Book Nook: ‘Dune,’ two very different narratives

My summer project was reading Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

The 1965 science fiction epic immersed me in its semi-supernatural world of complex space politics, family ties and religion. It focuses on Paul Atreides and his family who oversee a planet much like Earth but are soon forced by the interplanetary Emperor to move to the desert planet of Arrakis. They face several obstacles on this planet because of it formerly being “ruled” by their rival family, the Harkonnens. Though it has a slow start, the book soon becomes suspenseful and exciting as its protagonists navigate layers of intricate schemes devised by both their enemies and their allies.

The 2021 film adaptation of the first half of the novel is… different. It’s good, but viewers should not watch the movie expecting it to be the same as the book. The movie focuses on its cinematic elements, at which, obviously, it excels. The soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer, is beautiful; it creates suspense, sets the mood and captures the intensity of many scenes. The costume choices and the casting were on point, and the visuals, especially the vast landscapes, are stunning. The film completely immerses the viewer. I would recommend seeing it, especially in a theatre, because it truly is a work of art. However, unlike the book, I would never recommend it for the plot.

The film leaves out a lot of important details that make the novel a science fiction classic. Adapting “Dune” is hard for a number of reasons. After a string of bad adaptations, it was considered a novel nearly impossible to create for a long time. The 2021 adaptation is by far the best but suffers from some of the same problems as its predecessors.  

Because of the novel’s length and interweaving subplots, it’s very difficult to form a cohesive plot for a film. Splitting it into a two part movie instead of adapting it all at once is a smart choice — especially considering the first half of the novel, in both its plot and its characters, feels vastly different from the second half due to a jump in time.

The most glaring issue with the movie is that it fails to create a sense of the conflict between the Harkonnens and the Atreides. Much of this is conveyed in the novel through complex internal monologues, which are understandably difficult to adapt. Many of the tense conversations between characters that pertain to this conflict would seem tame if the reader wasn’t informed of the characters’ machinations through the omniscient narrator. Just adding this dialogue to the movie does not help viewers understand the veiled messages and hidden meanings that characters in the novel deciphered in their internal monologues from a few words of conversation.

The central conflict between the Harkonnens and the Atreides expands to include larger organizations in the second half of the novel. It is possible that the conflict was kept vague because of this shift, however, it leaves the movie feeling slow. The plot was moving at random without being driven by a central element.

The complex politics also felt glossed over. For example, the Bene Gesserit is a pseudo-religious political organization key to the novel’s plot. Its schemes have been drawn out for hundreds of years and have significant influence on every aspect of politics and Paul Atreides’ development, as he may or may not be critical to their end goal of finding a prophet-like figure. Most of what makes them important is barely mentioned in the movie. They come off as more of a shady cult than a powerful organization.

You should see “Dune” for its carefully crafted cinematic experience, however, don’t expect much from the plot.

Contact Caitlin Brannigan at


South Bend Symphony Orchestra performs at Notre Dame

This past weekend, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra opened its 90th season with two stellar performances of “Mozart y Mambo” at the DeBartalo Performing Arts Center. Conductor Alastair Willis was greeted on stage with the presence of his sister, Sarah Willis, a member of the Berlin Philharmonic and French horn player.

The Symphony began its birthday celebrations with a diverse and animated program, as all of the pieces selected were exciting or compelling in some manner. The opening number, Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite,” reflects the humorous nature of the Italian “comedia dell’arte,” the play which inspired  Stravinsky to compose his ballet. The piece is divided into eight movements, all of which convey particular happenings or emotions of a scene through different musical styles which quickly and effortlessly blend into each other (for example, a rapidly moving “scherzo” contrasts with a melodious “serenata”). The subject of the music, Pulcinella’s dashing escape from the envious boyfriends of the girls he woos, is colorful and lively; it even features an intriguing battle between instruments, designed to portray the struggles of wrestling characters on stage.

With Stravinsky completed, the orchestra welcomed the horn soloist Sarah Willis for a performance of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3. The composition was what could be usually expected of Mozart: divine, happy and full of light, with musical phrases that are simply “meant-to-be.” However, the piece was brought to its full potential by its interpreters, Alastair Willis as conductor and Sarah Willis as soloist. Sarah, for her part, performed with great skill and playfulness, teasing her brother at times in a typical sisterly fashion; she even added such humor to the music of her “cadenza,” or improvisational solo. Now, Alastair Willis’ personal touch and his prowess may be observed in all of the performances he conducts. I personally felt this was evident in the second movement of the horn concerto, the Romance. The lyrical, melodious character of the music was fully brought to light by Willis. Under the Maestro’s guidance, the orchestra almost seemed to visually swell under the soaring phrases and carefully executed crescendos. 

Then, Sarah Willis graced us with a work of her own design. She first related her experience of encountering Cuban music for the first time and being utterly enthralled by its beauty and power. Deciding to bring together composers for a bold and ambitious project, Willis transposed a number of Mozart’s pieces to the Mambo genre. Beyond this, her version of Mambo featured the addition of a full orchestra, traces of additional sources like the Brazilian samba and forró, bursts into song and solos for the horn, an instrument which she was told was too crass and cumbersome to be involved with Mambo. Indeed, she merged it all exceptionally. Her “Rondo a la Mambo,” inspired by the third movement of the horn concerto we had all just heard, was the most vivacious and unique moment in the program. As an encore, Willis later repeated the same piece and invited the audience to sing and clap along to the music. She also later shared a moving and elegant orchestration of a traditional Cuban song, “Dos gardenias.”

The evening progressed with a rendition of Bologne’s Overture to the opera “L’Amant Anonyme,” or The Anonymous Lover. This piece was a repose from the previous excitement, as its slow, beautiful, and passionate movements led the audience to bliss. It was a brilliant decision to incorporate Joseph de Bologne into the repertoire, who was not as widely known but has been recognized as the first great classical composer of African descent.

Lastly, the performance concluded with yet another unique and humorous piece, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” or “The Ox on the Roof” by Milhaud. In keeping with the style of the rest of the program, Milhaud’s music provided unceasing surprises, unexpected turns and playful melodic choices. When introducing the piece, conductor Alastair Willis called his audience to imagine or conjure up the wildest scenarios, for that was the intent of this intensively creative music.

I highly recommend you listen to these wonderful pieces, especially Sarah Willis’ “Mozart y Mambo” album, which may be found on Spotify. If you are interested, you may also stay attuned to the rest of the South Bend Symphony’s season program. Their feature in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of West Side Story will doubtless prove unmissable.

Contact Marcelle Couto at


‘Don’t Worry, Darling’ — Florence Pugh Has It Under Control

If you’ve spent any time online in the past few weeks, “Don’t Worry Darling” needs no introduction. Between Harry Styles’ now infamous interview at Venice Film Festival (he was right — the movie does feel like a movie), Florence Pugh’s conspicuous absence from that same event, Olivia Wilde’s public feud with former star Shia LaBeouf, and perhaps the most bizarre, the Harry Styles and Chris Pine ‘spit gate’, “Don’t Worry Darling” was facing a barrage of criticism and unfortunate viral tweets well before even hitting the silver screen. The film’s trailer was met with trepidation, Styles’ labored acting skills looked all the worse next to Pugh’s natural delivery, and critics haven’t been exactly kind to Wilde’s sophomore directorial credit. The question remained, however, if, after all this, the movie would actually be any good. The verdict? It’s good enough, and sometimes that’s okay.

“Don’t Worry Darling” tells the story of Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles), the picture of mid-century domestic bliss, as they enjoy life in the town of Victory, an experimental community part-company town, part-luxury resort. All seems perfect, her the glamorous housewife and him the successful breadwinner, until, of course, it isn’t. Alice starts to notice cracks in their seemingly perfect life and begins to wonder what exactly it is her husband is doing at the Victory Project before everything starts to unravel. It’s a classic “Stepford Wives” tale, and Wilde’s take on the story is not particularly revolutionary. That being said, the movie is still solid. It’s visually stunning, with a gorgeous set and costume design, and the film’s supporting cast does wonders for what might otherwise be a slightly weak script. There are some memorable scenes, to be sure (no spoilers, but if you’ve ever wondered what Harry Styles might look like tap dancing, you’re in luck), and the movie makes a strong attempt at delivering a solid feminist message.

If anything, the film falters because it doesn’t quite go far enough. Dancing on the edge of thriller and horror, viewers might find themselves willing to tip into the latter category. The film’s visuals give it a glorious setup, but it almost seems to run out of steam near the end as the story wraps up and the ending comes into sight. Pugh does a brilliant job of portraying the “darling” of the film’s title, but the material itself feels slightly limiting, and we’re left wondering what might have been if she were given more to work with. On the other end of the spectrum, Styles seems pushed to his limit by the film’s script. His acting is passable, even good when he’s on the sidelines, but when he’s required to carry a scene himself, things get a little shaky. Perhaps it wouldn’t even be that bad if Styles wasn’t forced to act opposite to Pugh, who lights up every scene she’s in, but the pairing doesn’t do Styles any justice. Ultimately, it’s Pugh that saves the movie. She gives a shining performance and keeps the film on track despite its poor pacing, which is somehow both too fast and too slow. Clocking in at just over two hours, the film might have been better served with a longer runtime, if only just to give the overstuffed plot more time to breathe.

That being said, “Don’t Worry Darling” may be not the best movie you’ll ever watch, but not every movie has to be. For Styles fans, Wilde haters, and everyone in between, the film is worth seeing, even if it won’t change your life. Expect great visuals, a fantastic leading lady, and a storyline that’ll keep you guessing right to the end.

Title: “Don’t Worry Darling”

Starring: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde

Director(s): Olivia Wilde

If you like: “The Stepford Wives”, “Severance”, “Pleasantville”

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

Abigail Keaney

Contact Abigail at


Roger Federer completes 24 year tennis career

After more than two decades of play, Roger Federer has finished his legendary tennis career. Announced on September 15, through Twitter, Federer said that he must listen to his body as it tells him that his time as a competitive player is over. Federer played his final match last Friday: a doubles match with friend and rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup.

As a child, Federer began his story with tennis as a ball boy in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland. Though he was talented in many sports, he chose tennis after working with Australian player Peter Carter. At age 14, Federer moved to Ecublens from Basel to train at the National Swiss Tennis Center. His first breakthrough would come at age 19 when he beat four-time defending champion, Pete Sampras, at Wimbledon. His first major single title, however, would come two years later at the 2003 Wimbledon.

Federer would go on to win seven more times at Wimbledon, six times at the Australian Open, five times at the US Open and one time at the French Open for a total of 20 major singles titles, the third most men’s major singles titles overall. He has spent a total of 310 weeks at number one, 237 of those consecutively, and became the oldest player to reach number one at age 36. Federer holds the record for the greatest number of consecutive major singles semifinals reached at 23 and has an overall singles record of 1251-275 (82%). Finally, he has never had to halt a match due to injury – a surprising fact given he’s played 1,526 singles matches and 224 doubles matches.

For his numerous wins, Federer has won over $130 million in prize money, but most of his income has been made off the court. Known for his vast number of brand sponsorships, Federer became the first active tennis player to earn more than $1 billion – one of only six athletes to do so. Even in the past three years, when injuries and surgeries have kept him largely out of play, he remained the highest-paid tennis player and was even the highest-paid athlete in 2020, according to Forbes.

For a lot of people, though, when Federer is brought up, two other names come up in the conversation: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. These three men are often referred to as the “big three” of men’s tennis, and together they have dominated the past 19 years of play. Between the three of them, they have won 63 of the past 77 major men’s singles titles, and their matches are incredibly memorable.

Federer and Nadal’s Wimbledon final in 2008 is largely considered one of the best matches in tennis history, and it is hard to forget the image of Nadal comforting a crying Federer after their 2009 Australian Open final. Likewise, Djokovic’s 2019 win over Federer at Wimbledon took almost five hours and is still seared into the brains of many of their fans. With Federer retiring, this “big three” era of tennis is finally over. While his career on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour is done, Federer has said that he would still like to play exhibition games in the future. It seems that he will also continue to be a part of the sport in other capacities as well. The Laver Cup itself is run in part through Federer’s management company TEAM8, and Federer has used a lot of his influence to put it on the ATP tour schedule. He has even confirmed that he will attend next year’s Laver Cup in Vancouver. So, although Federer has retired, tennis fans should all breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that he is not stepping away from the game completely.

Claire McKenna

Contact Claire at


What ‘Coco’ has taught me

Believe me, I get it. Here’s another piece on Coco! Has it been talked about numerous times since its release in 2017? Absolutely, but for good reason. Being Mexican-American myself, I was skeptical at first when Disney announced this film. I thought right away it would be a stereotypical Hispanic film that the majority of audiences would assume Hispanic culture is. However, “Coco” was a film that truly moved me emotionally. So, while this isn’t necessarily a recommendation, I would like to talk about what this film meant to me.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, “Coco” is a 2017 film directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich. The story is of Miguel Rivera, a young musician who crosses over to the Land of the Dead to find his purpose in life while connecting with his ancestors. The film is heavily influenced by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos or also known as Day of the Dead. On this multi-day holiday, family and friends gather to pay respects and remember friends and family members who have died.

When I was little, I had very little care for Dia De Los Muertos. I was naive to the idea of death and why we spent a whole day remembering those who passed on, especially those that I wasn’t necessarily close to. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I understood the importance of this holiday, as well as remembering the dead in general.

I lost all my grandfathers in high school: my Papo (Robert Balleza) on my mother’s side, my grandfather (Raul Zarazua) and my step-grandfather (Lloyd Negrete) on my father’s side. It was hard to process. The role models of my childhood, the people I never thought would leave, are now gone. The idea of death hit me hard, and made me think about what would happen if I left now. How would I be remembered? Would I be remembered years down the line?

As I grew older, the thought wasn’t in my head 24/7, but still lingered, and appeared again when COVID-19 hit. The idea of death and not being remembered hit me like a truck. I never knew how to process these thoughts until my sophomore year, when we finally came back to campus.

I went to an event showing “Coco” and my feelings finally come together. While those we loved are no longer with us, they are never truly gone forever. Just because someone isn’t with you anymore, that doesn’t mean that the love you have for them has disappeared. Their lives have meaning because we, the living, refuse to forget them. When we pass on, we trust and hope those we love will do the same for us. 

“Coco” also shows the importance of passing on traditions and familial legacy. While Coco’s family has a strong hatred toward music, the family and audience learn the value of respecting previous generations and the knowledge our elders have accumulated. There are plenty of people who feel they have made grave mistakes in their life and wish they could take them back. However, the best thing a person can do is to teach the people they love to not make the same mistakes. While those who look up to us want to be just like us, we want them to be better than us so they can have better lives.

No one we love is ever truly gone, and we can continue to keep their legacy alive, remembering the times we had with them and continue to pass on their legacy.

Title: “Coco”

Directors: Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich

Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal

Streaming: Disney+

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Gabriel at


‘The Tsugua Diaries’: A pandemic-era masterpiece

 Admittedly, I found myself a watcher of pandemic escapism shows and movies, the most prominent example being “Emily in Paris.” Watching “The Tsuagua Diaries” illustrated just how a director can draw inspiration from something so unprecedented — the pandemic — and use it to create a masterpiece.

The movie beautifully explores Portuguese culture. The cinematography gives us a peek into the luscious landscape of the Portuguese countryside, from gorgeous garden scenery to consistent shots of over-ripe fruit. The soundscape was rich with 70s hits and the vibrant and musical Portuguese tongue. I found myself peeking into a culture that I hadn’t seen before for an hour and 42 minutes. Watching films outside of one’s culture allows us to see past the stereotypes that have been given to them.

The film simultaneously provides insight into Portuguese culture and rejects the format of standard American box-office movies. Our films follow a predictable formula, created by executives who cater to our interests. As a result, American cinematography is less than stellar in most cases. The quality of the film suffers.

“The Tsugua Diaries” showed that there are still movie-makers that focus on capturing a story rather than curating it to a mass market. This film is a breath of fresh air in contrast to what we are seeing in the mass market. They created a universe of a movie inside a movie that showed the reality of endemic era filming. The premise was Carloto (Carloto Cotta) decides to go surfing and unintentionally puts the production at risk.

It leads to the decision to construct a house for butterflies. The construction of the butterfly house is how the tensions between characters to come through. The behavior of Carloto is criticized throughout the movie arguably because of the choice he made.

One of the highlights of this on-screen dynamic is surprisingly humorous. Carloto is the flirting in the garden when his co-worker rudely interrupts him and calls him out for wearing socks. The two debate over the clear value of the socks with Carloto writing them off as not a big deal. This is hardly one of the first moments to come to mind when I think about humorous moments. The masterful use of little quips that almost fly over your head is something exceptionally well-done in this movie.

The last scene also provides an exceptional flashback to when they arrived on set and the discussion of the COVID protocols. The supervisor is wearing an N-95 mask and face shield but is wearing an outfit that looks like a garbage collector uniform. He gets into a heated argument over organizing breakfast for the crew. Someone failed to request the milk he wanted for breakfast. He questions everyone else and says that no one answered the email required for the order. It is revealed that everyone else responded except him. This scene deals with the realities of pandemic-era struggles but does so in a light-hearted way.

The highlight of the film was the fact that the characters went by their real names. The fact that the actors weren’t playing characters heightens the sense of realism and connection between the audience and the actors. The behind-the-scenes moments also added a layer of authenticity.

The spirit of Maureen Fazendeiro, writer of “The Tsugua Diaries,” was clearly shown in the film. We saw the inner workings of film production rather than the unreal depictions that are the norm in modern cinema. “The Tsugua Diaries” instills a feeling of love and admiration for the films that lean into real culture.       

Title: “The Tsugua Diaries”

Starring: Crista Alfaiate, Carloto Cotta, Joao Nunes Monteiro  

Directors: Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes 

If you like: “La Strada”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Rose at


Fifteen seconds for fame

Music has become disposable. One day, you hear a new hit song, and then, a month later, it has vanished off the face of the earth. While this is not an entirely new phenomenon, the world of music has shifted greatly over the last decade. Instead of relying on record sales, downloads or touring to gain popularity, musicians are relying even more on the power of social media.

Now, before you criticize me for “putting my dad hat on,” or you accuse me of “shout[ing] into the void [about] how no one has good taste anymore” (like one kind online-commenter said to me two years ago), please hear me out. Trust me, I’m tired of writing about the evil relationship between music and social media, but someone has to say this. These ramblings are not intended to complain about my favorite indie bands getting popular online in attempt to “gatekeep.” This is simply to educate the world about the industry of mass-music-production. While I might miss seeing my favorite underground bands play in intimate venues, I want them to play in front of thousands one day. I want them to achieve the recognition they deserve and if that needs to happen via Instagram or TikTok, by all means, have at it! But, if reaching this goal requires an adherence to mainstream ideals, also known as the loss of originality, then they might as well be called “sell-outs.”

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are tools with an angel and a devil on each shoulder; a place where personal and professional promotion reign supreme. If you are unaware, “The Algorithm” (which we shall denote as its own entity) is a bully. The system is like Regina George from “Mean Girls,” if you don’t like [blank] then “you can’t sit with us.” This is true with any online platform, but TikTok and Spotify are the most brutal. (Yes, Spotify is not a “social media” platform by definition, but it is considered to be one of the most intimate platforms compared to others.)

TikTok has become one of the most influential platforms for shaping music taste. Consider the story of the band Vunadbar. Almost a decade after their first album “Gawk” (2015) was released, their song “Alien Blues” suddenly experienced a rise in streams; a snippet of their song had gone viral. Even though Brandon Hagen (their lead vocalist and guitarist) expressed how strange it was to be known for a song he wrote when he was 18, they embraced their new-found popularity with a new music video and a re-recording of “Alien Blues” on their most recent album “Devil for the Fire” (2022).

While this is a positive story of embracing the power of TikTok, there is a downside. These “sounds” on TikTok are only a few seconds long, so you’re only getting a little taste of the greater picture. It was strange to see them live and see the crowd get the most animated for only two lines — what about the rest of the song? What about all the incredible music they have released since 2013? This is true for almost all TikTok sounds, creating a big dilemma: the disappearance of the bridge.  

If you are not familiar with song construction, a bridge usually occurs after the second chorus, standing as its own musical element. A great example of a bridge is in Gwen Stafani’s “Hollaback Girl”: “This s**t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”  Because of TikTok’s format, despite the bridge being one of the catchiest parts of any given song, most clips feature either a few lines in the beginning or simply the chorus — it’s all about grabbing users’ attention. This strategy is also found to be true on Spotify, and it’s often called “The Spotify Effect.” There are two elements that go into the Spotify Effect. Firstly, if a song is skipped before it ends, The Algorithm will consider it to be less desired, recommending it less to other users. Secondly, Spotify won’t count a song as officially streamed unless it has been played for at least 30 seconds, so if it gets skipped in the beginning, artists won’t get paid. As a result, the combination of the two elements have forced producers and musicians to “get to the point” of the song, so they are less at risk of getting skipped. Today, music is made for consumption.

Now, you might echo my hate-commentor’s sentiments when they said, “Duh, it’s an economic game, what did you think would happen after streaming took away all of the artists’ revenue,” but none of this overproduced music is going to last. Vundabar, who have been working extremely hard to be where they are now, embraced their viral popularity while allowing their music to speak for itself. Many artists strive toward conformity because that is what is going to make them popular and get them paid, but no one is going to remember who they were in 30 years because they will have sounded like everyone else.  

I am not trying to tell you who or what to listen to; you should listen to the music that makes you happy. I simply want to educate you about the powerful relationship between music and the Internet. There are many cool things the Internet has done for music, but let’s make sure it doesn’t take too much control.

Contact Willoughby Thom at


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


‘Hold the Girl’ dropped the ball

Rina Sawayama is ambitious. She’s a Cambridge graduate. She’s a musician. She wants to raise awareness about the struggles of being Asian American and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, all while embracing her inner child. She’s trying to out-do her critically-acclaimed debut album with her newest release “Hold the Girl.” 

Following up “SAWAYAMA” would be a daunting task for any artist. Sawayama’s hit single off the album, “XS” is a musical masterpiece. The song satirizes excessive modern-day consumerism at the expense of the climate, all while accomplishing one of the most interesting feats of production I’ve come across in the past couple of years. She marries modern day pop with trap beats and heavy metal riffs, completely blowing away listeners within the first 20 seconds. (Trust me, just listen to it.) Other fan favorites like “STFU!” and “Comme Des Garcons (Like the Boys)” have a similarly stunning production quality. Sawayama simultaneously carved out a niche for herself musically and garnered a loyal fanbase. Basically, she was a huge success.

Her new release, “Hold the Girl,” does a lot of things well, but it doesn’t meet the bar Sawayama set with “SAWAYAMA.” Generally, it’s been pretty successful with singles “This Hell” and “Hold the Girl” generating nearly 16 million streams on Spotify. The album’s songs address everything from anti-Asian hate, Sawayama’s complicated relationship with her mother, perfectionism, healing her inner child and accepting herself. In short, this album is all over the place. It lacks a lot of the cohesion and creativity that made “SAWAYAMA” stand out in 2020.

The most popular song of the album, “This Hell,” is a queer anthem that released just in time for Pride Month. It’s the song off “Hold the Girl” that sounds most like “SAWAYAMA.” With gnarly guitar riffs galore and Sawayama’s rockin’ vocals, she grapples with feeling unaccepted by the Church as a LGBTQ+ person. She sings a lot about this religious tension throughout the album, but it ultimately feels like a passing thought in the chaotic blur of themes Sawayama addresses. “This Hell” feels like it’s pandering to Sawayama’s loyal LGBTQ+ audience.

On the other hand, you have “Send My Love To John,” a heartfelt stripped-back guitar ballad that tells the story of an immigrant mother apologizing to her queer son for not accepting him. It’s not like “SAWAYAMA” at all. It isn’t angry and there’s no killer heavy metal riffs, but it’s sincere. It’s the only song on the album that made me feel anything. 

“This Hell” rightfully spits in the face of bigots, but “Send My Love To John” also shows that hateful people have the capacity to change. Sawayama’s introspectiveness isn’t apparent in her pop ballads, but her personal growth shines more when she isn’t focused on creating stadium anthems. She sings in “Phantom” about her tendency to people-please, crooning “Once upon a time / There was a girl pleasing the world / Dying to be liked.” Clearly, this problem still exists.

“Hold the Girl” reaches for inspiration in places other than Sawayama’s journal, though. “Minor Feelings” is named after a book by Korean-American poet Cathy Park Hong. “This Hell” tips its five-gallon hat with a classic Shania Twain “Let’s go girls!” ad-lib. She pays homage to the pop-punk ballads of Avril Lavinge in “Hurricane.” 

Sawayama spends so much time trying to please her audience and emulate other artists, she ultimately loses what makes her music so special — herself. As a queer, intelligent, Asian-American woman, Sawayama has a lot of valuable things to bring to the table. I was blown away by the creative production on “SAWAYAMA,” but that doesn’t mean that she needs to rely on gimmicks to be successful. I just want Rina Sawayama to “Gimme just a little bit (more!).”

Album: “Hold the Girl”

Artist: Rina Sawayama

Label: Dirty Hit

Favorite track: “Send My Love To John”

If you like: Charli XCX, Grimes, M.I.A.

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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‘Primal’ and the language of evolution

Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal” is a masterpiece like no other. Through blood and prehistoric rage, the silence of a show without dialogue is drowned under the terrifying screams of beasts fighting their very extinction. But this is more than just a show about a caveman and a T-rex fighting duo. Sprayed across this show’s violent tapestry is a hunt for meaning.

Now that the show’s second and final season has ended, I think it works best looking at the series in its entirety. In the aftermath of losing both their families, a caveman, Spear and T-rex, Fang, team up to survive and overcome their mourning.Without dialogue, and without characters able to understand each other, the nature of the human individual is fully dissected at its most vulnerable state.

Spear cannot express the deep emotions he experiences. Why he decides to keep fighting is never about overcoming doubt, it’s out of necessity. No matter how much of his life disappears, the only way to keep it alive is for him to keep moving. Evolution is not kind to the lone survivor; the harder they fight it, the more they will be left behind.

Throughout the show, cultures are turned to rubble, and entire species are reduced to ash, yet episode by episode, Spear and Fang escape the hurricane intact. It’s only after the fights end that they realize the world is moving on without them. They are destined to be alone, agents of eras long buried, and the only way to not be swept away in the avalanche of time is to cling to each other. It puts our modern place in the food chain into question by examining our very understanding of evolution.

This show wouldn’t exist without the legendary Genndy Tartakovsky, who was probably a staple of your childhood entertainment. The mind behind “Dexter’s Lab,” “Samurai Jack,” “Hotel Transylvania” and my personal favorite, “Sym-Bionic Titan,” this guy knows how to craft dynamic stories with great action and unforgettable art styles. In a TV market booming with 3D animation, Tartakovsky’s drawings add texture through rough brush strokes and sharp character designs. The very outlines of Spear and Fang can puncture flesh. The physicality of their characters is visible in their silhouette, each shape and angle built to feel cold-blooded. The show contrasts this antagonism with vibrant colors, blending venomous greens with cartoonish volumes of bloodied reds.

Even the sound design feels like it’s calling from the stone age with low horns and deep drums. Nothing blends into each other; it all stacks into a mountain of iconic symbols and vivid memories. Tartakovsky has mastered his craft, emphasizing texture and style over a clean image.

I do want to specify the evolution of this show after its second season. The first five episodes of the show are a social experiment: could they successfully create an engaging story through teeth, blood and screams? The answer was a resounding yes. But with that foundation proving successful, there had to be a next step. An evolution.

Season two’s job was to put a spine to the muscle. The episodic adventures grow more serialized, more characters are introduced and themes drive the story rather than survival. I want to mention this because season one is a great way to pass the time, but season two is when it truly hones the story. Spear is no longer a simple caveman by the end of the show, he signifies something elemental about our species. That something is that this show promises to revive, hoping we never let it slip into the past again.

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact J.P. at