June 17th, 2012

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Rock of Ages

I cannot remember the last time I was so excited for a movie. I dont just mean giddy enough to go to a midnight or opening day, maybe reading an EW article or two on it. I'm talking LOTR level excitement. Obsessing over any and every story/tidbit/article I can find. Eating up all the casting news, following the team on Twitter during filming, counting down til watching it (yup, there's an app for that, I chose the one aptly named "The Final Countdown"). I'd taken one of my best friends to see the stage show last year as an incredibly belated bday present right around when the movie was announced, so we shared in the obsession together, trading FB posts on the subject. I decided there was no possible way I could see the movie without him, so I found some cheap bus tickets and made my way down to NYC. It meant a slightly later movie time that would have been ideal, but it also meant we got to see it at the (pseudo)IMAX. ROCK!!

For about a day or so before, I started to get the Fanboys premonition of "Dude, what if this movie sucks". Reviews were starting to come out, and none of them were particularly favorable. I told myself that they simply didnt get it. This is not a movie that's meant for critics, it's meant for the fans. One way or another, I knew I'd have a total blast, whether it was because the movie was awesome or awesomely bad. You know what, as blatantly flawed as the movie was, I did have a total \m/ blast.

As to be expected, there were quite a few deviations from the stage show. Simply from comparing the soundtrack list and the casting, I knew of a bunch of them ahead of time. The two core plotlines were still there. You have the love story between Drew and Sherrie, and you have the quest to save The Bourbon Room. The details on the Drew/Sherrie story were a bit different (the reason for the misunderstanding, the relationship with Stacee Jaxx, how it all worked out) but effectively the same arc. For the other side, the big difference was in the characters. You still had Stacee Jaxx playing his last gig with his band Arsenal as a last ditch effort to save the Bouron Room. In the stage show, you have Hertz and his son Franz who are trying to buy the Sunset Strip so they can build housing or some such. Franz is conflicted about the whole thing and has a side plot with Regina, the mayor's former secretary and now leader of the revolution. In the movie, the mayor and his wife Patricia lead a religious-based protest against Stacee Jaxx as a cover to try and buy the strip. Bouron Room owner Dennis and his sidekick Lonny have pretty much the same thing going between the two stories, which I was incredibly psyched about. Lonny narrates the show, and in the musical he takes on some of what had been Regina's role in leading the rebellion, so that was a good way to bring him back in to focus. The biggest deviation was in Stacee Jaxx's character arc. I wont spoil the movie, but he ended up in a very different place than he does in the show.

There were also some differences in the music, mostly to accomodate for the changes in the story. The mashups were a bit less complex in the movie, and a few things were moved around or reassigned, but still the same general feel of rock and awesome. The one thing I'm unsure about is the Def Leppard factor. They're my favorite band of the genre, but didnt allow any of their music in the show, even though it's \m/ named after one of their songs. Although the soundtrack and the show's intro include a fun jab at them as ar esult. Now in the movie, they've rerecorded two of their songs ("Rock of Ages" plays during Stacee Jaxx's intro and "Bringing on the Hearbreak" plays when we first see the Venus Club) and of course, there's all the hype about Tom Cruise singing their biggest hit "Pour Some Sugar On Me". As the girl who showed up to the movie wearing a knock off of the iconic Def Leppard union jack shirt, I'm happy they finally became a part of this, but still a lil upset with them for holding out at the start. Oh and I still dont quite understand how "Oh Sherrie" didn't make it into the movie. It was one of the most important moments in the show. Or maybe Diego Boneta just couldnt nail that song as well as Constantine could.

Anyways enough of all the back story and such. I will be the first to admit, the movie did have some pretty glaring flaws to the casual observer. It was way over the top cheesey. The balance between music and dialogue was a bit off (I'd have preferred more of the former). Much of the acting was charicature, and the plot was rather contrived (both the original story and the rewrites). The beginning of what would have been the second act dragged just like it does in the stage version. Did I care about any of that? Hell no!

This movie is aimed at a very certain audience, an audience that loves this style of music. Let's face it, it's not exactly the most quality genre. But I still eat it up. If you think hair metal is bad, how could you possibly expect to enjoy a movie that revolves around it. If you love hair metal, how could you NOT love a movie that's filled to the brim with that stuff? We were bouncing in our seats, lip synching along with every word (I vow to play this at my next bday movie night, so that an actual sing a long can ensue), laughing at all of the silly inside jokes, grabbing onto each other during favorite songs or highly anticipated scenes, just having the ultimate movie experience. And yes, the experience was an incredible lot like the experience we had on Broadway last year. That was kinda the point, yeah?

What also got me incredibly incredibly jazzed was the cast. I was particularly excited about Alec Baldwin and Russel Brand. I could not have picked a more perfect Dennis and Lonny, and I could hardly contain myself waiting for their big duet. It's my favorite scene in both mediums, and Lonny is my fave character in both as well, and both delivered all I was expecting and more. As a DWTS fan, I was excited for Julianne Hough (due in large part to the fact that I'm completely in love with her brother Derek). Hollywood still hasn't quite figured out how to best incorporate her dancing skillz into her films, but she was a beautiful and sweet Sherrie. Newcomer Diego Boneta had the right combination of puppy dog and rocker needed for Drew, and I was happy that our original Drew, Constantine Maroulis at least got a small cameo. Catherine Zeta-Jones took a little getting used to. I thought she was a bit too much (which is saying something for this movie) at first, but she eventually eased into it. Trying too hard, maybe? Mary J Blige was also inspired casting as Justice Charlier, but her character felt kinda shoe-horned into this movie. Yeah she kinda just shows up on stage too, but she's incorporated a bit better. I had been annoyed at first at how much Malin Ackerman was being included in the publicity since the reporter only has one scene in the movie (and is double cast from the ensemble girls). I'd noticed they'd given her what had been one of Sherrie's songs, but they actually expanded her role fairly significantly (as I'd mentioned earlier about Stacee Jaxx having a new arc).

And of course, the one getting all the attention, Mr Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx. In all honesty, I dont know that his name would have come to mind when thinking about casting, but HOLY \M/ was he beyond perfect. I've always defended him. Yes, he may seem to be a bit of a crazy IRL, but I've always been convinced of his skills as an actor. Everyone who worked on this movie gushed about what a sweet and genuine person he was to work with. I'm in awe of how commited he was to his performance and how he spot on nailed all of it. He was hilarious as the has been rocker, barely holding on to any shred of sanity or coherence, but on the converse side, he added so much depth and even heart to the role. There was some skepticism about his singing, but he nailed that too. Word on the street is he was the most commited cast member in that aspect. He trained for months with a vocal coach, who he had around during filming even though the filming was lip synched. Def Leppard was on hand when he filmed "Sugar" and he got thumbs up seal of approval from Joe Elliot. I know that Cruise being in this movie is kind of the tipping point that will make some people decide that they dont want to see this, but he's really the opposite. He's the movie's strongest asset.

To use the phrase that I'm sure every review of this film will include, Rock of Ages ain't "nothin' but a good time". Certainly not for everyone, but abso-\m/-lutely for me. I kinda think I need to get myself to the theater again since I was rocking out so intensely, I missed things here and there. We who are about to rock salute you!

Rock of Ages - \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/
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Edward Norton: Leaves of Grass

Can you honestly say you've heard of this movie before today? If I wasn't such an avid Edward Norton fan, I prolly wouldnt have. It only played in a limited run in select theaters. Didnt even make it to Boston. Such a shame because it's a great one. I actually considred it for my bday movie night this past year, but then Tucker & Dale came along.

In Leaves of Grass, Edward Norton plays a dual role of completely unidentical twins Brady and Bill. One is a clean cut college professor, the other is a redneck pot dealer. The good brothers gets lured into a scheme to rescue the other from some trouble with the drug lords, and it all goes to hell from there. Dark with a touch of comedy, just the way I like it.

The two characters couldnt be any more different, and Norton masterfully turns up the contrast. Between the accents, the attitudes, the appearances, all different. But not too different. He's still able to establish a familial relationship, with himself. Kind of a very fine line when you think about it. He needs to create two characters that are distinct enough that you can keep them separate, but same enough that you still believe they're family. Even if it's estranged family.