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Short Takes
HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN By Charles R. Cross When Nirvana's Kurt Cobain died of a self-inflicted shotgun blast in 1994 at age 27, it marked the end of a short life plagued by family troubles, heroin addiction and struggles with fame. His story certainly wasn't heavenly, but it was heavy, and Cross--a grunge sponge who conducted 400 interviews for this serious, substantial biography--lays it all out vividly. Extraordinary access to Cobain's unpublished journals helps the narrative move like the best Nirvana anthems: a slow build, some off-kilter rhythms, softly seductive passages followed by loud screams and a devastating finish. Smells like the real deal.

O Directed by Tim Blake Nelson O, as in Othello. The Moor of Venice is now Odin James (Mekhi Phifer), the only black kid in an elite Southern prep school and, gee whiz, a basketball star--a player of great flair, a dark temper and, apparently, no will of his own. Iago is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), the coach's son with a bit of a grudge. Desdemona is Desi (Julia Stiles); Emilia is Emily (Rain Phoenix). As the updated plot is predictably spun out by scripter Brad Kaaya, your response may be a glum "Uh-O." Best to watch the many ovals that Nelson has cleverly worked into the visual design, and to savor Hartnett's handsomely conflicted turn as a youngster of promise that rancor sours into threat. On your already groaning Shakespeare for Teens video shelf, stack this one above 10 Things I Hate About You (a.k.a. The Taming of the Shrew) and quite a bit below Romeo + Juliet. TOGETHER Directed by Lukas Moodysson A battered mom and her wary, angry kids take refuge in a Stockholm commune, mismanaged by her sweetly passive brother. The time is the early '70s, and some of the hippies are, perhaps, secretly yearning for red meat, TV and conventional structures. Still, they have some useful things to teach their visitors about free-form domesticity. And some equally useful things to learn about traditional virtue. We, meanwhile, are free to adore a sad, funny, always good-natured film that eccentrically, tolerantly explores that moment when revolutionary ardor commingled with bourgeois stolidity to form our present weirdly ambiguous culture.

AFRICA PBS Begins Sept. 9 (Check Local Listings) Refreshingly, this eight-part survey portrays Africans from the mountains of Ethiopia to the mines of Lesotho as ordinary folks, not victims. It's visually rich without exoticism, curious without condescension.

TENACIOUS D Tenacious D The big finish of last year's comedy High Fidelity arrives when the snarling, hyperactive record-store clerk played by comic actor Jack Black delivers a soulful rendition of the Marvin Gaye song Let's Get it On. He can sing!, the viewer gasps. The pleasures of Tenacious D (Epic), the self-titled debut from a rock duo composed of Black and fellow actor/singer/guitarist Kyle Gass, flow from a similar revelation: Black and Gass set themselves up as buffoons with titles like Karate Schnitzel, then proceed to defy expectations with precise guitars, polished vocal harmonies and slamming backup musicians. Their tunes, informed by '80s hard rock, will get frat-boy fists pumping, and their boundless capacity for self-mockery makes most professional rockers look like solemn poseurs.

LOST; THE AMAZING RACE NBC, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. E.T.; CBS, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. E.T. Time was, the ugly Americans on reality shows only bothered one another and the occasional wild pig. Now they've become a problem for the rest of the world. On Lost, below, three pairs of players are abandoned in a remote, unidentified spot somewhere on Earth and must find their way to the Statue of Liberty; Amazing's 11 duos, above, chase around the globe by plane, car and bungee cord completing challenges. Amazing has slick, Survivor-like production values, Lost a rawer, made-for-cable feel. But both, by forcing contestants to interact with the natives, prove that loosing Americans to inflict their geographic and cultural ignorance on the world is a guaranteed hoot (as when a Lost contestant insists that Cyrillic script "looks like Israeli"). Never mind "The tribe has spoken"; this season's big reality-TV catchphrase will be, "Do you speak English?!"

September 10, 2001 Vol. 158 No. 10

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