Reviews

'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows': Mutual Admirations

Holmes and Watson spend most of Game of Shadows exploring their relationship much as they explored it in the first movie, by pursuing clues, battling villains, and admiring each other's manly assets.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Jared Harris, Gilles Lellouche
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-12-16 (General release)
UK date: 2011-12-16 (General release)
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Trailer

"Lie down with me, Watson!" As he issues this command, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is prostrate on the floor of a train cabin, wearing a disheveled dress, his mouth smeared with red lipstick. These remnants of his disguise as a lady passenger -- such that Dr. Watson (Jude Law) would not spot him -- grant the scene all sorts of entendres. As Watson complies and the camera hovers over the men beside one another, Holmes looks pleased, lighting his pre-post-coital pipe as Watson asks, so coyly, "What are we doing down here?"

This may be the perennial question for Holmes and Watson, perhaps particularly as they are imagined for the Guy Ritchie franchise. At this moment in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Holmes is grappling with his partner's marriage, just completed. None too pleased, that Watson and the wife, Mary (Kelly Reilly), have been riding the train to their honeymoon spot in Brighton, Holmes has tagged along (in his gaudy disguise), because he knows what Watson does not, that Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) means to murder the couple. If it's not likely that Holmes would much miss Mary, he is, as ever, determined to preserve Watson. After all, he explains -- after this moment on the cabin floor erupts into especial mayhem, that is, a barrage of bullets ripping through the walls, missing the men on the floor -- "Your nuptials were rather poorly timed; our relationship, er, our partnership, has not fully run its course!"

With this, Holmes invites Watson on a sort of substitute honeymoon, to Paris, where it happens that Moriarty is lecturing. Here Holmes also pursues the mysterious and very athletic fortuneteller, Madame Simza (Noomi Rapace), whose beloved brother Rene (Laurentiu Possa) is mixed up with the anarchists who have been bombing key sites in Europe. While her gypsy crew undresses their guests (each article of clothing a prize in its own way), she and Holmes plot to recover the brother, reportedly immersed in an assassination plot and disguised by way of experimental surgery. (The profound possibilities of this movie-magicky disguise make clear, if you need the reminder, the jokiness of Holmes' rudimentary efforts; here his goofiest, which he calls "urban camouflage," make him invisible in drawing rooms.)

Rene and the assassination plot are means to Moriarty's end (a war between Germany and France) as well as a way for Holmes and Watson to reinforce their commitments to one another. It may or may not matter that a second brother, Holmes' own, Mycraft (Stephen Fry), shows up to annoy Watson (his primary purpose seems to be calling Holmes "Sherly"). As the film deploys multiple plot strands, none of them seems especially central, save for the relationship, er, partnership, that will grant the franchise forward motion.

To that end, the boys spend the rest of Game of Shadows exploring that relationship much as they explored it in the first movie, by pursuing clues, battling villains, and admiring each other's manly assets. The backdrop this time has to do with terrorism (of course it does), or so it seems. In fact, the anarchist bombings that propel Holmes and Watson's investigation are cover for another, more insidious plot about war profiteering. With a munitions factory already online (producing automatic and also very large guns), Moriarty pauses to explain the obvious: “War on an industrial scale is inevitable. All I have to do is wait.”

As it turns out (more or less historically), Moriarty will have to wait some time for World War I, but his prescience, in the film's version of 1891, emphasizes his super-villainy and also his status as a match for Holmes' superior intellect. Here again, this is made manifest when Holmes shows he can pre-envision fights, mostly so Ritchie can show off his bullet-timeish expansion of these fights. This means you see each contest at least twice; when Moriarty reveals his own capacity for pre-envisioning, this number increases.

Visually clever as they may be, these Rube Goldbergian progressions are less about plot than characterization. Both Holmes and Moriarty believe themselves to be the smartest guys in any room, and as they imagine what they might make happen, they reveal their incapacity for imagining that someone else might imagine something else. In the first film, these pre-visions enhanced your perception of Holmes' brilliance, his ability to see into an immediate future because he anticipates so accurately. This time, the pre-envisioning is complicated when two individuals engage in it, and only one of them is able to see what the other might.

As plots within plots, the pre-visions are good enough metaphors for the film, which posits Holmes and Watson's ostensibly evolving relationship as a plot within another (or more precisely, within several). Though it remains the principal focus of the franchise, it is (as in most buddy cop movies) disguised as subplot (and so perhaps resembles the outfit Holmes puts on to look like a chair).

Again the partners are mutually admiring, and again they maintain their hetero distance, sometimes distracted by weapons and other times dallying with women: there's Mary, of course, and also a bit of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who briefly appears in order to be turned into Holmes' motivation to chase down Moriarty. This chase is framed as well as by Holmes' insistence that he means to save Watson (and oh yes, Mary) from the supervillain. But really, it's his way to bring Watson back into the "partnership," because they can only get their man if they work -- or lie down -- together.

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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