Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Dec. 6 2016 8:03 AM

Westworld Is an Unlikely Success Story for HBO

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

It took three years, upwards of $100 million in start-up costs, and one halt in production, but HBO’s Westworld ended its first season on Sunday as what’s arguably the network’s most successful drama launch since Game of Thrones. It’s not just that the ratings for the J.J. Abrams–produced fantasy thriller have been strong, though with each episode pulling in an average audience of nearly 12 million viewers across multiple platforms, HBO execs are extremely satisfied. Westworld also worked because it managed to generate intense and sustained buzz throughout the fall, despite facing off against the return of AMC’s behemoth The Walking Dead and the usual slew of broadcast network fall premieres. Much the way Netflix’s Stranger Things dominated the pop-culture discussion over the summer, Westworld broke through fall’s TV clutter in a big way, so much so that the writers of Saturday Night Live felt comfortable using its plot as a punch line. One season does not guarantee long-term success, but for now, Westworld is a big (and much-needed) win for HBO—one made all the sweeter by the fact that many in Hollywood were convinced the show was destined to be a massive misfire.

Dec. 6 2016 7:33 AM

Lynn Nottage on Her Broadway-Bound Play, Sweat, and Why She’s Wary of “Poverty Porn”

Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s latest play, Sweat, tells the story of nine residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, as they deal with the threatened closure of the steel plant where most of them work. Set in 2000 and 2008, Sweat explores the characters’ response to their changing fortunes. The play, which was first produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and ran at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., can be seen at New York’s Public Theater through Dec. 18. The production will transfer to Broadway in the spring, with previews beginning at Studio 54 on March 4.

I spoke with Nottage about her development process, the crisis of capitalism, and what Sweat has to say about Donald Trump.

Dec. 5 2016 11:30 PM

Are Your Transformers Levels Low? Try This Transformers: The Last Knight Trailer!

Are you weary in BRAIN and BODY? Does your once-youthful blood need rejuvenating? Did you VOTE for TRUMP? Are you PETER THIEL? This new trailer for Transformers: The Last Knight is exactly what you need. Watch at bedtime and awaken with newly-restored VIM and VIGOR. Watch in the morning for extra energy ALL DAY!

The new trailer for Transformers: The Last Knight RELIEVES INSTANTANEOUSLY:

Dec. 5 2016 10:34 PM

Watch the New Trailer for Legion, the Marvel Show from Fargo Creator Noah Hawley

Legion, FX’s Marvel TV show—the first set in the X-Men universe—has a new trailer. (Thanks to byzantine licensing agreements, the X-Men universe is separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Daredevil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers movies, et al.) The show is about the son of X-Men founder Professor Charles Xavier: David Haller, aka Legion, played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens. Legion is a mutant like his father, but his powers are mitigated by mental illness, including a dissociative disorder.

The new trailer gives viewers a look at Jean Smart, who plays Haller’s therapist, offering the troubled mutant an unconventional way to “rewrite the story of your life.” It seems like it involves some sort of electrical sensor handles built into a table (looking suspiciously like the Domination game in Never Say Never Again), which is definitely unconventional. But then there’s not much conventional about Haller’s ability to send everything in the kitchen flying through the air, either, so, desperate times, desperate measures. Will Smart’s therapy save Haller before he loses control of his kitchen-destroying powers and destroys his kitchen forever? Audiences will find out on Feb. 8 when the show premieres.

Dec. 5 2016 5:51 PM

The Real Star of All These Young Pope Trailers Is Jude Law’s Sick Collection of Pope Hats

HBO’s The Young Pope stars Jude Law as an angsty Italian-American cardinal who ascends to the highest position in the church despite his youth and American-ness. Like a modern-day Borgias or a House of Cards with catechism, the series follows Law’s character, Lenny Belardo, as he navigates the treachery of the corrupt Catholic Church while waging a war on “rampant liberalism.” It’s a compelling premise:

But with each new trailer for the series, it becomes more and more apparent that these sneak peeks, while they do highlight the intrigue of the clergy and Law’s talents as an actor, have an ulterior motive: to show off Law’s incredible papal wardrobe. The Catholic Church is known for its assortment of funny hats, and Lenny’s are, in addition to being stylish, symbolically significant, so let’s examine them one by one, shall we?

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HBO

First up, we have the zucchetto, a small skullcap suitable for daily wear and casual Vatican life. Lenny wears the zucchetto while looking out from balconies onto Vatican Square, as well as while striding down corridors, a trail of cardinals in tow. The zucchetto is great for when a pope just wants to go about his business without an enormous crown weighing him down.

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HBO

Speaking of which, here we see Lenny adopting a papal tiara, an accessory which popes in the past century have rejected for its perception as “a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes.” Not suitable for daily wear, because of the whole “makes you look like a tyrant” thing, and because, hey, those things are heavy. They are, however, appropriate for threatening to wage a war without end against your enemies, so well done, Lenny!

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HBO

But the real star of the show so far seems to be this dapper cappello romano (literally: Roman hat) also known as a saturno, so named for its brim’s resemblance to Saturn’s rings.

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HBO

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HBO

Perched just so, this hat says, yes, I’m a bloodthirsty ruler with one-fifth of the world’s population under my leadership, but when I’m not dramatically kneeling at the bottom of a swimming pool, I like to look sharp, even a little playful. Just watch as I pair it with sunglasses and a cigarette—you’ll find I’m not like a regular pope. I’m a cool pope.

The Young Pope begins airing in the U.S. on Jan. 15.

Dec. 5 2016 2:31 PM

Jimmy Kimmel Is Your 2017 Oscars Host, and the Matt Damon Jokes Just Write Themselves

Jimmy Kimmel has been tapped to host the Oscars on Feb. 26, according to Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, marking the late night host’s first time ever hosting the prestigious Academy Awards. The decision makes a lot of sense: Not only was Kimmel’s turn at hosting the Emmys in September a success, but the announcement comes on the back of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ new deal with ABC (which just so happens to be the home of Jimmy Kimmel Live!) allowing the network more creative input in the ceremony.

Last year’s Oscars were hosted by none other than Chris Rock, during a ceremony that was marked by a conspicuous lack of diversity, something Rock called out again and again. The Academy has announced plans to diversify and avoid the embarrassment of #OscarsSoWhite since then by including more women and people of color as voting members, and this year’s pool of nominees is already looking much more promising. That said, I’m not sure what message the Academy is sending by sticking yet another white dude in the spotlight at a time when they are supposed to be committed to inclusion. Why not give the job to Leslie Jones? Melissa McCarthy? Mindy Kaling? Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele would make a great team. Plus, isn’t Wanda Sykes long overdue? At the very least, if Kimmel’s Emmys gig is any indicator, he should lob a few jokes at his own expense.

That is, when he isn’t lobbing them at Matt Damon. Kimmel has already mocked longtime nemesis Damon for passing on the role in Manchester by the Sea that has made Casey Affleck a Best Actor frontrunner, so that’s pretty much a certainty. Just do us one favor, Jimmy: Don’t hand out any food to the audience. We’re begging you.

Dec. 5 2016 2:13 PM

Watch Billy on the Street Search for New Movie Franchises With Andy Samberg and Jon Hamm

After basing movies on iPhone games and dolls with funny hair, it seems like Hollywood is scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to finding new franchises to exploit. But fear not, entertainment industry: Billy on the Street is here to help. In a new clip from this week's forthcoming episode, Billy Eichner roams the streets with Andy Samberg, Jon Hamm, and Lupita Nyong’o playing a host of potential—if spectacularly ill-advised—candidates for new bigscreen heroes. Remember Myspace Tom, who friended everyone on the bygone social network? Surely you’d like to see him team up with a group of like-minded heroes and fight evil. No? How about Doctor Strange, Medicine Woman, a frontier doctor who learns the ancient art of spellcasting? Not that either, huh? Okay, get ready for this: the mermaid from the Starbucks logo, who will “beat you to a pulp and spell your name wrong on the tombstone.” Pretty great, right? Fine. But when the Marvel Cinematic Universe announces a Paste-Pot Pete spinoff for 2027, don’t come crying to us.

Dec. 5 2016 12:23 PM

The Westworld Finale Highlighted the Problem With This Show’s Twist Addiction

The first season of Westworld, HBO’s show about a debauched theme park in which sentient robots are raped and tortured by human beings on vacation, ended with the robots in open rebellion. In the final sequence, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the show’s robot protagonist, known in the series’ vernacular as a “host,” executed Robert (Anthony Hopkins), the park’s co-founder, according to his wishes. She killed him in front of a black-tie clad group of park investors, whose annual gala was soon set upon by all the defunct hosts in the Westworld storage lockers, guns blazing.

Dec. 5 2016 11:47 AM

Netflix Announces Second Seasons (and a Christmas Special) for Sense8 and Luke Cage

Though there was little doubt, Netflix has made it official: Sense8 and Luke Cage will be returning for second seasons. In the former’s case, a Christmas special has also been announced and is set to launch on Dec. 23.

Sense8, created and executive-produced by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix), was met with mixed reviews upon its summer 2015 premiere, but reception improved once critics and viewers were able to binge it in its entirety. The series opened on eight strangers in different parts of the world as they became “sensates”—mentally and emotionally interconnected humans. From there, it explored gender, sexuality, and queer identity, with a particularly infamous orgy scene drawing attention along the way. Its second season, which includes a controversial actor replacement, will premiere May 5.

The latest entrant in Netflix’s Marvel canon, Luke Cage drew attention for the strong lead performance from Mike Colter and for its intimate atmosphere—particularly, the day-to-day interactions between the residents of its Harlem community. A second season was long considered an inevitability, but as for when that season might debut, that’s very much up in the air. Netflix still has its Defenders team-up series to launch, not to mention new seasons of Jessica Jones and Daredevil. It’s reasonable to assume that the streaming service won’t be prepared to launch Luke Cage Season 2 before 2018 rolls around. Until then:

Dec. 5 2016 11:24 AM

Positive Reviews for 28 Minutes of Rogue One Bode Well for the Other 105 Minutes

We’re getting closer and closer to the Dec. 16 release date of Rogue One, and the fervor is building. We now have our first real impressions of the film after a half-hour's worth of the standalone ”Star Wars story” was screened to a few members of the press on Friday at Skywalker Ranch. Uproxx described the screening as showing “maybe the first 15 minutes of the film, followed by two additional sequences, then a sizzle reel, totaling about 28 minutes in all.” (The footage was specifically chosen to be spoiler-free, so don’t get your hopes up for any planet-shattering revelations.)

Still, though 28 minutes is just a fraction of a film that is more than two hours long, first impressions were mostly positive, and we learned a few important things. The embargo for reviews of the entire film is scheduled to lift on December 13.

There’s no opening crawl, and it is missed.

Eric Eisenberg, CinemaBlend:

As we've previously reported, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story doesn't open with the traditional scrawl, but instead a 15-years-earlier prologue that sets up the base of the story - though it does have the blue text “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away....”

Mike Ryan Uproxx:

As you’ve probably heard by now, Rogue One does not sport the traditional Star Wars crawl, instead it starts with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ….,” then just starts. (Which, to be honest, is a little jarring because our brains have been conditioned to hear the theme music and see a crawl after we see that.

Alan Tudyk tucks another brilliant comedic performance under his belt.

Brian Truitt, USA Today:

While little BB-8 stole scenes in Force Awakens, the droid to watch in Rogue One is K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial robot with attitude played via performance capture by Alan Tudyk.

Jacob Hall, /Film:

Tudyk (who was on set in a motion capture suit and provides the character’s voice) plays K-2SO like a sociopathic C-3PO, prissy and easily offended but perfectly comfortable dismantling entire squads of Stormtroopers. He’s a hoot.

Michael Giacchino’s score is a mix of the old with the new.

Alex Reif, Laughing Place:

Giacchino has written some amazing and memorable music for Rogue One. And while Williams may not have written new music for this film, a couple of his melodies were used in the preview I saw.

Mike Ryan, Uproxx:

And the score—which isn’t John Williams this time; Michael Giacchino has the honors—presents something different, yet at times feels familiar.

Bryan Young, Big Shiny Robot:

The music we hear from Michael Giacchino is scintillating, though some fans might bristle at the hints of the Star Wars main theme as the title card finally plays to revised hints of that iconic theme. But the score is inherently Star Wars in its feel.

There is at least one fun Easter egg for serious fans.

Jacob Hall, /Film:

A quick reference to the Journal of the Whills sees the film incorporating tidbits of Star Wars lore that would only be familiar to hardened fans. A few amusing cameos from some original trilogy characters (and no, not whom you’d expect) further ground Rogue One in its very specific place.

Mike Ryan, Uproxx:

We also meet Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior who is also Force sensitive. He’s described as a “Guardian of the Whills,” which is a nice callback to the earliest drafts of George Lucas’ Star Wars which were titled Adventures of Luke Starkiller as Taken from the Journal of the Whills.

Most importantly, this is a gritty war film.

Mark Daniell, Toronto Sun:

Kids are going to love it but Rogue One seems to be aiming squarely at kidults. The film has a gritty look, one that is more reminiscent of a war film than a polished sci-fi epic. The action is also visceral and uncompromising, particularly in scenes where Andor kills an informant and rebels attack a squad of Stormtroopers. Edwards shoots the scenes up close, letting us hear the bones crunch.

Rob Keyes, ScreenRant:

Make no mistake, Rogue One puts the “war” in Star Wars and any claims that this dirtier, grittier spinoff is a war movie are accurate. It’s not pretty. It’s violent and hardcore, more than any other take on Star Wars to date. Soldiers die as children scream. Literally.

Kate Erbland, IndieWire:

What might be most striking about the footage screened is how much it reflects the oft-repeated sentiment that Rogue One is a war movie above all else. […] As difficult as it may be to glean the feel of an entire feature from a few carefully selected scenes, when what we saw of Rogue One leaned into its war film comparisons, it was undoubtedly at its most compelling.

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