Culture Catch-up: Et tu, HBO?
The loop is here, and we're bringing you in.
TV: Talk about a desperate housewife. In the debut episode of HBO's Rome (August 28, 9 p.m. EDT), Julius Caesar's niece Atia orders her young son into a war zone, forces her daughter to divorce the husband she loves, and beds anyone who can advance her power. The $100 million series is an attempt by the cable network to snag back the Sunday crown. It's got meaty subject matter in the form of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar and a backdrop of the gambling, slaughtering, and whoring. A warning for history buffs wanting to share this educational experience with children: There's a whole lot of violence (the icky kind) and nudity (the full-frontal kind).
Music: Don't panic! You're not Trapped in the Closet, although R. Kelly is there. You're just watching the MTV Video Music Awards (August 28, 8 p.m. EDT) in Miami, hosted by the recently redubbed Diddy. A press release promised "the most massive and elaborate water effects ever produced in an awards show"ironic, given that a friggin' hurricane just forced them to cancel their pre-award festivities. Check to see whether Green Day, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, and U2 get soaked. Or, if you're more into listening than watching, this is a good week for you. Eric Clapton turns out a new feel-good album, Back Home ($19). One song features hottie singer/songwriter/guitarist John Mayer, who also turns up on Herbie Hancock's Possibilities ($19), along with the all-star cast of Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Joss Stone, Sting, Christina Aguilera, and more.
Movies: The Constant Gardener is the rare thriller that strays from the typical teenage-boy-targeted fare at the summer cineplex. Based on the novel by John le Carre, the film follows a strait-laced Englishman (Ralph Fiennes) whose wife (Rachel Weisz) is murdered while they're stationed in Kenya. At first it seems to be a run-of-the-mill affair , but as he digs into the matter, he discovers the British government and a Canadian pharmaceutical company are up to no good. The scenes of Kenyan life are particularly entrancing, thanks to Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, best known for City of God. Who knew the gingerbread man could be that creepy? Apparently, Terry Gilliam, who directed The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as siblings who dupe German bumpkins into paying them to rid their villages of witches and trolls. Their job becomes a heck of a lot harder when they're forced to face a real enchanted forest where girls have gone missing. Reviewers have been a bit wicked to the movie, but it's funny enough to make you laugh and scary enough to make you scream. And even if that isn't the key to happily ever after, it's enough for two hours.
Books: Not since Cheers has the local pub gotten a love letter like The Tender Bar ($24), by L.A. Times reporter/Pulitzer winner J.R. Moehringer. His memoir tracks his early years and his first male role modelsthe regulars at a Long Island bar. Buzzed about as the next Gone With the Wind, the historical novel The Widow of the South ($25) by Robert Hicks focuses on a real heroine, Carrie McGavock. When her town of Franklin, Tenn., was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, she insisted on burying the dead Confederate soldiers and tending to the cemetery. When an author's books are published in 60 languagesas Brazilian Paulo Coelho's arethey're probably worth cracking open. The latest from the author of The Alchemist (now being turned into a movie by Laurence Fishburne) is The Zahir ($25), about a wealthy novelist whose war correspondent wife goes missing. In his attempt to find her in Kazakhstan, he does some soul-searching as well.
DVDs: Teen movies are like, so influential. Case in point: Clueless Whatever Edition ($20). To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Alicia Silverstone's transition from Aerosmith girl to fleetingly famous film starlet, the DVD comes brimming with featurettes proving the immense impact the movie has had on American culture, from fashion to slang. Most amazing revelation: Silverstone actually thought that the word "Haitians" was pronounced "Hate-ee-ans." Director Amy Heckerling adored this and forbade the crew from correcting her.