All bad movies are alike; all good movies are good in their own way. O.K., maybe not all bad movies, but there’s an exemplary kind of badness that’s so prevalent in the history of cinema, and that forms such a substantial part of the medium today, that it at least seems like it fits all of them. One major example, “War Dogs,” opens today, and another, “Hell or High Water,” came out last Friday. They don’t have much in common, besides being films that revel in their own plot twists and are realized mainly as pictures of actors acting, delivering skeins of dialogue in settings chosen or made to match the action while conveying some decorative appeal of their own.
Getting Jazz Right in the Movies
“21 Jump Street”: Old-School Movies
“Moneyball” in Play
On Monday, Comedy Central announced its decision to abruptly cancel “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.” Kent Alterman, the network’s president, told the New York Times that the show, after a season and a half on the air, “hadn’t resonated” with an audience—meaning that, in addition to struggling to attract traditional television viewers, it had also failed to produce a suitable amount of viral Web content. From a ratings standpoint, the news was perhaps not a surprise, but its timing was unfortunate, as the show, like its political late-night brethren, was in the midst of covering an election that warrants as much skewering as possible.
Stephen Colbert’s Joyful Return to Political Comedy
The Sweet Solidarity of Barack Obama and Larry Wilmore
Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show” Début
Any hit can be crowned song of the summer if the right measuring stick is used. This year, Rihanna’s “Work” and Drake’s “One Dance” have won the ubiquity game. Desiigner’s “Panda” had the highest velocity for an unknown artist. But in terms of the number of conversations generated the award goes to Kanye West’s “Famous,” whose line about Taylor Swift created a pop-cultural domino effect that will continue for months to come—at least until Swift releases her next album. West and Swift are the central figures in the world of “Famous,” but I want to talk for a moment about a tertiary character: Sister Nancy. The song roils and churns for a couple of minutes, with West slinging provocations about the agony and ecstasy of fame (and about Swift); Rihanna interjects to perform a solemn Nina Simone impersonation. But then the “Famous” storm clouds crack, giving way to the sun-dappled relief of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam,” a reggae classic that only grows more lustrous with age. There is no wrong time to play “Bam Bam.” Every summer belongs to “Bam Bam.”
Song of the Summer: “Femenine,” by Julius Eastman
Song of the Summer: “When Summer Comes Again,” by the Lewis Brothers
Desiigner’s “Timmy Turner”: A Viral Freestyle Finds Full Form
When Mike Sabath flew from New York to Los Angeles earlier this year, he checked a bag containing a few changes of clothes, some microphone filters, and his A.P. calculus textbook, “just in case one day I’m feeling math-y.” In a carry-on, he packed earbuds, an external hard drive full of audio samples, and a laptop loaded with music-editing software. Sabath is a pop singer, producer, and songwriter who has worked on songs for Wale and Chris Brown. He was also, until June, a senior at John Jay High School, in Westchester County. This past spring, his parents and teachers allowed him to take a leave from school and spend a few weeks in L.A., renting a room on Airbnb and participating in nightly songwriting sessions at various recording studios. He has done similar work in Manhattan, but the pop-music industry, no less than the film industry, is based in L.A. these days, and a songwriter who makes it there can make it anywhere. “I think I’ve shown, for a few years now, that I can pursue my passion without letting my homework slip,” he said. “Plus, I recently got into college”—Harvard, to be specific—“which made everyone a little less nervous about me devoting more time to this music thing.”
Breathing New Life Into Pop Songs with Choir! Choir! Choir!
The Feminist Trailblazing of Sinéad O’Connor
The Sound of Hope: Chance the Rapper
According to long-standing American tradition, Brazil is the place you go when you’ve done something stupid, bad, criminal, or, preferably, all of the above. After the Civil War, thousands of Confederate loyalists fled to Brazil, where Emperor Pedro II, eager to boost his country’s cotton industry, welcomed them with generous tax breaks and subsidies. In “The Producers,” Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom plan to make a run for Rio after scamming a bunch of little old ladies out of their retirement savings; they would have found themselves in fine fictional company if they hadn’t slipped up and landed in jail instead. Escaping to Brazil is such a familiar fantasy of the American outlaw life that it is strange and delightful, from a purely narrative standpoint, to learn that the trope has been flipped by the swimmer Ryan Lochte, of all people: Olympian gold medallist, onetime reality-TV hopeful, and now, it seems, fugitive from Brazilian justice.
How to Save Olympic Track for Its Fans
The Mystery of Ryan Lochte
Life After Usain Bolt
To make a documentary about the Internet requires nerve. To do so when you can hardly be bothered with a cell phone, however, takes both innocence and bravado, plus a pinch of madness. All of which means that Werner Herzog, now aged seventy-three, is right for the job, and the result is “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.” The movie is divided into ten parts, none of which could be mistaken for a commandment; Herzog’s documentaries have always been fired more by marvelling, and by an explorer’s ache to learn, than by any pedagogic urge to tell. If he were struck color-blind tomorrow, he would instantly embark on a film about Matisse.
The Book That Gets Inside Alfred Hitchcock’s Mind
The Front Row: “Marie Antoinette”
Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively
The writer and director Richard Tanne’s first feature, “Southside with You,” which will be released next Friday, is an opening act of superb audacity, a self-imposed challenge so mighty that it might seem, on paper, to be a stunt. It’s a drama about Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson’s first date, in Chicago, in the summer of 1989. It stars Parker Sawyers as the twenty-eight-year-old Barack, a Harvard Law student and summer associate at a Chicago law firm, and Tika Sumpter (who also co-produced the film) as the twenty-five-year-old Michelle, a Harvard Law graduate and a second-year associate at the same firm. The results don’t resemble a stunt; far from it. “Southside with You,” running a brisk hour and twenty minutes, is a fully realized, intricately imagined, warmhearted, sharp-witted, and perceptive drama, one that sticks close to its protagonists while resonating quietly but grandly with the sweep of a historical epic.
The Hole in Obama’s Legacy
The Power of “Love” in Politics
Daily Cartoon: Thursday, July 28th