Reviews

Pathfinder (2007)

Boasting a prettified brutality that rivals that of 300, Pathfinder also explores a similar theme, the manly pursuit of revenge at any cost.


Pathfinder

Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Clancy Brown, Jay Tavare
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-04-20 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-04-13 (General release)
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Trailer

Boasting a prettified brutality that rivals that of 300, Pathfinder also explores a similar theme, the manly pursuit of revenge at any cost. In the case of Marcus Nispel's movie, set in snowy North America circa 1000 AD, the men are divided by race and morality. The invading, non-English-speaking Vikings are towering, mean, and heavily armored, while the Wampanoag Indians are nurturing, generous, and loin-clothed, as well as "nobly" in tune with nature.

Check their first impressions: the Vikings appear in an opening credits montage: fierce and anonymously murderous, helpless victims falling quite literally at their feet. The Native Americans, by contrast, are at first embodied by a single, gentle woman (Michelle Thrush) who stumbles on a Viking ship, broken and creaking on the shore. As she makes her way inside the wreckage, she's serially startled by little-jump-shots of decaying bodies and skulls. At last she finds the reason she's on screen: a 12-year-old Viking (Burkley Duffield) who survived the ship's ruin and now gazes on her with eyes wide with fear, his sword pointed directly at her head. The woman -- who happens to be partner to her tribe's chief (Wayne C. Barker) -- does the right thing: she embraces the frightened child as the camera dramatically pulls out and up. And then she brings him home.

Here she runs into consternation: the Wampanoag are not inclined to be kind to Vikings, given their experiences with these aliens. And so the boy's legend begins to unfurl, hitting on the usual touchstones. Ghost, as he is called, is initially identified as an enemy by his very paleness: "His skin, his eyes," observes one elder, "Like some kind of evil spirit that has never seen the sun." He matures into a robust wannabe brave (Karl Urban), bland and determined to prove himself to those who see him as an outsider.

"If I cannot be a brave," he worries, "Then who am I?," helpfully articulating the film's primary existential question. Ghost's in-betweenness is illustrated in his swordplay training: having been schooled early on by his Viking father (shown in flashbacks to be an onerous sort who beats the boy when he refuses to kill a young Indian boy), Ghost keeps his skills and body taut in secret sessions, augmented by filtered light and mystical music.

Ghost's chance to "prove himself" comes tragically: the Vikings (also known as the Dragon Men) attack, destroying his village, killing his adoptive parents and adorable little sister (Nicole Muñoz). This makes Ghost mad. Now all he wants is vengeance. And the movie makes sure he has plenty of chance to seek and achieve it.

Now orphaned for a second time, Ghost finds both support and doubt in another group of Indians led by Pathfinder (the venerable Russell Means, yet again offering wisdom to naïve youngsters. It happens that the old shaman's daughter, Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), has a crush on the white boy. And how could she not? As Pathfinder emphasizes repeatedly, he's sensitive, sad, and pained, as well as cunning and powerful. This makes him a typical reluctant hero, pressed into fearsome displays of violence despite his upbringing with the Wampanoag, confirming one brave's early warning about him: "Blood runs true: he will turn into a monster like his father." Conventional in most every way, Pathfinder wants it both ways: he is that monster, but it's okay because he's forced into it.

Obsessed with getting payback, Ghost isn't ready to realize the import of Pathfinder's estimation, who argues that this course will not yield the peace or sense of justice the young man desires. "You are still haunted by the demons of your past," notes Pathfinder, recalling Means' still resonant warning to those crazy spree-killing kids in Natural Born Killers ("Too much TV"). If Starfire isn't precisely Mallory Knox, she is a valiant partner in mayhem. She defies her father to accompany Ghost on his traipse across the wilderness in order to set traps and, eventually, confront the Vikings (who are in turn chasing him, determined to avenge his violence against one of their own, as he gouged out one warrior's eye). Starfire, along with a second sidekick, the seemingly goofy and wholly formulaic Jester (Kevin Loring), is a proficient fighter (and predictable occasion for still more vengeance).

Starfire's weapons expertise, keen eye, and agility are especially helpful when it comes time for Ghost's havoc-wreaking. Though the couple is captured by the Vikings and dragged over mountain trails in search of yet another tribe to devastate. Ghost keeps promising he'll show the way and the dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers Viking leader, Gunnar (Clancy Brown), keeps believing him. As the Viking world is a small one, apparently, Gunnar knew Ghost's father, which means he can taunt the son with tales of their derring-do back in the day.

Ghost's generation-next version of combat includes CGI-enhanced action: a fast-cut chase down a snowy mountain on shields and other sled-like implements; slow-motioned colliding, dismembering, and impaling; blood spurting from sliced necks and bashed heads. That Ghost accomplishes such feats and, no small thing, takes out entire squadrons of big bad Vikings makes him legendary. While the movie suggests he learns an appropriate lesson concerning the costs of vengeance, it's also displayed by the representation of those costs -- at once thrilling and arty (see also, Nispel's remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre). While that sort of thematic doubleness is unsurprising in an action movie, the doubleness embodied by Ghost is slightly knottier. His whiteness complicates his heroism: while his capacity for victory is a function of his Viking background, even though he uses it to reject that background. And the Wampanoag only need wait another 600 years before the Pilgrims show up, along with death by disease and violence.

4

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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