Rock of Ages

Image_square_webby Susan

2012, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, et al. Directed by Adam Shankman.

Wonderfully funny, surprisingly entertaining, and gloriously filled with some of the greatest music of the late 20th century.

Movies based on Broadway musicals are usually not my first choice, and Rock of Ages was no exception. But I had already seen most everything else currently showing and I knew better than to expect my movie companion to go willingly to see Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in, wasn’t familiar with the Broadway production, wasn’t sure who was in the cast, and just needed a relaxing break from a pretty stressful week. Man, am I glad this is the one we saw!

This movie ROCKED!! It’s thin on plot – no surprises there – as it only needs enough story to string together all of the amazing music. Awesome, incredible, stupendous, marvelous music – we were singing along, dancing in our seats, and laughing ourselves silly! People of a certain age or anyone who enjoys fantastic rock music should not miss this wonderfully funny, surprisingly entertaining, and gloriously nostalgic homage to the 1980’s.

Sherrie is a sweet, young innocent who goes to L.A. hoping to make a name for herself. Upon arrival she meets Drew, a closet musician working as a bouncer at the legendary Bourbon Room. They hit it off and immediately launch into song about their mutual desires to become famous music artists. Stacee Jaxx is a bizarre cowboy rocker and enigmatic former lead singer of Arsenal, the biggest (fictional) rock band in the world. The aging Jaxx is trying to ignite a solo career hampered by too much booze and a decadent lifestyle filled with willing groupies and an unforgettable sidekick named Hey Man. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand operate the Bourbon Room and are depending on the revenue from Jaxx’s one-night performance to save the business. Jaxx’s nefarious manager, played by Paul Giamatti, is out to manipulate anyone and everyone for his own greedy purposes.

Just when Drew gets his once-in-lifetime big break, a terrible misunderstanding ruins his chances for fame, fortune, and love. Giamatti has big plans for him, but not exactly what Drew has always wanted. Brokenhearted, contemplating going back home, Sherrie discovers she has a talent that pays the bills better than waitressing ever did. Now that their paths have diverged so drastically, will the young lovers ever be reunited? Will Stacee Jaxx sober up long enough to perform on stage? Will Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand save the Bourbon Room – and finally realize what they mean to each other in the process? Will fresh-faced, dancing boy bands lip-synching sugary-sweet pop tunes replace real rockers?

There are a few other plot lines interspersed along the way providing more opportunities for even more fabulous big production numbers of the best rock-and-roll music ever. Plot is not important; as noted before, it’s all just a great reason to experience the music. With that said, regardless of the story’s predictability, it was hilarious and over-the-top F-U-N!

Brand and Baldwin were great, Giamatti was the perfect villain, Catherine Zeta-Jones was marvelous as the crusader trying to shut down the Bourbon Room, and Julianne Hough as Sherrie and Diego Boneta as Drew made it all work. Oh yes… Stacee Jaxx was portrayed by Mr. Miniature Man* himself, Tom Cruise. Of course it wasn’t any kind of stretch for Mr. MM; all he had to do was show up and be his everyday weird self. I can think of several better actors for that role…

*See my review of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol for more about Mr. MM.

Three boxes of popcornRating: Triple Serving

The Muppets

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper. Directed by James Bobin. Written by Jim Henson, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller.

Think of the coziest, happiest, sweetest, most enchanting memory of your childhood. Now triple that feeling and you are getting close to capturing the special magic that is, collectively, the Muppets. Sure, they’ve been around for a while, but in their own classically unique and ageless way, they are as fresh and relevant now as they ever have been.

I was privileged to see the new movie The Muppets with not only the other two-thirds of, but several members of a multi-generational pack that included a five-year-old, a guy in his late twenties, some thirty-somethings, and a couple of old geezers. It’s difficult to say who enjoyed it more, the five-year-old or the rest of the group. (There was some particularly noisy laughter and enjoyment emanating from a couple of the thirty-somethings, who shall remain nameless. For now.) Some of the sight gags and jokes were a little over the five-year-old’s head, but he was just as engrossed in the story as the rest of us. The Muppets’ special brand of humor still transcends age.

In this latest film from the empire that Jim Henson built, the Muppets have each gone their own way, missing the glory days of the old Muppet Show and the Muppet Theater where they performed their variety acts and welcomed a new guest host each week. The old show has lived on in syndication and on disc, capturing the imaginations of new fans with the passage of time. One of these fans in particular, Walter, is such a devoted follower of the Muppets it is his life-long dream to some day tour the Muppet theater and maybe even (gasp!) meet Kermit. Walter’s brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) decide to help Walter realize his dream and do a lot of singing about it before they hit the road to Hollywood.

When the trio arrive in L.A. and discover that the old Muppet theater is not the museum it should be, but a dilapidated, neglected, derelict, their disappointment is understandable. Then they also discover that a greedy bad guy is going to tear it down and drill for oil! This cannot be allowed to happen! The only way to save the historic home of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and all the rest of the troupe is to raise $10 million in an impossibly short time. The only chance of raising all that money in such a short time is to get the old Muppet gang back together and put on a telethon to get donations from Muppet fans. The problem is that all of the Muppets have scattered far and wide and Kermit is afraid that they are no longer interested in the old variety show. Even worse, Kermit fears that Miss Piggy will never consent to rejoining the act as she has declared that she is through with him once and for all.

Will Kermit, with Walter, Gary, and Mary’s help, be able to find all of the old gang? Will Miss Piggy reconsider and take Kermit back? Will Gary realize that Mary wants a life for the two of them that might not include Muppets on a 24/7 basis? Will the Muppets be able to find a willing guest host for the telethon? Will Walter ever realize just how much of a Muppet he is on the inside (as well as on the outside)? These questions and more are answered as the gang careens through innumerable sight gags, double entendres, hilarious situations, fantastic cameo appearances from Hollywod A-listers, and riotous jokes, not to mention some spectacular song and dance numbers. The nostalgia factor for those of us who have been long-time Muppet/Henson fans is off the charts, but even more importantly, it gets the five-year-old’s stamp of approval. To quote him: “It was awesome!

A full bucket of popcorn!Rating: Full Bucket plus some nachos with extra cheese, a box of Milk Duds, a large soda, some cotton candy, a big bag of peanut M&M’s ….