Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a masterpiece. Its visual storytelling makes the world feel lived in while the blending of 2D animation and real actors set the gold standard for pulling off such integration. With a lead performance from the grizzled yet charming Bob Hoskins and a child-scarring turn from Christopher Lloyd, it’s also a masterclass in acting. It deserves an article of its own but the main point is that it continues to serve as a love letter to the medium of animation, even after 34 years. Disney’s latest attempt to recapture that magic is the IP-laden Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers.

The plot sees the iconic chipmunks living their everyday lives after the cancellation of their hit TV series in 1990. Despite no longer being on speaking terms, they must cooperate to retrieve their old friend Montgomery Jack from the clutches of the bootlegging Sweet Pete. The story isn’t reliant on the original show, meaning that it’s easily accessible to everyone. Die-hard fans may pick up some extra references but it doesn’t make or break the viewing experience. The cast does a wonderful job of portraying these characters, especially John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as Chip and Dale respectively. They’re easy-going, down to Earth, and bounce off each other expertly. Their voices also do a brilliant job of distinguishing between “Chip N’ Dale: TV Characters” and “Chip N’ Dale: Actors”, although those original high-pitched voices still get their moment to shine. These classic tones are provided by returning voice actors Tress McNeille and Corey Burton, who are just some of the returning voice talent.

As an IP-packed project, there are plenty of voices required. Each frame is packed with Disney characters, old and new, many of whom are portrayed by their original voice actors. Considering the preference for hiring celebrities in years (a trend started by Disney’s Aladdin) it’s nice to hear so many of them again. Among them are the legendary Jim Cummings and Alan Oppenheimer (best known for Winnie the Pooh and Skeletor respectively). It would be easy to praise Disney for this move, but it was likely the cheapest option.

Rescue Rangers‘ biggest flaw is that it’s a modern-day Disney production. The relentless cameos, references, and occasionally cringe-inducing humour makes it feel like a corporate product. It doesn’t feel like a love letter, it feels like a victory lap for a monopolistic company. The most entertaining aspect of these cameos is how likely they are to catch the audience off guard, particularly the blue one, but they don’t feel like they belong in this world. A large part of this is the variance in animation styles that don’t gel with each other. The PIXAR-esque characters are especially jarring, although it is amusing that there isn’t a single official PIXAR character to be found here. By far the worst aspect is how the film, and the company, treat beloved childhood icon, Peter Pan.

Now an adult, Peter goes by the moniker of Sweet Pete and he is anything but sweet. As the film’s primary antagonist, he is responsible for major kidnapping toons and altering their appearance to star in bootleg movies. This Peter was hired to portray his signature role as a child but was cast aside by the industry the moment he aged out of it. There’s a solid message here about how poorly child actors were, and occasionally still are, treated but it loses all value when it’s being told by a company notorious for doing this. Bobby Driscoll, the real child voice actor of [1957] Peter Pan was cast aside by Disney, then by the industry. He fell into substance abuse and passed away in an abandoned house at the age of 31. This iteration of Pete feels like an insult to his memory.

Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers has all the vibes of a fun kids’ film. The Voice Actors do a wonderful job of capturing the heart of the characters and JK Simmons is excellent as the chief of police. Fans may get a kick out of it but the film’s biggest flaw is that it feels like a product. It’s self-aware, but not enough to demand you actually hold Disney accountable for the monopoly of IP it’s flaunting here. It may have some sweet moments but it leaves a sour aftertaste.

It’s more Ready Player One than Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Batman (Spoiler-Free)

The “goth” in Gotham stands for gothic. Directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher understood that when they adapted Batman for the big screen in the 80s and 90s. The creators of Batman: The Animated Series understood it too, drawing their inspiration from the Burton era and even The Lego Batman Movie knew to give the city some character. It’s an aspect that was noticeably missing from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because he wanted a more grounded and realistic tone but to do so is a disservice to Gotham. She’s a character in her own right; grimy and crime-ridden but tough like an old boot. Batman knows her well and works with her to bring criminals to justice, which is perhaps why the noir-inspired iteration by director Matt Reeves works so well.

The Batman sees the titular vigilante taking on a Zodiac Killer-inspired Riddler, whilst having run-ins with local crimelord Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) and morally-righteous thief Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). Given the lack of Bruce Wayne in this story, it’s fitting that this film should be dubbed The Batman, which feels like a swift turn after the Wayne-heavy Nolan trilogy. When Bruce does make an appearance it is to further the caped crusader’s story. He’s beaten and disheveled from his night-time antics, attending the funeral of one of The Riddler’s victims, solving his puzzles, and confronting people about the truth behind said puzzles. The Wayne parents, Thomas and Martha, aren’t overly present either. They appear via old news footage and are spared from the over-used flashback to their demise, which is a small but appreciated touch.

One of The Batman‘s biggest flaws is the runtime…all 2 hours and 50 minutes of it. The length itself isn’t inherently an issue, but considering that this has become the standard running time for what feels like the majority of recent movies, it’s a little tiring. It’s almost acceptable when the amount of story being told justifies this length (like with Avengers: Endgame) but that isn’t the case here. Aside from some minor pacing issues throughout, the film falters in its final act. With The Riddler’s final puzzle solved, it feels like the film is coming to a natural conclusion but there is still half an hour left. This half-hour features an unnecessary city-wide catastrophe that is on par with The Dark Knight Rises and, despite serving as a decent conclusion to Batman’s arc, drags.

This isn’t the film’s only flaw either. Martha Wayne and Selina Kyle both undergo minor character alterations that work for the story being told but may displease some fans. The Penguin, as marvelously as he is performed, is still a skinny actor in a fat suit which is an unnecessary casting choice in this day and age. Then there are the facial deformities present on several of the villainous characters, which provides an uncomfortable correlation between the two as well as the mixed messaging of the film. However, what The Batman lacks here, it makes up for with everything else, particularly the tone. Early comic book movies like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or 20th Century Fox’s X-Men felt like comic books come to life, whilst more recent installments feel more like they are merely based on the characters. The Batman falls into the former category and is simply dripping with atmosphere. The colour palette, production design, characters, and even the weather feel similar to Frank Miller or Alan Moore’s best work. Not to mention Micheal Giachiinos’s score which, while repetitive, captures the same level of heroism as Danny Elfman’s 1989 score.

There are a lot of elements from previous Batman installments in The Batman. It finds a good balance between the gothic griminess of Burton and the character-driven story of Nolan, whilst borrowing the best aspects of Nolan’s villains for The Riddler. Despite some minor flaws, it captures the Dark Knight at his darkest, although that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There haven’t been enough camp/fun versions of the character and it seems like that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Hopefully, the next one is a bit shorter.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

No Exit

What makes a film good? Objectively, it may be aspects like the script, cinematography, score, and lighting but subjectively that’s not such an easy question to answer. One might argue that enjoyment of a film is enough, although this line of thinking may lead to heated discussions with those who don’t agree. There is a lot of grey area in these discussions too. Some parts of a film may be objectively good, while others are objectively bad, but you feel the bad is outweighed by the good. Take, for instance, Hulu’s newest thriller No Exit.

The plot follows a recovering drug addict who finds herself trapped in a community centre with several strangers in the midst of a blizzard. As she gets to know these people, she uncovers a kidnapped young girl in a van in the parking lot, although there’s no way of knowing whose van it is. The tension builds as secrets are revealed and the heroine must decide what the right thing to do is. It’s an excellent premise, told well, but it has several key flaws. The biggest of these is the dialogue, which is often cheesy and predictable. It’s riddled with cliches and exposition but, paired with the acting, it leads to an entertaining first half. No Exit’s tone is serious, or at least it’s trying to be, but the film is more enjoyable as a B-Movie. Even an inexperienced thriller viewer will call the kidnapper early on, although given that this reveal is the mid-point plot twist, it feels as if that doesn’t really matter. The second half contains plenty of twists and turns to continue watching, even if it’s a more glum experience than the first half.

No Exit is, in essence, a bottle story: a term used to describe plots that happen entirely in one location. (Think the fly episode of Breaking Bad or the classic Doctor Who episode Dalek.) Granted, it’s a fairly large location, using the several rooms of the community centre and the parking lot outside, but this is where the action stays. It’s used to great effect in the final act, with the heroes inside the buildings and the villains outside it, in a scene that keeps the tension high. It’s a stunning locale too, bathed in fluffy white snow which perfectly contrasts the villainy taking place. As the plot escalates, so too does the violence, which may inflict a wince from viewers. There’s a gun present for the majority of the second half, but it’s the nail gun and use of said nail gun which make for an uncomfortable half-hour.

The film’s other major flaw is in its display of drug use. The opening scene, set in a rehabilitation centere, is done well and feels genuine but as the film progresses, drugs will remain prominent. The heroine finds a small stash in the car that she uses to escape rehab and contemplates taking it throughout the plot until finally caving during the final act. Until she takes them, this is a really respectful way to portray these issues but she uses them in an act of heroism. This ties taking drugs with heroism in a moment that really doesnt sit right. The moral was so close to being that people are capable of incredible things without drugs, until it fumbles at the final hurdle.

Regardless of the mixed messaging and cliche-filled script, No Exit is still an entertaining way to spend part of an afternoon. It may not delight in the way that filmmakers had intended, but it delights nonetheless.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Uncharted

Movies based on video games don’t have the best track record. The most famous example is the very first, 1993’s The Mario Bros Movie, but plenty of franchises have tried their hand at the silver screen. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Doom, Prince of Persia, and Warcraft are just some of the many lackluster attempts over the years however, it feels like nobody is willing to acknowledge the few that slip through. 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was popular enough to get a sequel, as was 1995’s Mortal Kombat. Despite underwhelming sequels, 2002’s Resident Evil is liked enough but they all seem to struggle with their core demographic. The youngest age that any of these films aimed for was 12, with 15 being the preferred age. The two most popular videogame movies of all time, namely The Angry Birds Movie and The Sonic the Hedgehog Movie, aimed for that sweet, marketable, profitable PG rating. Whether or not these were good videogame movies debatable but they were wildly popular with their core demographic, and even slightly older demographics with Sonic. The main comparison to be made between these two installments is that they vary from their source material, keeping names, designs, and very little else. Adaption seems to be necessary for adaptation, which is something that Uncharted never achieves.

The story follows thieving Nathan “Nate” Drake as he meets fellow thief Victor “Sully” Sullivan and they attempt to find the lost Magellan treasure. Along the way, they encounter a couple of Sully’s old associates, who have been individually hired by ruthless billionaire Santiago Moncada. This plotline is not lifted directly from the games, however, several key setpieces and relationships are. Uncharted tries to walk the line of “just like the game” and “a whole new story” which ultimately means that it never fully achieves either. The set pieces are fantastic, particularly during the finale, but one can’t help thinking how cool these would be to play through. These set pieces, and characters, are chosen from across the timeline of the game series, notably Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 4: A Thiefs End which means that they don’t function as they do in the games. It’s close enough to pay homage but not accurate enough to appease fans.

Meanwhile, the film itself is as standard as they come. It’s a little bit Indiana Jones and a little bit Goonies but both of these featured more fleshed-out characters and knowingly entertaining scripts. Films like those practically invented the cliches that Uncharted fails to utilise with any real meaning. The script is filled to the brim with zingers and one-liners, but that doesn’t make a character. The protagonist of the Uncharted games isn’t Nathan Drake…it’s you. You control his actions, you experience the story firsthand and you are the person being constantly screwed over by Sully. Nathan Drake is just a vessel with a backstory, which is why any adaptation is required to give him his own agency. This film doesn’t manage that and it sadly isn’t helped by the casting of Tom Holand. Tom’s natural charm and charisma are this films saving grace, as are his impressive parkour skills.

Uncharted is just another videogame movie. The score is lovely and the setpieces entertaining but Lara Croft: Tomb Raider achieved that 2 decades ago. Had this film come out then, it may have faired better…but it also would have preceded the game series by 5 years.

Here’s hoping Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is better.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Death on the Nile

Very few people understand theatre quite like Sir Kenneth Brannagh. The Irish-born actor/director trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before making the move to the silver screen. His catalouge is relatively small, currently sitting at 18 directing credits in total, with his primary focus appearing to be on the stage-  and this is reflected in his film repertoire. Sir Brannagh is most well known for his adaptations of William Shakespeare plays like Henry V (1989), Hamlet (1996), and As You Like It (2006), which are grand in scale and beautifully designed. With this taste for the theatrical in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that his latest endeavor Death on the Nile is full of grandeur.

Based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie, the film follows world-renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as he attempts to uncover who is behind an increasing number of murders on a boat cruise along The Nile. Each person there is present to celebrate a newly-wed couple, and each has a possible motive, but as the murderer commits more acts of violence the list of suspects quickly dwindles. This kind of story is rife with oddly charming melodrama- the screams, the gasps, and the wild accusations. Another director might attempt to ground the story in gritty realism, but not Brannagh. The bright colours are accompanied by staggering shots of Egypt. The sunsets are bright orange and the flares red as if the scenes were captured on canvas with acrylic paint. This is not a film that asks to be taken seriously, but one that asks you to react however you see fit. You too can gasp, scream, and throw wild accusations.

This is reflected in the acting. Sex Education’s Emma Mackay portrays the primary suspect, a jilted ex-fiance, and with a powerhouse performance like this, it’s no surprise that she’s quickly becoming one of the finest actresses of this generation. Equally exquisite is Brannagh as the beloved Belgian, who delights in holding a room’s attention and is marvelous at doing so. The climax of the story, as with all murder mysteries, is the unveiling of the truth, which Poirot delivers with an enticing monologue. The rest of the cast is stacked with famous faces like Russel Brand, Annette Benning, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders who each revel in the role they have been given.

Arguably the largest name on the list is Gal Gadot, who portrays the blushing bride. Unfortunately, her performance may be the weakest. The emotion is there but the fluctuating accent quickly becomes a distraction. She goes from sounding French to American to British in the span of a few syllables and I’m now 90% certain it was meant to be French. Some may also feel like the plot takes too long to get to the murder, as it occurs shortly before the halfway mark, but with a cast this large full of so many introductions, it’s understandable.

For this theatre kid, watching Death on the Nile felt like being back in an auditorium. I can think of no higher praise than that.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood Queer