Film

Enter this 'Zone' at Your Own Risk


Green Zone

Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, Jason Isaacs
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Universal Studios
Year: 2010
UK Release Date: 2010-03-11
US Release Date: 2010-03-11
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Trailer

By now, it's a given that we went to war in Iraq under the questionable directives of some equally suspect intelligence. Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, there was no clear link between the country and Al-Qaida, and there definitely were no "WMDs" - weapons of mass destruction. So any movie that uses the fact that the Bush Administration lied about wanting to locate and dismantle any caches of said chemical, biological, or nuclear arms, the offers such 'facts' as the main mystery to uncover and gasp over, is already going to feel antiquated and out of touch. Now add in the fact that UK filmmaker Paul Greengrass is once again doing a handheld shaky-cam action thriller and has brought Matt "Bourne" Damon along with him, and the resulting Green Zone truly feels like a retread of a redundancy.

Our steely star is Roy Miller, a chief warrant officer leading a team of WMD detectives in and around Baghdad. It's been mere months since the US invaded, and reports from a top secret source named 'Magellan' indicates the country is crawling with nukes and other similarly nasty artillery. Unfortunately, every location Miller infiltrates to explore, he finds nothing. Angry that his actions are leading to nothing but casualties and wasted time, he confronts his superiors, and then the government's main man on the ground, bureaucrat Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). When they are not willing to listen, he hooks up with CIA operative Martin Brown (Brendan Gleason) and Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) to get some answers. What he finds out is unsettling - the Americans may be purposefully altering information supplied by a former Iraqi General (Yigal Noar). It is up to Miller to find the elusive military man and bring him in. Maybe then, the truth will finally be revealed.

Green Zone is proof that not every distinctive directing style is a universal fit. It's hard to see Tim Burton making All the President's Men, for example. Even though Paul Greengrass has made effective use of the jitter-lens look for both a reinvention of the spy genre and an intense docudrama-like look at the events of 9/11, somehow, the creative concept doesn't really work here. Wired whistler-blowers turned belligerent ass-kickers seem almost antithetical to the story the film wants to tell (think The Insider with Jason Statham instead of Russell Crowe), and by putting the incredibly recognizable face of your post-modern espionage franchise front and center, you are simply begging for bad comparisons. As a result, Green Zone feels like under-baked Bourne, delivering none of the jerryrigged James Bond thrills we've come to expect. Sure, the action is solid, but the rest of the narrative wants to acknowledge brains, not brawn.

The script by Oscar winner Bryan Helgeland is partially taken from a non-fiction tome about the search for (and eventual lack thereof) of WMDs in the months after the Iraq invasion, and the anti-Bush sentiments are strong. We get the infamous aircraft carrier announcement of "Mission Accomplished" as a backdrop to one telling scene and throughout, Kinnear's character is viewed as the most miserable, mealy-mouthed type of dangerous pencil pusher. But the conclusion is already obvious, the subject of years of ongoing FOX News vs. the rest of the world debate. If there were no WMDs, what is Damon's character going to find? Will he be a pawn in a bigger propaganda push? Will he die trying? Does it have something to do with a crystal skull and a long dormant alien race? Green Zone lends itself to such speculative superficialities. Instead of teaching us about life in the Middle East trenches, it becomes a BBC series with ballistics.

The balance is completely off here as well, Greengrass spending far more time chasing insurgents and hostiles down bombed out neighborhoods and allies than setting up his supporting players. We get Kinnear's motives - he wears them on his sleeve like a Neo-Con Medic-Alert bracelet. Gleason and Ryan on the other hand are ciphers, cogs in a plotpoint machine that never locates an efficient way to use them. They are really just around so that Damon has someone to soapbox with, to furrow his brow over and gnash teeth towards. Even the Iraqi citizen who becomes Miller's inadvertent translator seems like a set-up, an unnecessary bit of fussiness that adds little -that is, until the ending. Once the character reaches for a hidden gun in the backseat of his car, we instantly get where his story arc is headed.

The Bourne films function because they are unpredictable. Sure, the square-jawed Jason is always one step ahead of his captures and is never in a bind he can't get himself out of. But in those films, and United 93, Greengrass traded on our anticipated reactions to revamp a dying cinematic type. He was aggressive and amped up with reason. Here, he plays directly into our beliefs and offers nothing new in getting there. This is chaos by the numbers, well acted and efficiently edited, but doing little more than rattling our reality before sitting back to sell us an already known bill of goods. That's why another approach may have benefited Greengrass' motives. Sticking with the same old strategy produces…the same old thing.

Certainly some will be shocked by what they see here, angered that a country as seemingly powerful as the United State would have to make up stories to send its young men and women to war. Others will argue about the 'fictionalization' of the truth, turning lies into legitimate reasons for onscreen histrionics and heroics. Many will marvel at how efficient Greengrass' in-your-face finesse can be and argue that no one does action quite the same. But without a subtext or contextual complexity to keep us engaged, Green Zone ends up a video game without a final boss to defeat. It's just endless tracking shots and search and destroy missions - well done endless tracking shots and search and destroy missions, but endless tracking shots and search and destroy missions nonetheless. After a while, it grows tiring. By the end, we're sure we've seen it all before - and that's because, we have.

5

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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