Lの本当の秘密/Death Note: L Change the WorLd

[Screenshot]Death Note is a hot property, and mostly deservedly so. What I’ve seen of the anime is clever and thrilling; I’m given to understand the manga is on a par with it. The first two live action movies (as reviewed here and here) were authentically enjoyable and mostly lived up to the promise of the preceding works.

This film, on the other hand, is a stupid pizza topped with extra stupid. It involves a competition among the various principals, all of whom are supposed to be fiendishly clever, as to who can behave in the most incongruously ridiculous way. We can start with the primary macguffin, a virus like Ebola, but far more infectious and more rapidly deadly. Incidentally, two things which keep Ebola from being much more dangerous than it is happen to be… its extreme infectiousness and short incubation time. It’s a horrific disease in a small area, but it tends to burn itself before becoming an epidemic.

The dumb things people do when fighting over this virus and its vaccine are mostly not worth mentioning, but two things stand out: first, a very important person ends up changing hands because, AFAICT, one side simply couldn’t be arsed to wonder where she is. Yes, L is supposed to be a bit spacey, but he’s also supposed to be smart. Second, and more damningly, the conclusion of the movie has ecoterrorists hijacking a plane to the US, with the intent of starting an epidemic there. They manage to accidentally infect themselves with the virus before the plane lifts off the ground.

A word of advice to terrorists: if you are infected with a virus which makes you bleed out your eyes and die in less than an hour, you might want to scratch the plan which involves a transcontinental plane flight. Perhaps, instead of flying to the fourth largest metropolitan area in the world, you will settle for the single largest one, which you’re already in?

Of course, one would think L, hearing of this plan, would breathe a sigh of relief as every single virus-carrier perishes in a plane crash, relieved to have foiled the plan at the price only of a single airliner full of innocents (this would arguably be in character). But instead we get a thoroughly uncharacteristic and risky action sequence which manages to save everybody.

This is, needless to say, a disappointing addition to the franchise. L’s mannerisms can’t carry a film, even in conjunction with Near’s equally odd quirks, and I miss the old days when Death Note-related media was intelligent.

(A note on contrasts: this review’s a lot shorter than the last review, also of a Japanese film but a classic. Writing about good film can be hard, because there’s especially if you don’t want to spoil the plot, one can only indulge in so much admiration. Tearing a bad or mediocre film a new one, OTOH, is always fun.)

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

I am on record as not liking the 6th book in this series, and liking the seventh book even less. In contrast, I was favorably impressed by John Yates’s adaptation of the sixth book to the screen, so I remained cautiously optimistic about the prospects for this film.

Well, this worked out almost half-decently. Escaping from the confines of Rowling’s often ill-turned phrases helps. I couldn’t ask for excellence given how much unmitigated crap there was in the plot of the original work, but Yates once again showed a sense of discrimination, and a lot of the offensively stupid bits were conspicuously absent (the Ron-disguising-a-ghoul bit, the coy teasing with bits of Dumbledore backstory, Fleur’s outrageous accent) or changed up enough to actually fit tonally (the random professor tortured at the beginning of the story, Hermione’s frequent mind-erasures). There’s enough relationship tension between Hermione and Harry to actually make Ron’s frustration seem contextually more appropriate. The individual elements of this story are actually fitted together to work, which is a nice change.

The acting’s also good, but we know these actors by this point in the series and can trust them. Lamentably, the plot is contrived to keep the brilliant British adult actors who shone in the first few films offscreen for most of the running time, but the kids do an acceptable job. The cinematography and the effects are also excellent. The real problems with this film, alas, are the plot-structure bits which are dumb or uncinematic but couldn’t be excised completely, most conspicuously the central structure of sitting around in a tent waiting for a deus ex machina to drop in and put the plot back on rails. There are a couple of magical-mechanical things which were iffy and were lamentably left in: that the deluminator has the second and completely unrelated function as a magical Google Latitude, or that the Sword of Godric Gryffindor can destroy horcruxes because it once had contact with basilisk venom. But the fact that I’m reduced to this sort of niggle in discussing a film based on as flawed a book as this one was is a testament to the filmmaker’s craft.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

新世紀エヴァンゲリオン 劇場版 DEATH & REBIRTH シト新生/Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth

[Screenshot]Watching the “reboot” of Evangelion reminded me I’d never seen the original Evangelion movies, although I’d had both the beginning (oh, no, Shinji, you didn’t) and the end (mmm, orange Tang) of End of Evangelion spoiled for me. But I didn’t get good advice on what to watch, so I started with what I thoguht was the “first” movie.

I may be coming on a bit negative for the franchise, but D&R is, like the first episode of the reboot, a complete waste of time for anyone who’s already seen the TV series. Death is a 70-minute recapitulation of the first 24 episodes (read: the episodes which didn’t suck quite badly enough to cause fans to riot). So it’s almost all stuff we’ve seen before (unlike the reboot, in which the exact configurations of scenes seen before were lovingly redrawn, this actually is a clip show), somewhat out of order and framed by the presumption that Shinji, Asuka, Rei, and Kaoru are in a string quartet (sure, why not?).

It has far less of the extremely annoying navelgazey bits that didn’t work in the series, but it also has far less of the parts that did work, and rushes throguh the setup so quickly that bits might get lost. I dunno, I followed it OK, but that’s because I’ve seen it before.

Rebirth is the first half of End of Evangelion, which gets its own full-length review. Suffice it to say that it does not actually end satisfactorily, which is excusable for something which purports to be episode 25 of 26, but a bit of a disappointment in something which is the second half of what is ostensibly a standalone product.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 序/Evangelion: 1.0

[Screenshot]There was much fanfare about the “reboot” of Neon Genesis Evangelion, because prevailing opinion is that the franchise was long on good ideas, short on execution that didn’t suck hard enough to make even a sadist profoundly embarassed for the creators. This was supposed to fix that so I went in prepared to have my socks knocked off.

Well, I’m still wearing my socks (and I don’t do that often, since they don’t go with sandals). Hideaki Anno may have a different concept of “reboot” than I do. Hellsing Ultimate and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood are demonstrably different tellings of tales bearing a close relationship to the franchises they come from. They share plot, characters, and themes, but they’re fundamentally creative works, whereas Evangelion 1.0 was, to someone not doing a frame-by-frame comparison, almost indistinguishable from a clip show pulled from the first six episodes of the TV series. There is one plot-significant difference I could detect, and otherwise I felt like I’d basically had my time wasted.

Now, in fairness, the first six episodes of NGE were quite good, and the parts the reboot needed to fix up came later. But philosophically it feels wrong: if something’s rebooted, it’s nice to get an early definite signal that it’s taking a different take. Yes, presumably they’ll excise the sucky bits, but slavish devotion to the source material is not reassuring: it was slavish devotion to Hideaki Anno’s vision that made the original series a miserable mess, after all (well, that and running out of money. Apparently there’s nobody at Gainax who can take a large number of yen and divide by 26. Division by 4 is easier, though, so that won’t happen again, right?).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

[Screenshot]Harry Potter is one of those dues most geeks have to pay just to keep up with trends. I’m on record as detesting the last two books, and steadily becoming less thrilled by the film franchise as it rumbles forwards as well. So nobody is more surprised by me to find that the film of the penultimate novel is actually pretty good.

One of the biggest problems with the franchise, in its final phases, was the increasing dichotomy between the essentially inane boys-own-story worldbuilding where school is the most important place and untrained teenagers regularly defeat the forces of evil and the attempted tonal shift to gritty realism in which J.K. Rowling periodically kills secondary characters to remind us that she is writing Adult Themes.

OK, that may have been harsh, but the point is that Rowling’s a bit clumsy at managing tone and film is a better medium for that sort of thing. Where the book was unable to take itself terribly seriously for more than 3 pages at a time, the film of HBP cleates a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. There amy be a bit too much of Draco being moody, but overall it sets an atmosphere in which the dire predicitons about the gathering storm fit. It’s stuck with the plot of the book, unfortunately, which means that we still get occasional unfortunate inanities, most prominently the whole awful Ron-Lavender-Hermione love triangle, which is delivered in as unsubtle and cutesy a manner as possible. By way of contrast, Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright have a good screen chemistry, which is actually more believable than in the book, which swept aside the baggage of book 2’s awkward crush leaving nothing to replace it (it helps that movie actors grow up. Ginny shows no real character development in books 2­–5; in the movie we have physcial maturation as a shorthand for emotional maturation).

I’d put this in the short list of films which are actually better than their source material: it takes all the things J.K. Rowling can’t actually write too well and makes them shine. The parts which were stupid even before they were set down in prose are still stupid, but there’s more good than bad here.

It would be interesting to see if Yates can salvage the dreadful mess that is Book 7. Maybe we’ll get a movie about Voldemort’s coup and/or the student resistance force, both of which are far more interesting subplots than the extended camping trip that makes up most of the main plot of Deathly Hallows.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Post-timeskip Elfquest: Hidden Years, Shards, and New Blood

[Screenshot]I am kinda not a fan of timeskips. They smack of lazy storytelling to me. Nonetheless, after Kings of the Broken Wheel, the Elfquest main storyline was a bit of a mess, with about half the principal characters having a millenium of storyline to catch up on, which the other half completely jumped over that bit of storyline due to plot contrivance. What followed was an astonishingly fragmented storyline, not all of whose confusions could be blamed on the temporal weirdshit.

The short version: Hidden Years starts off following the KotBW principal characters, with occasional one-shot diversions. Then a new quest starts and the group splinters into two: the questing group gets their story told in Shards, while the Wolfrider core group goes off and wanders aimlessly in the remainder of Hidden Years. Meanwhile, over in New Blood, a raft of second-string writers are churning out increasingly dire material, including—I kid you not—a Smurfs crossover. Eventually, Team Elfquest decides there are better stories to tell, with greater continuity, and decides to put the New Blood writers onto building storyline out of the largely obscure crowd of elves who aren’t featured in the other two storylines. Eventually, New Blood ends up tellnig two different stories: one rather compelling one recounting a rather peculiar encounter with the descendants of humans featured in prior storylines, and one apparently pointless one concerning an unlikely and apparently plot-irrelevant invasion of Sorrow’s End. So we have 4 storylines, of varying quality and relevance.

It perhaps goes without saying that I was, in the main, unimpressed with the muddle these comics represent. Part of this is, perhaps, my own fault. I was reading them on the Kindle, which is not, perhaps, how they’re meant to be viewed, since they actually have vibrant color which is more than a little useful in distinguishing among the characters in the enormous cast. Another problem, and one which the gallery layout does little to prevent, is that I was reading them serially: first Hidden Years, then Shards, then New Blood, while the stories therein are really meant to be read in parallel.

However, even accepting the limitations of my own reading, I’m dubious about these storylines. The aforementioned enormous cast of characters makes it hard to be too emotionally invested in any of them, and the plot itself (er, plots themselves) doesn’t feel as compelling as the original series. As for the art, it’s stylistically moderately different, but I’m not sure I can in good conscience call it inferior: it’s simpler and less busy, making more use of color contrast (see above re my misfortunes on the Kindle) and simpler designs.

Ultimately, I’d say this is worthwhile for anyone who felt the series was left hanging by KotBW, but I wouldn’t really mark it as a must-read except for completionists.

See also: Wikipedia, Free online gallery.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Hoo boy, was this one ever a disappontment. Pretty much every geek between the ages of 25 and 45 was overcome with anticipation when it was reported that there was another Indiana Jones film coming out, and, lo and behold, it was an awful pile of crap. Lucas and Spielberg remember the components of an Indy film, but somehow seem to have forgotten the connecting tissue and character interactions which make an Indy film actually enjoyable to watch. Crystal Skull jerks spastically from one setpiece to another with little regard for narrative continuity or science. No, one doesn’t go to these films for plot coherence or good science, but one expects a modicum of effort along these lines, and when pretty much every single scene is unrelated to the last as well as completely scientifically wrong, the audience loses faith. So after an exciting cart ride from a warehouse where magnetism works completely wrong (Spielberg checks off “cart ride” from his list of Indy-things), we end up in a suburban mockup which is nuked for no good reason. And then, later, on, the jungle car-to-car fight (Spielberg checks off “jumping between jeeps and trucks and other vehicles”), terminates with a completely random and biologically suspect ant attack, and the apotheosis of Shia LeBoeuf as the Monkey King, a revelation which makes no sense and is thus never referred to again. The whole fucking film is like this. It makes my brain very sad.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.