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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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.
 

My Cousin Rachel, 2017

Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

IMDb

Can a film be compelling if none of its core cast of characters are likeable? My Cousin Rachel attempts to prove that they can, and unfortunately falls short, resulting in a fairly dull time.

The story opens sloppily with heavy exposition, what I can only assume originated as a chunk of the book of the same name left out of the film, explaining that Philip’s (Sam Claflin) cousin/father figure got ill and had to move to Florence to stay with his cousin, a girl named Rachel (Rachel Weisz), who he promptly falls in love with and marries. A single letter comes back to Philip, completely contrary to his prior praise of her, claiming she is slowly killing him in an attempt to acquire his fortunes, but unfortunately he dies before Philip can reach him again. When the widow comes to visit her husband’s home, Philip finds that she wasn’t quite what he expected.

Characterisation wise, Philip is an entitled prick, an idiot, completely irresponsible and overall quite unlikeable. This is a bold move for a film, a medium obsessed with self-insert blank slates and generic good-guy-with-flaws types. Other films that attempt this kind of thing, however, have other characters to root for, and therefore can hold the viewer’s attention more aptly. The entire driving force for this film, however, is the back and forth of the audience’s opinion on Rachel. It’s very hard to root for her when half the time we’re supposed to think she’s a horrendous human being. To the film’s credit, its best aspect is its ability to have the audience constantly shifting its opinion as more information is revealed. It’s a good mystery. I really liked the payoff, and overall found the ending to be the best part of the film.

Both leads do a good job, especially Weisz, who’s performance I found to be pretty nuanced, given the mystery, but my above criticism still applies. Knowing the ending, I might have appreciated her more, but with neither lead being compelling, I had to fight the urge to check my phone.

Pretty much everything else, I found to be average to fine for a Victorian style period piece. There was the occasional unconvincing accent, some really shoddy CGI of Florence, and some awkward editing decisions at times. But in equal measure there was effort put into cinematography to convey symbolism, for better or for worse (one shot was about 80% obscured by an out of focus table).

While I haven’t and don’t intend to read the 1951 novel of the same name from which the film is adapted, I would recommend you read that over seeing this. Alternatively, the 1952 film I’ve read is also superior. The mystery is good, but not worth it in my opinion.