Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Film Appreciation - Long Live Rock 'n Roll

Cody Hamman and Priscilla Tuboly rock out with Rock of Ages (2012) for Film Appreciation.

In July of 2005, the jukebox musical Rock of Ages, written by Chris D'Arienzo and fuelled by the music and lyrics of over thirty '80s rock songs, made its debut at the King King club in Los Angeles. From there, the show gradually built its way up to getting on Broadway and becoming something of a stage sensation. Over the last ten years there have been long-running touring versions, it has had runs in cities all over the world, and it lasted nearly six years on Broadway.

The show's concept and success caught the attention of Warner Bros./New Line Cinema, who purchased the film rights and began developing a cinematic adaptation. The screenplay was crafted by D'Arienzo, Allan Loeb, and Justin Theroux, while the director's chair was taken over by someone New Line had previous musical success with: Hairspray 2007 director Adam Shankman.

The whole movie is like an auditory flashback to a time gone by, and it begins with an audio flashback of its own: the voice of Lonny Barnett (Russell Brand), employee at the Los Angeles club The Bourbon Room, introducing a performance by the band Arsenal, fronted by rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise).

Stacee launches into Guns N' Roses's "Paradise City" as the setting of the movie is established: 1987.

"Paradise City" is a track on Arsenal's Live at the Bourbon Room album, which is being listened to by Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough of Footloose 2011) as she rides on a bus from her home state of Oklahoma to L.A., where she hopes to make her dream of becoming a singer come true.

As the bus goes along, the music of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" starts playing on the soundtrack. Sherrie and other passengers begin to sing lines from the song.

"Sister Christian" is an awesome song. So awesome that I find it very fitting that every movie I've seen it used in - Rock of Ages, Boogie Nights, Friday the 13th 2009, The Lather Effect - had the characters singing along with it. Or in this case, doing all the singing.

It's funny... "Sister Christian" was actually a song that escaped me during the '80s. I only got to know it later on, but it didn't stop it from being one of my favorites.

Arriving in Los Angeles, Sherrie launches into the David Lee Roth song "Just Like Paradise", although she quickly finds out that this isn't exactly a paradisiacal city.

I had a dress that was so similar to the one Sherrie is wearing, and I remember practically being attached to my denim jacket back then, which was filled with colorful buttons.

Meanwhile, it's a typically hectic night at The Bourbon Room as owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), Lonny, and bar-back/aspiring singer Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) go about their business, singing Poison's "Nothin' but a Good Time". The crowd is so rowdy that one of the waitresses quits.

After witnessing a rough arrest, being serenaded by prostitutes, and passing by anti-rock protestors outside the Bourbon Room, Sherrie loses her most prized possessions when a mugger steals the suitcase containing her record collection.

Drew witnesses the robbery and attempts to intervene, but the music is lost. He and Sherrie quickly bond over their shared musical ambitions and her fascination of his place of employment... a place where this is now an open job position.

Dennis usually refuses to hire singers/musicians to work in his club, but Sherrie talks and begs her way into the job. Celebrating her hiring at a record store, Sherrie and Drew continue to bond, this time over their love of the band Arsenal. Stacee Jaxx is the singer who inspired Drew to pursue his dream, although he's held back by stage fright. He asks Sherrie to help him deal with this issue, a request that she sees through; he's really asking her out on a date. She accepts.

Drew singing Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero" in the record store is intercut with Dennis and Lonny singing Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" in Dennis's office. The duet between boss and employee ends with them coming very close to kissing. They awkwardly recover from that moment.

As Drew and Sherrie part for the night, they also have their own bit of awkwardness when they can't figure out if they're just going to hug or if there's also going to be a kiss on the cheek. She solves the problem by giving him two thumbs up instead.

That's a small moment, but actually one of my favorites in the movie.

It's very cute and looks spontaneous. I like it as well. They're both adorable, Sherrie and Drew.

Though these characters love the Bourbon Room, the place is facing trouble and its future relies on an upcoming Arsenal performance that will be the band's last before Stacee Jaxx goes solo. Unfortunately, Stacee is the most unreliable man in the industry because he has taken the "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" lifestyle so far that he seems to have completely fried his brain.

Another threat comes from those protestors seen outside, who are led by Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), wife of newly elected Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), a former friend of Dennis's whose political career is basically run by his spouse while his private life involves BDSM with a female aide. One of Whitemore's top benefactors is seeking to "clean up the strip", so Patricia is on a crusade to get the Bourbon Room shut down.

Patricia gets her followers riled up with a performance of Pat Benatar's "Hit Me with Your Best Shot."

In our Hairspray article, I mentioned that it seemed the '07 musical's filmmakers had improved on the stage show's story. I haven't seen the Rock of Ages stage show, but that seems to be the case here as well. On stage, the Bourbon Room is threatened by the plans of father and son land developers. I think it was a smart choice to replace them with Whitmore and a version of the Parents Music Resource Center group that was co-founded by Tipper Gore in 1985, the group whose condemnation of songs with "filthy" lyrical content led to the creation of "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics" labels.

I agree. And I love it how Patricia wanted the Bourbon Room to become a Benetton... they were everywhere in the '80s.

Going on a date to the Hollywood sign, Sherrie and Drew discuss their differing backgrounds - her grandmother is very supportive of her, his parents are not supportive of him - and sing Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" to/about each other (Sherrie changes the chorus to "waiting for a boy like you").

"Waiting for a Girl Like You" is one of my all-time favorites, and the whole scene is just so fitting. From Sherrie teasing her hair and wearing a Madonna-like outfit - I had an oversized sequined hair bow back then as well, only mine was white - to the parts when Drew looks straight into the camera, acting all shy and sweet. I adore the whole thing.

Drew then plays a little bit of a song he has been inspired to write since meeting Sherrie, which happens to be Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'".

A love montage ensues, showing Sherrie and Drew's deepening relationship as Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me" plays on the soundtrack. None of the characters join in on that one.

This montage is another example of how spot on they were, showing that period of time. It was very similar to the '80s scene even here in Brazil, and I had Barbie dolls that looked just like Sherrie, with in-line skates and things like that.

The montage takes the film up to the night of the Arsenal performance at the Bourbon Room. When the opening act drops out at the last minute, Sherrie talks Dennis into allowing Drew and his band Wolfgang Von Colt, which was secretly made up of fellow Bourbon Room employees, open for Arsenal. Three songs, no covers.

Although another waitress warns Sherrie that Drew being in the spotlight will ruin their relationship, as Wolfgang Von Colt takes the stage for a sound check the couple sings a mash-up of ballads expressing their love for each other: Extreme's "More Than Words" mixed with Warrant's "Heaven".

His manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) telling him that the show was supposed to be the previous night actually gets Stacee Jaxx to show up at the Bourbon Room a little early, as "Rock of Ages" by Def Leppard plays. After a discussion with Dennis about burning the club to the ground and whether or not a fire phoenix can get trapped in a structure, Stacee goes backstage, where Constance Sack (Malin Akerman), a reporter for Rolling Stone, is granted a brief interview with him.

Stacee and Dennis' first interaction is so weird, yet funny. Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin have a certain type of chemistry that works.

While his baboon Hey Man works as his private bartender, Stacee does his best to avoid answering Constance's questions and make a mockery of the interview, in her estimation hiding his loneliness and regrets behind a veil of weirdness.

The interactions between Stacee, Dennis, and Constance may be the longest stretch the movie ever goes without anyone singing, but that stretch also contains some of the best stuff in the movie, largely thanks to the performance Tom Cruise gives in his role.

By then, Stacee seems like a doped up jerk who's way too into himself. It's only later that the real Stacee Jaxx is revealed.

Constance asks her final question: "What's it like to be the Stacee Jaxx?" He responds by singing Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive".

An awed Sherrie, who fainted at first sight of the rocker, joins in with him near the end of the song.

After the song, Stacee returns backstage, where Constance continues to chip away at the wall he has put up and partially blames Paul Gill for the rut he's in. After kicking Gill out of the room, Stacee begins to open up to Constance... and they start to fall for each other.

The pair perform a duet of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" while disrobing each other.

I hope to someday sing this song to a special girl's butt, just like Stacee does to Constance's rear here.

Hrm. I wonder if that's been done in real life by anyone. Cody might be the first one to actually do it.

Constance comes to her senses and leaves, after which Sherrie enters the backstage room with a bottle of Scotch Stacee had her retrieve from his limo. As Wolfgang Von Colt takes the stage to begin the show, Drew sees Sherrie exit the room, followed by a partially nude Stacee, adjusting himself beneath his unzipped pants. Drew, of course, jumps to the conclusion that his girlfriend has just been messing around with the rock god.

This is another area where I believe the film improves on the stage show, in which Drew has been unable to fully let Sherrie know how he feels about her at this point, so she does have casual groupie sex with a version of Stacee who is a fully heartless and irredeemable character. 

I like how Sherrie never sleeps with Stacee - not even in the extended cut - in the movie, but if that was real life, chances are it probably would've happened.

Wolfgang Von Colt proceeds to perform the Twisted Sister tune "I Wanna Rock". Looking on, Paul Gill is clearly impressed.

Leaving the stage, Drew is approached by an enthusiastic and supportive Sherrie, who he harshly drives away without making a clear accusation about what he thought she was doing with Stacee, causing her to believe that being in the spotlight has already gotten to him.

Sherrie storms off and Gill stops Drew from following her. Gill has an offer for him: Fame.

Giamatti makes it clear that to make a deal with his slimy character is essentially to make a deal with the devil.

And that's the truth when dealing with the music industry. It was likely even worse back then.

By the time Arsenal has finished performing the Def Leppard song "Pour Some Sugar on Me", Sherrie and Drew are no longer Bourbon Room employees.

Stacee is usually very chill, but he really lets loose on the stage. Cruise is totally convincing fronting an '80s hair band.

His "Pour Some Sugar on Me" performance is really cool and powerful.

Dennis isn't concerned about losing two workers, he's too busy celebrating the fact that the Arsenal show has brought in a $31,203 profit for the Bourbon Room. Or so he thinks, until Gill reveals that this wasn't a freebie, Gill is taking a huge cut. So much that Dennis is actually left $6 in the hole.

The way Baldwin says "I beg your pardon" to the Gill lackey he angers is really funny.

Those guys were so big and intimidating. Scary.

Low on cash and looking for another job, Sherrie has fallen on hard times. Walking through the city in the pouring rain, she sings the Quarterflash song "Harden My Heart" and ends up catching the attention of Justice (Mary J. Blige) who runs the Venus Club for Gentlemen.

Giving Sherrie a job as one of the club's waitresses, Justice sings Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night", which merges with a continuation of "Harden My Heart".

During a montage, Paul Gill; Drew, hurting over Sherrie and signing deals with Gill; Stacee, in bed with yet another groupie; Sherrie, working at the Venus Club and still searching for an alternate job; and Justice all sing Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again".

As Dennis looks through the Bourbon Room's disheartening financial paperwork, Lonny's attempt to console him leads to the men confessing their love for one another with a duet of REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling".

Brand throws in some nice, seductive moves!

And funny faces! It looks like it was almost impossible to get Baldwin to dance... he looks so stiff, but I like his vocals.

Encouraging Sherrie to move up from waitressing to becoming one of the Venus Club's dancers, which she does, Justice begins singing the Journey song "Any Way You Want It". Sherrie eventually joins in -

I know that Justice had Sherrie's best interests at heart - mostly - but I'm sorry... saying that someone is going to get respect by being a stripper just doesn't sound right. Although those pole dancers definitely deserve respect, they do some incredibly amazing things.

- elsewhere, Gill and Drew also sing the song while having meetings with Capitol Records executives and building Drew's image. Drew is given a makeover, since the executives aren't interested in him as a rocker. They're more interested in pop and rap.

A record executive gets to sing the "Hold on!" part of the song, and as that executive is Constantine Maroulis, who played Drew in the stage show.

One of my favorite parts, hands down. I used to watch American Idol when Constantine Maroulis was a contestant, and I've always thought of him as a great singer. So, his cameo here is largely appreciated. It might only last a few seconds, but even then you can see how strong his vocals are. Flawless.

Drew reluctantly ends up in a boy band called the Z Guyeezz, who are thrown right into filming a video for their song "Undercover Love".

Unexpected cameo here: the douchey video director is popular genre filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel).

"Undercover Love" is a really silly yet catchy song. I like it so much, I have it on my computer.

With Drew calling the Z Guyeezz stuff the stupidest thing he's ever done and thinking they should at least play a gig before making a video, Gill makes a call to the Bourbon Room to pacify him. Gill makes Dennis an offer - if he allows the Bourbon Room to be the venue for Stacee Jaxx's first solo performance that night, with the Z Guyeezz as the opening act, Dennis will get 100% of the profits. This deal comes at the perfect time, because if Dennis doesn't pay his bills by midnight that night, he's losing the club.

After reading in Constance's Rolling Stone write-up that Gill took all the profits from the Arsenal show at the Bourbon Room, Stacee and Hey Man show up at Gill's office to confront him. Gill gets fired. And urinated on.

This scene is very funny. I'd be scared of Hey Man, too.

Drew and Sherrie have a chance meeting at the Hollywood sign, where they talk about the fact that their lives have fallen apart - she's a stripper, he's in a boy band. They realize that their troubles are all because of a misunderstanding. Drew wants them to try again, but Sherrie is resistant. Before she leaves Drew behind, he gives her a tape of the song he wrote for her.

Being in a boy band is worse than being a stripper? No, just no.

As they go off in their own directions, Drew and Sherrie start singing the Poison song "Every Rose Has Its Thorn". Elsewhere in the city, Justice and Stacee are also singing it.

While the song goes on, Drew returns to the record store from earlier, where he finds used records on the shelves marked "Sherrie". The thief sold Sherrie's record collection to the store, and Drew buys them back.

There are two cuts of Rock of Ages, the theatrical and an extended version. The extended version runs just under 13 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but most of the differences are just seconds and lines here and there. The biggest difference between the two versions comes at this point, where the extended cut features an extra musical sequence: Stacee goes to the Venus Club, where he sees Sherrie pole dancing to Warrant's "Cherry Pie". He pays her $10,000 for a private dance, during which the two sing the Scorpions song "Rock You Like a Hurricane".

I own the theatrical version, I didn't know until this write-up that there was an extended cut. I was able to watch the "Hurricane" scene on YouTube, though. It's pretty cool, and I loved Cruise doing the high pitched lines.

I usually watch the theatrical version, but I've seen the extended version a few times. Drew's pervy thoughts during that first date with Sherrie seem a little too much and out of place. I do like the "Hurricane" scene though.

Stacee sings to Sherrie's butt for a moment, too.

It's official... that was part of Stacee's seduction plans.

The characters converge on the Bourbon Room for the film's finale. Sherrie heads that way when her records are delivered to her with a note from Drew telling her "Don't stop believing." Stacee calls Rolling Stone looking for the "Cinderella" he's infatuated with and finds out Constance will be at the Bourbon Room covering Stacee Jaxx's solo gig... The fact that he has a gig is news to him.

The conversation between Stacee and the Rolling Stone receptionist is hilarious. It's one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Patricia and her protestors are outside the club. Lonny has a tendency to antagonize them, and now he's facing off with them, backed up by a crowd of rock fans. The two groups argue through song - the pro-rockers singing "We Built This City", countered by the anti-rockers' "We're Not Gonna Take It".

Musicians making cameos are peppered throughout the pro-rock group; there's Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, and Debbie Gibson.

Debbie Gibson is an '80s icon and all, but to include the Britney Spears of her day among this group is kind of jarring.

My thoughts exactly.

And I'm always happy to see Sebastian Bach. I was obsessed with his hair back in the late '80s/early '90s.

Patricia has previously told the story of "a friend's" traumatizing experience being a Stacee Jaxx groupie a decade earlier, but when Stacee arrives for his gig, it's fully obvious that she was that groupie. Her reunion with Stacee only lasts a few seconds, but it changes her life.

Inside the club, "No One Like You" by Scorpions on the soundtrack, Stacee wades through a sea of adoring groupies to reach Constance.

There can never be enough Scorpions songs. And "No One Like You" has always been one of my favorites.

While Stacee and Constance consummate their relationship in the men's room and Hey Man and Stacee's bodyguards deliver the cash Paul Gill cheated Dennis out of back to him, the Z Guyeezz take the stage to dance and lip sync to "Undercover Love". This type of music does not go over well with the rock fans.

Once the Guyeezz have been booed off the stage, and Hey Man has knocked Gill out for saying "Rock is dead", Sherrie takes the stage to perform a very special song. The one Drew wrote for her. "Don't Stop Believin'". Drew joins her for a duet.

Hearing the song in the men's room, Stacee has to go out and watch this performance... Cut to sometime months later, Stacee is back with Arsenal and performing "Don't Stop Believin'" for a stadium crowd that includes Dennis, Lonny, Justice and some of her dancers, and a leather-wearing Patricia. Hey Man and a very pregnant Constance watch from backstage as Stacee brings members of Wolfgang Von Colt - Drew and Sherrie - on stage to sing the song with him.

The aqua one piece and the white fringed leather jacket Sherrie is wearing are amazing. That outfit and how they were slowly starting to choose flat hair over big hair by the end of the decade is just so accurate. I love it.

The characters get a happy ending and rock endures.

I wish they'd have showed Sherrie's grandma all happy rocking out to her granddaughter on TV. Wouldn't that be cool?

It would have been a very nice touch if they had included a moment like that.

As the end credits play, Quiet Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noize" fills the soundtrack -

Another connection to a previous article: This song is from Quiet Riot's album Metal Health, the same one featured in both versions of Footloose.

I love the end credits. Reminds me of A-ha's Take On Me video. More '80s awesomeness.

- and that's followed by a reprise of "Paradise City" and a song that is a reprise in the extended cut but this is the only time it's in the theatrical cut, "Rock You Like a Hurricane".

Rock of Ages is an incredibly entertaining movie, providing good comedy, romance, and an almost nonstop barrage of some of the coolest rock songs of the '80s, performed well by a great cast. "Sister Christian", "Waiting for a Girl Like You", "I Want to Know What Love Is", "Rock You Like a Hurricane", "Don't Stop Believin'"... So many of the songs are personal favorites of mine.

The movie has it all. Some moments are carefree, and some are touching... all in right doses. Writing is great, and as always, Adam Shankman did not disappoint directing. Choreography is really good. Hair, makeup and costume design are superb.

I could go on and on about the soundtrack... it's impossible for me to pick just a few I like, since they're all pretty much long time favorites of mine. Sure, some of the versions are a little too polished, but still... it's effective, and I can't think of a single song I don't like in the movie.

I'm someone who is extremely nostalgic for the sights and sounds of the '80s, a decade I was there for most of but very young during, so this movie appeals directly to my core, especially once you mix one of my favorite actors in with the '80s setting, music, and styles.

I'm the same way when it comes to the '80s, and I actually got to experience a lot of what's shown in the movie. It did all happen when I wasn't even a decade old, but I still remember it all very well, from the sounds to the clothes and the look of things, and Rock of Ages did a great job portraying it all. I was there for the rock-to-pop transition as well. At one point during the late '80s and early '90s, I remember having cassette tapes by Skid Row, Guns N' Roses, and New Kids on the Block... and Vanilla Ice at the same time! So, I definitely can relate and appreciate being reminded of that time.

I always like watching Tom Cruise at work, and as Stacee Jaxx he delivers one of the most fun performances of his career.

Cody is extremely biased when it comes to Tom Cruise, but this time I have to agree with him. This was most definitely the best acting I've seen from Cruise in a very long time. Sure, he does the action/good guy/hero thing pretty well, but this was something else. Funny, sensitive and even deep when the role called for it. What a fortunate pairing... Tom Cruise and Stacee Jaxx. Perfect.

Everyone in the film does well in their roles, even Alec Baldwin, who has since bashed the movie. Russell Brand is great as Lonny, and I suspect a good number of his lines were improv. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are very likeable leads. Malin Akerman has good moments to play, Paul Giamatti is always dependable. But it's Cruise who is the film's overwhelming standout.

I heard that Taylor Swift was considered for the role of Sherrie, and I'm really glad that didn't come to be. Julianne Hough has everything the character calls for, and even though she's not the strongest singer by any means and she does sound a bit too chipmunky in a couple of songs, her performance as a whole did not disappoint. Diego Boneta is great... he has a certain charisma and charm, and that's what makes Drew such a lovable character.

I love Alec Baldwin in this. It's a shame he didn't seem to like the movie. Russell Brand is just funny to look at and listen to...some faces he makes, and his accent. Worked really well as Lonny.

Catherine Zeta-Jones' performance also stands out for me. She's really intense as Patricia Whitmore. I find it that I like her better in musicals than in any other genre. It just suits her, and she's really good at it.

Paul Giamatti is outstanding as Paul Gill. I usually love him in everything he's in, and this was another example.

Mary J. Blige was probably the weakest of the bunch, but that's mostly because everyone else is so great, it's hard to measure up. But I'm sure she had a lot of fun performing the songs and wearing those flashy outfits. Justice's wardrobe is incredible.

The allure of Rock of Ages was powerful enough to draw me to the first showing on its opening day, and it did not disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed the two hours I spent in the theatre that day, and continue to thoroughly enjoy the movie when rewatching it.

I wasn't lucky enough to see it on the big screen, but I've made up for it since then by watching it a bunch of times. I usually prefer movies that are 90 minutes long tops, but Rock of Ages is so great that I don't even feel like two hours have passed by... it's pure enjoyment and entertainment. I always have the greatest time watching it.

RoA didn't do all that well at the box office, which is unfortunate. If the general audience shared my tastes and enthusiasm for the '80s, it would have been one of the highest grossing movies of 2012. Even though it didn't achieve that honor, it's still a movie that deserves to be seen, because it is a delight to watch.

My dad, who's Mr. Action Movies Only, and positively can't stand musicals, loves this movie. So much so, that he asked me for a copy. So, I still can't believe RoA wasn't a huge success. It hardly matters though, because to me, it is. I've watched it so many times that by now I know most of the lines by heart. Speaking of heart, it's what the movie has... heart and soul for miles. Very inspired effort by all of those involved, and one of my favorites for sure.


  1. Your enthusiasm for Rock of Ages makes this post a joy to read. Unfortunately, I can't share in that enthusiasm. This one did nothing for me. I wholly agree that Tom Cruise and the soundtrack are both great and CZJ is mostly great (didn't like her big number). The rest of the cast left me cold as did the writing. All that said, I have no problem watching this again because that music makes it toe-tapping fun.

    1. Thanks for reading, it's always nice to know that our enthusiasm for movies makes the articles enjoyable even when readers aren't fans of the movies we're discussing. I definitely recommend watching Rock of Ages again. Put it on, have fun, and let it rock you like a hurricane.

      - Cody