Reviews

The Damned United

Sheen has portrayed real life British figures who achieved popularity and notoriety in the respective industries of politics, broadcasting and sports. This is his best performance yet.


The Damned United

Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham
Distributor: Sony
Rated: R
DVD release date: 2010-02-23

The Damned United is the fourth cinematic collaboration between actor Michael Sheen and screenwriter Peter Morgan. In each film, Sheen portrays a real life British figure who achieved popularity and notoriety in the respective industries of politics, broadcasting and sports. As Tony Blair (in both The Queen and The Deal), David Frost (Frost/Nixon) and now Brian Clough, Sheen plays variations on a theme: the idealistic young man who used charisma and supreme self-confidence to challenge the system with bullish pomposity.

In spite of their similarities, each performance is remarkable and Sheen clearly goes to great lengths to emulate and understand these historical personalities. The Damned United is his most captivating performance yet. While his previous roles had him pitted against celebrated veteran performers Helen Mirren and Frank Langella, Sheen is placed front and center as Clough, the brash and opinionated football manager (soccer coach to the Americans) who infamously took charge of the Leeds United club for a tumultuous 44 days.

Morgan’s screenplay, based on a book by David Peace and directed by Tom Hooper, focuses on the six weeks at Leeds United in 1974 and key events over the previous sex years that led up to that point. As the film opens, Clough has been appointed manager following the departure of the eminent Don Revie (played by Colm Meaney), who has left to take the position of England national football manager.

Clough enters the scene cocky and assured as he gads about town boasting to the press but failing to impress the Leeds United players. The team, all very much still indebted to the ways of Don Revie, bristles at the explicitly anti-Revie approach that Clough takes. Clough’s uncalculated bravado quickly gets the better of him as the club’s season has a disastrous start.

Interwoven through the events of those 44 days are flashbacks to Clough’s days managing Derby County with Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). These scenes are designed to give both an understanding of his remarkable skill as a manager and an insight to the events that spurred his obsessive drive to defeat Don Revie.

In the beginning of the film, Clough comes off as a noble maverick whose intention is to bring back respect and formality to the Leeds United pitch. As it progresses, however, he becomes more and more complex with suggestions that his motivation was not entirely pure. The film climaxes in a televised showdown between Clough and Revie, a riveting sequence that crystallizes the film as a fascinating character study.

The Damned United made a fair amount of money at the British box office but was a non-event in the US, grossing less than half a million dollars in spite of rave reviews from The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. When approaching a sports film, there’s always the fear that if you don’t have a prior interest in the sport, you won’t be able to follow the film. The Damned United is a very insular endeavor and between the jargon, and the inside sports vantage point, this is one film that requires a passing interest (or at least a tolerance) of British football in order to enjoy it.

Upon its release, the film drew some fierce criticism in its native country for taking historical liberties and for mollifying its subject. Even without knowing the facts, there's a sense that we are seeing a somewhat sanitized interpretation of the events. For the most part, this works in the film’s favor, helping things to move along at a brisk pace. However, the ending is a bit timid about its representation of Clough as it shifts abruptly between dwelling on his weaknesses to exalting him.

The Blu-ray release comes with virtually everything you could ask for in the way of special features. As evident by a lively commentary track with Sheen, Hooper and producer Andy Harries, the filmmakers are clearly very fond of the film and are eager to chronicle its production. Hooper also provides optional audio commentary over approximately 35-minutes of deleted scenes and candidly explains their exclusion; many of which revolved around the film’s structure and the audience’s sympathy for Clough.

There is also a 15-minute behind the scenes featurette and a ten-minute interview with Sheen discussing his preparation. The most fascinating feature is Sheen recreating famous interviews given by Clough. Sheen didn’t memorize responses and instead answered off the top of his head as an uncanny Clough, representative of just how much he had prepared.

Also included are two historical segments giving a more straight biographical account of Clough and a twenty-minute primer on the state of football in the early '70s. Throughout every feature, it's evident that the filmmakers were fastidious in their preparation.

The film looks spectacular in its Blu-ray transfer, and Hooper injects it with a great energy. From the shot framing to the choice of lenses to the rhythm of the editing to the widescreen vistas, the film’s stunning visual flair matches Clough’s bombast and enthusiasm. Even with the great visuals paired to Sheen’s magnetic performance, though, this is still going to be a tough sell for non-football fans.

7

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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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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