Friday, June 15, 2012

Rock of Ages [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

It didn't take altogether long, maybe 10 minutes into Rock of Ages (directed by Adam Shankman, screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo and Adam Loeb based the stageplay musical by Chris D'Arienzo) for me to realize what I'd be up against in writing review for this film.  

Parents, while this movie is rated PG-13 and I doubt that a lot of you would necessarily want to be sit through this movie with your teens as they watch it, _at minimum_ the film should require "a discussion at home" and I honestly believe that an R-rating or even NC-17 rating would be more appropriate.  I say this because, at minimum, there are multiple scenes in which one or another young woman bends down on her knees before a guy and starts undoing his pants..., and I simply can't imagine ANY REASON why a high school kid (or younger ...) ought to see that without knowledge (and at minimum comment) by his/her parents.  This kind of stuff does annoy me: If one's going to make an adult oriented movie, then just rate it appropriately (An R-rating would allow teens to see the movie WITH CONSENT OF THEIR PARENTS).  To play games with the ratings is at minimum childish and at worst it is misguided/evil.  At minimum, the film-makers will be contributing to a new epidemic of herpes and quite possibly worse.   And were those "bending down and unbuttoning his pants" scenes somehow "necessary" to the plot?  Of course not ... So unless the film-makers have made investments in some new herpes medications, I can't imagine any possible reason for including them in the film.  But there we are ...

But that is really just the most childish, stupid (and frankly, utterly needless) problem with the film.  The larger problem concerns what I recently wrote about in my recent review of the kids' movie Madagascar 3, that American film-makers (both on the Right and on the Left) seem to assume that they _need_ to include "villains" in their stories.  And while Rock of Ages does in good part lampooning the otherwise wild excesses of the "Rock God" era of the 1980s (that characterization alone ought to give a serious believing Catholic/Christian pause, as NO ONE short of God ought to receive the kind of adulation given to Rock Stars at that time, or Ball Players or Movie Stars, political figures like Hitler, Stalin, Peron, Quadafi or Assad before or since), it was clear from about 5-10 minutes into this movie that the "villains du jour" were going to be "Conservative Christians." 

These Conservative Christian "villains" in the current story are led in the story by the 40-something Patricia Whitmore (played by Catherine Zeta Jones) wife of a _somewhat_ surprisingly (to non-Los Angelinos) conservative mayor of Los Angeles, Mike Whitmore (played by Bryan Cranston). [Note to non-Los Angelinos both "red" and "blue" -- the mayor of Los Angeles from 1993-2001 was Republican Richard Riordan, which wouldn't surprise ANYONE once one stops and realizes that to be a mayor of any major city in the world requires that one balance many competing forces, not the least of which, of course, is business.  An excellent if somewhat controversial book on "the making of Los Angeles" is Mike Davis' City of Quartz (Amazon) ...] 

Returning to the story ... Now there is clearly _some_ historical truth to the film's presenting of Conservative Christians as opponents to "Rock and Roll."  HOWEVER, ANY Catholic/Christian born pretty much ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD since the end of World War II would know that this history has _never been_ the whole story or practice.  Otherwise, tens of millions of us Catholics/Christians in the United States and hundreds of millions of us across the globe would have to somehow get rid of our record albums/CDs (if anyone still actually as LPs ;-) and/or erase good chunks of the memories on our i-pods / mp3 players.  And I for one have no interest at all in getting rid of my "Pink Floyd" or "Creedence tapes" ;-) ;-) to submit to some a tired, half-baked narrative that was, at best, only partly true.  And I doubt any practicing Catholic here at Annunciata or frankly anywhere else would want to do that either.

Consider simply, that in the late 1980s when I was a grad student studying at USC in Los Angeles, both Eddie Van Halen and his wife, actress, Valerie Bertinelli (both Catholic ... ;-) spent an afternoon happily at the USC Catholic Center to get a respite from the crush of the fans/paparazzi that awaited them at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium a block or two away where the Grammy Awards were being held that year.  Then REO Speedwagon and Styx (both huge bands in the late 1970s-1980s) were from the "ethnic" parts of Chicago.  At least some of these people were Catholic and it's simply unfair/wrong to assume that _all of them_ (even to this day) would have lost their faith.  Even Rock Stars are _more_ than merely "Rock Stars."  Finally, the parish where I'm stationed at, Annunciata on Chicago's South East Side, has come to be known for its annual Annunciata Fest which hosts a fair number of really good "up and coming" 2nd and 3rd tier bands.  The bands that play here may not be great now, but 5-10 years from now?  Who knows?  And I'm positive that the experiences of musicians from REO Speedwagon and/or Styx would have been similar.

So then the film presents a false and stupid battle.  Yes, there will always be extremists in both the United States and across the world who'll want to "ban" "Rock and Roll."  On the other hand, there will always be extremists who'll think it perfectly okay / normal, to "bite the head off of a live bat" as rocker Ozzy Osborne apparently did back in the early 1980s (when I was going to college).  And there will be young people who will be hurt and/or even die as a result of some of the excesses of the "rock and roll" culture.

So then, what to make of the rest of the film?  If it was Rated-R or even perhaps NC-17 (thus bravely choosing to be an honest movie) and it shelved the needless "fight" with "Conservative Christians" the film still could have been a very nice "nostalgia piece" perhaps even musical about Sherrie Christian (played by talented singer/dancer Julianne Hough) arriving to LA from Oklahoma meeting Drew Boley (played by Diego Boneta) "from South Detroit" at a bar on LA's Sunset Strip called "The Bourbon."  (Yes, Sherrie's name and Drew's coming from "South Detroit" come from a song by the 1980s rock group Journey called "Don't Stop Believing" and the The Doors started at real bar on the Sunset Strip called The Whiskey).   And the rest of the cast, the stoned/lost/searching Rock God "Stacey Jaxx" (played masterfully by Tom Cruise and modeled after Axel Rose of Guns 'N Roses and perhaps Jim Morrison of The Doors) as well as the Rolling Stone reporter Constance (Malin Akerman), the slimy agent/record producer Paul Gill (played by Paul Giamatti) and the Bourbon's owner Dennis DuPree (played by Alec Baldwin) and his sidekick/assistant Lonny (played by Russell Brand) could have all remained in a less "we want to play childish games with the censors and needlessly bash 'conservative Christians'" version of the story.  It would have worked AND FRANKLY WOULD HAVE WORKED BETTER than this confused version. 

But it seems that Hollywood screenwriters seem to continue to believe that they need villains in their stories (preferably of a straw-man variety) and the Rock and Roll culture appears to remain fundamentally childish.

Honestly folks, this film would have been much better if you just went for an R-rated (or even NC-17 rated) picture and frankly "grew-up" ;-).

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  1. I appreciate the point you are making about the decadence that the rock sex life presents, but the images here are certainly no worse than you will see on most television shows targeted at this audience, and they do do not get the sort of restrictive rating you suggest. It is a good waring however. Other than the Conservative label, the comparison of Riordan to the Mayor in this piece is thin. Mayor Riordan was a fiscal conservative and generally did not get engaged in the culture wars. L.A. lucked out in getting him probably only because of the riots the year before the election and his "tough Enough to Bring L.A. back" campaign. I also thought the Catherine Zeta Jones character was a crude stereotype and an easy storytelling shortcut. Glad to read another Trojan's comments. Fight On.

    1. Hi Richard, thanks very much for your comments! And good to hear from a USC Trojan as well! I know that it would perhaps be silly to give the movie as it stands an R or NC-17 rating. However, I just think that the story itself is basically an R or NC-17 rated story. Trying to bend the story to a PG-13 rating produced this confused concoction that we see. Then, I'm sorry if they filmmakers are going to taking it upon themselves to give young people instruction on how to give a __ (kneel down in front of the guy, then take down his pants ...) then PARENTS SHOULD KNOW THAT ahead of time and IMHO the film should be given an R-rating right then and there to force parental discussion and consent. Otherwise the MPAA rating system becomes a complete joke.

      Then I agree with you Riordan wasn't that bad, just that it seems to surprise people who've never lived in L.A. that the people of Los Angeles would elect a Republican mayor at all (even though New York City as liberal as it is, has elected a string of Republican mayors as well).

      Finally, I agree that the Catherine Zeta Jones character was a lazy plot device. I honestly think that the story would have been _much better_ without needlessly bringing in the straw man of "the Christian right." It served no purpose other than needlessly putting-down part of the film's potential customer base.

      All in all, I found the film _needlessly_ juvenile.