Film

'Source Code': Sophomore Stunted

By finding everything but a more universal purpose for all this right-minded rigmarole, we lose at least part of the movie's motivation.


Source Code

Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Russell Peters
Rated: R
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-04-01 (General release)
UK date: 2011-04-01 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Serious science fiction has a hard enough time in the current pro-Star Wars cinematic domain. It doesn't need Duncan Jones and his underwhelming Source Code coming in and mucking things up. Look, there is literally nothing wrong with this otherwise well made movie. It tells the compelling story of a scientific experiment which allows a wounded soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) to go back in time - eight minutes in time to be exact - to play detective on a commuter train bound for Chicago. There's a bomb in one of the compartments, and if Captain Colter Stevens can find it and dismantle it, many lives will be saved. In fact, if he can discover who planted the device in the first place, a second, more deadly explosion within the city itself can be prevented.

It's all part of a major military experiment, one that needs to go off without a hitch. Of course, a woman named Christina (played with pluck by Michelle Monaghan) mucks things up. She is a friend of the 'body' Stevens in commandeering, and as attempt after attempt to discover the device fails, our hero falls hard for this lovely little lady. This makes his superiors a little suspicious. Dr. Rutledge (a quirky Jeffrey Wright) wants everything to go by the book. He is using this one case as a litmus test for his technology's effectiveness. As for his assistant, Carol Goodwin, there is more of a conflict. She wants to succeed as well, but not at the expense of Stevens and who he is. Of course, there's a twist (or two) up the sleeve of scriptwriter Ben Ripley, and under Jones capable direction, there's of visual panache and flash as well.

So where does the disconnect lie? How can a solid story with a terrific cast and capable filmmaking fail to make a true lasting impression. That's the Source Code dilemma, one few will face but that still exists on the outskirts of the otherwise interesting effort. Jones is trying to avoid that dreaded "sophomore slump" after the impressive Moon, and staying within the genre is a nice touch. It's indicative of a desire to explore sci-fi, not just exploit it. Similarly, his actors are all up for the task, including a better than usual Gyllenhaal. There's even some nifty F/X work which lets us into the inner workings of the science, including the moments when Stevens runs out of time and things revert back to the beginning. And yet there's no compelling human point or motivation here, no bigger picture issue to think about and examine. Unlike most serious genre titles that wants to be some manner of sly social commentary, this is a small, individual story - and it always stays that way.

Apparently, it's all a matter of expectations vs. realities. Fans who cut their speculative teeth on such classics as Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Silent Running will probably be looking for the significance. Others, especially those who've mastered the ways of the Jedi and think stupidity like Splice is the end all/be all of genre subversion will probably latch onto this like obsessives over a new Kubrick. Certainly there is a mainstream middle ground, a place where the general public can line up and have their minds' blown and their techno-geeks tweaked without feeling too ashamed. But in an arena where even the slightest sci-fi trial is embraced because of the who and what behind it (see Will Smith's I, Robot, for example), we expect more from Jones.

Granted, it was we media types who dubbed him something special after Moon, and Source Code doesn't totally deny its talented maker. Still, this second time around you can start to see the influences (a little Terry Gilliam here, a smidge of Ridley Scott there) and the pat, pre-plotted nature of the narrative really does the filmmaker no favors. More importantly, there is no real revelation here. We get that Stevens is not necessarily going to come out of this experience "intact", we are constantly reinforced re: the nature of this "reality", and the last act leap of decency by one character seems clearly out of line with what we've seen before. Sure, we want some semblance of optimism here. But Source Code struggles to find meaning, so expecting hope is a tad much.

Still, this is a slick entertainment, a nicely crafted movie operating on generalities that even the most science challenged audience member will easily understand. In fact, this is more of a who and howdunit than a mind-bending work of future shock fiction. The 'source code' of the title is nothing more than a device, like the repetition in Groundhog Day. It allows the characters to get to know each other without having to give them multiple meet-cute situations to settle within. It's a storyline shortcut, without any real lasting impact. Saving the day is also a shield, a quest not necessarily aimed at anything except giving the viewer something to anticipate. It makes Stevens presence important, his growing infatuation with Christina plausible, and the action heft and histrionics integral.

All that's left is a big picture rationale, and this is where Source Code fails. By finding everything but a more universal purpose for all this right-minded rigmarole, we lose at least part of the movie's motivation. Tie in all the familiarity we feel both narratively and character-wise and any classicism clearly drops out. Again, Source Code is good time. It's polished and professional, lacking any of the grit we've come to expect from genre efforts outside the typical Hollywood film factory. But when fellow Brit Danny Boyle took on the saving of the solar system with his sensational Sunshine, he made sure to moderate both the panache and the point. The results were something truly epic to behold. In this case, Duncan Jones has done well. He hasn't necessarily done right.

6

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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