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‘Tell Me Lies’: A train wreck

On Wednesday, Sept. 7, the first three episodes of the new Hulu series “Tell Me Lies” was released. While the first episode begins in the present, the director takes us back to Lucy’s first year of college.

The director’s choice for bridging the past and present naturally presented spoilers. Even though these foreshadowing details somewhat piqued my interest, the decision to intentionally show the future unfolding didn’t fare well. Instead, it simply felt unnecessary. For instance, the tragic death of Lucy’s roommate Macy (Lily McInerny) lacked the shock value it deserved.

Episode one should’ve been stronger, but the following two episodes managed to create complex characters that were not only interesting to watch but you also found yourself despising them. Stephen (Jackson White) was a misleading image; he found himself in a dramatic love triangle with his ex-girlfriend Diana and Lucy. As the episodes proceed, we learn that Lucy wants more than a casual relationship while Diana is hesitant to take him back. In the end, Stephen effectively convinces them to stay with him. 

It is difficult to know how much what he says is true, and his friends fail to provide insight into his true intentions. Even though he may be a fascinating character, he is a toxic individual.

For example, one of the most difficult scenes to watch was when Stephen’s friend Wrigley (Spencer House) asks for help when studying for his economics exam. Evan (Branden Cook) apologizes profusely for not being able to help him while Stephen says he doesn’t have enough time. In many ways, I wish Wrigley’s storyline was highlighted. 

In the scene where Lucy writes a nonfiction piece for her fiction class, she feels personally attacked by their harsh criticisms of the main character. I found this scene to be funny because it made me question whether or not I should’ve sympathized, and it opened my eyes to the portrayal of Lucy as an emotionless character. She breaks up with her boyfriend the morning before leaving for college and all of her actions were not explained. There is no backstory, instead the director alludes to the difficulties with her mother. Her struggles should have been explored in a deeper way in order to enhance Lucy’s character arc. Her character is very unlikable.

Even as the series continues to progress I still couldn’t help but think that there should’ve been a different focus. However, despite being a train wreck, it is hard to stop watching.

“Tell Me Lies,” first three episodes

Starring: Grace Van Patten, Jackson White 

Favorite episode: Episode 3

If you like: “A Teacher”

Where To Watch: Hulu

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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J.I.D’s triumph over circumstance: ‘The Forever Story’

Since signing to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records in early 2017, Atlanta rapper J.I.D (real name Destin Choice Route) has built a name for himself not through the absurd style, vapid lyricism and obscene amounts of bass that defined the “Soundcloud rap” era in which he came up, but through a commitment to two things too often lost in modern hip-hop: honesty and craft. The rapper whose stage name originates from his grandma’s description of him as “jittery” has never lost that same restless swagger from when he was young, and J.I.D’s latest album “The Forever Story” puts on display his most vulnerable, cohesive and thoughtful work to date without losing sight of the hard-hitting beats and elaborate flows that put him on the map.

The opening track “Galaxy” almost directly reflects “Doo Wop,” the intro track to J.I.D’s first album, “The Never Story.” This immediately introduces one of the key themes of the album, which is the juxtaposition of where the rapper sees himself now — sitting atop or near the top of the metaphorical mountain that is the rap game — versus where he was when he first signed to Dreamville or even first started making music. While “The Never Story” served as a meditation on J.I.D’s life growing up in Atlanta and how the mindset of his youth still influences him in the present, “The Forever Story” represents a feeling of triumph over circumstance and an emphasis on who he is and has become.

The first five tracks after the intro are the “hits” of the album, including the two singles “Dance Now” and “Surround Sound,” with the latter featuring an expertly crafted Aretha Franklin sample not at all out-of-line with the themes of the album. “The Forever Story” is a celebration of what made J.I.D the man and artist he is today, and he uses both samples and features expertly to tie that together. Sampling the “queen of soul” along with somber reflection and singing on tracks like “Sistanem” and “Can’t Make U Change (ft. Ari Lennox)” demonstrate how his parents’ music has pervaded J.I.D’s own. Cutting in The Last Poets – a group largely responsible for the formation of hip-hop as a genre — to the beginning of “Raydar” and features from Lil Wayne and Yasiin Bey exemplify the appreciation J.I.D has for the origins of both his style and the genre as a whole.

The emotional core of “The Forever Story,” however, comes from the three-track run of “Kody Blu 31,” “Bruddanem” and “Sistanem.” “Bruddanem” and “Sistanem” delve into J.I.D’s sense of kinship and loyalty toward his brothers and sister, and the comparison of these feelings shows how uniquely important these different kinds of relationships are while still expressing the lessons his family has taught him. The cornerstone (or “feature presentation” as it’s described at the beginning of the track) of the record is “Kody Blu 31,” a memorial of sorts to J.I.D’s friend Kody who died when he was young. The chorus on this track melodically advises the listener to “swang on” in what seems to represent the central message of the album — a message which resonates deeply as a reflection on grief and what it means to keep living.

This record is so lyrically dense that there is no way anyone could explore all of the phenomenal work in both writing and delivery in one review. While there is an impressive verse or two on every song, the standout tracks in terms of lyrics were “Crack Sandwich,” an exploration of the chaotic yet tight relationship between J.I.D, his six siblings and his parents, and “2007,” the outro to the album which dropped as a music video a week prior and does not appear on Spotify due to clearance issues. It illustrates in both verse and voice memos the story of J.I.D’s life from 2007, when J. Cole dropped his first mixtape “The Come Up,” to 2017, when J.I.D signed to Dreamville Records and dropped his first album.

“The Forever Story” easily constitutes J.I.D’s best and most complete body of work to date and safely establishes him as a modern great alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar and his mentor, J. Cole.

Artist: J.I.D

Album: “The Forever Story”

Label: Dreamville Records

Favorite Songs: “Crack Sandwich,” “Can’t Punk Me (feat. EARTHGANG)” and “2007”

If you like: Kendrick Lamar, EARTHGANG, Smino, Danny Brown

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Brendan Nolte

Contact Brendan at bnolte2@nd.edu

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‘Jurassic World: Dominion’: A disappointment 6.5 million years in the making

Dinosaurs divide the population into two types: those who love them and those who couldn’t care less. Somehow, “Jurassic World: Dominion” doesn’t inspire either stance. With its unfocused story and bloated plot, the movie plods to its conclusion as if anticipating extinction at the hands of other summer films. Even the resurrection of fan-favorite characters Drs. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Sattler (Laura Dern) and Grant (Sam Neill) failed to salvage it.

For an entry in a series of reboots which excavate previous films for content, the premise begins strong. Dinosaurs have invaded modern ecosystems. The film raises important questions in its first dozen minutes such as, “Can dinosaurs be integrated into the modern world?” and “Is it ethical to kill them all just because they’re unnatural?” Unfortunately, these questions are left unanswered.

Instead, the film spends the next two hours of runtime focusing on a plot involving genetically engineered cicadas produced by InGen wannabe, Biosyn Genetics. The cicadas are targeting the seeds of crops not produced by Biosyn. Everyone’s going to starve unless someone stops them. The world had a big enough problem on its hands with the dinosaurs; the only reason the cicadas are introduced is so Dr. Sattler can rope Dr. Grant into an investigative journalism stunt to have Biosyn shut down for terrorism. As if paleobotanists and paleontologists are known for their expertise in bioengineering. A more compelling way to bring Grant into the story would be to address the existential crisis he’s surely having now that his job’s rendered obsolete.

The film’s story is also divided into a kidnapping plot involving Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Owen (Chris Pratt) and Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Quite a bit happens here. Claire and Owen visit an underground dinosaur trading bar, get in a plane crash and run from dinosaurs in a jungle and on a frozen lake. Meanwhile, their 14-year-old ward, Maisie, is held captive at Biosyn because she’s a genetic clone, and they want to reverse-engineer her to strengthen their cicadas … or something.

Forgive the lack of coherence, but events in the film are just that: events. The story can barely maintain its focus across all its ideas. When subplots do overlap, they do so in a contrived manner, such as all seven main characters happening to stumble into one another out in the jungle. Oh right, there was a seventh character: a pilot who gives up dinosaur smuggling to aid Owen and Claire in their search. Her role, beyond bailing the others out of trouble, is so minimal that her name escapes me.

In lieu of a plot or characters, dinosaur action becomes the film’s main focus. The diversity in fight scenes is appealing to those who just want their action fix, as characters fend off herds of raptors, run from a T-Rex and witness several battles between two of the film’s largest species. But while there’s plenty of carnage, each fight feels floaty. It’s like the dinosaurs are action figures being slapped together. And despite that being the film’s draw, it still doesn’t feel like enough time is devoted to the dinosaurs beyond being scary setpieces. When the film concludes with a fuzzy message about coexistence, the viewer can’t help but realize they’d forgotten there were ever dinosaurs devastating society.

Overall, “Jurassic World: Dominion” is the quintessential summer blockbuster. It’s chock-full of explosions, chases and the kind of hand-waved science fiction only a middle schooler could find compelling. Once one reawakens to the black screen at the end of the runtime, the adrenaline may linger long enough for a comment on which act of dinosaur violence was most entertaining. Then the movie is left to fossilize in our memories.

Title: Jurassic World: Dominion

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum

Director: Colin Trevorrow

If you liked: “Jumanji: The Next Level”

Shamrocks: 2 out of 5

Kait Milleret

Contact Kait at kmillere@nd.edu

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‘We have but this one short life’: ‘Fire of Love’ sizzles at DPAC

When the unnatural destruction of France during World War II subsided, Katia and Maurice Krafft stepped out of the flames. Although they would not meet for another two decades, the couple experienced a mutual childhood ignition — the love of volcanoes sparked that within them. 

Brilliantly juxtaposing the unnatural flames of human war with grandiose lava flows and bubbling cauldrons of hot mud, “Fire of Love,” National Geographic’s most complete exploration of the human condition, intersperses gorgeous graphic explanations of geological phenomena with films made by the Kraffts during their adventures. My mouth gaped in awe for 90 minutes straight. The film’s stars are also its creators: Maurice and Katia were world-renowned volcanologists and humble yet incredible filmmakers. 

Often stepping too close to the lava and constantly dreaming about riding his canoe down a lava flow, Maurice, alongside his film camera, is the visionary, capturing dreams for the world to see. Between the more serious topics covered in Sara Dosa’s documentary, Maurice’s “dad jokes” add a comedic lightness that made the viewing experience less overwhelmingly intense and much more fun. 

Katia, less than half Maurice’s size, is the true genius, capturing precise stills of the red, yellow and gray mountains that draw the couple ever closer. Although Maurice jokes that the couple often “erupts” at each other, their love is evident. 

Even as they both note that television appearances, books and films are nothing but the easiest way to pay the bills when they would rather be near the fire, the Kraffts’ filmmaking truly blurs the line between art and science. Utilizing a Wes Anderson-esque God’s Eye perspective, Maurice and Katia zoom out to show geologic scale and zoom in to show their volcanologist instruments at work. 

The documentary, however, does not delve too deeply into the science. As a history major, I was satisfied with the narrator’s calm explanation of plate tectonics and the beautiful visuals that went along with it. But “Fire of Love” is a romance through and through. Simultaneously, it captures Maurice and Katia’s love for each other and their mutual love for the Earth. Possibly disappointing the scientists, though, volcanology methods remain a mystery to me even after two watches.

And when the Kraffts are not there to capture an eruption, director Sara Dosa does an even better job of demonstrating volcanic scale. Katia and Maurice are stuck in France when Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980, so they could provide no footage, but Dosa compiles a beautiful and horrifying collage: a journalist abandons their camera in a nearby village as ash hurls towards it; a hiker 50 kilometers away photographs an ash cloud that obscures their entire field of vision; and a villager hundreds of kilometers further witnesses the mushroom cloud that ensues mere minutes after eruption. 

Witnessing those images in turn, I couldn’t help but gape. In all honesty, the images are beautiful, but I felt almost guilty experiencing awe at such a destructive event. Dosa soon brought me back to reality. For how awe-inspiring the documentary is, it is not naively romantic.

Katia and Maurice are not religious, nor are they fond of humanity as a natural force. If it were possible to eat rocks, they may never come down from the volcano back into society. 

“We have but this one short life before we return to the ground,” they say. But Katia and Maurice are not nihilistic nor egoistic. When Nevado del Ruiz erupts in Columbia and kills 25,000 people, they spring into action, creating films and action plans to inspire evacuation efforts in other volcano zones. This time, governments listen to the volcanologists, saving thousands of future lives. 

Of course, Katia and Maurice know that their short life will come to an end, and it soon does. In the 1991 Japanese Mt. Unzen eruption, the lovers return to the ground next to each other, buried under a flow of lava, forever enshrined in the flames that created them. However cliché it may seem, I stepped out of DPAC feeling more grounded, more willing to search.

Title: “Fire of Love”

Starring: Maurice and Katia Krafft

Director: Sara Dosa

If you like: “The Alpinist,” “Free Solo,” “Moonrise Kingdom”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Mark Valenzuela

Contact Mark at mvalenz3@nd.edu

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‘Guess why I smile a lot. Uh, cause it’s worth it.’

Propelled seemingly by some mechanism inside its rubber body, a tennis ball rolls, turns and erratically bounces down the stairs, eventually coming to rest near the couch. 

The ball is a little tattered, as if it has been rolled down these stairs many times before and the viewer is simply looking in on a daily habit, a moment of ordinary life. 

But then, a disembodied voice calls out over the silence and jars us to a different place entirely. The voice belongs to Dean Fleischer-Camp, director both actual and fictional, and the ball to Marcello “Marcel,” an animate shell that wears, yes, tiny tan and pink sneakers.

Fleischer-Camp’s unorthodox stop motion mockumentary, released this year by independent film juggernaut A24, is a favorite of audiences and critics alike for its wholesome simplicity and unique take on life, community and the meaning of family. 

The first thing that struck me about “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” was its ability to subvert the ordinary and familiar into a world equally imposing and magical. Fleischer-Camp’s perspective offers the human world: Airbnbs, YouTube, even a glimpse of Los Angeles’s Elysian Park. But telling the story only through a 5’10 lens would ignore the other world entirely, the universe existing only between sock drawer and apricot tree, colander and hot dog bun. Through the eyes of little Marcel, a slice of bread becomes a place to sleep, a stand mixer part of an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine and a shaggy dog a dangerous predator indeed. This construction builds Marcel’s more real-life issues — namely his lost family and aging grandmother — into monoliths of themselves, large for a human but insurmountable for an animate shell clad in tiny pink sneakers. 

I did feel some dissonance around halfway through “Marcel.” After all, it is a film about a shell with one googly eye and a high-pitched voice (done by the illustrious Jenny Slate, by the way). Marcel’s YouTube fame is punctuated by slightly obnoxious current trends — TikTok dances and the like — and around the point during which he scrolls through comment sections, I began to wonder what the creators of the movie were thinking, spending years and dollars on a film that seemed largely pointless. I shuffled that thought away and re-immersed myself in the film, searching for some point of relevance that would make the watch worthwhile.

Not long later, I found it. Marcel’s grandmother Connie, voiced by another icon, Isabella Rosselini, reads Philip Larkin’s poem “The Trees” in the background of Marcel’s interview with 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl: “The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said;/ The recent buds relax and spread,/ Their greenness is a kind of grief./ Is it that they are born again…/ Yet still the unresting castles thresh/ In fullgrown thickness every May./ Last year is dead, they seem to say,/ Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”

All of a sudden, I understood. It was all relevant: sock drawer, apricot tree, colander, hot dog bun, bread slice, stand mixer, shaggy dog and tiny tan and pink sneakers. See, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, in the same vein as “Paddington 2from 2017 and even St. Exupéry’s novella “The Little Prince,” is a study in how we can wrestle with grown-up concepts in a landscape of childlike wonder and beauty. What’s compelling about “Marcel” is how it is both silly and incredible. A film about an animate shell becomes a testament to the act of storytelling itself, drawing us into this delightful little world and then flinging us back out again like tattered tennis balls on suburban staircases, ready, like Marcel himself, to begin afresh, afresh, afresh. 

Title: “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Starring: Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp, Isabella Rosselini

Director(s): Dean Fleischer-Camp

If you like: “Paddington 2,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

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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