Josie and the Pussycats is the new Spice World. It’s totally ridiculous, but I kinda liked it. Josie and the Pussycats were originally created by Archie Comics in 1963. Gaining even more popularity as a Hanna-Barbera Saturday-morning cartoon in the early 70’s. When Sabrina the Teenage Witch became popular as a live action TV series in the 90’s, they decided to make a live action Josie and the Pussycats movie in 2001. Although I was introduced to an all-black version of the band through their scattered appearances on Riverdale, I knew I needed to see the movie one day. The movie is a lot more comic accurate with Josie McCoy as the level headed redhead guitarist, Melody Valentine as the dumb blonde drummer, and Valerie Brown as the outspoken black bassist. All three actresses were well known at the time and perfect for their part.
After making her biggest impression in She’s All That, Rachael Leigh Cook learned to sing and play guitar just to play Josie. After her notable role in American Pie, Tara Reid stole the show with all of Mel’s airheaded thoughts. Rosario Dawson wasn’t a household name just yet, but Val was her first of many comic book roles. Other important comic characters include Gabriel Mann as Josie’s less than muscular love interest Alan M. Mayberry, Paul Costanzo as their pathetic band manager Alexander Cabot, and a skunk haired Missi Pyle as his meddling sister Alexandra. Together the Pussycats go through the usual rise to fame and jealousy when Josie is given top-billing. It sounds cliché, but Josie and the Pussycats is way more clever than it seems on the surface.
For whatever reason, the fictional band is used to satirize the music industry and heavy commercialization. Subliminal messages are used by an evil record label in an effort to sell things to the youth of America. So the extreme product placement is all very deliberate. Alan Cumming and Parker Posey are perfectly hammy villains who sell the insane premise. Donald Faison, Seth Green, and Breckin Meyer make up a stereotypical boy band called Du Jour that gets booted out when they ask too many questions. Josie and the Pussycats is filled with catchy music, but everything does lead to a catfight. Let’s just say Archie Comics wasn’t exactly happy about the PG-13 language and sexuality (little did they know). Despite bombing at the box-office, Josie and the Pussycats has a cult following for a reason.
Josie and the Pussycats
Valiant is one of the most forgotten computer animated movies ever distributed by Disney. I can’t believe I ever mistook it for a Pixar movie. At the time my brother and I were determined to see every computer animated movie regardless of who made it. My dad actually took us to the theater to see Valiant when I was 10 years old. I never had any desire to see it again and it doesn’t hold up well after a rewatch. Valiant is only 1 hour & 15 minutes long with amateur animation done exclusively in the UK. Though Disney was the American distributor, Valiant was the first film from the British studio Vanguard Animation.
The respectable British cast is about the only impressive thing about the movie. Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, Olivia Williams, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, and Tim Curry all put forth minimal effort. It’s a shame, because the stories heart is in the right place. Valiant is technically a war picture set in World War II from the perspective of homing pigeons. The titular Valiant is a small pigeon with big dreams of joining the Royal air force. You know the drill, he’s an underdog that no one believes in until he proves himself in the end.
The rest of his squad is forgettable, but his wacky sidekick Bugsy is hard to ignore. Let’s just say war and fart jokes don’t really go together. All the animals wear clothing including French beret wearing mice, a fully clothed nurse that Valiant has a crush on, and the falcon villain wearing a not so subtle eyepatch. At least there’s no overt Nazi imagery in this kids movie. It’s nice to learn about the real life animals who were awarded in WWII, but Valiant is too boring to make it interesting.
Royal Homing Pigeon Service Squad F
The Women (2008) should’ve been an easy sell. Although the 1930’s play and film are a product of their time, it was ahead of its time for its female perspective. Which is why the first attempt at a remake didn’t work. Including men in The Opposite Sex was misguided enough, but MGM very nearly considered making a gender swapped remake in 1960 called Gentlemen’s Club. A modern day remake of The Women was a passion project of Murphy Brown creator Diane English since the early 90’s. Several high profile actresses expressed interest in the project and James L. Brooks was considered as director. Even in the late 2000’s major studios still didn’t believe in a movie with an all-female cast. English ended up writing, producing, and directing herself with the remake being shelved until Sex in the City proved successful in theaters. Hollywood may have underestimated The Women (2008), but it’s still not as good as it should’ve been.
The Women (2008) is basically Sex in the City right down to the frequent sexual discussions and New York setting. The PG-13 rating meant less creative innuendos, but they still use the “kennel” insult at the very beginning. Only a few good lines and modern female perspectives follow it. Though The Women (2008) is modernized, it comes across shallow and less believable. The dedication to an all-female cast deserves admiration, but the lack of men makes less sense the more locations we visit. There is one boy in the cast, but I can give the scene a pass. Not even the cast of stars I was more familiar with was enough to win me over. It sounds overly harsh, but Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith were all nominated for Worst Actress at the same time. Ryan was kind of past her prime when she played Mary Haines who is now a fashion designer. Bening does her best as the renamed Sylvie Fowler who is now a magazine editor.
Sylvie betrays Mary like the original, but she remains her best friend since women aren’t allowed to be catty in this version. In fact, Sylvie ends up helping Mary’s daughter when she starts acting out. Messing is also friendly throughout as the pregnant Edie who already has several daughters. Pinkett Smith plays an original character named Alex who was only added to be a lesbian in the group. Mendes is perfectly sexy and uncaring as Crystal Allen, but Mary only confronts her once, then never seeks revenge. The climax is at a fashion show where the only goal is self improvement. It doesn’t help that they call attention to the plot feeling like a 1930’s movie. Things like the divorce ranch in Reno are replaced by a woman’s retreat. Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler, and Carrie Fisher all play repurposed characters from the original. The Women (2008) is too reliant on an already perfect story.
The women in the perfume department
Remake of: The Women (1939)
A History of Violence packs a lot of violence in a short amount of time. In only 1 hour and 36 minutes, David Cronenberg manages to show the nature of violence and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no body horror, but deaths are just as gory and realistic as anything in Cronenberg’s early work. Surprisingly, it was actually my parents who recommended A History of Violence. They quote the movie a lot, but I was just as interested in the fact that it’s another unconventional film based on a graphic novel. Just like Road to Perdition, A History of Violence is based on a gritty black & white comic from the DC comics imprint Paradox Press (and later Vertigo). The movie was such an improvement that it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. A History of Violence is also notable for being the last movie released on VHS.
Like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence is distributed by New Line Cinema, scored by Howard Shore, and stars Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen plays unassuming family man Tom Stall from a small town in Indiana. Maria Bello plays his devoted wife Edie who memorably spices up their marriage by wearing a cheerleader outfit. Ashton Holmes plays his good natured son Jack who gets pushed around at school by bullies. The most his youngest daughter Sarah has to deal with are nightmares about monsters. The opening introduces two depraved criminals who make the mistake of holding up Tom’s diner. Mortensen can play the nice guy, but I buy him even more as a tough guy. Tom’s ability to kill without hesitation reveals a history of violence that he’s kept hidden.
When he becomes a local hero, it gains the attention of a Philadelphia mob boss from his past. Ed Harris is both mysterious and sinister as the one eyed Carl Fogarty who reveals Tom’s true identity to be violent gangster Joey Cusack. Jack chooses violence like his father at school and Fogarty is killed not long after threatening their family. Edie grows distant, but her hatred for Joey ends in passionate lovemaking. The final loose end is Joey’s wealthy gangster brother Richie. In only 8 minutes of screentime, William Hurt gives a Best Supporting Actor worthy performance. Richie shows a wide range of emotion and his frustration is surprisingly funny. It’s a pivotal scene that leads to an ambiguous ending where no dialogue is necessary. A History of Violence is refreshingly simple with a thought-provoking message.
Tom Stall kills two criminals in his diner
Road to Perdition is an unconventional father-son story. After the Oscar winning success of American Beauty, Sam Mendes chose to direct a period piece that’s surprisingly based on a graphic novel from the DC comics imprint Paradox Press. Though the story centers around the Irish Mob in Depression era Chicago 1931. Since the quality is just as good as American Beauty, Road to Perdition became the most Oscar nominated comic book movie at the time. Despite the graphic novel being published in 1998, producers immediately saw its potential as a film and even Steven Spielberg considered directing. Road to Perdition was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Original Score, Sound, and Sound Editing. Conrad Hall won a posthumous Academy Award for Best Cinematography thanks to evocative shots of mobsters in the pouring rain.
Mendas uses a lot of motifs that he learned from American Beauty like family, water, and windows. I recognized the entire impressive cast consisting of Tom Hanks as the noble, but officiant mob enforcer Michael Sullivan. Before he was Superman, a very young Tyler Hoechlin played Sullivan’s son Michael Jr. who experiences violence for the first time after discovering what his father really does for a living. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Liam Aiken briefly play Sullivan’s wife and youngest son who are murdered by his bosses jealous son. Screen legend Paul Newman more than earned his Oscar nomination for playing the ruthless, but caring mob boss John Rooney in his last live action theatrical movie role. Since Rooney shows more affection towards Sullivan, Daniel Craig channels Fredo Corleone as his biological son Connor.
The biggest theme is the difficult relationship between fathers and their sons and the struggle to save an innocent from the violent world. Sullivan and his son hit the road to Perdition where they grow closer. The former seeks revenge by robbing the bank accounts of mobsters and teaching his son to be the getaway driver. Stanley Tucci plays real life bodyguard Frank Nitti who hides Connor, but Al Capone was left out of the final cut. Ciarán Hinds and Dylan Baker play subordinates who are killed along the way in quick fashion. Jude Law stands out as the cold, but charismatic hitman Maguire. The fact that he casually photographs dead bodies is another similarity to American Beauty, but it’s mostly the ending. I expected the fate of each father, but the hopeful scenes are the most effective part of the movie. Road to Perdition is a road best traveled.
Michael Sullivan confronts the mob
From Hell is the most stylized portrayal of the Jack the Ripper murders. Which makes sense considering it was the first movie based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore. And unsurprisingly the first adaptation of his work that he didn’t like. Moore did extensive research on Jack the Ripper, but most of the unsolved true story is fictionalized. The title From Hell refers to a letter possibly sent by the serial killer in 1888. I know as much as I can stomach about the Whitechapel Murderer, but I never knew From Hell was about Jack the Ripper. Unless it involves a superhero, I’m not likely to know every movie based on a graphic novel.
There’s a definite early 2000’s comic book feel with extensive use of the color red and flashy green shots of the London streets. Unlike the graphic novel that’s mostly black & white. As I expected, the movie is only interesting when Jack the Ripper is involved. There’s nudity, but the brutal murders and bloody mutilation of all 5 canonical prostitutes are mostly shown off-screen in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. Though disturbing, most of From Hell is surprisingly boring. Inspector Frederick Abberline investigates the murders and discovers a Royal conspiracy involving Freemasons. Abberline having psychic visions thanks to an opium addiction is as fictional as his romance with the final redheaded victim Mary Kelly.
The Hughes brothers are an odd choice to direct, but the mostly British cast is respectable. Although up to task, the leads are played by good looking Americans Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. Abberline isn’t much different from Depp’s role in Sleepy Hollow 2 years prior. Interestingly enough, Robbie Coltrane and Ian Holm both appear the same year they started their respective fantasy franchises. Hagrid is Abberline’s trusted partner George Godley and Bilbo is the creepy suspected surgeon Sir William Gull. There’s also Ian Richardson as Abberline’s superior and Jason Flemyng in his first of two Alan Moore adaptations as Jack the Ripper’s coachman. Since the true identity of the killer is unknown, the movie’s answer wasn’t too surprising. From Hell isn’t enough to bring Jack the Ripper into the 21st century.
Jack the Ripper in the shadows
Undercover Brother is a funky fresh Austin Powers for the blaxploitation era. Though it follows the structure of a James Bond film, Undercover Brother is an all soul parody of the groovy 70’s. It was on my radar for a long time after my mom suggested it, but the extra blaxploitation exposure helps. Undercover Brother is seriously underrated with a fly soundtrack of black hits, giant afros, and clever racial satire. Turns out an all-white organization ran by “The Man” plans to use Operation Whitewash to decrease the prominence of black culture. Undercover Brother is the actual name of the afro-sporting secret agent with his own theme song, sweet ride, high rise platforms, literal parachute pants, and weaponized picks.
Eddie Griffin isn’t the most well known comedian, but he was born for this role. Undercover Brother joins the all-black organization B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. hidden under a barbershop and led by Chi McBride as the hotheaded Chief. Gary Anthony Williams is the aptly named Smart Brother and Dave Chappelle steals most scenes as the overly paranoid Conspiracy Brother. Aunjanue Ellis is the more competent, but sexy Sistah Girl who later adopts the afro look. SNL alumni Chris Kattan is one of the few white cast members playing the flamboyant Mr. Feather who secretly enjoys black culture. Along with Neil Patrick Harris as the only white intern Lance who acts like a minority.
Denise Richards stands out the most as the equally sexy White She-Devil who would be any man’s weakness. The funniest scenes would be Undercover Brother becoming more white in her presence and being forced to eat mayonaise. It’s PG-13, but there is a steamy shower fight between the two ladies. Billy Dee Williams is the first victim who plays a potential black President forced to sell fried chicken. Even James Brown shows up just to sing. The stereotypes are perfectly over-the-top and the martial arts action gets more ridiculous as the movie goes on. Undercover Brother is solid ✊🏿.
Undercover Brother and Sistah Girl bring White She-Devil into the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.
Followed by: Undercover Brother 2
The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized account of ruthless Ugandan President Idi Amin. The brutal dictator’s 8 year reign was very real, but the 1998 book and 2006 movie adaptation are from the perspective of fictional Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan. James McAvoy is arguably the lead, but Forest Whitaker deserves top-billing. The Last King of Scotland is a performance driven movie that earned Whitaker a rare clean sweep of every major Best Actor award. He won the Oscar for playing a world leader the same year Helen Mirren won for playing Queen Elizabeth. Set in the 70’s, Garrigan is like the audience experiencing Uganda for the first time.
Garrigan impulsively practices medicine abroad with British physicians like Gillian Anderson as a married doctor that he comes on to. McAvoy plays a flawed protagonist who makes questionable decisions, but he’s necessary when the alternative is the villain. Idi Amin quickly takes notice of Nicholas and appoints him to be his personal physician. Whitaker’s performance is far more complex than I was expecting. Amin is surprisingly friendly to the young Scot and easy going with a sense of humor. There’s even an unexpected farting scene. Aside from his military coup, signs of him being evil are slowly revealed in the background with missing people and random attacks.
The more paranoid Amin gets the more terrifying he becomes. Real life events like expelling Asians from Uganda and Operation Entebbe are explored. The most disturbing moment happens after Garrigan has an affair with one of Amin’s wives played by Kerry Washington. A torture scene involving hooks is also pretty difficult to watch. David Oyelowo plays a Ugandan doctor who tries to help Garrigan, but Simon McBurney plays a British Foreign Office representative who refuses to give safe passage for his complicit actions. The Last King of Scotland is a modern day Macbeth that uses tragedy to expose a monster.
Idi Amin gives a speech
Ali isn’t the greatest boxing movie of all time, but it does showcase the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Muhammad Ali is known to many as “The Greatest,” “The People’s Champion,” the man in the ring who knew how to swing. An official biopic was inevitable after several media appearances in movies, documentaries, TV shows, video games, songs, and comic books. Ali began early development in 1992 with multiple directors considered, but only one star attached. After bombing twice, Will Smith earned his first Best Actor nomination by getting into boxing shape and capturing Ali’s penchant for rhythmic trash talking. Michael Mann was selected after his Oscar nomination for The Insider, but it was Jon Voight who got the only other nomination for his uncanny performance as sports journalist Howard Cosell and the teasing friendship he had with Ali.
Ali was relatively well received, but it also bombed thanks to The Fellowship of the Ring. You can’t win against an opponent that big, but the movie could’ve done a better job of capturing the sheer magnitude of Muhammad Ali. Ali covers only 10 years of his life as he changes his name from Cassius Clay Jr. to Cassius X and finally Muhammad Ali. I knew Ali was Muslim and it doesn’t surprise me how much Malcolm X affected his life. Mario Van Peebles performs the latter part of X’s life, while Albert Hall ironically plays Elijah Muhammad. The connection is Barry Shabaka Henley as Elijah’s son and Ali’s manager Herbert Muhammad. Jamie Foxx plays Ali’s Jewish assistant trainer Drew Bundini Brown who overcomes a drug addiction, Ron Silver plays his trainer Angelo Dundee, Jeffrey Wright plays his photographer Howard Bingham, and Joe Morton plays his lawyer Chauncey Eskridge when Ali draft dodges the Vietnam War. Though he was a boxer first, Ali couldn’t help being a black civil rights activist. LeVar Burton briefly portrays Martin Luther King, but more of him can be seen in the Director’s Cut.
Giancarlo Esposito now plays Ali’s father Cassius Clay Sr. who is the most disappointed about his name change. Ali’s Islamic faith is explored, but his biggest weakness was women. He had four wives, but only three are shown in the film. Will’s real life wife Jada Pinkett Smith plays his first wife Sonji Roi who leaves him for his beliefs. Marvin Gaye’s daughter Nona Gaye plays his second wife Belinda Boyd who leaves him because of infidelity. And Michael Michele is his third wife Veronica Porché who he divorces off-screen. The drama is fine, but it’s really the fighting that everyone came to see. Though Mykelti Williamson plays the eccentric promoter Don King, all of Ali’s opponents are played by actual boxers. A realistic approach is given to three famous fights. We see Ali gain the World Heavyweight Championship title from Sonny Liston, lose his title against Joe Frazier in the Fight of the Century, and regain it with the rope-a-dope technique against George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle. Music and performances are what really allow Ali to “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Muhammad Ali in the ring
Big Momma’s House 2 is bigger, fatter, and dumber than the original. Big Momma’s House wasn’t comedy gold, but at least the cross-dressing premise works well enough the first time. Although I was 10 when the sequel came out, I remember thinking it looked unnecessary. Big Momma’s House 2 has a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes for a reason. Martin Lawrence slides back into the fatsuit after accepting more family friendly roles. It’s still PG-13, but Big Momma’s House 2 is clearly a kids movie. Malcolm Turner is now a PR mascot for the FBI married to Sherry and a stepdad to Trent.
Aside from embarrassment, Jascha Washington is barely in the movie. Nia Long is pregnant the entire time and suspicious of her husband. The real Hattie Mae Pierce is absent, but Malcolm assumes her identity once again as a nanny. Mark Moses is the absentee father and Emily Procter is the stressed mother. This time the forgettable threat is a computer virus that the father is involved with. Marisol Nichols is the head agent and Zachary Levi surprisingly makes his film debut as a more bumbling agent. Despite the case, Big Momma puts most of his energy into helping the Fuller kids.
As if Big Momma’s House wasn’t already a rip-off of Mrs. Doubtfire. Kat Dennings is rebellious teenager Molly who ends up kidnapped by the real villains. A very young Chloë Grace Moretz learns uncomfortable dances moves as the middle child ironically named Carrie. The youngest child Andrew doesn’t talk and jumps off of things. Aside from giving the family dog alcohol, Big Momma continues to be put in cringy situations. There’s a spa scene where he’s surrounded by supermodels and the disturbing visual of Big Momma at the beach in a one piece. The final cheerleading routine feels like a rip-off of Bring it On. Big Momma’s House 2 is even less original the second time around.
Big Momma in the changing room
Preceded by: Big Momma’s House & Followed by: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son