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.

Movies

Boss Level

Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring: Mel Gibson, Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts, Will Sasso, and Ken Jeong, with Michelle Yeoh.

A movie in the vein of groundhog day, and Edge of Tomorrow, co-written by Joe Carnahan, that just absolutely kicks ass. I very much enjoyed this movie and had a blast watching it. The idea of repeating a day over and over until succeeding in whatever mission a hero has is not new, but in the way it goes about it is quite touching. Yes, there’s action and plenty of it. But there’s also soul to be found in it. And like Edge of Tomorrow, it follows an almost video game format. Where our hero gets better and learns new skills each time he dies.

Frank Grillo plays our hero named Roy, a special forces ex-operative who spends his days drinking and hooking up while pining for his ex-wife with whom he has a young son. Due to his career, his son is unknowing that Roy is his father. One day, he visits his ex-wife at her top secret research facility and then our movie unfolds. Smartly our story does not start there, but in the thick of things with our hero on a random number of resets and then shows us how he got to that point.

The action is well done, and easily followed. There is comedy to be found in his attempts to save the day. Frank Grillo is, in my eyes, a full blown action hero. Even got the muscles to boot. Naomi Watts plays the ex-wife who wishes her ex-husband was the man she once knew with a soft touch and we can feel her laments. Mel Gibson as the bad guy in all this, a former Colonel, does well to establish why we don’t want him to succeed. The rest of the supporting cast help breath that brevity that Roy has in his moments between escaping the clutches of death. And there is a touching story within it all of a father trying to reconnect with his son.

The soundtrack is amazing and helps with the aesthetic of it being a video game. Overall, I highly recommend watching this movie. You’ll not regret it.

TV Shows

The Purge Season One

After a series of movies about the so called Purge, where all law is suspended for 12 hours and everything is legal including murder, comes a television show about the said events. I was hoping for a real in-depth exploration as to what such an event would mean, and the impact it would have on the lives of people after such an event took place. Unfortunately, season one is merely yet another torture porn scenario where the politics are glazed over in favor of showcasing brutal violence. There is quite a bit of societal comparison to current events and political climate, and some allegory to be had, but not nearly as much as there should have been.

Season one focuses on an interconnected story of several individuals that culminates in an explosive finale with all parties involved, but the steady rise to get there is not worth the journey of all involved. Only one of the stories was truly interesting, while the rest merely served as allegory on current events. We have a couple, Jenna and Rick, that make a deal with the devil, a founding father/billionaire to invest in their company so that they can help change the world. We have a finance manager, Jane, and her struggles to make it in the world as a professional, black, business woman. We have Joe, an iron worker who feels misplaced and angered at the treatment of his kind in the world, and his solution to it all when Purge night comes. And finally, the best and most captivating story, a brother, Miguel, trying to save his sister, Penelope, from a cult and the entire night of the Purge.

The main story, and that which you root for most, is that of the brother trying to save the sister. It also brings the most emotional impact. The couple serves to narrate how billionaires run the world and their funding is what keeps events such as the Purge going. Similarly to real world events, and how politicians are kept funded by similar entities. Jane speaks volumes as to how all professional women have to bide their tongues and wag their tails, so to speak, while being passed on for promotion and ridiculed by small time jokes about their “ass”. To put it more eloquently, they have to bide their tongues while being the brunt of sexism and gender jokes, bide their tongues while men make small racist jokes, and have to apologize when they don’t feel interested in a man as if it’s somehow their fault and not the man who should simply learn to move on. Joe is the antagonist of the story and the reason why everyone connects in the end. He is angered at being replaced by foreign workers, and by machines. He is angry for being played by legal loopholes that screw over the common man while ensuring those above continue to line their pockets.

Besides these characters, we have minor characters that help develop such a world. Such as Pete the cop, who runs a bar during Purge night to help ensure there’s a safe haven for all. We have the Matron Saints, a collective of trained women that go around saving and protecting other women found in dangerous situations. We have the Stanton family, the aforementioned people that are the deal with the devil, and their socialite lifestyle. We have Lila Stanton who provides an intimate experience with the couple and helped rekindle their marriage. We have Rex the collector, so called because he collects people on Purge night to be given over to a sadistic carnival that allows for bidding of humans to be massacred. And we have Henry, the ex-boyfriend of Penelope and hardcore drug user that provided the reasoning as to why Penelope joined a cult – run by a social worker by the name of Tavis.

It was well acted by all, and I particularly enjoyed Lee Tergesen as Joe. He had quite the charisma as to what basically amounted to as an incel. The camerawork was well done and helped capture an uneasy attitude with crooked angles and rotating the picture to appear upside down. Overall, I recommend it if you’re a fan of the Purge series. And if you’re not, and torture porn/brutal violence is not your thing, give it a pass. You’re not missing anything.

Movies

White House Down

“If you feed a man, you take away his propensity for violence.” This is what immediately sets this movie apart from all other Presidential movies, because the president is a legitimate good guy who wishes to improve the state of poverty within the United States. Secondly, it’s established that the war in the middle East is a massive waste of money that could have been spent bettering the people of that area. And that they’ve established peace talks with Iran in addition to removing all troops. This is within 10 mins of the movie starting. Could you imagine how much better the world would be?

The best part is the news stations talking about how American companies who do business with the military wouldn’t like that one bit. A nice bit of foreshadowing. “All they wanna do is keep the cycle of war going” and “these corporations have been in bed with radical regimes for years.” And another goodie, “those bases are just for show, we could launch a drone off any carrier in the gulf and hit any target we want.” Another gem “The military industrial complex. Those are the manufacturers of the weapons. They think the own the system and they will do anything to keep that power. They profit off your sacrifice.”

With those political leanings out of the way, the movie gets into the nitty gritty with a bomb set off inside the White House and soon armed men take over. What follows is quite enjoyable action scenes with rewarding fights that see our hero, John Cale, played by Channing Tatum, kick ass and taking names. Baddies just fall to his guns, and he essentially is John McLane (even the name is similar). It’s basically Die Hard but inside the White House. And going with that comparison, the jokes are similar and the tone is as well. Jamie Foxx plays the president and he did a good enough job. I mean there’s no standard for it given the current president in the US is far below standards, so if anything, this is quite a great job by Jamie Foxx.

James Woods does a fantastic job of a bitter head of secret service because his son, a marine, was killed during a black ops mission orchestrated by Mr Foxx’s character. He tends to chew the scenery around him, and makes the mercenary head bad guy pale in comparison (played by Jason Clarke). I enjoyed this movie because the bad guys weren’t international but good ole homegrown Americans that wish to keep the status quo going. It feels reminiscent of the times. The director, Roland Emmerich, did a great job at navigating his story. Several scenes are done with his signature style of CGI and explosives, and he even gets his own movie mentioned, Independence Day.

Overall, I recommend this movie if you’re in the mood for some light hearted comedy and action. If you enjoy Die Hard, then you’ll enjoy this as well.

Movies

Safe (2012)

Jason Statham plays a cage fighter who after bungling a fight where he was supposed to lose, now finds himself a homeless tramp after the Russian mafia bet on him and lost, and took revenge against him. They killed his pregnant wife and told him they’d kill anyone he ever befriended. After returning to New York, it’s revealed he was a cop who turned in his fellow corrupt officers yet that went nowhere except he got ostracized. About to commit suicide, he witnesses a young chinese girl being pursued by the same Russians that killed his wife, and he intervenes.

What follows is very satisfying action against criminals and corrupt cops. As his character says, “I don’t collect garbage. I dispose of it.” And how very nice of him to help the New York police clean house. The girl that he helps is a young chinese girl with perfect memory that the Chinese mafia uses to replace computers and has memorized a long number which is of much importance to all corrupt individuals and criminals alike. It turns out to be a combination for a safe.

Jason Statham’s character, Luke Wright, is revealed to be more than just a cop but a special favor called in. A killer for the police who helped the mayor of New York clean out criminals. That was his past. It’s great to watch a character with nothing left to lose. The action is visceral, and hard hitting. And did I mention satisfying? I did, didn’t I? Because it is so much so. I will never advocate for violence against anyone but it is so satisfying on a fantasy level, and if you’re a corrupt individual or a criminal, well, you get what’s coming to you. If only the real world was as such, watching videos on reddit of corrupt cops and nothing being done aggravates many. It’s movies like this that allow the population some form of cathartic release. I spoke of this on another movie, Death Wish, and that reasoning is why so many of these movies are popular. Because the common people know that these individuals will not get any comeuppance, such as Tennessee trooper Harvey Briggs. The viral video with the officer in question shows clear signs of a power tripping individual, and as of yet, nothing has happened. Man has not been disciplined. If only they had their own Luke Wright. (Update: As of August 14th, he’s been terminated from his job. Too bad charges have yet to be laid.)

As for the acting itself, Statham delivers. Amidst the violence and grit, he shows off heart. Every single one of his blows packs a rewarding sound of impact, and that power fantasy of revenge gets fulfilled. The villains are honestly a little flat for me, merely simply caricatures of bad guys. However the police captain, played by Robert John Burke, he’s the only one I felt that could be terrifying because of the current political climate regarding cops. Knowing such an individual is overseeing an entire precinct is a bit scary, yet relevant, and probably not too far off from the truth. The head of the Chinese mafia played by James Hong was done well, if again, not as scary as the police captain. Reasoning is you know he’d kill you, whereas you place trust in the police and to have that overturned can be a nightmare.

Ultimately, it’s a fun movie to watch. And the ending is pleasant, our hero lives and the girl has a happy ending. It’s not one of Statham’s better movies, but it is pretty darn good if you fancy watching his movies. And I love watching them, so I might be biased for em.