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Rob Gordon is the owner of a semi-failing record store in Chicago where he sells music the old fashioned way- on vinyl. He's a self-professed music junkie who spends his days at Championship Vinyl with his two employees Dick and Barry. Although they have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and are consumed with the music scene and creating their all-time favorite top-five lists of subject specific songs, it's of no help to Rob whose needle skips the love groove when his long-time girlfriend Laura walks out on him. As Rob examines his failed attempts at romance and happiness the process finds him being dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood.
For more about High Fidelity and the High Fidelity Blu-ray release, see High Fidelity Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 31, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Stephen Frears
» See full cast & crew
High Fidelity Blu-ray Review
"All my romantic stories are a scrambled version of that first one."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 31, 2012
There are those who begin chanting Say Anything the moment John Cusack is mentioned. Others who peer even deeper into the '80s, to Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing, each one a classic in its own right. But, despite connecting with an entire generation of adolescent moviegoers in the '80s and much of the early '90s, Cusack was still in his screen infancy, even as The Grifters and Bullets Over Broadway hinted at a newfound maturity. Then came Grosse Pointe Blank in 1997, Being John Malkovich in 1999, and High Fidelity in 2000; arguably the actor's best films and the highlights of his career. I'd even go so far as to say High Fidelity is the last beloved Cusack film. Max earned a fair bit of critical attention, Runaway Jury provided solid genre kick, and Hot Tub Time Machine whipped up a frothy fanbase, but most everything else is either languishing in bargain bin hell or soon will be. And for good reason. High Fidelity may not be perfect, but it remains a bastion for children of the '70s and '80s forever coming to terms with adulthood, missed opportunities and abandoned dreams.
What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?
Smug, arrogant and self-centered, with just enough wit and self-loathing to make it all go down nice and smooth, Rob Gordon (Cusack) isn't a very likable thirtysomething when we first meet him. He's an invention of fiction -- the endearing narcissist -- and the last person you'd want to work for, much less frequent their place of business. And yet Rob owns and operates a sustainably successful record store in downtown Chicago, works alongside two employees-turned-friends (Jack Black and Todd Louiso), and was, until recently, a part of a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle). It turns out Rob isn't such a bad guy after all; just a wounded one. His latest breakup sends him in search of his exes... ahem, his desert island, all-time, top-five most memorable breakups, in chronological order: Alison Ashmore (Shannon Stillo), Penny Hardwick (Joelle Carter), Jackie Alden, Charlie Nicholson (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Sarah Kendrew (Lili Taylor). You know, the ones that really hurt. Laura is still on the periphery, though, and already dating someone new (Tim Robbins). Cue some angry soul searching, a healthy dose of self-realization, and plenty of laughs at poor Rob's expense.
Like the (decidedly more British) 1995 Nick Hornby novel before it, High Fidelity doesn't let Cusack's misanthrope off easy. Or at all. Rob may have been a decent human being once upon a self-made record-label dream, but time and heartbreak have beaten and pounded him into a callous, cynical heap of a man blind to his role in the making of his own misery. Much as he tries to present himself as the victim, it's clear dear ol' Rob is anything but. Somehow, though, whether by Hornby's craft, co-screenwriter D.V. DeVincentis' personal affection for the character and material, or director Stephen Frears' steady hand behind the camera, it's all but impossible to resist rooting for Cusack's lovelorn loser. The resulting love-hate affair not only makes his misadventures in heartache that much funnier, it makes his long overdue epiphanies that much more satisfying. Chalk it up to Rob's biting but revealing confessionals, the Top Five lists that lend his messy life order, or the brief but increasingly sincere moments when he has nowhere else to turn but the truth. Whatever it is, Rob breaks through more than the fourth wall and grows up in front of our eyes, right along with Cusack.
Barry, Dick and, really, most every member of Rob's network of friends, exes and total strangers are a bit one-note, sure, as is every subplot that doesn't hinge on Cusack's pent-up shopkeep. But High Fidelity is Rob's mix tape memoir. His impressions and insights are as unreliable as his outbursts and rants. Lest we forget, it's Rob who hijacks the camera and hermits away in his apartment, demanding his audience view his world and the people in it as he sees it. It's Rob who introduces us to everyone in his life and proceeds to treat them just as he treats the customers in his store. Ironically, Laura is the only person Rob doesn't reduce to a caricature (much as he tries) and the only grounded voice of reason throughout the film. Surprised? So is Rob. High Fidelity, in turn, lifts itself out of the rom-com muck before Cusack or Hjejle even lift a finger. Romance and comedy play their parts, but Frears and company make a habit of going deeper and darker, searching for answers to questions that ensnare disillusioned middle-agers struggling to sever ties with adolescence. And that was in 2000. Twelve years later, the discontent and disillusionment of middle-aged, middle class Americans is reaching critical mass. Rob isn't alone anymore, and Frears' fan-favorite will strike those suffering from arrested development as funnier and more relevant than ever. If you're new to your twenties or thirties and narcissism and entitlement are still coursing through your veins, High Fidelity might just be the remedy you're looking for.
High Fidelity Blu-ray, Video Quality
High Fidelity's hit or miss 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer, on the other hand, doesn't hold up so well. Filmic softness is one thing; scrubbed and filtered source materials are something else entirely. Oh, grain is still present (although it sometimes takes on the consistency of mashed potatoes) and many a closeup looks terrific, carefully preserved textures and all. It's the film's midrange shots that seem to be the source of most of the encode's woes. Grain and fine details tend to become muddled, brief but thankfully negligible bursts of artifacting enter the fray, minor macroblocking haunts oversaturated faces (skip to 33:41), slightly unnatural skintones and crush are minor but ongoing problems, and delineation and black levels aren't always as revealing or satisfying as they could be. That said, High Fidelity fares better than Grosse Pointe Blank in some regards. It isn't littered with thick edge halos like Blank, its colors are occasionally truer and more lifelike, and its contrast is more well-balanced. Like Grosse Point Blank, though, it's clear High Fidelity's transfer wasn't minted from a new master but rather one that shows signs of age. That's not to say the image resembles its DVD counterpart, mind you. Far from it. Videophiles would just be wise to lower their expectations. This may be the best the film has looked since its theatrical release, but it would be easier to compile a list of the presentation's "Top Five Disappointments" than its "Top Five Upgrades," and that sort of says it all.
High Fidelity Blu-ray, Audio Quality
High Fidelity's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track spreads every last pop hit, indie fave and underground anthem in its arsenal throughout the soundfield, drawing the listener in with full, robust renditions of its mix tape soundtrack. The rest of the soundscape, though... well, that's another story. There's nothing wrong per se -- dialogue is clean and clear, LFE output is strong and attentive, and the rear speakers rarely grow quiet -- but the film is surprisingly front heavy on the whole. Street noise, store chatter, and rustling record sleeves are a part of the experience, but tend to clump in the front speakers rather than extending across the entire soundfield. Subdued emotional scenes are even flatter, despite offering up some nice interior acoustics here and there. There's little difference between Rob's apartment and his office, much less his store and a restaurant. The film's original sound design is presumably the culprit, but that doesn't really help when the music dies down and takes much of the soundscape with it. High Fidelity still sounds better than ever. Its lossless track just isn't as enveloping as most fans will probably be expecting.
High Fidelity Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
High Fidelity Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
High Fidelity is a love letter to any disillusioned twenty or thirtysomething struggling with adulthood and all the realities that come with it. Need a Top Five list? I'll bite. Let's just keep it simple: "The Top Five Reasons High Fidelity Still Works." 1) Cusack connects despite Rob's narcissism and overwhelming flaws. 2) His supporting cast nails the laughs, and makes it easy to believe they'd tolerate their misanthropic friend. 3) Frears has a solid grasp on the script, so much so that Rob's fourth wall confessions become something more than a gimmick. 4) The Grosse Pointe Blank team delivers on the page and off with a story of yet another man forced to deal with the ghosts of his past. And 5) The music, the music, the music. Unfortunately, a "Top Five Reasons to Buy the Blu-ray" list is a bit more difficult. Its AV presentation is an upgrade, but its video transfer is dated, its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn't as immersive as some might expect, and its supplemental package doesn't add much value to the release. It's still worth a purchase as far as I'm concerned. A more thorough overhaul and some new retrospective extras would have made it a must-own.
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