Remember the 90s? No? Well, put down that Modest Mouse CD, Sally, and I’ll tell you all about it. They were heady times. The economy was rocking, and so was the White House. While the market was going up, Monica was going down and we were all having a laugh while Republicans tried to dismantle democracy in America. Yes, we were all gleefully hoodwinked by the early volleys of a culture war that is just now taking its toll.
I’m sure all aging rock fans have their own feelings about their relationship to the art form (which was frickin invented in some of our lifetimes). There’s something undeniably magical, forceful, and yeah, rebellious, about that moment when you snap on your amp and your guitar becomes an instrument of assertive, potentially deafening noise. It’s powerful. It does seem to kick out the jams, obliterate any stuffiness, shove propriety and politesse down authority figures’ throats.
I find it hard to say much good about Mick Jagger these days. His abysmal solo album and corporate rock antics with the Stones make him the poster child for not aging well. So it’s rather refreshing to come across something he does that is redeeming. I found it in the most unlikely of places, the local art house movie theater.
The film is called The Man From Elysian Fields, and though it’s not perfect, it is undoubtedly Jagger’s finest cinematic performance. Yes, I know that’s not saying much if you only consider his acting roles (i.e. Freejack) but Jagger in this movie rivals even Mick as himself in Gimme Shelter.
8 Mile, Eminem’s cinematic debut, is the hip-hop variation of Purple Rain, a foul-mouthed Karate Kid, a Roadhouse for those too young or hip to remember the ethos guiding that film’s epochal man-against-the-world theme. The film presents its characters’ dilemmas and goals, following them as they try like hell to fight the power and prove themselves as worthy human beings – warts, trailers, and all.
Ever since “Slim Shady,” Marshall Mathers III has never handled anything with kid gloves. And the gloves haven’t come off here; Mathers dominates almost every scene of 8 Mile. Now, keep in mind that this film is not Eminem: The E! True Hollywood Story. To be sure, the film is tailor-made for its star. After all, it’s not like he picked Out of Africa 2 as his first celluloid vehicle. But 8 Mile ‘s principal parts are far enough from Eminem’s own well-published road to fame that you don’t feel like his character, Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith, is just another of the rapper’s personas, delivered visually instead of aurally.
[Warning: Article contains spoilers; stop reading now if you don’t want certain plot details revealed… – Ed.]
The consensus: girls playing Rock is hot, even if they aren’t really playing rock.
The latest in a continuing line of candy cigarette movies that play out like extended advertisements for Clearasil, cutting-edge fashion, and Herbal Essences, Josie & The Pussycats should be commended for realizing that it is exactly that. The film addresses the overt consumerism inherent in teen-oriented cinema, but then kicks its own ass for being a part of the problem. Brilliant. But no one’s seeing Josie for the plot. It’s all about the girls themselves, and their Rock band, The Pussycats.
It would have been so simple to re-formulate Josie & The Pussycats as a trio of Britneys, spouting Simon Fuller-penned dance fantasies while wearing galactic silver lingerie and hot pants. Wisely, the creative team of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (Can’t Hardly Wait) used a different model. Instead of pixie stick popstars, the reincarnated Pussycats are a guitar-slinging power trio with equal parts Runaways, Go-Gos, and Blink-182. When we first meet them, they’re performing their single “3 Small Words.” Legs planted, hair blowing back, Josie (Rachel Leigh Cook) hits power chords on her black Gibson and really makes you wish Joan Jett was still young. Bassist Val (Rosario Dawson) nods along, and Mel (Tara Reid) hits her crash cymbal with appropriate Debbi Peterson flair. In an online interview, songwriter Kenneth “Babyface” Edmunds described the sound that the braintrust desired for their new Pussycats. “The music started punk, but we ended up with something more pop-flavored, almost Go-Go-ish.” While the well-fed songsmith is known more for pulling heart strings than guitar strings, the tight, Hole-like harmonies and distortion crunch he created for the new tunes proves his cross-genre ability. (Who knows? Maybe he’ll persuade R.Kelly to do an album of Stiff Little Fingers covers?)
The soundtrack album promises all of the songs therein are performed by Josie and the girls. Don’t believe the hype. While the three actresses are certainly the hot tamales about town, they might have spent a little more time practicing their fake stage moves. Tara Reid’s tangled blonde main goes a long way toward heroin chic fantasy, but it can’t hide the fact that her hands are hitting cymbals while a drum fill plays on the soundtrack. They could have taken cues from the recent Almost Famous, which did a great job of making Sweetwater look like a real band up on the stage. Or the producers could have hired The Donnas, if they wanted looks and chops. Instead, we’ll settle for a few more close-ups of Cook’s to-die-for doe eyes and cool Pat Benatar 2K1 brush cut. But that’s the thing about these new Pussycats. They’re hot, yeah. But in a nails-for-breakfast sort of way. We don’t worry about the technical stuff, because just like Prince and Sheena Easton said, these girls Got The Look. In an early scene, Josie’s bent over the engine of her sometime boyfriend, fixing his alternator as he strums badly on her guitar. Whew. What a way to switch up those gender roles. I’ll be outside the theatre cooling off.
In a genius move, the film makes Josie and the girls heirs to the rock star throne only after evil record company geek Wyatt (Alan Cummings) murders the hilarious boy band send-up Du Jour. While making fun of the N Syncs and Backstreet Boys of the world is easier than pouring piss out of a boot, an opening scene featuring a Du Jour public appearance is spot-on, and hilarious. Sporting a feather boa and a top hat, the always reliable Seth Green (Scott Evil in Austin Powers series) cops the earnest face and head tilt-leg slide combo move favored by so many of our high cheekbone’d friends. It only makes the Rock more powerful when Du Jour’s sickeningly funny performance is followed by Josie and the girls strapping on their instruments and turning things up to 11.
So that’s what it comes down to. While Josie & The Pussycats has its “Believe in Yourself!” afterschool special-isms and too much of a rickety plot involving the curse of disposable income, it still has three gorgeous girls doing their damndest to rock the house (even if the girls we see on celluloid aren’t really the ones rocking us). It’s like my man Jeff said after seeing Detroit girl rockers Stroker Ace:
…[S]ometimes it’s nice to be exactly like the little 12-year-old girls who swoon over the Backstreet Boys. It feels good to embrace the kind of love/lust that you know is totally without merit, because dammit, we all want to bed a musician after we’ve seen him/her on stage. Didn’t you read/see High Fidelity?
(Aside to Rachel Leigh Cook: I’m single.)