RomCom-trast: 'Ugly Truth' vs. '(500) Days of Summer'

The Ugly Truth

Director: Robert Luketic
Cast: Gerard Butler, Katherine Heigl, Bonnie Somerville, Cheryl Hines, Eric Winter, Bree Turner, Vicki Lewis, Holly Weber, Nick Searcy
Rated: R
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-07-24 (General release)
UK date: 2009-08-07 (General release)

(500) Days of Summer

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-07-17 (Limited release)
UK date: 2009-09-04 (General release)

Does anyone really care about the romantic comedy anymore? Does anyone see the once burgeoning chick flick genre as anything but a placeholder for the current actor or actress du jour? This year alone we've seen He's Just Not That Into You, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Proposal - even the bro-mantic farce I Love You, Man. Currently at the box office, two competing titles offer a sharp contrast in content and approach. One is all studio system stumbles. The other is indie iconographic.

The Ugly Truth, starring wannabe starlet Katherine Heigl and 300's Gerard Butler, hopes to take the cinematic category into ruder, cruder Apatow territory. It thinks ladies letting lose with genitalia specific quips is new and novel. And on the opposite end of the spectrum both creatively and commercially is Marc Webb's wonderful (500) Days of Summer. Offering cinematic cool kids Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a vignette oriented effort, it spins the entire structure of the he/she courtship into something more closely akin to life. As a result, while the mainstream Truth continues the genre's tragic downfall, (500) Days finds hope among the hokum.

The biggest problem with The Ugly Truth, aside from the basic elements of entertainment value (a severe lack of same) and humor (ditto) is in how it portrays people. Heigl's character is an uptight TV producer who's so anal and obsessive in her life - interpersonal and professional - that she can't get a man. It's not a question of looks, or putting herself out there. Her personality reeks of the uber-feminist, the callous career gal who wants it all and yet has no friggin' realistic idea how to get it. And all she wants, oddly enough, is a dick.

Into her stunted life walks media darling male chauvinist oinker Butler. Offering advice that would give cavemen the creeps, he's all about the bimbo. Shake your moneymaker, he argues. Treat men like butt-scratching demigods. Play up their insecurities and downplay your smarts. Objectify yourself and the guys will go ga-ga…and you know what, it works! Heigl uses Butler as a kind of revisionist Cyrano, guiding her into a relationship with a dopey dreamboat doctor. A couple of musical montages later, and our heroine realizes that she doesn't want the passable pretty boy. Instead, she craves Butler's Neanderthal machismo - and what it's packing down below. One big shout down later and its kiss, kiss…coitus

Typical of the way current Hollywood treats love, Truth turns personality into cartoons, women and men both forced into farce for what someone thinks is a meet-cute comedic design. When Heigl "accidentally" wears a pair of vibrating panties to an important business dinner, you just know those suckers will eventually go off. Similarly, when Butler gets "busy" with a couple of Jell-O spelunking bikini babes, you quickly realize his level of commitment. No matter the muddle backstory given to both, the decent guy dimensions of his relationship with his nephew or her stark realizations over her own insecurities, we wind up with pawns played clumsily toward a check lifemate closure.

(500) Days on the other hand, starts out with a premise that many used to the old formulas will find disconcerting. Deschanel plays a love object who doesn't believe in the first part of the tag. She's a recently relocated secretary who sees relationships as the foundation of a strong friendship. But romance and true feelings of affection are just hyped-up Hallmark greetings. She's not above said sentiments - she just doesn't think they exist. Gordon-Levitt, however, is hopeless. He pines and spoons, worshiping such antiquated conceits as "love at first sight" and "the soulmate". Sure, life has led him a little astray, a failed career in architecture resulting in a job writing greeting cards, but for someone who believes in the whole "roses are red" ridiculousness, said occupation seems more than apropos.

Webb, who directed music videos before making his big screen debut, presents their on-again/off-again dating game in fragmented, randomized sequences. One moment, we are at Day 45 and seeing the start of something sexual. The next, it's Day 210 and Deschanel is showing signs of tuning out. From the initial (Day 1) meeting to the (Day 400) possible parting, each 24 hour cycle is decisive, offering the piece of a puzzle which argues for the success, or collapse, of such human endeavors. Gordon-Levitt may be an impossible romantic, but he's also a post-modern realist. If such a fairy tale ending doesn't happen, it's not really the end of the world. It will hurt, but that's what life is all about. But it's definitely not something a musical montage will remedy.

Aside from obvious elements like a genuine sense of humor, a glorious Smiths-ccentric soundtrack, and a pair of likeable 20-something stars, (500) Days also differs from The Ugly Truth in one significant way - it's not afraid of failure. Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt may seem perfect together, but life doesn't always give Prince Charming his proposed royal Miss. Indeed, the strongest statement made by this movie is that, unlike the "destined to be" dumbness of Heigl's stuck up bitch bowing to Gerard, not all "perfect matches" are same. Sometimes, the flowery language of ballads and sonnets is just that - bullshit. Only in Hollywood could two polar opposites pretend to fall freely into something akin to 'happily ever after'. In the real - if still slightly mannered - world of (500) Days, boy does always end up with the girl, perhaps, because they do really need to.

Of course, when you've got the major backing of the Tinseltown studio system behind you, your wish fulfillment message is going to make the bigger mainstream splash. This past weekend, The Ugly Truth took in a little over $27 million. Released in over 2880 theaters nationwide, this is seen as a strong opening for Heigl and her burgeoning A-list movie career. (500) Days of Summer, however, has earned a paltry $3 million in its two weeks in theaters. Granted, it recently expanded to 85 venues, but one can hardly call it a solid success - at least, not right now.

If there was any real justice in the movie making business model, Truth would be rejected as the flimsy star vehicle whimsy it is, while (500) Days would top the charts and champion a whole new category of clever, confident "realistic" romantic comedies. Like Woody Allen did back in the '70s with the sensational one-two punch of Annie Hall and Manhattan, guy meets gal doesn't have to be cliché meets commercial crassness. Human beings can and do fall in (and out) of love, and sometimes, watching them do said is entertaining and endearing. The Ugly Truth reflects its unattractive moniker flawlessly. (500) Days of Summer, on the other hand, offers promise to a genre that, for the most part, is desperate, dateless…and almost dead.

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 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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