Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bad Day Made Worse By Pirates

I was out late last night having a losing session of poker, but had to get up early this morning because the exterminator was due at 8am. I rolled out of bed groggily after five hours sleep at 7:30am. Naturally, the exterminator didn't show until 8:50am, so the day wasn't off to a good start.

After she was done, I spent the morning doing business, paying bills, answering e-mails, posting a podcast, etc. All the while the overhead fan in my office was making a whining/grating noise it had never made before, but which most adults can instantly identify as Yet Another Thing I'm Going To Have To Fix Or Replace.

By noon, I had some errands to run, including a stop at the post office to mail some packages. There were several people in the lobby when I walked in, so I took a number from the dispenser. I was customer #78. I looked up at the display in the corner, which said they were currently serving #61. Let's see, seventeen to go, probably two minutes apiece, I'm gonna be waiting for half an hour. Ruling from the judge in my head: these packages don't have to go out today.

I did the rest of my errands, stopped again to answer a couple of phone calls and e-mails, then decided to grab a quick lunch. I was in the mood for a burrito, so I hit the drive-thru at Taco Bell. The clerk was nice and efficient as she took my money and handed me my food and I drove away. It wasn't until I was up the street a few blocks that I realized I hadn't gotten my beverage -- my fault, I drove away too fast. So I circled around, saw the drive-thru was full of cars, went inside, and she handed me my drink.

Now, with a couple of hours to kill, I headed for a nearby AMC Gigaplex to see "Pirate Radio." It's been a long time since anyone did a decent movie with radio at the center of the plot, and I'd been eager to see it since I'd heard about it earlier this year, when it was still called "The Boat That Rocked."

As I always do, I went to the automated ticket dispenser, which refused to accept any of the credit cards in my wallet. Okay, fine, I'd get my ticket from the human behind the bulletproof shield in the lobby. In front of me, I found five people who may be listed by Guinness as The Slowest Humans On Earth. To make matters worse, the ticket clerk was at least their equal. He had apparently never dispensed a ticket before, as it took ten minutes (!!) to get mine.

Still, I figured this was no problem, because all I was missing was the "pre-show entertainment," an industry euphemism for lousy commercials and coming attractions that give away the entire plot of the movie they're promoting. As the clerk handed me my ticket, he said, "Theater 7, down the hall and to your left."

I followed his instructions and went down the hall and to my left into Theater 7. The pre-show was still going on. And on. And on. This was taking much longer than I'd ever seen before. Finally, the actual movie began -- and it was the wrong movie. In Theater 7, they were showing "Amelia." My movie, "Pirate Radio," was showing in Theater 2, and had started about ten minutes ago.

As a lifelong movie lover, I have a thing about joining a movie in progress -- I hate it. Like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall," I have refused to set foot in the theater if the movie has already begun, because I want to see the thing from the beginning. So I had a dilemma: either I go into Theater 2 and pick up "Pirate Radio" several minutes into the plot, or I go back to the same ticket clerk and try to get a refund. I immediately ruled out the latter option, because I didn't want my head to explode.

I settled into my seat among the dozen or so others (there isn't a large crowd there on Wednesday afternoons) to enjoy the wacky antics of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, and the rest of the pirates who broadcast rock and roll radio into the UK in the 1960s once the music had been banned from the land-based BBC outlets by the government. I'd hoped the movie would shed some light on how they -- like the real-life radio pirates at Radio Caroline and others -- had exploited international waters to create a hugely popular outlet for a musical form that was exploding worldwide.

Unfortunately, the movie is light on that story, and has a low degree of radio realism. The jocks come off as arrogant poseurs, who may love the music they're playing but never explain why -- not a good thing in a verbal medium. Instead, in more than one scene, the DJs express their enthusiasm for rock and roll by dancing around the studio as the music plays. I've been in the radio business for over 30 years, and I've never seen a DJ dance around the studio. Yes, there's been excitement and joy and fun, but no dancing.

Kenneth Branagh plays a clownish government official, and must have been told by director Richard Curtis to chew all the scenery he could. Meanwhile, Curtis concentrates far too much on the personal lives and sexual exploits of the men on board, one of which leads to a major rift between two of the jocks, who settle their disagreement in a ridiculous manner. It's the kind of abrupt plot turn that signals a screenwriter who threw his hands up in the air and typed, "Then they looked at each other and decided to just be friends instead of rivals."

That's surprising, because Curtis, who wrote and directed "Pirate Radio," was responsible for the terrific screenplays for "Notting Hill," "About A Boy," "Love Actually," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and "Bridget Jones' Diary." Unfortunately, his script here falls far below the standard he set with those movies.

Maybe the automated dispenser was right not to sell me that ticket.

What lessons did I take away from My Bad Day that I can share with you?

  1. Don't see "Pirate Radio," but rent one of those other Richard Curtis movies instead.
  2. Don't go to the post office at lunchtime if you're in a hurry.
  3. Don't leave the drive-thru window until you make sure you have everything you ordered.
  4. Don't enter the theater until you check the ticket to make sure it's showing the movie you want to see.
  5. Did I mention you shouldn't see "Pirate Radio"?