Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 19 2017 10:39 PM

Watch an Irascible James Woods Steal Patton Oswalt’s Shoe at the WGA Awards

The best awards shows to watch (and presumably to attend) are the ones with open bars, and it looks like the 2017 Writers Guild Awards, held Sunday night in dual ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York, falls into that category. Some movies and television shows won some awards—not all winners had been announced at press time, although Arrival won Best Adapted Screenplay—but the real news was a brazen shoe heist. Comedian and criminally-underrated actor Patton Oswalt hosted the Los Angeles ceremony while clutching a double old fashioned glass filled to the brim with what appeared to be scotch, which no doubt came in handy after he was the victim of the most vicious on-camera shoe theft in decades. Oswalt’s opening monologue, keyed to the early days of the Trump Administration, struck an apocalyptic tone:

Welcome to the last-ever WGA Awards, ladies and gentlemen! Every statuette comes with a month’s worth of firewood, some antibiotics, and nine shotgun shells!

But one guest wasn’t having it. James Woods, whose politics are somewhere to the right of Donald Trump, was there to present an award to Oliver Stone, and when Oswalt mentioned him—saying he would go easy on Trump “because I don’t want to be kicked to death by James Woods backstage,”—the heckling began. “Buy a pair of shoes!” Woods yelled from his table, before climbing up on stage and stealing Oswalt’s clunky right shoe. “Didn’t you see Crazy, Wonderful Love, or whatever it was called? Get some shoes!” (It was called Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Woods was thinking of the scene below.)

Feb. 19 2017 8:17 PM

Want to Know Exactly as Much About Sweden as the President? Watch the Documentary He Got His Information From!

The president of the United States has access to the best foreign intelligence money can buy (about 80 billion dollars worth). But when Donald Trump wants to get the straight dope on the impenetrable mysteries of Sweden, there’s only one man he trusts: filmmaker Ami Horowitz. Horowitz was interviewed on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Friday, in a now-notorious segment that gave our marble-mouthed illiterate of a president the vague idea that bad, terrorist-related things were going on there. Trump confirmed that Horowitz was now his top advisor about conditions behind the IKEA curtain in a tweet Sunday:

Carlson only showed a few excerpts from Horowitz’s short film Stockholm Syndrome on the segment Trump watched, saving time to interview the filmmaker about refugee aid—or, as Carlson calls it, “the masochism of the west,”—spread lies about “no-go zones,” and tut-tut at the luxurious lives of refugees in Sweden. But does the full film paint a more nuanced portrait? No. No, it doesn’t. See for yourself; Stockholm Syndrome is on YouTube, along with other Horowitz films/rhetorical questions like Do Cops Lives Matter? and Are Voter ID Laws Racist?

Feb. 19 2017 12:33 AM

Wonder What Adam Sandler’s Been Up To? Check Out the Trailer to Sandy Wexler!

Remember the 1990s? Adam Sandler sure hopes you do, as the trailer for his upcoming Netflix film Sandy Wexler shows. Sandler plays a hapless talent manager in this, the latest fruit of the development deal that brought you The Ridiculous 6. But the real star isn’t Sandler; it’s the lavish attention paid to period-accurate pop-culture details. Over the course of the trailer, director Steven Brill sneaks in sly references to the following musical touchstones of the era:

  • Purple, Stone Temple Pilots
  • Smash, The Offspring
  • Green Day
  • Divine Intervention, Slayer
  • Monster, R.E.M.
  • Live Through This, Hole
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Wait—I’m being told these five references are all in a single shot, never mind the entire trailer, much less the film. Another shot crams in billboards for Timecop and The Shadow, plus a Variety headline referencing Touched By An Angel. Then there are deeper cuts, like an establishing shot of Inglewood’s Forum when it was still called the Great Western Forum and a few cuts that can only be described as fathomless, like a Variety headline about the time NBC tried to get the FCC to shut down Fox. Move over, Matthew Weiner!

But what does this vast bricolage of cultural debris and historical research add up to? Well, folks, check out the trailer: It’s an Adam Sandler movie. Remember when that was good news? In the 1990s?

Feb. 18 2017 11:16 PM

Clyde Stubblefield, the “Funky Drummer” Sampled on Countless Hip-Hop Songs, Has Died at 73

Clyde Stubblefield, the drummer whose work in a 1970 session with James Brown provided the backbeat for an astonishing number of iconic hip-hop songs, died Saturday at the age of 73, Rolling Stone reports. Stubblefield, who also toured with Otis Redding, was part of Brown’s band from 1965 to 1971, playing on songs like “Cold Sweat” and “Mother Popcorn.” But he’s best known for accidentally changing the course of hip-hop with a short drum break on a song called “Funky Drummer.”

You can hear the break at 5:22, but you’ve definitely heard it before—it’s one of the most-sampled snippets of music ever recorded. Whosampled.com lists 1,364 songs that use Stubblefield’s work, including landmark works like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police,” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” It’s also the beat on George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shirtsleeves,” and the theme song from The Powerpuff Girls.

Feb. 18 2017 9:09 PM

Bill Maher Somehow Finds Common Ground With a Jerk Who Thinks of Himself as a Provocateur

“You always invite such awful people on your show—they’re so stupid,” Gamergate hero and sentient AI Milo Yiannopoulos said during his Friday appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher. (Technically, he said this on “Overtime with Bill Maher,” an online-only segment where Maher asked Yiannopoulos his only tough question; the televised portion of his appearance was a tongue bath.) Here are a few less self-evidently true ideas Yiannopoulos expressed on the national platform Maher inexplicably gave him:

On transgender issues: Transgender people are “vastly disproportionally involved in sex crimes.” (This is technically true, according to the Justice Department, in the sense that trans people are disproportionately victims of sexual abuse and assault. “I don’t want these people around little girls in bathrooms,” Yiannopoulos added, lest anyone think he wasn’t being deliberately misleading.)

Feb. 17 2017 3:02 PM

The Great Wall Is One-Third Terrible, Two-Thirds Great

Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall is roughly two-thirds great movie, one-third terrible one. I call it “Zhang Yimou’s” less out of auteurist principles than because it has up to this point been associated almost entirely with its star, Matt Damon. From the moment it was announced that Damon would be playing the lead in a fantasy story centered on the Great Wall of China, the movie was accused, incorrectly, of whitewashing, and, more plausibly, of being a white-savior movie in which Damon’s character teaches Chinese troops how to repel the monsters the wall was built to keep out. Amid Damon’s tone-deaf public response to the issue and the controversy around his treatment of black producer Effie Brown on Project Greenlight, the fact that The Great Wall was also a film by one of the greatest of China’s Fifth Generation directors was reduced to a virtual footnote.

Let’s deal with the one-third first. I can’t claim to be a Matt Damon completist, but this is at the very least one of the worst performances of his career. Buried under a comically shaggy beard and wig for the first part of the movie, his character becomes no more distinct once the scruff is shorn away. An, I guess, Irish fortune-seeker (the accent, whatever it’s meant to be, comes and goes) who’s come to medieval China in search of “black powder” (i.e. gunpowder), he and comrade Pedro Pascal stumble upon the Great Wall by accident—you might think it’d be hard to miss, but, at least in this universe, you’d be wrong—and discover its true purpose: protecting China from the hordes of monsters known as the Tao Tei.

The pre-release criticism of The Great Wall, most forcefully raised by Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu, was that insertion of white characters—Willem Dafoe also plays a prominent role—into a fundamentally Chinese story was an unacceptable concession to the conventional wisdom that big-budget international productions cannot succeed without a Hollywood star, who is almost always a white man. You can make a movie about Native Americans or Japanese samurai, but you’d better find a way to center it on Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise. Given that The Great Wall is predicted to come in behind The Lego Batman Movie at the U.S. box office on its opening weekend, it’s not clear that’s even true in a pragmatic sense—it opened bigger in China, although it dwindled quickly thereafter—but that argument also ignores the political ramifications of casting a white European man as the salvation of not only the Chinese characters around him but, in this case, China itself.

As a filmmaker who has been making movies in the government-controlled Chinese film industry for decades, however, Zhang Yimou is adept at the art of subversion, or at least of simultaneously serving multiple masters. It’s true that we enter The Great Wall’s story through the eyes of Damon’s William, but he’s almost immediately sidelined once we meet the Nameless Order, the Chinese forces under the command of Tian Jang’s Commander Lin. Although they managed to talk their way out of being promptly executed, William and Pascal’s Tovar spend most of the Nameless Order’s first battle against the Tao Tei tied up on a parapet, looking on in silent awe as the order’s color-coded troops deploy a dazzling array of combat strategies against their mythological foe. There are undoubtedly more scenes devoted to William than any other single character, but it still feels like the material pertaining to him has been cut in half. (For an epic fantasy, The Great Wall is startlingly short, barely over 90 minutes without the closing credits.) There either needed to more scenes centering on William or, better yet, none. Even after six writers, including The Last Samurai’s Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, finished with the script, there’s no compelling reason for William to be at the center of this story, and Damon acts like he doesn’t know why he’s there, either.

Feb. 17 2017 1:45 PM

Drew Barrymore’s Santa Clarita Diet Is Really About a Husband’s Fear of His Wife

Sheila Hammond, freshly zombified, seems like a brand-new woman. A real-estate agent, wife, and mother, she’s long adhered to the whole suburban-mom thing: green smoothies for breakfast, a closet full of monochromatic business attire, SAT prep on weekends. But then she comes down with something. She vomits buckets of green goo and coughs up what looks like a small organ. She “dies,” then immediately wakes up. She’s renewed, rejuvenated, and hungry for the delicacies she’s long deprived herself of—not the human flesh she now needs to survive, but spontaneous sex, nights out, morning jogs, a Range Rover.

“I don’t feel dead or undead,” she tells her family and the neighbor boy who diagnoses her. “I feel the opposite: totally alive.”

Santa Clarita Diet wisely shrouds Sheila’s transformation in mystery. Something about a Serbian curse and earlier-reported cases lend a mythology to her condition, but don’t hamper its implications. This is the story of a family grappling with their matriarch’s newly discovered agency. And, more importantly, it’s about how her husband can’t really deal with the sudden shift in the status quo.

Feb. 17 2017 1:20 PM

Anne Hathaway Is Delightful as a Literal Monster in the New Trailer for Colossal

Colossal, the latest effort from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), starts out not unlike a good chunk of broad American comedies: Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a washed-up party girl, loses her job and boyfriend and moves back home to pick up the pieces in her life. From there, however, the film proves to be anything but typical. Rather abruptly, Colossal unveils itself as a delightfully bizarre monster movie.

In what can reasonably be described as her most interesting role in some time, Hathaway plays a woman who comes to a realization that her own mental breakdown is, in some way, connected to and responsible for a giant kaiju rampaging through Seoul, Korea. Along those lines, the movie balances laid-back humor with its extraordinary premise, and according to the reaction out of its well-received Toronto International Film Festival debut last year, it’s also full of surprises. This first trailer doesn’t give too much away, but it does shine a light on Hathaway thoroughly enjoying her monster-related character, and should hopefully serve as a reminder that in addition to being a great dramatic actress, she can be pretty funny too.

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Colossal hits theaters on April 7.

Feb. 17 2017 11:40 AM

Watch Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler Launch an Underground Casino in the Trailer for The House

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler have teamed up to run The House, a new studio comedy from first-time director Andrew J. Cohen (best known for co-writing the Neighbors franchise). The film centers on Will and Kate, parents of a college-bound high school graduate who start an underground casino in their basement to fund the tuition bill they secretly cannot afford. And, as these movies tend to go, things get a little wild.

The pairing of Ferrell and Poehler, who outside of Tina Fey projects Baby Mama and Sisters has yet to lead a studio film, appears inspired here, as does the supporting cast. Aboard The House as part of the impressive assembled ensemble are Jason Mantzoukas (Sleeping With Other People), Cedric Yarbrough (Speechless), Rob Huebel (Transparent), Allison Tolman (Fargo), Michaela Watkins (Casual), Lennon Parham (Playing House), Steve Zissis (Togetherness), and, perhaps most notably, Jeremy Renner. Even if Cohen’s transition to directing doesn’t exactly pan out, there might be enough talent here to make The House a worthwhile stopover anyway.

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The House hits theaters on June 30.

Feb. 17 2017 9:56 AM

Late Night Comics Had No Idea What to Make of That Trump Press Conference

“Our show tapes at 6:30,” Seth Meyers explained as he began his “A Closer Look” segment on Thursday night. “Usually, we start writing ‘A Closer Look’ the night before; by 1:00 p.m. today, we had a draft about Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare that we felt good about. And then Donald Trump held what can only be described as a batshit crazy press conference.”

Here’s Stephen Colbert making sense of Thursday’s horrifying events on the fly, to begin The Late Show: “I am your host Stephen Colbert, and wow. I am glad you could be here on this historic evening, because Donald Trump held his first solo press conference as president …. It just happened, actually. We’re recording this in the early afternoon. It literally just finished. What I’m saying is this is fresh. It must be fresh because you can smell it.”

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And here’s a very grim, troubled Trevor Noah, echoing Meyers’ claims of a rewrite: “We had a really nice show planned for you. Very civil, very calm. And then, in the middle of the day, Hurricane Trump happened—again.”

Donald Trump’s bizarre, winding, frighteningly erratic press conference on Thursday had late-night comics scrambling as to adequately make sense of it. The amount of remarkable details—Trump’s “All Black People Must Be Friends” comment, his repeated lie about the size and historical significance of his victory, his stunning attacks on the media, his contradictory comments regarding “real leaks” and “fake news” and whether his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn did anything wrong, his demand that a Jewish reporter expressing concern about an uptick in anti-semitism “sit down” and “be quiet,” and on and on—rendered any cogent summation impossible. Noah and Meyers’ teams cut together highlight reels, making clear just how unsettling the whole charade was, while Colbert turned to news anchors’ bewildered, and in most cases disturbed, reactions. “Words fail me,” as Colbert admitted.

Noah probably came closest to capturing the essence of what we all bore witness to on Thursday, in channeling Trump’s performance: “I’m not drunk. You’re all drunk. You’re all drunk. This my motherfucking house. This my motherfucking house. Goony goo-goo. Goony goo-goo.”

Enough said.

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