Film

'The Connection' Makes Familiar Paths Exciting Again

Although there's not much new in its' story, the way that director Cédric Jimenez balances formal style and emotional substance makes The Connection a worthwhile watch.


The Connection

Director: Cédric Jimenez
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Céline Sallette
Distributor: Drafthouse Films
Studio: Gaumont, Légende Films
UK Release Date: 2015-10-19
US Release Date: 2015-09-29

The line of stylish crime thrillers is long and filled with as many winners as there are duds. Thankfully, director Cédric Jimenez has a real winner on his hands.

With the Scorsesean formula -- bombastic and stylish set-pieces, musical moments, clever camerawork -- there's a lot of room to fail, if only in the sense that failure is the age old triumph of style over substance, the understanding of a film being solely relegated to the understanding of its surface elements. To craft a good crime thriller of this genre necessitates a deft hand, balancing the stylish elements with a human connection.

It’s reassuring, then, that The Connection is able to strike a good balance between its gorgeous but subtle '70s-inspired crime moments and the relationships underneath them. Taking cues from the aforementioned Scorsese (but then again, what modern crime thriller doesn’t owe Scorsese?) as well as the obvious companion, William Friedkin’s The French Connection, The Connection’s cardinal sin seems to be the fact that it doesn’t really invigorate the formula. Granted, it does what it does extremely well, and that’s enough, but had the story felt fresher it would have been truly substantial.

Like The French Connection, The Connection is the story of a not-quite-by-the-book government worker trying to bust the big boss responsible for the area’s recent heroin epidemic. Substitute gritty '70s New York City for a sun-soaked '70s Marseille, and Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle for Jean Dujardin’s Pierre Michel, and you’ve got the basic trajectory intact.

And yet, the film still manages to feel fresh. The leads, Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) and Gaètan ‘Tany’ Zampa (Giles Lellouche) are absolutely captivating. On the “Making Of” bonus feature, commentary regarding Dujardin’s acting is usually directed towards his physicality. After all, Dujardin did win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2011 for the silent comedy The Artist. To see him in The Connection, one begins to notice the way he makes use of physical space in scenes. The audience understand’s more of Pierre’s approach to life from the way he acts in scenes, not just from what he says. Add to that the irreverent air of his character, no doubt partly influenced by his comedic background, and he provides an engaging hero and excellent foil for Tany. Where Pierre is jokey and carefree, Gaètan lives in a world of perpetual anxiety.

This basic dynamic is ready to be exploited for those moments of conflict when all bets are off. A particular scene on a hillside road bursts with tension, undercut by the gorgeous visuals behind the two leads. The most basic clash of philosophy at The Connection’s heart drives a number of the film’s most interesting scenes and makes the smallest acts of aggression seem like a full scale war. Give the two characters equal cunning and resources, and the resulting ideological war becomes gripping and unpredictable.

This clash is extrapolated outwards and becomes the basis of the film, the endless tale of the war between justice and crime. It's the tale of the capitalist epoch, an unanswered question of where the lines are to be drawn in the pursuit of capital, and whether or not righting wrongs implies a necessity of working outside the scope of the law. The Connection has all the prerequisites for this story: government corruption, large scale production, and the idealist at the center of it all.

With this template already prepared, what is left for Cédric is to make the familiar compelling once again. To this end, Cédric makes sure to delve deeper into the psychology of the characters, giving our villains as much humanity as our heroes. The ultimate struggle of the characters seems to be that they are all trying to survive in systems that restrict them. The moments when the formal style really shines through -- motorcycle chases, drug raids, nightclub scenes -- don’t detract from those moments when the characters take on added depths. The world of the film is cynical, almost asserting that there is no good and bad, just people with families of which some survive through less than reputable means.

The Connection is a good film. One could say that it succeeds in spite of its main fault, but the opposite seems to be true. Perhaps the goal was not to reinvent the wheel, but to show how great the wheel can be when you do it well, and in that case Jiminez has most definitely succeeded, marking himself as a director to watch in the process. The Blu-Ray from Drafthouse Films has excellent picture quality and a good selection of bonus features, including trailers, deleted scenes, and an informative feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary.

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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