Movies

SAS: Rise of the Black Swan

Or SAS: Red Notice, as it is called elsewhere, is your run of the mill British action thriller with a few strong set pieces and a slightly different take on your typical hero. He’s an antihero in the sense that it’s clear from the opening lines, he’s a psychopath and what differentiates him long before we actually meet him, and it’s made clear, is that he’s capable of love. Our hero, Tom, played by Sam Heughan, is on a train headed from England to France when criminals hijack it. Before that sequence happens, there’s a fair bit of character development given to the antagonist, played by Ruby Rose, of John Wick and Batgirl fame, so she’s no stranger to action. Still, given her role, I did not once find her believable as a psychopathic soldier of fortune. The movie tried to be clever in its opening narration and misguide the viewer into thinking it’s talking about her, but clearly that would be a stretch given the opening sequence.

The action itself was fun, gritty, and several scenes during the train part were a clever utilization of our hero’s skill. There were a couple continuation/errors that were obvious but they were a minor derailment. For example, near the start of the movie, Ruby Rose’s character, Grace, gets grazed by a bullet and she reaches up with a cloth to cover it. Except, she already had the cloth in her hand and was moving her hand towards her face before the bullet hit. That’s the kind of error you’d expect a newcomer to the scene to make. Anyways, guns went pew pew and as far as I know, nice sounding. The sense of tactical movement between the actors told me they were well prepared or trained to mimic professionals.

The supporting cast, like Andy Serkis, was enjoyable. It was nice to see Owain Yeoman again, I remember him fondly from his time on The Mentalist. This wasn’t a movie to win home any awards, but to tell a message. And I think that point was driven home repeatedly, on several occasions. That governments around the world will hire private mercenary groups to do their less than savory jobs and if anything goes sideways, they can merely toss aside the blame.

Overall, I recommend this movie if you’re looking for a fun time and to eat some chips while mindlessly gazing. It was cool to see how both the antagonist and protagonist had changes in their eyes when they switched from being kind of normal to “engage killer mode”.

TV Shows

Behind Her Eyes

This is one of those shows that if they didn’t lie to you off the start, you never would have watched it. By this, I mean that it is withholding a vital piece of information regarding genre. It says on Netflix that it is a mystery, thriller, and drama but it’s missing the most important piece(s). Those are that it is also a supernatural fantasy. Now it if was just a show about a cheater and his involvement with his secretary who happened to also befriend his wife, and kept it realistic, I’d have enjoyed it much more. As it stands, I can’t help but feel cheated. The ending is seen a mile off and you can’t help but think “please don’t have the ending be what I think it is.” Guess what? It’s exactly the nonsense you thought it would be.

Going into it, I knew I was to be worried seeing that the showrunner is one Steve Lightfoot. He made the spectacularly bad and utter misfire The Punisher for Netflix earlier. I just loathe what he did to that character, and given his terrible writing in that, I felt this would suffer the same. And I was right. Behind Her Eyes felt like somebody watched The Skeleton Key (2005) and decided the ending and villains would be better if they were white. Now technically, I haven’t spoiled anything, but if you’ve ever seen that movie then you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. However, this could merely be a coincidence and the book that which the series was based on, could have had what show ended with as its plot. I never read the book, nor knew of it prior to watching this limited series. I’m just saying, it’s a little too uncanny with the similarities. Though in the Skeleton Key, they use hoodoo magic as the basis and here it’s astral projection.

Spoilers Ahead

Now if we do a deep dive into the ending of the series, and really consider what it means, there’s a lot to unpack here. An oversimplification of events would be that a gay man fell in love with a straight man, but knew that the straight guy would never go for him, so he changed his sex to a female to get with him. If we wanna get technical, it’s rape by deception. Sure, you’re having sex with your wife but inside your wife’s body, there’s a man’s spirit. But then your white husband gets bored of you or scared of you, and falls for a black woman. So now you become the black woman, and resume raping your victim. See what I wrote sounds way worse than what they showed in the series, but it’s what happened. Sounds much more horrible when you actually write it out and think about it. This ending is messed up.

A couple things I wondered were that a) a woman you just recently made acquaintances with, gives you a book that is very clearly someone’s personal journal that should in no way be with her, you just take without question and read it. B) A woman you called psychopathic, sociopathic or god knows what makes essentially a suicide note, and you come running to save her… Literally, all she had to do was not do that and it’d be all happy after. But no, you go to her house, and try and save her by… ASTRAL PROJECTION?! HUH? Honestly, being that dumb, she deserved her fate.

As for the actors themselves, they were pretty good. And pretty good looking, which I mean, they had to be for the erotic thriller aspect of it. Eve Hewson as Adele, the aforementioned psychopath, did really good as a person struggling with mental health issues and Tom Bateman as Dr. David Ferguson did really well at making you feel like he had something sinister going on. Simona Brown as Louise did great as the single mother looking for a connection, and did an excellent job at making me dislike her as a character. Robert Aramayo as Rob was entertaining to say the least, and very insidious. The direction was good, by Erik Richter Strand, but the writing felt off at times. The interactions between Adele and her husband, David, didn’t feel real. It never felt like this is how two people would ever communicate with one another. Like the writing has that specific feel that it was written for this scene and this camerawork. It wasn’t organic or natural. That’s right, Steve Lightfoot once again proving he has no business in TV shows yet somebody keeps giving him money.

Overall, just stay away from this show. It’s not worth the stream, nor is it worth having Netflix look at the viewing numbers and go “Wow, we should give more money to Steve Lightfoot! He sure knows what he’s doing. Boy, what a great showrunner and writer.” Please no, I don’t wanna see another show with his name on it because next time, I’m just gonna skip it. Like you should skip this show.

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.

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

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings
Starring: Jim Cummings as John Marshall, Riki Lindhome as Officer Julia Robinson, Robert Forster as Sheriff Hadley, Chloe East as Jenna Marshall, with Jimmy Tatro as PJ Palfrey, and others.

An idiosyncratic black comedy that toes the line between horror and thriller that delivers a tale that is quite good. When murders start occurring in the small town of Snow Hollow, Utah, local police are stumped as to the identity of the killer. Local reports suggest a canine, or wolf, is responsible, with rumors circulating that is the work of the Wolfman. Local deputy, and son of the Sheriff, John Marshall is adamant it is nothing less than the work of a man. What follows is a poignant story of an alcoholic who tries to care for his teenage daughter, while circumnavigating the stress of his job as a police officer, and the mockery that comes with it. Mockery in no small part due to the inadequacy of the police in apprehending the killer.

The cinematography of the sleepy town is beautiful, with snow capped mountains and desolate, sparse trees. What little forest there is, is often used to great effect to help invoke feelings of paranoia and fear. It is at once haunting as there is also humour to be found in many situations. Like poking fun at a cop’s tendency to shoot when startled, or even mild corruption when it comes to a father’s dealings with his daughter’s boyfriend. It wrestles with the notion that women have been having to deal with men trying to kill them since the middle ages, and the fear that comes with that.

It was marvelously acted by Jim Cummings as the alcoholic father and deputy, and his mannerisms and quirks kept me enthralled throughout. I wish to see more his work throughout the upcoming years. The supporting cast also did a great job in their roles, from the grieving boyfriend of a murdered woman to the partner (Julia) of the deputy, John. Robert Forster did great, in his final role, as the aging Sheriff dealing with health concerns in his old age while trying to keep at his job.

Overall, it was an entertaining ride with a satisfying conclusion. I recommend it for a watch, and I hope writer/actor/director Jim Cummings keeps his projects coming.