Hitman isn't interested in complex emotions or motivations. Rather, it maintains a pretty much relentless focus on the predictable poetry of violence.

Hitman (2007)

Director: Xavier Gens
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-11-30 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-11-21 (General release)

"I'd thank you if I wasn't so mad at you." Poor Nika (Olga Kurylenko), so confused by the titular hero of Hitman, deemed "47" (Timothy Olyphant) by the bureaucrats and researchers who "raised" him. Every time she turns around, the barely dressed and heavily made-up punky prostitute is under assault by some thug or another -- including 47. She's not a bad kid, just the victim of some bad breaks and an exceedingly bad pimp/boyfriend, who also happens to be the current Russian president, Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). She's confused because Agent 47 has been commissioned to assassinate that boyfriend/pimp/president, and has then come after her, before he decided to save her.

Nika handles this plotty chaos more or less appropriately -- behaving in ways that are as erratic and incoherent as what she faces. 47 is slightly less interesting and seemingly more methodical. The film, which is exceptionally derivative, borrowing from multiple previous films and games -- proposes that his brutality and efficiency are functions of his terrible background. Trained up from childhood to be a professional killer by the "Organization," he's an orphan (and so, "expendable," according to the video0game-based narration), his mind focused, his body honed, and his head shaved and tattooed. His flashbacks look a lot like Max's flashbacks in Dark Angel, with hazy fluorescent light making the child-victim-killers look pale and worried (the bar code tattoos underline the resemblance), even as they're brainwashed into homicidal monsters (see also: The Parallax View, La femme Nikita). The hitch in Hitman is that 47 and his brethren are also conditioned to be good mercenaries (Elektra), their exorbitant fees deposited directly into secret accounts, their decisions premised at least in part on their contracts -- last minute changes don't so much rattle 47 as they occasion recalculations.

And sometimes, frustration, as when the female computer voice on 47's laptop won't give him a straight answer and he hits the laptop, hinting that his ultra-cool persona isn't so rigid as he pretends. But Hitman isn't interested in complex emotions or motivations. Rather, it maintains a pretty much relentless focus on the predictable poetry of 47's effects. The violence he schemes and improvises is again and again rendered in slow motion, accompanied by "Ave Maria" or some other choral melody. He prefers to cross his weapons -- automatic handguns, giant knives -- over his chest, to underline his spiritual vocation and ensure that his shooting of multiple targets also looks, you know, freaking awesome.

Except that it doesn't. For all the choreography in Hitman, 47 remains awkward. It's not that he's surprised by his skills (see: The Bourne Identity), as much as he looks distracted, or maybe, to his credit, bored. It's not like he's challenged by his supposed primary adversary, a stuffily dedicated Interpol agent Mike (Dougray Scott). If he says it once, he says it four times: he's been chasing 47, the "ghost," for three years, "knows him better than anyone," and still can't catch up. This current intrigue involves nefarious, retro politics (Rocky and Bullwinkle), switched identities via surgery (Face Off), turf conflicts between the international cops and the locals (FSB rep is played by Prison Break's Robert Knepper, with something like a Russian accent), and Belicoff's dissolute brother Udre (Henry Ian Cusick), his evil summed up in his single scene, in which he brutalizes his busty, whimpering attendants (a point noted by 47, who's wholesale destruction of every bit of glass and male body in the room leaves the girls alive -- still whimpering).

The competition between Mike and 47 is set up in the first scene, when the assassin slips into Mike's home to threaten his family. Mike's bristling at such hubris suggests he actually cares about his unseen wife and kids, thus making 47's terminal lack of empathy seem especially pathological. Still, Nika's role as distressed damsel grants him possible redemption. "I'm not a whore by choice," she sniffs, noting that Belicoff paid "300, American" for her, and that she's been unable to escape since then.

Still, she's not precisely sympathetic, mostly because she is confused, as she says. Having transported her in the trunk of his car (at least part of the way packed in with a corpse), 47 resists her usual enticements (exposed breasts, pouty lips, wraparound legs). Nika -- as unworldly in her way as he is -- feels insulted: "You don't wanna fuck me, you don't wanna kill me. I've never felt such indifference in all my life." "Stop talking," he moans, in dire need of sleep after a series of mass murders. "Or I'll put you back in the trunk." If only.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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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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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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