Reviews

Getting Down, Deep Down, with 'Godzilla'

Godzilla takes us "down there". Down there in corporate cover-ups, down there in human greed and fear, down there in immorality and militaristic overreaching.


Godzilla

Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Wantanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, Richard T. Jones
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-05-16 (General release)
UK date: 2014-05-14 (General release)
Website
Trailer

"This was not from a natural disaster." So insists nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), pointing to a set of seismic readings he took 15 years earlier. A cut to his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy lieutenant just this day returned from almost two years' deployment in the Middle East, shows him standing amid the clutter in his father's apartment in Tokyo, forlorn and flummoxed. "What are you doing?" he asks.

In fact, Ford knows just what his father is doing, because he's been doing it since he lost Ford's mother Sandy (Juliette Binoche), also a nuclear researcher, to an accident in the Japanese facility where they both worked. As frustrated as Ford appears, you might feel some empathy for Joe, as just minutes before, at the start of Godzilla, you've seen the moment Ford never did, as Sandy's pale face hovers in a tiny secure door window, knowing she's about to die a horrible radiated death, only asking that Joe look after their boy.

The trauma has shaped Joe's relationship with Ford in ways made invisible by a "15 years later" intertitle, but that you can see instantly here, in the apartment: the son feels angry and abandoned, while the father is overwhelmed by guilt. Tearing up he insists, "I sent her down there, son."

Ford, unencumbered by that image of her face but traumatized in his own way, insists that he, unlike Joe, has moved on; he's married to the perfect Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), with whom he has a perfect little boy (Carson Bolde), in San Francisco. But still, Ford can't begrudge his father all, and so he agrees to help him on one last effort to understand what happened "down there".

As you know because you're watching a Godzilla movie, "down there" in the deserted facility is also "down there" in many other senses: down there in corporate cover-ups, down there in human greed and fear, down there in immorality and militaristic overreaching -- all hinted at in the movie's evocative opening credits sequence, offering up footage of vintage submarines, sea monsters, and nuclear explosions. You also know, long before Joe and Ford might guess, that this mix of material and metaphor will find form in creatures that emerge from down there, the humungous Godzilla (350 feet tall) and also a couple of monsters for him to fight, the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms).

Even as the story of Godzilla is familiar, director Gareth Edwards' version is scaled to the present moment. The MUTOs and Godzilla are both causes and effects of the accident that killed Sandy (see: the enduring specter of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster). Yet they're opposites, as assessed by the in-place expert, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). Where the MUTOs consume radiation (literally, they chomp on assorted warheads and stored waste containers in Nevada, creating appropriate chaos wherever they go), Godzilla, he says, will deliver balance.

While the US military, incarnated here by the stern Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn), means to shoot the monsters, Serizawa sees the futility of such endeavors. It's easy to share his view, as the film repeatedly shows little human soldiers lined up with weapons that seem to bounce off the hulking forms of the MUTOs, who are decidedly slick and mechanistic, like H.R. GIger's Aliens by way of an equally odious drones technology.

That's not to say it's as easy to share Serizawa's faith in the good fight to be brought by Godzilla, if "good" might be used to describe to the destruction of whole cities in order to save human populations (it's appropriate that so much of the movie's action is rendered in muted tones, long or too-close shots that leave the landscape dark and obscured, thrilling in what you don't see). This Godzilla doesn't provide much in the way of humans who deserve saving, though the reaction shots include the faces of Japanese nuclear facility workers flailing as structures collapse and Caucasian children on vacation in Hawaii, suddenly fleeing from a tidal wave. (That the film also features a couple of preposterous reunion scenes makes clear the practical exploitation of supporting characters: their sentimental emotional arcs as flimsy as they can be.)

While Serizawa and his (underused) assistant Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) share glances across briefing rooms or scurry into hallways to check on data the military folks won't understand, you understand that his understanding is built on the same myths you've heard, that Godzilla the King of Monsters will come through, with fire breath and eyes that indicate recognition of others, if not precisely a soul or intellect.

It's these eyes, not glimpsed until late in the action, that reveal the film's most compelling notion, a notion that's not so much about the monster as it is about what an action hero might be. For Godzilla's eyes are not revealed to everyone who gazes up at him, surrounded by wreckage and scared of his fire breath or giant stomping feet (not incidentally, the movie's seemingly simplest and best effect). Instead, Godzilla looks at Ford and they share a moment. In this moment, you're reminded that Ford has spent the movie not shooting, not rushing about and jumping and yelling, but instead, defusing. Or more accurately, trying to defuse.

Defusing is his expertise, and again and again, he reminds people of his preferred title, explosive ordnance disposal technician, dedicated to preventing explosions and mayhem. More than once, he offers his services to various commanders, on the ground and in control rooms, who inevitably misgauge time and access to destructive weapons, and so end up putting their soldiers and the populations they mean to protect in one dire situation after another.

Ford's ability and inclination to take bombs apart makes him the opposite of these commanders, the opposite of the military apparatus and, at last, a lot like his father despite all the estrangement and tragedy between them. Where Serizawa has faith in Godzilla to deliver balance, it's Ford who seeks to deliver it himself. And that makes him at once strange and welcome, at the beginning of the explosion movie season to come.

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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