Monday, February 24, 2014

Snabba Cash I & II (Easy Money & Easy Money: Hard To Kill)

Even though I didn't see Snabba Cash during its initial release in the US a couple years ago, I wanted to. It was one of those unfortunate cases when an interesting foreign genre film opens the same week I went up to Montreal to see a whole metric ton of other foreign genre films, and while I consider that a good trade-off for me personally, I always feel a little guilty, like my eight bucks might be the difference between the next thing like that playing Boston or not.

So, as expected, I was pretty excited to see the sequel opening at Apple Cinemas in Fresh Pond and knew I was going to carve out a chance to see it this weekend, with the intention of supporting it with both money and coverage. That meant it would probably be a good idea to see the first one, which meant an Amazon rental. I splurged and spent the extra buck for HD, but that is something I probably won't do again; somewhere between Amazon, Comcast, my wireless router, the aether, my laptop, and the TV, it was skipping fairly annoyingly until I turned HD off, and I didn't notice any particular drop in quality. It might, I suppose, be worth seeing if a wired connection between the router and the laptop works any better some time, because that's really the only spot I can see for improving the pipeline.

One thing that this proved to me, though, was just how much the way you watch a movie matters. I watched Snabba Cash while writing the review of the night's first movie, Beijing Love Story, and to say that it is not ideal to split one's attention that way during a subtitled movie understates the matter. I liked it, and certainly remembered Joel Kinnaman's performance and that Lisa Henni was the kind of pretty that makes one hope that she has the English language skills and ambition to take a run at Hollywood so that one might see her more often, but wasn't hugely impressed. It probably didn't help that I went in expecting something a little more action-oriented and fast-paced.

A couple days later, though, I wound up sitting in Apple on the second leg of a four-films-in-four-theaters-in-four-cities day and found myself surprisingly engrossed by the sequel. Guess what? A big screen and nothing else in front of you makes a huge difference, even for a movie like this where you're not being hit with massive, overwhelming action. And the thing is, I'm not actually sure it's a much better movie than the first (don't give too much credence to the star ratings below, because they are, as always, somewhat approximate), since I found a lot of things to admire while putting some thought into writing about Snabba Cash; it's just that if you asked me for an off-the-cuff reaction to the two before I started writing, I probably would have had a far better opinion of the second, even if it was influenced as much by things the filmmakers had less control over than I did.

(Worth noting: I think this is the first time I've seen a movie in Fresh Pond/Apple and not been confronted with a center aisle! I don't know if it's just because I'd never seen anything on screen #7 before or if there's been some renovation done, but I liked it!)

As I mention in the reviews, the third film in the series came out in Sweden a couple months ago, and I hope that it's not September 2015 before it reaches America. The reviews I've read of it on IMDB make me a little worried - it is apparently centered more on a character I don't particularly care much about while the one where I really want to see what comes next basically has a ten-minute guest appearance - but given that the original books are apparently even more loosely connected, that's probably what I should expect anyway, right?

SPOILERS! Although, man, from what's been dropped throughout the first two movies and how #2 ended, I really wanted the next one to be JW using the money he finally had at his disposal to find otu what really happened to his missing sister. you can't just leave me dangling like that! !SRELIOPS

Snabba Cash (Easy Money)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2014 in Jay's Living Room (before the sequel, Amazon Instant Video)

Were we paying attention to Scandinavian crime fiction and film before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? I remember a few festival screenings of Nicholas Winding Refn's Pusher movies, but it's really just the last five years that this material has really started crossing the Atlantic, whether in its original form or as remake fodder. Sweden's Snabba Cash series ("Easy Money" in English) is running a bit slow on both fronts, but both entries that have arrived so far are worth checking out.

Johan "JW" Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) could use a little easy money as the movie starts; though at the top of his class in business school quite popular with the Stockholm party crowd, keeping up with his old-money classmates is draining his bank account. So he drives a cab, and makes that a bit more profitable by ferrying drugs across the city for gangster Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci). A sizable sum of money is available for picking up recently-escaped convict Jorge (Matias Varela) and keeping him hidden, money that could come in handy with courting rich new girlfriend Sophie (Lisa Henni). He also helps the gangsters take over a bank to launder their money, but one of them, Serbian dealer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), is hunting for Jorge but also starting to question the life he's leading now that his daughter Lovisa (Lea Stojanov) is in his custody after her mother overdoses.

Toward the end of the movie, Mrado points out that everyone in this business will do whatever will get them the most money, and like many of the best crime stories, Snabba Cash works in large part by giving the viewer a reason to want the characters to do right, even though all the evidence suggests they are at best on the road to amorality. It's a nifty trick - we're given plentiful reasons not to like JW, Jorge, or Mrado, from just being kind of snotty to being killers, but the story (based upon Jens Lapidus's novel) makes sure that there's some sort of human connection that should be able to pull them back.

Full review at EFC

Snabba Cash II (Easy Money: Hard to Kill)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 February 2014 in Apple Cinemas #7 (first-run, digital)

Snabba Cash II was released under the title "Easy Money: Hard to Kill" in the US last week a year and a half after it played in Sweden. This choice of date and title apparently driven by a hope that American audiences would want more of star Joel Kinnaman right away after seeing the RoboCop remake, wanting to get the attention of the folks who saw the original Easy Money movie during its US release but not wanting to reveal it as a sequel to the rest of the population. The cold reality that the title of the original Jens Lapidus novel that serves as the source material, "Never Fuck Up", just would not fly with theaters, was likely also a factor. Whatever the thinking, it got onto a few screens alongside its Video On Demand release, and it's good crime whether you've seen the first one or not.

It's been three years since the end of Snabba Cash, and while Jorge (Matias Varela) is still on the loose, he's returning to Stockholm to visit his dying mother. JW (Kinnaman) is about to have his first unsupervised release from prison, and he has a meeting scheduled so that he and his old classmate Nippe (Joel Spira) can demonstrate a potentially lucrative high-velocity trading safeguard he developed while behind bars, sharing a cell with Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) - the Serbian gangster holding no grudge against him. Elsewhere in Stockholm, Jorge's friend Mahmoud (Fares Fares) is deep in debt to Radovan (Dejan Cukic), the boss who came out on top last time, but he's got a way Mahmoud can pay it off.

Radovan's business interests include prostitution, which is where Nadja (Madeleine Martin) enters the story, which has at times started to resemble the first one a little too closely at times, what with Jorge being hunted and JW stuck between the legitimate and criminal worlds again. Lisa Henni makes a repeat appearance as JW's girlfriend, helping to create direct ties between the two movies even though it appears the books in Lapidus's "Stockholm Noir" trilogy were more loosely connected. Even without having seen the first movie, though, this is a good crime story set-up, with multiple plots advancing nicely until it finally becomes clear how they are on a collision course. Those plots are not complicated, but they've got a brute-force simplicity that speaks to the immediacy of the characters' troubles.

Full review at EFC

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