By Chris Parker
By Jesse Marx
By John Baichtal
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Jesse Marx
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Tatiana Craine
By Judy Keen
Likewise, the film feels mechanistic and predictable (several times it borders on a John Grisham movie), and the mood is not helped by Cusack's inability to create a passionate innocent, let alone a consistent accent. He seems better suited to play a cipher, or an everyday Joe; in Bullets Over Broadway, the very idea that he wasn't a burning artist made his character work. If City Hall seems muddled, maybe that's because four writers collaborated on its screenplay, including Nicholas Pileggi and Paul Schrader. In the end, this film is a lot like Clinton's presidency: some good performances and a thought-provoking thesis that loses something crucial in the execution. (Chris Parker)
Think of Augustin, French director Anne Fontaine's second feature film, as a Jerry Lewis movie directed by John Cassavetes. Fontaine's brother, Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, delivers a career-making performance in the title role of a part-time insurance clerk who's really an actor with a capital A. It's not that Augustin is a stuffy, overly serious thespian like Jon Lovitz used to play on Saturday Night Live, though. With his stutter, his shyness, and his complete inability to distinguish an important career move from a bill paying assignment in an industrial film, Augustin's a holy fool, not a pretentious boor. Given the opportunity to audition for a part opposite big French movie star Thierry L'Hermite (the Gallic Tom Hanks), Augustin gets the role--and turns it down when he remembers he's scheduled for a PSA on rabbit population control.
L'Hermite, though a slick pro, manages to operate on the level of a spontaneous, low-budget movie. Fontaine didn't allow the celebrity to see Sibertin-Blanc's lines before shooting their scene, so L'Hermite has to engage Augustin on a human level and never break character: picture Rock Hudson forced to play himself against Jerry Lewis in The Patsy (with no script and never having heard of Jerry before), and you'll get an idea of the L'Hermite/Sibertin-Blanc scene.
Augustin was a favorite at festivals like Cannes, Telluride, and Toronto, but it's not going to be released theatrically, so see it on tape. Its intimacy and charm translate perfectly to the small screen and, with a running time of 61 minutes, you should have time to watch it twice. You'll want to. (Kino Video, 333 W. 39th St., #503, New York, NY 10018; 800-562-3330) (A.S. Hamrah)
Wattle & Daub
You've heard Guided By Voices' low-fi retro-rock. You've heard Pavement's smarter-than-thou indie rock. You've heard Tortoise's postmodern art rock. But have you heard the psychedelic carnival marching band glam skiffle prog rock of Strapping Fieldhands? If not, Wattle & Daub, the Philadelphia five-piece's first CD (after four years of LPs, EPs, and 7-inches) is just the fix for your quirk-rock jones.
The group has all the prerequisites to make it your new favorite-band-that-your-friends-never-heard-of: Like GbV, the Fieldhands are Anglophiles, mostly over age 35, who prefer the tape hiss of home recording and make songs with strange titles ("Scuttled Kayak Odyssey," "Ben Franklin Airbath"), and even stranger reference points (Lonnie Donegan, Syd Barrett). Best of all, with a sound that approximates Pavement imitating Herman's Hermits doing a cover of Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," the Fieldhands manage to create seriously art-damaged music while still remaining loads of fun.
From the circus-tent Brit Invasion hoopla of the opening "The Author In Her Ear" to the tra-la-la chorus and collective handclapping of "The Oath," through the eastern exotica of "Lunar Diversions" on to the Roxy Music proto-punk of "Soundshapes," and up until the Captain Beefheart/Jethro Tull affectations of the closing "Abandoned By Demeter," Wattle & Daub is a tremendously creative, challenging, and yet thoroughly listenable collection. Whenever the group steers off course on its hazy excursions, they quickly compensate by shifting abruptly into driving staccato rock and melodic bliss. By carefully wattling shreds of rock past and heavily daubing on indie obscurity, the Fieldhands immerse themselves in a sonic universe all their own. (Roni Sarig)
One In A Million
Let's dispense with the soap opera first: R. Kelly, the Svelgali who wrote and produced all of Aaliyah's 1994 multi-platinum debut, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, and who was widely reported to have married the then-15-year-old singer, is nowhere to be found on One In A Million; he's also been stricken from all of Aaliyah's publicity and bio materials. The good news is that Million strives with a vengeance to compensate for Kelly's creative absence, and mostly succeeds.
Kelly's forté, particularly when working with Aaliyah, was in fashioning molasses ballads that retained a lean, funky, hip hop edge. Rather than trying to match his sublime integration of hip hop and pop within the production mix, the most irresistible tracks on Million bring in some of the more distinctive rappers in the business--Naughty By Nature's Treach; Slick Rick, doing a cartoon deadpan on a cover of Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up"--for duets with Aaliyah. Other highlights include Aaliyah's arrogant, flygirl vocal on the slinky, stalking funk of "If Your Girl Only Knew," an update (or a knockoff) of TLC's "Creep;" and a version of the Isleys' "Choosey Lover" that adorns its bumblebee guitar line with a dollop of Prince's purple funk.