Tag Archives: Catherine Zeta-Jones

(The Problem With) High Fidelity

This is going to sound strange, so deep breath in, and bear with me. The problem with High Fidelity is John Cusack.

There, I said it. I feel much better now.

You can disagree with me if you want. You’re wrong, but you can disagree. It is physically possible. It’s just not intellectually advisable.

There’s nothing wrong with John Cusack. He was just miscast. I mean, I get how Rob Gordon might seem like the grownup version of Lloyd Dobler, but he’s not even close. Rob Gordon is actually a pretty pathetic guy, but because he’s played by Cusack, some accidental, unintentional coolness is rubbed off. And I get how some underachieving young men might misguidedly put him on a pedestal. Rob is the ultimate fanboy nerd, but he’s the least losery of his friends, the least socially inept. And he puffs himself up by being snobby about his pop culture obsession. Fine. But the thing about Rob Gordon is: he’s not a good guy.

Nick Hornby makes that pretty damn clear in the book, and the character tells us this repeatedly himself in the film: “I am a fucking asshole,” he tells us, but then Cusack flashes those deep brown puppy dog eyes and we feel conflicted. He’s doing and saying pretty shitty things, but it’s Cusack, so he MUST be likable, right?

He’s not likable. He’s an ungrateful little shit. He’s a womanizer with a serious case of (male, as if it needs to be said) entitlement. He skulks about being a rude human being, a stalkery ex, and a very bad boyfriend. But Cusack is such a charmer, and he’s got such a sweet, sympathetic history with cinema, that we ascribe way more positive feelings toward this guy than the character actually deserves.

At one point, when he’s on a self-serving rampage of reconnecting with ex-girlfriends in order to reassure himself that he’s basically blameless, Penny tells reminds him that in fact, HE broke up with HER because she wouldn’t have sex with him (“I wasn’t interested in Penny’s nice qualities, just her breasts, and therefore she was no good to me.”). Her heartbreak led to what basically amounts to rape, and years of sex phobia, and he’s so relieved and satisfied with that answer that he’s spurred to pursue even more ex-girlfriends, never mind the fact that the one right in front of him has just run out of the restaurant in tears. The man is a sociopath and I’m not even kidding. The next ex-girlfriend he visits is thickly mired in depression, and he practically asks us to pat him on the back for not taking advantage of her.

Rob is jealous and possessive and harassing. He is the stuff restraining orders are made of. And he doesn’t even learn a lesson. In the end, the woman who dumped him takes him back because, having just suffered the death of her father, she’s simply too tired, too beaten down by his coersion, to fend him off. That is not a getting back together story that anyone should feel good about, and almost as fast as they can reconcile, he’s off chasing yet another manic pixie fantasy cunt because he can’t even for 10 seconds actually be the nice guy he pretends to be. This is the height of toxic masculinity, but because it’s wearing a cute and cuddly John Cusack body, we fail to see it. We root for him because he’s less of a greaseball than Tim Robbins’s Ian. But being 10% less of a douche doesn’t make you not a douche. It doesn’t make you a nice guy. It doesn’t make you deserving of anyone’s love. Rob Gordon is not a hero. He’s a romantic failure and a social liability and if we made a follow-up to the movie today, he’d be living in his mom’s basement screaming at her to make him some Hamburger Helper as he trashed-talked 12 year olds on League of Legends.

Dad’s Army

‘Dad’s army’ is the home guard and its leader is Captain George Mainwaring. In a very small town in England, a band of merry misfits makes up its corps. Deep into WW2, all the fit, young men are away at war while the rejects and the elderly make up the home guard, charged with parading around and doing exercises and not much else.

Sergeant Arthur Wilson (Bill Nighy) assists Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) in their not MV5BNzg5MWMxNmUtNjdjNC00NTJlLTljNzQtNmU0NTFhYzNmY2ViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk2NTY1NzA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_much else; they mostly spend their days blending into the scenery. Literally. So when a beautiful woman (Catherine Zeta-Jones) arrives in town, they and the whole town are ripe for some shaking up. Rose is an intoxicating distraction until it turns out there’s an actual German spy in town and the home guard is too busy thinking dirty thoughts about Rose to notice his intelligence gathering, let alone catch him.

Dad’s Army is made up of the very best in old British guys – Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon among them. It’s cute and silly in an old, doddering way. The movie is just as inoffensive and harmless as the elderly members of the home guard. Apparently this is the movie version of a beloved TV show that I never knew existed. Old fans wouldn’t recognize this iteration but it’s pleasant enough. Yes, that’s a tempered endorsement. Adjust your expectations and you may find it perfectly enjoyable. It’s not steak and caviar. It’s oatmeal. Good old reliable oatmeal.

Side Effects

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is trying very hard to be happy. Her husband (Channing Tatum) is newly released from prison and they can resume their lives together. But happiness isn’t coming easy: Emily is depressed, and suicidal. She begins seeing a new doctor side-effects-A032_C011_0101LT_rgb1(Jude Law) who prescribes an anti-depressant called Ablixa. Ablixa’s causing some strange side effects though. Worrisome side effects. Violent side effects.

Side Effects is a smart, well-crafted thriller by Steven Soderbergh. He’s heavily influenced by Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction and hits all the right marks for a taut, twisty little thing. He’s not big on making a statement about pharmaceuticals or psychiatry or mental illness, any of which might have been appropriate.

I forgot how much I liked this movie. It was supposedly Soderbergh’s last, 37B68FB400000578-3766104-image-a-41_1472601500752and it seemed one he could be proud to go out on. TV stuff notwithstanding. But now, at the ripe old age of 53, he’s “come out of retirement” to do Logan Lucky, the new Daniel Craig\Sebastian Stan\Channing Tatum\Katherine Heigl\Adam Driver\Hilary Swank Nascar-heist movie.

But back to Side Effects. The first half is about guilt and mental health: how they interact in a doctor’s office, and in a court of law. The second half is a little more Alfred Hitchcock than Adrian Lyne. Things come unglued. The second half is less successful than the first but a fun, b4b4cec15c78289caf1c4442df99b616engrossing watch. The anxiety is ratcheted up expertly, with Soderbergh always in control. Rooney Mara is a terrific actress and she coasts ably over any rough terrain. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law keep up. Soderbergh stays at the top of his game as well – true, he circumnavigates truth and exploration in favour of entertainment, but it’s forgivable. It’s always forgivable when it’s this fun to watch.