Monday, October 8, 2012

Rock of Ages, Extended Edition on Blu-ray

I have to say, I am a byproduct in part of the 70’s and 80’s. I was there, lived it as a music fan, band manager and musician. In 1988 according to Poll Star and Performance Magazine I managed a band that had the top grossing show in North America in Theaters 2,500 and under, the Judd’s were #2 and The Blue Oyster Cult was #3. We also had 3 of the top 10 shows in Clubs 800 and under, the largest of all markets. The Rob Cassels Band, (AKA as Rob Castles) competed with such mega groups as The Alarm, Poison, and others in this market. Why do I mention these things? Rock of Ages starring an ensemble cast including Tom Cruise is a movie about the 80’s and the desire for one, through the craziness of their surroundings, to find ones self. In that regard, I think I am uniquely qualified to comment on this movie. To screen this movie I sat down with my wife to watch it. She thought it was okay, she is more of a folk music gal, but me, well as a guy who lived through this life, I absolutely loved it and found myself singing along to virtually every song in the movie and that was one heck of a lot of songs because this movie is loaded with a lot of things, among which mostly is the music I loved and experienced while living through this time. I think I have seen live, the original band playing the original songs from almost every song in the movie. Some of the bands I either met, worked with, or on a couple of occasions, helped promote in one way or another. Like I said, a little more than qualified.

Rock of Ages starts off with a small town girl, Sherrie Christian, played by Julianne Hough known for her role as a dancer on Dancing With The Stars television show. She is also known for the numerous rumored affairs and the reality that she is a pretty decent country singer. Sherrie played by Julianne is a small town girl from Tulsa Oklahoma. She is seeking notoriety and to move into the music world, she is also searching for her own dreams and her identity. Unfortunately this is one of the only areas of weakness for the movie. The character is from Tulsa a well known area for music, especially in the area of Country Music, but not just country, many a rock legend has also come out of the Tulsa area. As one familiar with the music industry, for me this was the only let down in authenticity. In real life most people from Tulsa in the music industry will get their start in the Tulsa area. Of course this isn’t about real life, it is a movie that recognizes the absurdity of the era and has no reservation in making fun of that era in a respectful and fun way. It is just a bit of research I would have rather the movie recognized.

In Sherrie’s journey she ends up at the Sunset Strip in the Los Angeles Hollywood area where she meets Drew Boley played by relative unknown in America, Diego Boneta. Drew works at The Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip. This area was historically notorious for their role in influencing the music scene in America in the 1980’s. It is here that Sherrie starts her own journey in her self discovery, but in her journey others are also involved. They live in a world based on fun, excess, and above all, partying. There are also those who would attempt to stop the influence of the Rock N Roll world on their own perfect little worlds. We see this especially in the part played by Catherine Zeta-Jones as she plays the part of Patricia Whitmore the wife of the cities mayor. She is a religious fanatic who seeks to use her religion as a means of stopping the long haired, drug using, enjoying life Rock N Rollers.

When Rock of Ages first came out I wanted to see the movie, I remember being involved in various discussions critical of the movie because of its depiction of Christians in particular. As a member of a well received Christian Band who was among the first to start playing non Christian venues with non Christian artists, I know well from first hand experience of how many Christians were opposed to Rock N Roll. Even being protested at times and seeing the plight of many a Christian who had issues with not just the artists playing the music but the form of Rock N Roll in general. While I think the movie goes to the extreme on the Christian protests, I don’t think it is done in an unfair way as the movie goes to a comedic extreme in virtually every area of the film. To deny the reality of Christian protest in this area though would be to not recognize the reality of the time. Not only were top notch non Christian bands being attacked, so were many bands who had professed a faith in the same God as those protesting the musical style. While Rock of Ages may take this to one extreme, the reality is, it happened and in some ways not quite so far fetched. I recall our band playing with the popular band Steppenwolf on one of many occasions. There wasn’t only a measure of protest but those turning their backs on us because we didn’t ‘proselytize’ the members of the band the way they thought we should, by giving them ‘Christian’ tracts. Little did they know the impact we would have by just being friends with members of the bands we worked with, but also the fans of those bands. In Rock of Ages we see the hypocrisy of some played out in this sense but I don’t like spoilers so won’t give any more away than that.

Patricia Whitmore is married to the mayor, played by Bryan Cranston. Cranston known for his multi Emmy award winning role in Breaking Bad is hilarious in the few scenes he has in the movie, especially one spanking scene which has to be seen to be understood. His expressions alone will make one laugh out loud. Whitmore along with the support of her husband begin their crusade to bring down The Bourbon and the Sunset Strip in general. What they don’t realize is that their attempt to attack Rock N Roll is their own attempt to discover their true self.

I have to comment on the technical merit of this movie. The outstanding choreography from Mia Michales from Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance is absolutely outstanding. What she does with non dancers in their movement is incredible. Of course her friend Adam Shankman, a colleague from those television shows and an exceptional director in his own right also contributes wonderfully. These two clearly know how to work with actors and non dancers to get them to feel comfortable in situations outside of their comfort zone. In their ability to get the actors outside of their comfort zone and have fun with it, the viewer is impacted and touched, at least those of us who lived in the era and enjoyed it so much. Shankman is also smart in getting experts in their fields, like Brett Michaels from the band Poison to coach Tom Cruise who plays legend Stacee Jaxx in the film. Jaxx a fictional character takes on the persona of many a rock star from the 80’s. For those who have read my writings in the past, you know I am not a huge fan of Cruise as a person but I have a great deal of admiration for him as an actor. Hopefully he is getting his own personal life straightened out and as I watched the movie I honestly couldn’t help but feel some sorrow for Cruise as a human being. Knowing what many of us are now hearing about him I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason he was so good in this part was due to the possibility of the ways the part mirrored his life. The movie transcends some expectation in that at least this part was played so well by Cruise that I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for the real man to go beyond the character we see on screen.

Other technical merits of Rock of Ages I must comment on deal with the reality of the costuming and hair styles and yes, I had the very same types of dress and style but I must also comment on the set design, music, and I could go on. I was even more amazed when I found out the film was filmed in Miami Florida as opposed to Los Angeles. The research, effort and replication of the 80’s were spot on, in all areas.

We also see growth in the characters in the film. While there is a tad bit of a let down in the storyline we still see appropriate character development. Music is the mechanism and tool used to tell most of the story and a lot of it is used. We also see a great deal of change and challenges in the characters. Among the most enjoyable for me was watching the development of two characters in particular, Russell Brand who is at his absolute best as he plays the part of Lonnie and his co worker and owner of the Bourbon Room, Dennis Dupree played by Alec Baldwin. Both bring out real laughter but there is one dance duet musical scene that is among the funniest most enjoyable scenes I have seen. If there was ever perfect casting, casting these two off of each other was a beautiful thing to see.

When I think of Rock of Ages I think of a dual meaning. I think obviously of the song by Def Leppard, Rock of Ages, but I also think of my faith and the one I worship, often called the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ. My faith perspective teaches me of the reality of being made in a unique and wonderful way, created with special gifts, talents and abilities. The personal nature of my faith tells me of the desire God has for each of us to discover who we are and be the best we can be at what we were created to do. In many ways, Rock of Ages the movie also addresses those concepts as we see each character on their own search and discovery to be who they are. So often in life and our faith experience there are those who would have us be something other than what we were created to do and be who we were created to be. In that journey and search we must discover these things. They are the same types of struggles, weaknesses, faults and victories we see in the movie. In that way, Rock of Ages the movie can be a parable of our own spiritual journey.

I found myself loving this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of musicals and it needs to be made clear, that said, this is definitely a musical based on the hit Broadway Musical by the same name. I like the fact that much of the music used is used in a performance format, but even the music used outside of a performance or concert format is enjoyable, it plays like a long music video from the old MTV days and I as an old rocker who still has much of his hair, still enjoys the jeans and leather had fun with this movie. I don’t think it is for everyone, there will be those who for one reason or another can’t deal with it, they either don’t like the music of the era, although I do think the story is timeless, or they may have some moral hang up of watching Tom Cruise as the sleazy character he is in the movie. Of course I think that is sad as his character is also searching for truth and redemption which is a reflection on the desires and search of many people in this world. That said, I still really had a blast watching and singing along (quite well with a few songs I may add) the myriad of songs of the era.

There is one last note I have to mention, that is the special features. WOW! Those who read my reviews know of my mention of things related to DVD’s including the special features. This product is LOADED! The visual and sound quality transfer on Blu-ray is EXCEPTIONAL and as much as I loved this movie, I have to say, I love the Special Features MORE! There are interviews with the original band members who performed the songs, the visit of Def Leppard to the set to see Tom Cruise perform their song was outstanding but there is more, from Brett Michaels to members of other bands sharing their thoughts on the movie and the era. In the Blu-ray Package I reviewed, there is the Blu-ray, a Digital Download, and the standard DVD. This is one of those movies that so good in the Blu-ray version that for the rare few who still don’t own a Blu-ray player or a high definition television, it makes the purchase worthwhile.

Now how should I conclude this one, I think it is actually quite simple, hopefully Rock of Ages not only brings on great memories and fun music but it also inspires you to discover yourself. That journey many of us were on in the 80’s continues on for new generations despite current musical taste. For me and my generation this is a wonderful experience as it brings back our memories, other generations also know of the great music as it is still drawing young crowds and getting more than its fair share of air play on the radio stations around the world. There is more to the 80’s than we maybe realized at the time. Those hair styles, clothes and attitudes were a part of a search for identity for a generation. I lived it, loved it, and am keeping my own tradition alive. Now to the rest of you… ROCK ON!

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