TV

'Firebreather': Fitting In

The action-heavy second half features large-scale battles between monsters and the military... and the big homecoming dance.


Firebreather

Airtime: Wednesday, 8pm ET
Cast: Jesse Head, Dana Delaney, Kevin Michael Richardson, Tia Texada, Reed Diamond
Network: Cartoon Network
Director: Peter Chung
Air date: 2010-11-24
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The first thing most people will notice about Firebreather, Cartoon Network's new CGI-animated movie, is how bad it looks. The character designs are bland, the backgrounds are sparsely detailed, and the animation is stiff. The hair on the characters' heads might as well be helmets, considering how little it moves. As much as the network is promoting the film as a big event, it's disappointing to see how cheap it appears. One may not go into the movie expecting animation quality on the level of Pixar or DreamWorks, but there's little excuse for a finished product that resembles the CG cut scenes of a mediocre XBox 360 game.

The shoddy animation puts Firebreather in a hole from the get-go, and it never manages to dig out of it. Veteran animation director Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) uses a lot of dynamic camerawork, particularly in the action sequences, to make scenes appear more exciting. But all the swooping angles and creative zooms in the world can't bring much life to the film when the figures can't move and the plot sags.

Set 15 years after the world was engaged in a war with "kaiju," giant monsters set on world domination. Somehow, the humans came out on top in this war, although the world still fears Belloc (Kevin Michael Richardson), king of the kaiju. But Belloc has disappeared since the war, and things have returned more or less to normal. From this prologue, the film starts with 16-year-old Duncan (Jesse Head), the new kid in school. Duncan is a half-dragon, the product of his human mother Margaret (an energetic Dana Delaney) and Belloc, although he doesn't discover his father's identify until later. Duncan is worried about things like his fondness for eating charcoal and his orange-tinted skin, which might make it hard for him to fit in at school.

The thing is, nobody else at school seems particularly concerned about these issues. Despite the presence of the kaiju (something the kids in high school would've heard about, as history), nobody seems to care too much about Duncan's heritage. On the way to school, he meets Jenna (Amy Davidson), a hottie who is in charge of the student council and a prime candidate for homecoming queen. Still, she's completely cordial and seems interested in him. The geeky Isabel (Tia Texada) and outcast Kenny (Dante Basco) also take to Duncan immediately, while bully Troy (Josh Keaton) and his friends predictably pick on him, but simply because he's the new kid, not because he's, you know, orange.

Things change a bit when Duncan gets into it with the bullies and discovers he can breathe fire. But he's bailed out by Barnes (Reed Diamond), a military officer masquerading as the school gym teacher. Barnes has apparently been keeping tabs on Duncan for years, with the tacit approval of his mother, and now takes on a more overtly paternal role. Duncan doesn't bat an eye when Barnes takes him up in a super-fast personal aircraft thingy and spirits him to a secret laboratory where a scientist attempts to determine the cause of his fire breath. In short order Duncan is back in class, trying to talk to Jenna and going to his first party.

As Duncan is plainly headed toward a confrontation with Belloc, the movie also complicates the villain, because, you know, appearances can be deceiving. This sets the stage for the movie's action-heavy second half, which features large-scale battles between monsters and the military, Duncan discovering more of his powers, and the big homecoming dance.

Firebreather juxtaposes high school angst with over-the-top action -- the sort of thematic mixing that anime does all the time -- but ultimately fails at both. In school, Duncan seems like a whiner. He's accepted by both the nerdy kids and the cool one (Jenna, Isabel, Kenny, Troy, and other bullies seem to be the only people at the school, hence there is no "rest of the clique" to tell Jenna not to hang around with Duncan). He has the support of adults, including the principal, Barnes, and his mother, so the adversity he's facing at school is mostly in his mind.

This woe-is-me attitude undermines our investment in Duncan, and the battle scenes suffer from the substandard animation. A more interesting story pops up briefly, concerning Margaret and Belloc. Not only did they end up conceiving Duncan, they also managed to end the war between kaiju and humans. Their son's unearned angst feels like small potatoes compared to that surely epic tale.

4

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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