Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)

PIRATE RADIO

A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

PirateRadioPosterSo I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.

I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.

The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.

PirateRadio_StillsWhilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.

As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.


3.5 reels


Have you seen this movie, well what did you think?

Action/Comedy Weekend – The Living Daylights, The IT Crowd & Dredd

MLKdayHappy Martin Luther King Jr Day!

It’s cool that it also happens to be Obama’s second presidential inauguration day. I posted two MLK-related movie posts [here and here] two years in a row to celebrate our hero of the civil rights movement. I don’t know if any of those films are going to be made anytime soon. I certainly hope so, I’d love to see a proper biopic made on Mr. King.

Well, this weekend I didn’t go to the movies, apart from The Last Stand screening I went to last week. Too bad that it bombed, I thought it was a fun action flick. I wasn’t expecting it to win the box office, but at the very least it’d make it to the top 5. In any case, it’s a big weekend for Jessica Chastain with TWO of her movies at number 1 and 2 at the box office. I don’t think I’ll be seeing Mama but nice to see Zero Dark Thirty is still gaining momentum.

Well, it’s been quite an action/comedy-filled week for me. Here’s a breakdown of what I saw:

The Living Daylights (1987)

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[Poster courtesy of DeviantArt – LOVE it!]

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie but I love it more every single time… and Timothy Dalton is the main reason for it. Every time I watch his Bond movie it’s a bittersweet moment as I miss that third outing I wish he had done… I often imagine what it’d be like to have a Skyfall-quality production with him in the role. Oh be still my heart! I’ve already posted a review of this movie a couple of years ago but I plan on doing a proper appreciation post for The Living Daylights to celebrate its Blu-ray Amazon release next month! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy 😀
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The IT Crowd (BBC sitcom, 2006-2010)

TheITCrowd

Thanks to all who recommended this sit-com to me when I mentioned Chris O’Dowd on this ‘discovery’ post! O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson are so hilarious! The show is about a ragtag group of tech support workers who works at the basement at a large corporation. It’s classic, off-the-wall British humor which I love and everyone is just hysterically funny, even the supporting cast: the CEO Denholm (Christopher Morris) and Richmond (Noel Fielding whom I’ve just found out from Novia from the Mighty Boosh show). I’ve watched about six episodes so far on Season 1, so a lot of catching up to do as there are four years worth of stuff to watch. I’ll never get tired of Roy [or his recording] answer the phone with:

Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?


Dredd (2012)

DreddPoster

In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

I LOVE Karl Urban but I knew I can’t handle this movie on the big screen, let alone watch in 3D! Seriously, this movie is so gory I’d probably pass out. It’s one of the most violent movies I have ever seen, I think I had my eyes closed a couple dozen times, at least. My hubby actually cued me when the really gruesome stuff was on as he knew it’ll give me nightmares. The movie is only 95 minutes long, though with all that slo-mo [no, I don’t mean the drug but the film-making style], it’s probably only an hour long ahah. Boy, but was it intense. Right from the opening sequence when Dredd was tailing a gang of criminals using the banned substance, the action rarely let up.

DreddPics

This is quite a different movie I expected from English director Pete Travis, whose credit include Endgame and BBC miniseries The Jury [which featured one of my favorite Gerry Butler roles]. Dredd is super violent, bloody and gruesome, but yet the style & sfx is quite distinctive. I question whether it’s necessary for it to be so gory though, some of it could’ve been toned down a bit and perhaps still achieve the desired effect. I mean, I get that they’re trying to portray this tarnished, grim dystopian world, but at times the violence seems to have be done as pure shock value.

That said, I thought the script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) is pretty good, it’s not unnecessarily convoluted, plus the self-satirical humor actually works. Yeah, I wish I could see more of Karl Urban’s gorgeous face, but y’know what, he’s VERY good in this role. He’s able to somehow act with his voice and mouth alone, and partnering him with a rookie psychic Anderson (a blond Olivia Thirlby) is brilliant as it brings a level of humanity to his robot-like persona. Stunning Lena Heady as the drug lord Ma-Ma is even more bad ass than 300‘s Queen Gorgo, sporting a huge scar on her cheek, she looks like a sadistic mutant.

The movie’s definitely not for the squeamish [and I’m one of them], but I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s a decidedly simple story but the execution [pun intended] hits the bulls eye. I never read the comics but I read some reviews that this pleased die-hard comic fans. Well, it might’ve won over new ones, too!


Well, that’s my weekend viewings. Did you see anything good?

Five new-to-me actors I’d love to see more of – based on 2012 viewings

One of the joys of watching movies is discovering new talents. The movies they appear in aren’t always great, but the actors’ screen charisma and/or performances are memorable and you see their potential. This is kind of a variation of favorite performances list, such as what Keith is doing with his Top 5 of various lead and supporting performances (like this one). But for this post, I’d like to focus on those I either wasn’t aware of prior to 2012, or that I haven’t seen them act until last year. Some of these actors have been working steadily and relatively well-known to some, but they were ‘obscure’ to me until recently. Thus I’m excluding actors like Richard Armitage, Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie and Jim Sturgess who all impressed me last year, but I have been familiar with them for some time.

In any case, based on my 2012 viewings (not exclusive to 2012 movies) , here are five new-to-me actors I’d like to see working more in Hollywood.

FiveObscureActors

[In alphabetical order]

Jason Clarke

JasonClarkeThe first time I saw this 43-year-old Australian actor was in Public Enemies as ‘Red’ Hamilton, John Dillinger’s partner in crime. I wasn’t impressed with the film but I sort of remembered Clarke’s role. He apparently was in the lead role of the now-defunct police procedural show The Chicago Code on FOX. I haven’t seen Lawless yet, but he played one of the three Bondurant brothers with Shia La Beouf and Tom Hardy. But he surely made his mark in Zero Dark Thirty. It’s not a big role but he’s certainly memorable. It could’ve easily been a simple thug or bully type of roles, but there’s a certain sensitivity in Clarke’s performance that somehow made him a sympathetic character. His flawless American accent certainly proves his versatility, so I hope to see more of him getting more prominent roles. I’m excited to see him in the upcoming William Monaghan’s directorial debut Mojave.

Mark Duplass

MarkDuplassI finally caught Safety Not Guaranteed and loved it. It was a surprisingly heartfelt comedy filled with quirky but likable characters. One of those characters is Kenneth, a man who placed an classified ad for a time-travel partner. I can’t help but being drawn to Ken despite (or because of) his eccentricities, just like Aubrey Plaza’s character did. He’s currently working on a couple of TV shows, I should check out The League, a semi-scripted comedy about a fantasy football league that my pal Ted told me about.

Apparently Duplass (who often collaborates with his brother Jay) is sort of a triple-threat, he has been writing, directing and producing a few indie projects and shorts, so now that he’s acting, I guess he’s more of a quadruple-threat. He also has a small part in Zero Dark Thirty which unsurprisingly offers a bit of comic relief. I could see him doing serious roles, too. He has a naturally affable presence but there’s a certain unpredictable quality about him that makes me think he could effectively play an antagonist.

Chris O’Dowd

ChrisODowdAs you probably already know, I adore The Sapphires. It’s my favorite movie at last year’s TCFF and I had a bit of a crush on him. Not a full-blown crush, just a smidgen, but I think he’s just so lovable and sweet in that role… a sensitive rebel with a big heart. I have yet to see Bridesmaids and no way in heck am I watching HBO’s Girls just to see him, so I hope this tall Irish actor gets busier in Hollywood.

I’m excited to see his two upcoming comedy dramas, one is called Hippie Hippie Shake with Cillian Murphy and a bunch of British actors, and the other called Calvary with Brendan Gleeson, directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of In Bruges‘ Martin McDonaugh).
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Tomer Sisley

TomerSisleyThis is perhaps the most obscure of the bunch as I don’t think his movie The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch was released here in the US. I quite enjoyed the movie, it was a pretty enjoyable action thriller and this German-born actor is fun to watch. He’s actually of Russian and Yemenite origin, but has been living in France since he was 9 so he speaks four languages: French, English, German and Hebrew, wow! He’s certainly easy on the eyes and has the athleticism to could pull off all the action stunts. Then I found out he was a stand-up comic as well. He’s probably quite well-known in France and he’s got a few French movies in the works, hopefully some Hollywood casting agent would notice him soon enough.
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Benjamin Walker

BenWalkerYes, I was one of those few people who was entertained by Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter. Walker is no Daniel Day Lewis but I thought he’s quite charismatic and has the talents and screen presence as a leading man. It’s not the first time he played a US president as he was cast in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Like Sisley, he’s also got a funny bone as he did his first performing experience at the Juilliard School in New York as a stand-up comedian. I could totally see him do comedy, he shows some of that in Vampire Hunter, I think he’d be awesome. I’m surprised he hasn’t been cast yet as Liam Neeson’s son in one of his action flicks, I mean this 6’3″ actor looks so much like him!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to his next film with one of my current crushes, Henry Cavill in The Great Wall.
 

Honorable Mention:

Oscar Isaac

OscarIsaacThough he only had a tiny role in Bourne Legacy, I quite like this Guatemala-born actor and I wish he had a bigger part. Heck, he’d even make a good leading man if the producers don’t mind a non-white actor in that role. I realized later on that he played Prince John in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. He’s not only talented, but like Mark Strong, he’s also got one of those faces which enables him to play roles of various ethnic groups. Looks like he’s getting a lot of roles already, yay! He’s got at least four movies out later this year, including the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis with Carey Mulligan and Mojave with Jason Clarke. Looking forward to both of those!


Thoughts on any of these actors? Are you a fan of their work?

TCFF Day 2: Reviews of The Sapphires and Eyes Of Thailand Doc

The 9-days-long film fest continues with more great films! Early this afternoon, I was able to see The Sapphires. I somehow left this out of my list of TCFF movies I’m excited about, but man am I glad I saw it! It’s one of those films that came out of left field but really made an impact for me.

I also got to go to the Educational Panel of Minnesota Filmmakers in between The Sapphires and It’s a Disaster, which was pretty insightful. I was especially impressed by the producer of The Eyes of Thailand doc, Jim Vandesteeg, who was moved to produce the film when he met director Windy Borman.

Here are our reviews of the day:

The Sapphires

Set in the late 60s, the film chronicles four young Australian Aboriginal girls who have big musical talents and even bigger dreams. Inspired by a true story, it definitely has all the ingredients to be an inspiring musical drama.

It opens with the three sisters living in a rural Australian town as sisters Gail and Cynthia are getting ready to go on a singing competition in a nearby city. The youngest, Julie, has the most beautiful voice of them all, but she’s too young to go and their mother forbids her to go, but of course that won’t stop such a headstrong girl. The scene of the beautiful family singing together with their mother is so stirring and it definitely makes you fall in love with these girls and want to root for them all the way through. What I love most about these girls is that despite being outcasts in their own native land, they aren’t wallowed in self pity and are rightly proud of who they are.

It’s no surprise they didn’t win the competition given such an overt racism that’s still prevalent in those days, but they ended up meeting Dave, an alcoholic talent scout with a penchant for soul music. Dave recognized the musical potential of these young girls, and he believes that soul music is what the girls should be singing. The scene of him convincing the girls to switch from country music to soul is quite fun to watch and Chris O’Dowd as Dave instantly charms you with his down-on-his luck personality but with a big, big heart. The addition of a fourth member of The Sapphires deal with the atrocious reality of how the Australian government practically kidnaps the fair-skinned kids from their family to be raised and schooled as white kids.

But through hardship and perseverance, sisters Gail, Cynthia, Julie and cousin Kay prevail and they got the gig they’ve dreamed of, that is to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam. They didn’t even have a name when they auditioned for that gig, but when it’s over, they come out as The Sapphires. It’s in the war-torn South East Asian country that the girls learn about love, friendship and war, and their journey is full of joyful, funny and touching moments that will stay with me for some time.

Deborah Mailman (Gail), Jessica Mauboy (Julie), Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia) and Shari Sebbens (Kay) all did a wonderful job in their roles. Even though the actresses playing the Sapphires aren’t well-known, the acting feels authentic to me. I LOVE Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (who’s hilarious in The IT Crowd) as Dave, he has such an earnest quality about him that makes you like him despite his flaws. He has a sweet chemistry with Mailman who plays Gail whom he shares the most screen time together.

The Sapphires was co-written by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the real-life singing group, which explains the personal feel of the way the story is told. The music is excellent and definitely makes you want to groove along and makes your heart soar. I don’t know if the actresses themselves know how to sing but their voices are absolutely phenomenal, I wouldn’t even mind buying the CD for this.

The Weinstein Co. acquired the US rights of this at Cannes, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this movie being mentioned a lot come award season. I highly recommend this if it opens near you. This movie is a triumphant celebration of family, friendship, music and most of all, the human spirit.

4.5/5 stars


The Eyes of Thailand

The opening sequence is an animated retelling Buddha’s life as an elephant, which provides a nice anecdote to the main story. The focus is on an elephant hospital, called Friends of the Asian Elephant, that specializes in animals that are victims of land mine explosions. It is heart-wrenching to see the two main elephants – Mosha and Motala – move around on three legs, along with the early images from when they first arrived to the hospital.

In addition to the story of these elephants road to recovery, the hospitals founder, Soraida Salwala, retells her struggle with gaining backing, and where the idea for F.A.E. Elephant Hospital came from. Her efforts have not only helped the lives of the animals treated in her facility, but it has also spread awareness of the land mine problem in that region of the world.

Thailand’s borders are still littered with land mines from the 60s and 70s, and inhabitants in the surrounding countries use them as perimeters for their camps. Elephants and humans alike fall victim to these weapons. After the screening the producer relayed some statistics that went along the lines of “it takes $3 to create a mine, but it costs $1000 to remove one, and that 90% of people injured by land mines are civilians” (as opposed to troops – which is who they are intended for.)

The film has a website – of the same title – to go with it. The web page provides much more detailed information on the topic that is not presented in the film, and contact information if there are still unanswered questions.

I enjoyed it, it was eye-opening to see the images of what it really costs to have a war. The Eyes of Thailand had a good message, a just cause, and I liked that all of the people spoke English (sometimes subtitles detour an audience). The animation could have been more refined and there could have been smoother camera movement, but overall it was worth seeing. It’s a great heroic story of Soraida Salwala, a passionate woman who dedicated ten years of her life to help two elephant landmine survivors, Motala and Mosha, to walk again after losing their legs stepping on a landmine. Treating their wounds was only part of the journey; building elephant-sized prostheses was another. Narrated by Ashley Judd.

– review by Emery Thoresen

3/5 stars


Thoughts on either one of these films? Let us know in the comments.