The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

It rocked for ages

with 33 comments

Have you ever seen a rock concert scene in a movie that actually looked convincing?

I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I think most efforts to convey live rock music magic on the screen fail. There’s something missing. The scene presence of an actor has a different flavor to the one of a rock artist. And the dynamic, the electric bond, between the musicians and the audience, doesn’t come through.

I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I always cringe a little inside when it’s time to go to the club for a live concert. But I manage to forgive it, because it’s “only” TV and the music part isn’t the main point of the series.

However in a movie that is all about live performance of rock music, it’s harder to overlook it.

Worst movie of the year?
The upcoming musical film Rock of Ages, starring Tom Cruise as a rock star in the 80s, suffers from this and a lot of other problems. As a matter of fact it’s so bad that it will be a strong competitor for the title “worst movie of the year.”

There are so many things here to hate and I can’t decide which is worst.

Is it the “plot” or whatever you should call the thin glue that is supposed to hold the song- and dance-numbers together?

Is it the clichéd view on the 80s, which I suppose is easier to buy into if you’re too young to have your own memories of that time?

Or is it the complete lack of heart, soul and originality?

Deep down all movies are commercial enterprises, but there usually is something more to it as well: someone who wants to tell a story, convey something, inspire us, enlighten us, entertain us or touch us. But all this movie wants is our money.

I can imagine how someone noticed the success of Mamma Mia, deciding to have a go at it. The concept is resembling: pop and rock hits that work both for a young audience and for their parents who loved them back in the days and are up for a nostalgic kick. And a few well known actors as some extra spice.

This time we have hits from the 80s instead of Abba I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’m so grumpy about this (while Mamma Mia is a guilty pleasure that always puts me in a good mood). Most of them – cheesy, sugar dripping ballades – just aren’t my cup of tea. I don’t like them and I never have, not even back in the days.

A few upbeat rock style songs hold up better. It’s the kind of music I love to listen to if I’m in a training class or that I love to sing along with if I’m doing a long-way drive and need to stay awake. But the question is: why should I listen to okish covers of “I love rock’n’roll” and I wanna rock in a theatre there are much better clips available with Joan Jett and Twisted Sister at Youtube?

Goes on for ages
I admit that I was a little bit amused and had a happy smile on my face for the first fifteen minutes. There’s something about musicals that has that effect on me. I love the absurdity of it, the enormous suspension of suppression of disbelief that takes place when someone for the first time opens her mouth and bursts into a song number.

But the sensation of the novelty wore off soon enough and after one hour I was bored out of my mind and couldn’t believe that I would have to sit through another hour of rubbish. The title would have made much more sense if they had changed the “of” into a “for”.

I threw a glance at my husband. He didn’t seem quite as happy as I was; if anything he appeared to enjoy himself pretty much. Asked about it afterwards he explained it: he wasn’t there at all. He was so appalled and bored that he had tuned out after 15 minutes and spent the remaining 1 hr 45 minutes thinking back to and replaying a western film, Duel in the Sun, which he had watched the other night. It was the only way to endure it.

Is there anything good at all about this movie? As a matter of fact there is. Tom Cruise. He does his roll very well. Not that I expected any less of him. But his performance alone is not enough to motivate you to see this film unless you’re a 80s music devotee, in which case I suppose you might enjoy it.

What to see instead
If you want to see a good rock musical on film, I would rather recommend Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It has a soul, it has a meaning, it has characters you really care about. It has much better music, which is written originally for the musical, not just tired cover versions. The difference is that Hedwig IS rock’n’roll while Rock of Ages just imitates it.

I can imagine that Rock of Ages works pretty well as a musical on stage with an audience consisting of groups of friends who are enjoying themselves after having a couple of drink. I can imagine that people would sing along and clap their hands and have a good time. But as a movie experience Rock of ages sucks and that’s what I told the theatre staff as I left the cinema and they asked us for our opinions since I had attended a free prescreening.

But who knows, perhaps I’m just not in the target audience for this film. Maybe it will be a box office hit anyway, thanks to the star power of Tom Cruise and an inexplicable wave of nostalgia for the 80s. I heard a teenage girl saying loud and clearly: “This was the BEST movie I’ve ever seen”.

Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, US, 2012) My rating: 1,5/5

Written by Jessica

June 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Rock of Ages

33 Responses

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  1. I cringed when I saw the trailer for this film. I’m sorry but I hate 80s rock. It’s cheesy and overplayed. Yet, I’d rather endure a lifetime of that awful music in comparison to today’s mainstream music.

    Steven Flores

    June 11, 2012 at 1:25 am

    • True. I didn’t mind the trailer all that much. A few minutes of this is fun, especially when Tom Cruise is on screen. The problem is that this lasted two hours. It felt like five.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 7:36 am

  2. Great post. Shame this one didn’t quite work out. Yours is the second negative review I’ve read for Rock of Ages, and I’ve only read two! haha

    fernandorafael

    June 11, 2012 at 7:11 am

    • Thanks Fernando.. It will be interesting to see the other reactions rolling in as it comes up. I won’t swear on that everyone will hate it as much as I do. Perhaps Cruise is enough to pull a few people over. As of me he did a nice try but it couldn’t overshadow the shortcomings in every other area.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 7:38 am

  3. Ouch. I hope I end up liking it better than you do. I’ve been looking forward to it for quite some time, so seeing negative reviews is a bit disheartening.

    Emil

    June 11, 2012 at 8:13 am

    • Bring your best mood and you might like it. I think it might help to be in company with fans of 80s music and have a couple of drinks before you head off.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 8:19 am

  4. “Have you ever seen a rock concert scene in a movie that actually looked convincing?”

    No. Convincing would be me standing at the back (or to the side) with some friends, bouncing around, the music being very loud (especially bass) and not being able to see too much of the stage at all. But the atmosphere being totally electric, in a way that live events can do but films can’t. So I know exactly what you mean about the stage presence.

    spinks

    June 11, 2012 at 8:22 am

    • It would be insanely hard to fake I think. Basically I think you can’t just set up a scene like any else and ask the crowd to act as if they’re at a rock concert. You need to arrange a proper rock concert that you include in the film.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 8:47 am

  5. Ooh Missus!! That is the worst score for a film I have ever seen. I wanted to see this one actually, as it looks like a sing along classic… ah well.

    • Don’t let me talk you out of it by all means. Perhaps it’s just me being a bit grumpy and picky about it. Singing along would definitely improve it. But do you think it will happen spontaneously as it plays in theatres? I doubt it.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

  6. Hmm… I am an 80s music devotee, so I was hoping this would be pretty fun. Granted, I wasn’t expecting anything more than fluff from it. Sorry to hear you came out so disappointed in it… I’ll probably let some other reviews come in before I make my decision on whether to see it or not, since you state you aren’t a big fan of most of the music (and something like that could weigh the movie down severely, I suspect) but it’s not a good sign for the film when the first review I read is so negative. Glad you think Tom Cruise did well, though; I’ve always liked him as an actor.

    As for whether a rock concert movie ever looks convincing… probably not. At least, barring the trivial answers of documentaries of actual concerts. I think it largely comes down to the necessities of the film format clashing with the realities of a concert experience. The need to have an outward plot limits the amount of time for the concert… leading to a “concert” that has only two or three songs, tops, while a real rock concert can meet or exceed the length of a feature film. There’s never an intermission, or a segment where one of the musicians just solos while the others go get a drink (I saw Alice Cooper in concert a few years ago, and each of his musicians got their own 5 or 10 minute solo piece.) Outside of Spinal Tap, there are never any glitches or errors in the production. And the camera’s perspective is always on the star of the film (whether their character is the musician or an audience member), and never from an angle where an actual audience member would be looking at it from. I’ve been in the first few rows of a couple concerts, and even from there, it’s not the same as what you get in a film, because the camera is usually shooting on the stage itself. There are all these things adding to the unreality of the situation. Granted, this really isn’t any different from most things shown in movies — it’s just that concerts are something a lot of people in the audience will have experienced, and will have an emotional connection to, so the unreality is more easily noticed.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    June 11, 2012 at 9:50 am

    • Thank you for your very good observations about why it’s so hard to make concert scenes in movies feel real! You’re absolutely right about how we see it from a different perspective when we’re participating. (which means that you sometimes don’t see very much of the scene, you just see a lot of backs and heads why feeling the music in your body. Probably won’t be that good on a screen.)

      If you’re a true fan of music of that era you shouldn’t let me talk you out of watching it.
      I’ll be looking forward to see more reviews about it. I have no idea if I’ll end up as the only hater of this movie or if there will be an entire bunch of us.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

      • Yeah, that’s the double-edged sword of being an early reviewer… nobody else’s opinion to taint yours, and yet you don’t know if you’re going to be the lone holdout or not (which can sometimes be a little awkward.) But hey, at least since your husband tuned out, you already know you’re not totally alone.

        I’ll definitely keep an eye out for other reviews. I know I’m not the only “headbanger” among the Lammies, so I should be able to find out what someone with similar musical tastes thinks.

        Morgan R. Lewis

        June 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm

        • I’m more of a punk rocker than a headbanger, but I’m pretty fine with the more rockish songs in this film. The problem is that there are soooo many boring overly sweet ballades that I don’t even recognize since I’ve never liked that kind of generic mainstream radio music.

          Jessica

          June 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm

  7. I just can’t stomach Tom Cruise anymore. In anything.

    I second the motion for Hedwig, though. That movie is a great ride.

    Bristal

    June 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

    • Then you have no reason at all to endure this film. Glad you’re another Hedwig fan!

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

  8. I haven’t seen Rock of Ages, so I can’t comment on that; but Hedwig and the Angr Inch is my favorite rock musical from the past couple decades. Glad to see you recommended it.

    Dave Enkosky

    June 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

  9. have you seen the broadway show? Maybe then you’ll understand the story and the show is nearly 3 hours long.

    rita

    June 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    • No I haven’t. I guess I’m excused living in Sweden. 🙂 But I’d sure love to.
      I honestly didn’t have any problem at all to understand the story. The problem is that it’s soooo thin and predictable. This can still work in a live performance I think, but in a movie without the scene presence it just get’s boring.

      Oh and I saw that Hollywood Reporter just had thair review up and they’re not enthusiastic either. And as opposed to me, they’ve seen the musical and can compare.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm

  10. If you want to see a good movie about rock & roll, I can advise Almost Famous. It’s a wonderful movie that has rock & roll flowing through its veins. Plus it’s in the 70’s which everyone knows is a better time for rock & roll than the 80’s!

    carrandas

    June 11, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    • I haven’t seen that, but I’ve heard it mentioned before. I need to check it out. Is the 70s or 80s better? I’m not sure. I grew up with postpunk/new wave in the early 80s, which I still like a lot. But it’s not that kind of music in this movie. They focused on more cheesy stuff. Yak.

      Jessica

      June 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      • I was just kidding. And you’re right, I grew up in the 90’s, one one side you have the mainstream music (spice girls!), on the other hand you have the not-so-mainstream. And I’m still listening to Radiohead, Nirvana and a ton of other music.

        carrandas

        June 11, 2012 at 9:15 pm

        • Yeah. Considering I’ve never really liked this kind of music, it’s no wonder I didn’t care for it that much. Hedwig on the other hand is hugely Bowie inspired, which is much more of my liking.

          Jessica

          June 11, 2012 at 10:14 pm

  11. Uh oh. I will admit that as a kid who grew up in the 80’s I was excited to see this one. A lot of the music they’ll feature here certainly is cheesy and probably awful but, you know, when you listen to it on the radio during your summers off from grade school and it accompanies so many of your youthful memories you tend to over-romanticize it.

    But you make a good point about listening to the covers of these songs. When I hear Tom Cruise sing it in the preview, it’s just not as exciting as the real thing.

    Nick

    June 12, 2012 at 3:04 am

    • Again: I might not be a part of the targent audience for this one. But yes, there is this issue why you should listen to inferior covers in the first place. Is it fun just because it’s Tom Cruise? On the other hand, as I admitted in the post, I loved Mamma Mia, with all the false singing. So I’m very inconsistent.

      Jessica

      June 12, 2012 at 7:40 am

  12. I love 80s music in that guilty pleasure sort of way but this …. the trailer for this alone made me cringe. I’ll probably quite happily see Rock of Ages on stage in the West End but I honestly don’t see the purpose of musical movies when they are just remakes of the stage versions. You get something totally different out of seeing the songs performed live on stage and seeing the spectacle.

    So Tom Cruise was the best thing? He was the one who made me cringe most in the trailer!

    Jaina

    June 12, 2012 at 10:08 am

    • I can imagine this was fina on stage but yeah… It’s not a movie I’d recommend unless you’re a super fan of 80s music and never misses a movie staring Tom Cruise.

      Tom Cruise was fine. He looked a little… overaged and somewhat pathetic as this rockstar in “sexy” metal thongs and bare chest. But again: that was in the role so it worked. I couldn’t help thinking of the similarities to his person as well. Here he was a rock star who seemed to be a bit stuck in a version of his person that he wasn’t entirely happy with. A bit of a freak. And isn’t that what he is with his scientology mumbo jumbo?
      The role kind of suited him for that reason.

      Cruise what was bumbed this up from a 0 to a 1,5. But there’s still a long way to go to get a good movie.

      Jessica

      June 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm

  13. I don’t really expect it to be a good movie, but I love all the music involved in it so it might work better for me. I’m not going to pay top dollar, but I’m sure it will be a semi-enjoyable night out at the multiplex.

    impsndcnma

    June 14, 2012 at 12:52 am

    • Yeah. Just make sure to be in the right mood for it. Bring a couple of enthusiastic friends. That probably helps.

      Jessica

      June 14, 2012 at 8:12 am

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