It’s an unqualified disaster and a ridiculous combination of bombastic period piece, director Tinto Brass bravado, and producer Bob Guccione’s unmatched hubris. Inserting XXX pornography into an otherwise ordinary extravaganza was just the Penthouse publisher’s first mistake. Pissing off screenwriter Gore Vidal and overstating the audience’s desire for smut come a close second. So why would anyone want to revisit this biographical botch job? Well, Image has created one of 2007’s most comprehensive DVD packages. With input from actors Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren, and archival looks at the production, it deconstructs a project destined to fail and the egos that caused it to happen.
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The Discovery Channel’s massively popular, frightening and enlightening shark series is 20 years old this year and the network is celebrating in grand style. A recent four-DVD set, Shark Week: 20th Anniversary Collection, offers highlights from the history of the show and it’s not just all gory attacks. Many of these episodes offer the latest research on these fascinating creatures and make a convincing case for strengthening and enforcing shark preservation efforts across the globe. A perfect present for all the nature show junkies and shark fans amongst your friends and family.
The Wilbury’s catalogue has shamefully been out of print for over a decade now. That a band could boast the greatest singer (Roy Orbison) and the greatest lyricist (Bob Dylan) in rock history and find its work completely nonexistent is an inexplicable crime. Thankfully, Rhino has righted that wrong with a two-CD/one-DVD set that chronicles the band’s history and output. The real prize of the collection, however, is the film included on the DVD, titled The True History of the Traveling Wilburys. Watching it makes listening to the albums a totally new experience, as it provides background and context that cast the songs in a new light. True, some of this stuff may border on music geek trivia, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. The inspiration for “Last Night”, for example, was “Sidebury” Jim Keltner drumming on jars in a refrigerator. And, just as odd, the lyrics for “Dirty World” were, in part, lifted from an auto magazine. If you’ve ever wondered how geniuses create, this twenty-five minute documentary is an enlightening watch.
Compact in size, yet jam-packed with clear, colorful photos, this mini coffee table book is just the thing for you or your favorite eco-conscious consumer pals when you’re looking to save the Earth in style. Or at least raise awareness of the plight of the planet. Dave Evans, an award-winning Australian photographer, highlights practical, whimsical, and artistic objects, each made from recycled or eco-friendly materials put to innovative use. Ever seen a menorah crafted from galvanized steel plumbing pipes? A CD holder crafted from vintage vinyl LPs? We’re intrigued.
Cool Green Stuff
Author: Dave Evans
October 2007, 256 pages, $14.95
The collection is divided into sections like ‘fashion’, ‘house’, and ‘outside’, and the sheer variety of things created from materials that could have become trash or actually were reclaimed from the local dump is amazing. From ‘elephant poo poo paper’ (prettier than it sounds) to a ‘sun trap handbag’ crafted with a solar panel in the base that gently glows when opened, allowing you to find your keys at the very bottom, these objects are both usable and sustainable.
This book has an impressive range of objects that are often incredibly practical or else designed expressly to draw attention to the possibilities of product design in an enviro-friendly market. From furniture to housewares, wearable fashion to modes of transportation, the sheer scope of this project doesn’t fail to impress. Although the casual flipper-of-pages may notice a couple of sections where artists or producers are repeated in close proximity (at first I thought, why not give some press to additional manufacturers?), it makes sense that designers who are at the forefront of this movement are not focusing their efforts on a single product. No one paid to be a part of the collection; Evans has carefully selected those items which demonstrate commitment to the green consumer movement, as well as undeniable style.
Don’t miss the snazzy bottle openers made from recycled bike chains or the oddly mesmerizing ‘giggles bracelet’ created from the slightly creepy faces of discarded Barbie dolls. Possibly more disturbing is the 50 ml bottle of ‘Crude parfum’, which is not truly a perfume but a decorative flask in the style of today’s myriad celebrity fragrances, and filled literally with crude oil, drawing attention to the power of one of the most influential raw materials of our time.
Bonus: the web address for each artist or manufacturer is given on the same page with its description and photo, so the reader can follow up on those coasters made from recycled motherboard components—the only time when coffee is allowed near computer parts.
What is it about the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy that causes so much critical consternation? In some corners, the films are viewed in the proper perspective - wildly entertaining blockbusters that push the limits of spectacle and scope. In other, more perplexing views, they are unsatisfactory stink bombs, poster children for studio excess, superstar hubris, and clueless directorial overindulgence. No matter that the movies have made scads of dough - this is just the lemming like reaction to clever marketing and a manic mob mentality. Dollars do not equal aesthetics. Yet the questioning of their popularity remains. It couldn’t possible have anything to do with the films actually being good - or dare it be said, great.
But indeed they are great. With the arrival on DVD of the third (and for now, final) installment in the series, it’s interesting to look back and see where the franchise originated, and how it came to transcend the House of Mouse’s misguided merchandising scheme. It all started with the atrocious Country Bears. Disney, desperate to trade on any element of its legacy it could, decided that the next great source of motion picture magic was its well known theme park attractions. With their profile and popularity, even a lousy big screen translation was bound to generate some much needed revenue. Sadly, two of the three proposed projects were incredibly lame. After Bears’ baffling combination of live action and actors in clumsy costumes, and Eddie Murphy’s inadvertent homage to Mantan Moreland, The Haunted Mansion, no one could envision the next installment salvaging the strategy.
It had an unproven cast. The director was, at the time, best known for his commercial kiddie film Mousehunt and the hit horror film The Ring. And then there was the subject - the cinematic scourge known as pirates. The last time anyone attempted to resurrect the buccaneer, auteur Roman Polanski was helming the biggest bomb of his career. Disney apparently didn’t learn the lessons from that undeniable disaster. Yet they weren’t the first to revisit the scallywag storyline. In fact, Renny Harlin also ruined his vocational options - and his marriage - with the Geena Davis clunker Cutthroat Island. Still, Uncle Walt’s cronies persevered, They placed idiosyncratic actor Johnny Depp in the lead, surrounded him with dozens of known British talents, and took the entire company to the Virgin Islands. There, on a fully refurbished boat, the same old peg legged clichés were measured out, circling a story about ancient superstitions laced with post-modern irony.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was the result, and for many, it remains the best movie of the entire trilogy. Since it started life as a single entity, not the foundation for an actual franchise, the completeness of the narrative is hard to overlook. Depp’s brilliant turn as Captain Jack Sparrow started an outright cult, and when viewed in retrospect, it’s hard to see anyone else in the role. Still, it was a risk for producer Jerry Bruckheimer to hire the star. He was mostly known for his unusual choices in roles, not for bringing audiences through the turnstiles. Still, Depp’s dandified dance with the material made Curse of the Black Pearl commercial, and indicated the need for another installment in the series.
There are other elements worth noting in the first film, facets that reinforce its claim to classicism. The entire subplot involving Barboosa and his undead crew brought new life to an old genre, and Verbinski’s visual flair found untold tricks within the tired material. When one sees the shot of skeletal bandits crossing the ocean floor on foot, the novelty of such a sequence reinvigorates a dormant fantasy fan’s aching aesthetic. Indeed, everything about Curse of the Black Pearl was built on the old school designs of the original popcorn movie mavens. It’s Jaws jammed into Star Wars, with just a sprinkling of CGI spice on top.
The second installment, subtitled Dead Man’s Chest, tried to trump the evocative nature of the first film, and for the most part, it succeeded. Created simultaneously with the third episode (At World’s End), it marked a decision by Disney to go the bigger, badder, and broader route with the series. Everything here is larger than life - the swordfights (actors Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport have an actual standoff on top of a rotating mill wheel - as it travels through a jungle thicket. Really.), the situations, and the fatal consequences for all involved. Verbinski shows his true skills here, producing action that rivals the work of his obvious heroes (Spielberg and Lucas). Yet he also handles the smaller moments with grace and gravitas.
The masterstrokes of using Davy Jones, his ocean life encrusted crew, the haunted Flying Dutchman, and the mysterious allure of the sea may have mimicked the original’s villainous monster’s format, but the director tried to turn the combination of acting and artful effects into something almost tragic. Thanks to Bill Nighy’s marvelous performance as Jones, as well as the numerous storyline sidesteps the film provided (the ship-killing Kraken was also amazing in 35mm), made the movie one of 2006’s finest. It also mandated a finalizing piece, a movie that would make everything that came before seem small and insignificant. At World’s End became that necessary knock out blow.
Unlike the other Pirates films, At World’s End feels the most segmented. It has to deal with so many issues, so many characters, and so many arc endings, that it can’t help but appear partitioned. But when the pieces add up to something this satisfying, the knotty narrative devices speak for themselves. Sure, Keira Knightley is a tad shrewish, and Chow-Yun Fat is fine for what is mostly a cameo clip, but who cares. The epic battle in the middle of revived goddess Calypso’s maelstrom stands as one of the most amazing works of visual wizardry ever captured on film. Even better, Verbinski constantly keeps his creativity front and center. Why have a last stand showdown between Captain Sparrow and Jones on the deck of the ship when the same fight along the top rail of the Dutchman’s main mast would do nicely. Why simply repeat the same crustacean crew from Part 2? Why not add in a few new seafood scumbags into the mix?
There’s also a real emotional center this time around. Since we believe this will be the last time we ever see the Pirates crew, we lament the loss of favored personalities, and relish the destruction of the antagonists. When our heroes are in harms way, we fear for their safety, and we understand the doomed dynamic facing some of our most treasured icons. In fact, when the storm has cleared and the dead are left to travel to the underworld, At World’s End seems to stutter, if just by the smallest bit. Instead of ending on a note of defiance or depth, we get cute callbacks that tend to indicate a studio-mandated desire for future installments. If the high standards of the first three films are maintained, it’s hard to envision Disney stopping here.
Still, some will complain at length about these otherwise excellent films - and it could be a literal matter of viewpoint. No matter the set up, no matter the expensive technical traits, these films really weren’t meant for DVD. Their scale is so seismic, so completely off the cinematic charts that to try and rein them in via a home theater package is nothing short of a fool’s paradise. Trying to appreciate the slow motion descent of Lord Beckett in the middle of his ship’s destruction, or the amazing moment when we follow the Flying Dutchman down into the murky depths from a distinct POV on such a limited scale could affect anyone’s judgment. Then again, some people just hate these masterful movies for no discernible reasons but their own. It’s their opinion and their entitled to it. Time will probably alter their otherwise informed judgment.
Indeed, one can easily see the Pirates of the Caribbean films become the seafaring Star Wars for an entire generation. Like Lucas’ beloved space opera, these outsized extravaganzas with their mixture of comedy, mythos and stunt spectacle could function as the inspiration for a thousand messagaboard debates, and an entire online legacy. Thanks to the Internet, one could envision this happening sooner than later. Indeed, for some, it’s already begun. The Depp contingent have become obsessive, seeking out any and all information they can about their fated star, and minor characters like Marty and the ditzy duo of Ragetti and Pintel have their own honored corp. It’s clear that these movies have made an impact that transcends their viability as populist motion pictures. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise stands as stellar cinema. It should be celebrated as such.