Arts & Entertainment

‘Beauty’s’ Beast Dan Stevens Breaks Out Behind the Effects

When Dan Stevens met his “Beauty and the Beast” co-star Emma Watson in pre-production, she wanted to get to work analyzing the story and the themes. He just wanted to talk about her U.N. speech about gender inequality.


“It was so impressive and so mighty in its message. I was so blown away by it,” Stevens said recently.


He quickly realized that her ideas actually did apply to the film too. Between the spoiled Beast, the sleazy Gaston, the gracious Maurice and others, Stevens began to think about just how many different types of masculinity are on display in the film, which opens in theaters Friday.


“Looking at these little elements of the patriarchy that she can smash through on her quest through the movie and the challenges presented to her as a girl, they tally so beautifully with Emma’s project,” Stevens said. “I love storytelling and fairy tale and myth and getting to grips with those fundamental elements is something that I really get a kick out of.”


At 34, Stevens is perhaps still best known for his role as Matthew Crawley on the PBS period series “Downton Abbey,” which he somewhat infamously left five years ago to pursue other things stateside. In the interim, the English actor has found roles in edgy indies, like the home invasion thriller “The Guest,” and even in campier family fare like “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” as the overconfident Lancelot.


Now Stevens is on the verge of becoming a household name with a leading role on FX’s edgy comic book series “Legion” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast” – by far his highest profile role since “Downton.” Ironically it’s also one where his face is largely hidden for most of the film.


“It’s still my face driving it,” Stevens said, insisting that his friends and family have said they can definitely tell its him behind the facial capture technology that turns the blonde-hair blue-eyed human male into a horned and hairy beast.


Besides, it allowed him to focus on the performance in the eyes – something he studied in Jean Marais’ performance in Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of “”Beauty and the Beast” to prepare.


“It was very important to me to preserve the beast’s soul through the eyes,” Stevens said. “It’s kind of the last human quality that he has shining through.”


As a father to three children with wife and singer Susie Hariet – Willow (7), Aubrey (4), and Eden (10 months) – Stevens has an added interest in balancing hard R-rated genre work with more family-friendly fare.


“I almost certainly would have said yes to this whether I had kids or not, but it is a big factor and informs some of my choices for sure these days,” the actor said.


He would often bring his kids to the “Beauty and the Beast” set to see him in action.


“I love it when crew members or other cast members bring their kids on,” he said. “It helps you remember why you’re making it and who you’re making it for.”


It also made for some amusing observations from his children. Stevens’ costume consisted of stilts and a cumbersome grey muscle suit that the visual effects people would eventually use to morph him into the Beast in post-production.


“My daughter said I looked like a hippo,” he said. “It helped with that Beast feeling of feeling monstrous and like he didn’t fit in.”


With four other projects in various stages of post-production, from a role in a historical drama about Thurgood Marshall to the rom-com “Permission” and “Legion’s” renewal for a second season, Stevens is doing what he’s always wanted.


“I’m having a great time just exploring a number of different areas that I never dreamed I’d get to explore,” Stevens said. “And, hopefully, slipping into some quite unrecognizable roles.”


The Beast isn’t a bad start.

Science & Health

Breathe Easy: Nose Shape Was Influenced by Local Climate

The human nose, in all its glorious forms, is one of our most distinctive characteristics, whether big, little, broad, narrow or somewhere in between.

Scientists are now sniffing out some of the factors that drove the evolution of the human proboscis.

Researchers said on Thursday a study using three-dimensional images of hundreds of people of East Asian, South Asian, West African and Northern European ancestry indicated local climate, specifically temperature and humidity, played a key role in determining the nose’s shape.

Wider noses were more common in people from warm and humid climates, they found. Narrower noses were more common in those from cold and dry climates.

The nose’s primary functions are breathing and smelling. It has mucous and blood capillaries inside that help warm and humidify inhaled air before it reaches more sensitive parts of the respiratory tract.

Having narrower nasal airways might help increase contact between inhaled air and tissues inside the nose carrying moisture and heat, said Penn State University geneticist Arslan Zaidi, lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

“This might have offered an advantage in colder climates. In warmer climates, the flip side was probably true,” Zaidi said.

Our species appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and later migrated to other parts of the world. The researchers said people with narrower nostrils may have done better and produced more offspring than those with wider nostrils in colder, drier locales, driving a gradual decline in nose width.

The finding generally supports what’s called Thomson’s rule, formulated by British anatomist and anthropologist Arthur Thomson (1858-1935), that people from cold, dry climates tend to have longer and thinner noses than people from warm, humid climates.

Zaidi said most previous evidence regarding Thomson’s rule came from skull measurements, while this study expanded on that by analyzing external nose shape.

The researchers studied nose width, nostril width, nose height, length of the nose ridge, nose tip protrusion, external surface area and total nostril area.

“What we have tested is a very simple hypothesis about the nose, which likely had a very complex evolutionary history. There’s a lot we don’t know,” Zaidi said, citing the need to probe genes underlying nose shape.

“One can imagine how cultural differences in attractiveness could have led to some of the differences in nose shape between populations. For example, were wider noses considered more attractive in some populations relative to others?”

Science & Health

Brazil Yellow Fever Cases Pass 400; More Than 130 Dead

Brazil’s Health Ministry says 424 people have been infected with yellow fever in the largest outbreak the country has seen in years. Of those, 137 have died.


An update published Thursday said that more than 900 other cases are under investigation. During the current outbreak in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer rainy season, the vast majority of the confirmed cases have been in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.


Much of Brazil is considered at risk for yellow fever, and people in those areas are supposed to be vaccinated. But this outbreak struck some areas not previously considered at risk, and Brazil is rushing vaccines to those areas.


Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne disease that cause causes fever, body aches, vomiting and can cause jaundice, from which it gets its name.

Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Artist Ai Brings New Refugee-themed Piece to Prague

Chinese conceptual artist and political activist Ai Weiwei has placed his latest refugee-themed installation — a black rubber boat with 258 figures onboard — in Prague, the capital of a European Union country that has opposed the bloc’s efforts to redistribute migrants among member nations.

The giant piece, titled “Law of the Journey,” attests to Ai’s concern with the plight of migrants who embark on the dangerous journey to Europe by sea. He visited 20 refugee sites across the world, including the Greek island of Lesbos, an entry point for many migrants trying to reach western Europe from Turkey.


“To refuse somebody so desperate is almost a crime,” Ai told The Associated Press. “It’s immoral, it’s short-sighted, and it is not going to benefit this nation. We cannot lose our fundamental beliefs in human rights and human dignity.”

His largest piece so far, the 70-meter (230-foot)-long black rubber boat hangs from the ceiling at the National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace. The site-specific installation that went on exhibit Thursday was made in a Chinese factory that produces dinghies used by actual refugees, Ai said.

The 59-year-old artist has exhibited similar works elsewhere. He used 14,000 discarded life vests collected from the beaches of Lesbos to wrap the columns of Berlin’s Konzerthaus and to create lotus blossoms floating on a pond in Vienna’s Belvedere park.

The artist also posed as Alan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler whose lifeless body was famously photographed lying face-down on a Lesbos pebble beach. Ai was criticized for exploiting the child’s tragic death.

More than 1.2 million people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe since 2015, data from the International Organization for Migration show. According to the European Commission, the Czech Republic has so far accepted 12 migrants for relocation.

Science & Health

UN Places Fentanyl Ingredients on Control List

A U.N. body on Thursday added two chemicals used to make the drug fentanyl, which killed music star Prince, to an international list of controlled substances, which the United States said would help fight a wave of deaths by overdose.

Fentanyl is a man-made opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine. Roughly 20,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2015 involved heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which also acts as the governing body of the Vienna-based U.N. office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), voted to “schedule” two fentanyl precursors and a fentanyl-like substance, meaning they would be added to an international control list.

Putting the chemicals on the control list ensures closer international monitoring of suspicious orders and transactions, which should make it harder for people aiming to produce fentanyl illegally to get hold of these chemicals.

“None of us lives under the illusion that this is a silver bullet to solving our opioid crisis,” a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said in response to the decision.

“But this vote will make it harder for the criminals that are illicitly producing fentanyl to access the necessary resources. It will require countries to regulate the production, sale, and export of the precursors to fentanyl, and to criminalize sale or trafficking outside of those regulations.”

The UNODC named the two precursors as 4-anilino-N-phenethylpiperidine (ANPP) and N-phenethyl-4-piperidone (NPP). A fentanyl analogue called butyrfentanyl, a drug similar to fentanyl, was also added, it said.

The State Department spokeswoman said they were the two leading chemicals used to illegally produce fentanyl in the United States.

United Nations and U.S. officials also emphasized that Thursday’s decision was an example of effective action by the United Nations at a time when the Trump administration is aiming to slash funding for both the State Department and the United Nations.

“The U.S. mission [to the United Nations in Vienna] … welcomes this decision as a concrete example of how international action can have a clear benefit for the United States, as we face a crisis taking a tremendous toll on American communities,” it said in a statement.

Science & Health

US Study: Experimental Blood Test Could Speed Autism Diagnosis

Developers of an experimental blood test for autism say it can detect the condition in more than 96 percent of cases and do so across a broad spectrum of patients, potentially allowing for earlier diagnosis, according to a study released on Thursday.

The findings, published in PLoS Computational Biology, are the latest effort to develop a blood test for autism spectrum disorder, which is estimated to affect about 1 in 68 babies. The cause remains a mystery although it has been shown that childhood vaccines are not responsible.

The hope for such tests, if proven accurate, is that they could reassure parents with autism fears and possibly aid in the development of treatments, coauthor to the study, Dr. Juergen Hahn of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told Reuters Health.

They could also speed the age at diagnosis. Autism encompasses a wide spectrum of disorders, ranging from profound inability to communicate and mental retardation to relatively mild symptoms, as in Asperger’s Syndrome.

Doctors typically diagnose children by observing behaviors associated with the disorder, such as repetitive behaviors or social avoidance. Most children are not diagnosed until around age 4, although some skilled clinicians can pick it up earlier.

Hahn and colleagues measured levels of 24 proteins that have been linked to autism and found five that, in the right combination, seemed most predictive of the condition, which affects about 1.5 percent of children and can vary widely in severity and how it manifests.

Dr. Max Wiznitzer of the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, who was not involved in the research, called the finding “interesting, but not earth-shattering,” saying that it needs to be tested by many more at-risk children.

“We don’t know if this is a marker specific to autism or whether it’s a marker for any chronic illness of any kind,” he told Reuters Health. “They have quite a way to go before they can show if it has any meaning.”

The researchers derived the combination by testing 83 children age 3 to 10 who had been diagnosed with autism through conventional means. While the combination was present in 97.6 percent, it was absent in 96.1 percent of 76 normal children.

Wiznitzer noted that the research offers no evidence that the chemical combination being blamed for autism “will be there for infants and toddlers.”

Science & Health

Caribbean Islands Count on Coral to Build Up Coastal Resilience

Twice a week, fisherman Romould Compton puts on scuba gear to dive to the seabed and clean tiny elkhorns growing in the coral nursery off the Caribbean island of Carriacou, tending them until they can be transplanted to a damaged reef nearby.

He hopes his conservation work will help to bring back more of the fish, such as red snapper, king butterfish and hind, that many islanders depend on.

“In my area we depend on the reef for our survival and livelihoods, and a lot of reef is dead,” said Compton by phone from Windward, Carriacou, one of the lush, mountainous islands that make up Grenada in the southeast of the Caribbean.

“A lot of unemployment has been happening so we’ve got to turn to the sea to keep our livelihood going.”

Across the Caribbean, scores of projects are underway to restore battered coral reefs and replant damaged mangroves, crucial to livelihoods from fishing and income from the millions of tourists who flock to the tropical beaches each year.

The intricate reefs and salt-tolerant mangrove swamps also offer protection against storms and hurricanes on climate-vulnerable islands which often lack resources to build extensive engineered coastal defenses.

Insurers are now looking closely at how ecosystems can help bolster coastal resilience, while high-tech models help determine how new hotels and infrastructure might impact the fragile ecological balance as well as local communities.

“When you talk to the prime minister of any country in the Caribbean, they absolutely recognize the path of climate change,” said Luis Solorzano, executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) program in the Caribbean, which is working to restore marine habitats.

“They’re also thinking, instead of providing assistance, what can we do to prevent, to try and minimize the expected damage of what we know is going to be an increasing frequency of extreme events,” he said.

Using ecosystems to help buffer against extreme events such as hurricanes and storm surges could generate cost-savings of “billions if not trillions” of dollars, he said.

Climate resistance

At the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, scientists are trying to replicate the sea conditions they expect to see in 50 to 100 years to determine which corals are the hardiest, then cross strains to produce climate-resistant species that can be transplanted onto reefs across the Caribbean, said David Vaughan, who manages Mote’s reef restoration program.

One of Vaughan’s most important discoveries came by chance: He accidentally shattered an elkhorn coral and found micro-fragmentation can cause it to grow up to 40 times faster.

“If people think climate change is just a theory, they should just look at that wonderful thermometer in the field that’s called corals and that’ll tell them differently,” said Vaughan, whose laboratory works with TNC and produces 1,000 corals a day, including bulbous brain and mountain corals.

He hopes the new coral “offspring” will be “better prepared in the future for whatever man or mother nature hands to them.”

The 63-year-old, who has vowed to plant a million corals by the time he retires, said Mote is planning a laboratory to train up to 50 people each week from around the world, who could eventually replicate its coral restoration project.

With that scale-up, “we could literally plant a billion corals around the world,” he said.

Getting ahead

Alongside bringing in tourist dollars, healthy coral reefs, seagrasses and salt-tolerant mangroves provide habitats for many species that generate an income for fishermen — from spiny lobsters in Belize to bonefish in the Bahamas.

Reefs can also act like breakwaters to dramatically reduce wave strength, while mangroves can buffer against hurricane winds and storm surges.

Marine scientist Michael Beck calculates coral reefs can slash up to 97 percent of the wave energy that would otherwise hit the shoreline, while a 100-meter-wide (330 feet) band of mangrove can cut wave height by up to two-thirds.

High-tech modelling is helping Caribbean governments bolster coastal resilience by demonstrating how development can affect coastal ecosystems, livelihoods and property, said Katie Arkema, lead scientist at the Natural Capital Project, which has used its technology in Belize and the low-lying islands of the Bahamas.

“What we seek to do is understand how will our decisions and the decisions of governments … affect ecosystems and how in turn will those ecosystem changes affect people,” said Arkema.

The World Bank, which is helping pilot a coastal insurance project offering reduced premiums to governments working to make the region’s over-exploited fisheries more resilient, said Jamaica, Grenada and St. Lucia were among those interested.

But payouts would likely hinge on countries agreeing to invest a slice of the money in marine habitats, he said.

“Increasingly, Caribbean governments are finding ways to make better use of their marine resources, [to] take advantage of their marine ecosystems, the natural assets that are so important to them,” said Miguel Angel Jorge, senior fisheries specialist with the World Bank.

“They want to be much smarter about how they invest and plan with the likely climate impacts in mind.”

In Grenville, Grenada, where many low-income families depend on fishing, efforts to boost coastal resilience were partly driven by the community — which is involved in projects to replant mangroves and establish an artificial reef, said Nealla Frederick, TNC’s Eastern Caribbean conservation planner.

“Just everybody has recognized this is happening and wants to try to get ahead of it,” she said.

Arts & Entertainment

Demi Lovato Celebrates 5 Yrs of Sobriety

Demi Lovato is celebrating five years of sobriety.

 The 24-year-old singer celebrated with an Instagram post on Wednesday. She writes that “it’s been quite the journey,” adding, “so many times I wanted to relapse but sat on my hands and begged God to relieve the obsession.”


Lovato’s personal struggles have been well-documented. In 2010, she left a tour with the Jonas Brothers and entered rehab for an eating disorder and self-mutilation. She has also said that she used drugs and alcohol to self -medicate.


Lovato says she has bipolar disorder and has been an advocate for mental health awareness.