Slate's Culture Blog

July 25 2014 5:38 PM

You Should Still Be Listening to Common, and Here’s Where to Start With His Recent Work

In 2014, it might be tempting to write Common off as a relic of hip-hop’s “golden age,” a rapper who can’t seem to eclipse his past critically acclaimed work, like 2000’s Like Water for Chocolate or 2005’s classic Be. In fact, you might even forget he still makes music at all, given that he’s increased his focus on acting in recent years with starring roles in movies like 2010’s Just Wright and shows like AMC’s Hell on Wheels. But to dismiss Common’s recent work is unfair and a mistake, especially given the strength of such stellar projects as 2011’s The Dreamer, The Believer and his 10th studio album, Nobody’s Smiling, released on Tuesday.

His new album is a candid study of his hometown of Chicago that displays some of Common’s darkest and most aggressive work to date—e.g., he begins his first verse on gritty album opener “The Neighborhood” by name-checking the city’s most notorious gangs. This opening sets the album’s austere tone, one needed to approach its tale of urban decay. And although Nobody’s Smiling’s sometimes-scatterbrained narrative falls short of making the disruptive statement Common likely intended, as some critics note, it’s a conversation starter about the city’s epidemic of violence that’s long overdue.

Nobody’s Smiling is also more proof that after a 20-plus-year career in rap, Common remains one of the genre’s best storytellers. It’s only the latest reason you should still be paying attention to what he has to say—even if you tuned out in the mid-2000s.

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July 25 2014 12:37 PM

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 Looks Unsurprisingly Raunchy and Surprisingly Funny

Though I do remember a handful of hearty laughs in 2010’s raunchy time-travel comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, I don’t recall fans clamoring for a sequel. But as far as gratuitous sequels go, the (NSFW) trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 certainly has potential—that is, if the movie can somehow, as few sequels do, overcome the flaws of its predecessor (which Dana Stevens enumerated in her review for Slate).

July 25 2014 11:22 AM

How Are Critics Addressing the Woody Allen Allegations?

Woody Allen’s last film, Blue Jasmine, was among the most financially and critically successful of his long career. But ever since his daughter Dylan Farrow reiterated longstanding allegations that he had sexually assaulted her, discussions of the director have tended to circle around those charges.

His new movie, Magic in the Moonlight, is his first release since Farrow last spoke out, and we were curious whether—and how—critics would address the issue. Below, we’ve rounded up mentions of the charges in the most prominent reviews, and also noted some of the critics who decided not to bring them up.

July 25 2014 8:37 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Bruschetta

First things first: Bruschetta should be pronounced “broo-sketta,” not “broo-shetta.” My colleagues on the Slate Culture Gabfest recently had an interesting discussion about how to pronounce foreign words in domestic contexts, and I generally agree with Slate editor-in-chief Julia Turner that you should make an effort to get the vowel sounds mostly right. In this case, though, getting the vowels mostly right is not enough. If we agree that the “ch” in chianti and chiaroscuro is a hard C—and I think we can all agree on that—then we ought to be consistent by pronouncing the “ch” in bruschetta as a hard C as well.

But that hard C is the hardest thing about bruschetta, which is toast, basically. Toast with stuff on it. Italian restaurants have done their best to convince us that bruschetta is an elegant appetizer for special occasions, but you can make bruschetta for a crowd at home in 10 minutes flat, using ingredients that cost less than $10. (I bought everything I needed to test this recipe, save the olive oil, at a Whole Foods in Manhattan for $8.76. There aren’t many things you can get at a Whole Foods in Manhattan for $8.76.)

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Classic bruschetta with olive oil, garlic, tomato, and basil is a wonderful foodstuff with only one drawback: It can hurt your mouth when you eat it. Between the rough texture of the toasted bread and the piquancy of the raw garlic that's traditionally rubbed on it, bruschetta can make the top of your mouth feel like it’s been scoured with steel wool. Yes, as Michael Stipe memorably yowled, everybody hurts, but there’s no need to hurt while you’re eating bruschetta. To forestall pain, it’s important to slice the bread thickly, so there’s plenty of fluff in the middle of each slice, and to toast it (or, more traditionally, grill it) conservatively so it doesn’t turn rock-hard. You want bread that’s golden brown, not deeply charred. It also helps to drizzle excess tomato juice on the toasted bread to soften it up.

If your tomato doesn’t have excess juice, you should be concerned. Bruschetta is one of those dishes that is only as good as the sum of its parts: If you don’t start with a decent tomato, you won’t have decent bruschetta. That nightshade should be heavy and soft, and it should smell tomato-y. The quality of your bread and olive oil matter, too. Whether you use baguette, focaccia, ciabatta, or some other Italian loaf, it should come from a bakery, not a grocery-store aisle. And I rarely wax lyrical about good olive oil, but you should make a point of using an assertive, fruity extra-virgin oil in this dish.

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 10 minutes

1 baguette or Italian loaf, cut into 1-inch slices
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil in chiffonade
Salt and black pepper
½ large garlic clove

1. Heat the oven to 450°F, or heat a charcoal or gas grill. Brush the bread slices on both sides with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Bake them on a baking sheet or grill them, turning once, until they’re golden brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, the basil, and the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

3. When the bread has cooled enough to handle, rub the top of each slice with the cut side of the garlic half. Top the bread with the tomato mixture, and serve warm.

July 24 2014 9:30 PM

Welcome to Sweden vs. Real-Life Sweden: Tacky Furniture Edition

Welcome to Sweden is NBC’s new summer sitcom starring Greg Poehler (Amy’s brother) as a Midwestern accountant named Bruce who moves to Sweden to be with his girlfriend Emma, played by Josephine Bornebusch. My wife Kristine, who was born and raised in Sweden, and I thought it would be fun to compare our own experiences to the cultural clashes presented in the show.

Episode three, which aired tonight, begins with Emma compulsively checking her apartment’s peephole to make sure she won’t bump into any neighbors. Going to extreme lengths to avoid having to interact with other Swedes is apparently not unusual behavior. “I know someone who refuses to live in a house because he doesn’t want to have to say hello to neighbors,” Kristine says. “His partner wants a house with a garden for their kids. But he’s worried about the neighbors.”

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The running gag throughout the rest of the show is that Bruce tries desperately to be neighborly to Swedes and they shun him. “In Sweden, basically, you more or less leave each other alone,” Kristine says.

The primary plotline of this episode involves Emma and Bruce proving their relationship status to a Swedish immigration officer. Kristine and I went through something similar with U.S. immigration when we moved here, and it is a bit nerve-wracking even if you have nothing to hide. But while Kristine and I talked to a functionary in a DMV-like booth together, Emma and Bruce must go to an office to meet with an immigration officer separately. And their officer comes to their apartment to investigate them. Nothing like that happened to us. (I recall at one point in our meeting instinctively picking a piece of lint off of Kristine’s back during the interview, making eye contact with the immigration officer, and thinking “we’re home free.”)

But the next scene is instantly familiar to Kristine. Emma questions Bruce about all of the furniture he has moved from the U.S. to their new apartment. “He’s ruining the entire apartment with his ugly furniture, no? Going to have to get rid of all that,” Kristine suggests. I ask Kristine what she’s insinuating. “She’s probably insinuating that the furniture is tacky, that Bruce has got no taste, and that I recognize the situation,” she says. The idea that Americans are less stylish than Europeans will be a running theme throughout the show, as it is in our lives.

Emma’s idiot brother shows up and becomes enthralled by Bruce’s La-Z-Boy. “It’s like a Transformer… But it’s a chair. It’s a Transformer chair!” I ask Kristine if no one has “Transformer chairs” in Sweden. “Is it just a folding chair?” she asks. I try to explain the concept of a La-Z-Boy while in the show the idiot brother character gets stuck in the La-Z-Boy.

In the next scene, Bruce chases down a neighbor to try to say hi and the neighbor runs all the way back to his apartment to escape. “The neighbors are fleeing. That doesn’t happen,” Kristine says. I thought she said that’s what her friend does. “No my friend is preempting having to do that. You don’t run away like a maniac.”

In the episode’s final act, Emma goes into a dramatic spiel about how she’s never moved in with a boyfriend before and is “not used to accepting stupid wooden bars and stuff like that.” Again, Kristine empathizes. “It’s tough, Jer. It’s tough having to accept stupid tacky furniture ruining the entire apartment.”

The episode ends with Emma having a nightmare about Bruce’s stalker ex-girlfriend/client, Aubrey Plaza, showing up in their bed and having sex with Bruce. She wakes up and smacks him in sitcom-like fashion. Bruce has spent a lot of time in this episode taking and rejecting calls from Plaza, the cause of Emma’s nightmare.

“Can’t trust men acting funny on the phone,” Kristine says. “Just like Tiger Woods being funny on the phone.” Tiger Woods was married to a Swedish woman before she found him “being funny on the phone” and then in real life. It did not end well for him. Duly noted.

July 24 2014 9:09 PM

New Photo of Ben Affleck’s Batman Reveals He Needs to Shave

With Comic-Con officially underway in San Diego, director Zack Snyder has revealed the first up-close and personal look at Ben Affleck’s caped crusader:

July 24 2014 6:59 PM

If You Liked Matangi, You’ll Love M.I.A’s New Song With the Partysquad

M.I.A.’s “Double Bubble Trouble,” a song from her 2013 album Matangi, was great for many reasons, but reason No. 1 was the dancehall-meets-trap production from Dutch duo Partysquad. The Partysquad was responsible for at least a couple of songs on Matangi (the duo also produced “Y.A.L.A.”) and now M.I.A. has made an appearance on their new mixtape, Summermix 2014, which you can download for free here.

July 24 2014 5:17 PM

The Acclaimed Drumming Drama Whiplash Looks Intense

Jazz drumming may not seem like an obvious subject for gripping cinema. But judging by its reception at Sundance (where it won the Grand Jury prize and Audience award) and Cannes (where it was selected for the Director’s Fortnight), writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash squeezes quite the compelling drama out of shuffles, drags, and fills.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a teenaged drumming aficionado with his eyes set on greatness.

July 24 2014 4:57 PM

Jerry Seinfeld on What Made Him Laugh Hardest (and Other Highlights From His Reddit AMA)

As we’ve learned before, Jerry Seinfeld tends to be good for a chat with his ardent fans. His latest Reddit Ask Me Anything found the comedian answering with his trademark wit and providing some insightful tidbits on Seinfeld, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and pickup lines. We’ve corralled and condensed some of the highlights from this afternoon’s fun Q&A.

July 24 2014 2:26 PM

Spoiler Special: Lucy

On the latest Spoiler Special podcast, film critic Dana Stevens, staff writer Forrest Wickman, and special guest Sam McDougle—who has written about the faulty science behind the new Scarlett Johansson film—discuss Lucy. Does it matter that the science at the heart of its premise is completely inaccurate? Can we relate to a character who’s so far beyond human that she’s barely recognizable? Is the movie good-ridiculous, or bad-ridiculous?

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