Reviews

Transformers Armada: Season 1, Part 2

Hasbro toys may be great for the kids, but when it comes to creating a dramatic animated series, Transformers Armada should have been left at the bottom of the toy box.


Transformers Armada

Distributor: Sony Pictures
Cast: Gary Chalk, David Kaye
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: Wea
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2006-09-26
Amazon

You cannot fault a person for being skeptical over an animated series based upon a pre-teen product line. After all, Hollywood regularly clones movies from old TV sitcoms and fabricates flimsy storylines out of video games -- seemingly without any guilt. So these Transformer Armada toy stories, if you will, should come as no great surprise to anyone. Transformers is Saturday morning entertainment, as well as Toys "R" Us staples. This second DVD collection of the first season includes 26 action packed episodes and soulless entertainment.

The general plot focuses on two warring Transformer factions, Autobots and Decepticons. The Autobots are the good guys; the Decepticons the bad. Each side is in a constant battle to control planet Cybertron, with Mini-Cons -- smaller Transformers -- treated like warfare fodder. These Mini-Cons are a lost race of Transformers, awakened after an extended hibernation on Earth. After the Autobots and Decepticons trace the Mini-Cons' signal emanating from Earth, each party makes harnessing the Mini-Cons power their number one goal. And whichever side links up with these half-sized beings first attains great new powers.

Although this series has tried to give these hardware configurations personality and human characteristics, far too little warmth comes off the screen. Any moments of familiarity and true likeability are rare and oftentimes unintentionally funny. One huge Decepticon Transformer named Tidal Wave, for example, has a voice much like Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. He is big and dumb, but doesn't reveal a jones for cookies like his PBS voice double. And wouldn't that be great? A metallic cookie addict? Instead, he only exudes dull blood thirstiness.

Starscream is another highly visible Decepticon who later changes his loyalty to the Autobots, although nobody is ever quite sure what his true intentions are. He appears to be more concerned with getting revenge on Megatron, the Decepticon leader, rather than committing himself wholly to the Autobot quest. It is impossible to take Starscream's menacing pose seriously, however, because his voice is almost exactly like Krusty The Clown on The Simpsons. Listening to him had me expecting to see scenes of that Simpsons character's insincere kid show behavior, but it never happened. Sunscream also quotes Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth" at point, yet this reference will most certainly be lost on the kids.

DVD 2, in this four disc set, mainly focuses on Krusty, er, Starscream, too. For example, the kids in the show (there are five of them) give Starscream a gift for bringing them back a Mars rock. But Starscream is confused about this act of kindness; as if he's going through the first stages of discovering his own humanity. Such a humanity transformation might have been fascinating, but the series doesn't pursue it. The key moment of DVD 2 occurs in an episode titled "Crisis", toward the end of the disc. Autobot leader Optimus Prime sacrifices his life to interfere with a powerful weapon, called the Hydra Cannon, targeted at Earth.

Optimus Prime's death is the juncture where this series is at its marginal best. Up until then, the battles between Autobots and the Decepticons amounted to wars without consequences. Sure, loyalty changed and friendships were tarnished; but until somebody dies, it's a little bit like a baseball game where nobody keeps score. Soon after his demise, second in command Hot Shot attempts to fill Optimus Prime's large shoes. But it is clear he is not quite ready for Optimus Prime time.

For Transformer newbies like me, DVD 3 is when this series finally begins to make some sense. In addition to the countless Transformer robots, there are also those five aforementioned young kids that help (and sometimes hinder) their metallic warrior Autobot friends. If you jumped into the middle of it all as I did, it is difficult to figure out how this human quintet is connected to these interplanetary mechanical beings. During DVD 3, there are extended scenes showing one boy named Rad interacting with his father and mother. And like father, like son, Rad's father was also a curious child – one who was especially fascinated with stars in the sky. When Rad tells his parents about this unusual, secret life he has been living, in aid of these imaginative beings, his father is surprisingly unsurprised by his son's activities -- probably because he has dreamt many of these very same adventurous dreams himself.

Rad's family scenes help give the series a wider scope, although there are not nearly enough of them. There are too many battle scenes, but never enough story background. Johnny-Come-Latelys will find themselves sitting through a succession of Autobot and Decepticaon fights, and end up wondering why they should even care. What separates these episodes from playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots as a kid? Anything? Furthermore, the best science fiction always asks intriguing "what if" questions. What if man landed on Mars? Or. What if Martians landed on Earth? These Transformer battles, on the other hand, are so distant from reality, you won't find yourself asking any "what if" questions, or feeling much empathy toward the Mini-Cons' plight..

On a purely visual / audio level, these animated programs wear on the senses after a while. Transformers are colorful, but simplistically shaped. Dialogue is poorly written, with jokes that are not funny and a script that sounds like a series of commands, rather than true verbal exchanges. Transformers always talk in a loud, echoing fashion, which makes the ears ring.

In a perfect world, Transformer toys would never have been transformed into animated television. But such logic never stopped producers from cashing in on this annoying series. There is even a new feature film on the way, which means cash register (sells) are being kept far busier than brain (cells).

5

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

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image