Film

Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

For a comedy with so much politico-cultural baggage on its mind (and it's not above using Enron as a final punch line), Dick and Jane remains curiously inert.


Fun With Dick and Jane

Director: Dean Parisot
Cast: Jim Carrey, Téa Leoni, Alec Baldwin, Jeff Garlin, Angie Harmon, Richard Jenkins
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Columbia
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-12-21

"Ours is an age of unmeasured prosperity," says George W. Bush early in Fun with Dick and Jane. The president appears on tv a few times, framed at a sarcastic distance so the movie can take easy shots at his soundbite pronouncements, without much critique of policy or philosophy. (But that's not a Jim Carrey comedy's job; for that sort of breakdown, see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.)

In 2000, Dick (producer as well as star Carrey) is a wealthy executive working for Globodyne Corporation. A poster boy for Bush's pie-in-the-sky economics, he's something of a one-dimensional joke, powered by Carrey's elasticky face and gyrational limbs take up a lot of screen space. He's good at selling stuff, charms the civilians, and impresses his bosses, CEO Jack McCallister (Alec Baldwin) and CFO Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins). They send him to perform some spin on a cable tv finance show called "Moneylife," where he proves suddenly incapable of muttering a coherent sentence, as an animated stock-chart for Globodyne literally falls off the screen. On his return to the office, shredders are whirring and workers are packing (one going so far as to walk out with Dick's ficus). In a word, his world falls apart.

At home, Dick learns that his wife Jane (Téa Leoni) has just quit her job as a travel agent. They've got a mortgage, new lawn, expensive electronics, and a hot tub in mid-installation, plus a little boy who speaks English with a Mexican accent because he spends so much time with the maid named (what else?) Blanca (Gloria Garayua). Though Dick tries to keep a brave face, he can't get another exec spot since his tv meltdown (an associate [Jeff Garlin] informs him that he and his buddies now call making a fatal error "pulling a Dick"). And Jane does the books, and soon announces, "We're in a bit of a pickle, Dick" (and no matter what else goes wrong with this movie -- which is plenty, Leoni's timing is, as ever, crackerjack). While McCallister has flown the coop with $400 million (stowed in the usual Cayman Islands bank accounts), everyone else affiliated with the company is broke, depressed, and/or suicidal (they all hung onto Globodyne stock while McCallister sold his). This pathetic number includes Frank, whom Dick discovers at a bar, drinking himself into oblivion.

It's not that Dick and Jane don't try to find other work, including some of the most "reprehensible," low-wages sorts, like clerking at "Kost-mart" (where Dick is too inept to manage the customer service smile) or teaching martial arts aerobics (Jane is clueless, but does her best to lead her erstwhile friends in a class). Jane is so undone when the landscapers come to reclaim the lawn (that is, the neighbors can now see the trouble they're in) that Dick tries waiting on line for day labor in a flannel shirt.

In this last instance, when he offends someone and gets his ass kicked, his mouth swells up so he (supposedly) sounds Mexican (you know, like his scary-smart child, and yes, there is a payoff here), so he ends up arrested (by Clint Howard, of all cameos) and dumped over the border with the rest of his new friends. (Jane waits in the car to pick them up as 20 guys rush at her: "Vamanos!") This joke, like others -- Dick and Jane pile food on plates at the salad bar, they soap up and jump into a neighbor's sprinkler -- is sloppy and simple, but it's a little extra grim too. How fun to see Dick abused like a Mexican.

To rub in the point, McCallister goes duck-shooting for tv cameras, asserting his sorrow on behalf of his Globodyne "family," then encouraging reporters to "Watch this shot" (recalling Bush's golf demonstration, made famous in Fahrenheit 9/11). Again, a decent gag, but rudimentary, especially as it's accompanied by a couple of background views of Gore-Lieberman campaign posters. Yes, the Bush administration has a dicey record on corporate greed, border policing, and consumer excesses. And so what?

And so, Dick and Jane turn to literal thievery, only a short step from the mendacious strategies embodied by McCallister (and, as the film implies, Bush). They rob convenience stores, sushi stores, jewelry stores, wearing silly costumes (Bill and Hillary masks, Dick as Cher to Jane's bell-bottomed Sonny), and they hook up with Frank, who conjures a plan for revenge. While Dick doesn't exactly pass as a "hardened criminal," despite his protestations to that effect, he's determined to make his point. Just so, the movie is at once clunky, witty, and earnest, as this pod combination constitutes a kind of comedic assertiveness.

Fun with Dick and Jane makes a basic point, summed up Dick's assessment of their situation: "We followed the rules, and we got screwed. We were good people, and we got screwed." As a result, they are rendered primal, desperate to "protect our land" (by which Dick means their mortgaged house, but also that repossessed lawn). Such reductiveness alludes to the primary school book recalled by the film's title, underlined as well in the couple's perfect suburban front and little white dog named Spot. But that's about it. For a comedy with so much politico-cultural baggage on its mind (and it's not above using Enron as a final punch line), Dick and Jane remains curiously inert.

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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