Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 24 2017 8:03 AM

Chris Cornell’s Voice Transcended Generations

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Teens from the ’90s got a raw deal: We never settled into the idea that our heroes were built to last. The death of Kurt Cobain was a shock. Losing Tupac really hurt. We still feel the loss of Big and Pun. River Phoenix, Kristen Pfaff, Andy Wood, Eazy-E, and Jeff Buckley seem frozen in eternal youth. Layne Staley and Scott Weiland deserved more time. Loss is the only human experience that doesn’t get easier through repetition. You fall off a bike enough times, and you figure out how to keep your ass on the seat while you pedal. You lose a friend, a family member, or a beloved performer, and it hurts freshly and differently every time. The loss of Seattle singer and Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell last week stings because he was a master of his craft who made vital, inspirational art. He helped his audience make sense of loneliness and depression. He deserved the same peace.

May 24 2017 7:33 AM

Niles Is to Frasier as Tuan Is to The Americans

Each week on Slate's Americans podcast, June Thomas sits down with the creators, cast, and crew of The Americans as they reveal behind-the-scenes details about the making of the FX drama's fifth season.

This week, Thomas talks to co-showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields about proper spy terminology, Philip and Elizabeth’s frank conversation with Pastor Tim, and the ways in which Tuan Eckert is like Frasier’s Niles Crane. Then producing director Chris Long talks about shooting in Moscow for the first time.

Note: This podcast contains spoilers and is meant to be enjoyed after you watch the episode. New episodes air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Podcast production by June Thomas.

May 23 2017 11:29 PM

Jon Stewart’s HBO Animation Project is Canceled

The series of animated shorts Jon Stewart has been developing for HBO has been canceled, The New York Times reports. The project was first announced in 2015, when Stewart signed a four-year contract with HBO after leaving The Daily Show. HBO told the Times that the problems were mostly technical:

We all thought the project had great potential, but there were technical issues in terms of production and distribution that proved too difficult given the quick turnaround and topical nature of the material. We’re excited to report that we have some future projects together, which you will be hearing about in the near future.

Besides the unexpected echoes of Criswell (“future Jon Stewart projects such as these will be announced in the future!”), the news isn’t too surprising, given the way the project has mutated since Stewart arrived at HBO. Originally, he was planning to make several animated shorts per day for HBO Now. A year later, the project had become even more ambitious: Now he would make short videos for HBO Now while simultaneously producing 30 minute episodes of “an animated parody of a cable news network with an Onion-like portal,” all in time to cover the election. The project depended on animation technology belonging to graphics company Otoy, designed to allow Stewart to produce animation quickly enough to comment on the news while it was still news. No one could have anticipated the way Donald Trump would warp the very fabric of space-time to increase the pace of the news cycle, but this seems like a production challenge even under a sedate, competent president.

It will be interesting to see what Stewart tries next—there’s not exactly a shortage of late-night hosts with humorous takes on current events these days, and John Oliver has HBO’s Daily Show–style news slot already locked up. Perhaps Stewart can finally return to his first love: infecting high schoolers with alien parasites.

May 23 2017 9:13 PM

Tom Cruise Says Top Gun 2 Will Finally Go Into Production Next Year

Tom Cruise told the hosts of U.K. TV show Sunrise on Tuesday that he was making a sequel to his 1986 fighter jet/beach volleyball extravaganza Top Gun and expected filming to start “probably in the next year,” Deadline reports. Here’s the clip, in which he’s visibly thrilled to be returning to the role of Maverick after three decades.

It’s far from the first time talk of a sequel to Top Gun has been floated, but it’s only been the last few years that anyone involved thought it was a good idea. In 1988, Cruise told the Los Angeles Times that a Top Gun sequel symbolized everything he didn’t want from Hollywood:

I understood the trappings of being a poster boy, but I didn’t allow that to happen. You reach a certain point of success and you have to take responsibility for that success and not do Top Gun 2. That would have been a different way to go, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

In 1990, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson were similarly unenthusiastic. Asked by the Los Angeles Times about Paramount executives who had mentioned the film as a possibility, Simpson called them “exceedingly misinformed,” adding, “If Paramount has a Top Gun 2 in mind, I’m interested in buying a ticket to it—because it certainly won’t be starring Tom Cruise … or produced by the guys who invented it.” Simpson said at the time that he and Bruckheimer had agreed to never do sequels—with an exception for Beverly Hills Cop II, which they thought of as part of a “series.” He died in 1996, never having produced another sequel. Bruckheimer, on the other hand, went on to produce Bad Boys II, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. And now, it seems, Top Gun 2.

May 23 2017 5:10 PM

The FCC Will Not Take Action Against Stephen Colbert

The Federal Communications Commision has confirmed it will not take action against Stephen Colbert.

The late-night comic found himself in hot water earlier this month when, after quipping on the Late Show that “the only thing [President Trump’s] mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cockholster,” observers across the political spectrum criticized him for making a homophobic joke. Outrage stirred in particular on the political right, however, which helped to create anxiety when the FCC—an independent federal agency—announced it would be looking into Colbert’s comment as possibly “obscene.” Some viewed the move as an extension of Trump’s assault on First Amendment rights.

However, as CNN and others quickly reported after the news broke, the FCC was merely following standard procedure after receiving several complaints, and the joke—according to the agency’s own definition—was extremely unlikely to be determined an obscenity. On May 19, the FCC revealed that it received more than 5,700 complaints, the vast majority of which called the joke homophobic and offensive. “It implied that there is something wrong with being gay,” one Illinois viewer wrote to the agency.

The FCC has officially declined to take action against Colbert, providing a statement in response to an inquiry. “Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints,” it read. “The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”

May 23 2017 1:18 PM

Jane the Virgin Lost Her Virginity and the Love of Her Life in a Messy but Vital Season 3

Network television tends to encourage stasis, but Jane the Virgin has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to evolve, change course, even completely and permanently upend its world. Its third season, which concluded Monday night, was its most ambitious in that regard, opening with a string of episodes of domestic bliss before cutting it short with the cruelest twist imaginable. This comforting, well-executed story about early parenthood and marriage took a sharp turn into much darker territory—that of grief and loss—as the show began its exploration of moving on from tragedy, with Jane (Gina Rodriguez) its mourning center. (For those who still consider Jane the Virgin a guilty pleasure: You can kindly show yourselves out now.)

For all of Jane’s wild machinations—the genre blends, the dense plotting, the delightfully meta humor—the show hadn’t yet tested its small but loyal audience with such a seismic shakeup. The death of Michael (Brett Dier), Jane’s newlywed, forced showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman into a corner, to either deal with the unbearable shock of the immediate aftermath or jump ahead in time for a kind of reset. Understandably, she chose the latter. But Jane’s three-year fast-forward wasn’t without its consequences, rushing to resolve storylines that preceded Michael’s passing and struggling to regain the momentum that the show would typically feed off of midseason. Supporting players’ storylines felt especially superfluous as we watched Jane, still reeling from her loss, grieve while trying to move forward. And Michael’s ghost hovered even more than the show cared to admit.

May 23 2017 12:38 PM

Remembering Roger Moore, the Man Who Saved James Bond

Sir Roger Moore, who played James Bond for a dozen years in the 1970s and ’80s and proved that the series could thrive without Sean Connery, died Tuesday at the age of 89.

Born in London, Moore became famous thanks largely to his small-screen work. He starred as Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe in the ’50s, appeared as a cousin of the eponymous brothers on Maverick, and much later had a brief run with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders! But it was on The Saint that he really made his name. That show, which was later turned into a Val Kilmer movie, took advantage of Moore’s looks, charm, and perennially raised eyebrow. It’s unwatchably dated today, but its tales of Simon Templar, the rogue who helps people out of jams while avoiding the law, was apparently just what mid-’60s audiences craved.

Moore was still in that role when Connery declined to play Bond in the sixth film of the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), which thus starred George Lazenby. Although a later favorite of (some) 007 aficionados, the movie didn’t do as well as hoped, and Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), a smash. After Connery again stepped aside, claiming he would “never” return, the producers of the franchise turned to Moore, already 45—Connery had started out in his early 30s—but who they had long envisioned would make an ideal 007.

Moore’s first Bond film, Live and Let Die (1973), is a dreary effort. But since we now view the Bond series as a permanent fixture, it’s worth recalling how shaky it might have seemed at the time. It wasn’t obvious that audiences would ever accept anyone but Connery in the role—some people still haven’t, I suppose—and there was no guarantee the 007 series would become the five-plus decade, nearly-25-film behemoth that it is today. For this reason, Moore is probably as responsible as anyone other than Connery and producer Albert R. Broccoli for the success of the franchise.

The common criticism of Moore’s approach to Bond is that he made the series sillier and less serious—which is thought to be what audiences were looking for in the dismal 1970s. The first part of this isn’t really fair. The series was changing, it’s true: The gadgets got bigger, the jokes got broader, and the action frequently moved to the United States, because of the size of the American market. (This last aspect proved temporary, thank God.) But all of these things are true of Diamonds Are Forever, in which Connery himself adopted a lighter take on Bond. If the series was going in that direction, it wasn’t Moore’s fault.

Still, he certainly enjoyed the more humorous approach to the character. He never viewed it with the same seriousness as Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, both of whom treated 007 as a real person. (That can be a problem if you don’t have a good script and competent directing.) He tended to make light of his own acting abilities—over decades of interviews, self-deprecation is the one constant—and he sometimes expressed anguish over the violence in the movies, which was mild even by the standards of the day. Moore’s approach—to interviews and to acting—is perhaps best captured in a revealing remark to the Telegraph: “My James Bond wasn’t any different to my Saint, or my Persuaders or anything else I’ve done. I’ve just made everything that I play look like me and sound like me.” This is certainly simplified, but it isn’t entirely wrong.

After The Man With the Golden Gun, in 1974, Moore and the producers took two-and-a-half years off before turning to The Spy Who Loved Me, still considered his best Bond film by most fans and the one that ensured his stamp on the character would last. Alternately witty and exciting, the film was a giant hit. (Moore called it his own favorite for its combination of “locations and humor,” which gives a hint of how he viewed a successful Bond film.) He was 50 by the time the movie came out but looks fantastic and youthful throughout; the film displays the combination of debonair charm and insouciance that were his hallmarks. He became a much bigger star after it was released and began commanding larger paychecks on the subsequent films. (Like almost every other Bond, his non-Bond work during this era was much less successful; even Connery didn’t have many other big hits until he quit the series.)

Moonraker (1979), Moore’s fourth 007 film, has some good moments before it falls victim to an onslaught of gags, but For Your Eyes Only, two years later, is Moore’s most serious Bond movie. An exciting espionage story with a confusing albeit compelling plot, the movie shows Moore investing the character with traits that he was seldom allowed to show, including anger and occasional ruthlessness. By the time of Octopussy in 1983, Moore’s approach was so popular that the film managed to out-gross Never Say Never Again, a “rival” Bond film (by different producers) that marked Connery’s long-awaited return to the character. Still, when he made his last 007 movie, 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was in his late 50s, and it was clearly time to move on. (He looked remarkably good for his age, but he made an implausible action hero, and his female co-stars weren’t getting any older, creating an off-putting discrepancy.)

Moore didn’t do a ton of work after retiring from the series, but he made several films, pursued charitable causes, and wrote some memoiristic accounts of his time as an actor. Moore was married four times, including to the singer Dorothy Squires. He split his time between the U.K. and Monaco and Switzerland, and in his later years seemed to live a rather conventional life of luxury, replete with beach-going and dining with minor European royals.

As someone who grew up obsessed with all things Bond, I made it my mission to one day interview both Moore and Connery. The latter is retired and no longer gives interviews; even before retiring, he was always prickly, especially when asked about the character with whom he will be forever identified. As for Moore, I tracked him down several years ago; we talked over the phone for 25 minutes or so. It might be the only time in my career that my recording of a conversation failed; I attribute it to anxiety about talking with a boyhood hero.

I did my best to think up some questions about Bond he had never been asked and failed miserably. I could tell that he knew the answers to all my questions by heart, and yet he was nothing but patient and generous, recounting with seeming sincerity and energy stories I’d already read or heard. Several times he paused and took note of how lucky he had been: good health, nice kids, interesting women. I mentioned that Connery still seemed bitter about his Bond experience. Moore, who had a long friendship with Connery, didn’t exactly scold him but made clear that he found that attitude strange. Yes, Moore would always be identified with James Bond, and there were annoying paparazzi to deal with, and it could be tiresome always being asked to order a martini. And yet, he went on, how lucky have I been? I got to play the most famous character in film history, make lots of money doing it, and travel around the world in the prime of my life. Who has time to complain? I always thought this was an admirable answer and all the more so from someone who showed real generosity in his charitable work.

As we were getting off the phone, I dropped the pretense of reportorial objectivity and told him it was an honor to speak with him and confessed to having spent a good deal of my childhood in his presence. He thanked me, said he appreciated it, and noted how good it made him feel to know that others had derived pleasure from his work. Many people have wanted to be James Bond; if your wish comes true, you should be grateful for it.

May 23 2017 10:12 AM

Performers React to the Manchester Attack: “Every Musician Feels Sick and Responsible Tonight”

Celebrities are sending their condolences after a deadly explosion at Manchester Arena following a concert by pop star Ariana Grande. The probable terror attack, which disproportionately affected Grande’s mostly young and female fanbase, has left 22 dead and dozens more wounded.

In a statement that aired at the beginning of The Late Late Show, James Corden sent “thoughts and prayers” to the people of Manchester, including “all of the staff at the MEN Arena, all of the security teams, all of the emergency services, Ariana and her team and all of those families affected by tonight.” He went on to give an emotional tribute to the city and its history, including its soccer teams, musical legacy, and famous figures.

“When I think of Manchester, of the place that I know, I think of the spirit of the people there and I'm telling you, a more tight-knit group of people you will be hard-pressed to find,” said Corden.

Musicians took to social media to express their condolences for those affected and for Grande personally, with many also expressing dismay over the venue of the attack.

May 23 2017 10:04 AM

Roger Moore, Generation X’s James Bond, Dies at 89

Roger Moore
English actor Roger Moore in July 1968.

Peter Ruck/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Roger Moore has died at age 89, after what a statement from his family called “a short but brave battle with cancer.”*

To say that Moore was best remembered for playing James Bond, which he did in seven films from 1973 to 1985, is like saying Mark Hamill is best remembered as Luke Skywalker. He was so identified with the role and it loomed so large over the rest of his career that he might as well have actually been 007—and if you grew up in the 1970s or ’80s, he was. Eventually, you found your way back to the early movies and discovered Sean Connery’s more hot-blooded take on Ian Fleming’s character, which now stands as its definitive incarnation. But Moore embodied the archetype of suave superspy, quick with the ladies and a just-this-side-of-corny quip, and he left his own indelible mark.

Before Bond, Moore had already created another iconic character in the TV version of Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, which ran for 118 episodes from 1962 to 1969, but afterwards, his most iconic character was himself. In three of his last four live-action film appearances, he plays “Roger Moore,” a role he’d settled into with easy and long-running grace. He spent much of his last decades devoting himself to charities like UNICEF, and when he knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, it was his charity work, not his film career, that he was cited for.

Moore is survived by his wife, Kristina Tholstrup, and three children. A private funeral will be held in Monaco.

*Correction, May 23: This post original misquoted the statement from Moore’s family.

May 23 2017 9:37 AM

Facebook Warned Moderators About 13 Reasons Why “Copycat Behavior,” According to Leaked Documents

On Sunday, the Guardian published memos about Facebook's internal moderation guidelines that reveal how the social network’s moderators are instructed to handle reports of everything from fake news to sexual harassment to terrorism. The obtained leaked documents include information about how the site deals with posts about self-harm or suicide, with at least one guideline specific to the Netflix high school drama 13 Reasons Why. Moderators were reportedly told to alert senior managers about content related to the show, which tells the story of a student who kills herself and leaves behind cassette tapes for those she considers responsible for her death, for extra consideration:

The Guardian has been told concern within Facebook about the way people are using the site has increased in the last six months.
For instance, moderators were recently told to “escalate” to senior managers any content related to 13 Reasons Why—a Netflix drama about the suicide of a high school student—because of fears it could inspire copycat behavior.

Prevention experts have expressed concern that 13 Reasons Why paints an unrealistic, romanticized portrait of suicide, fails to meaningfully address mental health or provide adequate resources for those watching, and includes a scene that graphically depicts a suicide, among other criticisms. Studies show that these factors can create the risk of suicide contagion—the “copycat behavior” referenced above—particularly in adolescents.

Mark Zuckerberg announced earlier this month that Facebook would be adding 3,000 new moderators in response to an increase in livestreams and videos of people harming themselves and others on the site. According to the Guardian's report, employees are instructed to contact appropriate agencies for a “welfare check” on users who are attempting or seem about to attempt suicide, while no action is taken on threats of self-harm that are unlikely to succeed, expressed only through hashtags or emoticons, or that threaten to take place more than five days in the future.

The fact that 13 Reasons Why is mentioned by name in these memos reflects the show’s widespread popularity and notoriety, particularly on social media, as well as the serious concerns raised by the way it handles its subject matter. At least one school district has reported an increase in self-harm and at-risk behavior over the past few months that has been attributed to 13 Reasons Why. The show has already been picked up for a second season.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- 8255.

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