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Short Takes
THROWING THE ELEPHANT: ZEN AND THE ART OF MANAGING UP By Stanley Bing Author of What Would Machiavelli Do? and a columnist for FORTUNE magazine, Bing has written a wry 21st century courtier's manual that irreverently harnesses the wisdom of the ancient Zen masters. The elephants in this clever business handbook are the outsize CEOs and captains of industry who take up all the air and space in every room they enter. Bing offers advice on the care and feeding of such corporate pachyderms, but, more important, he tells you how not to get trampled. Drain yourself of all hope, he says. Don't expect anything--especially kindness. And never, ever, criticize. The elephant, you see, is really an overgrown toddler who still thinks the world revolves around it. Elephants know a great deal about a great many things, says Bing, but nothing about human feelings. Especially yours, the faithful retainer. So listen to the wisdom and the many jokes of Buddha Bing (ba-da-boom!), and always, always, "be two drinks behind the elephant."

CIRCUS The Greatest Show On Earth: There are animals, of course, walking improbably on their hind legs, but it's humans who elicit the held breath at the 132nd Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. In a computer-generated age, there's an odd thrill in seeing a real person do the undoable, like leap through a ring of flaming knives blindfolded. And the cheeky audience-participation antics of David Larible, above, make clowns seem almost hip. Almost. M O V I E S
DEATH TO SMOOCHY Directed by Danny DeVito Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), the beloved kid-show host, is ruined and then fired when he's caught taking bribes. His re-placement is the title character, a fuchsia-coated rhino under whose skin lurks the politically correct, morally perfect but terminally nerdy Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton). Naturally, the axed ex-host wants to off his sweet-souled successor. There's probably a tight, funny comedy lurking in that premise. But DeVito has turned the film into an expressionistic epic in murderously bad taste, all frenzy and feckless subplots, mostly involving ghastly gangland figures. A lot of good actors (among them the divine Catherine Keener) are wasted--in both senses of the word--in this spectacularly miscalculated movie.

SON OF THE BRIDE Directed by Juan Jose Campanella Rafael (Ricardo Darin) runs a prosperous, but crisis-ridden restaurant, his ex-wife is a shrew, his daughter and his girlfriend are variously estranged, and now his aged father wants to remarry his mother in the church wedding he refused her 44 years ago. Trouble is, Mom (the great Norma Aleandro) has Alzheimer's, and the church is dubious about the ceremony. Heart attack and midlife crisis are, naturally, Rafael's lot. Ours is pure pleasure as he works his way toward a more contented state in this wry, richly layered, wonderfully observed Argentine film.

ARE YOU PASSIONATE? Neil Young When David Bowie went through his R.-and-B. phase, they called it plastic soul. Now Neil Young is playing with the guys from Booker T. and the MGs, singing melodies ripped from the Otis Redding playbook, adding his own ragged guitar solos and flower-child lyrics: call it all-natural gra-soul-a. It's nearly always a little too sweet, with Young's voice reaching high to deliver heartfelt avowals of love tinged with sadness at the state of the world. A tightly professional backup of organ, mid-tempo drums and precise rhythm guitar keeps him from getting too wild and loose. But most songs go on for too long, and the rare tracks where he lets a little anger creep in, like Let's Roll, his homage to the Sept. 11 passengers of Flight 93, come as a welcome change. Too much sugar damages any dish, whether it's rock or soul.

WHEN I WAS CRUEL Elvis Costello Costello loves to play the mad inventor, mixing exotic rhythms, jazzy melodies and baffling metaphors into songs that dazzle for their strangeness rather than any feeling they convey. But Costello is at his best when he kicks back and reverts to the witty post-punker he was in 1978, a bespectacled dork with a chip on his shoulder and an uncanny knack for turning out catchy tunes. This album is so much fun, and Costello's best in a long time, because of how often he returns to that clever post-punker mode. Instead of seeming dated, these moments feel right in tune with the current resurgence of guitar rock, and songs such as Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution) and 45 are as good as the better songs by any of Britain's current up-and-comers. He may be getting as fleshy as the original Elvis, but at this rate he'll never be as irrelevant.

April 8, 2002 Vol. 159 No. 14

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