Five for Five: 'Rock of Ages'

Five reasons for and against seeing the new musical starring a shirtless Tom Cruise (reason #1 either way).

Is it an eagerly anticipated glam-fest of popular celebrities singing popular rock and roll anthems, or is Rock of Ages a desperate, lazy attempt to capitalize on a lack of musicals in the summer season by throwing money at good actors to perform a less than stellar story? I don’t know. No one does yet. But these are the factors, for and against, that will make or break the film in quality and at the box office.


#1: Tom Cruise

He’s the fastest man alive. He’s fearless in the face of danger. He has the need for speed, and now, the need to sing. I honestly haven’t met someone who isn’t out-of-their-mind excited to see Maverick strip down to his leather pants and belt out some good ol’ Guns N' Roses. Much like his Oscar-worthy appearance in Tropic Thunder as the irritable Len Grossman, hard rocker Stacee Jaxx has numerous possibilities for absolute hilarity. And Tom doesn’t miss when aiming for a laugh.

#2: That Soundtrack...

In an age where the movie soundtrack has gone the route of eight-track tapes, here is a legitimate reason to walk to your local record store and pick up a hard copy, preferably on vinyl, of your favorite A-list celebs doing million-dollar karaoke cuts of your favorite A-list '80s rockers.

Tom Cruise singing Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”.

Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand belting out “Can’t Fight This Feeling”.

Catherine Zeta-Jones giving it her best in “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.

What could you possibly spend your $10 on that would give you more lasting memories than these and 17 other new classics?

#3: Justin Theroux

No, he’s not another crooner. Theroux, more famous for his acting (and dating Jennifer Aniston) than his writing, co-wrote the script for Rock of Ages with Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb. Why does this make a difference? Well, Mr. Theroux also co-wrote a little movie called Tropic Thunder. This has to put his name in the plus column considering Rock of Ages lives and dies with Tom Cruise’s performance. If Theroux made Stacee Jaxx as fun and juicy a role as he did Len Grossman, then we’re in for a special treat this summer.

#4: That Cast...

OK, we’ve all seen Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand drunkenly singing “I Love Rock & Roll” at the end of the Rock of Ages trailer a thousand times. A few sharp-eyed viewers may have even spotted Paul Giamatti, always a good choice, and Julianne Hough, ditto but for different reasons (#Footloose20114EVA!). What surprised me, though, was who DOESN’T pop up in any of the trailers or TV spots.

For instance, who knew Bryan Cranston was playing Mayor Mike Whitmore? And why aren’t they pointing out McGruber himself, Will Forte, also has a significant part? Throw in Malin Akerman, Diego Boneta, and Mary J. Blige and holy crap! This is one helluva cast!


I really can’t stress how important Tom is to this film, but you probably already know that.


#1: Tom Cruise

So, a former friend actually told me he didn’t like Tom Cruise. I laughed and then he said he was serious. A few minutes later, after he regained consciousness, he told me it was because he went on some crazy rant about Scientology and aliens and gay zappers (or something, I wasn’t really listening). Apparently, his distaste for a man who believes aliens exist and deserve to be worshiped overcame his love for great movies. Even more shocking is that he’s not the only person in the world who feels this way.

Sometime in 2005, people turned on Tom. His box office suffered. His pride had to be hurt. It was a dark time for America. Now, though, it appears the man is back on the A-list thanks to the megahit Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and a savvy, below-the-radar turn in the aforementioned Tropic Thunder. While I would like to think everyone has forgiven and forgotten, I know many haven’t. So if you’re still drinking the haterade, there’s nothing I can do or say to make you enjoy Rock of Ages. He’s the movie, like it or not.

#2: Those Trailers...

I don’t know why it’s so hard to cut a decent trailer for this film – with that cast and that music it should be a simple process. Show a celeb singing, cut to another one, cut to one dancing, cut to one drinking, cut to one shirtless, overlay with music. Done.

Yet the brainiacs at Warner Bros. (a company I usually find to be quite great at their job) have succeeded in doing only one thing -- amping up the anticipation for Stacee Jaxx’s assuredly stellar set. The drums beat. The lights dim. Then we get a quick peak at the man, the myth, the legend: The Jaxx.

Everything else is crap. They managed to make Alec Baldwin not funny, and have relegated the renegade Russell Brand to silent sidekick duties. Their young stars aren’t given any time to look sexy and cool -- seriously, what is with the shot of Hough spraying her hair into a There’s Something About Mary-esque mega curl? If it weren’t for Maverick coming to the rescue, Rock of Ages would be a hookless entry in a packed summer lineup.

#3: The Plot...

Anyone who sees the trailers for Rock of Ages will think it’s a Muppets save-the-dying-theater-with-one-last-rock-show kind of movie. Stacee Jaxx is coming! Protesters are lining up against him! It’s rock n’ roll vs. Christianity!

Well, it may be all that, but here’s the official synopsis courtesy of

“A small town girl and a city boy meet on the Sunset Strip, while pursuing their Hollywood dreams.”

Other than being a rather brilliant allusion to Journey’s best song, that doesn’t sound like anything I saw in the TV spots. It also doesn’t sound like a movie I want to see, especially when the city boy is Diego Boneta. Here’s hoping that’s the lameduck plot pushed aside by some sterling supporting performances. That, or Hough is Footloose-level sexy.

#4: That Cast...

This is not one helluva cast. Alec Baldwin? Great actor on television, but lately he’s done nothing but stinkers on the big screen (It’s Complicated, My Best Friend’s Girl, Fun With Dick and Jane). Russell Brand has an even worse track record. I’ll give you Paul Giamatti, but his look in this movie reminds me more of Duplicity than Sideways.

The rest are barely worthy of being said. Who the hell is Julianne Hough other than a hottie wasting her body on Ryan Seacrest (oh, it hurts to say this)? Malin Akerman? Diego Boneta? Will “MacGruber” Forte? They’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel now. Good thing they paid Bryan Cranston enough to up the cast’s merit. Let’s face it, Tom Cruise makes this a blockbuster. The rest are filler for the posters.

#5: This Photo...

Your immediate reaction to this photo, good or bad, yes or no, “ROCK OUT!” or “Gross,” should tell you all you need to know about Rock of Ages. Let your conscience be your guide. But hopefully I’ll see you there. Tom Cruise!


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.