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Movie Review: Rock of Ages

Mike Finkelstein just traveled back in time to 1985. It was a wonderful age, filled with crazy club nights, rock stars, and the best music you could get your hands on! Oh, and he also got a flock of seagulls haircut…that was probably not the best choice…Here is his review of “Rock of Ages”.

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Mike Finkelstein just traveled back in time to 1985.  It was a wonderful age, filled with crazy club nights, rock stars, and the best music you could get your hands on!  Oh, and he also got a flock of seagulls haircut…that was probably not the best choice…Here is his review of “Rock of Ages”.

PLOT: The musical story of Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough), who comes to Hollywood from Kansas with dreams of becoming a singer.  Soon, her small town ways are traded in for a life of rock and roll when she goes to work at the famous Bourbon Room club and meets the perfect boy, Drew Boley (Diego Boneta).  Yet, when rock God Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) rolls into town for a supposedly free concert to save the club, everything goes haywire.  But don’t worry…there’s always time to sing “Don’t Stop Believin”.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  When an established Broadway musical makes its way to the big screen for its inevitable adaptation, it’s lucky to have a few built in support factors: a huge fan base that’ll go see the film in a second, a grouping of songs that everyone already knows, and all the money and celebrities the studio can throw at the production.  Sometimes, all of this culminates into an amazing version that everyone can agree does justice to the original source material (GREASE, CHICAGO).  Most of the time, however, it ends up turning the story we love into a superstar-filled fragment of its former self.

ROCK OF AGES tells the story of Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) a young girl from Kansas who made her way to Hollywood to fulfill her dream of becoming a singer.  When her records are stolen (obviously, everything else is intact…but someone had to grab those damn records…), she meets Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), also an aspiring singer, as well as a waiter at the famous Bourbon Room club.  With the club—and all of its kooky characters—as their background, the two fall madly in love and attempt to chase their dreams, fight off the man, and save the Bourbon Room and rock and roll as we know it.

And then there’s the man, the myth, the legend: Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise).

For anyone who has seen the stage version of “Rock of Ages”, you should be warned that Justin Theroux,
Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb took many, many liberties with the screenplay that almost seem sacrilegious.  Full scenes and interactions have changed.  Some characters (due to the star power behind them) are given much more screen time than ever before, while others are either invented or disappear entirely.  And while this may have not been too horrible if the main plot points stayed the same, we realize about halfway through that we are not watching the original “Rock of Ages” that we all loved, but the sweet, bubblegum, everyone-has-their-moment-to-redeem-themselves version.  And it’s so campy, it almost hurts.

Then, there is the issue of celebrity.  Lately, it seems like movie musicals throw in every big-named celebrity they could find (MAMMA MIA, NINE). It doesn’t matter if it’s because it causes a better draw for audiences, or because the celebrities are dying to step into the character’s shoes…doing that is the worst injustice you could do to the source material.  I left the theater not remembering one actual character’s name besides Stacee Jaxx (and that’s only because he was everywhere).  I didn’t laugh at Dennis Dupree or Lonnie…I laughed at Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand.  I didn’t cry for Sherrie…I felt horrible for Ryan Seacrest’s girlfriend.  Stick with unknowns or the original cast (a la RENT, most of HAIRSPRAY), and the story shines.  Stick with the biggest names in Hollywood, and the story takes a backseat, right next to luggage, makeup artists, and entourage.

Now, I’m not going to say that I didn’t enjoy what I was watching at all. To be honest, how could I not?  Whether it be “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Don’t Stop Believin”, or any of the other twenty hits, ROCK OF AGES brings all the classic songs we love from the 80s and throws them on a jumbo movie screen for us to jam along to!  And while it did take away from the heart of the story, it really was a blast to see Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and all the rest basically doing some glorified Hollywood karaoke.  They know what movie they’re making and go all out in every scene they’re in, making some precious moments for us to enjoy.

Oh yeah…I almost forgot…Tom f*cking Cruise.  Yes, he is one of the biggest stars on the planet.  Yes, they completely changed the role around for him.  Yes, it is the ultimate Hollywood karaoke that we all want to see…but G*d damn, the man is good.  From his ridiculous and priceless introduction all the way to the final number, Cruise steals every moment he is on screen, and completely embodies the bizarre, drugged-up rocker that is Stacee Jaxx.  You could say anything you want about his personal life, but Cruise is nothing short of extraordinary (and a pretty damn good singer, as well…), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a few nominations, and maybe even a Golden Globe down the line.

ROCK OF AGES, without a doubt, has some amazing factors going for it: a hell of a soundtrack, a wonderful following, and a star-studded cast that includes a brilliant Tom Cruise.  However, with all these great factors, the liberties taken by its writers to create a more family friendly, clean cut version steals away all the aspects that made us love the original on Broadway.  If you can’t wait to see your favorite celebs belting out the tunes of the 80s as you head bang along, then get yourself over to the theater.  If you want to see the original substance that made the show was it is, I suggest making your way over to Broadway and spending a little extra for a seat at the Helen Hayes Theater.  Whatever your preference is, just make sure you’re ready for the nostalgia.

GRADE: B

Mike’s LIKES:

1) TOM CRUISE: After seeing this and Les Grossman, I would no doubt follow Cruise into the depths of movie hell.  The man is brilliant in everything he does, and plays Stacee Jaxx just like the rock legend he should be!

2) RUSSELL BRAND AND ALEC BALDWIN: These two stole the show in every scene they’re in.  Brand has no problem just going off and letting his crazy loose, and Alec is right there with him step for step.  They had fun, and we had fun.

3) DAMN BOY BANDS: The portrait of boy bands painted near the end of the 80s was absolutely hysterical to watch.  To these rock stars, the boy bands weren’t anywhere near real music, and Sherrie’s line of “You win” just makes it all the better.

4) PAUL GIAMATTI: What a slimeball.  Besides Tom Cruise, Giamatti was the only actor in this entire film that really sunk into his character’s skin.  The guy was an evil turd of a manager, and showed why he is one of the great supporting actors of this generation.

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) GLORIFIED KARAOKE SESSION: With all the celebrities floating around, it’s hard to see the real characters in ROCK OF AGES.  Instead, what we get is a glorified karaoke session for all our favorite celebrities.  Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily a horrible thing (it’s still fun to watch), but it stinks when you realize that you missed out on the real story and characters because “Hey!  Alec Baldwin is singing!!”

2) BUBBLEGUM VERSION: Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb took many, many liberties with the screenplay that’ll make any fan of the original Broadway show angry.  Yes, it’s still the same characters and ideas, but the heart and soul is different, replaced by a cleaner, bubblegum version.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Constantine Maroulis, who originated the role of Drew Boley in the Broadway show and was nominated for the 2009 Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, plays a record executive in this film.

2) Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell were also considered to play Dennis Dupree.  Luckily, the role went to Alec Baldwin

Entertainment

REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod

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“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

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What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.

SHARE YOU PICKS BELOW! AND TWEET YOUR FAVORITES TOO!

For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.

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world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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