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Short Takes
BOOKS PASQUALE'S NOSE By Michael Rips The medieval Tuscan village of Sutri (pop. about 5,000) is inhabited, says Rips, by sundry eccentrics, among them a blind bootmaker, an old-timer known to possess supernatural powers in the laying of hands on ailing tractor engines and an illiterate postman. In this slight travel memoir, Rips, a displaced Nebraskan, limns the local characters, as well as the Etruscan culture that bred them. These drolleries are best digested over an espresso at a Sutri cafe; failing that, any Starbucks will do.

CINEMA A KNIGHT'S TALE Directed by Brian Helgeland Any movie that begins with Queen's We Will Rock You underscoring a 14th century jousting tournament can't be all bad. Unfortunately, writer-director Helgeland's story of a peasant lad (Heath Ledger, The Patriot's young hunk) who uses knightly skills to attempt a rise above his station is not all good either: it can't decide whether to go all out for anachronistic humor or stick to its historical onions. The result is half Python, half Ivanhoe--and not as much fun as either.

MUSIC LET'S GET LOST Terence Blanchard On this supremely satisfying CD, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, with the help of four jazz divas, pays tribute to the music of songwriting great Jimmy McHugh. Diana Krall whisks in like winter, offering a chilly, elegant take on the title song; newcomer Jane Monheit is spring, with a dewy rendition of Too Young to Go Steady; Dianne Reeves' summery I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me offers gentle warmth; and Cassandra Wilson's autumnal Sunny Side of the Street is laden with loss but colored with beautiful hues. Blanchard blows his way through these songs with charming, restrained invention and a pure, vivid tone.

TELEVISION CONSPIRACY, HBO, May 19, 9 p.m. E.T.; ANNE FRANK, ABC, May 20 and 21, 9 p.m. E.T. Two inadvertent bookends explore the Holocaust from its deceptively mundane beginning to a heretofore unstaged end. Conspiracy re-enacts the 90-minute meeting in which silky-voiced SS bureaucrat Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) gently bullies a roomful of Nazi functionaries into accepting the Final Solution as a fait accompli. A bloodless yet brutal testament to the violence of euphemism and groupthink--eerily indistinguishable from any middle managers' meeting--it is the banality of evil brought unignorably to life.

Night One of Anne Frank, based on Melissa Muller's 1998 biography, is a familiar depiction of the beloved diarist and her family's life in the secret annex. But on Night Two, following Frank (Hannah Taylor Gordon) into Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, it becomes a different film. These scenes, unflinching and almost without dialogue (the Nazis strip Anne of her clothes, her hair and her indomitable spirit), make a hard-to-take but overdue answer to the easy optimism of past Diary productions.

May 21, 2001 Vol. 157 No. 20

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