Death Note, Not Really A Horror Movie

imagesLast night, the husband and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix, and we came across this interesting looking “horror movie: called Death Note. The premise is that a teenage boy, Light (yes, that’s his name), comes across a leather journal labeled “Death Note.” In the book, there are a list of rules, but what it all boils down to is that if he writes down the name of the person while holding their face his his mind, they die. He can even pick the method.

He starts with the school bully. (That’s not a spoiler. If you couldn’t see that a million miles away, then this is probably the first movie you’ve ever watched.) Ryuk, presumably the creature who orchestrates the killings, appears to him and goads him into killing more people.

Sounds pretty cool, right? It’s apparently based on manga of the same name, and people who reviewed this vs. the manga on imdb.com said that the creators got most everything wrong.

I haven’t read the manga, but the story felt off to me. The whole time I was watching it, I wanted to like it. But it was too much like bad TV movie instead of the quality I’ve come to expect from Netflix originals. Even worse, the premise was fantastic, and I saw how it could have been great.

What I didn’t like (SPOILERS below):

  1. It turned into a bad cop show. Now, I love cop shows. But this was supposed to be a horror movie. It was like a caricature, with the nameless “secret” detective not only believing that a single person could be responsible for the deaths of 400 people, but then figuring it out that it’s a teenage boy. Yes, Light has people leave his “signature” at their death scenes, but the police never heard of copycat crime?
  2. No real exploration of human nature. The kid starts killing bad people, starting with the bully and then the guy who was responsible for his mother’s death. Which is totally understandable. Light starts dating this girl who’s obsessed with death. At first they’re just killing bad people: rapists and murderers. But when detectives start getting too close to them, Mia wants to kill the detectives and Light doesn’t. This could have been such an interesting storyline, but they just left it flat. Light was the good guy, Mia was the bad guy. Black and white.
  3. The book falls from the sky. The first scene of the movie is that a storm rolls in, and the Death Note literally falls from the sky. Literally falls from the sky. Light picks it up and becomes the “keeper.” This is the dumbest way it could have happened to get the book. Off the top of my head, I can think of many better ways for this to happen. It’s too deus ex machina for me. But at least the opening scene set the stage for how the rest of the movie would go.
  4. Light never wonders what happened to the last keeper(s) of the book. Ryuk alludes several times the previous keepers, but Light doesn’t seem to pick up on it. Ryuk says only the keeper can hold the book for more than 7 days. And that Light can either give the book away, or Ryuk can find a new keeper. But the way he said it made me wonder if the last one died, and how.
  5.  I love when music blends seamlessly into the background, enhancing the mood. This didn’t do that. It led to that caricature-like atmosphere I mentioned before.
  6. The ending was ambiguous. I like ambiguous endings, when appropriate. The ending of Inception was cool because it wasn’t lazy storytelling; it was part of the story. In this case, how it ended would change the message of the entire movie. I understand why the writers did it; to leave it open to the audience to determine, like a commentary on human nature. But the rest of the story didn’t do a good enough job of this to have it end this way.

One thing I really liked:

Other than the premise, the one thing I really liked about this show was the fact that people started worshipping “Kira,” the entity who took credit for the killings. Criminals started turning themselves in to police, instead of waiting for Kira to kill them where they were. I found those two things believable and interesting.

In conclusion:

Overall, it was interesting to watch once. I wouldn’t have been as disappointed by it as I was if it didn’t have such great potential. It’s just that I like when horror explores human nature, and this was a let-down.

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Metaphors and Mad Science

Today’s blog is a guest post, presented by a friend from my critique group. 

Guest blog by Jeff Shaevel

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Writers are constantly working with metaphors. Sometimes they’re direct, as in the phrase ”a tsunami of information.” Sometimes they’re indirect, as in Harry Potter, when J. K. Rowling uses the character Buckbeak as a metaphor for another character (Sirius Black) because both were persecuted for crimes they didn’t commit. Metaphors are powerful tools for improving readers’ experience by comparing to the known (the force of a tidal wave) or to something easier to relate to (the mistreatment of a beloved animal).

There’s another place where metaphors are important: game design. There are many abstract games—such as checkers, Go or most card games—that have no metaphor. The pieces are pieces. The rules are actions to be performed. No effort is made to relate the activity to anything in our world.

Many games, however, are enhanced with metaphors that give context, and sometimes they help make better sense of arbitrary rules. Chess, for example, has a military metaphor, the battle between two armies tearing each other apart and attacking the enemy king. Furthermore, the knight is usually represented by a horse (or figure on horseback) to help remind the players that, like the animal from which the metaphor is drawn, the piece can jump over other pieces.

In designing a game, picking the right metaphors can make all the difference in how much fun players have or how engaged they are in the action. “Chutes and Ladders”—a Milton Bradly game adapted from an ancient Indian game of “Snakes and Ladders”—depicts images of children performing good deeds, which result in a reward of climbing a ladder to further progress, and images of bad deeds, which result in falling down a chute to lose progress. A trivial exercise in shifting tokens becomes a series of stories about the consequences of good and bad actions, and much more fun.

My other half recently created a dice game and it took some effort to find the right metaphors to make the game both entertaining and educational. The game is “Mad Science!” and uses dice with scientific symbols (like atoms, beakers, and test tubes). The objective is to roll the dice to make sets of matching symbols. The more items that match, the higher the score. You can keep rolling, but dice that don’t match go into a “waste pile” and if, over time, more symbols end up matching there than you’ve scored, your lab explodes and you lose points paying to clean it up!

The game could have been about regular numbered dice and matching numbers, but the metaphor of the “waste pile” both makes it easier to remember the rules and gives people the opportunity to talk about science, experiments and the risks of explosions.

There is a campaign to get the game published, by the way. Please check it out on Kickstarter and let us know what you think.

What metaphors have increased your reading (or gaming) enjoyment?

Y is for Yoda

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8479There aren’t many characters whose names start with “Y.” In fact, I could only come up with two: Yoda and Yorick. And though I’ve been known to throw out the quote, “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him Horatio,” I don’t think being a skull in a soliloquy qualifies as a great character.

Luckily, I actually like Yoda and think he’s a legitimately great character. Full disclosure: I used to read Star Wars books when I was a teenager, but I don’t remember if Yoda was in them. So my saying that he’s a great character is based on the movies.

In science fiction and fantasy, there’s almost always a wise old sage to teach the main character how to be whatever they are. As a sage, Yoda is an unexpected one (at least I assume I was surprised the first time I saw the movie… it was a long time ago). Luke doesn’t even know who he is when they first meet because Yoda engages in silly and annoying antics to see what Luke is like.

When Yoda does get serious though, he’s quite good at what he does. He’s able to use and manipulate the force, showing Luke that it can be done. While I’m a fan of the original trilogy and have little use for I, II, and III, the lightsaber scene with Yoda against Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones is one of the best scenes in all the movies.

All these qualities: the ability to play dumb when it suits, throwing out lessons, being able to mop the floor with an opponent, are all qualities of good sages. One other quality that I think happens often (though not always) is the mentor reluctantly taking on the apprentice. Yoda just wasn’t sure of Luke in the beginning, and told Obi Wan that.

Even though he is pretty standard, Yoda is still one of my favorite mentors. Maybe it’s because of his small stature. I’m short, and everyone always underestimates me too. It just goes to show that size doesn’t really matter for much.

 

X is for Weapon X

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8471Weapon X, aka Wolverine, is a character I know best from the movies. I love the X-men, and like many people, I especially love Wolverine.

Because this is primarily a book blog, I went to the library and got my first X-men comic, and read it through so that I could blend my opinion on Wolverine from the comics and movies.

No matter what, he’s still a great character. Wolverine is a (pardon the pun) lone wolf who doesn’t want to care about anyone. He comes off as brusque and anti-social.

He’s got a big heart, and wants to make connections with other people. But I guess it can be difficult when other people have an expiration date, and you can heal from any injury.

He’s got adamantium claws that cut him every time he uses them. So he’s used to dealing with pain. I guess if you’ve got all that going on, you’re not going to show very much on the surface. Because while you can get used to pain, it doesn’t make it hurt less.

I haven’t seen all the Wolverine movies, but I did see the most recent one, Logan. While it was pretty good, I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I’ll stick with the original X-men movie.

Oh, and I liked the comic. 🙂

W is for Wanderer/ Wanda

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8465.JPGWanderer, later called Wanda, is the main character of The Host by Stephanie Meyer. Yes, that Stephanie Meyer.

It’s a light science fiction book about a race of parasites that go to various planets and inhabit the host species. The parasites are motivated by altruism. On Earth, they felt that humans were destroying the planet, and that they could do better.

These parasites (they call themselves “souls,” but they fit the definition of parasites) take over human bodies, and the consciousness of the human vessel is supposed to vanish. This is just what they do on all the planets they inhabit, and they don’t think anything negative about it.

Wanderer inhabits the body of Melanie, but Melanie won’t give up her consciousness. Wanderer eventually goes in search of Melanie’s brother and her boyfriend, who are living in a small, hidden camp of human survivors.

At first, the humans are understandably vicious to Wanderer. She doesn’t tell them that she and Melanie are still sharing the body because she figures they wouldn’t believe her.

But as time goes on, Wanderer is accepted into the group of humans. No matter what happens to her, she’s kind and gentle. Eventually, she realizes that maybe the humans have a right to be so angry.

She’s called Wanderer because she’s lived on many planets, never finding one that was home, and never settling down. But she grows to love Earth and her human family.

I love Wanderer because she’s relentlessly positive. She believes the best about people, is hard working, loving, and best of all… isn’t afraid to change her mind.

The movie was fine, but nowhere near as good as the book. This is one of those cases where they really couldn’t have matched it, because part of what made it so great was the internal arguments between Melanie and Wanderer.

So, have you read it or seen the movie?

 

T is for Tiffany

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

UnknownThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, is a great story. The thing I liked most about this story was that it portrayed characters with mental health issues as the heroes of the story. No one comes in and saves them; they save themselves (or one another).

Pat has just gotten out of the mental hospital, and is obsessed with getting his ex-wife back. He and Tiffany are the outsiders, the crazy people that everyone in the neighborhood knows. Eventually they enter a dance competition together. Practicing together every day, they become friends.

They both do things that are problematic through the story, things not usually worthy of “real” heroes. But the point is that they’re both struggling under the weight of mental illnesses, and they’re doing the best they can to survive in a world that doesn’t get it.

When I read reviews about this book, no one mentions Tiffany, and I love her. Here’s why… Tiffany has borderline personality disorder. I’ve provided a link to what that actually means if you’re interested in the diagnosis. But in a nutshell, it means that she struggles with relationships. She wants love, is desperate for it, but pushes people away. She’s done impulsive things that have gotten her all sorts of labels (crazy, slut, etc.). She hurts herself, and looks for something, anything to fill up the emptiness.

No one ever portrays people with this disorder in a positive light, a human light. Even therapists, for some reason, often look down on people with this disorder. I mean, in real life, it’s true that someone with this disorder can be exhausting for those around them. But no one wants to be that way.

Advocacy for the destigmatization of mental illness is becoming more and more common. But while most people are aware of autism and schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of those scary illnesses that no one seems to talk about.

Brace yourself for what I’m about to say… I liked the book, but I loved the movie. Maybe it was because Jennifer Lawrence really sold Tiffany, and her onscreen chemistry with Pat (played by Bradley Cooper) was wonderful. When they argued, sparks flew. And the sweet ending was exactly what they both deserved.

Neither of them are perfect characters, and no one is trying to pretend they are. But they’re human and worthy of having stories where they’re not the villain or a punchline.

If you’re interested in a memoir about this disorder, I can recommend two: Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl by Stacy Pershall, and Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder by Rachel Reiland.

S is for Scott Pilgrim

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

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80s stuff rocks! Effect done with Photo Lab Pro on my iPhone. 

I watched the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and loved it. It’s such an underrated movie. I guess it probably appealed to the 80s kid in me, with the many nods to classic video games.

The graphic novels are fun, and follow the same basic premise. Scott is pretty much a screw up who falls for Ramona Flowers after she starts using a subspace highway in his head as a short cut. So he dreams of her first, and then later meets her in real life.

Scott’s so determined to have Ramona date him that he agrees to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends.

Scott isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s kind of a jerk. He doesn’t break up with his other girlfriend before starting to date Ramona. He doesn’t have a job or his own place. In real life, if one of my friends wanted to date him, I’d be like, “Run.”

But as the “hero” of a graphic novel, he’s actually pretty fun. Having him be such a screw up gives him a shot at redemption. Can he become less selfish? Will he defeat the evil exes? Or will he become one of them…?

Do you like graphic novels? What do you think about flawed characters like Scott?