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Death Note (DVD)

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Death Note DVD review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Debi Moore

Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Asaka Seto, Takeshi Kaga

Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

Distributed by VIZ Pictures


Death Note is Part 1 of the 2006 live action version of an uber-popular manga and anime series from Japan created by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. With a screenplay by Tetsuya Oishi (writer of the original One Missed Call) and direction by Shusuke Kaneko (Gamera trilogy and GMK), the film offers a breath of fresh air to American audiences who are sick to death of the recycled J-horror conventions and clichés showing up in so many of the projects coming out of Hollywood nowadays.

No doubt most of you reading this review are already familiar with the storyline of Death Note, but in case one or two readers skipped over it thinking it was just another spoooooky tale of a young Asian girl with long black hair exacting revenge of some sort or another upon her tormentors, here’s a quick synopsis. A brilliant but bored young student named Light (Fujiwara) has a plan: to rid the universe of evil by killing those who perpetuate it. A lofty goal, sure, but totally unrealistic, right? Not exactly thanks to a mystical notebook that falls squarely in his path one day. It seems that whoever’s name Light writes in the notebook dies … in whatever manner that Light chooses for him or her to do so. In theory Light’s idea is sound and his intentions are pure in that he only aims to take out the bad guys, but we all know what happens to anyone granted absolute power of this magnitude. More often than not, they are absolutely corrupted, and Light is no exception.

Death Note DVD review (click for larger image)Further muddying the murky morality waters is the simultaneous appearance in Light’s life of a Shinigami (aka death god) named Ryuk, who explains the Death Note protocol to him and keeps an eye on his activities. Ryuk is totally CG, and not since Gollum have I been so enamored of an imaginary character. His presence could have easily become an insurmountable distraction, but he grew on me so quickly that before long I almost forgot he wasn’t real. In the media Light’s vigilante serial killer persona is referred to as “Kira”, and who should be heading up the police investigation to track down Kira but Light’s own father (Kaga). Soon he’s joined on the case by the FBI as well as the mysterious and eccentric “L” (Matsuyama), who is considered the world’s best detective, and the archetypal cat and mouse game is on. But who is really the cat, and who is the mouse?

There’s much that can be said about the great look and tone of Death Note and the fantastic performances in it, but honestly, Andrew summed it up best in his review of the film back when it first premiered: “This is an epic pulse-pounding mystery with dark fantasy overtones, and … there’s nothing else quite like it.” Since my opinion tracks so closely with his, rather than indulge in redundancy, I’ll simply point you in his direction and focus the rest of my energies on discussing the special features VIZ provides on the disc.

First let’s get the language track issue out of the way. Both the original Japanese and the English dubbed versions are included, and while I will say that the latter isn’t as bad as most, it still doesn’t compare with the authentic dialogue spoken by the actors. I know there are people out there who don’t like to “read” the movies they’re watching, and to them I say, “Enjoy your dub; I’ll stick with my subs.” We also get multiple renditions of the trailer in an assortment of languages along with a preview of the adaptation done in anime. A sheet with instructions of “how to use this DVD” (so clever!) and a mini reproduction of Volume 1 of the manga entitled “Boredom” are integrated into the packaging and help raise Death Note‘s Special Features knife rating to just above average.

Death Note DVD review (click for larger image)The back of the box mentions a “Director’s Interview,” but what we actually get are 13 one- to two-minute featurettes and a text-based “Director’s Profile.” These items are accessed via an extremely creative menu comprised of apple icons (Ryuk is a big fan of the pomaceous fruit) that switch from one thing to another depending on the order in which you hit the arrow keys on your remote. At first it was pretty cool, but ultimately it got more and more frustrating trying to maneuver from apple to apple. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers simply give up after getting stuck in loop after loop of the same three or four objects. And, all in all, I wouldn’t say they’re missing a lot if they don’t watch the extras since director Shusuke Kaneko appears in only a handful of the interviews and a large percentage of the rest are filler type segments that show scenes being filmed without commentary or explanation.

A few stand out, such as Kaneko discussing the challenge of fitting the multi-chapter Death Note narrative into two feature films, Norman “A White Guy” England explaining why he was cast in the role of an FBI agent, and a much too brief look at how the actors were matched up to the characters they portray. A little bit about Part 2 (Death Note: The Last Name (review)) is revealed in that we’re promised an upping of Light’s evil ante. Things wrap up with a final featurette entitled “What’s Important” that I thought was going to be rather profound after it opened with Kaneko describing how Death Note expresses the issues we all wrestle with as citizens of the world, but alas, it cuts from there to some outtakes of the wrap party. It’s disappointing when a meaningful story like this gets such short shrift in the features department with most of the cast and crew nowhere to be seen.

But it definitely beats the alternative of a lot of fluff on the DVD and a crappy movie, so I’ll say thanks to VIZ for getting Death Note not just this nice DVD release but also its short theatrical run last May; and they’re doing the same for Part 2 this October 15 and 16. Get out there and show your support, or risk seeing your name written on a death note!

Special Features

  • Bilingual (English/Japanese)
  • Director’s Interview and Profile
  • Anime trailer
  • International trailers

    Film:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 out of 5

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    EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS Blu-ray Review – Savagery & Sexuality From The Master Of Sleaze

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    Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Monica Zanchi, Donald O’Brien

    Directed by Joe D’Amato (Arisitide Massaccesi)

    Distributed by Severin Films


    After taking famed sex icon Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) to Bangkok (1976), America (1976), and Around the World (1977) legendary sleaze director Joe D’Amato decided to mash up two of Italy’s most notorious genres by sending his beautiful muse down to the Amazon rainforest, cinematic home to countless hordes of cannibal tribes. The Italian cannibal craze of the late’70s was just beginning to take hold, offering D’Amato a ripe opportunity to satisfy both the bloodlust and, well, regular lust of exploitation devotees worldwide. For the most part the film plays out expectedly, with a reasonably large group of people meeting in the Amazon and trekking off on a quest. By the end, that group has dwindled down to only a few members, all of whom probably have a lot of regret about traipsing through the jungle. Aficionados will get a bit of a “been there, eaten that” vibe from the film, which hits every trademark of the genre sans animal cruelty, but Emanuelle herself spices up this cannibal comfort food with an alluring performance capped off by one helluva genius ending. The film also holds the dubious distinction of showing a penis being eaten less than 15 minutes after the opening credits. You set a high bar, Joe.

    When an unlucky nurse has half of her tit eaten off by a newly-arrived mental patient, a girl found in the Amazon jungles, journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) infiltrates the sanitarium to score a hot scoop. Armed with a camera concealed within a baby doll head, Emanuelle surreptitiously snaps a few shots before making the new girl talk via… digital means – and I’m not talking technology. Emanuelle takes her information to Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a museum curator whom she hopes will fund her expedition. He agrees. Then, she goes and screws some random guy in broad daylight down by the river. Later, she comes back and has more sex, this time with Mark. The next day they leave for the Amazon.

    Upon arrival, the two are met by Isabel (Monica Zanchi) and Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), both of whom have altruistic plans of their own in the rainforest. Their trek soon brings them across Donald (Donald O’Brien), a hunter who is on safari with his wife and a guide. Now that the film has brought together a large group of people, some of whom are more reprehensible than others, it’s time to pick them off and watch in delight as cannibals of the Amazon gut them, skewer them, and devour their flesh while the soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco play in the background.

    So many of these Italian cannibal pictures feel interchangeable because the formula is incredibly simple – send a group of naïve outsiders into the Amazon and let an indigenous tribe kill and eat them, usually in the most horrific manner possible. What sets this film apart from so many others is in the title: Emanuelle. Gemser is not only easy on the eyes but she has this magnetic presence on screen, not because she is a great actress but her looks, abilities, and personality combine to create one of exploitation cinema’s most capable and sultry sirens. It is entirely due to her ingenuity here that anyone survives at all. She isn’t a rag doll, tossed around and used for sex and companionship; Emanuelle is a woman in charge of her own sexuality and she calls the shots. This film was made during a time when women were often used as set dressing or spent most of a film being subservient, so it’s a nice change of pace to have one in the lead who takes control and it feels natural, not forced.

    Don’t go thinking this is some kind of strong female-led picture that celebrates womanhood or anything. D’Amato never likes to peer too high from his gutter view, and “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” is a sleaze sensation; a cornucopia of cannibalism and carnal acts that culminates in the titular heroine literally becoming a god… temporarily. D’Amato takes two of humanity’s greatest loves – eating and screwing – and builds a story around them. Besides all of the aforementioned fornication, nipples are eaten as an amuse-bouche, penis tartare is part of the starter course, a vagina makes unexpected friends with the business end of a machete, a woman is gutted like a deer, and one guy learns a thin rope can still be strong enough to tear the human body in half. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed… except, maybe, for Emanuelle who seems unfazed by every atrocity the world throws her way.

    Ugly films need beautiful music and the lush, soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco make for the ultimate dichotomy of relaxation and revulsion. Fidenco’s score is less the serene soundscape Riz Ortolani composed for Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more of a funky, porno-lite trip down ‘70s Lane. Oftentimes the composers on these rough Italian pictures delivered scores that felt like they belong to something more refined and accessible, not a movie destined for banning in multiple countries and cut to ribbons in others. Fidenco provided the score for many entries in the Black Emanuelle series and while those films might be past their prime the music is completely timeless.

    Severin has provided a new 2K scan from unknown elements, delivering a 1.85:1 1080p image that falls right in line with most of their catalog. The picture has been cleaned up enough to allow for high-def improvements in clarity and coloration to (mostly) shine through, while still retaining a gritty look to remind viewers this is still a grindhouse picture. Film grain is heavy and active, swarming the picture but never becoming noisy. Contrast is variable, as is sharpness, with some scenes looking closer to HD than others. Colors are accurate but a bit anemic, too, with only a few instances of truly popping against the ever-present jungle greens. Detail is swallowed up in darkness, so don’t expect to see much of it when night falls, which thankfully isn’t often. I’ll say one thing Italy sure does make for a fine Amazon stand-in.

    Audio is available in both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono, both of which offer a similar audible experience. The standout here is unsurprisingly hearing Fidenco’s score in lossless glory. The ADR work is typically poor and obvious, but everything is understandable and there are no noticeable issues with hissing or audio damage. Subtitles are available in English.

    The World of Nico Fidenco – The legendary composer sits down for a new interview, covering his career and the Emanuelle series. In Italian with English subtitles.

    A Nun Among the Cannibals – Actress Annamaria Clementi provides a new interview about her role in the film and what it was like working with D’Amato. In Italian with English subtitles.

    Dr. O’Brien M.D. – This is an archival interview with Donald O’Brien, who played the wild and wily hunter, Donald, in the film.

    From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – Actress Monica Zanchi gives a new interview that covers her career.

    I Am Your Black Queen is an audio-only archival interview with Gemser.

    A theatrical trailer (in SD) is also included.

    Special Features:

    • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM prepared for this release
    • English and Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles
    • The World of Nico Fidenco – an interview with the composer (27 min)
    • A Run Among the Cannibals – an interview with actress Annamaria Clementi (23 min)
    • Dr. O’Brien MD – an interview with actor Donald O’Brien (19 min)
    • From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – an interview with actress Monica Zanchi (19 min)
    • I Am Your Black Queen – an audio commentary by actress Laura Gemser (11 min)
    • Original trailer
    • Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
    • Special Features
    3.0

    Summary

    There is no point to making complaints about plotting when watching a film with this title. D’Amato promises viewers nothing more than a sleazy time intended to induce equal parts creep and kink into a span of time. Severin’s release offers a cleaned-up picture and a solid selection of extras that catch up with a few of the principal cast and crew.

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    KAET MUST DIE Review – A Game Worthy Of Its Title

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    Kaet Must DieDeveloped and Produced by Strength in Numbers Studios, Inc.

    Available on PC through Steam

    Rated T for Teen


    If you are looking for a new survival horror game that is both challenging and irritating, then Kaet Must Die could be your new obsession/torture. The indie game is set in an underground sewer where you are Kaet, a psionicist cyber punk trapped by a “blood witch” named Annalinnia. The objective is to figure out how to escape the ‘dank’ sewer before time runs out and Annalinnia takes your life. Along the way you’ll have to tiptoe over comatosed zombies and frighten off Jawa like creatures with light you absorb from glowing mushrooms. And that’s about it. The game was created and developed by Strength in Numbers Studios Inc., a fairly new gaming company in the world of survival horror.

    Now, I normally don’t play these types of survival games. As a novice in the indie survival genre, the experience of trying to complete the first level of Kaet Must Die was quite tedious. Now this is to be expected, as their advertising makes it quite clear that the good folks at Strength In Numbers studios are shooting for the “difficult games are fun” crowd. They give the player plenty of warning that they will need more than luck to survive. Yet here I am to tell you that the first level is possible to get through regardless of what difficulty you select. It just might take a few hunderd tries.

    Kaet Must Die

    The game starts you off in the underground sewer with Kaet’s sanity at ten (read “sanity” as “health bar). Kaet’s sanity will drop when not in lit areas, another reason why you need to collect the glowing mushrooms. Having six minutes to follow the clues and find the skulls before time runs out gets tricky, especially when Anna comes for you by randomly generating around the map until luck is no longer your friend. Levels will become progressively more difficult, and your time limit changes depending on the size of the map. It’s not terribly complicated, but also not terribly exciting.

    Kaet Must Die

    There are a few upsides to Kaet Must Die. Like every good survival game, Kaet Must Die has decently immersive visuals and sound. The look and feel of the game is much more appealing than some, from the detailing of the zombies to the sewers you land yourself in. Not that sewers are a pretty place to be in, but they have a solid fantasy/horror vibe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of cohesion to the various sub-par lights and average shapes. It can be downright impossible to tell where things are around you. You’ll want to keep your ears open, as frustration will become all too familiar when you are too late to hear the gentle snoring of a zombie or the disturbing giggle of the Jawa-like creatures.

    Kaet Must Die

    I would say that it’s nice that they at least let me change the controls, but for some reason they don’t save when you quit the game. The only settings that stay exactly where you set them are the basics for resolution, sensitivity, and graphics. Now, what is not so frustrating is that after you get killed three or four hundred times, the skulls that you need to escape Anna won’t randomly be somewhere else when you restart the level. Another upside is that as you slowly start to regain Kaet’s powers, you will finally be able to slow down the creatures and make your way to exactly where you need to go. One of Kaet’s powers is the classic stun. Using this power to stun any monster in place for at least five seconds was a relief, and gave me time to focus at the task at hand. Like the mushrooms, Kaet’s stun powers need to be recharged by absorbing puddles of glowing red blood. Simple, right? Well, sort of. Clues left behind hint that the blood makes you more powerful, but also slowly kills you.

    For anyone who is not typically good at horror survival games, this isn’t for you unless you have the patience of a saint. The difficulty comes in three flavors: Challenging (Easy), Difficulty (Normal), and Nightmare (Hard). If you’re one of those people that absolutely must have a zombie apocalypse survival plan for any possible situation, you’ll probably find some enjoyment from Kaet Must Die. For everyone else, I would wait for a Steam sale. There are 10 levels to get through to beat this game, but have fun and good luck getting past level 1.

    • Kaet Must Die
    2.0

    Summary

    This indie survival game is too irritating to play. Kaet Must Die is near impossible to finish and it’s not a lot of fun no matter how many times you die..

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    BAD SAMARITAN Review – The Good, The Bad, And The Incredibly Sexy UK Men

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    Starring David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Jacqueline Byers, Carlito Olivero

    Written by Brandon Boyce

    Directed by Dean Devlin


    Let’s face it, you should be a bit reluctant to leave your car with a valet. Nevermind them taking your CDs and discarded fast food wrappers. What if you check your previous destinations and find that they didn’t just go straight to the parking lot? Well, assume that valets do exactly that, but they end up doing it to a psychopath. Bad Samaritan is exactly the kind of horror story crooked valet drivers should fear.

    Sean Falco (Sheehan), is a struggling artist working as a part time valet driver. Sean and his best friend Derek (Olivero) come up with the clever scheme to use their valet access to burglarize the homes of wealthy customers. All is sunshine and grand theft until they decided to rob the wrong man. One night, the arrogant wealthy businessman Cale Erendreich (Tennant) pulls up in a Maserati. Sean jumps at the chance to make the score of his life. The burglary goes smoothly until Sean discovers a woman (Condon) chained up against her will. Unwilling to help her in fear of going to jail, Sean leaves her behind. Naturally conflicted by this decision, a guilty conscious isn’t the only thing that Sean has to deal with. Not super pleased that his house has been broken into and secret found out, Cale does everything in his power to tear Sean’s life apart piece by piece. To redeem himself, Sean embarks on a quest to get the girl back and in the process learns what kind of man he really is.

    The highlight of the film is David Tennant’s portrayal of the Bad Samaritan himself, Cale Erendreich. Much more than just a cutthroat corporate businessman with a bondage fetish, this private man has quite a few secrets of his own. Returning home from a normal night out and finding his inner sanctum has been compromised, he quickly covers his tracks before Sean even involves the police with his ‘correction’ process. Tennant excels in his performance, ditching his natural charm for a devious intellect that just makes you squirm. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Tennant play the baddie, but Erendeich is an entirely different beast from Killgrave. Between Bad Samaritan and the verbal manipulator he played in the Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones, Erendreich is both more grounded and diabolical than Killgrave. Erendreich is much closer to reality, a chilling man that you could all too easily read about on your morning news feed. He can blend in with the crowd without the use of mind control and has the kind of monstrous intellect that is only revealed to those who cross him.

    A villain is nothing without its hero, and Robert Sheehan’s performance as Sean Falco was an excellent match for his creepy counterpart. Prior to Bad Samaritan Sheehan’s most memorable breakout role was on the BBC television show, Misfits, and his ongoing film/television career in upcoming projects such as Mortal Engines and an upcoming Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy. Sean doesn’t initially seem to be the hero type. Hell, he leaves a girl chained up in a psychopath’s house. That’s some swipe-left shit. But hey, no one’s perfect. He’s just a regular guy in a bad situation, and as the film goes on he slowly starts filling the shoes he’s found himself in. No matter who or what Sean loses in the process, his goal throughout the entire film is to save the girl he left behind. He’s not just proving to the audience that he’s the good guy, he’s proving it to himself.

    Now if you’re looking for buckets of blood in your crazed killer films, then Bad Samaritan will leave you disappointed. The gore is mild, with little more than a few dead bodies here and there. Not to say that the film is without some solid murder. There’s solid action when Erendreich goes after Sean’s loved ones, and the film is thoroughly intense throughout. Still, if you’re looking for a slasher movie to throw on at a party, Bad Samaritan won’t fit the bill. That being said, it’s a great gateway horror film for those just sticking their toes in the bloody waters.

    Bad Samaritan had everything that you could ask for in a horror/thriller, having a well balanced story, the right amount of jump scares to give you that surge of adrenaline, and strong characters portrayed by a talented ensemble. This was a solid directorial debut for Dean Devlin and I look forward to seeing what else he does with the horror/thriller genre. Maybe next time starring Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. *Swoon*

    • Bad Samaritan
    3.5

    Summary

    An enjoyable experience with a talented cast, Bad Samaritan is worth checking out just for the performances. It’s a thrilling battle of wits and wills, but it ultimately doesn’t break the mold.

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