Pleasant and clever, Leatherheads is not built for surprises.


Website: Leatherheads
Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root
Studio: Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-04-11 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-04-04 (General release)

In 1925, U.S. professional football is an afterthought, a game played by "boys who refuse to grow up." The real, exciting and popular action, according to Leatherheads, is college football. While crowds cheer wildly at stadiums built for the teams at Michigan State, Navy, and Notre Dame, players for the Akron Indians and Decatur Staleys are relegated to literal cow fields, stomping and sliding in mud, drinking, punching, and grinding their way through games attended by precious the occasional farmer or local kid with an extra nickel to spend.

Wily, battered, and more or less dedicated to the sport, Duluth Bulldogs leader Dodge Connolly (George Clooney) sets his face and takes his hits, patiently awaiting the moment when one of his trick plays gains ground. His teammates are mostly out of shape and good-natured about their lack of traction. They ride trains from town to town, never knowing if the next game will be cancelled because the team has gone under or the home team has been unable to supply the ball. A labor of love without rules or regulations, pro football's going nowhere fast, but Dodge and his cohorts persist, against all odds, because the alternative is demoralizing: the guys would have to head back to the mines or the cornfields, or, in Dodge's case, nowhere in particular. When the Bulldogs lose their sponsor, he sits sheepishly before a jobs placement officer, who suggests he must have learned a trade at some point during his lifetime. "Not one you'd like," he smiles.

Up against it without his team, Dodge comes up with a plan: he'll get a college star to play for Duluth. And not just any star, but the star of the moment, Princeton's Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), a speedy runner and World War I hero to boot. As Dodge makes the deal with Carter's agent, the exceedingly self-interested CC Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), Carter smiles broadly and nods, happy when it turns out that he's the subject of a Chicago Tribune feature by the most engaging Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger). As Dodge has already met and flirted rather fiercely with Lexie (see also: Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday), the boys who won't grow up are set on a collision course, as, indeed, the pert reporter's future also appears to be a function of her choice of men: the adorable child or the dashing elder his football opponents call "grandpa."

Pleasant and clever, Leatherheads is not built for surprises. (It was also better the first time, when it was called Bull Durham.) As Dodge and CC connive to guide the game toward the mass media attention and gargantuan profits that the eventual NFL will garner, the film offers occasional insight into the enduringly crooked business of professional sports. In Leatherheads' fictional version, the inception -- hurried along by the appointment of a first commissioner (Peter Gerety) -- is appropriately premised on money and myth.

Here the moral problem is embodied by Carter, whose Sergeant York-style story comes into question when a former squad mate tells the Trib editor (Jack Thompson) that what happened in the Argonne isn't exactly what CC's been promoting. Lexie, like Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Arthur before her, is assigned to dig up the dirt, which means her flirtations with Carter aren't quite so selfless as Annie Savoy's with Nuke LaLoosh. Still, Crash, er, Dodge, is worried enough that he seeks repeatedly to intervene in what seems a burgeoning romance, enticing Lexie with the suggestion that he is, despite or because of his own childish charms, a more age-appropriate choice.

For her part, Lexie has close-to-bee-stung lips and great hats, as well as the expected moral qualms about her assignment and promised reward (an assistant editorship at the paper). But Lexie's desires and drives are never so entertaining as the men's boundless confusions, and the film does have a kind of secret heart that aligns it with director Clooney's previous two films, the perversely brilliant Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and the critically acclaimed Good Night, and Good Luck. As different as they are in styles and tones, all three movies consider the ways that institutions grant license for profiteering and corruption, and especially men's acting out in search of masculine identity, status, and community.

In the case of Leatherheads, this acting out is channeled conveniently through a game, raucous and inherently violent. Carter is charismatically idealistic but also naïve, such that his faith in order, and more specifically in the father figures (CC, Dodge, and ultimately, the Commissioner) who train him up in social and ethical order, leads him into appropriate trouble, the woman-as-object occasioning his education (not to say his comeuppance). Dodge, on the other hand, knows better from jump, even though he pretends not to. In love with his athletic opportunities and hardscrabble life, with the sheer lunacy of the game and especially the wildly imaginative cheat plays, he resists order... until he doesn't.

And that's when he and the film get less fun and more conventional. It's like the movie can't help itself. At last he has to step off, because the order of the game is tilting commercially more than quirkily. And still, Leatherheads offers a not-so-subtle paean to the All-American Hero, no matter how false or crass. And the NFL, just visible over the film's horizon, will only make this paean more insistent and sensational.


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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