Film

Watch the Skies!: Top 10 Alien Invasion Films

Ten examples of evil cosmic conquerors and their eventual mash-up with mankind.

We've had killer klowns, pod people, and replicants. Earth has been overrun by predators, robots, and some manner of interstellar "vampire". Ever since cavemen noticed unexplained lights in the sky and marveled at where they could possibly come from, folklore (and their modern equivalent, films) have speculated on the very stars above, wondering if they are inhabited and the intentions of said unseen space dwellers. Sadly, most of our narratives have focused on evil ETs, beings and their advanced technologies bent on taking over the entire galaxy - with our planet directly in their path. While we have had the occasional visionary variation, most of the time its saucers, lasers, and lots and lots of carnage.

The latest version of this cosmic campfire tale - the unscreened for critics Skyline - arrives in theaters on 12 November, and in celebration of said end of the world scenario, SE&L has decided to fashion a Top 10 list of the Alien Invasion Films. Of course, this is a matter of opinion, not rote reality, and your mileage/choices/appreciation will - and definitely should - vary. In a genre overrun with middling to mediocre examples, our picks are not necessarily endemic. Instead, we've chosen to focus on those films which tried something different - and on occasion, failed fabulously. We've also decided against numbering said entries, since position is a tangential issue at best.

So without further ado, here are our picks for the Top 10 Alien Invasion Films of All Time, beginning with a choice that will leave many dizzy and dumbfounded:

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE

The '50s were overflowing with outer space schlock, and none were more mind-bogglingly bad than Ed Wood's homage to all things extraterrestrial. Of course, the 'aliens' here are actually bad actors in shiny pant suits and their invasion idea consists of resurrecting the recently deceased and having them walk the Earth. Zombies as your conquering army? Sounds like a decent idea. Unfortunately, the space cases pick the elephantine Tor Johnson, Vampira, and a bad Bela Lugosi stand-in to do their dirty work. No wonder the previous eight plans didn't succeed.

STARSHIP TROOPERS

A planet of bugs manages to bring mankind to its knees, and it's time for Earth to fight back. Working through generations of world at war propaganda and Nazi/fascism fantasy, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven tapped into a jingoistic zeitgeist growing in America and turned it on its head. The result is a schizophrenic splatterfest which seems to both denounce and support rampant militarism and misplaced patriotism. After being criticized heavily, the filmmaker fessed up, defending his defiant button pushing. With its amazing F/X and lingering larger themes, it stands as an entertaining and unusual action epic.

MARS ATTACKS!

Tim Burton intended his comic take on the end of the world to be a combination of the famed Topps trading cards (which inspired the film) and a spoof of Irwin Allen type disaster movies. So he gathered up an all-star A-list cast - Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan - crafted some lovable, kooky CG Martians, and gave the whole thing a larger than life/Dr. Strangelove vibe. Then Independence Day arrived and stole all his spectacle thunder. What he was left with is still funky and funny, but just pales in comparison.

SIGNS

It's a brilliant idea for a film - follow a supposed invasion of Earth from the viewpoint of a single small town family. This being M. Night Shyamalan, however, things have to go from clear cut to unnecessarily complicated. We get the fallen preacher, the fallen baseball player, the conspiracy theory kid with asthma, the dead mother, the little girl with a water fetish...it just goes on. Eventually, everything comes together way too conveniently, but few moments are as impactful as that first captured glimpse of an evil ET at a South American children's birthday party.

WAR OF THE WORLDS

Take your pick - George Pal or Steven Spielberg: either one delivers on their individual HG Wells updates. For those who appreciate old school cinematic classicism, you can't beat the fascinating '50s take, complete with the iconic flying saucers and triangle headed monsters. The man who gave UFO lovers hope with his seminal Close Encounters of the Third Kind tried a more grounded post-9/11 approach to the material, and delivered his usual blockbuster bravado. Either version avoids many of Wells' dated ideas, instead going for destruction and human desperation.

THEY LIVE

John Carpenter had previously tackled "visitors" from outer space with his sweet, sentimental Starman. Two years later, fed up with Reaganomics and the obvious excesses of the '80s, the Halloween helmer took a short story by Ray Nelson and turned it into a dark comedy about the then current state of world affairs. The planet is now secretly run by extraterrestrials using subliminal messages and telepathetic brainwashing to get the human population to conform...and consume...and never complain. It's up to a band of ragtag rebels to expose the truth. Brilliant.

CLOVERFIELD

Now we begin to push the boundaries of the cinematic concept. We assume that the oversized creature running ramshackle over Manhattan comes from outer space. After all, a last minute Easter Egg as part of the production shows our happy lead couple enjoying a day at the amusement park when some unusual object falls into the water off in the distance. Still, with its found footage conceits and expert mixing of reality and CG trickery, this remains one of the best Godzilla rip-offs ever, a nice post-modern update on a very old man-in-suit conceit.

DISTRICT 9

While it definitely stretches the definition of an "invasion", this look at how the world reacts to a sudden influx of cosmic immigrants is at times stunning in its social commentary elements and compelling in its standard sci-fi schemes. Using the mockdocumentary approach initially, we are introduced to the South African slum housing the unwanted and persecuted "prawns". When a bumbling bureaucrat finds himself on the other end of the alien/human DNA stick, his adventures highlight everything from personal pain and loss to decades of unconscionable Apartheid policies.

THE THING

Yes, the title creature actually comes to Earth looking to...escape? Cause trouble? Hide? Whatever the case, it arrived several eons too early, needing a 1980s scientific crew to dig it up, thaw it out, and...help it 'adapt.' Unfortunately, it winds up at an Arctic research station filled with the most paranoid personnel this side of the former Bush Administration. While many remember it as a gross-out Grand Guignol experience (or a splatter shocker deconstruction of the 1951 Howard Hawks film), it's actually a tightly wound thriller, a shapeshifting villain picking off its snowbound captives one by one.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

Sure, the characters are cardboard cut-outs of cliches salvaged from the second hand bin at Central Casting, and the last act computer virus angle is still confusing those who pay attention to such bothersome plot points. Still, nothing can beat Roland Emmerich's visually flashy battle of the planets. While Earth is definitely on the losing end of most of the space-based spectacle (the initial arrival and White House explosion remain iconic), the best bits are reserved for the end, when all airplane/spaceship Area 51 alien reactor core Hell breaks loose.

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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