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Short Takes
VENUS ENVY By L. Jon Wertheim Wertheim, a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer, does more than deliver incredible access to the women's tennis circuit. By taking us through the entire 2000 season--when Venus finally dominated the sport--he lets you know what it feels like to be on the tour. Not just the fans, money and amazing backbiting between players, but, without ever saying it, the grueling monotony and loneliness of being an itinerant athlete. But he also fits in the drama of a play-by-play and the tension of the locker room. And he includes priceless bits of Anna-tude, like when Kournikova, at a Wimbledon press conference sponsored by Berlei bras, which endorses her, responded to a question about her engagement with "My private life is private. I'm here to talk about my bras."

OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS Directed by Barbet Schroeder World-weary Fernando (German Jaramillo) has come home to Medellin "to die." This does not stop him from taking up with an angel-faced teenage killer named Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros). The kid was trained by the drug cartel but will off anyone who offends him or his lover. As deaths pile up, they have a comic effect; love apparently means never leaving the safety on. Full of sacrilegious rant, absurdist affectlessness and pop social criticism, this film plays like an old B movie: narratively improvisational, delusionally pretentious, weirdly watchable.

ROCK STAR Directed by Stephen Herek The 42nd Street formula never dies. Now the starstruck kid is Chris (Mark Wahlberg), who sings with a rock "tribute" band and suffers for his art--he has to wear a nipple ring. When the singer for the real band is fired, our boy takes over and is told, "Your job is to live the story other people only dream about." Yes, we all dream of getting wasted every night and waking up with a strange person next to us. Well, rock fables have to be overstated; how else would you hear the moral over the music? Still, this is a good-natured retro romp that is truer to Golden Age movies than to golden oldies songs.

NOW; 1ST BORN SECOND Maxwell; Bilal Most love-balladeers aim for the heart; neo-soul crooners Maxwell and Bilal want you for your mind. Maxwell's laid-back CD Now lacks the fire and immediacy its title seems to promise, but the immaculate production and Maxwell's thoughtful, nuanced vocals raise the album above standard R.-and-B. fare. Bilal's smart debut, 1st Born Second, has an admirably adventurous spirit, blending hip-hop, scat, reggae and rock. On a few tracks, Bilal's eclectic musical vision flies out of control, but on the best songs, such as Sometimes, he conjures up gritty grooves that keep his spacey melodies tethered securely to planet Earth.

JUNKYARD WARS TLC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. E.T. No alliances, just teams. No bikinis, just coveralls. No rats, just--well, if there are rats under those junk piles, at least we never see them. Over the last year, this engineering showdown (which airs new episodes starting Sept. 12) quietly became the class of the reality-TV field, turning groups of tinkerers loose on a scrap heap to build cannons, gliders, rockets and the like out of detritus, then pit their improvised creations against each other. With humor and an adorable host (Cathy Rogers, the thinking viewer's Julie Chen)--and without the robo-macho aggressiveness of Comedy Central's BattleBots--Junkyard shows that, sometimes, making smart, escapist TV is rocket science.

September 17, 2001 Vol. 158 No. 11

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