Déjà Vu (2006)

The movie's leap from contemporary coppish thriller into science fiction is initially jarring.

Déjà Vu

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Bruce Greenwood, Adam Goldberg, Jim Caviezel
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Touchstone
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-11-22 (General release)
The military thought I was overcommitted. They didn't understand my commitment. They understand it now.

--Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel)

Déjà Vu begins with a terrorist attack. It's introduced via Tony Scott's signature herky-jerky framing, an oversaturated image of vacationers piling onto a ferry, a combination of New Orleans locals and a flock of Navy sailors on leave. They rush forward to the boat, kids in arms and white uniforms gleaming, the voyage ahead a bright promise of family and at least a few hours of freedom from daily cares.

When the bomb goes off, the happy scene is rocked horribly, with smoke and flames and body parts shooting into the sky. The effect is dramatic, the threat duly established. Even as first responders arrive, grasping survivors, gathering them up in arms and swaddling them in blankets, the chaos -- at once familiar and harrowing -- begs questions. Where is the security system that's supposed to keep such catastrophes from happening?

This is one set of questions posed by Déjà Vu, in recalling similar scenes ("Unlike Katrina," says one authority, "This was not an act of nature"). The film also submits that such fear and turmoil that are always new, each time they emerge with such violence. Among the authorities summoned to sort out the crime scene is ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington), who has particular expertise at reading details. He fills the frame with a reassuring presence, mostly because he's Denzel, but also because he's clearly seeing what others around him are missing. The camera cuts between his steadfast gaze and various objects -- a body floating, a flaming bit of debris, a surveillance camera on a nearby bridge. Though, as one inspector observes, it is a "unique and complicated crime scene with most of the evidence under 100 feet of muddy water," Doug digs right in.

Indeed, Doug's acute interpretations of evidence -- residues, fragments, and video images -- draws the attention of FBI special agent Pryzwarra (an underused Val Kilmer), who recruits him for a special anti-terrorism team arrived to take charge of the investigation. (In a nifty bit, Doug is summoned mid-sniff, as he's inspecting a site smeared with smelly bomb-making material.) Though Doug imagines he's on top of his details, he soon learns there's something else afoot, when he's called to examine the body of a woman, Claire (Paula Patton).

The corpse -- bloodied and burned and missing several fingers -- shows signs of having been in the explosion. But when he finds other evidence that sets her time of death minutes before the bomb went off, Doug becomes captivated by her story. He gets a chance to dig into it when Pryzwarra's team shows him their super-duper surveillance technology, which ostensibly culls imagery from multiple sources and allows them to follow Claire's activities (including showering, which makes for the predictable sex-starved nerd jokes) during the four days before her murder. The imagery is speeded-up and hectic, just the sort of jiggedy aesthetic that characterizes Scott's recent movies (Domino, Man on Fire). Hoping to spot the terrorist in this footage, the team enlists eagle-eyed Doug. Silly team. He sees more than they expect, and so they must confess: they've found a way to "warp the very fabric of space," whatever that means.

This leap from contemporary coppish thriller into science fiction is initially jarring, but soon revealed as the thematic point. One of the researchers warns Doug that there are limits to said warping's effectiveness. "You can't beat the physics," he says, which only sets up that Doug will beat the physics, or, in his words, "use more than physics." The generic shift also leads to some crazy action scenes, with Doug wearing elaborate futuristic headgear that lets him see the past at the same time that he's driving in the present, crashing into "present" cars he can't see from his "past" perspective (the effect is suitably confusing, and effectively energetic, or, as Doug calls it, "trippy").

At the same time (so to speak), the far-fetched aspect is somewhat offset by the movie's gritty look. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, it underscores ongoing and broad-based concerns about terrorism and security. Doug's investigative excursions into the still-devastated Ninth Ward raise pointed questions about the government's abilities to protect citizens either from "natural" or man-made disasters.

Washington's focused performance holds together the movie's various thematic strands. His Doug is certainly an intrepid and even a romantic hero, devoted to Claire's case as much as the terrorist plot. But he is also a believably skeptical detective, and his questions about motives and technologies tend to mirror yours. These questions come to a head when he interrogates the terrorist suspect, Carroll Oerstadt (Jim Caviezel). Of a philosophical piece with Timothy McVeigh, Carroll's desire for revenge against the U.S. military is at once personal and political, with oblique connections to current recruitment concerns as well as definitions of "patriotism."

"True liberty," declares the cheerlessly self-righteous Carroll, "must be refreshed with blood." And so of course he means to spill it, even as Doug means to stop him. As they embody very different ideas about national identity, they're also very different readers, of meaning and motive. Doug stands in for you, a committed movie-watcher (he instructs the FBI kids as to focus and mobile framing while they look in on Claire's apartment for hours on end). Carroll, however, tends to read what he wants, with other people's images only getting in the way. He has a "destiny," he says, articulating a specific sense of fate and faith. "You think you know what's coming," he intones, "But you don't have a clue."

Given the movie's title and Doug's belief that he can, in fact, decipher clues accurately (whether these clues look forward or back), this sounds like a challenge. Carroll, being the villain, can't win, even if Doug's trajectory does bring some surprises, illogical and even irrelevant. Then again, Déjà Vu isn't much interested in plot. It is instead focused on the re-assembly of pieces you've seen before. You think you know what's coming.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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