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18

Dec

Skyfall

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Skyfall (2012)

starring Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem

directed by Sam Mendes

screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan

based on a character by Sir Ian Fleming

Almost four years after the release of Quantum of Solace,a film met with scathing review for it’s overall mediocrity, Daniel Craig returns once more to portray film icon James Bond in Skyfall. The film opens right away with a typical high adrenaline chase scene, complete with motorbike races through bazaar back alleys, and fisticuffs on the top of a moving train, but it’s the defiance of the cliché Bond formula that makes this movie excel. The screenplay is one of the more clever Bond stories in years, made suspenseful primarily by the unpredictable danger of Bond’s aging, and his erratic foe, the mysterious hacker played by Javier Bardem. Bardem’s character, Silva, is one of the most intriguing Bond villains ever, a man whose wit, sadism, and vengefulness make him a worthy adversary for Craig’s rough and tough Bond. Their equally intense resilience creates an dynamic tension between the two. Bardem nails the performance, notably during his bone-chilling monologue about rats, done with a pulse-raising intensity reminiscent of Nolan’s Joker. Perhaps the aspect of this film that allows it to be so exciting is it’s decision to strip down. Skyfall forgoes fancy gadgets, and childish innuendos in favor of a gritty realism, a Hollywood trend that works rather nicely with Bond, setting him in a very believable London. The expanded attention to MI6 is a great touch, helping the story feel more full and complex. Throw in an epic final showdown, full of explosions and classic Bond ingenuity, and the film fills out excitingly, albeit sometimes victim to action film tropes. Skyfall is a fresh, promising new chapter, breathing life back into the dwindling Bond franchise, and leaving it’s audience eager for the next film.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

19

Jul

The Amazing Spider-Man

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone

written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves,

based on a comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

directed by Marc Webb

The decision to reboot a franchise whose last film came out just 5 years was confusing, and since The Amazing Spider-Man came out of a necessity to retain the rights to the character, the production gave rise to great cynicism and doubt. Marc Webb’s adaption of the web-slinger’s origin story is in no way Raimi’s. The relaunched story of young Peter Parker, social outcast and orphan, as he undergoes his great transformation into the super-powered Spider-Man is given new life thanks primarily to its wonderful cast. Emma Stone conveys the nerdy yet irresistible Gwen Stacy, more Parker’s sidekick than damsel-in-distress and Martin Sheen gives a memorable performance as Spider-Man’s iconic Uncle Ben, but it’s Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker who steals the spotlight. Garfield’s Parker, coupled with witty dialogue, is near perfection. He captures Parker’s awkwardness to a tee, and creates a truly fascinating character that is trying to discover his identity. His depiction of Spider-Man is the hilarious and gawky hero that is so beloved in the comics. The fight sequences between Spider-Man and the somewhat flat villain of the Lizard were visually very exciting and cool to watch. The CGI was sometimes sloppy, but the choreography of Spider-Man’s fighting was definitely a breath of fresh air from the previous franchise, which brings be back to the ultimate problem with the film. Despite its extreme changes in plot, cast, and even Spider-Man’s costume, it’s hard to watch the film without Raimi’s trilogy in the back of your head. Perhaps the greatest detractor from the film is that it is just too soon, but if that can be put aside, The Amazing Spider-Man certainly provides a fun, and distinct new approach on the famous friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. 

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

03

Jul

21 Jump Street

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21 Jump Street (2012)

starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum

directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

and written by Michael Bacall based on a TV series by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell

In Channing Tatum’s first real comedy debut he teams up with rising Superbad star Jonah Hill to adapt the crime drama into a comedy. Tatum and Hill star as two childish cops assigned to work undercover at a high school to discover the source of a new drug. The story of two unexpected friends overcoming their differences to solve the crime is an overworked buddy cop cliché, but it is presented and executed entertainingly despite its occasional predictability. Tatum hits it off with some great moments, playing up his stupidity, but never really excels. Unfortunately a majority of the best jokes were in the trailer, and the comic timing of Hill and Tatum, although often worth a good laugh, was sometimes off-putting and indiscreet. Worth a varied cheap laugh, the characters were underdeveloped and subsequently uninteresting. The occasional cameo from Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, and Bridesmaids alum Ellie Kemper was refreshing. There was a great surprise cameo at the end, but the conclusion still felt forced and rushed. While I kept rooting for it to pick up, the movie never reaches a climax. It seems to lack any replay quality, but wasn’t overly impressive as a one-off comedy piece. Though the overall film had its shining moments, it never particularly ascends mediocrity falling victim to inconsistent comic tone, a disorganized story exposition, and a limited and lacking degree of originality.  

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

27

Jun

The Cabin in the Woods

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, and Fran Kranz

directed by Drew Goddard

and written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Cabin in the Woods starts with a cliché: five college students travel to a secluded cabin for a weekend of debauchery, but when things begin to go awry, the story embarks on a complex journey of twists and turns. The cast is an overall nice collection of new faces. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins provide superbly comic moments, with the high paced witticism typical of Whedon. Fran Kranz provides a lovable voice of reason as the strung-out stoner Marty. The film is a powerhouse of horror, filled with stomach-retching moments of fear and truly terrifying suspense, but it’s not these cheap thrills that make this film excel. What really forces the audience’s adrenaline to pump uncontrollably is the ever expanding mystery that unravels slowly as the film progresses. The suspense is never-ending, with each surprise increasingly shocking. The film is punctuated with an explosive ending, feverishly building to its power-packed climactic finale. The film is gore-filled, and not for the faint-of-heart, but it addresses this genre convention in the way it addresses its others: by straddling the line between homage and satire in a heavily critical manner. Cabin in the Woods raises the stakes for thriller films, pushing boundaries of convention (our teenagers are no longer too stupid, and their deaths are no longer pointless), and in doing so challenges the genre to transcend its current status as torture porn to become the intelligently mind-bending terror it has the potential to be. A truly unique and innovative approach to a long exhausted genre. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

14

Jun

The Avengers

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The Avengers (2012)

starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth

directed by Joss Whedon

story by Zak Penn, screenplay by Joss Whedon, based on a series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

In 2008, Marvel Studios released its first film, Iron Man. Despite the hype surrounding it’s box office success, and overall quality (some go so far as to say it revived the dying genre of superhero films), true comic fans were more excited about a short post-credits scene which hinted at the possibility of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assembling on screen for the first time ever. Four years, and five films later, Marvel Studios made good on their promise. For many, the chance of failure was just as possible as the chance of success, but the over two hour superhero epic that resulted hit all the right marks. The story is that of the rise of the Asgardian Loki, mischievous brother of the lightning god Thor, in his attempt to take over the earth for his own with the assistance of a massive alien army, and an absurdly powerful energy source known as the Tesseract. The desperation to defeat him results in Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., an international peace-keeping agency, calling together a star-studded ensemble of superheroes that consists of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. Between the flashing explosions, and larger-than-life fight sequences, the dialogue is witty and fun, flowing seamlessly from scene-to-scene. Whedon’s talent for wordplay shines through with wonderful one-liners. Even first-time audience members can enjoy this film, as the story is successfully expositional and yet still rewarding to followers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The acting effectively transforms the characters on the screen into the legends of comic book lore, with Mark Ruffalo’s intriguing Bruce Banner upstaging the all-star ensemble. The film is phenomenally well-rounded, and masterfully executed, offering something exciting and unique for avid fans and new viewers alike. An absolute must-see, destined to become a blockbuster classic.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

05

Jun

God Bless America

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God Bless America (2011)

starring Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr

written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

If you are familiar with comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, it should come as no surprise that this film is as wild as his high-pitched antics. The story begins with indifferent divorcee Frank (Murray) who finds out that the source of his frequent migraines is not because of his obnoxious neighbors, or asinine co-workers, but in fact because of his fatal tumor. Feeling defeated by a lack of civility in society, Frank opts to kill himself, but first decides he must do away with the spoiled teen reality TV star Chloe. Impressed with his work after witnessing him shoot her, young Roxy (Barr) convinces Frank that their work is not done, and that her and him must eliminate the depraved members of American society. A gory and wild rampage ensues, as the two travel across the country gunning down parodical versions of real American icons. Goldthwait’s farce is slightly implausible, with Frank and Roxy facing few consequences for their homicidal tendencies, but the realism becomes unimportant. The piece is a scathing farce, highlighting the vulgarity of modern media, and general social decency. God Bless America pulls no punches, a bloodbath of gore and social commentary. The dialogue serves its purpose, if not feeling somewhat preachy at moments, in facilitating its very blatant and headstrong message, summed up by Frank with “Why have a civilization anymore if we no longer are interested in being civilized?” God Bless America has a clear indie film vibe, taking chances with unconventional cinematography and an Alice Cooper heavy soundtrack, but at the end of the film, its fairly obvious that the movie acts as a vehicle for the message, and to appease the indignation of those frustrated by the hateful exploitation, and mindless consumerism of modern day America. It’s a film with voice, and one that ought to be heard.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Drive

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Drive (2011)

starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan

directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

and screenplay by Hossein Amini, adapted from a book by James Sallis

Though the build-up is slow, when Drive finally kicks it into gear, this crime thriller pulls the audience to the edge of their seats. Drive's nameless protagonist, played by the perpetually smooth Gosling, is a man of few words, and also a man of a few worlds. While he spends the days working in an mechanic shop, and performing car stunts for the big screen, at night he is a getaway driver for hire, moving criminals across the city and eluding the police. When he falls for his neighbor, (Carey Mulligan) he offers his expertise to help get her ex-husband, a recently released criminal, get out of his debt to the mob. When things go sour, the action is non-stop, and the film is an adrenaline pumping light-show. In fact, one of Drive's greatest assets is its exciting experimentation with light and color. Swirling neons and flashing white lights paint the scenery of the urbanite crime saga. The cinematographic use of shadows to outline characters, and bring Gosling's character literally and figuratively in and out of darkness, is somewhat surreal in its extreme aestheticism, and yet is vibrant and captivating. The acting is precise, but limited by the simplicity of the script. The power of each scene is often driven more by what is not said, than the actual dialogue, which is scarce throughout the film. Albert Brooks is a frighteningly evil mobster, full of great one-liners. Somewhat graphic, and slightly exaggerated, the framework of the story is simplistic, and slightly predictable, but never unenjoyable. Still, this film is at its core is an expose of aesthetics: beautiful lights, beautiful colors, and beautiful people, all set to a synth-pop soundtrack that is as upbeat as it is eerie. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

27

Dec

Moneyball

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Moneyball (2011)

starring Brad PItt, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

directed by Bennett Miller

and screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on a novel by Michael Lewis

Despite my general reluctance towards the sports genre in general, I do have a soft spot in my heart for baseball, and the reviews pulled me into this one. Moneyball is a lot of things, but what it most importantly isn’t is a cheesy cliché of the sports genre. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot that’s inspiring about this movie, but it notably breaks beyond the mold to be a clever drama. The true story of Billy Beane, general manager for the Oakland A’s, could very easily fall into monotony, but the structure of this film is well-composed. Bennett’s use of lighting, sound, and stock footage creates a dynamic picture within which the film can be enjoyed. The cinematography is full of variety, and versatility that gives the film fullness. The plot creates a film that tells a baseball story, and yet does not bear the audience down with baseball. You definitely don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie (but you might enjoy it even more if you are). Though on the longer side, this film doesn’t relent, rarely losing momentum to superfluity. It’s a carefully executed, smoothly designed film. Both Pitt and Hill play to their opposites, both more reserved, not overtly comic characters, and do so with honesty and precision. The story is full of laugh-out-loud moments, as well as touching conversations. Through the wonderful execution of this film, Beane’s words ring true: how can you not get romantic about baseball?

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

05

Dec

American Beauty

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American Beauty (1999)

starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, and Thora Birch

directed by Sam Mendes

written by Alan Ball

For a variety of reasons, American Beauty might just be one of the most beautifully tragic movie ever made. There is something so raw about this 1999 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, that makes it stirring and powerful whether it’s your first time watching, or your fifteenth. The story is that of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged man facing the monotony of his suburban existence, between his drab job, his ‘perfect’ wife (Annette Benning), and his rebelliously reclusive teenage daughter (Thora Birch). One day, Burnham finally snaps, finding the courage to break the cycle of boredom that has plagued him. He quits his job, to spend his time flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant and smoking pot in his garage as he lifts weights. Lester becomes an atypical hero against the exasperating suburban ideals, a protagonist worth rooting for. Spacey’s character is fantastically dynamic, a man whose revitalized sense of self is as heart-breaking as it is inspiring. The supporting cast of Benning and Birch, as well as intricate performances by Chris Cooper, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari, create the weary image of Spacey’s surroundings fully and with subtle, yet vivacious, emotional presence. Mendes’ direction is aesthetically masterful, utilizing light and space to say the things that are often left unsaid. His directorial style dissects even the most miniscule moments, and lets them bleed the emotional potency hidden underneath. At its core, the premise of American Beauty is very basic, yet this examination of the human condition is as thought-provoking as any of its grander dramatic counterparts. It’s shocking ending, wit-fueled dialogue, and an efficiently composed plot make the film engaging asa whole, as entertaining as it is intriguing. Not a single moment of superfluousness, every minute of American Beauty is purposeful, and beautifully intense, leaving you simultaneously defeated and hopeful. American Beauty is the supreme modern American tragedy, and a must-see. Truly flawless.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

04

Sep

Winter’s Bone

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Winter’s Bone (2011)

starring Jennifer Lawrence

directed by Debra Granik

written by Debra Grank and Anne Rosellini

The subject of high critical praise after its immense success at the Sundance Film Festival, Winter’s Bone is an interestingly composed work of cinema. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is left taking care of her brother, sister, and debilitated mother after the disappearance of her deadbeat father, a meth addict. Ree must find her father, after learning that if he fails to show to a court hearing, that they will lose their home. Winter’s Bone's greatest strength and weakness is it subtlety. The cast, particularly Lawrence, deliver nuanced performances that show emotional depth and dimension. But the film is more of a character study in this sense, than a well-rounded story. Resultantly the momentum builds slowly, dragging with drabness. There are moments of utter dullness throughout, since the film cannot seem to distinguish between using simplicity as a method of creating depth, and shallow pointless dialogue. It's subsequently monotonous, even more so because of the grim and destitute nature of the story. I could not determine whether the tone was simply one of dry sadness, or was non-existent completely. It's certainly an interesting social analysis, exploring through tragedy the lifestyle of impoverished Americans in places like the Orzaks and Appalachia. Winter’s Bone was certainly an impressive display of acting capability for its cast, but otherwise it would be cheap to call this film a thriller; it was a boring movie, with a plot that failed to ever advance in a way that was engaging, entertaining, or thought-provoking.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

21

Aug

Super 8

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Super 8 (2011)

starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Kyle Chandler

directed by J.J. Abrams

written by J.J. Abrams

Say what you want about J.J. Abrams, the man knows how to tell a story. Super 8 is a work of quality cinema for thatvery reason: it tells a story well. As my mother said, the movie is like a mix of Stand by Me and E.T. The story is that of a young group of boys working on a zombie movie in their small town, when their world is rocked by a strange train accident with results in a series of supernatural occurrences. The movie does well balancing humor, drama, and suspense. Some moments the boyhood bickering will have you in stitches, and yet other moments the stunning cinematography will have your heart racing as you sit on the edge of your seat. Super 8 has many levels of emotional depth alongside its massive explosions; the characters develop thoroughly, and we get to experience the characters’ inner-growth, but also the development of the characters’ relationships. Despite their youth, the pubescent protagonists all display incredible skill as actors, showing realistic emotional range, notably Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney. Like the best science-fiction movies, the story does not revolve around the uncanniness of its supernatural elements, but rather on how the extreme circumstances amplify the characters’ emotions, giving us insight into their personalities and perspectives. Super 8 is a great movie conclusively for one real reason: it has range, without spreading itself too thin. It’s action-packed, humorous, suspenseful, and yet still builds relatable characters, with interesting relationships, which gives it such wide overall appeal.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

18

Aug

Brick

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Brick (2005)

starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Zora Zehetner, and Emilie De Ravin

directed by Rian Johnson

written by Rian Johnson

It’s hard to find a good movie that can modernize the classic noir genre while still keeping it fresh and faithful to the classics, but Brick achieves this amazingly. When wallflower Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) finds his ex-girlfriend dead, he takes it upon himself to do whatever it takes to find out what led to her death, pushing through a world of crime to find the answers. In turn, Brendan faces an ensemble of classic mystery archetypes such as Zehetner’s enigmatic socialite and Haas’ drug kingpin. This is no simple high school sleuth story though; the story is gritty and dark, a thrilling roller-coaster ride rich in drama and tension. It asks you to suspend your disbelief to a degree in believing that all such things could happen to a bunch of high school students, but the film’s goal is certainly not realism, but to deliver a mystical noir reminiscent of the smoky black and white pictures of the 40’s and 50’s. This is without a doubt Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s magnum opus, his performance as the defiant protagonist is raw and captivating. The dialogue is fast-paced, witty and well-designed, with conversation sliding together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The cast delivers the dialogue with a precision that makes it fascinating. The plot is unpredictable and complex. It’s labyrinthian design pulls the audience alongwithout skipping a beat, relentlessly delivering intrigue. It’s got innovative cinematography, that is used as a story telling element as effectively as the others. Rian Johnson’s Brick is an unbridled tour-de-force, an unstoppable neo-noir mystery entrenched in intricate twists and turns. Brick is a go-to for suspense and thrills; it is the epitome of what hard-boiled crime drama should be.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

10

Aug

Ratings Revision

There has been some dispute over the way I rate the films using the 1 to 10 system I currently have in place, considering everything tends to never dip far below a 6.5 (which is an F based on my scale).

Regardless, I can see how a 6 out of 10 might appear to actually be a good score when that isn’t the intent, so I play on revising how my ratings will be presented.

Starting with my most recent posts and working backwards, I’m slowly going to edit my film ratings from at 1 to 10 scale, into a 1 to 5 scale. I think this will show what I’m trying to express better.

The conversion will be essentially:

10.0 = 5.0

9.0 = 4.0

8.0 = 3.0

7.0 = 2.0

6.0 = 1.0

and I don’t think I’ve ever given a rating under 6.0, but if it were to come to that obviously it would just be a decimal. 

It could take a while to edit all the posts so they follow this format so bear with me. Hopefully this will make Films in 5 more coherent, and the ratings more understandable!

07

Aug

The Change-Up

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The Change-Up (2011)

starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds

directed by David Dobkin

and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

The Change-Up is a classic Hollywood formula. Two lives, switched by some freak event, teaches each how valuable their lives are respectively. Playboy Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and working stiff Dave (Jason Bateman) are lifelong friends, who after a night at the bar magically wake up in each other’s bodies. The Change-Up earns its R rating with ease; it’s packed with profanity, and nudity. The crude nature of the comedy is sometimes discomforting, rousing laughter only from an anxious awkwardness. Other scenes are hilarious, laugh-out-loud, moments, but The Change-Up is often confused about where a line should be drawn. Some moments feel excessive, and not funny enough to be redeem the crudeness. It’s unfortunate, because Reynolds and Bateman actually both give good performances, but are stuck dealing with a shallow script. Both show growth, but its not at the credit of Lucas and Moore’s childish dialogue.  The Change-Up doesn’t attempt anything beyond gags and shock, which is good for a cheap laugh, and I won’t deny that it had me laughing, but also dooms it to being a forgettable movie. It was too long, and could’ve be trimmed down. There were plenty of unnecessary scenes, such as one on the set of a porno, that were just pointless and unfunny. The whole movie is hit-or-miss, and if it had been more carefully composed, could’ve actually been a good comedy, but it’s so hard to look past its superficiality, that the humor is often counteracted by going too far. There is certainly a place in an R-rated comedy for profanity, nudity, and overall crudeness, but The Change-Up fails to find a proper moderation, and that detracts from its occasionally strong moments of humor.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Crazy, Stupid, Love

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Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

starring Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone

directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

and written by Dan Fogelman

The idea of an ensemble cast’s interweaving relationships showing a spectrum of love is not particularly original, and in general a hit or a miss. Crazy, Stupid, Love follows the formula pretty closely. but its lack of originality does not detract from its quality. The story is that of Cal (Steve Carrell), trying to find his way in the world after his wife of 25 years asks for a divorce. With the help of ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling, who was so smooth that even I was swooning), Cal attempts to break back into the world of romance. The ensemble’s relationships are intricately connected. All the performances are emotionally invested, filled with growth and character development. Steve Carrell once again displays his ability to provide a stirring dramatic performance, but still clinging to his comic roots. The plot is multi-tiered, depicting love at all ages but distributing screen-time in a balanced manner that made all subplots feel fully matured by the end of the film. There’s a lot going on in Crazy, Stupid, Love, but never too much as to be confusing or overwhelming. The movie is filled with fun surprises, twists and turns that keep the audience hooked. Dialogue sometimes flounders, but is generally sharp. There are some interesting cinematographic approaches, such as a bar scene where the camera tracks through the bar depicting Cal’s multiple conversations with impressively fluid transitions. Crazy, Stupid, Love doesn’t try to go too deep, and in the end is a predictable love story, but it is inspiring without being corny, a major achievement for a romantic comedy. It’s relatable, funny, and touching, accurately detailing the crazy, stupid things, that we all do for love.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆