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Movie Review: Black Swan (12/3/10)

Movie Poster: Black Swan

Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers
Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy
Mila Kunis as Lily
Winona Ryder as Beth MacIntyre
Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers

Runtime: 103 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use.

CLR Rating: 5/5 stars

Movie Still: Black Swan

Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman star in Black Swan
[Photo by Niko Tavernise]

Aronofsky’s latest foray into insanity is not for the light of heart. The movie is as brutal as it is beautiful.

The atmosphere at the Virginia Film Festival’s sold-out opening night film, Black Swan, was convivial—the audience was comprised largely of older people who chatted amongst themselves and clapped heartily at the mention of each festival sponsor. It seems about half the audience had absolutely no idea what they were in for. Darren Aronofsky’s films (which include Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler) roil with striking, horrific imagery and raw performances. They’re movies that even movie buffs can’t watch frequently because they burrow between your ribs and clutch your heart. Requiem for a Dream in particular will leave you feeling like the morning after chugging a bottle of whiskey and losing an ill-advised barfight. Black Swan, which stars the inimitably lovely Natalie Portman, effervescent TV star Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel, is the same: visceral, extraordinarily tense, and utterly devastating.

Nina Sayers (Portman) dances in a New York City ballet company run by Thomas Leroy (Cassel). When veteran dancer Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) retires, Nina wages a meek but determined battle for the lead role in Swan Lake, which encompasses both the vulnerable, virginal White Swan and the evil Black Swan. Nina lives in a tiny, pastel-colored apartment with her mother (Barbara Hershey), an emotionally unstable former dancer. Nina’s bedroom is painted in pink butterflies and adorned with fluffy stuffed animals; Mother tucks her in every night, removing Nina’s earrings and winding a music box. Nina’s restrained, uptight innocence is so jarring that when other characters curse or joke, their crass words clash dissonantly with Nina’s insular world. Leroy and fellow dancer Lily (Kunis) work to chip away Nina’s composure, to break her down until she can dance with the passion required for the Black Swan…and as Nina’s walls crumble, she descends into complete insanity.

As the movie progresses, bubbly, frank Lily takes on a menacing, erotically-charged presence in Nina’s mind. Kunis and Portman share an (allegedly tequila-facilitated) sexual encounter that’s as disturbing as it is sexy. Kunis is known best as bitchy-but-loveable Jackie in “That 70s Show,” and with Lily, the actress showcases her skill with comic timing and her contagious smile. In Aronofsky’s hands even Kunis’s graceful ease, so disparate from Nina’s rigidity, becomes ominous. Lily and Nina become interchangeable in Nina’s mind, and her sexual awakening becomes sinister, narcissistic, equally threatening and pleasurable. Cassel’s Leroy is a slimy egotist who abuses his power to sexually manipulate Nina.

Nina’s innocence mirrors that of the White Swan, certainly; what’s more interesting is comparing Nina’s arc from virtue to lunacy to Natalie Portman’s career. The child actress never quite managed to outgrow her sweet persona—even when she played a stripper in Closer there remained a thin veil between Portman and the character, something that didn’t quite mesh. In Black Swan, Portman shreds the veil and virtually becomes Nina, both vulnerable and insane, White Swan and Black Swan. For once the actress’s doll-like features and tiny stature work in her favor. It appears she lost weight for the role, and physically she looks absolutely fragile, as though she might shatter like the spinning porcelain dancer in her music box. Nina’s angelic face evokes a wounded animal; when she tries on a smile for size, it’s a completely unfamiliar experiment. Like Nina, Portman is perfect for the role of White Swan, but to watch her take on the darker side of Nina is astonishing. It’s her best performance to date.

Ballet is an art form that stretches the human body (and according to film history, the mind) to its utmost limits. Black Swan is brimming with violent imagery spurred by injury and anguish both real and imagined. Aronofsky emphasizes broken toenails, a displaced diaphragm, a bloody hangnail, and snapping ankles with crackling sound effects. Nina’s breathing underscores much of the film, keeping the viewer on edge like a panicked heartbeat in a horror movie. To break in new shoes, dancers score, bend, beat, and crack the soles. Nina’s transformation into the Black Swan, both narratively and cinematographically, is as brutal as this process: she goes from stiff and inexperienced to beaten, broken, and “perfect.” The innate artifice of professional dance requires from dancers constant vigilance, a pervasive focus on the body, a spotlight on physical beauty and grace. The film implies that dancers only amount to what’s reflected back to them: as Nina’s world begins to collapse, mirrors and doppelgangers take center stage. Leroy first appears monstrously distorted in a studio mirror, Nina’s own reflection—often in duplicate—terrorizes her, and she injures herself while staring into her reflection more than once. As she plumbs her inner depths, her physical manifestation haunts her.

Screenwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John McLaughlin crafted a script that trickles details. Exposition is a constant sprinkle rather than a downpour, allowing Aronofsky to build tension until the audience is at a breaking point. Some lines (particularly Cassel’s) are awkward or jarring, and it may surprise completely inappropriate laughter out of you—you have to scream or laugh or else you’ll start climbing the walls. Clint Mansell’s score isn’t as melodic or striking as some others he’s done, but it works well with the raw material. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (who was also behind the camera on Requiem for a Dream) shot with Super 16 film, and the result is gritty, unrefined, and unflinching. The actors’ every pore and flaw is visible, and recurring Steadi-Cam gives the film a spontaneous, home-movie feel. Nobody does “crazy” quite like Aronofsky and his effects team (remember Ellen Burstyn and the fridge from Requiem for a Dream?), and Nina’s hallucinations merge flawlessly with the film’s reality—distinguishing between real and imagined in Black Swan is a fool’s errand.

Aronofsky and Portman have the clout to make Black Swan an Oscar contender—as well it should be. As the credits rolled at the Virginia Film Festival, the audience sat in silence. A short moment later, they burst into enthusiastic applause. To fully appreciate the level of psychosis in the film, to trace the threads that weave the world of ballet and insanity together, one needs multiple viewings. But as with other Aronofsky movies, you’ll first have to recover from the initial shock. After you’ve unclenched your internal organs, you’ll probably find you loved the entire brutal, vicious experience.

Movie Review: The Social Network (10/2/10)

Movie Poster: The Social Network

The Social Network

Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg
Rooney Mara as Erica Albright
Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker
Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Movie Still: The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg stars in The Social Network
[Photo By: Merrick Morton]

Who would’ve thought a biopic about the creator of Facebook could be so much fun to watch? Fincher’s newest film features adept writing, nuanced performances, and breakneck pacing.

 

Anyone who’s ever read the fine print on Facebook’s privacy settings will recognize the site’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, in this weekend’s opener The Social Network. The sneaky way he deftly dodges answering incriminating questions will be familiar to anyone who has felt violated by a sudden and unexpected change in privacy settings or sensed something sinister in the fallacious use of the phrase “Facebook lets you control.” The American public loves to watch its idols tumble from their pedestals, and biopics have long focused on fame, fortune, glory, and crime. The Social Network is about all those things, but Zuckerberg is more infamous than famous — definitely heavy on the fortune and light on the glory. While at Harvard, he and a select few friends and hangers-on created Facebook, which is arguably the most popular website on the internet today. The Social Network posits that Facebook wasn’t founded by a greedy little smart kid; it was created by a nerd with a ten-ton chip on his shoulder. What makes any of this interesting and why should you see it? The Social Network isn’t just a bunch of nerds overdosing on caffeine, writing code in dark Harvard dorm rooms. It’s a whole new kind of American success story.

The Social Network opens on Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting across from his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) at The Thirsty Scholar in Boston, exchanging fast-paced dialogue that explains his character in the first five minutes. He brings up his 1600 SAT score, his obsession with Harvard’s final clubs, betrays his jealousy of the “world-class athletes” who row crew, and condescendingly tells Erica that she doesn’t have to study because she goes to BU. As Erica leaves, she predicts his success as “some kind of computer person,” then delivers the line that sets up the entire movie: “You’ll think everyone hates you because you’re a nerd, but it’ll be because you’re an asshole.” The Social Network would have us believe Zuckerberg created Facebook out of resentment toward women, toward athletes, toward elitist Harvard bluebloods. Fortunately, writer Aaron Sorkin balances on a delicate tightrope—one misstep and The Social Network’s version of Zuckerberg could’ve been a misunderstood, sympathetic genius, or a complete jackass. As written by Sorkin and played by Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is an ineffectual smart kid you’d love to hate if only you didn’t pity him just the tiniest bit.

The Social Network is framed around a series of legal hearings in which Zuckerberg defends his actions against friends and colleagues. Between terse, irate exchanges in boardrooms where a court stenographer types incessantly, flashbacks take us deep within the exclusive, ivy-swathed walls of early 2000s Harvard University, where Zuckerberg and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) gave birth to Facebook. After his breakup with Erica, Zuckerberg takes to LiveJournal to insult her, then creates a website where Harvard men can rate the attractiveness of Harvard women. Yes, that’s the kind of man who created Facebook. After his site draws 22,000 views in two hours, he has the attention of Harvard’s administration and all of campus. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (twins played by Ken doll lookalike Armie Hammer), who row crew and belong to the most elite Harvard clubs, and their business partner Divya Nurendra (Max Minghella), approach Zuckerberg to create a Harvard matchmaking site. Zuckerberg gives them (and Harvard) the metaphorical finger while he strings them along, all the while creating Facebook with Saverin.

Those of us who grew up right alongside the internet will recognize the LiveJournal login screen, get nostalgic at the mention of dinosaurs Friendster and MySpace, and be infinitely aware of the Napster illegal downloading lawsuits. So it’s unsurprising when Napster creator and world-class wild card Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) seeks out Zuckerberg, seizing the opportunity to jump aboard a lifeboat as Napster sank beneath him. Those of us who paid attention will also remember when Facebook was thefacebook.com (apparently Parker advised Zuckerberg to take off the “the”), and when it was unavailable to anyone outside the Ivies. Zuckerberg, whose resentment toward the clubs into which he’d never gain admission ran deeper than anyone could’ve known, wanted to create his own exclusive club, one he could preside over like a king. He succeeded, but at what price?

Jesse Eisenberg, whose filmography is nothing short of impressive, plays Zuckerberg as an egocentric, resentful genius who’s repulsive but somehow sympathetic. Little-known Brit actor Andrew Garfield, in a nuanced and smart performance, falls into step as the infinitely kind Saverin. Justin Timberlake, whose acting career outside of SNL has been hit-or-miss, plays Sean Parker as a paranoid smooth operator who only wants to have fun at everyone else’s expense. By all indications, The Social Network should have been a boring, made-for-TV biopic, but in the hands of Fincher and editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, the film moves at a breakneck pace. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth utilizes dynamic camerawork and tilt-shift photography to make the movie visually captivating. Trent Reznor’s throbbing score imbues the film with energy, though the music is sometimes distracting. Writer Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) may see an Oscar nod this year for his adroitly paced, witty dialogue. Hearing these characters speak is sometimes like listening to another language entirely, but you can’t stop paying attention. A biographical feature about computer nerds has no right to be so exciting, but in the adept hands of Fincher, Sorkin, Eisenberg, and Garfield, it’s one of the year’s smartest films.

Movie Review: The Runaways (4/10/10)

Movie Poster: The Runaways
The Runaways

Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Screenplay by Floria Sigismondi
Based on the book Neon Angel: The Cherrie Currie Story by Cherrie Currie

Joan Jett – Kristen Stewart
Cherie Currie – Dakota Fanning
Robin – Alia Shawkat
Lita Ford – Scout Taylor-Compton
Kim Fowley – Michael Shannon

CLR Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Runaways

Kristen Stewart is Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie in The Runaways.

Brilliant Performances
Bolster a Biopic About Women’s Libido

This week’s The Runaways, a biopic based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s autobiography, follows the formation and dissolution of the ‘70s all-girl rock band The Runaways, but more importantly it’s an apt metaphor for the shock of a sudden thrust into adulthood. It follows lead singer Currie through rock stardom into a horrifying downward spiral. When they formed, The Runaways strummed a chord that hadn’t been struck yet; they were a symbol of feminine sexual power and prowess, a representation of women’s freedom to run with the boys, to be just as hardcore and just as naughty as their male counterparts.

“It’s not about women’s lib, kitties, it’s about women’s libido!” manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) screams to his young charges. The same could be said about the movie itself. It commences with blood when Currie (Dakota Fanning) gets her first period, and snowballs from there, touching on every aspect of sexual awakening—female sexual awakening, to be precise. Self-gratification and experimentation with both women and men occurs in the film, building an undercurrent of sexual energy that seems to buffet the band as they rise to international stardom. Coming-of-age stories for girls rarely touch so explicitly on feminine libido, and it’s a welcome change. Though the tabloids sensationalized a lesbian kiss between Fanning and Stewart, the sex scenes between the actresses are not exploitative. In fact, their personal relationship is just a thing that happened, which is an interesting and neat way to deal with the trials of growing up. Fowley denigrates the girls, “You’ve got to start thinking like men!” but they’re barely women yet.

The Runaways were essentially engineered by record producer Fowley, a psychotically manic weirdo who seems poised on that fine line between insanity and genius. Shannon’s performance is pitch-perfect, following in the steps of his Oscar-nominated role in Revolutionary Road and the underrated Bug. Shannon plays crazy with the best of them, and this role is cringe-worthy; he’s part letch, part greedy producer, part manipulative creep. Kristen Stewart, famous for her role as Bella Swan in the Twilight movies, plays Currie’s better-known counterpart Joan Jett. Her every sneer, every slouch, oozes pent-up energy and impotent rage. Onstage she’s a force to be reckoned with, sizzling with vitality and dripping sweat. Stewart showed potential in last year’s Adventureland, but her performance in The Runaways should ensure her career after the Twilight craze fades. Fanning, a child actress coming into her own, puts her heart into Currie but though her performance is gutsy it seems strained. She’s a sex kitten in lingerie, but her artless posing and dead eyes betray her—though to be fair, this also seems a fair description of the real Currie. There’s an uncomfortable exploitative focus on sexualizing Cherie, which is probably pointed—Currie was indeed fifteen years old when The Runaways went on tour. Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford and Stella Maeve as Sandy West, both with great performances, round out the heart of the band. The underutilized Alia Shawkat (Whip It!, “Arrested Development”) was cast as a fictional catch-all for the band’s revolving bassists.

Since the movie is based on Currie’s autobiography, she’s the main protagonist of the film. Her alcoholic father, uncaring actress mother, and jealous sister form a thin support net for her, and the band is a fantastic escape from a dreary life in which her greatest dream was to be David Bowie.

Although Joan Jett’s story is awfully familiar, Stewart as Jett should’ve been given more screen time. The real Jett executive produced the film and worked closely with filmmakers and with Stewart to ensure the story was told correctly. One assumes they got most of it right; Ms. Jett wouldn’t have it any other way.

Director Floria Sigismondi is best known for her work in music videos: she’s directed for the likes of Marilyn Manson and David Bowie. Like its (underrated) glam-rock counterpart Velvet Goldmine, The Runaways feels at times like an extended music video. Sigismondi is obviously in her element during the band’s performance sequences, which take place everywhere from roller rinks to house parties to clubs to the studio. Sigismondi knows cinematography, and DP Benoît Debie uses grainy close-ups to bring the focus entirely to the subjects. The camera is rarely static, frenetically following the actors through performances and backstage dramas. The film’s costumes, hairstyles, and makeup are impeccable: the cast are quite literally transformed into their characters circa the 1970s. Stewart looks infinitely at home with Jett’s signature onyx mullet; Fanning in Currie’s feathered platinum locks; the ripped t-shirts, platform boots, and high-waisted jeans of the era integrate perfectly into the story.

Though the narrative has been done before—an innocent thrust suddenly into stardom, only to come crashing back down again—it’s always an interesting tale. The movie has flaws: pacing is off at times and the band’s eventual dissolution is anticlimactic. Fantastic performances from Stewart and Shannon bolster what could have been an entirely mediocre biopic. Even with a “wide” release, the film isn’t going to break box offices, but if you like glam rock, coming of age stories, or biopics about bands, The Runaways will be just the right medicine. It’s certainly a perfect antidote for the deluge of marriage-and-men-centered rom-coms flying through theaters on a weekly basis.

Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog (12/11/09)

Movie Poster: Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog

Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements
Screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards

Tiana – Anika Noni Rose
Prince Naveen – Bruno Campos
Dr. Facilier – Keith David
Louis – Michael-Leon Wooley
Charlotte – Jennifer Cody
Ray – Jim Cummings
Lawrence – Peter Bartlett
Mama Odie – Jenifer Lewis
Eudora – Oprah Winfrey
James – Terrence Howard
“Big Daddy” La Bouff – John Goodman

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Invictus

Disney Brings New Orleans to Vibrant Life With a New Princess Fable

No one knows better than Disney that, come time to adorn the Christmas tree, light the Menorah, or decorate for whatever holiday you may celebrate, audiences pine for light-hearted entertainment. This year’s The Princess and the Frog has already earned a lot of press due to its protagonist, Tiana, the very first African American Disney princess in the history of the company—which was founded over 85 years ago. The movie is also the first hand-drawn Disney film since the 2004 flop Home on the Range. Those of us who grew up on Sleeping Beauty, The Rescuers, The Lion King, and Snow White appreciate CGI’s perfection, but have also been longing for a return to the classic style. The Princess and the Frog is a gracious reward for the wait.

The movie opens on a beautifully rendered mansion. Two little girls, Tiana, with gorgeous cocoa-hued skin and plain clothes, and Charlotte, a vivacious little white girl in princess pink and ruffles, listen intently as Tiana’s mother Eudora recounts the fairy tale The Princess and the Frog. All three have lovely, soft Southern accents: instead of being played for laughs, their speech patterns are genuinely pretty. Charlotte swoons over the idea of marrying a prince while the independent Tiana remains skeptical. After all, who needs a man? Tiana and Eudora board a trolley home to the row of shacks where they live: this is a more realistic portrayal of race relations in the Southern U.S. than Disney has ever done before.

Cut to years later: an older Tiana is working herself to the bone as a waitress to buy an old sugar mill so she can open a restaurant. She drops a few coins into one of many coffee tins labeled RESTAURANT before she plops, exhausted, onto her bed. As she rushes back to work, a brass band dances down the street as Randy Newman croons, “Dreams do come true in New Orleans!” The city, which since Katrina has been imbued with a sense of tragedy, comes alive in Disney’s hands. The animation is strikingly beautiful—colors pop, architecture sings, and the music pays loving tribute to the original home of jazz. In Tiana’s vivid imaginings, Art Deco lives and breathes as flappers dance the Charleston and sip champagne in a decadent restaurant in the heart of the south.

On a visit to the city, Prince Naveen of Maldonia, over whom Charlotte swoons—she’s finally going to snag herself a prince!—proves to be a smarmy, self-centered joke (with a heart of gold). When a greedy voodoo shadow man, Facilier, turns him into a frog, Naveen appears to Tiana, begging for a kiss. When he offers her money for the restaurant, she can’t help obliging, and as a result she transforms into a slimy (mucus-secreting, actually) green amphibian herself. The two frogs head into the swamps, meeting a gator who longs to play jazz with the humans, a Cajun firefly in love with the Evening Star, and Mama Odie, a nutty voodoo priestess who lives in a wrecked ship in the bayou. Naveen falls in love with Tiana, and she realizes that her restaurant dream means nothing if she has no love in her life. The plot is fluffy Disney at its best—but the execution makes it a worthwhile watch.

Tiana is a major (and welcome) departure from most Disney princesses, the majority of whom are lily-white and have straight, shiny locks. Her dark skin and curly hair make her an ideal role model for the girls who have long yearned for an idol who looked the least bit like them. Cinderella and Snow White are famously hardworking Disney princesses, but they were enslaved as a punishment for their beauty (notably by jealous older women), and their stories culminate in finding Prince Charming. Tiana’s work ethic comes from her desire to be independent and build her own destiny—wonderful traits to offer today’s little girls. At one point her landlord chastises her, “A little woman of your…background…would have her hands full trying to run a business like that.” Well, she shows him. She’s a fantastically feminist character who, through her integrity and hard work, achieves her dreams. No silver spoons, angsty machinations, or evil stepmothers for this princess. Her motto is “watch out boys, I’m coming through!” Though her story includes a few tiaras, a flawed Prince Charming, and a number of hurdles, she’s not your everyday Disney muse—and that’s the best thing about the movie.

Adults and children alike will find themselves enchanted with Disney’s original retelling of a very American story, and with the animation that renews the vibrancy and brilliancy of a singular American city. Disney fans and those looking for a fun movie on a winter’s eve will not be disappointed. Parts of the movie draw on other Disney films: there are hints of The Rescuers’ fat, lively alligators, the spooky shadow spirits of Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain, and Cinderella’s beautiful ball gown, but these are comforting touches for those who grew up on classic Disney. The Princess and the Frog isn’t a really standout addition to the Disney stable, but it’s certainly worth watching—especially if you have a little girl who longs to be a princess, or if somewhere in your heart of hearts, a part of you longs for the fairy tale to come to life.

Movie Review: Pirate Radio (11/14/09)

Movie Poster: Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio

Directed and written by Richard Curtis

The Count – Philip Seymour Hoffman
Quentin – Bill Nighy
Gavin – Rhys Ifans
Dave – Nick Frost
Minister Dormandy – Kenneth Branagh

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: The Men Who Stare at Goats

A Brilliant Comedic Cast Keeps This Period Piece Afloat

Richard Curtis, the director of 2003’s romcom Love Actually, has made another film about the beauty of falling in love—but instead of stodgy Brits having awkward conversations in limos, Pirate Radio (British title The Boat That Rocked, a much catchier moniker) features a pure, sincere adoration of rock and roll music. Set in 1966, Pirate Radio follows the ragtag crew of Radio Rock, a station on a rig anchored in the North Sea off the coast of England. The film starts with a bit of history: in “the greatest era for rock and roll,” the British government refused to play pop or rock on its sanctioned stations, causing fans to tune into offshore stations. Twenty-five million fans, to be exact. The government, therefore, was reduced to making up new laws to illegalize pirate radio stations.

The movie doesn’t truly have a singular protagonist, which is one of its only faults. Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) finds himself expelled from school for smoking, and his mother sends him to spend time with his godfather (Bill Nighy) aboard Radio Rock. The crew takes him under their collective wing, but though he may be the initial focus, the viewpoint gradually shifts about until it’s clear each and every crew member is a protagonist of sorts. Luckily, the ensemble cast (many of whom have worked together before, as movie and TV fans will surely notice) has fantastic chemistry and rapport, and Curtis’s screenplay allows the actors to perform to their fullest.

Veteran Brit actor (and scenery chewer extraordinaire) Kenneth Branagh plays the delightfully dastardly Sir Alistair Dormandy, whose singular life’s goal is to shut down the pirate stations causing unrest via airwaves in England. Branagh rolls his “r”s and shrieks like a madman; the effect is perfect in this role. It’s nearly impossible to be understated or subtle while spewing lines like “If you don’t like something, you simply make it illegal,” and Branagh works his magic here. Jack Davenport, most recognizable to Americans as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise’s Captain Norrington, plays Dormandy’s assistant Twatt (the irony of the name is not lost). The duo creates an excellent foil for the amiable crew of Radio Rock, which includes some of Britain’s finest comedic actors, as well as perennial weirdo Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Rhys Ifans plays legendary DJ Gorgeous Gavin, slinking about in a purple velvet suit, a feathered hat, and treating the microphone like a lover. Nick Frost, Simon Pegg’s affable sidekick in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, gets a leading role as chunky ladies’ man Dave. Rhys Darby, a New Zealand native whose role as band manager Murray on the hit HBO series “Flight of the Conchords” has placed him securely in the sights of a cult audience, reprises his role as lovable geek. Nighy’s trademark pauses and tics add luster to the impeccable captain Quentin. Seymour Hoffman lends his slightly disheveled and wacky persona to the role of The Count, the only American DJ, whose passion extends to risking his life in the honor of rock and roll. His role is virtually an extension of Lester Bangs, the legendary music journalist he played in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. All in all, the cast of fantastic comedians make the film.

Pirate Radio is a true period piece; costumes include plaid suits paired with paisley scarves, huge lapels, and tight corduroy pants. The film’s women are decked out in miniskirts and mod check, and Emma Thompson, playing a small role as Young Carl’s mother, appears with a bouffant and a houndstooth-patterned cape. The fact that this sort of apparel is currently available in your nearest Urban Outfitters is likely not lost on the filmmakers. The movie features a great classic rock soundtrack—of course—and a nostalgically affectionate tribute to the swinging 60s’ sexual insouciance. Radio Rock’s broadcasts are juxtaposed with shots of listeners across the UK, twisting and jiving to the era’s best music. The film will have audiences resisting the urge to dance in their seats (or the aisles).

Aside from the lack of a true protagonist, a number of small story arcs fall a bit flat, and the film may be a bit long at over two hours. However, a hilarious cast, a few genuinely poignant moments, and a slightly silly but ultimately uplifting end save the plot from disaster. The brilliant cast and funny script make for a fine film that probably won’t enjoy the sort of release it deserves in America—which is unfortunate, since it’s exactly the kind of movie whose heart and ingenuity should trump trashy big budget disaster movies at the box office. Whether these characters DJ’d out of love for the music, or purely in rebellion against censorship of an unstoppable force, their adoration of the cause (and ultimately each other) manages to keep the movie triumphantly afloat.