Reviews

Unaccompanied Minors (2006)

Why is the Christmas message in "family movies" repeatedly reduced to splats, farts, bruises, and winky-wink sex jokes?

Unaccompanied Minors

Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Tyler James Williams, Dyllan Christopher, Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Rob Corddry
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-12-08 (General release)
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Trailer

"¡Ay, caramba!" This would be the sad, somewhat alarming cry of Wilmer Valderrama succumbing to the titular urchins in Unaccompanied Minors. It would also be the sign of the film's frankly stunning dearth of imagination. Who on the set watched Valderrama beneath a crush of screaming-meemie kids and thought this line funny? Who decided the time was right to call up the memory of Speedy Gonzales?

No matter the origins or circumstances of this particular bad idea, it's likely that someone saw Unaccompanied Minors as some kind of career move for the many TV-affiliated parties involved, since the "big screen" still carries a kind of step-up cache. Along with the Yo Mama host, the movie lists among its contributors Paul Feig (best known for his directing episodes of Arrested Development and The Office, and writing some of Freaks and Geeks), Huff's Paget Brewster, and Everybody Hates Chris' Tyler James Williams. Still, you have to wonder if any of them read a script before they signed on to this dreary project.

At once tedious and hyper-active, Unaccompanied Minors preaches standard-issue holiday cheer, most especially, that kids and their adults should be together. To make this point, it separates children from their parents, and sends both factions into tizzies. The primary setting is a snowed-in midwestern airport terminal, where a battery of young people, en route to various single-parented destinations, are abandoned and frustrated on Christmas Eve. Whereupon they undertake to outsmart and abuse any and all adults they meet.

The film goes through rudimentary set-up motions. Before they are stranded, the core minors are introduced in a sequence where each is supposed to sit in a department store Santa's lap. Their reactions to this most annoying aspect of Christmas business establish the kids' most reductive characteristics. Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) stands on line with his divorced mom Valerie (Brewster) and younger sister Katy (Dominique Saldana), feeling responsible for the latter and bored with the former. (The little girl's status as prop for her brother's "arc" is underscored by her eventual encounter with an obnoxious older girl who dresses and makes her up like a doll, with rosy cheeks and lipstick.) At the same time, in some other part of the country, Harvard-bound Charlie (Williams) worries about proper behavior and looking smart all the time (his father encourages such anxiety). At the same time, tomboy Donna (Quinn Shephard) hates to be touched and tends to whomp offenders in the crotch area (apparently, someone thought such assault on a Santa would be hilarious). Wealthy Grace (Gina Mantegna) tries to act older than she is, slithering to the lap of a young-male-model posing at a department store and wearing at Santa hat. And lonely Beef (Brett Kelly) clings to his Aquaman action figure in lieu of a friend.

Once deposited at the airport amid swirling snow, these relatively motivated kids spot one another in a warehouse-sized room full of crazed solo-flying monsters, who are not only assaulting Valderrama's airport worker, Zach Van Bourke, but also screaming incessantly and throwing candy bars, toys, and furniture, to create the sort of witless noise that passes for "kids' behavior" in the movies. The film's stars are horrified (this would be the moment when you might be inclined to align your perspective with theirs), escape the room and start to bond.

The impetus for this last is Spencer's problem. That is, he has left Katy in the Terrible Room (somewhat inexplicably, given his repeated declaration of his need to take care of her), and then spends the rest of the movie trying to deliver to her a Christmas gift, so she doesn't lose her cute childish belief in Santa. Spencer's efforts are paralleled by those of his father Sam (Rob Corddry), whose home in Pennsylvania they are attempting to reach. Once Valerie calls Sam to announce the children are stranded, he decides, rather against reason, to drive to the airport through snow and darkness. Valerie's own response to the crisis is somewhat less effective: she watches TV (in particular Al Roker describing the extent of the blizzard) and worries, apparently glued to an arm chair at the home of Aunt Judy (Teri Garr). The film takes odd delight in showing Aunt Judy's yard decorations (lights and a pop-up Santa that knocks down a passer-by). As Valerie frets, Aunt Judy drinks herself into a stupor while wearing still more decorations -- ornaments and a Santa hat.

As annoying as these silly adult behaviors may be, the movie's and the children's more immediate concern is with their primary adversary, Scroogey airport manager Oliver Porter (Lewis Black). He calls them names and makes it his personal mission to make them feel bad ("Are you out of your juice-drinking little minds?"). The movie uses his ugliness to motivate the kids' adventures, separately and together, but they don't need him. And they certainly don't need to be teaching him the meaning of Christmas.

Still, the movie has the kids go through motions, scooching and scrambling around the airport, discovering unclaimed luggage (offering opportunities for dress-up), self-inflating rafts (physical humor), and a dog in a travel cage (loosed by Spencer, the animal menaces security personnel and is reported to take "a dump in the promenade," yet another unfunny punch-line).

While it may aspire to fall into the holiday subgenre most famously exemplified by Home Alone, Fieg's movie is a disappointment in several ways. Crass and unimaginative, it's more an assembly of disconnected scenes than a movie with a plot (something like an elementary school version of Accepted, with also starred Black as the most obnoxious adult in sight). How did abandoned-turned-chaotic kids become appropriate holiday fare (see also, abandoned-turned-chaotic adults, as in Deck the Halls, Christmas with the Kranks, Ernest Saves Christmas)? Why is the Christmas message in "family movies" repeatedly reduced to splats, farts, bruises, and winky-wink sex jokes? Kids are smarter than this. Maybe someday, adults will get that.

2

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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