Wolf

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Wolf

Release Date: June 17, 1994

Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance

Director: Mike Nichols

Writers: Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Christopher Plummer

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s sad that we haven’t seen Jack Nicholson on the big screen in almost a decade. Although he is in his eighties and living out the remaining days of his life, it would be nice to see him in one final performance. After all, he is one of the most iconic actors in history. He has left his mark in film with his numerous memorable performances. From Jack Torrance to The Joker, Jake Gittes to Nathan Jessup, you can’t think about those characters without thinking about the actor that brought them to life. I can’t think of a bad performance from Jack. He gives everything he has in a role. One of his most underrated, or perhaps the most underrated performance of Nicholson’s career was in the 1994 Horror/Romance film ‘Wolf’.

Nicholson portrays Will Randall, who is an editor-in-chief of a publishing house who is about to be demoted due to the purchase of the publishing house by billionaire Raymond Alden (played by Christopher Plummer). On top of that bad news, Will finds out his successor is his protégé Stewart Swinton (Played by James Spader) who is not only taking his job but has taken his wife in an extramarital affair. One night driving home in the snow, Will is attacked by a wolf which leaves him with a bite on his arms. Shortly after his attack, Will discovers that he has heightened senses of sight, smell and hearing. After meeting Alden’s outcast daughter Laura (played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Will confides to her about what he is experiencing and they strike up a relationship. As the story continues, Will’s transformation gets deeper and deeper. He must find a way to repress changing into a wolf during the full moon.

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Nichols, ‘Wolf’ is not your traditional werewolf movie. Don’t expect a lot of action or gory kill scenes. The concept of the wolf is a metaphor for corporate takeovers and executive rivalries, hence the old saying, “Being thrown to the wolves”.  He fights to keep his job and engages in a rivalry with his protégé Ala teacher vs. student with the student looking to defeat the one that taught him how to succeed. The wolf is also a metaphor for sexual repression as you will see in certain moments of the film not only with Will and his wife, but Will and his quick attraction to Laura. As I watched the film, it felt like I was watching an adult version of “Beauty and the Beast”.

Jack Nicholson continues to show why he is one of the greatest actors in history. Yes, he has that repetitive slick and cunning tone when he speaks, but this was one of the more physical performances I haven’t seen him do since the likes of “The Shining” or “Batman”.  He takes the concept of Method acting to a new level and really gets into the wolf character with his constant sniffing; his constant shifting of the eyes as he is quickly senses his surroundings and his stamina and agility throughout the movie. There’s even a clever funny scene of Nicholson “marking his territory” like any animal would. I have to imagine he was physically and emotionally drained after making this movie, but if he got through “Batman”, he found a way to get through this! Huge props to the makeup and effects department for Nicholson’s transformation. The effects reminded me of “An American Werewolf in London” or even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. Nicholson was definitely Wolverine before Hugh Jackman took on that role!

The supporting cast is small as it focuses on the relationships between Will, Stewart, Laura and Aldren. Pfeiffer portrays Laura Alden as an isolationist and someone who detests her father and drives up an attraction to Will to spite him. As she gets to know him, she feels concerned and caring for what is happening to him and she even goes to bat for him when he is confronted with a tragic situation. You can feel her emotion through every gasp and every tremble. Spader plays his character as a smooth and calculating weasel who goes behind Will’s back to not only take his job but take his wife. He thinks he is in control of the situation, but the worm turns for him when Will keeps up the fight for his job which sets up the many confrontations they will have throughout the film. And what can you say about Christopher Plummer? Only that he is Christopher Plummer and he is one of the most legendary actors of our time. He doesn’t skip a beat portraying billionaire Raymond Alden. When he purchases the publishing house, he thinks he’s beaten Will and be able to run the publishing house the way he wants, but what he doesn’t realize is that he is engaging in a Chess match with Will to see who will submit first. It’s a duel of egos between these two characters.

The only negative I could think of in the film is the pacing. It turns into a straight up horror film in the third act and feels rushed. Some of the scenes in the third act seem unnecessary, but they were put there to build up the suspense and drama. It gives you an insight on what the climax of the film is going to be.

It’s been twenty-four years since ‘Wolf’ came out in theaters. It is still original and innovative. It doesn’t have to borrow too much from the ‘werewolf’ films of the past to make a statement on corporate diplomacy and the seduction that romances can bring. It’s a shame we didn’t get a sequel to this film. Watch below. This would’ve been a great concept. Don’t you think?

 

 

TRIVIA  (Sourced from IMDB)

  • Jack Nicholson had been trying to get this film made with his friend, writer Jim Harrison, for twelve years.
  • The movie’s release was delayed for six to eight months to re-shoot the entire third act
  • Mia Farrow was slated to play Charlotte Randall. Mike Nichols had to fight to let Farrow have the part, due to the film company’s hesitancy over her being too controversial at the time (the then current Mia Farrow and Woody Allen trial). She had to take a salary cut but in the long run she had to bow out anyway, due to schedule conflicts.
  • Jack Nicholson had final say about who the choice of the director would be, and in fact one of his choices was Mike Nichols.
  • Stanley Kubrick was considered to direct, but he wasn’t interested.
  • Sharon Stone turned down the female lead.
  • When Michelle Pfeiffer expressed interest in playing the part of Laura, Mike Nichols and the film’s screenwriters wanted to make the part stronger and more important to the story, as it was basically a “woman in danger” trope in the original script. Some of the ideas considered were making her into an animal rights activist or a doctor, both of which would have given her a connection to Jack Nicholson’s character and expanded on her conflict with her rich father. Ultimately, Pfeiffer accepted the role without it being hugely upgraded because she wanted to work with Nicholson and Nichols.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

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Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Release Date: July 19, 1991

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

Director: Peter Hewitt

Writers: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, George Carlin, Joss Acklund

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1989 movie audiences were treated to a new original concept adventure movie about the fate of the future lying in the balance of two high school musicians passing their history exam. That movie was called “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It was a surprise success that not only launched Keanu Reeves into a mainstream star, but it also spawned a cartoon show and a sequel. Recently, both stars Reeves and Alex Winter appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and announced that a third movie was officially in production. It would be the first time in twenty-seven years since we last saw the two rockers from San Dimas. With the news I decided to go back and watch the second film in the series, which was 1991’s “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”.

The movie takes place five years after the events of the first movie. A man from the future by the name of DeNomolos has created two evil robot versions of Bill & Ted and sends them back to their time to disrupt the next phase in their destiny, which is winning the Battle of the Bands and being one step closer to the Wild Stalyns changing the world with their music. The present day Bill & Ted continue to struggle at being good musicians, even with the help of their other band members, their girlfriends they rescued from 15th Century England. They encounter their evil doppelgangers when they arrive at their apartment and tell them that they are here to help solve their problems. Instead they take Bill & Ted to a desert and throw them off a cliff killing them. Now in a state of limbo, Bill & Ted must figure out a way to come back to life and stop the evil robots from accomplishing their mission. After two failed attempts at warning their parents about what happened, they are banished to Hell where they go through trials from their childhood until they are confronted by the Grim Reaper who states they can return to the physical world if they beat him in a contest. After defeating Death in a contest……or in the case several contests, they go to Heaven and ask God for assistance in beating the evil robots. They are directed to a creature named ‘Station’ who is considered the most brilliant scientific mind in the universe. With Station’s help, they create two good Bill & Ted robots to counter the evil robots. They return to earth just as the Battle of the Bands begin and engage in a confrontation with the evil robots and DeNomolos for the fate of the future.

The sequel was as successful as the first movie, but fans are divided as to which of the two movies was better. Some fans believe “Excellent Adventure” was the superior of the two. Other fans believe “Bogus Journey” was the better film. After watching the film, I think “Bogus Journey” is on an equal peddle to “Excellent Adventure”. I would use the analogy in another Keanu Reeves movie, “The Matrix” to describe the two. They are two radically different films, but when they are put together they equal out. It’s a great idea to go from Bill & Ted having a positive and “Excellent” adventure to having a negative and “Bogus” journey, hence the equal concept.

The story is good although I think the script could’ve been fleshed out a little more and could’ve used a better third act. Reading the Behind the Scenes of this movie, writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon admit that the original third act was ripped up and they were struggling to come up with an act that would satisfy viewers and bring the story of Bill & Ted full circle. I’m not sure what the original third act entailed with the exception of a trivia note at the bottom. With the exception of a few returning characters the only other reminiscence of the first film that are shown in the second are the phone booth which is found in only a few scenes and you get a glimpse at the future where is a harmonious utopia thanks to the protagonist and their music.

The only returning characters in the second film are Bill, Ted, Ted’s father, Missy and George Carlin, who reprises his role as Rufus, although his role has shrunk from the first film. All the other characters are new. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play dual roles as not only the dim-witted heroes, but the evil robot versions of them. The evil robots are stronger and smarter, but they are programmed to speak and act just like their human counterparts which I found funny. Their master DeNomolos, played by legendary character actor Joss Acklund I found to be a very weak villain as he appears only in the opening scenes, a few scenes where he is checking up on the robots’ statuses and the final confrontation. Not much is known about DeNomolos other than the fact he was Rufus’ old teacher and that he despises the society that Bill & Ted have created and goes on a crusade to destroy them so he can reshape the future into his ideals, which could be perceived is having a Marxist ideology. Acklund didn’t have much to work with and his acting and body language gave me the impression that he didn’t want to be in this movie, which is a shame. I’m sure he was thinking to himself, “How do I go from playing an evil South African diplomat in “Lethal Weapon 2” to playing a villain having to babysit two robots in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey?” I guess we’ll never know what his mindset was.

The real star of the film and without question the best performance goes to William Sadler who plays the Grim Reaper. His portrayal of Death starts out serious and then goes completely one-eighty when he spends more time with the heroes. When Death first encounters them just as they died, he is prepared to take them into the afterlife, but they distract him and give him a “Melvin” in order to escape. It’s only when they are in Hell that they summon Death and accept his challenge of playing him in a game to return to Earth (I won’t tell you what game or games they play, but they were my favorite scenes of the film). When Death joins Bill & Ted he becomes more of a nuisance rather than a helper. He’s always looking attention and feels left out when Bill & Ted don’t give him credit for things that he supposedly did. The accent Sadler uses is Slovakian which gives him range and power, but also makes it funny especially when during his angry outburst moments in the film.

As far as the rest of the film in terms of special effects and settings, it’s interesting to see the film’s vision of the future where everyone wears highlighter colored clothing which reflects well with the lighting in their classrooms. You see a small glimpse of Evil Bill and Evil Ted pulling their skin off to reveal their robot form which is colorful and high-tech for the time and the vision of Hell in the film is depicted as a never-ending industrial corridor with infinite doors and the Devil instructing the damned to “Choose their Eternity”.

“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” is one of the few sequels out there that matches up to its predecessor. Matheson and Solomon rolled the dice and took their chances of not repeating the same concept of the first movie and it paid off. Watching it again after all these years, it holds up strongly in comparison to other sequels that came out in the early 90s. I’m looking forward to seeing what the third film has to offer. Hopefully it will be a great finale and send off Bill & Ted into movie immortality.

 

TRIVIA

  • The guitar solo before KISS’ “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, is performed by guitar legend Steve Vai. The footage had already been shot, and the world premiere was a week away, when he was asked to do it. He also contributed various music in the film, including “The Reaper Rap”, which features on the end credits.
  • When Bill and Ted go to Missy’s séance, you can see Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the creators and writers of Bill and Ted. They’re the only men that are attending the séance. (Chris is the guy with the white shirt, and Ed is the guy with the glasses.) They also say “Ed and Chris rule the world” backwards
  • The original title was “Bill and Ted go to Hell” but was changed because of American objections to the use of the word “hell”.
  • The “Riddance of Evil” book that Missy uses to send Bill and Ted to Hell, is actually a re-dressed copy of the Stephen King short-story collection “Four Past Midnight.” She opens it to a page in the story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which can be read clearly in a few frames of the film.
  • During the séance scene, the chant to send Bill’s and Ted’s spirits, can be read backwards as “Ed and Chris will rule the world.” Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson being the movie’s scriptwriters.
  • The mountain, to which Bill and Ted are brought to be killed by the evil robots, is the same mountain Captain Kirk climbs in Star Trek: Arena (1967), which Bill and Ted watched in their apartment.
  • Joss Ackland said in a Radio Times interview, he only did this project, because of a bet between him and a family member
  • In a deleted sequence, the Evil Robots use devices to re-create Bill’s and Ted’s’ personal Hells (Granny Preston, the Easter Bunny, and Colonel Oats) and send them after the heroes. Bill and Ted end up having to face their fears to get rid of them. Bill gives Granny her kiss on the cheek, Ted calls his brother and apologizes for stealing his Easter candy, and both boys treat Oats with kindness and friendship rather than terror.
  • Director Peter Hewitt has a cameo in the film. He plays the smoker in the Builder’s Emporium to whom Death says, “I’ll see you soon.” In the cast credits The Smoker is credited as “Max Magenta”.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

The Rookie

 

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The Rookie

Release Date: December 7, 1990

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight year old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film “The Rookie”.

Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with very different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates in order to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.

I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found “The Rookie” on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.

Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he has to “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.

Charlie Sheen’s performance was pretty mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood has to bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also has to deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.

The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined.  When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.

A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens which brings a sense of authenticity. One particular scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.

The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right hand woman is toying with a tied up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.

The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two hour movie. It’s pretty fast paced with everything going on. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.

Overall “The Rookie” is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the “Lethal Weapon” movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick……..or maybe not.

TRIVIA

  • According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
  • The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
  • Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
  • The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
  • The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
  • According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.

AUDIO CLIPS

Critters

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Critters

Release Date: April 11, 1986

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Stephen Herek

Writers: Stephen Herek (Screenplay), Domonic Muir (Story & Screenplay), Don Opper (Additional Scenes)

Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde, Don Opper, Terrance Mann

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Movies that came out in the 80s contained a diverse range of genres. We had horror movies, teen comedies, action packed film and the occasional monster movie. With the success of “Gremlins” in 1984, fledgling production company New Line Cinema looked to creating a movie similar in nature. With the box office success of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2”, New Line Cinema got out of the red in their financial operation and had some money to invest in more projects. One of the projects that was green lit to be a “sister” film to “Gremlins” was the movie, “Critters”.

Released in 1986 “Critters” is about a group of intergalactic hairball like creatures known by their species name “Krites” that escape from a prison asteroid and use a stolen spaceship to travel to the closest planet that contained the most life for them to feed their bellies, which is Earth. Desperate to stop the Krites from invading Earth and consuming all of its resources, the warden of the prison asteroid dispatches two bounty hunters to track them down and eradicate them. The Krites land in a field in a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend. The people of Grover’s Bend are their own characters. You have the Brown family who live on a farm, Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and Harv who is the easily annoyed Sheriff.  Jay Brown and his mischief son Bradley (Brad) head out to the field where they spot the ship crashing. They appear to find some of the herd dead with nothing left of them but their bones. Heading back to the house they encounter one of the Krites who bites several wounds into Jay as well as a poison needle that shoots from their backs, like a porcupine. The Browns become trapped in their home defending themselves against the Critters. Brad risks to find help and comes across the bounty hunters who have taken human forms. He directs the bounty hunters to his home where they see the Krites and begin a melee of destruction in order to kill them all.

“Critters” was a modest hit at the box office generating more that $13 million against a $2 million dollar budget. It would spawn three sequels, which one of them became the acting debut of an unknown kid would become an A- list actor named Leonardo DiCaprio (“Critters 3). It was another franchise New Line Cinema had under their belt with their first being “Nightmare on Elm Street”. There have been talks of a remake, but I’m not a fan of remakes nor would I encourage a remake of this film. The films may look dated and silly, but they’re packed with enough gore and humor to keep your interests high.

The cast is a mixed of veteran character actors and some that are up and coming. The two popular names on the bill are Dee Wallace, who was the mother in “ET” plays the mother in this film and M. Emmett Walsh who has over two hundred credits to his name, is best known for playing a psycho in “The Jerk” and Harrison Ford’s boss in “Blade Runner”. Dee Wallace doesn’t do much except scream and cry through most of the film. Walsh plays Sheriff Harv as a short tempered man who feels the town is becoming a zoo. The film revolves around the performances of Scott Grimes who plays Bradley Brown, the younger of the two Brown children. He is mischievous and always getting into fights with his sister, April. He becomes the hero by risking his neck to escape his house surrounded by the Krites to find help.  Don Opper plays Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and close friend to Brad and believes alien life-forces are trying to communicate with him through his teeth fillings. Opper ends up playing a dual role in this film which he does a good job at. I’ll get to the dual part in a moment. Rounding out the central cast are the bounty hunters. They add just as much humor as the Krites do. The bounty hunters are named Ug and Lee (Ugly, get it?). They are faceless aliens and have transforming abilities. To “blend” in with the earthlings they may encounter, both of them look through a video of Earth and its history. Ug notices rock start Johnny Steele in a music video and transforms into him. Ug and Steele are played by Terrance Mann. Lee struggles to find a form to change into.  A recurring gag in the film is Lee changing into multiple people he encounters. He eventually settles on transforming into Charlie after an encounter with him in a bar. They carry giant cannon guns to blow up the Krites, but instead cause destruction at every location they step in. Even their boss pleads with them about being less destructive.  The bounty hunters would become staple characters of the eventual franchise as Mann and Opper are the only two actors to appear in all four movies. “Critters” includes small appearances from Billy Zane, who plays April’s new boyfriend, a city boy with a nice car and Lin Shaye of “Insidious” fame playing Sal the dispatcher.

The real stars of the film are the Krites. They were created by the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen and Charles) who were known for Claymation, creature creation and puppeteer work. They did a great job designing and moving the Krites. They’re described throughout the film series as “man eating hairballs”, which is true. However, they are very intelligent despite their limitations. They have red eyes, razor sharp teeth and needles that can shoot poison at their prey. They move with the speed and velocity of a cannonball. They crash land on Earth after escaping from a prison asteroid. While they repair the ship, they go off to look for food. They eat anything they come into contact with. The more they feed, the more they grow. You will see one of them in the film turn into a giant with the ability to walk upright like a human being. They come into contact with the Brown family and surround their home causing a “Rio Bravo” like standoff. The Krites are both scary and funny. There are some Three Stooges like moments they get into. One scene shows the Krites tearing up Brad’s room. One of the Krites is trying to communicate with a stuffed ET doll and when it doesn’t answer its questions, the Krite gets angry and bites his head off. Another funny moment is a Krite getting burnt by a small torch Dee Wallace uses and runs to the bathroom and jumps into the toilet.

This was the directorial debut of Stephen Herek who would go on to direct “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “The Mighty Ducks” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus”.  I think this is a solid debut and one of his best films in his short filmography.  He does some good things technically. For example, most of the film takes place at night, so Herek uses natural lighting from the moon and flashlights to create a dark tense atmosphere for the Browns as they investigate what is going on. He also makes good use of the first person view for the Krites. The camera is hovered above the ground and moves stealthily when they’re in hunting mode and then in a racing mode when they’re attacking or trying to reach their prey. The film has its slow moments, but once the Krites appear, the action and the horror pick up and doesn’t end until the final explosion.

As I mentioned in the beginning this film is very similar in nature to “Gremlins”. I used the term “sister” film because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, but it’s still a fun monster movie flick. It’s simple so you don’t have to worry about trying to compound narratives or hidden messages or symbolism. It’s a movie where you can lay on the couch and absorb what is taking place. The sequels that followed this film have their good moments and bad moments (mainly due to the budget going way down and the distribution being limited). I would put this movie in my Top 100 80s Films of All Time.

 

TRIVIA

  • Corey Burton, who voices the Critters, also came up with their language, which he described in interviews as combining elements of French and Japanese.
  • Terrence Mann performs the song “Power of the Night” as Johnny Steele especially for this movie.
  • This is the second movie (the other being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [1982]) with Dee Wallace in which her on-screen son heats up an oral thermometer in order to appear sick to avoid going to school. In E.T. she is fooled, but doesn’t buy it at all second time around in Critters [1986]
  • Don Opper and Terrence Mann are the only actors to appear in all four Critters films. Their characters, Charlie McFadden and Ug, respectively, appear in all four Critters movies.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

The Perfect Host

 

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The Perfect Host

Release Date: January 10, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Director: Nick Tom nay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Cloyne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Do you ever flip around the movie titles on Netflix and find a movie that you’ve never heard of? Does the title and the cover give you a curious interest as to what the movie is about? While Netflix has devoted the majority of its programming to original series, they do turn out a bunch of independent movies that were only screened at film festivals and other small venues. One movie I recently came across looked appealing and therefore I was enticed to watch. The movie was titled, “The Perfect Host”.

Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, the movie is about a man named John Taylor who is on the run after pulling off a bank heist and collecting over $300,000. His car breaks down in a plush Los Angeles neighborhood. After a failed attempt to convince a neighbor to let him use the phone, he is able to use some cunning skills to convince a man named Warwick Wilson to let him in. Warwick is in the middle of cooking dinner as he is throwing a dinner party and has invited several of his friends to join. Warwick offers John some red wine and helps him trying to get into contact with his cousin so they could meet up (which is a ruse). A news bulletin goes off on the radio describing John and the heist. John grabs Warwick’s butcher knife and holds him hostage. His plan is to lay low until the next morning and leave. However, John begins to feel dizzy and collapses on the floor. Unbeknownst to John, Warwick drugged the wine. The tables turn as John is tied up in a chair and is sitting at the head of the dinner table. He is now the guest of honor in what is to be a very bizarre party.

Written and Directed by Nick Tom nay, which is his first feature film according to records, “The Perfect Host” is reminiscent of an Albert Hitchcock film. It’s filled with tension, suspense, surprises and shocks. The reversal of roles between predator and prey slither slow and steady transition. It’s almost like watching a Chess game where each player is strategically plan their moves. Ironically, the two main characters engage in a game of Chess where each has their own stake in the winnings.

The film is shot on digital video. I’m not a huge fan of digital video for numerous reasons, but it works within the context of the film. There’s a lot of bright lighting throughout the film. I also enjoy the constant back and forth first person views of the two main characters as you see what they’re interpreting in their own mind of the scenario that is playing around them.

This is the first starring role for David Hyde Pierce. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is best known as his portrayal of Niles Crane in the sitcom “Frasier”. His portrayal of Warwick is not much different from his portrayal of Niles. He’s articulate, eccentric, excited and knowledgeable. Warwick comes off as a gracious generous host. He plays the victim role early in the film. When he is in control of the situation, his deep desires and fantasies come out while having fun and entertaining his “guest”.  He slowly morphs into a character that is a combination of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman. From there comes the final phase of his character where he is grounded and determined (I’ll get to that later in the review). Pierce provides plenty of laughs while at the same time provides creepy and unsettled moments that make you anxious as to what is he planning with John.

Speaking of John Taylor, he is portrayed by Cloyne Crawford. I’m not familiar with any of his other film roles, so this was an introductory role for me. John is determined to get out of Los Angeles with the money he steals. He is cunning and manipulative at first and then becomes aggressive and violent especially when he tells Warwick to “shut up” when a radio bulletin comes on the air regarding his robbery. He holds Warwick hostage in his own home while he lays low. His control over the situation is short lived as he collapses from drinking red wine that was drugged by Warwick. He becomes the hostage and is powerless to regain control. He is at the mercy of Warwick and does his best to resist compliance from Warwick. Throughout the film there are flashbacks involving John and an unidentified woman. These pieces would reveal who the woman is and what is her relation to John.

While the film focuses primarily on John and Warwick, there are a few minor characters. As I’ve stated there is a woman who is involved with John and then there are two police detectives who are looking into the heist and John’s background and there is a concerned neighbor when she sees John floating in a pool and yell.  While these characters add to the layer of the story, they are used minimally. You don’t see the woman or the police detectives until the climax of the film.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the climax. It felt rushed and didn’t flow with the rest of the film.  You find out what Warwick does for a living and this triggers another personality trait in him. It’s strange since the film doesn’t give clues about who he really is. It does have a somewhat comical ending to it as it would set up another event that I’m sure we’ll never see unless they decide to make a sequel.

While “The Perfect Host” cant’ be described as a perfect film, but it’s a clever spin on a classic genre of films. As I mentioned early in the review, it’s got the look and feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s about as close of a Hitchcockian film you’re going to see in recent years. It makes you appreciate independent films and what they’re trying to make. If I found this film on Netflix, there’s no telling where other sleeper indie hits may be out there. I’ll just have to find them.

 

TRIVIA

  • First starring film role for David Hyde Pierce.
  • Shot in seventeen days with a budget just under $500,000
  • The tattoo on John’s hand contains 3 Hebrew letters, which are the initials for “Uri Riva Yariv” – a kabbalah term that means absolute certainty and is supposed to enhance confidence and belief.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Meet Wally Sparks

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Meet Wally Sparks

Release Date: January 31, 1997

Genre: Comedy

Director: Peter Baldwin

Writers; Harry Basil (Story), Rodney Dangerfield (Screenplay)

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Burt Reynolds, Mark L. Taylor

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest stand up comedians the world had ever seen. He was known for his zinging one liners and monologues preaching about he gets “no respect”. His career was heightened in 1980 when he stole the spotlight in the 1980 golf comedy “Caddyshack” which lead to starring roles in the films “Easy Money” and the critically acclaimed “Back To School”. Unfortunately the 90s weren’t so good to Dangerfield. He had two films that flopped and was being overshadowed by the young fresh talent that appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and “In Living Color”. One of his last starring roles was 1997’s “Meet Wally Sparks”.

In the film, Dangerfield plays the titular character who is the host of a sleazy daytime talk show that rivals Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael to name a few (all have cameos in the movies). His show has become so raunchy and X-Rated that he is losing sponsors and being threatened with cancellation. In addition, his show has been publicly criticized by Floyd Preston, the conservative Governor of Georgia (David Ogden Stiers) as corrupting the moral fabric of the country. Wally is given an ultimatum by his boss Larry Spencer (Burt Reynolds) to clean up his show or else he will pull the plug. Wally receives an invitation to attend Governor Preston’s fundraiser reception at the Governor’s Mansion (unbeknownst to the Governor, the invitation was sent by his rebellious pre teen son) and his producer Sandy Gallo (Debi Mazar) comes up with an idea to persuade the Governor to appear on his show, which would instantly boost ratings and could change the format of the show.

Wally and Sandy attend the reception in search of the governor. During the party, Wally heads to the governor’s stable and gives his prized horse some alcohol. The horse breaks free from the stable and runs amok inside the Governor’s Mansion. Wally is able to tame the horse and prevent it from hurting the Governor. The presses label him a hero in the papers the next morning. Believing to have been paralyzed from the injury, Wally is staying at the Governor’s Mansion to recuperate, much to the chagrin of Governor Preston. The mansion gets trashed due to Wally’s production company setting up shop inside the mansion and Wally continues to get into shenanigans involving Mrs. Preston. In addition, Wally’s adult son Dean begins a relationship with Governor Preston’s southern bell daughter Priscilla. If that wasn’t enough for Governor Preston to deal with, he is being blackmailed by an outside entity to drop out of the Senate race otherwise, photos showing Governor Preston and an unidentified woman in steamy erotic photos would be released to the public. Wally goes on a mission to find out who is blackmailing the Governor and in return earn his trust to come onto his show and address his supporters.

This movie is based on the tabloid daytime talk shows that dominated television airwaves and a statement on the First Amendment. Throughout the 90s, you couldn’t turn on a television channel without seeing some kind of over the top show. You had the FCC and other government entities looking to block any kind of media in effort to “protect the children”. Wally Sparks represents freedom of speech and freedom of expression while Governor Preston represents the government looking to shut down entertainment that is considered obscene or vulgar. The war continues even to this day with the rise of social media.

Obviously Dangerfield is the shining star of the film. There are plenty of yucks to go around. The jokes are a lot cruder than any of his previous outings, but given the subject matter of the film, it fits in with the narrative. There’s a lot more physical comedy from Dangerfield in this film than any previous film that I can recall. Most of it comes during the reception scene. One thing that is special about Dangerfield is he is able to play lovable characters. His characters start out as self center egotists, but during the course of his movies they start to feel a heart for others. This film follows the same formula. Wally’s objective in the beginning is to have a showdown with Governor Preston on his show in an effort to save him from the unemployment line. However, during the course of the movie as he is spending time getting to know the Preston family, he is grateful for their hospitality and when Governor Preston is in a pickle with a blackmail threat, Wally feels that he needs to repay the debt shown by helping Preston out with his situation.

The other shining performance comes from David Ogden Stiers, who sadly passed away a few days ago. He portrays Floyd Preston, the Governor of Georgia and a leader of the moral majority. He finds Wally Sparks and his show repulsive and is on a crusade to get him thrown off the air. To make matters worse, Preston is powerless to kick Sparks out of the mansion when he is hurt from the incident at the mansion involving a horse. His adviser warns him that kicking him out will diminish his reputation as a moral compassionate human being. In addition, Sparks’ presence in the mansion starts to attract younger voters who are fans of the show in supporting Preston’s campaign for Senator. Preston certainly comes at a cross road and becomes consumed with his battle over Sparks that he starts to alienate himself from his family and causing them to rebel against him. Stiers is a big man and he fits the role of a governor well. He has quite a few laughable moments involving situations that he falls upon.

As for the rest of the cast, the performances were pretty shallow, especially Burt Reynolds. For all the talk regarding loss of sponsors and fines from the FCC, Reynolds doesn’t sound the least bit concerned. He is really out of place in the movie. Anyone could’ve portrayed the role of Larry Spencer better than he did. Luckily, he’s only in a few scenes that you could skip over if you wanted to.

One of the notable things about this movie is the number of cameos. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, there are cameos featuring Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael. In addition, other talk show personalities that have a cameo include Roseanne, Morton Downey Jr. and Tim Allen (playing his “Home Improvement” character). It’s funny to see them all berate Wally Sparks and call him a has been and the fact that he is still alive. Other cameos include Bob Saget and Stuttering John Melendez playing news reporters, Gilbert Gottfried and Julia Sweeny playing a married couple on Wally’s show and Tony Danza playing his character from “Taxi”.

With the laughs that this movie has, it is not without its flaws. I didn’t like the pacing of the movie. The movie starts out with Dangerfield going full force at a hundred miles an hour, but then it slows down during the middle of the film and it comes to a screeching halt. It goes from being funny to dramatic. It gets mushy with Wally’s son and Preston’s daughter developing a relationship against the will of the Governor. Another flaw is the ridiculous cartoonish scenes involving Spencer’s top assistant who detests Wally and is spying on him to see if he is actually injured or if he is faking it. He is falling out of trees and getting dragged behind a car. It’s reminiscent of a Wild E. Coyote cartoon. It really had no place in the movie. Lastly, the climax of the movie was so mindless and childish. Again it’s pretty cartoonish with the final confrontation between Wally and the people who are blackmailing the Governor.

If you’re a fan of Rodney Dangerfield, this movie is right up your alley. Those who are not fans are advised to turn away. While “Meet Wally Sparks” is not one of Rodney Dangerfield’s most memorable films, it will be remembered for Rodney doing what Rodney does best, which is making us laugh.

TRIVIA

  • Students in Daingerfield, Texas’ schools got an early release day, because the town gave Rodney Dangerfield a parade, and a street renamed in his honor, when he came to town.
  • One of two Rodney Dangerfield films that feature a vocal performance by Michael Bolton, the other being Back to School (1986). Bolton’s song “Everybody’s Crazy” is playing on the record player during the frat dorm party.
  • Tony Danza reprises his role as Tony from the hit TV show “Taxi” in this film.
  • Gilbert Gottfried who has a small part in the film said on his podcast that he has never seen the finished release.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Evolver

evolver

Evolver

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, 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 sci-fi 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 wins a contest based on the game ‘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 and the creator of ‘Evolver’ Russell Bennett (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 only 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 is supposed to have some kind of limitation.

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 just 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’ 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 and Evolver does he show heart and how the dangers of Evolver after affecting them. 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 being just a gamer.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennett. 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 ‘Q’ from The Next Generation series. For those who are Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in ‘Breaking Bad’. 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 character of Evolver. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as WH 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 movie is 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 there, perhaps in my Top 5. 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 straight to video cassette into movie immortality!

 

TRIVIA

  • N/A

 

AUDIO CLIPS