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Short Takes
MIDDLESEX By Jeffrey Eugenides The Virgin Suicides was a triumph of strange suburban melancholy. It marked Eugenides as a novelist of voluptuous gifts. Middlesex is a sign he's not sure what to do with them. The narrator, Cal, is a hermaphrodite raised by unsuspecting parents as a girl, until puberty forces him (her?) to opt for manhood. But before Cal can tell his own intricate story, we get hundreds of pages about his parents and grandparents (who are brother and sister; it's a complicated clan), the burning of Smyrna, the Detroit riots of 1967 and the Greek-American embrace of the beckoning American scene. Some of this footloose book is charming. Most of it is middling.

SECRETARY Directed by Steven Shainberg A couple of typing errors, and the next thing she (Maggie Gyllenhaal) knows, she's bent across the boss's desk, awaiting punishment. He (James Spader) is a sadist who sometimes lacks the courage of his convictions. But that's all right with his employee. She has enough affection for pain and humiliation for both of them. It may not be quite so all right with viewers, though. Writer-director Shainberg seems to be aiming for a dark comedy, but mostly his movie is coy without being funny, ugly without being truly transgressive, stupid when it needs to be smart.

THE BANGER SISTERS Directed by Bob Dolman Back in the 1960s, Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Vinnie (Susan Sarandon) were rock-'n'-roll groupies. You know — lots of sex, dope and bad hairstyles. An increasingly disheveled Suzette still hangs on to the old lifestyle, while her pal — they aren't really sisters — has gone rich, suburban, uptight. Suzette visits Vinnie, looking for a loan, and manages to loosen up both her and her family. Writer-director Dolman's comedy isn't exactly a barrel of emotional surprises, but its great cast underachieves admirably. There are worse ways to pass 94 minutes.

DEMOLITION Ryan Adams At 27, Adams is America's most frustrating songwriter. He's a major talent, as he shows here with a trio of songs about heartache — Starting to Hurt, Hallelujah and Nuclear — that groove and grieve with natural ease. Adams is also known for affecting a world-weariness beyond his years, and Demolition has plenty of posing. Cry on Demand and She Wants to Play Hearts feel empty next to the good stuff, like a clever boy's writing exercises rather than actual feelings. Take the bad with the good and pray Adams gets over himself.

VOYAGE TO INDIA India.Arie Consider Arie's first overwrought words--"The only thing constant in the world is change"--fair warning. It's a New Age cliche attack! Arie, who scored seven Grammy nominations for her debut, Acoustic Soul, continues her quest to be mama to the hip-hop generation, and she doesn't care if her lyrical chicken soup is too trite for Hallmark. On Talk to Her, she reminds men that every woman is "somebody's sister." Slow Down warns against moving too fast with "your hands in the air and your feet on the gas." The music, guitar folk with a dash of hip-hop rhythm, is equally predictable. She makes Jewel seem outrageous.

FIREFLY Fox, Fridays, 8 p.m. E.T. For a "sci-fi western" set 500 years in the future, whose pilot cost more than $8 million, Firefly is most noteworthy for what it doesn't have. There are no aliens, no teleporters and no lasers. And sadly — given creator Joss Whedon's track record with Buffy the Vampire Slayer — no laughs or thrills. There seems to be an interesting back story: the crew of a salvage spaceship scratches out a living just after a bitter galactic civil war. (An alliance of Americans and Chinese won — and they're the bad guys.) But to locate it under the sleepy heist plots is beyond your TV's primitive technology.

PUSH NEVADA ABC, Thursdays, 9 p.m. E.T. (preview, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 9 p.m. E.T.) Solve this noirish embezzlement mystery, and you may win a million bucks. That's a reason to tune in (make it $2 million, and I'll watch E.R.!). But the reason to stick with it is to see if this ambitious but self-conscious series becomes more than the sum of its affectations — flat line readings, characters with names like Mr. Smooth, precious tilted-camera shots to remind you how weird it all is. The producers (including writer-producer Ben Affleck) seem to want to use the contest as bait to draw viewers to a genuinely different kind of series. If they have a vision — not just a marketing gimmick built out of spare Twin Peaks parts — Push could even be worth watching for nothing.

September 23, 2002 Vol. 160 No. 13

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