(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) There has been a lot of criticism aimed at Netflix’s Death Note movie from fans of the original anime, but the irony is that for viewers coming in fresh without knowledge of the film’s inspiration is that Death Note, taken by itself, is actually not bad—it feels like a throwback to the kind of high-concept horror movies circa 1995–2005. Something like Idle Hands, perhaps, or more specifically the first Final Destination. Consider this: A teenager gets possession of a book in which he can specify who will die and how. From that simple premise stem a few complications: a bloodthirsty demonic personification of the book coaching the protagonist or maybe trying to take over his soul; media attention toward a sudden slew of high-profile deaths (as, naturally, our hero scribbles all sorts of high-profile criminals in the book); a genius-level detective tracking down what he thinks is the source of those mysterious deaths; and the inevitable romantic complications of a high-schooler getting his hands on life-and-death power. I understand from the numerous complaints that the anime is better, smarter, stronger, faster and possibly tastier than the film adaptation, but as a first-time viewer I don’t have much to complain about: while Death Note does tie itself up in logical knots in trying to fit the premise in a two-hour movie, it’s intriguing throughout, and ends with a nice fillip that shows more imagination than the usual horror film confrontation. Nat Wolff is fine as the protagonist and Lakeith Stanfield is interesting as Detective L, but it’s Willem Dafoe who seems to be having the most fun voicing demon Ryuk. Director Adam Wingard leads the material competently, but he’s a bit stuck with the original material—even newcomers such as myself can see the compromises made in order to distill it to a movie and whitewashing it to American audiences, although my suggestion would have been to run even rather away from the source material in the hope of ending with something that doesn’t feel like a half-baked compromise between weird source material and the requirements of a self-contained movie. Until the sure-to-follow sequel presumably addresses some further plot threads, I’m relatively satisfied by the result—which is probably what Netflix aimed for when it backed its production.
(Netflix Streaming, May 2016) I felt moderately clever in finding strong similarities between The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Town … but that lasted only until I realized that both are movie adaptation of novels by John Green. Both feature disaffected teenagers trying to break free of what is expected of them and coming to some kind of personal epiphany. More significantly, both are somewhat wittier takes on familiar young-adult elements. In Paper Town’s case, a shy protagonist is pushed into an adventure of self-discovery by a far more audacious neighbour on which he harbours a crush. An enjoyable first act (involving a wild night of revenge) too quickly leads to a more sedate follow-up treasure hunt and road trip to a non-existent city. It’s relatively satisfying to watch, although some of the material can feel leisurely, and the film takes some pleasure in not delivering a conventionally pat conclusion. The journey is the destination, of course, and when it comes to teenage characters, I’d rather spend time with self-aware worrywarts than moronic caricatures. Nat Wolff plays a sympathetic protagonist, even though his job remains to be befuddled by Cara Delevingne’s far more self-assured heroine. Paper Town will reach its audience among high-schoolers, but it has a few things to offer to older viewers as well, and a few welcome departures from the usual downtrodden path of teenage romance.