CD-ROM for Mac* and Windows
Discovery Channel Local actor Bill Wise is the real saving grace in this educational adventure, wherein "your" mission is to work with a group of kids and a cheerful robot (bad actors all) to learn enough about weather (or use your extant knowledge) to save the world from the crazed "Evil Weatherman" (Wise). He's gotten hold of ancient weather-control devices at Stonehenge, Atlantis, and the Giza Plateau and is hell-bent on using them for his own evil ends. Actually, aside from an overly Nickelodeon Network goofiness, this is a pretty fun game with a very low frustration quotient. I'd think a kid (recommended ages: 10-up) would have a good time with this, and a bored adult could do worse. -- Ken Lieck
D: Stuart Gordon; with Jeffery Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide.
VHS Home Video Stuart Gordon, director of the dazzling Re-Animator, returns to Grand Guignol filmmaking with Castle Freak, a relentlessly grim and unpleasant effort that unfortunately lacks the wit, style, and humor of his other horror pictures. The story is simplicity itself: A dysfunctional family inherits a creepy old castle in Italy, in the basement of which resides a crazed, depraved... well, you know the title. Gordon's direction is disappointingly flat, but there are a couple of genuinely jolting sequences, and the performances are up to snuff. A passable exploitation film, but disappointing, nevertheless
-- Joey O'Bryan
The Collection of the National Gallery, London
CD-ROM for Mac
Microsoft Home The cafeteria at the Met is more interactive than this museum tour, but if you prefer a lecture over H.W. Janson, this collection of paintings from the National Gallery, London might be for you. An impressive 2,000 works from the 13th to early 20th century (da Vinci to Van Gogh) have been captured on disc, along with artist biographies, historical and social commentary, and critical appraisal. The paintings seemed small on my computer screen, but if you adjust your monitor to the suggested settings, they look quite good. Especially useful for someone who hasn't had a chance to see the real things.-- Jen Scoville
The Water Engine
D: Steven Schacter; with William H. Macy, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Patti LuPone, Joanna Miles, Treat Williams.
VHS Home Video Originally produced for cable television, The Water Engine has been subtitled "An American Fable," but the finished film is a much darker piece than the whimsical subtitle suggests. Written by David Mamet and based on his play, The Water Engine's story line concerns itself with a brilliant but introverted young mechanic who finds himself neck-deep in intrigue when he tries to patent his incredible invention -- the titular "Water Engine." All the performances are first-rate, the drama is quite involving, Mamet's dialogue is as sharp as ever, and director Schacter infuses the affair with a haunting, disturbing atmosphere.
-- Joey O'Bryan
The Face of Life
CD-ROM for PC
Creative Multimedia Life magazine, and in particular, its cover photographs and other pictures, has been justly renowned for documenting events and personalities throughout its many years of publication. This disc covers the time period from 1936-1972, and in addition to thousands of stunning photographs it also includes advertisements, letters to the editor, and video and audio clips. The interface is reasonably user-friendly and has a search program that allows for easy access to its plethora of material by subject or date. For those who don't feel tested enough in their everyday lives, there's a trivia game as well.
-- Bud Simons
D: Tony Scott; with Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper. Slater plays a mild-mannered, comic-store clerk who marries a novice call girl (Arquette) after a night of birthday fun. A knight in shining sunglasses, ever-cool Slater finishes off her ex-pimp, accidentally scoring a suitcase chockablock with cocaine. Mentored by Elvis and aided by Slater's estranged dad, the lovers make for L.A. and "the big sale" with the Mob on their tails. A great movie, the Quentin Tarantino-penned script is rife with action, and semi-cameo appearances by Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, and oh, yeah, Brad Pitt playing the best stoner/slacker on film.
-- Sarah Hamlin