Tag Archives: death note

Paper Towns (2015)

paper-towns-poster-released

I was small part of the male population that really enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars (review here). I read the book by John Green first — and found it both moving and funny — before watching the film, which was still impactful because of its two likable leads, played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Engort. Not to be forgotten from the film is Nat Wolff, who nearly stole the show as the blind romantic and the best friend of Engort’s character.

The success of the book and the film is the reason we now have Paper Towns, an adaptation of Green’s earlier 2008 novel of the same name. This time, Nat Wolff — said to have recently landed the role of Light in the Hollywood adaptation of the awesome Japanese manga Death Note — is rewarded with the lead role as Quentin, a graduating high schooler who has long pined after his neighbour and the most popular girl in school, Margo (Cara Delevigne).

It’s of course a coming-of-age story about youngsters on the verge of adulthood discovering who they are and who they want to be. It has your usual adolescent themes of friendship, love and sex, and tries to navigate this path with fairly typical humour and bittersweetness.

Given the success of Stars, Wolff’s performance in that, the return of same writing team (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) , and the rising reputation of Delevigne as Hollywood’s next “it” girl, there was every reason for me to be optimistic about Paper Towns.

Which is why it’s unfortunate that I have to say I didn’t like the movie at all despite accepting that it is well-intentioned. I had hoping that it would be another Perks of Being a Wallflower experience (review here), full of sweet nostalgia and insightful relationships and characters. Instead, I found Paper Towns to be actually kind of boring, a little contrived, often nonsensical and lacking a sense of groundedness.

Part of the problem comes from the treasure hunt-themed plot, in which not a whole lot happens for a very long time and is really far-fetched. I’m all for romanticising the high school experience in movies, but I think Paper Towns takes it a little too far and eschews too many realities and practicalities of life to make the story believable.

The other problem I had was with the characters. The performances were fine, but Wolff’s character did not strike me as a likable protagonist. In Stars he was affable; here he’s more of a typical nerdy hero but without the endearing qualities.

Cara Delevigne can apparently do it all and looks surprisingly student-like in this movie, and to her credit you can see why she’d be the most popular girl in school. However, that doesn’t make her likable, and if she’s not likable, that makes it hard for audiences to support Quentin’s quest to win her over.

I actually liked the supporting actors —  Austin Abrams and Justice Smith — who played Quentin’s friends more than the leads, though Halston Sage, who plays Margo’s “I’m pretty but I want people to know I’m smart” best friend, failed to convince me.

Rather than a touching, heartwarming, Paper Towns struggled to maintain my interest. To be fair, much of the dialogue is probably as mushy as that of Stars, though for some reason it moved me there but made me cringe here. When the most enjoyable part of a movie is when three teen geeks perform a drunken rendition of the Pokemon theme you know the film is in trouble.

Ultimately, Paper Towns is a film that would never have been made without the success of Stars. It’s nowhere near as atrocious as Stephenie Meyer’s The Host (which wouldn’t have seen the light of day without Twilight), though it’s also nowhere near as enjoyable or compelling as I thought it would be.

2 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: Battle Royale (2000)

I understand I have it backwards. I watched The Hunger Games, which I thoroughly enjoyed, then decided to check out its Japanese predecessor, which many say Suzanne Collins’ novel takes from quite liberally.

I must admit, for the longest time I thought Battle Royale, the movie, was based on the manga (of which I had read chunks) as opposed to the novel written by Koushun Takami. In fact, I didn’t really even know the novel existed.

Nonetheless, the premise is strikingly similar to that of The Hunger Games. Set in a fictional Japan where the structure of society has more or less broken down, a class of junior high school students find themselves in a contest called Battle Royale, created under the BR Act, which forces the 42 students to kill each other until only one remains. Each contestant is fitted with an electronic tracking collar, and anyone who resists the contest or walks into a randomly designated “death zone” (added as the game progresses) will have their collar detonated. Students are each given a bag of necessities and a weapon. Sounds familiar?

I don’t intend to get into a debate about whether Collins (who claims she never heard of the book until her publisher told her) copied Battle Royale, but I will say that both film versions stand up rather well independently of the other.

Battle Royale’s strength is in its relentless brutality, which starts right from the beginning and doesn’t ease until the very end, making The Hunger Games somewhat mild by comparison. Unlike the American film, which takes a long time to set up the contest, Battle Royale gets into it very quickly and efficiently.

The most amazing thing about the 114-minute film (there is also a 122-minute extended version) was how tight the script was. The story may have focused on handful of the 42 students but almost every single one had their own personality and served a different purpose. In fact, I found it incredibly easy to identify each of the characters despite the film jumping a fair bit, and this was notwithstanding that all the names were in Japanese!

Compared to The Hunger Games, Battle Royale had a much wider range of identifiable characters, which is quite a remarkable achievement considering the latter’s contestants are all from a single class, whereas the former’s are from various districts scattered across the nation.

Battle Royale’s lead protagonist would have to be Shuya Nanahara, who is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara (as soon as I saw him I was like, “Isn’t that Light from Death Note?”). The standout characters would have to be the sexually provocative Mitsuko and the psychotic Kazuo, both of whom are the main antagonists of the film.

Despite the similar ideas, I found Battle Royale to be a very different experience to The Hunger Games. The Japanese film was relentless its carnage all the way through, even though some of the violence appeared somewhat (and perhaps intentionally) fake, whereas the American film was more measured in its depiction of visceral violence and had a brooding kind of tension. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the different cultures, but the Japanese film also had some totally WTF moments (that bordered on horror or comedy or both) that underscored its “surreal” feel.

I guess that’s the way I would describe Battle Royale – terrifying in a “surreal” kind of way. While The Hunger Games was arguably more “realistic” from a technical perspective and in feel, I found the films to be equally satisfying but vastly different experiences. I’d definitely recommend the other film for those who have seen one of the two.

As for a rating, I suppose it would only be fair if I gave Battle Royale the same, though if I had watched it first, I think I might have given it a higher score.

 4.25 stars out of 5!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfoNiIXTOgA