Film

Spider-Gone

I, for one, am glad Sony has decided to scrap plans for a fourth Spider-man movie. As much as part one jumpstarted the sagging "comic book as serious source of drama" dynamic in contemporary cinema (leading to classics like The Dark Knight and Watchmen), and as much as the second film showcased director's Sam Raimi's remarkable range as an artist, the third effort indicated that the concept had run its course. Naturally, the studios don't think so. They wanted more money…sorry, movies, and were counting on the original creative team to keep the coinage flowing.

Since it was announced, Raimi struggled to bring Spider-man 4 to life. There were rumors of villains (Vulture), actors (John Malkovich), and direction (back to brooding and darkness). But something interesting happened along the way. Sony got a script they liked better. Now, Raimi is out, and the studio is going to "reboot" the franchise, taking the character of Peter Parker back to high school. Call it the tween Twilight approach to the famed Marvel icon and you'll get the basic idea. Naturally, messageboard nation remains significantly up in arms.

So, as the dedicated argue over who should (Neill Blomkamp) and shouldn't (Chris Weitz, Brett Ratner) take charge of the reinvention of the webslinger (again, a screenplay is already in place - more on this in a moment), let's look back - and forward - about where Raimi, the stars, and the franchise came from, and where they go from here. Perhaps the most unusual part of all the backstage machinations is how we got to this point in the first place.

According to sources, Sony did not like Raimi's continuing exploration of Spidey's melancholy. Instead, they wanted to take the material in a more light and frothy direction (read: dumbed down and youthed up). Having already committed to Raimi, they allowed him to work on part four while hiring a scriptwriter James Vanderbilt to scribble away on parts five and six. If you read the original Variety story on the subject, you get the distinct impression that Raimi and his take was a reluctant "thank you" for all the commercial cache the director created. Indeed, with Vanderbilt taking the material back to the origin (way back - all the way to puberty, some sources say), one thing was clear - Raimi would probably balk. He had briefly covered this material at the beginning of the original Spider-man. Why would he want to revisit it?

The bigger question is - why would the studio? It seems pointless to repurpose the franchise as something more kid-oriented when it is clear that, the minute Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive insect, his entire adolescence disappears. Oh sure, it was fun to see him save flying food and lunch trays and take on obnoxious bullies, but can you really build an entire film (or in this case, rebooted franchise) off of this? While the TV series Smallville was successful in taking Superman and his main supporting characters/villains back to the classroom, does Spider-man have the same possibilities. And if so, will fans of the original three films like how Vanderbilt and a new director handle all the cliquish school set-up?

At this point, it's important to recall how Spidey flummoxed previous "visionaries". James Cameron, for one, was constantly struggling with his interpretation of the material, so much so that he eventually abandoned the idea of bringing the character to the big screen. Other major names in the industry also fussed over the right way to realize the superheroes various powers and personality traits. Raimi's interpretation was both reverent and instructional, since it followed Stan Lee's original concept for the character as well as bringing much of the sentimentality up to date. Sure, some can argue over the Green Goblin's costume, the handling of Mary Jane Watson, or the entire Harry Osborn arc. But with Spider-man, and more importantly, Spider-man 2, Raimi found the right balance between spectacle and the interpersonal.

Granted, Spider-man 3 was a fiasco on many levels, from the "too much power and too little editorial control" angle to the unnecessary need to have two villains (even if Topher Grace's Venom waiting until late in Act III to make an appearance). It also showed that Raimi was hemmed in by the material - case in point: Drag Me to Hell. Free of the pen and ink boundaries of the source, the director reinvigorated his oeuvre with an amazing, masterful horror romp that, PG-13 or not, showed he had not lost his stinging artistic verve and audacity. It also explained to the numerous fright filmmaking wannabes out there how to do things properly. Fans who really enjoyed this otherwise underappreciated return to form were, naturally, saddened to see him return to Spiderville. But dollars talk and bad box office walks (Drag Me to Hell was NOT a hit), so it was back to the cinematic bank vault for all involved.

As for Raimi, he will definitely survive. There have been lots of announced projects of late (including a World of Warcraft epic) and as a producer, he has a vast network of possibilities he can tap into and guide. While he will always be an amazing director, he could definitely state behind the scenes for the foreseeable future and continue to establish the Raimi/Ghost House name. Like Christopher Nolan, Sam the Man doesn't need Spider-man to validate his talent. He was one of the lucky few whose vast ability was recognized and rewarded with such a shot. Unlike someone such as Bryan Singer, however, working in popcorn cinema didn't stifle his muse. Raimi has proven that he's ready for the next half of his already amazing career. Few who've suffered through the genre can say that.

And what of the cast? Well, that's another bit of luck. Raimi didn't cast an unknown (like, say Brandon Routh) to play his hero. Tobery Maguire had a solid career before donning the red and blue tights, and he continues to have an impression one to this day (his recent turn in the war drama Brothers has brought a great deal of year-end awards consideration). Sure, some opportunities may slip by him once the commercial patina wears off, but he had been in the business for nearly 10 years before Spider-man came along. Like Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and anyone else in the original trilogy cast, his prospects seem safe with or without the webslinger's added emphasis.

But the same can't be said for the franchise itself. Spider-man was always a tricky title to crack, the need to balance adolescent angst with high flying ass-kicking. Raimi didn’t always get it right, but he did come pretty damn close. One can only imagine an X-Men Origins: Wolverine like look where a flashy filmmaker, all style and little substance, walks in and weakens everything fans and film lovers enjoyed about the franchise. Even worse, casting will be crucial, and it's not inconceivable that Tinseltown would use this opportunity to give some relatively unknown (read: cheap) actor their big break. History shows how successful that approach can be. Here's hoping that Mr. Vanderbilt's script is really that good. Otherwise, your friendly neighborhood Spider-man could become a cinematic persona non grata rather quickly…that is, if he isn't already.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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