We’re in the dog days of August, meaning new releases are hit-or-miss. This week I stuck mostly to smaller and streaming films, also catching up on a few films I missed earlier that are now available to stream. If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
The Black Phone (Theaters/Peacock)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeline McGraw, and Jeremy Davies
Synopsis: This horror thriller, directed by Scott Derrickson, was released earlier this summer. It’s still playing in theaters but it also made its streaming debut on Peacock, which is where I finally caught it. The film is set in Denver in the late 1970s where there have been a string of abductions of young boys and no leads. When Finney (Thames) is taken, he finds himself trapped in a basement with a masked man (Hawke) as his captor. He gets a series of calls on a black phone from boys previously abducted which help give him tips to survive. Meanwhile, his sister Gwen (McGraw) uses her supernatural dreams to find clues to where her brother is being held. This is a unique approach that has some good sequences. The look crafted for Hawke’s “Grabber” is solid, and his performance is strong. I liked the idea here and the way the suspense built. However, from a story standpoint, I didn’t think the basic concept and hook was fleshed out enough. I wasn’t as invested in the story as I should have been and I didn’t think the basic premise—what was happening with the voices on that phone—was made clear enough. The film is OK with the flourishes but I didn’t think it was great.
Rating: Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.
Delia’s Gone (Theaters)
Starring: Stephan James, Marissa Tomei, Paul Walter Hauser, and Travis Fimmel
Synopsis: This film, based on the story from Michael Hamblin, follows the story of Louis (James). An accident has left him with a mental handicap. His sister, Delia (Genelle Williams), serves as his primary caregiver. One night, after a fight that left Louis drinking alone, he wakes up and finds his sister dead. The sheriff Fran (Tomei) and her deputy Bo (Hauser) arrive on scene. It appears Louis did it, and he believe he’s done it. He’s found guilty and sentenced to prison. Years later, while on release, Louis is visited by Fran’s brother, Stacker (Fimmel), who suggests there is more to the story. Louis breaks away from his transitional facility and goes on a mission to find out what happened to Delia. Meanwhile Fran—now a state police detective—and Bo, the new Sheriff, are hot on his heels. This is an interesting story with a bit of a slow burn. James does a great job in the lead role and there are some solid sequences. I enjoyed Fimmel as a man who is facing down his own demons and trying to atone. There’s a nice cinematic look here crafted by director Robert Budreau, who wrote the screenplay. I liked the bittersweet nature of the closing sequence, too. This is a smaller film, but one that delivered an engaging story and performance.
Rating: Rated R for some violent content and language.
Look Both Ways (Netflix)
Starring: Lili Reinhart, Aisha Dee, Danny Ramirez, Luke Wilson, Andrea Savage, and David Corenswet
Synopsis: This Netflix film focuses on Natalie (Reinhart), whose life hits a fork-in-the-road as she hits the end of college. The film splits off from there, showing two different outcomes and two different paths for her life. In one, she’s pregnant and forced to return home to live with her parents (Wilson and Savage) and raise her child with a friend (Ramirez) with whom she has an undefined romantic relationship. In the other, she moves to Los Angeles with her friend (Dee) and has an on-and-off relationship with a fellow animator (Corenswet). In both, she has to figure out how to live her dream and deal with the obstacles in her way. This idea of multiple paths isn’t new, but the film does a nice job of bouncing back-and-forth between timelines and showing the passage of time. Reinhart is an affable lead that draws people in and the supporting cast in both timelines does a nice job. This film is more engaging than it has a right to be, and that’s thanks to the endearing way Reinhart plays Natalie in both timelines. It’s a simple but effective watch.
The Outfit (Peacock)
Starring: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, and Johnny Flynn
Synopsis: This simple drama is set in Chicago in the 1950s where an English cutter named Leonard (Rylance) is plying his trade in a rough neighborhood. His past and how he ended up in Chicago is something of a mystery, but Leonard is aided by his secretary Mable (Deutch) and provides high fashion for all the local hoods. His shop is also a drop off point where groups exchange messages. One of the gangsters, Richie (O’Brien), is the son of the most powerful gangster in the city. He has also caught the eye of Mable, while his associate Francis (Flynn) rubs Leonard and others the wrong way. When Richie is hurt during a job, he and Francis seek refuge in Leonard’s shop. Their goal is also to find a mole that is setting their organization up to fail, putting Leonard on his heels as he fights to calmly survive and protect Mable, who’s become a surrogate daughter. This is a beautifully written and executed film. Graham Moore, who co-wrote the script, directs the film with a deft hand. Rylance is perfect in the lead role while Deutch is great in her role, too. The pair have a wonderful back-and-forth that helps carry the narrative. The twists and action are engaging and the story ultimately plays out a solid and engaging narrative over its 105-minute run time. This is a film that is better than advertised and worth seeking out on Peacock for those who missed it in theaters.
Rating: Rated R for some bloody violence, and language throughout.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.