In 2014, a massive alien craft crash landed in fictional Edendale, Louisiana. In traditional Hollywood fashion, first contact didn’t go very well. Once the first shot was fired, our military snuffed out the “alien invasion” and rounded up the aliens to live in a town-sized internment camp.
The aliens, called Atrians, look just like humans except for bioluminescent body markings that look like tribal tattoos. Six-year-old Emery Whitehill (Aimee Teegarden) didn’t know any of that. All she knew was that there was a young, scared boy in her barn who needed some spaghetti.
Ten years later, she met him again when seven Atrians were chosen to be integrated into her high school. Wouldn’t you know it, but her barn buddy turned out to be a hottie named Roman (played by Matt Lanter). Good thing he has a thing for her, too. Now if only everybody else was okay with it.
The shows are mostly about racial conflict. Until the arrival of the Atrians, other minorities had it bad on earth, but now they’re all united against a common enemy. The Red Hawks, an organization of humans who resent the aliens, are convinced that the Atrians are here to colonize, and they’ll stop at nothing to wipe the alien menace out. The Red Hawks are laughably based on Hollywood’s idea of the Tea Party.
Unfortunately for the other humans, there’s a band of Atrians called Trags who want to colonize earth. What makes the show interesting is that the main characters fight against both sides to work out an integrated future. Each cast member has some tie to Red Hawks or Trags, so loyalties are constantly tested as the two terrorist organizations harm innocents in their ideological efforts for purity and control.
Meanwhile, there’s lots of kissing.
It wouldn’t be a CW show if there weren’t high octane romances burning like fireworks in the sky every episode. The boys are hot, the girls are hotter, I have a crush on Aimee Teegarden (did I just say that out loud?), and romance inspires them to fight against the odds.
Unlike other CW shows, however, these romances seem well thought out and grounded. In fact, I’m more than a little bummed that the series was cancelled because I wanted to see how they resolved the relationship issues. The relationship between Taylor the socialite and Drake the brooding Trag seemed prurient at first. They seemed to have sex everywhere, including an implausible scene in the boys locker room, but then Taylor became pregnant and Drake stepped up as a father. It was almost moral.
The big draw was between Emily (daughter of a security officer who killed the Atrian leader, Nox) and Roman (son of the Atrian leader, Nox. Nobody liked their romance, but through their struggles to be together, the viewers became aware of the conspiracies and technologies that both sides were putting into motion to change the earth as we know it.
One interesting aspect of the Atrians was that they use herbs to heal, kill, comfort, or torture. They are more advanced than humans are, so they use our technology in ways we never intended. Romance and political intrigue weren’t all this show had going for it. There was a large emphasis on future tech, which made the show very cool for the sci-fi geek in me.
And that cliffhanger! Now we’ll never know how Earth handled that alien armada. It had the potential to turn everything on its ear.
I don’t usually watch shows I know where cancelled, but I’m glad I made the exception for Star-Crossed. The cliffhanger was a disappointment because I’ll never know how things turned out, but the show was time well spent because of good actors, thoughtful plots, and entertaining conflicts. I recommend it.
Original Airdates: February 17 – May 12, 2014 (USA)
TV Parental Guidelines Rating: TV-14
Network: The CW
Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (occasional parties, adults drinking, underage drinking)
Language: 2 (mild profanity & deity)
Nudity: 1 (topless boys)
Sexuality: 3 (making out, implied sex, underage sex, teen pregnancy)
Violence: 3 (death, explosions, gun play, terrorism, fisticuffs)
Anna has trouble focusing in school and doesn’t want to show any feeling toward her adoptive parents. So, they send her to live out in the country (actually, a small seaside town) where she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie. Their friendship deepens over time and Anna becomes more outgoing until one day when Marnie simply disappears.
Anna feels betrayed by Marnie and can’t seem to find anyone who knows anything about her. After a couple weeks of this, she notices a new family moving into the house where Marnie lived, and she meets the children in the family while wandering out in the marsh by the sea. One of them secretly calls Anna “Marnie”, but she won’t say why.
The style of writing in this book takes a little getting used to. Some of the phrasing used by the author is unusual (possibly because it was written in the 1960s in the UK and I’m from the US). Despite that, I found myself drawn into the story. The big reveal was done in such a way that I didn’t realize what was happening until shortly before the book explained it.
The imagery evoked by Robinson is powerful, and I found she had a solid grasp of the thought processes of kids at that age. Anna was very believable and changed over the course of the novel in a very natural way. I found it to be a delightful light fantasy story which reminded me of the feeling of reading books like Half Magic by Edward Eager (even though that book was written over a decade earlier).
I recommend When Marnie Was There as a solid and interesting read for those who enjoy middle grade books (basically, kids of all ages). It’s definitely staying in my library.
Release Date: 1968 (United Kingdom)
ISBNs: 0007104774 (9780007104772)
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (adults drinking socially, smoking)
Violence: 1 (minor quarreling)
Anthology review: Shadows Beneath – The Writing Excuses Anthology by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler
“A Fire in the Heavens”, by Kowal, is very light fantasy or science fiction. It is obviously set in a different world (this is confirmed in the “making of” section). The story was very well paced and believable, and left me wanting more from that world. Katin was was a very interesting character, my favorite from this collection.
“I.E. Demon”, by Wells, brings the legend of gremlins to life in the wilds of Afghanistan as we follow a group of soldiers on a dangerous mission. When everything starts falling apart, the main character comes up with a unique way out of their dire situation. This one was fun to read, though I found it to be the weakest of the stories here. It was still interesting and kept my attention. I could easily identify with the characters, too.
“An Honest Death”, by Tayler, gives us an interesting twist on tales of Death and just what really might be on “the other side”. Cole is a very like able character who does his job and does it well, and he and his team must figure out how to deal with Death and its implications on their future employment.
The final work, on which the cover art is based, is “Sixth of the Dusk”, by Sanderson. As anyone can tell you if they have read my past reviews of Sanderson’s works, I am constantly amazed at the variety of different worlds dreamed up by Sanderson.
This story is no exception, with its rich, deep world and interesting characters, and this story only scratches the surface of the possibilities. I would love to see more about this dangerous world, the shadows of the deep, and The Ones Above, even if only done through short stories like the Instrumentality of Man series by Cordwainer Smith.
Beyond the stories, we come to the most interesting thing about this collection. Each of the stories has a “making of” section in the last half of the book where you can see the process from brainstorming the idea to fleshing it out into a viable story idea, critiquing of the draft(s), and then see the difference between the first draft and the final short work. A couple of the stories even have multiple drafts shown. This part is going to be of biggest interest to budding writers, but I found it very interesting despite my lack of interest in writing fiction.
Shadows Beneath – The Writing Excuses Anthology is just amazing all around, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the short stories. I highly recommend it to everyone, and be sure to check out their podcast, too.
Release Date: June 28, 2014 (USA)
Publisher: Dragonsteel Entertainment
Language: 1 (occasional minor)
Violence: 2 (gun violence, gremlin mischief, some fighting, some death (also some Death))
The cast was full of potential: Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as his love interest who happens to be the daughter of William Hurt’s character, the overly-ambitious General Ross who will stop at nothing to weaponize the process that changed Banner into the Hulk. With talent like that, I just can’t figure out how the director and writers could have gone wrong. But they did.
The director, Louis Leterrier, has an impressive track record of pretty good films (I really enjoyed Now You See Me), even though most of them are not to my taste, but you could almost feel the actors crying out for better direction all throughout the film. It was sad to see their talent being wasted for the most part.
I am a huge fan of film and television soundtracks. Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll probably roll their eyes about it as they nod. So, I have a pretty good handle on how soundtracks are supposed to work. The music by Craig Armstrong constantly intruded into The Incredible Hulk instead of blending seamlessly into the background. It felt forced and melodramatic rather than enhancing the moments. It just didn’t work on so many levels, and even though it occasionally struck the right chord, it just felt wrong most of the time.
Much of the CGI used in the film looked barely better than some higher-end video game graphics (the helicopter chase with the Abomination near the end comes to mind as the worst of them). It just wasn’t up the quality I expected after watching Iron Man, and it was another element which took me out of my immersion in the film’s world.
Finally, the script and pacing of the film were reminiscent of a teenager driving a manual transmission for the first time: definitely not the smoothest ride around. Much of the dialogue felt forced and amateurish, almost as if it had been lifted from a stereotypical comic book page. Perhaps that is the feeling the screenwriter was attempting, but it didn’t work well on the big screen.
The only reason I am keeping the 2008 The Incredible Hulk in my collection is because it is part of the aforementioned Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would otherwise find a quick trip to the nearest garage sale or thrift shop. It is only worth watching for completeness’ sake.
Release Date: June 13, 2008 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (some social drinking, cigar smoking)
Language: 2 (mostly minor, a few stronger expletives)
Nudity: 1 (Banner in the bath)
Sexuality: 2 (some brief friskiness)
Violence: 4 (extensive “smashing”, military gunfights, explosions, massive destruction, typical Hulk stuff)
Crunchyroll simultaneously broadcast the series as it aired in Japan, so it was a unique pleasure to wait each week for a new episode. Written by Mari Okada and with character designs by Buriki, Nagi no Asukara stood out from the rest of the Fall releases due to its unique vision and unusual setting.
The story involves the clash of two villages, Oshiooshi, a fishing village on land and Shioshishio, a village in the bay under the sea. The world’s heart has been growing cold, along with the faith of its residents. People no longer worship the sea god, and residents of Shioshishio have been moving inland for years. There are so few students in Shioshishio that the school has been closed, and the kids have to attend school in Oshiooshi.
The main character, Hikari, is angry with the landlubbers at first. His pride and trigger temper make him hard to get along with. Even the ever devoted Manaka is hurt by his abrasive personality. In time, however, Hikari starts to see that the ignorance of his elders and those in the fishing village are causing the destruction of his life.
A new ice age is coming and his people have decided to give up on humanity. They hibernate to await the coming of warmer days. Can Hikari change the hearts of the people to bring them together once again and stop the coming of the saltflake snow? Even when he succeeds, the result is not what he expected, and his own god takes away what he holds most dear.
Nagi no Asukara is a bit magic realism, a bit romance, and a bit nostalgia. The importance of tradition is woven throughout the entire series like strands of seaweed braiding the story together. All of the characters are strong and unique, giving the twin villages a very real feel.
The visuals of a city under the water with people in clothes walking where fish swim never ceased to amaze me. The color palette, the music, and the dramatic visual design made this show a feast for the senses. Since it didn’t offer fan service, exploding robots, alien invasions, or cutesy girls in cat ears, US fans in general didn’t take to the series well, yet it still carved out a loyal following online. The story was slow and deliberate—careful and thoughtful where other shows are manic and hyper—and the subject matters of faith, tradition, love, and loyalty played out in a heartbreaking manner.
You should sit and watch an episode or two just for the visuals alone, but you may find the plight of the high schoolers of Shioshishio tugs at your heart and holds on until the final episode. This slice-of-life anime with a hint of magic has become one of my favorite television series. I highly recommend it.
My only complaint is that the final episode seemed to wrap things up too quickly. After the leisurely pace of the previous 25 episodes, this showed that the producers didn’t pace things as well as they could have. However, the scope of the story was epic, and Nagi no Asukara one of the most aggressive projects I’ve seen to come out of Japanese television in years.
Original Air Dates: October 3 – April 3, 2014 (Japan)
TV Parental Guidelines Rating: Not Rated
Network: Animax, KBS, Sun Television, Tokyo MX, TVA
Original Title: 凪のあすから (Nagi no Asukara)
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (adults drinking in the background)
Language: 1 (deity)