D: Michael Corrente: with Nicholas Turturro, Anthony DeSando, Libby Langdon, Michael Raynor, Jason Andrews, Robert Turano
Set in the Federal Hill District of Providence, R.I., this charming little black-and-white, penny-ante gangster movie is a modern day Mean Streets without the edge. A group of Italian-American college-age townies sell drugs and commit petty crimes just outside the shadow of the Mob. The father of Frank (Michael Raynor), one of the true-blue pals, is the Don of Federal Hill and is grooming his son to follow in his footsteps. Frank is hesitant to do his father's bidding, so of course he ends up having to rub out one of the crew for robbing the houses of several "made" men. Nicholas Turturro plays Ralphie the thief, who hits houses to supplement his income as a mason. Prideful and not altogether there, Ralphie's character seems modeled after DeNiro's Johnny boy, but the bullet meant for him in the end accidentally hits his best friend Nicky, the sweet and sentimental "Johnny wanna buy a kilo" coke dealer who is falling in love with a Brown student (Langdon) despite Ralphie's warnings ("She's somewhere from the Middle West and shits vanilla ice cream") and obvious abandonment issues. A quintessential buddy movie, Federal Hill is reminiscent of Breaking Away in its us-against-them mentality, but the inevitability of the characters' social and economic reality adds a more somber tone to this group's prodding banter. The film is not without its flaws. The mob presence is almost too minimal - it's hard to believe these guys have been doing what they've been doing for so long without crossing paths with big Frank sooner, and except for the love interest, Wendy, we never see anyone trying to score coke from the supposed drug dealer Nicky. It's also a bit strange that these boys have grown up together the closest of friends in the Italian section of town, they play poker every week, and the only one headed for a real Mafia career is Frank, Jr. Frank, Sr. doesn't even know his son's friends very well. Federal Hill does succeed in providing the flavor of an Italian-American community, and subtly explores the bonds that keep ethnic groups together. Corrente's decision to shoot in black & white emphasizes simplicity over melodrama, and the acting is all pretty quality. Turturro's portrayal of the disturbed Ralphie shows us the actor's more than capable of growing into roles beyond the goody-goody rookie Hispanic cop, James, on NYPD Blue. - Jennifer Scoville BIOFORGE
Waking up with no memory amidst a nuclear reactor meltdown on a moon of an uncharted planet to find that you have been cybernetically altered into the perfect assassin is not something most of us would expect to experience, but it is pretty much standard fare for video game junkies. Bioforge, a recent release from the Austin-based Origin Systems, is a sci-fi interactive adventure game with digital sound and fluid animation, using a technique Origin refers to as System for Animating Lifelike Synthetic Actors, or SALSA. Even working with the bare requirements for this game, the graphics, from the reflections of your face off the monitors to the blood-splattering combat (rated 17+, which is usually a good sign), are superb, the sound effects are top-notch, and the music, well, at least it's optional. The goal is to regain your identity (there are multiple outcomes), make your way through a high-security installation and incompatible world while combatting mechanical guards, alien lifeforms, cybernetic mutants, and followers of the Mondite movement (a group who believe the benefits of evolution must be accelerated through genetic and cybernetic alteration), and, of course, save the universe. Manipulating your mechanical counterpart through 3D space can sometimes be a bit clumsy (operating a myriad of key combinations and the mouse to generate the 24 combat maneuvers, operate consoles, and just plain get around), but simply witnessing your new muscle-bound body perform with the aid of these CD-quality graphics makes it well worth mastering. Do not fall prey to the hint book, which is advertised at least three times in the literature that comes with the game. The initial portion may be a bit frustrating, but once you get going it will move along at a good pace. If you get too frustrated, you can always go back and kick CyberRaptor's butt again or beat your psychotically deranged cellmate with the bloody stump of his own arm - it sure made me feel better.
- Carl Bacher
D: Katsuhiko Nishijima; with the voices of Miki Itoh, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomisawa
I'll be damned if this ridiculous example of "Anime," or Japanese Animation, ever fails to put a big goofy grin on my face: Its union of unapologetically cute animation and ludicrous action scenes, combined with an infectiously naughty sense of fun, make it, for my money, an endlessly entertaining package. Add to all this some knowing satire and playful ribbing of Japanese Animation clichés (both the trash classic Fist of the North Star and the excellent Harmegeddon are mercilessly parodied, with the latter sequence featuring a terrifying guest appearance by the one and only Colonel Sanders...) and it becomes clear Project A-KO is not only spectacularly amusing, but backed up by genuine wit to boot. The outrageous storyline begins with the Earth being practically destroyed by a giant meteor, and just gets crazier from there. Best pals A-KO and her obnoxious, but irresistibly cute, sidekick C-KO attend their first trouble-filled day at Graviton High, where they repeatedly lock horns with a rival classmate, B-KO, who has become totally obsessed with C-KO, and has designs on stealing her away from her arch-nemesis any way she can. And since A-KO just happens to be blessed with superhuman powers that allow her to perform amazing feats of strength, speed, and agility (explained away in a single, albeit hilarious, shot. Don't blink or you'll miss it.), B-KO sets about building a variety of giant, heavily armed robots, all designed to wipe our heroine off the face of the planet. Throw in a massive alien spaceship headed towards Earth, whose inhabitants also have more than a passing interest in C-KO, and the stage is set for an unbelievable climax that is as much in the tradition of The Road Runner as it is of Japanese sci-fi. Image's laserdisc looks pretty swell, and is slightly letterboxed at an accurate 1.66:1 ratio. Whenever possible, the frequently hilarious subtitles (i.e.: "A-KO! The depth of my vexation is beyond your comprehension!") have been thoughtfully placed within the black masking of the letterbox border, further improving their legibility. A gloriously silly treat for both sci-fi and animation buffs, although some brief nudity may render it unacceptable for children.
- Joey O'Bryan