Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Oct. 7 2015 10:08 PM

Empire’s New Latina Character Is Shamelessly Stereotypical—but That’s Not Why She’s Frustrating

“Hey mom, I wanna start a girl group like Destiny’s Child.”

And with those few words, coming rather abruptly and randomly in last week’s episode of Empire (as most things do on Empire), another weird plot line of Season 2 was effectively lurched into existence. Spoken by youngest Lyon cub Hakeem to Cookie, it’s ostensibly a way for him to demonstrate to his family and the rest of the world his evolving maturity as an artist and businessman—no matter that he’s yet to even properly release an album or kickstart his own career as a solo artist.

It also provides Empire with new ways to be shamelessly politically incorrect, this time in the form of Latina representation. First, Hakeem has the brilliant idea to name his hypothetical girl group “Rainbow Sensation”—his sights are set on forming a trio with a black girl, white girl, and a Latina. One young woman he’s especially impressed with during auditions, Valentina (Becky G), embodies her fair share of Latina stereotypes: head swivel, fast-talking, feisty attitude. At one point, Hakeem even calls her “Latina and feisty”—as if the two things unquestionably go together like Chris Brown and poor judgment

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Oct. 7 2015 9:18 PM

The Honest Trailer for Aladdin Explains What Those Songs Are Really About

It’s been 23 years since Aladdin’s release, enough time for the movie to be worshipped by a generation, made into a Broadway musical, and canonized as a Disney classic. The time is right, then, for Screen Junkies to skewer the film with an Honest Trailer, and their take on the “hunky thief with no home, no parents, and no nipples” doesn’t disappoint.

Oct. 7 2015 6:15 PM

The New Trailer for the Victorian-Era Episode of Sherlock Is Heavy on Mood, Light on Plot

After three successful seasons, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s BBC series Sherlock (which airs on PBS in the States) is taking a different tack for this year’s Christmas special: Instead of being set in the 21stcentury, like the rest of the series, it will take place in the 19th century. We already got a glimpse of old-timey Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) in a short clip shown at Comic-Con in July, and now the BBC has released a trailer, which shows more familiar characters clad in Victorian garb.

The trailer reveals only hints about the plot of the special: We see a frantic woman berating Holmes, a dead body in a hallway, and several revolvers. More than narrative, this preview emphasizes mood, with the darkness and shadows of industrial-era London prominent in nearly every shot. It also seems that the special will feature plenty of the wit and self-awareness that the series is known for: There’s a gag about Holmes’ famous hat, and Watson at one point strikes a match and says, “Little use us standing here in the dark. After all, this is the 19th century.”

Oct. 7 2015 5:24 PM

This Video Essay Explores All the Parallels Between Whiplash and Black Swan 

Obsessive perfectionists with tunnel vision are a cinematic mainstay—just look at Danny Boyle’s upcoming Steve Jobs biopic. But two recent movies in this vein, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, have several narrative and compositional similarities, starting with the fact that both movies follow young, New York-based artists who will stop at nothing to become the best of the best. A few critics alluded to parallels between the films when Whiplash came out last year, but Vimeo user Fernando Andrés has gone deep. Andrés’ exceptionally well-made video essay “Hands and Feet” breaks down all of the shared plot points and aesthetic choices that make these films two peas in an Oscar-friendly pod.

The similarities between the movies extend all the way to their final shots, so if you haven’t seen either Black Swan or Whiplash, be aware that the video contains spoilers. The parallels also include lingering shots of bleeding, contorted appendages, so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.

Oct. 7 2015 4:46 PM

Hannibal Buress’ Messy Unemployable Pilot Will Make You Glad He’s a Comedian

Hannibal Buress has always been a comedian. He’s never had another job, which left him harboring a burning question: Is he good at anything else?

The answer is no. He’s terrible at everything, and we have the TV pilot to prove itUnemployable, which Buress shot for Comedy Central in 2014, chronicles Buress’ attempts to work jobs that aren’t stand-up comedy. In this first episode, which Buress shared this week, he fumbles his way through stints as a goat farmer and as a chef in a famous New Orleans diner.

Oct. 7 2015 4:00 PM

Meryl Streep Is the Perfect Person to Call Out Sexism in Film Criticism

At a Wednesday press conference for her upcoming movie Suffragette, Meryl Streep shared an “infuriating” observation: American movie critics are mostly men. Looking at the critics whose opinions are included in Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer rating, she found 168 women, which sounds like a lot, until you learn that Streep also found 760 men. For those counting at home, that’s more than four men for every woman. Streep found a similar imbalance within the New York Film Critics Circle. To be fair, her math seems to be a little off: Streep counted two women out of 39 member critics, but the NYFCC website lists six women among its 31 total members (including Slate’s own Dana Stevens). Even so, that’s more than four men for every woman.

According to Streep, the gender imbalance in film criticism matters because critics drive box office sales to a certain extent, and because men and women view the world differently. “I submit to you that men and women are not the same,” Streep said. “They like different things. Sometimes they like the same things, but their tastes diverge.”

Oct. 7 2015 12:38 PM

Listen to a Pensive Track With ’80s Flourishes From the National’s Matt Berninger

When the National lead singer Matt Berninger and Menomena instrumentalist Brent Knopf announced their collaboration under the name EL VY, my colleague Forrest Wickman speculated that the project was an outlet for Berninger’s lighter side. EL VY’s first two singles certainly corroborated that theory, with cheerful arrangements and silly lyrics like “I’m peaceful ’cause my dick’s in sunlight.” But EL VY isn’t just a medium for dumb jokes. The duo has shared a third track from the forthcoming Return to the Moon, “Paul Is Alive,” with lyrics that touch on childhood, mortality, and regret.

“Paul Is Alive” may be less irreverent than EL VY’s first two singles, but there’s enough musical variation to keep it from getting bogged down in its own seriousness. In addition to guitar and piano, Knopf incorporates synthesizer swoops evocative of the hook from Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and sparingly used choral backing that remind me of mid-career Leonard Cohen.

Oct. 7 2015 11:33 AM

Listen to an Alternate Version of “Say, Say, Say” With Different Michael Jackson Vocals

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson released “Say, Say, Say” in 1983, and in honor of the song’s 32nd anniversary, McCartney shared a brand new music video for the song on his Facebook page. The black and white MJ tribute (starring a lead who busts a few of Jackson’s signature moves) is excellent, but even more thrilling are the new MJ vocals that appear in the song. 

McCartney and Jackson sing in the same register, so it might be difficult for the casual listener to spot the difference. In this new version, instead of McCartney, MJ’s characteristic falsetto opens the song (“Say say say what you want, but don’t play games with my affection”), and McCartney takes over from there (“Take take take what you need, but don’t leave me with no direction”). The verse-sharing continues through the song, which is a little shorter than the version in 1983’s famous music video. McCartney includes this vocal-swapped version in his Pipes of Peace reissue, which came out Oct. 2. Relive the McCartney-Jackson glory days by watching the original video for “Say, Say, Say” below.

Oct. 7 2015 9:06 AM

How One Dedicated Blogger Became the Chef Behind the Official Bob’s Burgers Cookbook

In 2013, Cole Bowden was a broke college student and a Bob’s Burgers fan with a simple mission: to learn how to cook by creating recipes for the show’s Burgers of the Day, the running gag that has become a fixture of Fox’s animated sitcom. Each burger name, displayed on the chalkboard in Bob’s restaurant, is a food-inspired play on words, such as the Gourdon-Hamsey Burger or the Don't You Four Cheddar 'Bout Me Burger.

As Bowden took these puns from screen to plate, he documented his progress with a Tumblr blog, The Bob’s Burger Experiment, that soon amassed tens of thousands of followers and even caught the attention of the show’s creator, Loren Bouchard. From there, fan and creator became collaborators, and Bowden’s recipes will now appear in the show’s official cookbook, The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers, coming out in March.

When Slate spoke to Bowden, who now works as an engineer for Honda, he had just returned from a trip to Burbank, California, where he toured the animation studio behind the show, Bento Box Entertainment, and saw some of the book’s illustrations in person. Bowden talked about making the transition from blog to cookbook, connecting with Loren Bouchard, and the one burger he just can’t make. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Before you began the Experiment, did you have any cooking experience at all?

I could not cook. I could put food onto a hot pan and heat it up, or put it in a microwave. Maybe I could boil pasta if it was a good day. So I wanted to do something to get better at cooking.

Oct. 7 2015 8:37 AM

Movies Need to Stop Explaining Everything (Looking at You, The Walk)

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

There’s one shot from Mad Max: Fury Road that has stuck with me longer than most of the two-hour movies I’ve seen this year, and if you blink, you’re liable to miss it. The moment comes deep into the movie, as Fury Road’s dazzling all-day car chase has given way to blue-hued night, and our heroes have driven to a new, different wasteland. The shot that establishes this new location puts their familiar convoy deep into the background, while the foreground is dominated by dead trees, misty muck, and a handful of unearthly, silhouetted feathered beasts.

The first time I saw this shot, I sat up in my seat. Fury Road had already presented more than its fair share of eye-popping visuals, but I found my imagination most captured by these freaky, feathered things. It was impossible to glimpse their faces in the dark, but the way these bird-beasts moved slowly through the sludge on stiltlike legs was arresting, and rare: They never appeared again in any other scene, nor were they acknowledged by our characters. It wasn’t even until my second viewing that I realized these were not mutant birds but hunched men in ragged feather coats, likely postapocalyptic scavengers forced to travel through the swamp on spidery stilt legs. That was my read, anyway. Anything I wanted to know about these figures, I had to figure out myself.

I thought about those bird-men while watching The Walk, the new Robert Zemeckis film about French daredevil Philippe Petit, who performed a high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It isn’t just that Petit’s grace and balance reminded me of those stilt-walking swamp-dwellers, though I have no doubt that if the eager Petit were swept off to Fury Road, he’d scamper over to the bird-men, swipe their stilts, and say, “Let me try!” Rather, the reason I thought of Mad Max while watching The Walk is that the former film presented its evocative images and then encouraged me to use my imagination, while the latter papered over its visual poetry with unrelenting, unnecessary voice-over.

Nearly the whole film is choked with narration, and the device is introduced early on, as we see Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) addressing the camera from the torch held by the Statue of Liberty. (Not exactly afraid of heights, this one.) But Zemeckis doesn’t just use that voice-over to introduce Petit and then let him run free: Instead, it’s a cloying crutch, employed repeatedly to overexplain what we’re seeing. What’s more, verbalizing Petit’s inner life actually robs Gordon-Levitt of the chance to convey it.

Nowhere is this more egregious than in the wire-walk sequence itself. Visually, it’s one of the most astonishing things Zemeckis has ever produced on-screen—even more so if you have the chance to see it in 3-D, where the preponderance of first-person shots gives the scene a you-are-there immediacy. But it’s not enough for Zemeckis to literally put us into Petit’s head: He also floods the sequence with voice-over, leaving little room for us to come to our own conclusions about what we’re seeing. Everything we need to know about Petit is already on Gordon-Levitt’s face, and everything we need to know about the danger of the walk is apparent in those vertiginous shots. If only the filmmaker had trusted in their potency and cut all that narration. When Petit goes out silent on that wire, so should Zemeckis.