24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Musicals

'Rock of Ages': '80s-inspired musical is off-key, critics say

June 15, 2012 |  3:58 pm

Rock of Ages

"Rock of Ages," adapted from the stage musical of the same name, is set amid the 1980s rock scene on the Sunset Strip — but it's also, to put it in contemporary terms, something of a mash-up, sampling songs from the era (by Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Foreigner), Broadway flourishes and Hollywood tropes (including a "Footloose"-style killjoy). Tom Cruise is the headliner, playing an aggrandized rock god named Stacee Jaxx, and Adam Shankman ("Hairspray") directs.

Although Cruise's outsize performance is earning praise from critics, many reviewers are saying that "Rock of Ages" fails to hit the right notes.

The Times' Kenneth Turan is among the critics giving "Rock of Ages" a positive review, declaring it  "a triumph of genial impudence over good sense and better taste" and "the guiltiest of guilty pleasures." The film succeeds, Turan writes, "because of its unlikely combination of a guileless, thunderously cliched boy-meets-girl plot structure conveyed in a sophisticated, showbiz-savvy style." The acting helps too, with "a sterling group of supporting actors to keep us entertained" and especially "fearless work" by Cruise.

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Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

February 11, 2012 |  6:41 pm

Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks

The death of Whitney Houston at the age of 48 is a deep loss for the music world. But it also has reverberations in another artistic realm--the movies.

Houston had recently finished shooting "Sparkle," the remake of the 1976 Irene Cara film that, eerily, focuses on talented young musicians whose lives are ruined by addiction. Houston also served as an executive producer on the movie, acquiring rights to the original film more than a decade ago. The movie, shot this past fall and currently in post-production, is scheduled to be released in August. No word yet on any release-date changes; we're awaiting word from a producer.

[Update, 7:41 pm, Saturday: A producer on the film said Saturday night he had actually just seen a rough cut. "I'm in total shock," executive producer Howard Rosenman told The Times. "I have no idea about the impact on 'Sparkle,' which I saw last night. [Houston] was unbelievably fantastic in it." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the studio, Sony Pictures, said the movie remains set for an Aug. 17 release.]

The original "Sparkle" told the story of the Williams sisters, a trio of 1950s-era Harlem singers whose stories were loosely inspired by the Supremes. Headed by Lonette McKee's Sister, the group also features Sister's sister Sparkle (Cara), Dolores (Dawn Smith) and several friends. As they begin to find success, though, Sister's life spirals out of control, with drug addiction eventually leading to her death.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The new version, directed by Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom," television series "The Game"), is believed to follow a similar story line, with Jordin Sparks as the titular character who must find a way to achieve stardom despite the drama surrounding her family. Houston plays Emma, the sisters' less-than-encouraging mother. (The original character, named Effie in the 1976 film, was incarnated by Mary Alice.)

Though the film has a heavy music component, it is not known how much Houston's character sings on screen, if at all. Derek Luke and Cee Lo Green co-star opposite Houston, with Carmen Ejogo as Sister Williams.

In another surreal turn, Houston had said she originally wanted Aaliyah for the title role but was forced to reconfigure the project when the R&B singer was killed in a plane crash in August 2001.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston dead at 48

Houston's publicist confirmed on Saturday that the star had died in Los Angeles, just a day before the Grammy Awards honoring the music world's finest. No cause of death has been given.

The "Sparkle" remake was supposed to serve as an auspicious return to the big screen for Houston, who gained fame as a silver-screen actress playing a pop star in 1992's "The Bodyguard" and then three years later as TV producer Savannah Jackson in the adaptation of the bestseller "Waiting to Exhale" but hadn't been in a movie since "The Preacher's Wife" sixteen years ago.

Houston also had a strong influence on numerous film soundtracks, producing and recording on "Exhale" and a host of other films. (A number of those songs could get some air time at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.)  Houston also had an important if less high-profile role in the movies: she served as a producer on "The Princess Diaries" franchise.


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Whitney Houston appreciation: A voice for the ages tarnished by addictions

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks in an early still from 'Sparkle.' Credit: Sony Pictures

As it seeks a big-event feel, 'Glee' 3-D movie adds advance screenings

July 13, 2011 |  2:16 pm

Twentieth Century Fox is taking a page out of the Justin Bieber playbook for its upcoming "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie," targeting fans with a set of advance screenings. The studio says it will hold showings on Aug. 10, two days before the movie officially opens.

Ticket packages to the screenings, which will take place in 291 theaters across North America, cost $30 and include one movie ticket, 3-D glasses, a pin, a hat, a bracelet and a backpack. Shipping is another $5.95.

Fox appears to be aiming to create an event feel around the film along the lines of a live concert. The tickets will be sold via a dedicated website starting Thursday, with visitors to the movie's Facebook page given the opportunity to buy tickets starting Wednesday.

Paramount tried a similar advance-screening gambit with "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," to strong effect. The screenings frequently sold out, and the film went on to gross $73 million, a sturdy total for a documentary concert film.

The "Glee" movie, which stars TV series regulars Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Jane Lynch, combines performances from the cast's recent 40-show concert tour with pieces of backstage footage.

A concert film is an appealing (and relatively easy) brand extension for a touring show, particularly those aimed at a spend-happy younger demographic, though studios are mindful that they need to produce and market a movie as more than just a straight recording if they're to lure ticket buyers. The genre has had a mixed record: While the Bieber and Hanna Montana concert movies were a success, the Jonas Brothers film flopped.


With Glee 3-D concert movie, Lea Michele will sing on the big screen

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Glee" performers in a 2010 episode. Credit: Carin Baer/Fox

Judy Garland gets the 'Never Say Never' treatment

May 27, 2011 |  1:33 pm

Fifty years ago last month, Judy Garland gave what is regarded as one of the most memorable musical performances of all time, a standing-ovation extravaganza at Carnegie Hall. After years of a substance-abuse-induced decline, Garland came back strong that April night, wowing both the media and celebrities in attendance. The resultant double album topped the charts for more than a year.

Carneg But despite its place in the canon, little footage exists of the event, a point that's not lost on Steven "Flip" Lippman and "Howl" filmmakers Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein. The former, a director of musical shorts featuring the likes of Sam Phillips and Rosanne Cash, has set out to direct a documentary about that night, with the latter two serving as creative consultants. Called "Stay All Night," it seeks to re-create the evening in the New York concert hall a half-century ago.

"The concert is a cultural touchstone, something I remember vividly as a kid," Friedman told 24 Frames. "It's a magical moment in theatrical history. And yet there's almost no record of it."
Friedman said he and his collaborators aim to make a documentary that's less a historical document and more evocative of the experience of being in the theater, particularly focusing on the connection between the singer and her audience. "It's loomed so large that it's easy to forget that this was something that happened in a kind of immediate way," Friedman said.

In the documentary, Lippman, who has already begun conducting interviews, will blend together rare scenes from the concert with conversations with dozens of people who were in the audience. He says he and his collaborators have uncovered Super 8 footage from backstage, and will also play snippets of music from the show. [Update: Lippman says, via a representative, that there is in fact no footage from the show.] The movie, incidentally, is not the first time a modern-day artist has sought to reconstruct the evening; five years ago the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright gave a Carnegie Hall performance that re-created, with the help of a 40-piece orchestra, the same set list that Garland sang.

Concert films are enjoying something of a resurgence. Justin Bieber had a hit this spring with "Never Say Never," and the cast of "Glee" will bring their concert tour to the multiplex this summer. Although a movie screen has sometimes been seen as a pallid re-creation of the concert-going experience, the advent of digital and 3-D technology has helped the medium catch up.

"There's an opportunity to create what it's like to be in the presence of transcendent artistry," Friedman said of both "Stay" and concert films in general. "The trick is to capture these unguarded moments and make the audience feel like they were there."


With "Glee" concert movie, Lea Michele will sing on the big screen

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. Credit: John Fricke Collection / PBS

'Rock of Ages' director Adam Shankman: Constantine Maroulis wasn't right for the lead role

April 4, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Adam Shankman decided a few days ago to bring on Diego Gonzalez Boneta, a Mexican actor on teen-friendly shows such as  "90210" and "Pretty Little Liars" -- and also an accomplished singer -- for the lead role of Drew in his filmic version of "Rock of Ages."

That disappointed fans of Constantine Maroulis, who scored a Tony nomination for his portrayal of the aspiring singer on Broadway and recently came with the production to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. Shankman said he understood why fans felt strongly but didn't believe Maroulis suited his movie's needs.

"Constantine was perfection as Drew in the play," Shankman told 24 Frames. "But the truth of the matter is that I cast at age, and I wanted someone who doesn't have to act 20 or 23 but actually is 20 or 23 [Maroulis is 35]. The authenticity of someone actually being that age is important."

Diego Shankman said that he understood fans' attachment to the former "American Idol" contestant but believes others can and should be given a chance at the role. "It would be like saying Ethel Merman is the only one who could play Mama Rose. This is a great example of a torch being passed."

The filmmaker said he had reached out to Maroulis to see if he would be interested in a smaller part in the movie. Asked about Maroulis' reaction to the news that he wouldn't be playing Drew, Shankman said, "I can't put myself in anyone's shoes. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to hand over a role."

As for the man who did land it, the 20-year-old Boneta came out of nowhere, literally. He was one of about a thousand young actors whose name popped up in online auditions. But Shankman said he immediately felt drawn to the actor and singer, who's also recorded several hits in Spanish.

"The 'It' factor was impossible to deny," Shankman said. "Diego sang the ['Rock of Ages'] songs effortlessly, and they were written so high, for freaks of nature. But he handled them so easily. Everything about him was at ease. He was charming and innocent and guileless. He's a very handsome kid who seems to have no awareness of what he looks like."

Shankman said the move from the theater to the screen won't compromise the essential emotional ingredient of the story, in which, against the backdrop of the 1980s and the development of the Sunset Strip, aspiring rocker Drew and struggling actress Sherrie fall in love. "If you look at 'Avatar' or even 'Titanic,' " he said citing two cinematic blockbusters, "what's at the core of it is a little love story about people who are destined to be together and fate rips them apart. And that's right at the center of this."
While Shankman has been pestered by plenty of actors deluded about their own musical talents -- "you have no idea" -- he says his biggest name for the film, Tom Cruise, is a perfect fit.

The director said he, too, was skeptical until he saw the actor in "Tropic Thunder." "It was just the courage he showed as Les Grossman and how far he could go, and with this role [of veteran rocker Stacee Jaxx] the more out there the better," Shankman said. "Tom is so committed to the work; he would never expose himself if he didn't think he could do it. And he's from singing stock -- his grandfather and great-grandfather were opera singers."

The "Rock of Ages" cast -- which also includes Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige and, schedule-permitting, Russell Brand -- offers plenty of star power. But Shankman, who previously directed "Hairspray," believes there's a trove of musical talent here too. "You need to cast up in order to get movies of this size greenlit; we never could have made this movie with lesser-known people," the director said. "But I also think audiences are going to be stunned when they see it."

And yes, that stunning musical talent even includes Baldwin. "Alec sang on 'Saturday Night Live,' which was a joke, sure. But this guy can more than carry a tune."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Constantine Maroulis as Drew on the Pantages stage. Credit: Chelsea Lauren / Getty Images; Diego Boneta as Javier Luna on "90210." Credit: CBS Television

Tom Hooper could direct Les Miserables musical, could have directed 'Iron Man 3'

February 23, 2011 |  5:15 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Of all the filmmakers to see their stock boosted this Oscar season, none has enjoyed the Google-like jump of Tom Hooper. Like any director with an Oscar nomination and a $100-million hit on his hands,  "The King's Speech" helmer has been wooed by numerous studios in town.

Perhaps the most interesting offer that we've heard about? It comes from Marvel and involves some shiny gizmos. According to a person who has worked closely with Hooper but who asked not to be identified because the director did not authorize this person to speak on his behalf, the Brit was offered the director's chair on "Iron Man 3," the latest installment in the Robert Downey Jr. franchise. He turned it down, and "Lethal Weapon" writer Shane Black wound up landing the job several weeks ago.

While Hooper won't be steering Stark Industries, another person who has worked closely with him said he was weighing an offer to direct "Les Miserables," a new version of the classic novel and Broadway musical set in 19th-century France. The movie, which is being developed by "Atonement" producer Working Title, is conceived as a big-budget musical.

A "Les Mis" movie would mark a return to the big screen for the story of Jean Valjean after a 1998 non-musical version (which, coincidentally, starred "King's Speech" star Geoffrey Rush as the villainous Inspector Javert). If Hooper accepted the gig, it would continue a European trend for the director: His "The Damned United" was also across the pond.

Hooper has not taken a new job since "Speech" wrapped shooting about a year ago.

When we interviewed him earlier this season, Hooper said he wouldn't mind continuing the "Speech" pattern and directing another historical or period story. "I'm certainly on the lookout" for something like that, he told 24 Frames.

A representative at Hooper's agency International Creative Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the two projects.

The "Iron Man" offer is reminiscent of last year's bid by Sony for "The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow -- another filmmaker who saw her fortunes polished by Oscar season  -- to direct its reboot of "Spider-Man."  She turned it down to make "Triple Frontier," an action-movie passion project.

--Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling


Photo: Tom Hooper at the Berlin Film Festival. Credit: Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images



Can Barbra Streisand bring 'Gypsy' into a new era?

January 6, 2011 |  5:49 pm

The good news for those in Hollywood contemplating a musical with Barbra Streisand is that she has three of the higher-grossing movie musicals of all time.

The bad news is that the most recent of the three came out in 1983.

The singer-actress who won an Oscar for 1968's "Funny Girl,"  followed it up with 1975's  "Funny Lady" and cross-dressed in the shtetl in 1983's "Yentl" is now in talks to star as Mama Rose in a reboot of "Gypsy" with Warner Bros., in news first reported by the New York Post and confirmed today by Streisand's representative.

"Gypsy" is of course the 1959 musical-- Arthur Laurents wrote the book and Stephen Sondheim the lyrics; Jule Styne penned the music -- about Gypsy Rose Lee and her family, loosely based on Lee's memoir. A film version with Rosalind Russell was made in 1962, a TV version was made with Bette Midler in 1993, as well as numerous Broadway revivals over the years, the most recent in 2008. (For a photo gallery of actresses who picked up the Broadway mantle on the silver screen, check out this photo gallery at our sister blog Culture Monster.)

Streisand's capacity for the role aside, the immediate reaction to this news might be: Do a lot of filmgoers know or remember the original  enough for a new film installment  to work? Nostalgia alone rarely sells a remake, no matter how beloved the thing being remade. Do they yearn to see Streisand, best known to a younger generation (if she's known at all) as the daffy mom in "Meet the Fockers," on the big screen in a leading role?

And maybe most important, do enough filmgoers in 2011 want to see a musical in the first place?

Big questions all. But maybe not the biggest one. Musicals, after all, can thrive these days. It's just that the ones that do tend to be shiny pop updates of stage classics, like "Hairspray;" shiny pop originals, like "High School Musical 3"; or shiny pop adaptations of shiny pop stage originals, like "Mamma Mia."

And "Gypsy" ain't shiny -- it's dark and complex, like much of Sondheim's work.

Occasionally a movie musical that's a little rougher around the edges can work  -- "Dreamgirls" and Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" both did reasonably well within the past five years, for instance. And "Gypsy's" themes of stage-parenting and the pressures of the spotlight feel more of the zeitgeist than ever.

But it's an open question how much a "Gypsy" update with a Lindsay Lohan sheen would sit with the die-hards. And it's an equally open question how well a movie faithful to the 1959 original would sit with everyone else.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Barbra Streisand. Credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images


Culture Monster: Barbra Streisand as Mama Rose? Why not Patti Lupone?

Musical to movie snubs: Photo Gallery



With 'Burlesque,' Christina Aguilera follows an undesirable pop-star path

November 29, 2010 |  7:00 am

Britney Spears flopped with "Crossroads." Mariah Carey bombed with "Glitter." And now, apparently,  things didn't exactly work out for Christina Aguilera and her movie of musicial becoming, "Burlesque."

Slotting a shiny pop star into a shiny pop movie must seem like the most logical idea in the world at the time that a director or producers comes up with it. But the box-office performance of the Aguilera-Cher movie this weekend once again proved it's not easy for a mega-selling singer to make the jump to acting.

After dreadful reviews that pummeled (among other things) Aguilera's acting, "Burlesque" opened to $17.2 million over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend -- not an unmitigated disaster, but hardly a blockbuster success either, especially considering the movie's marketing assault.

What is it about pop stars, particularly female ones, that has us loving them in our iPods but turning up our noses when they turn up on the big screen? I suppose you could say it's simply a matter of their skills not translating into a new medium. But history suggests otherwise; Doris Day was one of several stars from another era who went from musical stardom to big-screen fame.

Maybe, then, it's a question of not wanting to see a contemporary multi-platinum recording artist as an ingenue, as Carey was in her film and Aguilera was in this one. Or maybe we just find a singer playing a singer, as so many do in these contemporary films, just a little bit redundant. 

In fact, sometimes it seems as though the only time we truly like a pop star on the big screen is when said star is doing something very different from what made her famous. We eventually came to embrace Carey in "Precious," Madonna in "Evita" and even Cher herself once she left behind her early roles in light music movies and moved on to the likes of "Mask" and "Silkwood."

So maybe music stars can make a go of it on the big screen. But they need a certain amount of chops, a good role and a lot of discernment. Be very careful, Lady Gaga.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Christina Aguilera in "Burlesque." Credit: Screen Gems


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Movie Review: "Burlesque"

Critical Mass: "Burlesque" -- Just bad, or so bad it's good?


Kenneth Turan's film picks of the week: 'Oklahoma!' and 'The Leopard'

June 24, 2010 |  8:15 am


Saturday is going to be a great day for lovers of really big movies on really big screens, not to mention vintage movie theaters, as two great films play. Traffic willing, you could see them both.

It starts at 2 p.m. (with a repeat show at 8 p.m.) at the venerable Alex Theatre in Glendale with a 35 mm Cinemascope showing of Rodgers and Hammerstein's swell musical "Oklahoma!" The Broadway version ran a then-record 2,212 performances over five years, and the film features Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae marveling at corn that's as high as an elephant's eye.

Then it just takes a leisurely drive across town to make a 6 p.m. screening at the Orpheum on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles of the stunning digital restoration of the Burt Lancaster-starring "The Leopard."  This is the complete three-hour-and-five-minute version of the magisterial Luchino Visconti epic, also starring Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, that justifiably wowed audiences at Cannes.

Either way, you can't go wrong.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale in "The Leopard," which is screening as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Credit: Los Angeles Times file photo

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The Oscars, picking up the cane and donning the top hat

January 14, 2010 |  2:48 pm

Sav Anyone wondering how song-and-dancey this year’s Oscars will be may have just had the question answered.

JANUARY 14, 2010



Beverly Hills, CA — Open dance auditions for the 82nd Academy Awards telecast will be held on Friday, January 22, and Saturday, January 23, at CenterStaging in Burbank, California, telecast producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic announced today.  Cast dancers will perform live during the Academy Awards show on Sunday, March 7, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center.

The auditions are open to professional-level male and female dancers in the contemporary and hip-hop styles who are between the ages of 18 and 30.  Shankman, who began his career as a dancer and once performed on the Oscar show, will be choreographing the audition numbers with associate choreographers Anne Fletcher and Jamal Sims.


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