Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Nice Way to End 2009!

So I was away for a few days at Christmas.  Upon my return, I checked the comments and found that I have received an award from not one, but two readers (who are both great bloggers themselves!).

How fun!

Here are the rules that came with the award:

1) Thank the person who nominated me for this award.

2) Copy the award & place it on my blog.

3) Link to the person who nominated me for this award.

4) Tell us 7 interesting things about yourself.

5) Nominate 7 bloggers.

6) Post links to the 7 blogs I nominate.
First of all, I'd like to thank Nikki of Are you there, youth?  It's me, Nikki and Sadako of Dibbly Fresh for bestowing this honor upon a lowly almost-30 cube-dweller who likes pink way too much.  So that takes care of 1) and 3).
Now I'll tell you 7 things about myself that you may or may not find interesting:

1) My graduating class had 34 people.  That's right: THIRTY-FOUR.  And people wondered why I wanted to go to college in a major city.
2) I was named after an actress whose real name was Betty, but had a name made up for her when the movie studio deemed Betty too boring. 
3) Last night at yoga, I did a handstand by myself for the first time ever!  Granted, it was up against the wall, but still.  :)
4) When I was a kid, I tried to light a match and burned myself.  I've been scared of matches ever since.
5) The band I've seen  most often in concert is They Might Be Giants (four or five times).
6) I once hung out with Jen Lancaster, before her books got really big.
7) I've written three YA novels.  The first is one I started in 2007, have rewritten three times, and will be re-submitting to agents and publishers.  The second began as a short story for a fiction class I took early this year.  I just finished the second draft and submitted it to a YA novel contest (because of contest rules, I couldn't submit my first novel).  The third I wrote for NaNoWriMo, and will be revisiting soon.
Now I'll nominate 7 bloggers I love.  I may not be so good about posting in comments, because I think some of these guys read this blog!
1) Dibbly Fresh: all things old-school YA and new-school pop culture.  Sadako is a ton of fun, and I was a fan long before I started this blog.
2) Etiquette Bitch: my friend Mare Swallow's fun and funky blog that proves politeness never goes out of style.
3) Vinotarian: delicious recipes and wine recommendations from two funny Southern ladies.
4) Lifetime, Wow!: two hilarious snarkers take on Lifetime movies.  Freaking hysterical.
5) Are you there, youth?  It's me, Nikki: because I never tire of the fiction of my youth, AND because Nikki and I love Mike O'Malley!
6) Life, Words & Rock 'n' Roll: the blog of astoundingly talented YA author Stephanie Kuehnert (I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Ballads of Suburbia).  Read her stuff.  Now.
7) The Coffee-Stained Writer: a Florida-based freelance writer offers writing prompts, tips, and encouragement.  Sometimes it's nice to know we're not alone in our artistic pursuits!
And finally, I want to thank all my readers.  For a long time, I hesitated to start my own blog because I thought, "who's going to care about the babbly musings of a 29-year-old office employee?"  Thank you, thank you, thank you for proving me wrong.  Keep spreading the blog love and here's to a great 2010!
Tonight, whether you're living it up or staying in, please be safe.  I want to see your comments next year!
(And if you ARE living it up, why not check out my post on New Year's Eve bar etiquette?  Goes down real smooth!)

Monday, December 28, 2009

For Ana: Emily of New Moon

So the subject of this week's post comes courtesy of Ana, who may very well be my farthest-flung (furthest-flung?) reader, and who also sent me my very first fan email!  When she suggested back in October that I take a look at Lucy Maud Montgomery's Emily series, I was happy to oblige.  Here's the Unpro take on the trilogy's first book, Emily of New Moon.

When my pal Addie (also known as my Now and Then viewing buddy) and I were in middle school, we went through a major Montgomery phase.  As bookish, creative girls ourselves, we related to Lucy Maud's bookish, creative heroines, and Prince Edward Island, Canada just sounded soooo romantic.  And there were hot, sensitive love interests who appreciated independent women (Gilbert Blythe, what what?).  We started with Anne of Green Gables and its seven sequels, then moved on to Jane of Lantern Hill and eventually, the Emily books.

Because it's my middle name (thanks, Wuthering Heights-loving Mom!), I've always had a soft spot for Emilys real and fictional.  Not to stereotype, but most Emilys I've met may seem quiet at first, but have a hell of a strong will and artistic ability in spades.  And Lucy Maud Montgomery's Emily Byrd Starr fits this to a T.  (Well, maybe not the quiet part.)

Doing a Google Image search for this post, I found that Emily of New Moon was adapted into a television series that aired in Canada from 1998-2000.  Apparently it was on in the U.S. too, on something called WAM.  Cool!  (If anyone wants to get me a Christmas present, I would lurve these DVD's!)

A basic plot summary: Emily Byrd Starr is eleven years old and living poor but happy with her single dad in backwater Canada.  She loves her dad, her two cats, and writing, in that order.  However, when her father's death leaves her alone and penniless, Emily is reluctantly taken in at New Moon Farm by her two aunts, Elizabeth and Laura Murray, the sisters of her mother Juliet, who died when Emily was tiny.  Laura is sweet and understanding of Emily's many scrapes and outbursts, Elizabeth is of the "spare the rod and spoil the child" school.  However, thanks to the encouragement of her slightly-unbalanced-but-lovable Uncle Jimmy, Emily starts to cultivate her writing talent, while speaking her mind, having adventures, and solving a mystery along the way. 

Emily kind of rocks.  When I was young I always wanted to be friends with Montgomery's characters.  Sure, Ruby Gillis was kind of a ditz, but the rest of the girls were so smart, funny and most of all loyal (not easy to find in real life preteen girls).  At a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard, Emily respected her elders but wasn't afraid to speak up when she saw injustice.  Despite the ordeal of losing her father at age eleven, Emily has a pretty strong sense of self, not to mention real confidence in her writing (even when her spelling is not so great).  She does make the mistake of trusting Rhoda, her school's chief Mean Girl, but she more than makes up for it by being a good friend to wild child Ilse (I distinctly remember that the Emily books were the first time I heard the name Ilse, and I loved it), budding painter Teddy (future hottie alert!), and earnest hired boy Perry.  Basically, no matter how many times Emily stumbles, she scrambles right back to her feet and soldiers on.

There's really only one thing that bugs me about the Emily books.  His name is Dean Priestly, and we're going to have a bit of a chat.

Hi Dean.  I'd like you to meet a friend of mine:

Take a seat, Dean.  Right over there.

Okay.  I understand that this was a different era.  That in the olden days, it wasn't seen as skin-crawl-inducing that a thirty-six-year-old man would take an interest in a barely thirteen-year-old girl.  Even if you did save her life (and of course, I'm grateful to you for that), you bug me, dude.  I'm sure sorry that you have a hunchback and you got made fun of so much that you turned to books for comfort.  And yes, Emily's Uncle Jimmy is an older man who encourages her writing. But here's the difference between you and Uncle Jimmy, Dean:

Uncle Jimmy's not CREEPY.  He doesn't send Emily big, fat letters (wrong choice of words, dude, wrong choice of words).  In later books, he doesn't pressure her to marry him as soon as she's legal.  And he doesn't almost succeed.

Dean, even in middle school you made me squeamish.  Maybe Montgomery had an older-man-with-a-savior-complex fantasy, I don't know.  Either way, I wish young Emily knew how to quit you.  Because throughout the next two books, if I recall correctly, you just don't go away.

(Incidentally, Dean is not listed as a character in the Emily TV series.  Hmmm.)

Anyway, other than Dickhead Dean (who doesn't appear until late in the book), Emily of New Moon is a sweet, fast read.  I hope girls today still read Montgomery, because anyone who encourages imagination, loyalty, and inner strength in young women is A-OK with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brittany Murphy Dies. What the Hell, Hollywood?

I know we can't completely blame Hollywood for this.

But when a beautiful, funny actress shows up at premieres looking like a skeleton, denying cocaine use, and then experiences a downhill trajectory in her career, I can't help but get a little pissed.

Today, Brittany Murphy suffered full cardiac arrest and was never revived.  She was only 32 years old.

Murphy's death comes (hopefully) last in a long line of 2009 celebrity deaths.  Y'all know how I feel about Michael Jackson.  Bea Arthur was another.  Natasha Richardson never recovered from a horrible freak ski accident.

True, Murphy wasn't a pop icon like MJ.  She didn't have the dry humor and distinctive baritone of Bea.  She didn't bring an elegance and flair to stage and screen roles like Richardson.

However, she was only 32.  Maybe she had it in her.  And now we'll never know.

In her short lifespan, girl did a hell of a lot.  Reading Jezebel's lovely tribute, I remembered how many fun and cool roles she had.  Of course, we all remember Tai in Clueless, at once "way harsh" and sweet, with beautiful reddish-brown hair and the most winning smile of the three protagonists.  But I'd forgotten about her sensitive, supportive sister of a closeted gay boy in Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Her supportive friend and fellow teen mom in Riding in Cars With Boys (I remember that film made me really love the name Amelia--Murphy's character's daughter).  Her fierce ex-girlfriend with an ax to grind in Sin City--probably one of my favorite vignettes in the film.

And Luann Platter on King of the Hill.  I love King of the Hill--sure, I resisted it at first because it hit too close to my redneck past, but then I learned to embrace it for the very same reason.  I went to high school with many Luann Platters.  Trust me, Murphy's voice characterization hit it out of the park.  And as her career went through increasingly fallow periods, it's a comfort now to know that she had a steady gig.

I didn't know her.  Like every other celeb I gab on about, my theories are pure speculation.  But today, I find myself angry and sad.  No, I didn't worship her like I did MJ or even Bea.  I didn't aspire to emulate her version of "Don't Tell Mama," like I did with Richardson.  I did, however, enjoy hearing her  cute little twang when I just needed a laugh at the end of a hard day.  She always delivered.

I find myself angry and sad because once again I'm questioning what Hollywood does to young women.  Why'd she get so thin a few years ago?  HOW'D she get so thin a few years ago?  She didn't look like a poster child for healthy and responsible weight loss, that's for damn sure.  Her face was positively skeletal and her smile sad.

And I'm not saying she was an angel: she was reportedly fired by her agent and publicist before Sin City was released.  But in this past decade, Brittany Murphy has just seemed . . . lost.  Like a directionless little girl, rather than an accomplished young woman.

Granted, people lose their way every day.  Famous or no, some are susceptible to addiction, eating disorders, and less-than-desirable life choices, for reasons we still debate.  But this happens over and over in Hollywood, and has been going on for decades: Marilyn Monroe.  Karen Carpenter.  Dana Plato.  Lindsay Lohan.  Quite possibly Miley Cyrus.

Hollywood and the film industry are nasty to women in a way they never are to men.  Sure, there's pressure for men too (especially those in the closet), but you don't see them starving themselves into oblivion to fit a mold that no one can realistically aspire to.  Or pumping their chests full of silicone.  Men may go under the knife and needle too, but the results are nowhere near that extreme.

I keep thinking of one of my least favorite episodes of South Park, where the boys try to guard a headless Britney Spears from a scandal-hungry public.  I enjoy uncomfortable humor (way too much sometimes), but seeing the pop princess go around with a bloody, shot-off stump of a head--even though I knew it was just a cartoon--crossed a line for me.  Yet I agreed with the point that Stone and Parker were trying to make: Hollywood has forever made sacrificial lambs out of young girls and women.  At the end of the 2008 episode, they predicted that Miley Cyrus was next, and it's slowly but surely coming true.

I don't know what to do with my anger, either.  I love pop culture.  I have a blog about it.  I write movie reviews and cover celeb shenanigans.  I've pointed and laughed as much as the next person.  I can say I'll boycott mainstream films and renounce reality TV, but I know I won't do it.

She wasn't my friend.  But she was only two and a half years older than I, and those deaths seem to hit me harder.

I wish I could have helped her.

Monday, December 14, 2009

For Nikki: Top 5 Things I Lurve About Glee

In 2008, I got a call from my best friend Bob in L.A.  "I just got asked to audition for this amazing new show," he exalted, as I felt the excitement vibes emanating through my crappy cell phone.  "They're talking Lea Michele for the lead role, and I have to sing, and it's the guy from Nip/Tuck, and I'm totally not supposed to do this, but I'm sending you the script for the pilot."

I downloaded the PDF, read it, fell in love, and although Bob didn't get the role, we both anticipated the release date of a primetime show that, for the first time we could remember, reflected our high school existences as the non-jock performer enthusiasts who survived our tiny high schools through our dreams of being stars.

I give you: my take on Glee.  (Thanks, reader Nikki, for the suggestion!)

Don't get me wrong.  I'm the first to admit this musical dramedy isn't perfect.  First, I HATE Will's wife Terri.  Not the actress, Jessalyn Gilsig--I feel like she's doing what she can--but the whole faked pregnancy subplot was so ridic that I found myself tuning out when she was on screen.  Second, though I love Michael Hitchcock (especially since he's direct messaged me twice on Twitter!), I was largely offended by his character, partially deaf choirmaster Dalton Ross.  (Like Gilsig, it wasn't his portrayal, but the way the script was written and directed.)  Also, I almost think the show would have worked better in a half-hour format.  Remember when The Office went hourlong for a few episodes?  (I'm talking normal episodes, not Jim and Pam's wedding.)  Yeah.  Not so great.

That said, there's a lot to love about this decidedly imperfect show.  Hell, maybe the fact that it's decidedly imperfect makes it all the more endearing and relatable.  God knows I wasn't flawless as a high school choir geek.

Also, did I mention that MY COLLEGE CLASSMATE IAN BRENNAN, is one of the co-creators?  LOYOLA THEATRE MAJORS HOLLA!

Sorry.  Just had to get that out there.  Belive me, I'm sparing you the full geekout I experienced upon discovering this blessed fact.

Anyway, Glee?  These are a few of my favorite things--about you!

1.  "Dancing With Myself." 

Though Bob didn't get the role of Artie, I'm loving Kevin McHale's portrayal.  Glee's done his character right: the best disabled TV characters are the ones written to a) acknowledge the disability and work it into the plot, but at the same time b) give the character other motivations and concerns, like the human beings they are.  (Really not sure if I phrased that right.  If I was slightly un-P.C., I'm sorry.  I had good intentions.)  See also: Jason Street on Friday Night Lights, Eli on Ed.  My only complaint about Artie?  So many times he's relegated to background.  We want more Artie!

Case in point: "Wheels," to date one of the most beautiful and touching episodes of Glee, and quite frankly one of the best hours of TV I've ever seen.  For the first time all season, Artie's disability is put to the forefront, as Mr. Schu and the gang debate on whether to pay for a handicapped accessible bus, or just let Artie ride with his dad like usual.  But Artie has another pressing matter on his mind as well: his crush on shy stutterrer Tina.  Early in the episode, both of Artie's plotlines are effectively expressed in his first solo song of the series: "Dancing With Myself."  At once wistful and Frank Sinatra-snappy, the music, lyrics, and especially McHale's offhand yet pensive delivery are so contagious I immediately downloaded it from iTunes. And boy can WORK that wheelchair.

2.  Mike O'Malley.

Though my girlcrush on Lea Michele will NEVER DIE, and Matthew Morrison is just too cute for words, my one of my favorite performances by far has come from one of Glee's supporting characters: Mike O'Malley as sensitive grease monkey Burt Hummel, the father of fabulous Kurt.

If you're younger than I am, you probably remember O'Malley as the host of Nickelodeon's Guts back in the nineties.  I myself remember him fondly as misguided metalhead Lenny in the Hilary Duff vehicle The Perfect Man, aka a Bad Movie I Inexplicably Love.  Also, in yet another weird Glee/Unpro connection, my aunt knows his mom.  He's one of those "Hey, It's That Guy!" character actors, always working yet only vaguely recognizable.

Though he's appeared on only two episodes thus far, O'Malley may have increased his profile a thousand-fold thanks to a humorous and heartwarming performance.  Not all comedic actors can carry dramatic weight.  He can.  In only two episodes, Chris Colfer (as Kurt) and O'Malley have created a believable relationship between a showtunes-loving fashion aficionado boy who likes other boys, and a single dad who's not as clueless as he appears, and genuinely wants the best for his kid, no matter what and whom he loves.  Yet as accepting as he wants to be, Burt is still concerned for his small family, and knows that life will not be easy for himself and his gay son--and the more out Kurt is, the more difficult it will be.  Kudos to Glee for not writing off the "I love my gay son" plot in one Very Special Episode, as so many other shows have done--and for leaving the door open for more scenes between two generations of very skilled actors.

3.  Jane Lynch 

Interesting trivia: did you know that Sue Sylvester was not in the original pilot?  As it is now, who can imagine Glee without her snappy quips and signature red tracksuit?  Of course, I have no proof, but I highly suspect the role was written for one of the best character actresses EVER: Jane Lynch.

Anyone who's read this post is aware of my firm belief that Jane Lynch makes everything better.  And as the scheming but not-completely-evil cheerleading coach and Glee Club nemesis, she does not disappoint.  Whether she's making fun of Mr. Schu's hair or reading Little Red Riding Hood to her handicapped sister, Sue Sylvester's more than just a mustache-turning villain.  She's a beyotch with depth--the most interesting kind.  A lesser actress could have turned the character one-dimensional but as it is, I can't wait for next season to see what motivates the fiendish plans Sue has up her track-suited sleeve.

Lynch has rocked the house for me ever since her turn as lesbian dog handler Christy Cummings on Best in Show, and she's the only reason I watch those godawful commercials for PlayStation or whatever.  I'm thrilled she's finally getting the spotlight she deserves.  Go Cheerios!

4.  The Utter Relatability of Rachel Berry. 

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that in latter day pop culture, the nerdy girl is finally getting her day.  I'm not talking about the "ugly" chick with glasses, a ponytail, and strong opinions--all of which completely go to hell once the cute quarterback notices she's alive.  I'm talking about the type-A young lady, who's utterly driven to goals she may not be able to specifically name, to the detriment of her high school social status.  I'm talking about Samantha Baker with sky-high expectations and increased visibility that doesn't work in her favor.

Yup, that was sixteen-year-old Unpro to a freaking T.  I wanted, wanted, wanted--and my redneck jock peers just didn't get it.  I may not have ever gotten a Slurpee thrown in my face, and the teasing died down by high school, but I was not Miss Popularity by a long shot.  And it wasn't entirely undeserved.  Like Rachel, I wasn't always the nicest individual.  I could be a real bulldozer, not letting anyone stand in the way of my ambition.  Luckily, I did have friends who accepted me for who I was and let me know when I was being too much of a pain in the ass.  The hyperambitious, talented but awkward teenage girl is a fascinating character.  She's not always easy to watch and at times can be downright cringeworthy.  But she's real.  And between Rachel on Glee and Annie on Community, I couldn't be happier that she's appearing on network TV.

And fine, I still kind of dress like Rachel.  Minus the knee socks and the pantsuit.  What can I say?  It works for me.

5.  Hold On to That Feeling. 

Don't get me wrong, Glee has had its share of musical missteps.  (And no, I'm not talking about Mr. Schu's white-boy raps.  I kind of like them.)  I'm talking about the at times horrific Auto Tune that at its worst makes everyone sound like robots, and the borderline inappropriate dance moves that make my mom go "Good Lord."  And of course, everyone who's done anything musical EVER knows that knowing a song with perfect harmony and choreography a mere thirty seconds after you get the sheet music is highly unrealistic.

But my love for Glee's music far surpasses my sense of reality.

It all started in the pilot: when a downtrodden Mr. Schu, on the verge of resigning from McKinley High, happened by the school auditorium to see the original five members of New Directions groovin' to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'"  What brought tears to my eyes and suspended my disbelief?  How damn happy the kids looked.  Because I recognized that expression: the muscle memory in my face went "Oh yeah!  Remember that?"  The expressions of the actors are what sold me on Glee in all its flawed glory. 

Because when you think about it, most of the characters have pretty depressing lives.  Finn's preparing to play father to a baby he recently discovered isn't actually his.  Rachel won't ever fit in at McKinley--even those who should totally accept her, view her as an outcast.  Artie will face challenges his entire life, and found out the girl of his dreams lied about something important.  Mr. Schu loves Ms. Pillsbury, but they face an uncertain future.  But they have a common bright spot in their lives: music.  How happy you feel when you master a difficult note or finally get that grapevine sequence.  How good it feels when you find others who have that same haven.  It's the music that gets you through the utter crap life can be, a teeny tiny part of your life when everything, and you, are okay.

Oh, and an honorable mention goes to the piano player guy.  I love him almost as much as I love the animated Mark, accompanist to Jesus and Big Gay Al on South Park.  I kind of wonder if they're the same guy.  Wouldn't that be awesome?

Monday, December 7, 2009

For Etiquette Bitch and Singing Soulmate: Gentlemen Broncos and Pirate Radio

So I'm kicking off Reader Request Month with a glorious two-for-one.  My friend Mare Swallow of the hilarious and helpful blog of manners, Etiquette Bitch (check it out if you haven't) and my Twitter pal and loyal reader Jackie (aka Singing Soulmate) each requested a film, both of which I saw in the last couple of weeks.  Without further ado, I give you Gentlemen Broncos and Pirate Radio.

First, Gentlemen BroncosMare and I share a love for Jemaine Clement, the taller and more sardonic half of the New Zealand comedy musical duo Flight of the Conchords.  (If you haven't seen the probably-canceled-of-their-own-accord TV series, rent the DVDs nownownow.)  Jemaine's not conventionally handsome, but damn is the guy adorable, plus he's funny and can sing.  Total dream man material.

And incidentally, the only reason I didn't walk out on this piece of crap movie.

I'll give Jemaine credit: his turn as dastardly sci-fi author Ronald Chevalier was the only aspect of Gentleman Broncos that wasn't completely a) offensive, and b) a waste of talent (Jennifer Coolidge, Mike White, and Michael Angarano weren't quite so lucky on that front).  From Chevalier's enthusiasm for absurd cover art to his ruthless quest for success at all costs--even if it means stealing the manuscript of a henpecked teenage writer--Jemaine makes it work with his deadpan delivery and mopey, hooded expressions.  If someone forces you to rent the DVD, try to convince them to fast forward to his scenes and only his scenes.  The whole time, I wanted to sing the Flight of the Conchords' tribute to the Police's "Roxanne:" you don't have to be a prostitute, Jemaine/you can say no to being a man ho.  Here's hoping Jemaine finds a project better suited to his abilities and more enjoyable and high-quality on the whole

Take it from a die-hard South Park fan who does not shy away from dark humor and off-color jokes: Gentlemen Broncos is offensive to EVERYONE: women, gays, anyone who isn't a white dude.  And were I a white dude, I'd still be offended because Gentlemen Broncos doesn't make white dudes look too great either.

I'm totally cool with anachronisms: it's about giving yourself to the world of the film.  But quirks do not replace substance.  Look at Juno: beneath the hipster bait dialogue and Kimya Dawson was a heartfelt story of a teen girl who just wanted to do right by herself, her baby, and her friends, old and new.  Hell, look no further than Hess' first and best effort, Napoleon Dynamite.  The director seems to conveniently forget that what made his first film such a success and not just a mess of catchphrases, funny clothing and cows getting shot was that one thing called, oh yeah, HEART.

I've enjoyed Michael Angarano since his intelligently blabbering portrayal of young William Miller in the opening scenes of Almost Famous.  What he needs now is a Brick.  Not a slab of heavy concrete or heroin, but a Joseph Gordon Levitt style dark indie tour de force.  Angarano's got the chops to be the next JGL if he plays his cards (and projects) right.  He can start by firing his agent or manager or whomever talked him into the mess known as Gentlemen Broncos.

On to Pirate Radio! 

Just like Mare and I are both fans of Jemaine Clement, Jackie and I share an affinity for the grizzled great Philip Seymour Hoffman.  (Also, the assistants at PSH's production company are really nice ladies.)  I didn't need much encouragement to review this film: as a fan of not only Hoffman but Pirate Radio director Richard Curtis (who also helmed Love Actually, one of my all-time favorite romcoms AND holiday movies), and rockin' soundtracks.  Also, who doesn't love a movie about a group of underdog roustabouts bucking the system?

Well, in this case, me.

I didn't hate it.  But I was disappointed.

Granted, Pirate Radio did a lot of things right.  The story, based on actual events, is fluffy and fun: in the 1960's, Britain banned rock music from its airwaves.  (Sidenote: don't you love hearing about relatively tame pop culture that was SUPER DUPER SHOCKING not even fifty years ago?)  To circumvent the law and the seas at the same time, disc jockeys would broadcast from ships, attracting listeners and fans from all over the country.

One such ship is led by The Count (Hoffman, Extra Grizzly) and an almost exclusively male gang including DJ's Nick Frost (Simon Pegg's pudgy counterpart in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and (drumroll, please) Rhys Darby, aka MURRAY FROM FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS!  OH YEAH!  (As you can tell, I was unnaturally happy when he popped up on screen).  After getting booted from boarding school, teenage Carl (moppy-haired Tom Sturridge) is sent by his mother to live on the ship under the tutelage of his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy, who like J.K. Simmons and Jane Lynch makes every movie better).  Sex, cigarettes, paternity, and plenty of rock and roll are celebrated on the ship, but the good times might soon come to an end if stodgy Parliament member Sir Alastair (Kenneth Branagh, whom I heart) has anything to do with it.

So yeah, the story's cool.  The cast rocks (did I mention that Mad Men's January Jones and the perpetually wonderful Emma Thompson make cameos?).  The soundtrack features The Kinks, The Turtles, and various other one-hit wonders that helped lay the groundwork for rock n roll and music as we know it today.

With all this in mind, why did I not totally adore Pirate Radio?

For one thing, the characters are woefully underdeveloped.  I'd argue that there were too many of them, but then I think back to Love Actually's knack for rendering even the day-iest day player with respectful and compelling detail.  And besides the fact that they're played by some of Britain and America's finest performers, the characters are incredibly likable and when given a chance to speak, funny.  I'm going to have to blame this on the shallow script and lack of direction.  There was a definite sense of just letting everyone run wild, and while that can work okay for an improv piece, it's not great for a cohesive film.

Also, the story felt very scattershot: never settling on one specific plot point for any character, it was much like its freewheeling protagonist, not wanting to commit to anything concrete.  Finally, I who have no problem with dude flicks, found the film kind of insulting to women.  I know it was the '60's, but two of the female characters are downright sleazy, and the others aren't given much to do.  Including women at all felt very condescending and "this one's for the ladies."  Come on.

Again, did I hate Pirate Radio?  Not at all.  I didn't even dislike it.  It was very . . . meh.  There was a great movie with this same stellar cast about a pivotal point in music history, to be made by Richard Curtis.  This lazy, indulgent piece wasn't it.

Though I really, really want the soundtrack.