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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SMASHED and Joel Kinnaman in EASY MONEY!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

The micro-budget indie film SMASHED features one of the single greatest female performances you will see all year, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) playing Kate, a young wife and raging alcoholic along with her husband Charlie ("Breaking Bad's" Aaron Paul). The couple has based their entire relationship on loving two things--each other and immense quantities of booze, which somehow fuels their good times as they spend night after night out getting loaded.

Then one night while giving a ride home to a stranger, she is talked into smoking crack for the first time and wakes up the next morning not knowing where she is. With that incident fresh in mind, she decides rock bottom has been hit and makes the decision to quit drinking. And did I mention that Kate is a teacher of young children, and that the first time we see her in class, she throws up in class, and says it's because she's pregnant? She's a mess, but her commitment to sobriety seems legitimate, which makes it all the more painful and frustrating that Charlie has no interest in joining her, although he claims he's supportive of her efforts.

What becomes clear from watching this remarkable performance from Winstead is that sobriety isn't just difficult because she's not drinking; it's tough because she has to live with herself and the reasons she started drinking heavily in the first place. First on that list is probably her atrocious mother (Mary Kay Place), also a fan of the drink.

But SMASHED is the bet kind of misleading, because while it is about alcoholics literally, in a more symbolic sense it's about a young couple in love having to get over the first major hurdle in the their happy-drunk lives. Charlie is about as immature as someone in their late 20s-early 30s could be, but he's not a terrible person in the slightest. He just hasn't grown up since he met Kate, and with her being sober, she's starting to notice the maturity gap for the first time (probably because there wasn't much of one prior to her sobriety).

The film is in no way preachy about it's lessons about being sober. Recent Oscar-winner Octavia Spenser (THE HELP) plays Kate's much-needed sponsor keeps the faith-based AA messages grounded in the day-to-day reality of Kate's life. The supporting cast also includes Nick Offerman as a pervy vice principal at the school and Megan Mullally as the school's principal, who is thrilled at Kate's pregnancy news (yeah, I don't see that leading anywhere bad).

With this eclectic cast, you might think SMASHED is a comedy, and there is without a doubt a whole lot of humor in the story. Director and co-writer James Ponsoldt wisely wants us to focus on the couple and what their relationship is actually built on--is it love or drinking? Both answers offer their share of painful revelations.

When all is said and done, the film's heart and soul rests in Winstead's performance. She has quite simply never been better, and I'd even go so far as to say she's never been given the chance to do so. It's always a remarkable and exciting experience to watch an actor do the best work of his/her career to date, and Winstead is so down and dirty in her portrayal of Kate both drunk and sober that it's physically exhausting just watching her go though this uneven transformation. This is the best movie opening this weekend, and I hope SMASHED is playing somewhere near you.

Crime dramas seem to be landing on our shores with the tide from Scandinavian countries and neighboring Denmark with an alarming and fun frequency. The latest among them is Easy Money, a film from a couple of years ago in Europe finally making it stateside and starring Joel Kinnaman, most recently seen in AMC's "The Killing" and in supporting roles in the US version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and SAFE HOUSE. (He's probably best known for a movie that he's still shooting, the upcoming remake of ROBOCOP.)

I'm a great admirer of Kinnaman's work, mostly from "The Killing," but he's a very different creature in EASY MONEY, in which he plays JW, who is going to an expensive school and attempting to pass as rich to blend in with his wealthy classmates. He's attempting to date an out-of-his-league heiress (Lisa Henni), and is plotting to commit crimes to get a lot of cash in a hurry. The film also tells the story of Jorge (Matias Varela), who seems to be on the run from just about everyone from the police to the Serbian mob. He holds up under JW's care while he brokers a massive drug deal that will hopefully finance a disappearing act for himself.

The final player is this twisting and turning film is Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), one of Jorge's pursuers--not as easy a task as one might think, especially when his young daughter is foisted upon him by her mother, and Mrado must take her with him on his hunt. Mrado is a professional killer, and as the lives of these three men start winding their way toward each other, it's clear that JW's baptism into the criminal world is going to be a fiery one.

Director Daniel Espinsoa has a great eye for impressive visuals, and an equal gift for finding interesting faces to popular EASY MONEY. Kinnaman does an equally strong job playing both a nervous first-time criminal and a confident young man trying to pass for rich and sophisticated. EASY MONEY has a few genuinely shocking moments of violence, and it's probably just best that you don't trust anyone who opens their mouth to be telling the truth. And the film ends in a burst of very smart and very dumb maneuvers from our three lead characters. It's a remarkable journey into the lowest depths of the criminal element in and around Stockholm. I'm not sure there are any valuable life lessons being dealt with here, but it is a smart film about largely dumb people.

-- Steve Prokopy
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