‘I’ ON CULTURE
This week we saw the best of the summer’s movies (so far) and the worst. One came in with a lot of fanfare; the other snuck in. One had a lot of big stars; the other had far lesser-known people. One got mentioned on the all the TV shows with cast members preening; the other was not mentioned at all. Being the way show business now is, not surprisingly, it was the bad movie that got all the hype.
There is a small movie called For Greater Glory that slipped in, got almost no notice and played at only a few theaters in Palm Beach County. It featured Hispanic actors in a movie about Mexican people fighting for religious freedom. Andy Garcia was the biggest name, although Eva Longoria had a small role as his wife. Garcia led a ragtag group of people struggling to keep the Roman Catholic Church alive when the radical Mexican government of the 1920s outlawed it.
Also known as Cristiada, the movie was more or less accurate historically, at least in terms of the overall history of the Cristero War. Mexican actor Mauricio Kuri plays a young boy who sees his father and brother murdered and then fights for his beliefs and refuses to recant his faith, knowing he will be immediately murdered if he does not. In a rough, passionate scene, he dies rather than give in. He has been beatified by the pope.
My wife cried; I was moved. Everyone in the theater was deeply moved. It is the kind of movie the critics hate: people standing up for their religious principles. But it is one to see although you may have to wait for the DVD.
On the other hand, Rock of Ages is a fond reminiscence of a time in the music world that made disco sound good, the late 1980s. The plot is cobbled together. A couple of guys (Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand) who own a seedy music club get rock ’n’ roll icon Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to come for a night in hopes that it would bring more people in and save their business.
Cruise is the best thing in the movie: a true movie star playing a rock star, more or less becoming Axl Rose. If you don’t know who Rose is, well, this movie is definitely not for you. When Cruise is singing “Wanted, Dead or Alive,” it comes alive… a bit.
Aside from that, the jokes are about what you would expect from a rogue junior high school show done without a teacher’s oversight. In other words, a lot of off-color jokes that do not do much for the plot. Tom Cruise singing “I Want to Know What Love Is” while staring from a few inches away at the backside of reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) brought a few snickers from the audience.
The cast is sort of OK. The two young lovers, the central characters Sherrie (Julianne Hough) as the country girl wanting to hit it big in L.A. and Drew (Diego Boneta) as the city boy who helps her along, are so bland that they actually get in the way of the plot, which supposedly centers on them.
It is the supporting players who get the flashy roles. Baldwin and Brand are fine doing caricatures of real people. Their desperation might have been better if they were complete characters.
Akerman as a reporter is very pretty but gets relatively little to do. Mary J. Blige does a couple of numbers but little else. Paul Giamatti and Bryan Cranston sort of do their own kinky selves. Catherine Zeta-Jones as the anti-rock and anti-sex crusading mayor’s wife is far sexier than all the younger women combined.
The film is OK if you like the music, big hair and the general era. This is another in a series of films that might have worked if anyone had focused on writing a good script. And those are increasingly difficult to find these days. So, when it comes to Rock of Ages, think of it as all hype and no hip. Cruise is very good and so is Zeta-Jones, but together, they still don’t make the film worthy of the price of admission.
On the other hand, that little For Greater Glory had no hype, was essentially not reviewed by most of the major reviewers, and those who did seemed to hate the idea that it was pro-Catholic, so it was essentially buried. When it comes out on cable and on DVD, see it. It deserved better than its current reception.