crap i have watched recently #9

stacee jaxxSPOILERS, KIDS!!

Rock of Ages:   Some years ago Tom Cruise had a role in the ensemble movie Magnolia which, along with Attack of the Clones, remains one of my benchmarks for movies so utterly, irredeemably bad that I should be compensated not only for the time I wasted watching them but for all the time I’ve spent regretting watching them.  I’ve never been a big fan of Cruise and his histrionic performance as a man who hates women because his father was a dick to his mother was painful to watch.  It was as if his director just said “Hey Tom, turn the crazy on full for this role, k?  thx!” and released him into the wild with a film crew.  This was not a Good Thing and it didn’t help that the movie structured around this tour de farce was itself a tumbled mess of arty philosophical bullsh…stuff.  The only thing worse was the falling frogs.   Rock of Ages isn’t like that.  Nominally a story about fresh-faced, straight-off-the-bus-from-Oklahoma Sherri and wanna-be rocker Drew, ten minutes into the film it’s more about Cruise’s aging rock star and his reclamation of his life and talent from the cesspool in which fame baptized him.  (Whoa, girl, hold those metaphors!)

In 1987 Sherri gets off the bus in Hollywood, is robbed of her prized record collection almost immediately, and meets nice-guy Drew.  Drew works as a bar-back at the legendary Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip (an obvious shout-out to the Whiskey-a-Go-Go) and Sherri starts waitressing there.  The bar is gearing up for the last  performance of the legendary Arsenal, fronted by the larger-than-life Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), who got his start at the Bourbon Room.  Jaxx is rarely seen with a shirt on or without a bevy of scantily clad women draped over him and a nearly empty bottle of booze clenched in his fist.  He speaks an incoherent stream of consciousness and oozes aggressive sexuality at anyone who comes in range.  From the first time we see him climbing out of a bed filled with groupies, wearing a look of confusion and a magnificent devil’s head codpiece, through the triumphant final concert, his portrayal of a man who has lost control of his life is spot on.  He’s profane, self-important, drunk, philosophical, selfish, oddly loyal, and outrageously talented.  Cruise does his own singing in the film (as do all the characters) and apparently buffed the shit out of himself (that photo up top is of a 50 year old man) for the role and it really paid off.  He’s very close to brilliant.   And he absolutely nails Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me“.

The rest of the cast is inoffensive.   The two leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, have no chemistry together or apart but both sing reasonably well.  Paul Giamatti is Jaxx’s slick agent and promotor.  Some blond woman I’ve seen before somewhere is the uninteresting Rolling Stone reporter and Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the evangelizing anti-rock music stock character.  Mary J. Blige is mostly wasted as the strip joint owner with a heart of gold who takes in a despondent Sherri after Drew breaks up with her.  The bit where she encourages Sherri to empower herself as a woman by becoming a pole dancer has to be seen to be believed.  (In general this movie has a very, shall we say, retrograde attitude about the place of women in the rock and roll lifestyle.)  Russell Brand brings his usual mix of bullshit and brilliance to Bourbon Room employee Lonny, a role he could play in his sleep.  Alec Baldwin is Dennis, the pudgy, long-haired dude who never grew out of his teenaged fanboy phase and who now owns the Bourbon Room.   One of the most affecting scenes in the film occurs when Dennis and Lonny finally declare their love for each other with a heartfelt rendition of “Can’t Fight This Feeling“.

The plot is negligible.  The Bourbon Room is nearly bankrupt and is relying on the door take from the Arsenal show to pay its back taxes.  The Zeta-Jones character has a history with Stacee and has vowed to close down the Bourbon.  The mayor wants to reclaim the Strip from all its tawdry glory and hand it over to developers.  Drew and Sherri hit a few roadblocks on their way to love, stardom, and big hair.    Despite the rampant sex, drugs, n’ rock and roll ethos the movie is PG-13 clean.  There’s next to no nudity (Stacee and his groupies may be jumbled up in a giant bed but they are all clothed), hardly any swearing, and no drugs at all.  Also no one smokes.  Anything.  Which, you know, is not really true to the time, but whatevs.  Primarily the movie is just very silly in that giddy, happy-endings-all-around kind of way.  It is a musical and people do burst into song and dance numbers at nearly every occasion.   Most of the songs are from the mid to late 1980s, although a few actually come from a bit later than the movie’s 1987 time frame.  For the most part, this isn’t really my kind of music.  I never listened to Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, or any of the other 1980s hair metal bands the movie pays tribute to, but there’s some Journey, Pat Benatar, and REO Speedwagon in the mix for those of us whose glory days predate that era.  Because of its focus on this narrow spectrum of rock the movie might not really appeal to many people.  However, most of the songs are recognizable Top 40 hits even to me and the cast (many of whom you will not think of as rock singers) does a creditable job with them.  Your mileage may vary.  In any case, the only real reason to see this movie is Stacee Jaxx, hair, tattoos, leather pants and all.   He drives the movie and and everyone else is just along for the ride.  He’s a force of nature, that boy.

Score:  Meh (but W00t! for Stacee)

Mad Dogs & Englishmen:  I think I’ve mentioned somewhere before that I’m not the biggest fan of concert movies but there are a few that I totally dig.  This is one of them.  I first saw it way back in the early 80’s at an art house movie theater in San Diego and to be honest, I can’t say I remember much of it other than Joe Cocker’s ungainly body contortions.  I recently had an opportunity to watch it again and it was like time travel.  This is a tour movie of the kind I don’t think you see much of anymore and the early 70s, in all their hedonistic overdrive, are exceedingly well-portrayed.  For two months in 1970 Cocker traveled with 30 or more musicians, their wives, girlfriends, kids, and a dog by bus to nearly 50 U.S. cities.   The band was assembled in a hurry over a matter of days and mostly consisted of well-respected session musicians and band members for other acts.  All of them came along because, well, it sounded like fun.  As you can imagine, it rapidly turned into a circus and when the film is not showing us amazing music, it’s giving us all sorts of looks at life on the road.  Some of these are just silly (Leon Russell leading those ubiquitous hippy hand-holding circles of the time), some are touching (kids playing with the musicians on the bus), and some are disturbing (some very young women bragging about being groupies).   There are plenty of the usual backstage shots, fans waiting in line shots, and exhausted on the bus later shots and the director is quite fond of split screens.  The clothes are fabulous (Russell again, in fantastic tophats and a sequence of unfortunate choices in trousers), the women are liberated, the kids look filthy but well-loved.   The pace must have been frantic; most of the time Cocker looks both wasted and exhausted and attempts to interview him stall in monosyllabic incoherence.  It’s a slice of a time that has probably gone for good and if nothing else you could watch it as a documentary.  But then you’d miss the point.

The real thing here is the music and where that is concerned it’s all about Joe Cocker.   Leon Russell was the band/ringleader of this glorious mess of hedonism and art but other than parading around in his finery and taking center stage for a couple of songs he more or less fades into the background (for me at least; people might disagree with that).   Rita Coolidge is utterly beautiful and just glows whenever she is on stage.  The wives and girlfriends and roadies and whoever else was hanging around served more than once as impromptu backup singers and their unpolished enthusiasm makes the whole endeavor seem like family.  But at the end, this is Joe Cocker’s gig and he is mesmerizing.  He roars, he growls, he wails, he croons, and throughout his body appears to move almost independently of anything coming out of his mouth.  The usual well-known Beatles covers are included (“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”, “With A Little Help From My Friends”, etc), but the other songs range from “Honky Tonk Woman”, to “Sticks and Stones” to “Delta Lady” to “The Letter”.   The band feels sloppy and tight at the same time, the sax wails, beautiful women in bell bottoms step up to microphones and belt out the chorus.  It’s a giant overstimulating rush of sensation and you can, if you close your eyes, almost find yourself back in the good old days.   Things aren’t like this anymore and that’s really a shame.

Score:  W00t!

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~ by gun street girl on December 10, 2012.

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