Reviews

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It is a little surprising to see the silliness that leads to Crystal Skull's gargantuan climax, a series of antics simultaneously hyper and enervated.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Ian McDiarmid
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-05-22 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-05-22 (General release)
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"You ain't nothing but a hound dog!" Under Elvis' energetic, era-setting tune, the first moments of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look almost cute. It's 1957, daddio, and a jalopy full of kids in ponytails and jeans is roaring along a desert road, smiles wide and music loud. When they encounter a U.S. army convoy, all gunning engines and glowers, the class and gender tensions of the song's lyrics -- "Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit, / And you ain't no friend of mine!" -- are redrawn along lines of age and occupation: the teens are rowdy and joyful, the soldiers are grim and focused.

Very grim and very focused. The jeep turns off the main road while the carefree youngsters ride away, unaware of the terrible danger embodied by this particular convoy. For they are not just any convoy, but a team of undercover Soviets, square-jawed and toting precious cargo. Bullying their inside a Nevada military base, the villains open the trunk and reveal that cargo -- one Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), tied up and gagged and still wearing his fedora.

He's in a tight fix, all right, which means just what you think it means: he finds ingenious, athletic, and incredibly convenient ways to get out of the jam, along the way introducing his chief adversary, the cartoonish Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), with jet-black pageboy and skintight leggings and boots. In search of a mystical, powerful skull, she solicits/forces Indy's expertise. He resists, she insists, the first action set-piece begins.

This piece establishes high plot stakes and thematic focus. Escaping the Russians, Indy lands in what he guesses to be a small town but turns out to be populated with mannequins: living rooms and kitchens and sidewalks decorated with figures awaiting decimation by an atomic test. The catch is that the test has yet to occur, which lands Indy smack in the middle of a nuclear blast, an oddly appropriate catastrophe to beset the man who has survived all manner of natural disasters. Indy manages to survive the results of the American push for technological superiority ingenuity ("Now I have become death," someone quotes Oppenheimer, who quoted Milton), while the screen lights up with bright orange devastation, followed by the mushroom cloud that heralds the new age into which Indy has steeped.

Not only is this era nuclear, it is roaringly capitalist, a point driven home when Indy learns an erstwhile colleague has been bought out by the Russians. "You think this is about flags, about uniforms, about lines on a map?" the traitor sneers. "It's about money!"

Though Indy has never been much of a team player or a nationalist himself, he's not much interested in cash either. He's dedicated to the pursuit of stuff for the sake of the pursuit, the thrills and the antics, the occasions to display his whip expertise, to elude what seems certain destruction -- again and again. Since his first outing 27 years ago, he has shown himself repeatedly to be up for the good fight, the good chase scene, the good stunt, but never much interested in loot per se (he's an archeologist, not a profiteer). So, when Indy learns that Irina -- also known as "Stalin's fair-haired girl" -- means to track down the Crystal Skull of Akator, he's slightly interested, then even more inclined to agree when he learns that a much admired colleague, Professor Oxley (John Hurt), is involved (and also kidnapped). Still, Indy is quite aware of Irina's nefarious purpose. As she puts it, the skull is a means to subjugate the world. "We'll change you, Dr. Jones, all of you, from the inside. We will turn you into us and the best part is, you won't even know." the fact that she sees it as a matter of you and us, that she has identified sides and named hers the bad, all-conquering, body-snatching one, makes her a worthy enough opponent for the great Henry Indiana Jones.

His greatness is mentioned more than once during his latest and presumably last adventure. Sometimes rollicking, sometimes sluggish, the movie points repeatedly to the well-known previous exploits of its hero and director. From vehicular chases to old-timey stunts to Indy's superbly scrunched-up face whenever he has even to think about snakes, the film delivers familiar Jonesian business, then loops in a few extra tricks and gizmos, drawn from Spielberg's Close Encounters and A.I., Duel and War of the Worlds. In between the running and the jumping, Crystal Skull includes as well the now requisite entanglings of fathers and sons, aliens and ambitions. Lucky for Indy he has help this time, not from the dad he so misses (and showcases in a picture frame on his desk at the university where he teaches classrooms full of eager students), but from the son he didn't know he had.

That would be Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), introduced as a mid-'50s icon, astride a motorcycle, adorned in black leather jacket and Marlon-Brando-style cocked cap. Brash and impatient, Mutt roars into Indy's sphere with a story about El Dorado and a map, as well as a way to immerse himself further in Irina's plot. Neither Indy nor Mutt knows they're related when they first meet (though you've known since the film was conceived), and they spend their buddy time observing their similarities, impressing each other with skills revealed in response to serial crises. They're linked through Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who remains spunky but mostly irrelevant in this film, except when needed to beam on her man or provide a quick getaway in an all-terrain vehicle she's commandeered.

It's disappointing to see Marion cast mostly by the wayside, but not exactly surprising. Neither is it surprising to see the stereotypical menace provided by a slew of tribal warriors (looking rather like extras from Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" video) or the obligatory vehicular chase/fight. It is a little surprising to see the silliness that leads to the film's gargantuan climax, a series of antics simultaneously hyper and enervated. From the run-in with flesh-eating ants to Mutt's Tarzanical tree-swinging (with monkeys) to the Roswell-cover-up-explained plot (by way of "interdimensional beings" and John Hurt speaking "Mayan"), the film is both flailing and petering out, looking for a way to end.

Indy's indomitable, of course, charismatic and clever. But as he's surrounded by worn-out emblems and gestures toward a new decade, the cold war and the rise of corporate conformity, he's also caught up in the very capitalist machinery that he would reject. The future looks inevitable and all "about money!"

5

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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