The Letterboxd Files with Cory is back online.
While we’re a handful of days behind schedule, The Letterboxd Files with yours truly has returned for another round of things that you could’ve already read if you had a Letterboxd and followed my account.
If you don’t, never fear. I’d never deprive you of these painfully casual film blurbs. I wouldn’t even dare. This week, we’ve got Elvis, a spattering of William Friedkin and Wolfgang Petersen (because why not) and more reviews from the vault because I have a job and didn’t watch as many movies this week.
So, uh, okay, reviews.
Lmao, Baz, you crazy SOB. Elvis is a 159-minute atomic blast of rhinestone glory. Genuinely unsure how Austin Butler pulled that off, and how Tom Hanks was able to be so evil with that accent. A stunner. Let Luhrmann do whatever he wants for the rest of his career.
Can we put to rest the idea Walk Hard made it to where you can’t do a biopic like this anymore? Literally just hire someone as insane and opulent as Baz Luhrmann and nail the cast. Elvis is a rattler. No idea how Baz decided to put a Denzel Curry track in the Elvis movie, but I support.
Maybe not my favorite Petersen film, but it’s pretty compelling when it’s showing the horrors of contagion and how futile we are to nature. Having actually lived through a pandemic and gotten the virus in question (with tons of vaccine flowing through me), it is fascinating to see the “what if?” horrors of 90s imagining of what this might look like.
Clearly it’s going off a disaster movie’s playbook, and the military conniving feels a little trite for how something this serious would actually go. But just having lived through a moment where U.S government severely mismanaged the opening stages of a pandemic…incompetence and malevolence at the federal level don’t feel that off. Petersen really found something to say with the state of our leadership at the top with his government trilogy (this, Fire, AF1), and though this is the least effective of that trio, it’s still a noxious reminder of how we pale in comparison to nature’s worst. Cute monkey, too.
Where to Watch: Freevee, VOD
Air Force One
God bless Wolfgang Petersen for mounting such a thrilling, phenomenally stupid-yet-surprisingly deep studio blockbuster at a time where we need way more of that than Spider-Man 7. Gary Oldman snapping in every scene is a hoot.
Also, Rent Guy!
Where to Watch: VOD
In the Line of Fire
I originally intended to only watch an hour of this, but it was so magnetizing, I couldn’t do anything but finish it. The classic 90s political thriller, complete with an air-tight script for 2+ hours, some great performances and a steady hand from Wolfgang Petersen. I miss Clint Eastwood acting in other people’s movies. Just a grand time.
Where to Watch: Netflix, Hulu, Pluto, VOD
To Live and Die in LA
A scuzzy, sun-drenched LA neo-noir where nobody is good forever and everyone has something to hide. Obviously the car chase is a landmark, which what else would you expect from the guy who made The French Connection, but I was equally impressed by Friedkin’s ability to zap the film of any predictability. It’s just a daring, morally dubious cops-and-grifters saga with one hell of a Willem Dafoe performance. Everything burns.
Where to Watch: Internet Archives
It’s stunning to me we used to live in a world where this was a major release from a movie studio. Sure, it got stomped by Star Wars, but what didn’t in 1977?
A clear pathway for movies like Uncut Gems and Triple Frontier, and a white-knuckle, unforgiving descent into a very specific land of desperation. One of the few movies where it felt like anything could go wrong at any moment, and you feel that tension from opening to closing credits. Friedkin is a master of shot composition, and in building that exact shade of gut-wrenching tension that makes you want to yell at the screen.
The rainy sequences on the bridge…I genuinely don’t understand how they pulled those off. Stunning moments.
Where to Watch: VOD
There’s something powerful that the film that’s going to stand as the future of Pixar is made by a team of amazingly creative women. Domee Shi elite: best directorial debut at Pixar since Lee Unkrich doing Toy Story 3. Staggering talent. It’s got shades of Scott Pilgrim and Aardman, which is one of the higher compliments I can give a movie. It nails the 2000s feel, down to the fact that it feels like one of those 00s live-action family films aimed at preteens. That’s a feat!
I usually don’t give Disney credit for creative risk anymore, and boo on them for pulling this from theaters, but this is a step in the right direction. You quite literally can’t make this movie 10 years ago.
Best Pixar since Inside Out.
Where to Watch: Disney+
Generational spectacle. It’s the first of a whole, but it feels still like a complete journey. It’s one of those rare experiences you can’t miss on the big screen – like, if you have any love of film at all, you must see it at least once in a premium format. I think it’s going to be canon one day / it’s the shining example of Villeneuve’s talent and what makes him the most interesting director working. I mean this seriously – some moments in this rival the same awe I felt the first time I watched 2001 in a theater (IMAX) – you just get those goosebumps and feelings of disbelief at what you’re watching. I still don’t know how they pulled some of this off – I’ll be honest, I got a little emotional watching some of this again in such a grand way. Not just for what we missed during the lost year in theaters, but just in appreciating what the best of what the spectacle of moviegoing can give you. A+ movie.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, VOD
Team America: World Police
The bulk of this is very squarely fixed in a Bush America, and some of the commentary lacks the kind of nuance that we’ve learned about global
politics since it came out. I think some of it is the same kind of issue Blazing Saddles faces now – timely subversion that now looks dated without viral context – but some of it is just Parker/Stone’s sense of humor just not advancing past what was allowed at the time.
Some of it is aggressively funny, some of it is just not quite there anymore. What’s surprising is some of its best material isn’t even humor – it’s the darkness that seeps in with the characters and the story. The music is solid, the puppetry is deeply impressive, the puking scene is still the funniest part besides the house cats. I really wish there was more here that aged well, but it’s still quite good for what it’s trying to do. It’s not my favorite thing Parker/Stone have done, but it’s important for what it accomplished, even if what some of it accomplished shows a little naivety and insensitivity.
Where to Watch: Fubo, Showtime, VOD
Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo! Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog
As much as the absence of John R. Dilworth looms over this (it’s very weird he virtually had nothing to do with the revival of Courage and didn’t sign off on this), this is leagues better than the CGI Scoob! movie that committed the unforgivable sin of recasting Shaggy. Matthew Lillard is the only person that should be allowed to play or voice Shaggy until his passing; this should be U.S. law.
The tonal clash of Courage’s artsy/creepy horror comedy and Scooby Doo’s kooky 60s mystery caper isn’t nearly as jarring as you’d expect. No Dilworth means the graceful terror of the original Courage series is missing, but the body horror comedy and abstractions, and all the usual beats, for Courage are present. The original show is landmark for animation and one of the best animated series of all time; this revival is pretty darn enjoyable in a “good fan fiction” sort of way. Thea White’s Muriel being back and is just as good as ever, just before her passing, hits hard. I forgot what a spectacular piece of voice acting that was and what a great, tender character she is. She and Courage’s dynamic still hits home. So sweet.
Some of this is a little too goofy for its own good (Eustace’s rap number is a choice), but it’s so much better than it has any right to be, and just so, so much better than the big-budget animated film meant to spark a cinematic universe. It gets both series’ right, and it has Lillard right where he needs to be. Also, what a randomly hilarious/moving statement on the relationship the anxious have with calming apps.
The likely first and last Courage family reunion was a nice little thing I didn’t know I needed. Mixing in Scooby-Doo is a clever little wrinkle that makes this direct-to-DVD ditty worth the time.
Where to Watch: VOD
The best and worst of Kevin Smith, rolled up into a delicious burger that gives you the runs. As I get uncomfortably closer to 30, I can’t help but feel much more so now the burden of time than I did when I snuck-watched this in 2006 that Smith places on Dante and Randal, selling burgers and talking pop culture into their 30s as life passes them by and they start to grapple with the fact that they’re not really “young” anymore.
You can tell that Smith is at war with himself as a creator here, still slinging the same shock-disgust humor but wholly unable to fumble the emotional beats that define his best films. He can’t let go of some truly uncomfortable jokes by today’s standard (half of Randal’s shtick would get tossed out in millisecond in today’s climate, for obvious reason), which makes some of this movie age like an old hamburger on the sidewalk. It’s not really “fair” to judge everything on that standard, with Smith more than willing to answer for Randal’s defeating immaturity with deep-seeded insecurity and fear for how small he feels in a world that seems to be passing him by and a past he probably never fully appreciated until it was long gone.
They say youth is wasted on the young, and it’s clear Smith is asking himself, and his pop-culture obsessed audience, if they really understand how precious the days of empty chatter with beloved buddies are, how the time you spend with those you love and the good you can rummage up to do for others really cements your time on this planet, not the big dreams you muster or the life goals you feel bound to complete. Dante and Randal may feel lost in the dog days of the service industry, but it’s that they’re together that makes it worthwhile, and even joyous and well worth the menial nature. Though, Smith’s irony comes with finding that out before so much of it is off the clock. You can’t always appreciate what you’ve got while you’ve got it in abundance, which is why life can be so bittersweet.
Smith’s penchant for vulgarity and shock value never served him quite like he hoped; this, of course, came before his spat with Rotten Tomatoes and Cop Out/Yoga Hosers period when you could tell he was struggling to find his voice as an artist who saw an industry starting to pass him by and a style that was growing more dated by the hour. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was actually a pretty nice little comeback vehicle for him, and clearly, Clerks III might be his best chance in decades to make a sincerely good movie, informed by real-life struggle. Dante and Randal have always been his most honest characters and best evolving reflections of self, as you can tell Randal’s teary lament to Dante in jail is fully Smith purging his own insecurities about aging onto the page. Making Randal have a heart attack to directly mimic his own experience really has some dramatic potential that rivals anything he’s done in his career. It might be the best proving ground he’s ever had.
Though, you just hope the juvenile sensibilities strike more toward character than offensiveness. I get some of Randal’s gross-out, low-brow, creepy gags are of their time and made to reflect a shallow, immature, likely dishonest goober who talks a big game and doesn’t have much to back up with. But his persona is caught between genuine empathy and a damning sense of obsoleteness. People complain “you can’t make this anymore” with certain comedies, but clearly some of this movie’s humor is irresponsible and embarrassing. Thankfully Smith has beyond evolved his rhetoric (his latest View Askew film finds a much more palatable sensibility), but you’ve got to weigh this film’s good heart, smart wordplay and deeply touching character work and performance with its at times bewildering lack of awareness. Though, that’s Smith for you circles 2006. Jeff Anderson’s performance, beyond being really nuanced and powerful at its best moments, also captures a sense of lowliness and timidity that does make this film’s most face-planting moments feel less proud and more self-critical than Smith’s page does.
This is a very good film in spurts, and a bizarre, rusted time capsule in other ways. It’ll rightfully stay in its time of release and probably will get revisited with some negative attention once the new film comes out for how cringey some of the humor is. But also don’t forget the beating heart of it all, that helps contextualize some of this film’s lesser angels as sad consequences of living life without full awareness of how precious it is and how wonderful it is to have those around you.
Where to Watch: Redbox, Pluto, Plex, VOD
A glorious over-exaggeration. Jan de Bont knew how to give folks a good time at the movies. For the goofy moments and aged VFX, there’s a real sense of terror with the storm and a real sense of excitement for the chase. It’s a great cast, Bill Paxton such a loveable jackass in this, and Helen Hunt does a great job as the anchor for the emotion. PSH, obvs., is the MVP though, the world’s best storm-chasing hype man. This is a little long and ridiculous, but it’s also just a tour-de-force roller coaster theme park attraction. Which is ironic, because the actual theme park attraction for this sucked.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, VOD
Look, the Russos were a weird ass pick to direct this movie being that the last non-MCU film they made was You, Me and Dupree.
Cherry is a lot of things, and at times, the Russos completely whiff on what they’re trying to say, only to be bailed out by their really impressive cast. The Russos know how to cast well; that’s the only reason this film, at least to me, holds itself together. It’s a glossy Goodfellas of an addict’s descent, free of any nuance. The Russos are not the guys who will give you that. But Tom Holland is a supremely gifted young guy who understands the story much better than the Russos do, and he’s pretty dang good here.
He’s better at capturing the dangers of boredom and economic disruption, better at casting a side eye to the empty, dangerous machismo of his military training, better at portraying the devastation of PTSD and the inability to find meaningful help for it, better at sliding into addiction and eventual ruin. The Russos don’t know how to do any of that convincingly, but their filmmaking still, somehow, refracts back with oomph because they were smart enough to wrangle in Holland (and Ciara Bravo, who does some under-appreciated heavy lifting her).
The Russos are not probably going to make another movie like Cherry with some of these reactions devastatingly negative, but I found some engagement in this thing. It’s no better or worse at fast food imitation of a better filmmaker than its peers (I think they’re doing more Refn than Scorsese), and it’s, again, anchored by an actor in a better movie.
Holland is genuinely good here, and that military section is genuinely interesting and thoughtful in its brazenness to depict the downsides of army life in such a crass, empty way. It’s unafraid to have a more blunt conversion about the 00s wars than some other things I’ve seen, and I liked that about it.
The addiction drama is grimy and shallow, but Holland, Bravo, Jack Reynor and Forrest Goodluck are so dang good in portraying the darkness and immorality of the moment that it becomes surprisingly watchable.
I don’t think the Russos are doing bad work here, but I question what happens if the cast falls through. It’s a decent flick, but Holland earns his stripes.
Where to Watch: Apple+
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (rewatch)
A voracious, twisted vision of Hell, a carnival of sin and discord forged in the bowels of something unholy and wretched. Gaspar Noe by means of Lars von Trier with John Waters, David Lynch, Harmony Korine, Nicolas Winding Refn, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rob Zombie, Darren Aronofsky, Uwe Boll, the Farrellys and Tim Story serving as creative consultants. A disturbing survey of a languishing grave of holiday capitalism, screeching from the beyond warnings of greed and excess. A demented ballet of gruesome revenge from an ugly, amoral soul.
In other words, what happens when you give Ron Howard creative control of a family film.
I feel I am drawn to this film for its pungent nostalgia, for the feelings I have when I watch it that cannot be explained for the quality of what I’m watching, but I also defend the filmmaking. This is what happens when a film goes so off the rails that it dips into a twilight zone where so many delirious accidents and haphazard creative choices get hocked together into something so unsettling, garish, crass, dated, individual. There will never be another movie like Ron Howard’s The Grinch and 2003’s Cat in the Hat. These are abominations, but also such fascinating time capsules and signifiers for what the Universal Studios corporate suite thought was cinematically appropriate for the work of Dr. Seuss. In a world of MCUs and sterile family entertainment, I crave something so disastrously captivating as Ron Howard’s The Grinch. It’s wrong to like this movie, but like it, I do, for all of its festering warts and licked toads. It’s legitimately entertaining in a very selfish way – I find no inherent value in what I’m watching, but I still take great pride in finding value in the experience.
I think this film works in some ways because there are some genuinely great things about it, on purpose and on accident. Jim Carrey is a man possessed – it is the most physical performance of all time, and I’m dumbfounded and deeply fascinated that he did this, Me, Myself and Irene and Man on the Moon so close together. It’s like he did The Majestic as a way to come off the acid trip he must’ve had to go on to be in those consecutive movies. I don’t like to think he ever took the Grinch makeup off – he just stayed in there, pushing the brink of his mental stability until he was just Grinch, nothing less, nothing more. Just Grinch. It’s an astounding feat of physical comedy and excess emoting. It’s a miracle he was able to do this and make it so lasting – I mean that. Rick Baker and company’s makeup is unbelievable for how it just meshes into the characters. The dog is a good actor dog, Taylor Momson is a good kid actor, Tambor plays smug like a fiddle, Clint Howard is the perfect actor for such a besmirched production. Getting Faith Hill to sing the main song over the credits after this nearly two-hour psychedelic breakdown is absolutely hilarious. This movie should not exist but I’m so glad it does. It’s a wonderful example of some of the deeply strange stuff that masqueraded as family entertainment when I was a kid. I’m all the better and worst for it.
I find value in this film. It’s a weird, unkempt, relentlessly crude-yet-disarmingly-warm piece of early 2000s kitsch. But it’s also one of the most popular and rewatched Christmas films of all time. Only a holiday movie could be so bizarre and still garner such adoration and loyalty.
I’d love to read an oral history of how this movie got made. The stories. Can you imagine the stories?
Where to Watch: HBO Max, VOD
Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story
A cheap sizzle reel of hero worship and political myth-making; telling in its utter inability to find anything particularly laudable about Rudy Giuliani in flashbacks of his spotty career in public service as a draconian attorney-turned-mayor. Any virtue bestowed upon him is in imagined dialogue, where any of his actions are heralded as “the right thing to do” because he’s Rudy, a good American and New Yorker who *loves his city.* It’s telling Giuliani made a cameo in this to give it his official seal of approval – it’s mostly the biopic equivalent of blowing smoke up the buttocks.
I really don’t know what to do with the 9/11 material here. It’s obviously the pivotal part of Giuliani’s public persona, what he was mainly known for pre-Trump. Giuliani’s actual response and legacy to that horrible day is much more complicated now than it was when this film was made, already coronated as “America’s Mayor,” a shine that largely followed him nationally up to his time in this current administration. It’s a little shameless to have footage used like this, pandering in a way to serve mainly the purpose of telling Giuliani’s story. It’s his movie, but this film’s handling of 9/11 feels very lacking. But it was also released in 2003, before anyone really saw the full picture? I don’t know.
James Woods’ performance is kind of just what he used to do in movies; banter quickly and yell loudly. It’s a strange balance of wanting to portray Giuliani as this moral fortress who also casually cheats on his wife, shows no mercy in his law, uses the Southern Strategy to win an election and berates superiors as a showing of “strength.” He’s given a glowing aura the story can’t organically fulfill. On subtle purpose or accident, it just shows him as a brash, ineffective, “law and order” politician who gets thrust into history and is hailed in the moment for saying all the right things and being at the front and center. It’s not to say he didn’t do good things around 9/11; it’s just that he’s not nearly the unifying hero that this movie tried to make him out to be.
Clearly this film has no cultural currency outside of that Twitter clip that went viral (not very indicative of the rest of the film, which is as a whole listless, uneventful and kind of boring), but it is a fascinating time capsule to see how reputations get built off of fictional work. He was America’s Mayor because that’s what folks were told he was. It’s how Trump was seen as a successful businessman who could stabilize the economy. Stories matter! Myth-making in politics is dangerous; this film is definitely guilty of this.
It’s whatever. A Made-for-TV procedural biopic that can’t really rectify its desire to glorify its subject with a life’s story unable to provide many examples of why that glorification is wholly deserved.
Don’t Watch This
I really wonder what the good people at TOHO thought when they left the screening room after being shown Roland Emmerich’s take on the beloved Godzilla. It’s probably like what Walt Disney would think if those people who make cheap animated films with Rob Schneider for Redbox made a Mickey Mouse movie.
Godzilla ‘98 is a thing to behold, a doofy creature feature where quite literally everyone is an idiot and common sense and basic physics are thrown to the wind in exchange for lots of explosions and loud roaring. The Godzilla roar is one of the most jolting noises in global cinema, and here, it’s sounded so much, all at once, you lose sight of it and just get lost in the cacophonous nonsense. I can’t deny Emmerich must’ve had the time of his life here, because this is a silly movie with a true sense of personality. It has no idea it’s so crazy and lazily written, and it marches around like it’s the second coming of Jurassic Park.
Jan de Bont was originally supposed to make this, and I would’ve been so curious to see what that would’ve been like. He showed so much clever restraint on Speed, and Emmerich never met a restraint he didn’t want to break with 30 tons of explosives. He’s basically who he is as a filmmaker, a much less problematic, hokier Michael Bay who has destroyed the world like 5 times. Respect is due to how unfailingly sincere he is, even if his films have never been particularly great. Godzilla ‘98 is a big, uninspired, contrived mess, but you have to at least somewhat enjoy how happy-go-lucky it is. Like, they basically took a big dump on the Godzilla mythos and reduced him to a lifeless, CGI horror of a dinosaur, and I still didn’t hate this stupid movie because of how eager it is.
I really, really hated how they lost Godzilla so much. No one in New York could not keep their tabs on a gigantic monster; multiple scenes have everyone asking “where’s Godzilla?” like it’s Homer Simpson trying to pitch Poochie to the Springfield TV execs. He’s right there, you’ll yell at the screen! He’s right there! Godzilla is right behind you!
How did he go from rampaging in the streets to hiding in the sewer system? Why does the Mayor in this get so mad about evacuating the city after a gigantic dinosaur attacks? Why did this film cast Harry Shearer to play the news anchor when he also voices Kent Brockman on The Simpsons, making a phrase like “the Disney Store has been looted” less of a forbidding sign of the times in this movie and more like an episode of The Simpsons? Why was Hank Azaria’s character composite for “Animal” the cameraman “a slice of New York pepperoni pizza brought to life by a wizard?” Why did they try to lure Godzilla by putting down a big pile of fish in the middle of New York City? Why is the military so stupid in this, even by the standards of movie military people? Is that *really* Godzilla, or just a giant stupid lizard who apparently has the ability to lay hundreds of eggs, in the span of like an hour, much less. Why was a renowned nuclear physicist taking a picture of Godzilla with a disposable camera multiple times? Why didn’t I absolutely hate this movie? I think it was because of the French military subplot. I did enjoy that. Jean Reno is always great.
This is ok? Gleefully dull, but with enough earnest panache and spirit that you can’t dismiss it outright. There is a great moment where Matthew Broderick (a casting decision I actually didn’t hate) tried to escape on an elevator at Madison Square Garden from a bunch of hungry baby Godzillas, barely getting the door to close to save his hide. He gets to another floor, and the door opens. He sees a bunch of other baby Godzillas chowing down on a popcorn machine. They look at him. He says, “wrong floor,” and closes the door. I laughed. This was a heck of a bit. Why couldn’t the whole movie just be that?
Godzilla as an IP is fine now. This is, ironically, kind of like the 2001 Planet of the Apes film I just watched (in 2020). This one is probably more remembered since it was such a big thing, but they’re both big-budget one-stop pop culture moments that flamed out because no one really liked them.
This was also far too long, but I don’t think that really matters at a point. Liked those practical sets, though! Love those practical sets.
Where to Watch: Netflix, VOD
Mars Attacks! (rewatch)
What a fun, nasty little movie. Tim Burton got the raw end of the deal that this wasn’t a bigger thing. It’s got such an anarchistic spirit, it’s laugh-our-loud funny, it’s insanely creative, the multi-narrative layout works well and the aliens are so fun. It’s a better movie than Independence Day, and I wish we talked about this every 4th of July instead of Independence Day. It’s such a wonderful lampoon of the establishment and hammers in Burton’s disdain for those in charge. It’s also got the frenetic spirit of a PG-13 Tex Avery/Chuck Jones/Bob Clampett cartoon.
The dove gag and ensuing “no birds” sign, and the aliens’ general disdain for birds in general, made be howl. This movie is a heck of a comedy, on top of its delightful parody of sci-fi tropes.
A very underrated movie, one of Burton’s better ones. Wish this got more love! Watch Mars Attacks!
I’ve never realized Jack Nicholson was in this twice!
Where to Watch: VOD
The fiancée wanted to rewatch the Shrek movies (first two), and I was happy to oblige.
I’m most struck by this rewatch because the animation is starting to really date itself. This movie is almost 20 years old! That astounds me. I was, like, 8 when it came out, and I remember being so enthralled with how weird and funny it was. I was laughing so much as a kid in this that I purposefully wet my pants so I could avoid going to the bathroom and miss any of the movie. I was that hooked; I peed myself in honor of Shrek.
It holds up because it’s one of those movies that always will. It’s just hard to make an animated movie with this much staying power, one that, even if some of the animation is looking a little rusty these days, still crackles with so much wit and has such a large heart.
Jokes I still laugh very loudly at: the Duloc welcome song and the exploding song bird, the brimstone exchange, most all of Donkey’s lines, probably more. The welcome song was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen when I was 8. The timing of that is unreal!
Everything about Shrek is good. It’s all at once such an oddball movie and a towering achievement in animation; I think one fuels the other. Hot take: Shrek is a great movie!
P.S. – That soundtrack still slaps.
Now someone make an animated movie out of the Stinky Cheese Man.
Where to Watch: Peacock, Freevee, VOD
Josie and the Pussycats
I’d kind of seen rumblings about people revisiting this and being kind of awestruck by it, and I can happily say I am now in the number that says the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie is fantastic.
I watched this on HBOMax at my fiancée’s (now wife!) house, and when she saw what I had watched, she texted me and said “did you really watch Josie and the Pussycats?” She is a very understanding person!
I mean, yowza. Where the heck did this come from? Where was its audience when it came out? Why am I just now watching this? It’s great!
It’s basically using a nostalgic IP as a Trojan horse for scathing, hilarious satire on the blind consumerism of the late 90s/early 00s, where people just bought stuff without really thinking “hmm, why am I buying this? Is this good? Is it good for me?’ I feel like we’ve all become more mindful of being advertised to and about the products we buy, but a movie like this still makes you kind of look around and see that we are still a world dominated by brands. It’s that now brands have to play fair, er, maybe just more fair than they used to?
This is like if Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Sorry to Bother You had a baby during the time when boy band culture was going on. It’s They Live for the *NSYNC generation. It’s as clear-headed and sure-fired in its very, very exact critiques of how ridiculous product placement and advertisement over-saturation was getting at that time. I remember, one time, I got a pre-Ms. New Booty Bubba Sparxxx CD in the cup of my Sbarro drink. I think that’s the consumerism culture I grew up in to a tee. It was rampant and pervasive. We really just let anything side down the gullet without thinking about it. Good thing we’re better off now! *tunes into Fox’s new show about celebrities watching television*
Consumerism being a means for conformity and a suppression of individual ideas, championed by those who are trying to compensate for how their individualism backfired on them, is not a theme I expected in the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie. I really couldn’t have told you a year ago I’d be singing this film’s praises, mainly because a year ago I had forgotten this movie existed.
It’s great! Unlike a lot of the teen-driven movies of its time, this one is incredibly smart and has some serious panache to the style. It mimics the boy band music video template in its aesthetic, which ages more like a wise stylistic decision to date the material rather than a point of convenience in the filmmaking process. The entire cast is excellent (I mean this in no point of irony; Tara Reid is Oscar-worthy in this film, like on the same level as Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, as are the script, songs and maybe even Parker Posey and Alan Cummings), the satire hits in waves (I cannot understate how biting some of it is, particularly the way it brazenly skewers the music business and its treatment of the art, artists and audience), the humor is belly laugh worthy (the Du Jour, 2000-2001 graphic got me right in the kisser), the writing and direction are creative and assured and the music is legitimately great.
Du Jour in and of itself is such a brilliant sendup of the boy band. Every single note of satire is just great here; the world might be different than when this was made, but my goodness, this is such a clever, endearing, madcap film. It’s genius how they pull this off and so sad that few people really grappled with how great it is when it was released. It’s one of the best cult films I’ve ever seen, and one of the flat-out best satires, period.
Watch this! It’s on HBO Max (at the time) and it’s legitimately superb. We can’t go to movie theaters right now but my goodness you can sure plop on the couch and watch the wonderful 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie. One of the best things I’ve seen in awhile.
Where to Watch: VOD
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (rewatch)
When I was a kid, I didn’t watch this a ton after I saw it in theaters, primarily because this was the dark Disney movie I don’t think anyone in my family was keen on revisiting.
I get why! It’s an inescapably human, decidedly non-Disney work, a gorgeous, philosophical rumination on religion, moral hypocrisy, the infallible nature of man, the power of kindness in a world that so often forgoes it, genocide, repressed human emotion fermented into pious villainy, the war within the church for servant love versus moral rule, inner beauty, societal oppression, etc.
It’s not a movie 4-year-old Cory really “got,” I’m sure, and it’s precisely why, though they detract from the film’s swelling power at times, the gargoyles are necessary. Kids needed, y’know, something to hold on to, and wisecracking rock things do the trick!
But adult Cory loves seeing something like the “Hellfire” music number in a Disney movie. This is the darkest “G” movie of all time! It’s like the Bambi’s mom scene for 90 minutes!
Knowing deep down this isn’t even Quasimodo’s story, and though it’s thrilling and unforgettable to see him swing through the corridors of Notre Dame singing about going outside his shelled home.
It’s Frollo’s story, the real Hunchback of Notre Dame, a grotesque man whose devious moral crusades mask his inability to rectify with his own shortcomings and fear of not being good enough for his false sense of righteousness. It’s a disturbingly relevant character, and Tony Jay voices the hell out of him.
Musical numbers like “Topsy Turvy” and “Hellfire” just aren’t things Disney does or ever did. This film came out during a major transition for Disney and it feels like this film slipped through the cracks. A happy accident, if you will.
I don’t want a watered down live-action version of this. I want the most PG-13 “G” movie of all time to stay how it is.
If you just kind of let the gargoyle stuff be (the Jason Alexander’s gargoyle is attracted to a goat material is almost funny in a really embarrassing way), this film is the best thing the studio put out in the 90s that wasn’t Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin or Lion King. Heck, some of the highs here are as good as those movies, maybe better in some regards.
It’s one of the best religious movies of all time, that’s for darn sure!
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD
Lilo and Stitch (rewatch)
One of the most insanely creative things Disney has ever put out, hand-stitched with so much love that it’s nearly bursting at the seams.
This is a hallmark in taking a basic story trope, the boy and his dog, and driving in a wholly original, delightfully irreverent vision with it at its base. I really appreciate that Disney didn’t seem to hold this one back much; the studio’s output was at a point in the early 00s that, in a post-Tarzan world, they were making more non-musical risks. It eventually cratered and they had to return to the song-and-a-scene format of the 80s/90s Renaissance (Princess and the Frog/Tangled really starting in the second Renaissance), so some not good movies like Home on the Range and Chicken Little, slipped through. But so did outstanding films like Lilo and Stitch and Treasure Planet.
The voice cast here is just to die for (Daviegh Chase doing this and Spirited Away in the same year is unbelievable), and the animation is gorgeous. Sanders and DeBlois really let the backdrops take a dust into Hawaiian watercolor feel, and when a film this nutty and sweet also have a rigorous artistic backbone. These guys also know how to plot story like crazy so you know the pace, emotional beats (elite) and narrative payoff will be there.
I wish Disney didn’t beat the heck out of this with that B-grade television show and all the direct-to-video sequels, because this film’s legacy deserves the gold standard. It’s one of Disney’s best animated films and one of its most proudly original. It’s also got the emotional sophistication you expect from the studio’s best works. It’s the A-team. The surfing Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride sequence is earned, not bought. When a film can pull something like that off so effortlessly to where it’s not like “hey, look, a great idea!,” that’s when you know.
Happy 20th Birthday, movie.
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD