Why are Studios Giving Tentpoles to Newcomers?

Why are Studios Giving Tentpoles to Newcomers?

In the wake of The Mummy’s recent reception including a soft domestic opening and abysmal movie reviews word came out of star Tom Cruise’s influence over the production. While director Alex Kurtzman is no stranger to blockbuster filmmaking (He’s been part of enormous franchises including: Transformers, Star Trek, and The Amazing Spider-Man) it has always been in either a screenwriter or producer capacity. So why is it that Universal Pictures entrusted him with 125 million dollar budget and having directed only a single film prior? (That film: People Like Us. A 16 million dollar drama that failed to recoup it’s budget in the theatrical run. Quite a giant leap.) The more I started thinking about this question the more I realized this isn’t something new. A recent trend has been to find a director coming off a hot debut and give them the helm of a franchise. Examples include: Marc Webb – (500) Days of Summer/The Amazing Spider-Man, Josh Trank – Chronicle/Fant4stic, Colin Trevorrow – Safety Not Guaranteed/Jurassic World, Gareth Edwards – Monsters/Godzilla. In this article I wanted to look at not only the motivation for this but also the repercussions and what could be done to avoid more so so big budget features.


Let’s start with the initial question I posed in the title. Why would “The Big Six” want to put the fate of a franchise in the hands of people who made a films on a fraction of a scale as these? My biggest assumption is with a lot of veteran directors stagnating they want fresh blood. There is hope that if you shake things up there will be new and impressive results. Edwards gave us an engaging and humanizing look at giant creatures attacking civilization with Monsters and it cost a lean $500,000. It makes sense after the outcome of the 1998 Godzilla that finding a director who has talent and a reverence for the genre is a must. Why trust a person who sees directing as a job instead of finding someone who treats it like art?


The dark side to this is what is more than likely going to happen in this scenario. Studios for the most part don’t trust someone/something new. Just take a look at the list of sequels, remakes, adaptations, and reboots that have happened and are in the pipeline. They’re in the business of making money and that means making films that are palpable for the widest audience possible. Even if the director comes in with a unique vision that will impress and astound odds are the studio only want more of the same. When Marc Webb was announced as director for The Amazing Spider-Man I had cautious optimism. Next came news that they were going to give moviegoers “The Untold Story”. A statement that even graced the film’s teaser poster. In the end, the film was just another Spider-Man story that lacked the zaniness of Sam Raimi’s style. Even worse is either losing trust in the director during or hiring someone knowing they can be micro-managed. Josh Trank infamously tweeted how a year prior to Fant4stic’s release he had a film that would’ve received great reviews instead of the critically panned clunker released. This came on a swirl of rumors that over a 3rd of the film had been re-shot and Trank was exhibiting ‘erratic behavior’ during production. Was the film a disaster or did 20th Century Fox get cold feet with Trank’s vision and wanted something more vanilla? It’s probably going to be a few more years before the dust finally settles and we’ll get the truth.


Now we come to another major question: How did we get to this point? I think there are three major factors that have contributed to this uptick. Firstly, the turnaround time from writing a script to theatrical release has shrunk dramatically. No longer are films given a gestation period that will allow for kinks to be ironed out. Seeing studios set a release date for a film before they have a final script is becoming an extremely common occurrence. Seasoned directors are less willing to risk their credibility for a half-baked film than someone looking to climb the ladder.

Secondly, the disappearance of mid budget films. It use to be that directors were groomed into blockbusters. The movies they made beforehand had incremental increases in their budgets.  This meant directors got to learn how to control larger production aspects gradually rather than overnight. Could Sam Raimi have made Spider-Man after The Evil Dead? Possibly, but it more than likely wouldn’t have turned out as good as it did. Unfortunately this is a problem that studios created for themselves. Mid budget films disappeared because making a profit on them isn’t easy. Studios now make $150 million films which are guaranteed hits or they’ll buy up a bunch of independent films for a few million dollars and earn profit this way.

Finally, studios don’t tend to care if a film is good so long as it makes money. We have seen numerous summer films make a ton of money whether or not they’re actually good. While initial reactions to Jurassic World were more on the positive side the hype has since died down and people are a little more critical. I myself really enjoyed the film when I first saw in theatres in spite of some issues, but after re-watching it at home I found it didn’t pack the same wow factor. All Universal had to do to make Jurassic World successful was sell a slick nostalgia trip filled with dinosaurs. Whether or not you like the film you have to admit Universal sold their film well and made 1.6 billion dollars in the process. Odds are they could’ve put almost any other person in the director’s chair and gotten a similar result.

These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Do you think independent film directors are a positive influence on mainstream Hollywood? Would you be interested in seeing more films made on budgets of 30-75 million dollars? Do you not care who’s directing so long as the film entertains? Let me know.

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts and I’m now on Instagram as well. As always, thanks for reading

Fun Things from the Get Out Commentary

Fun Things from the Get Out Commentary

Not going to lie, this is an article I’ve been waiting to write for a while. After seeing Get Out on it’s opening weekend I was enamored with the film and was dying to hear writer/director Jordan Peele discuss every aspect of the film. Before we dig in I’d like to throw out my two cents about the film. It is hands down one of the best films of the year and is sure to become a staple in the horror genre. It’s so good I actually had to see it twice in theatres to pick up all the subtle bits of foreshadowing Peele placed in the story. As a story of race relations in the U.S. it’s searing and thought provoking. (Yes, this coming from a white guy who was born and raised in one of the whitest areas of America.) So without further ado, lets dig into some of the fantastic anecdotes Jordan Peele lays on the viewer.

-Subverting the Genre-

The cold opening of the film is loosely based around the 1978 horror classic Halloween. We’re shown the perfect white suburb, but this time the character is already uncomfortable in this environment.

-Who’s on the Other End of the Line?-

While it’s never confirmed in the film we find out that Andre is more than likely on the phone with Rose who is baiting the trap.

-Homages to the Classics-

Throughout the commentary Jordan Peele discusses he numerous horror film influences. The man knows the genre in and out. Point of fact here’s his thoughts on the car in the opening, “I sort of wanted this Porsche to be like Jaws. Like it has this music coming from it, it has this menace. And also pulling from Christine a little bit. Also Duel a little bit.”

-Setting Up the Lore-

The Knights Templar helmet Jeremy wears to abduct Andre is our first clue into the origins of the Red Alchemist Society. Peele postulates that this is the way the society channels the immortality of the Holy Grail through their techniques.

-The Score-

This is composer Michael Abels first film. He’s a classical composer who has worked in a wide variety of genres including: blues, jazz, and bluegrass. “I chose him because I really wanted the soundtrack here and the score to have this new different sound. Something we’ve never heard before.”

-The Main Musical Theme-

To quote the director himself this was the quality he was looking for in the composer and score, “If you could give me black voices with a sinister sound that’s not voodoo. Maybe something that sounds almost like a disembodied or satanic negro spiritual.”

-Picking Additional Songs-

The use of the Childish Gambino song “Redbone” was to signal to the audience that Chris is an intelligent and alert person who makes the right decisions. The scene was originally scored, but it apparently felt too heavy and needed something more chill.

-Foreshadowing: Part I-

The first time we see Chris he is putting shaving cream on his face. This was the audience’s first hint at what the 3rd act would entail for Chris.

-Foreshadowing: Part II-

Rose’s smile when she is selecting pastries in the opening is the same one that can be seen in the photos Chris later finds in her bedroom closet.

-Filming Locations-

The entirety of the film was shot in Alabama. The apartment Chris and Rose have was filmed in Mobile and was suppose to give off the vibe of Brooklyn without being specific.

-Tough Parts of Filming-

Hiding the Rose reveal was the toughest part of the story. Jordan Peele wasn’t sure it would work. He commends the actress for making the reveal work so well “The character is as good an actor as she is.”

-Day One-

Jordan Peele’s first scene he shot as a director was the introduction of Rod. It was actually shot at a cruise ship terminal rather than an airport.

-Foreshadowing: Part III-

The close up shot of Chris stepping off the pavement into the woods was to show a transition in the story. Chris is going from the city (his comfort zone) into country (the wild).

-Foreshadowing: Part IV-

The scene where Rose is arguing with the cop about asking for Chris’ ID looks like her standing up for Chris on initial viewing, but it’s actually her covering her tracks. I picked up on this the second time I saw it and thought it was one of the most brilliant plant and pay offs in the film. It shows just how much of a sociopath Rose truly is.

-Directorial Instincts-

When Chris meets Rose’s parent’s on the doorstep coverage was shot in spite of Peele knowing he wanted it to play out in a wide. He said he should’ve trusted his instincts instead of wasting part of a 23 day shooting schedule on footage he knew would never get used.

-Who to Satire?-

While multiple films have taken aim at the blue collar red state racism Peele wanted to dig deeper. He wanted take on the liberal elites and show racism knows no class boundaries even in 2017.

-Jeremy’s Backstory-

Of all the people in the Armitage family when Jeremy was younger he knew what the family was doing was wrong. In the end he was turned into a monster because of the corruption from his family’s influence.

-The Hypnosis Scene-

Peele states that this is his favorite scene in the film. He wanted the Chris/Missy dynamic to be similar to the Clarice/Lecter conversations from Silence of the Lambs. He also wanted Chris to keep his composure and be resistant and grounded to the hypnosis.

-The Sunken Place-

We get a lot of great details about The Sunken Place. The basis comes from the feeling of falling you sometimes have before falling asleep. “Well what if you never caught yourself? Where would you fall. What would you go into?” The Sunken Place is a construct of Chris’ mind and worst fear, sitting alone powerless watching television. And The Sunken Place could potentially be different for every victim. “It’s a state of mind that is created by your own brain based on Missy latching onto your deepest fear or darkest moment.”

-The Party Scene-

The party scenes were the most difficult to film. The larger number of people made it harder to shoot. Peele wanted to give the partygoers an international flavor to show the scope of the Red Alchemist Society’s size.

-The Blind Art Dealer-

At one point it was discussed whether or not such an idea for a character would be too over the top. But in the end it’s just over the top enough. It also gives the audience the feeling that Chris may have found an ally.

-Dream Influence-

The scene where Chris goes upstairs and the party guests go silent staring at the ceiling is based off a dream Jordan Peele once had.

-The Phone Issue-

Instead of the cliche, “There is no cell phone service” plot point Peele wanted to deal with it in a more believable way. Having Georgina constantly unplug it to kill the battery makes more sense.

-Peele’s Performance-

While he doesn’t have an acting role in the film Peele did provide the voice on the opposite end of the phone during the Chris/Rod conversations during filming. “That’s one of the advantages to being a sketch performer. As a director you can do half assed versions of these characters.”

-Another Comedian’s In-Law-

It turns out that actor Yasuhiko Oyama is the father in-law of Ken Marino (Best known from Wet Hot American Summer, Party Down, and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster).


The auction scene was deliberately vague as to how/what the bidders are placing. Peele hypothesizes that since the Red Alchemists are descended from the Knights Templar each card represents different artifacts the group has amassed that are up for trade.

-Rod to the Rescue-

Once “all is lost” for Chris the audience’s only hope is Rod. He becomes the Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers from The Shining) or Buster (Richard Farnsworth from Misery) to the story. Thankfully unlike the other two Rod survives.

-Alternate Music Choice-

When Chris wakes up restrained in the rec room originally James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” was going to be playing on a continuous loop. It turned out the licensing fees for the song were too high so they went with the video of Rose’s grandfather explaining the procedure.

-The “Real” Reason Jordan Peele Made the Film-

Peele jokingly states that he made Get Out to curry favor with TSA so he’d get great treatment at airports.

-The Surgery-

It was originally going to be that the person who’s body is being taken over were going to die. The idea of them being forced to live on while someone else controls their body was tantamount to modern slavery and far more horrifying.

-The Sophomore Slump-

Peele knows that he’s going to have trouble trying to follow-up Get Out. He asks the audience to, “give him a little rope” to make a worse film.

-Racist Irony-

It was intentional that picking cotton from the arm rest cushion was the thing that would end up saving Chris from slavery.

-Prop Origin-

The ceremonial box that contained Dean’s surgical tools was in fact a box used to hold poker chips.

-Exploring the Mythology-

With the extensive amount of mythology surrounding the Red Alchemists Jordan Peele promises he’ll divulge more about them down the line. I guess that means I’ll be buying the special edition blu-ray when it comes out.

-Spielberg Influence-

While the car in the beginning was likened to Duel there is another homage to Spielberg. The reveal of Georgina’s scar in the car was influenced by the reveal of the velociraptor’s ability to open doors in Jurassic Park.

-An NC-17 Rating?-

Peele states that he assumes if a movie had been made ten years ago where at the end a black man is choking a white woman to death and the audience being on his side it would’ve gotten an NC-17 rating. I can’t say he’s wrong about that.

-The Main Song-

The song in Swahili is translated to, “Trust Your Ancestors”.

These are just a handful of interesting tid bits Jordan Peele revealed in this track. And I have to say, this is one of the best tracks I’ve listened to in a long time. While we get a lot behind the scenes information it’s fantastic hearing him discuss the mythology of the story. I can not recommend it enough. I can not wait to see where Jordan Peele goes as a director from this fantastic directorial debut. As usual, what are your thoughts? Did you like Get Out? Are you going to pick up the blu-ray? If you do, do check out the alternate ending. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts and as always thank you so much for reading.

How Does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 stack up with the 22 Sequel Do’s and Don’ts.

How Does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 stack up with the 22 Sequel Do’s and Don’ts.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened last weekend in the United States with a stellar $145 million. This is beyond impressive when you realize the original Guardians opened at $94 million. Having seen it I wanted to discuss it, but wasn’t sure I had an angle until I remembered an old article from Entertainment Weekly. Entitled “22 Movie Sequel Do’s and Don’ts” I wanted to take these 22 points and check them against the film to see how the film stacked up. Of course, there will be spoilers and I will provide a link at the end to EW’s original article. Without further ado, let’s dive in.


To be fair, Guardians 1’s villain was a little run of the mill. Ronan the Accuser’s motivations were broad and evil, but for a debut film they worked well enough. Vol. 2 kicked it up with a more personal bad guy. While we initially assume that Ayesha and the Sovereign people are our primary antagonists we shift over once Ego arrives. Being Peter’s father it cuts harder to see everything Peter wanted turn out to be a lie. And it gets even worse once Ego reveals he was responsible for Peter’s mother getting cancer. It hurts and makes you root for our heroes even harder. (Outcome: Success)


The film does have one primary antagonist and two secondary antagonists. Split between an A plot and B plot we have the previously mentioned Sovereign people and Ego, but in a B plot we have Taser Face and even Nebula has a moment. But in all honesty, it never feels convoluted or overstuffed. Luckily Taser Face and Nebula serve a purpose in their plots. And on the plus side they didn’t try to shoehorn Thanos into the film for an Infinity War set-up. (Outcome: Success)


This is a tough one as many of the characters from the original film were fantastic. But the elimination of the Nova Corp characters Rhomann Dey and Irani Rael was helpful. There was no need to drag them back into the story. (Outcome: Success)


This is another tricky one as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for constantly dropping hints and easter eggs as to where the future of the series will go. I didn’t have a problem with these, but I’m also a comic book fan who loves catching all the hints and teases for the future. Guardians does have a lot to take in, but it’s not an overload on the level of Iron Man 2. (Outcome: Partial Success)


With any space opera style film you get the opportunity to explore different worlds. And while we do spend a good portion of time on run down space ships we also get to see rich and beautiful worlds for our characters to explore. (Outcome: Success)


Aside from a flashback in the beginning to show Peter’s mother none of the characters who died in the previous film appear. And while we can discuss how Baby Groot could  be considered a resurrected character he technically came back to life in the first film. (Outcome: Success)


Yep, Vol. 2 definitely hits this mark hard. Between Peter’s issues with his father and Yondu, the Gamora/Nebula conflict, and Rocket coming to terms with who he is character crisis is everywhere. (Outcome: Success)


With the exception of Nebula none of the previous villains return. And we do still see the anger and resentment in Nebula. And while she and Gamora reconcile there’s still pain there. (Outcome: Success)


This one is hard to deliberate. The story gets a little busier than the first film, but that’s because it’s building on the previous story. (Outcome: Success)


Gunn went into this story with a vision. Taking the groundwork he set up from the first film he built upon it in an impressive way. (Outcome: Success)


While almost every other Marvel franchise has seen a shift in the person at the helm (The Russo Brothers took over Captain America in a brilliant way) and have seen stagnation with returning directors (Iron Man 2 wasn’t as good as Iron Man and we can debate Age of Ultron’s merits). Luckily, Gunn has a love and respect for these characters and it shines through. I can not wait to see where he takes Vol. 3. (Outcome: Success)


The Sovereign people at times bog down the film when the story cuts back to them. And in fact it may be the one weaker aspect of the film (Outcome: Fail)


Haha, it is great to see Vol. 2 going over the top. The space jumping scene may in fact be one of the goofiest things that has been put into a Marvel film. (Outcome: Success)


Thankfully all of our characters are flying high on the new adventures the outcome of the first film paved the way for. The opening shows them relishing their rolls as protectors for hire. I think of a quote from Rocket Raccoon, “Great! We can jack up our prices if we’re two-time galaxy savers!” (Outcome: Success)


Oh man, this is one hurts. While Yondu was a supporting character in both of these films it was Michael Rooker’s brilliant performance that made him super likable. His sacrifice to save Peter hits hard. We get to see Peter understand that family isn’t about biology. He had a father this whole time who cared and protected him all those years. Yondu’s funeral is heartbreaking and adds weight to Peter’s search for family. (Outcome: Success)


Our main characters make it out with some emotional pain, but at least they make it out alive. (Outcome: Success)


Comic book films can get bogged down in building off their success and make sequels inaccessible if you haven’t seen the previous films (i.e. The Dark Knight Rises). Hints are dropped to what happened in the first film, but never to the affect that it’s key to see it. (Outcome: Success)


While Guardians has a great sense of humor it’s not a straight comedy. The humor in Vol. 2 is just as on point with it’s jokes and has some moments that are gut busters, “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” (Outcome: Success)


As I mentioned earlier we see characters get real growth in the series. Peter, Gamora, Rocket, Nebula, and Yondu all get to show more emotions and get depth. There is never a time where they use the original film as something to lean on to illicit emotions from the audience. The villain is stronger and personal to our lead. (Outcome: Success)


With a movie series based off a comic book this is an easy trap to avoid. There are decades of comics that have the Guardians of the Galaxy running off on intergalactic adventures. And while the film is based off the 2008 re-launch of the series there’s still a lot to mine. Gunn and Marvel have a trove of material and it means Vol. 3 is ripe with potential (Outcome: Success)


Kurt Russell, need I say more? (Outcome: Success)


There is always some level of repetition when it comes to sequels. Sometimes it’s calling back a catchphrase from the first film or blatantly re-treading an entire plot. It would’ve been super easy to take brilliant moments like the dance off and done them again for a cheap callback. There are a few things that feel old hat (another huge fleet of ships in the finale), but a lot of new ground it covered and fresh beats are hit. (Outcome: Success)

From the looks of it Vol. 2 hits all of the do’s and avoids most of the don’ts.  Personally, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It went for deeper emotions instead of bigger explosions. As usual though, what are your thoughts? Did you enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as much, more than, or less than the first film? Are you going to give it a second viewing in theatres? I know I will. Of course, you can follow me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts. Yep, going to keep telling you that until I get to the triple digits for followers. Remember to check out the Entertainment Weekly link at the bottom. And thanks again for reading.


What is Pocket.watch and Will it Become a Dominating Force in Kids Entertainment?

What is Pocket.watch and Will it Become a Dominating Force in Kids Entertainment?

I recently read an article online about a new digital start up company called Pocket.watch. As I started to look further into the company I realized there is a lot to unpack and discuss. And while I’m nearly 30 I always find kid’s media intriguing. What makes kids enjoy certain stories and do kids know when they’re being pandered to? We’ll dig into that topic down the line, but today lets look at this new company, where it came from, what it might mean for the industry, and where it could go.

-Who and What?-

Pocket.watch intends to be a new online outlet for media geared towards children between 2-11 years of age. It comes to us from the mind of Chris M. Williams who has a background in both online distribution and children’s entertainment. Previously he worked as the chief audience officer of Maker Studios and GM of Disney Online Originals. As the CEO of Pocket.watch he has already taken major steps in recruiting talented people into the fold. This includes former head of Nickelodeon and HLN Albie Hecht as chief content officer and well known entertainment lawyer Jon Moonves as chief strategy officer. What we see here is a trio who are not only seasoned professionals, but have a their fingers on the pulse of kid’s entertainment. One coming from the Mouse House and the other coming from Viacom’s green slime producing subsidiary. The group has already raised six million dollars in funding from high profile Hollywood talent including (but not limited to) Robert Downey Jr., Jon Landau, and Leslie Moonves (brother of Jon Moonves). Their goal is to start creating, acquiring, and distributing online entertainment both short and long form to compete with Disney and Nickelodeon. Ambitious but not out of the realm of possibility.

-Changing Viewer Habits-

This is a major factor working in Pocket.watch’s favor. It’s a fact that over the past few years how kids consume content has changed greatly. The Internet has made accessing media in all forms easier and offered a wider variety. Kids no longer have to sit down at a television between the hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to watch a block of programming geared towards them. Mobile devices and streaming have made it possible to watch in the viewer’s timeframe rather than what some suit assumes are the peak hours of watching. More consumers are cancelling their cable and satellite subscriptions and swapping in ‘skinny bundle’ packages from companies like Netflix and Amazon. People are looking for cheaper options that are available to them 24/7. With Pocket.watch tapping into this trend they’re stepping into the forefront of new media from the get go rather than being dragged into it. When you cater to the desires of customers they’ll be happy and willing to use your product. Smart move.

-Talent and their Treatment-

Just a few days ago it was announced that Pocket.watch had signed popular Youtube creators HobbyKidsTV as one of their first creative partners. HobbyKidsTV currently has nearly 2.4 million subscribers and gets around 200 million views monthly over ten separate channels. This built in fanbase will be a big coup for the company as they begin. Odds are people who come to Pocket.watch to see HobbyKidsTV will explore the other videos on the site. And looking at the state of Youtube it’s good for creators. In the past few months there have been problems brewing. Youtubers have seen profits shrinking from ad revenue as advertisers begin to dictate where they want ads placed and avoiding ‘controversial’ subjects and videos. This in turn has led to a lot of creators upset and looking at other options to make money. Some are getting video sponsorship, selling merchandise, or going to other websites to host their content. Pocket.watch has offered HobbyKidsTV an equity stake in the company. This is big for three reasons: 1. Creators will have a voice in the company and be part of the decision making process. 2. Having a share in the company means creators will get a larger cut of profits. 3. Stake in the company means the creators will have a deeper investment in it’s success. In a time when the collaborative spirit of online content is diminishing it’s surprising that a company wants vested interest from it’s employees.

-Issues in the Past-

As I stated previously, Williams and Hecht have previous experience with the major giants of kids entertainment. Williams with Disney/Maker Studios and Hecht at Viacom/Nickelodeon. And in the meantime issues have been brewing at both of those companies. Many former partners of Maker Studios have expressed displeasure with the tactics the company used. Whether it be taking a surprisingly large portion ad revenue or claiming a large slice of intellectual ownership over videos. And Viacom has been in turmoil since Sumner Redstone resigned as executive chairman of CBS and Viacom. With all this there has been lay-offs and talk of potential lay-offs at both companies. With their knowledge of whats going on, Williams and Hecht have insight into who they can woo over to Pocket.watch in more lucrative and stable positions. And with people uncertain about their futures at a company they’d be more willing to jump ship and join up with Pocket.watch.

-My One Fear-

While everything is sounding innovative and optimistic about where Pocket.watch will go there is something that still worries me. A while back I wrote an article on the up and coming website Vessel. I concluded that my major fear was that the company would end up getting bought out and absorbed into Youtube. While Youtube wasn’t the one to acquire Vessel (that was Verizon) it did end up getting shut down mere months after I wrote the article. In said article I stressed that it’s important to have healthy competition in the marketplace. But in the end if the people in charge of Pocket.watch get offered a large sum of money from another company they’d be foolish to turn it down. For the sake of the consumer and creators I hope Williams, Hecht, and Moonves are in this to change the market rather than building something only to make money selling it off to the highest bidder. Fingers crossed.

These are my thoughts on Pocket.watch, but as usual what are yours? Do you think this company is taking a major step in launching an entertainment empire built on innovation? Is kids entertainment in need of more variety? Are there any parents reading who have an opinion? If you’re interested you can follow me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts for more. And as always, thanks for reading!

Fun Things from the Doctor Strange Commentary

Fun Things from the Doctor Strange Commentary

As you know I truly enjoyed Doctor Strange so much that it made a spot on my list of Honorable Mentions from 2016. I decided it was time to dig into Scott Derrickson’s commentary and find out the interesting tid bits he had to offer. I really loved Derrickson’s commentary on the Sinister blu-ray (may have to do an article on that one another time), so I was excited for this one. While some tracks are more anecdotal Derrickson tends to take a different approach. He talks extensively about deeper aspects of the story. While I recommend listening to the track as his comments are going to be hard to distill down to smaller pieces, but here are a few great nuggets of wisdom.

-Date of Recording-

Derrickson states that the very start that he is recording his commentary the day before the film is set to premiere in Los Angeles. “It’s a blind perspective in terms of critical, audience, and box office response.”

-Who Was the Film Made For?-

“My intention is to pick a good target for the movie that I believe people will want to see and get their moneys worth out of. And that’s meaningful to me as a creative person. To hit that target and if I’ve done it right. If I picked a good target and I’ve hit that target that’s the reward. That’s the only reward you get as a filmmaker. It’s a huge reward. It’s the ultimate reward.” It’s refreshing to hear a director state that he knows his films aren’t always going to be ‘Four Quadrant’ pictures and instead wants to focus on a good story for a specific group.

-Kamar-Taj Filming and Locations-

Early on we find out that a large portion of the Kamar-Taj filming was done in London, but there was filming that took place in Kathmandu. (More on that below). We also find out that Derrickson deliberately set up the four locations for Kamar-Taj to have two in the east and two in the west. This was to show a more global perspective so the audience knows that they’re protectors of the entire world and not just the west and U.S.A. specifically.

-The Building VFX Origins-

The design of the building bending FX came from the director’s interest in GIFs and Youtube videos that did similar visual tricks. They nicknamed it the ‘Mandelbrot Effect’.

-Accuracy of Surgery Scenes-

While filming there was a consultant on-set to make sure all the minor details were medically accurate. “I feel that accuracy in professions is something the audience can feel. When you’re cheating something technical in a profession they may not know it, but somehow they might feel it.” It also helps that his wife is a nurse. “I get a lot of flack if I ever do anything medically improper.” And it turns out that when Stephen and Christine are performing the surgery on the bullet wound victim that they wouldn’t have had their masks on immediately as they would be rushed into the ER and not have time to prep.

-Meeting Marvel-

It turns out that Derrickson had to have eight separate meetings with Marvel in order to get the job of director. “They respect passion, experience, and talent. And I think I had proven my filmmaking skill in the horror genre and success in that genre.”

-Derrickson is a Fan-

He re-iterates that he is a fan of Marvel comics and in fact, Doctor Strange is his favorite character.

-What to Keep From the Comic-

While other things can be re-work or interpreted in a different way, Derrickson states that there were two key things that had to be kept from the comics. 1. Stephen Strange’s origin story. 2. The visual ambition of Steve Ditko’s original artwork.

-Using Real World Drama-

When you’re going to tell fantastical stories you need to ground the characters in reality. “The more realistic and the more grounded and the more relatable in terms of real human characters in the movie. The more powerful and real and effective the fantastical is when it enters into the movie.”

-The Nepal Earthquake-

In between the initial location scouting and pre-production the devastating Gorkha earthquake occurred destroying multiple locations and throwing the chancing of filming at Kathmandu into question. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Scott Derrickson decided they wanted to film there to highlight the beauty of the area that could not be replicated anywhere else.

-Ancient One Controversy-

While he spoke candidly about the casting controversy around The Ancient One in multiple interview Derrickson re-iterates his intentions. “I knew I had to get away from the stereotypical western view of Asians that was a stereotype perpetuated by the Fu Manchu magical Asian.” “I could not find a way to avoid this character be a magical mystical martial arts mentor with some hidden motives.” i.e. The Dragonlady motif. “I looked for an actress who could embody what was great about The Ancient One.” While some people are still justifiably upset about the casting of Tilda Swinton I back Derrickson’s motives. It was a no win situation that had the best-worst resolution.

-Hints of Horror-

Scott Derrickson has been prominently known as a director in the horror genre. (His directorial debut was the underrated Hellraiser: Inferno.) And while this film isn’t horror Derrickson threw in a few elements (The ‘Hand’ Dimension, Strange coming back to his physical body after getting hit with the defibrillator) as he knew that the general audience coming to the film weren’t going to be horror fans. This way those tiny bits could effectively elicit a strong response from the audience.

-The Ant-Man Reference-

Yes, that was the Quantum Realm Strange entered as he traveled through the other dimensions.


The wi-fi password joke was used to show that  Kamar-Taj is still a real place in the world not above or below technology.

-Cumberbatch was the First Choice for the Title Role-

Marvel and Derrickson offered him the part instead of going through auditions. In spite of a scheduling conflict with Hamlet for Cumberbatch and looking at other actors Derrickson wanted him for the lead. Knowing this Kevin Feige pushed back the release date from summer to fall in order to accommodate Ben’s schedule. It’s unheard of that a producer would delay a film at expense to the studio to make sure an actor could appear in a film. I commend Feige for doing this instead of settling on another actor.

-Mads Mikkelsen-

There is nothing but great things said about Mads Mikkelsen. “What can I say about Mads? He is one of the most positive actors I’ve ever worked with.” It turns out that Mads accepted the role because he always wanted to make a Kung Fu film and in fact did a large majority of his own stunts.

-What about Wong?-

To keep him from being a stereotype Derrickson wanted to invert the character. To make him more of a mentor than a sidekick and in ways someone who is more advanced than Strange in the ways of magic.

-Not Wanting to Explain an Origin for Magic-

“Magic by definition is ineffable and beyond our understanding.” That’s what makes it fun.

-On Benedict Wong-

Derrickson comments on how Wong’s performance took exposition scenes and made them interesting. “I think this guy could read the phone book and I would be compelled.” He then goes on to be a little self-deprecating, “I just dated myself referencing the phone book. Do they even have those anymore?”

-The Problem with Origin Stories-

We find out that due to the fact that so much of the film’s story was forced to set up Stephen’s origin and magic in the MCU that there was a lack of time to set up other characters. Clea and Nightmare were originally set to be in the film, but it would’ve taken too long to set them up as well.

-The Astral Battle-

The idea of the Astral Battle between Strange and Lucian was taken from the Doctor Strange graphic novel ‘The Oath’. It was also the first scene Derrickson wrote as part of his 90 minute presentation to Marvel.

-James Gunn’s Contribution-

James Gunn shot Stan Lee’s cameo for the film while film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in Atlanta. Gunn shot four Stan Lee cameos in that time. Derrickson states Doctor Strange and Guardians Vol. 2 were two of the four shot. I assume the other two had to be Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok.


Derrickson addresses the online comments about Strange’s visuals being a rip-off of Inception. He states that the film was an influence, but wanted to take it further in the amount of trippy. Other influences were M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, and German Expressionism. “That’s what we filmmakers do. We borrow from the sources of each other. Hopefully it’s standing on the shoulders of that movie rather than ripping it off or repeating it.”

-Hong Kong Battle-

The Hong Kong battle is a play on other MCU finales. Instead of seeing a city fall apart we get to see it come back together.

-Respect for Teachers-

While talking Derrickson often says ‘um’ in between comments in order to collect his thoughts. He states that everytime he does it he hears the voice as his old English teacher Mrs. Cannon saying, “No ums, please.” He even apologizes to her in the commentary.

-“I’ve come to bargain.”-

Many people online have speculated that part of Dan Harmon’s contribution to the script was the “I’ve come to bargain.” scene as it felt in tone with his sensibilities. Turns out that this scene was in Jon Spaihts first draft and survived multiple drafts with minimal changes.

-Hitting the Target-

Derrickson re-iterates that he makes films to hit the target he aimed at. “That’s all you can do sometimes.” He briefly touches upon how Deliver Us From Evil wasn’t a hit critically or commercially, but it was the film he wanted to make and landed with horror fans. Personally, I think it’s an overlooked gem and worth a watch if you’re looking for a dark horror film.

-Taika Waititi’s Contribution-

It was Taika Waititi that shot the mid-credits scene between Doctor Strange and Thor.

These are just a handful of moments from Scott Derrickson’s commentary and it only scratches the surface. Multiple times he speaks about recurring plot points and the philosophical and religious beats that influence the story. The man is well spoken and gives a lot of great insights into his creative process when building a story from the ground up. As usual, what are your thoughts? Have you listened to the commentary yet? Did you enjoy Doctor Strange as much as I did? If you’re interested you can find links to a few other commentary rundowns that I did for Ant-Man and Deadpool. Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts. And as always, thanks for reading.




My Ten Favorite Films of 2016

My Ten Favorite Films of 2016

Three and a half months into 2017 and I’m finally getting around to my Top 10 list of 2016. What can I say, deadlines have never been my strong suit. It hasn’t helped that a rather harsh winter has forced me into making fewer trips to the multiplex. So let’s dig into a year that has produced some phenomenal films that I truly hope will stand the test of time and get more recognition in the long run.

10. Captain Fantastic

In my opinion Viggo Mortensen was robbed at the Oscars this year. His turn as the patriarch of a family that lives off the grid was humorous, heartbreaking, and felt truly honest. Throw in a large selection of younger actors/actresses and veteran Frank Langella and the cast is aces. As the movie ended it elicited the same feelings I got when I watched Little Miss Sunshine for the first time almost a decade previously.

9. Hail, Caesar!

I know that some people were felt underwhelmed by the Coen Brothers recent film, but for me it was a fun romp. The big problem was how the trailer mis-marketed the film. But I am a sucker for films set in the Golden Age of Hollywood and the extravagance of those old productions. It’s also fun seeing a humorous take on the shadier side of that era’s glamour.

8. The Witch

This was a very divisive horror film this year. Some people called this a bland and boring film while others said it was completely unnerving. I’ve always had an interest in the Salem Witch Trials, so seeing a film set in that time frame was a wonderful surprise. The film’s atmosphere is almost palpable at times as you wonder what is going on. And I will state right here that the final fifteen minutes really got under my skin. Fingers crossed Anya Taylor-Joy has a long career.

7. Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika continues their winning streak with another well written and visually stunning film. I am genuinely annoyed that this film got snubbed at the Oscars. While ParaNorman stands as my favorite film they’ve done so far Kubo keeps inching closer to Coraline and may eclipse it as number two. Adventurous, funny, heartfelt, and with just a small bit of scary I can not recommend it enough. Hands down the best animated film of the year.

6. The Bronze

Holy shit! I saw the trailer and thought this film would be funny, but I did not expect to love this movie as much as I did. Melissa Rauch and her husband Winston Rauch penned a funny script that is a great black comedy which doesn’t get too mean spirited. When you write a very unlikable character like Hope it’s difficult to sell her to an audience, but Melissa made it work. Her comedic chemistry with co-stars Gary Cole and Thomas Middleditch was spot on. Throw in Sebastian Stan playing a perfectly slimy antagonist and this is one of 2016’s most underrated films.

5. Lights Out

Working off the premise of a fantastic short film, Lights Out was hands down my favorite horror film of the year. Using a time tested fear we’ve all had from one time or another (what’s in the dark) and giving it a small tweak it made what could’ve been cliche feel fresh. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes this movie knows how long it needs to be and gives the audience what it needs without getting bogged down in a convoluted story.

4. La La Land

Sure everyone loved this film and I am one of them. I am a sucker for musicals and grew up on them. It’s rare that we get one these days that isn’t animated or geared towards children. Chazelle, Gosling, and Stone all brought their A-game and it is glamorous. I know the film is going through it’s backlash phase at the moment, but it will once again come back around to being liked soon enough.

3. Swiss Army Man

A film that was sold on the premise of a buddy comedy that included a talking farting corpse some people weren’t sure what to make of Swiss Army Man. What we got was a heartwarming tale that examines love and loneliness. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are both fantastic actors and made this concept work. Throw in some of the best production design and costuming with the other facets and it’s a film that’s reputation will grow over time.

2. Silence

I’d been waiting for Martin Scorsese to make this film for over a decade. I remember hearing him talk about it and at times feared it would never come to fruition. There was casting news that kicked up every now and then, but other films kept pushing it onto the back-burner. When it finally started production and the trailer dropped I waited with bated breath. Clocking in at nearly three hours this is a beautiful and devastating film. I can not recommend it enough.

1.The Nice Guys

Shane Black is making another crime comedy, sold! Following up the smash hit Iron Man 3 Black went back to the well and drew fresh water. As someone who loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang I was ready to see him return to the genre. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are a perfect combination and setting it in late 70’s L.A. at the apex of Hollywood decadence was great visual backdrop. All three of these men have said they’re open to making a sequel. I can only hope that happens.

Another year has come and gone leaving behind numerous films I’ve yet to see, but these are ones I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. As always, what are your thoughts? What were your favorite films from last year? Did you enjoy any of the films on my list? Are you ready for another year of films? As always you can follow me on Twitter @sdfilmthoughts. And thanks for reading!

The Honorable Mentions of 2016

The Honorable Mentions of 2016

As always there are some films that are good, but can not make their way onto my top ten that I want to talk about. Be they 100 million dollar blockbusters or introspective indie films they were great. So in alphabetical order here are my honorable mentions of 2016.

Captain America: Civil War

The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps it’s hot streak going. Who would’ve thought that out of all the solo Marvel characters Captain America would have the trilogy that continued to improve with every film.


I read the script for this film when it leaked online and got excited, but doubted it would happen. I watched the leaked test footage and got giddy. When Fox announced Deadpool was being made I worried that they would screw it up like a few recent X-Men films. I exited the theatre and was blown away that against all odds this film got made.

Dr. Strange

Three films in on this list and they’re all based on Marvel. Am I Marvel nerd, yes I am. But I am one happy Marvel nerd. I never thought I’d see the day Dr. Strange would get adapted into a 100+ million dollar blockbuster film. The fact that this film exists and was done right is just as amazing as Deadpool’s existence.


Denzel Washington returns behind the camera and once again makes a great film. Antwone Fisher is an underrated gem that should be seen and Fences continues the man’s directorial winning streak. Throw in amazing source material, powerful performances, and the film overcomes the minor issue of having trouble transcending it’s stage roots.

Green Room

It’s tough to see such a talented actor get taken away from us at such a young age. Anton Yelchin proved once again with this film that he was on his way to the A list. Green Room has some of the best tense scenes from a film of last year. The supporting cast is superb and Patrick Stewart is chilling.
Hacksaw Ridge

It’s been great seeing Andrew Garfield take on a number strong roles in his post Spider-Man career. (We’ll talk more about that on my top 10 list). Hacksaw Ridge is a brutal story as much as it is an uplifting one. Quite possibly the best World War II film since Saving Private Ryan.

Hell or High Water

There’s always something compelling to me about a story that has smaller stakes. And what desperation can force two people to do when they’ve been screwed over. Ben Foster as always, turns in a gangbusters performance and Chris Pine ups his game showing there’s more to him than his recent blockbuster roles.


I know some were a little disappointed by this film, but I blame how they mis-marketed it. If you’re a fan of Key and Peele’s comedy this will be right up your alley.


Dev Patel continues his winning streak with another beautiful performance. It’s only a matter of time before he snags an Oscar and the sooner the better. I’ve always been a fan of true stories where people overcome impossible odds to achieve their goal. I can not wait to see director Garth Davis’ next film.

The Lobster

Talk about a divisive film. While some people called it pretentious garbage I fell into the category of people who enjoyed the odd examination of love and relationships. It does start off very dry, but once you get immersed in the story it gets intriguing.

Patriots Day

I was on the fence about seeing this, but it was director Peter Berg’s name that got me interested. He takes what could’ve been an exploitative topic and handles it well. You feel the tension that traverses the film leading up to the bombing and get pulled into the investigation and stories of the survivors.

Star Trek Beyond

As it stands, for me Star Trek Beyond is the best of the reboot series. It felt like a nice combination of the original series plot with the more action oriented style of the Kelvin timeline. How they handled Leonard Nimoy’s passing was a touching send off to the man. And again, you’ll be missed Anton Yelchin.

There you have it. As always, what are your thoughts? Did any of these films speak to you? Remember you can also find me on twitter @sdfilmthoughts. Check back in for my top 10 of 2016.