Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Humor simmers in ‘Pirate Radio,’ Emmerich lugs ‘2012’ plot along

“Pirate Radio”

As contemporary films like “Cadillac Records” tend to reveal, music is all about hearing and nothing about listening. Richard Curtis’s latest cutesy British flick, “Pirate Radio” (somehow translated from the British title, “The Boat that Rocked”) follows suit, inspired by a little-known, strange-but-true tale from the ’60s: The British government’s attempt to eradicate rock ‘n’ roll music from the airwaves before the British invasion.

Curtis has offered us those heartwarming British movies you keep on your shelf for whenever you need a little something to cheer you up or a little something to make you say, “Awww!” (His highlights are “Bridget Jone’s Diary,” “Notting Hill,” and the Whittie favorite “Love Actually.”) With that cadre in mind, “Pirate Radio” is perhaps a little less romantic, but a lot more comedic.

Yet with such a quirky story whose moral and political implications cannot be ignored, it’s quite a shame that Curtis didn’t turn this formulaic rom-com into a memorable satire that might compete with Armando Iannucci’s marvelously woven satire-comedy “In the Loop.” The ensemble cast, led by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (please, see “Synecdoche, New York”), takes turns stealing scenes from each other: especially once Rhys Ifans’s character makes a suave return as the “king of the airwaves”: but the comedy never boils into laugh-out-loud exchanges; rather, it maintains a brisk simmer from beginning to end.

The quirky story begins with the arrival of Carl (Tom Sturridge) aboard the pirate radio ship christened “Radio Rock” by the gods of the airwaves. He attempts to fit in with cutesy bohemian DJs and rock music lovers, one of whom is his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy). Carl has recently been expelled from school and is hoping to find a new direction in life, but, instead, “Radio Rock” provides him with a softcore version of the age-old triumvirate, “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” At the same time that party is taking place, Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), a prude government minister, tries to find any way possible to sink the ship and with it rock music.

A true aficionado of rock music understands that its beauty lies in the mutual relationship it creates with its listener. Unfortunately, there is no mutual exchange in this film: you can’t get no satisfaction. All “Pirate Radio” wants you to do is hear, not listen.


OK, I know what you’re thinking. But let’s try to give this ludicrously unbelievable, conspiracy theory-promoting Hollywood epic a chance to win over our indie-loving, granola hearts.

Director Roland Emmerich has gone from the beginning of mankind to the end in a matter of years (“10,000 B.C.” was his last flick), yet it seems as though the special effects he employs are no different. Perhaps “2012”  marks a return to the epic disaster movies of the late 90s, including “Volcano, Deep Impact” and the one and only,Armageddon,” that so dearly wanted us to consider the ethical implications of deciding who lives and who dies when Earth is no longer habitable. But do they really? They tried to argue that the younger, healthier, stereotypically ‘normal’ people should repopulate the human species, but has human ethics only progressed so much since “10,000 B.C.”?

Emmerich seems to think so, still using a cookie-cutter moral dilemma to carry: no, lug: this movie from beginning to end. The film begins with a story that could only make astronomers and astrophysicists cringe: In 2009, geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) learns that neutrinos from a massive solar flare have penetrated and are beginning to rapidly heat Earth’s core.

He quickly finds his way to the President of the United States (Danny Glover) and, suddenly, the issue is swept under the rug. Should the government warn its people of an eminent catastrophe? Apparently not. (I didn’t want to read too far into this thoughtless film’s social critique, but the parallels with our current government are unavoidable.)

That’s one storyline from the (present) past. The next storyline follows Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a part-time famous science fiction writer and part-time limousine driver for a Russian billionaire. While off on a camping trip with his children to Yellowstone National Park, Curtis meets the want-to-be-one-with-nature conspiracy theorist Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who convinces him that the supposed Mayan prophesy is correct: The last date on the Mayan calendar is Dec. 21, 2012 and, therefore, the end of the world.

Of course, “2012” would not be a movie if the false prophesy weren’t true. Quite remarkable CGI ensues: We see cities ranging from Los Angeles to Río de Janeiro crumbling before our eyes. Yellowstone erupts, San Francisco sinks, the Vatican falls to pieces, India floods and every world monument you could possibly imagine is destroyed. Somehow, once the explosions settle, the apocalypse turns diluvian.

I’m not going to try to make sense of this movie. In the end, it becomes one huge CGI behemoth that should’ve been extinct by now. Perhaps that task is better left to those credulous beings who think they can understand Mayan archeology.

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