James and the Giant Peach

D: Henry Selick; with Paul Terry, Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margolyes, Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, Pete Postlethwaite, Susan Sarandon, David Thewlis.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Video, 1016 W. Sixth

Apparently, author Roald Dahl, skeptical about the translation into film of his favorite children's book of the same title, refused to sell the movie rights for years. Were he alive, I don't think he'd be disappointed by his widow's decision to finally go ahead with this stop-motion animated adaptation, as the outstanding feature of the film version of James and the Giant Peach is also the best thing about the book: Dahl's fantastical story. After the untimely death of his parents, imaginative, young James (Terry) is left an orphan in the care of evil aunties who work his fingers to the bone. A lucky escape is made when James encounters a bit of magic that takes him traveling to New York City in a giant peach with a crew of animated, singing bugs. The bugs and their songs (penned by Randy Newman) will make the film memorable for children; Richard Dreyfuss' voiceover for the lovable gruff Centipede (Tom Waits would have made a good choice too), and Simon Callow as the intellectual grasshopper are notable. Fans of Tim Burton will recognize his hand here, along with a certain bony pirate encountered on a deep-sea hunt for a compass. Navigating through this tale is still what childhood is all about. -- Jen Scoville


D: Michael Mann; with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Diane Venora, Tom Sizemore, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd.
Encore Movies & Music, 8820 Burnet

After a seemingly endless series of annoying delays, the Warner Bros. widescreen laserdisc of Heat has finally arrived on the scene, offering fans of Michael Mann's sleek crime picture an acceptable alternative to the atrociously cropped pan-and-scan VHS version released back in June. Unfortunately, this new transfer isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be. Dante Spinotti's superb 2.35:1 anamorphic cinematography is compromised at somewhere around 2.05:1, and in an embarrassingly sloppy blunder, isn't even centered on the screen. Still, the disc is far superior to the Warner videocassette, and the stereo surround mix is one of the best I've heard, investing gunfire, ambient soundtrack music, and roaring airplane engines with room-shaking power. -- Joey O'Bryan

Shock Corridor

D: Sam Fuller; with Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best, Hari Rhodes.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

Insanity meets investigative journalism in this full-on Fuller melodrama. Fuller wrote, directed, and produced this cynical 1963 exploration of the American mind, balanced on the one side by raw ambition, on the other by the ravages of war, racism, and fear. Bucking for a Pulitzer, egomaniacal reporter Johnny Barrett (Breck) has himself committed to solve a murder from behind the walls of an asylum. Fans familiar with Fuller's Westerns and war flicks will find more than ample action and drama to sate their appetites. Opera-singing inmates, ferocious nymphomaniacs, and 16mm color dream sequences round out the kind of no-holds-barred portrait of a man destroying himself in the kind of quest for glory for which Fuller is so well-known. When Barrett's leitmotif changes from "Who killed Sloan in the kitchen?" to "Who am I?" the storm clouds of insanity break, showering him with doubts, riddles, and finally, catatonia. -- Kayte VanScoy


7th Level

As an animated computer hacker, you must reach the data core by navigating through elaborate grids with a limited number of "code pads" (stepping stones, essentially) before the path you form is eaten away by the evil "Tracer virus" constantly nipping at your heels. Those with ulcerous conditions be warned, the game moves quickly and imminent death is usually a few seconds or missteps away. Although it requires some fast thinking, Tracer is a pretty simple strategy game with some sleek packaging that requires a fairly juiced-up machine to play (16MB, Pentium). -- Carl Bacher

1996-97 Texas Almanac

CD-ROM for Mac or PC
Dallas Morning News

Open the CD-ROM version of the 1996-97 Texas Almanac and discover fascinating facts with ease: Texas sugar beet production in '94 totaled 497,000 tons from 24,500 harvested acres. We take second place to Georgia in pecan production, but when it comes to spinach, we're numero uno. Also read some well-written early Texas history, including a great deal of information about Texas Indians and early Spanish missions. The Texas music history section is a fair primer on western swing, blues, country, and Tejano; but rock & roll coverage is so short and lame at first I thought I somehow missed it. Guess they just didn't think it was important. The special "Governors of Texas" history is complete with a trivia quiz. Overall, though, this electronic version has none of the fun, funky spirit of a real, paperbound almanac, especially the old ones. And don't look for multimedia features like video, sound, or even color -- because the Almanac's publishers apparently think you want this information so badly you won't mind if it's presented in black-and-white silence. -- Jesse Sublett

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