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Review: THE BLACK PHONE, Another Excellent Supernatural Horror From The SINISTER Team

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Review: THE BLACK PHONE, Another Excellent Supernatural Horror From The SINISTER Team

It’s 1978 and someone is abducting teenage boys in the suburbs of Denver. The police have no leads, no bodies, and no hope. When Finney (Mason Thames) disappears, he finds out what’s been happening to all of those kids, but there’s a disconnected telephone in the cement dungeon where he now spends his days, and it may be his way out.

Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone is the latest mid-budget horror film from the director of Sinister, and his partner, writer C. Robert Cargill (Doctor Strange). Based on a story by Joe Hill (N0S4A2), The Black Phone is a very effective supernatural horror film that explores the lives of a pair of siblings coping with the loss of their mother, the alcoholism and despondence of their father, and a serial child killer who has separated them, perhaps for the last time.

Finney and his little sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), live a mostly uneventful life. The older brother has spent much of his childhood as the timid target of neighborhood bullies, from whom both Gwen and his tough guy buddy, Robin (Miguel Cazares Mora) protect him the best they can. When The Grabber – the not terribly inspired nickname of the villain snatching up boys from the streets – gets Robin and then Finney, the boy has to grow up fast, and become the defender he always sought in others.

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Locked in a subterranean dungeon, Finney plays The Grabber’s (Ethan Hawke) games in the hope of finding a way out. Though he’s there alone, he isn’t without help, as the broken black phone in the basement mysteriously begins to ring and Finney finds himself on the other end of the line of the boys who’d come – and gone – before him.

Derrickson’s film takes great pains to place the viewer in the milieu of the late ‘70s, an era of earth tones, raglan tees, kung fu theater on afternoon TV, and the increasing awareness of the evil that men do. By 1978, serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy were already a part of the desiccation of the traditional American Dream. Hawke’s Grabber is certainly more of a character than those seemingly milquetoast monsters in the real-world headlines, but his presence still feels alarmingly plausible.

While it is Hawke whose name and face are all over the marketing for The Black Phone, this is really Mason Thames’ show. His Finney is forced to experience a range of wildly disparate emotions and paradigm shifts. Moving from a timid punching bag of a boy to a young man fighting to stay alive, he portrays a kind of dogged resilience that really comes through. McGraw is gifted with more than a simple little sis’ role, she’s the Yang to her brother’s Yin, and their sibling bond is a unique one, both in the story and on film, as we don’t often see children portrayed with this kind of empathy for one another.

The Black Phone relies heavily on the tension faced by Finney both alone in the basement and when confronted with the ghoulishly playful Grabber. Derrickson and Cargill craft an intense narrative that is enough to keep even the most hardened fans on their toes. While the ultimate outcome isn’t really in much doubt, the journey and methods are what really matters, and The Black Phone nails both of those aspects. This is an excellent example of the idea that storytelling is far more about the “how” than the “what”, and the “how” here is exceptional.

With excellent performances from all three leads – yes, I’m calling all three of them leads – as well as a stellar supporting cast of young talent as well as a solid turn from Jeremy Davies as Finney’s broken father, The Black Phone is a definite winner. Perhaps Derrickson’s exit from the MCU was a good thing, if we get more of these excellent terrors from this team, I think we all win.

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The Black Phone

Writer(s)
  • Scott Derrickson
  • C. Robert Cargill
  • Joe Hill
Cast
  • Ethan Hawke
  • Jeremy Davies
  • James Ransone

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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