Rock of Ages

An open letter to the director:

Dear Mr. Adam Shankman,

I’ve just finished watching your movie, Rock of Ages. I’ve seen the original jukebox musical performed live and I enjoyed it. It was a fun, feel good romp with music from glam metal bands of the 80s. The long list of songs featured are practically beloved classics at this point. While there are moments of inspiration in your adaptation, this was overall a disappointment of heartbreaking proportions. I have some suggestions that could’ve made this so much better.

1.) The lead actors should be captivating. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are not. Casting Hough, an accomplished dancer, and not having her dance once is not only misguided, it’s cruel.  To add insult to injury she’s saddled with a pip-squeak of a voice that sounds like Betty Boop on helium. Whenever she sings it literally sucks the life out of the film. She’s surrounded by actors with full voices. She has several duets with R&B superstar Mary J. Blige and the juxtaposition of their voices is laughable. Even Paul Giamatti outclasses her in this area so her deficiencies are really glaring. Her co-star Boneta can vocalize at least, but he‘s got the generic good looks and charisma of any random soap opera star. He’s not memorable. When he professes his love to her, it’s pretty unconvincing. The two of them have zero chemistry together.

2.) The story should have some assemblage of sense. For example, the leads fall in love within minutes of meeting without explanation. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ holy roller character spends all her time trying to shut down rock club “The Bourbon Room” for indecency, then by the end she’s dressed in a getup that makes her look like the leatherman from the Village People. Along the way the narrative zips ahead trying to cram one song in after another without any regard for whether it makes sense to the plot. Here’s a another song because, well we just like it. This is pretty superficial stuff even for a musical comedy.

3.) Just because you’re directing one of the biggest stars in the world, doesn’t mean you have to listen to his ideas. Tom Cruise is one of the high points of the picture. He’s funny as Stacee Jaxx, the aging rock god, with his scene stealing antics. And yes he can sing, really well I might add. But his idea to hire a baboon as his sidekick is stupid. There wasn’t a monkey in the original play and there shouldn’t be one here. There’s a reason he’s an actor and you’re a director. Direct!

4.) The tone keeps changing. One minute lead protagonists Drew and Sherrie are prancing around making the kind of goo-goo eyes that would embarrass the cast of Glee, the next minute Tom Cruise is singing “I Want to Know What Love Is” with his face buried in Malin Ackerman’s crotch. Pick a tone and go with it. The amalgamation of Disneyfied teen love and hardcore rocker lifestyle is a confusing mix.

5.) Animated films and musicals are two genres best appreciated in concise doses. That means run times over 90 minutes should be justified by the content. A silly happy-go-lucky frolic about 80s hair metal is not a validation. A musical clocking in at over 2 hours and 7 minutes causes headaches not joy.

None of this would’ve made a difference if the musical numbers were up to par. Which brings me to my last (and most important) point.

6.) The editing is chaotic. We watch musicals so we can, you know, see people sing and dance. When performers burst into song, let’s focus on their faces, when characters are dancing let’s observe the steps. Don’t cut away every 3 seconds and show random shots that distract you from the scene at hand. The production number in the strip club appears to show actual dancing but it’s impossible to tell because the camera keeps moving frantically while choreography is being performed. There are hoofers out there that can genuinely dance. I assume you probably hired real dancers, but it does them a disservice when the action has been edited to hide the fact. Please watch the classic Singing in the Rain and study how the song “Good Morning” was shot if this is unclear.

I know you’re talented, Mr. Adam Shankman.  You’re a respected choreographer with an impressive resume of movie credits. You frequently judge the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Most importantly you directed Hairspray and that was a musical I really liked…a lot. I write this letter not to condemn but to help. Your film has touches of greatness. There’s one great line that Julianne Hough delivers equating boy bands and stripping that had the whole theater erupting in laugher. It’s those moments that convince me this could’ve been so much better. I have faith that your next project will be.

Signed your supporter,

Mark Hobin

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32 Responses to “Rock of Ages”

  1. atothewr Says:

    Julianne did a great job in the Footloose remake, I thought you she might be okay for this role.

    • She first became famous as a professional dancer on Dancing with the Stars. There she was very talented and quite likeable. No idea why she wouldn’t be allowed to show that ability here.

  2. I love how you did this in the form of a letter to Mr. Shankman. I was on the fence for this one, but I guess it was just because of the music in it. I never would have guessed it was based on a musical.

    • The musical was nominated for several Tony awards including Best Musical (Billy Elliot won that year). Constantine Maroulis, who was on the 4th season of American Idol with Carrie Underwood, was also nominated for a Tony for Best Actor. The kids who played Billy Elliot won there too.

      • Of course I wouldn’t know since I don’t keep up with Broadway. 😀 The only other Broadway production I’ve seen thus far is the long-running Phantom of the Opera. From there down I’ve seen many, many high school and middle school performances, most recently Phantom, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and some bizarre-ass musical called Zombie Prom. (Don’t hate on that one–I met Mary Birdsong from the Descendants there, haha!)

        Sorry if I’m rambling a bit…I’m tired and thus, slap-happy.

      • I didn’t know that much about her and the fact, as you point out that she is an accomplished dancer that was for whatever reason precluded from a dance movie is inexcusable if not ridiculously short sighted. Just another nail in the coffin of his ineptitude.

  3. What a clever way to write this review. I love that approach so much, I read it twice. I agree with almost everything you wrote. However, I didn’t think Tom’s singing was that good. He was just ok. Diego and Mary were the stand-outs for me. If you haven’t seen the musical you may enjoy this for the songs.

  4. I agree with everything you said.

    I really really disliked this movie and I was one of the few people I know championing it before it came out.

  5. I finally got around to writing my review lastnight (http://wp.me/p1LZxf-EE), like the movie it’s a bit over long, though that’s because i was having to put it in perspective.

    I only knew vaguely of the stage show, but agree on most points- the leads are perfunctory yet forgettable, the ‘love at first site’ aspect has no credibility and their romance no sense of time for us to care if they stay together.
    The baboon sidekick, whilst ridiculous i believe is not too far from the truth of some 80’s rockers, so i went with that, and it actually worked in a few scenes for me in the regard it was intended, comic relief (I wasn’t the only one to laugh) at least more than Russell Brand (ok, i laughed at the lighter gag, but that was about it) oh, and by the way Russell, TERRIBLE accent.
    I definately agree on the running time, it needed to end before the 100 minute mark rather than 120 minutes. I also agree that the sexual tone is grossly out of place. Nevertheless I’m still amazed at how much i really did enjoy this movie, especially as I can’t stand musicals.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the film. It’s always nice to read a converse opinion. That’s what makes film criticism interesting. I actually enjoyed reading your review more than I enjoyed this film so thanks for that.

      • LOL, you’re welcome, I’m wondering if the movie is having the same result with anyoneelse who’s not into musicals or if it’s just me? Either way, seems i’m in the minority.

    • Not sure, but in the U.S., Madagascar 3 destroyed this at the box office.

      • Wonder where it will place in the UK box office, it didn’t hav any big competition opening the same weekend here (supernatural thriller Red Lights and Cosmopolis, but both of these are 15 rating movies where RoA is 12A and had smaller releases), it’s only real challenge will be what’s already out, so it may make #1.

  6. I was hoping this was going to be better, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I know you’ve heard this in your other comments, really great way you did the review.

    • Thanks! Compliments are always nice to hear. The idea just came to me because I really wished I could tell the director my thoughts. I know he’ll never read this, but I can dream.

  7. i know that adam shankman is well respected, but is his resume really that impressive when it comes to the Hollywood movies he’s done? aside from “Hairspray” and an episode or two of “Glee,” what has he done that has been so impressive?

  8. Great post, Mark! Loved how you wrote as a letter to Shankman. Your review is an instant favorite for me. I doubt the movie will be, though, haha!

  9. Great review! I love the format you did here, makes for an easy read. I laughed so hard on #2, that is just plain ridiculous!

    • Thanks so much. I realize this review is anything but “fast” being this long, but I hoped that by itemizing the points it would be easier to read so I’m glad you felt that way.

  10. Fantastic review, Mark!

  11. I love the fact that you did your review in the form of a letter. Good stuff.

  12. Nice review Mark. I like the format but I have to say that I had a lot of fun with this one, even though I think it could get a tad dull at times. Still, the story really took it down at times.

  13. sanclementejedi Says:

    Does it make me a bad guy, when I enjoy your reviews more when you dislike a film than when you like something? 😉

  14. Indeed, solid points and your letter covers the faults and foibles of this train wreck with clarity, insight and specificity – all the things this film fails at in duces and spades. Mark, your obvious experience and background with the genre is evident and abundantly clear. One would expect if such a letter ever found its way to Mr. Shankman that he would at least have the good sense to take some of these points to heart if he ever makes another film in this ballpark – hopefully we are so spared.

    I can’t agree with you about Cruise, I felt his performance was a one trick pony of stunted, constipated expressions, a tired cliche of cliches only perpetrated by someone who has never lived such a hard life or knew what it meant to hold the power of performance before a live audience in gasps and murmurs – has Cruise ever been in a play? My memory eludes me. You are absolutely correct, Mr. Cruise went unchecked, allowed to shine so very brightly at the cost of directed performance. This is in fact what happens when the talent – director divide is not only crossed but wiped into obscurity by the club feet of indignant celebrity.

    Nevertheless, salient points, I enjoyed reading it. You wrote with conviction and clarity whereas my review was simply left to boil in the vitriol of my disappointment, hung up on my dismay and torment for having had high hopes for what amounts to dwindling returns on investment. Bravo.

    If you don’t mind me returning the link here for your audience: http://rorydean.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/rock-of-ages-2012/

    • I really enjoyed your comments, especially since they were so complimentary of my review. That’s always nice to hear.

      With regard to Mr. Tom Cruise, I suppose I was looking for the silver lining. It was like finding something edible in a trash can.

      • ‘..hard to deny that image..’ the viewer half bent, elbows digging, matching momentum, hopefully optimistic, wondering what treasures or what terribel awaits. We do love our long shot chances – however unlikely. cheers0>

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