Tag Archives: Scott Derrickson

The Black Phone (2022) Review

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The Black Phone

Time: 103 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Horror, violence, domestic violence & offensive language
Cast:
Mason Thames as Finney Blake
Madeleine McGraw as Gwen
Ethan Hawke as The Grabber
Jeremy Davies as Terrence
James Ransone as Max
Director: Scott Derrickson

Finney Shaw is a shy but clever 13-year-old boy who’s being held in a soundproof basement by a sadistic, masked killer. When a disconnected phone on the wall starts to ring, he soon discovers that he can hear the voices of the murderer’s previous victims — and they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.

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The Black Phone was one of my most anticipated movies of 2022. It would be director Scott Derrickson’s return to horror for the first time in 8 years, it has a simple but interesting premise, and Ethan Hawke as the main villain. While it could’ve been better, I did enjoy it overall.

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The plot takes its time, but for it was, it is an effectively creepy and dark horror movie. I am aware that The Black Phone is based on a short story, but feels a lot like a Stephen King story; bullies, alcoholic fathers, scary killers with masks, vague and unexplained supernatural elements, the only thing missing was it being set in Maine. The story is very familiar and cliched for a horror movie. Familiarity isn’t necessarily bad, but even if you don’t watch the incredibly revealing trailer, at a certain point, it becomes obvious how the rest of the plot is going to play out. But if you read it as a Stephen King throwback, then it plays a little better. It is fairly entertaining, and it was funnier than I expected it to be. However, the script is a bit of a mixed bag. For its nasty premise, it almost felt a little too tame. It could’ve gone darker when it came to the serial killer stuff, and from Sinister we know that Derrickson is capable of going there. However, my biggest issue is that much of the script felt underdeveloped and was missing something, it needed to expand or elaborate on some things. It juggles multiple different threads, including trauma, kidnappings, and psychic elements, but none of them are really handled that greatly. There are some supernatural elements, from the psychic dreams of the main character’s sister, to the voices of the killer’s victims calling on the black phone in the room that he’s trapped in. Not that I wanted a big info dump on everything, but they needed some level of explanation, at least more than what we got. As it was, the supernatural elements did take away from the real world setting and themes that the movie had previously established. The aspect involving the killer called “The Grabber” is also flawed, mainly with his motive. Initially you think that there is more to the Grabber’s deal than just killing children, given that he keeps his victims down in the basement. However, that’s not the case, and we don’t learn anything about him. So you’re waiting in anticipation for a backstory or reveal that just never comes. The third act doesn’t resolve things that well either; the ending is really abrupt and the last scene is particularly tact on and out of place.

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Ethan Hawke is menacing as The Grabber. Most of the time we don’t see his face, we usually just see him with a mask on. I understand why they used him sparingly, but I think we needed a lot more Hawke screentime. Jeremy Davies is also good in his part. However, it is the kids who stand out the most. Mason Thames is good as the lead child who is captured and is trying to escape, and Madeleine McGraw is especially great as the sister who receives the psychic visions.

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Scott Derrickson once again is very good at directing a movie, especially a horror. I like the visual look of the movie, especially in how it places itself in the 70s. The dream sequences had a distinct look to it, reminiscent to the home tapes from Sinister. I liked them all except one scene involving pinball which was very out of place. The scares aren’t special but were effective enough. They didn’t feel like cliched jump scares and it was refreshing for a recent horror movie to not be so heavy and reliant on jump scares. Finally, the Grabber masks that Hawke wears are very memorable and unique.

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The Black Phone has its problems and considering the potential it had, it was a little disappointing. It felt like it needed a few more drafts to flesh out some of the elements that it introduced. However, Scott Derrickson’s direction is effective, and the performances are great, and they make up for much of the issues.

Doctor Strange (2016) Review

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Time: 115 minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo
Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer
Benedict Wong as Wong
Michael Stuhlbarg as Nicodemus West
Benjamin Bratt as Jonathan Pangborn
Scott Adkins as Lucian
Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius
Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One
Director: Scott Derrickson

Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, in a mysterious enclave. He quickly learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Before long, Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to Doctor Strange, and it was one of my most anticipated films of 2016. As it was a MCU movie, I expected to like it but didn’t know what I would get, the MCU was exploring new territory, magic. And this movie intrigued me the more footage I saw. I have to say, after seeing this movie, Doctor Strange truly surprised me. From its well written and character driven story, the great acting from its stellar cast and of course, it’s spectacular special effects, Doctor Strange is both a fun time and also a really good movie in itself, as well as one of my favourite Marvel movies, and that’s saying a lot.

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I could sell the film on the effects alone but the great thing is, I don’t have to. This film is so well written, it isn’t just a fun time, the characters are for the most part well established and have their own ideologies and identities. This is also one of the best MCU films in terms of its protagonist’s arc, the best since Iron Man. A lot of the other solo MCU films (like Captain America, Thor and Ant Man) had good protagonists but Doctor Strange’s arc is done incredibly well in comparison. At the beginning, Strange is arrogant and a little unlikable and over the course of the film you can see him change over time as he goes through his journey. This arc made Doctor Strange one of the best MCU characters yet (at least for me). Throughout the film, I thought it was well structured, the first act established Strange and took its time with it, which really helped his character arc. The second act brought Kaecillius (the main villain of the film) into the mix and I enjoyed the third act quite a bit. There is an aspect in the last act that I thought could’ve been done better but I can’t really say what it is because it is sort of a spoiler. It’s not major, it involved the final fight, I still liked the sequence though. In terms of the humour, most of it is done well, it’s not bad, constantly overdone or detracted from the seriousness of the situations, but I think they should’ve cut down a little bit of it, there was a little too much of it. I think I should mention that there are two credits scenes, without spoiling anything, I have to say that I loved both of them, and made me even more excited for the future MCU films.

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Even though I thought the characters were for the most part well written, the actors really elevated their characters with their performances. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly suited as the titular character. Before anybody asks, no, he wasn’t playing Sherlock Holmes with magic, or just doing an impersonation of Tony Stark. He was and embodied his own special character, as I said, he goes through a huge character arc throughout the film. Now he’s one of my favourite MCU characters. Chiwetel Ejiofor is pretty good in this film (just know that his Karl Mordo is quite different from the comics), I do wish that he had more interactions with Cumberbatch but I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in future movies. Tilda Swinton is really great as The Ancient One, the mystical figure who teaches Strange, I kinda wanted to see more of her though. The MCU has a bad reputation of having weak villains, which is why I was worried when Mads Mikkelsen was cast as the villain, and I am a fan of Mads Mikkelsen. So, is he wasted? Yes… and no. Mads is great in his role, and his character is written well enough, given slightly more depth than most MCU villains, you can truly tell that he believes he’s doing the right thing for the world. At the same time though, he really should’ve been in the movie more, given a little more development and his backstory should’ve been explored more. I guess they wanted to focus more on Strange’s story. Rachel McAdams is pretty much the girlfriend character but she managed to rise above it and did give quite a good performance, her character just should’ve been written better.

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The special effects are truly great, the action is very creative, with buildings turning all over the place, time going into reverse, it’s very… different. I know a lot of people will be saying that this movie rips off Inception, but even if that’s the case, I’m honestly fine with it, Inception is great. The magic is also a nice edition and done so well, it’s fun to watch all these characters use it. I must stress that if you are going to see this movie, go see it in 3D, its an absolute necessity. I will say that at times it runs into the case with “too much effects on screen at the same time” like what happened with the Star Wars Prequels (though not to that extreme). The score by Michael Giacchino is something different from a usual MCU score, it worked for the movie, even if it’s not very memorable in hindsight.

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE..L to R: Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)..Photo Credit: Film Frame ..©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

I absolutely loved Doctor Strange. It’s not just a fun movie with great action and spectacular effects, it’s backed up by a well written story, a well developed main character, great acting from it’s very talented cast (which at times elevated the material they worked with), everything that a good comic book movie needs. Looking at things, this is currently my 5th favourite film of the MCU, and I didn’t expect that. I highly recommend seeing Doctor Strange, it’s a great time.