Archive for the ‘Netflix this’ Category

Netflix this: ‘Lady and the Tramp’

July 16, 2009

Picture this: Christmas 1986. My parents, in a festive mood, decide to take the entire family (all seven of us) to the movies. I, of course, am beyond enthusiastic, because any opportunity to see a movie in the theater must be seized. The movie? An American Tail, the (non-Disney) animated adventure of a family of mice emigrating from Russia to America. Was I terribly excited to see it? Not particularly. Hell, it could have been an hour and a half of talking heads and I would have wanted to see it. (Such was/is my obsession with movies; sometimes it doesn’t matter what I watch, just that I’m watching.)

We arrived at the mall, which was quite a drive away from our home. The mall, in my nine-year-old eyes, had the luxury of having two multiplexes within it, one at each end. To our dismay, An American Tail was sold out. We would have to turn around and go home. But that was a fate I could not accept. I was seeing a movie, dammit!

As a kid I would scour the movie listings in the newspaper everyday. If there ever was a movie emergency and we had to go to a movie right then and there, I would save the day and and know the show times. My years of preparation was about to pay off; I knew that Lady and the Tramp was playing at the other theater at the other end of the mall.

I successfully convinced my parents to take the family to that instead, even though we had to wait about an hour for the next show time. Did I remember the movie? No, not really. But that sweet satisfaction of getting what I wanted has lasted all these years.

Fast forward to Summer 2009. I rent Lady and the Tramp from Netflix because I can. And now, nearly 23 years after seeing it for the first time, I discover how wonderful this movie really is.

The theatrical poster from the 1986 re-release.  Courtesy IMPAwards.com

The theatrical poster from the 1986 re-release. Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? Lady and the Tramp tells the rather simple story of a cocker spaniel named Lady (whaaaa?!), who possesses what every dog should: loving owners, a warm house, and a fancy collar with ID, which ensures that if she is lost of caught by the pound, she’ll be returned to her owners.

Lady goes through an identity crisis when her owners, “Jim, Dear” and “Darling,” have a baby and her quality time with the new parents diminishes.

Months later, “Jim Dear” and “Darling” go away on a vacation, leaving the baby with Aunt Sarah, an old, dog-hating woman who believes her Siamese cats are absolute angels, but really cause a lot of problems for Lady. (Thus reinforcing the universal truth: cats are evil.)

Aunt Sarah, under the false impression that Lady has injured her cats, puts a muzzle on the dog, which sends Lady into a panic. She escapes from Sarah, spends some time in the pound, and gets acquainted with Tramp, a Mutt from—you guessed it—the wrong side of the tracks, with whom she falls in love.

What’s good about it? The animation is absolutely beautiful. The animators captured the canine movements so expertly. There’s also so real emotion to this film; if you’ve ever had a dog, you might even get a little choked up.

What’s bad about it? Some parts might be too dark for really young viewers.

Perfect for: Disney fans, dog enthusiasts.

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Netflix this: ‘The Nativity Story’

December 14, 2008

I must confess: I planned on liking this movie before I even saw it.  As a Christian and as a movie addict, The Nativity Story seemed like the right amalgamation of spirituality and cinema.  I was in the mood to watch an uplifting film about the Christmas story, especially since I tried to watch the abismal Rankin-Bass special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey the other day.  (Bastardizing Santa and Rudolph is one thing, but stay away fom the birth of Jesus.)

I shied away from The Nativity Story because when it was released theatrically in 2006 it got lousy reviews (Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer has it at 38%) and it only grossed about $44 million worldwide.  Quite a pitiful sum, when you consider that the target audience is all of Christendom (that’s a lot of people).  So I added it to my Netflix queue, wanting to get into the Christmas spirit in a medium that speaks to me.  (I’m not big on candy canes or tacky sweaters.)

It could be my innate bias towards such a film, but I found The Nativity Story to be a compelling and, yes, moving  portrayal of a story I’ve heard and read numerous times.  This is a film where you know what’s going to happen.  The key is to enjoy the journey of how they arrive at the final destination.

What’s it about? Regardless of your faith or your devotion to it, there’s a pretty good chance you know the gist of the story.  Set in the year before Christ’s birth, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is told in a vision that she’ll give birth to a child that will be the Messiah the prophets have proclaimed would redeem the people of Israel.  Pretty controversial, considering that her betrothed husband Joseph (Otto Isaac) is still her betrothed (read: they haven’t consummated the marriage).  Despite persecution and King Herrod’s (Ciaran Hinds) constant attempts to locate the prophecied Messiah.  Add some shepherds and the three wise men, and you’ve got yourself The Nativity Story.

What’s good about it? This is one of those films where you can tell that meticulous research was put into this film.  You get a sense of the everyday life of living in Nazareth.  You get a better understanding of the political climate.  You have a little more context for why people did what they did back then.  There’s attention to detail and there’s sense of scope from seeing a studio-funded production.  And at a hour and forty-one minutes, The Nativity Story doesn’t overstay its welcome.

And while there are a lot of dramatic holes to fill with a movie based on scripture, screenwriter Mike Rich does a good job of developing the relationship between Mary and Joseph.  If anything this movie is the story of how they fell in love.  It added a nice human touch to a story so immersed in the divine.

This is the type of film I want to watch every year and make it part of my family’s tradition.

What’s bad about it? I wanted to like this film, so I don’t have much to say here.

Perfect for: Anyone needing a detox from innocuous Christmas tv specials or made-for-tv movies.  Oh, and the 2 billion Christians on earth.

Netflix this: ‘Edward Scissorhands’

December 9, 2008

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Aside from the occasional cold, I don’t get sick very often.  But last week I was violently ill.  I spent a lot of time in bed.  Watching movies.  It was simultaneously terrible and awesome.

One of the films I watched was Edward Scissorhands, which I had first seen eighteen years ago in the theater.  (And no, I wasn’t a little kid.  But yes, I had to be driven to the theater to see it.)  I’ve loved the film ever since.  But have you ever forgotten how much you actually love a movie?  Such was my experience with Tim Burton’s 1990 film.

edwardposter1What’s it about? A man-made oddity named Edward (Johnny Depp) lives in a mansion on a hill, above the mysterious world known as Suburbia.  When local Avon representative Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest, in what is probably her best non-Woody Allen film role) comes knocking, Edward is whisked away into a world of identical-looking houses, perfectly manicured lawns, bowling on TV, and desperate housewives.  Peg’s husband Bill (Alan Arkin) takes to Edward like he’s one of the family (which means being agreeable if not slightly despondent).  Edward’s “specialness” comes home is hands made of scissors, which the ladies of Suburbia, led by queen bee Joyce (Kathy Baker), are enfatuated with.  His talent for making cool shrubbery morphs into crazy wild dog haircuts and then into bizarre hairstyles that all the ladies love.

Edward pines for Bill and Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), but doesn’t know how to vent his frustrations with his unrequited love.  It’s not long that the one-two punch of Kim’s jerkface boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) and the gossipy housewives being to take their toll on Edward.

What’s good about it? Tim Burton is, first and foremost, a director who puts style above everything else, and Edward Scissorhands is no exception.  Visually, it’s a marvel–from the big abandoned Mansion (which is more of Burton’s trademark) to the pastel-colored blandness of the suburban landscape.  Acting-wise, this is one of Burton’s best films.  Danny Elfman’s score is iconic–music from Scissorhands was used in trailers for years afterward.  Wiest, Arkin and Baker give wonderful performances as people trapped in a bland and empty word and they don’t even know it.  But the film really belongs to Depp, who, with this film, established himself as an actor willing to take creative risks (and we all know how that story panned out).

What’s bad about it? There are a few gaping plot holes, but you don’t watch a Tim Burton film looking for 100% coherence (Planet of the Apes, anyone?).  It’s all style over substance, but what style!

Perfect for: Johnny Depp and Tim Burton fans.

Playing Catch-up

November 17, 2008

My life is kinda’ busy right now.  I make no apologies for having plenty to do.  I refuse to write a “sorry I’m such a terrible blogger” post, but I will say that I’ve seen a lot of movies lately but do not have the time to write full-blown reviews for each one that I’ve seen.  (I might be busy, but I can always make time to watch a movie.)

So here are some quick reviews on the stuff I’ve seen of late (in no particular order).

THE TV SET

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This is one of those films where you’re led to believe you’ll be watching a comedy because of the insane things people do and say.  However, The TV Set, while expertly acted (particularly by Sigourney Weaver as the executive from Hell), is more informative than entertaining, cautionary than humorous.  David Duchovny plays a TV writer struggling to get his dramedy The Wexler Chronicles produced.  The network loves it, but wants changes.  And more changes.  And then some more changes. PERFECT FOR: People who love behind-the-scenes types of movies.

APPALOOSA

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I had somewhat high hopes for Appaloosa; Last year’s 3:10 To Yuma was my top movie of 2007.  Sadly, Ed Harris’s second directorial effort lacks the heart and intensity of Yuma.  Harris and Viggo Mortensen are Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, hired guns given charge of the town of Appaloosa, New Mexico, to rid it of rampant crime at the hand of Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, who seems terribly out of place despit his best to muffle his British accent).  Renee Zelwegger shows up as a two-bit hussy masquerading as an old-fashioned kind of girl, eyes always fixated on the nearest alpha male.  Some interesting moments, but stoic performances from Harris and Mortensen (a deliberate choice, I’m sure) make Appaloosa watchable, but not memorable.  PERFECT FOR: Western fans.

NETFLIX THIS: BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER

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Bigger, Faster, Stronger follows director Chris Bell as he tries to make sense of the widespread use of steroid use in America, and in the process upends everything you thought you knew about it.  While much emphasis is places on how steroids have (artificially) built up America’s heroes (like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone), the film also tells the very intimate story of his own family–Bell’s older and younger brother are both on steroids.  The scene where Bell’s mother discovers her sons’ steroid use is heartbreaking.  “There is a clash in America,” Bell says, “between doing what’s right and being the best.”  Bigger, Faster Stronger is not only educational, but highly entertaining.   PERFECT FOR: People who want to like Michael Moore but can’t stand his smugness.

*Sigh*  I’m out of time.

Netflix this: ‘Black Narcissus’ – Nuns gone wild!

November 1, 2008

Okay, so only one sister goes wild in Black Narcissus, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1947 film about nuns in the Himalayas.  But the entire film has a wild undercurrent of unease that sucks all the nuns in; some fight the current with all their might and some surrender completely to it.

While made in 1947, Black Narcissus feels revolutionary in some ways; the film doesn’t feel like an oldie, thanks in part to its breathtaking cinematography and art design (the film deservedly won Oscars for both).  It feels new and fresh, and had it been made today, I don’t think much would have changed.

What’s it about?  The film starts briefly in India, where Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, The King & I) has been assigned to lead of group of sisters to start a school and clinic in the Himalayas.  The Palace of Mopu was donated by a rich general, who housed his concubines there. 

Clodagh does not get to choose her fellow sisters for this assignment, which include Sister Briony (Judith Furse), the strong,no-nonsense nun; Sister Phillipa (Flora Robson), the anguished soul; Sister Honey (Jenny Laird), the perky and compassionate one; and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Bryon), the one who’s a couple beads short of a rosary.

Upon arrival at Mopu, Clodagh instantly locks horns with Mr. Dean (David Farrar) a Brit who lives down the mountain.  Dean is there to help, but often his methods clash with Clodagh.  But there’s a subtle–yet never consummated–attraction between Dean and Clodagh; Dean is a bit of a louse at times, and Clodagh frequently calls him on his crap.  Their relationship never even rises to flirting,  but Ruth senses something illicit is going on between the two and jealously obsesses over their platonic relationship.

Life at Mopu is hard; the wind blows incessantly, as if there will never be calm to Clodagh and the sisters.  Clodagh catches herself reminiscing about her life prior to becoming a nun; we get glimpses into a life that seemed so full of hope and optimism, contrasted to what Clodagh has now become: stoic and unsure of her ability to lead the sisters.

Sister Ruth becomes and increasing concern for Clodagh.  Ruth’s deterioration into madness is the juiciest part of the entire film, and what she does to defy the sisters isn’t really that boundary-pushing, but is nonetheless shocking.

What’s good about it?  The cinematography–as I mentioned before–is absolutely beautiful.  Kerr and Farrar’s performances are solid, but it’s really Bryon’s Sister Ruth who steals the show.  She’s not only crazy, she’s down right frightening.

While the film is (obviously) steeped in Catholicism, Black Narcissus isn’t really about religion.  It’s not a pick-me-up type of film.  It’s one of those films where people learn from their failures.  Sister Act this ‘aint.

What’s bad about it?  The film is on slow burn, so if you’re expecting Lots of Stuff Happening At Once, you’ll be disappointed.  

Perfect for: Deborah Kerr fans, cinematographiles, and anyone looking for a film with right amalgamation of drama, suspense and artsiness.

Netflix this: ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’

October 11, 2008

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday.  That’s not saying that every Halloween has been whiz-bang fun.  But I love dressing up, I loved the (not really) scariness of ghosts and black cats and bats and witches.  I loved Halloween as a kid (although growing up in Northern Canada meant trick-or-treating in sub-zero weather and a good 8-12 inches of snow in the ground, plus having to wear your snow suit under your costume).  Now, as an adult, I love seeing how excited my niece and nephew get about the holiday.

I recently watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my nephew.  He liked it, although near the end when Linus mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin he got a little freaked out and wanted me to turn it off.  He’s only four, so we can only hope that with subsequent annual viewings he’ll face his discomfort with a Santa figure in a Halloween special.  (It may be a while until he graduates to The Nightmare Before Christmas.)

It’s been a while since I myself had seen it.  As an adult, I obviously see it differently than I did as a kid, but that it also in part because the way I see the Peanuts comic strip has changed.  When I was young I absolutely loved Charles Schulz’s strip, but as I grew up my tastes became more refined and I embraced Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side.  As an adult I look at the comics page in the newspaper and wonder why today’s comics are not funny at all.  Has my sense of humor changed so radically since I was a kid (yes), or have comics just never really been that funny to begin with (YES)?

I feared that watching The Great Pumpkin with an older set of eyes would result in disappointment.  I am happy to report that the special still retains a sense of wonder and innocence.  After all, Peanuts itself is seeing childhood through an older set of eyes, and while The Great Pumpkin is not really funny, there’s a magic to it that invokes those same feelings I had about Halloween as I did as a kid.

What’s it about? Linus (voiced by Chris Shea) is anxious for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, the aforementioned Santa Claus of Halloween.  None of his friends nor his sister Lucy (Sally Dryer) believe in the Great Pumpkin and think Linus is stupid for doing so.  Instead of going trick or treating with the neighborhood kids, he waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to bring presents and peace and goodwill to all men.

Meanwhile, Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace’s plane/dog house is shot down over France.  Stranded in enemy territory, Snoopy must make it to safety without being caught by the Germans.  (This makes much more sense when you’re watching it.)

What’s good about it? I have always been a fan of the design and animation of the Charlie Brown specials.  The animation itself isn’t perfect–this, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, has some choppy editing–but that’s why it’s so appealing.  Unlike the crisp and luscious style of Sleeping Beauty (which I recently reviewed), The Great Pumpkin is hand-made and  sloppy, but no less lovingly crafted.  And at a running time of about 25 minutes, The Great Pumpkin knows not to overstay its welcome.

What’s bad about it? The cruelty of the other children towards Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) would leave massive emotional and psychological scarring if he was a real kid.

Perfect for: Kids and grown-up kids.

Netflix this: ‘Sleeping Beauty’

October 6, 2008

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I like to think that I’m well-versed in the pop culture canon.  However, from time to time, there are films that I see that I should have seen a long time ago.  Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of them.  It’s not like I avoided watching it; the opportunity just never presented itself.  If you have been denied the opportunity to see Sleeping Beauty, Disney has just rereleased the film on DVD and Blu-ray.  Buy it, rent it–just make sure you see it.

What’s it about? For whatever reason, the evil witch Maleficent is snubbed an invite to King Stephan’s celebration for his baby daughter, Aurora.  So naturally, she crashes the party and casts a spell on the baby:  when Aurora’s sixteen she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.  (Maybe it’s this kind of thing that prevents her from being invited to more parties.)

In an effort to prevent Maleficent’s curse from coming true, Stephan destroys all spinning wheels in the kingdom and sends his daughter into the woods with the three fairies–Flora, Fauna and Merriweather–until she turns sixteen. But Maleficent’s no dummy.  She has it out for Aurora, and she’ll stop at nothing to get her way.

What’s good about it? This film is absolutely beautiful.  There is an artistry to the animation that you just don’t see in today’s CG-driven world.  The backgrounds are sumptuous; the highly stylized animation is brimming with vitality; the colors are rich and vibrant.  What is most impressive with Sleeping Beauty is that it was made without the help of computers; we are witness to human perfection.  When was the last time you witnessed perfection?

What’s bad about it? Like many of Disney’s early animated features, plot comes second to the visuals.  And with Sleeping Beauty, you’re really not sure who the protagonist is.  (Yes, Aurora is titular character, but she really doesn’t do much.  And we never really know why Maleficent is so evil.)  But who cares?  This is homemade eye candy.  Savor it.

I was surprised, however, as how much dark imagery there is.  Maleficent’s malevolence is the stuff kids’ nightmares are made of.

Perfect for: animation/Disney enthusiasts.


Netflix This: ‘Young@Heart’

September 24, 2008

My father once told me that being old is not for sissies.  Nobody says, “hey, I hope I get arthritis” or “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if my vision increasingly deteriorated?”  I used to hate going to rest homes because everybody was old (and more often than not they smelled like pee).  But then I realized something: as much as I don’t want to be there, I’m pretty sure none of the residents want to be there, either.

The documentary Young@Heart is the story of a choir composed of senior citizens that sings tunes by Sonic Youth, The Clash and Coldplay, among others.  The trailer above kind of makes the film seem like it might be a little tongue-in-cheek in its tone, but Young@Heart is a genuine piece of filmmaking that is a testament to living life to its fullest despite the hardships of getting old.

What’s it about? Director Stephen Walker follows the choir (also called Young@Heart) as they rehearse for their next big show.  The group has toured all over the world, and choir director Bob Cilman (who’s only in his 50’s) has lined up a European tour later in the year.  Cilman started the choir about twenty years ago, and has increasingly anted up the singers’ repertoire, originally starting with Vaudeville and show tunes but now doing rock, soul, folk and punk songs.

During the rehearsals we see the choir figure out Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” both of which seem to cause Cilman more grief than he thought they would.

The film profiles a few members of the choir, and some of their stories are heartwarming (like Eileen Hall, the oldest member of the group who has been with Young@Heart for 20 years), and others are heartbreaking (like Bob Salvini, a member who had to leave the group due to heart problems who has returned for a duet of Coldplay’s “Fix You”).

What’s good about it? Plenty.  Cilman does not treat his choir members like old people.  He expects them to do their best.  He doesn’t pity them and he certainly does not talk down to them.  The film is a celebration of life, and just because you’re closer to death doesn’t mean you have a death sentence.  When on the way to a performance at a local prison, the choir is informed that one of their own passed away the night before.  The show must go on, and their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” turns out to be deeply poignant.

What’s bad about it? Not much, if anything.

Perfect for: music fans, anyone who has grandparents.

Netflix this: ‘Son of Rambow’

September 10, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve given my “Netflix This” stamp of approval (Sweet Land came close).  Son of Rambow completely deserves such a distinction.  It’s a sweet little film about many things–movies, friendship, religion and family.  It truly is a feel-good film.

What’s it about? It’s the 1980’s England, and Will (Bill Milner) is a weird kid with not a lot of friends.  His mother (Jessica Hynes) has raised Will in the faith of the Brethren, a super-devout religious sect that shuns worldly influences.  As a tenet of their beliefs, Will is not allowed to watch TV–not even an educational video during school, which means Will spends a lot of time sitting out in the hall while the kids learn about wicked things like science.

Enter Lee (Will Poulter), the hellraiser from the class down the hall.  He gets kicked out often for…well, raising hell.  So much, in fact, that you can hear his classmates cheer every time he’s excused from class.  Lee gets Will into trouble, which leads to Will being bullied into becoming Lee’s friend.

Lee’s a crafty kid–he makes pirated copies of movies playing at the local cinema.  One day, while Lee makes copies of Rambo: First Blood in his family’s garage, Will ends up watching the entire film.  It changes his life.

Soaring on the sensory overload-high, Will let his imagination run wild.  He begins storyboarding his own Rambo-style film, and soon he and Lee are shooting “Son of Rambow.”  Their filmmaking process recalls that special brand of ingenuity that oozes effortlessly out of kids, where nothing seems impossible.  (The scenes of them shooting recalled to me the passion for do-it-yourself filmmaking that my little brother possessed as a child–and still does.)

The making of “Rambow” takes on a life of its own when the popular exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk) discovers Will’s book of storyboards.  Pretty soon everybody wants to be in Will and Lee’s movie, which thrills Will but frustrates Lee who, as the film progresses, is dealing with some serious abandonment issues.  Will has trouble keeping everybody happy, and even more trouble trying to keep his movie a secret from his family and from Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), a member of their church.

What’s good about it? Son of Rambow is one of those films that makes you laugh and also tugs at your heartstrings.  Outstanding performances all the way around, particularly from the two leads and Sitruk, whose deadpan delivery of the French androgynous new waver Didier is impeccable.  A scene at Didier’s exclusive party is the most hilarious scene in the whole film.

What’s bad about it? There’s a bit of language, and some kids-in-peril kind of stuff.

Perfect for: Anyone waxing nostalgic for the 80’s; anyone who loves movies about movies; anyone who’s dying for something different but not way out there.

Netflix this: ‘Two for the Road’

June 24, 2008

Love, hate, commitment, betrayal (and France!) get plenty of exposure in Two for the Road, a comedy-drama from Stanley Donen (the director of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Charade). I debated for a while whether or not to give the film my ‘Netflix this’ stamp of approval; it’s not a feel-good film about the ups and downs of marriage. Rather, it’s a melancholy dissection of the relationship between two flawed people who love and hate with equal fervor. It’s a gorgeous film with beautiful people who aren’t as perfect as they appear.

two for the roadWhat’s it about? Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) and Mark (Albert Finney) have been married for about ten years. The film is told in a non-linear style, showing five different periods in Joanna and Mark’s relationship, all taking place on trips throughout France: hitchhiking together and falling in love; as young newlyweds roughing it on the one of those worst trips ever that turn into cherished memories; a road trip with Mark’s former flame and her husband and daughter; a rocky period when their marriage is threatened by infidelity by both parties; and on the way to another social event where they must keep up appearances even though divorce seems eminent.

The way the story is told is remarkably fresh for being a film that’s over 40 years old. While Two for the Road jumps back and forth between the time periods, the effect is seamless. I don’t believe what we see are flashbacks per se, but rather the deliberate revelation of Mark and Joanna’s marriage one memory at a time.

What’s good about it? Hepburn and Finney are really good–they don’t pull any punches with their characters. Sometimes you love them, sometimes you only want to love them, and sometimes you despise what they do. While we see the sometimes cruel things they do to each other, we also see why they fell in love in the first place. We see those memories that keep them together even though it would be easier for both of them to go their separate ways.

What’s bad about it? This ‘aint a movie about the sanctity of marriage. Both husband and wife stray from their commitments, and their reconciliations feels more forget than forgive.

Perfect for: fans of The Apartment, Audrey Heburn, 60’s movies.