Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

Death Note is a franchise I’ve been aware of since high school, and despite some issues I have with the source material (*cough* the second half of the manga *cough*), I’ve always looked at it fondly. It’s clever, has some really memorable characters and scenes, and the themes present in the story are always relevant. When I first heard of plans of an American version of the story, I thought it had some potential, which is why I was disappointed when it fell into development hell. But when director Adam Winguard and Netflix finally started to put the film into production, and despite the troubling news I heard leading up to the film’s release,* I still had hope.

Imagine how I feel now when I find the final result is not what I’d hoped for.

So for those of you who don’t know, Death Note is originally a manga about a Japanese high schooler named Light Yagami who discovers a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. With the help of a death god named Ryuk, Light starts a killing spree of the world’s criminals to end all crime and to become a new god named Kira. He is opposed by L, a mysterious detective who has solved several high-profile crimes in the past, creating a cat-and-mouse game that could determine the fate of the world. The story has been adopted into anime, TV shows, novels, and even a couple of Japanese movies. Winguard’s version is the latest addition to the franchise, and unfortunately, it’s like that one relative whom you invite to family gatherings because he’s family, but you’re not happy about it because he’s an embarrassment to the whole family.

The biggest problem I have with this film is the many changes from the source material. Now, I’m open to some changes, like what the Japanese films did. Those were changes that strengthened the story instead of taking away from it. However, the majority of the changes here were unhelpful. Light Yagami, a handsome, charismatic and intelligent young man motivated by a sense of justice and boredom becomes Light Turner, an outsider who’s only a few degrees away from shooting up a high school, whose intelligence is only hinted at, and who screams like he has no confidence. Misa Amane, a blonde and bubbly airhead whom you actually feel sympathy for, becomes Mia Sutton, a cheerleader with no personality or backstory and too much enthusiasm for killing criminals. Lakeith Stanfield is actually pretty good as L for a while, but then in the last third goes completely off the rails.

Something went very wrong with this transition.

There are a whole bunch of other changes that I didn’t care for. The purpose of the Death Note and the reason why Ryuk drops the Death Note is changed, the default method of death for the Death Note isn’t in this adaptation, Mia isn’t given a good reason to want to use the Death Note like Misa Amane has, so her enthusiasm for using it feels strange, and the way L and his assistant Watari interact feels a little creepy rather than the working relationship they had before, and the list goes on and on. In fact, some of these changes open up plot holes in the story. For example, the change in the way L identifies the first victim of Kira, rather than making some sense like it does in the manga, leaves open some questions in this adaptation. Also, why does L have a false name but Watari is actually his real name, with no last name?

I also did not care for Margaret Qualley’s acting in this film, which felt emotionless and uninvested. It seems like she was trying to channel Kristen Stewart’s Twilight performance, which given all I’ve heard of that performance, explains a lot, but it’s obvious it’s not what we’re looking for in this movie. Also, who’s idea was it to make her look like an Emma Roberts impersonator in every shot?

Ryuk, played by William Dafoe, is definitely one of the better parts of the movie.

There were a couple of things I did like about the film, however. Ryuk looks absolutely terrifying, as he should, and is kept sinister throughout the film, thanks in part to William Dafoe’s phenomenal performance as the voice of the character (that man can do villains like no other). Mia is treated more as a partner in this film rather than as a pawn, which I’m sure many Misa fans, including myself, have always wanted to see (what can I say? You feel for her, despite her flaws and the blood on her hands). And if it weren’t for how bad the rest of the film is, the climax and its twist would actually be pretty impressive.

However, the rest of the film outweighs everything else, forcing me to give Adam Winguard’s Death Note a 1.1 out of 5, possibly the lowest score I’ve ever given anything on this blog. This is just the latest example of how NOT to adapt a beloved manga and anime, with way too many changes from the source material and bad choices on the part the people behind it, and a horrible introduction for newcomers to the world of Death Note.

Trust me, this is a much better movie than what we got.

If this left a bad taste in your mouth and you’re still willing to give this franchise a change, I highly suggest you check out the original manga or anime (the latter also on Netflix), or check out the Japanese films based on those. Unlike the Netflix film, any of these will show you how exciting and clever the original source material, as well as how memorable and even likeable, the characters really are. Believe me, there’s a reason why this story is the phenomenon it is. It’s just the Netflix movie isn’t part of it.

Hopefully in the future, if we have any other American adaptations of anime or manga, they won’t be anything like this.

*To be clear, I will not be getting into the whole issue of the races of the cast. Yes, whitewashing is a problem, and the casting decisions made in regards to this film are extremely problematic, but it’s not one I want to explore here. Why? Because it’s an extremely complicated issue and not something I usually get into in a movie review. I’m judging this movie as a movie, and I’m judging the actors for their performances, not for their racial or ethnic heritage. If you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that’s just how I do things here. And if you want to voice your anger about this, don’t voice it at me. Voice it at Hollywood, because that’s how you can possibly make some positive change, instead of sending it my way while some corporate VP thinks Zac Efron would make a great Kaneda in a live-action American Akira remake or something (that’s an example, not an actual thing as far as I know).

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I found this on Netflix, and after I saw it got good reviews online, I decided to check it out. And I think I got what I asked for with a series called Slasher.

Now, a little background. Slasher is a Canadian-American TV series partially inspired by American Horror Story (and believe me, it shows), as well as Agatha Christie novels and classic slasher movies. The production company’s plan with this show is to do it anthology style with a new story every year, possibly with a similar cast each season (see? The AHS influence shows). The first season’s story follows Sarah Bennett (Kate McGrath), as she and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) move into the house where her parents were brutally murdered by a man dressed like a medieval executioner back in 1988. In traditional slasher fashion, someone copying the original killer’s MO starts killing people, and Sarah finds herself forced to work with the original killer (Patrick Garrow) to figure out who the new killer is.

So how does it stack up?

Well, the first season does have a bunch of problems. The biggest problem is that it’s really derivative. Like I said, you can see the inspiration from AHS. In fact, it feels like an AHS knockoff, and not exactly a stellar one. The killer is also very derivative, his whole MO a ripoff of the movie Se7en with every victim being killed because they committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And the killer’s design? It actually reminds me of the protagonist of my novel Snake. I’m actually wondering if that’s not a coincidence! There’s also a character that I’m told is similar to one iconic character from Twin Peaks, an incompetent police department out of just about every film ever, and a few other things I can’t mention without spoiling the story.

Did anyone ever tell you that you look like a character I created this one time?

Another problem is the protagonist, and the actress who plays her. Kate McGrath’s acting in this series is wooden and emotionless, to the point where I want to pull out my phone and find something a bit more animated. Not to mention McGrath’s Irish accent breaks through her attempts at whatever the Canadian equivalent of the General American accent is. As for her character, I find it hard to sympathize or connect with her. I get that her parents were brutally murdered, and that she’s got more than a few reasons to investigate these murders, but other than that there’s not much to her character besides her ability to make and act on connections the police can’t. She feels more like a construct or an idea of what the final girl in slasher stories can be than a real person.

So with all that, is there anything positive about Slasher? Actually, quite a bit.

For one thing, it’s interesting. Fault it for how derivative it is and for the wooden lead, but the show’s writers know how to set up an interesting story. Every character has secrets, and it’s fun to watch those secrets get opened up and divulged to the other characters and the audience. You’re also kept guessing on who the killer is until the final reveal, and there are a bunch of other twists that keep the story feeling fresh and exciting. And there are scenes that are both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. There was one scene in the seventh episode that particularly got to me, and the way it was done was just so artful and well-done. So despite it’s derivative nature, it’s good to see that they can keep an audience interested in the story. Especially an audience that goes through a lot of trash trying to find gold and therefore knows all the cliches.

And while the lead isn’t that great, some of the other characters are just a lot of fun. Dylan Bennett has an interesting character arc in relation to his job as a journalist, the events unfolding around him, and their effects on his marriage. And Christopher Jacot as gay real estate agent Robin is always a blast to have on screen. I think I fell a little in love with his character. Patick Garrow’s incarcerated killer Tom Winston is surprisingly likable and sympathetic. And Dean McDermott as Police Chief Iain Vaughn is also a nasty character I love to hate, and the twist his character takes in the show is thrilling, to say the least.

And this is just a small thing that I really liked, but there’s an interracial couple in this story that’s actually somewhat functional and doesn’t make race the focus of their drama. Whenever I see interracial relationships on American television, it’s always portrayed as something filled with drama, and the race thing comes up in a big way at least once. There’s none of that here. Even better, it’s a black man and a white woman. I’ve seen the reverse a couple of times on TV, but this might be the first time I’ve seen it in any medium. Props to the show for portraying diverse backgrounds and experiences and not making it a huge deal. That’s still something others are having trouble with, as the fact that I’m pointing it out makes evident.

So what’s my final verdict of Slasher? Well, I think a 3.0 out of 5 seems right. Yes, it’s not the best horror show out there, nor is it the best attempt to turn a slasher into a TV series (*cough* Scream was awesome, and I’m so excited for season 2 *cough*), but it keeps your attention and has more than a few things going for it. Assuming there’s a second season (no word at this time if there will be one), there’s a good chance that the people behind the show will learn from the problems of the first season and fix them for the next one.

Oh, and for those of you who’ve seen AHS: Hotel, you may notice more than a few similarities between this show and that season, enough to make you wonder if there was plagiarism involved. Turns out, both shows’ stories were conceived and filmed around the same time. It’s just that one aired after the other. It’s a weird coincidence, but a totally innocent one.

I’ve been watching a lot of Supernatural on Netflix lately, and something in the most recent episode I watched got me thinking. It was stated at the beginning of the season that the main villain of the season, the demon Lilith, is breaking magical seals to raise the demon Lucifer out of Hell, and she needs to destroy sixty-six seals to do so. Based on that, I thought there were sixty-six seals in total, which seemed reasonable. According to the episode I watched yesterday though, there are over six-hundred possible seals, and Lilith needs to only destroy sixty-six to get Lucifer out of Hell.

Now I’ll admit that I’m still working my way through the season, so there may be more to these seals than what I know right now, but based on just the description I have above, that’s a pretty poor security system. You’re keeping the ultimate evil bound by six-hundred seals, but only sixty-six need to be destroyed to let him out? That’s like only needing an eleven percent passing score on a lie detector test to get access to Top Secret national security files. You’re just acting for trouble.

With that in mind, as well as my thoughts on the movie The Boy that I reviewed earlier this week,* I got to thinking. Sometimes creators do things in fiction that make absolutely no sense when the fans get to them. Obviously, there are things in fiction that are most likely impossible–the magic of Harry Potter, actual giant lizards like Godzilla, TARDISes and Time Lords (sadly)–but we forget that so we can enjoy the story. This is called suspension of belief, and it’s how we can enjoy these stories. However sometimes a creator–whether it’s a book, a movie, a comic, or a TV show–is just too hard for us to believe. When that happens, the story, and our enjoyment of the story, suffers horribly.

With that in mind, here are some things every storyteller can do to make it easier to tell a story without dong something that will make a reader/viewer say, “What the hell? That’s so stupid!”

  • Avoid the unnecessary or stupid twists. Back to The Boy again, which, if you haven’t read my review, singled out the twist that the boy Brahms was alive and a full adult as the movie’s biggest fault. I get that they were trying to distinguish the movie from others like it with a unique twist, but besides feeling kind of lame, the twist made the whole concept of the movie nonsensical (see my review for full details on that). If you plan to include a twist in your work, ask yourself a few questions before you use one, such as: is this twist necessary to make a good story? Is it predictable? Does it make the story seem silly or even make the events of the story make no sense? I’m convinced if the filmmakers of The Boy had asked these questions, they might have had a better movie on their hands.
  • What brought people to your work in the first place? I love bashing 2009’s Friday the 13th remake, because it is such a terrible film. In fact, the filmmakers even seemed to think that the movie was crap, or that they were unable to really make a great Friday the 13th film, so they packed in as much swearing, sex and nudity, drugs, alcohol, and raunchy or childish humor as possible. The result was a film that felt like it was trying to be one of those dirty teen camping trip comedies that had to remind itself every few minutes it was about a serial killer living on a lake.
    If you’re going to tell a certain type of story, keep in mind at every step what sort of story it is and don’t focus unnecessarily on elements that are only a small part of the story or even unnecessary. In the case of Friday the 13th, people watch those movies to see Jason go on a rampage. The sex and drugs and all that other stuff are just added bonuses as well as what causes Jason to target his victims, not why we pay nine dollars at the box office. And the fact that the filmmakers felt those elements were more important is why I’ll always enjoy bashing this piece of crap out of Michael Bay’s bum.
  • Could this happen in the real world? I have a lot of problems with the Hunger Games books.** One of my biggest problems is how the series ends: Katniss finds out President Coin ordered the bombing that killed her sister, so she kills Coin in revenge as Coin takes control of the nation. The new government of Panem hushes up Coin’s treachery to preserve the new order, so for all intents and purposes Katniss just assassinated the new President unprovoked. And Katniss…is portrayed as a girl gone mad with grief over the loss of her sister, she gets exiled to District 12 with weekly phone conferences with a shrink, and lives happily ever after?
    I don’t care if you’re the face of a movement, if a similar revolution occurred in America, and the face of that revolution killed the new leader, you bet that person would at least get locked up in a prison or psych ward so they couldn’t tell anyone what they’d done. Exile and getting to raise a family? Nothing bad happens to her? I don’t care if she has nightmares a lot and never tells us her kids’ names because she’s afraid of losing them, that still would never happen in real life!
    So when you’re telling your own story, ask yourself if a situation is so unbelievable, even in the wackiest of fiction, that people can’t suspend their disbelief anymore. If it is, you might want to consider tweaking it so that guys like me don’t go on a rant about it on the Internet.
  • If it needs a lengthy explanation for why it happens, you might want to rethink the why. This one comes from personal experience. When I was writing Reborn City, I had this really complicated reason as to why my protagonist Zahara Bakur had to join the Hydras. That, and another situation later in the book had really complicated reasons why those things had to happen. It wasn’t until later drafts that I realized how overly complicated those situations were and found simpler explanations for why Zahara had to join the Hydras or the other thing had to happen, explanations that were so simple but worked so perfectly I wondered why I tried to use the run-around logic that a smart reader could easily poke a hole in.
    So if you want a specific event in your story to happen for the sake of the story but the way you get it to happen is really overly-complicated, requires a lot of explanation, and from certain angles makes no sense, perhaps you should reconsider either the event or why it happens. It beats having two unnecessary pages of dialogue explaining why something needs to happen when a much simpler explanation is at hand, at any rate.
  • And finally, don’t forget what is obvious or necessary. This kind of fits into my third point, but I’m making it separate because I feel that’s the best way to present it. Anyway, in one of my fiction workshops in college, a classmate turned in a story that took place in a post-apocalyptic setting. It was a good first draft, but a major problem I had was that the protagonist apparently forgot his bow and arrow at home. I said to her, “This is a world where people dumb enough to leave their weapons at home while on a trip are likely to get killed a hundred different ways. No seasoned hunter like this guy forgets his source of food and protection.” In the same way, make sure that you avoid moves like that, where a character does something that makes no sense for someone in their position or the setting has some part of it that also makes little sense when you think about it. Trust me, it will improve the story if you avoid those problems.

In the end, the thing you want to tell is a good story. Avoiding anything that strains the credulity of your audience can be very difficult, but with trial and effort, you can get very good at it. This is also why I recommend having your stories looked at by editors or beta readers who won’t spare good advice because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or risking your friendship. They can help you avoid these traps and improve the overall product of the story.

What tricks do you have for avoiding situations that strain the credulity of your audience?

What are some stories where they did something that really took you out of the story?

*By the way, it’s been nearly a week since I published that post, but an average of 36 people a day have been checking that post out since. I guess I’m not the only one who found that twist completely stupid.

**Especially the trilogy’s very backstory. A nation in the far-flung future had a massive civil war, and the Capitol decided that to stop future rebellions, the entire country should revolve politically, economically, and socially around an annual death game involving youth from the Districts? If Panem can genetically engineer scary monsters, they can synthesize a drug that takes out aggression and dump it into the Districts’ water supply. Problem solved, and all those seventeen-hundred and twenty people who died for the Capitol’s perverse pleasure instead grow up to be contributors to society. Yes, that is diabolical and I know I’d make a great dictator. My mother informed me of this fact when I pointed out this problem with the books.