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This Week's Film Reviews (Aug 31, 2012)

02 Sep 2012

IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS, LAWLESS and THE POSSESSION are films opening this week.

The Summer in France series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox continues for those close to Toronto.

 IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS (UK/Iraq/Netherlands 2011) **

Directed by Atea Al Daradji and Mohamed Al Daradji

IN MY MOTHER’S ARMS is a well intentioned documentary that begs for alms to aid the orphans, mostly as a result of war.  But well-intentioned docs do not necessarily translate to good films.

In My Mother''s Arms follows several children who live and study in the same room of a small rented house.  These are orphans whose parents have been killed or kidnapped.  They have no one to support them but Husham, a student who works tirelessly to protect them from the dangers of the streets of Baghdad.  As the film progresses, the landlord demands they vacate his house and now the only sanctuary these children have ever known is about to be lost.

This documentary follows two and a half years in the life of the orphanage.  Husham is devoting his life to protecting children from the dangers of the streets.  While not supported by the government, he struggles to keep the orphanage running and is determined to try his best in providing a decent life and education for the children.

The film hinges on the future of the orphans whether they will be eventually given a home or temporary place of residence.  Though the review will not reveal the outcome, the ending is far from satisfactory.  I am sure the outcome is known at the present time but in order to sap the audience for more funds, the film ends with the note of the huge number of orphans still existing and what the audience can do to help.  This is rather prejudiced filmmaking.  Husham is unwilling to discuss other possibilities with the government.  It appears that he only wants the funds to be used in only the way he proposes.

In the film he deems that the children are obtaining the best care under his supervision. Whether this is true is questionable.  The theatrical performances he boasts the children are training at are quite pathetic.

It is also odd the directors’ choice of the boy, Saif the directors chose as their main subject.  He looks spoilt and unable to follow reason or instruction.  He is fighting all the time and his performance in the play is short of laughable.  “I am too young to endure all this,” is his crying during the play.

The film takes 90 minutes to drum over and again the same message of the orphan’s plight.  Though a worthy cause, the film is still a bit too much.

LAWLESS (USA 2012) **1/2

Directed by John Hillcoat

Australian director John Hillcoat’s latest film is another violent outing based on the novel The Wettest County in the World set in Franklin County, Virginia during the Prohibition era.  As the law wants a cut on the moonshine profits, the title LAWLESS is a good description of the situation.

The film centres on three brothers who are in moonshine business.  Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) is the leader while youngest Jack (Shia Labeouf) learns the ropes and takes over the business.  But the authorities want a cut of the money.   Forrest refuses and violence ensues.

Music and the script are by Australian rock band leader Nick Cave (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds).  One can understand his involvement in the movie as director Hillcoat used to direct music videos, one of which was about Nick Cane and the Bad Seeds.  The script is nothing too spectacular and the film moves towards the expected climax which is a shootout at the end, in which no one really wins.  The film has the feel of the gangster classic BONNIE AND CLYDE though its effectiveness lies far from that film.

Hillcoat directed the excellent Australian western THE PROPOSITION in 2005 and the not so impressive THE ROAD in 2009 though he won awards for both.

The soundtrack is noticeably different and contains a performance by the Cornshuckers String Band that Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), Jack’s love interest performs in.

The film is aided by Tom Hardy (THE BLACK KNIGHT RISES’s villain) performance.  He grunts out a lot of his lines including the key one that violence is where one takes it to another level.  It is good to see Hrady on the ‘good’ side in the film.  Unfortunately pretty boy LaBeouf is miscast as young Jack coming of age as the film progresses.  The two love interests played by Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain can only do so much in their female underwritten roles, typical in films of this genre.  But it is Guy Pearce who steals the show as the ultra violent Special Agent Charlie Rake.

LAWLESS was also nominated for the Cannes Pale d’Or this year but lost to AMOUR.  THE PROPOSITION displayed flair, unpredictability and a wonderful weird but violent sense of humour.  LAWLESS though entirely watchable lacks the punch of his earlier films.  But at least the woods and mountains of Franklin County are stunningly captured on camera by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme who also shot THE PROPOSITION.

THE POSSESSION (USA 2012) *

Directed by Ole Bornedal

The horror flick THE POSSESSION begins with the words “Based on a true story” splashed on the screen.  What follows is a segment in which an elderly white-haired woman approaches a box only to be overcome by convulsions before collapsing on the floor while her son waits helplessly by the front door.  It is a highly made-up, overacted incredibly unbelievable scene, an incident that would unlikely happen the way portrayed on screen.

The film then spends more than 15 minutes on the situation of the Brenick family.  Father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is divorcing Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick).  It is his turn to take the children for the weekend.  He drives the two daughters, the younger Em (Natasha Callis) and Hannah (Madison Davernport) to the new house he had just bought.  All this is tedious stuff made even worse as a time waster in a horror film.  On their way home, Em eyes an antique wooden box at a yard sale that father buys for her.  It turns out that the box contains a demon that possesses her.  An exorcist is called, a ridiculously-looking Jesuit look-alike and after much head turning and convulsions, the demon crawls back to the box.  If the review has spoilt the ending, thank your lucky stars as you can leave the cinema before the film finishes.

There are one or two scary set-ups but by the time the film comes to those parts, they don’t work as the build up is already silly and implausible.

The only time the film shows promise is the breakfast scene where Em just starts acting weird.  But any opportunity for suspense is eventually lost by cheap theatrics.

The reason given to the origin of the mysterious box or why the demon is trapped in it.  is just somethinhgf that happnened in the past.  Nothing makes much sense, not that anyone really cares.

THE POSSESSION turns out to be a poor man’s EXORCIST and a very, very poor man’s one at that.  It is difficult to determine if THE POSSESSION is sillier or just plain boring but the film alternates between the two states.

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: nil

Best Film Playing: Easy Money
Best Action: Premium Rush
Best Drama: Savages
Best Foreign: Easy Money (Sweden) Best Comedy: Paranorman
Best Family: Brave
Best Documentary: First Position

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