Reviews

'Runner Runner Doesn’t Know When to Fold

This lurid and choppy morality tale is a pale copy of those Ben Mezrich books about Ivy League guys who get in over their heads by gambling.


Runner Runner

Director: Brad Furman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Christian George, Yul Vazquez, John Heard
Rated: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-10-04 (General release)
UK date: 2013-09-27 (General release)
Website
Trailer

As soon as offshore gambling mogul Ivan (Ben Affleck) shows off his pet crocodiles to a wide-eyed Richie (Justin Timberlake), it's clear that somebody is going to be thrown to said reptiles. The only question in Runner Runner is who.

Princeton University graduate student Richie is a one-time hedge fund guy who got cleaned out by the Great Recession and is now trying to get his Master’s in mathematics. It's safe to say that the school doesn’t appreciate that he pays his tuition by acting as a tout for online gaming sites who pay him a commission on the students he solicits. And so, after a laugh-worthy betting-it-all montage -- the camera circles around Richie while he gambles his life savings on a poker site and fellow students cheer him on -- he thinks he has one option left, to go to Costa Rica and find Ivan, the guy who runs the site, and get his money back.

Once Richie arrives on the island, the film switches from one set of clichés (Ivy League fall colors and eggheads arguing about probability models) to another (easily bribed cops and a curious lack of air conditioning). Although Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s script provides little reason to think Richie is a smooth operator, in no time he’s talked Ivan out of his money and received a new job offer. At this point, the film changes clichés again, from a scrappy underdog story to a living-the-dream epic of excess. The millions that Ivan’s site pulls in every day apparently pay for a lot of pool parties, bikini babes, hired guns, and tastefully minimalist dwellings.

It’s difficult to see why Richie falls for any of this. Everything about Ivan's gleaming smile and frat-brotherish swagger should appear a giant "Stop" sign to a someone like Richie, a computer-lab quant without visible insecurities. In the world of Runner Runner, the money itself is the lure. But even if reality, of course, that’s often enough reason for people to cast aside any moral quandaries, in convincing fiction, more is required. The script seems modeled on too many luridly escapist books like Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, and the film resembles 21 and The Social Network, beautiful sagas of smart guys getting into trouble -- and increasingly wide and mobile frames -- once they leave the dorm room.

Timberlake works hard to make Richie’s quick and unreflective drop into a shady business believable. He brings a bushy-tailed energy that perfectly fits the eager young striver who believes he’s been cheated and risks all to get ahead. He even has a beaten-down old gambler of a dad (John Heard) on hand to function as a warning of what he could become if he doesn’t reel in his dangerous ways. As in most stories of this sort, every 10 minutes or so, someone makes sure to point out to Richie that he should just get out, fold his cards, go back to America. Of course, he doesn’t, and as he flies closer to the sun, his wings are looking mighty fragile.

That Richie falls for such an obviously flawed villain's appeal is another problem. Ivan almost looks annoyed at having to spell out his threats. Unfortunately, the film also takes on Affleck's less-is-more attitude. By the time all the plot strands are getting tied up and snipped off in the too-neat-by-half conclusion, it’s hard to know exactly what just happened. These strands are as corny as they are illogical: a romantic subplot between Richie and Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), Ivan’s longtime lover and confidant who needs only a couple grins from Richie to tumble into his arms, is as dispensable as can be. I'm not sure what it means that Shavers (Anthony Mackie), the FBI agent chasing Ivan, is granted the gift of Runner Runner's only funny laugh line. Explaining why he will really enjoy putting the squeeze on a panicked Richie, Shavers announces, “I went to Rutgers.”

4

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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