What To Expect from “Death Note” on Netflix

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After nearly a year of anticipation, Netflix finally released a teaser trailer for “Death Note,” the supernatural thriller based on the popular Japanese manga series by Tsugumi Ohba, and it looks incredible. The trailer is just a minute long, but it suggests that this Netflix Original, scheduled to debut on August 25, is going to be just as dark and melancholy as the Japanese manga original. So far, this is what we know about “Death Note.”

#1: The plot and narrative will remain loyal to the manga classic

From what we know from director Adam Wingard, all attempts are being made to stay as loyal as possible to the manga classic (which appeared in serialized form in Japan from 2003-2006). So that means we know the basic storyline, as well as the key characters involved.

“Death Note” tells the story of a magical notebook that gives Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff), a genius high school student, the power to kill anyone whose name he writes down in the pages of the notebook. Obviously, that’s quite a power to have, and he decides to use the notebook to kill criminals and evildoers, and by so doing, to change the world.

He soon attracts the attention of an Interpol inspector – known only as Detective L (played by Keith Stanfield) – who is trying to figure out who is behind all these strange deaths. That leads to a cat-and-mouse game between L and Light Turner, and involves the presence of other individuals with the same power as Light Turner.

#2: The film is going to have to deal with claims of “whitewashing”

Any time you’re going to make a Hollywood version of a Japanese classic, you’re going to run into problems with the original’s loyal fan base. Netflix is finding that out the hard way – when it cast Nat Wolff in the lead role as Light Turner, it was immediately hit with charges of “whitewashing.” In fact, a petition to boycott the film has already picked up the signatures of more than 12,000 people.

According to these fans, the lead role should have been given to an Asian-American actor. Even more disturbing, according to these fans, Netflix has changed the name of the lead character from Light Yagami to Light Turner. That might not sound like a big deal, but what if a Japanese movie studio made a remake of “Star Wars” and called the lead character Luke Yagami instead of Luke Skywalker? And, adding insult to injury, Asian-American actor Edward Zo auditioned for the role, but wasn’t given the part.

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#3: Plenty of enigma and mysterious elements we need to piece together

When the teaser for “Death Note” dropped on March 22, fans immediately scrutinized it for clues and hints as to what they should expect when the film premieres on Netflix in August. The teaser was just that – a “tease” – but still, certain facts are now known.

For example, we’re shown the mysterious “Death Note” falling from the sky and landing on Earth. We’re given a brief summary of how the “Death Note” works – it requires the owner to write down the name of the person who must die within the notebook itself. We’re also shown an apple, which could be a way of representing the temptation faced by anyone given such God-like powers.

However, what’s really fascinating is that there are no signs of Ryuk the Shinigami, the Grim Reaper-like figure who sent the Death Note into the world. Instead, at the very end of the trailer, we hear a voice ask, “Shall we begin?” This voice sounds exactly like Willem Dafoe, who is scheduled to voice the role of Ryuk.

And there’s one other element of the trailer that’s a bit mysterious – we see the phrase “Justice for Kira.” In the original, Japanese “Death Note,” a Kira was an owner of a Death Note. The word “Kira” is actually a Japanese pronunciation of the word “killer.” And in the original, there were at least two other Kira in addition to Light Yagami, including one girl who becomes a romantic interest of Light Yagami.

And, finally, we’re shown the context of where the film is going to take place. One of the scenes shows us the iconic Seattle skyline. And we’re also shown some very brief scenes of a high school where, presumably, Light Turner is still a student.

#4: Questions of morality

According to the creator of the original Japanese “Death Note,” Tsugumi Ohba, the manga series was really a rumination on different moral themes. Most likely, the film will develop these complex themes, such as the difference between “vengeance” and “justice.” It will also ask, at least indirectly: Who has the ability to judge others and play God with their lives?

In some ways, then, the film might be similar to previous Hollywood films that have explored the role of vigilante justice. Often, acts carried out in the name “justice” or “security” go too far, leading to horrific mistakes. That could be the case with “Death Note,” where Light Turner has the ability to play God with people’s lives.

#5: The cat-and-mouse game between Light and L

We don’t really see any of it in the teaser, but a core plot narrative in the original was a cat-and-mouse game between Light and L. On one hand, you have the Interpol detective trying to figure out who is behind all these strange deaths. On the other hand, you have the genius high school student is trying to figure out the real name of L. (Presumably, once he knows his full name, then he has the power to write the name into his supernatural notebook.) As part of this drama, L begins to interact with Light’s family members and romantic interest, which raises the stakes even higher.

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It will certainly be interesting to see what director Adam Wingard comes up with as a finished product. As the former director of “Blair Witch,” it’s likely that we’ll get a supernatural horror aspect to this version that the original didn’t have. But with a great cast – Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Keith Stanfield and William Dafoe – “Death Note” looks like a real winner.

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Why “Steven Universe” Is Such a Hit

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Every now and then, there’s a TV show that completely changes what we expect from a genre. And that’s exactly the case with “Steven Universe,” the highly acclaimed animated TV series from Cartoon Network. Created by Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” has now gone on to four successful seasons, and has already been renewed for a fifth. So what exactly has been behind its phenomenal success?

#1: A coming-of-age story with a twist

For any TV series to be successful over a long period of time, it has to have strong characters that viewers can identify with and want to follow. In the case of “Steven Universe,” the main character is Steven Universe, who lives in Beach City with the “Crystal Gems,” magical humanoid-looking aliens sent to protect planet Earth.

It’s a coming-of-age story because Steven Universe needs to come to grips with his unique powers, like the power of “fusion,” in which the Crystal Gems can merge their bodies and abilities. He must also deal with the story of his mother, Rose Quartz, who was actually a Crystal Gem but gave up her powers in order to have a child on Earth.

And, finally, he must  grapple with the fact that he is a “half-Gem” – someone who is part human and part Gem. You can easily read this as a metaphor for someone who is biracial or multi-ethnic: it can be difficult understanding who or what you are, and what your “real” nature is. According to the show’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, many of the ideas for what happens to Steven Universe is based on her reflections and memories of growing up in beach towns in Delaware like Rehoboth Beach. So it really is a way to tell the story of what it’s like to grow up.

#2: Fantastic girl power

What’s truly unique about “Steven Universe” is that, even though the series is ostensibly about a young boy, it’s a very girl-focused series. That’s partly the result of the show having been created by Rebecca Sugar. She is, in fact, the first-ever sole female creator of an animated cartoon series on Cartoon Network, and her feminine touch is evident throughout the show.

Take, for example, the character of Steven Universe himself. He is very much in touch with his feminine side, and he has absolutely no problems expressing his rawest emotions or hanging out with females.

And, of course, you can’t talk about “Steven Universe” without also talking about the Crystal Gems, who exude magical girl power. In talking about the series, Sugar once remarked that her goal in creating the series was to explore “the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children.” And that’s exactly what she has done – she has created unique, powerful and interesting female characters that challenge our notions of gender.

#3: A remarkable science fiction fantasy narrative

This show is, at its core, a sci-fi series. And the entire milieu has been constructed in fantastic detail. Each episode is only about 10 minutes long, so the show’s creators had to be very precise in laying out the entire background of the series within each new episode.

The result is really an epic science fiction tale, filed with female alien superheroes who defend the Earth, a great interstellar civilization, a narrative about saving the planet, and a full explanation of all the magic powers and how they were created and can be used. In many ways, say reviewers, this is not just a cartoon for kids – it’s also a cartoon for adults that includes as much detail as you’d expect from a TV series created for an older demographic.

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#4:The Comic-Con effect

The show’s original success has spawned an entire franchise around “Steven Universe.” There are books, comics, video games and toys. And the TV series has become popular at Comic-Con, where it has gone on to pick up many more fans. In fact, the show made a splashy debut at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con event, and has been a fan favorite ever since.

And, of course, there’s also the music from the show. For some people, the music is one of the highlights of the TV series. What makes it special is that the rap artist Estelle is actually one of the voices of the Crystal Gems, and some of her music appears in the TV series (like the song “We Are the Crystal Gems”) The show’s creators, who use the lyrics of the songs to help tell the story, think up how these songs can move along the dialogue and narrative.

#5: The cartoon binge experience

We all know that people love to binge-watch popular dramatic shows that appear on TV or on Netflix. And “Steven Universe” has been able to piggyback on that phenomenon. Unlike other cartoon series, which release one new episode per week, “Steven Universe” often releases episodes of five within the same week. There might be several weeks without any new shows, and then all of a sudden, there are five waiting to be watched!

For that reason, the show’s fans refer to these as “Stevenbombs.” The fans look forward to bingeing on this episodes, and when they don’t appear, they get worked up into a frenzy. That brings even more attention to the TV show. In fact, Cartoon Network has noticed that there are very regular ratings spikes for “Steven Universe” that occur every time there is a new “Stevenbomb.”

#6: Pioneer of a new genre

It’s easy just to refer to “Steven Universe” as “an animated TV series” or as a “fantasy science fiction cartoon.” But that hardly does justice to what Rebecca Sugar has created. She has referred to the unique “reverse escapism” aspect to the series, in which fantasy characters become infatuated with the real world around them. They are escaping from fantasy into reality!

And, given the strong female presence throughout the show, it’s unlike any other cartoon in how it challenges gender roles in society. In that regard, it’s similar to some versions of Japanese animation, in which girls have magic super powers.

For all these reasons, then, it’s easy to see why “Steven Universe” has become such a breakout hit for Cartoon Network. It’s simply unlike anything else you’d watch on TV. And the characters and milieu are so artfully created that it almost seems to be made for adults as much as kids. It’s no wonder that fans binge-watch the series and keep waiting for the next big “Stevenbomb” to drop. Subscribe to a satellite TV package today to catch “Steven Universe” on Cartoon Network!

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Comcast Customers Will Now Have a New Wireless Option: XFINITY Mobile

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Comcast is already one of the nation’s biggest telecom giants, offering XFINITY TV, home Internet and home phone service in markets across the nation. And now it wants to sweeten that package of offerings with a brand new wireless service, known as XFINITY Mobile, which it plans to launch by mid-2017.

For now, Comcast is positioning XFINITY Mobile as a value-added service for its 29 million customers. It will also be available to potential new cable TV and Internet subscribers who live within its service area.

For example, if you already have bundled together your cable TV and home Internet service with Comcast, why not just add in your wireless service as well? Instead of getting two different bills each month – one from your cable provider and one from your wireless provider (e.g. AT&T or Sprint) – you’d presumably have the option to get just one.

What’s new about XFINITY Mobile?

What makes this offering unique is that it is not a de novo wireless network. In other words, Comcast didn’t go out and build a brand-new 4G network to handle all that wireless traffic. What it is doing, instead, is partnering with Verizon Wireless.

However, Comcast is not branding the network as Verizon Wireless – it’s calling the network XFINITY Mobile. As a result, some customers might not even realize that Comcast is leveraging the Verizon network. (Although, in a wink and nod to Verizon Wireless, Comcast will note that “the most reliable 4G LTE network” powers its network. Sound familiar?)

All of this is possible because Comcast has 16 million Wi-Fi hotspots scattered around the nation. And, as part of a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement with Verizon Wireless that dates back to 2011, Comcast can fill in any coverage gaps with the Verizon Wireless cellular network. So you can think of XFINITY Mobile as being a hybrid network that builds on an existing infrastructure.

XFINITY Mobile plans to automatically connect users’ smartphones to Wi-Fi when it’s available via those hotspots. That’s a clever way of leveraging the network that Comcast already has in place. And customers, too, should like it, because it will save them from consuming data on a wireless network. According to estimates, 80% of all data is consumed via Wi-Fi, so customers may not even notice that they are being switched to slower Wi-Fi networks.

Why did Comcast create XFINITY Mobile?

In a world where customers already have a choice between wireless providers like Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile, it might seem like Comcast is trying to re-create the wheel by launching its own rival wireless network.

But that’s not how Comcast views it. As representatives from the company have pointed out, “We’re not taking on the entire wireless industry.” And, indeed, as pointed out above, this is not even a new wireless network. At best, it’s a hybrid version of the Verizon Wireless network that’s being re-branded as XFINITY Mobile.

One reason for launching the service is simply to get a new incremental revenue stream. If Comcast can convert even a small share of its 29 million customers, that could have a big impact on the company’s bottom line. What’s interesting, though, is that Comcast doesn’t appear to be going out and actively convincing customers to switch.

It’s not paying “switching fees” or “termination fees” to sweeten the pot for consumers who might be on the fence. (Compare that to the world of cable, where Comcast is a lot more aggressive.)

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So you could argue that Comcast is not trying to poach customers from other service providers – and certainly not from Verizon Wireless, which is a partner. One strategic option for Comcast might be to use XFINITY Mobile as a sort of trial balloon – if all goes well, Comcast might consider building its own 4G or 5G network. Or, it might decide to gobble up one of the smaller wireless service providers, such as Sprint.

That’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility, given the fact that all the telecoms these days are turning into rival behemoths. In order to compete with the likes of AT&T, a telecom giant has to offer every possible service to customers.

That’s because the way customers consume content continues to change rapidly. One good example: consumers now enjoy watching TV on the go, right on their mobile phones.

That’s an entirely new customer behavior, and one that a traditional cable giant just couldn’t accommodate. But if you offer a wireless option to customers, that frees them up to consumer content wherever they go, on any digital device.

Case in point: the new AT&T/Time Warner mega-entity is now offering AT&T mobile subscribers with unlimited data plans the chance to watch HBO (which is part of Time Warner) for free on their mobile phones. That’s a powerful incentive to switch to AT&T, right?

How much will it cost?

Comcast is apparently pricing its new XFINITY Mobile service so that it will be affordable enough for most consumers to consider. There will be two different options: an unlimited data plan available for $45 or $65 per month (depending on which other Comcast services you currently are signed up for), and a “pay-by-the-gig” plan, in which customers will pay $12 per gigabyte (GB).

XFINITY Mobile customers will also have the option to mix-and-match plans within a family. Thus, one line on an account might be the “unlimited” plan, and another would be “pay-by-the-gig.”

That seems to be very flexible for customers – but it might be confusing in reality. What happens if someone in the family uses another person’s phone, and racks up a lot of data charges by binge-watching TV shows on the go?

Does it make sense to join XFINITY Mobile?

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to sign up for XFINITY Mobile might involve other factors, not just cost. For example, there’s the whole question of “equal access.”

If XFINITY Mobile users and Verizon Wireless users are essentially sharing the same wireless network at times, will Verizon Wireless users get priority of any kind when it comes to speed and quality?

And then there’s the whole question of which phones will be eligible for XFINITY Network. At launch, it looks like only new iPhones and a few high-end phones from Samsung and LG will be eligible. Customers won’t be able to bring their own phone to the service, so that will obviously slow adoption.

Conclusions

Overall, XFINITY Mobile is an interesting new addition to the wireless scene. More competition should be good for consumers. However, it is getting harder and harder for consumers to understand all of the competing offers and services from the top telecom and cable giants. It will be interesting to see what FCC has to say about all this.

All of them now offer a mix of media, entertainment, wireless and broadband services, and it’s up to consumers to find the right combination that’s right for their own lifestyle.

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What To Expect From Season 2 of “Sense8”

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The Netflix Original Series “Sense8” is coming back for Season 2 on May 5 of this year, and fans couldn’t be happier. When “Sense8” premiered back in June 2015, there was a lot of buzz about the first-ever TV series directed by The Wachowskis, known for their legendary “Matrix” films. Here’s what we know so far about Season 2 of this exciting new science fiction drama.

#1: This series will take us around the world to 8 different cities

8 sensates, 8 cities. That was the fundamental premise of the first season, and it looks like that’s the focus of Season 2 as well. In Season 1, we met Nomi from San Francisco, Lito from Mexico City, Will from Chicago, Riley from London, Wolfgang from Berlin, Capheus from Nairobi, Kala from Mumbai and Sun from Seoul.

According to Netflix, “Sense8” has been shooting all over the world, including London, Reykjavik, Nairobi and Mumbai. That means this is going to be another great TV series spanning the globe. The one city to keep an eye on is Reykjavik. The other three cities mentioned by Netflix all match up to the homes of one of the sensates. But none of them are from Iceland. So this could be a major clue to understanding the show and what happens next.

#2: 7 of the original 8 cast members are coming back

The first season featured an ensemble cast from all over the world, who are linked mentally and emotionally by the mysterious death of a woman. Doona Bae (Sun), Jamie Clayton (Nomi), Tina Desai (Kala), Tuppence Middleton (Riley), Max Riemelt (Wolfgang), Miguel Angel Silvestre (Lito) and Brian J. Smith (Will) are all coming back for a Season 2. But there was one cast member from the original eight – Aml Ameen – will not be coming back after a dispute with one of the Wachowskis. Instead, Toby Onwumere will replace him in the role of Capheus, the sensate from Kenya.

Other recurring members of the cast from Season 1 – Daryl Hannah (Angelica), Naveen Andrews, Freema Agyeman (Amanita), Terrence Mann (Whispers) and Anupham Kher – are also expected to come back.

#3: The show will continue to tackle issues of sexuality, religion and gender

Before Season 1 launched, Lana and Lilly Wachowski said that they wanted to make a science fiction TV series to tackle some of the big issues – like politics, sexuality, identity, religion and gender – that are not typically covered in science fiction shows. So expect a good part of the next 10 episodes comprising Season 2 to include plenty of thematic elements that explore concepts like gender and identity in a global, multinational era.

#4: We’ll learn about the linkages between each of the sensates

In Season 1, the eight people from across the globe were able to connect with one another’s thoughts and actions despite never having met in person. In Season 2, we’ll likely learn more about the links between all eight of these sensates, and why they are so unique. From what we know so far, the sensates are able to tap into shared skills, shared knowledge and even shared language skills. Netflix has hinted that we’ll see more of this “expanding mind” in Season 2.

However, in terms of the actual action that we’ll see in Season 2, it’s still rather opaque. Netflix’s plot summary is vague at best, saying that the 8 sensates will “come together both physically and mentally, plunged into the middle of each other’s tragedies and triumphs.”

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#5: We’ll find out more about the shadowy organization tracking them down

In Season 1, there’s one sensate known as “Whispers” (played by Terrence Mann) who is part of a mysterious, shadowy organization who’s trying to track down these sensates. But we don’t really know who he is, or why he is doing this. All we know is that the sensates represent some kind of threat to the global order. Presumably, we’ll find out more in Season 2.

This idea of a shadowy, governmental organization trying to clamp down on certain technologies or certain powers being made available to certain members of the public is a staple of science fiction movies and shows (e.g. “X-Men”), so it will be interesting to see how “Sense8” develops this further.

#6: This series will reflect the vision of Lana Wachowski

The first season of “Sense8” included Lilly Wachowski, the co-creator of the show as well as its co-director. This season, though, she will not return, handing off the executive producer and director duties fully to Lana Wachowski. So, unlike the previous season, which was billed as a production of “The Wachowskis,” this season will be much more of a solo adventure. That means we’ll see a series that’s largely shaped by the creative vision of Lana, not Lilly. The good news here, though, is that Lilly has said she would return for a Season 3, if Netflix decides to green light it.

#7: We’ll learn more about the true story of the sensates

The one strand that tied together Season 1 was the mysterious death of the woman known as “Angelica.” All of the eight sensates saw visions of this same woman, and all of them were haunted by her violent death. But who was she, really? And why was this such a catalyst for the sensates to come together? We’ll surely get more answers to these questions in Season 2.

Every great science fiction has some kind of “origin story” that helps everything to make sense, and it’s likely that the origin story for “Sense8” will explain better the role of Angelica. We might also get a better idea of why there were only 8 people around the world who are linked, as well as the special significance of each of the chosen 8 cities. After Season 1, some fans complained that the series just didn’t make sense, so it will be the job of Season 2 to tie up all the loose ends and have everything make sense.

If Season 2 ties up all the loose ends from Season 1, this could really be an exciting science fiction show when it comes back to Netflix on May 5. It has so many great factors in its favor – the Wachowski brand name, the young multinational cast, a great story, and globe-spanning adventure and drama. Most likely, fans of the show will eagerly binge-watch all 10 episodes of Season 2 as soon as they’re made available. This is one Netflix Original Series you won’t want to miss, and you don’t have to when you sign up for an excellent internet connection in your home.

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