Film

Gondry Gives 'Hornet' Its Giddy Geek Fizz

Thanks to the cheek of those both in front of and behind the lens, what could have been a typical costumed crusader effort turns into one of 2011's early delights.


The Green Hornet

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson, Edward Furlong
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-01-14 (General release)
UK date: 2011-01-14 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Michel Gondry is our greatest living cinematic deconstructionist. Better than Quentin Tarantino and his reference heavy riffing, the formidable music video ace has carved out a unique niche in modern moviemaking. From his work with Charlie Kaufman (Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to his own unusual takes on the RomCom (The Science of Sleep) and documentary (Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Thorn in the Heart) he's like a walking example of the subversive "swedeing" concept employed in his ode to the influence of home video, Be Kind, Rewind. So it's no surprise then that his latest effort, the sunny super hero romp The Green Hornet is more about countermanding expectations within the genre than embracing them outright. What is stunning is how funny and fresh it all seems.

Co-written by star Seth Rogen and much more of a slacker buddy picture than an out-an-out action spectacle, Hornet centers on misfit playboy Britt Reed who's a constant disappointment to his publisher father (Tom Wilkinson). When tragedy strikes, the arrested adolescent is placed in charge of his family's massive empire yet still can't figure out a way to stop squandering his potential. Discovering that his mandatory morning coffee is made by recently fired mechanic - and martial arts expert - Kato (Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou), Britt gets a bright idea.

As a kind of payback for his father's failed parenting, he will become a masked vigilante. The difference, however, is that instead of posing as the good guys, he and Kato will act as villains, avoiding suspicion while conquering the criminals. While initially viable, the duo eventually discover a few problems with their plan - the biggest being LA crime overlord Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) who doesn't like newcomers invading his well-established territory. With the help of newly hired journalist/ secretary Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) and the reigning District Attorney, Britt and Kato hope to take down the hood from both the inside and out. Of course, it will be harder - and more dangerous - than they think.

Irreverent and irresistible, The Green Hornet is a laugh out loud riff on our current cultural obsession with the comic book film. It's a jaunty, jokey assault on the sanctity of such spectacles and further proof that, when done correctly, any genre is ripe for a self-referential spoof. Those reverent to the source and who sour at the notion of Reed and his Asian compatriot treated with anything other than dignity and respect should probably avoid this anarchic take. While the basics are in place, Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg are more interested in exploring the humorous dynamic between their mismatched partners in crime-fighting than working up an operatic origin story. Again, they lay a great foundation, but then instantly avoid such categorical shortcomings to focus on the funny business.

Audiences used to such stiff F/X monoliths should also be wary. We're just not used to laughing at our heroes. But Rogen and Chou have such a great chemistry that it radiates off the screen, creating the kind of classic cinematic partnership that is impossible to purposefully manufacture. From fighting the bad guys to battling each other, their breezy byplay, filled with forced cool and eclectic charms, solidly centers the film. From there, Gondry works his maniacal magic, tweaking convention while staying strictly within the situational stereotypes demanded. We get the mandatory fist and firefights, but instead of going overboard with stilted CGI, the director opts for a more practical approach. This means that the vehicle mayhem has much more heft while the clever "Kato-Vision" stylistic flourish offers equal impact.

But Gondry doesn't like to leave well enough alone. He wants The Green Hornet to not only break the mold, but smash it into a billion different pieces that he can paw through and play with. As stated before, he applies some very frilly flash to many of the hand-to-hand moments, giving the characters a crazy internal plotting system that sees stream of consciousness imagery ramrodded into search and destroy strategizing. He also makes fun of the format, having the last act confrontation take place in an skyscraper office building, even if The Green Hornet and Kato are using their car - the impressive Black Beauty - as their only means of defense. Sure, it's all hyperbolic and over the top, but that's the joy of this film. Instead of feeling like a pen and ink sermon, its more akin to cracking open a future favorite 'funny book' for the very first time.

As for the performances, Rogen is actually very good as Britt Reed, balancing the needs of the proposed hero arc with the shaggy dog dynamic he's cultivated over the years. Even more impressive is Chou's Kato. A combination of Bruce Lee swagger and young man vulnerability, he's the perfect semi-serious accompaniment to his partner's clueless camaraderie. Diaz comes in about halfway through, and while engaging, is given little to do and other supporting players such as Edward James Olmos appear poised for further exploration in the almost certain sequels. But it's Oscar winner Waltz who really wins us over as Chudnofsky. Self conscious, bitter, and a bit nerdy, he's the antithesis of everything we've come to expect from a scoundrel. Oh sure, he can kill with the best of them, but it's the moments when he's kvetching over his wardrobe choices and name that cement his unique status.

Then it's all filtered through Gondry's gloriously goofy aesthetic, and the results reconfirm your faith in the more magical element of the artform. The Green Hornet is that rarity within a junk January setting - a fine film being unceremoniously dumped with hopes of hitting its target audience. Such inane counterprogramming may limit its returns (even with the unnecessary 3D retrofit which really adds nothing), but not its many joys. Thanks to the cheek of those both in front of and behind the lens, what could have been a typical costumed crusader effort turns into one of 2011's early delights.

8

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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