Reviews

Shoot Em Up

By the time Shoot 'Em Up is done with all the "phallic mumbo jumbo," it doesn't seem to be saying much that's new.


Shoot 'Em Up

Director: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie
MPAA rating: R
Studio: New Line Cinema
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2007-09-14 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-09-07 (General release)
Website
Trust me. I know what people do and I know what people think, I always have.

-- Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti)

Shoot 'Em Up starts at full speed. A cartoon without the animation, the film introduces Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) at the moment he's sucked into some mind-boggling action. Sitting on a city bench and chomping on a carrot -- a tasty treat and prop he'll use repeatedly during the film -- he's barely bothered when a screaming pregnant woman (Ramona Pringle) runs past him. Then he sees why she's running: a standard-issue seamy assailant is chasing her ("You're dead, bitch!"), pausing to cock his gun before he follows her into an alley. Smith knows what he has too do ("Fucking hell," he sighs), and within a minute of that first carrot chomp, he's deftly wielding his carrot, Cobain's "Immodium" swirling all around them ("She said, she said, she said, she said...").

There's more, of course. This bad guy is followed by a whole squad of others, whose very noisy arrival barely distracts Smith from assisting the birth. Smith instructs the new mommy to keep her infant "quiet," the mayhem proceeds apace, all crazy camera angles and slashing cuts and wild stunts with big guns. At last it's over, and Smith is left holding the baby. With that, the plot begins. Again.

Outrageous and antic, Michael Davis' movie simultaneously spoofs and pays homage to a number of originals, including Bugs Bunny, Indiana Jones, and James Bond. Super-skilled (trained by the U.S. military in his secret past) and intensely focused, Smith is motivated by a personal tragedy that left him determined to kill all bad guys, hating guns and movie clichés, and oh yes, strangely amnesiac when it comes to a baby's basic needs. Putting a dirty sock on its head and carrying it in a shopping bag, surrounded by styrofoam peanuts, Smith follows what seems an instinct, and takes the baby to the only lactating woman he knows, a prostitute named Donna Quintano, or DQ (Monica Bellucci). Supposedly more worldly wise than her valiant ex-client, DQ has her own sad story, which she mentions by way of explaining her milk production. And while she sees that Smith has "issues" ("You are the angriest man in the world"), that doesn't stop her from going along with the looney tunes, dutifully falling in love with Smith and little Oliver (this being the name they give the baby).

Though DQ might be fascinating (she is embodied by the dauntingly bodied Bellucci, after all), Shoot 'Em Up isn't much interested in her, except as she allows Smith to go forth and shoot sans Oliver. Smith is primarily concerned with his adversary, the ultra-malevolent Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti), who helpfully deems Smith "Mr. Hero," and then, in case you miss the carrot references, a "wascally wabbit." That's not to say it's not important that Smith is generally nice to DQ, for Hertz's odiousness is marked by his meanness to his unseen wife, whose cell phone nagging ("Sweetie, this deal is almost done") is less a running gag than a reminder of his essential puniness. "You know why a gun is better than a wife?" he riddles an associate. "You can put a silencer on a gun." Yeah, funny.

For most of the film's 87 minutes, the boys engage in what Hertz calls "tit for tat," each violent encounter leading to the next, though it doesn't actually look like Hertz gets much tat. ("My god," he complains, "Do we really suck that bad or is that guy really that good?") Smith is inexorably fast and furious during every shootout, even though, as he informs DQ, "I don’t carry a piece." This has something to do with his history, but it also gives the film a subplot about gun control and a somewhat specious politics. In contrast to Smith's supposedly spartan approach to firepower, Hertz has connections to a manufacturer, the cadaverous-looking Hammerson (Stephen McHattie), to keep his throng of shooters supplied.

But if they talk different games, Smith and Hertz are equally proud of their expertise as shooters and crack wise about their guns' connotations, both sexual ("You've blown your load") and psychological ("America is a land of opportunity," where a "pussy can be a tough guy with a gun in his hand"). But for all the chatter, the film doesn't build a case for or against gun control, only uses it as a clunky plot point. When a presidential candidate named Senator Rutledge (Daniel Pilon) appears to be selling his public stand on the issue to the highest bidder, the film pauses briefly for Smith to look disgusted, but then he's off again, leaping from a plane with a squad of goons, all shooting at each other's parachutes.

The incessant shooting-as-spectacle does raise a question about how movies show, inspire, or even argue against violence in the wider world. Granted, a movie titled Shoot 'Em Up won't be making a cast-iron case against guns as entertainment. But it doesn't push much beyond obvious points, about gun shows (to indict black marketers), torture (to make Smith briefly vulnerable), the baby (to undermine the deleterious effects of listening to rock music), and DQ's breasts (to titillate, again and again).

Smith, who expresses his feelings frequently, insists that he "hates" liars and hypocrites even more than he "hates" bad drivers and stupid movie conventions. So what does it mean that his movie appears so fond of those conventions? Deliriously energetic, Shoot 'Em Up may be hypocritical or extremely clever, or both. But by the time it's done with all the "phallic mumbo jumbo," it doesn't seem to be saying much that's new.

5

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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