Friday, April 12, 2013

The Cinema File #156: "Rock Of Ages" Review

I'd had Rock of Ages in my queue of movies to watch for a while now, but I'd been putting it off because I didn't think it was going to be good. Despite being a fairly exuberant 80's-phile, every review I'd read for it said it was terrible, and everyone I'd talked to who had seen it confirmed as much. So, the other day when I was home sick from work and laid up on the couch with nothing to do, I decided to pop it in and see for myself, and I have to say, spitting in the face of a nearly unanimously negative critical consensus, I simply loved it. I loved this movie so hard right in the mouth. Rock of Ages isn't just good or better than people say it is; it is one of the most entertaining movies of 2012 and one of the best movie musicals in years. It's so good, I'm pretty sure the endorphins it forced out of my brain cured the illness I was suffering from the day I watched it, and while I haven't tested my theory, it may just hold the cure for cancer. I don't want to oversell it of course, but the point is, it's a really good movie and you should see it for yourself. 

Rock of Ages is the story of two teenage would be rockers who fall in love and try to make it big in the music world circa 1987. A Jukebox musical in the mold of Mamma Mia, it takes its soundtrack from the last truly great era of rock music and mashes it up into the most flimsy of narratives as a trifling but fun as hell excuse to play around in the world of cheesy 80's awesomeness. I should point out that the version I watched was the Extended Cut, with thirteen minutes of additional footage that was apparently focus grouped out of the theatrical release by moms who found some of the content objectionable. I mention this because I know for a fact that a large portion of these thirteen extra minutes encompasses a scene that is so thematically crucial that it basically brings everything together like the proverbial Dude's rug from The Big Lebowski. That a scene could be both so tangential that it can be cut without suffering the narrative, and so pivotal all at the same time is only illustrative of the wonderful paradox that is this movie. 

At one point, in a scene that I'm fairly certain wasn't cut from the theaters, Tom Cruise sings a passionate love ballad into a woman’s asshole. That might as well be my entire review right there, because if you read that sentence and didn't immediately think to yourself "Hey, I've gotta see that!" than you aren't the kind of person who will enjoy this movie, and if you did, then that's all you need to know. This movie is just a non-stop string of inspired insanity set to kick ass music, from a church group singing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" with percussion provided by a governess' ruler slapping against Bryan Cranston's ass, to Journey's "Anyway You Want It" re-purposed as a stripper's anthem to selling her dignity for cash. Its a delightful mix of nostalgia and absurdity that I find so endearing, I don't even care that "More Than Words" is technically a 90's song, or that I know this punk kid didn't write "Don't Stop Believing" over a weekend for some girl he just met. Or that it's a jukebox musical called Rock of Ages that features a main character named Sherie, yet doesn't actually feature the songs "Rock Of Ages" or "Oh, Cherie." 

And speaking of Tom Cruise, I'd say he easily makes the movie, if I didn't love the rest of it so damn much. He brings so much to his character and commits so whole heartedly to this burned out rock god persona that it just goes to show what a shame it is that so many people have given up on the guy after one goofy Oprah appearance. Cruise is central to that aforementioned deleted scene, where for lack of a better term he basically Songfucks a fellow cast member to the tune of "Rock You Like A Hurricane." I can only describe the sheer level of raw sexual energy imbued in this moment by paraphrasing my formerly Cruise hating mother who watched the movie with me, to say that if Cruise is indeed gay like so many people have insinuated over the years, than he must also be the greatest fucking actor on the face of the planet. 

This movie is so good, it even made me like Russell Brand, and I've always hated Russell Brand in movies. It's not that I don't find him funny, it's just that all too often his attitude is placed in conflict with those around him, either as a fish out of water or an outright antagonist, whereas here he is at his most Russell Brandness, but he fits so well into this world that what I would otherwise find boorish I instead find instantly charming. Nowhere in the film is this more evident that in his ridiculously funny duet with Alec Baldwin towards the end of the film. I would submit that by this point, if you are still not liking this movie like you should, if you can't watch that scene, raise your hands up, bow to the absurd, and start enjoying yourself, than its not the movie's fault that you're not engaged with it. At that point, you just don't know how to like good things. 

Yes its cheesy and over the top, but only as much as the genre and musical source material demands, and if you can’t accept it for what it is, than I question what would drive you to want to see it in the first place, assuming you knew anything about it going in. And since when did we start expecting subtly in our big movie musical spectacles anyway? The best way I can describe my passion for Rock of Ages is to say that it is my Moulin Rouge, which is to say, it’s like Moulin Rouge, only with good music, and without the pretentious Baz Lurman style douchebaggery. It’s somehow both self-indulgent and self aware at the same time, up its own ass just far enough to sacrifice common sense at the alter of silliness, but not far enough to get lost and forget to be entertaining. There are about a million reasons to hate it, or rather a million bullshit excuses to dismiss it, but if you can hang your ego at the door and just go along for the ride, there’s no reason you can’t find in it the same joy that I have.

And also possibly the cure for cancer, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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