Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 30 2016 8:15 PM

Throw a Miserable Dinner Party the Game of Thrones Way

Game of Thrones has always had elements of horror: white walkers, murderous cults, incurable diseases, man-eating dragons, and the like. But Sunday night, the show moved into truly terrifying ground: family dinners. Samwell Tarly’s long-awaited reunion with his family couldn’t have gone worse, and Gilly didn’t make too great an impression either. The blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Samwell’s father, Lord Randyll Tarly, which wasn’t exactly unexpected, given that the last time he saw his son, he threatened to murder him if he didn’t renounce all claims to his inheritance and head to the wall. As Sam puts it earlier in the episode, “a person just doesn’t feel welcome at that point.” This was never going to be a happy meeting, but somehow Lord Tarly managed to exceed expectations.

So how does one film the least welcoming dinner since the Red Wedding? In a show that lives on sweeping vistas, wide shots, and carefully choreographed action, it may be surprising that a subject as simple as a meal would demand as much attention on the level of craft—and it’s true that nothing cinematically revolutionary happens in the six-and-a-half minute scene. But director Jack Bender, cinematographer Jonathan Freeman, and editor Yan Miles still do everything they can to give the scene a feeling of unease as they track the shifting power relationships around the Tarwell family table.        

May 30 2016 8:01 PM

The Black Film Canon: A Video Tribute to the 50 Greatest Films by Black Directors

 

The larger movement behind #OscarsSoWhite wasn’t just about the Academy’s lack of recognition for the cinematic achievements of people of color—it was also about challenging the film industry itself to evolve and make room for more substantial work from black filmmakers and actors. And that fight must go on.

 

 

In the meantime, we must also recognize that—despite Hollywood’s deck being stacked against them from the very beginning—black filmmakers have long been contributing some of the industry’s best work. Most canonical lists of the "greatest" films hardly reflect this. And so in that spirit, Slate asked over 40 prominent filmmakers, critics, and scholars—from Ava DuVernay to Wesley Morris to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.— for their favorite movies by black filmmakers, and used their picks to shape the black film canon.

 

May 30 2016 2:05 PM

What Bran’s Visions of Fire Really Mean on Game of Thrones

Given that, according to co-creator David Benioff, Game of Thrones is “heading into the final lap,” it’s a safe bet that this season will end at a historic low, with winter and the white walkers finally coming and humanity unprepared to face the threat. Giving us time to recover from last week’s traumatic hold-dooring, “Blood of My Blood” mainly laid the groundwork for future conflicts: Arya reneged on her obligations to the Faceless Men, the Tyrells and the Lannisters were out-maneuvered by the Faith Militant, Dany made yet another rousing speech to the troops, this time atop a dragon; Ned Stark’s and Catelyn Tully’s brothers, last seen, respectively, in Seasons 1 and 3, returned to the fold. But Bran’s rapid-fire visions gave us a glimpse of the future, and it ain’t pretty.

Game of Thrones fans have, as you’d expect, been busy poring over every last shot, including yet another tease of the long-awaited resolution of Jon Snow’s true parentage. But the vast majority of previously unseen footage concerns Aerys Targaryen, better known as the Mad King, whose infamous reign predates the beginning of the series. We see shots of Jaime Lannister striking him down in the throne room, thus earning the sobriquet Kingslayer, but we’re also reminded that Aerys, like his daughter and quasi-namesake, Daenerys, had a fondness for burning his enemies alive, and that he was rather liberal in defining who his enemies were. We see Aerys scream the words that have become the emblem of his madness, the Westerosi equivalent of “Let them eat cake”: “Burn them all!”

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Not possessing any dragons, the Mad King’s preferred method of immolation was wildfire, which is essentially Westeros’ equivalent to napalm. Tyrion Lannister drew on a small portion of Aerys’ stores to defeat Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of the Blackwater, but as Bran’s visions remind us, there are still barrels full of the glowing green substance stashed in the tunnels under King’s Landing, and all a weapon like that wants is to go boom. Given that his visions also include a split-second shot of a dragon’s shadow passing over the city’s smoldering roofs, it’s possible that explosion will be caused by Daenerys in her bid to retake the Iron Throne, but the most persuasive theory is that it will be Cersei Lannister who lights the fuse, in her bid to wipe out the threat from the High Sparrow and his fanatical followers once and for all. After her public humiliation at the High Sparrow’s hands and the murder of her daughter Myrcella, Cersei has grown increasingly nihilistic, telling Jaime that they’re the only two people in the world who matter—at which point you might just as well set the whole thing ablaze.

In other words, to say the Iron Throne is literally sitting on top of a powder keg is an understatement, since wildfire is more dangerous than gunpowder: Once it explodes into flame, no amount of water can put it out. It’s just the latest reminder this season that in their quests for power, the show’s characters are increasingly being driven towards loosing forces they cannot fully control. Cersei maneuvered the High Sparrow into power and restored the Faith Militant, only to find the tables turned against her. Bran’s untutored exercise of his powers let the white walkers into the cave, resulting in the death of his both his mentor and his closest friend. The white walkers themselves are a defensive weapon gone horribly awry, a means of protecting the land that has become the greatest threat to it—a kind of mystical Manhattan Project. It’s Westeros’ original sin, repeated in endless variations ever since.

May 30 2016 10:25 AM

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: The Waif

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate culture editor Dan Kois.

Brogan: Hi, Dan. Thanks for joining me to talk about “Blood of My Blood.” You co-host a parenting podcast, so I’m sure you too noticed that this was an episode built around terrible fathers, from the perpetually baffled Mace Tyrell to the incest-loving Jaime Lannister. Surely, however, none is worse than Randyll Tarly, the Lord of Horn Hill.

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When Sam first made it home, I was pleased to learn that he apparently grew up in some sort of Westerosi Jane Austen novel, a place of bright colors and disappointing arranged marriages. Within a few scenes, however, we were out of Austenland and deep in Bronte territory, the screen so dark that I could barely make out Randyll’s face as he ranted about Gilly and banished his son for the second time. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is, after all, a guy who literally named his favored son Dickon. Is it any surprise that he too is a tremendous dick?

Kois: That dinner scene was truly painful, as Gilly stood up for Sam when he wouldn’t do it himself, and then, worse, Sam’s mom stood up for Gilly when he once again proved himself unable. I’m not sure that I view fleeing in the dead of night and stealing a sword without ever confronting his dad as the act of courage the show seems to, but I do imagine that Valyrian steel will prove useful in the winter ahead.

Brogan: Reflecting on that awful dinner, Gilly tells Sam, “I’m not angry at you. I’m angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it,” a phrase that probably speaks to feelings many of us probably share about Game of Thrones more generally. But mostly, of course, we get the spectacle of bad people treating other bad people badly, nowhere more so than in the King’s Landing plot. What do you make of the High Sparrow’s latest machinations?

Kois: I had a bad feeling about that encounter on the steps of the sept as soon as I saw foolish old Mace Tyrell failing to inspire his troops. Lady Olenna was right: They were indeed beaten, for now. But I recognized the High Sparrow's triumphant grin—it was the exultant smile of Prince Oberon as he stood over the Mountain, the grin of King Joffrey as he toasted his own wedding. It’s the smile of someone on Game of Thrones who thinks he's winning, but who is actually being played. I admit I don’t understand what game Margaery is playing, actually, but I have faith that she’s got something up the sleeve of her tastefully grimy penitence-frock.

Meanwhile, Jaime and Cersei had the kind of passionate clinch the show gives them every few seasons to remind us that, oh right, we cheer for Jaime’s redemption yet he is still kind of grody.

Brogan: It’s hard now to remember how much Jaime came to charm us all back when he was wandering the woods of Westeros with Brienne. But, as we know, he’s always been awful: It’s telling—and unusually subtle on the show’s part—that we cut from his icky kiss with Cersei to Bran, supine and still paralyzed, regardless of the power that’s brewing in him. Fittingly, the show reminds us that it was Jaime who pushed Bran from the tower in the first place, moments after he observed an encounter like the one we spy on here.

Kois: Way up north, Bran and Meera have been saved by his uncle Benjen, last seen in Season 1 when he led some rangers a-ranging. His horse came back, as did two of his compatriots—as corpses, first, and then as wights. Benjen himself was nowhere to be found. Now, squeezing Bran a fresh steaming cup of rabbit juice, he marvels at how Bran’s grown (LOL) and tells them he was nearly wighted himself before the Children saved him by piercing his heart with dragonglasss. I can’t say he looks that great, though. Is he, like, immortal? Is that his deal?

Brogan: For a show that loves to kill your favorite characters, Game of Thrones sure has a hard time letting people stay dead. I too wonder what Benjen’s deal is, though, not least of all because I’m curious to hear what he’s been doing this whole time. He claims that the Three-Eyed Raven sent him, but has he just been chilling out in the woods until now?

More generally, I’m having trouble putting my finger on who was the worst, and that may have been because this episode felt more like a placeholder than true progress. With the exception of a few revelations—most of all the discovery that Benjen is still alive—this was an installment in which characters told us what they intended to do, not one in which they actually did things.

Kois: Led by the Queen of Telling Us What She Intends to Do, first of her name, Daenerys Targaryen.

Brogan: At least Daenerys wants to shake things up. The High Sparrow, by contrast, seems like the true conservative embodiment of all the scheming and plotting on this show. He’s all about setting plans in motion while somehow also still ensuring that nothing ever changes.

Kois: But to what purpose does Daenerys want to shake things up? Her speech today didn't inspire confidence in her master plan. Letting her Dothraki blood riders tear down the Westerosi stone houses doesn’t seem like a great start to a civil society. I was reminded today that there are some nice people in Westeros—Sam’s mom and sister, Arya and Starks in general, I guess that’s it actually, but still, do we really want to see all these characters overrun by Dothraki and dragons, living in yurts because Daenerys won?

I’m not convinced she has a real vision for nation-building once she establishes order, is what I’m saying. Name the country that got better when you introduced a thousand ships full of horse lords into the mix.

Brogan: Point taken. Does that make Daenerys the worst, though? Was she any more terrible this week than every other?

Kois: No, no. The worst was clearly the guy who does the farting sound effects for the Braavosi Traveling Players.

Scratch that! The worst person in this episode, as in all episodes in which she appears, is the Waif! Lurking about in the shadows, plotting Arya's downfall, smiling evilly as she thinks about how she will kill her (presumably by whacking her in the head with a stick).

Brogan: As I’ve said many times before, she sure seems to have a lot of deeply personal anger for someone who’s supposedly annihilated all trace of her personality.

Kois: I am done with her and her face-skinning boss and the Faceless Men and the house of Black and White. Arya has made her decision, retrieved Needle, and is ready to reclaim her name. More importantly, she is ready to rejoin the main action of the story, to kick ass and cross some names off her list. The Waif stands in the way of that. She is, thus, the worst person in Westeros.

May 30 2016 8:51 AM

House Slate: Arya Gives Up, Admits Being A Stark Is Better Than Being No One 

Being no one is harder than it looks. House Slate hosts Marc Faletti and Amanda Marcotte look at how three characters—Arya, Samwell, and Jaime—give up their anonymity and reclaim their family's legacy. 

Daenerys Stormborn the Many-Titled gives a good speech, but will she follow these other characters in reclaiming her heritage? And how much, exactly, has Jaime bitten off with his mission to confront the impressively named Brynden "Blackfish" Tully? 

May 30 2016 8:02 AM

The Genius, Rule-Breaking Secret to Better Burgers

This post originally appeared on Food52.

Of course the most genius burger I’ve ever made would come from The Food Lab (and the brilliant dude behind it). Of course I won’t be able to make cheeseburgers another way.

These burgers are perilously juicy, with the crispiest, meatiest, most umami-fied crust you can get in a burger. They also take under a minute to make, without any special ingredients—just the normal stuff: beef, salt, pepper, melty cheese. (In fact, I usually prefer to eat them just like this, with nothing else coming between them and a butter-toasted bun.)

In other words, they’re a pretty straight-up, classic cheeseburger—except that they defy one of the most notorious myths of burger-making. You know the one, where we’re told to always handle the meat gingerly, and never smash the patties down while they’re cooking, or the juices will run out and they’ll go dry and tough. (I remember well the vitriol of a certain corner of the internet, the first time we featured a burger press in our Shop.)

But, as Kenji points out in his cookbook opus The Food Lab, if you smash your burger once, decisively, as soon as it hits the hot skillet—while the meat and fat are still cold—there won’t be any juices (yet) to lose. You’ll maximize the points of contact with the raging hot pan, which is effectively like singeing a layer of caramelization and Maillard reaction goodness onto every last bit of surface area, so it all sears into a salty, beefy crust.

May 29 2016 9:54 PM

These Animated Films Would Be Awful Live-Action Remakes, But Still Better Than Disney’s Plans

The weekend box office results are in, and Alice Through The Looking Glass is the undisputed loser, on track to pull in $35 million domestically against its $170 million production budget, Variety reports. Disney seems baffled by the results, according to executive vice president of distribution Dave Hollis:

It’s disappointing and it’s head scratching to a certain degree. … We’re always striving for higher-quality, branded films. We make these big bets and sometimes they really pay off. We took one here, but it did not do the kind of business we were hoping.

There may not be that much reason for head scratching; by all accounts, the film is unwatchable. But the fact that live-action remakes of beloved Disney films don’t necessarily have a guaranteed audience is terrible news for the studio, because they’ve built their entire strategy around them. According to The Hollywood Reporterthere are at least 14 more live-action remakes in the works, from Pete’s Dragon to Dumbo. The weekend makes clear, though, that brand recognition isn’t enough to carry a film on its own. So to help Disney out, we’ve selected five animated films to add to their schedule. To be clear, these are not good ideas. In fact, they’d all be dreadful. But would they be as dreadful as Alice Through the Looking Glass? Would they be worse than a live-action Winnie the Pooh or anAladdin franchise? How could they be? So in the hopes of winning a “Most Improved” award, here are some animated films that might level out the studio’s descent.

May 29 2016 1:19 AM

Saturday Night Live’s Season is Over, So Here’s Andy Kaufman

Last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was the last of the season, which means this weekend has no new Bernie Sanders impersonations, no inspired lunacy from Kate McKinnon, no undeserved platforms for Donald Trump. But there’s no summer vacation on the internet, where one iron law applies: video must be posted, and video must be shared, and video must go viral!

So instead of the usual semi-topical sketches about the week we’ve just gone through, here’s something timeless: Andy Kaufman inventing an entire new genre of comedy on live television in 1975. Later comedians picked up on cringe humor, but no one before or since has done anything as inspired as the ending of this sketch, a joyous triumph of the weird.

May 29 2016 12:28 AM

Sam Mendes Celebrates Ian Fleming’s Birthday By Announcing He’s Done With James Bond

Saturday is the 108th birthday of Ian Fleming, and the Guardian reports that director Sam Mendes marked the occasion by telling the world he won’t be directing any more James Bond films. Mendes, who directed both Skyfall and Spectre, was speaking at the Hay Festival in small town/delicious sandwich Hay-on-Wye, Wales when he made the announcement. “It was an incredible adventure, I loved every second of it. But I think it’s time for somebody else,” Mendes said.

He’ll still be keeping busy, though; Mendes is attached to The Voyeur’s Motel, the film adaptation of Gay Talese’s upcoming novel. The new project, recently excerpted in The New Yorker, is about a man who opens a motel to watch other people have sex. So even without spies or gadgetry, Mendes will be sticking to the core idea that makes the Bond series such a success: a troubled loner taking sexual advantage of strangers.

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Speculation about who will direct the next film can now join the already thriving internet turmoil over who should replace Daniel Craig. (Craig hasn’t definitively said he won’t return, not that that’s stopping anyone.) So internet, start your engines: it’s time for bizarre guesses and doomed fan campaigns about the next Bond director, the less likely the better. Will it be Ken Loach? Mike Leigh? Lynne Ramsay? Perhaps if Tom Hiddleston doesn’t play Bond, he can direct whoever does. So put on your action slacks, fire up Twitter, and get ready to baselessly speculate!

May 28 2016 7:29 PM

Todd Solondz Invites Audiences to See a Heartwarming Film About a Dog. It’s a Trap!

Slow-motion footage of a grinning child hugging a puppy triggers the same Pavlovian response in all but the most soul-deadened viewers. Except in the new trailer for Wiener-Dog, where it’s followed by a title card reading, “From Todd Solondz,” in which case all those warm feelings instantly curdle into existential dread. Bad news for the kid, bad news for the dog, bad news for all the other characters, but maybe good news for the audience, presuming they know what they’re getting into. It’s hardly the first time Solondz has gone for the bait-and-switch: his second film was called Happiness, after all. But in the Happiness trailer, Good Machine had the decency to immediately describe the film as “savage.” Plus there isn’t a single frame of footage in the entire film that isn’t horrifying, despite Michael Stipe’s bouncy theme song; you know what to expect. The Wiener-Dog trailer, on the other hand, breaks new ground in trolling audiences, from tagline to score to font choice. Everything suggests a happy film about a happy dog.

It’s not impossible the Solondz has made the film promised by the IMDb summary: “Chronicles the life of a dog as it travels around the country, spreading comfort and joy.” David Lynch made The Straight Story, after all. But let’s agree that it’s extremely unlikely, and the few bits of dialogue we see—Ellen Burstyn naming the dog “Cancer,” Julie Delpy telling a child about nature, red in tooth and claw —suggest that Wiener-Dog will be as blackhearted as Solondz’s other work. (Reviews out of Sundance confirm this.) For some people, that means buying tickets in advance; for others, waiting to consult with DoesTheDogDie.com. One thing’s for sure: that dog should fire its agent.

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