Championship Vinyl

High Fidelity is a top 5 hit from the early 2000’s. Record stores were still around at the time, but the original Nick Hornby novel was written in 1995. The only difference was setting the movie in Chicago instead of London. Apparently the music scene is just as good in both locations. Although I can relate to the new setting, High Fidelity wasn’t on my radar until my half brother recommended it. It does fit the Gen X mentality that he’s part of.

Rob is a slacker who works at his record store Championship Vinyl. Since John Cusack often plays romanticly troubled loners, he was perfect for the part. Of course his sister Joan Cusack had to be around yelling at him. Rob breaks the fourth wall, creates random “Top 5” lists, and works through a relatable personal crisis. Over the course of the movie, Rob tries to figure out what went wrong with every romantic relationships in his life. From Catherine Zeta-Jones as the alternative Charlie to Lisa Bonet as cool local singer Marie.

Any of Rob’s women could be the one, but Rob focuses all of his attention on long-term ex-girlfriend Laura. Danish actress Iben Hjejle is an interesting casting choice, but she does make it count. Much like Empire Records, High Fidelity has an awesome soundtrack. The difference is I’ve actually heard most of these songs. Todd Louiso plays Rob’s meek coworker Dick, but it’s Jack Black who had his biggest breakout role as the obnoxious Barry. His Tenacious D cred gave him all the music knowledge he needed. High Fidelity is a romantic comedy that rocks.

High Fidelity

Rob and Barry at Championship Vinyl

Open ’til Midnight

Empire Records is as dated as it sounds. Record stores use to be the hippest hang out spot for young people. Although they’re a thing of the past, Empire Records has managed to stay relevant all these years. Even though it got harsh reviews and bombed hard at the box-office. Although Empire Records released the same day as Se7en and Showgirls, $303,841 is suspiciously low for a $10 million movie. I guess it was just too niche for casual audiences. The soundtrack is a major draw, but the songs are very Indie.

Empire Records also launched the careers of several popular actors. Even though I was mostly familiar with Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler. Empire Records takes place primarily in one day with teenage characters dancing together and having angst filled meltdowns. It’s basically a 90’s Breakfast Club. Anthony LaPaglia is the hip store manager Joe facing a possible buyout from a major chain. The teen employees do everything they can to fight the man. Rory Cochrane plays the philosophical Lucas who blows all of Joe’s money in an attempt to save the store.

Tyler stands out as the desirable good girl Corey and so does Zellweger as her promiscuous best friend Gina. Robin Tunney had to shave her head as the equally interesting suicidal outcast Deb. Johnny Whitworth is artist A.J. who’s in love with Corey and Ethan Randall’s Mark is just trying to have fun. Most events are random with an overeager shoplifter and the meme generating Rex Manning Day. The teen drama feels like Saved by the Bell, but their chemistry is infectious. Empire Records is a decent place to hang out for 90 minutes.

Empire Records

Empire Records employees

Gen X

Reality Bites is all about navigating life from the cynical perspective of Generation X. Writer Helen Childress based it on her own personal life experiences and friends. Although the title isn’t supposed to mean “life sucks,” it does capture all the problems that they were facing at the time. Reality Bites is the 90’s equivalent of St. Elmo’s Fire with four twenty-something friends and roommates dealing with life after college. There’s an awesome soundtrack that includes grunge music, reality TV style filmmaking, and fear of the AIDS epidemic.

Reality Bites wasn’t an immediate success, but it did become a cult favorite that launched many careers. Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke increased their appeal while Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn had their first major film roles. Lelaina is an aspiring filmmaker who videotapes her friends being themselves. She has a bickering love/hate relationship with her philosophical slacker friend Troy who has a grunge band. Their promiscuous friend Vickie is worried she has AIDS and their celibate friend Sammy comes out as gay.

Several celebrities make appearances since this was the first movie directed by Ben Stiller. He also plays Lelaina’s older yuppie love interest Michael who comes between her and Troy. I can’t personally relate to Generation X or the constant smoking, but being unable to find a job, trying to please your parents, and feeling like your life isn’t progressing like everyone else is pretty universal. Reality Bites has a great understanding of how young adults think.

Reality Bites

Lelaina hangs with Troy

The Monster that Ate Everybody

Beware! The Blob is a B movie’s B movie. Even though The Blob ended with a question mark, it took 14 years to get a sequel. I knew about the 1958 original for years, but the 1972 Beware! The Blob is practically lost. The cast isn’t entirely unknown, but the director is probably the most notable aspect. Beware! The Blob is shot by J.R. himself Larry Hagman. Although the budget was increased, somehow the quality feels worse.

The acting is even more bizarre with characters who are only around to get eaten. The plot is a much more 70’s version of the original with hippies running around. The Blob returns when a dimwitted engineer brings a sample back from the arctic. It’s clearly a sequel, even though characters can be seen watching The Blob on TV. The rampage starts up again with the Blob eating flies and cats before consuming half the town.

The Blob itself is bright red and resembles jelly more than it did before. Roles are reversed with teenager Lisa having to convince her boyfriend Bobby of the attacks. Of course no one believes them until it’s too late. This time the final rampage is at a bowling alley and the source of cold that defeats it is an ice rink. The sequel ends with another question mark, but nothing ever materialized. Beware! The Blob is a product of the 70’s.

Beware the Blob

The Blob attacks

Preceded by: The Blob

The Golden Dolphin

The Bad Guys is a family friendly twist on a classic caper. At this point I can never guess what DreamWorks Animation will do next. They’ve cancelled so many projects that I wondered why they greenlit something like The Bad Guys. It looked so childish and cartoony, but looks are deceiving. The Bad Guys is actually based on an even more stylized book series. The story follows stereotypically bad anthropomorphic animals who attempt to be good guys. The Bad Guys include Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Tarantula. It’s simple, but the movie is a clever parody of heist flicks. Even though kids probably won’t understand the references to the Ocean’s trilogy or Pulp Fiction.

As soon as I saw the trailer, I knew the art style was trying to emulate Into the Spider-Verse. The mix of hand drawn and computer animation is unique and the lighting does have the heist feel. Anime was also referenced, but the characters look as kid friendly as possible. The cast includes Sam Rockwell as the sly leader of the Bad Guys, Mr. Wolf. Marc Maron is the grumpy second-in-command Mr. Snake. Craig Robinson is the goofy master of disguise Mr. Shark. Anthony Ramos is the short-tempered muscle Mr. Piranha. Though male in the book, Awkwafina joins another heist crew as the obnoxious Ms. Tarantula, affectionately nicknamed Webs. Their banter can be funny, but excessive fart jokes hold them back.

Only the main characters are animals. Lois Griffin herself Alex Borstein voices the human police chief obsessed with taking the Bad Guys down and YouTuber Lilly Singh voices a clueless news reporter. Meanwhile, Zazie Beetz voices the fox governor Diane Foxington who denounces the Bad Guys, but has more in common with them than she lets on. Richard Ayoade voices the British guinea pig Professor Marmalade who represents the stereotypical good guy. When a plot to steal the Golden Dolphin award goes wrong, Marmalade suggests turning them good. Mr. Wolf starts to like being good, but Mr. Snake is the biggest hold out. There is a twist that’s easy to figure out and a climax that includes a meteor and mind control. Luckily The Bad Guys is good enough to pull it off.

39. The Bad Guys

The bad guys

A Woman’s Touch

Ocean’s 8 is another gender-swapped version of an all-male franchise. Since I was never attached to the Ocean’s trilogy, an all-female reboot didn’t bother me. Unlike Ghostbusters, which is too much of a classic to mess with. Ocean’s Fourteen was never gonna happen considering Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney wanted to end on a strong note. Gary Ross directs a new cast of only 8 well-known actresses. Sandra Bullock is Danny Ocean’s never before mentioned sister Debbie Ocean who also happens to be an ex-con master thief. It’s kind of lazy, but there needs to be an Ocean hiring a team for a heist.

Bullock and Clooney both starred in Gravity, but they don’t interact since Danny is inexplicably dead. Most of Debbie’s team are just female versions of past members. Cate Blanchett is Debbie’s blunt second-in-command Lou similar to Rusty. Together they plan to steal a priceless necklace from the Met Gala. Which seems a bit stereotypical for an all-female heist crew. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual cooky self as fashion designer Rose. Mindy Kaling handles the jewels as Amita. Sarah Paulson is stay-at-home mom and illegal goods transporter Tammy. Rihanna makes one of her rare acting appearances as hacker Nine Ball. Awkwafina is just as obnoxious, but Constance has valuable pickpocketing skills.

Anne Hathaway is the third biggest name in the cast who literally plays a famous actress named Daphne. She is the 8th member even though it seems like she’s only there for them to obtain her necklace. The sort of villain is Debbie’s ex Claude Becker who got her incarcerated. James Corden shows up near the end to investigate the crime along with a bunch of celebrities at the Met Gala. Elliott Gould’s Reuben and Shaobo Qin’s Amazing Yen are the only returning cast members. I have no major complaints since I already like most of the female cast. Ocean’s 8 is undemanding and inoffensive.

5. Ocean's 8

Ocean’s 8

Spin-Off of: Ocean’s Thirteen

The Bank Heist

Ocean’s Thirteen is a back to the basics grand finale. Unlike Ocean’s Twelve, the third installment is a lot easier to follow. Like Ocean’s Eleven, all the action is kept at a Las Vegas casino. The entire male cast along with director Steven Soderbergh remained committed. Including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, and Shaobo Qin. The titular Ocean’s Thirteen refers to Eddie Izzard’s Roman Nagel becoming a consultant and Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict being brought in as a last resort.

You’d think Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones would be the remaining two, but neither of them return since they were unsatisfied with their limited screen time. Instead Sea of Love co-stars Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin round out the star-studded cast. Pacino is the new villain Willy Bank who swindles Reuben out of a casino. Reuben’s significance is increased when he suffers a heart attack and Danny Ocean takes revenge. He plans to ruin Bank’s hotel by affecting its 5 star rating and rigging the machines in the casino. Together with Rusty at his side, the entire team gets a chance to shine.

Linus has the idea to bring in Benedict and attempts to seduce Barkin who plays Willy’s personal assistant. Saul plays the hotel reviewer while the real guy suffers many misfortunes. Frank sticks to the blackjack table, Livingston rigs the machines, and Yen contorts himself through an elevator shaft. Virgil & Turk work alongside Mexican laborers in order to create rigging devices. Basher is given several important roles to create an Earthquake and distract Bank from discovering who they are. Vincent Cassel is also back as the Night Fox, but he gets duped once again. Ocean’s Thirteen plays to the strengths of the original film.

4. Ocean's Thirteen

Ocean’s Thirteen

Preceded by: Ocean’s Twelve & Followed by: Ocean’s 8

With Interest

Ocean’s Twelve is complicated even by heist standards. Ocean’s Eleven was fast-paced and entertaining, but the sequel is too slow and more concerned with star-power. Steven Soderbergh returns to direct alongside the entire cast from the first movie. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, and Shaobo Qin all return as Ocean’s Eleven plus one. Ocean’s Twelve refers to Julia Roberts temporarily joining the team. After the casino heists, Danny Ocean and his team were tracked down by Andy Garcia returning as rival Terry Benedict.

He forces them to pay back the money they stole with interest. Leading to a series of difficult to follow heists in Europe. Some of which involve a mysterious master thief known as the Night Fox. Vincent Cassel plays French Baron François Toulour who steals priceless objects using gymnastics. Eddie Izzard plays another thief who helps them steal a fabergé egg. Ocean avoids arrest, makes a deal with Toulour, and attempts to pay back Benedict with a time limit. Lack of focus may be caused by how much screen time they give each character. Rusty has an increased role that includes a romance with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Isabel, a Europol detective trying to arrest the thieves.

Linus tries to take on a leadership role, Reuben works closely with the team, Frank is mostly in jail, Livingston is a failed stand-up, Basher is still very British, Yen continues contorting himself, Saul leaves since he’s too old, and Virgil & Turk continue to bicker. Danny is in a stable relationship with Tess, but Roberts has a reduced role since she was pregnant. There “so ridiculous it’s kind of clever” idea is to have Tess literally disguise herself as Julia Roberts. It only gets weirder when Bruce Willis shows up as himself. Ocean’s Twelve has too many ideas for a straight-forward heist.

3. Ocean's Twelve

Ocean’s Twelve

Preceded by: Ocean’s Eleven & Followed by: Ocean’s Thirteen

Are You In or Out?

Ocean’s Eleven made heist films cool again. 2001 was filled with first installments in successful franchises. I never watched the Ocean’s trilogy, because I’ve never been a big fan of heists. Luckily Ocean’s Eleven has more entertainment value than the 1960 original. A remake was considered for decades until Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh gave it a fresh spin. The Rat Pack has its familiar faces, but I knew the modern cast of Hollywood A-listers a lot better. You’ve got George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, and Carl Reiner all in one movie. Along with cameos from original cast members and TV actors.

The only character who keeps their name from the original movie is Danny Ocean. Clooney is effortlessly charismatic as the ex-con gentleman thief who plans a scaled down heist of three Las Vegas casinos. The job is personal since Danny plans on winning back his ex-wife Tess who’s dating rival casino owner Terry Benedict. Roberts has believable chemistry with Clooney and Garcia makes a good villain. Ocean’s Eleven consists of criminal specialists and trusted colleagues. Pitt is the perfect foil for Clooney as his constantly snacking right-hand man Rusty Ryan. The heist itself requires meticulous planning, surveillance, and deception. Damon is lowly pickpocket Linus Caldwell who gets close to the mark.

Mac acts as con man card dealer Frank Cotton. Reiner is another much older con man Saul Bloom who commits to his role. Gould is the wealthy casino informant Reuben Tishkoff. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan are mechanic brothers Virgil and Turk Malloy. Eddie Jemison is the all important electronics expert Livingston Dell. Cheadle is explosives expert with an exaggerated English accent Basher Tarr. Shaobo Qin is a real life acrobat who plays a crucial role in the heist as “The Amazing” Yen. The heist itself is tense and full of clever twists. It’s satisfying to see Ocean’s team actually get to keep the money. Ocean’s Eleven makes every second count.

2. Ocean's Eleven

Ocean’s Eleven

Remake of: Ocean’s 11 & Followed by: Ocean’s Twelve

Be Kind

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a top contender for weirdest movie ever made. The directing duo Daniels was previously responsible for the equally bizarre Swiss Army Man. Everything Everywhere All at Once is just as independent, but it became a surprise hit for A24. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere, even with the Rosso Brothers attached as producers. I didn’t officially become interested until people started comparing it more favorably to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Can you believe it’s more strange than a movie with “Strange” in the title? The multiverse is a concept that’s been continuously exploited in the last few years. Everything from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to Rick and Morty. It’s hard to believe Daniels had their multiverse idea before either were released.

Everything Everywhere All at Once has already been called one of the greatest movies ever made, but I’ll be that one person who doesn’t completely understand why. It does check a lot of boxes in modern Hollywood. Everything Everywhere All at Once is told in 3 parts of the title. Everything is almost indistinguishable from a foreign film. Though intended for Jackie Chan, the lead works better with Michelle Yeoh as a struggling Chinese-American mother and wife who owns a laundromat. Evelyn Quan Wang feels like the biggest role of her career since she’s asked to do things I never expected to see from her. At first I didn’t recognize the actor playing Evelyn’s goofy husband Waymond, but that’s Short Round himself Ke Huy Quan making an unexpected comeback.

Can’t say I was surprised to see James Hong as Evelyn’s disapproving father since he’s literally in everything. You don’t have to be Asian to appreciate the movie, but I still can’t relate to a strained mother-daughter relationship. Newcomer Stephanie Hsu not so surprisingly plays Evelyn’s lesbian daughter Joy seeking acceptance. The few non-Asian cast members include Jenny Slate as a “Dog Mom” and Jamie Lee Curtis as an IRS inspector auditing the Wangs. All the multiverse stuff comes out of nowhere, but feels very reminiscent of The Matrix. Mostly because people from an “Alphaverse” are able to verse-jump in order to tap into other versions of themselves throughout the multiverse by doing something unusual. The unusual actions push the R rating a little too far into gross-out territory.

Evelyn discovers her full potential by tapping into a universe where she has badass martial arts skills. She uses it to fight the surprise villain Jobu Tupaki with limitless power who wants to destroy the multiverse. Evelyn tapping into too many universes is what leads to Everywhere. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a swirl of genres that does take advantage of the creative possibilities of a multiverse. But to avoid spoilers, I’m only going to say random things out of context. Googly eyes, movie star, racoon, Ratatouille, hot dog, fingers, rocks, piñata, anime, and everything bagel. I know the ending makes a majority of people cry, but I’m not crazy about the nihilistic tone. The message to “Be kind” does kind of save it. All at Once resolves every conflict no matter how absurd. Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t always for me, but I can commend its commitment to originality.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Evelyn does kung fu