Screen Queen: 'Rock of Ages,' 'Brave' & 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

By Chris Azzopardi

Rock of Ages

It's far from perfect. It's not even great. But following his first musical, "Hairspray," director Adam Shankman's take on this Broadway hit - which, by the way, basically only exists so history (and shoulder pads) doesn't repeat itself - is such a kitschy good time that even Tom Cruise lets his hair down. His role as a seedy rocker who's gone a little cuckoo is Oscar-caliber. Also: Catherine Zeta-Jones moves to "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" like she's ready to start a dance craze, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand open their hearts to each other in a silly super-gay montage, and Mary J. Blige sings like this ain't no family affair but an MJB concert. (Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, people). Only newcomer Diego Boneta and especially Julianne Hough bore as lovebirds who fall for each other over music, which is too bad - the movie is built around their characters. The rest of it, though, kind of rocks if you surrender to the ridiculousness of the era's soundtrack set to some of the cheesiest scenes in cinema history. And Alec Baldwin in a Bret Michaels wig. You know you want more, and the Blu-ray has it: a look at '80s style, interviews with Sunset Strip legends and an MJB music video - the only one, because she's Mary J. Blige.

Moonrise Kingdom

No offense to Wes Anderson, but his offbeat, star-studded comedy about young love is as dainty, whimsical and lovable as hearing Taylor Swift sing about being a princess. This is a compliment, for Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," his best film ever, packs just as much nostalgic magic in its narrative: Two precocious misfits (first-timers Jared Gilman as orphan Boy Scout Sam Shakusky and Kara Hayward as 12-year-old Suzy Bishop) leave their everyday lives and run away into the wilderness, where they think they'll find their happily ever after. No more adults, either. Those grownups have their own problems, anyway: Frances McDormand and Bill Murray star as Suzy's bickering parents, and Bruce Willis makes an endearing sheriff. If you're not moved by the innocent charm of "Moonrise Kingdom" - which profoundly speaks to anyone who's been forbidden to love somebody and loved them anyway - then check yourself for a beating heart. Special features are scarce, with only a few short making-of featurettes, but word is there'll be a more expansive release for people who heart this movie like I do.

The Amazing Spider-Man

In Marc Webb's adaptation of the famous comic-book story, Peter Parker is a bullied high-school student transformed into a superhero by a spider bite. He web-blasts villains, crawls ups buildings and gets the confidence to woo Gwen Stacy (a blond Emma Stone being her adorably cute self). Gee, it really does get better. The reboot, released just five years after Sam Raimi's third and final installment in the Tobey Maguire trilogy, is the most sensitive entry in Spidey's web. Every scene featuring Stone and Andrew Garfield, with their awkward getting-to-know-yous, is especially likable, and recent Human Rights Campaign honoree Sally Field as Peter's aunt is so awesomely emotional she'll make you miss "Brothers & Sisters." "The Amazing Spider-Man" also benefits from Webb's indie touch: The first hour is as beguiling as a lot of his last feature, "(500) Days of Summer." And hey, admit it: There are few things in life better than Andrew Garfield Ziploc'ed in spandex. Unless, of course, he's doing a catwalk in spandex, a short bit among extras like cast interviews and a long look into firing up the franchise again.

Your Sister's Sister

How do you deal with the death of a brother you lost a year ago? If you look to "Your Sister's Sister" for advice, you go to your friend's quiet cabin and sleep with her drunk lesbian sister. The setup for Lynn Shelton's little-seen indie almost sounds like a Tale Lesbians Love To Hate, but nothing's objectionable in this drama about empathy, forgiveness and unconditional love. After taking a dare to go gay with a buddy in "Humpday," Mark Duplass makes an even greater mark in his role as Jack, who's ordered by Iris (Emily Blunt) to bike out to her dad's getaway home where her sister, who's wallowing after a breakup with her girlfriend, is also staying. A few whiskey shots later and they're doing it, and then things get awkward when Iris pops in. This is Blunt's best role ever, and Rosemarie DeWitt is, once again, a revelation. All three are so fully committed in this little big-hearted film, one of this year's most unexpected charmers. Extras are lean, but the director commentary gives an insightful explanation of the lesbian sex scene that's caused a fuss.

Brave

Pixar's given us leading men, some adorable fish and even a robot, but what about a woman? We finally got our pretty princess in "Brave," a medieval fable about Merida and the path she takes to be her own person. That's great and all, but it's that curly red mane - every strand perfectly drawn and flowy and beautiful - that really had me in awe. It says a lot about "Brave": animated up to usual brilliant Pixar standards, but lacking the studio's inventive storytelling. Be yourself. Go your own way. Shoot a bow and arrow even if you're a girl. We get it, and we've seen it all before. Recently, in fact, with "How to Train Your Dragon," an ancient story of standing up for what you believe in. Part of the problem is Pixar's own greatness: The franchise has set the bar so high with "Up," "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E" that this installment just can't compete with a tender tale of an old man and his air balloon or a cute android couple. The special features - a full disc of them! - focus on the animation, from complications of creating cloth (seriously) to discussions of smelly Scottish people.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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