The “Rock of Ages” movie: All Swagger, No Soul

rock of ages julianneROCK OF AGES 

D: Adam Shankman  
S: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cranston  

To adapt a stage musical into a movie is a Herculean undertaking. It’s not easy to expand what’s originally envisioned for a limited space (that being the stage) into an infinitely broader landscape. Yes, there are successful transitions, like West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), but apart from those aforementioned classics, many musicals flunked in their foray to film. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) was campy, Yentl (1983) was a drag, and Rent (2006) was a forgettable mixed bag. Behold the latest addition to the latter category.

Written by Chris D’Arienzo, Rock of Ages has been captivating Broadway audiences since 2005 for its stage re-working of hits from the hair-metal era. For this film adaptation, D’Arienzo collaborated with writers Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb in retelling the story of small town girl Sherrie falling in love with big city boy Drew, who shares her dreams of stardom. Playing that pivotal star-crossed pair in this version are newcomers Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. To complete the formula, director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) had to conjure up a star-studded cast to portray the rest. And conjure them he did.

Alec Baldwin plays Dennis Dupree, owner of the struggling Bourbon Room where both Drew and Sherrie work. To save his joint, Dennis booked legendary rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) for one last gig with his band Arsenal before embarking on a solo career. However, Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones), the wife of the city’s philandering mayor (Bryan Cranston), has publicly waged a holy war against rock music and wants the club closed. Subplots ensue. Stacee’s scumbag of a manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) plans to swindle the ticket sales from Dennis and his right hand Lonny (Russell Brand).  Along the way, Sherrie falls under the wing of strip club owner Justice (Mary J. Blige), and Stacee starts cavorting with Rolling Stone correspondent Constance Sack (Malin Akerman). All this set to music incessantly mangled in karaoke and Glee.

On paper, it all seems like irresistible sing-along fare. But an enthusiastic cast can only do so much with wafer-thin, stereotypical characters. While such characterization flaws didn’t deduct from Rock of Ages’ charm on stage, they are all magnified in this bloated, 123-minute film version. Cruise is all swagger, but almost soulless as Jaxx, while Boneta and Hough (fresh out of her stint in Dancing With the Stars) are more sticky-sweet than sincere.

There’s still entertainment value to spare from the nostalgic 80s soundtrack; Zeta Jones’ take on Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot is the particular humdinger. Then again, you can probably get the same amount of enjoyment from whipping up your own playlist. With not much else at its core, this cinematic rendering of Rock of Ages staggers – unbecoming for a tribute to music’s most exuberant genre.

RATING: 2.0 out of 5

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Kayo na ang Pag-Ibig

I couldn’t be any prouder. Ikaw Ang Pag-Ibig, our mentor Marilou Diaz-Abaya‘s latest film, scored 13 nominations for the upcoming 9th Golden Screen Awards which is scheduled to take place on March 24.

It’s the first motion picture I had any form of involvement with. Production was ongoing when I began my short film course in MDAFI, so we were required to drop by on set every now and then. (Blink and you’ll miss my “cameo” in the cocktail scene. Haha!)

Anyway, here are the nominations:

*Best Motion Picture – Drama

*Best Actress in a Lead Role – Drama (Ina Feleo)

*Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama (Marvin Agustin and Nonie Buencamino)

*Best Director (Marilou Diaz-Abaya)

*Best Original Screenplay (Marilou Diaz-Abaya)

*Best Story (Marilou Diaz-Abaya)

*Best Cinematography (David Abaya)

*Best Editing (Tara Illenberger)

*Best Production Design (Maricris Silva, Giselle Andres and Tess Rivera) 

*Best Sound (Albert Michael Idioma)

*Best Musical Score (Nonong Buencamino)

*Best Original Song (“Ikaw ang Pag-Ibig”, music and lyrics by Ogie Alcasid, performed by Carol Banawa)

To those who haven’t seen it yet, Ikaw Ang Pag-Ibig is undoubtably Direk Marilou’s most personal film to date. It’s a story about love uniting a torn family and spirituality triumphing over adversity. This is definitely a film you have to see with you’re loved ones.

Direk always told us that accolades don’t really matter. For her, as long as you continue telling stories and doing what you love most, you’re already sharing a part of yourself to the world. And every labor of love you produce is already a tiny step towards leaving your legacy.

But of course, it’s still an honor to be recognized for something you poured your heart and soul into. So to see my colleagues who worked hard to bring this together be included in that list is indeed such a thrill. My heartfelt congrats goes to everyone involved in this production. Best of luck on the 24th!

See the full list of nominees here.

My Oscar 2012 Wish List

Oscar season is here again, and for the first time ever, I made an effort to watch all the Best Picture nominees before the big day. This also means that, for the first time, I have a clearer idea of who to pick in making my annual Academy Award winners wish list.

Of course, the roster of nominees isn’t without its share of eyebrow-raising upsets: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is up for Best Picture and Transformers: Dark of the Moon scored more nominations than Drive and The Ides of March combined.

Then again, I’m sure the ceremonies will also have its share of niceties.

For one thing, Billy Crystal‘s doing hosting duties again this year. After that sleepwalking misfire perpetuated by Anne Hathaway and James Franco last year, the Academy probably thought “The hell with trying to be hip, let’s revert to formula”. Although part of me wishes they still hired somebody new to liven up the proceedings, we all know Crystal (himself an 11th hour replacement for Eddie Murphy) is a pro.

We’ll see how he fares in his 9th hosting stint tomorrow.

Without further ado, here’s my Oscar 2012 Wish List:

BEST PICTURE

Odds are in favor of The Artist to win this major prize. In an era where CGI is slowly turning into the life-blood of movie-making, much to the ire of cinema purists, comes this exuberant, predominantly silent, black and white film that pays homage to talking cinema’s humble beginnings. By boldly ignoring the demands of commercialism and choosing instead to strip down to the basics of pure storytelling, this film doesn’t just define a generation. It celebrates the magic of cinema, which is what the Oscars is should be all about.

Strong Contenders: Of course, don’t dismiss Hugo as a potential upset. This dazzling 3D fantasy was a huge leap of faith for Martin Scorcese. And just like The Artist, it’s also a celebration of cinema’s glorious past. Same goes for Alexander Payne‘s The Descendants, a well-written, beautifully-acted drama that evokes every possible emotion. Tate Taylor‘s heart-wrenching The Help and Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris are also strong possibilities but both are handicapped by lack of nominations for directing and acting, respectively. And then, there’s also Moneyball. This riveting underdog tale is the first baseball movie to be up for Best Picture since 1989’s Field of Dreams. But if it scores a surprise homerun, it would be a major upset.

LONG SHOTS: Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life is visually stunning, but it divided audiences when it was released. Some liked the pseudo-experimental narrative, while others simply wondered what the hell was going on. War Horse galloped its way into moviegoers’ hearts, but is still far from being on the same league as Steven Spielberg‘s more iconic films. And speaking of not being on the same league, it still baffles us how Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close arguably Stephen Daldry‘s most manipulative work to date, managed to score a nod. Never, since 1963’s Cleopatra, has a Best Picture nominee been this critically lambasted and reviled. While it boasts a powerhouse cast, the film (just like the book it was based on) polarized audiences for trivializing a recent world tragedy. A dubious adjunct to the roster, at the expense of other worthy candidates like Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  

BEST DIRECTOR

Martin Scorsese surprised us this year. Known for his dark, violent, film-noiric past work, the director ventured out of his element and gave us something akin to a bedtime story. It was a risk that yielded incredible results and could very well earn the Oscar late-bloomer his second award.

Strong Contenders: Michel Hazanavicius transported us back to cinema’s glorious past, Alexander Payne tugged on our heartstrings, and Woody Allen reminded us of his heydayAny of those three directors would be worthy usurpers.

Long Shot: Terence Malick deserves brownie points for pushing the boundaries last year, but there’s possible backlash from Tree of Life haters should the Academy dare to give him the award.

BEST ACTOR 

For a performance that barely required him to speak, French actor Jean Dujardin was charming as faded silent film star George Valentin. I’m looking forward to him doing an impromptu tap dance onstage if he wins.

Close Contenders: Then again, don’t count George Clooney out just yet. His subtle but powerful portrayal of long-suffering patriarch Matt King in The Descendants earned him his fair share of praise and accolades. Ditto for Brad Pitt in Moneyball. And there’s also Gary Oldman, scoring his first (HIS FIRST!) Oscar nod for his chilling performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. What took you so long, Academy?

Long Shot: Demian Bichir came out of nowhere and overtook pre-Oscar favorites Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Gosling. Judging from the few clips I saw from A Better Life, his performance was impressive. But was he worth the gamble?

BEST ACTRESS 

It’s a tight race between two nominees this year, but I’m rooting for Viola Davis for her fiery portrayal of Aibileen Clark in The Help. In a role that could’ve easily been dismissed as stereotypical and cliche, Ms. Davis displayed incredible depth in her performance and brought a new perspective on the plight of African American maids during the 1960s. However, if Viola wins, it would be by a hair. Because…

Legitimate Threat: …she is up against the acting juggernaut who is Meryl Streep. Oddsmakers say her chameleon performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady might finally break her 29-year Oscar drought. It’s not exactly her best role in recent years, so whether or not it happens, depends on how generous the Academy is feeling.

Nominated at the Wrong Year: Kudos to Glenn Close and Michelle Williams (second nomination for 2 years in a row!) for their astounding performances in Albert Nobbs and My Week With Marilyn, respectively, but the race is just too tight this year. Same with Rooney Mara who was ethereally creepy in her breakthrough performance in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.  So many talents, I don’t even know who to blame for bumping off  Tilda Swinton.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

My guess is that Christopher Plummer will make history this year as the oldest-ever winner in this category. His performance as a closeted gay father in Beginners had been an odds-on favorite since the start of the awards season. If he wins, he’d be the happiest octogenarian in the planet.

(Not so) Close contenders: Plummer’s most formidable challenger in this race (at least in my opinion) is Kenneth Brannagh as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn. Comedian Jonah Hill is a fresh, youthful addition to the roster for his serious turn in Moneyball, but still far from winning. Max von Sydow was one of the few redeeming factors in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. And he played a mute!

Long Shot:  I’m not sure if Nick Nolte (Warrior) was a worthy replacement for Albert Brooks‘ villainous turn in Drive.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Like Plummer, Octavia Spencer is the clear odds-on favorite to clinch this award as the feisty Minny Jackson in The HelpExpect yet another memorable, emotional speech if she wins. Oh, and chocolate pies for everybody! (To those who’ve seen the movie: I’m kidding, I’m kidding)

Distant runners-up: Giving Spencer a run for her money, if that’s even possible at this point, are her co-star Jessica Chastain as the delightful Celia Foote, Berenice Bejowho was a modern-day Cyd Charisse in The Artist, Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (props to the Academy for recognizing a gross-out performance), and Janet McTeer AKA Albert Nobbs’ other gender bender.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

If Woody Allen doesn’t win Best Director, he sure has a clear shot at bringing home one of the screenwriting awards. Midnight in Paris is trademark Woody and I think it’s even in the same calibre as some of his finest work. The odds are on him – even if he doesn’t attend the ceremony.

Close Contenders: Only less than 10 words were uttered throughout The Artist, but the film is poetry in motion. Bridesmaids could be a potential surprise. A Separation is a lock for Best Foreign Language Film, but a long shot here, and so is Margin Call, sporting its only nomination.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The winning collaboration of Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash vividly brought to life the spirit of Kaui Hart Hemming’s novel and took us all to an emotional journey with The Descendants. The film faces tough competition in all other categories, but it’s a near-lock here.

Close Competitors: Let’s not forget though that Aaron Sorkin (last year’s winner for The Social Network) is nominated again this year for Moneyball, and the momentum is also strong for Hugo.

Long Shots: It’s an uphill battle in this category for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Ides of March (unfortunately the film’s sole nomination).

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE 

You can feel the dearth in this category this year. The only Pixar movie that would have been eligible was Cars 2 and it was a critical dud. I still can’t fathom why they left out The Adventures of Tintin , when it’s nominated for Best Original Score. My money’s on Rango in this one.

Long Shots: Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots were crowd-pleasers, but I don’t think the Academy is ready to crown yet another sequel or spin-off. No one has heard of nor seen A Cat in Paris and Chico and Rita, though they do look intriguing.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 

A Separation from Iran is the clear favorite. After all, it’s also up for Best Original Screenplay. Other nominees that will try to thwart the odds are Bullhead (Belgium), Footnote (Israel), In Darkness (Poland) and Monsieur Lazhar (French-speaking Canada). To those who are wondering, the Philippine entry was Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank. While it’s a brilliant satirical portrait of the local indie film industry, the Academy probably wasn’t ready to recognize a title that reminded them of feces.

 Here are my choices for the rest of the categories:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Ludovico Bource, The Artist

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Real in Rio” from Rio 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Tree of Life

BEST ART DIRECTION: Hugo

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: The Artist

BEST MAKE-UP: The Iron Lady 

BEST EDITING: The Artist

BEST SOUND EDITING: Hugo

BEST SOUND MIXING: Moneyball 

NOTE: I haven’t seen any of the nominees in the following categories, so my picks here are random guesses at best:

BEST DOCUMENTARY, LONG SUBJECT: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory 

BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom 

BEST SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION: Raju 

BEST SHORT FILM, ANIMATED:  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

+++++++++++++++

All this Oscar blogging is making me nostalgic.

ETC Glitterati Party, 2008 

A bemused film snob’s letter to Liz Taylor

Dear Ms. Taylor, 

I was first introduced to your unspeakable radiance when I was 9. In, of all movies, The Flintstones. Needless to say, the movie was terrible, but you were its only saving grace. You epitomized style and elegance, even in makeshift mammoth fur coats. You had a wattage that could light a thousand towns. 

It was only when I graduated from Saturday morning cartoons and evolved into the self-confessed film snob that I am when I fully understood why you’re a modern-day legend. You had the qualities and presence of a goddess. You were amazing in A Place in the Sun (1951), a sight to behold in Cleopatra (1963), and electrifying in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).  I’ve yet to see Butterfield 8 (1960), but I’m sure you also gave a tour-de-force performance there. I love that word. Tour-de-force. 

Oh, and speaking of “tour-de-force”, in George Stevens’ Giant (1956), you played a role that was ahead of your time – a loving but headstrong housewife with the compassion to look beyond racial barriers and the feistiness to overcome her husband’s stubborn, domineering ways. And for me, that was the role which most mirrored what you were like in real life: a steadfast woman who was determined to speak her mind in a male-dominated society. I always knew you had a little bit of Leslie Benedict in you. 

It’s true. You were a fighter. You advocated AIDS research, rallied for gay rights, and you were unafraid to see your friends as who they really are, despite what the public perceived them to be (I’m referring to Jacko, of course). You were more than just a strong woman, you were an exceptional human being, a complete individual. 8 husbands could never do justice to that. (Oops. OK, we don’t have to elaborate on that if you don’t want to. Sorry). 

In your Twitter account, you also said that “Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind“. I must say, I couldn’t agree more. Life is not worth living if you had nobody to live it for. We are worth what we love. And you, Ms. Taylor indeed had a lot of love to give. 

So in closing, I just want to say that the downtrodden cliche holds true. You may no longer be with us, but your legacy will definitely live on. There will never be another Elizabeth Taylor, but you were a prime example of how love and strength can justify one’s existence.

So, thank you, Ms. Taylor. Thank you for being you.  

Sincerely yours, 

Chuckie