Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Almost the Oscars edition

We’re in the home stretch – the Academy Awards are this Sunday. All I have left in my quest to see all of the Oscar nominated films are some foreign films and some documentaries. If everything goes according to plan, I think I am going to come up two movies short of my goal. It’s proven to be impossible to find the foreign film No and the documentary The Guardians. The closest that either film is playing is NYC and unless I want to take the day off to make the trip downstate (which I did actually consider), I think the dream may be dead. But still – I’ll come pretty darn close!

As I frantically try to find some Oscar screeners, enjoy your biweekly roundup of pop culture stories you may have missed:

  • A happy belated 75th birthday to author Judy Blume!
  • In honor of the season three finale (what did everyone think??), here’s the cast of Downton Abbey performing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”


  • Maybe they were jealous of the attention that Jeopardy! has been receiving lately, but Wheel of Fortune decided to up their game with a dog on a scooter.


  • The 2013 Bonnaroo line-up was announced yesterday. I want to go!
  • I hate Monopoly – it takes way too long and just isn’t much fun – but I might change my mind if I played this Breaking Bad version.
  • Check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s foreign ad for Jim Beam:


  • This is hilarious – Guy Fieri didn’t secure the full URL for his restaurant’s website, so someone else bought it and posted a parody menu. Well played.
  • Josh Duhamel and Fergie are expecting their first child; the singer announced the news on Twitter, using the hashtag #mylovelybabybump (which I have to admit is pretty cute).
  • The movie Lincoln inspired the state of Mississippi to finally ratify the 13th Amendment. They somehow hadn’t managed to get around to that yet. Who says pop culture can’t make a difference?
  • Listen to Mariah Carey’s new song from the upcoming film Oz the Great and Powerful (I’m not a fan – she sounds weird)


  • I don’t know that it was in doubt, but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will be back for a ninth season.


  • So, is everyone else watching The Following and kind of getting obsessed with it? Intellectually I have a ton of problems with the show, but damn it if it doesn’t manage to drag me in every Monday night.
  • SNL continues to be dreadful; I only made it about halfway through last week’s episode with Christoph Waltz. I did, however, really enjoy this digital short:
  • Whoo-boy. Things are not going well for Renee Zellweger. Lifetime just passed on her pilot Cinnamon Girl. Let that sink in for a moment. The network that gave us Liz & Dick passed on a pilot featuring an Oscar winner. I think we may have just found rock bottom.
  • The great Andre Braugher has joined Andy Samberg’s new police comedy pilot on Fox. The likelihood that I will tune in to this show if it goes to series just jumped to 100%.
  • It’s been a good couple of weeks for me – another one of my favorites joined a pilot. Josh Holloway (aka Sawyer on Lost) will star in the CBS drama Intelligence.
  • The New York Times Magazine has a long profile of blog favorite Connie Britton.
  • Sarah Michelle Geller will be starring opposite Robin Williams in a new sitcom.
  • Don’t cry for the B in Apt. 23 – Krysten Ritter landed a role in a pilot for NBC. Let’s hope James Van Der Beek has as smooth a transition.
  • PBS is trying to become the first nonprofit organization to reach one billion views on YouTube.


  • HBO may have pulled the plug on Luck, but it lives on in blog form. Added bonus – no horses can die online.
  • I guess they had a lot of fun filming Silver Linings Playbook; Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are reuniting with director David O. Russell on his next film (and holy hell – this film has an amazing cast!).
  • TV Land had become the go-to network for 90s sitcom stars. They have ordered a new comedy starring Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards.
  • NBC’s new drama Hannibal will debut on Thursday April 4th.


  • Jerry Seinfeld stopped by The Late Show with David Letterman to do some stand-up:


  • Dean Norris (Hank to Breaking Bad fans) has been cast in the upcoming Stephen King miniseries, Under the Dome.
  • As an unabashed fan of The Golden Girls, I couldn’t pass up this collection of the 10 best musical numbers from the series.
  • The Strokes are back with a new song:


  • TV Duck has an infograph of 15 things you didn’t know about The Walking Dead.
  • My baseball husband Mark Teixiera made his Broadway debut in Rock of Ages. Check out video here.
  • The Discovery Channel is launching two new documentary series that focus on marijuana. The are calling the block of programming “Weed Wednesdays.”
  • And finally, a 60 second, live action version of the wonderful Wreck it Ralph:

Rock of Ages – A Review

So it turns out, you can totally judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a movie by its trailer.

I made some snap judgments about Rock of Ages based on the short trailer that was released. After attending a screening of the film last week, it turns out that my early critiques of the film were pretty on point. There are some changes made from the Broadway production and I would argue that none of them are for the better. The film just isn’t very good; if given the choice, go see the play instead. It is vastly superior.

I had suspected from the trailer that they had beefed up the role of Stacee Jaxx in the movie, which makes sense; in a movie where the leads are not necessarily household names, you want to capitalize on the casting of Tom Cruise. What I didn’t predict, however, is that they totally changed the character in the process. While the Stacee Jaxx of the play is a cad, the character in the film version is much more sympathetic. He is also much more eccentric than the stage version, as he is followed everywhere by a pet monkey named “Hey Man” and seems to be in an alcohol haze for most of the film.

While all these changes give Cruise more things to play with in the role, I just never embraced the idea of him as Stacee Jaxx. Cruise did a good job, but he just never disappeared into the character. There wasn’t a moment when he was on screen that I didn’t think “hey – it’s Tom Cruise” and I stand by my earlier assertion that Cruise is just too old to be playing this part. This may just be my particular hang up, however. Most critics have been happy with his performance and he’s received the seal of approval from Bret Michaels and Def Leppard, so what do I know (Side note about Def Leppard: they refused to allow any of their songs to be used in the Broadway show, even though the title comes directly from a Def Leppard song. However, two of their songs are in the movie and the band is everywhere trying to cash in on it, which seems a little disingenuous to me). Cruise’s singing was better than expected, but it was amusing how all the actors in the movie really articulated the lyrics of the song so clearly. I realized that despite the fact that most of the songs in the movie I had heard a million times before, I didn’t actually know the correct words to a lot of them. Enunciation isn’t very metal.

Even if I didn’t fully embrace Cruise, he is definitely the best thing about Rock of Ages. The movie is kind of campy, though I never could figure out if that was what they were necessarily going for or if that was just the end result. Though it is a movie about the hair metal scene of LA, it’s all very sanitized and saccharine sweet. The central boy meets girl story of Drew (Diego Boneta) and Sherri (Julianne Hough) is even more ridiculous than it was in the play – it always frustrates me when the entire premise of the conflict is a simple misunderstanding that could be solved with a 30 second exchange where people say what they are actually thinking. Neither actor is talented enough to bring much to the role other than the bare minimum. Alec Bladwin isn’t given much to do except try to sell the terrible dialogue he is given and wear a bad wig. The most rock and roll member of the cast, Russell Brand, has been completely defanged; he doesn’t have much of a role either, but he is pretty cartoonish in the little screen time he does get. It’s too bad, because the two actors work well together. I was relieved to see that the amusing development for these two characters that occurs in the play was kept in the movie. I figured it might be cut to make room for more Cruise. Catherine Zeta-Jones also has a bit part, but her subplot is particularly poorly written and the choreography for her performances is so terrible that it makes her and everyone involved in them look preposterous. It is generally all a mess.

The movie could have possibly been saved if the musical performances had been better or more inspired, but even those were kind of meh. I love the songs from that era and genre, but they just weren’t doing it for me. And once Mary J. Blige gets a chance to sing, you realize just how “enhanced” a lot of the other performances probably are. She blows them all away.

My movie going experience was also not enhanced by the woman I sat next to. She thought just about everything in the movie was hilarious (and I mean everything) and laughed very loudly and exclaimed “Oh my God” about every thirty seconds. Perhaps she was a relative of the woman I sat in front of at the Men in Black 3 screening. The rest of the time, she and her companion repeatedly conversed throughout the film. Her companion was there as a critic, so you’d think he’d know better. So I missed a lot of the dialogue for the first third of the movie; if it had been better written I would have been more upset.

I understand that this is supposed to be a silly little summer movie and isn’t made to be taken seriously; I don’t mind fluff in and of itself if it is done well. But there are way too many problems with Rock of Ages for me to recommend it. If you want to see Cruise’s turn as a rock god, wait until it is out on DVD.

Coming Attractions – Rock of Ages trailer

Obviously I love going to the movies. You don’t see as many films as I do if you don’t enjoy the overall experience. One of the things that I most look forward to is the coming attractions before the feature. I make it a point to always make it to the theater early enough so I can see the trailers and get really annoyed at the people who think it is OK to continue their conversation until the movie begins. It isn’t and if you do so you are probably going to get a withering stare from me if I’m feeling bold. I’m not usually surprised by the trailers, since I usually have a vague awareness of most movies from early in their development and production, but something about actually seeing the movie that you’ve been reading about is exciting. And every once in a while a movie has slipped off my radar and the trailers are a nice reminder that the film will soon be in theaters. A bad trailer will often determine whether I’ll see a movie in the cinema or wait for it to come out on DVD. A good trailer will make me giddy with anticipation. At a recent screening, I think I was more excited for the 3 minutes of the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises than I was for the actual film I was there to review.

When adapting an existing book, play or television show for the big screen, the trailer is often the bellwether for how accurate and loyal the adaption is to the source material. Many fans of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books had their fears assuaged when they saw the first trailer for the U.S. film adaptation. If nothing else, the movie had at least seemed to capture Lisbeth’s look and didn’t “pretty her up” as many were concerned would happen. This doesn’t mean that there may not be issues with the film, but what you see in the trailer at least gives you an idea of how close the casting and costuming choices come to the original as well as the bold strokes of the story.

So as someone who had just recently seen the traveling production of the Broadway play Rock of Ages, I was very curious when they released the first full length trailer for the upcoming feature film:

I was pretty indifferent about the adaption and seeing the trailer didn’t do much to change that.

While I enjoyed the play, the story is very representative of the time period and music that it is representing: a lot of flash and not a lot of substance. The show is the story of the 1980s music scene in Los Angeles as told through the eyes of a young rock singer trying to get his big break, a young woman fresh off the bus who is trying to get into acting, a club owner trying to save his business from being shut down and a rock superstar who does what rock superstars do. It is really an excuse to put all the hair metal songs of the era together in a show. That doesn’t make it bad – it was actually a very fun night at the theater as I really love the music used – but I suspected that they were going to have to punch up the story a little for the big screen adaptation.

Tom Cruise was an interesting choice to play the rock star Stacee Jaxx. Cruise was not at all what I had pictured; in my mind, Jaxx wasn’t almost 50. And as great as Cruise looks for his age, he also doesn’t exactly have the physique of a hair metal front man. He should be taller and lankier – think Bret Michaels, Jani Lane or Axl Rose in their prime. And based on the short clip, I’m not 100% sure that Cruise can actually pull of the singing required.

It is interesting that based on the trailer, it appears that Jaxx is the star of the movie, or at least a major focal point. That is a departure from the play, where Jaxx is more of a supporting character. The play focuses on Drew (the want-to-be rocker) and Sherri (the new girl in town) and their relationship, yet neither of these characters get a lot of screen time in the trailer. This could be misleading, as the actors playing those parts aren’t particularly famous, especially compared to Cruise, or this could mean that the role of Jaxx was expanded significantly for the film.

Alec Baldwin was also an interesting choice for the club owner. He reportedly tried to quit the movie, but was talked back into it. Based on the dialogue he was given in the trailer, I’m not sure that his initial instincts were wrong. But if anyone can make it work, it is Baldwin. Based on his track record, there is a very good chance that he could steal the movie. There are a lot of funny lines in the play and he is one of the few people in the cast that has great comedic timing. He should also share a lot of screen time with Russell Brand and that seems like a winning combination. Brand is actually the only person in this movie who I nodded my head in agreement with when I heard the casting news. He makes a lot of sense for this film. The rest of the cast, not so much.

So based on the trailer, I don’t think I’ll be running out to see Rock of Ages when it hits theaters later this summer unless I get comped tickets (then I’ll go see anything). I had reservations about the film beforehand, but the trailer didn’t do much to alleviate them. Based on first impressions, this looks like a rental to me.