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.


  1. Re: Pirate Radio - I agree with you about the characters being underdeveloped...I had trouble remembering who was who at some points during the movie. Plus, Marianne is going to hook up with Carl, sleeps with another guy on the boat, and then goes back to Carl and everything is peachy keen? Really? But I am on board (haha, PUN) with anything featuring both England and good music.

    Also, I just added Etiquette Bitch to my Google Reader!

  2. Wow, I'm sad to hear that "Gentleman" was crap, but now I'm super curious about all the offensiveness. I'm prepared to take umbrage. But Jemaine Clement with that voice? Mmmmmm....just let me listen and watch. :O)

    Thanks for the reviews! "I spent $10 so you don't have to!" Possible tag line?

  3. With all those names and titles in it, your title for this post is just glorious.

    Firstly, yay for us New Zealanders. Also, weird, but Pirate Radio was called The Boat That Rocked here in New Zealand. Not sure why they changed the title for American audiences. I didn't love the trailer for Gentlemen Broncos, and your review just backs up my suspicions...hopefully Jemaine gets another Eagle vs Shark type film soon if he's keen to do the big screen thing.

  4. It was called The Boat That Rocked in Aussie land too and I did get the soundtrack, a not bad 2 disc effort either.
    I also found the women really lacking and thought the whole thing with January Jones pretty lame and unneeded.

  5. Meg: YES. I had a problem believing that even a horny teenage boy in the 1960's on a ship full of dudes would have been okay with that. He at least would have tried to kick Nick Frost's ass while the Count cheered them on, ya know?

    Mare: I really did not think GB was going to be that offensive. But yeah, it's pretty insulting to women, gays and minorities. That said, the absolute BEST scenes are Jemaine/Chevalier doling out ridiculous advice to a high school writing workshop and doing his ridiculous cover art. You can skip through the rest.

    Laura: I heart New Zealand (I also love the film Heavenly Creatures, though of course the events on which it was based are horrific). Funny guys and cool accents. I really want to see Eagle vs. Shark. I actually did know that about the title change, though I can't find the reason for it anywhere. Probably some American marketing decision--pirates were really big here for a while, so maybe they wanted to capitalize on that.

    Ames: really, the only woman I liked in the story was Emma Thompson's character, and she was only in the one scene. The January Jones scenes were so pointless that I wonder if Curtis just wanted to put her in another movie. I'm glad to hear the soundtrack's good, though--I put it on my Christmas list.