Reviews

Bingo (1991)

Mike Ward

Bingo's handful of good scenes usually have less to do with the dog than with humans who struggle with their inability to manipulate tools.


Bingo

Director: Matthew Robbins
Cast: Cindy Williams, David Rasche, Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: TriStar Pictures
First date: 1991
US DVD Release Date: 2007-05-07

There's nothing like the love between a boy and his dog.

This, predictably enough, is the moral of Bingo, a stunningly unwatchable dog movie from 1991, notable above all for the presence of Cindy Williams -- who, it must be said, does not use many of the acting tricks she learned in The Conversation.

Williams plays mother to the aforementioned boy, Chuckie Devlin (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.), a fellow who, being a tad runtier than his peers, shows little talent for keeping human company. We learn this early on when, in an effort to impress his big brother and a band of cruel playmates, Chuckie crashes his bike and knocks himself unconscious while trying to jump a shallow creek.

This gives Chuckie the opportunity to be rescued by Bingo, an escaped circus dog who stumbles on the mostly-drowned kid and -- in an irony I'm not sure what to make of -- successfully makes the jump Chuckie failed at, landing on his chest to administer a canine variant of the Heimlich maneuver.

Thus a friendship is sparked, one more blissful than any Chuckie has up to now been able to cultivate with peers of his own species. Naturally, he wants to keep Bingo as a pet, but since Chuckie's father, Hal (David Rasche), hates animals, Chuckie must make sure Bingo stays a well-guarded secret. An NFL placekicker, Hal is subsequently traded to Green Bay and the family has to relocate on short notice. Bingo is abandoned, and Chuckie rendered heartbroken and friendless.

But all is not quite lost. The resourceful Chuckie leaves a trail of urine leading from Colorado to Wisconsin, which enables the lovesick Bingo to beat a path in pursuit of his new master. A wacky road narrative ensues, as Bingo encounters all manner of improbable travail from imprisonment to hospitalization during his cross-country trek. All this foolishness culminates when Chuckie is taken hostage and Bingo -- whose underdeveloped canine brain doesn't keep him from knocking repeatedly on doors, tapping out Morse code, or looking Chuckie up in the Green Bay phone book -- must singlehandedly negotiate his release, and the arrest of his captives.

The stunning proficiency with tools on the part of the eponymous mutt is an interesting motif in Bingo, if anything about Bingo is interesting at all. Some anthopomorphism is to be expected in a movie of Bingo's genre, which must confront a tricky problem: how to focus its narrative around a character that lacks human consciousness. But Bingo takes this privilege entirely too far.

The sovereign of the boy-and-his-dog movie, 1974's Benji, copes with the problem in fabulously interesting ways. For instance, shots from Benji's point of view allow the audience's grasp of spoken language to stand in for the dog's lack thereof, which creates an effortless suspension of disbelief when Benji seems to understand English sentences. Benji often appears to know things he couldn't possibly -- the amazing pooch pops open a can of pudding, works an intercom (!), and figures out what a handgun is used for before he's ever seen one fired.

Rarely, though, do these feats give Benji the air of a human in a dog's body, as happens over and over in Bingo's case. The earlier movie generally provides an alibi, an alternative interpretation for what looks like supercanine intelligence. When Benji flips the intercom switch and barks into the intercom's microphone, it's a lucky but plausible accident. Does it seem ridiculous that Benji can open cans? Sure -- but then again, a dog will do just about anything for a little chow.

When Bingo operates a steering wheel on a driving-simulation video game, on the other hand, no such alibis are forthcoming. He's simply a dog who knows how to drive.

This sort of gag is awfully easy to do, and because of it Bingo renounces most of what makes animal-protagonist movies fun to watch. In fact, Bingo's handful of good scenes usually have less to do with the dog (though he is, admittedly, wicked cute) than with humans who struggle with their own inability to manipulate tools.

The movie's best joke? At one point the plot calls for Bingo to make a nighttime jail break by running past a guard tower, and his escape is assured when the tower guard pointing a shotgun into the dark calls out, "halt" -- and thereby drops the lamp he was holding between his teeth.

This moment summarizes the one idea that the movie consistently, and unproductively, returns to: that it's possible to divest intelligence from humanness, either by making dogs smart or by making people dumb. Sure, it's possible, but if you dig dog movies and you're looking for interesting, kitchy fun, you're better off sticking with the original. The best thing I can say about Bingo is that it reminded me of how cool Benji is.

Cindy Williams probably deserves better, though.

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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