By Dan Skip Allen
As far as slacker comedies go, High Fidelity is one of the best ones. A cool soundtrack and a relatable story and characters make it a memorable film. Growing up and moving into adulthood in the nineties, I can see how this film has transcended time. Throw in the romantic angle, and you have a very entertaining film. John Cusack has made a niche for himself in these types of films, many of which stand the test of time. A great supporting cast also helps it stay relevant 20 years later. It's one of the best films of its kind.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is a record store owner in Chicago. He's trying not to grow up, but life keeps smacking him in the face. He has gone through many girlfriends and agonizes over each one for days on end. His current ex, Laura (Iben Hjejle), is the one he's brooding over right now, but of course, there is always a next (Lisa Bonet). His store workers Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) keep him sane even though they are quite odd and annoying at times. They won't quit or go away.
Rob's relationships are a huge part of the film. He breaks the fourth wall and explains why he loved them and how they broke up. He even lists them in order of most to least painful. He goes into all the details of his relationships, especially with Laura. If you didn't know any better you'd think it was written by Cameron Crowe. Nick Hornby channeled him if I do say so myself. Sarah (Lili Taylor), Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Penny (Noelle Carter) are other ex-girlfriends he obsesses over as well.
Nick Hornby has made a career for himself writing a mix of dramas like An Education, About a Boy, and Brooklyn, and romantic comedies like Fever Pitch and Juliet, Naked. The tip of the iceberg for him is High Fidelity. He captures this world of a record store owner pining over all of these women. The dialogue is so spot on. The relationships seem so vividly real. Add in the direction and editing and you have a great film that stands the test of time. It seems like this story could take place in any decade but it does fit into the middle of the '90s and 2000's perfectly.
Along with the great cast already mentioned, cameos by Bruce Springsteen and Sarah Gilbert all help add depth to the story. The film is about Rob finding himself and why he needs to figure his life out. Laura wants to get away from him but they keep finding ways to get into each other's orbit. This is not healthy for him. All she wants to do is leave him and his drama alone. It doesn't help that she's sacked up with their upstairs neighbor Ian (Tim Robbins). Even his sister keeps telling him to leave her alone.
High Fidelity is an entertaining film that has a lot to say about relationships in the windy city and the pain and suffering a man can put himself through thinking about his past loves and losses. Each time he sees one of them he gets worse and worse. Using a film line, Rob can't find a way to edit it all out of his life. That's what's driving him mad. He always wants the answers. I can say from living life as long as I have that you're never going to get the answers you're looking for. It's easier to just keep getting up and about and doing your thing day after day. Eventually, you'll forget about the painful days. Women are a dime a dozen. They come and they go. There will always be another one right around the corner.
By Adam Donato
Pretty Woman is directed by Garry Marshall, written by J.F. Lawton, and was released on March 23, 1990. The movie stars Richard Gere as a rich businessman who hires a goofy prostitute (Julia Roberts) to be at his beck and call for the week. From a budget of fourteen million, Pretty Woman made about $463 million worldwide and has become one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time.
The driving force of this movie is the chemistry between the two romantic leads, Roberts and Gere. Roberts excels in this role as her fun personality and genuine vulnerability make her a joy to watch on screen. These qualities make her feel utterly relatable, which is a great achievement as most people would generally say they have nothing in common with a prostitute. Gere, as the straight man in this comedic duo, brings a dignified presence to this movie. Both characters have nice arcs as Roberts gives up her life of prostitution to go back to school before getting rescued by her knight in shining armor and Gere gives up his seedy business ways by diverting from his greedy lawyer to help save an old man’s naval business.
This romantic comedy stands out as the protagonist has a quite unconventional career choice. It was handled very well in the sense that the film paints her as “the safest and most self-respecting hooker on the market”, which helps. In an earlier draft of the script, Roberts’ character was to have a cocaine addiction. This was supposed to be an added conflict in the story as she was to struggle with staying sober during her week with Gere. Even darker, Roberts’ friend was supposed to overdose while she was away with Gere. While this would’ve been beautifully tragic, the film took the safer route. Roberts becomes more redeemable by the end by giving up her career as a prostitute, in favor of going back to school to get a real job. While some people may not be able to root for a prostitute, the film does a very good job of making a generally unfavorable character into one that we are rooting for by the end. The consensus is the Roberts does pull this character off as she was nominated for an Oscar and even won a Golden Globe for her performance.
The antagonist in this movie is Jason Alexander, pre-Seinfeld. His character is meant to be the devil on Gere’s shoulder as he tries to gut the old man’s naval business, while they’re still vulnerable. Alexander does a good job with what he is given. It’s just a shame that his character is made so one dimensional towards the end. There’s a route this movie could’ve taken, where you understand, from a business standpoint, why Alexander is doing everything that he is doing. Alas, once we see him force himself upon Roberts, the grey area that his character operates in this movie disappears and he is kicked out the door by Gere to the audience's delight. Then again, who’s asking for a complex antagonist in a cheesy 90’s romantic comedy.
As a whole, this movie works on every level. The writing, while standard romantic comedy fare, pulls off having such an unconventional protagonist. There are many callbacks in the movie that feel very satisfying. While the chemistry between the leads is very real, Marshall deserves a lot of credit in directing their performances. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny and the romance is sweet. Taking a grossly rich businessman with a goofy prostitute and making them feel relatable is this film’s crowning achievement. Their relationship is utterly sweet and is one that is hard not to root for.
Overall, Pretty Woman deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of romantic comedies in movie history. Being able to hold up so well after thirty years is quite impressive. Roberts and Gere are electric together on screen. Avoid this movie if you are an over the top moral conservative or if you are just not into romantic comedies. Otherwise, Pretty Woman is rightfully iconic and deserves to be seen.
By Dan Skip Allen
The romantic comedy is a genre that is going the way of the dodo bird. We rarely get a great romantic comedy anymore. There are occasional films such as The Big Sick, Bridesmaids, and (500) Days of Summer that impress every so often. It is not like in the '90s though, when a lot of very good, if not great, romantic comedies came out. My Best Friend's Wedding, Notting Hill, You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and There's Something About Mary are among the best the genre has to offer. That said, arguably the best of the '90s, and maybe even the best ever is Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere & Julia Roberts and directed by Garry Marshall.
Edward (Richard Gere) is driving around L.A. trying to find Beverly Hills. He stops to ask for directions from a couple of prostitutes on the street and Vivian (Julia Roberts) saunters on over to him. Edward gets her to come for a ride with him around L.A. and then convinces her to come up to his nice fancy hotel with him, but once she's there, he doesn't know what to do with her. The penthouse suite is a little much for her. They start off the night with a little champagne and strawberries.
Julia Roberts broke out in the '80s with Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolia soon after that, but her biggest hit was Pretty Woman. Does this story of a down-and-out prostitute who was swept off of her feet by a rich businessman sound familiar? It's essentially the story of Cinderella: a poor house girl who gets to go to a ball and meet a prince. Edward is the Prince in this story. Pretty Woman is Garry Marshall's version of that magical tale.
Richard Gere broke out in 1980 with his steamy film American Gigolo. Ironically he portrays a male prostitute in that film. An Officer and a Gentleman came out soon afterward and launched him into the stratosphere. That said, Pretty Woman would become the film he is most known for. He has a reputation for playing a ladies man. He is by all extents and purposes a good looking man. He plays that role perfectly in numerous films. Richard has this quality about himself that makes him perfect casting for these types of roles.
Pretty Woman is a film that hits me in the feels every time, even 30 years later. It has an everyman quality to it. It's a story that everyone can believe in. Along with the two stars, this film has some fantastic co-stars including Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, and the standout, Hector Elizondo. They all play their part in this wonderful feel-good story.
There is a beauty and simple feeling to this film that I just love. It makes me feel like a person who has nothing might be able to find true love accidentally like this. Nobody wants to be poor and struggle every day like Vivian, and sometimes a Prince Charming like Edward can swoop in and sweep a girl off of her feet. It truly is a Cinderella story. I guess I'm a softy at heart because I still believe in love. Maybe the rich guy can learn something from the poor girl and vice versa. Pretty Woman is an iconic film that will live on and on.
By Sean Boelman
Although the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was cancelled as a result of the global pandemic we are facing right now, that didn’t stop some of the filmmakers from sharing their films with critics in the hopes of building buzz for their eventual premiere when things blow over. While it’s sad that these filmmakers didn’t get to see their films premiere to packed houses in Austin, TX, they still have the honor of getting the recognition of being selected, and most of them won’t have a hard time finding another place to screen. Although there are plenty of great films in the lineup that already have distribution deals in place, those films have a list of their own. Instead, these are the films that would have had their world premiere at this year’s SXSW and need your help in driving up attention to get a distribution deal and/or a new festival home!
Best Summer Ever
Directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, Best Summer Ever is arguably the film that had the most to lose from the cancellation of the festival. A low-budget independent musical featuring an integrated cast of people with and without disabilities, this film is just an absolute ball of happiness and joy. Think Grease, but way more inclusive and wholesome, and that’s Best Summer Ever. The eight songs on the soundtrack are bright and catchy, and the script offers a tongue-in-cheek riff on teen comedy tropes (which won it the Final Draft Screenwriters’ Award). The film was set for a pretty prolific festival tour, but unfortunately, all of its screenings have been postponed for the time being. Still, it’s the type of crowd-pleasing movie that demands to be seen with an audience.
For Madmen Only
Heather Ross’s documentary For Madmen Only takes a look at the life and career of comedic mastermind Del Close. Although it is one of the safer and more conventional films to appear on this list, it earns its spot because of its entertaining and heartwarming approach to its story. Fans of the comedic medium will undoubtedly delight in getting to see footage of Close workshopping his magnum opus, the “Harold”, and interviews with various high-profile comedians who were inspired or mentored by the man himself. Because of how well-known the film’s subject and interviewees are, you can expect this film to find a home soon, as it is a good crowd-pleasing documentary.
The directorial debut of actor-turned-filmmaker John Leguizamo, Critical Thinking is an uplifting and inspiring tale of youth banding together to make the most of their situation. Although the film leans a bit too heavily on genre tropes at times, the phenomenal true story at the center of the film will allow it to connect with audiences of all ages and cultures. Even though the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it offers plenty of laughs and an uplifting message. Leguizamo is at his career best as the teacher who serves as the mentor to these kids, and the cast also features some strong performances from the young actors in the chess team. Because of the crowd-pleasing nature of the film, and the star-power attached, this won’t have a hard time getting distribution, so you’ll get to see this film sooner rather than later.
Lindsay Lindenbaum’s music documentary Tomboy is probably one of the most refreshing films that audiences would have gotten the chance to see at this year’s SXSW had it been able to occur. Giving viewers an intimate look into the lives and work of four female drummers, the film presents an important perspective on a genre of music that is often male-dominated (or at least the men get a majority of the attention). Although the film does feature stories from well-known bands, the more effective portion of the film is arguably that which follows an extremely talented young woman as she forms a band of her own. With this, Lindenbaum is able to create a film that is a passionate love letter to music and creativity.
Having gotten the support of indie filmmaker Jay Duplass, young writer-director-star Cooper Raiff’s directorial debut Shithouse earned the Grand Jury Award in the Narrative Feature Competition (via virtual judging) at this year’s festival. With a unique and brutally honest perspective on a common genre, Raiff’s film is both a ton of fun to watch and surprisingly emotionally resonant. This lo-fi dramedy is a little rough around the edges, but that is part of its charm. The script is charming and often hilarious, thanks in part to excellent performances from Raiff and his co-star Dylan Gelula. Thanks to the names that have given their support to the film, and the acclaim it has been getting, expect this one to make its way to audiences pretty quickly.
Dark City Beneath the Beat
Baltimore musician TT the Artist shows that her talents also expand to a visual medium in her hybrid documentary Dark City Beneath the Beat. Part performance film, part visual essay on the history of Baltimore club music, and completely a love letter to the city that inspired her work (both this film and her music), this is one of the most interesting sensory experiences that viewers would have had at this year’s festival. The performances are intricately choreographed and beautifully-shot, and the interviews that stitch them together provide some great insight into the creative process. This isn’t an average documentary, but it sure is an enjoyable one, especially for any fans of music.
Jeremy Hersh’s directorial debut The Surrogate may be one of the least traditionally cinematic films that was set to debut at this year’s festival, that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the most riveting. An intense and emotional examination of its central ethical dilemma, this film is as thought-provoking as it comes. Although it’s overtly political nature may cause it to be divisive among closed-minded audiences, the film does a good job of addressing both sides of the very important discussion around which it is built. The film is also notable because its lead actress, Jasmine Batchelor, gives one of the best performances of the year so far. Though the challenging nature of this film means it will be hard for it to find a fitting home that can market it properly, it will be more than worth the wait.
Experimental filmmaker Marnie Ellen Hertzler has finally made the transition into long-form filmmaking with her ambitious avant garde documentary Crestone. Exploring the lives of a group of SoundCloud rappers as they go about their daily routine in the eponymous town, making music and smoking weed, Hertzler transports the viewer into the fantasy-like world the subjects have created for themselves with some surreal visuals and an unreal sound design. No one would’ve thought that a documentary about pot-smoking rappers would have been as profound as this, but here we are. This film will undoubtedly challenge audiences and their narrative expectations, but if viewers are able to get in tune with Hertzler and her film’s subjects early on, this film will have a surprising impact.
Another directorial debut, Noah Hutton’s film Lapsis was one of the more idiosyncratic films in this year’s festival lineup. Combining sci-fi with deadpan comedy and social commentary, the film feels like a cousin of Sorry to Bother You and other great works of sci-fi satire. Hutton’s film is one that will stick with viewers long after the credits roll, as its message about the modern economy, particularly when it comes to gig workers, is very profound. This is the type of smart and creative genre picture that festivals like SXSW were made to discover, and Hutton’s voice is that which festivals in general were made to project. Of any of the films that screened for press out of the lineup, Lapsis is the one that most screams that it will achieve a cult following if distributors will take a chance on it.
The Donut King
The first film in which cinematographer Alice Gu steps into the director’s chair, The Donut King is without a doubt the most impressive documentary that was supposed to debut at this year’s SXSW festival. Although the film is certainly admirable as a foodie movie (it features some gorgeous shots of the eponymous delicacy, coupled with some phenomenal editing), it is even more effective as a story of the American Dream. The film traces its subject as he goes from a Cambodian immigrant fleeing the oppression of the Khmer Rouge to the owner of an empire of donut shops in California. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, this is an entertaining and endearing documentary unlike any other in the lineup this year. If this film goes to the right home, expect it to become a sensation when it gets released.
All ten of these great films were set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival and are currently seeking distribution.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.