Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rock of the Ages

Back in the late ‘80’s to early '90's, a good buddy and I would often hit local independent music stores like Rhino Records and Amoeba Music on weekends.  While he’s on his neverending quest to add to his impressive Beatles bootleg LP collection, I would be in one of my Metallica or Iron Maiden t's browsing the hard rock/heavy metal section.  Ah, good times.

When I heard that the Tony-nominated Broadway homage to ‘80’s rock was being made into a movie a la’ ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Chicago,’ I couldn’t be happier.  Back in March, I caught ‘Rock of Ages’ during its last week at the Pantages and had an absolute blast, so I knew that I’d probably enjoy the movie too.  And the movie certainly did not disappoint.  Many critics panned RoA for being a ‘jukebox musical’ because the story took a backseat to the songs, but they’re missing the point here because in RoA the story fits around the songs, not the other way around.

In ‘Glee’ fashion, RoA is ambitious and covered songs from popular ‘80s acts like Journey,’ ‘Poison,’ ‘Scorpion,’ and ‘Foreigner’ among others too numerous to mention.  For what it’s worth, RoA is the story of a small town girl (Julianne Hough) from Oklahoma seeking fame and fortune in LA who fell in love with an aspiring young rocker (Diego Boneta) at a popular but seedy club on the Sunset Strip called the Viper, ahem, Bourbon Room.  But even more than that, it’s also an uplifting story of redemption for ‘tortured’ rock star Stacee Jaxx, played to near perfection by Tom Cruise, who somehow managed to channel Axl Rose and Jim Morrison in equal measure for the role.  Alec Baldwin as club owner Dennis Dupree and Russell Brand as his partner Lonny provided welcome comic relief, and Catherine Zeta-Jones was also great as the mayor’s wife who embarked on a moral crusade to shut down the 'sinful' Bourbon Room because she had an axe to grind with Stacee Jaxx.

But who cares about the flimsy story, because it’s the songs that truly shined.  All the rock hits featured  in the movie are fun and infectious, taking us on a trip down memory lane, and Adam Shankman (‘Hairspray’) did an admirable job in the big screen adaptation.  While the musical was a true ensemble affair with no particular character standing out, this movie needed someone to ground it, and that someone came in the form of Tom Cruise, whose Stacee Jaxx is a much more pivotal character in the movie than in the musical.  If you like ‘80’s glam rock/hair metal, this movie is not to be missed.

RoA may never attain the cult stature of a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ but it more than stands on its own as an entertaining rock musical comedy romp through the '80's suitable for ages 13 and up.

8 out of 10


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

3 Encapsulated Reviews

Because I don’t feel like writing full-length reviews, I’m going to deviate from my usual modus operandi this time with these 'quick and dirty' reviews of the three movies I saw over the last couple of weekends.  And no graphics this time.  Sorry.

Prometheus: Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated "is-it-or-isn’t-it?" prequel to ‘Alien’ is a visually stunning classic sci-fi movie.  33 years after Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley found to her dismay that “in space, no one can hear you scream,” we finally got some answers as to where these hell-spawned horrors came from.  It is too bad the movie also proved to be unsatisfying.  A group of scientists discover that humans were created or engineered by ‘gods,’ who later sought to destroy their wonderful creations with the perfectly bioengineered weapon.  While I can overlook the fact that many of these so-called scientists behaved irrationally and immaturely in the movie, what I can’t forgive is that the movie resorted to its Deus ex machina device only to deprive us the answer to its central question.  Such conceit!  Noomi Rapace was passable as the main scientist, even though she’s not quite as kickass as Sigourney Weaver.  Instead of killing aliens she had to get one out of her.  Michael Fassbender as the wondrously curious android David provided the movie with its only memorable character.

Snow White and the Huntsman:  The second of two ‘Snow White’ movies released this year, SWATH took a much darker spin on this classic Disney tale.  Kristen Stewart played the titular princess whose father was murdered by the Evil Queen (deliciously played by Charlize Theron) to usurp the throne.  Forced to seek refuge in the dark forest after being declared the ‘fairest of them all’ by the Mirror and hunted by the EQ, Snow allied herself with the oft-drunken Huntsman (played by Chris Hemsworth) and seven dwarves to win back what’s rightfully hers.  Billed as what ‘Snow White’ might have been like if penned by J.R.R. Tolkien, SWATH sought to make Kristen Stewart look like Joan of Ark.  But lacking the charisma and gravitas for such a role, she only managed to look bland and sulking throughout the movie.  And Edward fans can rejoice!  There is zero chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth.  Even Charlize Theron couldn’t save this movie from being a complete disaster.

MIB3:  The latest installment of the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones-starred buddy sci-fi comedy took us back in time to 1969.  An evil alien named Boris the Animal escaped from a maximum security penitentiary on the moon and traveled back in time to kill Agent K (Jones), so Agent J (Smith) must go back in time to prevent that from happening.  Can you do the time warp?  Josh Brolin, as the young K, played the role with gusto.  Though MIB3 is as campy and cheesy as you might expect, it is also fun for the whole family with a charm that's hard to resist.  MIB3 went a long way in explaining how K ‘chose’ J as his protegĂ© in the first movie.  As much as I would like to call this just another shameless sequel, it’s actually not too shabby.

Prometheus - 7 out of 10
SWATH - 4 out of 10
MIB3 - 7 out of 10

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A 'Chernobyl' Diary better left unwritten

If ever there is a prime example of Hollywood’s tendency to latch onto the latest gimmick and shamelessly milk it for all its worth, ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is it. This ‘found footage’ docudrama is the most recent offering in a genre first made popular by ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ then rejuvenated in the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise. With its low production cost and unknown actors, found footage films don’t have to gross nearly as much as CG- and star-heavy blockbusters to realize a good profit, and unfortunately suckers like me keep giving them reasons to make more.

Conceived by Oren Peli, who gave us ‘Paranormal Activity,’ ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is set in the town of Pripyat near the infamous site of a nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986, when a group of young friends decided that taking an ‘extreme tour’ of the place wouldn’t be a bad idea. Of course, when they reach the doomed town strange things started to happen and they find that they are in fact ‘not alone,’ despite the assurances of their ex-Russian Spetznaz tour guide. What was supposed to be a fun and adventure-filled trip soon turned out to be their worst nightmare (big surprise!) and threatened their very lives.

I usually am very forgiving when it comes to ‘found footage’ films but, quite simply, ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is uninspired, tepid and entirely devoid of tension and suspense, with stock characters whose fate you just don’t care for. The radiation-altered mutants (spoiler you say, really, what else did you expect?) who terrorize our group of young twenty-somethings are anything but scary, as were the cheap scares the movie employed to make us jump, like the bear that crashed through an abandoned house in one of the early scenes. Even the ‘big reveal’ at the end hinting at a government conspiracy wasn’t much of a twist at all, since I guessed it when the group was stopped at the checkpoint before they entered the town. Take my advice and save yourself the money on this one.

2 out of 10 (and that’s being generous)


Battleship Sunk!

When they announced this movie based on a popular Milton-Bradley game I used to play as a kid last year, I rolled my eyes in that most ‘gimme a break!’ tradition. I mean, how the heck are they going to make a 2-hour movie out of a game based on luck and educated guesses? Then I heard that Michael Bay is the producer and saw the preview and thought: “Ohhh-kay, Transformers on the high seas, think I’ll pass on this one.” You see, I’m not a fan of Michael Bay, whose stupid but hugely successful movies like ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Transformers” totally baffle me. Why do people watch this kind of crap and give him more reasons to make even more stupid movies with big explosions but no brains?
Okay, so I went to see ‘Battleship’ against my better judgment because: (a) Michael Bay didn’t direct it and (b) I kinda like Peter Berg, the actor-turned-director whose other movies like ‘Hancock’ and ‘The Kingdom’were alright.  Well, this movie might as well have been directed by Michael Bay, because it’s got his stamp all over it and I simply can’t tell the difference. ‘Battleship’ is every bit as overblown, loud and stupid as every other Michael Bay movie, with the notable exception of the opening scene, in which our protagonist (played by John Carter’s Taylor Kitsch) went to great lengths to obtain a chicken burrito to woo a blond hottie who happened to be the daughter of the admiral played by Liam Neeson.
"Battleship’ is an alien-invasion movie with lots of cool gee-wiz special FX and mind-numbing action. Given the amount of carnage and damage inflicted by the sinister lizard-like aliens in this movie with their superior military technology, it is unfathomable to me how little blood was shed. I suppose it was to maintain the movie’s PG-13 rating, but the movie seemed too much like a ‘game’ (no pun intended) to me. There are a few scenes in the movie that beggars belief, even in the context of an alien invasion movie, such as when a battleship museum was brought out of mothballs in record  time so that it can get into point blank range to fire a devastating broadside salvo with its 16-inch guns against an alien ship. In one laughable scene, our  hero fired a .50-caliber sniper rifle to open a hole in the ‘window’ of the alien ship because the aliens are sensitive to sunlight (they’re lizards right?).
Just as ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ was essentially a two-hour recruiting commercial for the US Marines, ‘Battleship’ aims to do the same for the US Navy.  Boy oh boy I just can’t wait to see what the USAF has in store when its own alien invasion commercial comes out.
5 out of 10