The highlight for the next two weekends in Sacramento’s film scene is the Sacramento French Film Festival at the Crest Theatre – always an excellent experience. For more details visit www.sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org.
It’s also a week for multiple interesting and diverse film openings:
Probably the highest profile and glitziest of the new films is “Rock of Ages,” a film adaptation of the stage musical of the same name. It’s a fun story about a small town girl from Oklahoma who arrives in Hollywood with $17 to her name and who almost immediately, in the manner seemingly only possible in musicals, gets robbed and then finds work at the Bourbon – a bar and music venue modeled rather obviously on the Whiskey. Naturally, she’s really a wannabe musician – along with virtually all of the Bourbon’s other employees, including her instant boyfriend Drew. Meanwhile, the new Mayor of LA has a wife who’s on a crusade to shut down the clubs on the Strip, just as big time rocker Stacee Jaxx, who started his career at the Bourbon, is scheduled to play his last gig there.
The story itself is fairy tale simple and the film has the awkward problem of trying to project an R-rated persona, in a PG-13 reality, with that PG structure. It’s also got potential conflicts in terms of who will find the retro-80’s music appealing compared to who are Hollywood’s cash cows at the box office. But none of that stops it from being fun. It’s light, loud, bawdy, and amusing – helped by a great cast of well known actors in all the supporting roles. Jaxx is played by Tom Cruise, in a role that grows on you to the point of almost seeming perfect by the end, with Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Paul Giamatti helping to propel the melodic mayhem.
The other most mainstream project is “That’s My Boy,” the latest from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company. The premise is high concept and offensive, which isn’t atypical. There’s a common perception that girls who are sexually molested by any adult and boys who are molested by men are all victims, while boys being molested by women often result in off-color “where was she when I was a kid?” remarks by adult men. And this entire film relies on that crass and potentially damaging double standard.
Sandler plays the adult Donny Berger who, as a kid, impregnated his teacher resulting in her going to prison and him becoming a juvenile father – a status that doesn’t change much as he ages but doesn’t mature. He also becomes famous from the scandal, with a notoriety that stays with him. Years later he attempts to reconnect with his son who has since distanced himself entirely from the father who constantly embarrasses him.
If you aren’t overly offended by the subject matter (and realize that on a scene by scene basis, the subject matter is far more offensive than that basic premise) then the content is often quite funny. But the film is almost destroyed by Sandler’s decision to play Berger as broadly as possible, as a drunken loser with an annoying delivery and equally annoying habits. This wouldn’t ever have been a great movie but it could have been a solid laughathon. Instead it gets old less than a minute after Sandler first appears onscreen. Andy Samberg of “Saturday Night Live” is a good pick to play the son but he also demonstrates how well the material works with less over the top characterization. Overall, I think I winced as often as I laughed.
And continuing with the eclectic lineup, “Hysteria” is a period costume drama, set in 1880’s London and recounting the invention of the world’s first electric vibrator. (It starts with a title card that says “This story is based on true events. Really.”) At that time, and for hundreds of years previously, hysteria had been a diagnosis for assorted conditions exhibited by women and attributed to malfunctions of the uterus. One treatment, albeit hard to believe today, was for women to visit a doctor who specialized in such matters, and to be manually stimulated to orgasm. The problem being for some doctors that this caused certain repetitive stress injuries to the hands and fingers. That is until Dr. Mortimer Granville accidentally discovered, more than invented, the vibrator – this being at a time when electricity in the home was a locally generated, unusual, and expensive utility.
This is another film that wins by virtue of a great cast having fun with an inherently funny and intriguing subject matter. Hugh Dancy plays the cramp-handed inventor, Maggie Gyllenhaal (with a convincing English accent) the daughter of his employer and a feminist champion of the poor (it’s hard to tell which offended her wealthy peers more), Jonathan Pryce her father and expert treater of hysteria, and Rupert Everett as Mortimer’s friend and benefactor. It’s probably the best of the bunch and the one that will be least seen.