This Week at the Movies

The summer movie season ends on a mixed note with 'Lawless,' 'The Possession' and 'For a Good Time, Call...'

The summer movie season ended, appropriately enough, with a whimper following the past four month's less than extraordinary cinematic roster.

Three new films released this past weekend showed signs of promise, but none delivered enough to warrant a recommendation.

"Lawless" had originally been one of the year's highly anticipated films. Based on the book "The Wettest County in the World" and directed by John Hillcoat, who was responsible for the grim Australian western "The Proposition" and the decent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," the picture opened to middling reviews at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

And it's easy to see why. For a film covering the blood soaked wars in the world of bootlegging and featuring an impressive who's who of young talent and character actors, "Lawless" feels strangely muted.

In the film, the Bondurant brothers - Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke - rule the moonshine business in Virginia of the 1930s with an iron fist. Hardy's Forrest is known as being "indestructible," while LaBeouf's Jack is the timid brother who has yet to fire a weapon.

The boys run afoul of a slimy, dandyish law enforcement officer named Rakes (Guy Pearce), who travels from Chicago to clean up the scene. Meanwhile, Jack begins doing business with a violent gangster (Gary Oldman) and a new housekeeper (Jessica Chastain) sparks Forrest's interest.

"Lawless" is plenty violent - throats are cut, necks are broken and bodies are riddled with bullets.

And yet, the film is lacking the emotion to make us care about the mayhem. Much of the time, the film's talented cast mumbles its way through the lines and the relationships between the characters are not fully explored.

The film looks good and there are several effective set pieces, including a shoot out in front of a bridge, but it often feels as if the inspiration in "Lawless" is missing.

"For a Good Time, Call…" has a little more life to it and were it not for its central conceit, it could have been a much better movie.

The picture follows the story of Lauren (Lauren Miller), a goody two shoes who gets dumped by her arrogant boyfriend and finds herself living with the offbeat Katie (Ari Graynor), who happens to run a phone sex hotline in order to prevent herself from being evicted from her grandmother's apartment overlooking Gramercy Park.

At first, Lauren frowns upon her roommate's line of work, but eventually becomes the hotline's business manager - and then, its second operator - after losing her job.

The film is at its weakest during the numerous sequences in which the two leads blurt out every manner of sexually graphic expression with which you could come up. A few lines here and there are funny, but the dialogue often feels forced and too calculated to shock or emit giggles.

Justin Long gets the most laughs as the duo's gay pal who arranged for their living situation.

The picture is at its best when it explores the budding friendship between the two women, who are like night and day in terms of their personalities, but still come to care for one another.

I won't go as far as to say that "For a Good Time, Call…" completely works, but its scenes of female bonding are genuine and charming.

The good news about "The Possession" is that it is significantly better than last week's ghost story, "The Apparition." The bad news is that it's not great either.
In the picture, a young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale that turns out to hold a dybbuk, a malevolent spirit in Jewish folklore.

All manner of creepy goings-on commence as the girl's concerned - and soon to be divorced - parents look on in confusion and agony. Bugs fly out of mouths, books fly across rooms and teachers fly out of windows.

At the heart of the movie is the fractured relationship between Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and the effect of their split on their daughters. Morgan is one of those actors who pops up regularly in supporting roles and while he has yet to star in a film that has blown me away, he's obviously talented. He brings some much-needed gravitas to the proceedings of "The Possession."

But despite some thematic resonance from the picture's familial drama, this is a movie you've likely seen time and time again. It's unfortunate that the film's sequences of terror are so derivative because this is a horror movie that could have been more.

"Lawless" and "The Possession" are playing AMC Loews Bay Terrace 6 and Douglaston's Movie World. "For a Good Time, Call…" is screening at Manhattan's Sunshine Cinema.

Michael Feiner September 03, 2012 at 03:24 PM
You more or less talked me out of seeing "Lawless." Believe it or not I've just seen "The Dark Night Rises." Wow! Was that mediocre or what?
Nathan Duke September 03, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I was looking forward to "Lawless," based on the director, cast and subject matter. And while it's far from being a bad movie, it's just sort of average. As for "The Dark Knight Rises," it had its praiseworthy elements, but I thought it paled in comparison to its predecessor. As always, thanks for reading, Michael.


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