Reviews

'Under the Dome' Is Inventive But Not Unpredictable Stephen King Sci-Fi

For all its occasional predictability and melodrama, when Under the Dome is good, it's very good. When it falls flat, it's still good enough to stay tuned for the next installment.


Under The Dome

Director: Jack Bender, et al.
Cast: Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Nicholas Strong, Colin Ford, Jolene Purdy, Aisha Hinds, Dean Norris
Distributor: Paramount
Studio: Paramount/CBS
Release date: 2013-11-05

There's a certain method to a Stephen King story that has been notoriously difficult to capture onscreen, either due to the limited length of a motion picture in comparison to a novel, or the fact that King's characters and their most important mannerisms are developed silently in the pensively introspective moments when each character remembers his or her own experiences.

King has a penchant for jumping around in time and slowly revealing pieces of his stories until the full tapestry comes into view. These silent moments translate to the screen in either obvious and melodramatic ways or not at all. The action generally works, but the thoughtful character evolution is replaced by expository dialogue and a closeup on a character's face for a quick wink, nod, or emotional reveal that can feel forced, even if it matches the source material exactly. Otherwise, the story elements are either deleted out of necessity or left as a mystery.

There's no shortage of mystery in the first season of CBS' Under The Dome, but the question is whether these mysteries are truly answered or resolved during the run of the 13-episode first season. Many of these shifting mysteries, from the overarching (no pun intended) question of what the title dome is and why it appeared over the small town of Chester's Mill, to the episodic and small story-arc questions necessarily must remain unresolved to keep the show going beyond the one-week timeline of the novel the series was based on. With the series' renewal for a second season already announced, fans may get the answers they deserve and with such divergences from the original novel, many of these resolutions can't be found in the source material or its Wikipedia page.

As the first season debuts on Blu-ray without the cliffhangers before commercial breaks, some of the suspense is lost in this saga, but the high definition image looks better than ever. The premise concerns an invisible, impenetrable and inexplicable dome slams into Earth and encapsulates a small town and imprisons everyone inside. The government is baffled, the citizens are frightened and the resources inside are dwindling. The beauty of the image and sound make the premise of the saga all the more tangible and enthralling. While the dome itself is invisible, a light glare or reflection looks incredible on this disc. As the dome is sprayed with water or covered by monarch butterflies, the picture looks like something out of a dream.

The society of Chester's Mill and the lack thereof is the cornerstone to the drama we find here. The lone remaining city councilman, a smooth used car salesman named Big Jim Rennie (Breaking Bad's Dean Norris) takes charge of the city government while the police department finds its numbers falling fast, either due to isolation or death and the small, local radio station becomes the sole disseminator of news and announcements (even cell phone reception is interrupted). This paves the way for former army veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) to become a hero for the city and a pillar of the community in spite of the fact that his past is as mysterious as the reason why he's in the town in the first place.

The examination of this microcosm of humanity trapped together and fighting to survive when the every staple of society (from citizenship to law and order) becomes questionable takes center stage, much more than the science fiction element of the reason for this isolation. With no one able to enter or leave the dome, does money, power or citizenship matter anymore? The directors and producers (the latter including Stephen Spielberg and King himself) do an excellent job of postulating and hypothesizing what might happen in a situation this bizarre.

However, when the story gets too deep into itself a certain episodic predictability lessens the mystery, especially in the second half of the season. While Under the Dome never stops being engrossing and watchable, a certain melodrama kicks into high gear in later episodes, especially when the writers attempt to link the dramatic and tense moments with the science fictional and the mysterious. The two sides of the dome do not always balance well and for all the strangeness of the premise, there are several textbook television moments that the audience would be hard pressed to not see coming.

That said, there's a lot more to this show than weirdness and surface tensions. In general the drama is remarkably well done, with tense suspense and a believable look at realistic people in an unbelievable and unreal situation. In short, Under the Dome is an addictive and exciting show that's hard to quit. Like many of King's better works, Under the Dome gets better with repeated experiences. Re-watching the first season reveals much more of the underlying and interlocking plot points and allows the show to rise above its occasional flaws.

When Under the Dome is good, it's very good. When Under the Dome falls flat, it's still good enough to stay tuned for the next installment and see where this saga is going. For a more artistic and challenging look at a similar premise, see the 2012 German-language film Die Wand (The Wall), in which an individual person is trapped inside her own microcosm behind a very Dome-like wall.

For an exciting and addictive TV show that is fun to watch each week, Under the Dome is worth getting trapped in. The Blu-ray package is packed with documentaries, interviews and deleted scenes, including a detailed comparison between the book and series to date and Stephen King's own analysis of the show and its evolution.

7

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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