Find Me Guilty (2006)

Cynthia Fuchs

You might find Vin Diesel guilty of any number of offenses in Sidney Lumet's new film. First, his hair.

Find Me Guilty

Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Freestyle
First date: 2006
UK Release Date: Available as import
US Release Date: 2006-03-17

You might find Vin Diesel guilty of any number of offenses in Sidney Lumet's new film. First, his hair. Second, his over-killed New Jersey gangster's accent. But as Jackie Dinorsio, a middling mobster prosecuted along with 20 other members of the Luccese crime family in a trial that takes some 21 months, he's actually the least of Find Me Guilty's problems.

That's not to say that Diesel's visibly eager efforts to expand his acting range -- from rough-and-tumble action hero to rough-and-tumble babysitter to rough-and-tumble gangster -- are quite convincing. But he more or less holds his own amid the typecast company who surround him here. Given that he appears in nearly every scene here, he shoulders his responsibility, playing wide and broad for most of these 125 minutes. Yes, he plays a crying scene (following news of the death of Jackie's beloved mother) with his hand in front of his face, the camera unhelpfully unmoving. But that's also a strange enough moment as to seem an error of multiple judgments, not just Diesel's.

In fact, he's facing considerable odds here. The shapeless script, reportedly based on actual, unwieldy court transcripts, delivers a series of disjointed scenes and occasional punch-lines for jokes that aren't very funny. (The film's promotion suggests it's a straight-up comedy, but it's not, though Diesel does his best to perform Jackie's self-description as a "gagster," as opposed to a "gangster"). He's got not one but three crises on his hands, none compelling or resolved. And once he begins his pro se lawyering performance in the courtroom, he's also got to make a story out of a string of witnesses, none helping him or the film make sense.

Jackie's introduced as a cocky SOB, snoozing in his bedroom as his bored, short-shortsed daughter toils in the kitchen downstairs. Enter the sweaty junkie cousin, Tony (Raúl Esparza), who rushes upstairs and unloads his gun into Jackie's chest. The daughter screams, the victim looks bloody and done for, but no. This is his movie. The next scene shows not only that he's recovered and forgiven Tony (being a junkie, big-hearted Jackie reasons, the cousin doesn't know what he's doing), but he's also facing a greater foe with massive resources, the state of New Jersey (emboldened, in 1987, by the hard charging of young U.S. attorney Rudolph Giuliani).

Called to snitch on his "family," Jackie does the good soldier thing, and refuses. The prosecutor comes up with another angle, and has Jackie picked up on a drug charge, a serious enough offense that, when convicted, he's sentenced to 30 years. Still, Jackie remains steadfast, and so becomes part of prosecutor Sean Kierney's (Linus Roache) elaborate RICO case against the Lucceses, the largest and longest criminal trial in U.S. history (there's an obvious joke here, concerning the length of Find Me Guilty, but let's not say it). To underline the size, the film tends to long, wide shots of defendants as a crowd, but these tend to resemble mass casting calls for The Sopranos, everyone making gangster faces and gesturing with his hands).

Unimpressed by the prosecutor's fancy language, Jackie decides to defend himself, occasionally aided by lead defense attorney Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage, whose addresses to the court are each preceded by a strange "bit" where an aide wheels in a stand to raise him to the jury box level). Jackie harrumphs and smirks and shuffles for the jury, so uncouth that they begin to think he's "cute." And so, the lawyers for all the other gangsters figure they might as well let him play it out -- he just might end up making the "family" look like a family, sympathetic rather than murderous, admirably devoted to one another rather than sociopathic.

Jackie certainly strains everyone's patience, including that of his fellow defendants (all 19 of them) and boss Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco, still playing Moe Green). Not to mention Judge Finestein (Ron Silver), whose efforts to control proceedings fail predictably, as he plays pathetic "straight man" to Jackie's antics. For a minute or two, the film seems poised to "develop" this relationship, beyond the courtroom posturing and the objections and the near censures. As Finestein endeavors to break the news of Jackie's dead mama in a gentle, even compassionate way, the men seem almost to be working in a rhythm, awkward but identifiable. But then comes the crying business, and the scene breaks down into nonsense.

At this point, it appears that the film's various distractions -- its stilted dialogue, perversely immobile camera (this from the director who made Dog Day Afternoon), and weirdly show-stopping events (as when one aging defendant, having been wheeled into the courtroom on a gurney, rolls off it during a testimony) -- have finally done it in.

And then comes a scene -- wholly uneven and bizarre -- that suggests another possibility. Having heard of his mother's death, Jackie's ex-wife Bella (Annabella Sciorra) arrives, bringing with her a subtlety and intelligence missing from the rest of the film. But even this takes a battering, as the camera holds a two shot while the couple stands and converses, the space between them widening as the camera closes, their positions painfully rigid. And then that's over, Sciorra works a teeny bit of magic during a painful near-seduction, Diesel responds (less magically), and the scene ends. At last.

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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