Netflix’s new Death Note widely panned, but it’s actually pretty good

netflix-death-note

A new adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba‘s Death Note is now available on Netflix. It’s a relatively short version of the much longer manga which attempts to summarize the story into an hour and forty minute live-action film.

If you’re not familiar with the story, the idea is that a Death God (or Shinigami in Japanese) grants a Death Note to a high school student who then uses it to exact his own brand of justice by killing criminals. The note is a book that kills anyone whose name is written in it.

The theme that follows discusses the nature of good and evil, as it pits Light (the boy with the note) against L, a young detective tasked with catching him (pictured above).

The film is getting a lot of flack, and much of it is inspired by the disdain people have for replacing the main character with a white guy. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all. Go ahead, call me a racist. The fact of the matter is that this version is a new version, set in America, for American audiences and most high school males in America are white.

The director also chose to recast L as a black teen, and in this he couldn’t have made a better choice. Lakeith Stanfield (of recent Get Out fame, he was the guy in the opening scene who gets captured, and later screams the films title at the protagonist) as L does an amazing job, capturing the quirkiness of L and adding his own twist as the plot of the film changes to demonstrate what happens when L loses his cool.

Both boys do an excellent job capturing the essence of their characters, and while this version is obviously a retelling with much changed from the original, both characters still retain much of their original personalities. That said, there are clear differences. In the original, both L and Light were way more complex, intelligent, and calculating. As someone who’s watched the original cartoon and Japanese live-action adaptations, it’s obvious that this is a completely new version and the characters are different. Light was a bit darker and much more cunning, in this version a lot of those darker aspects are embodied by his girlfriend, Mia.

I’m okay with that. Naturally you can’t take the complexities and complete personalities from characters who have multiple mangas or 30+ episodes and port them over to a ~1.5 hour film. You can’t keep everything, and a lot must be left on the cutting room floor, that’s the nature of adapting a work across mediums. This is also a retelling in which much of the story is completely different. So please, spare me your cries of “OMFG THEY CHANGED X,Y,Z ::RAGE::”

We also have to acknowledge that there’s a huge chunk of hella sensitive social-justice types who were going to pan the film just because there’s a white guy in Light’s shoes. Guess what kids – that’s racist. I also find it incredibly hypocritical that when you recast a minority as another minority that’s fine, but when you recast one as a white guy the temper tantrum potential on Twitter goes sky high.

“White people are the oppressors! Victimization! Colonialism!”

No, actually psychopaths are the oppressors and they exist across all races. Go read a book. They also use moronic, uniformed and incredibly emotional kids like yourselves in order to co-opt large social movements and turn them into vehicles of more oppression. Prime examples are the Nazi takeover of Germany and the Soviet revolution in Russia, but I digress.

The film itself is well-paced, with excellent performances. The script does have one major plot hole – Ryuk’s name appears in the note in a warning scrawled by a previous keeper. That should have killed Ryuk. Later, Light and Ryuk have a disagreement and Light threatens to scrawl his name in the book, Ryuk tells us that no one has ever gotten more than two letters… obviously a contradiction. Not sure why they didn’t fix that.

Other than that, the rest of the film flows pretty well. The plot is solid and moves along without lagging. The cinematography is excellent with lots of amazing shots. The use of water and rain really plays into the mood of the film and elaborates on the characters feelings. The music is really trippy and gives the film an 80s vibe which has been common since Stranger Things did it. The ending is rather nebulous, which lets us imagine what happens for ourselves and also leaves the possibility for a sequel, which I doubt we’ll see given the current climate.

The major thing viewers seem incapable of doing is seeing this as a stand-alone version of the story. It’s different. It’s compressed, simplified, and it was naturally not going to be the same as the manga, the cartoon, or the Japanese live-action series. If you want a version more true to the original, watch those. This version gives us a glimpse of an Americanized retelling and also cuts down on the amount of time you need to dedicate toward watching it.

I had fun watching it, others will too.

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Independence Day: Resurgence, Good Film, Glaring Screenwriting Errors

Tindependence_day_resurgence_ver14_xlg-1200x558The new Independence Day film was actually a lot of fun, and I enjoyed watching it. However, that doesn’t excuse the glaringly obvious errors in their scripting process which stood out like sore thumbs, and no doubtedly, influence poor reception at the box office.
#IndependenceDayResurgence follows the traditional ID4 universe and is set 20 years later. Mankind is united as never before and reverse engineered alien tech has allowed us to grow and prosper beyond our wildest dreams. Yet, the shadow of the invasion still lingers as the potential for a resurgence of the alien threat looms large. 
 
The film had generally good dialogue. It was witty, entertaining, and it flowed naturally from the characters, which is a big plus. The problem with it was that it retained a bit of that 90s-esque humor which I found a bit dated. This was a big part of why it didn’t resonate with younger audiences.
 
The film was shot well – beautiful cinematography – but I found a lot of the action sequences a bit too obvious. For instance, we all knew their first assault was going to be a dismal failure because we saw the first one. This is also continuity issue, did the characters not recall the first invasion? 
Here lies the first major problem with the script – the writers seemingly followed a set pattern without making any major alterations. This is a large problem with sequels as your audience will know what’s coming and you want to keep them guessing. At the very least, the characters, like the audience, should have been informed by the first film and thus their choices should reflect that.
 
Continuity problems were abound, where the writers seemingly violated rules they have already established – a huge, glaring no-no – which should have been caught early and fixed in the finalized draft. One character lies in a coma for two decades, awakens suddenly and mysteriously and is totally fine thereafter. That’s a crazy proposition. Then another character undergoes the same event that triggered the first to go comatose and he’s only out for a few hours? Tisk, tisk. 
 
The characters were great, but I feel like they cramped one too many in there making individual arcs difficult to grasp. The whole thing felt rushed, considering the 2h 9m runtime that shouldn’t be the case. One character in particular, whom I took to be the comic relief, stood out among the rest as just not belonging in the film. It’s like he served no purpose other than to occasionally force a laugh. It felt artificial.
Another major problem, it was a sausage party! There were barely any females, with one or two having nearly-lead roles, but they never stood out and felt more like derivatives of their male counterparts. I mean, it’s 2016 and major greenlit scripts are having gender issues? Come’on…  
 
I enjoyed their ‘button’ setup for the next film in the franchise, but given the problems with this script and the resultant box office lull, it’ll likely be 20 more years until we get another one, if we get another one. I may take a stab at rewriting this one as well as penning the sequel, just for kicks.