Movie Review: Death Note (2017)

Title: Death Note
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater
Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, Willem Dafoe
Released: 25ᵗʰ August 2017


In the process of adapting a book or television show to film, there are undoubtedly numerous considerations. However, before deciding what material to exclude, what to include, and how your version will differ in getting from point A to B, the first point of call is surely to read, watch and understand the source material. Once you know what makes the original work so compelling and unique, you can focus on those components when moving it over to a different format.

This is a terrible adaptation, pure and simple. It’s an utter bastardisation of the Death Note manga and it’s anime adaptation, and barely resembles what it is apparently based on. It’s as though the original work were a third or fourth reference, rather than the immediate source.

The major issues are in the plot and characterisation. The original version of Death Note is a psychological thriller and part police procedural, in which law enforcement attempt to track down a seemingly supernatural serial killer known as Kira, who begins cleansing the world of criminals. But at it’s heart, it’s a game of cat and mouse, where Kira and an enigmatic detective named L exchange metaphorical blows as they strive to put an end to each other.

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The Netflix film contains none of what made the original so compelling — no cat and mouse play, no cunning machinations, and none of what you loved about the characters. It is vapid, with the Death Note itself a gratuitous weapon that exists simply to set up a series of elaborate and violent deaths as the movie crudely maneuvers from one beat to the next. Tsugumi Ohba, the original writer of Death Note, employed the notebook in involved and Machiavellian ways, but its use here is neither ambitious nor inventive.

The characters are a crowd of husks which exhibit very little range. Audiences enjoyed watching Light in the original for the same reason they enjoy watching Frank Underwood; because he is utterly devious, compelling and charismatic. This new interpretation is simply unremarkable, and L has devolved from a calculated and level-headed oddity into an irrational hothead who lacks any sort of distinctive personality.

The characters are wearisome and banal when following them should be thrilling. Willem Dafoe and Shea Whigham give respectable performances, but their parts are extremely minor and Ryuk has been reduced from an amusing and impartial observer to something resembling a devil on the shoulder, which takes away all his quirks and charm.

The story itself follows a similar premise as the original, but does not contain any of the same progression, set pieces, or plot points, and is utterly forgettable and at times so terrifically brainless. The plot is essentially complete within fifty-one minutes, and the rest of the movie is a very dismal, convoluted and ungainly effort to weave some twists and action into the film, which ultimately makes for a crudely dramatised and terrifically tedious culmination.

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It contains numerous holes and many scenes that appear very manufactured and coarse. It’s one of those movies were events occur and are set up in ways that make you question the integrity of the plot — it doesn’t have any fluency or sense to it. It is extremely rushed and hesitant with details, and appears more concerned with getting to the end rather than telling a coherent and developed tale.

For example, how serious is Light about cleansing the world of criminals? We don’t really know. Such little time is spent establishing the motivation and clout of Kira himself, and we barely even see Light write in the Death Note. Further to this, how can the law enforcement even reliably keep track of Kira’s victims when the vast majority appear as accidental deaths? How does Kira gain a following and become an entity unto himself? In the original, Kira’s victims are identifiable by their shared fate (sudden heart attack), which is not the case here. It’s as though the writers just expect you to follow along, without adding a sense of comprehension to the plot. It’s all very vague.

It’s difficult to take the movie seriously when it lacks so many components, no only from a filmmaking and storytelling perspective, but also as an adaptation. Events that were so astounding, atmospheric and dramatic in the original work are all too often glossed over or missed entirely here. There were so many opportunities, and the story was already written, it need only be condensed. How such an absorbing and well-plotted thriller was moulded into something so tedious and inadequate is beyond me. What’s even more insulting is the ending, which is a major cop out and seems to lead into a sequel. If two movies were planned, there is just no excuse for how rushed, yet barren this movie is.

So, is there anything that actually works in this film? Well, it’s competently shot. The cinematography is not bad, and some shots were quite alluring and stylish. The score was rather unexceptional, but it is passable, although the music played during the climax came across to me as rather cheesy. That’s about it, though. Even as a stand alone movie for someone unfamiliar with Death Note, it’s lusterless. The original work was so groundbreaking and captivating — it’s a travesty this adaptation exists. It is Death Note in name only.

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

Title: Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt
Released: Mar 2017 (US & UK)


Well, what do you know. They’ve only gone and made a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell. This would have been a dream come true for my teenage self, but sadly the Rupert Sanders film is a far cry from the original manga and its various incarnations.

The main problem with the new Ghost in the Shell is its simplicity. The 1995 film isn’t as philosophical as it’s often remembered being, but it has a meditative ambience and the idea of the ‘ghost’ is well expressed and worth pondering. Here, the ‘ghost’ is reduced to a simple noun — a word for an individual’s consciousness and nothing more. There is no commentary on humanity or singularity; in fact it bares such little weight on the plot, they could have done away with the concept of the ghost and simply given the principal character drug-induced amnesia. Here, the main theme is how actions rather than memories define a person.

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By doing away with the philosophy and changing the film into a mystery-vengeance story, where Motoko is the “first of her kind” and seeks answers about her obvious past, they’ve gone a well trodden and thoroughly uninspired route, which is bolstered by some terrifically mediocre writing that is filled with clunky exposition and many contrivances. At one point, the head of the company behind Motoko’s synthetics orders her to be terminated, after which there’s a disagreement between the head and a cybernetics doctor who clearly cares about Motoko. The company boss then instructs the doctor — the sole person who sympathises with Motoko — to do the honours. Where do you think this is going? It’s painfully predictable and lacks so much of the nuances present throughout the franchise.

There’s also a scene where the cybernetics boss says to one of his creations; “you came close, you freak.” I don’t know if the character is supposed to be a supercilious ass who doesn’t quite realise he made the ‘freak’ or if the writers just don’t think about the implications of certain dialogue. Either way, the dialogue is often heavy-handed, inconsistent and partial on details.

The plot itself is an amalgamation of various Ghost in the Shell products, but namely the 1995 film and the Stand Alone Complex series. There are a couple of shot-for-shot sequences that match well the aesthetic of Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation, along with some subtle references only fans of the franchise are likely to notice, but sadly they serve more as a reminder of better material than a homage. Still, the ‘shell’ is at least present. The world of Ghost in the Shell is fully realised and they include direct reference to the prevalence of cybernetic enhancements, though there is little commentary on transhumanism.

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The visual effects are top-notch and the practical effects and props made by Weta — though utilised far less than I expected — were impressive. I thought much of the cast had a good likeness to their anime and manga counterparts, too. Effort had gone into making Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk and Takeshi Kitano resemble their illustrated equivalents. The performances and the action scenes were satisfying, but nothing particularly applaudable.

One aspect that was tremendously unsatisfactory was the score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe. I generally enjoy Mansell’s music and adore his work on The Fountain, but here the music just isn’t notable. It lacked a presence and was neither emotive nor thrilling. At certain points, it contains tiny fragments of Kenji Kawai’s original Ghost in the Shell score, but does not attempt to hone or replicate the composers enthralling sounds. Then, almost as a joke, Kawai’s prominent ‘Making of a Cyborg’ theme from the 1995 film is played during the credits, as if to say — this is what you could have had.

As a generic action movie, Ghost in the Shell is passable, but relatively unexceptional. However, as an adaptation of such a breathtaking and esoteric franchise, it misses the mark entirely. It is formulaic and devoid of any substantial philosophy — ultimately another great concept dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator. It’s frustrating, as the allusions to the prior material generally translate well to live-action, but the vast alterations and perplexing union of sources hindered what could have been a terrific film. They couldn’t even commit and go whole hog with the ending, which seemed to be going the direction of Oshii’s initial adaptation before fizzling away and becoming completely vapid. It seems the ghost was far too much for them.

Upcoming 2017 Movies (You May Have Missed)

Hello, tomodachi. A belated welcome to two-thousand-and-seventeen. I’ve been devouring movies to escape reality, so my first Watched This Month of the year is probably going to look like a hot mess. Let’s worry about that later, though. For now, I want to share with you five upcoming films that I am eagerly awaiting. I’ve gone with some more obscure and less talked about features to hopefully add a little variety to the babble. Last time I wrote a post like this, only three of the five mentioned actually found a release date. Let’s hope I’m more accurate this time!


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First and foremost, we have Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which is due for release on Netflix in the Summer. It tells the story of a young girl named Mija, who risks all to prevent a powerful, multi-national corporation from kidnapping her best friend, who happens to be a giant animal.

From what I’ve read thus far, the film will provide a commentary on capitalism, which brings it in line with Mr. Bong’s 2013 feature Snowpiercer, which was somewhat of an action-packed political allegory.

Okja is said to be set 60% in South Korea and 40% in New York, with a Korean lead and an English-speaking supporting cast, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins and Giancarlo Esposito — certainly a cast to get excited for.


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Next up we have the French coming-of-age, cannibalistic drama Raw, which is currently making the rounds at Sundance. The film is directed by Julia Ducournau and stars Garance Marillier in the lead role. It follows a vegetarian veterinarian who is forced to undergo a carnivorous hazing ritual at school, after which she develops a lust for meat.

I’m not a fan of body horror, but I hear that Raw is more a ‘gross concept’ than an out-right gore fest. After hearing about it last year, it had my hesitant attention, but the trailer — which released last week — has me keenly interested. It’s due for release in the US in March and in the UK in April.


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I’m cheating slightly with Over the Fence, which released in Japan last September, but there’s a good chance it will materialise outside its home nation at some point in the coming months. For now, we have to make do with the trailer.

The film is directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita, who had a massive hit in 2005 with the endearing high-school drama Linda Linda Linda. The much loved Joe Odagiri and Yu Aoi star as broken individuals who meet by chance and begin a seemingly tumultuous relationship.

This film has my attention mostly due to the talent involved, but Japanese movies often portray dejection and the more lonesome, subdued aspects of relationships and everyday life with keen precision. They let the camera do the talking, which is something I hope to see in Over the Fence.


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Moving on to Breathe, which is Andy Serkis’ directorial debut. This is a film I expected to have a lot more buzz, but then again, not a lot of information has been revealed. It tells the true story of Robin Cavendish, a handsome, brilliant and adventurous man whose life takes a dramatic turn when polio leaves him paralyzed.

Man of the moment Andrew Garfield plays Robin, with Claire Foy playing his long-time wife Diana. The only ‘footage’ thus far is this sole set picture, which is unusual given the film is rumoured to appear in Switzerland next month. Hopefully a trailer will emerge soon.


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Finally, we have The Discovery, which had its world premiere at Sundance two days ago and is due for release on March 31st via Netflix. It’s a love story set in a reality where the existence of the afterlife has been scientifically verified. Inevitably, people begin killing themselves to reach to supposed paradise.

It stars Rooney Mara and Jesse Plemons in the leading roles and is the second feature from American director Charlie McDowell. The plot sounds very enticing and the trailer is intriguingly haphazard and very fascinating in tone, though anything with Rooney Mara is generally worth watching. I also loved Jesse Plemons in Fargo, so I’m excited to view more of his work.


That’s but a snapshot of what looks to be an interesting year for film. Initially, I was also going to write about Colossal, which is a movie I heard about so long ago that I thought it had come and gone already, but the teaser made its way online two days ago and has generated a lot of attention.

Anyway, thank you for visiting. For a sort of too long, didn’t read rundown…

The Discovery is due on 31st March via Netflix, which will also release Okja in the Summer. Raw is due on 10th March in the USA and on 7th April in the UK, the latter of which is the same date as Colossal‘s US release. Over the Fence has already been released in Japan and will hopefully make its way overseas at some point this year and currently Breathe doesn’t have a solid release date, but I expect a trailer will appear in the coming months, which will likely bring it more widespread attention.