29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)

29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity poster
IMDb

Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: March 31, 2000.

This is a review of a classic music film, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, from someone who doesn’t live and breathe music. Music’s everywhere but most of the music I come across, it’s from film. I don’t sit down and listen to music everyday, but I watch movies everyday so I technically do listen to music everyday. Music makes some people focus but when I listen to music I like to listen to lyrics and not do anything else, and I just don’t have time for that. It doesn’t help me focus, it distracts, so I usually just sit in silence when I’m writing.

High Fidelity follows Rob (John Cusack), a record store owner and compulsive list maker who takes us through his top five-breakups, including his current breakup with Laura (Iben Hjejle).

I’ve always wanted to get more into music but I’m just usually too lazy to download songs and put them on my phone. But after watching High Fidelity, it’s the kind-of movie that makes vinyl look cool to even someone like me who doesn’t live and breathe music. The soundtrack is absolutely killer and I’ll try and find every song that’s listed in this film which will keep me busy for awhile.

The film is clever as Rob goes through his breakups, analyzing his wrongdoings and why he’s doomed to being single. The screenplay, written by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Thornby, has clever insight into relationships as there’s no such thing as perfection, and Rob learns this as he’s stuck over-analyzing the past.

High Fidelity article
John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

It’s a unique comedy in that way as he sorts through his past the way he sorts his record collection, and he literally starts to sort it autobiographically and how each record has impacted his life. Rob could literally just tell a story about every record and it would still be fascinating because the writing here is so strong and Rob’s so knowledgeable. The film uses the record store as a parallel for living in the past as the world keeps moving past vinyl.

Jack Black is a highlight as Barry, one of the employees at Rob’s record store Championship Vinyl. He’s obnoxious and hilarious and embodies rock and roll here. It’s signature Jack Black that seemed like a preview of his antics in Richard Linklater’s 2003 film School of Rock. He’s the best part of this for me. The other record store employee, Dick (Todd Louiso), is awkward and balances the trio of employees out. I can’t remember any of his jokes, but I like the chemistry of the group as they just shoot the shit and discuss their favourite records.

That’s what a lot of this film is, their banter and it’s entertaining because they’re great together. The best scenes are when they’re just talking, though when Laura’s new boyfriend Ian/Ray (Tim Robbins) comes in and confronts Rob, that’s one of the best scenes in the record store.

The characters get snobby as they judge people for their personal tastes in music and film, and their elitist attitudes are acknowledged but realistic to their characters. They’re still likable because this is definitely how I’d discuss films with my friends if I ever worked with them.

I know that if I ever went into Championship Vinyl they probably wouldn’t sell me anything because I couldn’t tell them my top five favourite bands. In turn, I just wouldn’t sell them anything if they came into my imaginary Blockbuster Video.

High Fidelity, cusack
John Cusack in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

Rob is an asshole and that’s something I wasn’t expecting going into this. It’s an unfiltered look at relationships, and I think that’s why Rob tends to get unlikable in his cynicism. John Cusack is great, though, and the dialogue’s clever. His constant fourth wall breaking is also a clever way to tell this story.

I think there’s something missing in the romance with Laura. Iben Hjejle is good, but there’s something missing here and I can’t quite put my finger on it. This might be the point of the film as Rob tries to find the perfect relationship but can’t because a perfect relationship doesn’t exist for him. There’s always something not quite right that he can’t identify. Hence, he accepts his fate and learns to be a better person, and that’s what made me love the last third of this film.

For the record (that’s not supposed to be a pun), I don’t love this as much as I wanted to. I think that’s because I’m not a music guy. Maybe after I know which bands and songs they’re actually listing in their conversations, I could love this because I’d know what they’re talking about.

I think High Fidelity is brilliantly written and acted, and so well-directed by Stephen Frears. There are just parts of this I can’t fall in love with it because I don’t like rock and roll as much as these characters. I think this film accomplishes its job because the cast’s passion for this music makes me want to love rock and roll as much as them.

Score: 75/100

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)
Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire
IMDb

Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. Released: October 13, 2000. Directed by: Steve Boyum. Starring: Matt O’Leary, Laura Vandervoot, Caroline Rhea. Runtime: 1h 25 min.

I’ve watched two Disney Channel Original Movies lately (the other being Under Wraps) and they both open with a movie-within-a-movie. For this one, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, it sets the tone for the film but it’s not a movie-within-a-movie you’d actually want to watch.

The real plot concerns the Hansen family. Children Adam (Matt O’Leary) and Chelsea (Laura Vandervoot) want to go out on Saturday night but they’re grounded. To escape their punishment, they set their mom Lynette (Caroline Rhea) up with a random guy named Wolfspane, which is really the first red flag.

They go to a supermarket to get their mom to meet “Wolfspane” and find a Pierce Brosnan look-a-like named Dimitri (Charles Shaughnessy), who is actually Wolfspane but doesn’t want to tell the kids that.

He invites her out on Saturday night, so Adam will be able to go to see the Headless Horsemen perform at the Harvest Festival and Chelsea will be able to go to her date. Problems arise when the youngest sibling, Taylor (Myles Jeffrey), notices that Dimitri is a vampire.

The first funny thing about this film is how dated it is when it’s watched in 2019. The kids don’t look online to find a date for their mom or even look on Tinder for vampires and their victims. They look in the classifieds of their local newspaper.

I know match.com was a thing in 2000, so it’s just a little funny to me. They look in the classifieds, find a guy named Wolfspane and don’t think it’s shady at all. “They’re all pre-checked by the newspaper,” Adam tells Chelsea. I think them all being screened by the newspaper is B.S. when a guy named Wolfspane slips through. He just sounds like a vampire. He likes long walks under the moonlight, hates Italian food (the garlic) and hates turtleneck sweaters (worse access to your neck).

The characters aren’t bad. Adam’s a vampire movie junkie, and the films he watches give him knowledge he uses throughout, like about how to get someone out of a vampire’s trance. Half of his tips make the film rather predictable. The brother-sister dynamic with him and Chelsea is fine, but some dramatic moments are cheesy. Caroline Rhea is good as Lynette, who’s scared to put herself out there after a divorce. Her eventually finding herself again and what she used to like to do is nice characterization for a TV movie.

Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire article
Charles Shaughnessy and Matt O’Leary in Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. (IMDb)

The worst character is the vampire, Dimitri. He’s simply boring and uninteresting. He’s a smooth talker and seemingly charming, but he’s dull. Without the vampire trance and British accent, most people will see right through it. He’s not scary, either.

There are some cheesy effects and editing when the film attempts something close to horror. It could spook kids, but no one else. There’s an effect where he walks up the side of a building, which doesn’t look bad. His transformation into a vampire bat is actually pretty good. However, they use like all the budget on the transformation so when he actually flaps away it looks really bad.

The concept of the kids having to save their mom from a vampire – a mess they got her in the first place – is fine. They don’t have to save her alone, either. They’re helped by a vampire hunter named Malachi Van Helsing (David Carradine). He has a history with Dimitri, so it’s funny that neither notice each other at the supermarket, even after Malachi walks every aisle.

The film wants to save the standoff for the end. I’ve found with these Disney Channel Original Movies the endings aren’t very exciting. This one stands out as one of the less exciting finales, as they just use a lot of slow-motion to make it look like something more is going on. I think this is one of the lesser DCOM’s anyway, but it’s still not bad. Admittedly, the fact that much of the story structure follows Adam’s fake vampire movies is kind-of clever, and those endings didn’t seem very good, either.

Score: 50/100

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Mission Impossible 2
IMDb

Released: May 24, 2000. Directed by: John Woo. Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton. Runtime: 2h 3 min.

This review contains a few spoilers.

In Mission: Impossible II, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is rudely called away from his rock-climbing vacation for a new mission. His mission’s in Sydney, Australia where he must destroy a genetically modified disease called the “Chimera.”

For some of the film, skilled thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) is put in the most danger. She’s an ex-girlfriend of main villain Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a disavowed IMF agent, so she’s called upon to gain his trust. Things get complicated when Ethan also falls for Nyah.

This personal relationship makes it feel like there are more stakes than the first film. It introduces a love triangle dynamic that is interesting from Ethan’s side, but Ambrose is goofy during it. He has an inferiority complex because of the perfect agent Ethan, and he ugly cries when he learns Nyah isn’t loyal to him. I won’t shame guys who cry – I cry at everything – but it’s dumb for this movie.

The writing’s not great, but some dialogue is laughably bad enough to be memorable. Take a gem from Anthony Hopkins’ Mission Commander Swanbeck, for example: “This isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible.” It’s not a bad title for a knockoff film.

Tom Cruise is good again as Ethan, and his long hair looks good as he’s kicking in slow motion. I liked some of the plot itself and the monologue, that’s repeated a few times, about Chimera being the villain and Bellerophon being the hero.

It’s an interesting Greek myth and it’s cool how it’s brought into the story. The story itself doesn’t have a ton of substance other than just trying to destroy a deadly virus, as you can summarize the first hour of the movie about a minute.

Director John Woo tries to distract from that with a lot of slow motion. The entire third act is a lot of Ethan just doing slow-motion kicks. There’s also a whole thing of Ethan shooting a stick bomb to blow in a door and then dramatically walking past the door through the flames, staring at Ambrose.

This silliness made me laugh and was fun, and I think this needed more slow-motion doves. The style of the film in the third act just makes this feel more like a John Woo movie than a Mission: Impossible film. That’s not usually a bad thing – but a lot of this explains why this is considered the weakest of the series.

Score: 50/100

Reviews of other films in the franchise:

Mission: Impossible (1996)

X-Men (2000)

MV5BMTYxMTEzNTgzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg1MzAwMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_Released: July 14, 2000. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen. Runtime: 104 min.

Bryan Singer brings some great direction to the first film in the X-Men franchise. He directs some action scenes with a great intensity. Opening with a great scene for the character of Magneto (the film’s main antagonist), the film grasps attention from the opening frames with some poignant characterization. The film is set in a world full of mutants, humans with superhuman abilities. The mutant gene is the key to our evolution. A prominent theme in the X-Men films is war.

The war is between the humans and the mutants, because mutants will be met with fear, hostility and aggression. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) believes that humans and mutants can live together in harmony, while the film’s antagonist, Magneto (Ian McKellen) believes that mutants are the future, and not humans. There are very real themes of discrimination brought about in this film, and I think McKellen can take to the character of Magneto (also known as Erik Leshner) so well because he’s a well-known homosexual advocate, and he can channel his love for the minority (mutants in this case) in his performance. The character is also the perfect mindset to portray that humans are scared of what they don’t understand.

A political character in the film, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davis) believes that mutants should have to register, so they can know who they are. He believes that mutants with dangerous abilities could be weapons, which could be unsettling, especially in a school environment. This is a popcorn flick that also has great characterization and a cool, different way that America was supposed to be a land of tolerance, but is not. I think that’s why I enjoy these X-Men films so much, because they bring real world issues and portray them in such a great and unique narrative. I think it’s cool that young mutants can come to Xavier Academy and experience other people other people with powers, and feel like they’re not alone.

Another way this film is strong is that there are memorable action scenes, and this is only sporadically boring. When the action shows up, it’s great – and the finale is memorable. This film sets the tone for the whole franchise, as most deal with the conflict between humans and mutants (excluding Wolverine’s individual outings). Something else that makes this great is the funny banter between characters and the chemistry between them all. Hugh Jackman’s chemistry with Famke Janssen is good this time around, but I really like the chemistry between Jackman (who portrays Wolverine) and Anna Paquin as Rogue.

Wolverine’s powers is a set of retractable claws made of adamantium (which is also what his exoskeleton is made of), and the ability to heal. I like his character, as he is looking for answers about his past, since he has a sort-of amnesia. He has a great introduction. Rogue has an interesting set of powers – whenever she touches someone, she literally takes the life out of them. This mutation is a bit more unfortunate, and it makes her feel even more segregated. She’s the poster child for mutants who want to feel like they belong. She receives great poignancy and development as a character. It makes her someone who is terrified to hurt those who she loves.

Other characters are great, too. Jean is good, even though I like her characterization better in the first sequel. Storm is great, even though her African accent is kind-of annoying – and it’s funny how she doesn’t use it in the second film. As a villain, I think Sabretooth is pretty good. I don’t think Toad is a good villain. He has three lines, and he’s just useless. The mutation is strange, and he’s just silly – especially when he does a little leprechaun dance approaching Storm, and it seems like he’s trying to be menacing but it’s just awful. Mystique, a mutant who can take the shape of anyone she desires, is one of my favourite villains. She’s portrayed by Rebecca Romijn, which adds a lot of sex appeal to the role. She’s great. Whenever she comes on-screen, there’s a cool little tune in the score. The score, great visual effects and funny banter between the cast makes this a memorable super-hero flick.

Score: 70/100

Rugrats in Paris: The Movie – Rugrats II (2000)

Released: November 17, 2000. Directed by: Stig Bergqvist, Paul Demeyer. Starring: Christine Cavanaugh, Susan Sarandon, John Lithgow. Runtime: 78 min.

The Rugrats travel to Paris, France, where Chuckie hopes to find a new mother and keep his father from marrying an evil business woman.

I think this is a smart film because it’s effectively simplistic, but there’s still enough silliness for the kids. And lots of fun for adults. It’s not the best kids film in the world, but it’s a lot better than the first Rugrats movie. It has references to the Godfather and homages to monster movies with a monster mash in the middle of Paris, which is pretty awesome.

It’s poignant in the way Chuckie wants a mother, and he’s the main protagonist this time around. The antagonists are mainly good because of their voicework. The despicable Madame LaBouche is voiced by Susan Sarandon; and her assistant, Jean-Claude, is voiced by John Lithgow.

The movie gets big laughs, and the musical numbers are very memorable, unlike the music of the first. This is definitely my favourite Rugrats film.

Score75/100

Little Nicky (2000)

Little NickyReleased: November 10, 2000. Directed by: Steven Brill. Starring: Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans. Runtime: 90 min.

I’m not sure why I give Dennis Dugan a hard time as a director. It isn’t that he’s a poor director; it’s just that the movies he directs are usually brought down its poor writing. But Steven Brill is probably the worst director out of Adam Sandler’s crew.

Little Nicky’s (Adam Sandler) two evil brothers Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) have just escaped from Hell and are wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting earth. His dad (Harvey Keitel) is disintegrating and it’s up to Nicky to save him and all of a humanity by midnight before one of his brothers becomes the new Satan.

“Little Nicky” is sort-of a guilty pleasure. Yeah, the premise is far-fetched, but it’s a fun movie. It’s not the worst movie out there, but I know it certainly isn’t the best. One main flaw about the movie is the soundtrack. It just feels like it was made the night before development started, from Rock N’ Roll’s greatest hits.

The main character, Nicky, isn’t exactly the greatest guy out there. He’s the son of Satan. He’s oddly likable, if one could get past his facial oddities. Patricia Arquette a great actress who makes for one of Sandler’s finest on-screen counterparts. In any other Sandler movie, she would not work. But Valerie’s, Arquette’s character, oddities really match the odd personality Nicky possesses. Arquette is sweet and softly-spoken, so she brings Valerie to life well.

The movie’s hilarious at times but the sentimentality doesn’t ring true, really; and the writers attempt to force the sweetness too much. I like the fish-out-of-water humour, and some of the cameos are hysterical. Dana Carvey as a referee, Whitey, who was actually a character in “Eight Crazy Nights,” portrayed by Sandler. Peter Dante and Jonathan Loughran are funny as people who hail Satan.

Quentin Tarantino is awesome as a Deacon who one would see on the streets, the cuckoo guy preaching God’s word. Reese Witherspoon shows up for a bit as a sexy angel. A character from one of Sandler’s classics makes a cameo. And Jon Lovitz shows up as a pervert peering in on a sexy mother, and get sent to hell for it. Whenever he shows up, Kool & The Gang’s Ladies Night sounds, and it’s a great touch.

You’ll only find this movie funny if you enjoy Sandlers’ shtick. He talks in a funny speech impediment throughout. It will get laughs from his fans. His character is distinctive because of the speech impediment. The movie lets us know that Nicky got his speech impediment by being hit in the face by a shovel by his brother Cassius. (Speaking of Nicky’s brothers, Rhys Ifans puts in an amusing turn as Adrian.) Why doesn’t anyone just hit him with a shovel early on again? Maybe it’s like amnesia? Reverse effect, guys…

The movie is completely stupid, but it knows it. So that’s good. That’s funny. But it would be better if it just feels like “Little Nicky,” not “Popeye’s Chicken presents: Little Nicky.” The comedy also gets extra points for shoving pineapples up Hitler’s ass. Thanks for the laughs, Satan.

Score63/100

Erin Brockovich (2000) Review

Erin Brockovich

Release Date: March 17, 2000

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Stars: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart

Runtime: 131 min

Tagline: She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.

 Erin  Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is an unemployed single mother, who has hit a bad streak of unemployment. She gets in a car accident, and attempts to sue but after that ultimately fails – she tried to get work from her public defender,  Ed Masry (Albert Finney). With a lot of persistence and determination, she lands a job as a legal aid. Her wardrobe and attitude are constantly frowned upon,  so she would like to prove herself. Along with her determination, she starts an investigation of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, which may just be a health hazard for a small town near to her.

                  Erin Brockovich is actually a pretty sweet and inspirational true story, with an incredible titular performance from Julia Roberts. Most of the characters were great and the story was pretty good.

The story was inspirational because of her [Erin’s] care for the citizens, and her passion for the law case she got herself involved with. It was also a little sad because she worked so much, and she didn’t have a lot of time for her children. The only characters I really only liked was Erin because of her charisma (but I didn’t like that she didn’t spend enough time with her children), and Ed Masry because he had a nice fair share of charisma. The other ones I didn’t care for dearly, mostly because I can’t remember all of them. Erin’s job did definitely affect her outside life, which made some scenes fairly poignant.

At times the story wasn’t overly interesting and it drag in some areas. If the film was just pure drama, it wouldn’t have been very great. There’s a lot of style and great humour offered, that makes it the most enjoyable. The humour is never hit-and-miss, it’s really all a great hit – and a lot of the jokes are quite memorable.

Erin Brockovich offers solid humour, a bit of poignancy, a great performance, and some dragged–out scenes and a sometimes-not-totally-interesting story. It’s really a film that can make one get on the verge of tears at some scene, and then have their face hurt from laughter in another.

 80/100