Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

July 21 2017 8:03 AM

All 10 Christopher Nolan Movies, Ranked

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Hold up! Before you go any further, know this: Christopher Nolan is an exceptional filmmaker who has made many great movies, despite the fact that he only has ten features to his name. As a result, any ranking of his films is bound to wind up with at least a couple of amazing titles near the bottom; that’s the kind of problem most directors wish they could have. As Nolan prepares to unleash his huge World War II thriller Dunkirk across our screens, it’s time to take a look back over his career and figure out which of the director’s films were the masterpieces, and which ones were merely near-masterpieces. Yes, this is something of a dangerous endeavor, given the fervency with which Nolan’s work is debated—by both his obsessive fans and his quite vocal detractors. Anyway, here they are.

July 21 2017 7:33 AM

How Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk Finds New Ways to Subvert the Tropes of the War Film

Is Dunkirk an anti-war film? The obvious answer here is “no.” Christopher Nolan’s much-praised World War II epic is not a criticism of war in general. Instead, it’s a celebration of British resolve and heroism at one of the darkest points of World War II. It’s steeped in British nationalism and patriotism, as soldiers at Dunkirk look across the channel, longing to see the White Cliffs of Dover.

Even though the film is not against war, though, Dunkirk does subvert many of the tropes that define the war movie. In doing so, it shows how war movies justify wars less justifiable than World War II. It also, perhaps, suggests ways in which Hollywood might make more critical war films in the future. If, as Truffaut said, he’d never “really seen an antiwar film” because “every film about war ends up being pro-war,” Dunkirk offers some novel ideas for how to circumvent this problem.

July 21 2017 1:49 AM

“All Kinds of Wrong”: Trevor Noah Looks at Trump’s Wild New York Times Interview

The Daily Show had one of those days Thursday when all they had to do to make fun of Trump was read his words back verbatim, thanks to Trump’s freewheeling interview with the New York Times on Wednesday. How could any comedian improve on Trump’s retelling of Napoleon’s Russian campaign?

[Napoleon] did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather?

That’s funny on its own, but Noah easily gets another joke out of it by simply trying, and failing, to restate the president’s meaning in plain English:

It sounds like the president is saying that there was this one specific night where Napoleon could have gone to Russia but he didn’t, and that’s why his troops froze in Russia?

That’s pretty funny, too, but then there’s a third bit taken from the same tortured passage in the interview, a reenactment in which Napoleon passes on invading Russia because he’s got a cooking class (they’re making napoleons, naturally, or as Napoleon calls them, “mes.”) With any other accounting of French history, we’d be nearing the point of diminishing returns here, but Trump’s kind of special that way.

But as hilarious as it is that we gave the nuclear codes to a man who couldn’t fake his way through middle school history, it probably will have some downsides. As Noah documents for the millionth time in the segment’s last half, Trump isn’t just spewing nonsensical alternate facts about French history. He’s also a shameless autocrat who sees nothing wrong with admitting he’s mad Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation—he can’t even begin to comprehend why that would be a problem—and he’s still president. Ha ha ha.

July 21 2017 12:58 AM

The Trailer for Bright Asks: “What If Will Smith Joined the LAPD and Also There Were Orcs?”

David Ayer, who wrote Training Day and wrote and directed End of Watch before making Suicide Squad, is returning to his roots with Bright, coming from Netflix on Dec. 22. In Ayer’s new film, written by Max Landis, a heroic LAPD officer is partnered against his will with a “diversity hire,” sent to police a warzone of a neighborhood where his race makes him an outsider, and from the looks of things, has to shoot his way home to his wife and kids when things go south. It’d be the kind of Heart of Darkness-style vision of a racially balkanized Los Angeles that people more or less stopped making after Rampart, except for one thing. Record scratch: the cop is played by Will Smith, a black man, and—record scratch again—his “diversity hire” partner is played by Loving’s Joel Edgerton, a white man, and—the kind of record scratch that permanently damages the stylus—Joel Edgerton isn’t white or black in this movie, he’s an orc, and—the record shatters into a million pieces as the speakers burst into flames—instead of Chinatown or Little Armenia, this Los Angeles has an “Elven Special District” with a military checkpoint entrance on Lower Grand.

Structurally, it looks like Landis and Ayer have attempted the same trick as the makers of Nazi video games, zombie video games, and Nazi zombie video games: If your only gameplay mechanism is shooting people, you have to find villains people don’t mind shooting. Similarly, if the only movie you want to make is the one where a cop has to blast his way across a violent neighborhood, you’d better fill that neighborhood with people who are alien enough that nobody thinks too much about how, in the real world, the LAPD is a little more trigger-happy in some parts of the city than others. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with making a movie about a human and an orc cop, but it’s a little disconcerting to send those fantasy cops to patrol real parts of town like Westlake (Rampart Division) and the south part of downtown (Newton Division, AKA “Shootin’ Newton”), both visible in the trailer. It’s a sort of progress if filmmakers no longer feel comfortable staging Black Hawk Down-style shooting sprees through poorer parts of the city without adding elves and fairies, but the message that cops can’t be expected to play by the rules—“They don’t teach that at the academy,” Edgerton says with satisfaction after Smith shotguns the driver of a moving truck, sending him plowing into a row of parked cars—doesn’t become any more palatable just because Landis and Ayer have added magic wands and mystical swords.  Edgerton is right, though: they don’t teach that kind of police tactic at the academy. They teach it at the movies.

July 20 2017 3:43 PM

Never Forget Radiohead’s Relationship With Israel Goes Way Back

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

This Wednesday, Radiohead will perform in Israel for the first time since 2000, having played there eight times over the band’s long career. But international attitudes toward Israel have changed drastically over nearly 20 years and, up until now, Radiohead hasn’t had to defend such a concert. Since 2005, a global coalition called BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) was formed to encourage a total cultural boycott against the country unless Palestinian rights are restored and the West Bank barrier demolished. Many celebrities, including Roger Waters, Riz Ahmed, and Brian Eno, have signed letters and petitions vowing not to work with or in Israel in alliance with the boycott, arguing such action is in the interest of fighting for human rights. An opposing coalition has since emerged—supported by J.K. Rowling, among others—that urges more, not less engagement with Israel as the best solution. With dueling efforts to mend regional tensions in place, Radiohead have come under fire for appearing not to choose a side and go ahead with their Tel Aviv concert despite a petition signed by their peers like Waters to cut all ties with Israel and cancel the gig.

Yorke eventually made two statements, one that confirmed Radiohead does not stand with the BDS movement—and also didn’t appreciate being “patronized” by other musicians for their decision—and another clarifying that that doesn’t mean Radiohead agree with the Israeli government. “We’ve played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don’t endorse Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America,” Yorke tweeted at director Ken Loach, one of the loudest critics of the band’s concert. But for Radiohead, the unpopular decision to commit to playing Israel cuts much deeper than politics: Without Israel, Radiohead might not be the band we know today.

July 20 2017 3:34 PM

Linkin Park Singer Chester Bennington Dies at 41

Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington has died at the age of 41, according to the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. According to TMZ, he died by suicide.

Bennigton’s bandmate Mike Shinoda confirmed the news on Twitter, writing, “Shocked and heartbroken, but it's true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one.”

Linkin Park has sold over 70 million albums, and their debut, Hybrid Theory, was the best-selling album of 2001. Their song “Crawling,” taken from that album, earned them a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. They won another in 2006, for “Numb/Encore,” a collaboration with Jay-Z. Their seventh album, One More Light, was released in May.

According to an obituary in Bilboard, “Over the course of seven studio albums and a collaborative EP with Jay-Z, Linkin Park established itself as one of the biggest and most influential rock bands of the 21st century.”

The interplay between hip-hop and guitar-driven rock was a cornerstone of Linkin Park’s sound, which also included elements of electronic music. Bennington freqently traded vocals with rapper Mike Shinoda, forging a sound that enabled them to achieve continued success even as rock music’s commercial fortunes began to wane.

Bennington was a close friend of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, who also died by suicide earlier this year. After Cornell’s death, Bennington posted an open letter to him on social media, reading, in part, “I’d like to think you were saying goodbye in your own way. I can’t imagine a world without you in it. I pray you find peace in the next life.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or via their website.

July 20 2017 12:47 PM

Full Frontal Wants to Turn the Left’s Impeachment Fantasy Into Something More Practical

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has clearly demonstrated in the past that the show is no friend to Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean that it’s willing to indulge your liberal impeachment fantasy. Full Frontal has previously criticized the Resistance for showing up for protests but not at the voting booth, and on Wednesday, it returned to the topic by sending correspondents Mike Rubens and Ashley Nicole Black to an “Impeach Trump” rally. There, they tried to find out whether the people protesting really believe impeachment is a practical outcome—and to try to turn those protestors’ anger at the president into more realistic, meaningful goals.

One protestor said that she had begun calling for Trump’s impeachment on the very first day of his presidency, at which point Black noted, “so it’s not so much that you wish for impeachment as it is that you wish for a different outcome to the election.” Others struggled to come up with a definitive reason for Trump’s impeachment. “You do realize that being a dick is not an impeachable offense?” asked Black.

After laying out just how difficult it would be to actually kick Trump out of office—it would require bipartisan support, for one thing—Black and Rubens tried to  persuade the anti-Trump horde to take action by actually getting involved in politics, whether that means voting in local elections, calling your representative, or running for office yourself. But it turns out that banners that say “Set Practical Goals” just aren’t as snappy as ones that say “Treason” and “We Shall Overcomb.”

“Maybe the allure of an impossible dream was much easier to get behind than the reality of fighting for incremental change,” said Rubens, and even though his tone was light, man, does that hit home.

July 20 2017 11:34 AM

Dunkirk Is Playing in Six Different Formats. Here’s How to Decide Which You Should See It in.

Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk opens this weekend in at least six different formats, including IMAX 70mm, 70mm, IMAX with laser projection, IMAX with xenon projection, 35mm, and standard DCP projection.

Which one should you see it in? We made this video to show the difference between each and help you decide. And if you want to know where you can see Dunkirk near you in 70 MM or IMAX 70 MM, here’s a handy tool.

Read more in Slate about Dunkirk:

July 20 2017 10:34 AM

To Better Understand the Trump-Putin Relationship, The Daily Show Talked to a Former KGB Spy

During his decade as a KGB spy, Jack Barsky, who defected to the U.S. in 1997, didn’t use gadgets or weapons. Instead, he focused on building relationships. “I was trained to be sort of the intellectual spy,” he told The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper in a segment that aired on Wednesday. “The guy who befriends other people, finds out about who they are—and can they be potentially recruited?”

Klepper sat down with Barsky to pick his brain on Trump’s relationship to Putin, who is himself an ex-KGB agent. Barsky explained that spies don’t seem like spies—they seem like friends. In fact, spying has a lot in common with dating: “You strike up a conversation,” he said. “I will cultivate you over time. We’ll become friends. We’ll play golf, we’ll play tennis, and eventually, you’ll let your guard down.”

That technique seems to be working when it comes to the president. “I think [Trump]’s playing into [Putin’s] hands in some way,” said Barsky. “The end game is to create destabilization as much as you can amongst the Western camp to make Russia relevant again.” That phrase caught Klepper’s ear.

“Make Russia relevant again? You can put it on a hat,” he said. “Wouldn’t even have to change the color.”

July 20 2017 8:03 AM

It’s Probably Not a Good Idea to Underestimate Kid Rock

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

On the surface, Kid Rock running for Senate against Debbie Stabenow in 2018 looks like a fool’s errand, and it doesn’t get much better beneath the surface. Stabenow, the senior senator from Michigan, holds the advantage of incumbency: She won her office during the 2000 elections and has held it ever since. After eking out a win in 2000, Stabenow was reelected in 2006 and 2012 by comfortable margins of 15 and 20 percent, respectively. Midterm elections all but always swing toward the party that doesn’t hold the presidency, and Stabenow’s Democratic party will not hold the presidency in 2018. Furthermore, the man who currently is president seems to be particularly well-suited to mobilizing voters against him, as various special elections this year across the nation have demonstrated. Donald Trump is a very unpopular president, and it’s all but guaranteed that Kid Rock, who has gone out of his way to align himself with Trump, will be fighting an uphill battle.

Then again, the very fact that Trump is president at all shows that holding the high ground, though nice, is hardly an insurmountable advantage. Kid Rock is a long shot, but that hardly means he has no shot. As with Trump, name recognition goes a long way. Hundreds of millions of people know who Kid Rock is, and millions of them are Michigan residents eligible and willing to vote for him. As with Trump, an unknown but significant bloc of voters is open to voting for a celebrity who represents himself as bucking the system. However one defines it, the system is in terrible shape, and it’s Trump’s system, but scapegoats for failure still abound, and Congressional Democrats have an approval rating even lower than Trump’s. Kid Rock’s lack of political experience is a selling point no less than a demerit, and his absence of a prior record in office shouldn’t conceal the fact that, as a diamond-selling pop musician, he has a gift for crafting punchy slogans and keeping an audience in thrall. Though he’s fallen from the prominence he commanded in the Y2K period, he still maintains a loyal fan base that’s kept him comfortably afloat in an industry facing dire times.

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