High on the cheese factor, the new musical “Rock of Ages” is also a lot of fun. With director Adam Shankman (the man behind the remake of “Hairspray”) at the helm, this is a fast-paced piece of fluff with just enough nostalgic charm to make all the silliness easy to take.
Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, “Rock of Ages” tells the story of Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), a Midwest girl who arrives in Los Angeles in 1987 eager to pursue her dream to become a singer.
She gets a job at a local club known for its live performances of the hottest bands and falls for another aspiring singer named Drew (Diego Boneta). As the young couple’s romance takes its twists and turns, the club has bigger concerns, with owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) owing back taxes.
Dennis convinces aging rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to play the club, much to the dismay of a local activist group headed by the mayor’s wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
As a child of the 1980s, I’m a fan of many acts from that era, but I really didn’t care one way or another about the hair bands that serve as the soundtrack for most of “Rock of Ages.” Still I found myself having a good time, because it looked like this cast – which also includes Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman and Bryan Cranston – is having just as much fun.
Everyone gets plenty of chances to show off their voices as well, with covers ranging from Journey to Foreigner, to Night Ranger, to Joan Jett and even a few songs that aren’t exactly in this era. A lot of these musical numbers are cleverly concocted mash-ups, with Shankman zipping the story along from one song to another.
Everyone holds their own from a vocal standpoint, with Baldwin being perhaps the biggest surprise. Hough, who was good in the “Footloose” remake, is pretty engaging in the lead role – much more than her male counterpart – while Cruise nearly steals the movie playing the fading alcohol-hazed rock star.
“Rock of Ages” isn’t quite on the same level as “Hairspray,” but it is still enjoyable. If like me you are a sucker for musicals, then you should have nothing but a good time.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is the Academy Award winner “The Artist,” (A) – my pick for the best film of 2011.
It’s magical, beautiful poetry that leaps off the screen with vivid imagination and precise execution. And none of that magic will be lost in a more intimate home viewing setting.
Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist” tells the story of George Valentin (Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin) – a silent movie star at the peak of his popularity.
His stardom is about to be tested, however, by the arrival of talking pictures – a medium that George rejects, causing his career to spiral downward.
As George’s star wanes, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) – a young actress whose big break came at the expense of one of George’s last hits – sees her star rise.
While George tries to piece together his life, Peppy enjoys the fruits of her success while trying to find a way to repay the man who helped launch her career.
Fans of cinema will appreciate Hazanavicius’ daring decision to re-create a silent film, making the movie in black and white with very little use of sound. But this isn’t just an homage to silent movies – there are nods to everything from “Citizen Kane” to the elaborate musicals of MGM’s heyday.
Hazanavicius uses the silent medium not as a gimmick, but as a way to expand his creative expression. A scene that features an encounter with the two leads on a stairway has extra spark, while a dance sequence where you can only see Peppy’s legs from behind a green screen is graceful and quite elegant.
This is a gorgeous film with great work from cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman.
When Hazanavicius does incorporate sound, it comes as a jolt because you are so caught up in the experience as a whole.
The entire cast, which includes John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller and James Cromwell, is very good, but the two leads stand out.
As I watched Dujardin and Bejo, I kept thinking of the old saying about the eyes being the window to the soul, because both actors conveyed so much without saying a word.
Dujardin has an Errol Flynn mystique, but as the film progresses and his character’s plight darkens, the performance becomes so much more.
Bejo is very good as well. She has a look that the camera loves, but like Dujardin, there is more to her character that Bejo is able to convey with great conviction.
Both give beautiful, heartfelt performances that provide the soul for this beautiful, heartfelt artistic work.
“The Artist” is rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture and will be available Tuesday on DVD.