Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
Blogfight: Rock of Ages
My mind was set on skipping Rock of Ages altogether until Lickona brought out the bomb. He went so far as calling Julianne Hough and Tom Cruise a "plasticine nymphoid" and "ageless nostalgia bot," respectively.
Then this headline caught my attention: "Tom Cruise Has Worst Opening Weekend Ever with Rock of Ages" That's like saying come and get me!
A part of me wanted to see just how bad it was, but with the public staying away in droves and the majority of critics standing in line to shoot it down, something told me this might be another under-appreciated gem like Earth Girls are Easy or Showgirls. (Ultimately it's not as satirically satisfying as either.)
Monday night a friend and I, both banking on making an early exit, had the big Grossmont pretty much to ourselves. The presentation was as good as any I've witnessed in San Diego: 60-foot of screen and not so much as a centimeter out of focus.
Why the initial resistance to the picture? As much as I enjoyed director Adam Shankman's previous musical, Hairspray, this looked like an excuse to cash in on Glee. It's bad enough that 80% of the pictures that play theatres nowadays look like television, does they have to feel like it, too?
Imagine my delight to find the film's main source of inspiration not a small-screen variety show (or Coyote Ugly), but the venerable early-'60's rock musical, Bye, Bye Birdie. I half-expected Catherine Zeta-Jones' Heavy Metal-hating mayor's wife to break into a chorus of "We Hate You Stacee."
The story is pure corn: Midwestern girl moves to Hollywood to strike it big only to wind up working in a strip club before picking herself up by the bootstraps and hitting it big. There's not a drop of reality in this thing, something the filmmakers take great delight in. The strippers at the PG-13 dive Hough is forced to disrobe at wear more clothes than the patrons.
No matter the decade, both of Shankman's films tap into that period's bouncy ebullience just moments before the Kennedy assassination robbed America of its innocence. There's a strong knowledge of and affection for the era and it shows in the background detail that's lovingly revealed with every sleek move of the camera.
And what camerawork! Not since The Sorcerer's Apprentice, also photographed by Bojan Bazelli (King of New York, The Rapture, The Ring) has a film with this deadly a script looked so good. Add to it production designer Jon Hutman's remarkable studio mock-up of Sunset Blvd c.1987 and it's unlikely you'll find a better looking picture this year.
Sparkling cinematography and luxuriant production design do not a masterwork make, and while Rock of Ages is far from high art, the film confirmed the ethereal beauty of sets constructed of plaster and wood, not pixels and avars.
My eyes were so occupied that the dreadful parade of '80's songs barely registered. Cruise hands in another confident star performance. How much of a stretch is it to switch from egotistical movie star to self-absorbed rock god?
Bonus points: Raccoon-tailed Paul Giamati steals every scene he's in and the entire pace kicks into overdrive when a professional singer (Mary J. Blige) enters the picture.
Remember what I just wrote next time one of you decides to chastise me with, "Can't you ever sit back and enjoy a film without ripping it apart?" I give you Rock of Ages.
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