Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 19 2014 11:58 AM

Letterman Remembers the First Time He Met Robin Williams

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death last Monday, there’s been an outpouring of remembrances of the late comic, including from late night hosts Conan O’Brien and Jimmy FallonThe Late Show was on break last week, but last night David Letterman, who knew Williams personally for nearly four decades, returned with one of the most heartwarming tributes yet. In it, he shared the charming story of how the two first met as amateur comedians and competitors at the legendary Comedy Store in Hollywood. Unsurprisingly, Letterman’s reaction to witnessing Williams in action for the first time is priceless: “They’re gonna have to put an end to show business because what can happen after this?”

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Aug. 19 2014 9:01 AM

Introducing the Star Wars Rumor Generator!

For all the months and months of rumors about Star Wars Episode VII, it’s remarkable how little we actually know. Back in April, there was the initial announcement of the cast, and then in June, the additions of Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie. Aside from that casting news, almost nothing has been confirmed. The rumors—mostly from sites like Latino Review that are often right but also sometimes wrong—come from unnamed sources. And even the substance of the gossip is often utterly generic. Last week the latest was that the main villain is “tall and thin and terrifyingly creepy” (as opposed to the villains who are not creepy?) “with glowing red eyes to match his red lightsaber.” In other words, he’s sort of like Vader, and Darth Maul, and nearly every other Star Wars villain. As Indiewire’s Sam Adams tweeted, “I have it on good authority EPISODE VII will include both Stars and Wars.”

So why not join in on the fun? Now you, too, can spread speculation, using the generator below. You may look at the source and think “I have a bad feeling about this”—but that shouldn’t stop you from spreading some gossip! May the force—of hearsay—be with you.

Aug. 19 2014 8:03 AM

Villains Love Classical: The Supercut

When the avenging hero of Luc Besson’s latest thriller Lucy finally bursts in on the evil villain, he’s lying back, getting a cucumber-mask makeover, and listening to Mozart. It’s no surprise: The villain’s choice of music harkens back to Besson’s most famous villain, the Beethoven-obsessed madman of The Professional. Not to mention decades of other classical-loving bad guys, whom we’ve rounded up in the supercut above. Just last year, White House Down featured a sequence in which an evildoer hacks into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while jamming out to Beethoven’s Fifth, a sequence that itself was reminiscent of the Beethoven-blaring Die Hard.

Which types of classical do villains love the most? As the examples above suggest, their favorite composer seems to be Beethoven. (Perhaps they’re inspired by A Clockwork Orange.) Meanwhile, their favorite instrument seems to be the piano—recall Bond villain Hugo Drax or Interview With the Vampire’s Lestat de Lioncourt—and they also go crazy for opera. Perhaps there’s no accounting for their killer taste, except that screenwriters seem to use classical again and again to signify that these baddies are frightfully intelligent, have a flair for the dramatic, and are too sophisticated to be trusted.

Aug. 18 2014 8:20 PM

The Tale of Princess Kaguya Looks Like a Stunning Return to Form for Isao Takahata

The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Studio Ghibli’s latest film, was released in Japan last year to rave reviews. In March, independent distributor GKIDS announced that they’d bought the U.S. rights for the film, and they’ve finally released the first teaser for its stateside release. It’s a short glimpse that doesn’t reveal much plot, but what we see is haunting, beautiful, and more than enough to predict another Ghibli masterpiece.

Aug. 18 2014 7:41 PM

Taylor Swift Shakes Off Her Haters—and Her Old Country Image—on New Single

In the video for Taylor Swift’s new single—the first off her next album—the polarizing superstar tries on a number of new looks. She hoists a boombox, Radio Raheem-style, beside some breakdancing hip-hop heads. She pirouettes with some ballerinas, sporting a tutu straight out of Black Swan. She dons a sparkly tracksuit apparently meant to convey some sort of EDM kid. She almost twerks. (Her new album is called 1989, but her references don’t exactly stick to that year.)

If this all sounds cringe-inducingly awkward, that’s the point.

Aug. 18 2014 5:31 PM

How Movies and TV Shows Are Making Text Messaging Cinematic

We’ve featured Tony Zhou’s video essays before, on what American comedy filmmakers could learn from Edgar Wright, on how Martin Scorsese uses silence, and on what makes a Michael Bay movie a Michael Bay movie. In his latest video essay, Zhou looks at how a range of movies and TV shows are addressing one relatively new problem: how to depict text messaging.

Like Zhou, I favor the approach taken by Sherlock, which shows text messages in on-screen titles, though I’m not sure it would fit as well into movies and TV shows that are less stylish. And though Sherlock was the first show I noticed using this technique, Zhou points out that many movies that are less well-known had used it before—if, often, less well. Filmmakers may still not have figured out the best way to depict texting, but they would be wise to put some thought into it, perhaps by taking a look at this sharp analysis from Zhou. 

Aug. 18 2014 5:03 PM

David Byrne and Jonathan Demme Talk Stop Making Sense 30 Years Later

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of Stop Making Sense, the Jonathan Demme-directed Talking Heads concert film that captured the band at the height of its power as a live act. Filmed over three nights at the Greek theater in Los Angeles, the movie slowly builds as more and more performers join David Byrne on stage. It remains one of the most influential and beloved concert films ever made.

Aug. 18 2014 2:04 PM

How Faithful Is The Giver to the Lois Lowry Novel?

The movie adaptation of The Giver, Lois Lowry’s Newberry Medal–winning YA novel, was years in the making. While Lowry has been blunt about the need for some changes—she told Hypable, “a movie has to have visual stuff, so there’s been action added that is not in the book”—audiences have been vocal from the start about their desire for faithfulness. When the first trailer came out in color (the world of The Giver is devoid of colors) fans were outraged. And as Laura Anderson writes in her review of the movie in Slate, the movie warps the source material so that it more closely conforms to all the teen-marketed dystopias that have come since.

So, sorry, middle school students: You won’t be able to write a paper based on the movie, with its drones and its love triangles.

Aug. 18 2014 1:27 PM

Charli XCX’s New Song Proves Once Again That She Deserves to Be a Star

Two of the biggest hits of this summer and the last share one thing in common, and her name is Charli XCX. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter co-wrote Icona Pop’s breakout single “I Love It,” one of the biggest hits of last year, and she’s responsible for the “monster hook” in Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” this year’s still-reigning frontrunner for Song of the Summer. She’s now also achieved yet another top ten hit with her contribution to The Fault in Our Stars soundtrack, “Boom Clap.” But just in case there was still any doubt left she’s ready for solo stardom, today Charli XCX announced her sophomore album Sucker with a new song, “Break the Rules,” that proves once again that she’s a pop force to be reckoned with.

Aug. 18 2014 1:26 PM

Fox Is Airing a New Stand-Up Series—but They’re Not Paying the Comics

Laughs is a new comedy showcase series airing on 11 Fox TV markets nationwide. It premiered on Aug. 2 and is running on Saturdays at 11 or midnight in most markets. Each half-hour episode features stand-up performed in clubs across the country, produced on a shoestring budget. The show is part of Fox’s new minor league-style in-house development plan, in which affiliate stations crank out first-run syndication shows so cheaply that the production costs are practically guaranteed to be offset by ad revenue. If a show takes off, they’ll make a bundle. But the shows will be profitable regardless of ratings, even if they only play in a few cities.

How does Laughs keep its costs down? By not paying its comics.