Review — Death Note (2017)

Alright, here’s the rundown of Netflix’s original live action adaptation of Death Note. Overall, I thought it was good. Not amazing, by any means, but long story short, the problems I had didn’t involve the actors, the character choices (well…), or any of the obvious changes they made to the original story. My biggest problem was the plot holes.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about something first. Obviously, comparing any movie adaptation to whatever it was based on is going to be bad for one of them, which ostensibly means that, of course, “the book is always better”. But that really isn’t fair, because the book will have several hours more than the movie will to establish everything, and to be blunt, there is more going on in movies. More people involved. I think that, and a number of other reasons, makes changing the original story to fit two hours forgivable.

I think Death Note did a good job with what it had to work with. The opening shot made sense, and was cheesy. A book falls out of a sky, and the protagonist is confused. He looks up to figure out where it came from, but it starts raining really hard really fast, so he takes it with him as he gets out of the rain. Curiosity is the primary reason he takes it at first, and it isn’t forced or cheesy. Plus, the sudden rain shows the unnatural power involved with this thing, and as a bonus it does a great job setting the tone of the movie.

That said, the progression of everything that happens makes a lot of sense. The thing I liked about the anime was that a lot of the time, Light was clever and did things I never would have thought of to hide his identity, so it was even more impressive when L narrowed it down eventually anyway. I really didn’t get the sense that Light was brilliant in this movie, though. I know I just said comparing it to the original is bad, but hear me out. The wit involved in both characters actions and interactions was what made the anime for me. If this was just some shmuck with the power to kill people I wouldn’t be interested because I wouldn’t believe that he would avoid being caught. But Light isn’t that clever in this movie. He’s not (that) stupid, mind you, but he’s no genius. So it makes it a little annoying when L doesn’t figure it out right away. Obviously, they have to fill the two hours, but I’m watching this for character brilliance, damn it!

(Minor spoilers here: Specifically, L publically threatens Kira and, when he doesn’t die, deduces that Kira must need a name and a face in order to kill. The problem is, this is speculation, not proof. He claims that if Kira could have killed him, he would have, but then, he also knows Kira is human. Humans are petty, so it could simply be that Kira is arrogant and wants to see how competent a detective L is. The fact that L doesn’t consider this as a possibility is, frankly, a little odd.)

Another great thing that the movie does is that it plays with the “rules” of the magic of the notebook, and does it in a way that makes sense. They aren’t hard to grasp onto once the audience is shown that it can work, so when things go wrong because rules are twisted in ways you didn’t expect, you have to give them credit.

A few times, though, it bent the rules without explaining. There was a time that Light wrote a condition describing how somebody would die if they took an action. As far as we know, though, writing the name in the book kills them. There is no “if” about it. The movie doesn’t confirm one way or another how this works exactly, so it seems weird. Another time was when Light threatened to write the name of his death god, Ryuk, in the book to kill him. Ryuk basically says, “Good luck. The furthest anyone has gotten is two letters.” Except in an earlier scene, the book has some notes in it that says “Don’t trust Ryuk. He’s not your friend.” Sounds like his full name has already been written in the book, so how is he not dead? Is there some rule that you have to have deadly intent when you write their name? Because that’s not established in the movie.

All in all, it’s a solid movie. It has some good scenes (the one where Ryuk is introduced is very well done), and the story is really dramatic, as you might expect. Also not surprisingly, it’s very graphic. Also, this one is certainly way better than the other live action Death Note, of which I remember nothing about. I consider that a blessing.

Review –Lockwood & Co. Series

As much as I hate doing a review on an incomplete series, I feel now is the best time to talk about the books as I’ve just finished the most recent one, The Creeping Shadow, and the fifth book doesn’t even have a title yet. By the time I read that one I won’t remember anything about the first four. All that being said, I’ll follow my usual rule and avoid spoilers altogether, as this is still an ongoing series.

Lockwood & Co. is a fun young adult series by Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which is an odd series of books in its own right. They’re both supernatural fiction series (I had to look up what it was called because “urban fantasy” doesn’t really describe either series). They’re also both set in a not-so-modern England, and the premise of Lockwood & Co. centers around ghosts.

The ghosts are pretty much what pop culture models them to be, though obviously in this series they are a reality. They all have a source, or something that ties them to the ‘real’ world’, and for whatever reason only kids can see, hear, or feel them. As people age into adulthood, they lose their ability to sense anything ghost-related, so this world ends up solving the problem by setting up several agencies where kids are the ghost hunters and the adults are the supervisors that handle the paperwork.

The smallest agency, however, has no adults. Its founder is the illustrious Anthony Lockwood, and rather than governing dozens or even hundreds of agents, it is merely him and his two friends, George and Lucy, handling the business. The story is told in Lucy’s perspective, and the books themselves take on a sort of suspenseful murder mystery more often than not. These ghosts can kill them, after all, and they have to figure out what happened in order to set these ghosts to rest.

Now, as with Jonathan Stroud’s other series, the best aspect of these books isn’t the plot or the characters, but rather the charm. The narrator, Lucy Carlyle in this series or Bartimaeus in the other, often carry a sarcasm or wit about them that makes a lot of the situations they find themselves in rather humorous. Often when I explain this sort of thing I’d include an example, but alas, the best ones I can think of all have spoilers in them! Rest assured, Stroud does a phenomenal job giving his characters maximum use out of the irony they happen to come across, and the books are, as I said, a lot of fun. Also, as a very small side note, but something that should be taken as quite an accomplishment, this is probably the first series in which I’ve wanted to see two characters get together. Often I hate that, and I can’t really explain why this time its different, it just is.

Touching on what I would call the largest shortcoming of the series (I like to say at least one positive and one negative thing in these reviews), is the lack of scope. In the Dresden Files, you get a small-time wizard trying to solve some crimes and help some people, only to find himself caught in the midst of a supernatural war that spans time and even reality a dozen books later. I love to see the scale of a book series grow larger as I read, but with Lockwood & Co. that doesn’t really happen, at least not on a comparable level. Three books later they’re still kids, managing the same sorts of happenings from their modest accommodations. Rather than the scope enlarging, the books merely deal with very large and important events that occur within these characters’ lives. Yes, they can affect the state of the country in some ways, but there’s no “level up” in the sense of what baddies they’re facing or anything like that.

When I’m reading Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Scott Lynch, you name it, I typically concern myself with the world. Worldbuilding is my passion, after all, so its only natural for me to find myself enthralled with all of the nations and cultures Sanderson touches on in The Stormlight Archive and fill in the gaps myself. But with Stroud books, there isn’t very much worldbuilding. Since it’s just a twist on our own world, there really isn’t much to learn, so I read those books for the character. These characters, rather than the lovable, insanely powerful idiot wizard Harry Dresden (written by Jim Butcher) or the emotionally detached, off-putting creepiness of John Cleaver (by Dan Wells), you get the innovative, clever, daring, yet clearly juvenile personalities of Lockwood and his friends. They each have fun characters, and even some of the annoying, more useless and minor characters fill a very important role in the series, so even their presence isn’t frustrating.