Film Review: Rock of Ages

Based on the successful musical, Rock of Ages is a lot of fun. The film’s tone makes it hugely enjoyable.

New in Hollywood, Sherrie dreams of making it as a singer. Drew, a barman at the infamous Bourbon Club, has similar dreams. When Drew gets Cherrie a job at the club, the pair are smitten. Others, however, are more preoccupied with Stacee Jaxx’s upcoming gig…

Set in 1987, Rock of Ages is a homage to 1980s hair metal. Understandably, music of this genre features heavily, so those not keen on it will instantly be put off. The rest of viewers should find Rock of Ages‘ soundtrack entirely appropriate, and fun in a sing-a-long kind of way.

What makes Rock of Ages work well is the tone, which is evident from the very beginning of the film. It is clear from the outset that this musical does not take itself too seriously. There is humour to be found throughout the film, from the hokey dialogue and use of music to some deliberately excessive performances.

In spite of this lightness in atmosphere, there are some more serious themes present in Rock of Ages. Sherrie’s time in Hollywood is not quite the dream that she expected, while Drew struggles with chasing his dream and the reality of the music business. Comment on musical creativity and its relationship with corporate domination is played out unambiguously.

Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are well cast as leads Sherrie and Drew. It is the supporting cast who overshadow, however. Tom Cruise is fantastic as Stacee Jaxx. Cruise playing a strung-out but seductive rock star probably raises some eyebrows, but his performance is entirely in keeping with the tone of the film. Elsewhere, Alec Baldwin brings the humour, as does Catherine Zeta-Jones. Russell Brand is not quite as amusing, and his patchy accent can be a distraction.

Fans of 1980s music and pop culture should find Rock of Ages immensely entertaining. It is the sort of film that will leave viewers with a smile on their face.

Film Review: Anonymous

Flick to the cinema section of the Hot Mess dictionary, and there you will find an entry for Anonymous. Roland Emmerich’s hymn to ludicrousness is a camp fiasco.

In Elizabethan London, William Shakespeare is an actor, performing in the plays of others. Edward, Earl of Oxford is a secret playwright, looking for an anonymous way for to make his plays public. Initially recruiting Ben Jonson to act as author, William Shakespeare happily plays the part when Jonson shows reluctance…

The problem with the Anonymous is manifold. Firstly, there is the absurd narrative. While it is not inconceivable that Shakespeare’s works were written by another, the story descends into farce while most of the cast try to keep a straight face. Taking liberties with historical fact, Emmerich has created a Tudor melodrama, with its ever so earnest heroes and comedy villains.

Perhaps the problem is that William Shakespeare is a much loved and respected icon. Making a mockery of the man was always likely to go down badly among sections of the audience. If the film had tried to retain a shred of realism, perhaps it would not have been so offensive. Instead, the film becomes more and more absurd as it progresses.

The character of Shakespeare in the film is unfathomable. To portray him as a bumbling idiot would be one thing. Instead, Emmerich has taken it to a whole other level with Rafe Spall’s Russell Brand impersonation. It seems as if Spall is almost playing for laughs, and makes the film an experiment in high camp.

Performances in Anonymous are generally subpar. Sebastian Armesto, Helen Baxendale, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Hogg and Rafe Spall all play as if the film was a soap opera. As Earl of Oxford, Rhys Ifans is the only one who appears to be taking things seriously. There is some nice staging but at times locations and sets look terribly artificial. Production values are otherwise fine.

Taken as a serious drama, Anonymous is an awful film. As a farce, Emmerich’s film is rather enjoyable as you anticipate the next comical twist.

Anonymous is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Arthur

Steve Gordon’s 1981 romantic comedy gets an update in this Russell Brand vehicle. Not as charming as the original, the new Arthur is passably entertaining.

Arthur is a multi-millionaire who has never had to work and relies upon his nanny Hobson and driver Bitterman to look after him. Arthur’s mother issues him with an ultimatum; marry businesswoman Susan or be cut off from his fortune. Arthur reluctantly agrees, but is torn when he meets Naomi…

Arthur is a fairly enjoyable movie. There are scenes which are a lot of fun, but the film could have been trimmed. Jason Winer’s film lacks loses its drive once or twice; the ending in particular feels more drawn out than it should be. There is humour, but most of the jokes are mildly amusing rather than raucously so. The film is not as funny as it thinks it is.

Although this remake retains the basic plot of the original, a number of elements have changed. The dominant shift appears to make Arthur more contemporary. This pertains to modern references; Arthur and Bitterman drive through the streets of New York in a Batmobile in one scene. More so than this, however, is the perceptible shift to ensure the film is palatable to a modern audience.

The Arthur of the 1981 film was a drunk, but a lovable one. In this version, Arthur’s alcoholism takes centre stage at times. It is dealt with as a serious problem, rather than a personality quirk. There is none of the drinking and driving of the original. Winer’s film is more concerned with showing the negative side, whilst also being responsible with what it depicts. Although driving under the influence is a serious matter, it is rather sad that towing the line has meant some of the enjoyment has been removed from the original.

Similarly, the depiction of women in the 2011 film indicates the socio-cultural shift since the early 1980s. Arthur’s love interest Naomi needs to be successful in her own right rather than rely upon Arthur’s obscene wealth. Linda in the 1981 Arthur had more attitude than her contemporary counterpart, but there was no such requirement for her to be a big earner independently. These changes may appease some, but they rather suck the fun out of proceedings.

Russell Brand is a more infantilised character than Dudley Moore’s Arthur. He has good chemistry with Helen Mirren and Greta Gerwig. Helen Mirren is suitably stoic as Hobson, while Jennifer Garner is great as the overbearing Susan.

Arthur has its moments, but is not a patch on the original. The lack of spontaneity is replaced with a sombre air that works fine in the context, but is not as lively as it should be.

Film Review: Hop

Hop is a fun and an unabashedly lightweight movie. The film should prove to be enjoyable youngsters and not at all painful for their parents.

Living on Easter Island, EB is reluctant to fulfill his destiny and become the next Easter Bunny, much to the dismay of his father. Similarly, Fred O’Hare in Los Angeles is kicked out by his parents, who are tired of their slacker son’s unwillingness to get a job. When Fred accidentally injures EB, he agrees to take in the talking bunny, little realising how it will change his life…

In its attempts to cultivate an Easter movie, Hop is commendable. The film makes a noble effort to elevate Easter to the same level of cultural mythologising that is afforded to Christmas. This is an acknowledged motivation, with Fred making a reference to Christmas at the very end of the movie.

Hop is refreshing in the fact that it tackles a different holiday; with the plethora of Christmas films, it is nice to see another occasion given a chance. Of course, like the majority of Christmas films, there is no religious aspect to Hop. Instead, it is the more secular aspects that are given credence in the film.

The action is a little slow to get going in Hop. However, once the film picks up the pace, it is an enjoyable ride. The film is not as consistently funny as it could be, however the humour that is present is likely to appeal to children and the young at heart. Hop references a number of other films, including Jurassic Park. The nods to such movies are cute, but not particularly innovative; numerous animated films have employed this tactic.

The animation in Hop is fantastic. It blends seamlessly with the live action, and EB in particular looks remarkably realistic. Although live action and animation have been combined in films several times before, the technology used in Hop makes it the most appropriate progeny of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Elsewhere, the wonderful imagery of the candy production lines conjures memories of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Voicing EB, Russell Brand brings his usual schtick to Hop. James Marsden plays the lovable slacker well; the actor seems to have a flair for this kind of light comedy. Hank Azaria and Hugh Laurie are well cast voicing their respective characters.

Hop is an entertaining film, perfectly suitable for the Easter break. It may not be outright hilarious, but the film has a certain charm that most will find endearing.

Film Review: Get Him to the Greek

A spin-off from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek focuses on Russell Brand’s rock star character Aldous Snow. Whilst it may not be as consistently amusing as its predecessor, Get Him to the Greek is very humorous at times, and an entertaining, if mindless, film.

Aaron Green has 72 hours to get rock star Aldous Snow from London to Los Angeles, via New York, to play at tenth anniversary concert at the Greek Theatre. A simple enough task, but for the whims of a drug-addled rock star…

Whilst the plot is fairly linear, the real highlights lie in the amusing situations Aaron and Aldous find themselves in. The film does not take itself too seriously, however through the humour there is definite comment on today’s music industry. Much of the comedy not only from amusing lines, but also the songs composed for the film.

Just as Aldous Snow shone through in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a side character steals the show in Get Him to the Greek. Although she only appears intermittently, Snow’s ex-girlfriend Jackie Q is thoroughly amusing in every scene she is in. Her music video for ‘Ring Round’ is particularly hilarious.

Brand is good as rock star Snow, though it does feel as if he is playing himself at times. Jonah Hill gives a decent performance as Aaron; it is interesting seeing him playing the straight man to Brand’s character.  Sean Combs pretty much plays himself as music company boss Sergio. It is only in later scenes that Combs comes into his own, the results of which are pretty funny. The real star is Rose Byrne as Jackie Q; she steals every scene she features in. Given its setting and tone, it is unsurprising that Get Him to the Greek features several cameos, from Lars Ulrich to Meredith Vieira.

Perhaps the only real downside to the film is that the more serious and reflexive scenes fall flat, especially when contrasted with the more ridiculous situations contained within the film. Nonetheless, Get Him to the Greek is an enjoyable and funny movie.