Reviews

Driving Lessons

Kate Williams

Harry Potter's Rupert Grint steps out of Hogwarts quietly, as if on tiptoe.


Driving Lessons

Director: Jeremy Brock
Cast: Rupert Grint, Julie Walters, Laura Linney, Nicholas Farrell, Oliver Milburn, Michelle Duncan, Tamsin Eggerton
Distributor: Sony Pictures
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2007-03-07
UK DVD Release Date: 2006-12-26
Website
Trailer

Surely, by now, we are all well aware that the road child stars must travel to the promised land of (working) adult actors is littered with innumerable hazards. In the environment of hyperactive voyeurism that surrounds today’s young stars, they are faced with the Herculean task of transitioning from well-managed innocence to assured maturity with nary a mistake allowed. For child actors so culturally identified with one role in particular, this undertaking must appear even more daunting.

It's little wonder, then, that Rupert Grint – heretofore known as Harry Potter’s best friend, Ron Weasley – has chosen to step out on this perilous road not with the drama of a thunderous leap, but quietly, as if on a tiptoe. In Driving Lessons, Grint leaves the wizarding world behind and settles instead on one young man’s idiosyncratic journey of self-discovery.

Unfailingly polite and genuinely earnest, Ben Marshall (Grint) is a teenage boy whose quiet charms and sensitivities are forever eclipsed and ignored by those around him – from his overbearing mother (Laura Linney) to his disinterested schoolmate crush. Shy and socially awkward, his only real form of expression comes through his writing of poetry.

Ben is a dutiful drone to his mother’s inexhaustible acts of Christian charity. From delivering food to local pensioners to participating in church plays, he appears to be as henpecked and defeated as his vicar father (Nicholas Farrell). After turning 17, Ben’s mother agrees to supervise his driving lessons in exchange for his charitable deeds. He quietly suspects, though, that the driving lessons are more a convenient cover for his mother’s tryst with their church’s new young vicar and less to do with her wanting to impart the principles of Christian charity.

After his mother takes in an elderly neighbor grieving over the loss of his wife (whom he ran over with his car), Ben is urged to contribute to the family’s growing household expenses. Answering an advertisement seen in his church’s newsletter, he soon finds employment as a personal assistant with a retired local actress. A self proclaimed “Dame”, Evie Walton (Julie Walters) is an over-the-hill actress whose personal theatrics and melodrama far outshine any role she has ever undertaken on the stage or screen. Impulsive, outlandish, and wildly eccentric (to the point of exhaustion), Evie is a direct counter to the quiet, staid nature of young Ben.

Both horrified and attracted to Evie’s outsize antics – ranging from drunken blackouts to impassioned backyard productions of Shakespeare – Ben slowly emerges from his withdrawn world. Their afternoons together prove to bolster Ben’s confidence, and he begins to pull back and resist his mother’s control. Naturally, his imperious mother does not look favorably upon this new influence, and she tries to reassert the primacy of her role in his life.

One afternoon, Evie insists upon a camping trip for the duo and Ben, still without a proper license, is ordered to be her personal chauffer. In clear violation of his curfew, Ben goes along and eventually (through a bit of trickery) agrees to drive Evie up to Scotland so that she may perform a reading of dramatic works at the Edinburgh Festival. The open road proves to be a tonic not only for Ben, but for the film, as well. As Ben and Evie’s relationship moves from restlessly cautious to mutually encouraging, the film gathers momentum. The inevitable climactic “showdown” between Evie and Ben’s mother results comfortably (and too predictably) in Ben’s personal liberation.

For many, the appeal of Driving Lessons will no doubt be to see Rupert Grint and Julie Walters outside of their familiar roles as Ron and Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise. Luckily, the two leads shine in their many scenes together, and it is a joy to see the elder Walters push the talented Grint as an actor. That said, there is little that distinguishes Driving Lessons from its more familiar predecessors (see: Harold and Maude and Tea and Sympathy). Thankfully, there are no sexual undertones in Driving Lessons, but the character juxtaposition and the lessons of self-discovery gleaned from these differences is obvious from the onset.

While the two leads infuse a sporadic charm and energy into the script, the film feels labored by its predictability. One wishes that the spontaneity and freedom Evie seeks to impart to young Ben could have been applied to the film itself. In his first directorial effort, long-time writer Jeremy Brock (Mrs. Brown, Charlotte Gray) adheres too rigidly to the story’s schematics, and ends up sacrificing the development of his characters. One wishes Brock would have spent more time with Walters and Grint and less on the dramatic posturing that stuffs the script.

Driving Lessons is a charming film with strong (if somewhat inconsistent) performances and the DVD entices with a host of packaged extras (deleted scenes, interviews, making of documentary, etc.), but ultimately it travels a road we have been down before.

5

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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