On Friday, Netflix dropped Death Note, a live-action film adaptation of the popular manga/anime of the same name. Since I was free for most of Sunday afternoon, with no plans besides counting down the hours until the seventh season finale of Game of Thrones, I figured I may as well check it out. After all, it was something I was looking forward to, despite the valid whitewashing criticism.
Before you read through my review, please keep in mind, I haven’t read the manga version of Death Note, nor watched a single episode of the anime series. I’m merely critiquing the Netflix movie on its own merits.
Also, while I’m not going to outright give away the ending, I do make references to certain plot points of the film, which may be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. So proceed with caution.
Death Note focuses on Light Turner, a smart high school kid who doesn’t seem to have any friends. His mother was recently killed, leaving just him and his cop father, a dynamic which causes a rift in their relationship. His mother’s killer walked away from the charges and Light doesn’t feel his father pursued the killer hard enough. One day, during a freak storm, Light finds a notebook, the Death Note, which grants the user the ability to kill anyone whose name is written on its pages. There are a bunch of rules associated with the Death Note but it all boils down to “killer notebook.”
Along with his girlfriend Mia, Light (I can’t believe this is the kid’s name) goes on a killing spree. They target bad guys and people who hurt others in an effort to “better the world.” In the process of their murders, they attribute the killings to a karma god of sorts, whom they name Kira, as a way to strike terror into the hearts of evil-doers.
The murders attract the attention of L, an eccentric detective who is fueled by candy and often forgets to sleep. Being a sugar addict seems like an odd character trait to give a prominent character so I assume that this was a carry-over from the source material, but it really seems out of place. The film tried to explain it with an off-hand remark about the “insulin rush” but the trait doesn’t seem natural. In a long form narrative, like the manga or the anime, a quirk like this can developed and also used as a detriment to the character, such as when he’s in a situation lacking sugar. The movie, however, just shoehorns it in with very little (if any) explanation, so it comes off as silly.
Then there’s Mia, Light’s girlfriend. She’s the guiding force in Light’s usage of the Death Note, a girl with a dark side that she hides from the rest of the world… except the movie makes the audience aware that she is the “bad girl” from the minute we first see her. She’s smoking a cigarette at cheerleading practice, for example, so clearly she’s edgy. The problem is that Mia has no depth. We never get a glimpse at her past, or at her home life to really understand why she’s so messed up. She is 100% gung-ho about using the Death Note, to the point of threatening Light’s life to convince him to give it to her but it’s never clear why. She’s deeply disturbed and would make for a fascinating character study, but unfortunately she’s used as a side note, only meant to push Light further and further to see how far he’ll go.
My main problem with the film is how easily all of the characters accept the idea of the supernatural being involved in the murders. Light’s cop father wastes no time coming to the conclusion that his son is Kira despite the physical impossibility for him to be so. Even L, with all his grand detective skills, fingers Light early on as the culprit, assuming he has some sort of latent telepathic abilities that allow him to control and kill people.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if the movie established itself as part of a world where this sort of this was commonplace. A few references to some of L’s past cases that document criminals with telepathy or whatnot would go a long way here. From everything we’re shown, however, the viewer has to assume that the film takes place in our world where the laws of physics apply. Yes, Light has a magic book that can kill people but that’s the outlier, not the natural order. If L had been shown to be chasing this book for a decade and realized that it found its way into Light’s hands, his deductions would make sense. But L, from what we’re shown, doesn’t know about the book’s existence and still manages to guess almost every rule. It’s implausible and makes the movie hokey.
I also had a really difficult time figuring out who I should be rooting for. We get why Light has a hard time with life: his mother is killed, her killer buys himself out of a prison sentence, and he has to deal with bullies at school. So when he gets the Death Note and he’s able to turn everything around, his first act is to kill a classmate. It’s a little out there and doesn’t do much to establish himself as a “good guy.” When it comes to L, the guy who is trying to find justice and stop these murders, we never really connect with him. He is so quirky and abstract that it’s hard to find common ground, so despite his intentions, we don’t really care if he wins or not. It isn’t until he suffers a major loss do we see him exhibit any kind of emotion, and by then it’s too late into the film for the audience to really connect with the character.
So who do we root for? The down-on-his-luck killer or the eccentric detective?
Death Note was directed by Adam Wingard, who is best known for V/H/S and for surprising everyone in 2016 with a new Blair Witch movie. I like Wingard as a director but he seemed to miss the mark with Death Note. The movie is remarkably directed and looks fantastic but really suffers from all of the logical and character inconsistencies in the script. I feel like there was definitely the possibility of a good movie, especially given the depth of the source material, but lacked the proper execution.
The cast did a great job with what they were given. Nat Wolff, who played Light, really felt like a lost, angry child, mad at the world for everything that happened to him. Wolff brought a lot of energy and emotion to the role and makes the character likeable despite the terrible things he does. Juxtaposed with that, Lakeith Stanfield as L made a great foil. His delivery as the stoic, brilliant detective drew that divide between the character and the audience, which made it so effective when the character hit his emotional breaking point. As a viewer, I felt his sadness and his rage, and enjoyed the way this emotion mirrored Light’s own, making them two sides of the same coin, of sorts.
Even Margaret Qualley was fantastic as Mia. Though the character has the least depth of the cast, she’s a driving force to the story. Qualley plays the role with a certain coolness, almost emotionless. It makes the audience wonder if our opinion of the character is wrong or if she truly is a sociopath. Which is a great take considering how little backstory we get of the character.
One of the highlights of Death Note, though, was Willem Dafoe as the voice of the demon Ryuk. Dafoe never shows up on screen but he brings life, ironically, to the death demon. His performance is reminiscent of his take on the Green Goblin in 2000’s Spider-Man, which I liked. He added a lot to a character that spends most of the movie shrouded in shadows and gives the audience something to grasp.
A Death Note film like this was a huge undertaking, considering it needed to boil down 37 episodes of the source anime into a 100 minute feature. Despite its missteps, the cast and crew did the best they could, unfortunately that didn’t make for a wholly great finished project. It’s the kind of movie to watch on a lazy weekend, or when you’re home sick hopped up on Nyquil. While it captures the dichotomy of doing bad things for good reasons, it doesn’t really explore those themes and just comes off as a superficial revenge story. Though I really did enjoy the final scene and the open-ended finale, I feel like all I really got out of this movie is the desire to watch the anime in the hopes of finding a good, complete story.
It is not often that I am stricken with an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I love new things, new content, and new ideas; so while nostalgia does not elude me completely, it is hardly ever the feeling I am aiming for when digesting media. When something like Stranger Things comes out, it not only reminds me that the reminiscing on the past is great, but it is also a gateway into why we love the things we love.
Stranger Things is the orgy love child of old movies like ET, Goonies, and Monster Squad, with genetic hints of great directors like Spielberg and John Carpenter. While Stranger Things dances on the line of homage and Netflix original, it does so with extreme grace. And though it is going to be difficult to navigate around spoilers, as the premise of the show revolves around one giant mystery, I will not spoil this increasingly interesting series. The less you know about Stranger Things going in, the better for this fresh take on the thriller genre. If you were an 80s kid, strap on your denim jacket, your mop top, and your Duran Duran T-Shirt and prepare to get weird because as the title suggests, Stranger Things is a delightfully bizarre experience.
The show is elevated by an amazing cast of both familiar faces and new young performances. Winona Ryder and David Harbour carry the torch for the adult arcs while newcomers Finn Wolfhard (as Mike Wheeler), Millie Bobby Brown (as Eleven), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair) all carry the very intriguing kid’s arc. Though the adult and child arcs are different in terms of characters on screen, everyone is working towards the same solution – finding the answers to the overarching mystery.
While the adults do great with their conflict, the real heart of the show comes from the child actors who feel handpicked by Spielberg himself. Finn Wolfhand really takes the role as the star of the show and plays well off of Millie, who is sure to have oodles of work here in the future. This dynamic duo has a bright career ahead of them as working actors.
Though shorter than most series at only eight episodes long, the viewer gets a satisfying ending – despite the elements of cliffhangers and eventual continuations. The creators of this show, the Duffer Brothers, have the elements of being the next Russo Brothers (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Civil War), and I have a feeling we will be hearing plenty more from this team.
I can’t help but have a rant about how this show tugs on the strings of nostalgia throughout its entire run time. The first episode opens up with the kids playing a session of Dungeons & Dragons and manages to recapture what it was for me to be a kid at that time. Drinking soda, riffing each other, and calling each other names while trying to figure out exactly what the Dungeon Master wants us to do. That opening scene has a flood of childhood memories flow into me that have a very homey feeling, just like movies like Super 8 did that tackle a similar story/era.
The music is fully synthed and harkens back to classic 80s horror and slasher flicks, and the way the sounds hits the ears is pleasing in every sense of the word. Hats completely off to “Survive,” a band from Austin Texas, who did the opening theme for this show, which is perfect in setting up the tone. The style of music chosen coupled with the aesthetic of the sets brings to life a lived in 1980’s style world that feels as real now as it did back then. The billboards, the store fronts, the wall posters, the clothing, and the lingo all work in tandem together to bring this era back to us in ways that will have our childhood racing to the forefront of our frontal lobes.
Background aspects can only add more realness to the story, and this is where Stranger Things really shines. In terms of plot, the mystery is solid, and has you guessing from start to finish. By the show’s finale, the viewer ends up in completely new spaces where the laws of our universe no longer apply to the ones previously created in this show. The journey is as amazing as the destination itself.
Stranger Things is a hard recommend for the consumers who love weird and outlandish mysteries. This Netflix Original is the embodiment of the 80s, and a reminder that this generation was the thriller genre’s golden era. Netflix has been on a roll over the last two years and Stranger Things continues that trend. We don’t get shows this special as often as I would like, so it’s an obligation to check them out whenever they manifest themselves into our dimension of consumerism.
Finally, my favorite water based game has been turned into a Netflix original series! Kidding aside, Marco Polo seems like one of those shows that you either hate or love. While I understand that this show may not be for everyone, I implore anybody who has a fascination with history, the Silk Road, or the khans, to check this show out because it offers so much more than other shows on TV at this time.
Marco Polo takes a page out of the History Channel’s show, Vikings. It takes real historical figures, real moments in history, and real locations, and mushes them all together in a period piece show that takes many liberties in the name of creating a more entertaining and interesting story. Marco Polo also studies at the school of Game of Thrones as it ties its story and pacing directly towards the political intrigue of the world they are building. Multiple scenes this season of Marco Polo had me thinking of Vikings and Game of Thrones, and while this show is not on the same level as those, I feel it is playing in a similar ball park in terms of production, wardrobe, sets, and props.
The show itself is called Marco Polo, but with limited clarification that the real Marco Polo ever even spent time in China looming over the credibility of the show, you have to go into it knowing that this series is not striving to be 100% historically accurate.
In the first season, the actor who plays Marco Polo, Lorenzo Richelmy, comes across as wooden, uninterested, and overall not a pleasure to watch play the character. Thankfully, though the show takes his name as its title, he has limited screen time despite being the starring man. Like many, I am of the camp that think the show should be renamed to “The Silk Road,” because the show is more about the Mongol and China war as well as Kublai Khan and his family. However, while watching Season 2 there was something so obvious in the changes Lorenzo Richelmy made to his performance. His line delivery was not as pain educing, and he showcased much more charisma that we all think of when pondering about the type of person the real Marco Polo probably was. Lorenzo did seem like he was in the shoes of the character more, and was having more fun walking in said shoes. By no means was this a memorable or amazing performance, but it was serviceable and that was enough for me to really get behind his scenes this season.
The real star of the show and ultimate scene stealer is Benedict Wong, who plays Kublai Khan. This guy has one of the most kinetic performances on TV right now. Every moment he is on screen he is oozing the great Khan of Khans which offers many memorable moments of a wide range of emotions on display. I could watch this guy act ALL day, and I think it would be a crime if he weren’t recognized by some sort of award, be it verbal or physical.
There is always one character that I do not get enough of, and heck could even use a spin off show on and that is Hundred eyes, played by Tom Wu. Tom Wu is relatively unknown in terms of leading man roles, however he did have short spots in movies like Batman Begins, 007: Skyfall, and Kick Ass 2. This surprisingly talented actor really shines as Hundred Eyes, the blind monk who “serves” for Kublai. Some of the most emotionally rich scenes this season are from him and the always lovely Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) who continues her resurgence as the mighty protector, Lotus. There are so many great martial arts scenes with these two together as well as apart. The choreography really shines when either of these two are on screen.
Marco Polo is a show that looks good in terms of cinematography, set design, and wardrobe. Even though this show does not live up to the plateau that Game of Thrones and Vikings shows have created, it still stands on its own as a very intriguing and interesting “historical” show. The acting may not be perfect across the board, and some of the arcs may not bare fruit until late game but, the pacing always worked for me as a person who is deeply interested in the political and cultural nature of those times. While the show offers a somewhat high barrier to entry which relies on the viewer’s personal interest in this culture, the times, and political ongoings, I strongly suggest any and all who are interested in the Silk Road to check out this show. Start from Season 1, check out the Hundred Eyes episode in between season one and two and then finish off with 2, which ends on a major cliffhanger which has me hoping we will get plenty more of this show. It seems the viewers enjoy it more than actual critics, so it is just one of those polarizing shows that require your own eyes to see where your views align. Mine align strictly on the side of fandom and I could not be more hyped for more to come.
If you enjoyed it and want to chat, or need some convincing and want to ask questions, leave a comment for me below and I will be more than happy to interact!
Zombies and vamps, rejoice! October is neigh upon us and we are kicking off this spook-tacular month with a ton of content to get you in the SPIRIT of Halloween here at Sub Cultured!
Join us every day for our Countdown to Halloween with ideas and activities to make your blood boil! We will be featuring tons of content that focus on the holiday, from living vicariously through those attending New York Comic-Con, more on Hispanic Heritage Month, our favorite Halloween Costumes From Your Closet, Instagram challenges to test your full sensory intake of everything supernatural, and an all-new segment called “Netflix and Chilling,” where we experience the best horror movies in each different sub genre that you can stream from your dark, evil lair. Or living room, whichever.
Check back throughout the month of October for more! You can also follow our terrifying shenanigans on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #SCareMonth. Get it? SCare? Because Sub Cultured?
Well, it’s all over the internet, so you might as well hear it from us. Netflix’s changes in programming (is that the right word?) for December have been released, and we figured you’d want to know about it. Don’t lie we know this is the most important news you’ve heard all day.
We’ll start you off with the bad news: Here’s a list of titles that you can either watch today from the comfort of your bed, or you’ll have to actually go out and buy the DVDs. And that’s, like, a lot of effort. Watch ’em the lazy way while you still can, folks.
1941 (1979) The Apostle (1997)
Audrey Rose (1977) The Believers (1987)
Better than Chocolate (1999) Blood & Chocolate (2007)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Chaplin (1992) The Choirboys (1977)
The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970)
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) The Cold Light of Day (1996)
The Constant Gardener (2005) Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
Cry-Baby (1990) Dirty Dancing (1987)
Double Indemnity (1944) En la Cama (2005)
Event Horizon (1997) Eye for an Eye (1996)
Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997) First Knight (1995)
Five Easy Pieces (1970) Foreign Student (1994)
Free Men (2011) Funny Lady (1975)
The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) The Girl from Petrovka (1974)
Going Berserk (1983) The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
House of Voices (2004) How to Frame a Figg (1971)
I’m Not Rappaport (1996) Imagining Argentina (2003)
Invaders from Mars (1986) Ishtar (1987)
Joe Gould’s Secret (2000) Joe Kidd (1972)
Johnny Mnemonic (1995) Killer at Large (2008)
King of the Hill (1993) Lonely Hearts (2006)
Magic Trip (2011) Magicians (2007)
Mission: Impossible III (2006) Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
Monkey Shines (1988) Mr. Mom (1983)
‘night Mother (1986) Night of the Creeps (1986)
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Opal Dream (2006) The Other Side of the Mountain (1975)
The Other Side of the Mountain, Part 2 (1978)
Our City Dreams (2008) The Paper Chase (1973)
Paradise Alley (1978) The Parole Officer (2001)
The Pirates of Penzance (1983) Prairie Love (2011)
The Presidio (1988) The Promise (1979)
The Proposition (1998) Reds (1981)
The Return of Count Yorga (1971)
RoboCop 2 (1990) School Ties (1992)
The Sci-Fi Boys (2006) The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Spice World (1998) Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Swashbuckler (1976) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
They Might Be Giants (1971) The Untouchables (1987)
The Vampire Lovers (1970) Walker (1987)
Year of the Horse: Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live (1997)
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
What’s Getting Added
Alright, so that’s a lot of taketh-ing, but Netflix is a merciful god and it also giveth, though not all at once. Here’s the new titles popping up along with the dates when we’ll be able to find them.
A Knight’s Tale (2001) Almost Famous (2000)
American Beauty (1999) Bewitched (2005)
Jewtopia (2012) Knights of Badassdom (2014)
Madison (2005) Out of the Clear Blue Sky (2012)
Out of Time (2003) The Out-of-Towners (1999)
Troop Beverly Hills (1989) Turbo FAST (New episodes)
Son of God (2014)
Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (2014)
American Horror Story: Coven Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Super-sized version (2013)
Ava & Lala (2014) Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Season 3)
I Am Ali (2014)
Drive Hard (2014)
A Haunted House 2 (2014)
The Village (2004)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Broadchurch (Season 1)
Marco Polo (Season 1)
Nick Offerman: American Ham
Don’t Blink (2014)
Jake Squared (2014)
The Honourable Woman (Season 1)
All Hail King Julien
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Extended Edition (2014)
Dark Skies (2013)
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)
The Trip to Italy (2014)
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2014)
Good People (2014)
Child of God (2014)
Labor Day (2013)
Behaving Badly (2014) Comedy Bang! Bang! (Season 3)
I, Frankenstein (2014) Maron (Season 2)
Jessie (Season 3)
Last Weekend (2014) (aptly titled.)
Let us know what you’re most disappointed to see leave, and what your new binging fave. will be! Personally, I’m still waiting to marathon Harry Potter without getting up from my couch…but I won’t hold my breath.
All lists Via Hollywood Reporter. Images from Once Upon A Time, which I (somewhat ironically?) watch on Hulu.
As I sit here in my “There Is Always Money In The Banana Stand” shirt, watching a 24 hour marathon of Arrested Devlopment marathon on IFC, I can’t help but think, “AHHHHHHHHH YESSSSSSSSSS NEW SEASONNNNNNNNNNNN!”.
But then fear sinks in… what if it isn’t as good as before? What if I have to put up with fools who are gonna binge watch the whole season in one sitting (if you do you are doing it wrong) and feel the need to share with everyone that they have already finished.
Anyways, I hope all of you have Netflix and will be watching the first couple episodes tonight/tomorrow. I will be putting up a review for the episodes one by one (even though they are all being released at once) and I hope they are as wonderful as ever. As long as they get one episode as good as “Not without my daughter” then I will be happy.