Movie Review: Death Note (2017)

(Ho-wdy, Ho-rror Ho-mies…Apologies for dropping the ball a bit around here for the last little bit. I had some personal matters to attend to, butt now I’m back in action and ready to make the spookening happen. 🙂 First up, a review of something near and dear to my cold, black heart…Death Note. This take on the new NetfliXXX adaptation presented by Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks for the interesting input, Kinky Kolleague! 🙂 xoxo)

It’s a tired cliche to say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but that old chestnut is given new gravity in Adam Wingard’s Death Note, an American incarnation of the popular Japanese franchise. In the film, a few strokes of a pen etched within a most peculiar notebook are all it takes to kill anyone at anytime. Imbued with the abilities of a literal death god, the titular “Death Note” is the murder weapon to end all murder weapons: elegant, efficient, and damn-near impossible to trace. The notebook’s current owner uses its awesome power to purge the world of those he deems evil, resulting in an epic battle of wits between the wielder of the book and those who seek to stop him.

Since 2003, Death Note has been adapted many times over. Starting with the anime adaptation of the original manga, each interpretation retains the primary characters and certain scenes, but always tells its own version of the tale, with new twists and wrinkles. However, despite the many variations on the same story, it seems most adapters agree that the material is simply too much to tell one outing. The manga spawned 12 volumes, the anime series has 37 episodes, the Japanese live-action films gave its take in two films, and the live-action mini-series had 11 episodes. Regardless of the changes made, Death Note is still a massive story.
And that is where the problems begin. A story as sprawling as Death Note shouldn’t be confined to a little over 90 mins.  The picture feels rushed and overloaded, losing much of the power previous tellings had. What’s worse is that precious screen time is spent on paltry teen drama that exists in no other version. Instead of building up the rivalry between the murderous Light and the detective L that’s so central to the franchise, it places emphasis on a boring girlfriend character who would not be out of place in a Disney Channel movie. Much of the suspense is replaced with teen angst, questions on the nature of justice are tossed out for bland romance,  and the Light depicted here is more of an awkward teenager than a diabolical vigilante. The entire affair has the unfortunate quality of feeling like a man in an iron maiden: cramped and bloodless.

Despite these considerable flaws, I actually did find quite a bit to love here. Adam Wingard’s direction is superbly stylishly, with extraordinary color usage, some fun death scenes, and some truly moody moments. Light’s character is significantly neutered compared to previous takes, but Nate Wolff does an admirable job as this version of the character.  The other performances range from pretty good to downright excellent, with Lakeith Stanfield’s L and Willem Dafoe as the death god Ryuk emerging on top. Speaking of Ryuk, the effects used to bring him to life(?) are simply marvelous, giving him a Satanic grace and a perfectly demonic appearance.

Death Note is likely to disappoint fans of the source material, but may be of interest to those who love teen horror. There are moments that evoke the black magic of the franchise, but it’s best taken as on its own.  Wingard’s film is deeply flawed, but not without flashes of greatness. Perhaps if he makes that rumored sequel, Wingard will deliver a film that lives up to the both his own potential and that of the material. There’s still time to make us see the Light.

Goon Review- Stranger Things, Chapter Four: The Body

(Part of an ongoing series on the series by Andrew Peters…Thanks, ho-mie. Netflix and chill? 😉 xoxo)

Did the last episode leave you heartbroken and in tears? Well good, that’s the sign of a good show. If Stranger Things hasn’t drawn you in by now emotionally and has you totally interested, then you aren’t human. Chapter Four, called The Body, opens like you’re recovering from a gut punch, only to be hit a harder time, but as the episode goes on, you recover from that punch and you’re pissed off and you want to do something about it.

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Immediately, we see Hopper breaking the news to Joyce about the identity of the body, but she is in total denial, telling him that she has been hearing her son speak to her and then there was that monster that came out of the wall. Of course, Hopper thinks that she’s cracking and at this point, you might believe it too. We’re only halfway through the series, so it would be an interesting twist if Joyce is actually going bonkers. This scene is made about a thousand times more sad by having the song Atmosphere by Joy Division playing over it. I’m a huge Joy Division fan and my mind goes to the end of the Ian Curtis biopic, Control.

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Well hey, let’s keep things sad for a little bit. Like, you know that cute little romance between Mike and El? Let’s throw a wrench in that for a moment, as Mike screams at El, believing that she was lying to him about Will’s fate. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking this is. It’s like watching your best friend and that girlfriend he had that was really awesome breaking up. Luckily at this point the show knows it’s played with your heart too long and suddenly Will’s voice crackles over the radio, thanks to El and her amazing superpowers…and her love for Mike. It’s so adorable. These two better kiss by the end of the season, I swear. This later gives the boys the idea that maybe if they had a stronger radio, maybe the could contact Will! But where to find one? You remember that ham radio their teacher had in the first episode? What, did you think they were going to introduce it and not use it? That’s called Chekov’s Gun, son. This leads the boys into disguising El so that they can sneak her to school, and Stranger Things takes full advantage of a typical, stylized ‘80s fashion montage and it’s pretty funny.

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Now for the moment of truth. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Was that Will’s body that was found? While waiting for Joyce to ID the body in the morgue, which she doesn’t believe it is, because he is missing his birthmark, Hopper learns that it was someone from the “state” that performed the autopsy. This stirs up his suspicions, while Jonathan tries to get his mother to sign the death certificate, she refuses and believes her son is still out there. Hop starts to think maybe she isn’t nuts and it’s fairly obvious at this point that she isn’t. Well, at least to us, but to everyone else, call the men in white coats.This is when you see Hopper’s habits of the big city cop shine as he takes it onto himself to conduct a private investigation by heading to the bar and befriending the doctor who performed the autopsy and questions him Dirty Harry style, but a mysterious black car spoils most of the information he was trying to squeeze out of the dirtbag. Who could it be? The answer is obvious, but also questionable. Needing answers, Hopper heads back to the morgue to get a conclusion and upon inspecting the body, he discovers what he and Joyce feared all along…

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Back at school, the boys finally get some justice at an assembly for Will. Overhearing the bullies making fun of Will (who they still believe is dead), Mike charges them and pushes one of them over. Things start to get really heated as it looks like the bully is about to charge Mike and beat the crap out of him, but he seems to freeze in place, almost like Professor X is controlling him. Well, it’s this movie’s equivalent of Xavier. El has him locked in place, but instead of knocking him back, promoting violence and blowing her cover, she makes the bully wet himself. It’s a hilarious moment, but one I’m also very proud of. Violence, especially amongst kids is never a good thing and would have been an odd turn for the series, but to give the bully a taste of his own medicine, some good ol’ fashioned public humiliation was a good trick and a much-needed moment of victory and comic relief.

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We haven’t talked about Nancy at all, since she didn’t have much to do, except for a pretty pivotal part of the series. While being questioned at the police station, she pieces together one of the photos Steve ripped up of Barb and notices something very spooky in the background. Something that doesn’t look human. She tells Jonathan about it and he thinks it’s the same creature his mother has been raving about. And to wrap things up, Joyce hears Will’s voice from within the wall at her home and rips apart the wallpaper only to reveal a womb like thing we see a familiar face that sends Joyce in a frenzy, but the wall heals back up. All this is going on while Hopper returns back to the lab to bust in and bust some heads.

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Seems like this series is at its peak with excitement, answering more questions while asking more. At this point, I’m totally hooked and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Goon Review- Stranger Things: Chapter Three, Holly Jolly

(Submitted by Andrew Peters…Thanks so much for these. I am so loving this show!!! 🙂 xoxo)

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Well, Chapter Two ended with quite a scary moment, didn’t it? Poor Barb being dragged off to that other world, leaving us to wonder about her fate. No need to wonder too long, as Chapter Three, called Holly, Jolly, starts off by (mostly) showing us what happened and where she is. It’s basically a mirrored world covered in darkness with what looks like ash falling like snow and black tar gooping about. So, it’s kinda like Silent Hill. Hopefully Barb is wily like Will or this doesn’t look too good for her.

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Sheriff Hopper and his merry band of deputies head on down to Hawkins Lab to take a look at all of the security footage which, of course, looks like there wasn’t so much as a peep that night, but our trusty Sheriff realizes there was something off about those tapes, something missing. Something that’s a big tip off that the tapes are faked and those goons are lying. This calls for an ‘80s inspired montage of investigation! This scene is a total throwback to not only montages, but to technology as well. For those of you that unaware, The Google didn’t exist in the early ‘80s, so the Sheriff has to go to the local library (remember those?) and dig through microfilm! I remember little ol’ me doing that when I was a first grader. Hopper manages to dig up a little bit of dirt at the end of the scene. Seems the good folks at Hawkins Lab use to run experiments on children and that Dr. Brenner is somehow involved in CIA experiments. This is starting to get deeper than we could have imagined. Also, it’s at this point that I forget that’s Private Joker from Full Metal Jacket.

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Speaking of Dr. Brenner, El has another flashback while in Mike’s basement while toying with her powers to that time she was escaping from isolation and killing the two guards. This time, not only as to why she was isolated, but we see further into it as Dr. Brenner immediately witnesses the aftermath. Rather than being angry about it, he is in awe, almost like he’s in love. He remarks that it’s incredible and carries her away safely. This does add an interesting perspective to his father-esque angle. You also get a glimpse at the toll using her powers takes on El. All I can think right now is that it’s a good thing Mike’s mom never goes down into the basement. (LOL That has definitely occurred to me, too! 🙂 -D.P.)

So what have the others been up to, you ask? As you can imagine, Nancy is going nuts looking for Barb and fearing that something bad has happened to her, what with happened to Will and all. Steve continues to be a dick and Joyce… well Joyce is kinda going off the deep end, but can you really blame her? Believing that Will was trying to communicate to her through the electricity from the previous episode, she strings up Christmas lights to communicate with Will. The answers she gets to the questions she asks and what follows is predictable and although it’s not too scary, it still has a creepy vibe to it.

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The best moment in the show, so far, comes at the conclusion of this episode in what feels like a possible revelation. After all that searching for Will and all those heartfelt moments about his fate seemingly come to a close. Everyone cries, including you, but still you know it can’t be true. The series isn’t even halfway through for them to reveal something like this, so it feels like an obvious red herring, but it still gets to you. Deep. Like Joyce, you power through, but the performances of these kids is so emotional and tear jerking (a phrase I hate using, because of how lazy and cliched it is), you just want to cry with them and hug them and tell them that everything will be okay. It’s at this moment you realize the powerhouse of a cast this show has and this is what truly makes it work. You don’t care about the lack of things that people mistake for something that makes a show good, like sex and gore – two things that most shows feel are necessary to have in order to be successful. The connection the kids, as well as the parents, feels real and it makes you feel connected to everyone in some way. I get the feeling this cliffhanger is going to be resolved early on in the next episode, but for now I shall weep myself to sleep.

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Goon Review: Stranger Things, Chapter One

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks for the rec, Ho-rror Ho-mie. This is so going in my Must View Queue, posthaste!! 🙂 xoxo)

Stranger Things was one of those shows that I heard nothing about until I saw a teaser for it, and everyone was right when they said it oozed influences of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter. That much is apparent within the opening few minutes of the show, as it opens with a near Halloween III like similarity, melds into E.T., but then seemingly becomes something like Dreamcatcher. Okay, that last one may not be one of the better examples, but it’s only a small aspect of it and you’ll see what I mean when you see it.

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The show opens up with a scientist running down poorly lit corridors (always a good sign) for his life from something unknown. He stops at the end of the hall and waits as the lights flicker. Finally, something unseen takes him and that silent hallway becomes empty. It may have been nothing more than a jump scare, but I think what’s more important is that it peaked our interest and set up what we are in store for. What was it? What did it want? I have a feeling we aren’t going to find out in the first episode, but over the next eight we will. But will we want to stick around for it? I get the feeling we will. Or at least that’s the indication I get from this opening and I’m already hooked.

Now, we meet our central characters, the people that the story will primarily be focusing on; some kids, Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will. This particular group of friends is introduced via balls deep in a D&D campaign that seems to be going to shit quick. In order to save the group that is about to be devoured by the beast approaching them, Will decides to cast a fireball instead of a protect spell (which would have been easier for his character), but only if he rolls a seven. The dice hit the floor and scatter. The kids frantically look for them, but Mike is called upstairs by his mother who tells him it’s time for bed. Returning to the basement, the others lie to Mike about the actual dice roll and it seems they are saved and the campaign isn’t botched afterall. As they are jumping on their bikes and leaving, Will tells Mike that it was a seven and his character died. Why am I talking about this? Well, it sets up not only what is about to happen – a tad predictable, but it was done in such a fun and familiar manner – but, to me, it feels like this is going to come back, maybe more than once. They later comment that Will could have easily protected himself in the campaign, but chose to sacrifice himself in order to save the others.

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But to continue talking about that, we need to talk about the core of the show. On the way home, Will vanishes after a very frightening scene. Seeing something in the shadows (the execution of this scene reminded me of Xtro), he crashes off his bike and runs home, only to discover he is alone… but not for long. He spots the creature looking at him from a distance through a dirty window and through a fog filled backyard with laundry flapping on the clothesline, a little Halloween nod, it takes Will and simply vanishes. It’s creepy and ominous that the camera sits on the shot of the lightbulb dangling alone for a few moments before fading to black and rolling the opening credits.

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Now a group of scientists, led by Matthew Modine, investigate what happened in that very familiar fast walk and talk that you don’t catch any of. This is the part of the story I was actually least interested in, because I’m so invested in a Goonies-type adventure to find a missing friend. I just want them to get back to the basement and finish their D&D campaign! They do mention “the girl” has gone missing and this is when we meet Eleven, who pairs up, eh, shortly with a cook when she breaks into his diner. He takes pity on her and feeds her, but unfortunately the big bad scientists find out where she is and come for her, leaving her to flee the scene. I know what you are thinking, “how can a little girl escape grown adults with guns?” Well, she seems to have some kind of powers, kinda like in Dreamcatcher (see, that’s where that reference comes in). She knocks them to the floor and makes her escape. She’s a cool character and plays the mute role well and I can’t wait to see what more they do with her. Also, if she’s the eleventh, will we find out about the other ten?

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The next day when Will doesn’t arrive for school, his mother (played frantically and heartfelt by Winona Ryder) understandably panics and contacts the Sheriff. Unfortunately, he’s a little washed up do to a situation with his family that’s briefly mentioned, but they don’t go into it yet. It’s cliched as all hell, but you still feel sorry for the guy. After finding his abandoned bike, the Sheriff rallies a search party, but the boys feel like they need to play detective and retrace Will’s route home. This leads them running into Eleven in the middle of the woods. The episode ends and you are more than likely deciding that you are now going to binge watch.

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I hate to say that the show harkens back to the ‘80s horror and sci-fi or that it’s reminiscent of that era, because it’s a serious understatement and it doesn’t tell you why that it’s so great other than if you only feel nostalgic for the ‘80s. Sure, good thoughts of lame cartoon shows on t-shirts pop in your head, or things like Dungeons & Dragons, bowl haircuts, high waisted jeans and big glasses and those are great memories, but Stranger Things goes beyond that. It not only looks, but it absolutely feels like it was made in the ‘80s. Hell, I had a hard time recognizing Winona Ryder. I have seen countless films that try to take place in another time or say they are influenced by the ‘80s and most of them fail or don’t quite get what they are homaging. Stranger Things gets it and for a good reason; it brings you back to your most impressionable, where your greatest memories are and it does this because this is a time you were growing up and developing. It really resonates with you considering that this is the first time since, well that decade, that actually looks like what it’s supposed to. Maybe I’m going on a bit too much about this, but you gotta look at it from our ‘80s kids’ point of view. This is, like I said, impressionable on us, because this is when we grew up. Everything we loved and now miss is properly represented in the show and that’s not limited to the aesthetics. I’m talking about the heart of the show. The adventure. The idea of you and your geeky friends hopping on your bikes and trying to solve something you believe is a mystery.

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The show follows some familiar ‘80s movie cliches, but it never feels like a joke or an homage. It feels like it’s a part of that plot, because it just works so well with it. It’s not really doing anything new with it or groundbreaking, but it is making it interesting that you want to keep watching to find out more. Not only that, but these characters are so likeable! How many of us grew up playing games in a friend’s basement or chatting over walkie-talkies when we should be sleeping? For the most part, the spotlight was divided equally among the cast, with a few exceptions, like Will’s brother wasn’t given much to do, but at the end of the episode we learn that he has an eye for photography. Maybe that’s something we’ll see a little more of? Winona Ryder plays her role of grieving mother quite sadly and you want to pat the girl on her back and tell her everything is going to be okay. She doesn’t play it sitting down and crying however (although, she does do that), she gets up and searches for his son, including his really kick ass tree fort everyone would be jealous to have.

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Stranger Things opens with all pistons firing. It has mood, atmosphere, it uses jump scares, but they work for the context of the show and most importantly, it has characters you care about and want to see more of. I know this is being said about the show non-stop, but it feels like the aforementioned filmmakers got together in 1982 when all three were at the top of their game and made a cool PG-13 horror/sci-fi/adventure flick. That’s right, it doesn’t bask in gore, sex and nudity, which is odd for a Netflix show since they seem to love that shit, even if it seems pointless and stops the story dead in its tracks, and instead focuses on what actually matters; the plot, characters and the important ‘80s aesthetics. You should probably stop reading this and put this show in your instant cue now.

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