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In this episode: High Fidelity | Kodak ScreenCheck: BRILLIANCE!
 
This movie is not called Empire Records! Hear that, brain? It may be set in a record store, but it is NOT CALLED EMPIRE RECORDS! Why do you insist on calling it that, even now, after you've seen the movie and know it's NOT CALLED EMPIRE RECORDS? Stupid brain.

Okay, internal dialogue time over. Let's discuss this funny movie. John Cusack and writers D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink are alums of the hilarious and original Grosse Pointe Blank. (Writing credits also go to Scott Rosenberg and John C. himself.) They are working from the novel by Nick Hornby and have enlisted the help of director Stephen Frears, whose impressive talents have in the past brought us Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters. The solid-as-cement cast includes Jack Black, Todd Louiso, and Iben Hjejle. Topping it off like whipped cream are performances by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Lisa Bonet, Joan Cusack (yay!), and Sara Gilbert. The cherry on top is the collection of other surprising cameos, which I'll not mention as to keep them surprising.

John plays Rob, a guy whose life is nowhere. He owns a ramshackle (but very cozy-looking) record store in a not-so-hot part of Chicago, and has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Iben). This store Rob owns specializes in vinyl, that stuff that "true audiophiles" still treasure above anything digital. Rob's staff includes Dick (Todd), a quiet but intrusive whiff of a guy, and Barry (Jack), a loud-mouthed jerk. Dick, Barry, and Rob all know too much about records. They're record geeks. They look like zealots to us, but as with comic book geeks or Star Trek geeks or Beanie Baby geeks or, dare I say it, movie geeks, the object of their geeky focus is, for them, just part of their every-day lives. This record store/music geek setting is refreshing, and it spawns some amusing and creative scenes. Witness the poor man who comes into the store looking for a copy of "I Just Called To Say I Love You" for his daughter and receives instead a vicious blow-off by Barry. A hoot.

The break-up with Laura launches Rob on a quest to discover why he can't hold on to any of the women he's loved. He brings us along on his quest by breaking the fourth wall and talking, Ferris Bueller-like, to the audience. It works perfectly and gives Stephen Frears a few chances to play with the movie's time and reality. It means we also get to share Rob's inner thoughts, which provide much of the humor in the movie and, I don't doubt, retain some of the book's original atmosphere. It's entertaining, especially as we see Rob become aware of how clueless he's been in the past, how blinded he's been by love and lust and angst. He even has Laura tell him to his face that he holds himself back, not allowing himself to change, but he doesn't hear her. He has to discover for himself why he is what he is.

It's justified to compare High Fidelity to Grosse Pointe Blank because both movies deal with aging Gen-Xers coming to terms with the unfulfilling turns their lives have taken, and both have a comfy-smug, in-jokey tone. I come out enjoying Grosse Pointe more, but that doesn't belittle High Fidelity. For one, Grosse Pointe had that very high-concept but perfectly-executed element of wackiness, the hit man going to his high school reunion. High Fidelity has no gimmick like that (if you don't count the talking to the audience thing), which will make it more sincere for some people. Without the gimmick, High Fidelity is less slapsticky and more emotional. It is grungier. It is deeper. Luckily, the characters are so likeably imperfect, it's a joy to watch the movie unfold. It's also pleasing to realize that you don't know where the movie's going. Skip the next paragraph to prevent yourself from reading some spoilers.

The movie moves along nicely, with Rob eventually beginning to heal over Laura's departure. Seems it's going to end this way, with Rob moving on, probably along the same "dead end" path. Then he and Laura get back together and the ending is happy. Now, common real-life wisdom, no matter how inaccurate it really is, states that no one gets back together like that and makes it work, right? Right. So is the movie a sell-out in the end? Absolutely not. It's about growing up. With this happy ending, Rob learns what it means to commit to someone. He learns how to live through the distractions and fantasies the world throws at him. Without the happy ending, Rob would merely have learned enough to get over Laura and then hovered there until the next girlfriend bopped her way into his life. That ending would have felt more realistic, perhaps, but the growth we see in Rob is satisfying enough for the happy ending to work. Besides, we want him to be happy, don't we? We want ourselves to be happy, don't we?

This movie is thoroughly engrossing and fun, and you should see it. It'll survive the move to video but, like always, the theater's better.

 

Kodak ScreenCheck ROCKS MY WORLD!
 
Now, about that movie geek thing... I tell ya, if what I saw at the Avco is any indication, this new Kodak ScreenCheck thing is amazing! I'd read about ScreenCheck a while ago, but didn't think of it again until I saw it this weekend. Wow. The movie was perfectly in focus, it was bright and clear and looked beautiful. Screw DLP (see previous discussions about it here, here, and here)—until they get digital projection looking like this, every theater should have their systems tuned up by Kodak. That's what movies should look like! Then I could burn the Bad Focus page and be happy with movie projection forever and ever! If you live in L.A., go see High Fidelity at the Avco to see what I mean. (Read more about ScreenCheck at the Avco here.)

 

—Steve

4/3/00

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©2000 Steven Lekowicz