Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Death Note

9 of 9 viewers "Liked" "Death Note" (2017, USA)
Here's what the creatures had to say:

Wandering Panda - "Loved L, Ryuk, and Watari. They totally shine. An okay addition to the Death Note circles. I'm a hardcore fan of this material but I still found this watchable." - 3 Stars

Dabbles - "Shot great, story was really good but Light wasn't right. This movie is really good but I see a lot of purists complaining." - 4 Stars

Lord Battle - "When I first heard that Netflix was rebooting Death Note I was surprised. I had read 9 of the 12 books when the manga originally came out and really liked it; I stopped because it's a dense read and falling off for a month warrants a refresher I wasn't up to. And I haven't watched any of the Japanese live action attempts (beyond YouTubing how Ryuk looked/acted in each). I basically wasn't going to make time to watch this reboot until I heard Adam Wingard was helming the film! This got me excited for a couple of reasons. First, Adam Wingard is easily one of my current favorite horror directors and second if there is one man who can navigate within a judgmental audience's parameters, it's Adam Wingard. I consider him a master of the found footage horror genre which may be THE hardest genre to maneuver in. Not to mention to make make a successful anthology franchise of!! As for Death Note, I loved it. I can't believe he actually managed to work all the quirks that make these characters so precious to anime fans (and so unpalatable to general audiences) into almost cool accent notes in a very tight script. I mean Ryuk has never felt this ominous or threatening and part of that is attributed to the film's dark mood that manages to hold up, even while L is jumping on chairs and eating candy. What's really amazing is that in the two screenings I held, not one person laughed and that's a serious victory! And if you're too cool to watch Death Note or the original story is very dear to you, just know this is how I felt when Marvel started making movies. After all, Death Note is just another comic reboot." - 4.5 Stars

Math Mage - "I hate Death Note and here is why: Light is an pure sociopath with no redeeming qualities and naturally genius powers. I had zero interest in following his journey. I love this movie because Light is an overly cleaver shithead who reveals his power immediately because a girl talked to him. That is far more interesting than him being an introvert. Weaboos may feel betrayed by the changes to the source material, but it's an American movie trying to be its own thing. Judge it on its own merits." - 4 Stars

The Berkeley Blazer - "What we have here is an intellectual property that has been intellectually defanged and feels so estranged from its source material I find it almost unhelpful to compare it to the Death Note manga or anime. As someone who devoured the manga as each volume was released, I can't at all recommend this movie to a fellow fan.  Ultimately this feels more like a 90's horror thriller than anything else, and if you can look at it on this level you may find, as I did, that this is a diverting film that has some really enjoyable moments and a great performances by Willam Defoe as Ryuk and Keith Stanfield as "L".  Watch it once, derive some pleasure from the film's strange existence , and forget about it." - 3 Stars

Huntress - "Prior to this movie, the only interaction I've ever had to Death Note was seeing the logo on various merchandise and the occasional photo of the weird monsterman. I have nothing to be attached to, and as a stand alone film Death Note was a very fun, blood soaked watch. Heads are legitimately knocked off of people’s bodies in this American rendition, and each time a named character dies I got giddy. Adam Wingard did everything right with this film, but because of the curse placed on him by the Blair Witch, most fans of Death Note seem to hate it. But it had dark cityscapes, bright neon lights, and a mind blowing synth soundtrack. My kind of movie." - 4 Stars

Book Wyrm - "I really, really didn't want to watch this movie for a couple of reasons: 1. I had a huge Death Note phase when I was in middle school and I still consider myself a fan today, but I have always been hesitant when it comes to live action renditions of anime movies, especially of anime I enjoy. There are already three live action Death Note movies made in Japan and also a more recent live action drama series from 2015 that I think is probably the best version out of the three (Netflix, drama, and Japanese movies). 2. As soon as this was released I had at least ten people either message me or come up to me in real life, ask me if I had seen it yet, and when I said no their response was "good, don't bother." In fact, I posted a SnapChat while I was watching the movie and I got four plus replies from people saying things along the lines of, 'omg im praying for you', 'it was so bad nooooo', and 'WHY'. 3. I didn't like the casting choice for Light. Nat Wolff played him and all I could think about was that he had a show on Nickelodeon when I was in elementary school called the Naked Brothers Band and I was obsessed with it. 4. They didn't include my favorite character! I love Near, the detective who comes after the L arc, and I was so sad to find out that he wouldn't be in this movie. Now despite all of this, I tried to go into it with as much of an open mind as possible, but I think my review is still extremely biased. If you have never seen the Death Note anime, read the manga, heard anything about it, and were just looking for a movie to watch on Netflix, this is not a bad movie. The cinematography was great, the movie itself looked aesthetically pleasing, the score wasn't anything special but it also wasn't horrible, and as a stand alone movie, it was good. I think the only issues I had with it were Death Note related issues. I HATED that L got so caught up with Watari's disappearance. I understand that in the movie universe it was stated that Watari had been with him since he was little and whatever else, but I think that L the character shouldn't have let it affect him as strongly as it did. I also think that Watari's death shouldn't have happened in the first place. They say several times that you need a name and a face in order to kill someone with the Death Note. They didn't even know Watari's last name so following that logic, they could have killed L as soon as Light saw his face! That part is what really makes me mad, because they go on a whole quest to find out what L's true name is so they can use the Death Note on him, but apparently they didn't need it! One small stupid thing that bothered me was that they changed Light's girlfriends name from Misa to Mia. That's a completely arbitrary thing to be mad about, but it bothered me lol. I also hated Light and Mia's relationship in this too. I enjoyed seeing her try and take more of a leading role in the whole scheme of things, but I just thought her character was dumb. And their conversations were unbearable. "What's that?" "Can't tell you." "Okay." "Wait do you really wanna know? Cause I'll tell you." Are you joking. I just can't believe this is a real movie that was made by real people. In America. And that I watched it. Or that anyone watched it. But there were still things that I liked; I loved L. I thought the actor did a great job at humanizing a character that is such a character. He made L believable and I'm so thankful that one of my favorite characters wasn't ruined. I also liked Light's dad. He was actually probably the truest to the whole series, minus Ryuk, who was also super cool. I didn't really care for the whole your mom was killed backstory, but I understand the need for conflict and angst in a storyline. All in all, would I watch it again? Not of my own desire, but I would show it to my friends that have yet to see it in order to hear someone else's opinion of it. Did I hate it? I can't completely commit to saying that I hated it as much as everyone else is. I thought some of the things they did were well done, and you need to remember that it is set in a different location in a pretty much alternate universe. I thought the gore was great and I really enjoyed some of the kills. It was pretty funny at times, and they knew what they were doing while they were making this film. Would I recommend you watch it? If you like Death Note, no. But also if you like Death Note, please watch it because I love that something like this got a fairly well done, high quality American version. Honestly, can you call yourself an anime fan if you weren't excited when you first heard they were making this? Give it a chance, or don't the choice is yours." - 3 Stars

KillDozer (R) - "Genre staple Adam Wingard attempts what so many other talented people have tried and failed at; bringing an extremely loved comic/manga/graphic novel to the screen. Having never read the manga this story was based on was a plus as I found the story original and interesting. I only guessed this was based on a book/graphic novel after the second act due to it being too imaginative for Hollywood. I can honestly say that going into this film blind was the way to go. I did feel the story being rushed which was a shame because there are some characters that could have their very own stand alone films. The pacing of the film is off but not enough to make it unenjoyable. The acting is solid and the effects are well done, throw in some fun Final Destination style kills and you have something worth a watch." - 3 Stars (for an original and fun story that could be fun to watch with friends)

Trash (R) - "I watched Death Note on my floor while eating half of an entire apple pie. I passed out in the middle of it, and then finished it the next morning. I've loved Adam Wingard since 2009, when I first saw Home Sick and Popskull. This dude was weird, and the last thing I would have guessed is he'd become a mainstream filmmaker. Yet somehow, to mixed reactions, he's made that jump. And I think the reason reactions are so mixed is because he's too damn interesting to please everybody. Especially when you're adapting a product that's penetrated a very specific culture, anime fans, so deeply. Personally, I'm shocked people don't love the hell out of this. It seems like such a satisfying, angsty high schooler good time, with a cute lanky big eyed dark haired boy and his sexy pretty goth girlfriend. Wingard's camera doesn't hold back at all on showing off how good looking these kids are, and he's also at full force with his dim atmospheric lighting with bright pops of color in marbles and flower petals. A moody 80's soundtrack rounds this out to fantastically enjoyable, with unexpected smattering of super gore. At the end of the day, I'm not getting anything out of this story but a good time. It's simply the perfect movie to pass out to, alone on the floor, after eating half an apple pie by yourself." - 3.5 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

Here in San Francisco, the one-sided war is raging on as anime fans everywhere gather to hate how badly characters were cast or how the hour and a half long feature failed to capture the essences of the intellectual property that is Death Note. Now I normally don't write wrap-ups that are opinion based but I think a lot of anime fans are missing the creative effort that went into presenting a non-insulting American version of a very precious manga...

I ended up screening Death Note twice because I wanted to make sure all of our anime enthusiasts could get their chance to weigh in. The two most polarizing cases turned out to be Book Wyrm and Math Mage. Book Wyrm is a student working her way through collage. She writes semi-regularly about horror anime here on the Overlook Theatre and LOVES Death Note (read the manga). Math Mage is a full time high school math teacher who's been on the anime scene here in SF since back when the only way to watch it was in a club at SFSU and he HATES Death Note (watched the anime series).

I'm using them as a comparison because I think they illustrate an equal level of enthusiasm; two different generations, and two different interpretations of the material. Book Wyrm groaned when I asked her to attend the screening we were having of Death Note. She then went into a detailed story about how she's already seen all these screenshots on Tumblr making fun of how bad it was. I quickly pointed out that she hasn't seen the film yet already hated it... Math Mage also groaned when I told him we'd be screening Death Note but not because of the inside scoop he got from social media. No, he simply hated the source material. Still Math Mage will watch anything, so I knew he'd attend. 

Post screening, Book Wyrm had to rush off to work but stuck around long enough to say she didn't like it. At which point, to everyone's, surprise Math Mage exclaimed he actually did enjoy it a lot! Now I have a bad habit of defending films (even ones I don't like) against opinions I think are misinformed. I'm not happy that I do this but I do nonetheless. Book Wyrm mentioned she hated L and that they broke rules and left shortly after. Her protest started a long conversation between me and Math Mage about how the material was handled both by Wingard and the 3 writers. We both agreed that the direction was beautiful, characters were handled with incredible restraint, and that it had to be difficult to give visual narrative to a comic that is mostly inner dialogue. Still, Adam Wingard did it. What I found intriguing was how impressed Math Mage was with their translating of Japanese culture to American culture. The example he used was comparing Light's status in school. Light is a genius and a great student, and in Japanese schools these traits would make someone popular. In the USA, a variety of things can make you popular in school, good grades usually isn't one of them. So Math Mage pointed out how clever it was that Light was using his genius to cheat, since this is a great way to use his intelligence to get him in a "cool guy" position.

Another change we both pointed out was Ryuk's transformation from Japanese mascot character to ominous Final Destination Genie. This cultural change was allowed to happen because of a character change with Light.

So were these the tweeks necessary to make the remake accessable to an American audience that didn't grow up reading the manga? Or the very things that ruined it for the audience that did?

-Lord Battle

The Overlook Theatre materialized in a residence for a screening on 8/31/2017
*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

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