Film

'Up' Makes It a Perfect 10 for Pixar


Up

Cast: Edward Asner, Christopher Plumber, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Rated: PG
Studio: Disney/Pixar
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-05-29 (General release)
UK date: 2009-10-16 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Perhaps it's time to stop wondering and simply believe. Every year, like cinematic clockwork, we critics hear about the latest release pending from Pixar and our thoughts notoriously turn to the big question - will this be the one? Will this be the computer-generated title from the company that literally invented the genre type to fail to live up to audience expectations? Nay, could it be the well-meaning movie from Lassiter and crew that actually fails? Well, those looking for the bullseye on the back of these geniuses can definitely rest easy. Up is not the target for an elongated discussion on the company's first failure. Instead, it's yet another trophy in a digital display case loaded with such accolades. It's as serious as Wall-E, as action packed as The Incredibles, and hides a mysterious core of sadness which the company has never really explored - until now.

For Carl Fredrickson, old age has its trials. He's recently lost his wife, and with that, the will to live, and a construction concern is trying to kick him out of his house. A momentary act of self-defense has the court interceding, and it looks like he will have to move after all these years. But Carl remembers a promise he made to his dear departed Ellie at the start of their life together, and he's determined to make it happen. Tying balloons to his house, he lifts the building from its foundation and plots a course for South America. Unfortunately, earnest Wilderness Scout Russell "accidentally" tags along for the ride. Upon arrival, Carl has one goal - to get the house to the top of a gorgeous waterfall his late spouse idolized. But when a huge bird stumbles into their path, and with it an aging adventurer and his pack of trained dogs, our elderly hero and his under-aged sidekick must save the creature…and the day.

At its core, Up is a movie about putting the past in perspective. Not necessarily leaving it behind, or forgetting about it all together, but more about gaining perspective, about seeing the truth of what came before, not the myth or the self-made legacy. It's the basic element that drives all three human characters. For Carl, it's his house and his love for late wife Ellie that leads him to take his airborne risk. It's also the motivation for some of his more mean-spirited acts. For young Russell, it's the cogent memory of sitting with his now distant dad, eating ice cream and counting cars in best father/son bonding mode. And for ex-celebrity adventurer turned vindictive bad man Charles Muntz, it's justification for decades as a laughing stock. Resolution will come at a price for all, yet the real meat of Up is not the endgame, but the journey toward such finality.

And this is a road not easily traversed. There will be pain, hardship, heartache, and even death along the way. Up is perhaps the first Pixar film to mix the full blown fantastic with the all too real. The opening montage establishing Carl and Ellie's life is so poignant, so stocked with telling little details that when we reach the inevitable climax, we experience the loss just as deeply as our hero. Similarly, Russell's story about his dad delivers the kind of well-observed empathy that Pixar does best. The material here is borderline maudlin, a little too much for such a supposed kid flick to bear. But because directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson do such a extraordinary job of keeping everything balanced and in focus, we allow the sentiment to stay.

As with any bit of escapism, there are a few logic leaps that have to be made in order to maintain one's entertainment perspective. Carl does some mighty agile things for a man his age, and little lump of lard Russell could hardly be physically adept at some of the challenges he overcomes. Perhaps the greatest suspension of disbelief is reserved for Charles, considering he was an adult when Carl was a small kid. His reappearance, while expected, crafts questions that Up is not capable - or willing, or needs - to answer. We just have to assume that this Depression-era hero has the mental wherewithal to train hundreds of dogs to obey his commands (including cooking and cleaning) as well as retrofit them with self-invented electronic collars that translate their every crude canine thought into words.

In fact, Pixar makes it easy to believe. Crafting characters that are instantly likeable and quickly identifiable, we come to appreciate Carl's cold look on life, Russell's never-ending optimism - even Charles' outrageous villainy. Up is the first Pixar movie where blood is visibly shed, where injuries appear life-threatening and death is dealt with in clear, concise beats. It's hard to imagine kids understanding the depth of the despair on display - they will be easily swayed by the bright colors, inventive imagery, and standard comic supporting player antics (in this case, a gorgeously goofy bird named Kevin and a cute talking cur named Dug). Yet there will be a few life lessons learned as well, especially since Pixar does not pull back on the cruelties within its cartoon world.

Don't get the wrong idea, however. This is not darkness to merely buck the family film entertainment trend. Instead, this is Pixar trying something wholly unique, an approach that few films within, or outside the company (with, perhaps, the exception of last year's ferocious and violent Kung Fu Panda) can claim. Because of what Carl represents (the promise to a fallen love) and the way he goes about reclaiming his worth, we don't mind the bitter reminders of what could have been. Indeed, the entire methodology of this film is to expose the truth behind the well-worn façade of failure. Up is actually about rediscovering your soul, or surviving the worst and making the most of it. It's funny, illuminating, deft, accomplished, mesmerizing, warm, and in the end, as inspiring as its title.

Leave it to Pixar to, once again, thwart expectation. Nothing offered in the trailer or TV ads will prepare you for the joys found here. It's par for the corporate course, actually. Think back about your first awareness of something like Ratatouille, or Wall-E. Both films seemed lifted out of premises that played better in the creator's mind - a rat that wants to be a chef, a robot who wants to find companionship - than on movie screens. A few million dollars and a couple of Oscars later proved that possibility dead wrong. Now comes the unusual tale of a man who wants to save his house, keep a promise he made years ago, and travel to South America - and he does so by rigging thousands of balloons to his chimney and simply taking off. Not the most enthralling of ideas, right? Well, luckily the Pixar proof is in the execution pudding, and it's a delicious, addictive treat.

10

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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