Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday movie season was a quick breeze with little to no new releases to celebrate the most festive time of the year. One notable release was definitely not for children. The dark comedy flick Fatman stars Mel Gibson as a frazzled Santa Claus who is fighting to save his business of making toys and delivering them to children all over the world. Unbeknownst to him, a neglected and spoiled rich twelve-year old boy hires a hit man (played by Walton Goggins) to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. Fatman was originally slated to release in theaters but ended up being released on numerous streaming platforms including Amazon Prime and On Demand. The movie received mixed reviews with many people describing the film as a wintery spaghetti western with solid performances from Gibson and Goggins.
For fans of the film or if you missed out during its initial release you can now see Gibson’s take on a cranky, crusty and not so jolly Saint Nick with the Blu-Ray release of Fatman. Not only do you get the Blu-Ray of the movie, but it comes with a Digital Code that you can send to your friends so they can watch it on a home device. In addition, the Blu-Ray features several extras including Deleted and Extended Scenes, Storyboards to Film and an Audio Commentary featuring the writing/directing Nelms brothers, Eshon and Ian, Producer Michelle Lang, Director of Photography Johnny Derango and of course the star of the film, Mel Gibson.
I’m not going to go deep into a review of the movie itself to avoid spoilers. This review involves the overall look and presentation of the Blu-Ray release. Right away I noticed how clean and the picture looked on my television. Your eyes will be treated to the beautiful settings where Fatman takes place. The majority of the movie was shot in Ottawa and the farm that is used as Santa’s base is a real farm where it has been owned through twelve generations of Canadians. The Nelms Brothers make great use of natural lighting to give that wintry look and feel. Every shot in the movie is crisp and the performances add to the emotion that is in the scene. The production team did an amazing job of creating a cold gritty world where the magical season of Christmas is losing its luster. You’ll get excited with every scene involving Gibson and Goggings as they give opposing performances but organically weave in the comedy to not make it too dark and depressing. The story itself is original and innovative as this is a take on Chris Cringle no storyteller would dare to write.
The sound of Fatman is mastered in Dolby Audio. If you have a great surround system or soundbar you’ll be hearing every little detail that is in the movie. You’ll hear the diverse soundtrack that won’t drive you crazy with endless Christmas tunes. You can even hear the breath coming from Walton Goggins during one scene in the film. The sound of the gunshots during the climactic battle scene are sharp and make you feel like you need to duck and cover behind your couch. Kudos to the sound designers for creating the right pitch and tone to add another layer of the film.
While the extras are skim, I’m always excited to read that there is an Audio Commentary for the home release of a film. When you watch Fatman with the Audio Commentary turned on you will hear right away that the participants are recording using Zoom or another online chat site (due to COVID restrictions). I enjoyed listening to Eshom and Ian Nelm’s approach to telling this story and all the decisions that were made from lighting to setting and casting. I’m not familiar with any of their previous work, but this film was a solid first impression for me. It’s great to hear Mel Gibson talk about his approach to Santa and how much fun he had working on this movie. He cracks jokes and at times bummed out when certain lines or scenes were taken out because they were too cheesy. The commentaries are insightful and informative. There was no pause to take a drink of water or catch a breath with this crew. The Storyboard extras will appeal to those who have an interest in how a movie is presented and how the shots will be scheduled. As for the Deleted and Extra Scenes they don’t offer anything that enhanced the movie, but rather gave you an extended look at a scene. These cuts were appropriate given the quick pacing of the movie.
Overall, the Fatman Blu-Ray edition is a nice present give to yourself or to a friend or family member who may enjoy this unique take of a dark comedy holiday film. It’s reasonably priced and has just enough to keep your entertainment level fat and jolly.
Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, Paul Dooley William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic science fiction and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie Evolver.
The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who is an avid gamer trying to get the high school on an arcade game called Evolver. Evolver is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO of the company Jerry Briggs (played by Paul Doocey) and the creator of Evolver Russell Bennet (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver. He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’. Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its primary objective now is to terminate him.
The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.
The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in The Lawnmower Man (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an Evolver VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver can be predictable on numerous occasions throughout the film, but It’s still a fun little joyride with some intense moments.
This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems. The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from Man vs. Food because he looks like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the Evolver’s game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.
Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.
This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister in danger when Evolver is trying to kill her does he show heart and how his selfishness nearly cost him the life of his sibling. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of the virtual world and use the real world to his advantage.
The second central character in the film is Russell Bennet. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial character Q from The Next Generation series. For those who aren’t Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in Breaking Bad from Season 2 going into the beginning of Season 3. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.
Finally, there is the titular character. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as W.H. Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.
This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with? This is another in a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. Evolver takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.
Overall, Evolver is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on my Top 2e list. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an Evolver VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the Evolver movie from a simple made for television film into virual reality immortality!
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have put movie theaters on hold, it’s not stopping video companies from releasing new titles for fans to own. Shout Factory is no exception as they continue to release new Collector’s Editions of movies. This week they released a new title in their growing John Carpenter library starring one of his most iconic characters ever written for film. I’m talking of course about antihero Snake Plissken as he goes from the Big Apple to the City of Angels in the 1996 film “Escape From L.A.!”
“Escape From L.A” was pretty much a remake/retelling of the first movie. Set in 2013, Snake is once again captured and is tasked by the government to rescue the rogue daughter of the President of the United States whom is in possession of a device that could obliterate the world. The film was known for its near shot for shot resemblance of its predecessor complete with a big named cast for the time and dated effects. It’s $50 million budget was the biggest ever for a Carpenter movie. The film released to mixed reviews from critics and fans and recuperated half of its money at the box office.
Shout Factory’s new Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A.” restores the film in 4K using the original negative and includes several new interviews with the cast and crew along with the Theatrical Trailer all in a special box with a reversible cover sleeve. Shout Factory continues to impress me with its original artwork. The color scheme made the film look bold and futuristic. As I do with all the Collector’s Edition movies from Shout Factory, I reverse the cover art on the Blu Ray box so I have the original art on the box and the official theatrical poster inside the Blu Ray sleeve. It’s a habit of mine, but I do it out of appreciation as I reflect on the film’s origins and its revival.
I just finished watching the film. Although I do not have a 4K television the transfer of the film is slick. The colors and the lighting of the movie really come out onto the screen. One thing I was clearly looking for while watching this was how the cheap effects of the original print would look on this new transition. The scene where Snake travels to Los Angeles via submarine looks smoother and hides away some of the dated CGI. Another scene that improved from its previous theatrical and video counterparts is the motorcycle chase scene where Snake jumps onto a truck. That scene was cleaned up to make it not look like an obvious blue/green screen scene. While these are much wanted improvements, there are some scenes that still stick out like sore thumbs. The infamous surfing scene looks glossy and colorful but does not hold up. Overall, it was great revisiting this movie even if it’s nothing more than a doppelganger of its predecessor.
As for the bonus extras, there are a total of six new interviews featuring certain members of the cast and crew. The interviews feature Stacy Keach, Bruce Campbell, frequent Carpenter actor Peter Jason, Cuervo Jones himself, George Corraface, Special Effects Artist Jim McPherson and Visual Effects Artist David Jones. The Stacy Keach interview is rather short but talks about his relationship with John Carpenter and how he approached his character of Commander Malloy. He does talk about a personal moment on the film that changed his life, but I won’t spoil it. The Bruce Campbell interview is an audio only interview with clips of his performance and stills of the makeup he had to put on for his character. He provides some great insight on his experience doing film which was contrast from Stacy Keach’s experience. The interview does sound dated as he mentions that he recently worked with Kurt Russell again on “Sky High” (which came out in 2005). Peter Jason, George Corraface, Jim McPherson and David Jones have the longest interviews and they all talked about their background, previous jobs and how they joined the project. I have to say the McPherson and Jones interviews were my favorites because they had some great stories on set as well as how they approached their roles.
The biggest disappointment from this Collector’s Edition release is there are no audio commentary tracks for the movie. I love audio commentaries and I put them on during my second viewings of a new release. It would have been great to have John Carpenter reflect on making the film and how he feels about it today. If they couldn’t get Carpenter to do a commentary, they could’ve gone after anyone else from the cast and crew. I’m surprised they didn’t ask any of the interviewees to provide a commentary on their experience and stories.
Once again Shout Factory does an impressive job of bringing a cult classic back to life and in the best format possible. Unlike The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills who botches his patients and requires numerous organ transplants, the facelift of this film is a success. Even if you don’t have a 4K television, you’ll be in awe at its look and the bonus extras and packaging give you the full experience of enjoying Snake Plissken’s next adventure. The Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A” is a great addition to their ever-growing library of John Carpenter films.