Film

(Why) Alex (Can't) Cross (Over)

Tyler Perry has no established persona. He's not a star, per se. He's a brand. An industry. A debated media topic... but he's not a star in the true sense of the word.


Alex Cross

Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, Cicely Tyson, Carmen Ejogo, Giancarlo Esposito, John C. McGinley, Jean Reno
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-10-19 (General release)
UK date: 2012-11-30 (General release)
Website
Trailer

It's been Tyler Perry's problem his entire career. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how far his influence can exceed already established expectations, he still has a near impossible time tapping into the mainstream. Not in all mediums, mind you. Just films. After all, his TV series tend to defy industry precepts to pull in big numbers across the board, and his personal appearances and stage plays still draw huge numbers. But if you look closely at his work in film, you see a ceiling, a limited reach if you will. Before he became a phenomenon, long before he told every angry black woman to diary their dog-like mates, he was viewed as a niche artist serving a decided niche demo. Put another way, he was an known urban quantity serving an ignored ethnic audience eager to support him. Limited appeal. Limited legs beyond.

Of course, no one outside the pundits really cares/cared. As long as he could maintain minimal budgets ($5 to $20 million) and three to four times the return upon release, he was golden. He was sainted. He was the most powerful and profitable man in Hollywood. But no artist works in a vacuum. They want their work seen by as many people as possible. For Perry, that meant reaching out beyond the decidedly African American segment of the population that prefers his work. It means finding an ancillary series or franchise that, while never taking away from his core audience, would expand his already obvious influence. The answer, it seemed, was James Patterson's character, Alex Cross.

With a rich backstory and 18 novels to choose from, it was a good idea. On the downside, many already believed the famed policeman turned FBI agent was already owned by another actor - Morgan Freeman. In 1997, the Oscar winner played the role alongside Ashley Judd in the surprise hit Kiss the Girls. In 2001, he returned for Along Came a Spider. While both films where successful, few saw their future as a series. Then, in 2010, someone got the idea for an Alex Cross "reboot." British actor Idris Elba was chosen to star, and Pitch Black/ A Perfect Getaway's David Twohy was picked to direct. Then things got dicey and both men dropped out. Enter seasoned joke/journeymen Rob Cohen (Stealth, The Fast and the Furious). With Perry now associated with the project, people in high places started to get excited.

It was premature enthusiasm. By all accounts, the resulting movie is a mess. It's violence, sadistic, stupid, and sloppily handled. Cohen can't seem to find the proper tone or approach and while Perry is passable, he's just not the hardboiled detective type. Currently sitting in the low teens at Rotten Tomatoes, it is clear that critics didn't think much of the final cut. But they don't matter, right? Perry has never EVER been given a fair shake by snobby, so-called journalists, isn't that right? Indeed, for many, the only real indication of a Perry film's success or failure is opening weekend box office figures. That goofy, pot smoking, gun toting battleaxe Madea may never get a decent word from the experts, but the people vote with their dollars, and the drag act always brings them in.

In this case, however, said polling has proven poisonous. Alex Cross barely earned $12 million over the three day weekend, making it the worst opening for any Perry film, ever. Even more disconcerting, word of mouth was vicious, reducing the film down to a bad (and bloody) b-movie take on the typical killer on the loose conceit. Naturally, those wanting to see their hero do his typical serio-comedy cautionary tale shtick had to go in knowing that Alex Cross contained none of that. No hot grits to the face. No smacking little "chill-rin" in the face. No "He-lurrrr." No, Perry wanted to cross over, to become known not only for his pro-God preaching, but his ability to reach a wider, less inclined audience. And he failed.

Now the question becomes why? Why did Alex Cross fail and why can't Perry reach the mainstream? Well, there are several answers, many of which were apparently ignored when the time came to shout "Roll 'em!" Primary among them are the realities of the man's current career. For all intents and purposes, Perry is nothing more than his phenom status. He's yet to make a movie that many feel will endure, and for the most part, he has been recycling the plots of his already wildly successful stage plays to fuel his consistent creativity. This means he's working from a limited pool of resources. Once they dry up, all he will have left is Madea...and the shelf life on that sass mouthed senior is about to expire.

Even worse, as stated before, Perry is viewed as a niche within a niche, especially among those outside his sphere of influence. Urban comedies, like Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, Friday, and Barber Shop have always been able to reach across the entire African American cultural divide, bringing in a few-to-many outside the racial loop along the way. Not Perry's films. They appeal to certain mindset within the already small community, an "old school, anti-rap" contingent that believes in the Good Book, corporal punishment, and the remnants of the Civil Rights Movement. Call it an older, more mature audience, or perhaps a more Christian, politically active contingent, but these are the types who will instantly run out to see the man in a skirt. They've proven to Perry that Madea means money...and that's about it.

The other aspect is a bit more tricky. Perry has no established persona. He's not a star, per se. He's a brand. An industry. A debated media topic...but he's not a star in the true sense of the word. He doesn't have the appeal of a Will Smith, or the gravitas of Freeman. He's not funny like Chris Rock or as versatile as Elba. Instead, he's a one note novelty that continues to crank out said narrow craft until someone at Lionsgate realizes the bottom and top lines no longer meet. At some point, a Madea movie will underperform, horribly, or a proposed hit will hobble, and Perry will become an afterthought, a 'thanks but no thanks,' a trivia question on a 2022 episode of Jeopardy. He's not about enduring. He's about entertainment...and easy money.

So Alex Cross was a joke right from the very start. Thrillers are never universal in their appeal (think family films - right, Ice Cube? - or comedies) and this one was a particularly hard sell. There was no buzz, no pre-release build-up. Had Perry wanted to break out and become a mainstream hero, he had a better chance with his bit part in J. J. Abrams' blockbuster Star Trek series than he did here. Unless he has the chops to really turn on the Method acting, he was bound to fail, destined to be downplayed and derided since he can't seem to get beyond the novelty stage, even when he's not trying. As an empire, he's untouchable. As a name, he's beyond known. But Tyler Perry is not really an actor. He's an act...and one that's yet to move beyond is already well worn and established niche.

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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