Saturday, November 14, 2009

"pirate radio" movie review

"pirate radio" was originally scheduled for an august release (and was on my summer "must see" list), following its spring release in great britain (where it was titled "the boat that rocked"). the u.s. release was not only pushed back to mid-november, but the film was substantially edited by the distributor on its trip across the atlantic! a solid 15 minutes was cut from the running time of the u.k. version - and it still came in at just under 2 hours (1:54). but with the incredible 1960's british invasion soundtrack, the screen time isn't a problem.

the film is loosely based on real world events. "radio rock" is a fictionalized version of the very real pirate "radio caroline" that broadcast rock and roll from its perch in the north sea. the "pirate" radio phenomena was widespread in the mid-60's because british radio (as exemplified by the all powerful bbc) refused to play popular music (aside from a token half hour broadcast a day). the listenership of those pirate radio stations was well into the millions - and rivaled that of the so-called "legitimate" broadcasters.

despite the lukewarm u.k. reception - this is a fantastic film. think of it as mix of "almost famous," "mad men," "good morning vietnam," "animal house," "titanic" and a more than solid dose of "mighty python!" the ensemble cast includes three oscar winners (hoffman, branagh, and tompson), each of whom shines. hoffman, as "the count," takes his rock journalist role from "almost famous" and ramps (camps) it up as the only american dj among the roster of british personalities. thompson, in a small role as charolette (carl's mother) is hilarious when she visited her son on board the floating radio station/animal house.

but it's branagh, as sir alistair dormandy, the unbendingly snobbish evil civil servant on a crusade to silence the pirates, who practically stole the film. branagh, single-handedly channelled the spirit of john cleese and mighty python - while playing it straight. his seriousness of purpose was so monomaniacal that it served as a pivot for those around him (in chain smoking scenes that bring about a "mad men" atmospheric). the ridiculously named twatt (who was a dead ringer for "don draper") was hired by branagh as his henchman in chief - and charged with masterminding a plan to shut down the pirates.

the film is actually a series of shipboard vignettes intercut with branagh's machiavellian scheming and everyday brits enjoying the broadcasts as they go about their lives. it's the scenes of everyday life infused with the "edginess" of listening to the illicit broadcasts - they are "pirates" after all - that glue the film together. without getting too deep - since the film itself doesn't tackle the real issues of censorship and political correctness - the british government is completely out of touch with the sensibilities of its citizens. worse than that, the self-righteous bureaucrats - of which branagh is the point man - are determined to inflict their own aesthetic on the population.

one other interesting point, there is a decidedly frat-boy lifestyle on the pirate tanker. the only woman on board is there because she is a lesbian - and cooks their meals! every two weeks, a boat load of women arrives for an overnight visit! the two women characters of any consequence (aside from tompson - who dropped her own unexpected bombshell on carl) that visit the "boys" on board each commits and act of social treachery and inspire some degree of mayhem on board! january jones (on a break from "mad men") rockets to the top of all-time brazen groupies chart with her unique stunt! set in 1967 - the nascent feminist movement had yet to take root, it would seem?!

the cobbled together finale is over the top - or under water (as the case may be)? the film, with its incredible soundtrack, is well-worth watching on the big screen. hopefully the theatre will play it loud! this is the third straight rock movie (albeit this one was fiction) i've checked out recently. if "it might get loud" and "anvil: the story of anvil!" are this years must-see rock documentaries, then "pirate radio" is the must-see rock comedy :D

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