 1 and got hooked. I have watched all of season 1 and part of season 2. Regarding a rating, there are a few steamy sex scenes in the first season, but no HBO-style nudity.

COLONY is an alien invasion story. Aliens, referred to as hosts, occupy some portion of Earth. Writers of the series, Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal, reveal the alien side of the equation incrementally, tauntingly so. Much of why COLONY captivates its audience is because of the tension associated with not knowing.

Not knowing holds true for the Bowmans as well, the family in the center of the story, living in a walled-off part of LA called the Los Angeles bloc. The audience follows them as survivors trying to maintain some semblance of family life post alien invasion. They manage okay, but are tortured by the fact that their middle child, Charlie, was at a baseball game when the aliens invaded. He remains in the Santa Monica bloc, separated from them. Will and Katie Bowman hold no power in the occupation and are struggling to find out how to reach their lost son. Holloway, of Lost and Wayne Callies, of The Walking Dead, give convincing performances as two desperate parents who will do almost anything to get their child back.

Will, former Army Ranger and FBI agent, joins the collaborators. He only does so after a his attempt to illegally enter the Santa Monica bloc goes wrong. Katie, without telling Will, joins the resistance and proceeds to spy on her own husband. The scene is now set for misunderstanding, deception and conflict at every turn. Episode by episode, the audience’s knowledge about the invasion grows.

Regarding the larger themes in COLONY, I am impressed by the way the writers handle the human side of surviving an occupation. A scarcity of resources creates desperate people. Fear and desperation drive the actions that follow. Types of survivors emerge. Collaborators range from being true believers, to pure opportunists. Women will sleep their way to the top of the food chain. In one character’s defense, she does so to obtain insulin for her diabetic son. Back-stabbing at the top of the resistance and at the top of the Authority accelerate. Spying and being spied upon become common place. The enemy invader has set the community against itself…just as Will and Katie have chosen opposite sides. The family embodies the societal breakdown.

Other themes in COLONY hearken back to 20th century history. The wall that divides a city is one, think Berlin, but the allusions to the Soviet State and The Third Reich don’t end there. The occupiers use their human collaborators to confiscate great art and a long scene in episode 2 portrays a group of prisoners forced to enter a shower in which they are all gassed.

I plan on going the distance, watching the remainder of COLONY (3 seasons total). Two seasons can be seen on Netflix. It’s unclear whether or not Netflix will buy the final season for its viewers, but it’s available to rent or buy on Amazon.

showers as gas chamber

A Danish star is born. Alba August as lead character, Simone

I recently binge-watched the final 5 episodes of the NETFLIX series THE RAIN…finishing the first season. Here is my take on the potent Danish production, dubbed for English-speaking viewers. By the way, I wasn’t annoyed by dubbing. I thought it was done well.

This series might earn an R rating if released on the big screen, so beware parents. This story contains some great characters and interesting ideas for discussion, but there are a few non-explicit sex scenes, some nudity and a lot of f-bombs…it is the end of the world, after all.

THE RAIN’s genre designation is probably more speculative fiction than science fiction. The story is driven by new science, so this is where the overlap lies…no aliens or spaceships (at least none so far), but there is a biological discovery that rests in the hands of a few and this technology is about to transform the world. The future tech is an element that would appeal to many science fiction fans…(Think TERMINATOR). And now for my review.

First, a short review without spoilers…

Season 1’s narrative follows a sister and brother pair, Simone and Rasmus Anderssen. They survive a deadly virus that infects the population through the rain. Their physician father is somehow in the know and connected to a biotech company called Apollon. They understand little about what is taking place, but they slowly discover the truth, as does the audience with them. Here are three reasons to consider watching THE RAIN.

  1. See the world’s end through the eyes of the Danes.  Sure, THE RAIN follows a well-worn storyline, but rather than the typical American/Canadian or British view on the apocalypse, but this time, we see survival through the eyes of Danish youth. I appreciated viewing their wanderings through cities, towns and topography I don’t typically see on the screen. Moreover, the survivors’ attitudes about who they will be in this new, empty world are also markedly more Scandinavian than American.
  2. The main players in the drama are well written and interesting. Similar to a few other speculative dramas, like The 100, the youth are smart, naive at times, attractive and slowly becoming a family.
  3. The overall plot makes sense, yet some mysteries are withheld in a good way. The narrative shows potential for a longer, more complicated drama, including the introduction of a sinister villain by the final episode.

And now for the longer review, with a few spoilers…

Martin, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard,

Simone (about 16 yrs) and Rasmus (about 10 yrs) enter the bunker having never seen its like before. Their father brings them on the first day of the rain, but then leaves, saying he can help with finding a cure. He promises to return to them, but never does. Their mother dies early as the rain touches her skin. This is the most dramatic reveal to Simone and the audience. The rain is absolutely toxic.  Simone watches as droplets fall from the sky, strike her mother’s skin and within moments, she convulses and dies.

For a short time, Simone is able to connect with a few individuals outside the bunker via the internet, but that contact comes to an end within hours as civilization breaks down. Simone and Rasmus are alone and know nothing of what is happening outside the bunker.

Simone raises her brother, holding onto the belief that her father will return for them at some point, but six years pass. When food begins to grow scarce and Rasmus shows signs of going berserk from being cooped up underground, Simone sneaks out of the bunker one night to explore a local town and figure out if there is safety outside. She finds decayed corpses and an abandoned town.

Without knowing someone has been watching her, she returns to the bunker. Three young men and two women follow her back. They sabotage the ventilation system forcing Simone and Rasmus to emerge. The sister brother pair face a group of strangers, all of whom are desperate for food.

The strangers seem bent on killing Simone and Rasmus, but a quick witted Simone convinces them that she knows where there are other bunkers and where there are bunkers…there is food.

The unlikely group sets out. Discovery takes place with each new bunker they find. In addition, episode by episode the audience becomes acquainted with the backstory of the various characters and so doing, the viewer learns some of what has transpired outside the bunker following the apocalyptic rains.

The backstories all come via flashbacks. This particular story-telling method has been utilized by many tv and film types, including the creators of LOST. However, I thought the short snippets of flashbacks in THE RAIN felt less heavy-handed than those in LOST and contributed to multiple layers of the plot, besides revealing character. So, if you’re not a fan of flashbacks…never fear, I don’t think they were overused.

Martin’s story (see photo) is presented in episode 2. Martin is the gruff leader of the survivors, former military and not afraid to kill anyone who endangers his group. He, along with Jean, Patrick, Lea and Beatrice and finally, the father to Simone and Rasmus, receive screen time that explains some of their history.

Specific spoilers included in paragraph below, but pay attention if you are a writer of speculative fiction

Regarding the writing of this series and typical tropes that populate end-of-the-world narratives, one can find many in THE RAIN. For most of us, we like them and don’t find them annoying. I also appreciated the little deviances around the various tropes.  For example: 1. the chosen child who will save humanity and must be protected at all costs, he’s actually the one who can also kill everyone 2. the evil corporation that sees its technology as a way to control humanity is seeding storm clouds with a virus…such a sophisticated weapon of mass destruction. 3. having sex just might just lead to your death…especially, if you’re even remotely slutty, but THE RAIN’s slut is a really sweet character and finds her way into our hearts before she is killed off 4. those seemingly happy survivors who are really a cult that practices cannibalism, they allow our young survivors to choose in or to leave freely…So humane! So Scandinavian!

Overall, I recommend THE RAIN. Add it to your Netflix queue and enjoy a wet winter!

Danger Will Robinson?

Let’s say you’re a single male/female scifi fan or no-kids couple and both of you are scifi fans. I say…YES, watch this. Let’s say you’re a family that likes scifi or even…you just like great stories, I say…ABSOLUTELY, YES! Watch LOST IN SPACE together. This series is totally fun and so far, it is blowing my socks off.

I couldn’t wait to give this review. I confess, I have not watched the entire first season of LOST IN SPACE, but I’ve watched enough  to give an initial review.

In particular, I want parents to see this review early in the summer. It’s fun to find a tv series that the entire family can watch together. Summer is the perfect time to take on such a community watching experience. I’ve seen five episodes of season one and feel confident this one is worthy of our attention. If you’re comfortable with a PG-13 rating, LOST IN SPACE is fantastic and here’s why…

This series contains:

  1. Action packed storylines, kid-centric in a good way, but still entertaining for adults.
  2. Deft story-telling, internal family tension, external forces that threaten the family and their survival…characters that are smart, but also clunky in their own ways and real-seeming (ok…those kids are all brainiacs, but they were chosen for the journey because of their intelligence).
  3. Perfect villains. Two main villains so far: Parker Posey as Dr. Smith and the robot(s). Posey plays a great devil within. Is she a time bomb waiting to go off, or is she on the road to becoming a more balanced human being? Stay tuned for that one. The great thing is, she creates tension in the system and has potential to draw out the best or worst of the characters around her.
  4. The robot character is wonderfully mysterious and yet lovable. Its relationship with Will is going to win over children of all ages not only because it is super cool, with the strength of a super hero and the loyalty of a dog, but she/he/it is also a mystery. The robot truly feels obliged to protect young Will…the relationship emerges in the pilot (first episode).
  5. Non-stop adventure. Thousands of potential storylines exploring a new world and learning how to survive…plus characters that have the potential to grow and in doing so, grow on us.

Congratulations to Netflix for re-imagining this beloved series in a way that honors the original and surprises us with the new. The stories are imaginative, the characters feel real and the special effects are soooo much better than the original!