Internet, Book, Video, Music

Art Crimes, Susan Welch, Amiri Baraka, Edward Humes, Garry Wills, The Wife, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, Sweet Nothing, Boz Scaggs, dEUS

Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent

Fox Home Video

Fortuitously made before but released after the discovery of Ted Kaczynski--who'd read Conrad's book avidly--this tidy adaptation (that never hit local theaters) provides chilling insights into the heart of dark ideologies. Bob Hoskins leads, but does not precisely star in, a story about 1880s Londoners, many of them political refugees, who gravitate toward anarchy and terrorism.
Or at least toward the cash it may occasionally bring: Hoskins is Mr. Verloc, a corpulent and subdued pornography vendor who also takes pay from both the Czarist Russian embassy and the London police to meddle in spy stuff. He is encouraged to do more or lose a paycheck; he botches a bombing of the Greenwich Observatory, newly famed as the origin of the world's time zones. Patricia Arquette is his naive wife, Christian Bale her mentally unstable brother; Jim Broadbent is a walrus-mustached cop, and a very uncredited Robin Williams is a heartless bomb expert. Christopher Hampton (Carrington), with the help of Philip Glass's score, carries this uncompromising film through some fine vantage points, some efficient twists, and a perfectly timed last shot. Hitchcock made a version of this story (Sabotage) but wasn't nearly as steely about it. (Phil Anderson)

Sweet Nothing

Warner Bros. Video

While Sweet Nothing, a movie directed by Gary Winick based on the diaries of a crack addict, neither raises fresh anxieties about drug use nor paints the experience with much nuance, it manages to stick the viewer in the ticker more than once. The story could be the basis for an Officer McGruff PSA. Handsome, generous Angelo (Michael Imperioli) and his beautiful, sweet wife Monica (Mira Sorvino) are a young couple in love with two kids in tow. Angelo's best friend Ray, an affable truck driver in plaid and baseball cap, has a friend who can get them set up dealing a bit of crack. Angelo could use the extra cash; he wants to keep his family happy, and lord knows diapers are expensive.

And then, faster than you can say "crack attack," Angelo is smoking up his profits and his friend Ray is sporting a moustache, gold chains, and mirrored sun glasses. Next, we are subjected to the sight of a maudlin Angelo, post-ordeal, cross-legged and naked on the rehab floor, nasally reading pearls like this one from his diary: "I make no apologies for getting high." Good-natured Ray, the one who used to bounce Angelo's kids up and down on his knee, takes a shine to brutalizing, limb chopping, and murder, sometimes stopping long enough to wax poetic: "Ain't gonna let a little pussy get in the way of business." Of course not.

Needless to say, Sweet Nothing is a little cartoonish, especially when the electric guitars (à la Melrose Place) whine any time sex or drugs find their way on screen. Still, the heart of this heavily stylized (some might say cliché) story of a family's demise as a result of chemical dependency manages to resonate. One can't help but feel nauseous watching a freshly knocked-about Monica calm her frightened children as Angelo rips the television out of the wall during cartoon hour. Don't worry dears, Daddy just needs money to buy more crack. At the very least, if you haven't seen a good made-for-TV movie in a while, this ought to settle the craving. (Amanda Ferguson)

MUSIC

Boz Scaggs

Come On Home

Virgin

The most obvious homages are often the best, and so it is with this marvelous tribute to the R&B singers who shaped Scaggs's vocal style. Scaggs's biggest hit, the multiplatinum, blue-eyed soul classic Silk Degrees, from 1975, took the mid-'60s soul-blues hybrid minted by Syl Johnson and Bobby "Blue" Bland and spruced it up with disco glitz and white-boy panache. Come On Home cuts down to those roots without sacrificing elegance or vibrance.

It isn't grit so much as silt that Scaggs sprinkles into this connoisseur's collection of venerable blues and R&B tunes from his youth. For songs like the title track (which was popularized by Johnson) and the Bland hit "Ask Me 'Bout Nothin' (But the Blues)," Scaggs's voice has a dulcet hang time on the extended notes, rubbing up against the gentle groove with a finely textured passion. On the amber-lit ballad "Love Letters," he comes in low and suave, gently nuzzling the song along the nape of its neck. And he knows when to let the music hold sway, accommodating the rough-and-sweet Stax horn arrangement driving "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)," and riding the loping rhythm and laconic lament in Jimmy Reed's "Found Love."

The occasional misstep happens when Scaggs moves beyond the countrified and soulful mixes into more blatant blues like Sonny Boy Williamson's "Early In the Morning," or when his own tunes fail to meet the standard set by the superb covers, as with his "Goodnight Louise." On balance, however, this is durable, timeless, gorgeous music that feels as settled and familiar as the front porch on a summer evening. (Britt Robson)

dEUS

In A Bar, Under The Sea

Island

Eclecticism is one of the defining characteristics of this cultural era, but while anyone can slap together a collage, few can turn disparate elements into a unified whole. About 10 minutes into their second album, In A Bar, Under the Sea, the Antwerp, Belgium- based quintet dEUS settles on a groove so graceful they make scattered sounds seem both tasteful and effortless. Combining perfect pop and a handful of rock flavors (folk-rock, art-rock, you name it) with avant-jazz and classical touches, dEUS offers a consistently excellent stream of music as listener-friendly as it is challenging.

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