Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 19 2017 12:33 AM

Wonder What Adam Sandler’s Been Up To? Check Out the Trailer to Sandy Wexler!

Remember the 1990s? Adam Sandler sure hopes you do, as the trailer for his upcoming Netflix film Sandy Wexler shows. Sandler plays a hapless talent manager in this, the latest fruit of the development deal that brought you The Ridiculous 6. But the real star isn’t Sandler, it’s the lavish attention paid to period-accurate pop culture details. Over the course of the trailer, director Steven Brill sneaks in sly references to the following musical touchstones of the era:

  • Purple, Stone Temple Pilots
  • Smash, The Offspring
  • Green Day
  • Divine Intervention, Slayer
  • Monster, R.E.M.
  • Live Through This, Hole
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Wait, I’m being told these five references are all in a single shot, never mind the entire trailer, much less the film. Another shot crams in billboards for Timecop and The Shadow, plus a Variety headline referencing Touched By An Angel. Then there are deeper cuts, like an establishing shot of Inglewood’s Forum when it was still called the Great Western Forum, and a few cuts that can only be described as fathomless, like a Variety headline about the time NBC tried to get the FCC to shut down Fox. Move over, Matthew Weiner!

But what does this vast bricolage of cultural debris and historical research add up to? Well, folks, check out the trailer: It’s an Adam Sandler movie. Remember when that was good news? In the 1990s?

Feb. 18 2017 11:16 PM

Clyde Stubblefield, the “Funky Drummer” Sampled on Countless Hip-Hop Songs, Has Died at 73

Clyde Stubblefield, the drummer whose work in a 1970 session with James Brown provided the backbeat for an astonishing number of iconic hip-hop songs, died Saturday at the age of 73, Rolling Stone reports. Stubblefield, who also toured with Otis Redding, was part of Brown’s band from 1965 to 1971, playing on songs like “Cold Sweat” and “Mother Popcorn.” But he’s best known for accidentally changing the course of hip-hop with a short drum break on a song called “Funky Drummer.”

You can hear the break at 5:22, but you’ve definitely heard it before—it’s one of the most-sampled snippets of music ever recorded. Whosampled.com lists 1,364 songs that use Stubblefield’s work, including landmark works like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police,” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” It’s also the beat on George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shirtsleeves,” and the theme song from The Powerpuff Girls.

Feb. 18 2017 9:09 PM

Bill Maher Somehow Finds Common Ground With a Jerk Who Thinks of Himself as a Provocateur

“You always invite such awful people on your show—they’re so stupid,” Gamergate hero and sentient AI Milo Yiannopoulos said during his Friday appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher. (Technically, he said this on “Overtime with Bill Maher,” an online-only segment where Maher asked Yiannopoulos his only tough question; the televised portion of his appearance was a tongue bath.) Here are a few less self-evidently true ideas Yiannopoulos expressed on the national platform Maher inexplicably gave him:

On transgender issues: Transgender people are “vastly disproportionally involved in sex crimes.” (This is technically true, according to the Justice Department, in the sense that trans people are disproportionately victims of sexual abuse and assault. “I don’t want these people around little girls in bathrooms,” Yiannopoulos added, lest anyone think he wasn’t being deliberately misleading.)

 

Feb. 17 2017 3:02 PM

The Great Wall Is One-Third Terrible, Two-Thirds Great

Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is roughly two-thirds great movie, one-third terrible one. I call it “Zhang Yimou’s” less out of auteurist principles than because it has up to this point been associated almost entirely with its star, Matt Damon. From the moment it was announced that Damon would be playing the lead in a fantasy story centered on the Great Wall of China, the movie was accused, incorrectly, of whitewashing, and, more plausibly, of being a white-savior movie in which Damon’s character teaches Chinese troops how to repel the monsters the wall was built to keep out. Amid Damon’s tone-deaf public response to the issue and the controversy around his treatment of black producer Effie Brown on Project Greenlight, the fact that The Great Wall was also a film by one of the greatest of China’s Fifth Generation directors was reduced to a virtual footnote.

Let’s deal with the one-third first. I can’t claim to be a Matt Damon completist, but this is at the very least one of the worst performances of his career. Buried under a comically shaggy beard and wig for the first part of the movie, his character becomes no more distinct once the scruff is shorn away. An, I guess, Irish fortune-seeker (the accent, whatever it’s meant to be, comes and goes) who’s come to medieval China in search of “black powder” (i.e. gunpowder), he and comrade Pedro Pascal stumble upon the Great Wall by accident—you might think it’d be hard to miss, but, at least in this universe, you’d be wrong—and discover its true purpose: protecting China from the hordes of monsters known as the Tao Tei.

The pre-release criticism of The Great Wall, most forcefully raised by Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu, was that insertion of white characters—Willem Dafoe also plays a prominent role—into a fundamentally Chinese story was an unacceptable concession to the conventional wisdom that big-budget international productions cannot succeed without a Hollywood star, who is almost always a white man. You can make a movie about Native Americans or Japanese samurai, but you’d better find a way to center it on Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise. Given that The Great Wall is predicted to come in behind The Lego Batman Movie at the U.S. box office on its opening weekend, it’s not clear that’s even true in a pragmatic sense—it opened bigger in China, although it dwindled quickly thereafter—but that argument also ignores the political ramifications of casting a white European man as the salvation of not only the Chinese characters around him but, in this case, China itself.

As a filmmaker who has been making movies in the government-controlled Chinese film industry for decades, however, Zhang Yimou is adept at the art of subversion, or at least of simultaneously serving multiple masters. It’s true that we enter The Great Wall’s story through the eyes of Damon’s William, but he’s almost immediately sidelined once we meet the Nameless Order, the Chinese forces under the command of Tian Jang’s Commander Lin. Although they managed to talk their way out of being promptly executed, William and Pascal’s Tovar spend most of the Nameless Order’s first battle against the Tao Tei tied up on a parapet, looking on in silent awe as the order’s color-coded troops deploy a dazzling array of combat strategies against their mythological foe. There are undoubtedly more scenes devoted to William than any other single character, but it still feels like the material pertaining to him has been cut in half. (For an epic fantasy, The Great Wall is startlingly short, barely over 90 minutes without the closing credits.) There either needed to more scenes centering on William or, better yet, none. Even after six writers, including The Last Samurai’s Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, finished with the script, there’s no compelling reason for William to be at the center of this story, and Damon acts like he doesn’t know why he’s there, either.

Feb. 17 2017 1:45 PM

Drew Barrymore’s Santa Clarita Diet Is Really About a Husband’s Fear of His Wife

Sheila Hammond, freshly zombified, seems like a brand-new woman. A real-estate agent, wife, and mother, she’s long adhered to the whole suburban-mom thing: green smoothies for breakfast, a closet full of monochromatic business attire, SAT prep on weekends. But then she comes down with something. She vomits buckets of green goo and coughs up what looks like a small organ. She “dies,” then immediately wakes up. She’s renewed, rejuvenated, and hungry for the delicacies she’s long deprived herself of—not the human flesh she now needs to survive, but spontaneous sex, nights out, morning jogs, a Range Rover.

“I don’t feel dead or undead,” she tells her family and the neighbor boy who diagnoses her. “I feel the opposite: totally alive.”

Santa Clarita Diet wisely shrouds Sheila’s transformation in mystery. Something about a Serbian curse and earlier-reported cases lend a mythology to her condition, but don’t hamper its implications. This is the story of a family grappling with their matriarch’s newly discovered agency. And, more importantly, it’s about how her husband can’t really deal with the sudden shift in the status quo.

Feb. 17 2017 1:20 PM

Anne Hathaway Is Delightful as a Literal Monster in the New Trailer for Colossal

Colossal, the latest effort from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), starts out not unlike a good chunk of broad American comedies: Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a washed-up party girl, loses her job and boyfriend and moves back home to pick up the pieces in her life. From there, however, the film proves to be anything but typical. Rather abruptly, Colossal unveils itself as a delightfully bizarre monster movie.

In what can reasonably be described as her most interesting role in some time, Hathaway plays a woman who comes to a realization that her own mental breakdown is, in some way, connected to and responsible for a giant kaiju rampaging through Seoul, Korea. Along those lines, the movie balances laid-back humor with its extraordinary premise, and according to the reaction out of its well-received Toronto International Film Festival debut last year, it’s also full of surprises. This first trailer doesn’t give too much away, but it does shine a light on Hathaway thoroughly enjoying her monster-related character, and should hopefully serve as a reminder that in addition to being a great dramatic actress, she can be pretty funny too.

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Colossal hits theaters on April 7.

Feb. 17 2017 11:40 AM

Watch Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler Launch an Underground Casino in the Trailer for The House

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler have teamed up to run The House, a new studio comedy from first-time director Andrew J. Cohen (best known for co-writing the Neighbors franchise). The film centers on Will and Kate, parents of a college-bound high school graduate who start an underground casino in their basement to fund the tuition bill they secretly cannot afford. And, as these movies tend to go, things get a little wild.

The pairing of Ferrell and Poehler, who outside of Tina Fey projects Baby Mama and Sisters has yet to lead a studio film, appears inspired here, as does the supporting cast. Aboard The House as part of the impressive assembled ensemble are Jason Mantzoukas (Sleeping With Other People), Cedric Yarbrough (Speechless), Rob Huebel (Transparent), Allison Tolman (Fargo), Michaela Watkins (Casual), Lennon Parham (Playing House), Steve Zissis (Togetherness), and, perhaps most notably, Jeremy Renner. Even if Cohen’s transition to directing doesn’t exactly pan out, there might be enough talent here to make The House a worthwhile stopover anyway.

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The House hits theaters on June 30.

Feb. 17 2017 9:56 AM

Late Night Comics Had No Idea What to Make of That Trump Press Conference

“Our show tapes at 6:30,” Seth Meyers explained as he began his “A Closer Look” segment on Thursday night. “Usually, we start writing ‘A Closer Look’ the night before; by 1:00 p.m. today, we had a draft about Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare that we felt good about. And then Donald Trump held what can only be described as a batshit crazy press conference.”

Here’s Stephen Colbert making sense of Thursday’s horrifying events on the fly, to begin The Late Show: “I am your host Stephen Colbert, and wow. I am glad you could be here on this historic evening, because Donald Trump held his first solo press conference as president …. It just happened, actually. We’re recording this in the early afternoon. It literally just finished. What I’m saying is this is fresh. It must be fresh because you can smell it.”

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And here’s a very grim, troubled Trevor Noah, echoing Meyers’ claims of a rewrite: “We had a really nice show planned for you. Very civil, very calm. And then, in the middle of the day, Hurricane Trump happened—again.”

Donald Trump’s bizarre, winding, frighteningly erratic press conference on Thursday had late-night comics scrambling as to adequately make sense of it. The amount of remarkable details—Trump’s “All Black People Must Be Friends” comment, his repeated lie about the size and historical significance of his victory, his stunning attacks on the media, his contradictory comments regarding “real leaks” and “fake news” and whether his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn did anything wrong, his demand that a Jewish reporter expressing concern about an uptick in anti-semitism “sit down” and “be quiet,” and on and on—rendered any cogent summation impossible. Noah and Meyers’ teams cut together highlight reels, making clear just how unsettling the whole charade was, while Colbert turned to news anchors’ bewildered, and in most cases disturbed, reactions. “Words fail me,” as Colbert admitted.

Noah probably came closest to capturing the essence of what we all bore witness to on Thursday, in channeling Trump’s performance: “I’m not drunk. You’re all drunk. You’re all drunk. This my motherfucking house. This my motherfucking house. Goony goo-goo. Goony goo-goo.”

Enough said.

Feb. 17 2017 9:28 AM

Foreign Titles for The Last Jedi Finally Settle the “Singular or Plural” Debate

At last, Disney has put the galaxy’s largest “singular or plural?” question to rest. In January, the studio revealed that the title of Star Wars: Episode VIII would be The Last Jedi, sparking a debate (à la The Last Samurai) about whether the word Jedi is meant to be singular or plural in this instance.

On Friday we got our answer, thanks to the official French Star Wars Twitter account, which divulged the French title of the film:

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Les Derniers Jedi uses the plural form of “Last,” making it indisputable: The Last Jedi definitely refers to multiple Jedi. Other offical foreign accounts soon also posted titles in their languages, all using plural pronouns, in case there was any remaining doubt.

Now the question we’re left with is: Who are the last Jedi? Luke, the only Jedi we know is left alive, and Rey, who we can assume will become his pupil? Does the title also refer to Finn, who showed some signs that he might be Force sensitive? Will Kylo Ren, who once trained as a Jedi, return to the Light side? Are there others?

We may have to wait until Dec. 15 to know for sure.

Feb. 17 2017 9:04 AM

The Good Fight, CBS’ Streaming-Only Good Wife Spinoff, Is Caught Between Two Worlds

The first voice you hear in The Good Fight belongs to Donald Trump. It wasn’t meant to be that way: Robert and Michelle King had conceived their CBS All Access spinoff of The Good Wife beginning with a victory lap for liberal law partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), whose office décor prominently featured a grip-and-grin photo of her and Hillary Clinton. But instead, thanks to some close-to-the-wire reshoots, we open on Diane’s face frozen in shock as she sits in a darkened room watching Trump take the oath of office.

The episode’s title, “Inauguration,” does double, and maybe triple, duty. It’s a new day in America, if an exceptionally gloomy one, and it’s a new era for Diane, who quits the firm she co-founded with plans to retire to the south of France, only to lose her life’s savings in a Madoff-like investment scheme. It’s also a new era for CBS, which is using the extension of its most acclaimed show—if far from its most popular—to break ground for original scripted programming on its subscription streaming service. (It was supposed to be joined by Star Trek Discovery, the franchise yang to The Good Wife’s yin, but that troubled production has already shed one showrunner and is now scheduled for later this year.) Although the original series was nominated for 42 Emmys and won five, including two for star Julianna Margulies and one for her (sometimes virtual) co-star Archie Panjabi, its frequent losses to shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones clearly stuck in the Kings’ craw. Towards the end of the show’s run, CBS took to running “For Your Consideration” ads highlighting the difference between The Good Wife’s 22-episode season and cable shows’ eight to 13, which is a little like an early primate complaining about the unfair advantage of opposable thumbs.

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That being the case, you might expect The Good Fight to run with the advantages of its tidy 10-episode first season. But the two episodes available in advance of its February 19 premiere show the Kings and co-creator Phil Alden Robinson trying to balance the comforting familiarity of a broadcast show with the freedoms of nonlinear TV, and not immediately succeeding in either realm. Even the show’s distribution feels caught between two stools. The first episode will premiere simultaneously on CBS and CBS All Access, while subsequent streaming-only installments will arrive at a weekly clip. The staggered delivery of broadcast meets the additional cost of streaming: The worst of both worlds. Although The Good Fight’s images are letterboxed to give them an added veneer of class, it looks to be shot on a substantially smaller budget than its prestige predecessor. The pilot’s credit sequence, which features a succession of office furnishings exploding in slow motion to the Ren Faire strains of David Buckley’s theme song, reeks of a desperate attempt to seem “edgy,” like a recently divorced dad showing up with a fresh tattoo.

The Good Fight’s episodes are studded with f-bombs—FCC-safe alternate takes were shot for the pilot’s broadcast version—but the show thus far shows little inclination to run with the freedoms afforded by its medium. It’s not even as adventurous as The Good Wife, which regularly took advantage of its longer seasons to build episodes around innovative structural gimmicks. In its first two episodes, The Good Fight has its hands full moving Cush Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn to center stage and introducing Diane’s goddaughter Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie), a novice lawyer whose fledgling career is almost immediately torpedoed by her involvement in the same financial scandal that wiped out Diane’s retirement savings. Diane and Maia’s attachment to that Ponzi scheme makes them both toxic, especially among Diane’s former allies; like Madoff’s fund, this one purported to do good as well as turn a profit, and Diane vouched for it with liberal friends and organizations, all of whom are similarly devastated by the loss. But they find a home at Lucca’s new firm, a largely black concern run by Delroy Lindo’s Robert Boseman.

Dealing with race was never The Good Wife’s strong suit, but the Kings seem intent on attacking the issue full-bore here. In “Inauguration,” Diane defends the city of Chicago in a police brutality suit involving four white officers and a black victim; when Robert’s partner, played by Justified’s Erica Tazel, balks at bringing Diane on board, he quips that she’s a “diversity hire.” Tazel’s Barbara Kolstad takes an immediate dislike to Diane: It’s clear she sees her as a typical white liberal, a pre-intersectional feminist whose solidarity is only skin deep. And though we’re naturally in Diane’s corner, the show gives us some reason to agree with that assessment. In the second episode, “The First Week,” Diane needs to hire a new assistant, and she bypasses the black candidates Barbara has lined up in favor of a familiar white face: Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold. Granted, Marissa’s also taken the initiative and provided critical assistance on a new case, but there’s still something slightly ugly about the way she uses her previous connections to jump the queue, and the show doesn’t shy away from it.

The Good Fight is timid in other ways, though. One of The Good Wife’s most distinctive features was its brutal realism about the amoral workings of the legal system: Sometimes our heroes were on the right side, sometimes the wrong, but in either case who won was solely the function of who played the better game. In The Good Fight, there’s a scene in the pilot where Diane explains to idealistic Maia that every client deserves vigorous representation, the kind of One-L civics lesson The Good Wife took for granted its viewers already understood. As the show’s most prominent new character, Maia ought to get the most real estate in its opening episodes, but there have been so many stories about naïve attorneys discovering what the law is really like, and Leslie’s wide-eyed anxiousness adds nothing new to the mxi.

If this were a broadcast show, one could forgive the sluggish start, but The Good Fight does little to generate the kind of excitement necessary to get audiences to sign up for yet another paid service, and it’s doubtful those who already subscribe to All Access for a la carte NCIS episodes will find much added value in it, either. By the end of its run, The Good Wife was pretty well out of gas, and The Good Fight is still struggling to fill up the tank.

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