Thursday, April 25, 2013

movie review: PIRATE RADIO (2009)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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Back before the Internet and mp3's were part of main stream vocabulary, people consumed their music by listening to vinyl records, or more than likely, broadcast radio.

While licensed radio stations were the norm, there was an underground movement of radio broadcasters who sailed the seas in converted ships to skirt around the unofficial British policy to avoid playing evil Rock N' Roll. Hence why they were called pirates.

I can remember vaguely listening to some European pirate radio stations back in the 1970s on my Hammarlund HQ-160 short wave radio, which my father bought the day I was born.

Pirate Radio takes place in the Spring of 1967 aboard Radio Rock, which sails the North Sea spinning records 24/7, much to the disdain of a particular member of the British Ministry of Communications.

Initially we accompany Young Kevin (Tom Sturridge), as he boards the ship one stormy night. He's being sent by his mother (Emma Thompson) because he needs to straighten up after being kicked out of his prep school for smoking.

Young Kevin's adventure is just one small plot, among several plots, in the film. The most obvious one is the somewhat one-sided battle between government officials and the pirates over their broadcasting. Unfortunately, that plot is treated almost like an afterthought for most of the picture.

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From the self-proclaimed rock royalty Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to the wild-haired Bob (Ralph Brown), the supporting case of DJs represented the open ended music style of the period.

And just as hip as the DJs were, the government officials Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his scheming lackey, played by Jack Davenport, were properly stodgy in their battle to overcome perceived lawlessness by the Radio Rock crowd.

Bill Nighy plays Radio Rock's maverick owner. He felt like a cross between Sir Richard Branson and Phil Spector. It's a shame he didn't get more screen time because his character added a bit of common sense, in a hip and offbeat way, to counter the DJs.

Though the cast is primarily male, January Jones and Talulah Riley play a couple of sweet, seemingly innocent albeit naughty, girls along for the ride.

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As great as the ensemble cast may have been, bigger kudos goes to Stephen Price, the music editor. He must've felt like a kid in a candy store with all the tracks at his disposal.

I suppose it was a case where rights were easier to come by in 2009 than back in 1973 when George Lucas made American Graffiti, and the studios forced him to cut back his soundtrack due to the monumental fees they would have had to pay.

When Gavin (Rhys Ifans) made is slow motion appearance onboard, to the Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash, there's a swagger to his character that wouldn't have been there had they used the original idea of the MoTown sound of either The Supremes or Temptations.

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The R rating is is for language and crude humor, including some brief nude scenes. Probably not a good film I'd let a child watch, no matter how open-minded you might be.

The film is also a bit long, weighing in at just over two hours, plus there's over 30 minutes of Deleted Scenes in a bonus track which, for the most part, added nothing to the film.

RATED: 6.5 out of 10 STARS

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Pirate Radio is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming at Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

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