Reviews

'Ted': About a Bear and His Boy

Tami-Lyn, the little boy's dream girl who is so easy to mock, despise, and dismiss, is Ted's least imaginative take on magic.


Ted

Director: Seth McFarlane
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth MacFarlane, Jessica Barth, Sam Jones, Norah Jones
Rated: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-29 (General release)
UK date: 2012-07-01 (General release)
Website
Trailer

"It has been said that magic has disappeared from our world a long time ago," narrates Patrick Stewart over that crane shot of a white suburban home you've seen in too many movies. In Ted, you guess, you'll witness a reappearance of magic, not so much in "our world" as in the world connoted by that shot -- a world revolving around a cute little white boy named John (Bretton Manley). Stewart provides more detail: it's Christmas in 1984, in a town "just outside Boston." Inside that white house, John's parents beam as he opens his gift, a teddy bear. John not so imaginatively names the bear Teddy and makes a wish, that they will be "best friends for real."

That wish turns Ted real, which is to say animated, sentient, and devoted to John. He's also voiced by Seth Macfarlane, and so Ted turns into yet anther version of the same story Macfarlane has been making for years, wherein Ted is another version of Brian or Stewie or Roger the alien, the oddball who is at once so clever and so smug, and, in this case, so crude. This last is granted a motivation, in that Ted becomes an instant celebrity-tabloid favorite-has-been, a familiar trajectory indicated by a montage and a caution, that "When you make too big a splash," like Corey Feldman or Justin Bieber, it's only a matter of time before your splash is over and you see that "Nobody gives a shit."

This, while Ted grows increasingly tattered and John grows into Mark Wahlberg, complete with biceps and broad Boston accent (an accent he shares with Ted, because it's sooo funny). They drink beer, they watch Flash Gordon reruns, they eat Chinese takeout and smoke weed -- and, of course, neither grows up. And so the magic, so-called, becomes just the latest means to an utterly unmagical story about an occasionally manic, profanely comic manchild.

This means you'll be waiting for the rest of the film's running time for John to come to terms not only with his dire lack of ambition (at 35, he's working the counter at a car rental agency), but also with the fact that it annoys his smart, pretty, go-getting girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). As tends to be the case in such stories, it's unclear why Lori has an interest in John or has been waiting for him to propose for four years. It's also unclear why she's working at a company run by Joel McHale (here playing someone named Rex, as arrested in his development as John, only wearing a suit and making more money), except that you know John will need to face something like competition in order to get off his couch.

All this is to say that John is not the selling point here, though Wahlberg presents himself quite adequately, especially if you consider that most of his performance has been managed with a green screen. It's also to say that Ted has to do a lot of work here, not only serving as the metaphor for John's juvenile idiocy and libido (and penis, it goes without saying), but also as the metaphor for Lori's acceptance of same. This makes the plot complicated in that way that Harold and Kumar or Hangover plots are complicated, by nonsensical developments, inconsequential characters, and a short range of fart and sex jokes.

For the first, Ted is coveted and then kidnapped by Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) -- whose deviance is indicated by his slithery dancing to a Tiffany video -- for his fat and brutal son Robert (Aedin Mincks). This leads to a joint effort by John and Lori to recover Ted that takes them, rather sensationally and also anti-climatically, to an empty Fenwick Park. For the second, Rex ends up meaning absolutely nothing, as does Donny; Robert does offer John a chance to punch out a child, deserving, certainly, but a lazy joke too. Sam Jones and Norah Jones show up, as "themselves," to prolong the celebrity-is-absurd gag, in case you didn't get that gag the first 12 times the movie runs it. And for the third, Ted provides various buxom bodies, from the hookers who gather on his couch to the high-haired, high-heeled grocery store checkout girl, Tami-Lyn (Jessica Barth).

It's too easy to complain that Tami-Lyn is yet another tedious white-trashy bimbo, because that is, of course, what she's supposed to be, what she's named by John and Ted. But it might be worth a few seconds to wonder at how and why this joke persists, not just in Ted, but everywhere else too. She is, of course, the perfect embodiment of the manchild's desires, puerile and vulgar, prodigious and ostentatious, and never so transgressive as she seems to the manchild. Tami-Lyn here provides something like a foil to Lori, something like a tension between John and Ted, and something like a pause for you, as you try not to imagine what sex between her and Ted might look like.

Tami-Lyn also represents what's missing in movies like Ted, that is, any effort to innovate, to rethink (or even think about for a first time) the problem at hand, the arrested boy, the culture that produces him, the costs that boy imposes on girls. And in this capacity, Tami-Lyn, the little boy's dream girl who is so easy to mock, despise, and dismiss, is Ted's least imaginative take on magic.

2

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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