Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #46

Here kitty, kitty, kitty…

Country: Canada & USA
Language: English
Runtime: 98 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG-13 | PG (“This Film Edited For Family Viewing”)

Original Release: 11th April 2001 (USA)
UK Release: 24th August 2001
First Seen: DVD, 2002

Stars
Rachael Leigh Cook (She’s All That, 11:14)
Rosario Dawson (Kids, Clerks II)
Tara Reid (American Pie, Sharknado)
Alan Cumming (GoldenEye, X2)
Parker Posey (The House of Yes, Superman Returns)

Directors
Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait)

Screenwriters
Harry Elfont (A Very Brady Sequel, Made of Honour)
Deborah Kaplan (The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, Leap Year)

Based on
Josie and the Pussycats, a comic book created by Dan DeCarlo.

Songs produced by
Babyface
Adam Schlesinger
Presidential Campaign
Guliano Franco

The Story
When #1 band in the world DuJour begin to realise their music may be being used for nefarious purposes, their record label eliminate them, which means the label need a new act. Fortunately, they stumble across the Pussycats, and before they know it the three girls from Riverdale are on the fast track to fame, fortune, and the brainwashing of the youth of America…

Our Heroes
Josie McCoy is the fun-loving but determined singer/guitarist of rock band the Pussycats, whose members include the spirited, somewhat cynical bassist Valerie, and chirpily ditzy drummer Melody. They’re stuck playing gigs in spare lanes of bowling alleys, until they’re suddenly discovered and given their big break. But all may not be as it seems…

Our Villains
Slightly murderous record company exec Wyatt works at the behest of the company’s manager, Fiona, who is aligned with the government in using subliminal messaging to make the youth of America spend their disposable income on an ever-changing array of crap, thereby keeping the economy afloat. It’s funny because you could almost believe it.

Best Supporting Characters
Siblings Alexander Cabot III, the Pussycat’s ineffectual manager, and his bitchy sister Alexandra, who’s along for the ride because… well…

Memorable Quote
Alexander Cabot: “You know what? I still don’t understand why you’re here.”
Alexandra Cabot: “I’m here because I was in the comic book.”
Alexander Cabot: “What?”
Alexandra Cabot: “Nothing.”

Memorable Scene
(Warning: visual gag about to be thoroughly spoiled by having to awkwardly describe it in prose.) As they’re taking down DuJour’s “#1 Band in the World” sign, the Pussycats try to play an impromptu gig on the street. Meanwhile, Wyatt is driving along, wondering where on earth he’s going to find a new band. A shop owner scares Josie & co off, and they run away into the road. Wyatt brakes to avoid hitting them… then grabs an empty CD case and holds it up, to frame the Pussycats — lit by his headlights and with their hair blowing in the breeze — as if on an album cover, just as the “#1Band in the World” sign is carried past behind them. (See also: the header image of this post.)

Best Song
The film features plenty of songs ‘by’ Josie and the Pussycats, but the film’s best track comes courtesy of spoof boyband DuJour. Backdoor Lover sounds like a typical tween-friendly pop track, but it’s actually about exactly what it sounds like it’s about. Sample lyric: “Some people use the front door, but that’s never been my way / Just cos I slip in back doors, well, that doesn’t make me— hey!” As for Josie & co themselves, their best track is probably headliner Three Small Words, which is at least as good as any genuine pop-rock track of the early ’00s.

Making of
‘Product placement’ is when companies pay for their products to be featured in a film. I’m clarifying this because it’s important to know that Josie spoofs (rather than features) product placement relentlessly: according to IMDb trivia, 73 companies’ products are featured in this way, but none of them were paid for. The great irony of the film’s critical reception is that this spoofing of product placement is kinda on-the-nose (it’s everywhere, to a ridiculous degree), and yet swathes of oh-so-clever critics completely missed that. Rotten Tomatoes even use half of their Critical Consensus summary to say that “the constant appearance of product placement seems rather hypocritical.” Point, missed.

Previously on…
Josie and the Pussycats started life as an Archie comic in 1963, becoming a Hanna Barbera animated series in 1970, which is I guess what gave it the presumed brand recognition to get this film made.

Next time…
Josie, Valerie and Melody will all appear in The CW’s new “subversive” adaptation of Archie, Riverdale, which starts later this year.

Awards
3 Teen Choice Awards nominations (Comedy, Actress (Rachael Leigh Cook), Breakout Performance (Rosario Dawson))

What the Critics Said
“This is one sharp pussycat. Sensationally exuberant, imaginatively crafted and intoxicatingly clever, Josie and the Pussycats shrewdly recycles a trifling curio of 1970s pop-culture kitsch as the linchpin for a freewheeling, candy-colored swirl of comicbook adventure, girl-power hijinks and prickly satirical barbs. Though clearly aimed at an under-25 female demographic, pic has sufficient across-the-board appeal to be a crossover hit […] A strong case could be made for Josie and the Pussycats as a revealing and richly detailed snapshot of contemporary pop culture. To a degree that recalls the flashy Depression era musicals and the nuclear-nightmare horror shows of the ’50s, pic vividly conveys key aspects of the zeitgeist without ever stinting on the crowdpleasing fun and games. It’s made for the megaplexes, but it’s also one for the time capsule.” — Joe Leydon, Variety

Score: 53%

What the Public Say
“This made for a great double-feature with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Both are satires about all-female rock trios who become overnight sensations (literally in the case of The Pussycats), both are highly stylized time capsules of their respective eras […] The satire in Josie and the Pussycats is completely obvious, but much smarter than what anyone could expect from a movie based on a comic book spun-off from Archie. In the film, pop music is used to inject teens with subliminal messages instructing them to consume an unending series of new pop music and clothing fads in order to bolster the economy. Not really your typical teen movie plot. Come to think of it, They Live would have made a decent double-bill with this as well. Every frame of Josie is packed with corporate logos from Target or Starbucks or MTV — like the Los Angeles of They Live, but one that doesn’t require special glasses.” — Jeff @ Letterboxd

Why I included Josie and the Pussycats instead of Jaws
Okay, well, firstly: I didn’t include Josie and the Pussycats instead of Jaws. Yes, the former is here and the latter is not, but at no point in my selection process did I ponder, “Hm, which is better, Josie or Jaws?” Maybe I should have. But I didn’t. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jaws is one of the biggest omissions from my list, so now seemed as good a time as any to say a couple of words on my selection process that will, in a way, explain some of my more idiosyncratic picks. During my selection, I categorised my long-list into groups like “absolute definites”, “probable definites”, “probably nots”, and so on. Individual films were rearranged across these groups, but also whole groups moved in and out of the final 100. Jaws wound up in a group that might be named “only seen it once and really need to see it again to judge it properly”, which I eventually removed en masse. Other films (that I’ve alphabetically passed already) in that group include The Adventures of Robin Hood, Battle Royale, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Collateral, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. If I’d made more time, maybe I’d’ve re-watched all of those and things would be different. But I’d wager Josie would still be here. Why? Well, that’s what the next section is for…

Verdict

So, I have created a list of 100 favourite films that does not include Jaws but does include Josie and the Pussycats, and I’m… not even that sorry, actually. Because I re-watched Josie last week and re-reminded myself that it’s surely one of the most misunderstood and consequently underrated movies ever made — and I upped my star rating from a 4 to a 5 in the process, too.

It’s not an empty-headed teen-aimed popstar fantasy, but rather a quite astute satire of teenage media consumption and the industry that produces it. Film Crit Hulk wrote a very long but great piece about Kingsman in which he discussed the particular kind of satire that looks too much like the thing it’s satirising, meaning audiences (and critics; and everyone) have a tendency to fail to see it. Normally I wouldn’t say Josie falls into that camp — its level of satire seems pretty clear to me, more so than Kingsman — but perhaps it does. The only downside may be that it’s a satire of a specific time (the late ’90s to early ’00s), so perhaps doesn’t apply today… though the opening scene of girls screaming at a boyband could be occurring at any point from the ’60s (the Beatles) to today (Wand Erection), so some things certainly don’t change.

Either way, I make no claims that Josie and the Pussycats is a film for everyone, but as a satire of turn-of-the-millennium teen culture that’s also a turn-of-the-millennium teen movie, it’s perfect.

Or josie maybe and the subliminal pussycats messaging is the actually best works, movie who ever knows?

#47 will be… an adventure 65 million years in the making.

Alone in the Dark (2005)

2009 #69
Uwe Boll | 94 mins | TV | 18 / R

Alone in the DarkI’ve never played an Alone in the Dark game. I wanted to, when I was young and they were a widely-known cutting-edge franchise, but it was deemed too scary or adult or something like that and I wasn’t allowed. (By the time someone’s nostalgia revived the series nearly a decade later, I didn’t care.) I’ve also never seen an Uwe Boll film, though his reputation obviously precedes him. Considering the latter, having no attachment to the former is probably a benefit to assessing this — I understand that, story-wise, it bears virtually no relation — but I can’t say it helps much.

Right from the off, things don’t look good: it opens with an essay’s worth of backstory in scrolling text… which, just to rub it in, is also read out. It takes about a minute and a half. There are any number of screenwriting rules this not so much breaks as slowly and methodically grinds into sand. Some rules can be bent or broken to good effect if the writer knows what they’re doing, but others exist for damn fine reasons and breaking them just results in a lesser film. This is unquestionably the latter. There’s an almost-excuse: the text was added after test audiences said they didn’t understand the plot. But it’s not much of one. The relevant information is all revealed later in the film too, and neither manage to explain what the hell is going on. It’s not the audience’s fault they couldn’t understand the plot, it just doesn’t make sense.

Quickly, the poor quality opening is cemented with the addition of a dire voiceover narration from Christian Slater’s lead character. He addresses the audience in a chatty style that’s both irritating and incongruous, and primarily exists to continuously dump more useless info. That it disappears without a trace fairly early on is a relief, but proves how pointless and cheap it was in the first place.

And then there’s an action sequence, which defies logic in every respect. The editing mucks up continuity, the good guys turn into a dead-end marketplace for no reason — other than it provides a handily enclosed location for the ensuing fist fight — the bad guy rams cars, scales buildings and jumps through windows, also for no reason, and the fight seems to consist of a punch followed by some slow motion standing around (yes, it’s the standing around that’s in slow motion) repeated too often, interspersed with the occasional ‘cool’ move or shot. On the bright side, there’s one sub-Matrix, Wanted-esque shot of a bullet-time close-up as Carnby fires at the bad guy through a block of ice, which in itself is passably entertaining. You’ll note, of course, that that’s one good shot. One. Shot.

I could go through every scene in the film describing what’s wrong in this way, but no one wants to suffer that. Suffice to say it only gets worse — none of the initial flaws improve, but are compounded by more weak performances (Tara Reid as some kind of scientist?) and the story entirely vacating proceedings. Before halfway I gave up following the plot — after all, why try to follow something that makes no sense in the first place — and just hoped it could pull out some interesting or exciting sequences. But the horror sequences have no tension and the fights no coherence. One action sequence, which begins entirely out of the blue, sees soldiers shooting at beast-thingies in the dark, lit only by muzzle flashes, set to a thumping metal soundtrack. It probably seemed innovative when conceived, but instead is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Like the rest of the film.

Sadly, none of it’s laughable in a charming way — this is not So Bad It’s Good territory. Take the moment where the good guys arrive at an abandoned gold mine that’s actually the villain’s Super Secret Lair. They bring a whole army’s worth of heavily armed marines. Commander blokey insists it’s nothing like enough men… and then proceeds to enter the mine with just half a dozen of them. If there was no budget for more it might be funny, but the rest stay up top to be slaughtered by some Primeval-quality CGI. Even the ending, supposed to be ambiguous apparently, is just a meaningless cop-out that makes absolutely no sense. Like the rest of the film.

Sometimes I feel sorry for Christian Slater. He always seems a nice guy in interviews, yet this kind of drivel is all the work he can get. At the time of writing it’s the 82nd worst film of all time on IMDb (according to its own page, though not that chart). While this is the kind of status that’s often an overreaction (the number of people on IMDb declaring various films are “the worst film ever” suggests most of them have been fortunate enough to never see a truly bad movie), for once it’s justified: Alone in the Dark is irredeemably atrocious.

1 out of 5

If you want to subject yourself to Alone in the Dark, ITV4 are showing it tonight at 11pm.

Alone in the Dark featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2009, which can be read in full here.