Reviews

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)

Ving Rhames gets that Duncan can be gay, and not have to be a fulltime "flamer," in the film's parlance.


I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Ving Rhames, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Buscemi
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Universal Pictures
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-07-20 (General release)
Website
Nothing is worse than pretending you're something you're not.

-- Duncan (Ving Rhames)

Ving Rhames gets it in a way that Adam Sandler never will. In the mostly dreadful I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Rhames plays Duncan, introduced in an early scene as a huge, scary axe-wielding badass, just transferred to the Brooklyn firehouse where Chuck (Sandler) and his best buddy Larry (Kevin James) also happen to be employed. Riding to a fire aboard their big red truck, Duncan doesn't so much talk as grunt, and when the men confront a door at the fire scene that won't open, he duly kicks it in. His fellow firemen stand back, awed.

Ving Rhames gets that Duncan can be gay, and not have to be a fulltime "flamer," in the film's parlance. True, his self-outing involves a ballsy performance of "I'm Every Woman" in the communal shower, intimidating nakedness available for all to see. But Rhames plays all aspects of this character with equal vehemence and charm. Here he is equal parts Holiday Heart and Melvin from Baby Boy, utterly assured in his own skin and in no need of stereotypes to hide behind.

By contrast, consider Sandler's shuffle concerning even the performance of "gayness." The film's premise is not so unlike most every other Sandler film, in that it involves the inexorable manchild coming to faux terms with adult concepts, like commitment and tolerance. Here, womanizer Chuck and single dad Larry are unlikely best friends: the former brings home entire squads of Asian massage parlor girls while the latter is so insistently undone by his wife's death that he's not made his children the new beneficiaries of his insurance policy. Once their best-friendsness is established in their joint rescue of a morbidly obese fire victim unable to get out of bed (involving entirely banal crotches in faces and fart jokes), Larry convinces Chuck to help him out of his insurance jam by agreeing to be his domestic partner -- in name only, of course.

The scam is plainly outrageous, for the film never wants you to doubt for a second that they are anything but hetero. And so their pretense, put on for an odious and rightly suspicious city investigator tediously named Fitzer (Steve Buscemi), consists of straight ideas about gayness, stupid straight ideas at that. Because you are supposed to believe that Chuck is irresistible to ladies (when did Sandler start playing the hunk in his own movies, one with a preference for Phat Farm and Under Armour?), he's emphatically had no traffic with "homos." His gay self loves Boy George, climbing the rope in gym class, and "balls and wieners all the way." (To be fair, his hetero machismo is equally clichéd, indicated by his much-displayed fondness for "moon balloons," "bodacious bama-mamas," and cigars.)

Chuck's gay self is misapprehended by several observers -- including his new crush and lawyer in the insurance investigation, Alex (Jessica Biel) -- as the "girl" in his partnership with Larry. This genderfuck idea is evidently unnerving (aside from hating the idea of being "the girl" in sex, when Larry thinks they can make "gay garbage" by including tampons, Chuck is horrified, drawing the line between being gay and transsexual), but he tolerates it because it allows him to play Tootsie, or rather, best girlfriend, with Alex.

If misogyny needn't be part of the gay-tolerance project, neither, apparently, does classism (there's a filthy homeless man bit that drags on for some time) nor abject racism. Informed that getting married in Canada would look good for the inspector, Chuck and Larry drive up to Niagara Falls for a ceremony with Rob Schneider, who never fails to deliver the most offensive uncredited cameo in each of Sandler's films. This time, he plays an "Asian" Justice of the Peace, complete with bad accent (he asks the boys to exchange "lings") and egregious teeth, as if the prolonged cross-cultural discussion of Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi, et. al., never happened.

While it would be easy to add this cliché to the list of concepts that Sandler and company will never get, the film is vexing in its ostensible "message" concerning male-on-male friendship and, in the alternative Sandlerian universe perhaps, tolerance. The primary vehicles for Chuck's semi-conversion are Alex, of course, because she has a broadly gay brother, Kevin (Nick Swardson), introduced as a fairy at a costume party (enough said), and Eric (Cole Morgan), Larry's tap-dancing, glitter-loving son. Though his dad worries that little Eric is headed for tragedy and disappointment and less-than-manhood, Chuck repeatedly names manly men who sang and danced, like Sinatra.

Since Eric will apparently be fine whether his dad notices him or not (as he seems not to have since the wife died), the emotional focus, such as it is, remains fixed on Chuck and Larry's journey to some semblance of maturity. This is punctuated by a series of outings, first as gay. The other firemen's fearful bigotry is set against C&L's insta-acceptance of their new gay friends, mainly because Chuck wants to be right with Alex. He's also moved when he sees a lesbian crying when a fundamentalist protestor outside their party calls them all "faggots." Suddenly seeing here that saying "faggot" is mean, Chuck does the righteous thing and punches out the offender, much to the delight of the new gay friends who, apparently, wouldn't dream of taking a similar approach because, you know, they're all "girls." They've been rescued by their manly-girlish fireman.

No surprise, as soon as Chuck and Larry become spokesmodels for gayness, loved by their seeming peers, they're outed again, as fakes. Because you know they're not queer, you don't share the firemen's anxiety or Alex's outrage at being duped. (The film skips the firemen's existential meltdown on realizing they can't read other men at all.) Not to worry for the gay folks though. Deciding after the straight outing a councilman played by Richard Chamberlain, of all people, deems Chuck and Larry appropriate gay cause spokesmodels after all. Because, you know, they've learned that saying "faggot" is mean. This is what passes for enlightenment in the Sandlerian universe.

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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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