Saturday, June 16, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "Rock of Ages"

Rock of Ages

Being a bit of an arena rock
aficionado, I ventured out with
my tweenage movie compadre to
attend the opening day matinee
showing of this much-talked-
about epic. My expectations
were further heightened as the
ticket taker encouraged me to
enjoy the show and to have
"nothing but a good time."

Directed by Adam Shankman, the film version of the wildly popular '80s-theme Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, finally has made it to the big screen. 

But despite the hype, stellar all-star cast, mega budget and fist-pumping soundtrack, Rock of Ages is (at best) just plain silly. In fact, it's now official — The Curly Shuffle no longer is the all-time most ridiculous '80s-related offering. And if haters, nay-sayers, pundits and poo-pooers ever needed additional evidence to make a case against the music and style of our beloved decade, well, they've got plenty now.

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, a "fictional"
rock star who just happens to wear a
fur coat, cowboy hat and bandanna.
Teetering somewhere between a Selena Gomez-style sitcom and a (really) bad soft core porno flick, this PG-13-rated saga of boy-meets-girl and passion-filled teenage dreams set against a backdrop of the '80s rock scene, should have been rated 'R.' The graphic one-liners, double entendre references and gratuitous fetish scenes just aren't appropriate for little Johnnies and Sallies — especially my young friend — a rather astute girl who summed up the entire movie by announcing afterward that, "Most parts were a lot of music and fun. But other parts were a lot of gay." Hmm, insightful.

Like straight out of Poison's 1988 "Fallen Angel" video, Rock of Ages opens with female lead, Sherrie Christian, played by Julianne Hough traveling from middle-America in pursuit of fame and fortune on LA's legendary Sunset Strip. As she sits on the bus thumbing through her cherished record collection contained in her carry-on bag, we get a glimpse at her goods — vinyl LPs by Def Leppard, Poison and Aerosmith. But then the vibe quickly spirals downward as bus passengers of all ages join in for a Glee-style group sing-a-long of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian." A classic now has forever been tarnished.

This is not a still from the latest
chart-busting country music video.
It's Hough as Sherrie Christian.
Upon arriving in LA, Sherrie soon meets her love interest, Drew Boley played by Diego Boneta, whose '80s swagger is about as authentic as Justin Bieber's. Even less believable is Drew's band, Wolfgang Von Colt. Donned with fro-like mullets and wearing dirty, torn denim (onstage), WVC wouldn't have gotten an audition on The Strip in '87, let alone an opening act break at a top-name venue like the film's fictitious Bourbon Room. But Drew isn't the only character who looks out of place in Rock of Ages. In fact, with all of the bad wigs and non-era-specific wardrobe, I never felt as if I was watching a story based in the '80s.

And of course like any modern-day Hollywood blockbuster that's worth it's weight in celluloid, Rock of Ages goes the distance to portray ALL conservative-types as bad guys — mean-spirited religious wackos with secret fetishes and chequered pasts (i.e. LA mayor Mike Whitmore, played by Bryan Cranston and his anti-rock crusading Tipper Gore-like wife Patricia, played by the steamy Catherine Zeta-Jones). And the open-mouthed onscreen kiss between bar manager Lonny Barnett, played by Russell Brand and bar owner Dennis Dupree, played by Alec Baldwin was just awkward and creepy — regardless of one's sexual comfort zone. In fact, I believe that it was at that point when my young friend commented to me, "This isn't garbage, it's gay-bage." Out of the mouths of babes.

No, this isn't a member of N'Sync.
This is Drew, the Rock of Ages 
version of an aspiring '80s rock dude.
I had become slightly less enthusiastic about seeing Rock of Ages upon hearing that Tom Cruise had been cast in the primary role of Stacee Jaxx, a delusional, egomaniacal, lunatic frontman rock star. While I realize that Cruise is a true Hollywood icon and that his talent is immeasurable, I had my doubts regarding how effective he'd be in portraying Bret Michaels, uh, I mean Stacee Jaxx. But surprisingly, he was quite convincing. Actually, I found Cruise's performance to be BRILLIANT — certainly one of the film's three acting highlights.

I also must offer kudos to Paul Giamatti for his spot-on performance as Stacee's seedy manager, Paul Gill. The toaster-size cell phone and Rubik's Cube truly brought his character into the era. Oddly, I had a manager during my '80s rock days who looked and acted exactly like Gill. Hence, I totally could relate to the backstage dialogue  between Gill and Drew regarding fame.

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx "explaining" a
few things to his unscrupulous manager,
Paul Gill, played by Paul Giamatti.
But the definitive award for "Best Performance" goes to the baboon that played the role of Stacee's personal assistant, Hey Man. As someone who has worked as an assistant to rock stars, I must confess that frequently I've been referred to as a "baboon." However, this baboon is exactly the type required to pull off such a gig adequately.

R&B siren Mary J. Blige also does a fabulous job as "showgirl" club owner Justice Charlier and Malin Åkerman is quite believable in the role of Rolling Stone magazine reporter Constance Sack. Props also to REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach for delivering passionate cameos as angry rockers on The Strip, defending their right to rock!

Even in the context of an '80s revival musical,
these two characters were simply ridiculous. 
Despite some weak links and its general dopiness, Rock of Ages does get it right in several areas and even offers a few profound messages. One of which is that no matter how washed up, self-absorbed and addicted the rock star, or how vehemently the subjects (chicks) deny their interest, the guy onstage ALWAYS will prevail (i.e. He'll nail the chick every time). I've personally observed numerous real life scenarios depicted in Rock of Ages. Simply put, in the backstage world of rock and roll, ALL moral boundaries become erased. SO sad, but SO true.

It was fun to see such mighty and iconic LA landmarks as the recreated Tower Records, the re- vamped Whisky a Go Go (Bourbon Room) and the legendary rock star hangout, The Chateau Marmont projecting from the glorious silver screen throughout the film.

FYI — This is what an authentically awesome
'80s rock band is supposed to look like!
Be sure that the true star of Rock of Ages is the timeless music. And although many of the arena anthems and power ballads featured in the movie are castrated, soulless, watered down American Idol-like recreations, it was still fun to hear David Lee RothGuns N' RosesTwisted Sister and Quiet Riot, classics pumping through a massive in-theater sound system.

In sum, Rock of Ages is a colorful and high-energy romp in which true love prevailed and all of the pretty people danced, sang, rocked — and lived, happily ever after. And I guess it was an okay flick, if you possess the sense of humor necessary to watch as your cherished past is poked at for two (long) hours — just leave the kids at home. But would I pay to see it again? Possibly, if for no other reason than I just LOVED that baboon!

-Christopher Long
(June 2012)

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Friday, June 8, 2012

RECORD REVIEW: Adele "Live at The Royal Albert Hall"

Live at 
The Royal Albert Hall
(Columbia Records)

Hey — hear that?
That's the sound
of human voices
— singing. But
what's that other
sound? Oh yeah,
that's the sound
of humans 
playing instruments.

The meteoric rise and current mega success of Britain's Adele Adkins certainly comes as no surprise to me. She's merely reaping well-deserved rewards for doing what music artists are supposed to do — create quality music. (Build it and they will come.) But therein lies the very reason that so many others appear baffled by her success. Unlike most, if not all of today's acknowledged pop culture-types, Adele doesn't produce inane computer-enhanced tracks featuring yodels, "uh-huhs" and "awe yeahs" over top of mind-numbing electronic-generated beats merely as a means of providing a soundtrack to this week's teen-targeted YouTube viral porn clip. Adele is a bona fide artist — a shtick-free singer, songwriter and performer of the highest caliber — with class and style to boot.

Hey Adele — nice package!
(CD / DVD combo)
Recorded live in concert on September 22, 2011 at London's Royal Albert Hall, this amazing double CD / DVD combo perfectly showcases the Grammy-winning artist as she fronts a mighty band in a legendary venue before a huge and adoring crowd.

From her Debbie Gibson-like (circa '89)silhouette entrance, Adele immediately commands the stage and captivates the audience with her personable charm and confidence. "I've seen The Spice Girls and Enrique Iglesias here (Albert Hall)," she confessed to her flock in an (extremely) thick Cockney accent.

Seeming to follow the traditional wedding mantra of offering something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue(s), Adele serves up a musical smorgasbord through the record's 17-song, 90-plus-minute running time.

After kicking off the show with "Hometown Glory" from her multi-platinum selling 2008 debut, 19, the 24-year old phenom quickly focuses on her current record, leading her band through a string of numbers from her multi-platinum selling 2011 sophomore release, 21, including "I'll Be Waiting," "Don't You Remember," "Turning Tables," and "Set Fire to the Rain."

In the "something borrowed" category, Adele delivers compelling remakes of The Steel Driver's "If It Hadn't Been for Love" and Bonnie Raitt's (Reid and Shamblin penned) Top 20 hit "I Can't Make You Love Me."  And her versions of The Cure classic "Love Song" and Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" sound so fresh and unique that you just might forget about the original recordings. The set also includes the must-play fan faves, "Chasing Pavements," "Rumour Has It," "Rolling in the Deep" and "Someone Like You."

The connection here between artist and audience is honest and pure. And although countless live records and videos have failed over the years properly to capture the ambiance or recreate the magic of a personal concert experience, this one delivers in spades!

-Christopher Long
(June 2012)

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012


(Pt. VII)
On the Road

I traveled an hour south
from my usual comfort
zone of Brevard County
today seeking the ultimate
thrill  the discovery of a
new thrifting destination.

Located in the Kmart plaza on Highway U.S. 1 in Vero, Florida, the Gulfstream Goodwill is simply one of the most impressive locations that I have had the pleasure of visiting. With approximately 10,000 square feet of shopping space, it's clean (yes, even the men's room), organized, well-stocked and well-staffed.

Although I had the place pretty much to myself upon arriving shortly after the 9AM opening, the joint quickly was jumpin' with wall-to-wall shoppers.

Finally, the holiday episodes of
The Beverly Hillbillies on DVD.
Often in the thrifting world, I find that it's the little things — the fine details that make a store a stand-out location. This certainly holds true for the Gulfstream Goodwill. The in-house music was a wonderful quirky South Florida radio station that played a variety of fun, upbeat oldies. And the combination of the meticulously waxed floors married with properly greased wheels, made pushing one of the store's shopping carts as effortless and enjoyable as guiding an $80,000 Escalade along I-95 at 80mph.

This pic wasn't taken at my buddy's
beachside condo.  It's the furniture
department at the Vero Goodwill store. 
All in all, this store was a tremendous find and offered a simply fantastic experience. And given that I also discovered a superb restaurant called Joey's Bistro on Indian River Boulevard, I certainly will be returning to Vero soon — and often! Road trip, anyone?

-Christopher Long
(June 2012)

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C'MON! -

(Coming April 7, 2019)

Saturday, June 2, 2012


READING - 2012

Despite the title of this
post, these amazing
and engaging books
weren't actually 
released in 2012 —
just happened to
discover them this year.

In my former pig life, I gleefully devoured only books that chronicled the salacious sex and drugs escapades of my beloved rock star heroes. However, these days, given my current faith based life-focus, I gravitate almost exclusively to authors with messages that will enrich my life, encourage my journey and enhance my relationship with Jesus Christ. Here are a few of my recent favorites...

- Andrew Wommack -

I had the privilege and pleasure of seeing (and hearing) Andrew Wommack at a Florida speaking engagement as I was about halfway through this book. An incredible treat indeed. Simply put, Wommack doesn't much care for religion. I don't either and neither does Jesus. In fact, it's denominational-type religious stuff that keeps us from fully connecting with Christ. And through these 242 pages, Wommack pulls back the veils of bad doctrine to reveal spiritual truth. Wommack will inspire some and offend others, but with his downhome, no-nonsense approach, he makes God's Word crystal clear. For me, Wommack is a master teacher and orator, and this book is an absolute must-read for anyone seeking a better understanding of the scriptures and a maximized relationship with Christ.

- Steven K. Scott -

Although the title might suggest some type of cheesy, easy, get-rich-quick or self-help revelation, this book is actually, on many levels, a complete life-changer. From surrounding ourselves with qualified advisers and partners to carefully examining ALL details before entering into a business op to managing anger to dealing with criticism and more, the book reminded me of how I could have been more effective and successful in past endeavors as well as how I now can better pursue future ones. Despite being based on scriptures found in the book of Proverbs, multimillionaire / businessman / author Scott doesn't preach (much). He cleverly conveys his message as an experienced "buddy" sharing simple and practical advice. Although I personally have studied Proverbs within the last year or so, Scott puts it all into a fresh Everyman-type perspective.

- Dino Rizzo -

There is a reason why this book maintains such a stellar rating among readers — it's open and honest, insightful and inspiring. I discovered Servolution during a particularly pivotal point in my own service experience and I truly connected with Dino Rizzo's well-written, compelling and conversational style. Who knew that such an encouraging and powerful message of Christ's love and the importance of loving and serving others could be conveyed so perfectly through stories of delicious Gumbo, piles of dead rats and a man-size bowl of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch?

-Christopher Long
(June 2012)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
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