In Theaters: 'Little Birds' Are Saying 'For A Good Time, Call' 'Lawless' And 'The Ambassador'

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by Emma Bernstein
August 31, 2012 6:24 PM
3 Comments
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Labor Day Weekend: the last hurrah of summer and white clothing. As you bask in the relief of the mini vacation it offers, sipping your final mint julep of the season, look back on a time when that cold cocktail would have been spiked with moonshine or, worse, virgin. While you lie out in the fading sunshine, appreciate the fact that you don’t live in a post-apocalyptic desert where genocidal maniacs reign supreme. Or you could just face the cold harshness of the approaching winter head on with the spate of child-victim horror flicks. Yikes. And now, the weekend showings, for all you working stiffs out there.

Speaking of which, Prohibition meant epic business for the bootlegging Bondurant brothers portrayed in this weekend’s “Lawless” from director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition," "The Road”) and writer Nick Cave. Forrest, Howard, and Jack (Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, and Shia LeBeouf) run a legendary operation in Virginia, earning prodigious sums of money and unwavering respect in equal measure. That is, until Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is brought in from Chicago to dry out “the wettest county in the world” with his own special brand of ruthlessness. Gun slingin’ and fightin’ words ensue. Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Gary Oldman, and Dane DeHaan co-star. Our review lauds the performances, particularly LaBeouf’s, and calls the film “great entertainment,” but admits that a strained, overlong ending makes it so that " ‘Lawless’ doesn't quite achieve the lyricism or thematic depth that Hillcoat previously attained.” Metacritic: 57 Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

The Exorcist” gets an update (sort of) and undergoes a conversion (completely) in Ole Bornedal’s “The Possession.” Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his daughters, Hannah and Emily (Madison Davenport and Natasha Calis), pick up a seemingly harmless box at a garage sale, only to discover that the knickknack is haunted and talks. Also, whatever’s inside takes over Emily’s body, transforming her into a pale and leaden-eyed ghost child. Internet research reveals that the possession is the work of a Jewish ghoul, so the family ventures to the hub of Semitic exorcisms – Brooklyn, naturally – where a young rabbi (Hasidic rapper Matisyahu) agrees to save the girl’s soul. Oh, and Kyra Sedgwick stars as Clyde’s ex-wife. Clearly, going punch for punch with William Peter Blatty’s original story was etched into Bornedal’s contract. Our review says, “everything feels limp – simultaneously over and undercooked. It doesn't leave much of an impression and every scare seems to be either some lame jump scare or a fright inflicted by the shrill score.” MC: 43 RT: 38%

Two estranged friends rekindle their relationship while taking a lot of dirty phone calls in the first feature from Jamie Travis, “For a Good Time, Call…” When Lauren (Lauren Miller) finds herself jobless and apartmentless, she is forced to move in with former best bud Katie (Ari Graynor). Then, unable to land gainful employment either – damn you recession! – she concedes to joining her new roommate in a burgeoning business operating a sex line. It isn’t long before Lauren finds her Type A personality pleasantly ruffled and begins taking steps toward mending the fence with Katie. Justin Long, Seth Rogen, and Mark Webber co-star. Our review says, “it's a comedy that isn't always funny as it struggles to find the right tone between raunchy and sweet. It celebrates female friendship in a way few movies do, but good intentions don't always make for a good film.” We were also secretly hoping for a character named Jenny. MC: 58 RT: 64%

The Tall Man,” the first English-language film from French writer-director Pascal Laugier, draws from horror films past, as the terrifying goriness of an urban legend comes true. Children in a small Washington town are going missing, a phenomenon the locals attribute to the titular mythic figure, one so horrifying that they’re all scared into doing absolutely nothing. But when the daughter of a local doctor (Jessica Biel) is taken, she refuses to stand down and, instead, launches a one-woman manhunt (creaturehunt?) for the shadowy kidnapper. Our review says the film is “too weird, soggy and unfocused to ever come across as anything more than something that could have been great. Biel really commits to the character, but the filmmakers give us so little to go on that she seems determined but not all that sympathetic. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in a few months it will also be paved with unwatched DVD copies of ‘The Tall Man.’ “ MC: 47 RT: 45%

A coming-of-age story takes an unfortunate turn toward the maudlin in “Little Birds,” from writer-director Elgin James. Lily (Juno Temple) and Alison (Kay Panabaker) are teenage girls who have never left their trailer park in Salton Sea, California. While Alison has a relatively staid existence with her father (David Warshovsky), Lily experiences a more trying life with her alcohol-abusing single mother (Leslie Mann) and enraged-at-the-world sister (Kate Bosworth). When three boys from LA (Chris Coy, Carlos Pena, and Kyle Gallner) wash up in the small town, the girls decide to broaden their horizons and follow the boys back up the coast. However, all that’s waiting for them in the City of Angels is garbage and vice, and it becomes unclear which locale is really the lesser evil. Our review says, “Temple and Panabaker are quite good in their lead roles,” but admits that clichéd characters and coatings of “afterschool special” sappiness and shallowness limit the film’s potential. MC: 41 RT: 50%

Identities are concealed and revealed, then mixed up all over again in Tsui Hark’s wuxia drama “The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,” a CGI-fest of IMAX proportions shot in 3D. Jet Li stars as a bandit who dethrones a vicious dictator, only to find himself and his band of outlaws trapped in an inn during a fierce sandstorm. Adding to the action is an imposter among the crew and a rival clan that already inhabits the inn, and is ready to fight off the intruders. Our review says, “ ‘Dragon Gate,’ of course, is less interested in politics and more consumed in the gnarly back and forth between flying combatants, particularly in the climax,” and calls the film “silly, distracting, and undeniably entertaining.” MC: 51 RT: 71%

Douglas Aarnikoski’s “The Day” follows the struggles of a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland over the course of – wait for it, wait for it – a day. But maybe there’s a twist, like a day is now 27.64534 hours long? No such luck. In the most garden variety of the-world-as-we-know-it-is-over plots, the five companions (Dominic Monaghan, Cory Hardrict, Shannyn Sossamon, Shawn Ashmore, and Ashley Bell) are attempting to get to some kind of not-desert when they come across a clan of marauders who want to kill them. Because why not. So then there’s violence. Later, there are displays of emotional unavailability followed by random nakedness. Because the apocalypse turns people into sad sack nudists. Our review calls the movie “a knuckle-dragging time waster you could predict with your eyes closed.” MC: 42 RT: 25%

Also opening this weekend:

The Good Doctor,” in which Orlando Bloom, M.D. does exactly the opposite of what the title might suggest he should by keeping appreciative patient Riley Keough in the hospital despite the fact that she’s completely recovered. Ah irony – how we love thee. MC: 51 RT: 58%

Danish documentary “The Ambassador,” in which director Mads Brügger (known for his political provocations) poses as an aspiring diamond smuggler in the Central African Republic with the hope of bringing the country’s deep-seeded corruption to light. The result: a largely horrifying and perilous account punctuated by a few chuckle-worthy moments. MC: 68 RT: 75%

And finally, life-size puppets plan a birthday party for their friend, who is – we feel it’s necessary to say – a pillow, then embark on a journey when the gala’s staple decoration – magic balloons! – go missing in “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure.” Despite a well-known cast that includes Cloris Leachman, Carey Elwes, Christopher Lloyd, and Jaime Pressly, this is fare pretty much exclusively for the toddler set, or for those who enjoy audience participation, as it’s encouraged. MC: 34 RT: 38%

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3 Comments

  • dana | August 31, 2012 10:18 PMReply

    Interested in nudist dating, make nudist friends / hang out naked? Looking for your nudist partner or friends? check out truenudist.org

  • Karen K | September 1, 2012 7:58 AM

    As is the vernacular in my state of Virginia, "Do what?". If you're already dating someone, chances are you've already been nude. If it's a great relationship, you're nude all the time. So take THAT, Spam! (it's early...)

  • Tracey | August 31, 2012 8:35 PMReply

    Why does it need to find a middle ground between raunchy and sweet? Lots of girls are simply both and bring that part of themselves at any given time. Perhaps I identify a little too much with their girl/girl friendships and that is why I grasp that there doesn't need to be a middle ground.

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