Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 28 2016 7:29 PM

Todd Solondz Invites Audiences to See a Heartwarming Film About a Dog. It’s a Trap!

Slow-motion footage of a grinning child hugging a puppy triggers the same Pavlovian response in all but the most soul-deadened viewers. Except in the new trailer for Wiener-Dog, where it’s followed by a title card reading, “From Todd Solondz,” in which case all those warm feelings instantly curdle into existential dread. Bad news for the kid, bad news for the dog, bad news for all the other characters, but maybe good news for the audience, presuming they know what they’re getting into. It’s hardly the first time Solondz has gone for the bait-and-switch: his second film was called Happiness, after all. But in the Happiness trailer, Good Machine had the decency to immediately describe the film as “savage.” Plus there isn’t a single frame of footage in the entire film that isn’t horrifying, despite Michael Stipe’s bouncy theme song; you know what to expect. The Wiener-Dog trailer, on the other hand, breaks new ground in trolling audiences, from tagline to score to font choice. Everything suggests a happy film about a happy dog.

It’s not impossible the Solondz has made the film promised by the IMDb summary: “Chronicles the life of a dog as it travels around the country, spreading comfort and joy.” David Lynch made The Straight Story, after all. But let’s agree that it’s extremely unlikely, and the few bits of dialogue we see—Ellen Burstyn naming the dog “Cancer,” Julie Delpy telling a child about nature, red in tooth and claw —suggest that Wiener-Dog will be as blackhearted as Solondz’s other work. (Reviews out of Sundance confirm this.) For some people, that means buying tickets in advance; for others, waiting to consult with DoesTheDogDie.com. One thing’s for sure: that dog should fire its agent.

May 27 2016 6:33 PM

The Strokes Return With a Diverse 4-Song EP, Future Present Past

For a brief period in the early-aughts, the Strokes were indie-rock darlings. Their 2001 debut releases, EP The Modern Age and quick-following LP Is This It, set the template for their success: crisp rhythms, hooky guitars, and vocals imbued with the sort of alternating urgency and restlessness that define young adulthood. Sophomore album Room on Fire added polished production to the band’s many earworms and was another well-received effort. From there, things went a bit askew: 2006’s First Impressions of Earth featured an expanded sonic palette and a handful of great songs, but its knotty, fussed-over arrangements started fans and critics peeling away; when 2011’s Angles and 2013’s Comedown Machine, despite their charms, continued that trajectory, some wondered whether the Strokes were done.

Well, don’t count them out just yet. The band just released Future Present Past, a four-track EP—three new songs and one alternative mix—that offers an encouraging sign of things to come. Post-punk-tinged opener “Drag Queen” rides austere snares, ominous strings, and a bass line reminiscent of New Order or the Cure; Julian Casablancas’ trademark compressed vocals and an appropriately discordant lead guitar line eventually come in to flesh things out. On the other end of the spectrum, “Threat of Joy” lightens things up with a spry beat, a playful spoken-word intro (“Okay, I see how it is now/ You don't have time to play with me anymore”), and some summery rhythm guitars. Perhaps the best of the bunch, though, is “OBLIVIUS” (odd stylization in the original). Its skittering percussion, falsetto-filled bridge, and triumphantly-booming chorus are all highlights, and the EP’s space-y, synth-y alternative version, “OBLIVIUS – Moretti Remix,” shows the song to be as flexible as it is hummable. As Casablancas closes things by repeating the line, “What are you standing on?,” you can’t help but wonder what other songs he and the rest of the band have up their sleeves. 

May 27 2016 4:34 PM

The Week in Culture, “Hold Your Nose and Read a Lot of White Male Poets” Edition

Beach reading shmeach reading—going into this holiday weekend we’re thinking about nothing less than the fate of English letters: “The canon of English literature is sexist. It is racist. It is colonialist, ableist, transphobic, and totally gross. You must read it anyway.” That’s Slate words correspondent Katy Waldman telling it how it is in response to the news out of Yale University that students are petitioning to “decolonize” the English curriculum, which currently requires study of major (white, male) English poets like Chaucer, Milton, Wordworth, et. al. Waldman is all for diversity and inclusivity, but “[t]hese guys are the heavies, the chord progressions upon which the rest of us continue to improvise, and we’d be somewhere else entirely without them.”

Speaking of heavies, of late giants, of great wordsmiths now departed, this week Game of Thrones lost an important character—you really shouldn’t be reading this if you don’t want to know who—in Hodor, the beloved House Stark servant. Brow Beat honored Hodor by running a moving tribute to the character, in his own words, and you can also remember him with one of these custom doorstops.

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Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, would be perfect for Dancing With the Stars. Stay with me for a second, here! Since it began in 2005—it just wrapped up its 22nd season—that show has quietly become a pioneer in the way it lets celebrities present themselves to the world, Laura Bennett wrote this week. At the center of it all is Deena Katz, the show’s clever casting director and the woman responsible for “reel[ing] in a boggling mix of celebrities who would seem to have little incentive to swivel their pelvises on national TV: Steve Wozniak, Bristol Palin, Tom DeLay, Paula Deen.” Bennett talks to luminaries like Marla Maples, Jerry Springer, Tucker Carlson, all past competitors, and Katz herself in an attempt to explain the show’s place in the celebrosphere.

If you’re thinking about how you present yourself to the world—especially if you’re a man—you’ll benefit from Simon Doonan’s guide to the five tribes of modern male fashion, which dropped this week: Are you the Perverse Prepsterthe Arty Ninjathe Dedicated Follower of Satinthe Statham, or the Schlub?

A few more highs and lows from Slate’s week in culture:

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May 27 2016 4:11 PM

Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, and DJ Khaled Join Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem” Video

Chance the Rapper’s gospel-rap masterpiece Coloring Book is now finally available everywhere music is sold, and to celebrate, Chance shared a new music video for “No Problem.” The video is as high-energy as the song itself, with Chance and friends dancing in front of bright graffiti backgrounds and messing around in dressing rooms and moving cars.

In addition to Lil Wayne (sporting a "Make America Skate Again" snapback) and 2 Chainz, who are featured on the song, Chance hangs out with Boosie Badazz, King Louie, Young Thug, and others in what basically looks like the coolest Snap Story of all time. Appropriately, Snapchat king DJ Khaled also puts in an appearance, which finally explains those hints that the two were working on a mystery project together back in April:

May 27 2016 12:56 PM

No, Tom Hiddleston Should Not Be James Bond

Mention Tom Hiddleston lately, and you’re contractually obligated to mention another name: James Bond. As Daniel Craig heads into the twilight of his turn in the franchise, Hiddleston has become such an aggressively popular prospective choice for the role that he recently shut down online betting in one U.K. market because too many people wanted to put money on him.

May 27 2016 10:45 AM

Listen to the Title Track From Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Next Album The Getaway

Red Hot Chili Peppers have released the title track from their upcoming album The Getaway, their first recording since I’m With You came out in 2011. “The Getaway” marks the second single they’ve made available from the impending LP, after “Dark Necessities.”

RHCP have been having a rough couple of weeks: Earlier this month, frontman Anthony Keidis was hospitalized for intestinal flu complications (which he has since recovered from), requiring the band to cancel their iHeart Radio performance. Meanwhile, just a few days ago, RHCP bassist Flea bemoaned the state of rock music, calling it “a dead form,” though he also said that he considers his own band and Pearl Jam exceptions. “The Getaway” and “Dark Necessities” are both considerably more funk than punk, even by the band’s usual standard, so we may have to wait until the LP drops June 17 to find out whether Flea is right.

May 27 2016 8:32 AM

Why It Makes Sense to End the True Detective Franchise

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Time may be a flat circle, but apparently said circle may have been completed when it comes to True Detective. Per the Hollywood Reporter, it now seems likely that series creator Nic Pizzolatto’s next project for HBO will be something completely new rather than a third season of the crime franchise. THR didn’t completely rule out the possibility of a new True Detective, saying only that a decision will now fall to HBO’s newly installed president of programming Casey Bloys. (A network spokesperson declined comment when contacted by Vulture.) But assuming True Detective is dead, there’s little reason for viewers—or executives at HBO—to mourn the loss.

The argument against a third season of True D has nothing to do with the widespread perception (not shared by everyone, of course) that the second season was a creative miss. The series was an anthology, with completely different characters and actors. Given the right idea and cast, as well as plenty of pre-production time, it’s quite possible #TrueDetectiveSeason3 would’ve been every bit the creative triumph as the original edition. Likewise, the ratings performance of both seasons of the show wasn’t so decisive one way or the other to matter all that much when considering the merits of moving forward. Viewership for the sophomore year of the show trended down as the season went on but not dramatically. On the other hand, ratings for both seasons—while higher than more recent efforts such as Vinyl and The Leftovers—weren’t so good that HBO is depriving itself of a juggernaut if it doesn’t greenlight another edition.

May 27 2016 8:02 AM

Lady Dynamite Is More Proof That Netflix Is Uniquely Good at Skewering TV Tropes

Mitch Hurwitz is clearly no stranger to self-referential TV shows. But Lady Dynamite is so meta that it’s like a Möbius strip swallowed another Möbius strip. About the only thing the show, which Hurwitz created with Pam Brady, doesn’t do is hack Netflix’s “play next episode” function so it takes you back to the beginning of the one you just watched.

That’s especially true of “White Trash,” Lady Dynamite’s third episode, in which comedian Maria Bamford plays a comedian named Maria Bamford who gets a part in the pilot for a sitcom called White Trash. She’s joined by Mira Sorvino, playing a British actress who’s playing an American actress who in turn is playing one of the roles in the show’s sitcom-within-a-sitcom. As “White Trash” unfolds, the layers of Sorvino’s character are stripped away in reverse, until Bamford catches up with Sorvino in the studio parking lot, trying to discern whether she was ever dealing with the real Mira Sorvino. “Who’s to say what is real?” Sorvino asks, just before her car rises into the air on a cloud of rainbow smoke and shoots off like an errant spacecraft.

May 26 2016 5:24 PM

The NYPD’s Top Cop Says Rappers Are “Thugs.” That Old-Fashioned Rhetoric Is Scarier Now Than Ever.

A performance by rapper T.I. came to an abrupt end before it even started on Wednesday night, when shots were fired backstage at the New York City music venue Irving Plaza, leaving one person dead and three, including Brooklyn rapper Troy Ave, wounded. On Thursday morning, New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton addressed the incident in a radio interview during which he reheated a set of talking points that seemed to have fallen out of fashion, even in conservative circles, more than a decade ago.

During the segment, which aired on AM news station WCBS 880 and was captured by BuzzFeed, Bratton described the violence at T.I.’s show as an inevitable byproduct of hip-hop culture—or, as he called it, “the crazy world of these so-called rap artists.” Bratton, who is 68, referred to rappers as “basically thugs” who “celebrate violence” that “oftentimes manifests itself during their performances.”

Asked by host Wayne Cabot whether he had thought these kinds of “problems in the rap world and the thug culture” were a relic of the 1990s, Bratton said no, and invoked the 2014 arrest of “Hot Boy” rapper Bobby Shmurda on conspiracy charges as one reason he never let himself get naïve about the dangers of hip-hop.

May 26 2016 4:56 PM

Everything We Know About the Weird “Superdelegate” Song Bernie Sanders Retweeted, Then Deleted

Yesterday afternoon, Bernie Sanders (aka a member of Bernie Sanders’ social media team) retweeted a link (which has since been deleted, it seems) to a song called “Superdelegate,” via someone named Lukas Autry Nelson:

What was immediately apparent was that this was one weird song, from the old-school, psycheledic sound to the extremely literal, often painful lyrics: “Change your mind, superdelegate/ You have to find just where we’re at/ You’re a fool/ You can be bought by who you represent.” Gawker’s Ashley Feinberg went so far as to call it “why-is-blood-streaming-from-my-ears bad,” and while that may be a tad extreme, there’s no denying that as far as political protest songs go, “Superdelegate” is no “Killing in the Name”—especially since its message targets an oddly specific and not particularly sexy aspect of our political system.

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That actually made it a pretty good fit for the Sanders campaign, since he and his supporters have been vocally opposed to the huge lead Hillary Clinton has gained from said superdelegates. Still, within 24 hours the tweet had vanished, along with Sanders’ retweet, probably due to the scorn the song attracted after Gawker’s post: “Senator, hire better Tweeters,”  wrote one commenter. “My brain is literally in pain right now,” wrote another.

But an already strange sequence of events gets even stranger when you look at the players involved: Lukas Autry Nelson, the man behind both the original tweet and the song itself, is the frontman for Promise of the Real, a band that describes its music as “cowboy hippy surf rock,” as accurate a description of the genre “Superdelegate” falls into if there ever was one. He’s also Willie Nelson’s son (yes, that Willie Nelson). POTR have toured with Lukas' father and with Neil Young in the past, and they released their third album, Something Real, earlier this year. Now, apparently, they are also #FeelingtheBern.

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