The Gospel According to the Book of Eli

Most sci-fi has a sacrosanct element as part of its design. It's the reason we find these flights of fancy so awe-inspiring.

The Book of Eli

Director: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon
Rated: R
Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-01-15 (General release)
UK date: 2010-01-15 (General release)

In general, movies and religion do not really get along. Most depictions of the pious tend toward the insane, the frantically fundamentalist, the dirty-dealing criminal and/or pervert, or the brain dead and Lord-lovingly clueless. While The Bible could be the basis for a hundred powerful cinematic blockbusters (just imagine the Apocalypse as a $200 million Roland Emmerich project), many in the biz-ness find a need to make a mockery out of faith. Sure, there are the rare titles which handle the material in smart, sophisticated ways (The Rapture, anyone?) but for the most part, God and good times at the Cineplex don't seem to mix.

Perhaps this is why The Book of Eli is such a 'revelation', in more than one interpretation of the word. It offers a serious science fiction film in an era which has almost exclusively embraced a more Lucas-fied feel to speculative narratives. It paints an oh-so bleak picture of a precarious post-apocalyptic America without going overboard into dullness (The Postman) or defeat (The Road). And it allows Denzel Washington to play a role he was truly born to essay - that of a future shock prophet on a mission to save the actual word of God. For those who have yet to experience this film - be warned. The next few paragraphs will be chock full of SPOILERS. Sadly, without revealing all the intricacies of the plot and players involved, it would be impossible to see how overly religious and sacred this storyline really is.

Frankly, Christians should be lining up to embrace the Hughes Brothers' brave vision. In Gary Whitta's first feature screenplay, they have found a mock messiah who defies both convention and contravention. He can kick ass, but only in the name of his mission. Let's avoid the violence subtext for a moment and address who Eli really is. First off, he's a survivor, and a chosen one at that. He states near the middle of the film that he saw a hole in the sky "open up". After the world ended, he was told by God to grab a copy of The Bible, protect it with his life, and head West. So he is clearly called, even if we initially deem his belief to be something akin to preachy post-traumatic stress disorder. Sure, he seems unstoppable (and has made it wandering for 30 years to prove it), but in times of great chaos, such clarity is just freaky.

As he moves among the miscreants, the cruel criminal element and cannibalistic bottom feeders, Eli is never really in danger. Even as he wields his massive sword with villain cutting precision, he remains a steadfast member of God's Army. He is never truly injured, and seems capable of inhuman recuperative powers. All the while, he remains firm in his need. And every night, before bed, he picks up the book and reads. This is crucial. He just doesn't comprehend the words, however. He digests them. He makes them part of who he is, so much that, as he lives by them, others are taken with his example. The Mila Kunis character is a perfect example of a potential disciple, someone who sees Eli and immediately wants to follow. It's not about sex or escape, really. It's about finally finding a righteous path and means of escaping this horrid existence - and needing to take it.

As if these minor subtexts are not enough, the Hugheses pack on some clear visual pronouncements. In Carnegie's stronghold, he takes down several extremely capable killers, and as he is leaving to continue his quest, right hand man Redridge (Ray Stevenson) takes aim and shoots directly at the back of Eli's head. The bullet hole even appears near the coat collar on the nape of his neck. But is our hero hurt? Is he even scratched? No. Instead, Redridge instantly realizes that there will be no stopping this particular wanderer, and that, perhaps, his calling is more powerful than any weapon they possess.

Of course, Carnegie doesn't feel that way, as he represents everything that God must hate in the evangelistic and misguided. He wants The Bible because of its power over the weak and desperate, the frightened and the easily swayed. In this classic case of good vs. evil, he is the Devil to Eli's prophet substitute. In order for our hero's ambition to be meaningful, it has to be fought over and fragile. Eli has the power of God behind him, but Carnegie has the pragmatic means of bringing him down. Their stand-off occurs right before the film's finale, when our characters have just survived a run-in with a quirky cannibal couple. Realizing he can't escape, Eli gives himself up - and Carnegie shoots him. As the bullet hits its mark, a lightning bolt crashes across the sky…signifying what?

Let's look at its two ways. Since God must know that (SUPER SPOILER WARNING) Eli is partially blind and been memorizing a Braille Bible for the last 30 years, his word is safe. The sky fireworks were a means of signifying that the sanctified has served his purpose. The Lord will make sure he gets to Alcatraz in San Francisco, a place where a printing press, and the ability to translate the tome into black and white, exists. It could also be a sign of displeasure, as if God is mad for carrying Eli all this way only to have a foolish despot like Carnegie try and stop him. Again, the Lord will oversee our hero's safe passage to serve his purpose, but this last minute attempt at thwarting his will is really pissing him off.

In the end, Eli lives long enough to recite the entire King James version of The Bible to a secret order eager to bring books - and civilization - back to the last remaining vestiges of humanity. We see other holy books, on the shelf, but it is clear that a Christian maker is mandating said perspective is among the many options. Indeed, one of the best elements about The Book of Eli is that, while clearly catering to the Western version of faith, the ending suggests that all religion - and the moral message it brings - is important to our culture. Sure, Carnegie wants to pervert it for power and glory. But in the end, his own vanity and greed has guided him down a road toward abject destruction. Eli lives long enough to see his goal achieved. Our villain, wounded leg gangrenous and stinking, will die in vain.

It's the perfect parable. There is struggle and strife. Lives - or in this case, the fate of all mankind - hang in the balance. One can easily see the parallel to put in practice. And the hand of God over the wasteland protects those who have faith and believe. Instead of smiting his enemies with thunderclaps and pestilence, the Lord uses Eli as a vessel, a way of making the wicked pay and the discouraged hopeful. As with all good Bible stories, Eli wins, even if his life is martyred for the sake of the greater religious good. It’s one of the most brilliant and visually arresting allegories ever. And in retrospect, there is never doubting the power of God - even if He seems to be working in mysterious ways.

Again, it will be interesting to see if the Christians embrace this film as part of their preaching. It does deliver the goods in ways that should turn wanton mainstream eyes toward Heaven. The Hugheses never overdo it, stuffing their sense of God down the throats of the always suspect masses, and the way the movie ends, in such a "sort of saving the world" mannerism should mean more than a few converts. Granted, most sci-fi has a sacrosanct element as part of its design. It's the reason we find these flights of fancy so awe-inspiring. In this case, God isn't some Nature Entity or blue-skinned alien. He is present and in the person of a strong, resilient African American. Just call it the Gospel 2.0 and the message is clear.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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