Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 30 2017 2:18 AM

Should We Honor the Confederate Dead on Memorial Day? Let’s Ask a Union Officer!

Memorial Day this year was marked by the publication of a strange, ahistorical article about the meaning of the holiday from John Daniel Davidson at The Federalist. Under the cheerful headline “What the Origins of Memorial Day Can Teach Americans About Getting Along,” Davidson praises Memorial Day as a civic ceremony that helped heal the nation immediately after the Civil War by “honoring all who gave their lives, regardless of what uniform they wore.” “Memorial Day Began As An Act of Reconciliation,” reads one of his subheads, and he describes the first large-scale Memorial Day commemoration like this:

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife presided over a ceremony organized by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization, at Arlington National Cemetery, the former home of Lee. After speeches, Union veterans and the orphaned children of veterans walked through Arlington scattering flowers on both Union and Confederate graves.

This is a lovely image of national forgiveness and reconciliation (at the expense of black people, as usual), even if it doesn’t necessarily support Davidson’s conclusion that we should leave Confederate monuments standing. It’s undeniable that, over time, Lost Causers sold the nation on the idea that Memorial Day should honor Union and Confederate dead alike. But whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing (spoiler: it’s a bad thing) is a separate discussion from whether or not we should misrepresent its origins. So how accurate is Davidson’s portrait of the tone and purpose of the earliest Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery?

May 29 2017 6:05 PM

Hollywood Wishes Critics Would Stop Telling People that Bad, Lazy Movies Are Bad, Lazy

Memorial Day weekend was a bust at the domestic box office this year, with returns coming in well-below prediction even for the weekend’s top earning film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The fifth installment in the most successful franchise based on a Disney ride (last place: The Country Bears), took in $77 million domestically over the four-day holiday weekend, according to Variety. That’s $13 million less than the series’ last installment’s opening weekend. Meanwhile Baywatch, the weekend’s other big new movie, didn’t even make second place, bringing in only $22 million, while Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 bested it with $25.1 million. Overall, it was the lowest total Memorial Day box office take in 18 years. Fortunately, as Deadline reports, studio insiders know just who to blame: Rotten Tomatoes! Commentary editor John Podhoretz highlighted this astonishing passage on Twitter:

Insiders close to both films blame Rotten Tomatoes, with Pirates 5 and Baywatch respectively earning 32% and 19% Rotten. The critic aggregation site increasingly is slowing down the potential business of popcorn movies. Pirates 5 and Baywatch aren’t built for critics but rather general audiences, and once upon a time these types of films—a family adventure and a raunchy R-rated comedy—were critic-proof. Many of those in the industry severely question how Rotten Tomatoes computes the its ratings, and the fact that these scores run on Fandango (which owns RT) is an even bigger problem.

It’s true that Rotten Tomatoes has had a mostly pernicious effect on movies: Review aggregation is a boring and ugly way to think about art. But that’s not the argument being made here. Instead, studios would prefer that audiences not find out that anyone else thinks a movie is terrible until they can plunk down their money and experience the awfulness for themselves. There’s as much condescension in the phrase “aren’t built for critics but rather general audiences” as there was in Trump’s birtherism, and the rest of the article is a delightful tour of the thinking that produces an endless stream of atrocious reboots and uninspired sequels. Did you know it was possible to use the phrase “the onus for making Baywatch” in earnest? Onus!

May 29 2017 9:59 AM

Baywatch Is the Latest Proof That Male Stars Are Too Buff Now

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Here are two objective and related truths about the new Baywatch movie: (1) It is bad; and (2) Zac Efron is too swoll.

I’ll leave it to New York’s David Edelstein to tackle the first statement in his review, but as for the second, I feel qualified enough to tell you that as Olympic gold medalist swimmer turned lifeguard Matt Brody, Zac Efron’s body displays a muscularity I can only describe as “deeply uncomfortable.” The actor told Men’s Fitness that he wanted to “drop the last bit of body fat” for Baywatch and he seems to have meant that literally. There’s a scene where Efron does an American Ninja Warrior–style course and you see muscles you never knew existed. (How doing a salmon ladder is a requirement for becoming a lifeguard, I do not know.) His muscles look like they have bred with each other and given birth to little baby muscles. He has those ridges underneath his ribs that look like fine pebbled leather, and gutters so deep they could channel a major waterway. His 23 different abs give new meaning to the phrase “between a rock and a hard place.”

This is to say, in part, that Zac Efron does not look like a swimmer. His action-figure physique is much bulkier than you’d see at an Olympic pool, where the musclemen look sleek—like beautiful dolphins. To further strain credulity, his character does plenty of things that someone with Efron’s body would literally never do, like eat junk food and guzzle liquor with abandon. (Those of us who have read Joe Manganiello’s book know that alcohol is “the destroyer.”)

May 29 2017 9:00 AM

Take a Long Walk Through the British Countyside With “Slow Radio” on the BBC

On this long weekend, the curtain-raiser on summer 2017, are you pining for the great outdoors? Are you stranded in the city, or stuck in interstate traffic, or, worse yet, trapped at work? Maybe what you need is a ten-mile walk in the British countryside, from Capel-y-Ffin to Hay-on-Wye.

That’s what BBC Radio is offering today for four hours, starting at 2:00 pm UK time (9:00 am on the East Coast of the States). In Sound Walk to Hay-on-Wye, an “immersive, ‘slow radio’ experience of the British countryside,” host Horatio Clare hikes along the Welsh-English border, meditating on all that he sees. The BBC promotional copy notes:

His route takes him over a babbling stream near the chapel of Capel-y-Ffin, then through fields of bleating sheep and woodland rich in birdsong, (including a cuckoo) before climbing the steep hillside to the ridge. … He sees spectacular views of the craggy Brecon Beacons to the West, and the lush fields of Herefordshire to the East. On the high ridge there is much lark song, and an occasional whinny from wild ponies.

Wild ponies?! Man, could I use some wild ponies right now. Clare’s walk will be interspersed with the voices of local artists and writers musing on the landscape. You can listen to the program live on the BBC’s website through its four-hour runtime, or catch up with an archived recording anytime after the show ends. Like all long walks in the wilderness, it should offer a mix of great beauty and inspirational boredom. Fill your water bottle and pack some gorp.

May 28 2017 8:54 PM

Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig Star in the Trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh, who theoretically retired from making feature films in 2013, will be returning to theaters this August with Logan Lucky, and the first trailer has arrived. When Variety first reported back in 2016 that Soderbergh was ending his retirement to make this movie, they mistakenly said the title was Hillbilly Heist. But as the trailer shows, it would be an easy mistake to make. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play dimwitted brothers who plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. Not coincidentally, Soderbergh released the trailer on the day of the race, at which Tatum served as Grand Marshal:

Backing up Tatum and Driver is a deep ensemble cast including Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, and, in the trailer’s inimitable words and punctuation, “introducing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang!!” Soderbergh’s Danny Ocean films are the gold standard for modern heist movies, and the trailer’s shots of an elaborate pneumatic tube system transporting money to a giant vault promise similar exuberant fun. But it also leans pretty hard on “here is an unexpected actor speaking with a Southern accent, indicating their character is not too bright” jokes, most notably with Daniel Craig’s decidedly un-Bondian bleach-blonde explosives expert. Still, it can be more fun to watch boneheads try pull a heist than it is to watch suave, relatively competent con artists of the Danny Ocean school, and there’s always room for another film from cinematic chameleon Steven Soderbergh. Logan Lucky will be released on Aug. 18.

May 28 2017 6:55 PM

Lil Yachty Is Sorry He Doesn’t Know What a Cello Looks Like, Blames SpongeBob

After enduring weeks of online mockery for writing lyrics that betray, at the very least, a startling unfamiliarity with the names of musical instruments, Lil Yachty has released a statement. At issue is this couplet from “Peek a Boo,” the lead single from his just-released album Teenage Emotions:

My new bitch yellow
She blow that dick like a cello

The cello is a stringed instrument, played either by plucking individual strings with one’s fingers or by scraping a bow across them. If Lil Yachty means what he says here, he seems to be referring to extraordinarily unpleasant techniques for “blow[ing] that dick.” Alternatively, Lil Yachty could have either an unconventional way of playing cello or an unconventional understanding of what a cello is. It was the last of these possibilities that turned out to be true, as was revealed when Lil Yachty annotated the song’s lyrics on Genius with an explanation. While he was indeed mistaken as to the identity of the instrument that he referred to as the “cello,” he believes that blame lies not within, but with those around him, who failed to prevent him from doing something stupid. Sarah Sahim posted Lil Yachty’s statement on Twitter:


May 28 2017 3:35 PM

Sofia Coppola Wins Best Director at Cannes, Becoming Only the Second Woman to Do So

The awards ceremony for the 2017 Cannes Film Festival took place on Sunday, culminating with a Palme d’Or win for Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s satire The Square, Variety reports. But the most satisfying win may have been Sofia Coppola’s Best Director award for The Beguiled: she is only the second female director in the festival’s 70-year history to win the award. The last time that happened, the award went to Soviet director Yuliya Solntseva for her World War II film The Story of the Flaming Years—in 1961. Coppola also has the distinction of being the first woman to win Best Director who attended the festival as a child the year her father’s film won the Palme d’Or; here she is looking adorable in 1979, when Apocalypse Now and The Tin Drum shared the award (her eighth birthday fell during the festival that year):

Coppola’s film, an adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s Civil War novel about a wounded Union officer who is found by the residents of an all-girls boarding school, stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell, and looks fantastic. (Don Siegel directed his own adaptation starring Clint Eastwood in 1971.) Kidman also received a special award in honor of the festival’s 70th anniversary; she appeared in four films that screened at Cannes this year, two of which were in competition.


Palme d’Or winner The Square, about a conceptual art exhibit that descends into chaos, stars Danish actor Claes Bang and features Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West. The Grand Prix went to BPM, Robin Campillo’s film about the French gay rights struggle focusing on ACT UP-Paris, while Loveless, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s story of a couple whose child goes missing, won the Jury Prize. Best Screenplay was a tie between The Lobster screenwriters Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou and We Need to Talk About Kevin writer/director Lynne Ramsay for The Killing of a Sacred Deer and You Were Never Really Here, respectively. Acting awards went to Diane Kruger for In the Fade, her first German-language starring role, and Joaquin Phoenix for You Were Never Really Here.

This year’s feature films jury was headed by writer/director Pedro Almodóvar and included writer/director Maren Ade, actress Jessica Chastain, actress Fan Bingbing, actress/writer/director/singer Agnès Jaoui, writer/director Park Chan-Wook, actor/singer Will Smith, writer/director Paolo Sorrentino, and composer Gabriel Yared.

May 28 2017 2:39 AM

The Next Far Cry Game Is About a Doomsday Cult in Montana

Big budget video games—like big budget films, big budget television shows, or any other art form that requires the labor of hundreds or thousands of people—take years to create. So whenever a game arrives that seems particularly timely, luck and spin often play as much of a role as planning or prescience. No one (except maybe Dan O’Sullivan) could have predicted a Trump presidency back when Ubisoft made the decision to set Far Cry 5 in the white-supremacist wilds of rural Montana, but—like the producers of The Handmaid’s Tale—they’re now in the position of having made something that sort of maybe comments on the current political moment. But while the cast of The Handmaid’s Tale initially bristled at anyone calling their obviously-feminist television show “feminist,” judging from the trailers Ubisoft released this week, they’re leaning in.

Or leaning in as much as possible. While it’s unclear exactly which potential Handmaid’s Tale viewers Hulu was afraid of offending, white supremacist gamers are commonplace, vocal, and vicious. So while the real Montana had Richard Spencer, the Montana Freemen, and the Militia of Montana, Far Cry 5’s cult seems designed not to be based on any of America’s actual white supremacist terrorist groups, in Montana or elsewhere. For one thing, as the trailer shows, it has black members! For another, the cult is called “the Project at Eden’s Gate,” which places it more in the tradition of California’s Heaven’s Gate than the white supremacist terrorists who’ve been murdering Americans in dribs, drabs, and downpoursone in Maryland, two in Oregon, and that’s just this week—for centuries. If there are Montana-accurate Confederate flags—the state has the dubious distinction of hosting the Northwest’s only Confederate Memorial—they’re not in the trailer, and the cult’s symbol owes more to the Scientology cross than the Celtic one. On the evidence of the trailer—and the marketing copy, which promises “no shortage of mayhem” and “adventure around every bend” instead of, say, “an encounter with the dark heart of the American experiment”—the game’s cult seems to have been designed not to offend too many potential players. This is, of course, a fool’s errand, as the responses from white supremacists immediately demonstrated:

May 27 2017 9:57 PM

Musicians from Cher to Jason Isbell Post Heartfelt Tributes to Gregg Allman

The death of Gregg Allman has led to heartfelt social media tributes from the musicians he influenced and inspired, starting with Cher, who was married to Allman from 1975 to 1979. After posting that “words are impossible,” she mourned him with vintage pictures:

Allman’s influence spanned generations, leading to Twitter tributes from artists as musically diverse as Brian Wilson:

May 27 2017 7:56 PM

Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band, Dead at 69

Gregg Allman, one of the founding members of rock legends the Allman Brothers Band, has died at home in Savannah, Georgia, at the age of 69, the New York Times reports. Allman wrote many of the band’s early hits, played keyboards and sang in the group, which in its early years also featured his brother Duane.

Gregg Allman was born in Nashville in 1947, moving to Daytona Beach at the age of 11. In high school, he and Duane played club gigs as “The Allman Joys,” before heading to Los Angeles to record two unsuccessful psychedelic albums in 1967 and 1968 as part of a group called Hour Glass. Gregg remained in Los Angeles pursuing a solo career while Duane ended up working as a session guitarist at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. When Duane moved to Jacksonville and started assembling a new group, Gregg joined him, and the Allman Brothers Band was born.