|Films I Neglected To Review: Lower Your Glass. . .
|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of the new films "Easy Money," "Smashed" and "War of the Buttons"--one is better than average, one is average and one should be transferred to digital files and infected with every virus, computer and otherwise, known to man. See if you can guess which one is which.
Despite the similar titles, "Easy Money" is not a remake of the mildly amusing 1983 Rodney Dangerfield vehicle. Instead, it is a complex crime thriller from Sweden that follows three disparate people--a law student (Joel Kinnamin) trying to keep up appearances amongst his far more privileged classmates, a criminal (Matias Varelo) who has just escaped from prison and who is now on the run from the police and the Serbian mafia and a corrupt cop (Dragomir Mrsic) trying to play both sides of the fence--as their respective needs for large amounts of money to fund their wished-for new lifestyles put them on a bloody collision course with each other. While it is nice to see a Swedish crime thriller that isn't centered around grotesque sex crimes, there is a whiff of the familiar to these proceedings that cannot be ignored and some of the subplots (especially the one involving the return of the cop's estranged young daughter into his life at the worst possible time) do nothing but drag the story to a halt whenever they come on. That said, the performances from the three actors (Kinnamin being the most familiar face of the three thanks to his work on American television on "The Killing") are quite good and director Daniel Espinosa tells the story (which he adapted from a best-selling novel due to be published soon in this country) in a reasonably slick and stylish manner that suggests that he is one to watch for in regards to his future efforts. In the end, "Easy Money" is not quite good enough to warrant schlepping out to go see in the theater but if you happened to stumble upon it on cable one night, watching it for a few minutes would be a perfectly adequate way of passing the time.
As a rule, I try to avoid most films involving people coming to terms with their alcoholism on the basis that most of them tend to follow the same trajectory--it starts off with fun times that eventually go sour, it follows as the person makes an initial attempt at sobering up that falls apart at the first sign of difficulty, eventually bottoms out and it ends with the drunk either sobering up at last or dying as the result of their beverage-related excesses. Therefore, I did not go into the new drama "Smashed," which follows a hard-core alcoholic schoolteacher (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she struggles to overcome her addiction, an ordeal made more complicated by the fact that she is married to a drunk (Aaron Paul) who loves her but not enough to give up booze himself, with much hope that it would be anything other than more of the same. As it turns out, this is a step above most films of its type thanks to its quirky sense of humor and a depiction of the struggles of dependency that is less concerned with supplying grandstanding dramatic moments than it is in chronicling the little day-to-day details of people desperately trying to regain and maintain some measure of control over their lives after having gone so long without it. Most of all, it has a fabulous lead performance from Winstead, whom you may recognize from such films as "Death Proof," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and the "Thing" remake but whom you have never seen as impressive as she is here. This is a complicated role--made more so by the fact that the screenplay does not provide her with the melodramatics that one might expect--and she hits every nuance dead on. In the last few weeks, I have seen a number of strong performances from actresses and I assure you, this is one of the best of the bunch and it makes "Smashed" well worth seeing.
Arguably the ickiest and smarmiest movie that I have borne witness to since the release of the inexcusable "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "War of the Buttons" is the kind of sentimental hogwash that seems to have been made by and for people who thought that "Life is Beautiful" was too thoughtful and profound for their taste. The film, based on the celebrated and often-filmed 1912 novel by French author Louis Pergaud, tells the story of a group of boys in a small French village who get involved in a "war" with the kids from the next town over, a series of skirmishes in which the winners liberate the losers of the buttons from their clothes as a way of keeping score. For this version from co-writer/director Christophe Barratier (who demonstrated a penchant for sentimental slop with his international hit "The Class"), the time period has been moved up to WWII during the occupation and additional melodrama has been added in via a seemingly meek schoolteacher (Guillaume Canet) who couldn't possibly be the secretive Resistance figure that everyone has heard of but whom no one has seen, the lead boy (Jean Texier) being ashamed of his father for apparently not doing anything in regards to the war and the arrival of the "goddaughter" (Zlona Bachelier) of the local seamstress (Laetitia Casta) who comes bearing a secret that could put the entire town into jeopardy.
As bad as the combination of kiddie-sentimentality and real-world terrors might sound in the description, actually watching it unfold will make you skin crawl from its sheer inanity. Barratier handles the material with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face (the Vichy cop who occasionally arrives to intimidate the townspeople is depicted as such a grotesque that even the late Ken Russell might have suggested taking it down a notch) and matters aren't helped much by the fact that he has recruited some of the most repulsive child actors in recent memory. (These brats are so obnoxious that the only satisfying ending that this film could possibly have would be if all the little brats were rounded up and sent off to the estate featured in "Salo.") As for the adults, Canet is as weak as can be and as beautiful as Casta is to look at (though none of the disappearing buttons are connected to her clothing, if you know what I mean), she gets nothing to do here but stand around and look pretty. "War of the Buttons" is a monstrous failure on every possible moral, intellectual and aesthetic level and the only good thing to say about it is that it is sure to quickly disappear from the few theaters that it has been dumped in. This may be a film about the French and war but trust me, it will be the people in the audience who are going to be yelling "we surrender!"
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originally posted: 10/20/12 08:45:08
last updated: 10/20/12 14:23:23