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Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 16 2017 10:22 AM

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell Star in the Chilling Trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’ Follow-Up to The Lobster

In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) begins meeting with a disturbed teenager (Barry Keoghan of Dunkirk) for mysterious reasons. Soon, terrible things are happening to Steven’s family—his ophthalmologist wife Anna, played by Nicole Kidman, and his two children, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). In the chilling first trailer, set to Kim’s a cappella interpretation of Ellie Goulding’s hit “Burn," the characters can be seen collapsing to the ground one by one, apparently paralyzed from the waist down. “Don’t be scared, mom. You’ll see you won’t be able to move either,” we hear Kim say.

Aug. 16 2017 8:03 AM

Why Gendry’s Return to Game of Thrones Is Such a Big Deal

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This article originally appeared in Vulture.

The last time we saw Gendry on Game of Thrones, he was in a tiny rowboat with some bread and water, attempting to head south toward King’s Landing. He’d never even been in a boat before. He didn’t know how to swim. Luckily, Davos Seaworth was there to offer some helpful advice to the city boy. The first lesson: “Don’t drink sea water.”

Ever since, Gendry has been rowing, rowing, rowing, perhaps all the way to Pentos. Or maybe he’d gone in the wrong direction and docked somewhere up in the Fingers? It was anybody’s guess, really, since three-and-a-half seasons of Game of Thrones had gone by and we’d seen neither hide nor hair of the boy from Flea Bottom. But now he’s back! In case you’ve forgotten what all the fuss is about, here’s a quick Gendry primer that explains his major role in Sunday’s episode, “Eastwatch.”

Way back in season one, the newly crowned Joffrey was rounding up all of Robert Baratheon’s bastard children and executing them to destroy any contenders to the Iron Throne. The last remaining bastard was our boy Gendry, a talented apprentice to a blacksmith named Tobho Mott. To save Gendry from the Lannisters, Mott hustles him out of King’s Landing, and Gendry soon joins up with Yoren, a recruiter for the Night’s Watch. Yoren’s crew includes Arya, whom he has taken from King’s Landing and disguised as a boy to help her flee the Lannisters. While on the road, Gendry and Arya form a close bond: He discovers that she is a really a girl, and what’s more, a lady from a noble house. Their bond is absolutely adorable, with Arya promising Gendry that she’ll be his family since he never had any.

Unfortunately, Yoren’s recruits are captured by Lannister forces and taken to Harrenhal, where Gendry just barely escapes torture and execution after Tywin Lannister arrives to remind his soldiers that prisoners are more valuable alive than dead. After escaping from Harrenhal, Arya and Gendry (and Hot Pie!) stumble onto the Brotherhood Without Banners, who put Gendry to use as a blacksmith and plan to ransom Arya back to her family for gold to support their cause.

When Melisandre arrives on the scene, though, she buys Gendry from the Brotherhood for two bags of gold. She figures that Gendry’s Baratheon blood will make him a valuable sacrifice to the Lord of Light, and Stannis Baratheon needs a boost in his war against the Lannisters and Robb Stark. At first, Melisandre is content to suck the blood from his veins with leeches—which, you’ll recall, she obtained via seduction—but after Robb Stark’s death at the Red Wedding, Stannis believes that a larger sacrifice will ensure his own victory, so he commands that Gendry be put to death in service of the Red God. Davos, being the heart and soul of this entire enterprise, protests the murder of an innocent young man. That’s when he decides to free Gendry from his cell, leading him to the shore and that tiny rowboat.

So why is Gendry back now? The question of where he went has been a big one, with GOT fans inquiring for years after the sweet, charming, disarmingly attractive man who seemingly rowed off into the abyss. Rowing Gendry became a symbol for all our unanswered questions, hence the laugh line in Sunday’s episode when Davos greets him at the King’s Landing smithy and says, “I wasn’t sure I’d find ya. Thought you might still be rowing.” If nothing else, perhaps the showrunners wanted to offer us some closure on Gendry’s rowboat adventure.

But a quick cameo would have been enough for that, and now Gendry is venturing beyond the Wall with Jon Snow and his wily crew. Are bigger things in store for King Robert’s bastard?

It’s possible that Gendry is just another set of arms (the warhammer he wields in “Eastwatch” is nod to the hammer that Robert used to kill Rhaegar Targaryen during the rebellion that preceded the show) and a link back to the bond that existed between House Baratheon and House Stark in the days of Robert and Ned. If you recall from season one, Robert greets Ned by ribbing him that he’s gained weight, when it’s painfully obvious that Robert is the one who’s been downing too many Renaissance Faire turkey legs. When Jon Snow and Gendry meet one another, Jon remarks that Gendry is “a lot leaner” than his father and Gendry shoots back lightheartedly that Jon is “a lot shorter.” It’s just the kind of honesty Jon values and the two form a quick bond.

If Gendry is just there to fight, though, why is he going beyond the Wall with Jon Snow while Davos stays back? As Davos attests (and Tormund so obligingly agrees), he’s not a quality swordsman. Neither is Gendry! What Gendry does know is steel. He insists that Jon “won’t need a blacksmith with a sword like that,” referring to Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword he’s carried since Jeor Mormont bestowed it upon him. But a blacksmith is exactly what Jon might need, since he is about to face the White Walkers and only two things are known to kill them: dragonglass and Valyrian steel.

You wouldn’t know it from only watching the show, but Gendry might be one of the only living men who knows how to manipulate Valyrian steel. As explained in the novels, Valyrian steel is an ancient art that requires magic to reforge and a dragon to create. We already know that Tobho Mott was able to reforge Ned Stark’s Valyrian blade, Ice, into two new swords: Oathkeeper, which Jaime Lannister passed on to Brienne of Tarth; and Widow’s Wail, which went to Jaime after Joffrey’s death. Did Mott pass down some of that Valyrian know-how to Gendry, who apprenticed under him for years? Almost definitely. And now that he’s joined up with Jon Snow, Gendry is awfully close to having three dragons and a high priest at his disposal. The Baratheon bastard from Flea Bottom just may play an integral role in saving the entire realm.

Aug. 16 2017 7:33 AM

For Some Reason, MTV Is Giving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to ... Pink?!

Quick: Name your favorite music video by Pink. (Don’t say “Lady Marmalade.”)

Oh, you don’t really have one. That’s OK. Do you have a favorite moment from a Pink music video? Favorite outfit? (Again, “Lady Marmalade” doesn’t count.)

Wait—you’re wondering, “Who is Pink, again?”

I sort of kid on that last one—if you’ve been alive in the last 15 years, you’ve inevitably heard at least one of the long-lasting pop star’s four No. 1 hits. She’s also a fixture of awards shows. And, as you may recall, she is one-fourth of the one-time supergroup that buttoned up their corsets for the Moulin Rough soundtrack to cover “Lady Marmalade.”

Still, it's absolutely baffling that Pink has been chosen to receive an award that until now was the only MTV Video Music Award that actually mattered: the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, which will be presented at this month’s VMAs.

The honor has been given to pop stars and the occasional groundbreaking music video director off and on for three decades, recognizing such culture-shaping stars as David Bowie, the Beastie Boys, George Michael, Janet Jackson, and Madonna. These choices have, for the most part, been unassailable. Consider the last five choices alone: Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears. Whatever you think of artists such as these as musicians, it’s impossible to deny the influence of their videography, both on the culture at large and on the artists that have come after them.

But to give the honor to Pink is to jump way over the shark—probably while aerial gliding hundreds of feet in the air on cables, as Pink does in the single most memorable aspect of her visual presentation. Notably, this element doesn’t come from her music videos, but rather from her impressive live performances. While the award has always been loosely defined by MTV, it’s telling that just a few years ago when Justin Timberlake rightfully took it home, it was described as recognizing “forerunners in the music video sphere." Now, in MTV’s announcement of this year’s winner, it’s touted as a prize that “honors an artist’s exceptional body of work,” a phrase that is shamelessly vague.

Perhaps there was a video director who looked to Pink’s “Get This Party Started” for inspiration on how to portray getting ready for a wild night at the club (singing into a blow-dryer: check)—but somehow I doubt it. Maybe there were some wide-eyed tweens who learned all of the choreography to “Most Girls” for their school talent show—send me a note if you were That Kid. The reasons for this decision, however, are more likely twofold: Pink’s got a new album to promote, and Lady Gaga was too busy to show up to the VMAs this year.

Pink has had an amazing career, to be sure, and had this been a straight-up VMA Lifetime Achievement Award (they’ve given those out to Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones, and a couple of others), it wouldn’t be such a shock, given that MTV's standards in nearly every other category often drift into the realm of questionable, at best. But in this one category, MTV had previously maintained some actual credibility.

And it’s not as if there aren’t others who wouldn’t have been more deserving. Here are a few names that would have made better choices, from just a few minutes of searching our memories:

  • Jay-Z
  • Björk
  • Diddy
  • Director Spike Jonze
  • Director Michel Gondry
  • Director David Fincher
  • Usher
  • J. Lo
  • And, once again, Gaga

If these guys just weren’t available to appear on awards night, perhaps MTV should’ve considered doing what they’ve done in the past, which is not given out the Vanguard Award at all.

Aug. 16 2017 6:15 AM

Colbert: Trump Is “Suspiciously Worried That Racist Presidents Don’t Get Statues Anymore”

We’re in our second day of an Edward R. Murrow-off between late night hosts, and it’s making everyone very aware of what time various shows are shot. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was already taping when Trump gave his most offensive press conference yet—until the next one, anyway—but Jimmy Kimmel, helped by West coast time zones, had time to write an earnest appeal to Trump voters in light of the fact that the president is even more Nazi-curious than we already knew. Seth Meyers managed to throw together a short “Breaking Crazy” piece and will probably circle back tomorrow. The Late Show With Stephen Colbert was right on the bubble, as writer Ariel Dumas tweeted:

Thirty minutes isn’t very much time to write what ended up being a twelve-minute speech; for non-stenographers, it’s not even enough time to transcribe it. But Colbert and his writers room somehow pulled it off, and in Tuesday night’s blistering monologue, he once again laid out a compelling case that the president is unfit for office. While Colbert didn’t go quite as far as Kimmel or Meyers, both of who were openly calling for Trump to leave or be removed, he did express doubt that Trump would be president by Friday without specifying how that might come to pass. It seems like a much faster timetable than Kimmel’s complicated scheme to name Trump King of America, then lock him up in his castle and throw away the key forever, but Colbert is suspiciously light on details. The sooner the better, obviously, but if Stephen Colbert thinks he can sell America on promises of improbably quick results without any underlying plan to achieve them, he’s … pretty astute, actually. Friday it is!

Aug. 16 2017 1:28 AM

Jimmy Kimmel to Trump Voters: “Deep Down Inside, You Know You Made a Mistake.”

After Monday’s full court press of late night hosts—even Jimmy Fallon!—condemning President Trump’s actions over the weekend, it was reasonable to expect the less-political shows to go back to their usual silliness. Then Tuesday’s press conference happened and everyone went back to the drawing board. Or almost everyone: Fallon returned to normal, though he noted that this was a function of time, not indifference, so we’ll check in with him tomorrow:

But Jimmy Kimmel Live! airs live—it’s right there in the title—and Tuesday night, Kimmel threw everything he’d planned away to talk at length about President Trump again. Billed as “Jimmy Kimmel’s Plan to Save Us From Trump,” the segment builds to a joke that’s not all that practical: Kimmel’s plan is to offer Trump the position of King of America, then lock him in a castle in Florida and lose the key forever. That probably won’t be how things shake out—though he’s certainly right that it seems more likely than the Republicans impeaching their guy—but the way Kimmel gets to that point is extraordinary.

It should be more newsworthy than it is when a late night host calls the President of the United States “completely unhinged,” says his press conference was “unprecedented insanity,” and semi-seriously proposes we trick him into being imprisoned in a tower forever. But those are just baseline observations these days. What’s noteworthy is Kimmel directly addressing Trump voters, beginning with a very sympathetic picture of why people were attracted to him in the first place:

You were unhappy with the way things were going, you wanted someone to come in and shake things up, you didn’t want business as usual, nothing ever seems to get done, it’s always the same, these candidates make a lot of promises that go nowhere, it happens over and over again, and you’re sick of it. And so this guy shows up, riding down a golden escalator. He’s not part of the political establishment. In fact, he’s the opposite of that. He’s a billionaire—maybehe’s written books, he’s not politically correct—he’s not even correct, usually—he talks tough, he wants to drain the swamp, sometimes he can be funny, he rips into his opponents in a way politicians never do, have never done before, and you thought, “You know what? This guy’s different, and that’s what I want: different. Let’s roll the dice, let’s get him in there, have him run the country like a business, cut the dead weight, toughen everyone up. Let’s shake the Etch-A-Sketch hard and start over.”

He leaves out “genteel white supremacy,” for the sake of not shutting people down, presumably, but after an account of Trump’s unexpected success in the primaries and general election, Kimmel drops the hammer, going down a list of Trump fuckups since being elected that’s nearly as long as Slate’s list of reasons he never should have been elected to begin with. And then he makes an earnest plea to Trump supporters to wake the hell up, swallow their pride, and join the rest of humanity:

Aug. 15 2017 4:22 PM

The Trailer for The Meyerowitz Stories Reveals an Adam Sandler Movie That’s Actually Supposed to Be Good

It’s easy to forget that Adam Sandler is a pretty good—even pretty great—actor. It’s true that Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me, Funny People, and Men, Women, and Children all have their problems as films (especially the latter), but Sandler gives charismatic, convincing performances in each of them. Now with Noah Baumbach’s Cannes darling The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), the trailer for which Netflix has just released, we may finally be getting arguably the first movie that is as good as Sandler is in it.

The Meyerowitz Stories explores the intergenerational struggles between a dysfunctional New York family who reunite to celebrate the work of their domineering sculptor father. Even in just the short teaser, Meyerowitz looks like it is quintessentially a Baumbach film. The trailer doesn’t give away much in terms of plot, but it does showcase the film’s talented ensemble which includes Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and the always delightful Emma Thompson.

The film stages the reunion for a number of members of its ensemble. Prior to The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach and Stiller had worked on three films together, while the pair of Hoffman and Thompson have previously worked on two films together. It also marks the on-screen reunion between Stiller and Sandler, who appeared together very briefly in Happy Gilmore more than 20 years ago.

The Meyerowitz Stories was acquired by Netflix earlier this summer and premiered (despite some controversy) at Cannes back in May to very positive reviews, many of which pointed out Sandler’s performance as the film’s highlight. “We rarely get to see Sandler do this kind of straight-faced comedy, and he's so good in The Meyerowitz Stories that he deserves the chance to do more,” Alissa Wilkinson wrote in Vox. Deadline’s Pete Hammond went as far as to float Sandler as a potential Oscar contender.

The Meyerowitz Stories—Baumbach’s first Netflix film—will release on the streaming site on Oct. 13.

Aug. 15 2017 1:01 PM

Surprise! Louis C.K. Has Secretly Directed His First New Movie in 16 Years.

Louis C.K. has embraced the element of surprise yet again. Last year, the comedian dropped the first episode of his web series Horace and Pete without any warning, and now his first directorial feature in 16 years has arrived almost as suddenly. The Los Angeles Times reports that C.K. stealthily directed and stars in a new movie called I Love You, Daddy which is set to premiere in September at the Toronto Film Festival.

Though plot details are still scarce, we do know that C.K. plays Glen Topher, “a successful television producer and writer” in New York City, while Chloe Grace Moretz plays his daughter, named China. John Malkovich, Rose Byrne, Charlie Day, Helen Hunt, Edie Falco, and Pamela Adlon costar, and the film was shot in black-and-white on 35 mm.

This is C.K.’s first time directing a feature film since 2001’s Pootie Tang, the Blaxploitation parody and box office bomb that C.K. has since called “a huge mistake.” C.K. was supposed to write, direct, and star in another feature, I’m a Cop, a few years back, but the project was abandoned—which makes the announcement of an already completed film, and one that he managed to somehow film in secret in New York City, all the more exciting.

Aug. 15 2017 12:52 PM

Riz Ahmed’s Powerful Performance Put an Exclamation Point on a Surprisingly Political Tonight Show

In the past, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show has used spoken word as a foundation for a recurring bit where different celebrities perform slam poetry about ’90s TGIF sitcoms. But last night, in the middle of what was quite possibly the most political Tonight Show episode in as long as two decades, spoken word wasn’t used as a vehicle for jokes. Rather, it was used as it has been for decades by black Americans: to tell stories filled with sorrow, passion, confusion, anger, mourning, and, sometimes, hope. The night’s second guest, Riz Ahmed, the Emmy-nominated actor and one half of the hip-hop group Swet Shop Boys, performed an updated, spoken-word version of his decade-old song “Sour Times.”

Prefacing it by pointing out that, every year, the lyrics of “Sour Times” seem to get more and more relevant, Ahmed launched into his performance in front of a darkened Tonight Show set. “The truth is, terrorism ain’t what you think it is/ There ain’t no supervillain planning these attacks from some base,” Ahmed recited. “The truth is so much scarier and harder to face/ See, there's thousands of angry young men that are lost/ Sidelined in the economy, a marginal cost/ They think there’s no point in putting ballots up in the box/ They got no place in the system and no faith in its cause.”

Monday night’s Tonight Show wasn’t perfect, but it did show that the show is maturing. Fallon, after nearly a year of being criticized for being adamantly non-political on his late-night show, finally tearfully started off the show with a statement that denounced the events in Charlottesville and President Trump’s reluctant response to it. Then, perhaps more by fault of an unfortunate timing of a guest booking than anything, the first guest was actress and social activist Susan Sarandon—a woman who, during the election, said that Hillary was, “in a way,” a more dangerous candidate than Donald Trump.

But Ahmed’s performance, which came after a largely silly interview segment with Fallon, brought it all to a powerful close. It helped the Tonight Show make a poignant statement and make it in style. It was proof that the late-night format can balance the silly and the political, when a host and his staff have the willingness to do so.

While Fallon has seemed to understand his importance as the host of the oldest late-night institution, it has been frustrating to think about his hesitance to understand his responsibility not just as a comedian but as a broadcaster. It is a responsibility that the handful of hosts who have made an impact in late-night have understood. It is one that Fallon’s idol, Dick Cavett, certainly understood. And, if last night’s episode was any indication, it’s a responsibility that Fallon is coming around to. In the grand scheme of things, the latest incarnation of the Tonight Show is still relatively young, and there is still a lot of time for it to continue to evolve.

Aug. 15 2017 11:51 AM

Stephen Colbert’s Awkward Interview With Anthony Scaramucci Might Make You Miss the Old Mooch

Anthony Scaramucci made his Late Show debut on Monday night, the second stop on his unofficial media redemption tour. “I'm probably the only person that would come from the Trump administration, or formerly from the Trump administration, to sit here,” he told Stephen Colbert. He has a point. Colbert has been one of late night’s most biting critics of the Trump administration, and the late-night host certainly didn’t hold back when it came to mocking Scaramucci in particular during Scaramucci’s 10-day tenure as the incoming White House communications director. Still, it’s unclear whether Scaramucci was prepared for just how contentious his interview with Colbert would be, as the Late Show host aggressively challenged “the Mooch” on his views while the two discussed the administration past and present.

Scaramucci was greeted by the Late Show audience with either boos or chants of “Mooch,” depending on who you ask—though Scaramucci said he preferred to pretend they were saying “Mooch.” (Perhaps some were simply saying “Boo-urns.”) Scaramucci seemed to be trying to keep things light throughout, though his jokes, including self-deprecating observations about his short time in the White House and plenty of Game of Thrones references, were not always well-received. “I’m like Arya Stark,” he opened. “I took a list of all your comedy writers for my kill list.”

“You’re comedically threatening to kill the people who work for me?” asked Colbert. It was a sign of things to come: As the interview went on, Colbert remained on the offensive, often interrupting his guest, while Scaramucci stayed largely subdued—so subdued, in fact, that sometimes I wished that the Scaramucci who blew a kiss to the press or suggested that Steve Bannon “[tries] to suck [his] own cock” would put in an appearance. At times, it even felt like Scaramucci was still the White House communications director, defending Trump as “a compassionate man” even while criticizing the president’s failure to immediately condemn white supremacy in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

“Let’s be fair to be him, he did condemn the Nazis today,” he said.

“Two days later! Does he order his spine on Amazon Prime?” responded Colbert. “Why did it take so long?”

That’s not to say Scaramucci was completely tame during the appearance. He did admit there “there was no love lost” between himself and the now-ousted Reince Priebus while also saying that if he had his way, Steve Bannon would be fired. “I don’t think he’s a white supremacist, although I’ve never asked him if he’s a white supremacist. What I don’t like though, is the toleration of it,” he said. “It’s something that should be completely and totally intolerated.”

Scaramucci wrapped things up by presenting Colbert with a monogrammed knife—a parting gift from a self-proclaimed “front-stabber” who wasn’t necessarily at his sharpest on Monday night.

Aug. 15 2017 8:33 AM

Will Dunkirk Score the Most Oscar Nominations This Year?  

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

When it comes to Best Picture contenders, I tend to group them into two categories. The first category is what I call the “skinny” contender, meaning that the film is likely to figure into just a few high-profile categories—typically picture, director, screenplay, and one or two acting races—since it simply isn’t built to make a big dent in the tech nominations. Most of the potential awards movies we’ve seen so far this year, like The Big Sick and Get Out, are skinny contenders, though there is precedent for such a film to go all the way: Just two years ago, Spotlight became the first Best Picture winner to take home fewer than three Oscars in over 60 years. Still, no matter how well these movies do or how warranted their awards consideration may be, they will not have the profile of a juggernaut.

Dunkirk does, and it’s 2017’s first real “plus-size” Oscar contender. Acclaimed by critics and a big hit at the box office, Christopher Nolan’s World War II film is a near-certain Best Picture nominee and will contend in a great many other categories, too, thanks to its dazzling tech credits. When all is said and done, could it end up with the most Oscar nominations of any 2017 movie? To find out, let’s go over the races where Dunkirk will be in the mix and suss out its primary competition.

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