Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

July 23 2016 9:22 PM

Get a Glimpse of our Grim Future in the Trailer for FX’s Legion

There’s a disheartening theory that superhero movie fans started floating around the time Marvel started planning theatrical releases by the decade: The fact that superhero movies are sucking all the air out of the room doesn’t much matter because studios will still make all the types of films they always did, they’ll just also have superheroes in them.

What’s more, superhero films were bound to get better, as Marvel and DC hired talented up-and-coming directors to lend their unique visions to their respective film franchises; never mind the constraints of the franchise or the other films they might have been making instead. A few years earlier, there was another reason not to worry that adult films were disappearing from Hollywood: prestige TV would fill that void, with shows like Mad Men providing all the drama audiences used to get from mainstream films. Everything was fine! But now, with the trailer for FX’s Legion, superhero films extend their reach like Reed Richards into the realm of cable television drama, and all the worst prophecies have come true.

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The show comes from Noah Hawley, who created FX’s Fargo, and could have spent the time he’s been working in the MCU on, at least, another competent cable potboiler. Instead, we get a show about an X-Men-style mutant with dissociative identity disorder. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens plays Legion, while Aubrey Plaza and Hamish Linklater take supporting roles. Legion could be top notch, or at least as good as any superhero show will ever be—though it’s probably not good that Rachel Keller’s character has the sort-of-clever-but-not-really name of Sydney Barrett—but it’s a bad sign that superheroes have crossed the basic cable barrier. It’s only a matter of time before we get shows about superhero mobsters, superhero meth dealers, and Enlightened, but Laura Dern can fly. Soon the only safe haven for non-superhero stories will be C-SPAN—but lately it’s been the worst superhero show of them all.

July 23 2016 6:54 PM

Apocalypse Kong: Kurtz is a Giant Gorilla in the Kong: Skull Island Trailer

Continuing Comic-Con’s parade of tentpole trailers, Warner Bros. debuted a Kong: Skull Island trailer that asks an important question: How many shots can one film lift from Apocalypse Now while still starring a giant ape? The answer turns out to be: too many. From the to the helicopter attack through the wall of flames to the painted tribesman, it looks like director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is committed to echoing Coppola rather than Cooper and Schoedsack. This seems to extend to the structure, with Samuel L. Jackson as the helicopter commander who doesn’t know the mission parameters, standing in for Albert Hall’s Chief Phillips. (That presumably makes Brie Larson the new Dennis Hopper, since she’s got the camera; where John Goodman and Tom Hiddleston fit in remains to be seen.) But the monster at the end of the book is Kong, bigger than Brando on his worst day and twice as mad, so the metaphor starts breaking down there.

Kong: Skull Island is the second film in the Kong-Godzilla cinematic universe, which began, in its most recent incarnation, with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. Trying to build a franchise factory around an ill-conceived 1962 Toho film may seem like folly, but cinematic universes are the new mortgage-backed securities: it’s more important that something be shoveled together into a series of films than that the source material be any good. As source material goes, better to steal from Apocalypse Now than Toho, but setting the film in the 1970s raises its own problems. Why would John Goodman travel to Skull Island looking for monsters when Kissinger and William Calley were right there at home?

July 23 2016 5:03 PM

Gal Gadot Battles the Central Powers and Chris Pine’s Sexism in the Wonder Woman Trailer

It’s been a long time since a DC Comics movie looked tolerable, much less fun, so the promising Wonder Woman trailer that premiered Saturday at Comic-Con in San Diego is a big step forward. It’s set during World War I: Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman is brought to civilization after aviator Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on her shore. Soon she’s going undercover to apparently assassinate German officer Danny Huston and running cavalierly across no man’s land deflecting mortar shells with her shield. But nothing the Germans throw at her is half as deadly as Chris Pine’s unthinking sexism and condescension. He tells her, “I can’t let you do this,” and her icy reply—“What I do is not up to you,”—makes a pretty good argument that, if we must have endless superhero movies, we should at least have more with female leads. (Marvel, despite having Black Widow just sitting around, won’t have a female-led film until 2019’s Captain Marvel, eleven years after Iron Man.)

Still, all is not well in the DC Extended Universe: Wonder Woman has a pretty deep hole to climb out of after Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And DC keeps digging it deeper all the time: The Killing Joke, with its “Batman and Batgirl have sex” subplot, comes out on Monday, and Suicide Squad is not far behind. Wonder Woman is going to have to do more than redraw the map of Europe to save the day this time: she’ll have to convince people to forget the legacy of Archduke Zack Snyder.

July 23 2016 3:35 PM

Watch the Game of Thrones Cast Struggle Their Way Through This Blooper Reel

“Benevolent” is a more difficult word to pronounce under pressure than you might think, especially if you have to say it in Tyrion Lannister’s strange accent. That’s the takeaway from the Game of Thrones blooper reel, which revolves around one blooper in particular: Dinklage’s near-complete inability to make it through the phrase “the benevolent enslavers of Yolantis.” The reel debuted at Friday’s Game of Thrones panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con.

Wading through baroque honorifics is as important to Game of Thrones actors as technobabble is on Star Trek: This is a show in which one character is known as “Cersei of the House Lannister, first of her name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms.” (And that’s one of the easy ones—God help anyone who has to address Daenerys Targaryen.) As the story goes on, characters die off, and power consolidates, there are only going to be more titles for each person, so Dinklage had better spend his time off on tongue twisters. Check out the video to see how many different ways there are to mispronounce “benevolent,” plus Rory McCann failing to split wood, Emilia Clarke botching her Dothraki, and Kit Harington falling into freezing water.

July 22 2016 6:12 PM

The Week in Culture, “Speaking Receipts to Power” Edition

Kim Kardashian kicked off this week by re-enacting the famous scene (you may know it better as a GIF) from Waiting to Exhale of Angela Bassett setting fire to a car when she posted a few Snapchats of a phone call between Kanye West and Taylor Swift, and then stepped back to smile upon the destruction she had wrought. Though she’s been insisting otherwise for months, the videos exposed Swift as a liar. (Or did they?) An all-out celebrity civil war ensued, Kim Kardashian was praised for her masterful media manipulations, and we all learned an important catchphrase: Show me the receipts.

Battle rages on in other fronts as well. If you read this roundup precisely because it’s not about politics, sorry, because in this week of Republican National Convention hoopla, culture and politics bled into each other. Melania Trump Rickrolled a nation—maybe she was just taking a European approach to speechwriting?—giving us an excuse to learn the history of the phrase your word is your bond. The soundtrack to the festivities was provided by Tiffany Trump’s forgotten pop single and the GOP-trolling stylings of Third Eye Blind. The merch was gross, Fox News viewers couldn’t handle a woman’s bare shoulders, and Slate created a fun new Trump-style multilevel marketing scheme for you to try at home! We look forward to next week with “spicy boi” Hillary Clinton and a stirring address from demagogue Chloë Grace Moretz.

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While we’re looking forward, we’re also looking backward—to the 20-years-ago release of De La Soul’s dark, confrontational Stakes Is High. Jack Hamilton reminisced for Slate: “Stakes Is High is an album about the virtuous rigor of history in the face of easy narratives about past and future, a work by veteran rappers that begins as a celebration of tradition, then enfolds as a genre critique, and by its end has transformed into a genre celebration and critique of gauzy nostalgia.” The album fits into a larger conversation about how ’90s hip-hop has aged—and how we all have.

While you’re thinking on that, a few more links for your weekend enjoyment:

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July 22 2016 6:10 PM

Always Be Marketing: The New Mantra for Today’s TV Shows

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

When Mr. Robot aired its Season 1 finale last September, USA Network execs were understandably happy about the show’s solid ratings, amazing buzz, and clear brand-changing potential. The launch was nothing short of a triumph, particularly in an era when grabbing viewers’ attention sometimes seems next to impossible. Until recently, USA might have been content to simply bask in that success for a few months, shifting its focus to other series until the time came to begin hyping last week’s Season 2 premiere. But that’s not how it works in the age of on-demand viewership: With audiences trained to consume shows however (and whenever) they want, networks are now promoting their biggest titles year-round, particularly when such series are in their infancy. Indeed, as soon as Robot Season 1 ended, USA was already actively pushing audiences who’d heard the buzz about Robot to binge the show online, while figuring out ways to keep those already hooked thinking about the series up until its return. “You can never stop messaging your franchise,” says Alexandra Shapiro, executive VP of marketing and digital for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Networks group. “The moment you stop is the moment the fans stop paying attention.”

Networks have different names for the new never-ending marketing. AMC talks about “Live plus 365,” playing off Nielsen’s various ratings measurement windows; Shapiro and her USA colleagues call it “the always-on phenomenon.” Whatever the terminology, the consensus in the TV industry is, with apologies to David Mamet, that networks should Always Be Marketing. Rob Sharenow, general manager of Lifetime and A&E, says the evolution in how viewers watch TV is what has prompted this seismic shift in how networks manage their programming assets. “It used to be enough to just say, ‘OK, Project Runway is coming back. Let’s just throw some promos on leading up to the premiere,’ ” he explains. “Now, it’s a more complicated, multilayered, ongoing game to keep your engagement, to keep people consuming it.” Or, as AMC/Sundance chief Charlie Collier puts it, “It’s our job to keep shows alive all year long.”

July 22 2016 2:23 PM

Leslie Jones Chatted With Seth Meyers About Her Twitter Trolls and Her (Brief) Departure From Social Media

On Thursday night’s Late Night, Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones joined Seth Meyers to offer her take on the torrent of racist hate she encountered via Twitter on Monday, as well as her decision to (temporarily) leave the social media site. “Unfortunately I’m used to the insults,” she said. “What scared me was the … gang of people, jumping against you for such a sick cause.”

Jones explained that her choice to publicize the horrific comments was necessary on multiple levels, saying “If I hadn’t said anything, no one would ever know about this.” Indeed, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey—“just Jack!,” Jones quipped—moved to permanently remove instigator Milo Yiannopoulos from the platform after being called out for not protecting his users. And in response to the circulating claim that Twitter was preventing “freedom of speech” by banning people, Jones shot back: “Hate speech and freedom of speech? Two different things.”

July 22 2016 12:12 PM

Watch Marvel’s Teasers for Its New Netflix Shows ​Luke Cage, The Defenders, and Iron Fist

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Marvel's teaser for The Defenders is inscrutible. But it still manages to look cool.

Still taken from the Defenders teaser

Clear out some time in your calendars for binge-watching, because Marvel unveiled three new teasers at San Diego Comic-Con for Netflix series that are in the works: Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders.

Mike Colter reprises his Jessica Jones role in Luke Cage, about a seemingly indestructible superhero rebuilding his life and avenging his wife’s death. In the teaser, Cage takes bullets without flinching and busts up a car door, all to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” The series, which showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker called “the Wu Tang–ification of the Marvel universe,” will be the first of Marvel’s shows led by a black superhero, and each episode will be named after a Gang Starr song.

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Iron Fist follows Danny Rand (Finn Jones), who inherits mystical powers after winding up in the magical K'un Lun as a child. It's less forthright than the trailer for Cage; all we get are a few glimpses at Rand’s backstory—the snowy Himalayas, monks looming overhead, Rand strapped to a bed—and a shot of the New York skyline.

But Marvel’s third teaser is the most secretive: Both Luke Cage and Iron Fist will be united in 2017’s The Defenders, which will also feature Daredevil and Jessica Jones. “You think the four of you can save New York?” Daredevil’s mentor, Stick (played by Scott Glenn), asks in voice-over. “You can’t even save yourselves.”

July 22 2016 11:17 AM

Céline Dion Impersonated Cher, MJ, and More With Jimmy Fallon, Was Per Usual Charmingly Awkward

Celine Dion has always been quite a character. And so her “Wheel of Impressions” bit on Thursday night’s Tonight Show should fulfill all expectations for what a Celine Dion–sings-in-the-style-of-blank could be. Goofy impish looks out towards the audience: Check. Charmingly awkward body movement: Check. Sporadic ad-libs that are funny at first, then sort of weird, after they go on for a bit too long: Check, check, check.

July 22 2016 9:17 AM

Jon Stewart Took Over Colbert’s Desk to Rip Apart Fox News’ Coverage of Trump

Jon Stewart has reclaimed his rightful throne: The comedian joined The Late Show this week to help cover the Republican National Convention, and on Thursday night, he took over his longtime friend Stephen Colbert’s desk to discuss Fox News after the announcement that Roger Ailes had resigned.

Plenty has changed since Stewart retired from The Daily Show almost a year ago, but as he let loose about his least-favorite network, it felt as though he had never left. In a 10-minute monologue, Stewart skewered Sean Hannity (referring to him only as “Lumpy”) for spending years reprimanding Barack Obama for being “a thin-skinned narcissist with no government experience”—only to turn around and embrace a thin-skinned narcissist with no government experience. The hypocrisy of Hannity accusing Obama of elitism for putting Dijon mustard on a burger, then supporting Donald Trump, who “sits on a literal golden throne at the top of a golden tower with his name in gold letters at the top of it, eating pizza with a knife and fork,” is ludicrous in itself, but with Stewart at the helm, it’s a scathing, acidic takedown.

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Stewart’s argument reaches its peak when he points out that Hannity has been more than happy to question Obama’s Christianity but that apparently the pope himself is not qualified to challenge Trump’s religious motivations. And therein lies the truth of the matter, says Stewart:

Either Lumpy and his friends are lying about being bothered by thin-skinned, authoritarian, less-than-Christian readers-of-prompter being president, or they don’t they care, as long as it’s their thin-skinned prompter authoritarian tyrant narcissist. You just want that person to give you your country back, because you feel that you’re this country’s rightful owners.
There’s only one problem with that: This country isn’t yours. You don’t own it. It never was. There is no “real” America.

Stewart is far from the first to go after Trump’s racism or GOP hypocrisy, but there’s no denying he left behind a void when he ended his run on The Daily Show last year, and it was nice, even if only for a moment, to have him back.

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