Tag: scott derrickson

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Despite impressive visual effects and capable performances, “Doctor Strange” lacks the emotional depth and heft that modern superhero films now require. If it were released back in the mid-1990s or early-2000s, it would have been considered first-class, but given that the bar had been set quite high by other Marvel films, viewers with a critical eye are likely to consider the picture to be entertaining in parts but average as a whole. Written by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill, perhaps the material might have been improved upon given a fuller characterization of Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), both as a fallen top neurosurgeon who decides to seek alternative medicine after modern science had failed to fix his injuries and as a believer of the mystic, eventual savior of the planet.

Pay close attention to the way people speak to one another. There is a reductive approach to the script, a nasty habit of explaining how a person feels or thinks about rather than showing and trusting the audience to be empathetic enough to relate to the plight of its characters—not just toward Strange’s circumstances but also to those around him. For example, I found the romantic interest, Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, to be overwritten. Scenes which depict the two arguing feel as though they are stripped off a bad melodrama. Good melodramas tend to have implications, the script thriving off the unsaid and long silences. Here, just about everything has to be vocalized just in case the audience doesn’t get it.

The writers’ attempts at humor feel misplaced at times. Perhaps it is because I wish so badly to be engaged with the core drama of an arrogant man unable to come to terms with his broken self that all efforts which change the tone come across rather disingenuous. Or maybe the script does not command a strong grip on the story’s identity and thus its inability to control tone effectively. Having not read Stan Lee’s comics, it made me wonder if the source material had the same type of humor or if the humor was tacked onto the film make the work more palatable, relatable to mainstream audiences. Either way, no viewer should have to wonder.

There are neat visual effects in which skyscrapers and busy streets fold into—or out of?—one another as characters battle it out using their limbs and summoned magic. There is an urgency to the chases that allows it to work in an action-fantasy film. Still, such high-level energy fails to continue once the action stops and people start talking or relating to one another. For instance, the subplot point involving Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Doctor Strange’s contrasting approaches—the former’s steel willfulness at following rules to a tee and the latter’s versatility to follow and bend rules when necessary—comes across as rushed and undercooked during the latter half.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, “Doctor Strange” is watchable and entertaining at times, but one gets the feeling there is more to the character and the mythology. And had the filmmakers been willing to take more risks and trust that the audience is capable of understanding the more cryptic aspects of the title character’s universe, they might have created a film that aimed to set an example rather than simply following an oft-traversed path.

Deliver Us from Evil

Deliver Us from Evil (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Directed by Scott Derrickson, “Deliver Us from Evil” begins on a solid footing, appropriately building an increasing sense of dread before giving the audience a full picture of what it is ultimately going to be about. About halfway through, however, it loses its way and it is eventually reduced to yet another horror movie about demonic possessions and we foresee an exorcism about to be performed from a mile away. It becomes less of an engaging experience and more a waiting game where special and visual effects finally take center stage.

Detective Sarchie (Eric Bana) takes a trip to the Bronx Zoo because there is a report of a woman who threw her baby into a ravine. They find her, apparently deranged, and she is arrested. Sarchie recognizes the woman reciting the lyrics to The Doors’ “Break on Through.” The cops figure she is on drugs and it might be better to question her at a later time. The next day, a priest named Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez) asks Sarchie if, upon her arrest, the suspect was “unusually strong” the night before.

Intrigue is established in the first half. At the New York Police Department, cops have been complaining of calls from citizens who claim to hear strange noises in their home and see things moving on their own like their houses are possessed. The atmosphere likens that of David Fincher’s “Se7en” in that it is always raining, dark, and there is a sense of foreboding. It is easy to believe that although the story takes place in the real world, it is on the verge of a critical shift, like Pandor’s box is about to be opened.

But then the screenplay by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman is occasionally watered down by Sarchie’s problems at home. His wife (Olivia Munn) is beginning to feel as though he is spending too much time at work and when he is at home, his mind is somewhere else. I found this to be unbearably boring, formulaic, and forced. None of the dialogue between Bana and Munn work to progress the story in the forward direction and neither do we feel that their characters are into each other.

Scenes between Sarchie and his partner, Butler (Joel McHale), while driving around NYC, are better because we can actually glimpse into the dynamic of their relationship. The latter, however, is only occasionally found in the latter half as the priest’s role in the story gains more significance.

In bad horror movies with limited budget, lights turning on and off, hearing strange noises, and the booming of the score when something supposedly exciting happens rarely ever work. Here, the same approach is employed only this picture has more funds. And guess what? It still does not work. What good is using special and visual effects when there is no elegance or ingenuity in the script designed to escalate the tension in a consistent or surprising ways?

“Deliver Us from Evil” is a good movie for a while but it degenerates into a mindless mess where the effort is put into ticking every box in the horror genre instead of exploring new frontiers through a mixing of the crime and horror genres. As the final hour unfolds, I sat in my chair increasingly frustrated but was comforted by the fact that at least it is not another tired found footage horror-thriller.


Sinister (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Desperate for inspiration to write another book, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime novelist, knowingly moved his family into a house whose past owners were murdered. Move-in day proved promising for the author when he found a box of Super 8 family movies in the attic which contained clips of five different families spending time with one another and eventually being killed in gruesome manners. Despite the images he witnessed, Ellison proceeded to research the crimes and write the book, all the while keeping his family unaware of their house’s history. Right from its first images in which not a word was uttered, “Sinister,” written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, commanded a darkness that captured and retained my attention until it dropped its intense promise with such an uninspired final act often expected from weaker haunted house movies. The build-up was quite impressive because there was an uncertainty as to whether the strange incidents could be attributed to human factor as opposed to something otherworldly. For example, the first big scare involving a box and what came out of it was deftly handled because it played upon a phenomenon that a lot of people had most likely heard of but not necessarily understand. That scene, which I suspected to be just another cheap attempt to get any reaction from us but turned out to be the complete opposite, reflected the filmmakers’ first-rate ability, if they wanted to, to create increasingly tense situations as the anxieties we felt in our guts swirled and swirled until a perfectly timed grotesque image, coupled with a loud noise, triggered our uneasiness to burst, sending jolts down our spines and limbs. However, its techniques in establishing dread was not its only weapon that drew us in. Hawke was convincing as a writer whose passion threatened to swallow him and his family whole. Ellison believed that he had another hit novel inside him just waiting to be written given the proper fire. Though he somehow convinced himself that the act of choosing to endure the house of horror was for his family, everyone knew except him that it was really about his ego. If it weren’t, he wouldn’t have stayed in that house, given what he learned about the crimes, and risked his family’s safety. The one argument between husband and wife (Juliet Rylance) may feel like it came from a marriage drama but, in this case, it felt right because it kept the story grounded. Meanwhile, the film’s more amusing segments involved Ellison and a local deputy (James Ransone) forming a sort of partnership, the latter expecting to have his name credited once the book was finished. We were given a chance to see very clearly the extent of how Ellison viewed himself so highly compared to a fan that behaved like a drooling dog, desperate for a pat on the head for each thing he got right. Unfortunately, the last act of “Sinister,” directed by Scott Derrickson, proved dull and uninspired, not at all worthy of the material that came before it. One of the worst feelings while watching a movie, despite the genre, is when we begin to suspect that the filmmakers had given up to provide us something that they genuinely believe is worthwhile. The final act felt rushed, silly, and at times laughable with its repetitive gestures of silence. It made me want to scream at the screen–out of frustration, not fear.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I haven’t seen the 1951 version by the time I wrote this review so I’m not going to compare the 2008 version to that one. That said, it’s interesting to me how Keanu Reeves can be so good at playing robotic characters (like Neo in “The Matrix” franchise) but so bad at playing real people that are supposed to be emotionally crippled or conflicted (as Alex Wyler in “The Lake House” and Detective Tom Ludlow in “Street Kings”). I thought he was effective here as Klaatu, a humanoid whose role is to determine whether the human species need to be obliterated in order to save the Earth. He was creepy, convincingly powerful, and had a definite sense of purpose. He claims that if the Earth dies, everything else will perish along with it but if all humans die, the Earth and everything that it nurtures will go on living. I thought that was a decent reasoning so I went along with it. What’s unforgivable, however, is its lack of human emotional core. That’s when Jennifer Connely and her step-son (Jaden Smith) come in. Their backstory isn’t enough to convince me why Reeves should spare the human race. In the end, I wanted to see an apocalypse because humans are portrayed as violent people (the United States army) and incapable of standing up to authority, such as when Kathy Bates (as the president’s Secretary of Defense) followed what the president wanted her to do despite her best instincts. There are only four things I liked about the movie which saved it from utter failure: the somewhat brilliant visual effects, Gort as Klaatu’s automaton companion, the idea of humans’ nature regarding a precipice and change, and John Cleese as the Nobel prize-winning professor who we meet in the middle of the picture. The rest is junk, which is a shame because the movie is started off very well. The director, Scott Derrickson, could’ve made a superior film that is more character-driven and less visually impressive. After all, the story is about humanity and why we should be saved from extinction. Since the director lost that core (or maybe he didn’t find it in the first place), the final product is a mess. This picture can be an enjoyable Netflix rental on an uneventful Friday night but do not go rushing into the cinema to see it.