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Short Takes
A LONG STRANGE TRIP: THE INSIDE HISTORY OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD By Dennis McNally It bears the least surprising title in memory, but this authorized biography by the group's longtime publicist isn't all cheerful cliche. It's rife with little-known facts: McNally reports that roughly half the band experimented with Scientology. Yet McNally's greatest asset is not his inside gossip but his encyclopedic knowledge of the '60s counterculture. The book loses some charm halfway through, when constant touring takes over, making this 684-page tome much like a Dead show. Only fans will sit through the whole thing, but moments of drama and virtuosity abound.

FROM OUR STAFF Shortly after the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, reporter Mitch Frank grabbed his camera and left his Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., apartment, running west. Within 10 minutes he was interviewing eyewitnesses on the scene. In Understanding September 11th: Answering Questions About the Attacks on America, Frank writes for readers in their teens about the events of that day and the history leading up to it. M O V I E S
MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT Directed by Claude Chabrol Dad is addicted to sleeping pills. His son is a pothead. The stepmother Mika (Isabelle Huppert) wanders about with a benign half-smile on her face, lacing the family's bedtime hot chocolate with a potent — and in her hands potentially lethal — soporific. The Swiss chateau is an unlikely stoner's paradise — and maybe, in Chabrol's mind, a metaphor for the way the bourgeois sleepwalk around their problems. Merci pour le Chocolat occasionally succumbs to Mika's legato rhythms, but it is more often a sly, subtle comedy about the oh-so-gentle art of murder.

MOSTLY MARTHA Directed by Sandra Nettelbeck "I'm not compulsive. I'm precise," says Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck), chef of a ritzy Hamburg restaurant. Precise, sure, but her loveless life still needs a bit of leavening. That comes in two packages: her balky 8-year-old niece (Maxime Foerste) and a lavishly charming Italian sous-chef (Sergio Castellitto). The setup and payoff of this German export couldn't be more conventional, but Nettelbeck is a sharp observer of life's surprises, and Gedeck has an appraising, intelligent beauty. Her Martha is like the film: tart on the outside, sweet on the inside, with a delectable aftertaste.

SECRET BALLOT Directed by Babak Payami It's election day in Iran, and a female official has landed on the remote island of Kish to be chauffeured by a gruff soldier and collect the locals' votes. It's a comic chore for all concerned. One old fellow wonders why his favorite candidate, God, isn't listed. There are no hanging-chad jokes, but the film's spare wit is as applicable to Broward County as to the Persian Gulf. Secret Ballot offers further evidence that an Islamic regime can foster humanist satires with a critical, political edge.

September 2, 2002 Vol. 160 No. 10

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