Monday, November 23, 2009

The Blog That Rocked: PIRATE RADIO Review, and MORE!

Back in action and ready to rock. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are now officially in the midst of prestige movie season. At the same time, the TV nets just wrapped up their big-event programming for November sweeps. Suffice it to say, a lot to talk about ...


- Wow, once again, SMALLVILLE was pretty ... awesome? After last week's well-above-average episode, and the week before that's excellent, Zod-centric installment, this week's was another really fun adventure. I mean sometimes, it's all about priorities. Take the Lois and Clark romance for example. When we get whole episodes that are ALL ABOUT the couple's mixed feelings for one another, and there's endless pining and brooding and whatnot, it gets really old, really fast. But this week's ep was a great example of how Smallville can excel when it develops the relationship organically within the context of an epic adventure story. Sure, you get those great Lois and Clark moments, but you also get those great "Superman" moments, which is something that the show sometimes forgets about. I don't mean Clark using his powers or fighting a villain-of-the-week, I mean Clark acting the part of the Man of Steel - rising to a challenge, inspiring others, and never backing down. It might sound cheesy, but that's what Superman is all about. And hey, there's no better way to show this than the old sci-fi standby, the post-apocalyptic potential future. In this ep, we finally see what Lois saw when she travelled a year into the future after last season's finale. I still don't think it was a great idea to wait so long to get to this reveal - this ep actually would have made for a great season premiere, actually. But, I'm glad that we got to it, even if it took a while, because this was a really well-told story about a future in which all of humanity has been made to kneel before Zod, so to speak. Even if it was only a *potential* future, there was still a lot of drama to be had out of the kinds of earth-shattering scenes we probably won't get to see in regular continuity anytime soon - Chloe dying, Lois and Clark gettin' hot and heavy, and of course, the whole thing about earth being overthrown by an army of evil Kryptonians. We even got the obligatory plot thread about Oliver Queen leading a kryptonite-arrow-sportin' band of anti-Zod rebels. Been done before? Sure. Still awesome? Indeed. This was cool stuff. And by the way, I am ultra-psyched for January's JSA Smallville event, penned by Geoff Johns. Looks great so far from the previews.

My Grade: A-

- I didn't get to review PARKS & RECREATION last week, so I'll chime in and say that Thursday's ep was a pretty solid, if unspectacular episode. I think the great thing with Parks though is that it's found its voice. The characters are now really strong top to bottom, and it's to the point now where episodes can feed off of that. Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson has become one of the most reliably awesome characters on TV, for one thing. And the rest of the cast has really gelled as well, turning Parks into a full-fledged ensemble comedy. In Thursday's ep, I thought the whole guys-goin'-hunting storyline was only okay, but I still completely cracked up over Ron's antics and the rest of the group's response.

My Grade: B+

- Man, I don't know if it's just me, but FOX's Sunday Night lineup seems like it's in a huge slump as of late. Sunday was the second week in a row that both THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY have been very much subpar. And despite a couple of bright spots, subpar basically characterizes the seasons of both shows so far. Really sad, especially in the case of The Simpsons, which had a couple of really well-done early episodes, and since then has just slid into mediocrity. I mean, last night's Simpsons ep was just plain dull. It had moments that were pretty funny, but for some reason, much like last week's ep, decided to shift gears right when things were getting interesting. The story had promise - Jonah Hill voiced a sort of proto-Bart, who ten years ago pulled school pranks that are still legendary in the halls of Springfield Elementary. Hell, he even pulled one prank so intense that it scarred Principal Skinner for life. Bart, shocked and intrigued that there was once a prankster even more notorious than he, seeks out the now 19-year-old troublemaker, who is of course a live-at-home loser still obsessed with pranks. The flashbacks to the character's heyday were pretty funny, and I love a good Seymour Skinner-freaks-out joke as much as anyone ("Woooooooooorms!"). But then, the episode became about Bart trying to help out his new mentor and get him a real job, and all the wind left the episode's sails. It didn't help that the Marge-and-Maggie subplot fell pretty flat overall. It involved Marge's daytime playgroup with the other area moms, and them getting upset that she wasn't serving organic food and whatnot when she hosted the babies. This led to some pretty tired Whole Foods parodies, and not a lot of laughs.

FAMILY GUY had a pretty fun premise as well - Peter befriends a guy named Jerome, as a sort of replacement for the spun-off Cleveland. Everyone loves Jerome, until Peter finds out that he used to date Lois ... paving the way for all the most predictable jokes possible. The one really funny moment was when Jerome very awkwardly gives Lois the heimlich maneuver - that one really cracked me up. Otherwise, the whole episode was just pretty blah. I've heard some people praising the subplot where Brian tries to become better friends with Quagmire, only for Quagmire to deliver a searing monologue about why, exactly, he hates Brian so much, which seemed to basically be one giant critique of all liberal-wannabe-intellectual-hipster-douchebag types. It was a bit much for me. Family Guy has had so many random, nonsensical jabs at people for no reason whatsoever, that when they actually try to have some substance behind something like this, it falls pretty flat at this stage of the game.

My Grades:

The Simpsons: C+
Family Guy: C+

- Alright, I saw a couple of movies this weekend, and am really eager to talk about both. But for now, here's ...


- I've seen a lot of mixed reviews for Pirate Radio, so I went in not knowing quite what to expect. But I walked out of the theater very much won over by the energy, heart, humor, and spirit of this film. Anyone who loves rock n' roll owes it to themselves to check this one out, because Pirate Radio is essentially a love letter to the pioneering and free-wheeling spirit of rock.

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love, Actually), Pirate Radio mythologizes the true story of rebel British DJ's who, during the early days of The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who, broadcast rock n' roll to the masses via signals coming from mobile, seafaring stations that resided outside the jurisdiction of the disapproving British government. At the time, official British radio stations refused to play rock music (it was practiclaly equated to pornography), and so young Brits turned, in droves, to pirate radio to get their rock n' roll fix. This movie tells the story of one such pirate radio station - the biggest and most popular in Britain - and the band of misfits, hippies, and burnouts who made it their life's mission to spread the gospel of rock. Even as a preppy teen boards the boat and begins to learn to love the ways of rock, stuffy politicians are doing their best to shut down pirate radio once and for all. It's a classic story of us vs. them and of fighting the man, and there are no big surprises in terms of how it all goes down. But Curtis does a great job of crafting a fun and surprisingly emotional journey that will have you cheering and rooting for rock n' roll to triumph over those who would prefer to keep the likes of Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan out of the public conciousness.

It definitely helps that the cast of Pirate Radio is top-to-bottom outstanding. The number of talented and funny actors in this one is pretty mind-boggling, actually. Even better, all the characters have their moments to shine. The characters are all there for a purpose, and they each bring something to the table. Our guide and stand-in for the movie is teenaged Carl (Tom Sturridge), whose mother has sent him to live on the boat with his godfather (Bill Nighy, in fine form as the ultra-mod head honcho of the radio station), after he's kicked out of school for drugs. Carl doesn't quite know what he's in for. He thought he was going somewhere to become reformed - instead, he's gone to a modern-day pirate ship filled with all manner of shady characters and unchecked debauchery. To that end, to some degree Pirate Radio is a coming of age story for Carl. But like I said, it's also really about all of the great characters that surround him. There's the great Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Count, a self-styled rock DJ from America who won't stop broadcasting 'til the day he dies. There's Nick Frost (Shawn of the Dead) as Dave, a jovial sleazebag who revels in his rockstar fame, finding particular pleasure in bedding many of his groovy groupies. There's Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) playing a would-be rocker not too dissimilar from Murray on FOTC (meaning that yes, he's pretty hilarious here). There are also really nice performances from the rest of the boat crew - Rhys Ifans as the legendary, deep-voiced DJ Gavin, Chris O'Dowd as the hopless romantic Simon, Tom Brooke as Carl's dense roommate, Thick Kevin, and Katherin PArkinson as the lovelorn lesbian chef of the ship, Felicity. There are some great performances from the British government villains as well. Kenneth Branaugh is in fine comedic form as the stiff-upper-lipped Parliament member hellbent on shutting down rock n' roll radio. And so too is Jack Davenport (Swingtown) as the unfortunately-named Twatt, Branaugh's right-hand man (so to speak).

Pirate Radio is somewhat loosely constructed, but to me it worked because most of the individual scenes are so entertaining and funny. The collection of actors aboard the pirate radio boat are so good that you feel like you could watch them sit around and banter all day. Sure, sometimes the sheer number of characters and subplots can be a bit overwhelming, and sometimes that means that certain story beats seem a bit rushed or glossed over (like the feud between The Count and Gavin over who gets to be the station's #1 DJ). But most of the time, the scenes come together to form a nice tapestry of what it was like to be a part of the rock revolution of the 60's. The government angle reminds us how counterculture all this stuff still was back then, and we also get lots of scenes of everyday people, from all walks of British life, rocking out to their transistor radios, enthralled by the music they were hearing and the charismatic DJ's who spun the records. I really liked how the movie was, on one hand, a look at the crazy characters who populated Rock Radio, but also a broader look at how the music they were playing was causing a pop-cultural revolution across the world. Sure, it can get a bit cheesy and schmaltzy, but I say there's nothing wrong with a good rock n' roll fairy tale every now and then.

And I mean, it's hard not to get caught up in the ra-ra-rock spirit of the movie when you hear all the legendary songs that serve as its soundtrack. From the Beatles to the Beach Boys, from The Who to The Kinks, if you have an ounce of rock n' roll in your soul then you'll be bopping along. I especially liked that, during the end credits, we get a montage of all sorts of rock album covers from the 60's to now. It nicely ties the themes of the movie together - that these guys fought to liberate the airwaves and fight the man, and that spirit endured, and went on to become the driving cultural force of our time. Not too shabby.

So yeah, I can see how Pirate Radio might prove too liberal with its baby boomer myth-making for some. And I know that some have criticized it for playing fast and loose with historical fact in the name of entertainment. But like I said, I was ultimately won over by Pirate Radio. It's a feel-good movie about rock n' roll inspiring people to get up, stand up, and keep the dream alive. It's funny, heartfelt, and has a stellar cast. I thought it rocked.

My Grade: A-

- And that's it for now. In honor of Pirate Radio, I say only this: for those about to rock, I salute you!

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