If you’re looking for moonshine, the place to start is in the foothills of south central and southwest Virginia. As the new movie “Lawless” makes clear, ’shine was never a passing fancy among the folk there. It’s a tradition that goes back generations.
“Lawless” is based on Matt Bondurant’s “The Wettest County in the World,” a historical novel spun out of Bondurant’s Franklin County, Va., moonshiner-ancestors. Bondurant whipped up a war between the local off-the-books distillers and the Prohibition-era Chicago mob, which aimed to take over the lucrative illegal liquor trade, from production to distribution.
The proper ingredients are here to cook up a fine backwoods liquor war tale. The archetypes are broad and obvious, the violence is shocking, unflinching and in your face. Amazingly, people are sliced and shot to beat the band, but 1930s-era Franklin County emergency rooms were up to the challenge. Mostly.
It’s alternately grim and bemused. Too many tough guys tell other tough guys “look at me” too many times. There are too many characters to juggle for any of them to truly get their due.
All those elements conspire to render "Lawless" inauthentic, a movie pulled together by a lot of folks who had no feel for the setting or the story they were telling.
(R, 110 minutes)
— Roger Moore, McClatchy
If you only see one demonic possession/ Jewish exorcism movie this year, make it "The Possession."
Swap the clerical collars for a yarmulke, change the sacred incantations from Latin to Hebrew, leave out the pea soup and you’ve got a passable PG-13 version of "The Exorcist," the granddaddy of all exorcism movies.
But don’t forget the box where the demon possessing this little girl came from. According to Jewish folklore, a Dybbuk Box — the original title of this thriller, back when it was rated R and slated to come out last fall — is where the canny and the devout can lock up an evil spirit, at least until that evil spirit whispers into the ear of some innocent victim (the more innocent the better) and slip out and take over the victim’s body.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as Clyde, a newly-divorced college basketball coach who is trying to make his weekends with his daughters (Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport) pleasant. Then he hits the wrong garage sale, and Emily (Calis), the youngest, buys an odd wooden box with hidden locks and Hebrew carvings on it.
Before Clyde can ask the ex (Kyra Sedgwick), "Have you noticed anything odd going on with Emily?" we’re noticing all these odd things going on with Emily. Moths fly out of the box and infest dad’s house. Overnight, Emily turns into a Goth girl, taking her fashion tips from the ghost in "The Ring."
She’s hearing voices, wearing a ring from the box that changes the color of her hand and when she gags, she sees fingers sticking up out of her throat.
Dad starts looking for answers — from a Jewish academic at his college, a Hasidic community in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, everyone who threatens the box is assaulted by an invisible assailant that flings them against walls and through windows. We see the first attack in the film’s opening scene.