Archive for Robert Altman

All Together Now – The Boat That Rocked

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2009 by babydylan

I have always been a sucker for ensemble casts. For many years my idea of movie perfection came in the form of Empire Records. My cousin described it to me once as ‘a story where nothing happens’ but the plot seems irrelevant as it meanders towards a conclusion of sorts. It’s not what’s happening that matters, it’s the characters that blow your mind.


Gina's choice is: 'Orange!'

And how could I possibly pick my favourite employee? Was it sensitive and sexy AJ (Johnny Whitworth) who is second only to Eugene (resident filthy grunge God) as self proclaimed creator and front-runner of the grunge movement and in love with Corey (Liv Tyler), destined for Harvard but resorts to secret pill-popping to cope with the pressures from Daddy. Or was is Mark (Ethan Embry), the goofy red-head whose infectious mannerisms make you want to hug him and slap him all at once. Then there’s Gina (Rene Zellweger) uber-slut with dreams of pop-stardom or Deb (Robin Tunney) suicidal skin-head who is desperate for some love and not necessarily from her boyfriend Berko (Coyote Shivers, who in some creepy trivia, was married to Bebe Buell at the time of filming making him Liv Tylers step-father). But the ultimate battle for characterisation supremacy must be played out between Lucas, the zen-like Yoda, dealing out nuggets of wisdom while throwing everyones life into chaos and Warren, rampant shoplifter whose name isn’t actually ‘FUCKING WARREN!’

As I left high school, my love for Empire Records was still as strong as ever but I discovered a slightly more mature ensemble love. This came in the form of Robert Altman’s masterpiece Gosford Park (2001), a sophisticated and classy whodunit/murder mystery (which incidentally is one of the perfect ways to fully utilise the ensemble cast. And if you’re after a laugh along with the severity of homicide, check out Tim Curry’s oft neglected but equally hilarious 1985 film Clue based on the board game with a cast to split your sides and three-endings to match).

What do you do?  Im the butler, sir. I buttle.

'What do you do?' 'I'm the butler, sir. I buttle."

But enough of that. In Gosford Park Altman has collected one of the finest casts that would cause any cinephile to salivate in their popcorn strewn seat. His goal was to show the acute difference between the ‘downstairs’ life of the servants, butlers, maids and footmen, to the snooty ‘upstairs’ aristocrats who depended on them. The audience never travels upstairs unless following one of the downstairs inhabitants, and what a staff to have.

Jennings the butler (Sir Alan Bates) who keeps the staff in check whilst guarding his own shameful past, Mrs. Wilson (Dame Helen Mirren) the housekeeper, backbone of the house, guarding everyones secrets including her own, Mrs. Croft the ill tempered cook with a particular loathing for Mrs. Wilson, Elsie (Emily Watson) head housemaid and one of Lord McCordles many lovers, George the footman (Richard E. Grant), sleazy and calculating with a love of the ladies, Robert Parks (Clive Owen), a valet with a special motive, newly appointed Mary Maceachran (Kelly Macdonald) learning the ropes and barely staying out of trouble along with ring-in Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipee) pretend servant and all round cad.

This would be impresive enough but the upstairs folk more than match their minders. Squee inducing actors such as Sir Michael Gambon as Sir William McCordle, a more unpleasant man I have yet to see, Dame Maggie Smith as his sister Constence who loves a bit of servant gossip, only if she isn’t involved, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Sylvia McCordle, her icy tone matching her husbands lack of charm perfectly, and when you think it can’t get any better, Stephen Fry decides to pop in for a bit as the incompitent Inspector Thomas. The joy of the film is seeing these huge stars interact with each other brilliantly. You hardly care if the mystery is solved, you just want to see what they will do next.

The jaw-dropping cast

The jaw-dropping cast

Thus, with my love of all things ensemble, there was no way I would leave The Boat That Rocked without a spring in my step. I can unasamedly admit that I am quite a sucker for Richard Curtis films, as I know secretly everyone is. Only a heart of stone could despise all his films, between Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003) there is some aspect for everyone. Every female anyhow.

In The Boat That Rocked Curtis has moved away from the traditonal romance story plotlineto a story about an ecclectic bunch of men and their love of rock, and in so doing, highlighting Curtis zealous love for the music and the time period. The fictional story, as several critics seem to have forgotton, explores the hey-day of pirate radio between 1966 and 1967 where the BBC broadcast only two hours of pop music a day. Not content to take that kind of treatment, the pirates anchor themselves in the North Sea and broadcast 24 hours a day. As the pop/rock scene was exploding in the UK at the time, Radio Rock’s popularity is particularily high. The film thus tells the story of the many DJ’s packed onto the boat and general hilarity ensues.

Dancing to a bit of Bowie. Not exactly circa 1967, but do we care?

Dancing to a bit of Bowie. Not exactly circa 1967, but do we care?

The film appears to be somewhat plot-less, a series of events trudging on to no foreseeable conclusion. Where after all, can an anchored boat journey to? But, as I’m sure I have given away, the plot for me seems somewhat irrelevant as you see the talent that Curtis has yet again drawn together.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his rarer but no less welcome comedy roles, shines as The Count, the only yank on the station and as loud as one would expect. In terms of costume, Bill Nighy playing himself but disguised as Quentin the station owner wears his 1960s garb with such flair and can only be topped by Rhys Ifans as golden-tonsiled Gavin, most popular DJ in Britain making an unforgettable entrance to the film. Further cast enticement is Nick Frost (holding up well without other half Simon Pegg) as leery Dr. Dave, Tom Sturridge as Young Carl whose coming of age, find-me-a-father-search the plot is loosely structured around, Flight of the Conchords Rhys Darby as the ‘most annoying man on radio’ Kiwi Angus Knutsford, and Tom Wisdom as the butterfly-inducing handsome Midnight Mark. Not to mention IT Crowd favourites, Chris O’Dowd as adorable romantic Simon Strafford and Katherine Parkinson as Felicty the lesbian cook, thus allowed to inhabit the boat with the fine men folk.

Rhys Ifans - looking damn sharp

Rhys Ifans - looking damn sharp

The female cast members aren’t particularly displayed in a positive light, with Emma Thompson as Young Carl’s dismisive mother, Talulah Riley as the seemingly virginal yet ultimately sneaky Marianne and take-the-cake, out right wrong, January Jones as Elenore. You leave the film hating the female characters and feeling very in love with the boys club.

Ultimately I found the individually shallow male characters to make up the many faceted amalgamation of the father Young Carl is desperately searching for. Each character offers him some form of wisdom – he is the blank slate they all want to project their ideas and musical tastes on, he being the sponge eager to absorb. Even when the plot lulls, Curtis’ canny song choices propel the story along to one jolly, giggle inducing jaunt after the other. Toe-tappingly fun it always is. To end with a cliche, it ROCKED.