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

29 Days of Romance, Review #19: Say Anything… (1989)

29 Days of Romance, Review #19: Say Anything… (1989)
Say Anything... poster
IMDb

Directed by: Cameron Crowe. Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 14, 1989.

In Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, John Cusack plays the underachieving Lloyd Dobler who falls for the beautiful valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye) the summer before she goes away to school to England on a scholarship. Even with Crowe’s first feature, he still had a precise voice and he shows that with how the film deals with honesty throughout.

It’s also a film that feels very real-world. The romance does not feel sugar coated. There are iconic moments like the stereo scene, but even that scene was not sugar coated. This is my first time seeing this film (okay I’ve said this with almost every review so far this February, so that’s no surprise) and I’d always assumed that the stereo scene was a big plea for her affection and she came out of the house and he swung her around and they kissed, or something.

But this isn’t John Hughes or Nicholas Sparks, so it’s not that kind-of movie, and the cheesy romance fan in me was kind-of bummed that’s not how it happens. Instead, Lloyd just stands there as Diane just turns over in her bed. It’s still a great scene as the shot of Cusack with the stereo over his head playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is an iconic and beautiful shot, and I’ve seen it and homages it to it countless times even before seeing this film.

This wasn’t the type of movie I was expecting, and I think that’s a funny thing: Having expectations for a classic film but Say Anything… surprised the heck out of me. It surprised me because of how deep its story felt and how human its characters felt.

Say Anything article
Ione Skye and John Cusack in Say Anything… (IMDb)

As far as the romance goes, the chemistry between Cusack and Skye is strong and natural and I feel like I say that about every movie couple – especially this month and if I had a shot for every time I’ve put it in a review this month I’d be on my third bottle of tequila – but I mean it about them. Cusack has charm as the bumbling every-man and Skye is great as the valedictorian who doesn’t know how beautiful she is.

A big surprise for me here was seeing Lili Taylor, who I really just know as the matriarch in The Conjuring. It’s funny seeing her so young here and I didn’t even recognize her until the party where Lloyd takes Diane for their first kind-of date. Taylor also has an interesting character as Lloyd’s friend, Corey Flood, who gives relationship and life advice as she simultaneously sings songs about a lost love she knows is not good for her. She’s a strong sidekick.

Say Anything, article
John Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything… (IMDb)

The aspect of the film where my expectations were met had to do with its comedy – I’d assumed it would be a funny film, and it has a lot of good comedic moments. Truthfully, I can’t remember any of the laughs, but I remember laughing. The one enriching aspect of this film is the fantastic John Mahoney as Diane’s father James, a nice guy we like from the start.

He’s an important figure in Diane’s life and Crowe uses the relationship of Diane and her father and the relationship between Diane and Lloyd to display honesty and dishonesty with equal effectiveness. The pairing of these two relationships was utterly fascinating, and the sub-plot of James being investigated by the IRS leaked into the main storyline. I was still very interested in the romance, but before I knew it I was getting equally as invested with the father-daughter relationship. I think an effective plot like this that feels so naturally in the overall story is why Cameron Crowe is such a great writer and director, and we’ll just give him a pass about Aloha.

Score: 80/100

The Conjuring (2013)

The_Conjuring_423.jpgReleased: July 19, 2013. Directed by: James Wan. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor. Runtime: 112 min.

James Wan’s The Conjuring has something too often missing from modern horror films: real scares. I think this film is scary as hell. This film is enough to make me paranoid before bed, but not able to lose that much sleep. If I had seen this in theatres, it may have been a different story if I’d seen this in theatres because of the creepy score and great sound design, and couple that with surround sound, it might make viewers very paranoid at points. This film does start to creep me out just thinking about it. And how effective is that?

The true story follows the Perron family, an ordinary family haunted by a hateful spirit in early 1970s Rhode Island. For part of the film’s first act, focus is shifted between the Perron family and demonologists (the only two recognized by the Catholic Church) Ed and Lorraine Warren (portayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) until the Warren’s go to help the family.

Lorraine is given an extra layer by something that happened to her in a previous case. Her husband is more protective of her because of that, and it gives them a great chemistry. This also gives the two characters a nice layer of vulnerability. The two actors are great, so they’d have a great chemistry regardless. To find both good characterization and memorable performances already seems like a rarity in today’s modern horror market. I think the family gets some pretty good characterization, too, and they’re performed well by Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and Joey King. The family dynamic’s explored realistically. I like the idea that, when one is younger, their imaginations make them more vulnerable.

What makes the movie more interesting is a sub-plot on another one of Warren’s cases, where an inhuman spirit inhabits a truly eerie Annabelle doll. It’s what helps introduce the Warren’s into the film. I think their lectures are fascinating, and they add on to the mythology of demonology and paranormal activity; other scenes add to the mythology, as well.

The film takes the old-school horror route with old-fashioned scares and a great foreshadowing of what’s to come; like clocks stopping at a certain time each night, pets being scared of the house, and bruises on bodies. The creepy score is used well for foreshadowing, as well. The 1970s styled costume design is great, especially for Farmiga. I think it’s interesting to see how they plan to catch demonic activity before advanced technology. The scares are simplistic but endlessly effective and memorable, and the imagery and crazy spooks stick with you. A lot of this is edge-of-your-seat, sweat-on-your-palms scary. I think something that is impressive is that the film doesn’t lose its footing when the entity’s revealed, it gets even better.

James Wan is a master at creating a haunting film like this. He understands the atmosphere and creates it realistically. The always switching camera angles and points of view keep things interesting and refreshing. The cinematography is just great, and the editing just as awesome. Something that makes this film a bit more ominous is that it’s based on true events. To think that this can happen to you is really scary. Some scares are foreshadowed, and sometimes the simplest of developments (foggy breath, shadows following each family member) prove to be some of the most chilling.

This is the best horror film of 2013, just beating out Evil Dead. It all leads up to one phenomenal finale, and what’s more memorable is how the finale has a lot going on, spanning different settings, but manages to have great focus. This also has one hell of a memorable exorcism scene.

Score92/100