Film

Part 3: The Sixth Sense to Fight Club (August - October 1999)

Films that have left a lasting impression on their creators (M. Night Shyamalan, Sam Mendes, David Fincher) make up the majority of Part Three of our Films of 1999 overview.

Director: Anne Wheeler Film: Better Than Chocolate Studio: Trimark Pictures Cast: Wendy Crewson, Karyn Dwyer, Christina Cox, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Marya Delver, Kevin Mundy, Tony Nappo MPAA rating: R First date: 1999 US Release Date: 1999-08-06 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/betterthanchocolateposter.jpg

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Better Than Chocolate

Director: Anne Wheeler

To the average Canadian movie-goer, let's call him Joe Hockey Player, I imagine that the phrase “Canadian film” suggests only National Film Board documentaries about maple syrup production, or the strange art house films discovered by an insomniac channel surfer at 3 a.m. While I value many NFB productions, and I even have a penchant for the strange and arty, I am surprised when a Canadian film—by Canadians, about Canadians—becomes popular, especially when it's popular at home. Why are Canadians still surprised by our own success when film after film suggests we can produce both entertaining and critically praised films? Don McKellar's Last Night (1998), Emile Gaudreault's Mambo Italiano (2003) and Sarah Polley's Away From Her (2006) come readily to mind.

Anne Wheeler's romantic comedy Better Than Chocolate was the first Canadian film I saw as a teenager that struck me as relevant and contemporary without sacrificing its northern quirkiness. In 1999, it placed 31st in the Hollywood Reporter's list of the top 100 independent films of that year. The film's story line tackles issues of sexuality, censorship, and inclusion (before Canada's same-sex marriage laws made a perceived openness to sexuality one of our cultural exports.) While the movie has become a classic of lesbian cinema, it appeals to viewers across orientations because of its emphasis on disengaging fear from sexuality.

Written by Peggy Thompson, the movie centres on Maggie (Karyn Dwyer), a young lesbian in Vancouver, and her relationship with a drifter/artist named Kim (Christina Cox). Their affair is all bliss until Maggie's mother and brother show up (both of whom don't know that Maggie's gay.) Much of the comedy stems from Maggie's mother (played by the veteran Wendy Crewson) and the ways in which her suburban, soccer mom sensibility contrasts with Maggie and friends' expressive sexuality. Other characters include Frances (played by actor, playwright and novelist Ann-Marie MacDonald), owner of the lesbian bookstore where Maggie works, and Judy (Peter Outerbridge), the transexual woman in love with Frances.

Some might argue that the film's coming out theme had already been well-tread even before the turn of the century. But as the success of Milk attests, we are still interested in producing and watching films that discuss the role of sexuality in public and social life. Wheeler's execution of Thompson's script makes Better Than Chocolate a refreshing coming-out tale since it's not just the queers coming out of the closet. As Maggie's straight brother learns, “boys like toys, too.” And speaking of toys, the scene when Crewson's uptight character discovers a veritable warehouse of vibrators under her bed and finally learns to let loose is worth the rental fee alone.

Better Than Chocolate reminds us in the time of the personal-is-political, that sex, like the proverbial box of mixed chocolates, provides one of life's sweet and diverse delights. Kevin Shaw

Better Than Chocolate

Director: Brad Bird Film: The Iron Giant Studio: Warner Brothers Cast: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney Website: http://www.warnervideo.com/irongiantdvd/ MPAA rating: PG First date: 1999 US Release Date: 1999-08-06 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/i/irongiantposter.jpg

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The Iron Giant

Director: Brad Bird

Before being catapulted into the top tier of American cartooning through the massive successes of his ace pair of family fare for Disney/Pixar, 2004’s The Incredibles and 2007’s brilliant Ratatouille, director Brad Bird was famous only amongst an elite cult of animated film geeks who reveled in the nuggets of his impressive albeit countercultural resume. A resume that included the development of The Simpsons from minute-long shorts on the original Tracey Ullman Show on Fox to what would become the longest half-hour sitcom in TV history, writing, directed and producing the beloved “Family Dog” episode on Steven Spielberg's short-lived 1980s NBC series Amazing Stories, working on the woefully out-of-print 1981 animated Olympiad parody Animalympics, and an early stint at Disney, where he worked on The Fox and the Hound.

However, it wasn’t until 1999 did Bird first get his beak wet as a major film director with the release of his brilliant Atomic Age era feature The Iron Giant. Anyone who caught the nuanced (albeit updated) references of late 50s/early 60s culture in either The Incredibles or Ratatouille can clearly see Bird’s unequivocal fascination with that section of American history, and The Iron Giant serves as his eloquently mushy love letter to those early days of his youth when rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy, every town square had an appliance store and a malt shop, and the impending threat of World War III with the Soviet Union was a frantic decision away from reality.

Perfectly set against the backdrop of Cold War America, where the art of science fiction enjoyed its first big boom by playing up on the public fear of a possible invasion, the story itself is loosely based on poet Ted Hughes’s 1968 masterwork The Iron Man. However, the film more closely resembles a retro spin on the inherent concept of E.T., replacing a cuddly, organic extraterrestrial with a gigantic metallic robot (whose origins are never fully explained in the film) who crash-lands on Earth and is discovered by young Hogarth Hughes, who befriends the robot and hides him away in a local beatnik’s metal scrapyard.

That is, however, until a meddling federal agent comes into town with all of his McCarthyist paranoia about intergalactic warfare propelled by the Russians’ launching of Sputnik, thus provoking a witch hunt on the gentle giant that ends in a nuclear standoff threatening the small Maine town where the film is based. When The Iron Giant hit theaters at the tail end of the summer of 1999, it was lavished with the kind of critical praise seldom seen or heard of with regards to a children’s animated feature, having enjoyed a rare 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for several awards, including the coveted Hugo.

Unfortunately, thanks to the poor choice of a release date and a terribly mismanaged promotional campaign on the part of Warner Bros., The Iron Giant tanked at the box office, though it remains a cult classic to this day for animation geeks. Hopefully, in the advent of Bird’s back-to-back successes with The Incredibles and Ratatouille, more people wallowing in the mainstream will revisit The Iron Giant and appreciate it for the classic piece of animated film it is. Ron Hart

The Iron Giant

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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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