Mr. Nice


Mr. Nice strikes a serious pose,

Mr. Nice strikes a serious pose,

(2009) Biography (MPI) Rhys Ifans, Chloe Sevigny, David Thewlis, Luis Tosar, Crispin Glover, Omid Djalili, Christian McKay, Elsa Pataky, Jack Huston, Jamie Harris, Sara Sugarman, William Thomas, Andrew Tiernan, Kinsey Packard, Ania Sowinski, James Jagger, Howell Evans, Ken Russell, Ferdy Roberts, Nathalie Cox, Olivia Grant. Directed by Bernard Rose

The 60s and 70s were the era when drug culture became widespread and suddenly there was a worldwide demand for narcotics. It took all kinds to make sure the supply kept up with the demand – and some drug dealers were the most unlikely souls indeed.

Howard Marx (Ifans) was an honest and well-adjusted boy from Wales who managed to earn himself an education at Oxford. He’s studying alone in his room one night when exchange student Ilze Kadegis (Pataky) bursts into his room looking for a secret passageway. When she finds it, a curious Howard follows her to an old storage room where Graham Plinson (Huston), the university’s biggest dope dealer, hides his stash. Ilze seduces Howard and introduces Howard to the joys of cannabis. From that point on, Howard is hooked and becomes one of Graham’s best customers with his academics suffering predictably as a result.

When Plinson and Howard’s friends start experimenting with harder drugs, tragedy ensues and Howard vows not to touch the serious stuff ever again and rededicates himself to his studies, passing by the skin of his teeth (and with a bit of underhanded chicanery). He marries Ilze and takes a job as a teaching assistant (what they called a teacher training position back then) at the University of London. By now, the swinging ’60s were in full flower and Carnaby Street was the bloom on the rose. Howard was fully into the scene, prompting a reprimand for long hair and flashy suits.

When Plinson gets arrested after plans to transport a shipment of hashish from Germany to England go awry, Howard – his marriage on the ropes, his job rapidly going down the toilet – figures he has nothing to lose and steps in to help. Because he’s not a known drug dealer, he sails through the customs checkpoints without so much as a second glance. Howard finds that the adrenaline rush of smuggling drugs appeals to him and he decides to take it up as a vocation  He eventually becomes one of the world’s largest marijuana traffickers – at one point controlling a fairly large percentage of the world’s supply.

However, the problem with this kind of lifestyle is that eventually people start gunning for what you have, and soon Howard finds himself playing a dangerous game. It’s one that will get him arrested and dropped into one of the nastiest prisons in the United States.

This is based on the autobiography of  Howard Marks (uh huh, this is a true story) and Marks served as a consultant on the film, proclaiming it as accurate even though there were some differences between his book and the movie. One gets the sense that there are a few brain cells not functioning quite up to optimum for ol’ Howard these days.

The same might be said of the filmmakers. The movie often feels like it was written by one stoned, and directed while the same. Plenty of stoner clichés – half-naked chicks rolling around on a bed full of cash, slow-mo shots of the arrest and so on – mar the film. While I liked that the first part of the movie was shot in black and white, switching to color when Howard takes his first psychedelic, at times one gets the sense that the film is stuck in neutral waiting for the GPS to kick in and send it somewhere.

Ifans is an engaging actor and as he did in Notting Hill he does a good job of playing the stoner. Although the Nice of the title refers to the city in France, it is also apt to the demeanor of Marks as portrayed by Ifans. I’m pretty sure the intent here was to portray Marks as a counterculture Robin Hood-sort, fighting the battle of worldwide weed, but I keep getting the sense that we’re seeing very much a self-promotion more than an accurate portrayal.  While honestly I have nothing against Marks, I wonder if I wouldn’t have appreciated the movie more if he had a few more warts here.

The rest of the cast is pretty decent, although Sevigny has a truly terrible English accent. She’s a fine actress but I found the accent distracting and thought the film would have been better served if she hadn’t attempted it, or if they’d hired a British actress instead.

The era is captured nicely and we get a sense of the wide-open era that was the ’60s and ’70s. This is more of a throwback to films of that era in many ways – the drug dealer is the hero and unlike the modern version of heroic Hollywood drug dealers these days, he doesn’t have automatic rifles, machine pistols or military training. Howard is no Rambo by any stretch of the imagination.

Those who dislike movies about drugs and drug dealers should give this a wide berth. You’ll only give yourself an aneurysm. Stoners will find this to be excellent entertainment with a hero they can get behind. As for the rest of us, this doesn’t really distinguish itself much – but it doesn’t disgrace itself overly much either. A lot of how you’ll find this movie will depend on your attitudes towards cannabis to begin with. Me, I’m allergic to the stuff so that should give you some insight to where I’m coming from.

WHY RENT THIS: Pretty decent performance by Ifans. Nicely immersed in the era it’s set.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kind of runs together and loses cohesion. Sevigny’s accent is atrocious.

FAMILY VALUES: A ton of drug use and foul language as well as some sexuality and violence (and a bit of nudity).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Marks’ autobiography on which the film is based, he claimed to have been betrayed to the American authorities by Lord Moynihan but that isn’t brought up in the film here for legal reasons.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Savages

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT:The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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New Releases for the Week of March 11, 2011


March 11, 2011

Even alien invaders love to blow a good smoke ring.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

(Columbia) Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena, Ramon Rodriguez, Noel Fisher. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

Those pesky aliens are back and they are after Los Angeles in a big way. Having taken over most of the rest of the world, they only have L.A. to take down and then Earth is theirs. Mankind will make its last stand in the City of Angels, which could be bad news for mankind;  saving the planet might have to wait if there’s really bad traffic.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction and for language)

Even the Rain 

(Vitagraph) Gael Garcia Bernal, Luis Tosar, Karra Elejalde, Raul Arevalo. A film crew making a movie about the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas becomes involved with the fight of native aboriginals of Bolivia to secure water rights in the small village of Cochabamba. The concurrent story of Columbus’ affect on the natives as well as their fight for rights in the 21st century makes for a powerful juxtaposition.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Mars Needs Moms

(Disney) Starring the voices of Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Joan Cusack, Mindy Kaling. From the folks that brought you The Polar Express comes this new motion capture film about a young boy who, like most young boys, resents his mother because she demands soooo much from him. When she is kidnapped to provide some mothering to Martian children, however, he accidentally stows away and realizes he must find a way to bring her back home and along the way gets an interesting new perspective on what it means to be a parent.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Science Fiction Feature

Rating: PG (for for sci-fi action and peril)

Red Riding Hood

(Warner Brothers) Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen. When a werewolf terrorizes a small village, a famed wolf hunter is called in to help hunt down the beast. When he declares that the beast is human by day, suspicion falls on a young girl and several who are close to her. When it appears she has a connection with the werewolf, she becomes prime suspect numero uno – or, failing that, bait for the beast.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality)