Reviews

Snow Angels

At its center, and much like David Gordon Green's other movies, Snow Angels is about faith.


Snow Angels

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Griffin Dunne, Michael Angarano, Jeanetta Arnette
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-03-07 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
It's easy to block out the things that upset us. That's what I do. It's important to feel through this. I can't tell you how important.

-- Louise (Jeanetta Arnette)

Lying in a cheap motel room bed with her lover, Annie (Kate Beckinsale) tries to make conversation. When she asks Nate (Nicky Katt) how his wife is doing, he first scolds her, and then, when she worries ("Why do I overanalyze?"), he comes up with a Hallmarky sentiment to quiet her: "Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present." Annie smiles wanly, and leans her head back on his tattooed arm.

Annie is in need of consolation, however meager. Early in Snow Angels, it's clear that she's struggling to make sense of life as a single mom to four-year-old Tara (Grace Marchand). Between waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant and looking in on her ailing mother, she's also trying to forgive her estranged husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell), a man increasingly as helpless and immature as their daughter. A recent attempted suicide, Glenn wants to return to a past moment: "I'm not as much of a screw-up as you think I am," he insists, reminding Annie of the way he used to make her laugh with a funny dance. During an afternoon with Tara, Glenn instructs, "You tell your mom daddy's not drinking beer anymore." The child nods.

As earnest as Glenn may be, his desperation is unnerving. While Tara can spend long, delighted minutes appreciating his funny faces and bad jokes (a brief scene at a food joint shows the child gazing at Rockwell, entirely fascinated), adults are less patient (exasperated, Annie tells her mother, "I have to live my own life instead of worrying that poor fragile Glenn is going to try to kill himself again"). The one exception is Rafe (Daniel Lillford), his boss down at the carpet warehouse and fellow religious fundamentalist. "You can be lost," he tells Glenn, "but you can be found."

Glenn needs to believe this, in the most concrete sense. At its center, and much like David Gordon Green's other movies, from the brilliant George Washington to Undertow, Snow Angels is about faith. More precisely, it's about doubt and desire, the underpinnings of faith. While Glenn's search takes a particularly and perversely institutional shape, Annie is also looking -- for a sense of identity without her high school sweetheart, a way to believe in herself despite what she sees as failures (her mother's repeated suggestion that she should be back with Glenn, a "good father," is unhelpful). As much as Annie knows Nate is untrustworthy and selfish, she wants to believe his lust for her, the high school beauty, means something more.

Faith also shapes two related storylines. Both are filtered through Annie's erstwhile babysitting charge, Arthur (Michael Angarano), now a shy high schooler who plays trombone in the marching band (he also narrates Stewart O'Nan's source novel). Like Annie and Glenn's story, Arthur's is closely observed, sometimes impressionistic, set against the snowy small town where they all live, where it's easy to feel lost (though beautiful in a stark, harrowing way, shot by Green's longtime cinematographer, Tim Orr). Arthur's parents are splitting, his father Don (Griffin Dunne) moving out and his mother Louise (superb Jeannetta Arnette) feeling angry and abandoned.

Lurching through this mess at home, Arthur finds Lila (Olivia Thirlby). A new student who wears cat-eye glasses and takes photos with a twin-lens reflex camera, Lila appears instantly enchanting. At once old-fashioned and utterly refreshing, she sees in Arthur the charming, smart, and sexual being he wants so much to find in himself (he buses tables at the Chinese restaurant, and flirts with his old crush Annie until she reminds him that she used to bathe him as a child: "No more bedtime stories?" he whimpers.)

Though Arthur blames his mother initially, he soon discovers that Don has abused her faith. And in defending Louise, Arthur finds in himself a sort of moral ground that he hadn't articulated before, a sense of outrage for her as well as recrimination toward Don. Lila, believing in him even when he doesn't quite, is the ideal he once childishly imagined in Annie, only Lila is actual: gentle, generous, and careful with him, sharing her photos of the many places she's lived and her impressions of him, without projecting her needs onto him. When, awkwardly standing by his locker, he gives her a pencil, desperate to give her something, she calls to thank him: "I really like the pencil that you gave me," she says, her voice light and soothing. "It's a wonderful gift."

Even as Lila encourages Arthur to trust in himself and believe in her, even as she seems the most "real girl," Annie comes to doubt everything about herself. A tragedy sends her spinning, most terribly into an acceptance of Glenn's worst, most blindly and fiercely pious judgment. Their impossible to fill needs become raw and urgent, Annie still trying to make sense of a life she's now seeing was always out of reach. "You have to realize people don't stay the same," she suggests, guessing that Glenn hates her for changing.

But Glenn, self-hating and unspeakably sad, has become lost beyond finding. And here Snow Angels loops back to its very first scene, a band practice in the snow, boots crunching on white, Lila in knit hat and bright scarf, watching. The bandleader (the perfectly cast Tom Noonan) barks his disappointment, "We're all a part of a formation. Every person matters," he asserts. Asking his motley group to "attempt to explore the physical musical possibility of making something substantial," he turns at last to a metaphor of faith. He feels a sledgehammer in his chest, he says, in his pursuit of perfection. "Are you ready to be my sledgehammer?" The kids blink and wait, not sure what to answer. It's a crazy, unfathomable question. It's about faith.

8

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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