Film

First Daughter (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

These 'times' are somehow exponentially more dangerous, but no one refers to 9/11 or the Bush administration, apparently erased in this alternate non-reality.


First Daughter

Director: Forest Whitaker
Cast: Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon Fuqua
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-09-24

Katie Holmes could not be more adorable in Forest Whitaker's by-the-booked romance. Whether dressed in gown and tiara or slacks and pert jacket, she's plainly framed to recall Audrey Hepburn circa Roman Holiday, all long limbs and elegant angles. It's a treat just to look at her.

But then she has this cumbersome plot around her, essentially a replay of Chasing Liberty, awkward and predictable, this time called First Daughter. Holmes plays Samantha MacKenzie, who's grown up in the public eye, not by her own choice, as she reminds her mother Melanie (Margaret Colin -- whom Holmes resembles almost uncannily in some shots), but because of those made by her parents. Sweet, uncomplaining, and relentlessly well-behaved, Sam endures groundbreakings, student assemblies, and Rose Garden photo ops, supporting her father (Michael Keaton), smiling alongside her mother, their outfits and poses cheerily coordinated.

Whitaker begins his film with his own voiceover, narrating Sam's life as a fairytale: she's "a little girl just like any other little girl," entertaining her Secret Service detail -- bald Agent Bock (Michael Milhoan) and silent Agent Dylan (Dwayne Adway) -- with frogs and tea parties, happily ensconced with her loving if distracted parents in a Big White House. The film begins as Sam is leaving for (a fictional) college, 3,000 miles away in California, eager to begin a life of her own, even if she does have to be attended by agents every minute -- and oh yes, even if her father is running for reelection, which means that no matter no matter how far away she might be, Sam must be on best behavior.

At school, she encounters the requisite black roommate, Mia (pop-soul singer Amerie), who encourages her to be adventurous, to go to arties and seek out hot boys. Sam has never done much of this, so she's both appalled and intrigued by Mia's vivacity, going so far as to attend a water-sliding fete, where's she photographed by paparazzi looking rather wild. Upset, dad has his sensible assistant Liz (Lela Rochon Fuqua) sort it out, because the prez has so much on his mind that he can't handle his own daily life details.

Just what other stuff this might be is neatly left out of First Daughter, which never quite gets to articulating his "stance on education" or his "position on the environment." (Though it does include a couple of scenes that suggest anti-MacKenzie activism, one in the form of a campus rally where the featured denouncer is played by Parry Shen, and the second, completely weirdly, when a car crashes into a red-carpet event, leading to Sam's immediate evacuation from the scene -- what the crash might have meant is never mentioned: was it a suicide bomber or what?).

The film's other wig-out on recent history has to do with MacKenzie's predecessor in the Oval Office. While First Daughter raises the specter of "history" only to renounce it. Dad refers to Chelsea's sojourn at Stanford, suggesting that, while her Secret Service guys could "blend in," with long hair and Birkenstocks, such subtlety is now impossible, as he and Sam live in "a different time." The insinuation is that Sam's at greater risk than Chelsea was then, that these "times" are somehow exponentially more dangerous, but no one refers to 9/11 or the Bush administration, apparently erased in this alternate non-reality. While obviously irrelevant to the movie's primary business -- getting Sam hooked up -- this little bit of political context by way of erasure is of a piece with the film's "fairytale" apparatus, the sense that it takes place out of time and dislocated from any recognizable experience.

At some level, this is the film's premise, that Sam's existence is simultaneously ideal, outrageous, and typical, fantastic, abhorrent, and desirable. She begins to think about all of this -- which seems obvious to the rest of us -- when she meets and falls for her RA, James (Marc Blucas, typecast here as the second coming of Riley Finn, the earnest soldier boy he played in Buffy). The romance proceeds by one conventional moment after another, complete with corny montage sequences: those crazy kids elude photographers and agents, go for pizza ("It tastes like freedom," she enthuses, as if she can't eat any darn thing she wants, whenever she wants), go to a fairgrounds and shoot at targets, and share a chaste kiss in the hallway as the camera circles them. When the relationship complication arises (James puts off telling her, about "this other thing" interminably, in order to prolong the film), you can't be surprised, especially if you've seen the Mandy Moore version (which was, in fact, originally titled First Daughter).

The romance is especially redundant and disappointing (though hardly surprising) in its suggestion that Sam, for all her own big talk about independence and sage advice from Mia ("Every little girl's gotta grow up and let go of her father"), Sam's really her daddy's girl, and he's so proud of her, even as he connives and lies to her (for her protection, of course), and eventually orchestrates her love story after all. That he's a liar probably explains how she's able to accept James' lies too: all in the family.

While most of the film is clunkily predictable (a pool party ends with dour Secret Service guys throwing some hapless kid with a water-gun to the ground and hustling Sam away in a big black SUV), some scenes are exorbitantly, laughably clichéd. Most notably, the couple wangle an afternoon escape to a lake, where they are suddenly afloat in a canoe, he with fishing pole and she with pink parasol. The shot is so highly stylized and frankly strange that you might think Whitaker was handed a set of conventions and overkilled them deliberately. You want hazy, lazy, lackluster romantic clichés? Take that!

Just what such this excessive display might accomplish isn't clear, aside from eliciting guffaws from viewers at a preview screening. Perhaps the best possible outcome is that, in the next rendition of this movie -- and there will be one -- these banalities will be as disappeared as MacKenzie's policies. Poof.

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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