Colony Is A Compelling Sci-Fi Mystery In Its Second Season

 

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Out of the many sci-fi TV shows currently airing, the most surprising one happens to be Colony, now in its second season. The reason is that it continues to be intriguing and compelling to watch.

For anyone unfamiliar with Colony, the show is about life in Los Angeles about one year after mysterious aliens have taken over the world. Or that’s what we think. It isn’t flat out stated that aliens are our conquerors, but that is the general assumption. So little has been revealed about the conquerors and they’ve only been shown two times so far, and all we’ve been shown is something that is heavily armored and probably unable to breathe our air. This may be frustrating to some but anyone enjoying slow burns and reveals will be thrilled. For instance, we, and even Colony’s characters are unsure about the aliens and their objective. Why have they come? They’ve shown that they outclass humanity very easily and could have just exterminated the entire species. Instead, they were content to just take out our power grid and separate our cities with these giant walls. More importantly, they remain unseen and let human proxies run things for them with their ultimate goal unclear. The only clue we have been shown is that human prisoners on Earth and its moon are put to hard labor.

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While viewers have the overall mystery of the aliens, the show concentrates on the cost of alien occupation to humanity, in particular, the Bowman family. Led by Will (Josh Holloway) and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Calles), the family lives a desperate and paranoid life in a cut-off L.A. that is boiling with tension. The end of the last season had the human authorities, which Bowman is a part of, hunting down human rebels that managed to capture one of the aliens. What the rebels, (oh, by the way, Katie worked with them) didn’t realize is that acts of rebellion lead to cities being wiped out. So, L.A.’s existence is a precarious thing as shown in one cold opener this season where the human ruling council in Europe were trying to decide if the city should have been punished for the acts of a few rebels. Adding to this mess, is that the aliens and human authorities have increased their surveillance capabilities a thousandfold. Now as shown in the second season, every citizen in Los Angeles is actively and discreetly monitored. This has driven the human resistance deep underground and made the stakes much more dire. Frankly, we’re asking how can you fight back with the constant surveillance?

santa-monica-colonyMaking things difficult for the Bowmans are the issues with their three children. A driving force last season was the family’s search for their missing son Charlie (Jacob Buster), who was trapped in Santa Monica when the walls came down during the aliens’ arrival. Will managed to make his way into the city in between seasons and found him, but Charlie’s more of a feral child because Santa Monica is a literal hell hole where gangs and warlords rule. So, now this preteen is emotionally damaged and obviously has issues. Then their young daughter Gracie (Isabella Crovetti) is being re-educated by a creepy tutor (Erin Way) to worship the aliens. Finally, their oldest son Bram (Alex Neustaedter) was caught trying to cross the wall and is now sentenced to hard labor. Now we’re seeing the occupation from his point of view at a brutal prison camp.

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As all this is going on, we’re wondering how can humanity fight back and what will be the cost? It’s riveting watching the Bowmans trying not to attract attention and just survive. Is this even possible in the long run? Colony isn’t like V or other humans vs. aliens TV shows were it seemed that humanity had some kind of fighting chance. This show can seem bleak and will and katie bowmanhas shown that people are ready to give up. A case in point was shown in one episode that showcased Will’s co-worker, Jennifer (Kathleen Rose Perkins), who struggled internally with the idea of turning in Will and Katie for their activities. Unable to betray the family, and wracked with loneliness since her family is now gone, it was implied that she committed suicide. Other episodes show how the rebels are near the breaking point. As for the Bowmans, they just want to be left alone, but more and more they are realizing that is impossible and recent episodes have shown their coming to this conclusion.

Colony succeeds because it is able to deftly juggle being a spy drama, a sci-fi mystery and an entertaining look at family dynamics during a war and under occupation. A big hurdle was the sophomore curse and Colony has dealt with it nicely and in its own way has become must-see viewing in its second season.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Rogue One Is An Exciting Addition To The Star Wars Saga

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the newest film for the epic space saga from Lucasfilm and is a great action movie as well.  It tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance was able to procure the plans for the Empire’s super weapon the Death Star. It involves a young woman named Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) who is recruited by the rebels to find her long lost father, who is an imperial scientist and in charge of making the weapon. She is accompanied by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebel spy and his cranky, but useful, droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Their journey across several new worlds tells an exciting tale that has a feeling of dread as the Death Star is shown reigning death upon worlds in anticipation of its later appearance in the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
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Godzilla director Gareth Edwards does a very good job portraying the action, both on the ground and in space, with a gritty feeling that is somewhat different from previous films in the series. The intense firefights between rebel soldiers and storm troopers really give the impression of a huge struggle between bitter foes in a long war for survival. The action in space is just as impressive with camera views from the top of X-Wing fighters that give the feeling of actually being up there in the middle of all that chaos.
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Another very interesting aspect is the use of characters from the original film that make an appearance. First and foremost is Grand Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing. Yes, Peter Cushing, who died in 1994. He was digitally recreated for this film and has many scenes in the movie. It’s not just a brief cameo and his presence is something to behold. Other classic characters who appear include a brief appearance by Princess Leia and, of course, the iconic villain Darth Vader. His return is also brief, but very powerful, especially towards the end when he is seen in action and he is brutal and terrifying. It was also nice to see Jimmy Smits again as Bail Organa and does link the prequel era to the original set of films.
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One issue with the movie is that since there were many new and different characters to introduce, some of their characterizations were thin. As a result, when our heroes began to make their inevitable sacrifices for freedom, there wasn’t as much of a feeling for them as there would be if we got to know them a little bit better. This was somewhat inevitable though, since the story does have to revolve around Jyn and both her search for her father, as well as redemption for him. Nevertheless, audiences are still able to appreciate what the rebels lost and see how costly the battle to gain the Death Star plans was for the Alliance. We also see a new Imperial villain, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who is the head of weapons research for the Death Star. His rivalry with Tarkin over control of the battle station and brutal tactics against rebel worlds is effective at showing the sinister side of the Empire, as well as the its repressive nature for both its subjects and those serving in its ranks.
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The climatic battle at the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set on the planet Scarif. It is a real highlight and the battle is destructive and almost apocalyptic end goes to show what is really at stake for the galaxy. The final scenes tie directly into the beginning of Episode IV and it makes this film the perfect companion piece to the 1977 classic. Overall, I enjoyed this new foray into the Star Wars universe and see it as a ground level view of the whole conflict between the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire. I would really like to see another Star Wars film by Gareth Edwards, perhaps set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and hope that other directors are inspired by his vision of this universe created by George Lucas.

 C.S. Link

Take A Timeless Journey With The Latest Time Travel TV Show

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It seems like time travel TV shows are the rage lately. The latest one, Timeless, airs on NBC and it actually stands out from the pack. When looking at its premise, Timeless seems fairly formulaic in its premise: a trio travel through time to protect history from a villain out to change it. It’s what goes on each week on Legends of Tomorrow and many Doctor Who episodes. Yet, somehow Timeless manages to be refreshingly engaging, inventive and fun to watch.

Lincoln killed by FlynnThe credit for this largely goes to the scripts. The screenwriters took a tired premise and just ran with it. They actually address some of the challenges of time traveling and the preparation needed for it. For instance, before heading out on a mission the time traveling trio have to go to be properly attired and carry the right kind of currency. Then surprisingly, the show actually allows history to be changed and left altered at the episode’s end! In one episode, John Wilkes Booth never assassinated President Lincoln, instead that deed was done by the show’s antagonist Garcia Flynn (Gorin Visnjic) and it’s part of history now. In another episode the Hindenburg landed safely in New Jersey only to be destroyed later on.

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Then there is the fact that two of the time travelers, Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) and Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer), are disadvantaged in their temporal journeys by who they are. Rufus is African-American and winds up in less enlightened periods where he is liable to be treated as property, while Lucy, being a woman, is also looked down upon in the past despite her depth of knowledge. These characters are also imperfect with their own faults. While being a brilliant scientist and engineer, Rufus doesn’t have practical know-how in surviving, first aid and has to rely on the third member of the group, Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) a Delta Force soldier. The three don’t quite get along with each other let alone have a shared trust. And that is for good reason. Each of them have their own agenda.

Wyatt more than anything wants to find a way to use time travel to save his wife but is prevented from doing this. Adding to his bitterness is that Lucy’s sister was erased from existence after they came back from a time mission and now Lucy openly is operating to undo this damage. As for Rufus, he doesn’t find any joy in time traveling and would rather be behind a keyboard. But he is forced into the missions to spy on the other two by a mysterious and secretive group with their own agenda, which includes stopping Flynn.

This running conspiracy is a major flaw in Timeless. As imaginative and exciting as Timeless is, team timelessthe conspiracy arc is often trite and gets in the way. But lately it is adding to the show’s mythology and character motives. But the best development about this conspiracy is that it is making us viewers question whether or not Garcia Flynn is truly evil. He is on a quest to change American history in order to erase the existence of the group’s unseen, but nefarious leader, Rittenhouse. Flynn is doing this to avenge the death of his family at Rittenhouse’s hands. Adding to this unease is that Flynn carries a journal written in the future by Lucy and hints that she will ally with him down the road. So we can all hope that this Rittenhouse conspiracy will lead to something worthwhile.

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Now adding to the enjoyment of Timeless is that the show isn’t afraid to do some real time traveling. In each episode the travelers go to distinctly different eras. From 1940s Germany to 1750s North America, the episodes reveal interesting tidbits about those time periods, and thankfully the production values are up to par when it comes to presenting these time periods. But most of all, Timeless is always entertaining and often leaves you hanging during the commercial breaks. It has room to grow, but hopefully as its title hints, Timeless will have time to fully live up to its potential.

José Soto

Arrival Brings Non-Linear Food For Thought

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Arrival is the new sci-fi First Contact movie directed by visionary director Denis Villeneuve and stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the U.S. military to help communicate with newly arrived aliens. These aliens arrived on Earth in twelve giant spaceships that have taken up spots around the world and no one is able to communicate with them. What is at stake are rising tensions and paranoia due to the aliens’ arrival. As world powers grow more and more trigger happy, it’s up to Banks to find a way to break through the insurmountable language barrier between the two races before it’s too late.

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In film, the First Contact scenario isn’t anything new and Arrival echoes aspects of past sci-fi films in this subgenre like Contact, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Arrival also borrows elements from films such as Signs and Interstellar in regards to the worldwide reaction to alien arrival and head-spinning scientific concepts. What sets Arrival apart from other films in the subgenre is its mature tone and exploration of the hurdles humanity would face in this scenario.

These beings that have come to Earth are genuinely alien. Without spoiling their appearance, what can be stated is that they aren’t the standard humanoids with bumpy foreheads. In fact, their appearance belies the fact that they came from an environment totally unlike Earth’s and that was quite refreshing to see. Also welcome, was that the focus of the film was not on alien invasion with evil E.T.s and heroics from the military. Rather the fundamental dilemma, the driving force of the film is how can we communicate with beings from a completely foreign environment without any relatable frame of reference. It is bad enough that we have trouble communicating with each other so how can this be done in a First Contact situation without leading to war?

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Instead of going for pyrotechnics, Villeneuve sticks with this concept and the result is a slow burn of a film that delivers so much food for thought, especially in the final act. It’s a thought-provoking and wondrous journey thanks to Villeneuve’s careful direction and the cinematography. Every frame is carefully and beautifully staged to tell a story in a visual sense that quietly engages the viewer, while telling a personal story about Banks. Adams gives one of her best performances as her character feels the enormity of her task since she sees all around her the consequences of her failure to properly translate the aliens’ language.

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Without giving anything away, the last third of Arrival ramps up the tension while bringing forth high-brow concepts of non-linear time and how we perceive time in general. It should be pointed out in reference to the film’s tagline of why they are here, although this question is on the mind of many characters, the answer isn’t dwelled upon. Instead, the emotional climax of the film is on Banks herself and her own personal story, which has relevance to humanity’s plight in trying to establish a dialogue with the aliens.

For some, Arrival may be too slow moving, but it has a satisfying payoff for the patient viewer who does not go into the film expecting pyrotechnics or shoot-em-ups. This film is more serious and weighty without being pretentious. There is much to recommend about Arrival, from the performances from Adams, Whitaker and Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, a physicist helping Banks, to Villeneuve’s strong directing and the visual look of the film. But the script by Eric Heisserer, which is adapted from the award-winning short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life”, is to be commended as well for taking audiences into unfamiliar territory and in examining how a First Contact situation between us and extra-terrestrial might actually play out.

Lewis T. Grove

The Mind-Bending World Of Doctor Strange

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Marvel Studios’ latest foray into the mega-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, a former brilliant neurosurgeon who becomes a sorcerer after a reluctant personal journey.

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Basically, Doctor Strange is an origin story that introduces audiences to the sorcerer and his world. After a car accident shatters the nerves in his hands, Dr. Stephen Strange is desperate to repair the nerve damage so he can resume his shallow, entitled lifestyle. Think of a less charming version of Tony Stark before he became the heroic Iron Man. His desperation takes him to Nepal where he comes across a secret sect of sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her lieutenants Mordo (Chiwetol Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). The sorcerers introduce Strange to the mind-bending reality of the multiverse with its indescribable dimensions and its evils. Their mission is one of seeking enlightenment and of guarding the Earth and our dimension from evil. In this case, the extradimensional being Dormammu and its disciple, Kaecillus (Mads Mikkelson) a former student of the Ancient One who embraced the dark side of sorcery and wants to learn the secret of immortality.

Doctor Strange would have been a standard coming-of-age origin story if not for the wildly trippy visuals and the performance by Cumberbatch. Once again Marvel Studios strikes gold with its casting in the pivotal role of the sorcerer, and remarkably enough with Swinton. With the latter, the casting choice is controversial because of the racial and gender-swapping nature being that the Ancient One in the Marvel Comics is an elderly Asian male. But Swinton does nicely in her critical role.

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The drawbacks to Doctor Strange have to do with a common complaint about most MCU films, namely the villains. There isn’t any depth to Kaecillus, he’s very one-dimensional and is upstaged late in the film by the gigantic visage of Dormammu, who should’ve had more screen time. Even there, the supposedly powerful foe was handled fairly easily by Strange. Other characters were hit or miss. Mordo had an interesting arc where his fundamental belief system is shaken to the core, while Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was forgettable and didn’t have any screen presence or chemistry with her former lover Strange.

The story itself was serviceable but on the whole comes off as formulaic for an MCU film. It goes like this; unlikeable or self-centered main character gains super powers and undergoes an emotional journey as a reluctant hero before fully embracing his destiny as a full-fledged hero.

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Still, Doctor Strange is an entertaining MCU film that should be placed in the upper mid tier of the other MCU films thanks to director Scott Derrickson’s vibrant eye for colorful optics. There are many imaginative visuals and effects shots that have never been seen on the large screen. Stephen Strange’s forays into the multidimensional void are alone worth the price of admission, especially in 3D. Many shots perfectly mirror Dr. Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s unique look, which is astonishing to behold in live action, while unnerving at the same time.

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With this film, Marvel Studios has successfully introduced another novel and spectacular corner of the expanding MCU. Even though the script could have used some more work to match its eye-popping scenery, Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the MCU and hopefully the good doctor/sorcerer will take an even greater role in it.

José Soto