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‘You can’t ever say you haven’t been told’: My love letter to ‘The Sopranos’

Television, in particular paid programming television, has seen a cinematic revival since the turn of the twenty-first century. While once belittled as the little brother of the silver screen, the current landscape of television has changed drastically. No longer do actors smirk at the idea of taking on TV projects, but rather embrace it in ways not seen before. And while there have been dozens of titles that have received both critical and fan acclaim, all roads lead back to “The Sopranos” (1999-2007), arguably the godfather of modern television (yes, all puns intended).

A contemporary take on the American mafia genre, “The Sopranos” revolves around a crime family in New Jersey, headlined by our titular character, Tony Soprano. The premise begins with Tony as a criminal battling depression, but the show quickly becomes so much more. 86 hours of this show are still not enough to satisfy fans, as even after ending 16 years ago, HBO’s magnum opus continues to be a focal point for conversation, debate and remembrance. Parts drama, dark comedy and commentary on American society, “The Sopranos” has turned thousands of viewers into critics of all other pieces of cinema. I am one of those critics. 

And don’t get me wrong, I have come to love plenty of other shows over the years. Yet nothing has come to match the level of intersecting entertainment and enlightenment that “The Sopranos” has come to represent. Let me explain.

First, I seriously think you could consider several rewatches of “The Sopranos” as a tutorial to the world of business. Think of watching “The Sopranoss” as like a quasi-business school, unraveling before your eyes through the lens of La Cosa Nostra in metropolitan New Jersey. And yes, granted, the business conducted on the show is of course illegal. But the levels of intricacies present in these illegal rackets of the Soprano family can grow an intellectual curiosity inside the viewer that is truly unprecedented for its time. 

The ingenuity of such schemes has always made me wonder that if real-time mobsters used their business savvy, capital and execution toward more noble pursuits of commerce, then maybe their world would’ve been better off. But I digress. One some scheme in season four circles around fugazi (fake) mortgage loans in inner city Newark. First, Tony Soprano and crew, with the help of their combined political capital, buy up houses primed for urban development in the city. Then, using a bribed real estate appraiser, they reevaluate the houses at a 300% markup. The revalued houses are then sold to a not-for-profit also enlisted in the scheme, who then defaults on the mortgage payments. Percentages of the profits are then chopped up “nicely.” Negotiation, organizational management, quality control and conflict resolution are all developed in depth. “Charles Schwab over here,” I believe is a quote. 

But more importantly, as a Roman Catholic, there is truly a triumphant relevance that exists in the show’s discussion of spirituality, God, eternal life, redemption and the evil that is present within the Mafia’s half-hazard embrace of its Catholic heritage. For the Italian members of La Cosa Nostra, their shared religious culture gives a divine dignity to their work. When members are inducted into the Mafia, they burn a photo of a chosen patron saint, simply repeating, “May I burn in hell if I betray my friends.” Additionally, when the discussion of hell is once again broached, characters revert to their place in the mob as a saving grace from eternal hellfire. “We are soldiers, we don’t go to hell,” is a continuous sentiment throughout all six seasons. 

Additionally, when two integral characters are wounded by gunshot, they are left with lengthy recoveries. For these men, gruesome nightmares follow them. Visions of hell as “never-ending St. Patrick’s Days” are discussed, and these characters seemingly see that their current paths are a one-way ticket there. But our mafiosos accept this, and Tony Soprano becomes a sociopathic figure of the devil, leading his crime family into the twenty-first century. Like the devil, Tony attracts all around him with false promises, sin and delight, while ultimately sowing their destruction. “My Uncle Tony, that’s who I am going to hell for,” is often how he is referred to. 

But the most harrowing spiritual encounter of all comes in the form of civilian complacence with the sins of the crime family. In particular, “innocent” family members such as a children and wives are caught up in the crossfire of realizing the truth of their abundance of riches. Carmela Soprano, the wife of Tony Soprano, acts as the centerpiece for this. In the first season, Carmela’s children begin to poke the bear of Tony’s activities as a mafioso, but Carmela is aware of it all along. Tony and Carmela’s children eventually accept the lifestyle, and actually come to defend it, but Carmela’s peace of mind sometimes wavers. Tony keeps her entertained with diamonds, furs and Mercedes SL, but he is serially unfaithful and seldom acts to keep business out of the habitat of the Soprano family home.

In season 3, Carmela sees a Jewish psychiatrist after continuing to struggle with her husband and his infidelity. The doctor gets Carmela to open up, as she truly does want Tony to reconcile for his sins. Carmela insists that she was only ever there to “make sure he had clean clothes in his closet and dinner on his table.” But instead of advice, Carmela gets an ultimatum. The doctor brings judgement and brings it hard. He laments, “You must trust your initial impulse and consider leaving him. You’ll never be able to feel good about yourself. Never be able to quell the feelings of guilt and shame that you talked about. As long as you’re his accomplice… Take only the children — what’s left of them — and go…  I’m not charging you because I won’t take blood money. And you can’t either. One thing you can never say: that you haven’t been told.”

For those who haven’t seen the show, I’m sorry. But Carmela never ends up leaving Tony for good. And while her character fails to answer the spiritual call, what other shows even broach this subject?  The ending of the series is infamously ambiguous and keeps the conversation going, but I think this scene and hundreds of others beg questions on philosophy, spirituality, society, that haven’t been matched on TV. So seriously, sit back and enjoy the show.

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter, @StephenViz. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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‘Pokémon Violet:’ A dream still working out the details

Few franchises have a better pitch than “Pokémon”: tame and trained magical animals battle each other, save the world with a team of them and ultimately become “the very best, like no one ever was.” 

Whether each game brings the player into this dream is a different question. The previous main series games, 2019’s “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield,” are infamous for their failure to do so. Additional content for these games, however, quickly got back on track, and “Pokémon Legends: Arceus,” released in early 2022, truly makes magic. “Pokémon Scarlet” and “Pokémon Violet” aim to continue this upward trajectory, and in this reviewer’s experience of “Violet,” the game is a success, and it’s easy to see how the series can shine even brighter.

Catching, raising and battling Pokémon is as enchanting as it has ever been. The new battling mechanics introduced in this game are creative and allow for exciting possibilities, which this review will not spoil. The greatest issue with the system is the lack of a difficulty setting. This is a game for all ages, which means the adventure must be accessible, but there is no button to give opponents stronger Pokémon or more complicated strategies. Instead, one must create self-imposed rules to add to the game’s challenge, and even so, one cannot create new opponents. This is an easily remediable problem for the next “Pokémon” games, though.

“Pokémon Violet” is the first fully open-world game in the series and is a great first step into this new system of world design, with compelling prizes for exploration and a surprising degree of freedom in movement. There is a simple and powerful joy in climbing a mountain that seemed impossible to summit and finding a rare item or special event at the peak. There is still substantial room for growth for future games in this department, however, as the environments are mostly unmemorable (with one magnificent exception) and the human settlements are uninteresting. These cities lack distinct cultures, interesting populations or exclusive activities. There is also very limited interaction between Pokémon and humans in the cities, which is a shame, as bringing Pokémon into everyday city life could make these places attractions. Imagine a mountain city where flying Pokémon carry people between buildings, or a city with a parade in which Pokémon use their abilities to create a light show.

Most frustrating of all the game’s best elements, however, is a lacking technical presentation of this world. The game simply runs poorly, and its visuals are at a low quality.  Older “Pokémon” games with pixilated, two-dimensional overworlds and Pokémon battles used the power of suggestion to their advantage, letting players imagine the world in greater detail and conceiving something far beyond the technical capacity of any video game. As a three-dimensional adventure in an open world where one can travel anywhere, this game must depict its world as accurately as possible to satisfy players.  Rather than inviting players to join the game in fully constructing this world, “Pokémon Violet,” at its worst, invites players to imagine a better piece of software.

The story here, unlike many Pokémon games, is not a formulaic tale about an evil organization chasing a god Pokémon to realize its ambitions. Instead, the player’s character is simply a schoolkid in the Pokémon universe, whose friends bring them into the main adventures of the game. While these will not hold an adult’s attention throughout their duration, they are excellent stories for younger players about empathy. The three main supporting characters — Nemona, Arven and Penny — all have problematic aspects to their personalities and difficulties that define them. Nevertheless, the player finds the good and brings out the best in them. Our friends aren’t perfect, the game argues, but that shouldn’t be our expectation. Being human is about connecting with other humans in our brokenness, as our relationships can build us to be better. That is an invaluable lesson for players of all ages.

“Pokémon” is still working out the details of its dream, but “Pokémon Violet” is a wonderful blueprint for adventures to come, and a very good game in its own right. While its world needs more splendor and its adventure more flexibility, “Pokémon Violet” still has magic. It may not convert older players to following the franchise, but hopefully this is building up to the show that will sweep the world away, the long-awaited realization of the dream. But as it stands, it’s still worth letting “Pokémon Violet” cast its spell, even if the seams of the fantasy are visible.

Contact Ayden at akowals2@nd.edu.

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How does Arctic Monkeys’ ‘The Car’ fare after a month’s journey?

Arctic Monkeys is one of the most well-loved rock bands of the 21st century. Hailing from Sheffield, England, this quartet has reached international fame over the past two decades. They’ve garnered a loyal fan base, put out albums relatively consistently and have created high expectations for the quality of their work — so how does “The Car” measure up?

Released on Oct. 21, “The Car” is Arctic Monkeys’ seventh studio album. Since the band’s massive success with “AM” in 2013, they’ve had a change in the direction of their music, and this album reflects that. Many long-time fans were displeased with the successor to “AM,” “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” due to major alterations in the overall sound that characterized the band in years prior. 

While many aspects of their music shifted, two of the most notable changes are frontman Alex Turner’s vocal style and drummer Matt Helders’ overall role. 

Turner’s voice over the time between “AM” and “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” matured drastically, no longer alluring and suave but rather aggressive and undisciplined. In “The Car,” his voice retains a bit of its aggression, but it sounds more soothing and delicate, reflecting the shift in the albums’ lyrical components and structures.

Helders’ involvement is a different ordeal. Since the band’s origins, they have had a heavy metal influence, from percussive elements — specifically, the drums. With “Tranquility Base,” it seemed that Helders barely played anything. This is similarly true with “The Car,” but he appears to regain a bit of playing time, not to mention that he photographed the picture for the cover of the LP. 

Overall, I think the album is solid. Personally, it takes me a long time to decide if I actually enjoy new music released by my favorite artists, and after a month of listening, I’ve come to my conclusion. 

The lyrical depth and complexity echoes that of “Humbug,” “Tranquility Base” and one of the albums from Turner’s side project — The Last Shadow Puppets — titled “Everything You’ve Come To Expect.” One aspect of this album that I find unique compared to the others is its self-reflective nature. The band has covered a range of topics over the years, but Turner has very rarely made a retrospective of his work in Arctic Monkeys. 

Another thing I enjoy about the lyrics is their balance of seriousness and emotional depth with humor. Despite being able to compose music and write lyrics that can be utterly gut-wrenching and tear-jerking, they’ve managed to make “ur mom” jokes and talk of Lego Napoleon movies sound eloquent. 

Speaking of such, Arctic Monkeys have continued to use cinema to inspire their work. This album in particular draws from popular film scores and cinematic themes, though a few of their past works have done a similar thing. 

My criticisms are few but, I believe, significant. The whole album feels sleepy. There are not many upbeat songs, and the whole album takes on a similar tone. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s definitely not something you can enjoy well unless you set aside time to intently listen. 

I also find that their new sound has taken quite a bit to get used to. I’ve been a fan for a while, and I appreciate and enjoy their new music — especially since it means they’re making what they actually want to make rather than trying to conform to certain expectations. For new and old fans alike, this can be challenging. 

Regardless of these criticisms, I think this is one of Arctic Monkeys’ most artistic and meaningful pieces of work, and it signals great things ahead. I hope that they continue to hone their divergence from the mainstream and their sonic experimentation. 

Album: “The Car”

Artist: Arctic Monkeys 

Label: Domino

Favorite tracks: “Sculptures Of Anything Goes,” “Jet Skis On The Moat,” “Body Paint”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Anna Falk at afalk@nd.edu.

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‘DUM-de went my trochaic heart’ after watching the ‘My Policeman’

There are movies that make you feel something. Then, there are the gut-wrenching movies that shatter the very expectations that you have about love and leave you and your group of friends crying for 20 minutes after the credits have rolled. “My Policeman,” written by Bethan Roberts, does a phenomenal job of shifting the viewers not just physically to Brighton, England, but mentally into the 1950s. The atmosphere of lost dreams due to societal oppression — since being gay was illegal at that time — mixed with desires of having an ideal life that seeks validation from that very society sets up a conflicted tension throughout the film. The movie took place in the past and present, showing the younger versions of the policeman Tom (Harry Styles), teacher Marion (Emma Corrin) and the museum curator Patrick (David Dawson) for the majority of it. The three characters are intertwined in a hopeless love triangle where Marion is unaware or purposely shielding her eyes to the obvious truth that her husband Tom is gay.

In the beginning, they almost form a trio of best friends, although there are occasional slip-ups where Tom and Patrick get close. These moments are important because they showcase that Tom is extremely innocent and despite having feelings for Patrick, is unable to make the clear first move. I think this element is especially relevant today, where people mistake love for lust and slow romances lead to losing interest rather than buildup. Tom is a unique character because he represented how, even despite having certain feelings, some people are unable to come to terms with their sexuality and end up making mistakes or hurting the people around them. With a very humanistic element as portrayed brilliantly by Harry Styles, he often has moments of weakness, like when he gets drunk and goes to Patrick’s house, or when he gets angry at the dinner table because Patrick is trying to give too many opinions on his marriage. He was just figuring it out, however; despite being the right people for each other, the timing and situation made it difficult for him to do so.

Patrick has a very deep and dark personality that heavily contrasts with both Marion’s and Tom’s. This could have been because, to a certain extent, he had gone through the process of self-discovery and holds a guard around him that he only occasionally lets down. The scene where Patrick and Tom are standing in front of a painting of a storm portrays their individualistic traits, where Tom looks at it through his rose-colored glasses as exciting but Patrick identifies it as “frightening.” This was in sync with the relationships that ensue between Patrick and Tom and Tom and Marion and also foreboded the shifting tides of their ideals. 

The cinematography is sublime and includes a light beige filter which made it look as if it was a fiction-like fantasy love story — an illusion waiting to be shattered by the harsh reality of the “tides.” Lighting plays an important role, too – when Tom is laying with Patrick, there is a warm glow along with a more relaxed posture and displays of equality both in feelings and comfort. However, this contrasted with Tom and Marion, where the room is dark, almost seeming cold and forced. Occasionally, the pacing seemed a little rushed, since there was so much content and important little details that made it wholesome. However, the theme of the movie encouraged the viewers to read between the lines and analyze not just the scenes, but the characters, too, as the time jump results in various character developments. 

Even the future characters played by Linus Roache (Tom), Gina McKee (Marion) and Patrick (Rupert Everett) did an outstanding job at showcasing the unhappiness that can result from not allowing yourself to be who you want to be. The mixture of love, regret and lost time created a heart-stopping, intoxicating picture. To a great extent, the film is also about letting go, as in the case of Marion, who finally chooses to accept reality and leave Tom after reading Patrick’s journals. 

Another thing that moved me was how much the cast wanted to be a part of this film for personal reasons. Some of them are members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves, and therefore believed in the message more strongly. Harry Styles, a global pop icon memorized the entire script before auditioning because it struck a chord with him. The risk that he has taken while doing this film in terms of potentially losing his fanbase and raising the inevitable questions regarding his own sexuality, an area he has always wanted to keep private, just shows how he’s willing to move outside his comfort zone and explore his cinematic expertise. This entire film was evidently a labour of love, commitment and hard work that surpassed any expectations that the viewer could hold.

Movie: “My Policeman”

Starring: Emma Corrin, David Dawson, Harry Styles

Director: Michael Grandage

If you liked: “The Notebook”, “Titanic”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Ananya Dalmia at adalmia@nd.edu

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Animation Nation: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

This past week was one of my roughest weeks yet. Yes, I got to see a part of history and storm the field while Notre Dame beat Clemson, but waiting for me was three paintings and one drawing with fast-approaching deadlines. The Sunday Scaries were hitting hard and more late nights were coming.

Naturally, I decided to binge-watch some movies to have on in the background, which turned out to be a good and bad idea. I put on “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman. What I expected to be a night full of movie background noise and project progress ended up being completely consumed by the film.

So what makes another “Spider-Man” film so special, especially if it’s created by Sony Animation? (The same team that created the dreaded “The Emoji Movie?”) Simply, it’s because this film was made with love, loads of patience and pushed animation to new heights — spurring a whole wave of studios to push their own limits, as well.

This article will mostly be an appreciation of what this film did for animation, but first, let’s get to the story. Bitten by a radioactive spider, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales develops powers that transform him into Spider-Man. When he meets Peter Parker, he soon realizes that there are many others who share his powers from other universes. Miles must now use his newfound skills to battle the evil Kingpin, who is using a weapon to travel across the multiverse for his own needs.

The film’s main theme is taking responsibility, even when we feel we are not qualified to do so. Yes, this theme is used countless times with Peter Parker, but Miles also has to deal with living up to the expectations of Peter himself, someone who is idolized all around New York. Along with figuring out who he is as a person, Miles deals with self-doubt throughout the whole film, but by accepting help and bonding with Spider-Men who went through his pain, as well, he is able to truly become his own Spider-Man.

With that quick synopsis, let’s get to the best part of this whole film: the animation. First off, did you know that it took around 800 people over the course of four years to create this film? Any given second of the film sometimes took around a week to animate. How was Sony able to create such a unique look? Collage. The animators were blending hand-drawn animation over CGI, creating the look of a hand-drawn, comic book world but giving the characters a 3D effect in the process. The use of comic book-language panelization, action lines and dot shading help make the whole film and each universe within it feel unique. The directors stated that they want the movie to be so beautiful visually that at any time you pause the movie, it will look like a page out of a comic book. Every time you watch it, you always find a new detail you didn’t notice before.

I can go on and on, but this article would basically take up a whole page — you just have to simply watch this film for yourself to truly appreciate what it has to offer. Not only is it the best “Spider-Man” and comic book movie of all time, I consider it one of the best films of all time.

Yes. I really mean that.

Sony Animation took a universal character and role model for kids like Spider-Man and created a new story for him that is actually a breath of fresh air, all while pushing animation to new heights. I can watch this film over 100 times and never get tired of it. I’m probably going to watch it again after I finish writing this. 

Title: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld

Streaming: Amazon Prime

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

You can contact Gabriel Zarazua at gzarazua@nd.edu.

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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