Not-So-Quick Movie Review: 54 (1998)

54 movie poster They say that pop culture has a tendency to roll back over on itself every 20 years or so. What’s old becomes new again not only because the people who were kids 20 years prior have now grown up, earned money and got nostalgic, but also because those same people have worked their way into the various creative worlds. It’s the reason why I’m seeing so many shows with references to movies I loved as a kid as well as reboots of the same, but also the reason we saw such a big uptick in 70s-based projects in the late 90s, specifically ones centered on disco and the world that grew up and died around it.

I would have been 15 when 54 came out, so I don’t have any personal connection to the heyday of disco in the late 70s. Hell, it was dead and buried by the time I was born in 1983. And yet, I have a strange second hand nostalgia for that era because of the disco era’s resurrection and examination in the late 90s. I became a huge fan of That 70s Show, which is one of the all-time best coming of age sitcoms around in my book. But there were also films like 54, The Last Days Of Disco and even The Summer of Sam that all came out around 1998 and 1999. At that same time there were a ton of TV specials about what really went on behind the velvet ropes of Studio 54, a legendary nightclub in Manhattan run by a guy named Steve Rubell who was an incredibly shrewd club owner, but not very good at hiding his less-than-honest business practices. Studio 54 was the place to do just about anything and everything, assuming you could get in.

That’s the backdrop for the 1998 film by Mark Christopher that focuses on young Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe), a Jersey kid who pines to be in the big city where he just knows he’ll become rich and famous like his hero Julie Black (Neve Campbell), a fellow New Jersian who stars on a soap opera. Eventually he makes his way to Studio 54 where he literally has to leave his old life behind (they don’t let his friends in) and winds up getting a job. From there he makes a whole new group of friends including coat check girl/wannabe singer Anita (Salma Hayek) and her busboy husband Greg (Breckin Meyer) and does his best to enjoy his new social status when it doesn’t go against a moral code with roots back to his home life in Jersey.

At the end of the day, 54’s story isn’t all that mind-blowing. It’s your basic “lower-middle class kid gets a look at the world of the rich and famous and discovers its not as genuine as he though” story. But, the gilding of the time period is very engrossing if that’s something you’re interested in. All the actors really dove into the characters and seemed to dig deep into some emotional places that all get left on the screen like so many empty bottles after a big party. I wasn’t overly familiar with Phillippe outside of his standard horror appearances in the 90s, but I thought he did a quality job of actually going through the emotions instead of just the motions.I especially enjoyed his various interactions with Ellen Albertini Dow’s Disco Dottie. And, man, Mike Meyers did a killer job of bringing the off-kilter Rubell to life on the big screen.

I read that Chistopher’s intended cut of the film had about 30-40 extra minutes and a variety of extra subplots that were completely cut by Miramax, something that wasn’t uncommon back then. He got his hands on the extra footage and put together a longer version that I would like to see some day, if possible.

Josie and the Pussycats: The Movie!

I know there’s been a lot of talk about Josie and the Pussycats (2001) on the internet lately (well, Jim mentioned the soundtrack over on Enemy of Peanuts and also watched it last night at the same time I was and Kiel‘s been telling me to watch it for years). Well I finally checked it out and it was definitely surprising.

Did you fall for the hook? I hope so, because I loved this movie way more than I thought I would. Sure, I love Can’t Hardly Wait, which was written and directed by the same team as Josie (Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont), but this is a movie based on an Archie comic. That would seem to limit the comedic potential, right?

Fortunately no. First of all, I was surprised with how many “bitches” and “shits” we got at the end of the movie, but nowhere near as much as in the beginning when Tara Reid’s character causes a car crash by holding up a sign that, at first glance, reads “Honk if you love pussy.” She pulls the sign out from behind something to reveal that it actually says “pussycats,” but I was still surprised that joke made it into the movie. You always hear horror stories about really funny ideas being nixed because parent companies are worried about how it’ll make their property look. Apparently Archie Comics is pretty cool, or just weren’t paying attention.

The basic plot is that Alan Cumming (who I thought was Paul Reubens at first, sorry Alan) is a manager for a big record company looking for a new band to replace with the boy band whose plane he let crash (code “Put the Chevy to the levy”). He stumbles across Josie and the Pussycats and signs them, but it later turns out that Parker Posey, who runs the record company, has been encrypting subliminal messages in the music for various reasons. It’s a really goofy plot, exactly the kind you’d expect for a movie like this, but there are enough winks to the audience and tongues in cheek to let you in on the joke that the writers are making fun of movies just like this. It’s oddly subversive.

In honor of the marketing-to-kids theme/satirization, the filmmakers do quite a few things that I liked. First off, anytime the Pussycats are out in public, everyone else is where the “it” color of the moment (starting with pink, then orange and on and on). I noticed it before it was explained (the record company is controlling fashion and slang though these impressionable kids with tons of disposable income, as explained by Eugene Levy playing himself in a filmstrip), which made the reveal all the more satisfying. There’s also enough product placement to make Michael Bay jealous. According to IMDb, they didn’t actually receive any money for all the shout-outs as they were, again, there to show how crazy intense the marketing towards kids can be.

Josie also works as a strange kind of time capsule. TRL and Carson Daly play a somewhat important role in the movie. Daly and Reid have some screen time together and, as anyone who’s anyone will remember, they dated for some time (though I couldn’t remember when that happened or when they broke up, which made the scene both funny and awkward, like watching episodes of Newleyweds after Nick and Jessica got divorced). We also get glimpses of Behind the Music (a show they should really bring back along with Pop Up Video) and Serena Altschul of MTV News fame. If you were a way-too-avid watched of MTV in the late 90s, you’ll remember Serena, if not, she’ll just be another face on the screen, but man, that was a fun little flashback.

Lastly, I’ve got to talk about the cast. First up, you’ve got the Pussycats played by the aforementioned Reid, Rachel Leigh Cook (what is she doing nowadays?) and Rosario Dawson (I had no idea she was in this until the credits rolled). They’re all very serviceable in their roles, but they’re significantly outshined in my opinion by the members of Du Jour, the boy band (another 90s flashback now that I think about it) from the beginning of the movie consisting of Breckin Meyer, Seth Green Donald Faison and a guy named Alexander Martin who played the foreign exchange student in Can’t Hardly Wait. Now CHW fans will remember that Faison and Meyer played two members of the band at the party. I’d like to think that they ditched the other two guys, grabbed Green’s Kenny, taught the foreign kid to speak English and blew up on the boy band scene. These guys are hilarious from the very first moment they’re on screen to their inevitable plane crash.

After a quick look at the Robot Chicken IMDb page, I wonder if this is where Green met Meyer and Cook, both of whom who have regularly contributed voices along with tons of other late 90s “teen” actors. Maybe they can get a good script together and give us a new movie with all those familiar faces dealing with being in their late 20s/early 30s. I could go for that, how about you guys?

Go Go Gadget Rave

2008-08-08
3:58:38 am

As you can tell, I’ve been on something of an off and on ’90s kick lately. Mostly I’m just finally getting around to checking out flicks I never got to see when I was younger. I remember seeing the ads for Go (both TV and comic book, remember those?) and was curious (mostly because my fellow Christ the King grade school attendee Katie Holmes was in the flick). Anyway, I realized it was on my Blockbuster queue, bumped it up to the top and here’s what I thought.

Go (1999)

Written by John August (Charlie’s Angels 1 & 2, Big Fish, Corpse Bride)

Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper)

Starring (deep breath) Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, William Fitchner (Prison Break), Taye Diggs, Breckin Meyer, James Duval (Donnie Darko) Jane Krakowski (30 Rock) and Desmond Askey as the British guy

First off, it MUST be said that Go owes something to the films of Quentin Tarantino. Now, I’m not saying it’s a rip off or anything like that, but you definitely get a similar feel, especially with how the dialog is delivered by some the actors (especially Polley). There’s also the whole thing where the movie is told in non-linear segments. Again, not a direct lift, but considering Tarantino borrows a lot of elements for his films, I doubt he’d be too upset.

Okay, so onto the story. We start off with this chick Ronna who may or may not be 17, but is also getting evicted from her place and needs some money so she works an extra shift for her British co-worker. She gets caught up with drug dealers and cops and ends up getting hit by a car and left outside a rave to die. But that’s not all we see of her as we then hop back in time and follow a few other folks’ adventures and eventually see how they all tie together.

In general I like these kinds of movies. The kinds in which a few dumb mistakes lead to all kinds of crazy shit happening. Ronna doesn’t have enough money to pay for the ecstasy (or X as the kids call it), so she leaves Katie Holmes there as collateral. But it turns out that the guys who wanted it (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf) are actually cops so she flushes the pills and then puts stolen aspirin in the bottle and trades the fake pills for Katie Holmes. She then goes to a rave with her friends (one of whom took TWO of the real pills, which Olyphant strictly forbade) and sells off the rest of the aspirin and allergy pills she stole from the grocery store at a rave. Olyphant (who’s freakin’ terrifying and funny at the same time) shows up, hears everyone talking about how this girl is selling the best X, chases her down and then she gets hit by the care. Holy crap, right? Right.

And that’s just part one. I gotta say, that, even as convoluted as the story may be, it’s a fun one and I definitely appreciate writer John August’s ability to keep so many characters straight and intertwine their stories so well. There’s characters that show up in this segment that show up in the next and everything ties together nicely. From what I hear, Crash is like this too, but I haven’t seen it yet. Plus, it’s crazy to go from this to Charlie’s Angels to working with Tim Burton multiple times.

The next section features the British guy (who works with Ronna and is her usual drug dealer, which is why she jumped up in the food chain and went to Olyphant himself), Taye Diggs, Brecken Meyer and James Duval going to Vegas, shooting a strip club bouncer and implicating Olyphant in said shooting (the British dude swiped his credit card which they used at the club). They head back to LA, which is apparently where the story takes place.

Holy cats, it turns out that Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf weren’t cops themselves, but working off a drug charge by helping Fichtner catch drug dealers. I think they might even be TV stars, but I kind of missed that part (that’s what happens when I get to the part of the movie I’m blogging about, I miss things). Hey Jay Mohr even invokes the title, nice work Jay. Okay, giving a play-by-play from here on out might get a little crazy, so I’m actually going to watch the movie for a while, Be right back…

Okay, movie’s over and it turns out everyone’s okay for the most part. There’s some weird scenes with Mohr and Wolf in Fichtner’s house, he’s married to Jane Krakowski and both he and his wife hit on the dudes (who turn out to be a couple). Anyway, they find out that they were cheating on each other with the same guy who’s at the rave. They’re the ones that hit Ronna with the car, leave and then head back to see if she’s dead and she’s not so everything ends up being okay. Even the British dude gets amicably shot in the arm by the bouncer whom he shot in Vegas.

So, I know I said I wasn’t going to summarize the movies so much, but Go seemed to fit the old style. Otherwise you’d have even less idea of what I’m talking about than I do and that doesn’t make for a very good blog post.

As you can see by this long summation, there’s a LOT going on with this movie and I love that. They don’t slow things down, you’ve just got to keep up or lose, which I like. I assume that’s what this blog can be like at times, especially after I’ve had a few and am on my third day trying to watch something. I also like the moral ambiguity of the ending. All these people who do relatively bad things end up fine and dandy (though I’m not sure if it’s physically possible to get hit by a car and left in a ditch for part of the night and still go into work the next day, but whatever).

In the end I recommend this movie to anyone who likes Tarantino flicks, X, Katie Holmes, crazy intertwining stories and raves. Side note, I’ve never done X, but if it makes you wear day glow pantaloons and dance around with glowsticks like a d-bag, I’m OUT. Just say no to lame, kids.