Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 24 2016 12:33 PM

Whether You Play Ariana Grande or Village People, These Dancing Pokémon Are Always on Beat

The Pokémemes keep on coming: The latest addition to this great saga is a video going around of Charizard and Dragonite dancing to a choreographed routine. In the tradition of Baby Groot or Oscar Isaac, fans have paired these dancing Pokémon with random songs to prove that no matter what song is playing, the dragon dancers are always on beat.

Aug. 24 2016 11:37 AM

Amid Controversy, the American Film Institute Has Canceled a Screening of Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation

The fallout of the controversy surrounding Nate Parker has begun. The American Film Institute announced Tuesday that it has canceled an upcoming screening of The Birth of a Nation—Parker’s Sundance-winning sensation about slave rebellion leader Nat Turner—as well as a Q&A event with the director that was planned to follow. This would have marked Parker’s first major public appearance since his involvement in a 1999 rape case became widely known.

Aug. 24 2016 10:51 AM

Werner Herzog Loves This Chef’s Homemade Salt So Much He Blurbed About It

Italian blacksmith Angelo Garro is also a well-known chef who spends his time hunting and foraging for ingredients, curing salami, and, most importantly, making his own salt. So good is Garro’s spiced salt, apparently, that German auteur Werner Herzog is among its fans—the filmmaker narrated and co-edited a mini-documentary about the salt for Garro’s Kickstarter campaign. “Angelo is like a medieval man,” Herzog says in his inimitable style.

Aug. 24 2016 9:41 AM

The Jungle Book Honest Trailer Reminds Us It’s Basically Just a Kid Running Around in His Underwear

The Honest Trailer for Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book calls it “the year’s best film about talking animals”—which is saying something, since there have been a lot of talking animal movies in 2016, including Finding Dory and Zootopia. But it’s true that even though Jungle Book was just another live-action remake on Disney’s master spreadsheet, it was full of enough stunning visuals and great characters to make you forget that it was basically a kid running around in his underwear in front of a blue screen the whole time.

Aug. 24 2016 8:33 AM

Why Were the Rio Olympics Ratings So Bad?

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

American athletes cleaned up at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, dominating the games in a way no Olympic team has done in decades. But all that winning didn’t translate into ratings gold for NBC: After getting off to a rocky start with the lowest-rated opening weekend of Summer Olympics coverage in at least 20 years, Sunday’s closing ceremony appear to have delivered the smallest Nielsen numbers for an Olympics capper since at least 1972, and most likely ever. Worse for the Peacock, despite a plethora of gold-medal performances from superstars such as Gabby Douglas, Michael Phelps, and Katie Ledecky, the Rio games rank as the lowest-rated summer Olympics since Sydney 2000. The preliminary final score: a 14.4 household rating and 25.4 million viewers, down about 18 percent from London’s 17.6 rating and 31.1 million viewers. Given NBC’s commitment to spending roughly $8 billion for U.S. rights to the games through 2032, it’s hard to imagine anyone at NBC is overjoyed by how audiences responded to Rio. And yet, it would also be an overstatement to declare what happened a complete catastrophe for the network. Let’s break down what we do know about NBC’s Rio ratings:

Not even the Olympics are immune to audience erosion.
 Broadcast networks have been dealing with sizable linear ratings declines for more than a decade now, prompted first by time-shifting technologies and more recently by the advent of streaming and video on demand. NBC’s Olympics coverage seemed to be defying the trend, with overall ratings for summer Olympiads increasing anywhere from 8 to 9 percent every four years, starting with the Athens games in 2004. Per Advertising Age, NBC Sports executives had actually been predicting the upward trend would continue with Rio, perhaps a sign Peacock officials believed the lure of such a huge near-live sporting event would function as a sort of protection spell against the various forces driving down ratings elsewhere. It didn’t. Not only did the numbers not improve, the declines were so steep—Sunday’s closing ceremony brought in roughly half the young-adult audience as the end of London—NBC has had to offer extra airtime to its advertisers to make up for the shortfall, according to Ad Age.

Aug. 24 2016 8:03 AM

The Real Problem With the BBC’s 100 Best Movies Poll Isn’t the Movies. It’s That It’s a Poll.

The critics have spoken—177 of them, to be precise—and they’ve named David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive the best movie of the 21st century. That’s according to a new poll by BBC Culture, which also names There Will Be Blood, Spirited Away, and No Country for Old Men to the top 10.

Lists are made to be fought over, but this one is hard to argue with, in part because so many of the arguments have already been had. Its top two slots go to Mulholland Drive and In the Mood for Love, the only movies from 2000 or later to place in in the latest edition of Sight & Sound’s decennial best-of poll, the most storied of critical bellwethers. (Pedants might point out that the 21st century actually began in 2001, and further that the proper screen title of the winning movie is Mulholland Dr., but let’s set those more granular arguments aside for now.) In fact, if you read a good amount of film criticism, there’s not much that’s surprising here at all. The list as a whole leans heavily on art-house favorites and is light on genre films, comedies, and documentaries. There are 12 movies with a credited female director or co-director, and while about a fifth are by directors of color, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour is the only movie by a black American.

In other words, same critical biases, different poll. From Sight & Sound and Film Comment to the Village Voice and Indiewire, these sorts of film polls tend to draw from slightly different areas of the same pool and produce similar results—to the extent that one might well ask why we need another one, or any of them. By nature, polls iron out the idiosyncrasies of individual taste and produce what amounts to conventional wisdom. Vertigo is the greatest movie of all time? You don’t say. Varying the roster of voters can mix things up a bit: When Sight & Sound polled directors instead of critics, Tokyo Story jumped into first place, with Vertigo dropping to seventh. But it takes a concerted effort to produce something like Sight & Sound’s directors’ poll or the 2008 American Cinematographer poll in which Amélie edged out There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men as the best-shot movie of the previous decade.* (Slate’s Black Film Canon is another example of how varying the methodology can produce more distinctive results.)

Disclosure, or maybe a mea culpa: I contributed to the BBC poll, and eight of my top 10 made the final list, which makes me the critical equivalent of the Phantom Tollbooth family with 2.58 children. There are no female directors on my list—although there was one until Claire Denis’ Beau Travail was ruled ineligible (though it wasn’t distributed to theaters until 2000, it first premiered on the festival circuit in 1999)—and only one comedy, if The Grand Budapest Hotel counts. There are a lot of the former and a few of the latter that just missed the cut, but it turns out 10 is an insanely small number of movies, even if you’re only drawing from the last 16 years. (It’s not even enough space for the best movie of every year!) It’s important to remember when looking at the BBC’s top 100 movies, which is actually 102 due to a three-way tie for the last spot, that no one chose, for example, Before Sunset as their 73rd-favorite movie. The relevant metric isn’t if, say, Edgar Wright’s The World’s End is among the best 100 movies of the 21st century (it is) but whether it’s the kind of movie that multiple critics would put in their 10 best. You’d almost certainly get a more diverse and interesting result if you asked 177 critics for their top 100 films, but you’d also still be waiting for ballots when the last trump sounds.

The argument against lists such as the BBC’s is that they not only reflect critical conventional wisdom but institutionalize it.

Aug. 23 2016 11:39 PM

Cher: Donald Trump Is “a F---ing Idiot.”

Cher’s feelings about Donald Trump have not been a secret to anyone familiar with her Twitter feed. But on Sunday, at a Clinton campaign event in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the pop star took a more combative tone than one usually finds in political speeches, even from celebrity campaign surrogates. Specifically, she called Trump, the new face of the Republican Party, “a fucking idiot,” and compared him to the pigtailed sociopath played by Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed.

Cher told the audience that she feared for the LGBT community under a Trump presidency, “because I know what they will try to do: They will try to turn back every clock, they will try to take away every one of your rights.” About Trump’s success, she said, “No one’s more surprised than him. He wants the crowds, he wants the adulation—he doesn’t give a shit about the work.” Warming to her subject, she made a somewhat puzzling comparison to the 1977 George Segal and Jane Fonda movie Fun with Dick and Jane (or possibly its 2005 Jim Carrey/Téa Leoni remake):

I’ve been watching him speak, you know, with teleprompters, and it’s like, not many people are going to know this, but do you remember Fun With Dick and Jane? It’s like Racist Fun with Dick and Jane. “We’re going to build walls! We’re going to keep—” and he doesn’t mean, “We want to make America great again,” he means “We want to make America straight and white.”

She had kinder words for Hillary Clinton, telling the crowd, “I know she will work every moment of every day.” Watch her complete remarks, as filmed by an attendee, below.

Aug. 23 2016 10:04 PM

A Robert Durst Lifetime Movie Is on the Way but Probably Not a Lifetime Christmas Movie

Lifetime is getting into the Bobby Durst business, Deadline reports. After a feature film, a documentary series, and a cameo on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the allegedly homicidal heir will get another chance to captivate the nation. Lifetime has optioned Matt Birkbeck’s book A Deadly Secret: The Bizarre and Chilling Story of Robert Durst, which, under its original title A Deadly Secret: The Strange Disappearance of Kathie Durst, was one of the books found at Durst’s Houston apartment when police searched it in 2015. (Actually, it was technically two of the books: Durst had both the 2002 hardcover edition and the 2003 paperback.)

Lifetime’s got the 2015 edition, which includes updates on Durst’s activities since 2003. Bettina Gilois, who co-wrote Glory Road, McFarland, USA, and Bessie, will write the script; Linda Berman is producing. According to Deadline, the film will “tell the troubling story of Robert Durst through the eyes and relationship of his wife, Kathy Durst,” which raises some narrative questions, since Kathy disappeared in 1982, and presumably has very little to say about post-1982 developments.

The film is as-yet untitled; A Deadly Secret would fit right in with the other Lifetime films, but has probably been ruled out because of Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell’s perfectly-titled Lifetime movie A Deadly Adoption. Will it ultimately be called The Burping Butcher? The Deadliest Durst? Not Without My Chicken Salad Sandwich? As the nation anxiously waits for the title, it’s reassuring to know that America’s favorite alleged multiple murderer has landed at Lifetime, a network that excels with this sort of bleak material: In 2014 they drove the entire nation to existential despair with the chilling docudrama Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.

Aug. 23 2016 5:39 PM

Michelle Obama Isn’t Just a Savvy Manipulator of Pop Culture. She’s a Pretty Sophisticated Culture Critic.

Whether chatting up Rory Gilmore, pushing Billy Eichner around in a shopping cart, or belting out “Single Ladies” with James Corden, Michelle Obama has long demonstrated a deft handling of the powers of popular entertainment. In her interactions with various celebrities on various platforms, the first lady has managed to relay information about healthy eating, college advancement, and girls’ education—all issues she’s promoted throughout her time in the White House—in a fashion that’s both accessible and innovative. Put simply, she has proven herself to be an incredibly sophisticated culture manipulator.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that a new Variety interview reveals Michelle Obama to also be an incredibly sophisticated culture critic. She has navigated the late-night circuit and viral culture effortlessly and proved to be extremely intelligent when it comes to the fluidity of activist engagement. But understanding culture’s function and being able to articulate the phenomena surrounding it are two very different things. More than any political figure in recent memory, Obama appears to understands this—as well as how she can play a part.

Aug. 23 2016 3:51 PM

The Very Funny First Episode of Dan Harmon’s HarmonQuest Is Online

A team of outcasts answers the call of destiny—or at least, the instructions of the Dungeon master—in the first episode of HarmonQuest, which NBC Seeso has made available for free online. The show’s premise is simple: Creator Dan Harmon, along with friends Jeff Davis, Erin McGathy, and Spencer Crittenden, play role-playing game Pathfinder in front of a live audience, and their dialogue is then animated to show their characters’ adventures.

Episode 1 sets the series in motion, introducing Harmon’s character, Fondue Zoobag, a half-orc who leads a team of outcasts to save their realm from the Heralds of Manticore. Since each episode was filmed live and in real time, there’s a certain amount of figuring out what, exactly, is happening at any given point (the players don’t have the benefit of the animation to guide them), but it’s at those moments that the show is at its funniest—like when Crittenden has to remind guest star Paul F. Tompkins that his head has been on fire for several turns.

You can watch the rest of the series, including episodes with Aubrey Plaza as a gnome with some unusual skills and Chelsea Peretti as a monk named Deepak Chopra, on Seeso.

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