"Josie and the Pussycats" Rock the House!

Josie and the Pussycats

7/1/2015

Every so often you'll come across an older movie that you've never seen but always wanted too and it turns out to be completely different than you though it would be.  "Josie and the Pussycats" is just such a movie.  Released in 2001 and obviously marketed to teenage girls, it's actually a darkly satirical and sarcastic laugh riot.  Although maybe not so much in 2001, the last 14 years or so has given it time to mature like a fine wine and be even more cheesy, campy and ridiculously funny.

Adapted from the "Archie" comic books from the 1960s, "Josie and the Pussycats" are an all girl rock band brought into modern day reality.  Josie is played the down to earth and electric Rachel Leigh Cook, which was the main reason I wanted to see this movie in the first place.  Rosario Dawson is Valerie the tough and smart bass player, while Tara Reid is Mel the ditzy blonde drummer.

Remember this was a time period when boy bands like "Nsync" and "Backstreet Boys" ruled the charts.  The movie opens with such a band called "Du Jour" and there number one hit single "Backdoor Lover".  Their record label Mega Records has created them and molded each of their personalities and their music to sell to their adoring fans.   Although if they become aware or what's really going on behind the scenes they can replace them in a moments notice.  The bands interaction on their private jet is priceless, the petty arguments and celebrity whining all ring true.  This bring another clever part of the film to the fore front or shall I say background.  Product placement in movies and TV is quite the shameless epidemic and the filmmakers take this concept to soaring new heights.  Every single shot in the film has been arranged to show some sort of blatant product placement.  Dujour's jet is plastered with Target logo's and bottles of dish soap? Must be because of their squeaky clean image.  This sort of tongue and cheek satire is littered throughout the film.


Okay back to the girls.  When Dujour's jet mysteriously crashes. Mega Records executive Wyatt Frame (played brilliantly by Alan Cumming) needs to find the next big thing, and just happens to spot "Josie and the Pussycats" crossing the street.  He immediately signs them and within a week they are the hottest band in the country. The girls find this a bit odd but fame and celebrity can be pretty awesome.   When the group learns that Mega Records puts subliminal messages into their music, they must fight the power and save legions of teenage fans from wanting to drink Zima and buy Puma sneakers.  Josie and the girls have remained grounded and skeptical until Josie is given a CD from Wyatt that turns her into a selfish bitch.  He also enlists Carson Daly to kill Mel and Val, this is actually how Carson and Tara Reid met in real life and almost got married.  The girls then must deal with the evil Fiona (Parker Posey) the head of Mega Records.


Filmmakers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan could have gone a few different ways with the material but went all out in crafting a witty, thoughtful and fun piece of cinema that could have been so much worse.  I can now definitely say that "Josie and the Pussycats" are totally jerkin'.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is "The Lookout"

The Lookout
6/4/2015

Two years after the success of "Brick", Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in another indie film called "The Lookout" with another first time director in Scott Frank.  Although Frank has written a number of hit films over the past twenty years, it was his first shot at getting behind the camera.  It would be easy to say that "The Lookout" is a heist film, which it is, but its more of a character study of a young man named Chris Pratt.  Not to be confused with the actor Chris Pratt who was in "Guardians of the Galaxy"

While in high school Chris was a stand out hockey player without a care in the world.  His whole life ahead of him until one night while cruising through the back farm roads in a convertible with some friends, a magical moment is turned tragic.  To better see the clouds of fireflies with his girlfriend he turns his lights off, it's a surreal moment until reality literally hits them in the face.  The car crashs head on into a giant tractor and the friends in the back seat are killed.  Chris and his girlfriend are thrown, but survive. 

Flash forward 4 years and Chris is still learning to live with the brain injury that has turned his life onto an unexpected and frustrating path.  His short term memory has been severely damaged and must keep clear notes.  Due to this disability the only job he can get is a nighttime janitorial position at a small town bank.  Although its a long drive from his apartment it forces him to drive by the scene of the accident twice a day. 


With the financial support of his upper class family he lives in a small apartment with the pragmatic and father like Lewis, played by Jeff Daniels.  Lewis is blind and has learned to live with his ailments.  Chris lives a quiet and solitary life and doesn't have any friends his own age.  So one night at the local bar a childhood friend introduces himself, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), he doesn't immediately recognize him but goes along with it.  Gary hooks him up with a hot girl (Isla Fisher) and introduces him to a bigger group of shadier looking people.  After a short honeymoon period Gary comes clean with his intentions.  Him and his crew rob banks and need Chris's help to hit the one he works at.  Chris is torn, he's a good guy at heart and it doesn't seem like something he would even consider, but he also feels trapped.  Yearning for freedom from his domineering family and the chance to realize some of his lost dreams.  He agrees to be the lookout, hey that's the title of the film!


Chris is a lost soul and his life has been defined by one bad decision he made as a teenager.  Will he learn from that experience and continue improve his life inch by inch as he has been or will he be lured by the devil-like Gary into another life altering choice?  A person's poor decisions will often unknowingly hurt the people around them, but is only realized in hindsight.  While the last act of the movie does suffer a little bit from a case of convoluted bullshit things are resolved.  While the first two thirds of the film does a great job in creating Chris's world and developing its characters it might be a little too slow for people expecting a classic heist film, this is made up for better or worse with the finale.  It's still a film worth seeing and the DVD includes a commentary track for those who like that sort of thing.  Check it out! 


"Brick" is a Modern Masterpiece by Rian Johnson

Brick
5/17/2015

After his breakout role in "Mysterious Skin" Joseph Gordon Levitt followed that up with another sleeper indie hit in "Brick" the debut feature of writer/director Rian Johnson. "Brick" takes the classic noir crime drama and plants it in a modern day high school.

Levitt plays Brendan a scrappy loner who finds the dead body of his old girlfriend.  We then flashback a couple of days to see all of the events that lead up to this discovery and who is ultimately responsible.  Emily played by Emile De Ravin is the girl in question, she has drifted away from Brendan and has fallen into a dangerous crowd.  Her new boyfriend Dode is a low level sleazebag who belongs to a bigger group of shady characters.  Brendan fears for her safety and when she goes missing his search for answers leads him into the underground world of a young crime boss known only as the Pin (Lukas Haas).  With help from his only friend, The Brain, Brendan literally takes a number of beatings, mostly doled out by Tugger, to finally meet with the Pin himself.  The Pin is about 26 years old and has adopted the style of a 1970s godfather, although he operates in the basement of his oblivious mothers basement.  There are moments of ridiculous humor at the mothers expense that make the Pin a more rounded character.  Although it is best not to cross him as his calm demeanor can be a bit deceiving.


Rian Johnson has created a unique and interesting world with a language all its own.  The characters dialogue is peppered with its own slang giving it an authentic and gritty feel.  The structure and atmosphere of the film are right of a Dashell Hammett novel if adapted for younger crowd.  All of the regular conventions are present.  You have your innocent man, the dead girl, the kingpin, the enforcer, and of course the femme fatale.  Laura fills that role perfectly in "Brick".  She is rich, beautiful and could be the key player in finding what happen to Emily.


Driven to the point of physical and mental exhaustion Brendan's intensity and determination refuses to quit.  One by one he gathers clues and digs himself a big hole he can hopefully get out of.  When things disintegrate within the Pin's inner circle its everybody for themselves and everyone has a play.  In this chess match someone is going down hard and Brendan must be a step ahead of everyone to get out alive.


"Mysterious Skin" A Film by Gregg Araki


Mysterious Skin
5/10/2015

This is the film that showed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has arrived as a serious and talented dramatic actor.  A daring and explicit film that not only shed his child actor status but shows great potential for years to come.  Directed by indie auteur Gregg Araki who always has something powerful and profound to say.  Never afraid to go there.

This is the story of two young boys who were sexually abused by their little league coach and the two different life paths it has taken them down.  The years of repression and coping mechanisms is wearing them down as they get older.  First we are introduced to Brian (Brady Corbet) who as an 8 year old blacked out for a period of time and woke up with a bloody nose.  Even as he gets older he is still convinced he was abducted by aliens that night as he still get those bloody noses.  After seeing a UFO program on television he seeks out a young woman who also believes she was abducted.  Brian is an emotional wreck in a desperate search for answers.  Neil (Gordon-Levitt) on the other hand is now about 18 or so and is a hustler, hanging out at parks and playgrounds selling his services to older men.  Neil hides behind a cocky, devil may care attitude, but you know he is scarred and hurting inside.  His best friend Wendy has been at his side from the beginning and is now going off to college in New York City.  Tired of his old routine back home Neil also moves to NYC, which proves to be more that he bargained for as he tries to make money like he did back home.

Brian's search for answers brings him to a small farm and he meets with Avalyn, the woman from
TV, who has problems of her own.  This whole alien abduction fantasy that they share is just way to escape their crippling physical and emotional problems and to find other such people to confide in.  Brian's emotional pressure cooker comes to a head with his own father who he blames for not being their for him.  His mother is also in a deep state of denial about what could have happen to him.  Also at about this point Neil has a run in with a brutally violent John that breaks him down physically as well as emotionally.

Back home on Christmas Eve Brian finally meets up with Neil and the whole truth comes flooding out.  It's obviously no secret that abuse at any age is life altering and the after affects last for years if not forever, but their is still hope at the end of the long dark tunnel.  This film is brutally honest and shies away from nothing in its depiction of its ugliness and how it affects its victims.  While at times hard to watch "Mysterious Skin"is definitely a film to see.


"Identity" Knows what a Good Horror Movie Should Be!

Identity
4/19/2015

"Identity" combines a good script along with good execution to deliver a thrilling scare fest of a puzzle that entertains and surprises.  Although it did follow the trend of the super surprise "Sixth Sense" style twist ending, which pretty much makes the movie what is.  That being said it still doesn't take away from the enjoyment of it.

The story takes place at a desolate roadside motel during a monsoon like rainstorm.  The ensemble cast is led by Ed, played by John Cusack, who while driving through the storm accidently hits a woman on the side of the road.  The woman is a wife and mother of George and Lou.  They all go to the motel for help, but the phones are out as well as the cell phone service.  Getting back on the road Ed doesn't get that far as a few miles up the road he finds its flooded and heads back.  Various characters start showing up at the motel looking for a place out of the rain.  There's the bitchy actress, the young couple, the reformed prostitute, and the cop (Ray Liotta) who is transferring a dangerous prisoner.  They are all a little bit more than their stereo type indicates but nothing that will reinvent the horror genre.  While waiting out the storm one by one they start showing up dead and in pretty nasty ways.  The big mystery begins as to who is the killer? With each body that shows up they find a hotel room key counting down to number one.  Ed, who used to be a cop, and Rhodes the actual cop team up to find the killer and protect who's left, but the murders don't stop and accusation and anxieties run high.  Eventually they find out each of them has a connection to each other.  Is this just a strange coincidence or was the whole thing staged by some murdering psychopath?

All of the action happening at the hotel is framed by another story of a death row serial killer named Malcolm Rivers trying to get a last minute stay of execution.  Dr. Malik, played by Alfred Molina, has new information that could help Malcolm's cause and a late night meeting has been set up.  The connection to these two stories is made clear in the big reveal at the end.  People familiar with horror movies might see a lot of the twists and turns to come but the filmmakers do a good job trying to stay one step ahead.

With so many possible spoilers it's a little difficult to review a movie like "Identity" but it's easy to see that a lot of thought and care went in weaving such a story and to not get lost along the way.  The film has quite the amazing cast for a horror movie in Cusack, Liotta, Molina, Amanda Peet, and a yet to be discovered John Hawkes.  Its a fun movie that delivers all the thrills and chills it promises and that is a pretty rare thing.