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When it comes to what movies I see theatrically there are any number of factors involved in making the decision. I could be interested in seeing it because of the talent involved, it’s a must see summer blockbuster, there is nothing else left to see or just because I'm plain bored. In fact I'd say I make a stronger statement when I choose not to see a film theatrically. Sure I miss the occasional great movie but I've also managed to skip a few that when I viewed the DVD I was glad to have missed.  In the case of Josie and the Pussycats I went in for 3 reasons. Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and the directorial pairing of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (Can’t Hardly Wait). It's hard for me to ignore a movie with 2 gorgeous stars who I've liked in previous roles and the follow-up from the directors of the hilarious teen coming of age comedy "Can’t Hardly Wait". I admit it, the trailer didn't look that promising and it wasn't even playing at my favorite multiplex but on the eve of my birthday I was looking for a little fun. So with the transit system on strike I made the long 1 hour trek to the theater.

Josie and the Pussycats
Movie
Josie and the Pussycats is the story of three girls who play in a local rock band who haven't quite made the big time yet. As the film opens Josie (Rachel Leigh Cook),  Melody (Tara Reid) and Valerie (Rosario Dawson) are finishing up a gig at a local bowling alley. Elsewhere super mega popular boy band DuJour finds a hidden track of subliminal messages on their CD. They are immediately "taken care of" leaving Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming) - a rep for Mega Records to try and find the next big new band overnight. When the girls learn of the disappearance of the boy band they decide that it's time to take action and really go out there and try and get a record deal. Before you know it they have been signed to a deal with Mega Records.

What story would be complete without a villain and Josie has two in Wyatt Frame and the head of Mega Records Fiona (Parker Posey in one of her worst performances since Scream 3). Also thrown in for good measure is a small romantic subplot involving a character named Alan M. However the main plot deals with how subliminal messages in advertising effects today's teenagers.  To do this the film takes the concept of product placement to the extreme. Instead of one or two obvious product placement type shots like the Pepsi machine at the end of a hallway in Anti-Trust, every spare corner of space on the screen is occupied by some sort of corporate logo. Suddenly after seeing this picture I felt like going to Target. Ok.. No I didn't but a person with less willpower could have been tricked into this.

"Josie and the Pussycats" isn't a particular good film but I don't think it deserves the harsh rap it got from critics during it's theatrical release either. I think one of the main problems the film has is that it was marketed to teenage and pre-teen girls. Sure the film follows the exploits of an all girl band but the nature of the comedy and events can be easily lost on the younger viewers. The comedy is almost satirical in nature and a lot of the jokes are easily lost if your not totally adept in popular culture. Wyatt makes a joke at the expense of Josie's love interest whose name is Alan M by calling him Adam 12. This is clearly a shot at the current trend in pop music where bands (Blink 182, Sum 41 and SR-71 for example) seem to have a meaningless number in their name.  While these jokes work well for older viewers such as myself I doubt the average 10 or 12 year old girl will appreciate the intricate details of such a joke. The thing with this is these type of jokes will date the film as like all trends I'm sure the novelty of naming a band with a word and a number will soon pass.  This movie takes a stab at lambasting the popular music scene and while it works at times it doesn't always succeed.  As for a movie, that tries to bring forth the message of brainwashing the youth of America by product placement - I'm all for it.  I think this practice must have been used on me on a few occasions as I'm at a loss to what attracted me to "Dude, Where's My Car". Did they use the right approach by filling the screen with product logos? Yes and No. At times the logos distracted me from the main on-screen action but other times it seemed like there could have been more. I think today's teenagers should be more aware of how products are being sold to them.

Another problem that plagues the film are it's performances. Rachel Leigh Cook who was excellent in "She's All That" seems to have hit her peak with that film and is nothing special here as Josie McCoy, the lead singer of the band. Rachel lacks the energy and charisma that I felt Josie should radiate. Rosario Dawson who got her start in Larry Clark’s Kids plays Valerie Brown the bass player as the generic band member who needed to show emotion, doesn't do a very convincing job of it. The 3rd Pussycat is the drummer Melody Brown played by the lovely Tara Reid ("American Pie", "Body Shots"). Melody is by far my favorite Pussycat although she doesn't appear to be the smartest girl on the planet. She is genuinely sincere, showing real emotions towards her fellow band mates. Tara plays Melody so well I forgot it was Tara and really thought Melody was a real girl. This didn't happen with the other two female leads. Alan Cumming gives a good performance but not one of his best as the slimy, manipulative pawn of Fiona Parker Posey who can usually do no wrong makes a rare exception to that rule as the head of Mega Records. It may have been the character but her performance just didn't click with me in fact it often bordered on downright annoying. Look for MTV VJ Carson Daly in a small cameo as himself.

"Josie and the Pussycats" is based on an Archie Comic book series of the same name and being such, there are a few characters who are in the movie just because they were in the comic. These include the Pussycats' original manager and obsessed fashion trend victim Alexander Cabot ("Road Trip's" Paulo Costanzo), Alexandra Cabot (Missi Pyle) and Josie's love interest Alan M (Gabriel Mann). In the over all story they don't really add much and could easily have been left out of the movie.

Directors Kaplan and Elfont whose previous film was the excellent "Can't Hardly Wait", suffer some sophomore jitters with this effort. Pacing is inconsistent often being too fast or too slow. The editing style of the film makes it look like an overly long music video. They are also unable to inspire any terrific performances from their highly capable cast of actors. Perhaps too much fun was being had and not enough time was spend working hard at nailing down the best possible movie. Josie did have a rather short shooting schedule and the film does have a lot of locations but still maybe they should have simplified it and put together a better film.

While Josie won't go down in the history books as the best film of 2001. I don't think it will go down as the worst. It has enough to offer to be a fun diversion from life for it's running time though I still feel it's best jokes will be lost on it's primary audience. In a time where Pop music rules the charts and controls a huge section of our culture. Josie is an often funny but somewhat flawed movie.

Josie and the Pussycats
Video
If there's one thing that really stands out on the "Josie and the Pussycats" DVD it would have to be the video transfer. Universal pulls out all the stops with this 1.85:1 transfer which is enhanced for 16x9 television sets.  The movie takes place in a world that I'd describe as similar to the one we live in but taken to the extreme. The detail and sharpness is perfect with all the corporate logos that are plastered in every spare inch of the frame coming through crystal clear. The color palette is extremely vibrant with the colors taking on a rather loud look. There's nothing subdued about this movie.

It's rare to talk about a transfer without having to point out some problems and it's a pleasure to only have to point out one here.  Aside from a few minor speckles of dust on the print used, this transfer is basically free of the major problems that can often plague a discs transfer.

This is a magnificent effort from Universal and it rates as one of the best transfer I've seen in recent weeks. If the current trend in transfers continue I can only imagine the beautiful transfers that are yet to come.

Audio
Despite all the negative comments from various DVD viewing groups regarding Universal and their release policies they do happen to be one of a few studios that constantly provide DTS audio tracks on their day and date releases.  This is something I applaud them for as some studios don't even put DTS on their biggest releases. Regardless of the scope of the picture be it the loudest of action movies or the quietest of dramas, Universal has the audio format field going for them.

"Josie and the Pussycats" is presented in both 5.1 formats Dolby Digital (English, French) and the aforementioned DTS (English only). Now for a movie of this nature, the audio mix leaves a little to be desired. Essentially Josie.. is a comedy and as such doesn't really offer much in the way of surround usage. Audio remains near the front 3 speakers throughout with only a few uses of the surrounds. Music plays a big part in this film and as such it dominates the mix. The infectious pop melodies of the Pussycats music sound is as good as the day I first heard them and I found myself bobbing along to the nice and strong beat. There are a few problems with the dialogue sounding forced and harsh but they aren't that frequent and are over quickly when they do show up. Bass helps the music along but really doesn't provide much in the way of a really low impressive rumbling. One neat use of the surrounds does occur in one of my favorite scenes with Tara Reid who runs about the house in the background with her voice moving from speaker to speaker.

There's nothing really special about this mix and it's a sort of a letdown when you consider the concert scenes in "Almost Famous". The sound here suits it's purpose but does little to excel beyond that.

Extras
Universal has come under some heat in recent weeks over a number of topics, all of which surround their commitment to doing a title right the first time around. Titles such as "American Pie", "Notting Hill" and "The Mummy" all had fairly good initial releases only to be re-released later in Ultimate Edition form.  The UE seems to be a marketing tool to add a few minor features to a disc, slap together a second disc with a pan and scanned version of the film and send it out to the market.  Sure these UE's give the consumer a DTS surround track but aside from "The Mummy" none of the titles released in this line really benefit from that audio format. Now Universal has a three tier release structure consisting of the standard release, the collectors edition release and what seems to essentially be a retread of the CE, the UE or Ultimate Edition. Since Josie wasn't exactly the biggest smash hit it falls in the standard release bracket but still features a pretty impressive array of special features.

The highlight of the special features section of the disc would have to be the commentary track with directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont and producer Marc Platt. This is Kaplan and Elfont's second audio commentary, their first being the hilarious commentary for "Can't Hardly Wait" on which they were joined by a very British sounding Seth Green. During the commentary Kaplan and Elfont discuss the problems that arose during filming as well as sharing some humorous stories from the set. At times the commentary has a celebratory type feel to it with the directors patting both themselves and producer Marc Platt on the back. It seemed every time Marc Platt was responsible for a shot during the film Elfont and Kaplan would congratulate him for a couple of minutes.  One thing that I noticed throughout the track was that there were many instances where the commentary participants were silent letting the audio from the scene take the forefront. Still there were quite a few funny stories that made up for the lulls including an interesting story about how the big concert scene was shot.  Despite the occasional dead spot this is a pretty interesting commentary track though not quite at the level of Elfont and Kaplans prior track on "Can't Hardly Wait".

Continuing on we have a 24 minute featurette entitled "Backstage Pass" which is essentially Universal's Spotlight on Location with a new name. Universal's Spotlight on Locations have been criticized by myself and others in the past for being too promotional, basically serving as an extended trailer for the film and this is no exception. In fact this is even worse. At 24 minutes in length this is the longest trailer I've ever seen. Sure there are interviews and some cool backstage footage of the girls learning to play their instruments but the majority of this is padded by many clips from the film.  While there are interviews they tend to offer very little in the way of information really just serving as a forum for everyone to say how they loved working with another. As far as promotional featurettes go, this one pretty much takes the cake.  At the end of it I found myself wondering what I spend the last half hour of my time doing. Fans of the film may watch it once but I doubt I'll ever watch it again.

Moving on we have a group of three deleted scenes grouped together as one menu selection. In reality only 2 of these scenes are really deleted from the film as one is an extended take on the Fiona's party dance number scene. None of these scenes really advance the story all that much although one of them does have a cute Tara Reid moment.

Josie and the Pussycats
Next-up is a set of three music videos which contain footage from the film. Included are 2 videos by DuJour ("Backdoor Lover", "DuJour Around The World") and the Pussycats video for "Three Small Words" the movie's theme.

Rounding out the disc we have the usual cast and crew biographies, production notes, recommendations and the theatrical trailer.

It should also be mentioned that the original press material for this disc mentioned the disc would contain some footage too hot for theaters. However this footage appears to have been dropped from the disc. I don't believe Universal is to blame for this so much as the Archie Comic company who had very strict rules about how the characters could be portrayed. More information regarding some of the things that the characters couldn't do or act like can be found in the commentary track. I would have loved to see some racy Pussycats footage but I don't think the footage would have been too mature in nature as this film was aiming for it's PG-13 rating from the get go.

Overall
"Josie and the Pussycats'" DVD provides excellent video quality, an average audio track and some cool extras. If your a fan of anyone in the cast then be sure to rent Josie and the Pussycats. If you're a fan of the movie already then this DVD will not disappoint. Recommended.


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