Jerry Lewis Shines, but the Bloom Is Off 'Max Rose'

Jerry Lewis and Lee Weaver in Max Rose (2016)

Jerry Lewis slips easily into this curmudgeonly role; he understands bitter sarcasm and stifling silence like he understands a good pratfall.

Max Rose

Director: Daniel Noah
Cast: Jerry Lewis, Kerry Bishé, Kevin Pollak, Dean Stockwell
MPAA Rating: N/A
Studio: Lightstream Entertainment / Blackbird
Year: 2013
UK Release Date: TBD
US Release Date: 2016-09-09

It’s good to see Jerry Lewis again, even if the King of Slapstick is restrained by the decidedly somber drama, Max Rose. This largely middling affair is sprinkled with moments of perceptive beauty and a impressive performance from Lewis. Unfortunately, writer-director Daniel Noah can’t generate any forward momentum, mostly due to the ham-fisted anchors that are dragging his story down. There are some interesting observations about the nature of loss and aging, but you’ll probably be too bored to notice them.

Sixty years ago, Max Rose was a jazz pianist with a bright future. He had big dreams, an even bigger ego, and a hit record called, Hurry Home. He also had a beautiful wife named Eva (Claire Bloom), who supported him through the ups and downs of the mercurial music business.

Now, everything that Max loved is dead and gone. His dreams of musical conquest are a distant memory. In fact, Max doesn’t play a single note on the piano during the entire film. Eva, who stuck by him for 65 years of marriage, has recently died. Worse still, Max discovers a memento hidden in Eva’s belongings that suggests she was pining for a secret lover. In a heartbreaking (and awkward) funeral eulogy, Max laments, “For 65 years, her life with me was a lie. I’m a failure as a husband.”

Yes, if you’re waiting for Lewis to adopt a goofy grin and scream, “Lady!” you’re in for a long ride.

We’ve seen Lewis play self-absorbed sad-sacks before, most notable in Scorsese’s brilliant The King of Comedy (1982). Max Rose is like Jerry Langford after 30 years of soul-crushing beat-downs. He discovered, perhaps too late, that giving and sharing love was the only true measure of success. Lewis slips easily into the curmudgeonly role; he understands bitter sarcasm and stifling silence like he understands a good pratfall. There’s little doubt that his name will be circulating come Oscar time, though his eligibility may be jeopardized by an early cut of Max Rose playing at Cannes in 2013.

The problems with Max Rose are legion, and nearly all of them reside in its jumbled script and lethargic pacing. Noah, better known for his prowess as a producer (2016's a The Greasy Strangler and 2014's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), feels out of his element as both a writer and a director. His script jumps haphazardly through time, making it unclear if Max’s conversations with Eva are flashbacks or hallucinations. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it adds unnecessary confusion to a storyline striving for convincing realism.

In fact, the one saving grace of Noah’s script is his steadfast refusal to add any Hollywood flourishes. Rather than jumping into a Winnebago and tracking down some quirky closure (ala 2002's About Schmidt), Max gets shuttled into a nursing home by his ne’er-do-well son (Kevin Pollak). It’s a brave choice by Noah, who looks the specter of senility squarely in the eye and doesn’t blink. Old people don’t go on vision quests in America; they get locked up by disgruntled relatives.

Sadly, Noah’s rejection of Hollywood flourishes doesn’t translate into anything new. Instead, he goes the familiar route. We get the estranged son and judgmental father searching for a common ground. Max goes through the 7 Stages of Grief in a grueling opening act that will test even the most patient of cinephiles. Finally, there are epiphanies about community and companionship that feel like they came straight from the inside of a Hallmark card.

The pacing, too, has you counting the minutes until something… anything… happens. Max’s quest to find Eva’s lover (Dean Stockwell) is more like a leisurely stroll. True, Max is nearly 90 years old, but the script shouldn’t move as slow as he does! There's an important story to be told here -- one of finding identity and purpose after your life-long partner is gone -- but Noah hedges his bets with a half-hearted plot device in order to keep things lurching forward.

Fortunately, there are a few delightful moments to (kind of) hold your attention along the way. The scenes involving Max and his loyal granddaughter, Annie (Kerry Bishé), are a particular highlight. Annie and Max share an emotional shorthand that has eluded Max and his own son. More importantly, they get each other’s corny jokes. Their scenes together are tender and genuine; hinting at the nuanced story Noah was trying to tell.

Lewis also gets a few moments of comic relief, thanks to the welcome addition of cinematic luminaries Rance Howard, Lee Weaver, and Mort Sahl. The booze flows freely as Max and his merry band of retirees jam out to old jazz records and re-live their past triumphs. These scenes, while not directly related to Max’s search for his wife’s beau, infuse some much needed life and energy into the otherwise drab proceedings.

There's a heartfelt story hiding somewhere in Max Rose. It’s clear that Noah has a lot on his mind, but he’s not quite sure how to say it all. The affection we ultimately feel for Max is a testament to Lewis’s towering performance. Still, this feels like a wasted opportunity to tell a valuable story. To get 65 wonderful years with one person is a gift; to find perspective on those 65 years is truly a treasure.


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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