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High Fidelity

John Cusack is the king of inner turmoil. So good in fact that romantic frustration, nagging doubt, and self-loathing have started to define his career. Of course, Cusack has played it straight in such films as Eight Men Out and Fat Man and Little Boy, and he even signed on with Bruckheimer & Co. for Con Air. But honestly, when you hear the name John Cusack, do you immediately think "Oh yeah, he was in City Hall with Al Pacino"? No, you and everybody else remembers films like The Sure Thing, Say Anything, and Grosse Point Blank, all which examine how hard love is to find, retain, or recapture. For the better part of two decades John Cusack been a minor emblem of the young men in his generation, and 2000 adds another classic film to the list, High Fidelity — which certainly is one of the best films of the year and bound to become a landmark for Cusack fans. Based on the popular novel by Nick Hornby (which takes place in London), Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, a thirtysomething owner of a dingy Chicago record store that specializes in hard-to-find vinyl rarities, which means that, in a Compact Disc era, it mostly attracts a clientele of young men who are obsessed with collecting scarce first issues or expensive Japanese imports of their favorite bands. As the hobby of vinyl collecting is filled with unlimited bits of knowledge and trivia, Rob often likes to play a reductionist game with his love for music: naming "top-fives" of just about everything — such as top five side-ones, track-ones — and he also uses the top-five system as a way to catalog his life (indeed, his record collection is filed away not alphabetically or chronologically but "autobiographically"). Thus, as High Fidelity begins, we find Rob breaking up with his current girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), causing him to launch into his list of all-time top-five ugly breakups, insisting to himself that Laura simply does not make the list ("If you wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me sooner!" he yells after her). In his record store the next day, Rob is still dealing with the loss of Laura while being annoyed by his employees and fellow vinyl collectors Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (a very funny Jack Black). Trying to learn why his love life always crashes and burns in stupefying humiliation, Rob decides to hunt down his top-five breakups (including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor), while trying to shake the ghost of Laura — not an easy task, as he learns she is now dating a ponytailed mediation counselor (Tim Robbins) who reeks of patchouli and incense.

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While the sun has not set on John Cusack by a long shot, one suspects that High Fidelity is his best film to date, which is saying something. But when stacked against Rob Reiner's teen comedy The Sure Thing or the dark-comic Grosse Point Blank, High Fidelity simply has deeper, more human dimensions while still delivering an enormous amount of laugh-out-loud moments. While only four years after Grosse Point Blank, Cusack looks and comes across almost ten years older, abandoning a lot of the boyish charm that has sustained his career for a world-weary, chain-smoking solipsism. Cusack also handles one of the tougher chores of the film deftly, as much of the story simply has to be conveyed by him directly to the viewers in various monologues (a necessary conceit in order to get some of Hornby's original material into the screenplay). A lesser actor could lose the audience over such a tactic, but Cusack's Rob Gordon manages to remain entirely sympathetic while revealing that, ultimately, he's an enormously self-centered asshole. And as is the case with Cusack's more recent films, he surrounds himself with a strong supporting cast — Robbins has a plum part as the smug, over-the-hill hippie who stole Rob's girl, while Black is a kinetic force of comedy, able to take the smallest moment and find something funny with just his delivery, a gesture, or a facial expression. Buena Vista's DVD edition of High Fidelity is not the massive special-edition fans of the film have been hoping for, but it's still is worth owning. Along with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1, there is a gallery of nine deleted scenes, which it must be noted are far better than the cutting-room-floor stuff we get on most discs nowadays. Each scene has something of value to it, and most are downright hilarious. Two feature cameos from Beverly D'Angelo and Harold Ramis, who are not in the final film, and one gets the impression that the majority of these were not cut because they "didn't work," but simply to improve the film's overall pacing. Also included are 12 interview segments with Cusack and director Stephen Frears (including behind-the-scenes footage), each about three to four minutes long, and while informative, Buena Vista could have improved this by offering one title with chapters for each selection, which would create a behind-the-scenes feature more than 30 minutes in length. But despite a few drawbacks (no isolated score, no commentary), High Fidelity will be a romantic comedy to watch again and again in the years to come, making the DVD a nice addition to anybody's obsessive collection.

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