'Harry Potter': When "Good" Should Have Been "Great!"

Like any grand finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows needs some significant pre-flight preparation. With Yates as pilot, however, the supposedly historic journey never gets off the least, not yet.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-11-19 (General release)
UK date: 2010-11-19 (General release)

This is it. This is the moment that Harry Potter fans have been waiting for since the small boy wizard was "rescued" from his oppressive muggle guardians and shipped off to Hogwarts to begin his magic education. All the previous adventures, all the previous big screen adaptation of same - this is where it's all been heading. Harry and his friends are utterly alone, exiled from the rest of their "normal" sorcerer schoolmates. The undeniably evil Voldemort, positioning himself to destroy the boy and rule the world, is rallying his diabolical Death Eaters to discover Harry's whereabouts - and leave no one alive in their path. With the Order of the Phoenix unable to truly stop them and a quest to seek the Horcruxes crucial to Voldemort's immortality, it's as if the entirety of JK Rowling's mythos is coming together in one epic battle between good and evil...and it is.

So how does director David Yates handle such a sweeping send-off? Does he pull out all the stops and transport the audience into situations so overwhelming in scope that they feel they are part of such apocalyptic events. No. As a matter of fact, the UK filmmaker treats Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (yes, this is a "to be continued" installment of the series) like one of those famed British TV dramas were a single significant story arc is dragged out for an entire six episode "series" - except in this case, he's taken the elephantine tome by Rowling and divided it in two. This is not the end of the famed literary/film franchise - it's the beginning of the end. This is the famed long goodbye, a beloved performer standing on the stage and taking the necessary multiple curtain calls before finally fading out. As a result, what should have been great is merely good, a solid prequel to the proposed chaos to come.

When we last left Harry, he was literally lost after the death of his friend, mentor, and Hogwart's headmaster Dumbledore. Voldemort has his number and is chasing him mercilessly. With the aid of his best friends Ron and Hermione and various remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry hopes to hide out, discover the secret locations of the valuable Horcruxes, and upon destroying them, get rid of the wicked Dark Lord once and for all. Of course, it won't be easy - especially with the Ministry of Magic and many former associates in league with his powerful enemy. Of course, Harry has his pals, and his destiny as the Chosen One to work with, though even such sentiments may not be enough to win out this time around. Voldemort is just that strong...and determined.

While it hurls plot points and future storyline set-ups at the audience with reckless abandon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 can't help but suffer from some important problems. First and foremost is the pacing. Because Yates (who got his start in British TV) now has five hours to work with instead of the standard two to two and a half, he can draw out some of the dramatics. But because he lacks real vision (more on this in a moment), Yates can't get the necessary heft out of his extended approach. Moments when we are supposed to see Harry, Hermione, and Ron truly distraught instead play like filler before the next major denouement. Even those instances where the vista supplies most of the depth, Yates just can't get his camera to truly capture the moment. Even worse, this is the first installment in the series that demands a working knowledge of the material beforehand. For the most part, the previously films could more or less work on their own. Here, if you don't know the players, you can easily get lost.

But it's vision (or a lack thereof) that continues to plague Yates here. It's the biggest lingering complaint with the Harry Potter series - after Alfonso Cuaron injected some recognizable artistry into the series mix, the rest of the films have been merely serviceable at best. There's no pop, no undeniable "wow" factor that lifts the viewer out of their knowledge of watching an adaptation of their favorite material and into an actual movie. No matter how hard he tries, Yates always seems like a visualizer, not a visionary. He is merely piecing through Rowling's work, realizing what he knows fans and the author want from the effort, but little more. What's missing here is the pizazz, the belief we are being transported to another time, another place. Instead, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 often plays like an A&E recreation of famous scenes from the book.

Maybe Steven Spielberg had the right idea when he suggested the source be handled as animation. Indeed, there is a terrific sequence toward the last half which showcases how amazing such a style could have been. In describing the import and meaning of "the Deathly Hallows", we get a striking pen and ink explanation that overloads the screen with powerful, potent imagery. Extrapolated outward, imagine the vastness of the Potter universe rendered in such a manner - or outside the artform, handled by someone with a similar sensibility and aesthetic. Instead of writing off each entry as yet another well meaning entry in a commercially viable franchise, we'd be discussing art and awards season potential.

Maybe when they are placed together side by side, when the somber set-up clashes into and meshes with the wild whiz-bang finale, the whole of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will become clear. As usual, the performances are pitch perfect, main actors Daniel Radcliff (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) carrying the majority of the narrative with increasing impressiveness. Include what seems like the entire wealth of the UK acting profession and they've got some impressive company within which to work. It's just too bad then that they couldn't find (or get Rowling to approve) a true creative artist to step behind the lens and transform this material. Like any grand finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows needs some significant pre-flight preparation. With Yates as pilot, however, the supposedly historic journey never gets off the least, not yet.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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