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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.

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‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’: Party ’til we drop

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re tagging along with someone and their friend group, but everything suddenly becomes really awkward?

Well, add some murder mystery into the mix and you’ve got “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” This horror-comedy film centers on a group of friends and their romantic partners getting ready to party hard while they wait out a passing storm, but things suddenly go awry.

Even before the bodies start to drop, the tension establishes itself quickly. First, we get the impression that our main characters Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) weren’t necessarily invited through whispers and uncomfortable glances from other characters. The camera work also contributes to a growing sense of discomfort. Even in simple dialogue scenes, the camera rarely stays still. In a weird way, this added anticipation for me; whenever the camera remained still, I knew the other shoe was about to drop.

Back to the story: Party host David (Pete Davidson) gets heated at a children’s party game and storms off. The other shoe I mentioned earlier? It just dropped and so did the first victim. 

Here, the movie shows off its greatest strength: paranoia. The convenient plot device of the storm creates no way to see clearly, no way to escape and no way to call for help — throwing the cast and audience into a panic. With nowhere to go and nothing to lose, the cast attempts to deduce who the killer is, repeating the events that led to David’s departure. With this, the movie starts a vicious cycle that carries the rest of the film’s events: “We have to find the killer” to “We found the killer” to “The killer is dead” to “But what if they weren’t the killer?” This question is ever-present and feeds into the paranoia of the film. As the audience, the only character we rule out as the killer is Bee. Everyone else, even her girlfriend Sophie, is fair game. 

Every performance made for a memorable and distinct character and gave the movie’s death toll an emotional weight. Bakalova was a clear stand-out, embodying both the loneliness felt by being an outsider in the friend group and the growing distrust Bee felt towards everyone as the night progressed. 

I feel that some horror comedies lose the “comedy” after a while, but this movie kept the jokes coming through most of the movie, whether it be during a confrontation (Rachel Sennott’s portrayal of Alice is particularly notable) or through more physical gags like using a dead person’s face to unlock their phone. 

My only major gripe in the film was that some scenes had interchangeable dialogue. Some lines only serve as exposition; any character could be delivering them and not much would be lost. This, however, is made up for with the performances from the stars, imbuing the characters with a personality that the dialogue lacks.

The killer reveal puts the movie in a whole new light and elevates its recurring themes in a clever way that changes the entire film upon rewatching. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a fun horror comedy that completely reinvents itself in its last minutes. 

If you take anything away from this movie, just be glad most parties don’t end up this way.

Title: “Bodies Bodies Bodies”

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson

Director: Halina Reijn

If you like: “Scream,” “Jennifer’s Body”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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‘Only Murders in the Building’: Killer Comeback

There’s a blackout across New York City. In the Arconia apartment complex, a murder investigation is occurring. And during all of this, the building’s residents come together for one moment and sing. This is “Only Murders in the Building.” There’s murder, there’s mystery, but what stands out most is the cast of characters and how they deal with the chaos they find themselves in. Though the episode had suspenseful moments and revelations for the investigation, the moment that stands out most is how the background characters interact and expand beyond just one-note personalities into complex characters with hopes and goals of their own. What’s even better is how these characters return throughout the season to help solve the mystery underlying the show. 

The show centers on Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez), all residents in the New York apartment complex, “The Arconia.” In the first season, Mabel’s childhood friend Tim Konos is found dead in his apartment, leading the three to unite over their shared interest in murder-mystery podcasts and start their own. The trio, despite all odds, make not only a great team unit, but great investigators, too. After a night of celebration over the arrest of Tim’s killer, the three get a mysterious text and find a dead body in Mabel’s apartment: their neighbor Bunny Folger, the owner of the building. The second season picks up on this thread, with the main trio investigating the killing, while defending their reputations from rival podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) and the crooked Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaport). These five aren’t the only characters the show takes time to know, however. In fact, every character, no matter how small, feels developed in such a way that they have a life outside of their purpose in the story. This is one of my favorite aspects of the show.

In the first season, the question “who killed Tim Konos?” carries much of the plot, but the second season places less emphasis on the actual murder and more on a wider theme of family. Family remains a clear theme that runs through the season, with all three central characters confronting their own fears and obstacles: Oliver worries about the results of a DNA test; Charles confronts the meaning of fatherhood as mysteries towards his own father arise coinciding with the arrival of his former partner’s daughter, someone who viewed him as a father figure himself; Mabel confronts her unhealthy coping mechanisms regarding death and negative emotions that rose from her own father’s death. Through all of these subplots, new revelations arise that lead the investigators to new evidence, no matter how unlikely they seem. The mystery is not impossible to solve, but it is not so clear that one could solve it from the season’s start: the show makes a point to have the audience learn and connect the pieces in the same ways the characters do. Twists are surprising, yet always rooted in information that was already known: the twist comes from solving the puzzle, not learning something unknown to the audience entirely. 

The show balances great character moments with an overarching mystery. Even when the show feels like it’s meandering or abandoning the mystery in favor of character moments that are unrelated to the wider picture, the show ties it all together with such skill it never feels forced or unfounded: every reveal is justified and has some foundation to stand on. The show is not only a great mystery, but also a masterful character-driven comedy, carried by the performances of Short, Martin and Gomez, along with the writing that provides them with great material. Whether you’re looking for a laugh or a chance to play Sherlock, you can’t go wrong with “Only Murders in the Building.”

Show: “Only Murders in the Building”

Starring: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, Tina Fey

Favorite Episodes: “The Tell,” “Hello Darkness,” “I Know Who Did It”

If you like: “The Afterparty,” “Knives Out”

Where to watch: Hulu

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Andy Ottone

Contact Andy at aottone@nd.edu

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The nuances of ‘Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers’

Before reviewing Disney’s “Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers,” let’s take a look at one specific scene. At one point the titular duo gets cornered during an attempted locker room heist by a DJ, who also happens to be a snake. To distract from their theft, Chip and Dale freestyle rap about how they do not eat whales, what part of the whale they would hypothetically eat and how hard it is to break the pattern of rhyming “Dale” with “whale.” After laughing for five minutes straight, I asked myself, “how did the movie even get to this point?” 

Allow me to catch you up… In this reboot of Disney’s classic cartoon, Chip and Dale (voiced by John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, respectively) are not the rescue rangers we know and love, but actors who portray them on the screen. Decades after splitting up, due to creative differences, the two chipmunks investigate the disappearance of their friend and co-star. Over the course of their investigation, the rodents meet a colorful cast of characters ranging from a live-action police officer and super fan named Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne) as well as a muppet gangster (Keegan Michael-Key), a clay-mation police captain (J.K. Simmons) and multiple characters voiced by Seth Rogen. I would be remiss to mention the cast and not the various cartoons making guest appearances within the movie; characters ranging as far as My Little Pony to South Park pop-in throughout the film.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and found it hilarious. The film’s stars deliver incredible voice performances, but it was the writing that made their interactions shine. The screenwriting was the best part of the film. The writers never allowed any stand-alone pop-culture references to be used as a joke, instead, they added subtle (or not so subtle) jokes towards whatever they were referencing. Despite this, some references still felt a little nuanced for a casual audience, especially for children. While children may enjoy the silly chipmunk antics, the commentary on the inherent creepiness of realistic animation might be lost on them. 

However, half-way through the movie, I was rolling with the punches. I had grown used to the references; until the aforementioned rap scene. This is the moment when I accepted the movie for what it was: a goofy movie justifying its existence with its self-awareness. 

Multiple times through the movie, characters lament that nobody wants a Chip n’ Dale reboot, a sentiment the writers knew while creating the movie. For all intents and purposes, this is not a “Rescue Rangers” movie, but one that calls itself “Rescue Rangers” and delivers a great film about fame and the monotony of life. Months after release, I don’t remember the film for its plot, but more so for how fun of a movie it was, with the plot serving more as a conveyor belt that brings the audience from joke to joke. I enjoyed the movie greatly, but I still believe it had a required level of knowledge required to fully experience it, which I feel holds it back from its full potential.

Title: Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers

Starring: John Mulaney, Andy Samberg, KiKi Layne, Will Arnett

Director: Akiva Schaefer

If You Like: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5