Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I was ready to turn in my moviegoers card. After the CGI sewer spillage of "2012" and the message-wielding mallet that was "Precious," I needed to have my cinematic senses replenished.

"Pirate Radio" did the job.

This is why you go to the movies. To be entertained. To be engrossed. To be educated about some event or some people you never knew about. "Pirate Radio" took me to a world of which I had only heard anecdotal snippets . Now I'm an expert on 60s British rock radio. Who knew?

Apparently, during that decade, rock radio stations were virtually verboten in Great Britain. So much so that government officials often went to great lengths to shut the upstarts down. And those broadcasters then went to even greater lengths to keep the music coming. And, in this film, you meet one such bunch. They followed the "pirate" classification to a capital P. They grabbed a boat and headed for the high seas. The SS Radio Rock. A ramshackle barge that is the studio and the home address of a family of also-ran and fledgling disc jockeys.

The one American platter player is portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who once again provides a master class on how an actor can do something different in every movie he does. Tom Hanks and Robert Di Niro, please take note. It is possible to vary your performance from film to film. The rest of the disc jockeys are the usual collections of misfits. From stoners to kids. You learn pretty quickly that one young teenager is a virgin and has never met his father. You don't need a slide rule to know that, by movie's end, he will get laid and discover his dad is among the air personalities on the boat. Predictable? Hell yes. But, you can still have a fun ride even if you know where you're going.

Of course, back in England, there is one government official who has Radio Rock in his crosshairs. Kenneth Branagh plays the villain in this piece and, with his 60s haircut, glasses, and mustache, he looks just like Floyd the Barber. In another slick piece of casting, the aforementioned virgin's mom shows up for ten minutes. For nine of those minutes, I didn't even know Mom was being played by Emma Thompson behind these ugly Twiggy-like sunglasses and a Diana Rigg leopard coat from the Avengers.

"Pirate Radio" was directed by Richard Curtis, who helped create the "Mr. Bean" TV show and also was responsible for my latest favorite Christmas classic "Love Actually." Curtis is a master storyteller who loves to incorporate pop music into his films. He does it in spades here, as "Pirate Radio" provides the best movie soundtrack compilation since "American Graffiti." As a result, we wind up with a film that has to be seen and heard. And the tunes here run the gamut. From the Rolling Stones to, mystifyingly, Herb Alpert croaking through "This Guy's In Love with You." He never sounded better.

At the end of the movie, Pirate Radio literally and figuratively sinks. But it is saved by its fans---literally and figuratively. Spoiler alert: imagine an episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati" set on the Titanic. Again, I'm revealing here nothing you won't figure out an hour earlier. But, still, you want to walk the plank. And please stay for the closing credits, which are set against a montage of practically every rock music album ever pressed.

Movie theaters are apparently safe again.

Dinner last night: Back in LA for a Taylor Ham sandwich.

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