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Destiny Turns on the Radio

HBO Savoy Home Video

I play this little game I call "Would you rather..." which goes something like this: Would you rather see Quentin Tarantino naked or have "MEAT" tattooed on your forehead? Choose one or you get them both. Unfortunately, since I didn't know Naked Quentin (shudder) was part of the bargain with Destiny Turns on the Radio, I never got that choice. At least I didn't have to see his butt.

Fortunately, the rest of the film is nowhere near as repulsive, due mostly to the spiffy work of the chiseled Dylan McDermott, frizzy-haired Nancy Travis, and my dream date, James Le Gros. However talented these folks are, though, there's little doubt this metaphysical-escaped-convict-love-story got the green light because of Tarantino's involvement.

Mr. T plays Johnny Destiny, a sort of '90s version of Clarence, the guardian angel in It's a Wonderful Life. Of course we're talking Tarantino here, so this angel's definitely darker and sports a polyester and leather (or "pleather," if you will) wardrobe. His role, though pivotal, is gratefully small (albeit, at times, naked); once he sets things in motion, the movie's safely back in the hands of real actors.

Fresh off a prison break, Julian (McDermott) heads for Las Vegas to track down true love Lucille (Nancy Travis) and his share of a bank heist pulled off with his pal Thoreau (Le Gros). From there things get kooky: There's a supernatural swimming pool, a possibly immaculate conception, and Travis crooning lounge tunes. James Belushi even pops in to up the oddity factor. A weird film, full of offbeat moments you'll either love or hate. As I'm trying to be a little more positive about things these days, I choose love. (Andrew Peterson)

MUSIC

Mongo Santamaria

Mongo Returns

Milestone

Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers

Rip A Dip

Milestone

These CDs share the Milestone record label, producer Todd Barkan, many of the same Latin jazz instrumentalists, and the fact that both Mongo and Pucho are Tito Puente percussion disciples attempting comebacks to rival their commercial successes in the '60s and '70s. The differences are mostly attitudinal: Pucho, who has spent his decades out of the limelight up in the Catskills, presumably igniting mambo lines among the tourists, takes a more playfully cheesy tack, be it novelty tunes like "Hot Barbecue," the growling sax of "Good News Blues," or the frantic, Latinized reworking of James Brown's "Sex Machine" (entitled "Sax Machine"). But amid the fun of Pucho's "boogaloo" music, there's also the crisp distinction of the horn lines on a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," and a classic nod to Puente on the percussion-driven "Mambo With Me." The rotund Pucho is clearly a contagiously joyful musician.

Mongo's return is more purposeful and substantive, which doesn't automatically make it more enjoyable. Rather than wallow in a groove, the tunes on his CD continually shift gears, deploying the percussionists as much for texture as for rhythm and varying the pace from the uptempo frolic of "Free World Mambo" to the quiet glow of Marty Sheller's harmonic tone poem "Song For Marilyn." The arrangements by Sheller, who also conducts Mongo's band, are what gives Mongo Returns its depth; even covers of pop tunes like Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad Girl" and Gaye's underrated "When Did You Stop Loving Me" feature surprising instrumental blends and melodic wrinkles. Last but certainly not least, there is Mongo himself, proving over and over that bongos are more than a beatnik goof or rhythmic filler, and that there's much more to his artistry than his now-nostalgic hit "Watermelon Man." (Britt Robson)

The Pastels

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Glasgow's Pastels were charter members of the international cute-pop underground, the sub-indie genre organized around K Records and featuring, most prominently, Beat Happening and The Vaselines. Like those bands, the Pastels attempt to create a magically innocent universe with their music through willful naiveté, wide-eyed perception, and a meshing of gender sensibilities.

The band is hard to critique by conventional standards--they do too many conventional things wrong. All three members sing, but none exhibits any desire to do it in tune. Lyrical sense also gets away from them at times: Early on, Stephen Pastel's voice rises to proclaim, "Everyone should have a friend to open up to/And to lose control." Huh? But that's beside the point. The real problem is that the Pastels don't conjure quite enough magic. Without Beat Happening's jumpy rhythms or the Vaselines' campy abrasiveness, the band's songs remain undefined and lacking urgency. They don't do what pop, underground or not, should do: get stuck in your head.

That said, the Pastels' universe is still worth a visit by any jaded grown-up. Upon hearing this record's chiming guitars and artless voices swoon in romance and even friendship, I threw down the novel I was reading. Its characters' adult frustrations and needlessly analytical worldview left me cold. Not magical or even catchy, the Pastels' music does do the one thing art is generally not supposed to do these days: make you feel good. (Stephen Tignor)

The Pharcyde

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