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Fashion and Beauty

Roman holiday

- Scott R. Garceau -

Missed among all the hoopla sur-rounding HBO’s finale to The Sopranos last TV season was the second installment of Rome. This lavish HBO series focuses on the reign — and fall — of Julius Caesar and its consequences for the sprawling Roman Empire.

Season One of Rome ended fittingly with the murder of Caesar, the participation of trusted Brutus, the sly speech-making of Marc Antony; in short, all the stuff we’ve seen before in versions of Shakespeare’s plays. But it’s got a whole lot more going for it. Shot in Italy, the almost all-British cast brings nuance and thespian credibility to the empirical intrigues.

In Season 2, James Purefoy brings back his sly, wily machinations as Marc Antony, while Aussie actress Polly Walker simmers as his wife, Atia. The rest of the crew are less known outside England, but they’re all impeccable. Add to that hotshot Hollywood writers like John Milius  (Apocalypse Now, Clear and Present Danger) and you’ve got yourself TV with epic ambitions.

But more than that, you would not be wrong in detecting a certain Sopranos connection behind this HBO series. After all, directors like Vincent Van Patten and Allen Coulter — who helmed episodes of the popular New Jersey gangster saga — also lend their talents here. Power struggles are the norm in Ancient Rome, just as they are for the Soprano boss and his soldiers. Scenes of stolid Romans going nose to nose as slinky unclad broads sway in the background can easily remind you of an average night at Bada Bing! (the Jersey strip club where Tony Soprano held court). There are plenty of Anglo-Saxon four-letter words (anachronisms?), scanty togas, sex and violence, intrigue and upheaval, eccentricity and surrealism — all the elements and more to make Rome a worthy successor to the Gandolfini crime family. And hey, they’re all Italian anyway, so fahgeddaboutit!

The second season of Rome takes viewers into the aftermath of Caesar’s brutal murder. A power-sharing agreement brokered by Marc Antony falls flat, and Brutus and his senatorial cohorts are grasping for power. But that’s just the beginning: through 10 episodes, you’ll see all over again how HBO has reinvented television by raising the bar 10 times higher.

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Another guy who had an eye for Ancient Rome was Stanley Kubrick. Arguably, movies like Gladiator wouldn’t exist (and, without that film’s box office success, Rome probably wouldn’t exist either) if it weren’t for ‘60s sword-and-sandal epics like Spartacus, one of Kubrick’s early and less representative works. Fortunately, Kubrick found his true voice with films like Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. For all those Kubrick freaks who bought boxed sets of the director’s filmography a few years back, prepare to pluck out thine eyes: new, remastered versions are now available of the major titles, packed with extras: voiceover commentaries by the stars, and scads of behind-the-scenes documentaries.

Starting with 2001: A Space Odyssey, the new releases add to the Kubrick ethos. A commentary by actors Kier Dullea and Gary Lockwood (the only two human characters in 2001, though only barely; HAL 9000, apparently, was not available for DVD commentary) and a digitally remastered version round out Disc One of this reissue, while Disc 2 features four TV documentaries on this groundbreaking sci-fi classic, conceptual artwork and special effects visuals for the film. There’s even some old Kubrick interviews from 1966 tacked on. Again, those who bought earlier versions of 2001 on DVD might be experiencing flashes of “D-oh!”

Kubrick’s work after 1980’s The Shining (which has been brilliantly recut into an ironic, feel-good movie trailer simply called  “Shining” by somebody on YouTube — check it out) seemed to grow colder, less cutting-edge, less coherent. But there’s still plenty of prime Kubrickian madness to be found in 1987’s Full Metal Jacket: the reissued DVD features separate commentary from Vincent D’Onofrio (a career-making role as Private Gomer Pyle), Adam Baldwin, R. Lee Emery and screenwriter Jay Cocks, plus original movie trailer and a special docu (Full Metal Jacket: Between Good and Evil). It may lack the full impact of earlier masterpieces, but where else will you find classic lines such as “Me so horny, me love you long time”?

Rounding out the first Kubrick batch is his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, which, even after several viewings, still fails to wedge itself into my consciousness in any significant way. The second disc on this one features plenty of docus on the long-delayed Kubrick project, photo galleries from the set, trailers, TV spots, and Kubrick’s D.W. Griffith Directors Guild of America Award acceptance speech. Sadly, Kubrick only got an Oscar after dropping dead, a common occurrence in Hollywood. And sadly, the first disc still features the movie itself, which, despite Nicole Kidman’s efforts, is still kind of barmy. Kubrick deserved better than to go out on such a half-assed note, but, with such lovingly-packaged DVD re-releases, the shining moments of this director are still getting their due.

These and other fine box-set DVD titles are available through Warner Home Video, for those who like to have all their “extras” in legitimate, handsomely-packaged boxes that they’re not ashamed to display on their TV viewing shelves.

A SPACE ODYSSEY ANCIENT ROME FULL METAL JACKET KUBRICK MARC ANTONY PLACE
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