Richard’s Review: 3 ½ stars

It can be hard to work with family, particularly when your brothers are trigger happy moonshiners. In "Lawless," Shia LaBeouf is Jack Bondurant, the youngest, and least experienced of the three outlaw brothers.

Based on the memoir "The Wettest County in the World," "Lawless" takes place in Franklin County, Virginia during Prohibition. The bootlegging business is booming, run by hillbillies who'll sell to anyone with a buck and a thirst. The most notorious are the Bondurants, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (LaBeouf). The older boys are hard as nails, reputed by the locals (and themselves) to be indestructible. Jack is ambitious, but didn't inherit his sibling’s way with a fist.

He soon learns to put up or shut up when a corrupt lawman, Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), is imported from Chicago. Rakes wants a cut of the profits and when the stubborn Bondurants refuse, a moonshine war erupts. It's the hicks versus the city slickers, the battle of outlaws from both sides of the law.

Australian director John “The Road” Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (he wrote “The Proposition” for Hillcoat) present an intriguing look at the bootlegging business where the good guys aren’t always the one with badges and the bad guys rarely wear black hats. It’s not a new idea, but the all-star cast— Gary Oldman is a bloodthirsty gangster, flame haired Jessica Chastain is a femme fatale, and “Alice in Wonderland’s” Mia Wasikowska who plays the minister’s daughter, a girl so angelic she even has a pet fawn— work past the clichés, creating vivid characters, while for the most part ignoring the stereotypes on display in most moonshine movies. There isn’t a “gol durn it” and “dag nab it” within earshot; instead, Hillcoat, Cave and Company treat their characters with respect.

Hardy leads the cast as a soft-spoken thug with a brainy bent. “It’s not the violence that sets men apart,” he says, “it is the distance he is prepared to go.” When he isn’t waxing philosophical he’s tersely going about the job of being a bootlegger, and, along the way earning most of the film’s few laughs. It’s a natural, unaffected performance that really shows what he can do without a mask strapped to his face. LaBeouf has the film’s only real character arc, maturing from timid but ambitious to cocky and vengeful. He’s at the right age to play characters stuck between being a boy and a man, and pulls it off. The only real misstep is Guy Pearce who, while entertaining, falls just short of twirling his moustache and creeping around like the bad guy in a cheap pantomime.

“Lawless” is a violent (except for a surprisingly unconvincing gunfight near the end) but entertaining glimpse at life as seen through the prism of a jar of white lightnin’.

"The Possession"

Richard’s Review: 2 ½ stars

So your daughter starts staring into space, being moody at dinner and talking back when you tell her to do something. Is she a typical teen, or is she possessed by some sort of evil supernatural spirit?

That’s the question posed in “The Possession,” a new thriller starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick. Based on an allegedly true story, the trouble in “The Possession” gets into gear when Clyde (Morgan, best known as Denny on “Grey’s Anatomy”), a divorced father of two, buys his daughter Emily (Natasha Calis) an antique carved box at a yard sale.

Em becomes obsessed with the box, but soon her behavior changes from angelic to animalistic. At first, her parents (mom is played by Sedgwick) think she’s reacting to the divorce or trouble at school, but soon come to the only other reasonable explanation possible—she’s possessed by an ancient spirit called a dibbuk who lives inside the bad mojo box and causes havoc before devouring its human host.

“The Possession” doesn’t feel like a modern horror film. One or two possession pictures pop up every year and seem to do well at the box office, but the heyday of the genre was in the 1970s when movies like “The Exorcist” made national headlines. This movie won’t make headlines, or even spur that much conversation on the drive on the way home from the theatre, but it is a throwback to a time when horror movies relied on creepy whispers and shadows rather than special effects for the scares.

Danish director Ole Bornedal uses lo-fi effects to great effect to create an atmosphere of corrupted innocence. For instance, he shoots the little girl hiding behind an empty glass jar to distort her face into a mask of horror in one memorable sequence. So visually the films works, but story wise, not so much.

You may not look to a movie about demonic possession to be airtight plot wise, but this one is leaking air from multiple plot holes. It would be too spoiler-ish to detail them all here, but it would appear that the dibbuk is a little less discerning about who he attacks than the experts would have us believe.

In the moment, while you’re in the theatre, “The Possession” is creepy enough. Later though, when you give it some thought you might wish the lid had stayed closed on that particular box.

"For A Good Time, Call…"

Richard’s Review: : 2 stars

Has there ever been a great movie with an ellipsis in the title? A quick Google search reveals a handful of forgettable movies with the dreaded “…” worked into the name. There’s “What If…” a Kevin Sorbo fantasy, Ving Rhames’s “Master Harold… and the Boys,” and “I'll Kill You... I'll Bury You... I'll Spit on Your Grave Too!” a horror movie so wretched it doubles up on the dreaded dots.

Now, along comes “For a Good Time Call…” a new comedy that almost breaks the long established punctuation curse, but not quite. Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller play Katie and Lauren, 20-something NYC frenemies who each find themselves in need of a roommate.

Free spirited Katie lives in a large apartment she can no longer afford while Lauren has recently been dumped and is couch surfing. Putting aside their differences, they call an uneasy truce, and decide to split the rent. When circumstance forces them both to explore new ways to make money they decide to go into business together, a career shift that teaches one to let love go while the other learns to let love into her life. “For a Good Time Call…” may be the first sitcom about phone sex operators. It’s ninety minutes long and playing in theatres, but make no mistake, this is a sitcom.

It’s “The Odd Couple” with dirty mouths. There are some funny lines (“I didn’t have parents who told me I could be the first pretty president,” says Katie.) but they are wedged between paper-thin characters and predictable situations. The two leads (Miller also co-wrote the script) are fun, (more fun than cameos by Seth Rogen and Kevin Smith doing… well, the thing that sex line customers do) but the film is so uneven that their charm isn’t quite enough to carry the day by the film’s last half-hour.

It’s a movie that wants to be “Bridesmaids,” a raunchy-rom-com with heart but only really succeeds getting the raunch right.