Film

Wanted: The Fight Matrix Club


Wanted

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Marc Warren, David Patrick O'Hara, Konstantin Khabensky, Dato Bakhtadze
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-06-25 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-06-27 (General release)
Website

Hollywood is notorious for repeating ideas. When something is successful, you can guarantee studio suits are desperate to find a way of copying it. With this Friday's release of Wanted, something even more unusual takes place. While it's clear that this movie borrows liberally from the Wachowski's action packed bullet time virtual reality revisionism, it also incorporates much of Fight Club's insignificant rebel in a crass corporate pond philosophizing. Together, the combination adds up to a strangely unique experience. On the one hand, you easily recognize the various references. On the other, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov uses the homage as a means of manufacturing his own incredible vision.

As with many post-millennial movies, Wanted is based on a series of graphic novels. Like the best of those adaptations, screenwriters Mark Millar and J. G. Jones use the foundation of the series as a jumping off point, a place to explore elements within our society that the comic couldn't (or wouldn't) address. In the main character of Wesley Gibson, the film finds a disgruntled everyman, an empty Google search drone who has done literally nothing with his life. As the perfect contemporary protagonist, the movie proposes the latest nerd as closet gladiator, an archetype that seems to never lose cinematic weight. It then pits him against the classic cabal, a secret society that's been doing the world's dirty work for so long that we can't imagine life without it.

Toss in terrific performances by James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and Thomas Kretschmann, a twisty plot that never gets too tangled in its own contrivances, and more insane, inventive action than a John Woo-ping Yuen fever dream, and you’ve got one of the most amazing movies of the Summer. Even better, it's poised to dominate the more adult oriented end of the 27 June box office. While the kiddies are clamoring for more of Wall*E's robot allegory, teens and those prone to masterful machismo will be lining up to see gunshots curve, wound curing paraffin baths, and a certain actress's tattooed backside. And if they're not careful, those Marvel superheroes better watch out. Wanted could usurp their position as 2008's best popcorn escape.

Most of the success for this film rests rightfully on the shoulders of Bekmambetov. Among genre film fans, he's best known for the vampire deconstruction of Night Watch and Day Watch. Named his country's best young director in 1997, he clearly shares the sensibility of his Hong Kong based Asian brothers. Wanted is like The Killer with more car stunts, a baffling battle royale between forces that defy physics while simultaneously stoking audience appreciation. Bekmambetov clearly understands character and he takes time throughout the arc to stop and let layers of personality slowly expand and contract. By the end of the narrative, when weapons have replaced wisdom, we develop a real rooting interest in who lives and who dies.

In fact, what makes Wanted better than either Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk is the abject joy that filmmaker Bekmambetov brings to the project. Jon Favreau used a no-nonsense approach to realizing Tony Stark and company, and Louis Leterrier applies a MTV style of calculated quick cuts to infer action and tension. But the fast-slow sensibility of the 47 year old Russian auteur serves his spectacle flawlessly. It's the most exquisite match between visionary and vision since the Chicago born comic book geeks gave us Neo, Agent Smith, and a war for survival across virtual reality.

What seals the deal, of course, is the Chuck Palahniuk-esque sentiments running through the story. Wesley narrates some of the action, his acid tongue takedowns of those he works for and with enough to recall Edward Norton and his razor sharp social commentary. The main theme of Wanted explores the victor inside the seemingly anemic, the superstar stuck inside the cubicle klatch of a nameless corporate ogre. The notion of a nobody able to wield god-like powers over life and death more or less defines our current cultural climate, a place where the standard rules of success no longer seem to apply. Even better, the film throws such sad sack sentiments back at the viewer, confronting them at every level into answering that most probing of Generation Hexed questions - what have you done with your life.

Such a crowd-pleasing confrontation is destined to get film fetishists and messageboard mavericks in a lush, liquid lather, and of course, they'll be chiming for more, more, more. Unfortunately, while there's been talk of a sequel, anyone who has seen the film will argue that a follow-up will be kind of tough. Not impossible, but one guesses somewhat incapable, of filtering the same material into the current cocksure slam dunk - at least from a practical standpoint. And who knows, maybe the audiences won't turn up. After all, there is blood and guts o'plenty, and the kind of violence glorification that gets nosy mothers and grass roots campaigners up and active. If Grand Theft Auto meets with a mountain of negative press the day of its release, this bullet through the brain bravado is guaranteed to get under someone's skin.

Yet even if it fails to meet its box office goals (ala Fight Club) and has to find a clear cult fanbase on DVD/Blu-ray (as with The Matrix), Wanted will remain a bright spot in a season soured by limp comedies, clammy kid fare, and a regressive reliance on things that were popular five years ago. Granted, 1999 is a mere decade past, but at least this film mines some of that year's more meaningful entries. Whenever anyone successfully imitates efforts from the past - John Carpenter channeling Alfred Hitchcock for his brilliant B-movie Halloween, Woody Allen working through the entire Bergman/Fellini oeuvre - the results are telling…and usually terrific. Wanted is poised to be the next big thing, and it has a couple of previous honorees to that crown to thank for it.

9

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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