2 1/2 stars = Average
Tom Cruise steps away from short-haired action heroes in this adaptation of the Broadway musical and popular touring show and proves he can really rock out on such '80s hits as "Paradise City," "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me."
He's a high point in a movie that has more ups and downs than a clattering roller coaster, cliched characters and situations, a suggestion to a woman that pole dancing is a way to gain respect and a bromance that seems straight out of "Saturday Night Live."
Set in 1987, "Rock of Ages" wraps layers around its central relationship of small-town Oklahoma girl and aspiring singer Sherrie (Julianne Hough), who follows her dreams to Los Angeles, where she meets aspiring rocker Drew (Diego Boneta). His day job is a barback at a club on the Sunset Strip, and that's where he helps Sherrie land a job as a waitress.
The Bourbon Room is also the target of protests by the mayor's zealot wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who leads a band of other women in demure dresses or suits and pearls trying to shut down the place. Their campaign comes as the longtime club owner (Alec Baldwin) is banking on the final show by the band Arsenal, with loony frontman Stacee Jaxx (Mr. Cruise), to save his business.
The story is just an excuse to revisit a pop-rock playlist from the 1980s including Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, REO Speedwagon and Twisted Sister and to see how well Mr. Cruise, Ms. Hough or Mr. Baldwin sings or lip-syncs to his or her own voice. Very in the first case, not so much in the second and third.
"Rock of Ages" is not a great movie, but it's a fun ride.
The Blu-ray extras include a featurette hosted by Bret Michaels that has members of Def Leppard, Poison, Whitesnake, Foreigner and reliving their days on the Sunset Strip.
Also, there's an Extended Cut of the Film, a featurette on the stories behind the power ballads, cast interviews and an inside look at the "Rock of Ages" premiere, with Def Leppard.
2 stars = Mediocre
The idea is quite clever, given that Edgar Allan Poe is considered the father of the modern detective thriller, but the execution here is a letdown despite a rich period look, courtesy of settings in Budapest and Belgrade.
Directed by James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta," "Ninja Assassin"), it casts John Cusack as Poe, who first finds himself a murder suspect and then an unofficial partner to a detective (Luke Evans) investigating the crimes terrorizing Baltimore in 1849. The deaths borrow details or murderous methods from his stories.
The victim is named Griswold, in real life Poe's rival and literary executor who is best known for writing an obituary of Poe (under a pseudonym) that doubled as character assassination.
Poe is a man with too little money, too much of a taste for alcohol and too much sorrow in his life when it comes to women. But he has found love again with Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), a socialite whose father (Brendan Gleeson) despises the writer. (She is a composite character, in case her name doesn't ring a bell.)
Her relationship makes her the perfect possible target for the killer, whom Poe grows ever desperate to find -- even as his life is in jeopardy, too.
Lives are at stake, but you never sense that every second counts. It's a whodunit where the "who" ultimately isn't as interesting as the victims or certainly the man whose writings inspire the macabre murders.
3 stars = Good
The film is a feast for the eyes.
Director Ridley Scott elevates the visuals to a new sci-fi high in this tale of explorers following a map to the far reaches of outer space. From the holographic images on the ship to the massive beehive-like structures, the film is glorious in design.
The casting is nearly as perfect, with Noomi Rapace's passionate performance balanced by the cold and methodical thinking of Charlize Theron's character. There are a few minor flaws: Idris Elba, who plays the ship's captain, is underused; and Guy Pearce works under mounds of makeup as the mission's rich benefactor. There's no reason a younger actor had to be cast and put through such extensive makeup.
Mr. Scott's titanic effort in "Prometheus" yields such a visual triumph that small flaws can be overlooked.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy NewspapersAlso this week:
• "Whitney: Season One": Star Whitney Cummings found that perfect blend of being edgy but likable in this 2011 series.
• "Bones: The Complete Seventh Season": Emily Deschanel stars in the procedural TV series.
• "World Series: History of the Fall Classic": A look at the battles for the Major League Baseball title.
• "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Anniversary Edition": Re-released for the 30th anniversary.
• "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?": Film celebrates 50th anniversary.
• "12 Dogs of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue": Puppy orphanage must be saved.
• "30 Beats": Lives of New Yorkers intertwine though sexual encounters.
• "Yancy Derringer: The Complete Series": Jock Mahoney stars.
• "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Season 7": Charlie Day stars.
• "Webster: 20 Timeless Episodes": Selected shows from the TV comedy.
• "Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death": The Doctor looks into what happened to Mars Probe 7.
• "The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairytale": Ms. Barrino stars in the cable movie.
• "Something Big": Dean Martin stars in the story of bandit Joe Baker.
• "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure": Film's now on Blu-ray.
• "The Adventures of Scooter the Penguin": A new CG-animated family-friendly feature.
• "What Color Is Love?": Lifetime movie about an interracial relationship.
• "Annie Clause Is Coming to Town": Vivica A. Fox stars in this story of self-discovery.
• "Thomas & Friends: A Very Thomas Christmas": A holiday delivery filled with friendship.
• "An American Christmas Carol": Henry Winkler plays the Christmas hater Scrooge.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers