Actionscifi's Blog


Vale Georgie, our rebel hothead who throws in the towel this week, having been tortured in all manner of ways by Anna.  His last defilement had been watching the memories of the V who killed his family, which is one of Anna’s sadistic ways to prey on humankind’s greatest weakness – love.

This episode is all about love, and it’s the best so far.  After all, personal stories are what drive any show, even ones about aliens.  Indeed, we’re almost OD’ing on the intimate details of our rebel friends this week.

I’ve struggled to show too much interest in Tyler’s back story.  Maybe it’s those unfeasibly good looks, or his manifest lack of acting ability, but something’s just not been working for me.  This week, however, we’re hit with a big, juicy Tyler bombshell: he had an accident when he was 12, and then his parents spontaneously broke up, a turn of events for which he always blamed himself.  Turns out they’d been asked at the hospital to give blood to save Tyler and the tests showed that daddy’s blood wasn’t a match.

By overhearing Tyler’s dad talking about it, Lisa (Tyler’s alien girlfriend) is able to use the information as a wedge to drive Tyler away from his parents and into the loving embrace of the Vs.  It’s a device the writers have used to push Tyler’s conversion along, but it’s also a great human drama.  The confrontation between Tyler and Erica shines like few other moments so far in this show.  Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays Erica, is a cut above the cast and she effortlessly rises to the occasion as the mother who realises she’s losing hold of her little boy.

Meanwhile Ryan has a lotta ‘splaining to do on a couple of fronts.  While he’s out of town, Valerie uncovers a secret safe, gets the safe company in to unlock it and finds some interesting little tidbits.  It’s post-9/11 America, so I’m not sure whether Val will be more appalled by the revelation that she’s carrying an alien baby, or by the fact that her husband has a French passport.  Ce ne possible, ca!  Now Val’s going to turn tail (hey, she’s got one growing inside her after all) and run, which will allow Ryan and Anna to play “first one to find her keeps the bebe”.

Ryan’s a little preoccupied, however, leading our band of rebels to John May’s old house.  While Ryan is asking John’s step son, James, for the communication device that John used to contact the alien ships, Erica and Hobbes realise that James’ girlfriend is way too hot to be human.  Obviously they do what any of us would: they kill her lizardy ass, forcing Ryan to reveal all to James:  his girlfriend has a tail, John May is actually dead, and Ryan killed him.  It’s unclear if Ryan means “killed” in the legal 20-years-to-life sense, or “killed” in the “by forcing him to rejoin the rebels, I effectively got him killed” sense.  Judging by the fact that James doesn’t immediately jump Ryan, I’m assuming it’s the latter but there’s room for more in later episodes.

Regardless of John May’s true fate, the rebels have successfully got the press to investigate the “John May Lives” message they embedded into Anna’s broadcast during episode 6.  Anna is close to showing some anger about John May’s comeback – she evidently knows he’s dead, and understands that his value is as a clarion call for the fifth column – but she promises to avenge this victory with a thousand defeats, courtesy of her still-germinating army of children.

As the episode concludes, our small rebel coterie stands in Father Jack’s house, toasting the front pages of newspapers asking “Who is John May?” and farewelling their brave friend Georgie who has gone home to his family.  A rebel is dead. Long live the rebellion.

You can watch episode six of V here on the wordpress site movielova

submit to reddit

April 23, 2010, 11:14 pm
Filed under: TV series reviews

Aired Australia – 18 April  2010
Aired USA – 6 April 2010

So, as we suspected after episode 5, it’s not that the Visitors can’t feel emotions like love and empathy, it’s that Anna is a drug pusher, pedalling The Bliss to her naïve addicts aboard the spaceships hovering above the earth, and undercover down below. They’re like any clapped out junkie who just can’t pull himself together enough to feel, man. We understand this in the first scene, when a V attempts to tell his girlfriend he loves her while she looks skyward, drinking in the dulcet tones of Anna like some hard-core yoga dude. He’s obviously a fifth columnist who is not taking his Anna juice.

The Bliss angle is a little hard for me to swallow (pardon the pun). A pimp and her bunch of drug addicts hijacking earth just seems a little unnecessary. God knows there’s always dissenters in large organisations, so it’s not like they needed to dream up something so ridiculous to illustrate a rift in the alien ranks. Nevertheless, I’m willing to overlook this crazy scenario as it remains a fairly minor part of the show at this stage. The main game is the growing rebellion, hence that lovestruck, non-conforming V’s decision to detonate a suicide bomb when he realises he can’t get through to his crack whore.

But don’t worry, Anna’s not going to take this rebellion lying naked in a bath. Or at least she’s not justˆ going to do that. Soon after the lovelorn V has his jihad moment, Anna starts a brutal purge, strapping every V on the ships to a table to see if they react to images of human suffering. Those who do are obviously fifth columnists who Anna assembles in a room, where she tells them to take a suicide pill. Those who take it are obviously loyal to her. Those who don’t are fifth columnists. Very medieval. Very ‘if you sink to the bottom you’re innocent, if you float you’re guilty.’

Meanwhile back on planet earth (literally and figuratively), our rebels are hatching a plan to get onto the ship to hack into a V broadcast and plant a message, to let all of the fifth columnists out there know that the revolution is still going on. Here’s a thought: use the internet. Is this not the strangest aspect of the whole show? There are all of these people out there who know the truth, but not one of them is using the web to get their message out. Surely a V traitor could cut their arm open, take a little video of it and post it on Youtube from an internet café. Broadcast yourself, goddamn it!

Apart from using the power of the Vs’ broadcast, our rebels are also interested in getting the human broadcaster Chad Decker onside, and so Fr Jack entices him into coming to have a chat about the Vs. There’s a little sparring between them with neither giving too much away, but it’s safe to say the grooming of Chad Decker has begun.

The exploration of inter-species love continues to be my favourite part of this show. Ryan knows he’s running out of time as his human girlfriend’s pregnancy is growing at an extraordinary pace. Apart from wanting to eat rats, Valerie is feeling movement already and the last scene of the episode –where we see the imprint of a tail moving inside her stomach as she sleeps – is oh, so icky. I don’t know what I’m more excited about – Valerie giving birth or Ryan telling Val he’s an alien with freaky green eyes and a scaly tail. Valerie, you’re about to have your Beauty and the Beast moment.

You can watch episode six of V at the wordpress site movielova

submit to reddit


Aired Australia – 4 April  2010
Aired USA – 30 March 2010

If V is going through something of an ideological trough right now, at least the action keeps coming.

The Vs get close to our nascent rebel group in this episode, when the sole survivor of the warehouse invasion tracks down Fr Jack and stabs him in the church.  From there he heads on over to Erica’s house where he becomes the latest V to underestimate just what a hard-arsed bee-atch Erica is.   This V was obviously dumb enough to deserve death, however, failing as he did to kill Fr Jack and instructing Erica on the whereabouts of his heart after she missed it with her first attempt.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but Elizabeth Mitchell does a great job as Erica, but that won’t come as any surprise to anyone who watched Lost.  She’s got a real steel about her despite her all-American mom looks and she easily carries this show as a hard-arsed leader of the rebel pack. The jury’s still a little out on the other start of the show, Morena Baccarin, who plays alien leader Anna.  Much more of her personality remains hidden from us at this stage, and I’m not yet convinced that she will be able to throw the switch Vaudevillian evil when the time comes.  In fact, her few attempts – including a bizarre ending to this episode – have been a little worrisome.

As for her character, we get a bit more of an insight into the autocracy Anna is running when Ryan tells Erica that the V who tried to kill her clearly acted alone because there’s no way he would have reported to Anna about the warehouse until he’d cleaned up his mess.  That Anna. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Speaking of eating, a highlight of this episode is Valerie, pregnant with the baby of Ryan (who, for debutants, is a Visitor-turned-traitor), craving a dead rat.  Even those of us who didn’t see the original series know that rat eating aliens will be coming to our small screen soon, so the scene was a great teaser.

Anyway, it seems that our rebels are causing an outsized amount of grief for Anna.  One blown up warehouse, a single murder onboard Anna’s ship and some blabbering about this rebel leader guy (John May, who so far has not shown his face) have been enough to bring her quivering to her knees.  She doesn’t want the cops to investigate that warehouse ho-down to closely, so Anna uses bogus technology to frame the world’s most wanted terrorist – Hobbes – for the crime (what’s with the achingly-obvious references to the world’s great spruikers of freedom and democracy? Lost had Locke, and now V has Hobbes).

Naturally Erica – who is still maintaining her charade by turning up to the FBI for work  – smells a rat (boom tish) and tracks down Hobbes, thinking she could do with his know-how.  He’s not really interested in their namby-pamby ideological battle, at least not until Ryan peels back an eyeball to reveal a green one underneath.  Yeah, baby.  When Erica later confesses to Fr Jack that she’s made a deal with the devil by enlisting the terrorist, it’s a much more subtle reference to recent events than the lame attempts in earlier episodes to compare Anna to Obama.  Erica’s enemy’s enemy is now her friend, in the best tradition of US military policy. But you don’t need to worry  – Hobbes is not one of those crazy-assed Muslim terrorists.  He’s a cracking’ good fella from Down Unda, mate. Just the kind of guy you can count on in a crisis.

In addition to throwing out the red herring about the warehouse bombing, Anna’s tactic for crushing rebellion is to manufacture an army by picking out a hot looking, buff V and mating with him before eating him, kind of like a preying mantis.  Presumably she’s going to give birth to a whole production line of his offspring and the poor little blighters should be suitably psychotic because they grew up without their dad around to raise them.

Or not.  According to Anna, the Vs are not burdened by pesky “emotional imprints”, which makes them stronger than us.  She makes this observation as she and her daughter watch Erica’s son Tyler undergoing some sort of download of his memories so that they can use him in their nefarious plans, and it’s the most important revelation of the week. Because if it’s really true that Vs don’t have emotions, how do we explain Ryan’s love of his rat-carrying girlfriend, Valerie? Stay tuned.

submit to reddit


Aired Australia – 28 March 2010
Aired USA – 24 November 2009

If you discovered a traitor in your midst, what would you do?  I think most of us would plump for skinning said traitor alive, wouldn’t we?  No?  Well, that’s apparently what the Vs do.  Each week we piece together a little more about what makes the Vs tick, and this week we find out that they are particularly brutal to those who do the wrong thing.

When the Visitors’ leader, Anna, discovers that her undercover agent Dale Maddox was killed on board the mother ship just before he could reveal the identity of his attempted murderer, she orders an investigation.  She thinks her lieutenant, Joshua (Mark Hildreth), is responsible (he is, see episode 3) but when another fifth columnist steps forward to claim responsibility, Anna instead orders Joshua to skin him.  Unfortunately we don’t see what happens while the hapless victim screams.  Does skinning just involve removing the human tissue over the top? Does it kill you, or is it just torture?

We also find out what The Bliss is this week.  After a particularly bad day at the office, Anna strips nude (yay), dunks herself in a bath and starts broadcasting a message using her mind.  Every V, whether they are on the mother ship or out there undercover in the big, wide world, looks towards the heavens and listens in ecstacy.   We know that the harmony between the Vs is on a knife’s edge: there’s a fired-up resistance movement, and Anna and her right-hand man Marcus don’t agree on tactics, suggesting that Anna could lose control of her peeps if she doesn’t play her cards right.  The Bliss is Anna’s way of keeping control.  It seems, however, that the Vs have to choose to receive the Bliss.  The traitor Nichols mentioned it in episode 3, likening it to a drug, and he doesn’t appear to be affected by Anna’s announcement.

Mind control is obviously what the Vs are all about, but they’re using old-fashioned methods with the humans.  This week’s major PR announcement is the opening of the first health clinics to treat people.  They’re very impressive, and are even able to treat maladies which haven’t appeared yet, Nick Riviera style.  But what’s most impressive is that they just rolled it out in four weeks.  It’ll take the Democrats years just to bring down health insurance premiums, never mind open new hospitals.  They’ve also announced a cure-all vaccine like some quack 19th-century doctors.

Meanwhile our ragtag band of V traitors and human resistors take their first scalp, when they ambush a V working undercover as a doctor specialising in virology.   They shoot the dirty dog in a carpark, and he calls Ryan Nichols a traitor as he dies, simultaneously revealing to Erica that Ryan is a V and affirming that he’s obviously a good V.

The centrepiece of the week’s episode is the group’s audacious raid on a dockside warehouse where the Vs are producing a vaccine.  It lacks suspense, partly because of the ridiculous ease with which they penetrate the warehouse and destroy the shipment.  The scenario works on another level, however.  Our ragtag band discovers that here at the warehouse they are lacing old-fashioned flu shots with a vaccine, but not the one they’ve publicly announced.  Erica realises that the public vaccine is probably just a harmless multivitamin, because the US Government will inevitably test it.  Meanwhile this virulent medicine will be put into the flu shots and shipped all over the world to wreak havoc.

We are so predictable, Erica laments.  They knew how humans would react to the announcement of a vaccine, and they exploited that weakness to release the real vaccine out of sight. The ol’ three card trick. From now on we need to be unpredictable, Erica tells the fellas.  Just how, well this is a series.  There’s plenty of time to see how Erica, Jack, Georgie and Ryan bring the crazy.

The other big news in this week’s episode is that Valerie is pregnant.  Valerie is a human. Her bloke – Ryan – is a V.  Can’t wait to see that baby.

submit to reddit


Spoilers in orange.

If you set your war movie amid the most controversial conflict for a generation, do you have to put it in context? To lay the war bare and allow your viewers to draw some conclusions? According to Kathryn Bigelow, director of the multi-Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker, the answer is a resounding ‘no’.

Instead, Bigelow crafts an intense but narrow war movie in the mould of Black Hawk Down.  It’s really a three-hander about a renegade bomb-disposal expert, William James (Jeremy Renner) and the other two members of his unit, Owen Aldridge (Brian Geraghty) and JT Sanborne (Anthony Mackie).  As you would expect from the director of Point Break and Blue Steel, there’s plenty of action and loads of suspense, but the camera remains inexorably focused on our three heroes, resisting the temptation to look further afield for more than a few minutes.

Renner is fantastic as the loose cannon who joins his unit when his predecessor Matt Thomspon (Guy Pearce) gets blown up by a roadside bomb.  Thompson’s death in the first scene sets the tone for the movie.  The explosion is magnificent as the earth buckles in slow motion, and the guilt Aldridge feels for not shooting the trigger man seeps through every subsequent scene.

From the moment he arrives, James seems blithely ambivalent about whether he and his two colleagues will survive their year-long tour of duty. He loves taking the piss out of army protocol and those who adhere to it and, oddly, his detachment about the plight of Iraqis is somehow more humane than the suspicion of his fellow soldiers.  Nevertheless, the unit’s operation seems more than a little ridiculous.  They appear to report to no one, and James’ flagrant disregard for his life and the lives of his colleagues goes unreported and unpunished, with the exception of a sucker-punch from Sanborne.

During the film I found myself lamenting that so much time had been devoted to the character of James without revealing what makes him tick.  Even his emotional response to seeing the mutilated body of a small boy he thinks he knows tells us little about him.  But this all changes in the understated final few scenes, which make us understand in a few short minutes why a man may prefer the terror of war to the mundane day-to-day rituals of home. It is a brilliant way to give meaning to all we know about James, and it is clearly the highlight of the film.

James aside, The Hurt Locker is about the insane situations that soldiers find themselves in during an urban conflict.  About halfway through, it seems like every situation is the same.  Get called to street, deactivate the bomb, argue about what procedures were ignored.  Do it all again tomorrow.  However, the film then effectively changes tack when our three stars find themselves and a British unit pinned down by a sniper out in the desert. The Brits get picked off (natch) and Sanborne and James team up to play a game of chicken with the Iraqi assassins, each trading shots to see who’s hit first.   As they’re doing that, Aldridge sees another Iraqi masquerading as a shepherd and sneaking up behind them with an AK47.  This time he takes the shot, and finally learns the ultimate lesson of this movie – anyone could be an insurgent, so when in doubt, shoot them dead.

It’s riveting stuff, seemingly unfolding in real time and masterfully building up the suspense, but it also leaves a few unanswered questions.  Why do snipers happen to be located in the middle of the desert, just a mile upwind from where the Brits stop for a piss?  And why is a shepherd firing at them? It’s not every day you hear of an insurgent crossing open ground to fire on soldiers with his herd in tow. It’s fairly typical of this movie, which seems to be short on the sort of detail you’d expect from a big-budget film which can afford to hire an army of consultants to make sure they get their facts right.  Why is a bomb-disposal expert not disciplined for continually failing to adhere to protocol? Why can’t any of these Iraqis who are setting up the roadside bombs manage to detonate them in time when James is moving at the speed of treacle in that big bomb suit?

These little lapses in detail are not what really bothers me, however.  It’s the lack of context.  In my opinion, The Hurt Locker is a war film, but it’s not an Iraq War film, and the difference is not merely one of semantics.  If you want to set a film amid the most controversial, most publicized and most criticized American war since Vietnam, ignoring what’s going on in the background seems willfully misleading.  This was a war justified on clearly bogus grounds, where even the notoriously conservative Iraq Body Count website estimates that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died; billions of dollars have been poured into redeveloping the country, but the gains have been slight; US companies have gouged profits and, in some cases, embezzled funds; Sunni and Shia Iraqis remain in an uneasy stand-off, with the ever-present threat of all-out civil war; post-invasion Iraq has been the scene of the most brutal and successful Al Qaeda franchise yet; and bombs continue to explode in urban centres to this day.

All of this seems irrelevant to Kathryn Bigelow.  It is jettisoned in pursuit of a psychological drama about the effects of war on a small group of men.  Sometimes reality invades – James’ quip that if an Iraqi taxi driver they harassed wasn’t an insurgent, “he sure is now” is golden – but for the most part Iraqis have no role to play in this film. The brilliant Three Kings proved that it’s possible to make a tight film focusing on the struggles of a small band of soldiers while also putting the film in context.  Sadly, so few American war movies bother to try.


submit to reddit


Aired Australia – 21 March 2010
Aired USA – 17 November 2009

Although this week’s episode didn’t replicate the sphincter-clenching thrills of last week, it started to fill in some important holes for us, and also posed a few new questions.  Particularly, who is John May, and what is the fifth column?

When Erica’s former FBI partner Dale Maddox – the undercover alien who she almost killed in episode 1 – wakes up on the mother ship, it seems like her days are numbered.  At first he can’t remember what happened to him, but a fellow alien jogs his memory until he recalls the moment Erica ran him through with a sharp metal stake.  Dale immediately goes goggle-eyed at the thought of revenge, but his fellow visitor tells him that Dale won’t be killing Erica because she will make a very handy ally for the resistance.  As Dale struggles, the V pops a needle full of poison in his arm and whispers “the fifth column says hello” while Dale shudders and dies.  Oooh, the traitor Vs are even on the mother ship.

As we know by now, a number of undercover visitors – including regular character Ryan Nichols – defected to form a resistance movement some time in the past, and gradually joined up with earthling resistors, such as Georgie Sutton.  The visitor resistance was led by a bloke called John May, but we know nothing more than that about him so far.

It seems that the Anna and her 29 space ships full of visitors have made their entrance as the resistance is at its lowest ebb, its peak period having been some years before.  These traitors and their fellow human rebels are like the Eritrean insurgents in the late 1980s, pushed deep into hiding after years of futile resistance, suffering deep losses and facing an enemy that seems more powerful than ever.  But don’t worry – those pesky Eritreans fought back and ultimately won, and these rebels will do the same. Naturally.  This resistance movement, and especially its alien traitors, is one of the series’ most intriguing aspects.  Most alien movies and TV shows rely on a pretty simple narrative: aliens on one side, humans on the other.  In these scenarios, it’s not unusual to see the humans start to fracture and fight among themselves as the aliens pile the pressure on, but feuding aliens is almost unheard of.  Using the concept of traitors requires greater nuance: the aliens might be uniformly attractive, but they’re not uniformly bad.  So, sure: any human could actually be a visitor in disguise, but any visitor could be an undercover rebel.  Gold star for the creators.

The other insights in this episode relate to the way the aliens are going about world domination.  The Vs are running a slick PR machine, which gets a workout when a widow whose husband died in the kerfuffle following the Vs’ arrival wants to speak out against them.  Anna buttonholes the widow just before she is due to speak to an international audience.  She expresses her sympathy and bends the woman’s ear about the importance of harmony and peace.  We’ve seen Anna weep in front of the mirror as she practices the same speech moments earlier.  It’s the same standard fare that makes me wince when I hear politicians deliver it – sincere regret, deepest sympathies, all of that rubbish – so the scene seemed a little formulaic for my tastes.  It doesn’t get any better when the aggrieved widow subsequently tells the world’s media that the Vs have taught her about the importance of “hope” and “trust”.  I guess the writers get the point across: the visitors are very good at PR.  Nevertheless, they’re not quite up to the PR gold standard of Hill and Knowlton’s 1991 Iraqi-soldiers-ripping-Kuwaiti-kids-out-of-incubators story.  The writers’ persistence with this whole Obama mind-control theme remains the series’ only real weak point so far.  It’s just too clunky and obvious to be effective.

In the week’s other main developments, Erica is assigned to protecting the Vs, where she stumbles across a surveillance room showing hundreds of images which turn out to be coming from the lapels of the jackets worn by the visitors.  Because they have finally been given the green light to roam around New York, those cameras will soon be everywhere. And because the jackets are also worn by human “ambassadors”, whose number now includes Erica’s son Tyler (not that Erica knows it yet), the noose around Erica’s neck seems to be once again tightening.  Indeed, the episode ends with Tyler’s budding love interest – the visitor Lisa (Laura Vandevoort) – telling Anna, who she addresses as “mother”, that Tyler is the one.  Erica on one side, Tyler on the other. Bring it.

submit to reddit


Aired Australia – 14 March 2010
Aired USA – 10 November 2009

After watching Episode 2, I realise that I need not have fretted about my decision to commit a large chunk of my time to reviewing the entire first season of V.  This week’s instalment was an hour-long edge-of-the-seat thriller, even though no aliens or humans were harmed in the making of this program.

The episode opens where the last one finished, with FBI agent Erica and Catholic priest Father Jack on the roof of a building, having escaped the alien ambush of their resistance cell’s meeting.  When they go back to watch the visitors clean up the carnage, they’re hunted down by one of the visitors’ high-tech nail bombs, which Erica naturally smashes into a million bits just before detonation.

The machinations within the FBI are what give this episode its fizz.  Erica’s FBI partner Dale Maddox was an undercover visitor, until she ran him through with a metal stake, so  it’s prudent to assume that the FBI is crawling with them.  What better place for an undercover visitor to be than in the FBI?  So it’s great TV when Erica walks the halls of her office the next morning and everyone is looking at her.  We’ve all been there: walking into a room and wondering ‘ is it just my imagination, or are they all looking at me? Do they know about that deep, dark secret of mine?’ Is Erica’s boss, Paul, a visitor or are his unfeasibly good looks just a coincidence? Are the members of the FBI’s Visitor Threat Assessment Joint Task Force visitors themselves?  That would make sense, kind of like drug traffickers running the DEA.

So, as Erica says to Father Jack: You. Can’t. Trust. Anyone.  Ah, music to our ears.  Bring on the fear, the paranoia and the painful deaths, although they’ll need to wait for another week or two, probably until Dale Maddox gets back on his feet. Turns out he’s recovering on the mother ship, ready to turn Anna in as soon as he wakes up.  Meanwhile the turncoat visitor Ryan Nichols – who was also at that resistance cell meeting – gets a call from another turncoat, Angelo.  Angelo tells Ryan all about Ryan’s fiancée to make the point that if he can find out so much about her, then the visitors can find it out.  So Ryan faces a choice: he can stay and risk his fiance’s life or, if he truly loves her, get the hell out and run for the hills. It’s good stuff.

The other enjoyable aspect of this episode is our first real glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain as we witness alien leader Anna discussing diplomatic wrangling with her handler, Marcus (Christopher Shyer).  She is patient and calculating, and when the over-anxious Marcus suggests that she not work so hard on seeming submissive for the Japanese, she replies  “You still don’t understand humanity”.  Hopefully as the series progresses we’ll see cracks in the unity of the visitors.  Perhaps not all of them agree with Anna’s diplomatic approach.

In other news (boom, boom), TV anchor Chad Decker finally grows a pair of balls and asks some hard questions about the visitors, before telling Anna that their next interview will be on his terms.  It’s like a fantasy where the snivelling Hollywood reporter finally lays down the law to the celebrity publicist.  And whose side is Chad on anyway?  When Anna tells Chad she’s disappointed with him for muddying their reputation, he tells her that the US government will feel more comfortable if it feels like it’s hearing both sides of the story, and that this will encourage it to set up diplomatic relations with the visitors.  When Chad’s prediction comes true, Anna is impressed.   PR at it’s best.

This episode has the essential ingredients you hope for in a series: it’s fast, well-written, well-acted and, above all, it leaves you hanging out for more.

Classic Movie Review – I, Robot (2004)

Spoilers are in orange.

Director Alex Proyas has genuine pedigree in the sci-fi universe, having ruminated on the question of what might be controlling us well before The Matrix came along (Dark City) and having directed one of the most enjoyable comic book movie ever brought to the screen (The Crow).

So it was reasonable to assume that Proyas’ handling of sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov’s revolutionary writing on robots would produce a cracking movie.  After seeing it, the only real question to ask is, what went wrong?

I, Robot is based on Asimov’s books of the same name, which envisaged a world where robots are ubiquitous and their service to humanity guaranteed by the “three laws of robotics” hard-wired into their brains:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov sought to explore these laws and to propose situations that would test the boundaries.  He sought ambiguity where there was seemingly noneI, Robot does enact one such moral dilemma – what should a robot do if two humans are in danger and only one can be saved? – but in the end this is an action film and the nuance of Asimov’s concept is excised because if it wasn’t, there just wouldn’t be that much action.

And so we begin with our hero, Del Spooner (Will Smith), being called to the scene of the apparent suicide of Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the founder of the world’s biggest robotics company on the eve of the rollout of its new robot model.  Of course, we suspect foul play and it’s not long before we have a suspect in the form of Sonny (Alan Tudyk), who is of one of these new-generation robots.  From there, it’s a short hop to lots of hair-raising chases and all sorts of conspiracy theories better left out of this review.

The character of Spooner is similar that of John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) in the middling 1993 futuristic thriller Demolition Man: a cop hopelessly out of step with the times (it’s 2035), who wears old shoes, listens to old music, rides a motorbike and refuses to embrace new technology.  Luckily for the film studio, Spooner (like Spartan before him) thinks the greatest age in history was ours and likes to live his life as if it’s 2004: roll out the latest model Converse sneakers for gratuitous product placement, people!  Being a technophobe, Spooner is suspicious of robots and suspects that they will eventually find a way to circumvent the three laws and start menacing society.

The copying of Demolition Man is only one example of the egregious cannibalisation of sci-fi whizzing past us at break-neck speed:  funky European automobiles (Minority Report), a wise old lady baking food in her kitchen (The Matrix) and dreaming robots (Blade Runner) to name a few, all of which is tolerable if we feel like the film is standing on the shoulders of giants.  Alas, it rarely rises to their belly buttons.

The performances of the supporting cast are generally tepid but, to be honest, there are few humans with significant roles in this film.  Most of them are consigned to rehashing the same, tired old clichés of hard-nosed police boss, (Chi McBride) obsessive corporate captain (Bruce Greenwood), enthusiastic young hero-worshipper (Shia LaBeouf).

The biggest cliché of all is Spooner’s love interest, Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynihan), a high-level scientist who is a workaholic and a woman, meaning that she is thirty-something and childless.  Hollywood should meet Dr Fiona Wood some time.  She’s also white, so it is fated that her relationship with Spooner will not go beyond mutual admiration.  If you want to see a black man and a white woman getting jiggy, well you’ll just have to rent a Spike Lee film.

This film is evidence that when you give an innovative, daring director a lemon, it’s probably still going to be a lemon once they’ve finished with it.  Alex Proyas has made his name by taking risks, by making us believe that crazy ideas – a man turns into a crow to avenge the killers of his girlfriend, aliens kidnap people from earth and place them on another planet to study them – are credible; therefore, it’s no surprise to me that he cannot pull off a film about something fairly rudimentary (robots gone bad!).  Innovators are usually the worst people to handle straightforward, uncreative projects.  In more recent times, see Ang Lee squeezing the life out of The Incredible Hulk.  In addition, Will Smith is not Proyas’ kind of star. He is forced to brood and sulk when he’s best at strutting and cursing.

A more fundamental problem with this film is that the baddies are robots.  Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones proved that lifeless protagonists (in that case, a whole army of clones v a whole army of droids) produce a lifeless movie and that point is reinforced here.  An essential trait of a baddie is his or her fallibility:  the baddie may be incredibly hard to kill, may be stronger than our hero, may be surrounded by many similarly endowed baddies but in the end, the baddie fears death or capture.  A robot feels nothing, fears nothing, cares for nothing.  And so when Spooner is driving through a tunnel and being set upon by a platoon of leaping, menacing robots, we may ooh and ah at the explosions and we may fear for Spooner’s safety but we scarcely even notice the fact that these robots are being disposed of one-by-one.  Proyas may have summed up the vacuousness of these protagonists best when he shows one of them disappearing under the wheel of a truck in a shower of sparks, his face entirely expressionless.

With genuine tension lacking, the last part of the film attempts to explore the three laws in more detail and the result is something between lip service and a detailed thesis.  Without giving too much away, imagine that a room-full of lawyers got a hold of those seemingly iron-clad laws and thought of a whole bunch of ways in which they didn’t properly apply.  Chaos?  Of course.  In fact, the film comes alive in the last 30 minutes with large-scale scenes of rioting and violence accompanying the sudden dissection of the three laws. These final scenes seem like an after thought, but I couldn’t help thinking that they made the better basis for a movie, and that the first 70 minutes should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Score:  45/100

submit to reddit

TV Series Review – V, Episode 1

Aired Australia – 7 March 2010
Aired USA – 3 November 2009

Aliens have been visiting Hollywood backlots for a good 50 years now, so we action/sci-fi fans get a little shiver down our spines when a fresh new concept comes along. And Hollywood producers get so excited that they flog it to death and then remake it at the earliest opportunity. Hence V, the blockbuster 1983 series and the 2009…erm…cult classic? We’ll see.

So, we begin with the “visitors”, as the aliens call themselves, making a conspicuous arrival on earth and proclaiming that they have come in peace to do what those in the international aid industry call a “technology transfer”. The visitors need water and “a mineral commonly available on earth” and offer in return lots of fun gadgets that Apple hasn’t invented yet. Then we learn that the visitors’ arrival is not really the first contact. They’ve been living among us for years, inhabiting invariably hot bodies and preparing for the day when they take over the earth. As the hot people always do.

When our visitors arrive, they come in huge ships which settle over 29 of the world’s major cities. Actually, 28 plus the pyramids, which the visitors of course constructed 4500 years ago and are probably just checking in on.* The sequence is not so much an homage to Independence Day as a blatant rip-off, but with a smaller budget and a much smaller screen to show it all on. As they peer upwards at the ships, the masses in the streets look as underwhelmed as we are. It’s not a promising beginning.

The show begins to pick up as we witness the visitors’ first days on earth through the eyes of five people: FBI Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her oversexed teenaged son Tyler (Logan Huffman), young priest Fr Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), wannabe TV anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) and banker with a shady past Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut).

Erica’s work tracking terrorist cells drives the story. She notices that terrorist chatter on the internet falls silent when the visitors arrive, which I thought was a clever touch. There is one pocket, however, which starts chattering like schoolgirls, and we soon learn that it’s a resistance cell which has been fighting the visitors for years. When she infiltrates the cell, Erica meets Fr Jack, who’s also come along undercover as a civilian. Fr Jack’s main role in the series is clearly to let us explore the effect aliens might have on religious belief, because those little green fuckers aren’t in the bible. Hollywood seems to have missed the email reporting that most Americans worship in evangelical churches these days, so Fr Jack’s a good ol’ preacher with a dog collar. Nevertheless, his discussions with his fellow priest provide some philosophical ballast to the first episode as Fr Jack, the young cynic, is challenged by the old idealist determined to believe that the visitors are all part of God’s plan. Also at the meeting of the resistance cell is Ryan Nichols, who turns out to be a lapsed rebel, and so we have our good guys – Ryan, Fr Jack and Erica – ready to fight the good fight.

On the other side of the ledger are the visitors – led by Anna (Morena Baccarin) – and their human enablers, principally Tyler Evans, who quickly falls for one of the hot young visitors, and pretty boy Chad Decker. Chad’s going nowhere in TV land until he catches a break by sticking up for the visitors in a doorstop interview and is rewarded with a one-on-one encounter with Anna. From there his career skyrockets.

Like any sci-fi show, V sets itself up as a commentary on modern society, and so far it’s not a very good one. The lowlight comes when Anna, on a roll from a wave of positive publicity, promises to start up free healing clinics, ensuring “universal health care”. (If she can do it without adding to the budget deficit, maybe the Republicans will even jump on board.) It’s been said that the show is a critique of the Obama administration, but Anna’s preferential treatment of Chad Decker could just as easily be mimicking the Bush Administration and its close relationship with Fox News. The visitors have been here for decades, long before Obama came along, exploiting positions of power to  instigate disasters and start unnecessary wars, so George Bush and Tony Blair are aliens too! Whatever their aim, the producers should stick closer to the core of the show, which is obviously an alien-human smackdown. Or at least that’s my view.

Despite the weaknesses, there was enough in the second half of the pilot to suggest that this show has legs. If it can lose the simplistic allegories about US politics, its exploration of hope and change could be worth watching. But the most promising aspect of the show is the same thing that apparently made the original series of V great – a mismatched battle between a huge force of occupiers and a small band of fanatical resistors. As long as they lay off the Iraq War references.

* OK, so the pyramids are in Cairo, but they’re way on the outskirts. It would be like the mothership going to New York and hovering over Staten Island.

submit to reddit

A third Pitch Black film? Lord help us.

As the young people would say, ZOMG.

Universal is actually ponying up cash to make a third instalment of the Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick series, which requires me to ask (and answer) a few questions, dear reader:

  • Who liked Pitch Black? You and me.
  • Who paid to see Chronicles of Riddick and thought it was trash? You and me (check my review here).
  • Why on earth would they be making a third instalment of this series after the train wreck that was Chronicles of Riddick? To make bootloads of cash.
  • Who does Universal think is going to hand over this cash? You and me.

Which naturally leads to one more question: will we actually be stupid enough?

OK, I’ll bite.  The screenplay for the third instalment has been written by David Twohy, who directed both of the earlier films and will also be in the chair for this one.   Twohy was the third credit as a co-writer of Pitch Black, behind the movie’s creators, Jim and Ken Wheat.  Twohy then cut the Wheat boys loose and went it alone as writer of Chronicles of Riddick, and we all know how that ended up.

So, I’d probably have greater faith that the third instalment might successfully “hew closer in tone to the cult hit Pitch Black” – as insiders are saying – if Twohy had got the Wheat boys back on board.

Still, Twohy got some good kudos for writing (and directing) the 2009 horror flick A Perfect Getaway so maybe he’s on the improve.  And, like a battered wife, it’s just possible that I’ll end up rolling up to the cineplex having fallen for Twohy’s promise that Chronicles of Riddick will never happen again.  That this movie will be just like Pitch Black. Only different. And better.

That’s as long as I don’t think too hard about the fact that this is a Vin Diesel sequel.  Our favourite bald action hero will be making this film, his second  xXx movie and his third Fast and Furious* film back-to-back-to-back.  With that kind of track record, he’s in danger of becoming the new Steve Guttenberg.

* It will be the fifth film in the Fast and Furious series, but Diesel sat out the second and third instalments.

submit to reddit