Short Ends and Leader

Get 'Carter': 'John Carter' (Blu-ray)

There are many problems with John Carter...and none of them are on the screen.

John Carter

Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-05 (General release)
UK date: 2012-06-05 (General release)

The foundation of most modern sci-fi is pulp. It was spoon-fed to readers in cheap, penny comics and paraded across the silver screen in Depression era serials. While actual authors were contemplating the meaning of the Universe, directors were decrying the rise of the Moon Men and the terror of a foolish future replete with robots and jet pack travel. Of course, as time passed, the serious overcame the specious, creating a combination of thought provoking prose and shoot 'em up ideals. The remnants of that battle can be seen all over the Disney 'dud' John Carter. While considered a flop by many in the industry, this is actually a very well done piece of speculative schlock. The characters and concepts come right out of a cheap dime store novel (written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, of course). The technique, however, is pure post modern moviemaking flare.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a decorated Civil War hero who is captured by an Army Colonel (Bryan Cranston) who wants his help fighting the Apaches. When our lead escapes, he ends up in a cave containing a mysterious being known as a Thern. By killing him, Carter is swept up to Barsoom (the native's name for Mars). There, he is caught in a horrible conflict between several divergent entities. The cities of Helium and Zondanga have been at each others' throats for eons, while the Martian inhabitants have been marginalized and mistreated. Because he is from Earth, Carter can jump great distances. It's a power that comes in handy when Sab Than (Dominic West), leader of the Zondanga, offers a cease fire and proposes to Helium princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Of course, it is a trap, a plot to lull the opposition into a false sense of security so that the evil ruler can wipe out his enemies once and for all.

There are many problems with John Carter...and none of them are on the screen. This is a savvy, sophisticated, thinking man's thriller gussied up in fascinating F/X and a real honest to goodness yarn. We aren't talking complexity here. Our hero is a man out of time stuck fighting for a cause he can't commit to, working within a feud founded in the age old angles of power and place. Sure, there are undercurrents of racism and genocide, notions of humanity (or perhaps, humanoid) being out of touch with the needs of the indigenous populace. But for the most part, this is just royalty acting ridiculous, each trying to best the other while stepping over the little (green) people along the way. As a lead, Carter is capable and the creative element behind the scenes never lets him down. However, factors outside the film itself guaranteed its downfall, if not its outright dismissal.

For one thing, there was too much pressure placed on Pixar alum Andrew Stanton. By walking away with Oscars (six nominations and two wins) and working on some of the studio's preeminent releases (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E) he established a set of credentials that no one could fully live up to. While his prowess is more than evident on the screen - there is real vision at work here - his reputation ruined the film's chances. Audiences just expected too much from his first live action effort, a desire for some level of masterpiece when all Stanton was obligated to offer was entertainment. Expectations were sky high. John Carter delivered something a bit closer to Earth.

Then there is the whole serious vs. Star Wars concept of science fiction. For decades, the movies have made a concerted effort to put thought and intelligence behind its outsized otherworldly ideas. Of course, the drive-ins were inundated with silly low budget drek, but when the artform wanted to think big and important, it could deliver (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) and deliver well (2001). Then George Lucas came along and brainwashed the populace into believing than any and all genre efforts should consist of other categories reconfigured. Westerns, Asian martial arts movies, even old WWII titles were thrown into the mix, taking their formula specifics and altering the core conceits forever.

As a result, viewers expect everything to be like Luke Skywalker's adventures in a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away. They want dogfights and light saber ballets, not standard maneuvers and political infighting. While John Carter does offer some spectacular stunt work, it also wallows in the excesses of exposition. We need as much background and history as possible to find a reason to care. Since Stanton is an excellent storyteller, he gets away with such depth. Because audiences have shorter and shorter attentions spans, his lack of legitimate spoon feeding means that many come away unhappy - and when word of mouth is as important as it was to the success (or failure) of this film, unease and confusion doesn't do much good.

Instead, John Carter is unfairly lumped into a legend of legitimately bad films. Sure, many bombs have their defenders, but few are as fascinating as this. The behind the scenes material on the Blu-ray suggest the level of detail and dedication here. There is real scope and strong splash here. But it is also easy to see how the easily distracted and the unnecessarily kneejerk could react negatively to what Stanton wants. He is trying to bring back a more classical style, a return to the days when amusement was derived as much from ideas as it was from edge of your seat action. He doesn't skimp on the awe, he just offers it in a way foreign to most post-millennial fans.

As a result, a perfectly good movie is now made out to be some sort of Ed Wood by way of Michael Bay clone. It's Cutthroat Island meets and angry interstellar Waterworld. The truth, however, is far more intricate. John Carter delivers in every way a film should. It has good ideas, nice pacing, flash and panache, and a story just aching for further exploration. This is, perhaps why, it is now being marginalized. We live in a fast food world with instant gratification and an immediate explanation for the lack thereof as solid social mandates. Decades ago, that's all audiences had. Throughout time, film has found a way to be both pulp and profound. John Carter tries...and mostly succeeds. Sadly, many in the theaters expected more...and thought otherwise.


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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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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