- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

We’re swinging into June with summer blockbusters hitting the multiplexes near-ly every day. Already the big green guy, “Shrek the Third,” has broken all-time box office records for animated films. And, with the third outing of Jack Sparrow and his merry pirate band due to land in the movie houses across the country this weekend, the record for all-time-biggest box office for feature films may well be shattered resoundingly.

Fittingly enough, Rolling Stone has given its May 31 issue cover over to a chummy cheek-to-cheek portrait of Johnny Depp and Keith Richards. A cover line heralds their presence with “Blood Brothers” under their names in big red letters. As surely everyone knows by now, Mr. Depp channeled his insouciant eyeliner-laden 18th-century pirate rogue in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” from the famed Rolling Stone band member addicted to eyeliner, lo these many years.

In “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” it seemed only fitting for Mr. Depp to reward Mr. Richards for such happy inspiration by casting him as none other than his rascally old dad, Capt. Teague. As for the original use of the Richards’ look for his Capt. Sparrow character, the Stone in question describes it as “elegantly wasted.” The feature makes for a charming, entertaining joint interview, but, oh dear, there’s hardly a single quote that can appear in a family-oriented newspaper, no matter how engaging.

• • •

Linking in its own odd way with the recent Cannes Film Festival screening of Michael Moore’s latest documentary “Sicko” (featuring the Cuban health system and incurring problems with the U.S. government), June’s Cigar Aficionado has gone all out on Cuba, devoting virtually the entire issue to Fidel Castro’s little bastion 90 miles off our shores. It’s a very handsomely done-up issue, indeed.

Cover stories are listed under a bright yellow “Cuba” in big letters placed in front of tall green palm trees: “Cuba After Fidel”; “The Embargo: Pro and Con”; “Ricardo Alarcon Speaks Out”; “The Greatest Cuban Cigars”; “Best of Cuba: Hotels & Restaurants”; “Travel Ban Update.”

Marvin Shanken, the editor and publisher, and Gordon Mott, the executive editor (both photographed with cigars), report how they have been alerted by readers who have received letters from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) requesting information about purchases from cigar shops in foreign countries. (Cuban cigars are sold freely abroad, and American tourists have been known to stock up on the forbidden goodies abroad, bringing them into the U.S. without declaring them at customs.)

Penalties are stiff: up to 10 years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines or $250,000 in individual fines. Mr. Shanken and Mr. Mott point out that thanks to congressional legislation passed in 2004, the U.S. sells a number of agricultural products to Cuba that total millions of dollars in trade each year.

The editors state, “If you buy a Cuban cigar, you end up in jail. Something is wrong with our government’s priorities here. It is punishing individuals for making small purchases of cigars, but allowing U.S. companies to export goods to Cuba.”

• • •

The American Spectator’s May issue appears to be placing bets on Fred Thompson’s presidential potential. Wall Street Journal writer John Fund interviews the fellow we know best, thus far, as conservative prosecutor Arthur Branch in the long-running television series “Law & Order.”

Mr. Thompson comes across as articulate with a pleasant touch of wit. “There is nothing wrong with being underestimated,” he says. “I am serious about what I believe in, committed to communicating that with people, and I’ve proven I can communicate, I can convince them. Remember, I won every one of my races by more than 20 points in a state Clinton carried twice.” (He was also a Republican senator from Tennessee.)

Mr. Thompson ends the interview quite nicely by recollecting something Adlai Stevenson once said: “The trick is to do what’s necessary to become president and still deserve to be president.”

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If you want to see a man who is truly happy, nay, overjoyed to have become president of his country, check out the May 9-15 issue of Paris Match, to be found in any Borders or Barnes & Noble. Talk of unbridled joy. Wow. Nicolas Sarkozy has also got two strikingly handsome blond sons — I must say that both they and their father have really great teeth.

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Whatever your position on global warming might be, you might like checking out the June issue of National Geographic featuring a magnificent photo spread by Paul Nicklen, who has lived in the Canadian Arctic all his life, spending most of his career photographing the edge where ice meets open sea.

Mr. Nicklen notes that in the past 10 years, he has watched the North Pole slowly melting and is fearful of the possible future. “If global temperatures continue rising, the ice will likely disappear. An Arctic without ice would be like a garden without soil.” His shots of seals and polar bears under the North Pole are achingly beautiful.

• • •

Shed a tear. American Heritage, that splendid bimonthly published for more than 50 years by Forbes Inc., has just announced it is suspending publication. Longtime editor Richard Snow sadly says the next issue, slated for June-July, has been put on indefinite hold as no buyers have been found. It will, however, continue to maintain a Web site. Circulation was at 350,000. It does make a sad commentary on the state of print publications.

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