Film

XXX: State of the Union (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Ice Cube makes an unusual action hero, cooler and shorter than most.


XXX: State of the Union

Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Scott Speedman, Willem Dafoe, Peter Strauss, Sunny Mabrey
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Columbia
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-04-29

Warning: Some minor spoilers for a predictable plot.

Ice Cube makes an unusual action hero, cooler and shorter than most. As the second coming of NSA not-quite-licit agent XXX (taking over for that skater boy Vin Diesel, officially pronounced dead here), Cube brings a certain weight, born in part of his hip-hop cred, but also of his movie franchising genius (the Fridays, the Barbershops, and now, you might guess, the Are We There Yet?s) and now his apparent determination to take over the action planet (Hollywood). And really, given the mess recently left by Willis, Schwarzenegger, and yes, Diesel, more power to him.

Cube's Darius --- also called D -- doesn't even show up until late in the movie, a sign of his grand-entranced significance, maybe, but also a sign of the pace he keeps. D can't be hurried, even when the dire threats to the free world demand his full and urgent attention. He's more confident than that, less ready to be distracted and pushed around, than the previous XXX (who appeared at times to resent the hold the NSA had on him, but grumped and eventually speeded his way through the business of extreme-sports-world-saving). The need for D is established early, as an underground Virginia NSA base of operations is assaulted in the first scenes of XXX: State of the Union -- lots of SWAT teamy men in black shooting and running, while NSA bossman, the notoriously scar-faced Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, who gets to roar his trademark roar in the very first line he speaks: "Go secure!")), wields two guns, leaps and pivots, and eventually escapes in a very fancy muscle car (the cars in this joint are all-around sensational).

Convinced now that he needs a special special agent -- "No skater or biker, the new XXX has to be deadlier, more dangerous, with attitude!" -- Gibbons busts his boy D out of prison (D's first visible walking to the camera, Cube's snarl all up in your face), with an improvised scheme that has D breaking out of windows, scampering over rooftops, dodging automatic weapons fire and finally, leaping off a roof -- as if to freefall, in order to grab hold of a rising chopper's ground bars. Yeah. And so what if he doesn't skate?

D's refreshing spin on the superspy persona is immediately visible and so very welcome. In addition to his skepticism of former associate Gibbons (apparently, these Special Forces guys served in Kosovo together, saw some corruption, and only D ended up in prison, so you can see how's he's mad, as in, "Why would I do anything for you?"), D's got one thing on his mind following his escape: "I need what every man needs," he asserts, exchanging looks with his new best friends Gibbons and nerdboy tech Toby (Michael Roof). Everyone looks like he knows what's on the man's mind. Cut to a diner, where he's chowing down on a hamburger and fries.

The plot that follows is simple and ridiculous on its surface: Darius and his team -- including gearhead Zeke (Xzibit), ex-girlfriend Lola (Nona Gaye), and token "white boy" Steele (Scott Speedman) -- battle total bad guys who want to swarm Washington DC, take over the government, and continue to propagate current (on and off screen) policy, by which the U.S. military imposes democracy on whoever it wants. Chief spokesperson for this policy is Secretary of Defense Deckert (first name George: let's just say this movie is not subtle). As played by Willem Dafoe, Deckert is a snidely whiplash sort of character, with a dash of Rumsfeldian clunky-speak-around gung-ho-ness. Also a former associate of Gibbons and D, he's got a dream of dominance, now threatened by a president (Peter Strauss), threatening to make nice with the rest of the planet, that is, cut the military budget and feed folks in the Middle East and American inner cities. Old-school Deckert wants to bring democracy by killing all U.S. enemies.

In his sincere efforts to defend the seat of conventional U.S. government (odd, but there it is), Darius proceeds to engage in the standard action heroics, though again, Cube brings a certain mix of dedication, slight awkwardness (working to climb up onto that aircraft carrier!), and low-key charisma to the whole business, so that none of it is quite what it might have been. This includes dissing an insidious Congressional Aide girlie, whom D and Gibbons take turns knocking around, because she is, after all, a "bitch." It also includes, less tediously, hijacking a tank in downtown D.C., sneaking onto that aircraft carrier (where he also drives a tank) and a speeding bullet train, he's all smart and calculated, but also convincing.

While the outcome is never in question, D and his team's politics are surely unusual in this genre. He fights for ostensible U.S. values and ideals, bringing a mostly black, ragtag militia to stop the official military (on orders from Deckert) from overrunning D.C. The sight of the city saved by a hip-hop crew (D quotes Tupac -- "Wars come and go, but my soldiers stay eternal" -- inspiring the President to do the same) is remarkable. Power to the people.

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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