Quick Hit: Oddly watchable, this manga-turned film features bloody gore and questionable performances.
I haven’t ever read the manga Death Note, but I have friends that absolutely love it. So I went into this movie slightly optimistically – especially since it featured Willem Dafoe (I’m still trying to forgive him for The Great Wall). The result, from director Adam Winguard (The Guest) is a slightly uneven and even more tone deaf, but gives you more than one reason to watch it.
To boil the plot down for those that have no idea what it is: essentially a gloomy teenager, Light Turner (Nat Wolff) finds a book called Death Note, which summons a Death god (Willem Dafoe). All Light has to do to kill someone is write their name in the book. There are a bunch of rules surrounding it, which are immediately glossed over. In fact, I think that’s the most disappointing thing about this movie – tons of details are immediately glossed over, just to get back to beautiful scenes of people dying. Light also involves his girlfriend, and in a quick montage, they have created a god responsible for ending/reducing (not quite clear) crime.
Ok, more goes from there, but back to the actual review. The film is really well shot at times. There is a haunting, good things about the Happening scene where a bunch of people die in the same way, and it’s oddly hypnotizing – almost as if it’s daring you to join in the fun. I also enjoyed a lot of the way Ryuk (the death god/Willem Dafoe) was portrayed. He’s a lot of fun, and incredibly impish – but for some reason has a soft spot for apples. There seems to be a lot more to understand about Ryuk, and I’d actually like to know more, so maybe some manga in my future.
The rest of the performances, outside of L (Lakeith Stanfield) who I’ll mention more in a minute, are bonkers bad. Wolff literally made me laugh a couple of times with his acting, particularly in the first scenes with his girlfriend, and the scene where he first meets Ryuk. I can dismiss the scene with Ryuk because it was played a bit for comedic purposes, but it’s not the only example of a performance gone wrong. I didn’t mind Dafoe, but I again didn’t love him here. It almost seems like no one really knew what was going on with the film, and what kind of film they were making. Considering the subject matter, that’s not surprising.
Mr. Stanfield, however, wrings his performance as some type of super detective for all its worth. It was a performance that could have been a Sherlock Holmes rip-off that instead turned into one of the weirdest I’ve seen in a while. It’s almost as if he was attempting to portray a character who stepped right off the panels of a comic – jerkiness to his motions and all. Plus, it’s just really odd – I would love to find out more about his upbringing.
The effects are fairly good. The beginning scene to really hook you on Death Note will have you cringing and immediately comparing it to Final Destination. I’m going to give it a C- overall, just due to its inability to find a tonal balance.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Filled with more of the same frantic fights and sharp suits from the first film, this sequel will please fans of the series with more of the same.
Matthew Vaughn is probably one of my favorite directors. He doesn’t exactly put a movie out every six months, but a lot of his films (Kickass, X-Men First Class, the first Kingsman) are worth waiting for. That’s because they are often really different from the surrounding filmscape, and usually filled with some type of ultra-frantic violence (well, when they are rated “R” anyway). So I was pretty interested when I saw he was actually directing the sequel to the fantastic The Secret Service.
What I was met with was a sequel that is solid. It’s a little over reliant on a couple of things, but definitely will be a crowd pleaser for those that enjoyed the first movie. It essentially follows Eggsy after the destruction of the Kingsman, as we jaunt across the pond to find the Statesman, the American counterparts to the sharp dressed Bond stand-ins.
One thing of note – everyone seems to be having just so much fun in this movie. Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle) continues to show why he is a growing star. From scenes where he needs to be filled with emotion, to scenes where he has to be a convincing agent, he continues to show why he was the right choice for the series. But the supporting characters really step up here. Julianne Moore is drippingly good and terrific as the villain. Jeff Bridges continues his Southern winning ways here, but I think Mark Strong was the true hero of the film (in more ways than one). Mark Strong’s performance also leads me into the music – it was an absolutely terrific soundtrack. I instantly want to buy the orchestra’s rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads”.
As I stated, I think the film is a bit overly reliant on some things that worked so well from the past. There may just be one too many frantic fight scenes and maybe just one too many America is full of honky tonk hick jokes, to flesh out the freshness that the original brought to the screen. Along with that, plot conveniences, like a character from the previous film returning, lend to a feeling of surrealness to it all. That’s not to say that Kingsman should ever seem realistic, but it should feel at least grounded in reality. Between the stylized fight scenes and the tons of CGI – some of which is really, really disappointingly bad – a lot of the grounded feel of the first one gets lost in the shuffle.
The overall plot is fun, and extremely topical. I really enjoyed the President here - a friend of mine actually stated that it seemed to be the first representation of Trump as President, which made me laugh. I also thought that some of the plot, though a bit overdone, was really good at making light of bad situations. The humor was really solid throughout, sometimes carried by Poppy and the terrific Elton John. I never would have thought that someone could live up to the Bill Murray cameo in Zombieland, but this way probably surpasses it. Hilarious.
Criticisms aside, I found myself really enjoying the sequel. I’m going to give it a “B” overall.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Terrifying in its intensity, and loose on narrative structure, this film is unforgettable in its portrayal of the heroin epidemic.
Trainspotting, adapted from the novel by Irvine Welsh, is an incredible movie. Filled with the manic, drug-fueled intensities of a young Ewan McGregor, Kevin McKidd, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, and Robert Carlyle, this film is really unlike most that you’ll ever see on screen. It follows these young men on their addiction driven schemes as they run around Scotland in the 1990s.
Trainspotting is worth a watch, but be warned – those with weak constitutions should not watch this movie. It has some of the most unflinching portrayals of some horrific parts of our world – disgusting toilets, detoxing, AIDS, addiction, and, perhaps most shocking, crib death. You’ll be cringing frequently as different parts of the movie flash by in an instant, because Trainspotting rarely gives you time to take a breath – when it does, it’s mainly to allow you to truly appreciate how far gone these young men are.
The actors and manic camera direction are what make the movie. From the start, McGregor’s portrayal of Renton (and his associated voice over) gives us both a character to hate, and one to root for. As he prepares to give up drugs, and talks about Sick Boy’s perfected way to detox, you’re welcomed in by his enthusiasm and willingness to accept us into his world. But isn’t that the way drug addiction always is, welcoming and warm, inviting… before moving to a cruel world of debauchery and hate.
A perfect example of how this world can go wrong is Kevin McKidd’s Tommy (if you’re wondering what you recognize him from, it’s either Made of Honor or Grey’s Anatomy). Beginning the film as the only one who doesn’t do drugs, he is the epitome of health, and is often portrayed lifting weights. However, after he has his first taste, his life quickly devolves. When we last see Tommy, he can barely be bothered to get out of his bed. It’s haunting, but not nearly as much as the scene where we see Renton trying to detox. Some of those scenes gave me nightmares.
However disgusting the film may be in its portrayal, it’s a wonder that Danny Boyle made it watchable, and even funny. In fact, it’s hilarious and beautiful at times. Part of that is the witty banter between the different cast members, and the hilarious situations they often find themselves in. But some of it is the frequent need to release some of the tension built up in the heavier scenes. So when we see Renton die in a toilet in search of suppositories, you can’t help but laugh – otherwise, you’ll cry and won’t stop til the end of the film.
I liked Trainspotting, and I think most film fans will too. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"