Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

March 23 2017 5:29 PM

There’s So Much New Gorillaz Music All of a Sudden

Where other artists tease with glimpses of their forthcoming albums, Gorillaz, the ever-shifting musical entity headed up by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, is flooding the zone, releasing four new songs from their forthcoming album, Humanz, which is due out April 28.

The complete album will consist of 14 tracks, 19 on the deluxe version, and will also be available as a “super deluxe vinyl box set” with each of the 14 tracks on a separate 12” slab, backed by an alternate version. A list of the album’s featured artists includes Vince Staples, Peven Everett, Popcaan, De La Soul, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, and Carly Simon, with actor Ben Mendelsohn narrating the album interludes.

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Here’s the music, and note that the Hewlett-directed six-minute video “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House),” which contains clips from all four songs, is available in both regular and, via supported web browsers, 360-degree versions.

“Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” (featuring Popcaan)

“We’ve Got the Power” (featuring Jehnny Beth)

“Andromeda” (featuring D.R.A.M.)

“Ascension” (featuring Vince Staples)

“Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” (360-degree version)

March 23 2017 1:30 PM

“Bingeing Is Bad”: Read Damon Lindelof’s Letter to Critics Before The Leftovers’ Final Season

Damon Lindelof has had a turbulent online relationship with critics of his TV shows, eventually quitting Twitter entirely after deciding that engaging with his haters was “unhealthy.” But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely given up on trying to control  the narrative around his shows. HBO today sent seven of the eight episodes in The Leftovers’ third and final season to critics, but that release was preceed by a note from Lindelof asking them to not rush through all seven back to back, and a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that he might be micromanaging their release just a tad.

Lindelof’s missive, which is reprinted in full below, also tweaks the famously controlling letters sent out with screeners by Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner, which enjoined critics from revealing even the most minute details of his season premieres—by Mad Men’s final seasons, all that Weiner would allow anyone to see in advance. The Leftovers has done exceptionally well by critics, who have played a significant role in keeping the low-rated show alive and giving Lindelof and Co. a chance to wrap up their story as they see fit—and Lindelof knows, and is grateful for, that. But he’s still not going to send his baby out into the world without at least a note pinned to its backpack, and if anyone starts tweeting out opinions on The Leftovers’ endgame seven hours from now, they can expect to hear from him again.

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Here's the letter.

Dear Critical Community,
G’day!  Welcome to the third and final season of THE LEFTOVERS.  On behalf of our entire team, I just wanted to say one thing before you embark on the journey.
Bingeing is bad.
I am old school.  And not just because I agree with Joss Whedon about everything. Never before in the history of the English language has “binge” been associated with something healthy or productive.  Just because there is an entire can of Pringles in front of you does not mean you should eat them all in one sitting.  Every time I have done this, I feel sad and guilty, and then mad at The Pringles Corporation.  Which is probably not even a thing.  But I also must acknowledge times have changed.  I must acknowledge there is not just too much television, but too much good television (“Fleek TV?”) and in order to make any kind of dent, we folks who produce it have to get out of our rocking chairs and get hip to the times.  Which probably includes not ever saying “hip” again.  Anyhoo…
We’re providing you with seven of our eight episodes.  Watch them however you see fit.  Review them however you see fit.  It’s not my place to suggest how to do your jobs.   I’d rather you not spoil some stuff, but I ultimately think it’s ridiculous to list that stuff, as it would seem completely arbitrary.  All I ask is that if you were surprised by something that happens on the show (either positively or negatively), it would be cool to maintain that same surprise for the audience.  For example, when Liv Tyler shoots lasers out of her eyes in Episode 4, we want that to be as shocking for them as it was for you.
Liv Tyler does not shoot lasers out of her eyes in Episode 4.
It’s Episode 6, actually.
But aren’t you bummed that I told you?
You get it.  You’re pros.  The point is, I’ve never sent out this many episodes in advance and I feel scared and I am trying to mitigate that fear by controlling things, but the way I’m controlling them is by trying to convince you that I’m okay with not controlling them.   I also ate an entire can of Pringles last night while watching the entire first season of FLEABAG until three in the morning, so y’know, hypocrite.
One last thing.  Please do not reveal the year this season takes place nor the new architectural design of STERLING, COOPER, PRYCE, GARVEY & JAMISON.
Your Pal,
Damon

March 23 2017 11:28 AM

Trevor Noah Defends Conservative Tomi Lahren, the Bill O’Reilly to His Jon Stewart, After Her Blaze Suspension

There’s more all-caps BREAKING NEWS in a single day of the Trump administration than a reasonable person could be expected to keep up with. Trevor Noah certainly understands the struggle to stay well-informed. He simply does not have time to address all of the country’s major headlines in a single episode of The Daily Show, which is why he introduced a new segment, Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, in which he rattles off the news stories he might otherwise not cover at all. Its first installment tackles the hearing of Supreme Court nominee and whitest man alive Neil Gorsuch as well as Ivanka Trump’s ethically questionable level of involvement in the White House.

But the highlight of the segment was Noah's coverage of reports that Glenn Beck’s network, the Blaze, suspended conservative media darling Tomi Lahren after she made pro-choice remarks during an appearance on the View. “I’m someone that’s for limited government. So I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think the government should decide what women do with their bodies,” Lahren said. “I can sit here and say that, as a Republican and I can say, you know what, I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”

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Lahren had previously appeared on The Daily Show for a fascinating, if often uncomfortable, debate with the obviously liberal Noah about Donald Trump (she’s for him), Colin Kaepernick (she’s against him), and Black Lives Matter (she has compared them to the KKK). At times, the conversation recalled the days of Jon Stewart sparring with Bill O'Reilly, with whom Stewart disagreed on virtually every topic but still enjoyed a weird, begrudging kind of respect. Noah showed that Lahren truly is his O'Reilly, as he called out the Blaze for being hypocritical after so often accusing the left of being easily offended “snowflakes” who can’t tolerate different opinions. “Tomi comes out and speaks her truth, says that she’s pro-choice, and then suddenly her bosses go, oh, you like choices? How about you choose a new job?

Apparently, snowflakery doesn’t just belong to liberals after all. But while Noah says he was offended by the double standard and wants to show support for Lahren, protesting the decision is out of the question. Why? “Unfortunately, there’s no type of black-people protest that Tomi is comfortable with.”

March 23 2017 9:32 AM

#GOPDnD Uses Dungeons & Dragons to Process Republicans’ Cartoon Villainy

Kill the commoners with your own blade or the effects of your actions. Wage war against populations willy-nilly, blame a third party for the aggression. Increase the price of health care, then belittle people for getting sick or hurt in the first place. The mind reels at such cartoon villainy, but #GOPDnD can help you come to terms with it.

The hashtag, which appears to have originated from the Twitter account of One Shot podcast co-host James D’Amato, has been steadily gaining steam since it appeared last Friday. It usually takes the form of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign leader or dungeon master arguing for (or against) common decency in the face of a rogue player—either the GOP or POTUS himself. Many use spells or in-game terms that just don’t translate to normie speech well. However, some transcend the form.

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Grab your bag of holding, we’re going in.

Most #GOPDnDers make use of their limited tweetspace to grapple with a single GOP-affected issue, framed in a way that would make Wizards of the Coast proud.

On “draining the swamp” and building the wall:

On women:

On healthcare:

Assigning politicians or pundits D&D alignments like Lawful Good/True Neutral/Chaotic Evil, or comparing them to easily identifiable fictional characters, has been played out again and again and again. (And again—it might be time to read a new book, guys.) But the fact that the actions of the Republican Party, or the day-to-day doings of President Donald Trump himself, are so easily paralleled by textbook bad-guy behavior isn’t just hilarious—it is also concerning.

But the parallels only go so far. It’s one thing when a single bad or unfair player in a D&D campaign gets huffy, picks up his or her dice, and storms out of a session. But if the GOP storms out? If the president storms out? How does this end? Will they tear up the Constitution, hold the budget hostage, get countless people killed either by illness or military action? Does our future hinge on a roll of the 20-sided dice? Could that even matter if the leadership is weighting the dice, then disregarding whatever it says anyway? Will we be left sending a bunch of low-level adventurers, played by children, up against the Demogorgon?

Maybe it’s time to look forward to the next campaign. America Second Edition will probably haved worked out the bugs in the system by then.

March 23 2017 8:32 AM

Every Excuse The Americans Has Used to Hide Henry Jennings Offscreen

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

The Americans is a tour de force about identity, ideology, and truth. But for a prestige TV show that questions our very beliefs, the most frequent question is a surprising one: “Where’s Henry?” While Philip and Elizabeth are busy with nefarious spy craft and Paige is moping about Pastor Tim or her boyfriend Matthew, the youngest member of the Jennings family is frequently missing in one way or another.

Think about that: These Soviet spies are tasked with smuggling biological weapons out of the country, decoding secret communications, and bugging the homes of American diplomats, but they can’t keep track of a single teenage boy. And during the rare moments when Henry isn’t missing, Philip and Elizabeth have to make sure he’s not able to hear their conversations. That’s why, whenever they’re divulging their deepest and darkest secrets to Paige, The Americans needs to toss out a plausible excuse about where Henry might be so he doesn’t overhear any sensitive information.

During the show’s five seasons, characters have enquired about Henry’s whereabouts no less than 22 times. That means in nearly half of the 54 episodes that have aired, a writer had to concoct a reason why Henry wasn’t around. Here are all of the excuses we’ve heard so far.

March 23 2017 12:35 AM

Check Out the Trailer to Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Teaching children the proper disrespect towards authority figures can be a difficult thing, but since 1997, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series has been nothing less than a godsend. Now Dreamworks Animation is bringing Pilkey’s epic to the big screen, and parents around the world will have a new quiver in their bow. The film stars Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch as two prank-loving fourth graders who hypnotize their authoritarian principal (Ed Helms) into believing he is a superhero named “Captain Underpants.” This is basically the best possible outcome in fourth grader-principal relations, especially when, as the trailer reveals, there are supervillains around.

In this case, Captain Underpants will face off against Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), in a struggle that is all-too-familiar to our nation’s youngest children. David Soren directs from a script by Nicholas Stoller; Jordan Peele and Kristen Schaal round out the all-star cast. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie will be released June 2, which should give our nation’s children just enough time to learn hypnosis before school starts again in the fall. Great news, principals of America—the upcoming school year just got a lot more interesting!

March 23 2017 12:03 AM

Seth Meyers Tries to Untangle Trump’s Wiretapping Fiasco and Russian Ties; Fails   

“If you thought you’d heard enough about the wiretapping story, think again,” Seth Meyers ominously says about halfway through his latest “A Closer Look” segment, and, unfortunately, he’s not wrong. We’re all still running around on the wild goose chase set off by Trump’s last Fox news binge/early-morning Twitter fiasco, and today brought even more nonsense, this time from Devin Nunes. Unless someone puts a Faraday cage around the White House bathroom, next Saturday morning will probably be worse, but in the meantime, Meyers does his best to explain the current state of play. But it’s complicated: there’s Manafort, Nunes, Trump himself, and his various squid-ink squirting spokespeople. Fortunately, Meyers hits the single image that makes everything clear: Trump adviser Roger Stone’s inauguration outfit:

March 22 2017 2:25 PM

Watch the Trailer for the New Mystery Science Theater 3000, Netflix’s Latest Revival of a Fan Favorite

 

Netflix has already established itself as the go-to hub for nostalgia-driven revivals of popular franchises, but its upcoming season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 might just take things to a whole new, shamelessly fan-servicing level. The beloved ’90s series, centered on evil scientists whose plot to take over the world consists of forcing victims to sit through schlocky B-movies in their entirety, cast a long shadow after its initial 1999 conclusion, generating a huge cult fanbase and spawning such offshoots as RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic. Now, it’s returning for more bad movie goodness, and is sure to spotlight more underseen trainwrecks.

 

With the release of this first trailer, rest assured that the show looks to remain as fun, cheesy, and unusual as ever, with Reptilicus teased as among the movies set to be screened. Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day play the two new Mad Scientists, and they’ll reportedly be joined by MST3K veterans Mary Jo Pehl (who briefly appears in this trailer), Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. Community creator Dan Harmon is also aboard as a guest writer.

March 22 2017 11:47 AM

An Exclusively Gay Breakdown of Beauty and the Beast’s Would-Be Queer Moment

We convened two Slate writers to dissect Beauty and the Beast’s ballyhooed “exclusively gay” moment and the ensuing fallout. Their conversation follows.

Jeffrey Bloomer: Sorry, David, but I need to lock you in my castle to discuss a matter that Bill Condon, Josh Gad, and especially Disney wish we would just forget: the “exclusively gay” moment in the new Beauty and the Beast. The one where LeFou, the bumbling sidekick to beloved villain Gaston, becomes the supposed first gay character in a Disney movie. Be my guest?

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David Canfield: I suspect that Condon et al. would rather we talk about the film’s undercurrent of bestiality at this point. But certainly!

Bloomer: A few weeks ago, Condon made presumably inadvertent headlines around the world by suggesting to Attitude, a British gay magazine, that LeFou would be in love with Gaston in the new movie. And not in a coded way: LeFou would actually be gay. This was a break from Disney tradition, which is to be as gay as possible without acknowledging it. Cue ire from Alabama drive-ins and Malaysian censors.

I think there are two items to discuss here: the movie itself, and the comically overblown reaction. The first conversation should be short, because when it becomes to the movie, there's not much to dissect.

Canfield: Yes—the “moment” itself is either hilariously brief or insultingly fleeting, depending on how you feel about how Condon hyped it up and then quickly walked it back. It consists, for a second or two, of LeFou (Josh Gad) accidentally in the embrace of fellow Gaston henchman Stanley (Alexis Loizon) as they dance during the film’s grand finale. That’s basically it, but it’s the culmination of brief teases for both characters: At one point, Mrs. Potts tells LeFou he “deserves better” than the villainous Gaston, while a key scene finds Stanley elated when the Wardrobe forces him into a ball gown. The queerness is more explicit than you might expect, and there’s some benefit to this unexpected visibility, I’d wager.

But then there’s the flipside: LeFou is the comic relief for much of his screen time, and it feels as if Condon treats his gayness as a punchline. Which seems counterproductive, to say the least.

Bloomer: Right: It’s hard to separate buffoon LeFou from gay LeFou, and the movie often conflates the two. LeFou is the sad gay guy who falls in love with a jocular straight guy and then sings about it. When talking about ambiguous characters in movies like this, I’m often accused of imposing an agenda where there is none, but I was surprised to find that Gad—and Condon—play this in a pretty blatant way. There are some explicit winks, like the strange bite mark he flashes from Gaston, and also Gad’s general, Broadway-inflected flamboyance, which honestly felt over the top. My audience laughed awkwardly at each eyebrow flutter and hip shake, as if to say: We get it, he’s gay. That said, I found the pervasive queer vibe of the character to be a surprise, and overall, I'm inclined to see all the hijinks as a good thing. It'll be a while before a young prince marches into a haunted castle searching for the boy he’ll love one day, but I’m not bothered by how Beauty and the Beast took up its particular gay agenda.

Canfield: I’m with you there. I was most encouraged, actually, by the snippet involving Stanley, which provided a nice gender-bending tease. For all the talk around LeFou—and I agree wholeheartedly that the flamboyance was excessively played up—Stanley’s update was the real surprise, even if he remained a background character and his moment was equally minor. Put another way: Given the very standard, slightly patronizing gay reading of LeFou (so many longing glances!), it was nice to see the movie expand its queer boundaries a little there.

But enough of what actually happened in the movie—on to the premature reaction! I can't deny that I would have seen the film very differently had Condon not set himself up for such a backlash.

Bloomer: Yes. In an era when many blockbusters have real, breathing (if barely out) gay characters—Independence Day 2 and Star Trek Beyond, for recent examples—Condon’s self-congratulation in the gay press seems ridiculous. You might argue this is more a milestone because Beauty and the Beast is a Disney movie or it’s targeted toward younger viewers, but: not really. This feels more like the now-standard Disney practice of slipping in jokes for older audiences that will fly over kids’ heads.

Canfield: What’s really frustrating about this is that Condon both oversold and undersold his depiction of LeFou’s sexuality. On the one hand, yes, he needlessly amped up the moment. But as you smartly pointed out, the movie itself is actually richer in its gay content than I’d expected. It does some smart things and takes some significant strides, so it’s puzzling that Condon chose to single out a scene that’s neither commendably nor “exclusively” gay. For me, it was most disappointing to see that he considered such a slight queer nubbin—even by the film’s standards!—to be worth celebrating at the expense of the more significant, surprising stuff. It matters what blockbuster directors like Condon consider “important.”

Bloomer: Leaving aside Condon, what’s your read of how LeFou himself, Josh Gad, has become haughty at any mention of this, notably when he dodged a question about marriage equality in Australia?

Canfield: That flub was ridiculous. I was speaking with some friends who took the position that he was right to stay out of a “political situation,” but if you’re an ally—and Gad has proudly identified as one for a while now—marriage equality is not some thorny international issue to dance around. I’m not sure what would stop him from advocating for that baseline of queer allyship, but it’s not worth excusing, even (especially?) if he was taking his instructions from publicists.

Bloomer: On that note, Luke Evans, who plays Gaston, has said he thinks the gay read of LeFou and Gatson’s dynamic is wrong altogether. Which is awkward for an entirely different reason: In 2011, the gay media had some ... thoughts when Evans’ publicists appeared to force him back into the closet after he confirmed he was gay in a 2002 Advocate interview. Evans retreated right around the time he seemed poised to become an (openly gay) action star in movies like The Immortals and Fast & Furious 6. Dare we even go there?

Canfield: Jesus, yes, what to make of Evans’ read of the LeFou/Gaston relationship? I’d rather not speculate on whether his own repression manifested into his repressive take on the characters—though I guess I kind of did there—but I remain stumped by his thoughts. It’s funny: This all started because Condon dared to highlight the movie as relatively gay-friendly for Disney, which is probably true. But he, Gad, and Evans now seem determined to avoid these conversations. Why? They’re running away from the movie’s (very tame) LGBTQ content, which seems pretty pathetic to me. It undermines whatever small steps forward this Beauty and the Beast may have taken.

Bloomer: If there is one entity to praise, it might be Disney, which, amid the unwanted controversy, stood by the movie and refused to cut the scene for Malaysian censors. (The censors had threatened to block the movie’s release there.) Malaysia is a tiny film market, but 20th Century Fox apparently removed a chaste gay embrace from Independence Day 2 to appease the country last summer. Disney’s firm posture wasn’t a given. And on Tuesday, it appeared those censors had backed off, allowing the film to screen unaltered. That’s not nothing.

Canfield: It’s a victory, no question. While it’s true that Beauty and the Beast was primed to break box-office records and inch toward $1 billion worldwide with or without Malaysia’s help, there’s something to be said for Disney standing firm.

But let’s not be too hard on Condon. He botched his own handling of this, to be sure, and initial speculation over “the moment” could only get us so far. But he also helped spark deeper discussions around inclusion—not just about the presence of an explicitly gay character in a blockbuster release, but about what our expectations can and should be in 2017. Condon bragging about his film’s tiny moments indicates his own expectations are too low. Yet the movie itself—and Disney’s steadfast handling of it—suggests that we really are moving forward in how LGBTQ stories can play on a mainstream scale. The debate seems to have evolved.

Bloomer: Very magnanimous, David. I release you from the castle for now, but don’t stray too far. I hear there are wolves out there, and possibly a gay Power Ranger. Please visit me soon.

March 22 2017 11:25 AM

George Michael Talks Going Solo and Performing in Communist China in This Animated Interview From 1986

PBS’ animated series Blank on Blank, which has brought to life more than 80 obscure interviews with musicians, authors, and other famous figures over the years, has just released its last episode in partnership with Brooklyn non-profit Quoted Studios. The final installment in the animated series takes on a previously unreleased interview with pop superstar George Michael, who died at age 53 last year on Christmas Day. His 1986 conversation with Off the Record author Joe Smith sees Michael, who had recently embarked on his solo career, discuss the decision to leave Wham!, his burgeoning sexuality, and performing in Communist China with the band the previous year.

“We could have just kind of kept on being Wham! and me gradually making George Michael records but that would have been a real sham,” Michael told Smith, expressing a desire to move past the pop-ballad persona that made him famous. “Everyone is right now expecting me to move into the kind of artist that they have been comparing me to for the last couple years, i.e., another Elton [John].”

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