Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Rock of Ages" Will Rock You

I wasn't sure if I would see this film, but due to a lack of great movie options at the moment and that I'm a fan of 80s music, I figured, "why not?" So, on Father's Day, I went to see Rock of Ages. I had never heard of this Broadway musical before. I did hear about the making of the movie because of the attention in the entertainment media about Tom Cruise playing an 80s hair 'n metal rock star. However, I didn't realize that the movie was not about the life of a fictional rock god (played by Tom Cruise). It's an ensemble film. A "musical", or what is referred to as "jukebox musical" (a term that is applied to Broadway shows: Movin' Out, Footloose, Mamma Mia!, The Jersey Boys, and Rock of Ages). These "musicals" take already familiar music from a music artist's / group's catalog and create a story around it, rather than offering all new music like the classic musicals (think Rodgers & Hammerstein or Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice). Back in the 1980s, movie musicals were less West Side Story or Singing In The Rain, and more Footloose, Top Gun, or Dirty Dancing. A story with a rocking soundtrack as background music.

Since I love many of the songs that played on the radio in the 1980s, I did not think seeing this movie would be that big of a risk. Even if I did not like the story or the acting, I knew I'd love the music and I was ready to be surprised. And was I! In a good way. The movie's storyline is not original (typical plot about young people going to Hollywood with a dream of fame in their eyes and learning the cold reality that there's a lot of young people with the same dream competing for the same chance). However, the characters are likable. The story focuses on a young couple. Everyone else are just secondary characters. The female lead, Sherrie Christian (a convenient name so that the film can use the awesome 80s ballads "Oh Sherry" and "Sister Christian"), is a young girl fresh off the Greyhound from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She meets a young man who works at a bar / music venue on the Hollywood Strip. He dreams of leading his own rock band and manages to get the new girl a job at the same place.

Alec Baldwin plays the owner of that club and Russell Brand (whom I do not like, though he is quite hilarious in the film) is his assistant. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a Tipper Gore-like outraged political wife on a crusade to clean up music. Her husband is running for reelection as Mayor of Los Angeles and he has a secret fetish his wife doesn't know about. She has a deep secret of her own. It wasn't too difficult to figure out. Mary J. Blige plays an owner of a strip club, where Sherrie Christian ends up waitressing before realizing that more money is to be made if she dances around a pole and other stripper routines.

The best part of the movie, besides the music, is the unique performance of Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, who is a mix of Axl Rose and Bret Michaels with a dash of David Lee Roth. He has played unique characters before: the masogynistic self-help guru in Magnolia and the foul-mouthed and crassly vulgar movie mogul in Tropic Thunder. However, this goes even further. He's drunk or drugged or both and rambles incoherent thoughts to his manager (played by the often maniacal Paul Giamatti), the club owner, and a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. Even more amazing, Tom Cruise actually sings: "Paradise City", "Wanted: Dead or Alive", "I Want To Know What Love Is", and "Pour Some Sugar On Me." This is the Tom Cruise who could not sing at all. Exhibit "A": "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" in Top Gun. Exhibit "B": "Free Fallin'" in Jerry Maguire. However, I was quite surprised by his performance here. His songs aren't that bad. In particular, "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is actually pretty decent and gives Def Leppard a run for their money.

The scene between him and the reporter was pretty intense and steamy. It was also actually funny. Stacee Jaxx only falls for the reporter when she tells him the truth about what not only she thinks of him, but also other music critics: that the only reason he's going solo is because his band mates can no longer tolerate him. He's unreliable and in some drugged out reality most of the time. He's used to beautiful women throwing themselves at him. He even sleeps on a bed with about five women sleeping on top of him. Yeah, he does excess like only an 80s rock god could!

The film is set in 1987, at the height of the hair-metal band craze. That was the year of Whitesnake's "Here I Go" and "Is This Love?"; Bon Jovi's "Living On a Prayer"; Europe's "The Final Countdown" and "Carrie"; and even Christian hair metal band Stryper ("To Hell With the Devil"). Rock of Ages has a wide range of music that they used. It wasn't just the music of the popular hair-metal bands Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns 'n Roses, Poison, Twisted Sister, Extreme, and Warrant, but also REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Journey, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Starship. Thankfully, there were no songs by Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Dokken, Ratt, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Gwar, Metallica, and other hardcore metal bands. However, the lack of Van Halen songs tells me that the producers were probably unable to get the rights to use it. Otherwise, how could this oversight happen? Van Halen was the best of the hair metal bands and their hit singles was hard rock at its best. A David Lee Roth song does appear in the movie, though: "Just Like Paradise." Though there is much talk in the film about rock 'n roll, the soundtrack was definitely aimed at a mass audience because only a small fringe likes the music of the "real hair metal bands." When I was in high school, for example, I did not know any guy who would admit to liking Bon Jovi. They were considered to be "the chick's hair metal band."

What I loved most about this film are the "mash-ups", where two songs are combined into one. It makes some interesting new songs that way. Here were the mash-ups: "Juke Box Hero / I Love Rock 'n Roll", "More Than Words" / "Heaven", "Shadows of the Night" / "Harden My Heart", and "We Built This City" / "We're Not Gonna Take It."

Try sitting still and not singing along as you watch this film. Rock of Ages might not be original in its plot / storyline nor is it a great movie, but it was fun. It was nostalgic. I left the theater wanting to hop into a DeLorean for quick trip to 1987...or probably 1988, which is my favourite year in music. The film did make me buy the soundtrack, though. The song selections were perfect. If you plan to see it, get ready to get rocked!

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