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‘Poker Face’ plays a winning hand

A casino, a rest stop, a Texas BBQ restaurant and a touring heavy metal band. What do they all have in common? Murder, lies and a woman who finds herself caught up in all of it.

Poker Face, whose first four episodes out of ten are out right now on NBCUniversal’s Peacock, is the most recent project by Rian Johnson, the mind behind mystery films such as Knives Out and Glass Onion. With those credentials, it’s not surprising that he can competently craft a weekly murder mystery. However, the various cases, while always entertaining, are not the show’s only strength; that would be the main character Charlie Cale, played by Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll,” “Orange is the New Black”). A woman on the run from her former employer, Charlie is a complex character, torn between her own self-preservation and her desire to do what is morally right. Oh, and one small detail: She has the uncanny ability to instantly tell when anyone is lying to her. 

One might assume that having a character who can tell when someone is lying would make for a dull show, or that the cases would be solved quickly. The real fun is watching Charlie sort out what is the truth and where the lies fit into the puzzle. The best part? The audience knows more than Charlie most of the time. Presented in the “howcatchem style,” the episodes typically present the first part of the episode as establishing the murderer, the victim and the crime itself. We as the audience know how it all goes down. Most shows would have the sleuth come in after the murder, and piece together the rest from there. Poker Face sets itself apart by jumping back in time to the episode’s start, showing the events from Charlie’s perspective and explaining how she found herself embroiled in the episode’s death. Sometimes, the death is even a result of Charlie’s actions in the town, creating a further sense of obligation to help solve the mystery. The thing I love most about the show is the fact that it allows itself to be an episodic series, lacking a real overarching plot across most episodes. Charlie is on the run, and her former boss Cliff Legrand (Benjamin Bratt) is on her tail. Beyond that, every episode is free to tell its own story.

Charlie as a character drives the show, and it is immediately obvious that the character was written for Lyonne, who also serves as an executive producer. When we meet Charlie, she thinks she’s already had enough excitement in her life and is content in her life as a cocktail waitress at a Vegas casino. When she becomes embroiled in a criminal conspiracy involving her co-worker and the owner of the casino, she goes on the run rather than silently accepting her role in the criminal operation. That is what makes the character so compelling. It would be a lot easier for her to keep her head down and keep driving through these towns rather than try and help their people out. The first episode establishes her as paranoid, suspicious of most people (due to her ability to catch lies), but also believes that there are fundamentally good people out there — the type of people she usually meets who usually wind up dead — and it’s her duty to do good by them even if it puts herself at risk. 

It’s hard to craft a good mystery, and one might argue revealing the identity of a killer takes away the suspense. Despite this, Poker Face manages to not only create compelling mysteries for its protagonist to unravel, but by bringing the audience in on the means, motives and methods, the show becomes all the more satisfying when she brings the truth to light. 

Show: “Poker Face”

Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Benjamin Bratt

Favorite Episode so far: “Episode 3: Dead Man’s Hand”

If you like: “Knives Out,” “Glass Onion,” “Columbo”

Where to Watch: Peacock

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu

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2022 was the year of Pinocchio

Who doesn’t love Pinocchio? Whether it’s Carlo Collidi’s original novel or Walt Disney’s 1940 feature film, many know the story of the wooden boy with the growing nose. In 2022, three film adaptations were released, and I took it upon myself to watch all three. I would be remiss to not mention an influence on many “Pinocchio” adaptations: Walt Disney’s ideas to make the talking cricket Pinocchio’s friend, and the Blue Fairy bringing Pinocchio to life, both details not in the original text. 

Let’s begin with the first from 2022. “Pinocchio: A True Story” is a Russian animated film that was released in the United States in 2022. Shockingly, the film ignores two of the story’s most recognizable elements: Pinocchio’s growing nose and the talking cricket. The film is most famous for the line “Father, when can I leave to be on my own? I have the whole world to see!” which made the film’s trailer go viral.  After watching it, I feel the need to advise anyone who might feel inclined to watch it based on that clip that it is not worth it; the voice acting is disjointed, the animation is stiff and the writing feels lazy. I strongly do not recommend this adaptation. If you want a laugh, just watch the trailer. 

The second Pinocchio film was the latest in Disney’s current endeavor to remake their animated classics. Helmed by Robert Zemeckis, director of “Forrest Gump,” the film was a solid retelling of the Disney version of the story. While all three iterations from last year were musicals, I would say this version had the best music, albeit based more on the new performances of the songs from the original film rather than any of the new songs composed. The “Pleasure Island” scene was updated to show healthier forms of disobedience than the original smoking and drinking, instead having the children aim fireworks at each other. The film was a satisfying reiteration of the classic film, but not much more than that; a reiteration, and just satisfying. I felt the same way watching it that I feel when watching most other Disney remakes. I enjoy it. I think it has value as a new film, but I’ll most likely watch the original sooner than the remake again. 

The last Pinocchio film to come out was Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pinocchio,” released on Netflix in Dec. 2022. This movie separates itself from the others by changing the setting from a nondescript time period to one that is very real, and very unexpected for a children’s story: Fascist Italy during World War II. This version, I feel, was not necessarily made for children, dealing with heavy themes such as death and the balance between personal morals and the duty to one’s nation. Geppetto is portrayed not as a jolly woodcarver but as a man dealing with serious grief due to the death of his son, leading the Spirit of Life (taking the place of the Blue Fairy) to give life to the puppet. Another changed aspect of the film is the combination of multiple antagonists into one, Count Volpe, with the novel characters of the Fox and the greedy puppeteer becoming a single character. In the place of Pleasure Island (or Toy Land in the novel) is a military training camp, and the island’s leader is presented instead as a military officer. The film’s animation is beautiful, being stop-motion animation which means every character is a real puppet, not just Pinocchio. Its music was also solid, with a stand-out being the song “Ciao Papa.” Out of the three films, this one stands out as the best, in my opinion. 

If you really want to watch a Pinocchio movie, you cannot go wrong with the 1940s classic, but if you want to choose from last year’s offerings, Disney’s will give you a breezy, fun if not familiar adventure for the whole family; Netflix’s by Del Toro is for the older kids, and gives a more contemplative watch; “A True Story” is just one to avoid.

Contact Andy at aottone@nd.edu.

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‘Glass Onion’: A layered mystery

As the sun starts setting later and the wind gets colder, we all need a sunny, summer escape. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” centers on private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig; “Casino Royale,” “No Time to Die”), returning from the film “Knives Out.” Blanc finds himself on a private island getaway with a billionaire and his influential, famous friends. The only issue? Benoit was never meant to show up. When people start turning up dead, the investigation begins.

I’m not going to touch upon the plot much, because I feel that the best way to go into this movie is blind, without knowing much at all about what will happen. I will talk about “Knives Out,” though. “Glass Onion” is a sequel to the 2019 mystery-comedy “Knives Out,” with writer/director Rian Johnson returning. While the last film was a traditional theatrical film release, “Glass Onion” is a bit more complicated. After the success of “Knives Out,” the rights for two sequels were quickly bought by Netflix. Netflix had a company first with “Glass Onion,” as they teamed with movie theater chains Regal, AMC and Cinemark to distribute the movie for one week only, a month before the movie’s release on Netflix. I was fortunate enough to see this “sneak preview,” but I cannot wait for the wide release in December to watch the film again.

The film is driven by a smart, witty script bolstered by a great cast that deliver the comedy and tension in equal measures, with standouts being Craig’s Benoit Blanc, the detective investigating the mystery played by Janelle Monáe (“Hidden Figures”) as Cassandra Brand, a scorned former business partner of the getaway’s benefactor, and Kate Hudson’s (“Almost Famous”) Birdie Jay, a former supermodel and current businesswoman who drives some of the film’s best comedic moments. This is just scratching the surface of the cast, with Edward Norton (“Fight Club”), Kathryn Hahn (“Parks and Recreation”), Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) rounding out the cast. With ensemble films, sometimes characters fall by the wayside. “Glass Onion” doesn’t have this problem, as every actor brings something to the table and makes the film stronger as a whole. 

The movie is hilarious, but that doesn’t mean it’s a parody of the murder-mystery genre. The movie brings a story filled with twists and shocking reveals that gives the film more complexity than one may initially think. “Knives Out” established traditions that carry over into “Glass Onion,” and I’m sure they will appear in the third film as well: a large, comedic ensemble cast; someone involved in the murder that he ropes into being his assistant; and lastly, a great soundtrack. The music in the first film drew from rock bands ranging from The Rolling Stones, Gordon Lightfoot and Roxy Music. “Glass Onion” has two prominent musicians utilized throughout the film: the music of David Bowie and the Beatles, with the film even deriving its title from the Beatles’ song of the same name. The movie features other musicians though, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Bee Gees both having songs in the film.

“Knives Out” is one of my favorite movies, and “Glass Onion” did not disappoint as a sequel. But that’s the thing. It has the same director, a returning star and character and a new murder. But is it really a sequel? The events of “Knives Out” are never acknowledged, with only a passing reference to one of the film’s elements. You don’t have to watch “Knives Out” to appreciate “Glass Onion.” If you’re a fan of the first film, I’m sure you’ll love “Glass Onion.” If you haven’t seen it? I’m still confident you’ll have a blast.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” comes out on Netflix Dec. 23, 2022.

Title: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton

Genre: Mystery, Comedy

If you like: “Knives Out,” “Only Murders in the Building,” “See How They Run”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.

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Remembering Stephen Sondheim

On Nov. 26, 2021, the theater world mourned the loss of composer Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim, 91, passed away due to cardiovascular disease at his home under the loving care of his husband Jeffrey Scott Romley. One year after his passing, we look back at his career through his works, those he inspired and the legacy he has left behind.

Sondheim’s debut in the theater world was actually not as a composer but as a lyricist. His first two Broadway credits were for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” The first piece that he both composed and wrote lyrics for was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which earned him his first Tony Award for Best Musical. He continued to serve as both composer and lyricist on further shows of his such as “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “A Little Night Music.”All of these shows were critical and commercial successes.

However, every show Sondheim wrote didn’t necessarily receive praise. Both “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Merrily We Roll Along” were commercial failures, though both have seen softer reception in recent years. After both shows failed to make an impact, Sondheim swore off songwriting and proclaimed he’d pursue different art forms.

Both times, he came back to the theater. 

In 1984, “Sunday in the Park With George” debuted, earning Sondheim a Pulitzer Prize. The revitalization of his career continued with “Into the Woods” in 1987; “Assassins” in 1990; “Passion” in 1994; and his last production, “Road Show” in 2008. A few months before his passing, Sondheim confirmed he was working on a new musical titled “Square One,” but it has since been shelved by his collaborators.

Sondheim in his lifetime mentored many up-and-coming composers in the theater industry. Composer Jonathan Larson received guidance from Sondheim on his project, “Superbia,” after they met at a workshop. Sondheim’s influence was so impactful that Larson’s autobiographical musical “Tick, Tick… Boom!” features Sondheim as a character. Sondheim took another budding lyricist under his wing. His promising Broadway debut landed him a job adapting “West Side Story” into Spanish with Sondheim. Many know him today as Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the widely successful “Hamilton” musical and composer of “Moana” and “Encanto.”

Sondheim’s legacy can be seen in his consistent presence on stage and on screen. Sondheim’s “Company” gained popularity after a revival on the London stage, where the main character was played by a woman instead of a man. This revival moved to Broadway where it won the 2022’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. “Sweeney Todd” and “Merrily We Roll Along” are opening on Broadway in the 2023 Broadway season, and an “Into the Woods” revival is currently in progress.

On screen, there have been many adaptations of his works, including two versions of “West Side Story” and feature-film adaptations of “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd.” An adaptation of “Merrily We Roll Along” is currently in development, but won’t hit the silver screen for a while. The “Merrily We Roll Along” film is directed by Richard Linklater and production plans to spend 20 years shooting the film to reflect the time span of the musical.

If film adaptations aren’t your speed, I recommend listening to cast recordings of the shows he has produced. If you’d like to learn more about his life, a notable documentary “Original Cast Album: Company” shows Sondheim’s work as a composer by documenting the production and cast recording of a Broadway show.

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.

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‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’: The quintessential biopic

Before I watched “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” I knew very little about “Weird Al” Yankovic. What I knew was that he wrote song parodies and that he played the accordion. That’s it. However, the movie is so full of extremely specific aspects of his life that I have no reason to doubt Weird Al. I’m taking everything the movie told me as truth. After all, who would lie in a biopic? 

Hoping my sarcasm transcended the page, the film revels in making up the most ridiculous lies they can about Yankovic’s life. The film presents dramatic origins for many of his songs, with the most outrageous being “Another One Rides the Bus,” “I Love Rocky Road,” “My Bologna,” “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise.” One of my favorite parts of the movie is how it presents certain songs, particularly “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise,” as written by Yankovic but stolen by other artists. Additionally, the film claims that he dated Madonna, was the world’s deadliest assassin and frequently assaulted music executives in states of rage. 

Now, the fictionalized history of his life isn’t just for comedic effect, but rather a natural extension of Yankovic’s style: taking what other artists have done and adding his own spin on it. The movie hits all the classic biopic notes, with clear inspiration from “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman,” which highlight: natural talent at a young age, unsupportive parents, artists meeting their collaborators, immediately becoming a jerk after success, experimenting with drugs, alcoholic rage, performing themselves to death, the lowest point in their career before they reach a new high and, finally, everyone forgiving the artist no matter how badly they treated others throughout the film.

While most biopics present their comeback after their “lowest low” as pivotal career moments, such as Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” or Queen’s performance at Live Aid, it was Yankovic’s performance of “Amish Paradise” at the 1985 Grammy Awards that sparked his comeback. Again, the only real information I have on his career is this movie, and I feel I know less after watching it than I did before, but I am confident “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a 1995 release. While historical inaccuracies are just a fact of the biopic genre, I’m confident this movie is more fictional than truthful. 

Nevertheless, the film’s writing is fantastic, with a lot of scenes that feel dead-serious until you get to a ridiculous line that reminds you what movie you’re watching. In the film’s world, polka is the height of debauchery. Only a biopic about Weird Al would have the lines, “I don’t know if it’s from God or the Devil, but the world needs to hear this” and “Pablo Escobar sends his regards.” While the writing is great on its own, it is carried by amazing performers that treat their roles with the utmost seriousness, heightening the absurdity of it all. Daniel Radcliffe portrays Al Yankovic, and he brings his all to the role. Evan Rachel Wood’s portrayal of the movie’s antagonist, Madonna, is unpredictable, always keeps the audience on their toes and has an insane character twist in the film’s third act. 

This movie is bizarre, but that just furthered my enjoyment. The performances being so earnest, as if it were a real biopic despite the ridiculous plot lines, on top of the self-awareness that writing parody music is a bizarre career path to gain fame from, makes the movie so much more enjoyable than the simple joke of “a dramatic biopic of Weird Al.” It takes that idea and elevates it into a film that is not only entertaining, but a poignant reflection on the musician biopic genre as a whole, making us ask ourselves, “When does exaggeration go too far?” The answer turns out to be insisting that Michael Jackson ripped off “Weird Al.”

Title: “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

Director: Eric Appel

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson

If you liked: “This is Spinal Tap,” “Rocketman”

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.

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The Simpsons’ ‘Treehouse of Horrors’: All 33 of them

Before we start, I know what you’re thinking: a Halloween article in November? One may think I’m getting to this late, but I prefer to say I’m getting a head start on next year’s celebrations. 

Like death, taxes and tax evasion, the Simpsons’ Halloween special is an inevitability. Every year since the show’s second season, the cartoon has presented short stories themed around the holiday. While the collection is known as “Treehouse of Horror,” this was not the official name of the special until the 20th entry. Every title card before the special was simply referred to as “The Simpsons Halloween Special.”

I watched all of them. 

Let’s break down the structure of these specials. Typically, there is an introduction to the episode, sometimes setting up a framing device that shows the sketches as stories told by characters. This framing structure was abandoned early on in the history of the specials. Then, we get to the stories which are often parodies of horror movies. The Simpsons’ 34-seasons run is famous for its commentary on a variety of films, television shows, real-life events and classic horror literature such as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Plus, the Halloween specials are famous for their alien running gag. They were in the first, and now we’re stuck with them, whether they contribute to the plot or not. It’s mostly the latter.

There is a lot of gore in the earlier specials that seems shocking by modern standards. Through the years, it’s become much less intense. While watching the specials, I ran into one themed around Thanksgiving. Somehow, this Thanksgiving special was the most gruesome and terrifying in years, with lots of blood and gore featured in the episode. Ironic, considering it wasn’t even an official Halloween special. 

This year’s special was preceded by another spooky parody: “Not IT,” a spoof on Stephen King’s “IT,” featuring Springfield’s resident clown Krusty as Pennywise. “Treehouse of Horror XXXIII” itself is a traditional special, parodying Death Note, Westworld and the Babadook. But I didn’t just watch the most recent Halloween special, I watched all of them and have some thoughts on the collection.

My favorite parody is “The Shinning” in “Treehouse of Horror V,” based on Stephen King’s “The Shining” and Kubrick’s movie adaptation. The parody is successful in ways that others fail: While some of the homages retell the story in a funny way without regard to how the Simpsons characters would act, this particular parody felt accurate to both its inspiration and The Simpsons characters. 

My favorite non-parody was “Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die,” from “Treehouse of Horrors X” focusing on the Y2K crisis. While it certainly dates the sketch, it can serve as a time capsule of sorts, reminding older viewers of what the late 90s were like and making younger audiences curious about the time period.

My favorite alien story was “Hungry Are The Damned,” from the first Halloween special. Sadly, I feel this was the peak for alien characters Kang and Kodos. It’s the only episode where the aliens feel like real characters rather than shoe-horned in spoofs or simple stand-ins for generic non-human creatures. 

Was it easy to watch all of these specials? Yes, obviously. It’s watching TV. Would I recommend it, though? Not necessarily. The episodes become predictable at some point. Certain sketches stand out, but overall they’re rooted in the time they were made. My advice is to watch them as they air, and if you rewatch the old ones, just have Google ready for some of the jokes.

You can bet I’ll tune in next year and every year after that.

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‘And a Movie’: The story of ‘Community’

“Six seasons and a movie.” For one fandom, this was more than a quote. It was a goal — an aspiration for the show that they loved. This is the story of the show “Community” and how its fans were just so dedicated to harassing NBC employees that the show managed to get saved from cancellation. 

“Community” debuted its first season on NBC in 2009 as part of their “Must See TV” comedy line. It centered on an oddball group of students at a community college, including a disbarred lawyer, former football star, a recovering addict and others. The show ran with the network for five years, receiving critical acclaim and a strong following, though actual viewing numbers remained lower than other comedies. Cancellation was always a risk, and the show danced dangerously close to the line. After NBC canceled the show after its fifth year, the show was picked up for its sixth, and final, season by Yahoo! Screen. 

During the show’s third season, NBC made an announcement that it was being removed from the mid-season lineup. Fans heard this news, and made the decision to protest outside of NBC’s New York headquarters. Their protests involved numerous references to the show, including (but not limited to): fake goatees, dressing as Christmas trees and chanting lines from the series. Fortunately for fans, the show was not canceled … yet. While season 3 would continue, season 4 was not announced, and the writers knew this. That is why the season 3 finale ended with a white screen with one phrase on it: “#sixseasonsandamovie,” a phrase adopted by fans in support of the show. The origins of the line are quite mundane: a character, known for their obsession with movies and television, made the statement about NBC’s (critically panned) drama “The Cape.” Despite the simplicity of the joke, fans latched onto the phrase.

While the show didn’t end with season 3, it was not without loss. Showrunner and writer Dan Harmon left season 4 due to creative differences with NBC. This season, featuring mostly new writers, is not fondly remembered by fans due to the perception that the characters changed for the worse. When Harmon returned for season 5, the show addressed these complaints, describing a year-long gas leak influencing the students. Season 5 was praised as a return to form, even with the departure of actor Chevy Chase after a verbal altercation on set. This was not the only departure the show faced this season, as fan-favorite Donald Glover left to further his career outside of the show, pursuing music under his alias Childish Gambino. As previously mentioned, season 6 was streamed on Yahoo! Screen, with the intention of it being the last season, honoring fan requests. This was in 2015. For seven years, fans had no information regarding the possibility of a film, just teases and mentions in interviews.  

On the morning of Sept. 30, 2022, NBC’s streaming service Peacock tweeted out an image simply saying “…and a movie.” The movie was officially announced, completing the prophecy born out of a throw-away line that fans just became overly attached to. While most of the cast has been announced to return, Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown have not. However, in a charity reunion livestream, both actors said they would be open to a return for a hypothetical film. The movie has only been ordered, so there is plenty of time for them to announce involvement before production begins. 

The “Community” movie is the product of fan demand and cult following, similar to other projects such as the Snyder Cut of the “Justice League” movie, or fan support of a Ryan Reynold’s “Deadpool” film after test footage leaked online. The show, inadvertently at first, promised fans six seasons and a movie. Now, they’re ready to deliver.

Contact Andy at aottone@nd.edu.

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Thankful for Big Bird and Doraemon

I come from a fifth-generation immigrant family, meaning my great-great-great grandparents immigrated from Japan to America. Putting it that way, I sound fairly detached from my Japanese roots, but I am still half-Japanese. Despite growing up in the United States, my parents, especially my mom, always made a point to help me learn about my cultural heritage and traditions. 

A memorable way I learned about my Japanese heritage was a program called Hikari No Gakko, which translates to the “Sunshine School.” This was a two-week summer camp that I participated in from the ages of four to 16. My mom helped run the camp as co-director even way before I was born, so Hikari No Gakko holds a special place in our hearts. There is so much to love about the camp. There we learned Japanese songs, how to prepare meals and snacks (all these years later, learning how to make mochi is still one of my favorite childhood memories) and watched movies from and about Japan. Even though we watched a lot of films, one movie, in particular, left a long-lasting impression on me. It is so ingrained in my soul that it will never be forgotten: “Big Bird in Japan.” No, I am not kidding. 

I may have watched this movie before the camp, but I have a vivid memory of being a little kid watching “Big Bird in Japan” on an old CRT television during camp one day, and seeing Sesame Street’s very own Big Bird learn about Japanese culture. What was lost on me at the time (but have come to appreciate with age) is that the movie tells the Japanese folk story of Princess Kaguya, or as I know it, the Bamboo Princess. In the story, Big Bird meets the central character of the folk tale and as the movie goes on she tells him about her past and we see her go live on the moon, as the original tale goes.

This was the first movie I remember touching on Japanese tradition, but it was far from the last. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation company. Some of their most notable productions are “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” I remember seeing “Ponyo” in a movie theater. It was a retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” and, to this day, “My Neighbor Totoro” remains one of my favorite movies of all time.

While movies had a large impact on learning more about my cultural heritage, television was also greatly influential. For many children their first exposure to Japanese television was most likely “Pokemon.” Personally, I never got into “Pokemon.” I didn’t play the games, watch the show or collect the cards. Instead, I watched “Doraemon,” a wacky comedy about a robot cat from the future sent to help his owner’s ancestor. If this premise sounds a little familiar, please note that “Doraemon” debuted in 1979, while “The Terminator” came out five years later. I’m not alleging anything, but it’s something to consider … Nevertheless, I loved this show, and all the wacky antics the cast would get into with Doraemon’s robotics. Anime, animation from Japan, is a huge industry worldwide and many, such as “DragonBall,” “Naruto” and “One Piece” (with all 1,000 chapters and counting) are beloved by fans across the globe. While these ones may be the most popular, my favorite remains “Doraemon.”

Connecting through movies and television shows may not be the most traditional way to get in touch with one’s culture, but it worked for me. My entire life I’ve loved movies and television, and I’m really grateful I have this way to connect with my Japanese heritage.

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu

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‘Do Revenge’: A dish best served lukewarm

Netflix’s new movie “Do Revenge” intrigued me from its announcement: a plot inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” but with a high school setting. Netflix advertised its similarities to other high school classics such as “Clueless,” a personal favorite of mine, so I came into the movie with cautious anticipation. The film boasts a who’s who of young adult TV stars, with Camilla Mendes of “Riverdale” as a former it girl in her senior year of high school and Maya Hawke from “Stranger Things” as a transfer student with a troubled past and a bone to pick, alongside supporting actors from the shows “13 Reasons Why,” “Euphoria” and “Outer Banks.”

Meeting before their senior year, Drea (Mendes) and Eleanor (Hawke) find themselves both seeking revenge on their classmates for personal reasons: Drea’s boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams, “Euphoria”) ruined her reputation and Eleanor’s former friend Carissa had accused her of assault. While the movie’s plot follows fairly standard beats, the performances truly make the film, especially Hawke’s portrayal of Eleanor. At the film’s start, I felt her character was very similar to Hawke’s Robin in “Stranger Things,” and I was worried she had been typecast as the weird girl. I was pleased to see Eleanor have deeper complexity and motivations than the film originally reveals. Hawke’s performance is easily the best part of the film, especially in the moments leading up to the climax. This is not to say that Drea is not also compelling, as Mendes plays the character in such a way that you can’t help but feel bad for her despite her callous, almost narcissistic behavior. 

These performances elevate the film’s writing, which is not bad, but basic. Nothing in the story truly stood out; this is simply a normal teen movie. That is, until the third act twist. The twist reframes the whole movie and raises the tension and stakes for the rest of the runtime. The events following the twist are not the most exciting, but the performances by Hawke, Mendes and Abrams maintain the film’s forward momentum. The style of the film, however, is certainly impressive, whether it be the costume design or shot composition. The film was never boring to look at, as there was always something on screen grabbing my attention.

I appreciate the homages and references in the film, but at times I felt the movie relied too heavily on its influences, most notably “Clueless.” Scenes such as the tour of the cliques, Eleanor’s makeover and the use of the song “Kids in America” all mirror the source too closely. The toxic, borderline romantic infatuation shared between the protagonists harkens back to the dark comedy “Heathers,” but “Do Revenge” doesn’t share its big sister’s captivating cynicism.  Yes, this film has its own merits, but I feel the movie relies on the style of these classics too much to allow itself to form an identity of its own.

On paper, I should like “Do Revenge.” It takes a lot stylistically from movies I love and features a promising plot. Instead, the film neither soars nor falls flat. It is a nice, enjoyable watch, but won’t leave you with much after it ends. The film is not unwatchable by any standard — it just feels like, with its performances and stylistic flair, it could have accomplished so much more.

Title: “Do Revenge”

Starring: Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke, Austin Abrams

Director: Jennifer Kaitlyn Robinson

If you liked: “Clueless,” “Heathers,” “Mean Girls”

Where to watch: Netflix

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.

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All in this together: the sprawling ‘High School Musical’ universe

“Breaking Bad.” “Star Wars.” “High School Musical.” What do these have in common? They are all sprawling franchises with films and television series, which all tell one cohesive story. (If one of these looks out of place, I don’t blame you. I also did not know Breaking Bad released a movie.) Jokes aside, it’s time to “get’cha head in the game,” because I am about to break down the expansive High School Musical franchise. 

The easiest place to start is the films: “High School Musical”, “HSM 2” and “HSM 3: Senior Year.” The first two films were released on Disney Channel in 2006 and 2007 respectively, with the third receiving a theatrical release in 2008. A fourth film, “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure,” debuted in 2011, returning to the straight-to-television model. There was also a pilot for a TV spin-off, but it was never shown to the public. This takes us through the American installments of the franchise–with the emphasis on “American.” 

In 2008, the franchise found itself “breaking free” of the United States, with the release of two separate movies released in Argentina and Mexico with both films titled “El Desafío.” A third adaptation, for the Brazilian market, was released two years later, with a slightly different title: “O Desafio.” All three shared the same plotline. A fourth spin-off, “High School Musical: China – College Dreams” also released in 2010.

The franchise is still running, jumping from Disney Channel to Disney+. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” makes the movies a fictional series (in the universe of the show) that the students perform as their school play, and the upcoming fourth season focuses on the fictional film “High School Musical 4: Reunion.” This segways well into the next piece of the High School Musical machine: real world domination. In 2006, Disney held a touring concert series to promote the film. Theater companies can license the rights to perform a stage adaptation of the first and second film. Additionally, there have been multiple reality shows to help Disney cast minor roles in the third film (“Get in the Picture”) and the foreign market films (“A Seleção”). 

Now here is where things get weird. In the second film, during the final musical number, one new character shows up: Miley Stewart, from “Hannah Montana,” played by Miley Cyrus. This blows the door wide open. “Hannah Montana” already exists in a connected universe of Disney TV shows, spanning as far back as “Boy Meets World” to recent shows such as 2015’s “Best Friends Whenever.” But, this is just Disney. We can take this so much further. Time for the lightning round!

Hannah Montana appeared in an episode of “Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” “Suite Life” character Mr. Moseby guest starred in an episode of “Jessie”, whose cast of characters featured in an episode of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Spider-Man teamed-up with the Avengers, who have met the Simpsons. Homer Simpsons went to “Cheers.” “Cheers” introduced “Frasier.” Niles from Frasier was on “Caroline in the City,” whose titular character met Joey and Chandler from “FRIENDS.” Phoebe from “FRIENDS” is the sister of Ursula, the waitress in “Mad About You.” Kramer, from “Seinfeld,” made an appearance in “Mad About You.” And thus, the “High School Musical” to “Seinfeld” pipeline is complete, clearly the intention Disney Channel had all along. 

Dear readers, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but we are out of time. Next time you watch “High School Musical,” think about what you now know. It might change how you view the film. I know it has for me.

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.