Reviews

'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' Supports Workers' Rights

Once the circus was spectacular, now it's puny, and the new tricks lead to fame and fortune.


Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Director: Eric Darnell
Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Sasha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short
Rated: PG
Studio: Paramount/Dreamworks
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-08 (General release)
UK date: 2012-10-19 (General release)
Website
Trailer
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag

Drifting in the wind, wanting to start again?

-- Katy Perry, "Firework"

Madagascar 3 supports workers' rights. Sort of.

True, it is above all a corporate product, designed to expand the brand and sustain the franchise. And true, the returning players mouth the usual mantras, that kids should be nice to each other, follow their dreams, and (get their parents to) buy stuff. Lots of stuff. As reported by Ad Age, tie-in merchandise ranges from videogames, stuffed animals, and apps to Children's Claritin, McDonald's Madagascar Happy Meals, and House Foods Organic Tofu.

But still, the movie conjures unlikely politicking for workers against owners. This conjuring begins with a dream. More specifically, it begins with Alex the lion's (Ben Stiller) dream, in which he imagines he's finally going home to New York, only to be thwarted by the lemurs, again. It's not exactly clear, even when he wakes up, how he's come to be unhappy in Africa, when he was happy in Africa at the end of Madagascar 2. It might be that he's worried about growing old, as he dreams that his friends -- Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) -- are looking variously ancient, in wheelchairs and on crutches. Or, maybe he misses his parents, now vanished (this too is unexplained). Whatever the reason, he and his buddies decide once more to move on.

This time, they head back to America by way of Monte Carlo. Along the way, they re-connect with some animals from before, including the penguins and chimps and King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), accompanied by assorted minion-lemurs. Trying to win some casino money for their trip to NYC, they attract the attention of Police Capitaine Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Introduced in an office adorned with all manner of domestic animal and insect heads on plaques, she's yearning to go after big game. When she learns of the chance to capture a lion, well, she's instantly obsessed, indicated by her tendency to get down on her hands and knees and sniff the ground like a hound.

As you take note that DuBois is more crudely animal-like than the animals, her pursuit provides for a wild chase through the city (during which human cops are battered and broken), before the animals find refuge on a circus train headed out of town. Here they meet their next batch of animal friends, Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain), and Stefano the sea lion (Martin Short), as well as a bear in a pink tutu who doesn't speak, and so proves an irresistible love object for King Julien. (Their romance delivers multiple sight gags premised on the bear's silent but very expressive immensity and the lemur's incessantly chatty teeny-weeny-ness.) A couple of other relationships develop as well, as Alex falls for Gia, who believes his lie that he's a circus lion who knows some tricks, particularly how to perform what they call "Trapeze Americano," and Marty warms to Stefano when they discover a shared passion for being shot out of a cannon (this makes for some decent 3D business).

More important than these unsurprising pairings is the zoo animals' decision to buy the circus. This plot point is rendered in a scant few seconds of montage, as Alex uses jewels stashed away by the penguins to pay off the human owners and sign a contract. This enables the animals to rethink the circus. On one hand, this means grappling with Vitaly's tragic and traumatic past (it's sort of a secret, but not so secret that Stefano doesn't spill it via a lengthy flashback as soon as he's asked). On another hand, it means coming up with a more marketable product, one whose profits will benefit the workers.

The updating process is framed as an old and new story: once the circus was spectacular, now it's puny, and the new tricks (including Alex's completely made-up and mostly accidental Trapeze Americano) lead to fame and fortune. Lights flash, music blasts (in particular, during a training montage, Katy Perry's very overused "Firework"), and anonymous human customers cheer and clap. The returns are so terrific that the animals set up a tour of America, beginning in New York. It looks like Alex's dream will come true after all.

There will be more conflict, more cartoony violence, more Capitaine (she has an especially weird moment performing Edith Piaf's "Je Ne Regrette Rien," that rouses her men to rise up from their hospital beds, crack out of their casts, and join her, ookily running mascara and all). Amid such business, the animal workers owning their own business is pretty much forgotten. But for a brief, Katy Perry-fied moment, Alex and company are a company.

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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