The Lone-ly 'Ranger'

Films fail for a number of reasons. Trying to repeat the unrepeatable is one of them.

The Lone Ranger

Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
US Release Date: 2013-07-03

You can't catch lightning in a bottle, no matter what elementary school history says about Benjamin Franklin, a kite, and a thunderstorm. The same applies to movies. It's impossible to repeat a billion dollar success, even when you bring back all the pieces that made the original effort such a hit. Indeed, the various situations and circumstances that lead to such a triumph can never be wholly recreated, and even if they could be, time and temperament also play a part in audiences' expectations and willingness to part with their pocket money. When The Blair Witch Project played its "is it real?" genre card in combination with its then original found footage format, it made millions. Since then, every Tom, Dick, and Hack Harry has tried to repeat its phenom status, to little legitimate result.

Hollywood, by its very nature, is a gamble. One day, the world adores some secondary cast member from Saturday Night Live, the next, he or she is a forgotten funny business face. Sometimes, it's merely cyclical. Horror movies make their way into the mainstream every few years, only to fade away like their ultimately dated fear factors. Similarly, comedies can go from sophisticated to sophomoric to scatological, sometimes in the same storyline. Indeed, as the studios try to figure out what will make each demo cough up the cash, they've believe in a few flawed absolutes: almost every family film, especially one's created via CG animation, make major bank at the box office; certain stars, no matter their status on our shores, can claim huge returns overseas; and just when they think they have it all figured out, something comes along to question all their marketing research and focus group reports.

The great screenwriter William Goldman said it best: "Nobody Knows Anything." To extrapolate a bit further from a cinephile's perspective, it's clear that, within the realm of Tinseltown's think tanks, there are no original ideas. Everything is a recycled recreation of a past perceived achievement, with the various factors that made such a success (novelty, artistry, era, etc.) removed less they cause concern. No, clearly in the case of something like The Lone Ranger (which we loved but many are calling "an unmitigated disaster"), the House of Mouse powers that be thought, "Johnny Depp...? Gore Verbinski...? Jerry Bruckheimer...? The guys behind the billion dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? SOLD!" Even when their initial money throw their way was retracted to bring the elephantine budget ($250 million, by most reports) into line with other Summer spectacles, they believed they had a winner on their hands.

And why not? Depp is nearly undefeated internationally. He can take crap like Pirates 4: On Stranger Tides and turn it into a billion dollar baby. Even more impressive, more than 80% of the take came from overseas ($804 million vs. $260 million in the US). The same can be said for all the films finding nine digit returns. We've discussed this to death - the world is now Hollywood's target, not the teens hanging out at the Mall of America. Even a bomb like Dark Shadows (which we kind of liked as well) managed to make $250 million when combined with other territories. So by walking into a decidedly Western genre (see what we did there) and offering up a "just like POTC" vibe, The Lone Ranger could connect with the non-English speaking member of movie fandom.

Granted, like Shadows, this is a title with very little international appeal. Who, in Indonesia or India is wondering to themselves "when will Hollywood make a big budget film out of a flimsy radio series that few outside the '50s remember?" Instead, Disney is using the untried and untrue theory that what worked once (Depp/Verbinski/Bruckheimer's original Pirates brought in $2.7 billion in receipts) will work again. They are trying to duplicate the unduplicatable. They are praying for a payday to match the ones worked out on the backs of a forgotten thriller subgenre (the swashbuckling action adventure) and the power of its idiosyncratic star and he's equally odd director. Don't believe Verbinski is a commercial David Lynch? Just look over his oeuvre. Scholars are still trying to figure out what period Mouse Hunt presents (the '40s? the '50s? some Billy Pilgrim combination of the two, or something else?) and The Ring is the only horror film to make people afraid of a movie montage.

In the end, of course, it's all about the final effort put on the screen. No matter the combination of guarantees, if the movie stinks, no one is going to see it. Word of mouth will be as lethal as an ex-New England Patriots tight end (allegedly) and no amount of contrarian concern will alleviate the stink of failure. Of course, in recent interviews, studio execs have argued that none of this matters to the rest of the planet. The U.S. has long since stopped being the tastemakers for the rest of the moviegoing public, so the current Lone Ranger backlash should mean nothing in the end. Heck, Pirates 4 earned a mediocre 33% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and still banked a billion. The 25% and holding for Lone may seem like a long shot, but stranger things have happened.

For those who are happy the film is failing, the only conclusion can be that The Lone Ranger was (and is, and forever will be) a bad movie rightfully rejected by a far more savvy entertainment public. For those who liked it, there's always the hope for a home video reevaluation (like what is currently happening with Cloud Atlas, or what occurred with Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween). In the end, pundits will turns pages and bylines into their own version of "told you so" while Depp will continue to cash his checks while Verbinski polishes his Oscar (for the equally eccentric kid flick, Rango).

Maybe if the movie had been released next year, or two years ago, it would have caught on. Maybe the original idea of The Lone Ranger fighting werewolves would have worked (shows you how desperate Disney was at one time). Perhaps no version of the character would resonate with today's jaded demo - and let's not even address the whole 'white man as Native American' complaint. Indeed, if The Lone Ranger goes down as one of 2013's biggest bombs, it won't be for lack of trying. Instead, the failure will rest solely on the unimaginative backs of those who thought they could repeat a previous success by simply mimicking its questionable formula. That kind of lightning can't be recaptured. Instead, it's destined to strike, do its damage, and then disappear.

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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