Movies

We can be Heroes

Robert Rodriguez is back with another story set within the universe he created with Sharkboy and Lavagirl, and it is definitely not a movie for adults or teens. It is made for children and it shows. I, myself, was bored to tears but I could see how a child would thoroughly enjoy the spectacle. The only high quality that was to be found here was the casting of Priyanka Chopra and Pedro Pascal, both of whom helped elevate what little there was to feel like something more than a Saturday morning cartoon. A lot of the movie was referencing the Avengers, down to the giant ‘H’ on the hero’s headquarters’ building instead of a giant ‘A’ and the fact that alien invaders came to destroy earth. Even the disharmony amongst the adult heroes was reminiscent of the recent marvel movies.

The good part was the moral message repeated throughout, that only by teamwork and working together with the people alongside you can you succeed. Also that by believing in yourself and others believing in you, can you succeed in whatever you excel at. The ending was particularly nice and an enjoyable twist on an otherwise formulaic story. The powers of the parents and of the children was zany to say the least, and a couple of them had some original powers but for the most part, the powers are what viewers have been conditioned to enjoy by various comic book industries. The acting itself was good overall, the children were fine in their respective roles with the exception of the child that played the character known as facemaker. He was lacking but I imagine it was more to do with the simplicity of the script and the writing.

Overall, it’s a great movie for kids to watch and enjoy with their parents though they might not be as entertained as their children would be. The special effects were nothing good or particularly flashy, but served enough to establish the events that unfolded. As an adult, I’ll be honest, Priyanka Chopra was all that kept me going in watching. She’s undeniably beautiful and was a treat to watch.

Movies

Outside the Wire

Major spoilers ahead

This is one of those movies immediately off the bat you can tell it’s gonna be a propaganda puff piece for the US military. And off the bat, a movie about how the Balkans are a volatile mix of nations that breed violence. To that end, it starts the movie off about how war has broken loose in the Ukraine and that a violent warlord controls an army intend on establishing new relations with Russia and that the US is sent in as peacekeepers. The irony of that word is incredibly rich, “peacekeepers” as if bombing nations and homes, families and friends, is a way to keep peace. The movie starts off with our lead character, Lieutenant Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a drone pilot that disobeys chain of command to bomb a vehicle involved in a firefight with US soldiers that results in the loss of life for two men. He is disciplined for his actions and sent to the frontline to see the results of his work first-hand. There he is paired up with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) to complete a mission past the demilitarized zone, starting with delivering vaccines in exchange for intel. Their real mission is stop former Russian nukes from falling into the hands of the warlord and his men.

This movie takes place in 2036, and with it being science fiction, the US military also employs the use of robots called gumps to help establish order. Our dear Captain Leo is shown to be an android himself on a top secret mission. The ending of the movie happens so abruptly and it completely throws every message the movie was trying to portray and be critical of, into the trash. There were some good topics discussed and some real attempts at trying to be outside the box, however despite its namesake, Outside the Wire fails to do that. The message it was trying to state is that all lives matter, and that we should have compassion for humanity and those trying to survive even if they might be our enemy. It says that the US is stuck in a never-ending cycle of war that it itself perpetuates and that the only way to stop the cycle is to show there are real consequences to the actions of the military.

Here follow major spoilers

To that end of the above, the android known as Captain Leo wishes to use the nukes and bomb the mainland US to show the military that creating a fully autonomous AI and android only continues the cycle of war. When you create machines to fight machines, there is no humanity left in it. This is where I say in regards to the ending, that those involved with this movie, the director and producers, they took the cowardly way out. The movie should have ended with the nukes launched and on their way to the US mainland. Harp would have been arrested for insubordination again, and before the military realized he was doing so for the right reason, that it would be too late. Instead, he miraculously shows up to the command center for the nukes in time despite having a severe time disadvantage and despite being choked out by Captain Leo, manages to stop him, and destroy the nukes. Then he drives back to the base and starts walking back when the credits roll.

Some additional problems with the story are that drone operators are shown to be cold, and heartless at what they do. So when Harp sees first-hand the devastation that is wrought by the bombs dropped by drones, he is heartbroken at such chaos. Yet, what saves the day, is a drone dropping another bomb. Talk about a conflicting message. There is a scene near the middle where Harp is being interrogated by a resistance leader, and she reveals that she knows what Captain Leo is up to and that the US military deserves to know that their lives can be collateral as well. That their bombs injure far more than the target they aim for. Yet, again, the ending dismisses that notion and firmly shows that all that matters are US lives, that American lives are worth more than other life. Like I said at the start, this is a puff piece for American propaganda.

Spoilers done

As for the acting itself, it was okay. Anthony Mackie shows that he still can’t be taken seriously as an action star, that he lacks charisma and that intimidation factor. I used to think that it was the script, due to his previous works, but I can see I was mistaken. It’s him, he does not have that spark. Damson Idris was alright at being an idealist soldier, a drone pilot that knows little at how an actual battlefield is like compared to his cushy life behind a screen. The supporting cast were mere caricatures of a Colonel or a Sergeant, of a resistance leader, an arms dealer, and a warlord. The action itself was very well done and were the only interesting parts that kept the story moving forwards. It’s clear that John Wick has had quite the effect on action movies and their stunt work with combat.

I’m on the fence with this movie. On the one hand, the science fiction part of it is a bit intriguing and the action itself is very good and satisfying. On the other hand, it’s quite clearly nothing more than your usual Netflix American propaganda. I can’t recommend it but if you got nothing better to do, and want to see some action, leave your brain at the door and enjoy the ride. You’ll not remember it in a few days.

TV Shows

The King: Eternal Monarch

If evil men didn’t try to corrupt the world for their own selfish greed, then all the world would turn out to be a beautiful place of love, happiness and joy. Everyone has their own fate, their own destiny, and sometimes you haven’t yet reached the destination. This South Korean melodrama of fantasy, science fiction, romance and thriller is a wonderous tale of the aforementioned above. It starts with a humble beginning that spreads to become so much more, so much weaving of the tapestry of life, of people bound in ways they do not yet know and we, the audience, are along for the discovery and journey.

Mild Spoilers ahead

Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) is the modern day King of the Kingdom of Corea who in his youth was injured by his half-uncle, Lee Lim (Lee Jung-jin), when the former assassinated his father and attempted to usurp the throne. Lee Lim wanted a magical flute for himself that was said to hold mystical powers that allowed one to travel between worlds. One day the King discovers two obelisks that allow travel to another reality, a parallel world. There he meets the woman he was destined to be with, and what unfolds is an epic romantic story. But, it’s not without its darker undertones, as Lee Lim, who survived the night of the assassination and has been in hiding in the parallel world, strives to take back what he believes should have rightfully been his – the magical flute. It was cut in two that fateful night, and the two halves are what allow both Lee Lim and Lee Gon to travel to a parallel world.

With each episode 70 minutes in length, as viewers, we are treated to a fully expanded world. Completely fleshed out characters that feel alive, and not caricatures of heroes or villains. Lee Lim, the evil half-uncle, is a greedy man who wishes to control time and space and be a ruler of all. While Lee Gon wishes to find his love and be with her forever as time will allow. He is just, fair, and has mercy for those that cross his path but for his enemies, he is ruthless and merciless as a King should be. There is no second chance for traitors, only a swift punishment. Detective Jung Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun) is Lee Gon’s destiny, and she is feisty and fierce, and brave when she has to be. She is kind, and beautiful, and Kim Go-eun’s performance deserves praise. I wept with her, and for her character, and I wished she’d succeed in her destiny; in both hers and Lee Gon’s fate, and I can happily say this story has a happy ending despite being fraught with danger, twists and turns.

The other characters in this story are equally human and flawed, and so full of life. The writer, Kim Eun-sook, did a great job with this series in creating these characters and their life’s events. The direction and editing did have some problems in that some scenes didn’t make sense or purpose despite the explanations towards the latter half of the show. But overall, it worked well. The music was fantastic and I’ve noticed in Korean shows that they often repeat the same songs in each episode during key moments. At first, it was a little odd but then it grew on you and touched your heart when you heard the music swell because then you’d be expecting what’s to come. The actors were all very convincing in each of their characters, some playing two due to doppelgangers with it being two parallel worlds, and nobody felt like a weak link. There was only the characters and not the men or women underneath.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire season of 16 episodes. I wholeheartedly recommend watching it if you’re in the mood for a sweeping tale of romance and fantasy. I hope you too will fall in love with the story of Lee Gon and Jung Tae-eul, and come out on the end feeling satisfied for experiencing this endearing and beautiful journey.

Games

Shadow Hunter: Lost World – Epic Hack and Slash (Early Access)

Sometimes I come across mobile games that seem to have potential, and I get drawn in for a solid play session. This title is one such game wherein I spent 2hrs and 30 mins of my time and made it fairly far in before the developer (Enigma Software JSC) decided to put in a figurative brick wall thus stopping all progress and enjoyment of the game. Unfortunately, this is common practice in a lot of games because it incentivizes the player to spend real money in hopes of overcoming the burden or obstacle. Luckily, I’m no fool and refuse to fall to this trap.

As for the game itself, you control a lone warrior for reasons unknown as you make your way through dark, ruined dungeons and gloomy forests to a goal not stated. Simply put, you must defeat all the enemies and occasionally beat bosses. The stage is 2D, and you have your main attack which can be charged up to deal additional damage as well as stagger your foes. You have a dash maneuver to evade attacks, a jump function and three abilities to use that differ in their effects – one slashes downwards with great power, another lifts your enemies to the sky and a third acts as a counter. Each ability can gain an alternative function known as a charm should you gain high enough a level. Your character can be equipped with your standard RPG gear ranging from sword, helm, chest, arms, feet, ring and amulet. You can further augment your power with masteries that give various bonuses such as increased move speed or damage to bosses, and various others. You can upgrade these masteries and your equipment as well to further yourself even more. Equipment also ranges from the standard rarities of common, uncommon, magic, epic, and legendary.

In addition to a campaign, you have another area which you may do combat in to raise your passive income of gold or dust (used to upgrade your equipment). There is also an arena to fight for additional loot to gain more powerful equipment. Like every other mobile game, there is also a premium currency that can be bought with real money or acquired scarcely through achievements and watching ads. This premium currency is used to play roulette and gain 10 random pieces of equipment of various rarities at different odds for said rarities with legendary having only 0.6% chance to get. As you can imagine, this again pushes the player to spend real money in hopes of getting good gear.

The brick wall that I mentioned occurs in the campaign during chapter 2 (of 3) at the last stage, node 20. The boss here has double the power requirements of the previous stage (each stage has a recommended power for the player to be at in order to beat it successfully). With all my gear max level and of the epic variety except for two, due to the bonuses having matching equipment, I only come to roughly 6.5K power level and the boss asks for 11.5K power level, approximately. The boss kills you in 3 hits no matter what you do or try. This effectively puts a complete stop to the player’s efforts and feels cheap, and unfair. Up until this point, the player had to effectively utilize their skills and abilities to get past everything. However, with the way the developers made the boss, on this level skill goes out the window and the player is left feeling frustrated. There is simply no way to gain enough power by merely playing the game, you have to leave yourself to that 0.6% chance rate to get the gear that can allow you to pass it. And as stated beforehand, that requires you to spend real money. Which is understandable since games cost money to make but with the odds given at getting legendary gear, a player would have to spend an obscene amount – easily 100 or more dollars. And with that cost, a proper PC or console game is time and money better spent.

In closing, if you’re looking for a fun three hour diversion on the Google Play store then you’ll have fun with this game provided you are skilled enough to enjoy such gameplay. It is basically a 2D dark souls clone with even the same message in the same red lettering displayed when you die. Otherwise, give this game a hard pass.

TV Shows

Vagabond (2019 TV Series)

Vagabond is a South Korean spy, crime, thriller, romance and action tv series starring Lee Seung-gi, Bae Suzy, with Shin Sung-rok and many others. The initial premise is when an airplane bound for Morocco goes down in mysterious circumstances, stuntman Cha Dal-gun (played by Lee Seung-gi) fights to unravel the truth surrounding the plane crash. He is forced to partner with a covert agent from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Go Hae-ri (played by Bae Suzy), and together they struggle against forces beyond their reckoning – corruption to the highest level.

Mild Spoilers to follow

What I really enjoyed was that the show goes full circle in its execution. It starts off with a scene in the desert, and then jumps to the story at hand. As you watch the entirety of it, you keep wondering the significance of that desert scene. And near the end of the final episode, that scene plays again and you realize the entire story was a showcase as to how the main character ended up there. The other strong points were the twists that occurred, and how it managed to build up its villains. The person who you think is the main bad guy is actually merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things, then when it moves up to the next level at play, even those individuals are merely pawns of something larger.

Every episode was nail-bitingly good, and kept you at the edge of your seat because you so strongly root for Cha Dal-gun and you want him to succeed. So each time he gets set back, you feel a little bit of angst because there’s a very real possibility he might not get what he desires. The bad guys are very good at what they do, at corrupting people or setting them up to be used as unwitting or witting pawns. It was like watching a game of chess with an amateur against a grandmaster but the grandmaster loses because the amateur acts in way you don’t expect him to because it’s dumb. And it’s that dumb move which gets him the victory yet the grandmaster knew it and saw it coming, but didn’t react because they didn’t expect their opponent to have the gall to do it. The grandmaster is not without fault either, they made a small and but critical error that allowed their opponent to seize victory – they underestimated them.

The chemistry between the leads is entertaining and you root for them to have a future together. You smile at their antics and your heart grows fondly at them getting closer. Everyone did a great job, and I didn’t feel that any actor or actress was a weak link. They were all believable and at times ruthless in their character’s manners or appearance. You truly disliked the villains and that is the best kind of acting. You don’t see the person underneath, only the character they are portraying.

The faults I had with it were that the gun fights were underwhelming and lacking. Often times, they were quite unbelievable because with the sheer amount of firepower offered, the good guys should all be dead. Too much missing a shot, or cars that can withstand hundreds of bullets and still be fully drivable without any problems. A lot of scenes of guns fired indoors and nobody batting an eye at the sound. What was good to see was a proper sniper sequence with them sighting the shot/adjusting it before firing and actually not aiming directly at the target but slightly off to the side. The hand to hand combat was excellent and never did I feel that the characters were superhuman when they fought. They took appropriate damage and acted as one should following an injury. The driving was very well done and never had a case of “how did that lower powered car somehow catch up?”

Overall, I thoroughly loved the show. I enjoyed the story and its depiction of real events regarding corruption and power, on how the world operates. I loved the chemistry between the leads and I’d recommend watching the show even despite the open ending. Perhaps Netflix will be kind enough to allow a second season despite it not yet being confirmed as renewed.