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Dec. 15 2017 11:57 AM

A Make-Ahead, Totally Genius Holiday Breakfast Casserole

This post originally appeared in Genius Recipes on Food52.

Of course make-ahead breakfast casseroles are genius. They let you knock out all the thinking and doing the day before, when you have time and space to putter. And they feed a hungry crowd much more smoothly than flipping fried eggs or rolling omelettes for eight (don’t do it).

The trouble is: In their ingenious practicality, these casseroles can often feel utilitarian at best. They’re a breakfast you can cut into neat rectangles, with none of the dramatic pouf of a Dutch baby or tactile glee of a pull-apart monkey bread.

Dec. 15 2017 11:10 AM

More Women Accuse Dustin Hoffman of Sexual Assault, Indecent Exposure

Dustin Hoffman—the man who has said of previous misconduct allegations against him that this is simply how members of a “family” treat one another on set—has been accused of sexually assaulting two women and exposing himself to a minor. The three women spoke to Variety about their experiences with Hoffman, with details that line up with multiple previous allegations against him.

Cori Thomas was a high school friend of Hoffman’s daughter Karina in 1980 and, as an aspiring actress, a huge fan of Hoffman. After an innocent Sunday spent with Hoffman and Karina in Manhattan, Hoffman suggested that they wait for Thomas’ parents to pick her up at his hotel, according to Thomas’ account. When Karina went home to the house of her mother (whom Hoffman was in the process of divorcing), Hoffman took a shower before returning to the room wearing nothing but a towel.

“He came out of the bathroom with a towel at first wrapped around him, which he dropped,” Thomas said. “He was standing there naked. I think I almost collapsed, actually. It was the first time I had ever seen a naked man. I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. And he milked it. He milked the fact that he was naked. He stood there. He took his time.”

Hoffman put on a robe and asked Thomas, then 16, for a foot massage, which she then did. (Hoffman allegedly asked Anna Graham Hunter, a 17-year-old intern on the set of Death of a Salesman, to give him a massage on her first day.) While massaging his feet, Hoffman kept telling Thomas, “I’m naked. Do you want to see?” Thomas said she was only able to extricate herself from the situation when the phone rang, announcing her own mother’s arrival. Thomas said she was humiliated and unable to tell her mother until decades later. (Her mother recalled being concerned about her daughter having been alone with Hoffman.)

The other women, Melissa Kester and a woman who requested anonymity, told Variety about different incidents that occurred during the making of Ishtar, which was released in 1987. Kester, a recent college graduate at the time, was dating a man working on the music for the film. She met Hoffman multiple times at the studio where he was recording vocal tracks for the film. On the third such occasion, struggling with a take, Hoffman “jokingly” called for Kester to be sent into the booth with him.

“I’m standing there, and it’s kind of a small room, and he grabs me, so we’re both facing out so we’re both facing the people in the studio. I’m thinking that it’s kind of flirtatious and funny, like he’s holding onto me, because I’m going to help him sing better. I felt awkward. It’s a little weird. He’s hugging me while he’s singing. But ha ha ha, it’s all a joke. My boyfriend is right there.”
Hoffman continued with the take.
“And as he’s doing that, he literally just stuck his fingers down my pants,” Kester said. “He put his fingers inside me. And the thing I feel most bad about is I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there. I just froze in the situation like ‘Oh my god, what is happening?’ It’s shocking when that happens to you.”

The incident described is reminiscent of accusations by Kathryn Rossetter, Hoffman’s Death of a Salesman Broadway co-star, who said Hoffman would regularly grope her while she was waiting in the wings—on mic and unable to protest—before an entrance, one night even sticking his fingers inside her. Kester said she never told her boyfriend about the incident.

The third woman said Hoffman approached her while she was an extra in a nightclub scene in the film. He invited her back to the set for the final day of the shoot, insisting she stay for the wrap-up party. After offering her a ride home, Hoffman started touching her without her consent, and she froze.

“There are people inches from us,” she said. “And he just took his hand and stuck his fingers right up inside of me. I didn’t know what to do. He’s smiling at me. I was frozen. I was outside of my body.”

After the car dropped her off, Hoffman handed her $20 and told her to take a cab to his home, which she did, describing herself as being in “a kind of fugue state.” She then engaged in consensual sexual activity with Hoffman but says the incident in the car was nonconsensual.

Hoffman was not available to comment on the story, but his attorney wrote a letter to Variety calling the accusations “defamatory falsehoods.”

Dec. 15 2017 9:33 AM

6 Things We Know (and Don’t Know) About the Disney-Fox Merger

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

With the Walt Disney Company’s announcement Thursday that it had reached a megadeal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion (plus another $13.7 billion in assumed debt), Hollywood watchers have been working overtime trying to parse the merger’s overall entertainment-industry impact. Will it yield a Reese’s “Your chocolate’s in my peanut butter” corporate synergy between two behemoth TV-movie-internet companies—or mark the birth of a terrifying new media monopoly? And will the FCC, which under the Trump administration has turned a surprisingly cold shoulder to mergers, put a stop to the whole thing? There are plenty of unanswered questions, but there are few broad areas where certain outcomes seem more likely. Let’s break down what we (think) we know so far:

Dec. 15 2017 7:33 AM

Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It Got a Modern-Day Update. Crooklyn Should Be Next.

Like pretty much every narrative he’s ever produced, Spike Lee’s Netflix adaptation of his feature debut She’s Gotta Have It has proven to be polarizing. It’s been deemed “a boring rehash of the original” and “buoyant, funny … and un-Spikeishly restrained”; “as fresh as a flip phone” and a depiction of Lee’s “most feminist heroine yet.” That last point especially is debatable, even if one thing everyone can agree on is that this new version is decidedly aware of the ways in which perceptions around black female sexuality have evolved since 1986. Yes, Nola Darling 2.0 (DeWanda Wise) is a vast improvement over her previous incarnation as an elusive, one-dimensional figure (Tracy Camilla Johns) for the men in her life to project their fantasies and desires on. But when looking back on the filmmaker’s fascinatingly varied career, I can’t help but echo other critics’ sentiments that She’s Gotta Have It’s tale of a black, single young adult woman juggling a complicated love life and a career isn’t exactly groundbreaking when stronger representations like Insecure and Being Mary Jane currently exist, and Living Single and Girlfriends preceded it by decades. What’s still largely missing from the screen, is a nuanced, studied narrative built around young black girls. Perhaps a more interesting and fruitful return to the well for Lee would have been a series adaptation of Crooklyn instead.

Released in 1994, Crooklyn tends to be overshadowed by Lee’s splashier, more controversial efforts like Do the Right Thing and School Daze, or critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers like 25th Hour and Malcolm X. It’s a “small” and innocuous film by comparison, loosely inspired by his childhood and co-written with his siblings, Cinqué and Joie, largely unconcerned with institutional racism, the criminal justice system, or morality tales. But that’s an inherent part of its charm. Set in the early 1970s, the first half plays out in loosely connected slice-of-life vignettes, the camera weaving along a single bustling block in Bed-Stuy where black and brown kids play freely among Vietnam war vets, druggies, an oddball who owns dozens of dogs in his garden-level apartment, and other colorful neighbors. Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), a school teacher, and her husband Woody (Delroy Lindo), a struggling musician, are raising their five kids in a beautiful brownstone, and while they certainly don’t live within the tax bracket of the Huxtables (at one point their electricity gets cut off and for a period of time they have to rely on food stamps), they aren’t living The Struggle, either—the family dynamics, of stressed out parents and squabbling siblings, are nearly universal.

Dec. 14 2017 2:30 PM

Black Women Came Through With Both the Votes in Alabama and the Jokes on Late Night

On Tuesday night, Doug Jones became the first Democratic candidate to win a Senate race in Alabama since 1992. This was thanks in large part to massive black voter turnout—and in particular, to black women, who made up 17 percent of voters and overwhelmingly chose Jones over opponent Roy Moore. Late-night comedy is still an overwhelmingly white and male scene, but on Wednesday night, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah stepped back and let their black, female contributors seize the limelight for a victory lap—and some advice about what to do next.

Dec. 14 2017 12:09 PM

The Last Jedi Revives an Extremely Arcane Bit of Star Wars Lore. Here’s What You Need to Know.

The new Star Wars installment is chock-full of references to the space opera’s past, but here’s one allusion that moviegoers, and even many Star Wars buffs, might not be able to place: a pair of tiny golden cubes on a chain, the Millennium Falcon’s space-travel equivalent of fuzzy rearview mirror dice. The dice are the property of the galaxy’s favorite rogue, the late Han Solo, and they’re still dangling in the cockpit when, as glimpsed in a TV spot, Luke Skywalker reenters the freighter. Like everything in the Star Wars universe, the tiny gold knickknack has a backstory, and Slate investigated it.

The golden dice make their first appearance in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, the film that introduced George Lucas’ saga. Set decorator Roger Christian, whose team won an Academy Award for the 1977 film, wrote in his autobiography that he added the dice as a finishing touch that helped develop Solo’s character as “reckless” and “a gambler.” Christian took inspiration from actor Harrison Ford’s previous film with Lucas, American Graffiti, in which Ford’s character had a skull dangling off his mirror, but Christian deemed a skull “a little too rock ’n’ roll for Star Wars.” So the dice became a part of the Millennium Falcon. Eagle-eyed viewers can glimpse the dice at the very top of the frame during the scene where the ship is sucked into the Death Star by a tractor beam, for instance. Chewbacca also hits his head on the dice as he boards the Falcon in Mos Eisley, the spaceport where the famous cantina scene occurs.

Speaking to Vanity Fair before the release of The Last Jedi, Pablo Hidalgo, creative executive of Lucasfilm Story Group, said that the production might have forgotten about the dice in the interim; they didn’t appear again until the saga returned with The Force Awakens. Hidalgo said the team behind the 2015 movie re-watched old footage to reconstruct Solo’s ship. (According to the Metro, the art department at Pinewood Studios realized they were missing the dice after filming had started and bought a pair of 24-karat-plated dice from a fan of the franchise on eBay for £22 in June 2014).

Hidalgo, who J.J. Abrams called the “keeper of all arcane details of Star Wars,” spoke about the dice’s origins in that same Vanity Fair piece, and the charm showed up on the magazine’s Force Awakens cover, nestled between the V and A.

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“The story that you would hear if you traveled to cantinas or watering holes around the Star Wars galaxy,” Hidalgo says, spinning his yarn, “is that those dice were involved in a game of Corellian Spike—a dice-using version of a card game called sabacc. Rumor has it Han won the Millennium Falcon [from Lando Calrissian] with those dice. Whether or not that’s just bar talk, I can’t say.”

This account is reiterated in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the Visual Dictionary, which Hidalgo wrote. But in the Expanded Universe young readers novel Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, published in 2015, author Greg Rucka seems to suggest an alternate story. He writes, “The Wookiee barked a response to C-3PO, slapped his comm button again, and swung up from his seat, ducking out of habit as he stepped out of the cockpit and knocked the pair of novelty chance dice that he’d hung there as a joke some years ago.” The official Star Wars website references this as a “canonical explanation.” [Very mild The Last Jedi spoilers follow.]

So the origins of the dice are muddy, although perhaps not quite as mysterious as the question of Rey’s parentage at the start of The Last Jedi. But we do know they have sentimental value: Luke swipes them out of the Falcon and gives this reminder of Han over to Leia when the twins reunite. The film lingers on this moment with a close up of the dice resting in General Organa’s hands, but viewers who aren’t eagle-eyed or steeped in Star Wars lore might be left wondering what significance, exactly, the golden dice hold.

Dec. 14 2017 11:01 AM

Disney Makes Deal to Acquire 21st Century Fox for $52.4 Billion

The Walt Disney Company announced on Thursday that it will acquire most of 21st Century Fox in a deal valued at $52.4 billion. The acquisition will include Fox’s TV and film studios, cable networks such as National Geographic and FX, and international TV businesses. The deal does not include Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2, or the Big Ten Network, which will remain under the control of Rupert Murdoch.

Dec. 14 2017 10:33 AM

The Trick to Smooth, Melty, Austin Diner–Worthy Queso

This post originally appeared on Food52.

There’s a difference between the jarred queso I pop into the microwave as guests walk through the door and the ooey, gooey appetizer gracing Tex-Mex restaurant tables. The former usually congeals untouched; the latter, I’m tempted to lick out of the bowl.

Great homemade queso takes a little longer than a twirl in the microwave. And while we're fans of making dinner a little speedier, that’s one shortcut you definitely shouldn’t take. No matter what cheese you decide to melt, it’s very important to buy chunks or blocks and grate the cheese yourself, says Homesick Texan creator Lisa Fain. “Pre-packaged shredded cheese is mixed with non-clumping agents, [which] prevent the cheese from melting into a smooth sauce,” she writes in her latest book, Queso!, which is chock-full of delicious dairy recipes and bits of Lone Star State history.

Dec. 14 2017 9:33 AM

Here’s Why “Duel of the Fates” Transcends the Star Wars Prequels

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

In the lead-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we look back at the first Jedi (narratively speaking) with a series of stories about the much-beloved and never-disparaged prequel trilogy.

Darth Maul is one of the few elements in George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels to be almost universally admired. The badass Sith lord—red-and-black war paint obscuring his entire head, which is protected by a crown of dinosaurian horns, girded in a billowing black cloak and armed with a red, double-bladed lightsaber—cuts a terrifying figure from the moment he’s introduced in The Phantom Menace, brooding next to the future Emperor Palpatine. He gets one of the best lines of the movie, delivered in Peter Serafinowicz’s British baritone: “At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge.”

Another element that (almost) no one complains about is John Williams’ music, three epic scores added to his soon-to-be eight-cycle space opera. The prequels are chock-full of now-classic melodies, including Anakin’s innocent theme (with its hidden references to Darth Vader’s march), the bittersweet love theme (“Across the Stars”) for Anakin and Padme, and the epic choral showdown “Battle of the Heroes” from Revenge of the Sith. But the theme that came closest to achieving the pop-culture invasion that “The Imperial March” did in the previous Star Wars cycle was the one Williams boldly dubbed “Duel of the Fates.”

Dec. 14 2017 8:55 AM

The Trump Era Has Taken Some of the Fun Out of The Book of Mormon

The most satisfying moment in The Book of Mormon might be when a disillusioned and rumpled Elder Price, a formerly straight-laced and pompous Mormon missionary, says the word fuck. The savage catharsis of that line is what the political hell (H-E-double-hockey-sticks, if you ask the musical’s proselyting characters) of 2017 demands. But all the profanity in the world—and Book of Mormon, the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, delights in being foulmouthed—can’t make the critically acclaimed musical as riotous a piece of satire as it was before last year’s election. After all, when Book of Mormon made its Tony-winning Broadway debut in 2011, Donald Trump was firing celebrities from The Apprentice, not threatening North Korea with “fire and fury.” But as it’s performed in today’s political context, Book of Mormon has become a tangle of Trumpian echoes, offering incomplete escapism and blunted commentary.

This fault line was evident at the touring production of the musical I attended at the Kennedy Center last month. (The tour is currently making its way through Florida, then heads west in the new year, and the New York production is still one of the highest-grossing shows on Broadway.) The audience still guffawed, the tunes were as catchy as ever, but I couldn’t sink into the sheer escapist absurdity of the satire the way I had when I first watched Book of Mormon in San Francisco two and a half years earlier; I was constantly reminded of the political reality of the Trump White House just one mile away.

From the curtain lift, Book of Mormon emphasizes the religious fervor of its missionaries; the first big musical number sees a host of ever-friendly Elders persistently ringing doorbells. But these days, religious fervor appears not just on our doorsteps but in policymaking, and when birth control coverage is being stripped away, the missionaries’ zealotry feels a lot less laughable. In this setting, the chorus of self-serious, squeaky-clean missionaries brings to mind the image of a dozen Mike Pences, pre-Mother. “Turn It Off,” a number about the repression of same-sex desire, has gained a sinister veneer in a world where the president jokes that his hyperdevout second in command “wants to hang” gay people. Lyrics like “When you start to feel confused/ about thoughts inside your head/ don’t feel those feelings!/ Hold them in instead,” could also make a very good anthem for the GOP congress people singing about squashing their consciences. (Just imagine Paul Ryan leading McConnell and the other rank-and-file conservatives in the tap routine.) It’s harder to giggle at religion when it’s become a political force to be reckoned with.

To be fair, a musical about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not exactly interchangeable with a song-and-dance story the evangelical right and the uneasy bedfellow it’s found in Trumpism. Mitt Romney won 28 percent more votes in the deep-red and majority-Mormon state of Utah than Trump, whose Islamophobia, lack of decorum, and anti-immigration sentiment many Mormons find off-putting. Mormon politicians have proven to be some of the president’s more outspoken conservative critics (see: Jeff Flake, third-party candidate Evan McMullin, Romney). But data from a 2014 Pew study showed that Mormons are the most consistently Republican-leaning religious group in America, and slightly more of them disapprove of abortion and homosexuality than even evangelical Protestants. These are the same faith-based, socially conservative views influencing this administration’s policy.

Beyond nagging reminders of the religious right, Book of Mormon is laden with unintentional Trumpian overtures. Of course, that’s partially because everything nowadays is Trump-saturated. (When was the last time you saw a tomato-red baseball cap or heard the word tremendous without cringing a little?) But you can also credit it to Stone and Parker’s brand of comedy, which lambasts political correctness. “The things that we do—being outrageous and taking things to the extreme to get a reaction—[Trump]’s using those tools,” Trey Parker told the Los Angeles Times. The braggadocio of “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” could easily have been a Saturday Night Live riff on Trump’s “I alone can fix it” bluster, staged as a buddy song between him and Pence. But like Alec Baldwin’s caricature of Trump on SNL, an onslaught of one-note Trump imitation grows exhausting.

That’s not to say Parker and Stone’s satire has wholly lost its edge; indeed, jabs at the LDS Church’s racist past got some of the loudest laughs, perhaps due to how glaringly applicable Charlottesville and a race-baiting president have shown them to be today (or more cynically, maybe because for an audience of white liberals, calling out racism through humor relieves the conscience and avoids some of the harder, privilege-dismantling work). But in other moments, jokes that apply Trump-adopted techniques—like the lark that “God’s favorite prophet was all-American” (referencing New Yorker Joseph Smith)—feel inadequate given how charged the notion of “all-American” has become in the midst of open xenophobia and endless respect-the-flag debates.

Besides, we go to musicals for an escape from reality, not a million stinging paper-cut reminders of it. That’s why the more outlandish numbers, like “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” where Elder Price gets taunted by Genghis Khan and also dancing Starbucks cups, are still fun. Even dressed up in sparkles and sharp choreography, the other numbers felt like garish versions of what we see with every push alert. So much for escapism; the marble halls of Washington are now a real-life spooky hell dream of your own.

But it’s Book of Mormon’s grand conclusion that shows how much the political ground has shifted. The overarching message—that for all its flaws, faith in something that can’t be proven is good—is better suited to the hopey-changey Obama presidency, not this post-truth Trump world where facts have become a more precious commodity. Like our president, the musical’s protagonist, Elder Cunningham, is prone to fibbing and underprepared for his job; when his limited knowledge of the Book of Mormon fails him, he tells outlandish half-truths that blend doctrine with Star Wars: “In ancient New York, three men were about to cut off a Mormon woman’s … clitoris. But … right before they did, Jesus had … BOBA FETT turn ’em into FROGS!” Yes, Stone and Parker wink at the idea that these lies aren’t too much more ludicrous than some of the Mormon beliefs they ridicule, like the prospect of the Nephite people leaving ancient Jerusalem to live in North America two-plus millennia ago. But by the final song, the cast holds out a new holy book: the Book of Arnold. To me, it was an uncomfortable remembrance of how Trump’s base supports him with borderline religious fervor, of how the evangelical right has found its morals flexible when it comes to politically expedient partnerships, of just how eagerly people can embrace untruths.

Reviewing the musical in 2014, the New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote, “The Book of Mormon is about the triumph of faith in fantasy.” Faith in fantasy—be it the liberal fantasy of the first woman president or the Trump-peddled notion that his “great” response to Hurricane Maria was twisted by the media—does not feel like something to sing about; it’s been weaponized. “I Believe,” a soaring ode proclaiming faith in the stranger points of LDS doctrine, is a song for 2008 Obama, for Bill Clinton gleefully batting balloons at the Democratic National Convention and feeling confident Hillary would win. But now, cynicism feels more apt than sincerity. Perhaps that’s why I found the smaller, interpersonal numbers that pay more attention to the characters than their stereotypes or the songs that voice frustration (like when the Ugandans cuss out God) the most enjoyable this time around. Faith feels foolish, but protest is in style.

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