Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

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.

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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 thirties—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 twenty-five 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 fifty 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 fifties, 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 UK 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 twenty-five 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.

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“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.

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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.
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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.

May 23 2017 8:33 AM

This Genius Loaf Cake Is Everything That’s Good About Scones (And Nothing Bad)

This post originally appeared in Genius Recipes on Food52.

This charming loaf may look like a pound cake, and act like a pound cake—and travel well and make sweet gifts like a pound cake. But it's quite a different little number, and thanks to a slew of hidden perks—it's better.

It takes all of 15 minutes to throw together the dough (in fact, the faster—and colder—it is when you slide it into the hot oven, the better). You won’t need to wait for butter to soften, and there is no frosting or icing to whip together, only a scruffy, sparkly, sugar-dusted top, and a side dollop of jam.

May 23 2017 8:03 AM

The Legacy of Stepin Fetchit Remains an Obstacle for Today’s Black Comedians

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

A block away from Hollywood Boulevard, at 1751 Vine Street, sits a peculiar star on the Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, a reminder of a period of history that many in the film industry might prefer to forget. It honors one Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit—a comedian from Alabama (by way of the Bahamas) who was the first black actor to earn a million dollars, thanks to a demeaning, racist character type.

May 23 2017 7:33 AM

In Troubled Times, Take a Break From Peak TV and Turn to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

On May 15, the streaming platform Twitch began airing all 886 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, commercial-free, and it will continue doing so until the end of the month. While this slow, square children’s series might not have the same buzz as Master of None or the ripped-from-the-headlines relevance of The Handmaid’s Tale, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is urgent television. If, for any particular reason, you’d be interested in watching a show about a man who accepts, embraces, and empathizes with his neighbors, effectively controls his emotions, lives a life imbued with imagination and radical kindness, and teaches us that “feelings are mentionable and manageable,” then I have a trolley you should catch.

Starting in 1968, broadcasting on PBS from an alternate-universe Pittsburgh filled with jazz-guitarist handymen, unusually friendly postal workers, and a railway-accessible portal into a land of make-believe, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came to define the experience of childhood in the second half of the twentieth century. For all of its fanciful strangeness, there was always a graceful simplicity to the Neighborhood, an ease about growing up and learning that was mirrored in the leisurely way Rogers changed into his cardigan and Keds at the beginning of every episode. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was educational programming, certainly, but, in its purest form, it was an emotional education. For 33 years, through Vietnam and Watergate and any number of other geopolitical catastrophes, Mister Rogers gave his viewers a language for expressing their feelings and a moral duty to care about the feelings of others. We could use a neighbor like him now.

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And yet, since it went off the air in 2001, the neighborhood has been occasionally hard to find. Indeed, if you or the children you know have encountered Rogers at all in the last decade, it’s likely been through the auto-tuned, mildly annoying CGI antics of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. (The popular animated program is centered around Daniel Tiger, a peppy, cardigan-clad young tiger, who just happens to be the only begotten son of Daniel Striped Tiger, the shy, straggly cat puppet Rogers created for his Neighborhood of Make-Believe.) The show riffs off of a lot of old Rogers songs and ideas—Daniel sings snippets of the original series’ intro and outro tunes, the old puppets reappear as middle-aged parents, and the new neighborhood is littered with clever references to the original series from a crayon factory to an Uber-esque trolley—but its digital aesthetic is slick where Mister Rogers was homespun. While Daniel Tiger features many laudable innovations, including a far more diverse cast of characters than the original, there’s a big difference between a cartoon jungle cat and an earnest, adult human telling you that they like you just the way you are.

In the era of Daniel Tiger, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood exists primarily as a vague, sweater-swaddled memory for many viewers—at best a nostalgic artifact, and at worst, a piece of kitsch. Twitch has leaned into this characterization, promoting their stream by referring to the show as “retro content” that “taps into the appeal of nostalgic programming.” Netflix’s 2015 Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood “collection” suffered from the same reductionist impulse. The collection’s 20 episodes were curated less to provide access to a lost show than to locate its most meme-able moments, from the reveal of a comically primitive electric car to the awkward spectacle of Rogers learning how to breakdance. (An expanded, much-improved selection of episodes is now available on Amazon Video.)

Earlier this year, in the wake of President Trump’s dastardly pledge to defund the NEH and the NEA, the video of Rogers’ stirring 1969 testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommitee on Communications began to circulate again. The video had long been a favorite among YouTube aficionados, but Rogers’ emotional plea for public television—as well as the twist ending in which the gruff legislator’s heart grows three sizes—struck a new nerve. Here was a man at the beginning of the Nixon years, that era of world-historically bad feeling, rivetingly extolling the benefits of good feeling to the United States Congress. It was a powerful reminder of what thoughtful, passionate advocacy can accomplish, just as a new generation of advocates were feeling alternately empowered and imperiled.

To experience Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a series of viral videos or loving cover versions, though, is to overlook the unique and useful work that show actually did day to day for 33 years. That’s why Twitch’s stream, however cynically framed, is so revelatory. Watching even a few of these episodes in a row is to experience something that doesn’t feel like anything else in our media environment.

The world of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a world of gentle jazz, direct address, make-believe intrigue, and an overwhelming, almost uncanny, feeling of televisual love. As the man says, it’s a good feeling to know you’re alive. The episodes are grouped in themed clusters (the Amazon collection, while incomplete, makes a point of keeping these clusters intact), and the events in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe have sustained, serial narrative arcs, but what resonates most deeply is the way the show feels like a conversation between old friends. It’s a show cloaked in artifice—the aerial view of a scale neighborhood in the opening credits is an obvious, if friendlier, forerunner to Game of Thrones—but committed to audience byplay, or active participation in mundane and fantastical moments. You wouldn’t think that simply speaking words of support, love, and good intention directly into a lens would necessarily produce feelings of support and love in viewers, but that’s exactly what this show does. It’s the complexity of Mister Rogers’ feeling and the uncomplicatedness of its method that’s so striking, especially as an adult. Fred Rogers figured out that the best way to overcome the necessary mediation of television was to pretend that there was no mediation.

Mister Rogers’ neighborhood was, in many ways, a suburb, and, today, it retains the limitations of a typical suburb; it’s mostly white, conservative in its values, blandly Protestant in its sensibility. But the show’s emotionality was and is radical. The route to good feeling, for Mister Rogers, was empathy; the path to happiness was the control of anger; the climax of every episode was conflict resolution. It’s easy to mistake this as a nostalgic paean for a bygone era, to read a defense of this show as a modulated call to Make America Great Again. But Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood doesn’t represent another time so much as another way of seeing, another way of entering the world. The neighborhood is not an idealized version of American life; it’s a counterfactual experiment in imagining an American life that is founded in tolerance, kindness, and imperturbable calm. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted in 1968 to speak to children in an era of fear and anger and mistrust. This doesn’t seem nostalgic. It seems contemporary. It’s TV that hails you as a neighbor, and that tells you what to do with the mad that you feel right now.

May 22 2017 4:35 PM

Willem Dafoe Will Play Vincent van Gogh in Upcoming Biopic From Julian Schnabel

Willem Dafoe is set to star as artist Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s upcoming biopic chronicling the later years of the famous Dutch painter. At Eternity’s Gate will focus specifically on Van Gogh’s time spent in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, which means that, yes, it probably include the infamous ear-chopping incident that followed a confrontation with Gauguin in 1888. The film takes its title from an oil painting by Van Gogh in 1890, finished just months before his death.

Schnabel might just be the perfect director for the project. For starters, he knows his way around a biopic: He guided Javier Bardem to an Oscar nomination as Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, and he won both a Golden Globe and the 2007 Cannes best director award himself for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the memoir of French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby. But what makes Schnabel uniquely qualified is that he is also a painter in his own right, perhaps best known for his work with ceramics.

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Van Gogh is also the subject of another upcoming film, Loving Vincent, which is notable for having been animated fully from oil paintings.

May 22 2017 2:50 PM

Guillermo Del Toro, James Mangold and More Reveal the Images That Inspire Them

On Sunday night, Oscar-winning filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspect) posed a question to his directing peers on Twitter: What images inspire you? Tagging such distinguished names as Guillermo Del Toro and Rian Johnson, his thread swiftly took off, with filmmakers sharing the images from film and other visual mediums that have stayed with them—and, even better, sharing thoughts on exactly why. Among the works cited: Gravity, James and the Giant Peach, and Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone.

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