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

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.

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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.

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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

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Ocean’s Thirteen. Released: June 8, 2007. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 2 min.

In “Ocean’s Thirteen”, Ocean’s team returns to Vegas when a sleazy casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses Reuben (Elliot Gould). The crew plan to get a bit of revenge for by sabotaging Bank’s grand opening of his hotel and casino, called “The Bank.” You can already see the huge ego on this guy, which Pacino plays very believably.

Writers (Brian Koppelman and David Levien) tinker with the formula by having this be more like a sabotage film than a heist film. This had me confused at times because I wondered where the monetary gain was here, but their plot is more for the satisfaction of taking down a bad guy rather than getting a lot money this time. Though, it’s nice they’re back in Vegas because this is where they shine.

They do so in rigging the games in the casino for massive payouts, and the way they go about this is clever and entertaining. The way they solve problems like the Greco player tracker coming to the casino, which monitors all games on the floor to see if wins are legitimate, is well-done.

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Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Thirteen. (IMDb)

It’s also equally rewarding watching the Eleven try to screw Bank over as it was watching them steal from Benedict (Andy Garcia) in the first film. Even though the film isn’t as much a heist film this time, it still has the stylish set-up of how they’ll sabotage the casino and it’s still really entertaining, even if it’s not as great as the first outing.

The characters are still interesting, even though any significant female presence isn’t here this time. Both Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones don’t return because there wouldn’t have been any significant role written for them in the script.

Their absence in the film is explained by Rusty (Pitt) and Danny (Clooney) saying it’s not their fight. Because of this there’s only memorable female character, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), who is Bank’s right-hand woman. With the lack of females in this one, it’s no wonder they went for a female-led spin-off.

Score: 70/100

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Ocean’s Twelve. Released: December 10, 2004. Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

Spoiler warning: There’s a spoiler for “Ocean’s Eleven” in the opening paragraph. 

In “Ocean’s Twelve”, the old squad reunites to do one more heist when Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) comes back for what they stole from him in the first film. It’s three years later and he wants the money back with interest. Without much of a choice, the Eleven must do what they do best: steal things to pay off their debt.

A new character here is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a detective, Isabel, on the tail of the Eleven. She also gets nice character moments and doesn’t feel cliché, even though she’s a love interest of Rusty (Brad Pitt).

She’s one of the film’s antagonists, and there’s also the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a rival thief who fancies himself the world’s best thief, and challenges Danny’s (George Clooney) team to stealing an item. The character sounds name sounds more like a comic book villain, but he’s just a petty thief.

The individual heists in this film are still entertaining even though they lack the flair of its predecessor. There are a lot more problems raised in this film but there are also a lot of interesting solutions.

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Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney in Ocean’s Twelve. (IMDB)

The fact that the franchise exists in the real world with real celebrities gives comedic opportunity for writer George Nolfi. This includes an amusing cameo by Topher Grace, and it also makes things get really fun when Tess (Julia Roberts) gets dragged into the film’s scheme.

Most characters get their chances to shine again. Nolfi thinks of creative ways to get characters out of the picture for some time – like sending Yen (Shaobo Qin) somewhere else in a duffle bag, even though his character’s role is small enough as he just speaks Chinese.

Sometimes getting these characters out of the way for awhile is helpful because it’s hard to keep track of all of them. It’s also interesting to watch the Nolfi tinker with the formula more and see how it works outside of Vegas. It still works and offers entertainment, and it’s nice to see them stealing things again.

Score: 70/100