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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.


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