Film

Lady in the Water (2006)

Story's whiter-than-white skin, bloody cuts, color-shifting hair, and need to keep wet make her a bizarre amalgamation of fantasies, alternately "male" and "childish."

Lady in the Water

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Freddy Rodriguez, Sarita Choudhury, Jared Harris
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-07-21 (General release)
Website
Trailer
What person would be so arrogant to assume he knew the intention of another human being and put this girl's life in danger? -- Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright)

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is sad. This makes him like other protagonists in M. Night Shyamalan movies, traumatized in ways they can't articulate, struggling to make sense of random-seeming violence, seeking redemption even though they don't know it. Like his predecessors, Heep is lonely, weary, focused on his day job.

In Lady in the Water, that job has everything to do with his coming salvation. He's a Philadelphia apartment complex superintendent, looking after the day-to-day concerns of 50-something tenants. His awkwardness -- he has a stutter and a shuffling gait -- is not only a sign of his ordinariness, but also of his capacity for generosity and transcendence. He knows his tenants by name, timidly reminds them to follow the rules (no swimming in the pool after 7pm, no smoking in the units), and mostly keeps to himself. When someone starts making noises in the pool during the night, he feels he has to take a stand. But then he discovers the swimmer is not a tenant, but a pale girl named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard).

Only she's not a girl, she's a "narf." As Heep slowly discovers (and as you know already, owing to a lengthy explanatory narration at film's start), Story comes from the water (she calls it "the blue world"), and has arrived among humans in order to deliver what she terms an "awakening" to a "chosen one." He's a writer, his name is Vick, and he happens to be played by Shyamalan, who happens to be a writer. Vick lives in the apartment complex with his big-hearted sister Anna (Sarita Choudhury), and has been suffering writer's block for six months. As soon as he locks eyes with Story, he is able to finish his book, which he describes as his observations on the world's many problems, leaders, and "stuff." He calls it "The Cookbook."

Arranging a meeting between Story and the "vessel," it turns out, is only part of Heep's self-appointed mission. He gleans this sense of mission by hearing a story about Story, a process that sounds convoluted but isn't. For Story the narf is only an abstraction, a projection through which Heep will find himself. The story he hears coincides with the Story he sees because he needs this coincidence. This circularity coincides with the film's circularity, as it both reveals and seems to confirm the filmmaker's sense of his art in the world -- that his stories aren't appreciated, that critics don't get him, that still, he's right.

As Story is quite incapable of putting her own narrative pieces together, Heep does it for her, primarily drawing on information from his Korean tenants (the complex seems comprised of tenants cast according to a "one from every food group" sort of logic), university student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) and her mother (June Kyoko Lu). Mrs. Choi doesn't speak English, and so Young-Soon provides translation for Heep, who endears himself to the mother by behaving like a child (drinking milk, curling up on the sofa, and waving his feet in excitement). This "tale from the East" fits Story's situation exactly.

Among the many "bedtime story" elements are the scary monster and the detailed route by which they must be thwarted. The monster here is a dangerous doggish sort called a "scrunt" (actually, a CGIed creature who lurks in the lawn, covered with grass-for-fur, and leaps up to rip her flesh with its big teeth). To save Story, Heep must assemble his tenants as a cadre with this same shared goal. And they all go along with him -- because this is his story.

Heep needs an "interpreter," whom he presumes to be the single father Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright). He spends his days doing crossword puzzles while his son Joey (Noah Gray-Cabey) reads cereal boxes. Heep then looks to other tenants who have appeared briefly in the film's early moments, including the "healer," the animal-loving Mrs. Bell (Mary Beth Hurt); a kid who lifts weights (Freddy Rodriguez) to play "guardian"; and a group of philosophical chainsmokers (Jared Harris and a bunch of other scruffy guys), each with his or her own particular task in the saving of Story. The trouble is, they don't know their parts, so Heep turns to a new tenant who's supposed to know how stories work, a film critic named Farber (Bob Balaban). When this guy starts misreading the cues Heep tells him, the movie shifts from a strangely paced fairy tale to a kind of screed against bad readers, in particular, in Shyamalan's universe, film critics.

The seeming insularity of this universe makes Lady in the Water claustrophobic and frustrating. While Heep is a familiar hero for Shyamalan and Farber embodies a preemptive strike against anticipated criticism of the film, the abstraction of Story is less cute and more symptomatic. A helpless girl in danger, she's hardly novel. Story's whiter-than-white skin, bloody cuts, color-shifting hair, and need to keep wet make her a bizarre amalgamation of fantasies, alternately "male" and "childish." Though he imagines he serves her, she is in place to serve Heep, confirming his sense of himself and displaying for the rest of us that he's right. .

Their relationship would seem to illustrate the conundrum of reading and writing. Where Farber is just a bad, cynical, unimaginative reader, Heep's own reading improves throughout Lady in the Water. His earnest enthusiasm, sharp wit, and utter commitment to saving his new friend Story suggests that effective readers look beyond themselves. Writers might also take note.

Lady in the Water - Theatrical Trailer

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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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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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