Falling Skies: Stalag 14th Virginia (recap and review)

Tom Mason in the brig Falling Skies
Falling Skies last week introduced a figure from Weaver’s past, who seemed to be suffering from Caine Mutiny complex. Captain Marshall (Melora Hardin) may not have had a set of ball bearings to click and clack in one hand a’la Humphrey Bogart, but she did have an unhealed wound on her neck, complete with leaky bandage, that she could not stop fiddling with. After welcoming her old paramour Weaver to the 14th Virginia things went quickly south as her fixation on Tom Mason resulted in the whole Mason clan, sans Ben, being put in the brig.

This week, sees Weaver finally getting suspicious enough of his old flame to follow her off the base and into the woods. He learns that Marshall is not heading out for a teddy bear’s picnic but to receive orders from an Espheni Overlord. After an attack six weeks previously Marshall has been under the control of the alien and arresting humans for colluding with the Espheni and executing them.

By the end of this week’s episode, Noah Wyle has the chance to once again show off his chops in grand fashion as the articulate and heroic Tom Mason. We also get quick glimpse into what John Pope has been up to, continuing his Colonel Kurtz impression, and having his camp set up in the manner of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome “Two men enter, one man leaves.”

That Pope has gone this direction is not really surprising. Certainly not as surprising as his appearance toward the end of this episode and his lolling on a sort of throne, with torches around it. It was also not beyond the realms of possibility that he was putting on some sort of gladiatorial display for the troops. What was shocking, however, was the tossing of the pistol to the “loser” of the match who then shoots the victor.

Clearly, John has not been thinking too many happy thoughts since Tom was plucked out of their gunfight by a giant hornet. When the member of Marshall’s 14th Virginia stumbles into John’s camp we have no doubt that, despite Pope’s apparent delight that Mason is still alive, this treacherous soldier who relayed the news will be next in the “Popedome.”

Back to the odd acting Captain Marshall, it has to be said that this episode was not nearly as frustrating as last week’s. Weaver has, at long last, recognized that his old pal is not herself. Although it does take the colonel following Katie out to the woods and killing the Overlord that she has been taking orders from to prompt any real action from the man.

As the title of the show indicates, the episode was all about escape, who one could trust and who the enemy really was. Sgt. Kagel turns out to be, as Maggie says, a diseased pig who is shot just as he takes aim at Tom Mason. Anne, gets turned in by the guy whose life she saves and Lt. Wolf gets shot and then set up to be executed. Lt. Shelton, who turns out to not be a douche puppet for Marshall after all, dies.

Keeping to the what appears to be a nod and wink to The Caine Mutiny Shelton has been convinced by Mason that what Marshall is doing is wrong. The lieutenant finally realizes that his captain has lost the plot and he attempts to take charge of the 14th Virginia and as he moves toward his commanding officer, the diseased pig shoots Shelton in the back and kills him.

While there was an almost satisfactory ending to this two-parter, it was still a frustrating interlude where no one, it seems, was smart enough to put two and two together. This pause from the march to D.C. did accomplish two things though. John Pope is now back in the storyline and Ben gets a vision from the Espheni communication device.

Spike-implanted Ben shoves his hand into the glowing transmitter and has a vision. He sees a plethora of Espheni Overlords in poses of supplication, apparently humbling themselves before a higher entity. Somewhat annoyingly, Ben is pulled from the device before he can see what the Overlords are looking at/worshiping.

Weaver says accusingly to the Volm “Higher than an Overlord? Cochise is there something you haven’t told us?” Cochise replies with a little stammer, Uh, I never thought it possible.”

Stalag 14th Virginia was a real mixed bag of plot and storyline. The Mason’s narrowly avoid being exterminated by an Espheni bio-creation (Marshall was not human although she apparently had the real Katie’s memories.) Maggie has to tell Hal twice why she had her spikes removed, John Pope has clearly managed to go even more mad and Tom has not only picked up a lot of reinforcements but he has also, unknown to him, picked up Pope again.

Falling Skies fell back upon the old, “we fear what we do not know” premise and it worked very well. The fear of Marshall’s troops of the unknown allowed her to kill innocent civilians with impunity and to keep her soldiers from attacking the Espheni. This is splendid television and excellent science fiction.

This TNT series, in its last season, has a brilliant cast and features a number of positive female roles. Falling Skies airs Sundays on TNT and is almost compulsive viewing, despite the show killing off Mira Sorvino‘s character, Sarah.

Falling Skies: Hatchlings (recap and review)

Pope and Sara in Falling Skies
Falling Skies season five is amazingly easy to get into even without having seen the series from the beginning. Hatchlings takes 2nd Mass another step closer to shutting down the skitters and getting other militia groups organized. At the end of last week’s episode, the militia followed the bio-hornet to a valley where skitters and hornets were feeding en masse. This week, they have taken the drone, which flew successfully last week, to kill off the horde of bioweapons.

The creatures are dining on Croomia and the plan is for the drone to “crop dust” the valley with home-made white phosphorus. The stuff works beautifully and the creatures all drop dead. The news of their success is shared with other militia groups. Tom is upset to learn that the other resistant groups are being called Mason’s militia.

Maggie explains to Caitlyn that they cannot help her brother. As she and the girl talk, the creature communicates with Maggie via the spikes and she says “Catie.” Caitlyn has always believed that her brother is still in the skitter hybrid he has become and this proves it. Brian tells his big sister, through Maggie, that he is afraid he will hurt her.

Tom Mason and Weaver follow a trail of newly arriving skitters and it looks like they are being manufactured on a massive scale. Mason suspects that the creatures were made by another Overlord. The things are beginning to overrun everything and Tom is frustrated. He learns that there is not enough fertilizer left to make any more W.P. and that the skitters are being generated quicker than they can kill them.

Brian escapes with Caitlyn, he extends a claw and knocks out Anthony who was acting as a guard, and Maggie goes to save the girl. Mason sends Hal to go with her. As Anthony is being treated, he reveals that he has real issues with the skitter hybrid whom he calls a “G**dam Espheni.” Weaver says they need to follow the flow of skitters to see where they are being made.

Pope and Sara go to check the source by following the stream and Tom discovers that the creature in his dreams, or visions, is an extinct species called the Dorniya. Mason knows that the aliens are not extinct at all, he has seen them. Maggie and Hal find Brian and Caitlyn along with an Overlord. The mutant is being scolded and has been told to kill his sister.

Maggie is “taken over” by the Overlord via the spikes and approaches the trio in the woods. The Overlord orders Brian to kill Maggie and Hal. Caitlyn jumps in front of the couple and the “skitterling” shoots his sister instead. The Overlord is stabbed by Hall and Brian, upset that he hurt Catie, shoots himself. The girl dies and Maggie tells Hal that the two should be buried together. The Overlord is taken back for questioning.

Sara and Pope share backstories while looking for the “skitter river” and they learn a bit more about one another and their previous life. Pope was a father and Sara was not allowed to adopt because of her then drug habit. Pope tells her that after the war she could still have kids the old fashioned way and that she would make beautiful babies.

Matt is by Evelyn’s bed when she wakes up and the two talk. The Overlord is brought into camp and Mason uses Ben to question the creature who tells him that no amount of pain will make it talk. The Overlord says that Ben will not be able to withstand the torture as well as it can.

Pope and Sara are still heading to the “river” when she spots an “artichoke” bomb. Pope tells her it is okay as they were all “burnt to a crisp.” Jumping off the log in front of the thing, she lands in a patch of “Espheni fog crap.” Pope tells her the stuff is like cement but he tries to pull her out. Sara is stuck firmly and she says the fog is like “superglue.” Pope says they need fire to burn her out. She talks him into going to get a flamethrower and he promises her that she will not “die out here.”

Ben goes to find Maggie and asks her to join her spikes, he gave her some of his, as he believes that they can force information from the Overlord while in his brain. Hal is right and they learn that the Overlord is making the new bioweapons and where they are being manufactured. Once they learn where the skitters are being made the militia start out to bomb the facility. Tom wants the Overlord left alive so they can learn more.

Pope runs up and tells them about Sara. He says they need to save her first, Tom disagrees and they leave him behind. The group arrive to find a steady stream of skitters and hornets coming out of a building and Tom, Anthony and Hal go around the back to blow it up.

Weaver and the others stay out front and wait for the explosion before opening fire on the remaining creatures. Anthony freezes and it causes a delay. The skitter manufacturing plant is destroyed and the group head off to help Pope save Sara.

Pope gets back to Sara with the flamethrower only to find her covered in some sort of flying insects. She appears to be unconscious and he uses the weapon to kill off the bugs. Once they are cleared, he can see that her legs have been stripped of flesh and when she wakes up, Sara says that she cannot feel her legs. She dies in his arms.

Back at the camp, Anthony relieves the guard that Weaver put on the Overlord. The creature opens up its left hand revealing a red glowing object. Anthony tells the thing to put it down and when the Overlord ignores his order, He shoots it to death. The object melts away after the creature dies. Weaver comes in and takes Anthony’s weapon from him. He is then taken out of the militia as a soldier.

Mason, Hal and the rest arrive to find Pope cradling Sara. He looks at Tom and with his voice full of emotion says, “You’re too late, Mason.” Later, back in the camp, Mason is lost in thought and Weaver has to work to get his attention. Pope is on the other side of the fire and glaring at Tom. The group rest before heading to Washington D.C.

This episode of Falling Skies was an emotional mine field. Sara’s death was as appalling as it was shocking. Pope’s grief was the viewer’s and it is clear to see that John will be taking this up with Mason later. It is sad to see Mira Sorvino go but at least she had a pretty memorable death with Sara being eaten alive by flesh eating insects. The death of Caitlyn and her brother, while disturbing, was pretty much in the cards from the moment the two were discovered by Mason’s group.

Anthony’s distress at being dismissed, after going in to execute the Overlord regardless of the red glowing ball that prompted his action, was also upsetting to a degree. But at the end of the show, it is Pope we feel for and Tom Mason. Weaver and Tom talk about the death of Sara, “Do you think we should have gone to get her first?” Tom asks. Weaver answers, “No. I just remember a time when you would have.” The prolonged battles have damaged everyone as is evidenced by this exchange.

Falling Skies airs Sundays on TNT and continues to be excellent television despite this being the final season of the series. Noah Wyle and company knock it out of the park, don’t miss it.

Falling Skies Final Season: An Impressive Run (review)

Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) in Falling Skies
Watching the final season of Falling Skies, number five to be exact, it is plain to see; the show has had an impressive run and watching the first two episodes of the series at its end, the reason for its success is clear. On top of the Steven Spielberg beginnings the verse populated by Noah Wyle, Will Patton and more lately Mira Sorvino and professional chameleon Doug Jones along with talented guest stars like Terry O’Quinn, has a feel of reality. The dirt looks earthy, clinging and muddy. The guns run out of ammo just as they would in real life and do not have magazines with never-ending rounds in each one.

In Episode 5:1 three teams head out to kill the invaders and in at least one firefight, the one with Tom Mason (Wyle) and his crew, as they shoot their weapons, the rounds run out all too soon, just as they do in reality. Later on, in the high school Skitter-shoot in the gymnasium, the weapons, a combination of man-made and alien, the magazines do not run out quite so quickly, but that is a well known device used by film and television to bolster the effect of the shootout and is forgivable.

Episode 5:2 offered up a scenario where constant Skitter attacks lay Mason, Weaver and the rest of the survivors under siege. Titled Hunger Pains the segment focusses on the lack of food and just how desperate people are to eat. One camp defender tries the Skitter leg that is being roasted in the hopes that the alien flesh is edible.

Cue some excellent FX where it looks like the diner who tries a piece of the limb has his lower jaw and mouth disintegrate in a mass of bloody tissue. After finding some cans of pineapple in the wreckage of a building, that turns out to be local produce, a small team go out to retrieve more in the hopes of saving the starving camp members.

In the same episode there is the splendid irony of the search team finding junk food that may just save the camp from starving. The loading of the food is interrupted by someone who has prior claim on the Ding Dongs, beef jerky and chips that the group have found and the team are locked in and forced to lay down their weapons.

A large door behind the women begins trembling as something big starts banging on it. “That’s my brother” says the girl who got the drop on them, “He doesn’t like it closed too long.” A great moment where the team have to talk their captor into releasing them.

Two episodes and thus far Tom Mason seems to be the “vision master.” Where he gets some sort of warning about upcoming events although he does not always understand their meaning in time to be of real help. He has several visions in season five and he is learning to heed their warnings.

The aliens that the 2nd Mass face in season five are called Skitters, there are other aliens that seem to be working in an alliance with the humans, and they are pretty creepy. Arachnid in nature, with several legs and able to skitter like a spider but with a tall body and no thorax, these things are a brilliant touch. Again, not having watched the show from season one, it is not known if these have been there from the beginning but they make an excellent “big bad.”

On top of that, there are “Skitter-ized” humans which sound a little like a Hulked out Tasmanian-Devil. This was the “brother” behind door number one at the depot. At the end of the show, a “wasp” that stung Mason earlier is put under a makeshift microscope and they discover it is a hybrid with Skitter feet and human eyes. The creature turns out to be alive and it escapes.

Mason and Anne (Moon Bloodgood) follow the “wasp” and find that there are a lot more of them along with some other, bigger winged-creatures; not far from the 2nd Mass camp.

The cast list for Falling Skies has some quality names on it, Will Patton as the hardened and grizzled Captain Weaver and Noah Wyle as Mason head up a sterling group of actors. Mira Sorvino may look different from her Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and The Replacement Killers days but she still has those impressive acting chops.

While it is annoying to stumble onto what looks to be a very entertaining science fiction show during its last season, there are enough avenues to binge back to the beginning and catch up. In the meantime, season five continues to air Sundays on TNT. Fans of Noah Wyle will love it and won’t have to wait for the next season of The Librarians to get their fix.

No Tears for the Dead (2014): South Korean Bloody Redemption

Film poster for No Tears for the Dead
Very few filmmakers can do bloody redemption like South Korean cinema, although the Pang Bros do a cracking job, and the 2014 feature No Tears for the Dead is the perfect example of an almost soap opera style thriller/drama where a hitman tries to make amends for an accidental killing at the very start of the film.

Written and directed by Jeong-beom Lee, it is his third film, and starring The Warrior’s Way Gong-Don Jang, Min-Hee Kim (Hellcats, Helpless) and Brian Tee (Jurassic World, The Wolverine) No Tears for the Dead follows the journey of Gon, an American trained Korean hitman who works for a Triad organization.

At the start of the film, a group of gangsters are in the back room of a casino, or club, and a little Korean girls sits on her own with an origami stork on the table in front of her. She is listening to a singer. Back n the room, a man forces his way in and begins killing everyone with a silenced pistol. As he finishes up there is a noise at the room’s exit. The man fires blindly though the closed door and when he opens it, an origami bird is on the floor and the little girl has been shot through the chest.

Later, the Triad boss he works for tells the hitman, Gon, to kill the child’s mother once they retrieve a file her deceased husband sent her via an email. Gon, (Gong-Don Jang) is overcome with guilt and remorse at his inadvertent murder of an innocent. The gang have to break into his house to find him and once there they discover he has drunk himself into a stupor and Gon has passed out covered in vomit.

Gon is sent to Korea, a country he has not been to since he and his mother left years ago. The hitman’s mother tried to desert him in America and later kills herself. The hitman goes to the country of his birth and as he attempts to recover the file; he breaks into Mo-Kyoeng’s (played by Min-Hee Kim) house, he is surrounded by the essence of little Yumi, the girl he killed earlier. The child’s growth chart, art work from her school and, because Gon has cloned the mother’s cell phone, he sees pictures and videos of the dead girl.

When the Korean mob boss, who works for the Triads, learns that Mo-Kyeong has accessed the file, Gon is ordered to kill the grieving mother. Entering her house, he finds the woman unconscious on her couch having taken several bottles of pills. He fires his gun at the arm of the settee, over her head, and calls 911.

When Mo-Kyeong is in the hospital, a group of assassins, colleagues of Gon, are hired to kill them both. His old friend and mentor Chaoz (Lee) heads up the deadly gang and it becomes a battle of wits, bullets, blood and betrayal as Gon tries to make up for murdering the woman’s daughter by saving her life. My-Yeong must also fight and she almost loses to the killers more than once.

While this could be seen as a sort of “pot boiler” drama set around a hitman, the film is not too dissimilar from the 1998 Chinese film The Replacement Killers with Yun-Fat Chow and Mira Sorvino or even the Pang Bros 2000 film Bangkok Dangerous.

*On a sidenote, the latter film was remade with Nicolas Cage in 2008; avoid this shabby and abysmal film at all costs.*

There are prolonged shootouts with a variety of weapons, some brilliantly choreographed fights between Gon and the bad guys and a fair few good twists and turns to the plot. Add in some great little ironic events and a few touching moments of backstory and No Tears for the Dead becomes a 5 out of 5 star film.

Partially subtitled; with the Chinese gangsters and Gon conversing in English throughout the film, this South Korean film cracks on at a rapid pace and makes the run time of just under two hours feel much shorter. As this is just Jeong-beom Lee’s third film keep an eye on this filmmaker and expect to see much more of his work. Do not miss this one.

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

Directed by David Mirkin this 1997 comedy, like fine wine, gets better with age; or repeated viewings, based on two characters developed in the stage play Ladies Room it is a lightweight delicious romp through two unfocused girls memories of high school and their first ten-year reunion.

Starring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino the films opens with these two best friends in their everyday lives and their discovery of their upcoming ten-year high school reunion. We learn in rapid order that neither of the two girls are what could be termed successful; they are amazingly shallow for the age of 28 and they are not the sharpest tools in the shed. The other thing we learn is that they cannot, either of them, make a decision.

After hysterically trying to “success themselves up” by losing weight, getting boyfriends and landing great jobs, the girls admit defeat and decide to attend the reunion with a list of lies about how rich they are.

We are treated to the girl’s high school memories and how they clung to each other as the “ultimate” misfits of the school. The flashbacks in the film are as funny as the present day events. The film is not side-splittingly funny, but, it is funny. With both Kudrow and Sorvino on top form the film could not help but be funny.

Kudrow, who sharpened her comedic skills and timing on Friends, was no surprise. The woman is a naturally gifted comic actress and this film confirms it. The real surprise to me was Sorvino. I had seen her in Mimic and The Replacement Killers, neither one of which was comedic in nature. I remember watching the film and saying, “Damn! That Mira Sorvina is funny. Who’d have thunk?” Well the casting agent, apparently.

Both the women work extremely well as a double act. It is in essence a female buddy movie.

Danny and Mel?

The stereotypes that they portray from the two girls high school days are funny and pretty much spot-on. The A list group who puts down anyone not in their sphere of specialness; the loners and socially inept (that Romy and Michele were a part of) who hover around in the background of pretty much every high school in the world; plus the other little cliques (the sports crowd, the drama crowd, et al) and the way these groups formed allegiances to pick on the loners.

The reunion itself continues to pile on the stereotypes with the school sport star running to seed and who has become an overweight alcoholic who married the lead cheerleader. The cheerleader leads a promiscuous life with everyone but her husband. The class emo (or goth) has become rich after inventing the “fast” cigarette. The A-list group all have carbon copy lives and aren’t capable of individual thought; except for the one girl who broke away and became a fashionista. The geekiest kid in school has become a multi-millionaire with his own helicopter and a case of unrequited love for the two girls.

Yes the film relies on stereotypes and a certain schmaltzy feel to the comedy elements of the film. But…but…It works; beautifully. In fact the comedic deluge is almost relentless. At no time during the film did I not sit there without at least a smile on my face. The thing I did most was chuckle and laugh. Despite the fact that the film did not garner more than 29 million dollars at the box office; the film has gone on to reach cult status with its fans.

All I can say is, “Bless you Netflix.” I stumbled over this film while trundling through the movies on offer. I am glad I did because being a huge Kudrow fan it was a pleasant surprise and Sorvino’s performance was an even more pleasant surprise. The soundtrack is hip and relevant fitting the scenes like a wry glove.

I wouldn’t give this movie a 5 star rating, but damn it, it’s at least a 4 if not 4 1/2, definitely worth popping up a bowl of popcorn; cracking open a coke and enjoying yourself till the end credits roll.

The geek gets rich and gets the girls.
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