Reel Life mini-review: 'Easy Money'
Daniel Espinoza's crime thriller "Easy Money" has already topped the box office in its native Sweden and, according to Variety, will spawn two sequels and a Hollywood remake starring Zac Efron.
In this fast-paced drama rife with jump cuts and hand-held cameras, AMC's "The Killing" star Joel Kinnaman plays J.W., a working-class business student who pawns himself off as the wealthy son of a diplomat to hobnob with Stockholm's elite.
To keep the cash flow going, J.W. winds up in a massive drug deal with a prison escapee named Jorge (Mattias Padin Varela) and a tough veteran thug named Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) humanized by having a little daughter to protect.
None of the characters in "Easy Money" (not to be confused with the Rodney Dangerfield comedy) remotely asks for our sympathy or understanding.
Espinosa, working with a tight script derived from criminal defense attorney Jens Lapidus' novel, makes up for the testy characters by providing a crackling cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for in Sweden, which already gave us the twisted "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and its two sequels.
"Easy Money" opens at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. Go to musicboxtheatre.com. Rated R for violence, language. 119 minutes. ★ ★ ★
Reel Life mini-review: 'Least Among Saints'
This is the sort of domestic drama that would normally be neutered and sanitized and shipped off to the Lifetime cable channel.
"Least Among Saints" is raw, brash, blunt and adult, with adult characters who actually talk as adults do, and react as adults do.
If "Least" seems formulaic, and Charles S. Dutton has replaced Morgan Freeman as the go-to wise and sensitive black sage, that's OK. This drama has been put together by filmmakers who passionately cared about telling this story, one that testifies to the powers of intelligence, goodness and forgiveness to survive in a broken world of loss and disappointment.
It follows U.S. Marine Anthony Hayward (writer/director Martin Papazian) as he returns home to face a divorce, post-traumatic stress disorder, run-ins with the law and attempts at suicide.
When the junkie mother of a next-door neighbor boy named Wade (Tristan Lake Leabu) overdoses, Hayward receives an unexpected lifesaver: a purpose. He is compelled to protect and help the boy who has nothing left. But he's not very good at doing this. Or anything else.
Laura San Giacomo gives her social worker a complex mix of snippy pragmatism and hard-edged hope in a leisurely paced, life-affirming drama that audiences, I'm guessing, will either dismiss as cheap, melodramatic sentiment, or buy into wholeheartedly.
"Least Among Saints" opens at the Northbrook 14 Theater. Papazian will join Gale Sayers and Tom Dreeson for a Q-&-A after the opening show Friday night. Rated R for language. 105 minutes. ★ ★ ½
Reel Life mini-review: 'Simon and the Oaks'
"Simon and the Oaks" is a richly visualized adaptation of the Swedish best-seller by Marianne Fredriksson about a young man named Simon (Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan) who discovers his Jewish ancestry during post-World War Sweden.
As a little boy before the war, Simon sits in a treehouse of a huge oak that speaks to him and fuels his imagination. But when Simon discovers the world of art, music and culture from the Jewish father (a well-cast Jan Josef Liefers) of his best friend Isak (Karl Martin Eriksson), he rejects his oak tree and it responds by conjuring up a storm that blows Simon to the ground.
It's one of several provocative scenes in Lisa Ohlin's movie, an ambitious, overstuffed work that clearly tries to cover the complexities of the book, but produces main characters too distanced for us to care about when we really need to.
"Simon and the Oaks" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Not rated, but contains sexual situations, nudity, violence. 122 minutes. ★ ★ ½
Reel Life mini-review: 'War of the Buttons'
From its bucolic opening scene of the pastoral French countryside, accompanied by Philippe Rombi's cloying, grasping orchestral score, Christophe Barratier's cutesy-poo "War of the Buttons" announces its intention to turn Nazi-occupied France into the setting for a treacly children's storybook version of World War II.
In a small French town, two would-be preteen gangs must suspend their petty battle (to see which side can snip the most buttons off the other side's clothes) to aid a Jewish girl (Llona Bachelier) hiding out as the gentile relative of a local sexy seamstress (Laetitia Casta), an obvious object of interest by a justice-minded schoolteacher (Guillaume Canet).
At regular intervals, Barratier brings out his secret weapon, a little blond boy (Clement Godefroy) who on cue delivers shrill and overacted witticisms guaranteed to curdle milk and cut glass.
"War of the Buttons" opens at the 600 N. Michigan in Chicago, the Northbrook Court 14 and the Century Evanston 12. Rated PG-13 for language. 100 minutes. ★ ½
Photographs from Lake Zurich and Lombard residents have been selected by Hollywood director Ron Howard to inspire film shorts in Canon's "Project Imaginat10n." A photo by David Pavlina, 22, from Lake Zurich won the "Backstory" category. A photo by Adam Johnson, 33, from Lombard won the "Setting" category. Here's how it works:
Five celebrity directors -- Eva Longoria, Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Georgina Chapman (designer and co-founder of Marchesa), James Murphy (founder of LCD Soundsystem) and Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) -- will direct short films based on photographs submitted by Johnson, Pavlina and others.
Celeb directors will select one photo from 10 categories. So, Pavlina and Johnson have a 50/50 chance for their photos to inspire film shorts that will be shown at a special "Project Imaginat10n" Film Festival, to be announced later. All photographs can be seen at imagination.usa.canon.com.
Reel Life film notes:
• Dear Dann: I saw "Seven Psychopaths" today. I think you gave it 3½ stars. I think you shortchanged it. I give it 4 stars. Terrific film! Any film where Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson play psychos has got to be good. And I thought Sam Rockwell stole the movie. -- Gary Koca, Pingree Grove.
So noted, Gary. Normally I get mail accusing me of being too harsh on movies. In this case, we can both agree it's a terrific violent comedy for adults with a great performance by Rockwell as the lead psychopath.
• Longtime Elk Grove Township residents Dawn and Jim Jablonski let their house on Roppolo Drive be used for sets in the movie "Divorced Dudes," directed and written by Bill Stoneking. It's having its world premiere at 8 p.m. Friday at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Also to be spotted in the movie: the Old Kane County Courthouse and Midway Airport. Go to portagetheater.org for tickets.
• If you really like the Portage, you can hang around for "The Massacre: 24 Hours of Horror Movie Madness," starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Scream queen Linnea Quigley (whose naked dance in a graveyard highlighted "Return of the Living Dead") is one of the guests. Go to portagetheater.org for tickets.
• The After Hours Film Society presents Andrei Zvyagintsev's post-Soviet Russian drama "Elena" at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Tivoli Theater, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. (630) 968-0219 or go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!