Death Note, 2017

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, and no one else worthwhile

IMDb

I normally don’t like to give movies a rating. I feel like it oversimplifies my thoughts on the matter to the audience. A single digit becomes the focal point for the entire review, and unfair comparisons between the films I review result.
I think, however, it’s appropriate to use one in the case of Death Note (2017). My scale is 0 is unwatchable, 10 is among the best films I’ve ever seen and 5 is mediocre.

4/10.

Far from unwatchable, but not good either.

I commend the film as an adaptation for following common sense (surprisingly rare for adaptations) of not at all trying to follow the same plot as its source material, as Death Note is a pretty convoluted story. Unfortunately, the one they left in wasn’t very interesting.

Taking the film at face value, not comparing it to the anime or the manga (which I haven’t read), the whole thing feels somehow uneventful, the kind of movie that I’ll forget about within a week. I didn’t form a connection to any of the main characters, I didn’t feel any impact when major plot points occurred. It sometimes had interesting cinematography, but it felt like all of those shots were handled by a seperate team, as the film is riddled with the typical shot – reverse shot with standard camera angles. If you had never heard of Death Note, maybe the premise would be good enough to pull you through, but to those people I say: Go watch the anime instead.

As I mentioned above, the film makes little effort to directly translate the source material, and most characters are significantly different. Light turner, for instance, doesn’t even slightly resemble Light Yagami. Light Yagami is outwardly very calm, in control, never giving even an inflection that would give him away and only from his inner monologue do we get any clue of how on edge he is. He’s a master manipulator, and when you truly get to understand him, he’s quite scary. Light Turner is an angsty teenager that will comically flip out over the slightest thing that doesn’t go his way, and we’re told he has a god complex, but he never really shows it. Light Yagami is interesting, Light Turner is not.

The ‘Misa’ equivalent, Mia, is also uninteresting, being demoted from pop-star to cheerleader, and being played by a Kristen Stewart wannabe who never once shows an actual emotion that I bought. The relationship between the two similarly doesn’t really resemble the source material at all, which I want to stress isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it wasn’t interesting.

L and Ryuk, however, were actually translated quite well. Ryuk doesn’t really change at all, but his performance by Willem Dafoe was great. L goes through a bunch of changes, both in the way that he acts and his overall aesthetic and backstory, but keeps enough characteristics that make him true to his original character. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this movie, he is actually interesting.

Strangely enough, I’m going to recommend that only fans of Death Note see this movie. It’s actually pretty fun to see what a poor representation its main characters are, and to laugh at the americanisation of what was a very Japanese thing. For everyone else, I recommend the anime. It’s very interesting and really gripping.

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Marvel’s The Defenders S1 Review.

Creators: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Starring: Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4230076/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Ok, so I just finished watching The Defenders. Strap in kids, this is gonna be a long one.
Normally I’m writing about 2.5 hours of cinema, but here it’s around 60 hours of television.

To those that don’t know, The Defenders is a follow up to four Netflix shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where characters come together. I want to start this by outlining my thoughts on those shows. For some of these, it’s been a while, so these will mostly be general thoughts.

Daredevil Season 1 surprised the hell out of me. Fantastic action scenes, surprisingly good characters and dialogue and an amazing villain in Wilson Fisk – a truly interesting character in his own right. It went on a little too long (all of these shows do) but otherwise its story was really well contained. Great Start.
The second season, I felt was a little weaker, and this absolutely had to do with the villains, replacing the singular kingpin with an entire shadowy organisation of ninjas. That said, the writing was still on point, giving a real depth to the whole masked vigilante thing that movies simply can’t because it’s not in the runtime. The addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher was the real redemption of this series. He was awesome. The dialogue scenes between him and Daredevil were great.

Jessica Jones among my favourite TV shows full stop. David Tennant plays Killgrave, one of the most intriguing and entertaining villains I have ever seen in any medium. He’s creepy, he’s legitimately threatening and he’s a lot of fun to watch. The entire story arc of the season was centred so tightly around his character and the titular Jessica Jones (who is also played fantastically by Kristen Ritter) that I don’t really see how they can follow it. The show drags a bit when it switches its focus away from the core storyline, but the highs reach much higher than the lows ever sink.

Luke Cage the show was ok. Luke Cage the character is fantastic. All of these shows are super dark so it’s a breath of fresh air to see a guy who doesn’t walk around with a total chip on his shoulder. He comes off as the kind of guy you’d want to grab a beer with and that does wonders for watchability. The villains are a mixed bag here. There are four, and they range from great to bad. Guess which one ends up being the main baddie of the season? The show has a phenomenal soundtrack which aids in the creation of one of the most distinct locations I’ve ever seen on screen. This show *loves* Harlem. I remember when it first came out it had a pre-release available only to those who lived in Harlem and during that period of time the IMDb rating was almost 10/10. The show reeeaallly takes a long time to get going though, and the writing isn’t as strong as the two before it.

Iron Fist, in my opinion, is the first actually bad Marvel Cinematic Universe property. The closest contender would probably be some of the earlier seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but at least they had their moments and kept a generally fun vibe. First off, Danny Rand is straight up an unlikeable character and Finn Jones isn’t a very good actor nor martial artist. Huge issue for a character centric martial arts show. Additionally, the fight choreography isn’t very good either, and end up seeming to intentionally hide how crap it is by not letting us properly see it with shaky-cam. The show is also directionless, never sticking to a strict goal for the character, making the show really quite boring, and feeling like it’ll never go anywhere, which it doesn’t. Not helping is that the antagonists are the same shadowy organisation, ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2, who are even more boring here. The only thing that kept the show afloat at all, if you ask me, was David Wenham’s performance, which was so over the top that the show became enjoyable for his moments of screentime.

Ok, Now: The Defenders. It was good. Thank god. That wasn’t really ever going to be a certainty though, as nothing like this has ever been attempted. The writing and directing staff was essentially a ‘Dream Team’ of the better episodes of each series before it, which could have led to clashing, but it worked out fine. The obvious comparison is with ‘The Avengers’ but unfortunately it doesn’t give the same sort of climactic feel to this series of shows as Avengers does for its series of films.

I winced when it was first teased that the antagonistic force of the show would be my dreaded ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2 and Iron Fist, and yet at the same time wasn’t surprised at all. It only made sense, as all team up stories apparently require an army to fight. Fortunately though, they actually kind of pulled it off. Sigourney Weaver appears for the first time as the mysterious leader of ‘The Hand’, Alexandra, and while not as iconic as Killgrave or Kingpin, she is certainly very interesting and Sigourney does an excellent job portraying her. Most importantly though, she gives the whole ‘Shadowy Organisation’ thing some actual personality and character. Also, unlike in the previous two shows, we get actual insight as to what The Hand’s goals are, the people who run them, their motivations, a little of their backstories. You know, stuff that interesting characters have. Good performances are given by all of the other antagonists as well.

Much like this review, the show took quite a while to get the ball rolling. Despite there only being 8 episodes, none of the four core characters actually met one another until the very end of the second episode, the first acting as more of a reintroduction to all the characters we might have forgotten about since we last saw them. This may be the shortest of all of these shows, but it doesn’t speed up its pacing at all. It’s still quite slow, just less overall happens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the show has a pretty clear sense of direction to it. It doesn’t really have proper subplots, it just starts in four places which slowly stream into one story. One word of warning though, the show relies relatively heavily on you having watched the previous shows. I recommend brushing up on Daredevil S2 and consulting wikipedia on the ‘plot’ of Iron Fist.

The show is at its best when it’s letting the four leads bounce off one another. Put simply, these are enjoyable characters to watch (for the most part) and Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter and Mike Colter all bring their A material to the table. Finn Jones, however, is still unlikeable as Danny Rand, though not in the same way as before. It seems as though the show runners have decided to figuratively steer into the skid and made the Danny Rand character intentionally unlikeable, stupid and annoying. Pretty much everyone hates him and that brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion. He also sort of becomes a bit less insufferable by the end of the season.

My biggest criticism of the show would have to be with the side characters. The supporting cast of all the other shows are all also here, essentially trapped together and we incessantly cut back to them. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if these characters actually did anything. Towards the very end of the season a couple of them do actual things, but for the most part it’s just talking about stuff related to the plot, that has 0 bearing on the progression of the story itself, meanwhile not progressing even slightly as characters. It just takes up time and it’s kind of boring. These are good characters played by good actors. Either let them do something or don’t have them at all.

Beside the characters, the filmmaking was actually pretty admirable. Soundtrack, cinematography and editing were all solid, with a few moments that really shone. I also noticed a few allusions to classic films which I appreciated.

There really is just simplistic joy to seeing a team of characters that you like getting up there and kicking ass together though. Even though these shows have proven that they’re more than just that, we can’t deny that it’s the reason that The Defenders was ever even made. Thankfully, it’s done well. Makes the whole experience worth it. Overall this is a fun show, the humour is actually pretty great. Additionally, it doesn’t pull its punches. It gets intense, it has big reveals and it delights. It isn’t really *about* anything in the same way that the better of its predecessors were, but it’s still a solid show.

I have a relatively major criticism about the way the show ends, but for the sake of not spoiling it, I’ll talk about it another time. It doesn’t really impact on my overall thoughts of the show, however, which I thought was a good one. Not amazing, but not really disappointing either.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, 2017

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevigne

IMDb

Valerian and the City of a Thousand was a pretty crap movie and I had a great time watching it.
 
To be clear, there are actually some solid points to the film. The visual direction and style is pretty stimulating, a bunch of the ideas pulled from the source material were pretty unique and very neat, and surprisingly not totally played out as far as hollywood sci-fi movies are concerned. Dane Dehaan’s performance was pretty good when the script allowed him to be, and I’d be lying if the film didn’t manage to get a few laughs out of me, even if it didn’t mean to in every case.
 
The dialogue, and indeed the writing as a whole, was cringeworthy and hilarious. I didn’t buy the banter/romance between Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevigne for even a second. Still funny though.
 
Speaking of funny, Cara Delevigne’s performance was amazingly terrible. There were points where it looked like she had to struggle to remember her lines, her accent slipped between british and american liberally, and I swear the majority of her line delivery was in the style of a sitcom. I’m not sure why hollywood is so insistent on making her an actress but if this kind of performance is going to become her standard I almost hope to see her on screen more often.
 
The CGI was at an interesting level, particularly with the alien creatures. It was at a level of competency that these creatures would look fantastic if they were featuring in an animated film, but unfortunately we, the audience, are meant to buy that they exist side by side with live action human characters. It’s honestly kind of hilarious how jarring the differences are. Early on in the film there’s a jump cut from a fully CGI rendered world to a close up on Dane Dehaan and I actually laughed from how silly it looked.
 
Rihanna has what amounts to an extended cameo in the film despite how heavily the marketing focused on her presence in the film. Of the approximately 10 minutes of screen time she gets, about 2 of those are dedicated to a shapeshifting pole dancing routine, which ends up being a highlight of the film if only for the awkward reaction shots of Dane Dehaan. Her implementation into the film was incredibly dumb, and despite her evident lack in acting talent (I never saw Battleship so as far as I’m concerned this is her debut) she still ended up being one of the most endearing elements in the film.
 
 
 
One last comment is that this is one of the most explicit offenders of telling rather than showing in order to translate as much of the source material as possible. Literal minutes straight of nothing but exposition plague this film. Some of it, especially towards the end, was absolutely hilarious. Trust me. This movie is actually a great time if you have 0 expectations.
 
It tries its best to have actual tension but it never quite makes it. It has half hearted attempts at emotional moments and never comes close. No, the best parts of this movie are the laughs and some of the visuals, in addition to some neat ideas which can’t even be attributed to the film, as they were from the graphic novel.
 
It’s bad, but the good kind of bad. If you’re into that kind of thing, go ahead and enjoy.
 

Atomic Blonde, 2017

Directed by: David Leitch

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy

IMDb

Atomic Blonde is the result of very well executed production, and pretty terrible pre and post production. I would say it’s a piece of shit, but it’s more than that. I would say it’s a whole shit, but it’s not quite that either. It’s 2/3 of a shit. A two-third-turd, if you will.
 
Let’s start with pre-production. The story is extremely hard to follow, and rarely makes sense. The film prioritises its artsy-fartsy framing devices and modes of storytelling over the film being immediately comprehensible to great detriment, as whenever something significant happens, there is no impact, as if you’re too bored to notice. Plot lines appear to go nowhere, and when they do, they’re often poorly developed. Characters have little to no depth beyond their narrative requirements. To sum up the writing style, they were explaining what was going on the entire time and I still had no idea what was happening or why.
 
The film was pretty well shot. You could tell that there was a lot of effort put into making it look interesting, although sometimes the camera’s movements were a little too pretentious for my taste. Performances by Charlize Theron and Jame McAvoy were both fine, but they had very little to work with, and so I ended up not really caring about either. Theron especially, she was practically a blank slate. Most of the action in the film was pretty standard, but there was one very impressive sequence at the start of the third act. I would estimate that it lasted at least seven minutes, and it was done all in one shot. The camerawork, fight choreography, stuntwork, acting, makeup and effects were all excellent for that one blissful sequence, and I highly recommend you check it out on youtube when it gets uploaded.
 
The editing really let the film down. For me, it straight up ruined the visual aesthetic by having the whole film too dark, à la Suicide Squad, letting down the well executed cinematography. Additionally, the film used this stencilled spray-paint font very heavily in the opening credits which really didn’t fit the movie well at all. Speaking of ill-fitting additions, the soundtrack, while not bad, worked wonders for making this film feel impact-less. I.e. slow songs during fast paced action scenes, where the cinematography implies that it wasn’t intended to be subversive, as if the soundtrack was an afterthought. The way the film was cut certainly didn’t help how confusing it was either. It really felt like a mess.
 
Bottom line: this is a shit film and I think you should avoid it. It’s a shame, as there was clearly effort and talent involved, but shit is still shit and I can’t recommend it.