Tag Archives: romantic movies

Falling Inn Love

Netflix sees a swarm of streaming around Christmastime of those sappy, romantic holiday movies. It’s not a Netflix phenomenon by any means – those movies are all imported from poor-quality television channels that have low budgets and even lower standards. Generally, it shows, and generally, it doesn’t matter. But people are starting to wonder why the bump in ratings has to wait for Christmas. The Hallmark Channel recently hosted a Christmas in July. Netflix, on the other hand, is turning out non-Christmas movies that follow the same basic principle.

They’re cheesy as hell, but if you’re choosing to watch, you know what you’re getting, and you must like it. This particular one, though I have not yet forgiven it for the terrible pun in the title, is about a hard-working city-slicker named Gabriela (Christina Milian) who is going through a turbulent time of transition; in just a few days she loses her job and her boyfriend. But her luck’s not all bad: a “win an inn” contest she entered has borne fruit! So this San Franciscan packs her bags and heads to New Zealand to claim her praise.

The catch? The inn, though pristine in press photos, is derelict. The movie might have turned into a money pit situation were it not for a hot young widower carpenter, Jake (Adam Demos), who likes helping out beautiful Americans almost as much as he likes whipping off his shirt with little to no provocation.

Demos is actually Australian, not a New Zealander, but surprisingly, much of the other cast is in fact Kiwi, and the production seems to have actually filmed there.

Of course, the couple in question MUST start off on the wrong foot. Gabriela intends only to fix and flip the inn, and she’s obsessed with making everything eco-friendly, putting her at odds with Jake, who feels a special attachment to each and every one of the inn’s original fixtures, even the rotted, crumbly ones. But she keeps endearing herself to the locals and he, the handyman-cum-firefighter-cum-beekeeper remains tantalizingly unavailable, what with the tragic dead wife and all.

And then there’s the fun stuff, like the inn being haunted by a goat, and a rival innkeeper getting her knickers in a jealous twist, and controlling ex-boyfriends showing up unannounced. It’s not just renovation porn, but it is that too.

So if you like your romance uncomplicated, Netflix has your back.

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Must Love Dogs

Sarah (Diane Lane) comes from a big family, and they’ve all gathered in her kitchen to humiliate her. And by humiliate her, I mean that they’re throwing an intervention. That makes it sound like a party, I suppose, and it is most decidedly not. Nor is it quite as serious as it sounds. They’re not trying to send her to rehab. They’re trying to relaunch her back into the dating world after a devastating divorce. It doesn’t work – at least, not until she accidentally answers her own father’s personal ad. That’s a new low, as you can imagine. So maybe now she’s open to it. Ish. Her sister makes her a dating profile with quasi-consent (a good time to remind you that this movie was released in 2005).

Meanwhile, across town, a boat builder named Jake (John Cusack) is also newly on the market with a bruised heart that’s still trickling blood. He’s also got a friend/divorce attorney pushing him into the internet dating thing, and that’s how they wind up meeting – at a dog park, each with a borrowed canine friend. The date is shaky; Jake is so nervous he can’t stop insulting Sarah. Their next date has crazy beautiful moments of connection and chemistry, and then terrible lows that radiate awkwardness. So there’s wiggle room for a guy like Bobby (Dermot Mulroney) to enter the picture and sweep Sarah off her feet with his smooth technique. Dramaaaaa!

Anyway, it’s nice to see a rom-com for the middle aged. For the sad-sacks post divorce. For the cynics and the chronically depressed. And yet it still manages to charm. Of course, you might hope for a little more from two grown-ups who have loved and lost. You’d hope they’d have grown, that they’d have some insights. That they’d be better at this. And they’re really not.

Must Love Dogs should have Loved Rewrites. There’s nothing in here that you haven’t seen before. It’s not just that you see things coming from miles away – it’s that they’ve literally just traced a rom-com road map and hit up each and every landmark and rest stop along the way. And yet Lane and Cusack are just so good together. Never underestimate the likability of your leads.

I never got to write myself a dating profile, but even if I had, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to write Must Love Dogs, even though that’s obviously true. And thank goodness I wasn’t able to cock-block myself, because Sean never would have answered such an ad. He grew up with cats. But my little puppy Herbie won him over. No surprise there: Herbie is a stud, he wins over everyone he meets. Sean is a harder sell, and yet he was surprisingly able to win over Herbie, which was the more important part of the equation. I’d only had Herbie about 4 months when I met Sean, but Herbie had already been subjected to quite a few gentlemen callers and let me tell you – he wasn’t impressed. He’d scowl and growl and generally do his best to look ornery and intimidating (he was a four pound fluff ball but in his mind he was a full-fledged hell hound). He kept his eye on Sean for a bit, but he made it clear they were friends. That said, Herbie will never let Sean forget that it’s me and Herbie who are the original members of this household, and Sean’s just lucky we let him in the club. Now we have 3 more dogs because we can’t get enough. And this movie definitely put me in the mood for more. I mean, a gentle wind can put me in the mood for more. I Do Love Dogs! But I live in a city where the bylaws actually state that acquiring a fifth animal would force me to declare myself a farm. And as much as I Super Duper Love Dogs, it seems like a lot of hassle. Or…is it maybe a little bit of hassle and an excellent tax write off? Or a medium amount of hassle and a whole lot more love in my life? Or quite a bit of hassle but a good excuse to buy cute cowboy boots? Or a heck of a lot of hassle that I can offload on Sean, and simply reap the rewards of puppy love while outsourcing the work?

Did I just talk myself into puppy #5?

Notting Hill

Don’t even try to tell me you’re not charmed by Notting Hill. Don’t. Even.

Directed by Roger Michell from Richard Curtis’s script, it’s really just about a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to play it cool, goddammit.

Mega superstar and talented actress Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) walks into a cute neighbourhood (travel) book store and meets bumbling store owner Will (Hugh Grant) and though their worlds are both geographically and metaphorically miles apart, they somehow allow a mutual attraction to play out.

Endearingly, their first real date is a group thing, a dinner party thrown in honour of Will’s little sister’s birthday. The friends assembled are a notable bunch of kooks. The birthday girl, Honey (Emma Chambers), has no chill at all; having always fantasized a famous bestie, she immediately gloms on to Anna. Host and cook Max (Tim McInnerny) will be mortified he’s just served meat to a vegetarian. His wife Bella (Gina McKee) is just so happy that Will’s brought a girl that she can’t help but embarrass him over and over. And hopeless Bernie (Hugh Bonneville) is sweetly clueless, not even recognizing the fame monster in their midst, and benignly quizzing her as to whether she’s able to get by on a working actor’s wages (she is). They’re a bunch of nuts, but they’re quite delightful as a group, and Anna is made to feel welcome and not too conspicuous. Will is a door to a quieter, humbler way of life. Not always enamoured with the trappings of fame – though clearly tied to them financially – it’s a wonderful respite for Anna. But is that enough?

No one recites a Richard Cutis line quite as well as Hugh, and no one twinkles half as hard as Julia. They were perhaps not the best of mates on set but it’s a testament to their talent that they are nothing but fireworks on screen.

The cool thing about this movie is that it was actually filmed on the streets of Notting Hill. There really was a house with a blue door (Curtis lived there for a time himself). And there really was a travel book shop, though it was too narrow to film in, so they confiscated an antiques store around the corner and outfitted it with books. Notting Hill has since been overrun with tourists, and not just the kind who come to snap a few pictures and leave. Many have been enticed to buy property there; prices in the area went up by 66% in the 5 years since the movie was released, double the growth rate elsewhere in London. 

Anyway, this film isn’t deep, and perhaps not altogether realistic, either. But it’s so filled with good cheer you don’t mind. And of course you know exactly where it’s going practically before it even starts, but the fun is in the getting there because you get to ride along with such an oddball cast of characters, plus a couple of romantic leads at their peak, floppy haired cuteness.

City of Angels

After a lovely sojourn at the cottage, Sean and I came home to no internet. No internet! So after a nice vacation of living off the grid by choice, we are immediately and understandably enraged that we are now forced to continue doing so IN OUR OWN HOME. And guess what: the Bell guy (internet provider) says they can’t fix it until September. SEPTEMBER. Which is not this evening. It’s next month! Which is a long way of saying there’s a reason there’s been a dearth of reviews on the site lately, and that some of the past reviews were random cottage finds (see: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and many of the future ones will be pulled off the dusty shelves of our DVD collection, which has been housed in the garage ever since DVDs became obsolete. And yet here we are, watching movies like “a homeless person” (I’m quoting myself here, in a moment of admitted hyperbole).

Anyway, there we were on a Saturday night, which is to say, a Sunday morning, watching The Big Lebowski. And no, you’re not having a stroke. That’s not the same title as the one up top. We were maybe 90 seconds into the film when Los Angeles is referred to as the City of Angels. That’s not endemic to The Big Lebowski, it’s a pretty common if misleading nickname for L.A. but at any rate, it DID remind of the 1998 romantic classic City of Angels (I know, not a big leap) and as soon as I learned that Sean never saw it (clearly he was terminally single in 1998), I insisted that Sean go out to the garage to find a copy of the movie I was 36% sure I owned and 98% sure I hadn’t seen this century.

And here’s how that panned out.

First I am shocked to recognize Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher). Actually, it took me a while to convince myself I was actually recognizing him – it looked like him, sorta. A younger him to be sure, but really the problem is that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Capt. Holt is the world’s most deadpan character AND HE NEVER BREAKS. I’ve never seen his face express emotion before. I’ve never seen his lips do that slight curling upwards thing known as a smile. Even his voice was different; Capt. Holt is serious, and monotone. Braugher is my favourite part of the show, and he has transformed himself so wholly for the role that I could barely recognize him even though this film does nothing to obscure his identity. Watch carefully and you’ll also see a brief cameo from Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), so all your TV idols really did start off in a Nicolas Cage movie. Just kidding. That’s not a saying. Gross.

I’m actually very surprised that there’s a 1998 version of me that liked this movie. I was young, but was I really that dumb? I pretty much loathe Nicolas Cage and it’s hard to imagine that there was a time that I did not. And this movie gives you LOTS of reason to hate him. Dear god.

Nicolas Cage plays an angel, in a city that is chock-full of them. They creepily hover around people in order to better swoop them away at time of death. Seth (Cage) is doing exactly that, and exactly as creepily, during a man’s heart surgery. His surgeon, Maggie (Meg Ryan), loses him on the table, and unaccustomed to loss, she starts to fall apart. Seth starts to fall in love. Usually invisible to the living, he’s convinced she somehow saw him as he lurked about her operating room. And so he makes it so: he appears to her, and compels her to fall in love with him, and just when it starts to feel crazy for a human who saves lives and the angel of death to be in a romantic relationship, he becomes human for her. He takes the fall from grace.

I remember being a kid in full meltdown mode for like HOURS after this movie. HOURS. Oh the hormones pumping through my little body.

This time I just can’t get past Nic Cage’s cadaverous skulking about. I feel insulted on Meg Ryan’s behalf. Cage is in no way suitable for a romantic role. Deranged psychopath? Sure. I buy that. I still don’t like him. I still think he’s a terrible actor. But I’d buy it. Here? Not for a second. I keep wanting to yell at Meg Ryan that there’s a vampire waiting to eat her face! And frankly, when they kiss, I can’t help but feel like my suspicions are confirmed.

Even though my eyes were extra extra dry at the end of the film this time around, I still had to explain the ending to Sean, who is a robot. He doesn’t get stuff about love and sacrifice and forever. Sean’s review would consist solely of a shrug. Mine is likely far more hostile. This thing just isn’t holding up.

Playing It Cool

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!

For now: Playing It Cool.

We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.

But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?

This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.

Five Feet Apart

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Poe (Moises Arias) are friends, roommates and teenagers who’ve known each other since they were kids. They’ve been through a lot together and their bond is undeniable. When a third wheel, Will (Cole Sprouse), moves into the building, things begin to change.

Also worth noting: Stella, Poe, and Will are all CF patients, and the building in which they live is of course a hospital. They’re all living in the same ward but because of their disease, they aren’t allowed to come any closer to each other than 6 feet. Which puts a real damper on the budding romance between Stella and Will. Of course , the looming specter of their mortality is also boner-softening, I’d imagine.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal genetic disease for which there is no cure. It affects mostly the digestive system and the lungs. It’s the progressive lung damage from chronic infection that usually gets them in the end. Average life expectancy is almost but not quite middle age.

So here is another entry in the dead or dying teenager trope, which is weirdly having a moment. Or maybe it’s always having a moment. Teenagers like to really heighten the stakes. These teenagers know their limits and why they exist, not that it makes it any easier to follow them. They’re not trying to endanger their lives, but they are trying to live them. A warrior nurse named Barb (Kimberly Hébert Gregory) will do everything she can to keep them going, and sometimes that pits her against them. I thought constantly about how hard that must be for her. She’s the one caring for them day in and day out, likely for years, and definitely for weeks and months at a time. She has more contact with them than any friends or family. But it’s not her job to match-make, or to chaperone dates. It’s to keep them alive another day.

CF patients may find it hard to fall in love. Their time outside hospitals is limited. Their time on earth is limited. But love between CF patients can’t happen at all because they must never, ever touch. Teenagers may find forbidden love irresistible, but this is a whole other level.

Always Be My Maybe

Sasha Tran is a famous chef opening a new restaurant in her hometown, San Francisco. Her fiance has just fled to India for 6 months, during which time they’re going to “see other people.” Those other people may or may not include Marcus, Sasha’s childhood best friend, with whom she lost touch after an ill-conceived grief-fuck in the backseat of his car. I mean definitely not. Their brief coupling was so awkward, and then she went off and did big things and he stayed behind to work in the family business after his mom died. It’ll never work. Never.

Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) have a lot of love between them, but love is not enough. Their lives have diverged more than just geographically. Plus, it’s hard to take a dip in the hot springs of love when you’ve been lollygagging in the fallow fields of friendship all these years. Can they possibly overcome?

I mean, yes. Of course they can. This is a goddamned rom-com people. It’s not rocket science. There’s no will they or won’t they, there’s just how much longer until they do. And with this movie, you kinda hope it’ll be a while because you’re just enjoying the ride so much. Or at least I was, and improbably, I believe Sean was too. So that’s two people who hate romcoms (Sean because he literally has no emotions and myself because I’ve literally had eyeball surgery after bursting a network of vessels when I rolled them too much) who have made an exception for this one.

Always Be My Maybe is funny, and not just because the title is a pessimistic twist on a 1990s Mariah Carey song. Ali Wong is of course a comedy genius, and she plays very well against Randall Park, who I’ve always thought of as more of a dry comedian, but he’s got a bigger bag of tricks than I ever knew, including a musical side AND a violent side – and while I love them both, by god, I loved them even more when combined (stay through the credits).

This movie has absolutely nothing new to add in the romance department but you’ll be so busy being taken by surprise by random lines funny enough to stay with you for weeks you won’t even care. The cast is charmingly quirky and features a cameo (in fact, a meaty little part) that will pretty much make your year. Always Be My Maybe is streaming on Netflix right now, and it’s not a maybe, it’s a full-on yes.