Reviews

Twisted: Special Collector's Edition (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

'I'd been wanting to make a film noir in San Francisco for many years,' says Philip Kaufman, 'And the closest I'd come was Invasion of the Body Snatchers.'"


Twisted

Director: Philip Kaufman
Cast: Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia, David Straithairn, Russell Wong, Camryn Manheim, Richard T. Jones, Titus Welliver
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount
First date: 2004
The crime remains the same, only the suspects change.
-- John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson), Twisted

The title alone excites me.
-- Philip Kaufman, "Creating a Web of Twisted Intrigue"

The camera passes over fog, the San Francisco Bridge, seagulls and ships. "I'd been wanting to make a film noir in San Francisco for many years," says director Philip Kaufman on the commentary track for the DVD of Twisted. "And the closest I'd come was Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Ah, now that's a pity. The man who made The Right Stuff (1983), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), Henry and June (1990), and that most excellent remake of Don Siegel's classic has selected this meager script for its admittedly terrific setting

While it's true, as Kaufman says, that the film is about a woman in a situation that typically, in movies, is assigned to men -- she's a homicide detective who catches a serial case where the dead men are all former lovers, and starts to wonder whether she's implicated, as she drinks herself into oblivion nightly. "The very theme that attracted me to the film," says Kaufman, "is that she comes to believe that she could have committed the murders." But it's also a film propped up by clichés, which are only vaguely obfuscated by the film's terrific look (thanks to cinematographer Peter Deming) and that grand bayside urban setting.

Along with this commentary track, and some deleted scenes, the DVD includes several, somewhat repetitive making-of documentaries, "Creating a Web of Twisted Intrigue" (where cast and crew explain how much they wanted to make the film); "The Inspectors: Clues to the Crime," where director Philip Kaufman says much the same, even as the documentary includes a female detective to testify to the difficulty of entering this masculine world; and "San Francisco: Scene of the Crime," essentially a tour of locations, as Kaufman (and Jackson, among others) describe the city as "a character."

Twisted begins with an assault. It's not the one you expect, but the "twist" sets up the movie's pattern of logical leaps. A series of evocative moments -- the San Francisco Bay Bridge shrouded in mist, birds flying in formation, seals barking -- give way to an extreme close-up of a woman's eye, fearful but also strangely calm. Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) has a knife to her throat, and the villain (Leland Orser) takes predictably breathy delight in tormenting her: "I can hear your heart beating," he hisses in her ear. "It sounds like a little animal in your chest trying to get out. It sounds like blood. It sounds like flesh."

Poor perp-boy is so intent on feeling at her crotch and conjuring unwieldy metaphors that he doesn't notice his prey is armed. She's a cop, and yes, she kicks his ass. The camera cuts from close-ups to overhead shots to underline her deft brutality, then cuts again, to perp-boy's point of view, as she kicks his nose in: whomp. As Kaufman notes here, she is revealed here, to be a "powerful woman who's been stalking the stalker."

The following scene takes place in a dark, close bar -- the cliché hangout from every cop movie -- where Jess is dancing, downing shots, and showing off her new detective's shield. Her promotion thrills her ever-loyal friend Wilson (Richard T. Jones), but her ex, perpetually wound-up Jimmy (Mark Pellegrino), resents that she's been mentored by someone with unmatched clout. And here he comes, on cue: SFPD Commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives at the party with lackeys and attitude: "Back up boys," he announces, "You're breathing my air!" (Kaufman notes that Jackson pursued the part, though doesn't tell why.)

John does fill up the room - as is Jackson's tendency in any of his recent films -- and he hauls the suddenly miserable Jess into the back room where he points out all the mistakes she made in the fabulous takedown that brought her acclaim. "You're right," she clenches her teeth. "I fucked up." she doesn't even know how badly. John is the daddy figure to beat all daddy figures: for one thing, he trained her to be a heck of a cop, able to read a room in seconds. For another, he raised her from age eight, when her father, a former cop and John's partner, went on a killing spree that "began with [her] mother and ended with his suicide."

This helpful exposition is relayed via Dr. Frank (David Straithairn), smoking lots of cigarettes while trying to decipher just why this girl is so darn mad. This even as she announces, too brightly, that she's the very picture of mental health. In case you haven't yet deduced the utter untruth of her declaration, Kaufman explains it if you listen to the DVD commentary (this box of photos is "her idée fixe," he elucidates), as he spends most of this time telling the plot, which is too bad, because he has, presumably, so much else to say about how he conceived this film. While the plot does twist a little, it hardly bears up under too much description or discussion: here her partner is testing her; here's another cop; here she's looking for clues (digging into her own past, via photos and hallucinatory memories), here she sees flashes and begins to remember, etc., all as these images are appearing on screen.

"A lot of elements are coming together here. And things are being laid for the future." Got it. Night after night, Jess goes to bars in search of men in tight jeans, heads back to her apartment to pore over crime scene pictures of her dad's corpse (bullet hole in head), and at last drinks herself into blackouts with single glasses of wine. Typically, she's awakened by a phone call from her new partner, Mike (Andy Garcia), who seems nice but slightly seedy too.

Because, by the way, Jess apparently sleeps with any man she meets who's not black (she does not sleep with her buddy Wilson or, thank god, John), Mike seems a likely candidate for the next Mr. Loved-and-Abandoned. This proclivity feeds into the other corny plot that Sarah Thorp's script piles on: Jess and Mike are tracking as serial killer whose victims are men Jess has bedded (see also: Clint Eastwood's grim-faced exasperation in Tightrope). While the case provides a framework for Jess' elaborate emotional traumas, it also allows her to look smart: she understands, apparently instinctively and not a little eerily, exactly what's at stake in each crime scene, in the clunky "signatures" left by the killer, and in her own attraction to violence, specific and general.

This is the film's most intriguing idea, its half-step contention that violence is not merely a means of asserting dominance, in the conventional macho poser sense, but also a way of proclaiming guilt. Jess identifies with her dead mother but also takes up her father's professional aggression, not so much to right wrongs as discover them. She sees herself everywhere (the film is full of windows and reflections, flashbacks and dreams), especially in her seeming opposites: brutal criminals and cops. Indeed, when she (quite inexplicably) goes to visit that first perverse killer in prison, he tells her, "I know you. You're me."

The case causes increasing tension between Jess and just about every man in her vicinity, including Mike, Dr. Frank, John, swaggery detective Dale (Titus Welliver), unscrupulous lawyer Ray (D.W. Moffett), and her new lieutenant, the noble Tong (Russell Wong). The only girl she knows -- aside from the elderly Asian neighbor lady who watches her drink at night and shakes her head in disgust -- is the CSI-talking doctor at the SFPD forensics lab, Lisa (Camryn Manheim), who seems almost sympathetic toward her when the guys -- most all of them -- begin to suspect that Jess is killing off her one-night-stands.

It's hardly original to punish a woman for sexual desire and ostensibly excessive activity, but this movie, for all its maybe-gonna-be-good idea about the complexities of Jess' violence, can't help itself. The plot turns are increasingly preposterous, as are the metaphors (former marine division cop Mike has a special affinity for the seals who bark along the bay, and their input is seriously silly by the time Twisted is drifting toward its finale). When Jess wants to trust a man, she's punished. When she wants to hurt a man or leave a man, she's also punished. Worse, she never gets a clue.

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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