Little Black Book (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

A movie where Carly Simon serves as guiding light can't be all bad.

Little Black Book

Director: Nick Hurran
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Holly Hunter, Ron Livingston, Kathy Bates, Julianne Nicholson, Stephen Tobolowsky
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Columbia
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-08-06

A movie where Carly Simon serves as guiding light can't be all bad. Then again, a romantic comedy that starts by quoting Shakespeare ("Hell is empty, and all the devils are here," from The Tempest) has something else on its mind, besides the usual boy-meets-girl cuteness. But, while Little Black Book does scoot off in some peculiar directions, it is more improbably intriguing than completely successful.

It begins with a scene that recurs near the end, with Stacy Holt (Brittany Murphy) guiding her adorable Volkswagen through traffic, her face tear-streaked and her voiceover semi-pensive, as she begins to describe the cause of her sorrows. Stacy takes you back to her childhood, when her mother explains that "everything could be solved by listening to Carly Simon." By way of illustration, the film offers a distraught mom (Sharon Lawrence) stuck in traffic, enduring a latest tragedy by cranking Greatest Hits, young daughter (Katie Murphy) seated staunchly by her side.

Stacy grows up admiring another power-girl icon, Diane Sawyer, aiming to work with her some day. En route to that ambition, she lands a job as associate producer for The Kippie Kann Show (titular host played by Kathy Bates). A onetime network darling à la Oprah, Kippie's now syndicated out of New Jersey, that is, stooping to the sleaziest of concepts in order to eek out bits of ratings, soliciting onstage "reality" from sexy midgets, hot hoochie mamas, and incestuous strippers. Though you might imagine high-minded and good-hearted Stacy would be startled by the show's moral paucity or even the daily frenzy, she is instead transfixed by the control room's practical approach to chaos: this is, she exults, tv at its edgiest (including all sorts of foul language), promising her the experience she believes will take her to the top.

At the same time, she's sort of distracted by her current romance with luscious Derek (Ron Livingston), a New Jersey Devils scout (note the recurrent Shakespearean reference) whom she believes to be her wholly in-sync soulmate. Yes it's a little strange that he's never wanted her to meet his parents, but it wouldn't be a romantic comedy if she couldn't ferret out a little tension in her ostensibly perfect and fabulously on-track existence.

Predictably, said tension is exacerbated by Stacy's dealings with a girlfriend, in this case, fellow producer Barb (Holly Hunter, who terrific though she is, can't quite make sense of the muck into which Barb must descend to accommodate the plot's hectic machinations). After working on the show for some three years, Barb has built up the requisite reality tv-workers' cynicism, as well as an aversion to being touched (which repeatedly throws off Stacy's best huggy inclinations). Even as this physical tic might be understood as a sign of more entrenched emotional difficulty, the girls' friendship becomes increasingly intricate, to the point that Stacy begins asking for romance advice from a woman whose own carefully guarded history sounds quite unpleasant and unresolved.

And then, the gimmick: Stacy stumbles on Derek's Palm while he's out on the road, and don't you know, she can't help but peek, perhaps inspired by the suggestion by Barb that this electronic "little black book" is a "girl's best friend." You might imagine she'd, you know, talk to the boyfriend, but Stacy digs herself into a deep hole of deception and stress. The next day, while not exactly proud of what she's done, Stacy blabs her discoveries to Barb (solidifying their bond in the process). Namely, Derek keeps beach-bikini pictures of one ex, Joyce (Julianne Nicholson, exquisitely subtle costar of Tully), shares dog custody with another, Dr. Rachel Keyes (Rashida Jones), and hasn't quite told the truth about his sex life with a third, supermodel Lulu Fritz (Josie Maran).

Barb comes up with a yuckily devious plan, such that Stacy uses her tv credentials to gain access to the exes (pretending she's doing research for upcoming shows), calls herself Barb, and learns supposed "truths" about Derek's past, or maybe just faulty memories of women who have moved on. Stacy's detective work is more and more discomfiting, as she enlists not only Barb but also another ambitious young producer, Ira (Kevin Sussman), in her "interviews," and then finds herself actually getting to like Joyce. Stacy starts to consider Joyce a "friend," going so far as to advise her on her lingering feelings for Derek, even though Joyce thinks her name is "Barb."

Still, the film's most original aspect is its focus on the Stacy-Barb friendship, strange as it turns, to the point that Derek is actually absent for most of the proceedings. This plot point also allows Stacy time for a brief flirtation with coffee shop clerk named, all too appropriately, Random (Gavin Rossdale, perhaps taking a page from wife Gwen Stefani's career expansion book), who appears for no reason other than to look dreamy, suggesting Stacy's capacity for cheating, maybe.

Little Black Book's talk show background (so-called "reality") provides grist for moralizing about just how mean reality tv people can be. Stacy's lesson is quite painful for everyone involved, not the sort of thing that romantic comedies tend to pull out as denouements. The more typical use of talk shows occurs at the start of Hope Floats or the remake of The Stepford Wives, the lunatic point of departure for a heroine's recovery of her sanity. Here, the talk show becomes a forum for some standard tawdry revelations, some meta-textual judgments of character, and, least interestingly, Stacy's faux self-evaluation and corny self-understanding. She comes out of it still thinking that Diane Sawyer is a step up from reality tv.

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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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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