Reviews

'The Company Men': Pounding Nails

Kevin Costner serves here as kind of updated, left-leaning Clarence the Angel, full of wisdom and generosity, with a dash of manly abrasiveness so his radiant integrity isn't too, too obvious.


The Company Men

Director: John Wells
Cast: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson
Rated: R
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-12-10 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

At the start of The Company Men, Bobby (Ben Affleck) is a youngish executive with a beautiful wife, Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt), a couple of kids, and a terrific house in the Boston burbs. As he drives his nice car to work on a sunny morning, he has no idea that his life will, anon, be changed forever, that he will lose his job at the shipbuilding company where he's worked for 12 years. "The company's consolidating," he's told, and so he'll be dispatched with a "generous severance package," including full pay for 12 weeks and a stint with a placement service.

On hearing this news, Bobby's predictably apoplectic, going so far as to tell hatchet-person Sally (Maria Bello) to "Fuck off." Of course, Bobby can't know, in this first blush of post-employment, that his life will in fact improve in the difficult weeks to come, and that he will become a Better Person.

It's a pretty-to-think-so takeaway, a point that's earnest and well-meaning and seemingly topical, but also romantic in the blandest sense. It turns out that Bobby, for all his ambition and self-assurance and sales skills, is missing what's most important in life, you know, spending time with his family and (who knew?) learning to pound nails and put up dry-wall. This last life lesson comes courtesy of Bobby's contractor brother-in-law, Jack (Kevin Costner) -- who serves here as kind of updated, left-leaning Clarence the Angel, full of wisdom and generosity, with a dash of manly abrasiveness so his radiant integrity isn't too, too obvious.

All this is to say that Bobby's changes in fortune take some time to take shape, and that he does indeed spend much of John Wells' movie feeling confused and frustrated and righteously angry. Before he learns the moral value of manual labor, Bobby initially resents his days at the placement service, where he's instructed on how to update his resume and make cold calls from a cubicle, and where his new friends among the recently unemployed include a black person, Danny (Eamonn Walker). Indeed, Bobby comes to like Danny so much, that he helps him also get a job with Jack too, so that both of them might make fun of the older white guy's lack of rhythm.

While this joke at Jack's expense is presented as a sign of Bobby's personal growth, the movie does not rely only on race stereotypes to make its ethical points. Age and class are issues too, their complications embodied by Bobby's former colleagues at the company, account rep Phil (Chris Cooper) and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), second in command and baffled by the brutal cost-cutting undertaken by his old friend, the CEO Craig Salinger (Craig T. Nelson).

Phil is the designated "older worker" whose sacking is emotionally catastrophic. His self-identity is wholly wrapped up in this job he's had all his life -- he started, he reminds anyone who will listen -- as a shipyard laborer, at a time when workers "made things they could see," and the company wasn't so concentrated on moving contracts and profits around. Phil's experience at the placement service is not nearly so self-improving as Bobby's, as he's instructed by the lady-behind-the-desk that he must dye his hair and take the dates out of his resume, then genuflect before any number of snooty executives who won't actually think of giving him a job. As much as Phil works to maintain his own sort of stiff upper lip, when he arrives at one interview, his face falls as the camera pulls out to reveal a hallway full of 20-years-younger men in matching suits, al waiting for the same interview while hunched over their BlackBerrys.

A moment like this is surely poignant, but also typical of The Company Men's heavy-handed storytelling. Cooper's celebrated subtlety, effective for seconds at a time, is also too frequently overwhelmed by the film's commitment to over-explaining. Similarly, Gene's own, very different sorts of losses (less material than Phil's or Bobby's) are rendered in broad strokes: his socialite wife Cynthia (Patricia Kalember) continues to purchase luxury items with money they apparently do have (he's got company shares), but without showing proper upset at everyone else's bad straits or even some appreciation for his own grief. Gene laments what's become of the company (again, which used to "make something"), his greedy and indecorously desperate friend Craig, or his sad, sad underlings Phil and Bobby. Gene's compassion now makes him incompatible with Cynthia, who pouts for a moment when she learns she no longer has access to the corporate jet for a weekend shopping trip.

If Gene has the wherewithal to regroup financially, Bobby acts out a more visibly emotional and philosophical trajectory. Literally, he plays catch with his son (who, unbeknownst to his dad, sells his beloved Xbox to help out), Literally, he dons a brand new tool belt and boots to work with Jack, so the professional carpenters can smile in amusement. And literally, he plays muddy touch football with his fellow unemployed, a brief instant of exuberance worthy of Brett Favre's Wrangler jeans. All these images convey too obviously the revelations Bobby undergoes, his recommitments and changing priorities, his better person-ness. He doesn’t literally find Zuzu's petals, though. That would be too much.

4

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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