Rock of Ages Reviews
Born and raised in San Francisco I always tuned in to "the little man" and read Joel Selvin's film reviews, even though I often disagreed. After my introduction to the small screen Ebert, I began searching for his written reviews, which I not only found to be more tasty than Selvin's (sorry Joel), but his negative commentary to be less snarky, and more subtle. It then became alchemy - for I knew that if Roger liked a film and Selvin hated it - well, that pretty much guaranteed an enjoyable cinematic experience for me (and yes, they frequently were polar opposites in their reviews).
So now I bid farewell to Roger. I loved your writing style and your eye into film. I don't know who I can trust now... I guess I'll have to continue to read Selvin and, as usual, go contrary to his recommendations. Roger, you will be missed.
Now, on to the review, which I will attempt to flesh out more than usual, in respect for Roger. Sadly the film up for review is Rock of Ages, a Glee/Smash musical with a thin story line wrapped up in 80's rock music anthems.
The story seems so incredibly trite - the typical Oklahoma girl leaves middle America for the bright lights and (hopefully) stardom of LA. Once there, she meets a boy, and gets a job waiting tables in a rock club (The Bourbon Room, a silly reference to the Whiskey A Go-Go). They fall in love, go through the usual misunderstanding that causes a breakup, only to find each other and reconcile by film's end. Sounds familiar, yes?
Of course the schtick of the film is that it is couched within the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. This allows for some huge musical production numbers with singers and dancers - all very Smash like - and if you like that kind of thing (which, to a point, I do), you could do worse. I'm not going to comment too much on the film production and direction, which is intentionally (I hope) over the top, like watching a series of early MTV music videos, but will focus instead on the musical production (something I believe to be qualified to do).
The sound is punchy and clean and very well produced, and the vocal talents will surprise you. Unlike Smash, where you can be impressed by the vocal chops but wonder where the "soul" is, here, with the exception of Julianne Hough as Sherrie, the Oklahoma refugee, you get performances that are more grit than glam. It's not that Hough cannot sing, for she shows great range, but that her styling is a bit too "broadway" and while she harmonizes well, her voice is a bit "thin" and "nasal" for a lead singer. Just compare her voice to Mary Blige when the two do a duet - one is truly a lead singer, the other.... Well you get the picture.
Also prominently featured, both as actor and singer, is Tom Cruise as the rock god Stacee Jaxx. Cruise is a marvel here, bare chested, scotch swilling, the embodiment of the SD&RR mantra. Not only is he totally believable as this bigger than life character (and who else has the charisma to pull this off?), but his vocal chops are surprisingly strong. When he decides to dig into a phrase it comes across like he really means it - I just loved his rendition of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive".
There are other side attractions that raise this endeavor from stinkyville; including the always irreverent Russell Brand as the Bourbon Room's assistant manager - offering rock bromides and often non-sequiter one liners. His interplay with his boss, club owner Alec Baldwin in a long haired wig, is solid and entertaining.
Well caste as well is Paul Giamatti as Cruise's slimy manager... of course with Giamatti's gift it's hard to think of a role where he would be miscast. Throw in Catherin Zeta-Jones in a quirky performance as the Mayor's wife; a religious nut job echoing Tipper Gore and here rants against "the devil music". Her take on "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" while executed well, is almost embarrassing for it's Borsch Belt over the top sensibility. As her husband, the Mayor, Brian Cranston is mostly wasted here, a character to move the plot along and nothing more.
I firmly believe that director Adam Shankman and writer Chris D'Arienzo knew what they were doing here, so tried to steer clear of the too obvious nature of the storyline and infuse it with enough wink, wink moments to entertain, if not completely satisfy. I got a serious belly laugh when Sherrie gets to meet her idol Cruise. She gushes "oh my god, you mean so much to me - when my hamster died, it was your music that helped get me through". If only there was more of that, and more Cruise as Jaxx, and less of the limpid boy meets girl love story that never really has merit other than a plot contrivance.
I've compared this film to watching an extended MTV video (as I sadly remember those glorious times wherein the film supposedly took place - where the videos were fresh and the idiom new) - as well as comparing it to Smash on the small screen. Truly though, this has the feel of an old time musical, like Oklahoma or South Pacific, where a thin story line allows the actors to break into song at the drop of a hat. Of course this isn't one of the aforementioned musicals, as the songs aren't original, or "broadwayesque". No, this is more kin to the somewhat obscure Turturo film "Romance and Cigarettes" - a spoof on the musical genre that used modern song. At least in the case of Rock of Ages, the songs were actually reproduced and sung by the actors, instead of the actors lip synching over the original versions of the famous songs.
It is said during the film (taking place in the late 80's) that rock is dead. Well, it's not dead yet, but like the rest of the music industry in this age of compressed MP3's and singles, it's on life support - the indie underground scene can't seem to get the kind of traction that the Seattle grunge scene got back in the early 90's, and when DJ's seem to garner the same star treatment that used to be reserved for gifted musicians... ah well - best to savor the memories of my time growing up during the true musical revolution that was the late 60's and 70's.
Allow me to elucidate on my main problem with the rise in jukebox musicals: I find them to be, with rare exception, to be exceedingly lazy. The musical number is meant to advance the narrative and give insights into character and situation, just like any other aspect of plot. You'll find great original tunes that do this. When you're dealing with pop songs that the public is well familiar with, then your job becomes even harder, and I find many are just not up to the task. Too often jukebox musicals are designed to merely string together a pre-packaged and time-tested number of hit songs, utilizing the faintest of narrative threads to get from one song to the next. The appeal of jukebox musicals lies not with the story or characters but waiting for the next recognizable song and wondering how it will, poorly, fit into this new context. You'll notice that these jukebox musicals seem to have twice as many song numbers. They know their selling point, and more singing means less time spent developing characters and story. And so my impression of the jukebox musical is one of a cynical cash grab following the bare minimum of narratives to achieve the status of musical so it can be resold with low risk. I'm simplifying things in my ire, yes, but there's a definite reason that jukebox musicals have sprouted like mad in the past few years. They don't require as much work and the audience seems to hold them to a lesser standard. Much like the worst of Friedberg and Seltzer (Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans), it seems just recognizing the familiar has become the core draw of entertainment.
And this is one of the main problems with Rock of Ages. I've never seen the stage show, but my God for something that purports to live the rock and roll lifestyle, its certainly so tame and scrubbed clean of anything dangerous. This feels like your grandparents idea of what "modern" rock music is. After a cursory search online, I've found that the movie makes some significant changes to convert a story about rock and roll hedonism into sanitized family friendly fare (spoilers to follow, theatergoers): apparently in the stage version, Cherie and Jaxx had sex in the Broadway show, Jaxx remains a creep and flees the country on statutory rape charges, though before that he and Cherie share a lap dance/duet to "Rock Me Like a Hurricane," the family values crusader characters were new inventions, the Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman, the best singer in the film) is considerably beefed up to provide Jaxx his happy ending, and they don't even use the song "Oh Cherie." I'm not a stickler for adaptation changes, but clearly it feels like rock of Ages had every edge carefully sanded down to reach out to the widest array of mainstream filmgoers (Shankman says he cut Cherie's lap dance number because it tested poorly with mothers). The funny part is that the movie lambastes a slimy manager for playing to demo numbers, shooting for pandering mass appeal rather than the art, man. Feel the hypocrisy.
The first hour of Rock of Ages is mildly passable mostly because of the goofy supporting cast, but then the movie just keeps going, getting more and more tedious with every protracted minute. The second half involves Cherie and Drew apart and finding new lows; for him it's selling his soul to join be in a boy band, and for her it's selling herself, working as a stripper. Let's look back at that sentence. One of those life choices is not nearly as possibly upsetting as the other. Nothing against the hard-working strippers in this country, but Cherie taking to the pole is definitely more of a moral compromise for the character than whatever the hell Drew endures. It's this leaden second hour that made me lose faith that Rock of Ages would even provide a morsel of cheesy entertainment. It has the misfortune of two of the blandest leads I've ever seen in a musical. Hogue (Footloose) and Boneta (Mean Girls 2) are both physically blessed specimens of human genetics, but oh are these kids boring boring boring. Their love story is completely malnourished and you couldn't scrape together one interesting thing about them combined. The fact that Rock of Ages further strips away any interesting personality from Cherie (see above) makes them even more disastrously boring. To be stuck with these two more another hour of vapid griping, only to magically get back together, is interminable. Thank God they pumped up the side characters because that is the only time when Rock of Ages even challenges for your attention. Cruise isn't the best singer but he's pretty good belting out 80s rock hits, and the man has his natural charisma and stage presence to spare.
So I guess where Rock of Ages goes wrong, and where Les Miserables succeeds, is thinking of how best to translate the experience of the stage to the medium of film. Shankman does a pitiful job staging his musical numbers, with lackluster choreography that rarely takes advantage of the sets and characters. Worse, Shankman feels like he strays from the tone and angle of the stage show, sanitizing the rock and roll lifestyle and looking for ways to squeeze in bland happy endings. In other words, he doesn't capture enough of the essence of the original stage show to please neophytes and fans of the Broadway show. With Les Miserables, I think most fans of the stage show, and they are legion, will walk away feeling satisfied with the results, content that real artists treated the long-running musical with justice. Hooper opens up the world of the stage show, utilizing the parameters of film, and the emphasis on performance over singing mechanics maximizes the unique power of film. Les Miserables is a grand movie musical smartly adapted to the opportunities of film. Rock of Ages is a sloppy, neutered, criminally boring mess poorly developed and poorly translated to the silver screen. Let this be an educational resource for future generations. Take note, producers, and learn from the mistakes of Rock of Ages and the accomplishments of Les Miserables.
Nate's Grade: C-
Rocking Fun Movie, Loved it!!! Take Spinal Tap, Mamma Mia and Almost Famous, wrap them all together and play it with a face as straight as a razor, and you have Rock Of Ages. The movie is worth your time; if only for the breath of fresh air that it provides, and of course, that priceless Ga-Ga-puppy-eyed-look of Julianne Hough when up close and personal with Tom Cruise's Stacee Jaxx. That was money all by itself. Tom Cruise was excellent as rock-god; Julianne Hough did a believable sweet & innocent-small-town-girl-in-love. Alec Baldwin's character did slightly weird me out, in a funny way. For those who expected something serious, when Tom Cruise literally sang into the butt of a woman, that should have been a giveaway that this movie shouldn't be taken seriously. I think the problem most people have is that it's all played with such a straight face that it's not obvious this is a comedy. It also helps if you are familiar with the music, even better if you grew up with the music. The rock music from the eighties in this movie really took me back to my youth...but here is a warning: Do not watch this movie through TV sound,it has to be enjoyed on a good sound system cranked right up,just the way eighties rock was meant to be played! As for the content of the movie,it's just a simple story not complex so it lets you concentrate more on the music rather than keeping up with the story. Go watch it!!!
Set in 1987 Los Angeles, Drew and Sherrie are two young people chasing their dreams in the big city. When they meet, it's love at first sight, though their romance will face a series of challenges.
I felt like I'm watching some kind of spoof movie but it wasn't.
And Tom Cruise... seriously?
Three stars for the songs.
Was pretty disappointed straight away to find out the plot is the most basic overused cliched idea that plays out just like 'Burlesque'. Of course being an all out musical you don't expect a fantastic story (well not in this day and age anyway) but the moment the lead female character leaves her small town for the brights lights of the big city I sunk in my chair and groaned.
Zeta Jones' character plot was sooooooo so damn cheesy and cliched too. A politician who is religious and against rock music because it corrupts and twists young minds yet slowly turns to the 'darkside'!! come on guys at least try for something a little inspired.
I think this would have been better with unknowns in the main roles too or at least people who can actually sing and dance properly. Using big name stars just doesn't help in my view, Cruise does a surprisingly good job as the perpetually drunk 'Jaxx' it has to be said but using someone like Alec Baldwin!!?. I have to admit that Brand was a good casting choice (one of the only ones), he looks the part and also acts the part in reality! unsure about his odd Brummie-ish accent though.
On the other hand then you have casting like Julianne Hough, your stereotypical boring limp wet blonde who has the same kind of vacuous part in 'Burlesque'.
I personally didn't get on with the film much. I kinda expected something akin to classics like 'Little Shop' or 'Rocky Horror' but all I saw was a cliched unoriginal concept with various classic songs butchered by various unknown people. Does make you appreciate the actual artists and their skills, oh and by the way many songs in this film aren't actually rock songs.
I can't really berate this film too much because it does exactly what its suppose to do and that's give you the viewer a good time without using your brain much. The plot is lame, acting generally is cheesy or bad and the songs are badly sung...but the big time visuals and dance sequences will be liked by many I'm sure. What gets me is the fact the creators have settled on such a basic boring idea when I'm sure this could of been something pretty special.
The rest of the movie is pretty darn awful. The love story between Sherrie and Drew takes me down to Vapid City, and it's such a needlessly central part of the narrative. Diego Boneta has a rockin' voice, but Julianne Hough is capable of more than a high, nasal wail and a brief climb up a pole. She cut her film teeth ferociously with "Footloose," but "Rock of Ages" doesn't showcase her singing or dancing at all.
The '80s tunes are great, but the remixing and editing of the numbers is so episodic. Many people dislike musicals because characters just randomly burst into song. The first number, "Sister Christian," is self-aware and successfully pokes fun at that assessment, but the rest of the songs happen so quickly and without purpose. There IS an art to writing musical narrative, but the original book/screenplay seems to be a nostalgic revue rather than a cohesive story.
So, what was your first album? You might be shocked at mine: Motley Crue's Shout At the Devil and Madonna's first album . I will never forget the day going to a record store in downtown Cincinnati and picking those out. It was like obtaining a little bit of freedom. I listened to them for hours. Of course, I had other albums but these were mine bought with my hard-earned babysitting money.
During this time, I went through a little heavy metal stage, even though I did to listen to classic rock and other current pop music as well. However, Def Leppard was my favorite of the genre with On Through the Night , High & Dry and Pyromania albums but they lost me when Hysteria was released in 1987. By then I had moved onto REM, U2 and The Smiths and left my heavy metal stage behind me. But for a brief few years I listened to song after guitar-ladened song of overly melodramatic rock ballads and anthems that spoke to all the emotions I was going through at the time. This all brings me to my review of Rock of Ages .
First and foremost, if you see this movie, please leave your cynic's cap at home. This film was designed to make you laugh, tap your toes (or put up the universal hand signal for rock n roll) and remember what it was like when music helped you escape. Plus, this was a remake of a Broadway musical. So, if you don't care for cheesy musical numbers and totally non-realistic scenes, then skip Rock of Ages . But, first finish reading this review before you truly make up your mind.
Usually musicals are not high up on my list to review, but with what I mentioned above, you may see why I had a secret desire to see it. Plus, I kept hearing Tom Cruise was awesome as Stacee Jaxx. A character type he has never played before. I mean, nothing like any other performance to date, so my interest was piqued. Except in Tropic Thunder , Tom Cruise is usually the overly energetic hero that takes up too much of the screen time running, fighting and flying through the air when something explodes behind him. In Rock of Ages, however, he plays an aging heavy metal guy, who is quiet and reserved, and acts as if he is high as a kite, but not in the way you might think. He's not in the movie a lot but when he is the movie rocked. (And it didn't hurt he sang my favorite Bon Jovi song). His character made this movie enjoyable...or should I say tolerable?
Most of Rock of Ages shows Diego Boneta, Drew, a wanna-be rock star and Julianne Hough, Sherrie, as a small town girl, living in a lonely...(oh wait, sorry, started breaking into to song there). She had dreams of moving to LA and becoming a singer, so she broke out in song all the time but never for anyone on stage like an audition. And that is exactly what Rock of Ages is like, people constantly breaking into songs and, for me, that is always a bit disconcerting. Plus, Julianne's helium induced vocals almost gave me a headache. However, I knew every song that was haphazardly placed in between the dialogue and I didn't mind so much...okay, sometimes I did.
Normally I was laughing at myself because I was singing along with the songs. I also laughed at the characters as the motions, choreography or bizarre song breakouts played out up on the big screen. Some could see that as a good thing or a bad thing and somewhat expected of a musical. But nothing prepared me for the Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand duet. Nothing! My cheeks still hurt from smiling so broadly. That scene is priceless, and I think most will enjoy that part. It was hysterical!
There really isn't much to say about the plot because there hardly is one, so I won't summarize it for you all. And the over-the-top acting and boisterous musical renditions could really have made this a bad time. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed myself while watching Rock of Ages . I am a child of the 80's and remember those days of loving music that my parents hated and blocking out all the bad thoughts that filled my young mind.
What might also surprise you about this film, everyone really sang. Meaning, no one had a singing double. I will say several of them were not too bad: Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman and Paul Giamatti. However, Mary J. Blige was spectacular, of course. Catherine Zeta-Jones was also good, but I already knew she could sing from Chicago . The leads were decent but I already mentioned Julianne Hough's voice rubbed me the wrong way. But it was Tom Cruise who was actually pretty good. I was shocked.
Rock of Ages isn't not a film that I will watch again unlike Shankman's Hairspray , but it was nice to stroll down memory lane because...I love rock 'n' roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby!
Directed by Adam Shankman, New Line Cinema, 2012
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, et al.
My favorite part: Got to say it, Tom Cruise and his performance.
My least favorite part: I wish it had more of a consistent plot and didn't try so hard to stick a song in every 30 seconds.
Length: 123 minutes
Review: 4 out of 10
Set in 1987 Los Angeles, Drew and Sherrie are two young people chasing their dreams in the big city. When they meet, it's love at first sight, though their romance will face a series of challenges.
Rock of Ages, based on the 2009 Broadway hit, is set in 1987 with a host of songs like Don't Stop Believin' and Every Rose Has Its Thorn that immediately set the nostalgic stage. However it has stars who can't seem to pull it out of mediocrity. Alec Baldwin as manager Dennis Dupree of the Bourbon Room (based on the infamous Whisky a Go-Go where metal, punk, and new wave found a home) has a scruffy wig and face but little of the actor's celebrated sardonic delivery. Russell Brand as cohort Lonny is besotted and boisterous much as Brand was in Get Him to the Greek. Catherine Zeta-Jones as the stiff-necked, straight-laced Patricia Whitmore, wife of LA mayor (Bryan Cranston), doesn't come near the musical talent she showed in Chicago. Yet, in her zeal to "take Satan off the streets," she perfectly gets Tipper Gore's self-righteousness. This musical, probably a farce meant to be a mash-up of music videos, is plain trite as in boy meets girl, you know the rest of the cliché. Leads Julianne Hough as Sherrie and Diego Boneta as Drew can sing well but are hampered by a plot so derivative that it all seems like a big act of plagiarism. However, the film captures a whole generation of rockers in the spirit of Tower Records' employees famously posting this R.E.M. lyric upon the demise of their iconic store: "The end of the world as we know it."