Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 1 2015 1:12 PM

D’Angelo Saves SNL With Brilliant Performances of “Really Love” and “The Charade”

SNL’s latest episode, hosted by J.K. Simmons, was a serviceable installment buoyed by the talent and presence of its musical guest. D’Angelo, the R&B legend whose latest full-length, Black Messiah, dominated 2014’s album-of-the-year lists, made a rare live television appearance on the show, turning in one of the more stirring, virtuosic SNL performances in recent memory.

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Feb. 1 2015 12:47 PM

Tig Notaro on Being the “Luckiest Unlucky Person”

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

In 2012, comedian Tig Notaro got a life-threatening infection in her intestine, lost her mother in a freak accident, went through a breakup with her longtime girlfriend, and—to top it all off—found out she had cancer throughout her chest. Because of the extraordinary way she reacted to all this—she went on stage within days of her diagnosis and turned her hardships into what Louis C.K. called “one of the greatest standup performances I ever saw”—she also had the biggest breakout year of her career. 

The new documentary Tig, which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a standing ovation, tells the story of that year and what followed. We asked Notaro how it feels to have her greatest tragedies and some of her greatest successes so closely tied together. Watch a portion of the interview below.

Jan. 31 2015 5:40 PM

The Four Quadrant Technique That Makes Drive Such a Beautiful Movie

Drive, the art-house thriller that cemented Ryan Gosling as the silent, brooding hero of our time, is a pretty movie. On it’s face, it’s also a non-eventful one—most of the stuff that happens involves Gosling beating people up, chewing on a toothpick, or giving Carey Mulligan one of his coy half-smiles. But as Tony Zhou notes in his latest video essay, there’s a ton going on beneath the surface, with director Nicolas Winding Refn conveying most of the film’s information through composition.

Specifically, Refn takes advantage of the four quadrants in a frame to depict the various and often contrasting elements of a scene. The central focus of a shot rarely tells the entire story: Look closer, particularly at the top-bottom and left-right divisions at work, and you can tease out the real tensions of the narrative.

Jan. 31 2015 3:07 PM

Watch Key & Peele’s Delightful Spoof of Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch

It was only a matter of time until Key & Peele tackled the absurdity of Super Bowl week, and they obliged on Friday with an episode devoted entirely to spoofing sports’ biggest event. One of those spoofs, and perhaps the episode’s high point, came when the duo bust out amusing impersonations of Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, two Seahawks whose incredible personalities already verge on caricature.

Jan. 31 2015 2:58 PM

I’ll See You in My Dreams’ Director and Stars on Making a Rom-Com for an Older Generation

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

It’s rare to find romantic comedies involving couples over the age of 60, and so Brett Haley’s I’ll See You in My Dreams, which premiered this week at Sundance, is a pleasant surprise. In it, Carol (Blythe Danner) is a widow tempted to finally try dating again for the first time in 20 years after meeting the charming, free-spirited Bill (Sam Elliott).

Aside from depicting the uneasiness of returning to the dating scene in one’s later years, I’ll See You in My Dreams also tackles the difficulties of dealing with aging, death, and happiness. We spoke with Danner, Elliott, and Haley about the film’s take on younger and older generations.

Jan. 31 2015 1:24 PM

Not Part of the Church of Courtney Barnett? “Pedestrian At Best” Will Convert You.

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett should already be famous. One reason is her inimitable vocal style—a bricolage of spoken word, humorous monologue, and deadpan singing—but even more unique are the words themselves: Barnett pens lyrics that shimmer with sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek wisdom, and acrobatic wordplay. “Pedestrian At Best,” her latest head-banger of a single, is a stunning showcase of those qualities, and further proof that this could be the year she breaks out.

Jan. 31 2015 11:47 AM

Jessica Williams on the Role of Improvisation in Her New Film People, Places, Things

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Over the last few years, Jessica Williams has made a name for herself as one of the smart, funny correspondents on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. At the Sundance Film Festival this year, Williams appears in her first supporting role in a feature film, James C. Strouse’s indie rom-com People, Places, Things.

In it, Williams plays Kat, an aspiring artist who tries to set up her single mother (Regina Hall) with her lonely college professor Will (Jemaine Clement). We spoke with her about Strouse’s directing style and improvisation on the set of the film.

Jan. 30 2015 6:02 PM

Watch the Trailer for Game of Thrones Season 5, and Then Start Speculating Wildly 

The first trailer for Season 5 of HBO’s epic fantasy (and fan torture device) Game of Thrones premiered last night during the first IMAX screenings of two Season 4 episodes. Of course it immediately leaked and proliferated on the Internet, giving viewers new fodder for the best part of watching Game of Thrones: fevered speculation about what might happen on Game of Thrones.

As emphasized by the lyrics to a stripped-down version of Bowie’s “Heroes,” the trailer seems to say, “We can be heroes ... but will we?” We see Lord Baelish urging Sansa Stark towards revenge, an awesomely bearded Tyrion plotting with Lord Varys about who could possibly control the iron throne (with a very suggestive cut to Daenerys), Arya Stark dramatically picking up a sword, and Jon Snow seemingly leading a charge into battle. Notably absent are any references to Lord Stannis (though the ever-disrobing Melisandre appears) or the Iron Islands, as well as references to a specific plot point from the book that some fans worry may be excised (here’s a spoiler).


But it may be a transitional moment in the Game of Thrones speculation game. The trailer leak coincides with George R.R. Martin's publisher’s announcement that we should not expect the next book in the series in 2015. The television series is rapidly catching up with the book series it draws from, and the narrative line of the show continues to deviate from the source material. Basically, speculation on what the show will cover, and when, based on the books seems increasingly futile, which might frankly be a relief to those of us tracking the show but not the books. Because this looks pretty exciting—that set piece of the statue on top of Meereen’s great pyramid getting pulled down looks particularly wild—and at this point getting disappointed by things before they even happen in the show feels tedious.

Jan. 30 2015 5:38 PM

Katy Perry Is the Singing, Dancing "Cool Girl," and She's a Perfect Fit for the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Katy Perry will headline the Super Bowl halftime show this Sunday, and Joe Coscarelli notes in the New York Times that Perry’s “cutesy, feminine charm” makes her a “somewhat unorthodox” pick for the evening’s entertainment—especially considering her fans “tend to be young women.” But in fact, Katy Perry’s entire persona is perfectly designed for the football audience, and it was only a matter of time before the NFL exploited her potential, and vice versa. What this performance on TV’s biggest stage, aligned with America’s biggest sport, will confirm is that Perry is the singing, dancing personification of the “Cool Girl.”

Jan. 30 2015 5:20 PM

Jimmy Kimmel Found the Patriots’ “Locker Room Guy”

In the run-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Patriots have been embroiled in the great Ballghazi scandal of 2015 over the use of deflated footballs in an AFC Championship game. (Needless to say, the “ball” jokes have written themselves.) And while we may never know the identity of the locker room attendant alleged to have been responsible for the controversy, Jimmy Kimmel has a few ideas.