Since the Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg founded the avant-garde movement known as Dogme 95, Scandinavian cinema has went from strength to strength. The ‘back-to basics’ rules and regulations of the group helped make a name for Denmark in the industry, and it wasn’t long before neighbouring countries got in on the act. Best selling authors such as Sweden’s Stieg Larsson and Norway’s Jo Nesbo are proof of the raw, and beautifully dark storytelling coming out of the area in recent years. Their novels have inevitably spawned successful films, most notably Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, the first instalment of which has even had a US remake starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. Also getting the Hollywood treatment, with Zac Efron in the lead role, is 2010 Swedish crime thriller ‘Snabba Cash’, which translates in English as ‘Easy Money’. Due to the thumbs up from the late Roger Ebert, and the team up between the Weinstein Company and fan Martin Scorsese, the picture finally has a US/UK general release, in July 2013. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the plot follows three men in Stockholm’s criminal underworld whose paths cross, with lasting consequences for all involved.
All three of the principal characters have relatively honest motives for their very questionable actions, creating empathy for each and when they clash, it is difficult to choose between them, which makes the journey so compelling and thought provoking. Johan (Joel Kinnaman) is a young and enthusiastic economics student, who funds his education by driving taxis illegally for local drug baron Abdulkarim. Jorge (Matias Padin Varela) is an escaped prisoner from Chile, trying to make amends with his pregnant sister. Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is a veteran heavy working for ruthless Yugoslavian crime boss Radovan, but wants to leave his past behind after getting custody of his eight year old daughter Lovisa. The arcs of the protagonists intertwine brilliantly as Johan, or JW as he is known to his friends, agrees to put up fugitive Jorge in his student accommodation after he is brutally beaten by henchman Mrado, and is then lured into a drug trafficking scheme using an investment bank as a front for their dodgy dealings.
Marketed with the stand out ‘Martin Scorsese Presents…’ on the posters, it is easy to draw comparisons between this and the iconic crime epics of the New Yorker. The use of music is similarly effective, a blasting score at the forefront at the height of the moral dilemmas of the central figures. JW, Jorge and Mrado all arguably have attributes of classic Scorsese male leads, especially Johan, with his polished exterior disguising an inner trauma, a Marty trademark through the years with his frequently used stars such as Robert De Niro and Leonardo Di Caprio.
In the beginning, JW is as smooth as they come, his dapper suits and slick hairdo oozing confidence, but as the reality of his behaviour sinks in, his moral compass spins out of control. His golden locks almost act as a visual metaphor for his state of mind as the story progresses, becoming more and more of a mess as he gets deeper into trouble, trying to push it back out of his eyes to maintain his cool, putting strain on his relationship with Sophie, a stunning blonde whom he charms at a party catered for the rich and fabulous, whilst blagging a ‘Stekare’ existence, which in Swedish parlance means a lifestyle flaunting one’s apparent wealth. Mrado is the character I sympathised with most, his double life between doting father and frightening hard man is great to watch, and he genuinely wants to turn over a new leaf to make a new life for his adorable little girl. The on screen relationship between the two is well acted and at times touching. Jorge is the loose cannon of the trio, his sense of loyalty is continuously flimsy, keeping us guessing which side he is on. In a gripping finale, rife with double crossings, their lives collide again, having a massive impact on the future of them all.
After its impressive run at Berlin Film Festival in 2010, it has quickly developed into a franchise, Snabba Cash II and III already released in Sweden. This deserves to be seen all over the globe, and I fear the Efron remake might not pack the authentic punch of this hard hitting original. A story which is equal in its human element and its gangster flair, it is a rare treat with cracking performances all round, particularly from Kinnaman who is set to star in Espinosa’s latest project Child 44 alongside Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. ‘Snabba Cash’ refuses to fall into the well worn clichés of the genre and serves as another impressive piece in the ever increasing catalogue of Scandinavian cinema.
Taking a ‘Great American Novel’ and adapting it for the big screen is never an easy feat, and director Baz Luhrmann, best known for Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, certainly leaves his mark on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic ‘The Great Gatsby’. Tobey Maguire portrays Nick Carraway, an optimistic bonds salesman who moves to West Egg, Long Island, across the water from his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). The plot revolves around Nick’s millionaire neighbour, who lives a very mysterious lifestyle, and goes by the name of Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). When Carraway attends one of Gatsby’s many extravagant parties, the two quickly become close friends but it soon emerges that Gatsby has an ulterior motive to befriending Nick, and will stop at nothing in his quest for ‘The American Dream’.
Applying his trademark flair and flamboyancy, Luhrmann’s visuals in Gatsby are bold and theatrical but with the distracting 3D effects and use of montage, the party sequences are no more than a frenzied mess. There has been a resurgence of late, of the American 1920s prohibition era, frequently referred to as the ‘roaring twenties’, after the success of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire but where the style there reflects the period, it is polished and understated, whereas here, it is far too busy and over-the-top, as though the film tries much too hard to become a masterpiece aesthetically, rather than an adaptation of a great story. Of course it was expected that this recent interpretation would have its own modern take, adding flicks and tricks, but it would seem that overall, the film has suffered for its art.
In an attempt to recreate the jazz scene of that time, hip-hop is chosen as a modern equivalent, seen as today’s controversial, contemporary black music. Jay Z serves as executive producer on the soundtrack, which features brand new tracks from artists such as Jack White, the xx and Florence & The Machine. Again, despite the admirable concept and a few great moments, the music misfires somehow, not gelling with the underlying feel of the story in the way it should. In saying that, the one stand out track that matches perfectly, particularly with the persona of Daisy Buchanan, is Young & Beautiful by Lana Del Rey, her haunting tones bringing a darkness that compliments the characters and their inner conflicts.
In a film with a self-absorbed directorial vision, concentrating solely on the look, it is difficult for the cast to stand up and be noticed. Only DiCaprio manages it, his screen presence bringing an intensity that the film severely lacks up until his introduction. His turn as the delusional Gatsby is strong, though the repetition of his overused term of affection ‘old sport’ does hinder the enjoyment. Reading the phrase over and over again in the novel establishes it as something the character says a lot but without overemphasising the point, but after hearing it every second sentence in the film, it starts to grate a little. Despite this, his performance is magnetic, and at the height of his characters frustration, we are treated to a flash of brilliance not dissimilar to the ‘skull scene’ in Django Unchained where Leo shows us what he can do, so in control when his character loses it. Where DiCaprio is deep, Maguire is contrastingly shallow. His wide-eyed expression constant and his whining voiceover irritating, reminiscent of his dopey Peter Parker portrayals. The only reason he should be looking so shocked continuously is that people keep giving him acting jobs. Mulligan and Edgerton are a little better, but not much. Mulligan plays Daisy with an enduring innocence, her angelic features and dainty frame help achieve a certain attractive vulnerability that is fun to watch throughout, but I feel she isn’t given enough opportunity to glow. Edgerton’s Tom is passable, but distinctly average, escaping the hard-done-by nice guy roles he is more suited to. Minor supporting roles from Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher are just that, minor, but necessary, both key in the pivotal plot devices.
Luhrmann’s creativity has gone to good use in the past, his work benefiting from his active imagination but with ‘The Great Gatsby’, it is misguided and out of place. The plot of the book is glossed over, substituted with over indulgent cinematography, and the characters aren’t given the depth that they deserve. The novel takes you into Jay Gatsby’s mind, exploring his idealistic, yet compulsive notions of the perfect life. His naive thoughts and supposed fabricated tales of his past are a joy to behold, as he tries endlessly to make this a reality. However this latest effort from a mind just as determined, runs parallel in its result, resembling a dream that’s a relief to wake up from.
Wright, Pegg and Frost are back with the last in their trio of British comedies jokingly known as the ‘Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy’, due to the playful ice cream references featured, but also in reference to Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three colour trilogy where his political films were representative of the colours of the French flag. Like Edgar Wright’s loose trilogy, none of the films were strictly linked to one another, but had recurring themes throughout. All three in the Cornetto trilogy have acted in genre homage, firstly the ‘red’ zombie movie Shaun of the Dead, secondly the ‘blue’ buddy cop flick Hot Fuzz and finally the ‘green’ sci-fi adventure The World’s End. In this outing, a gang of school friends, led by Gary King (Simon Pegg) are brought back together, reuniting for the ‘Golden Mile’ pub crawl in their hometown Newton Haven. Reluctantly joining Gary in his quest to relive his youth are family man Andy (Nick Frost), high flying estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), fitness fanatic Steve (Paddy Considine) and car salesman Peter (Eddie Marsan), the latter three offering something new to the well established Pegg/Frost bromance that has been honed in previous works. Around five pubs in, the beer goggled eyes begin to spot strange differences in their old stomping ground and its inhabitants, and in typically find themselves in the midst of an apocalyptic body snatching invasion but attempt to carry on to the twelfth pub, The World’s End, against all odds.
On the surface, it serves as another quintessentially British gag fest but the underlying themes are more ominous than those present in the predecessors. Gary King is living in the past; a balding man nearing forty, donning a long leather jacket, DMs, still smoking and drinking with the carefree attitude of his younger self. He even amusingly still drives the same motor, known affectionately as ‘the Beast’, with the same mix tape in the deck, an art form that has since disintegrated in the modern digital age. Nostalgia is at the forefront throughout the opening two thirds, and this is where I feel the film is at its strongest, the chemistry between the pals notched up to the highest level. The brilliant soundtrack assists the sense of nostalgia suitably, tracks hand picked from old copies of NME, with anthems from Blur, Pulp and Primal Scream. Inevitably in the closing third when the robots, or aliens, or ‘blanks’ are brought in, the film gets silly and despite a few cracking fight sequences, it does outstay its welcome somewhat. The narrative delves into the ridiculous though it is still a lot of fun, more so than in Hot Fuzz, but perhaps less than in Shaun of the Dead, which is still for me the strongest of the set.
The timing of the release clashes with another end of the world bromantic comedy across the Atlantic, ‘This is the End’ featuring a host of the Apatow crew, and unfortunately, ‘The World’s End’ loses out in the battle of laughs, which is strange as I am usually much more fond of British comedy than American which I tend to find corny and difficult to relate to. As we seen with Paul in 2011, mixing the styles doesn’t seem to gel quite as it should, but in comparison of the recent efforts, TITE provides more laugh out loud moments than TWE, though I was admittedly chuckling throughout, particularly at the delivery from Eddie Marsan who I hadn’t previously associated with comedy so he was a very pleasant surprise. Of course both Pegg and Frost were on magnificent form, their real life friendship so evident in their work, both so likeable and easy to watch. I felt Freeman and Considine fell short of the mark and only made up the numbers at times, neither really offering anything special. Their characters also brought upon the introduction of Sam (Rosamund Pike) who is Oliver’s sister, one of Gary King’s old conquests, but also a love interest for Steve. She felt unnecessary, like when a mate’s girlfriend shows up at the pub unannounced and tarnishes an enjoyable session, and her ‘crumbs’ catchphrase got irritating quickly. A few cameos crop up as the tale progresses, surprising in their appearance, but failing to add much to the overall impact. Unarguably, it is all about Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and when it is just the two of them onscreen, it is always comical and at times touching, as if the camaraderie from SOTD and HF almost drips through, like ice cream sliding down a cone, the three flavours melting into one.
‘The World’s End’ is a fitting finale to the threesome, with Pegg and Frost showing off their commanding comedic prowess, and Edgar Wright on fine form, adding his directorial trademark pop culture nods and cinematic flicks and tricks, like the fast cutting pint pouring segments, reminiscent of his style in Spaced, the sitcom where it all began. Now that Wright has ventured to Hollywood, having added Scott Pilgrim and the Adventures of Tin-Tin to his ever impressive CV, it is comforting to see him return to his roots and as Brit-coms go, this is about as British as they come.
A comedy apocalypse film featuring a host of actors playing themselves. The premise for ‘This Is The End’ is ridiculous but somehow, it is genius. Based on the 2007 short ‘Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse’ by Jason Stone, this also stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel but is co-directed by Rogen and frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg who also worked on Superbad, Knocked Up and 50/50. When Jay visits Seth in LA, they are invited along to a housewarming bash thrown by James Franco, and although Jay doesn’t feel welcomed into the Hollywood scene, he reluctantly accepts. When disaster strikes, he and a selection of other guests including Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson are forced to stick together and ride it out with hilarious consequences.
Now when in a cinema in front of the latest comedy, it’s the norm to find parts incredibly funny, admiring the jokes and the delivery, though in recent years good comedies have been very few and far between. It is however unusual, for me personally anyway, to physically laugh consistently and at times uncontrollably, almost from start to finish. ‘This Is The End’ delivers in a big way, from its self-parodying gags to the deliberately shoddy CGI. There are, as expected, hordes of knob jokes and a lot of childish humour but the chemistry between the stars makes it extremely watchable. After the initial OTT burst of destruction in the opening third of the film, the focus changes to a survival theme, the gang gathering their resources and putting together a plan, rationing supplies of water, beer, hallucinogens and a Milky Way. They go on to discover that it is Judgement day, and only a show of sacrifice would allow them access to be ‘sucked up’ into heaven, leaving only the selfish egos of LA behind to die.
Rogen is as effortlessly fun as he always his, this time happily joining in with making fun of the typecast hash smoking roles and the ‘Seth Rogen laugh’ which have become synonymous with his work. His slowly flowing dialogue links nicely with the rest of the players, particularly James Franco, and this is built upon when they playfully discuss a Pineapple Express sequel. Baruchel takes the ‘straight man’ role, which is needed in the midst of the surrounding jokers and he gets it down to a tee. The rest of the cast runs off like an Apatow conveyor belt of names in the initially party scenes, Jonah Hill reuniting with Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse for a brief, but fantastic segment. Jonah Hill is the stand out, taking centre stage in a comical Exorcist spoof sequence, though Robinson and McBride also provide bags of laughs. The bit part cameos recur and without giving anything away, a poster boy gives us his career best performance.
The more I think about ‘This Is The End’, the more I love it and I am still finding myself quietly chuckling over certain moments. I recommend this highly, but it is not for the easily offended and requires a certain mindset, so that the audience can take the film as seriously as those involved, which is not a lot at all, but that is not to say it has been taken lightly. Just when the Rogen/Goldberg writing bromance was thought to be running its course with recent hiccups such as The Green Hornet and The Watch failing to achieve the critical acclaim of their earlier pieces, they’re back again reminding us what they can do with the funniest film I’ve seen in years.