BIOPIC MR NICE (18) 120min ●●●●● ANIMATION/COMEDY DESPICABLE ME (U) 94min ●●●●●
The popularity of Welsh marijuana dealer and international criminal mastermind Howard Marks’ mischievous, salty and funny 1997 autobiography was due mainly to Marks’ admirable balancing act between outlaw mythology and Lord Byron’s assertion that ‘Hell makes as many devils as the severe penal codes make villains.’ Now Tolstoy-obsessed writer and filmmaker Bernard Rose (Ivansxtc, The Kreutzer Sonata) has turned it into a comedy caper. Rose takes the scenic route as he follows Marks’ progress from his first puff at Balliol College to international drug smuggler to extradition and imprisonment in America.
It’s a giddy, good-natured romp through the colourful low-tech world of disguises, multiple landline numbers, freight shipments and patriotic delusion.Things are greatly helped by a fine, if broad, central performance by Rhys Ifans as Marks and Rose’s inventive use of real background footage, which plays a sense of the hyperreal against a more fuggy remembrance.
As with the effects of Marks’ drug of choice and commerce, the problems with Mr Nice come down to that of perception and judgement. Despite the best efforts of Rose’s nuanced screenplay, Marks’ Robin Hood persona is difficult to buy, while the frequent descents into paranoia pantomime courtesy of David Thewlis’ ridiculous porn-obsessed IRA terrorist henchman and Crispin Glover’s gay Californian stringer undermine the more pleasing aspects of Marks’ Candide-esque journey. It’s enjoyable enough, if a little tonally monged. (Paul Dale) ■ General release, Fri 8 Oct. See interview, page 51.
Universal have finally hit back big in the animation stakes with Despicable Me, a good-humoured, accessible comedy that never quite reaches the classic heights of Pixar’s Up!, or even DreamWorks’ equally brilliant How To Train Your Dragon, yet trundles along wickedly enough to please kids and adults alike. Aspiring super villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) lives a quiet suburban life in the shadow of his rival Vector (Jason Segel) and, as any true black- heart should, hating children. But when Vector comes into possession of a shrinking ray gun which will facilitate Gru’s long-gestated dream of stealing the moon, the wannabe mastermind is forced to adopt three precocious girl scouts as part of a scheme to gain access to Vector’s lair.
Despicable Me offers up a
predictably heartwarming, Scrooge- style transformation for Gru, who’s initially a hybrid of Austin Powers’ nemesis Dr Evil and Eric Von Stroheim, complete with a Bela Lugosi accent. First-time directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud also provide the voices for a race of twittering minions who offer the same amusing vein of humour as the rubber alien toys in the Toy Story franchise. While Carell is in his element, the other voice casting (Segel, Russell Brand as a henchman, Julie Andrews as Gru’s hard-to-please mother) make little impression and Despicable Me’s life lessons are somewhat pat. But as with Pixar and DreamWorks’ best, it’s the consistent imagination of an parallel universe that makes Despicable Me so engaging – the elaborate, Heath Robinson-style detail of Gru’s world makes any future installments a welcome prospect. (Eddie Harrison) ■ General release from Fri 15 Oct.
52 THE LIST 7–21 Oct 2010
DRAMA/COMEDY DONKEYS (15) 76min ●●●●●
The second film to come out of the three-part Scottish-Danish co- production project The Advance Party is a very different beast from the first. By contrast to Andrea Arnold’s disturbing thriller Red Road, Donkeys is a black comedy also set in Glasgow with some of the same, if re-imagined characters.
The lead, however, is new, an old rogue named Alfred (James Cosmo, excellent) who tries to rekindle relations with his estranged family, daughter Jackie (Kate Dickie) and son Stevie (Martin Compston) but his attempts at reunion prove to be typically cack-handed.
Much of the film’s humour stems from Alfred getting everything wrong, while its dramatic impact derives from his poignant determination to put things right. Co-written with Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig, Donkeys’ morbid, character-based humour is reminiscent of her own Glasgow-set comedy Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. But director Morag McKinnon, here making her feature debut, and her long-time writing partner Colin McLaren have also imbued the film with their own brand of absurdist humour.
Donkeys is a strong follow-up to its feted predecessor, one which benefits from the change of tone that establishes it as a film in its own right. And as an added bonus Donkeys is playing with a supporting short: Colin Kennedy’s hilarious tale of dogs and false teeth, I Love Luci. (Miles Fielder) ■ GFT, Glasgow, Fri 8–Thu 15 Oct; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Mon 1–Thu 4 Nov. See preview, page 50.
DOCUMENTARY OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW (U) 105min ●●●●●
Taking its title from the biblical story of Lilith, this idiosyncratic documentary from Sophie Fiennes immerses us in the work of German artist Anselm Kiefer. Back in the early 1990s the latter left his native country and took over a derelict silk factory near Barjac in the south of France. He has since constructed a series of remarkable installations on this site, building a kind of parallel universe containing tunnels, mazes, bridges, towers, studios, columns, and even an amphitheatre.
For the first 20 minutes, accompanied by György Ligeti’s modernist music, we don’t see a human being, as Fiennes’ widescreen camera glides, tracks and pans its way around these man-made constructions. This isn’t a film that seeks to explain the motivations of its subject, or to locate him within a particular tradition. Instead we get to watch Kiefer (and his team of assistants) forge his monumental artifacts: dust is sprayed over enormous canvases, glass plates are shattered over the floor, raw materials are melted into shape in kilns, whilst mechanical diggers churn away in underground chambers. It’s a demanding but interesting study into the physical process of large-scale artistic creation. (Tom Dawson) ■ GFT, Glasgow, Fri 15 & Sat 16 Oct.