Sunday, 27 August 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: DEATH NOTE


8/10

Light Turner is an intelligent high-schooler with a strong sense of justice. When a cursed notebook ends up in his hands he realizes that he can change the world. A name written in the book will cause the person’s death. Light quickly tests the book on the high school bullies and then turns to bigger fish – the serial killers, terrorists, child molesters… soon the world knows him as a famous god of death -  KIRA. But what is the point of being a superhero if you cannot share your secret with anyone? Is the enigmatic Mia, Light’s classmate, a suitable candidate? Has Light  finally found his soul-mate or is it the biggest mistake of his life?

Mia’s and Light’s relationship is tested when a mysterious detective only known as L starts closing in on them...

When thinking about the last adaptation of Japanese manga DEATH NOTE, “stylish” is the first word that comes to mind. The material has already been turned into two very successful movies in its home country, one an anime series and one a live action tv series. The American flavored 2 hour Netflix redo is faithful to the original, while bringing a lot of visual candy and suspense on to its plate. The original DEATH NOTE had never really been a horror series. Focusing on the duel of two minds, instead of action, manga mostly consists of conversations, and the murders, while disturbing, happen mostly “off-screen”. Director Adam Wingard (the man behind my all time favorite “YOU ARE NEXT”) turns the kills of DEATH NOTE into Final Destination inspired death traps. It is gory and effective. Horror fans will not be disappointed.

Racing at incredible pace the well constructed script brings in set pieces that threaten the atmosphere of the original. The final scene, with the crashing down ferris wheel, could only be born in the mind of a teenager who likes blockbuster movies. But as the final revelation comes it actually makes perfect sense.

The movie has different takes on the main characters from the source material. While Light is given more humanity and indecisiveness, the world’s greatest detective L takes a walk on the dark side. And Demon Ryuk, Light’s sidekick, and the original owner of the deadly notebook, has much more power here, and has a much more evil presence. He always remains the real monster and manipulator, while in the manga this role is given to Light.

Spending years of my life reading the original story, waiting for the new weekly installments as they were released in Japan, I was not disappointed with this NETFLIX incarnation of DEATH NOTE. The script is overloaded but inspired, the action fits perfectly into the story, giving it a blockbuster quality, and the performances from the main trio – Light, Mia and L were top notch. Special mention goes to William Defoe as monster Ryuk – these CGI performances will soon have a special category in the  Oscar nominations.

This DEATH NOTE would have been a perfect adaptation if not for an abrupt ending. This is the rare case where a film would have benefited from a longer running time. 


Thursday, 17 August 2017

TV SHOW REVIEW: TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL


7/10

A suitcase with the unidentified body of an Asian woman is found on Bondi beach. Detective Constable Robin Griffith, who returns under a cloud of internal police investigation, is on the case. It becomes clear that the suspicious death is somehow connected to a local sex venue and a man nicknamed “Puss”. This 42 year old is the lover of Robin’s long lost daughter Mary. Focusing on the underbelly of Sydney sex venues and illegal surrogacy, CHINA GIRL is about motherhood. Who is the real mother? The one who gave you your life? Or the one who raised you?

The second season of TOP OF THE LAKE : CHINA GIRL is an odd animal. Building up an interesting premise it does not deliver on any level, but is utterly addictive for a reason I struggle to define. It has the magnetic atmosphere of Scandinavian noir. Shot in a washed out pallet it is the coldest Sydney you had ever seen on screen. 

The reason to enjoy the series is the performances.  Elizabeth Moss has mastered the expression of emotional pain. Here she is presented as a rather weak character, someone unable to protect herself, and finds her inner strength only towards the end.  Nicole Kidman is spot on as an upper class feminist (although she does not have the screen time that her character deserves) and Alice Englert delivers a perfect mix of vulnerability and strength to her young adult character of Mary. This could have been a disastrous performance for a lesser actor, considering the script at hand. Englert is the star to watch!

The story unfolds with menacing slowness. There is a feeling that something terrible is about to happen, but it takes its time. The plot leads to some unexpected turns of events, but here, unexpected means unwanted. It is hard to watch the finale without frustration - do not hold your breath for big revelations from the so-called murder mystery. It really is a slap in the face.


The best way to describe CHINA GIRL is “experimental”. It uses all the familiar plot devices, overuses coincidences, the story is totally improbable and yet… it is still believable as the writers and directors make it so. Rivalling the frustrating experience of watching the new season of Twin Peaks (both seasons of TOP OF THE LAKE heavily borrow from this show), CHINA GIRL makes all the wrong choices, but remains a compelling, if not satisfying, TV series that make you think.

Friday, 4 August 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES



8/10

It's been years since the super flu wiped out most of the human population and made apes smart. Cesar and his tribe are looking for a new home, while being relentlessly attacked by human soldiers. When the leader of the humans, a self proclaimed dictator known as The Colonel, goes too far, Cesar and his best mates are in pursuit, to exact revenge. This fatal journey leads them straight into peril…

The third and the seemingly final installment of THE APES trilogy is an epic conclusion, and like its predecessor it focuses on human (or rather ape) drama more than action. Here is an extremely well written movie that does not shy away from exploring the darkest sides of humanity.

WAR is a particularly grim film. It is bleak, violent and often scary. After the explosive action of the opening scene the story becomes a slow burn, further exploring the character of Cesar who is constantly questioning his moral choices and is riddled with doubt and regret. Is he becoming a villain himself? The final confrontation with The Colonel, his latest nemesis, is more a struggle of wills than a physical battle and is resolved in a rather unexpected way.

Putting accent on suspense rather than on action, the film explosively culminates with an over the top set piece - a welcome and satisfying conclusion to the heart wrenching drama of the last hour of the film. 

The funny moments are few but are top notch. The comic relief comes from the character of Bad Ape, a chimpanzee created by actor Steve Zahn. He is proof that a CGI mask cannot conceal a great performance. 


WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has many nods to bigger and arguably better films, such as Apocalypse Now, but it has its own dark beating heart. Being a perfect conclusion to a thought provoking SCI FI trilogy, it delivers both -  eye candy and food for the mind.