SXSW 2010: Mr. Nice

You’d think that a story about one of the most infamous drug smugglers of the 1970s would make for a pretty good film. After all, this is a movie that opens with the lead character comically declaring, “My success went right to my head, and I’ve been living off it ever since.” But Bernard Rose’s “Mr. Nice” is so painfully tedious in the presentation of its subject matter that you eventually lose interest. Based on the life and times of Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans), a promising Oxford scholar who gave up a future in academics to pursue a career dealing drugs, the movie follows his rise to infamy as one of the world’s foremost hashish distributors.

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Unfortunately, none of it is particularly engaging, as Rose races through each major event like it’s a bullet point on a crib sheet. Ifans may have campaigned hard for the role (he’s good friends with the real-life Marks), but he’s delivered much better work in smaller roles, while Chloë Sevigny (as his wife, Judy) is essentially a glorified extra. Only David Thewlis escapes unscathed as an IRA soldier who joins Marks’ risky business venture, but even his performance doesn’t always click. The bulk of the blame, however, belongs to Rose, as he just doesn’t know how to make the story interesting. He definitely has some great ideas (the decision to hold back any color until Marks smokes his first joint works well in depicting the importance of drugs in his life), but more often than not, he only makes the movie worse. “Mr. Nice” certainly has its moments, but you’d be better off just catching Ted Demme’s “Blow” on cable instead.

  

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SXSW 2010: BARRY MUNDAY

Patrick Wilson hasn’t had the greatest of luck when it comes to movies and his manhood. He was castrated by a diabolical Ellen Page in “Hard Candy” and had trouble getting it up in Zack Snyder’s big screen adaptation of “Watchmen.” His third go-around with this particularly emasculating complication is Chris D’Arienzo’s “BARRY MUNDAY,” a movie that manages to be both funny and touching when it doesn’t seem capable of either. Though the film is obviously targeted towards a certain audience (namely, the kind of adult males who frequent this site), the fact that it plays like “Knocked Up” for grown-ups pretty much guarantees it will cast a larger net upon release.

Wilson plays the title character, a thirtysomething slacker with one thing on his mind: women. But when an embarrassing incident involving an underage girl, her father, and a trumpet results in him losing both of his testicles, Barry’s confidence plummets. To make matters worse, he returns from the hospital to discover that Ginger Farley (Judy Greer), a woman he doesn’t even remember having sex with, is carrying his illegitimate child. Faced with the prospect of his family name dying with him, Barry decides to embrace the pregnancy and his duties as the father – a decision that leads to the realization that it may have taken losing his manhood for him to finally become a man.

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Based on the Frank Turner Hollon novel, “Life is a Strange Place,” D’Arienzo’s film is an indie-sized production with a Hollywood-sized cast. Though the first-time director doesn’t bring much visually to the project, the screenplay (which he also wrote) is loaded with big laughs and even bigger heart. It may come off as a little weird that Barry Munday is able to transform from a wannabe ladies man into a responsible father so quickly, but when you take into account the fact that he’ll never be able to reproduce again, it actually makes a lot of sense. Most men think about the future of their legacy at some point in their lives, and though Barry can come across like an immature jerk at times, his journey to parenthood is engaging enough that you still root for him.

Still, it would be a pretty hard sell without someone like Patrick Wilson in the lead role, as the success of the film hinges on his performance. Wilson has been delivering solid work for years, but he’s still a relative unknown to most moviegoers. “BARRY MUNDAY” isn’t going to change that, but it’s a great venue for his talent, especially considering the role is so different from previous work. Judy Greer is also great as the homely mother-to-be, and Chloe Sevigny and Malcolm McDowell (as Ginger’s younger sister and father, respectively) bring life to otherwise paper-thin characters, but this is Wilson’s show. And when you’re playing the title character of a movie that proudly presents his name in all caps, that’s the way it should be.

  

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TCA Tour: Live from (the same state as) the Golden Globes!

Since I’m currently sitting in southern California with a bunch of TV critics and watching the Golden Globes, it seems a little ridiculous for me to do anything other than live blog the thing…well, the TV portion, anyway. I wouldn’t dare take away anything from Mr. Westal’s coverage of the film portion. With that said, however, I can’t exactly ignore the show’s host, Ricky Gervais, so I’m definitely planning to give him a shout-out whenever he offers up a great line.

I’ve never done this before, so be gentle with me…

8:01 PM: Gervais suggests that most people probably know him as the guy from the original British “Office,” then shakes his head and says, “No, you don’t, do you?” The highlight comes when Gervais suggests that “quality, not quantity” makes his version of “The Office” the better one, which results in Steve Carell’s mouthing of “I will break you” to Gervais.

8:02 PM: “I’m not used to these sort of viewing figures. Then again, neither is NBC.”

8:03 PM: “Actors: they’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” Hugh Laurie seems amused by Gervais’s remarks about he plays a doctor on television better than a real physician would, while Kiefer Sutherland is perhaps less so by the suggestion that some of the fights on “24” aren’t scripted.

8:04 PM: “Let’s get on with it before NBC replaces me with Jay Leno.”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy: Toni Collette, “United States of Tara.” Although I’m a little surprised that Tina Fey didn’t take home the award, I acknowledged in my nominations piece that I figured a lot of people might favor Collette. I guess it was an easy pick. It just wasn’t mine. I still think it’s John Corbett and the kids who are the real stars of that show.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television: John Lithgow, “Dexter.” I still haven’t seen his performance yet, and yet I still picked it. That’s how strong the buzz was. Glad to see it paid off.

8:29 PM: “We’ve seen some worthy winners…aaaaaaand we’ve seen some not so worthy winners.”

8:30 PM: After observing that one can’t officially buy a Golden Globe Award, Gervais concedes that he’s probably never going to be allowed to do the show again.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama: Michael C. Hall, “Dexter.” I think that, at three (TV) awards in a row, you can officially begin to suggest that Showtime is dominating the proceedings. Given the acclaim that this season has received, I’m not surprised that Hall beat out my pick (Hugh Laurie), and once you’ve factored in the fact that he’s battling back from lymphoma, who could complain, really?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama: Julianna Marguiles, “The Good Wife.” Holy crap! My dark horse pick took home the win! What an awesome line from Julianna about CBS keeping the faith by continuing to air quality drama at 10 PM. I announced to my fellow critics that I’d gotten this pick right, and I was accused of being Nostradamus. Somebody cue up “We Are The Champions,” please. I’d like to enjoy this victory as long as possible.

8:43 PM: Gervais bashes Paul McCartney by claiming that he shared a flight with the former Beatle, with Gervais in first class and Macca in coach because he’s “saving money.” After receiving several boos for his trouble, Gervais assures the crowd, “Uh, I think he’s still doing all right!”

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: “Grey Gardens.” No complaints. I picked “Taking Chance” for this category, but I picked Drew Barrymore for her performance in the film, so I can hardly argue with this selection.

8:59 PM: Gervais decries the boozing, brawling Irish stereotype, then introduces Colin Farrell. (Farrell admits, “When I heard Ricky Gervais was gonna be introducing me, I said, ‘Oh, balls…'”)

9:09 PM: When Helen Mirren said, “Life,” then paused, I was really hoping she was going to follow it by saying, “Don’t talk to me about life.” But she didn’t.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Kevin Bacon, “Taking Chance.” Same situation as above. I wanted to see Chiwetel Ejiofor take it home for “Endgame,” but given how much I loved “Taking Chance,” I’ve no complaints.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: Drew Barrymore, “Grey Gardens.” Exxxxxxxcellent. Someone here just referred to the performance as “her first acting award,” and there’s a certain amount of truth to that, as she offered up more in “Grey Gardens” than most people would’ve expected that she had in her. You know, I’ve watched “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” a lot of times, but that reference to “Jeff Spicoli’s girlfriend” flew right over my head. Anyone…?

9:22 PM: Gervais notes how actors want to be ever-changing and constantly moving, then says, “Please welcome Rachel from ‘Friends’ and that bloke from ‘300.’”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy: Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock.” You can never go wrong with Alec Baldwin, I guess. But I still wanted Steve Carell to win it, if only to hear what Gervais had to say about it.

9:36 PM: God love Zachary Levi and Amy Poehler, but…really? Those were the best jokes you could provide for the stars of two of NBC’s best shows? The network needs all the help it can get!

Best Television Series – Drama: “Mad Men.” This is a category where there were no losers, but with that said, I really couldn’t imagine any other series than this one taking home the win. Look at the beard on Jon Hamm..and the breasts on Christina Hendricks! I couldn’t believe the music kicked in so quickly on Matthew Weiner, but as someone here said, it’s a basic-cable network. That doesn’t buy you much time, no matter how much acclaim your show gets.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television: Chloe Sevigny, “Big Love.” The only thing more upsetting than her win is her dress. I kid. Well, about the win, anyway. (I love Rose Byrne, but after seeing her today at the TCA panel for “Damages,” I was beginning to wonder if she was even capable of smiling anymore.) Seriously, though, that dress is horrid.

9:48 PM: Gervais sips from what is almost certainly a glass of real lager, then struggles to get a laugh from his “Catwoman” joke…which is probably almost as much of a struggle as it took to get Halle Berry into that dress she’s wearing.

9:57 PM: Am I the only one who was just creeped out by DeNiro’s bit about Scorcese having sex with film?

10:00 PM: Great clipfest for Scorcese. Methinks it might be time to go order a copy of “The King of Comedy” from Amazon.

10:12 PM: The lager’s back, as Gervais admits, “I’ve had a couple, I’m not gonna lie to you.” He then blames the alcohol for anyone he might’ve offended, after which he quickly offers up the most incredible introduction of the night: “I like a drink as much as the next man…unless the next man is Mel Gibson.” And just like that, Ricky Gervais is officially the best host of the Golden Globes EVER.

10:16 PM: James Cameron wins for “Avatar,” and Dileep Rao’s Golden Globes party suddenly gets kicked up a notch. I only mention this because he went to that party instead of having dinner with me. You got lucky, Rao!

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy: “Glee.” That’s going to be one happy set when I go visit it tomorrow. Nice shout-out from Ryan Murphy to Miss Barbra Streisand and the show’s “fake sexy teen cast,” as well as the dedication to everyone who ever got a wedgie in high school. Aw, that’s so sweet of you to include me, Ryan…

Well, that’s it for the TV awards, but I have to hang in there to see if Ricky Gervais has anything else left to say…or anyone else does, for that matter. Like, say, the governor of California…

10:34 PM: Damn, even Schwarzenegger can’t resist getting in a jab at NBC!

10:35 PM: Gervais really must be scared of Mickey Rourke if the best he can offer up is, “I haven’t gotten a bad word to say about him, mostly because he’s got arms as big as my legs.”

10:42 PM: I hope the kazillion ads they’ve shown for “Parenthood’ actually earn the show some viewers. I really liked the pilot. I can’t say the same for “The Marriage Ref,” partially because they haven’t produced a screener for us yet, but mostly because of my feud with Jerry Seinfeld. But that’s a story for another time.

10:52 PM: Do you get the impression that, were it not for Chrysler, we might’ve been stuck listening to the Golden Globes on the radio?

10:55 PM: What? Straight into Julia Roberts and Best Motion Picture – Drama without a last appearance from Gervias? Gyp! Oh, well, at least “Avatar” won. Congrats again, Mr. Rao. I just hope that party was worth it…

10:59 PM: Ah, there we go. “If I had one wish, it would be for peace on earth. No, wait, can I change that? It would be for everyone to watch ‘The Ricky Gervais Show,’ on HBO on Feb. 19th.” Way to end on a plug, sir.

So there you go: my first-ever live blog. I hope it made for at least a semi-entertaining read, and stay tuned for Bob Westal’s movie portion of the proceedings, coming soon!

  

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Big Love”

I’m very much out of my element when it comes to discussing “Big Love.” Not that I’m not interested in the show, but I simply haven’t watched it. I know, however, that another fine member of our editorial staff – one J. Codding – is a regular viewer, so I wouldn’t dare miss the opportunity to cover the upcoming third season of the show. Plus, really, whether you’ve watched the show or not, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to sit in on a panel that includes Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin?

If you haven’t followed the behind-the-scenes activity on the show, it’s been kind of a weird time for “Big Love” since it left the airwaves back in August 2007. The writer’s strike led to a delay in production for the show’s third season, and when the strike was concluded, executive producers Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer made the decision to throw out the ideas they’d come up with for Season 3 and basically start fresh.

“It’s always good to have more time and more time and more time to digest story and to reconsider choices made,” said Scheffer. “It makes the show stronger, deeper, better, you know, to have a couple of goes at initial assumptions. And so it was a blessing in that way, a mixed blessing because we were late coming on back to our fans, but, you know, I think that that little interim period where we weren’t writing when we were just sort of protesting and showering and such that we could have this time to breathe into the characters and the stories even more than we would have if we had just gone on our straight route. You know, I think the show would have been great, but I think what we have now is like beyond great.”

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