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Short Takes
SEABISCUIT By Laura Hillenbrand Never was there so unlikely a horse-racing champion as Seabiscuit. He was undersize, injury prone, had a flayed foreleg and a broken-boned, one-eyed jockey. Yet, thanks to a gifted trainer, Seabiscuit topped his career by beating War Admiral in a sensational meeting in 1938. Hillenbrand's prose is often breathless and overwrought, but readers should ride this one to the wire.

THE TAILOR OF PANAMA Directed by John Boorman Pierce Brosnan's Andy Osnard is the anti-Bond--a cold cynic in need of a revolution to revive his career as a secret agent. Geoffrey Rush is the anti-hero, creating an imaginary insurgency out of the rumors he picks up while fitting bespoke clothing in his elite, near bankrupt shop. There's a nice irony in the way their needs feed each other, but the movie works it too hard, and when the revolution turns real, the film finally collapses under the burden of implausibility.

THE WIDOW OF SAINT-PIERRE Directed by Patrice Leconte The French word veuve (widow) also means guillotine. In 1850 a killer (Emir Kusturica) is condemned to death by guillotine, on an island where there is no such device; the local captain (Daniel Auteuil) must send away for one. Meanwhile, the killer ingratiates himself with the townsfolk, especially the captain's wife (Juliette Binoche). Issues of life and death, love and friendship play out delicately and powerfully. Binoche is especially subtle and radiant in another splendid drama from Leconte.

WHAT ABOUT JOAN ABC, TUESDAYS, 9:30 P.M. E.T.; MY WIFE AND KIDS ABC, WEDNESDAYS, 8 P.M. E.T. Bette may be gone, but the star-vehicle sitcom train of 2000-01 sputters on. The always adorable Joan Cusack is betrayed by the relationship comedy Joan, which cranks up her neurotic cuteness to clinically diagnosable levels and plays a little like a live-action version of Cathy. Damon Wayans fares better as a besieged patriarch in Wife, but it too visibly strains to be a 21st century Cosby Show, less because of the bourgie African-American milieu than because of the tiredly wisecracking Huxtabilitude it shoehorns the acerbic Wayans into.

A CLASS ACT Music and lyrics by Edward Kleban This Broadway tribute to the lyricist of A Chorus Line, who never had another hit and died of cancer in 1988, might seem a precious bit of Broadway navel gazing. Yet it is surprisingly fresh and engaging. Kleban's little-heard songs are witty and original--Sondheim without the thesaurus. And the creators (chiefly director and star Lonny Price) temper their affection with candor and insight into an artist more familiar with frustration than fame.

April 2, 2001 Vol. 157 No. 13

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