Reviews

Hunger

Featuring a powerful performance by Michael Fassbender, Hunger is a meditative symphony of human struggle and resilience.


Hunger

Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon
Distributor: Criterion
Release Date: 2010-02-16

Making a film about legendary IRA prisoner Bobby Sands is no easy task to take upon, but English artist Steve McQueen’s approach is nothing short of riveting. Starring Michael Fassbender of recent Inglourious Basterds fame as Sands, Hunger is a meditative symphony of human struggle and resilience. Faith, whether it be in regards to religion or political belief, is put to the test using the body as a metaphor for a site of contestation. McQueen’s contemplative filmmaking evokes an empathy that for some might be offensive to their politics, but for most audiences reveals the startling lengths people will go to prove their convictions.

For a feature film debut, McQueen is self-assured in his direction, and wrote the screenplay with Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Commissioned by Channel 4 and Film4, the film benefits from not having the pressure to conform to any Hollywood standard of what a political story should feel like. True to the real events, it does not try to dress up the cruelties and violence that were acted on the Maze prisoners. Fortunately, this is not a simple biopic used to deify a historical figure, but rather an attempt to capture the mood and events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike by Irish Republican prisoners attempting to regain political status.

The film begins with the routines of two different perspectives, prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), and Davey (Brian Milligan), a new IRA prisoner at Maze. For Raymond, his daily rituals include searching for bombs underneath his car, dealing with the solitary and cold lifestyle of a prison officer who regularly beats prisoners, and having little to say to his colleagues. After being labeled a “non-conforming prisoner” and forced to strip naked, Davey arrives at his prison cell. The camera addresses both perspectives with a calm and casual pace, which lets us infer that this is a typical environment these prisoners and officers who are pitted against each other.

At this point the prisoners are engaged in a no wash protest, refusing to shave or bathe, and smearing the walls of their cell with feces. If that’s not dedication to your cause, then I don’t know what is. We see the prisoners as they go through everything, whether it’s sexual frustration, disgusting living conditions, or harsh treatment by prison officers. We come with the prisoners as they talk in the visitor room with friends and family, and see the lengths they must go to retain their sanity in such an inhuman atmosphere. The lack of dramatic pacing may be jarring for some, considering the horrific acts that punctuate minutes of lingering shots, but it is all done in the spirit of realism.

During a scene in which the officers are forcibly bathing and cutting the hair of prisoners in a brutal fashion, we finally come upon Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who resists by spitting in Raymond’s face, only to be beaten and forcibly bathed in response. Fassbender gives a performance that was completely overlooked during awards season; unfortunate considering the depths he went to achieve physical and emotional realism.

His best moment is the 17-minute single shot between Sands and a priest played by Liam Cunningham. The two actors had lived with one another for a few days, practicing the extended dialog for hours on end. The longest shot in a mainstream film is also one of the most thematically rich scenes in the film, where the priest tries to persuade Sands from going on with a hunger strike which will inevitably kill him and many other prisoners. Sands likens his devotion to the cause to an inherent feeling in him which dictates his sacrifice.

The last act of the film focuses on the hunger strike taken upon Sands, and the deteriorating effects it has on his body. This is harrowing stuff to watch, and a lot of viewers might have trouble stomaching the pain that Sands has to withstand. That seems to be the point of the film, trying to give the viewers a look at what drives those who sacrifice. Hunger stops short of drawing comparisons between Sands and any other known martyrs (hint hint), and treats the material with a great deal of respect. The film's closing scenes make for a painfully difficult experience, because you already know there won’t be a happy ending, and yet you still pull for Sands in his weakest moments.

As usual, Criterion does another great job with its release of Hunger. The digital transfer looks great for a DVD release, and the surround sound really makes you feel like you’re in the prison with them. Bonus features gathered for the disc include video interviews with McQueen and Fassbender, a short documentary on the making of the film, and a 1981 episode of a BBC program about the Maze prison hunger strikes. All of these bonuses help enrich an already deep film, giving viewers greater context for the film and a bit of historical background for those that might not be aware of the political history of Britain.

Hunger is a challenge to watch, and at the end of it you won’t come away feeling any sort of relief. The experience is rewarding, however, because it dares to go where other films won’t, and McQueen's respectful eye fully immerses you in the tragic story. By exploring the plight of these IRA prisoners, McQueen has created a film about faith and devotion. Except this is not regarding religion, but rather the devotion to voice and cause, and the mystifying lengths people will go to defend them.

9

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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