Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Hello my fine readers! Let me take you back to a simpler time. A time when Stars Wars: The Force Awakens had been released and it was one of the most memorable and exhilarating theatrical experiences of my life. I know many have since found flaws with the film, but I still love it. It is what I like in a Star Wars movie. I want pulpy space adventure. The kind of film where you get out of your seat and cheer at the end. To be perfectly frank, I don’t want gritty war stories or fantasy sagas with hologramming and other magic. This is why the original Star Wars film (now called A New Hope) was always my favorite. It is a pulpy space adventure that I cheer along with when our merry group of rebels defeat the bad guys. It’s as simple as that. Empire Strikes Back is the best made of the Star Wars movies but if we are just talking about my favorites, I prefer the original Star Wars.

Anyway, I bring all of this up to explain why I enjoyed the saga’s latest offering Solo: A Star Wars Story. This rather light diversion may be a disappointment to those who enjoyed the more heady previous 2 films, but for me this was a welcome return to the Star Wars that I love. (For the record I did not like Rogue One and I was mixed on Last Jedi).

Most of us know about the rocky road that Solo: A Star Wars Story had in production, but I think it was a good move hiring Ron Howard. He is what I would call an ‘old school director’: meaning he isn’t trying to be edgy or groundbreaking. He knows how to make an entertaining, crowd-pleasing blockbuster, and that’s who I think needs to be making Star Wars movies. That’s what I want at least, and that’s what he has done with Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich has the unenviable task of taking over for Harrison Ford in the lead role of Han Solo, and I must own I never bought that he was the Han Solo I know and love. I didn’t feel that way for any of the returning characters except for Chewbacca who is portrayed by Joonas Suotamo instead of Peter Mayhew.

However, this was not a barrier in my enjoyment of the film. I kind of look at it as various actors playing Ebeneezer Scrooge. They are all very different, but I can still enjoy the basic character of Scrooge and his reformation (I have reviewed over 30 versions of Christmas Carol if you doubt me on that!)

The main appeal of this film is the heist action set pieces that clip along with just enough fan service to be enjoyable. Han Solo is kind of like Aladdin in a way. He lies and steals to survive but is loyal and sweet at the end of the day. At the beginning of the film he is with his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke- who is way better in this than in Terminator Genisys!). They get separated and then are back together throughout the film. Then he meets Chewie, Lando Calrissian played by Donald Glover, Tobias Beckett played by Woody Harrelson and a crime lord named Dryden Vos played by Paul Bettany.

I won’t give any spoilers but it is pretty simple. The team are asked to steal something for Beckett and the movie is a series of misadventures around the theft of those items. The energetic action sequences entertained me and were boosted by terrific music by John Powell and beautiful production design and cinematography by Bradford Young.

Sadly there are major problems with Solo: A Star Wars Story I must address. First of all, it is way too long. This movie should be under 2 hours. The original Star Wars movie was 121 minutes and that had to set up an entire universe, mythology and lore. This is does not have near that burden and is 135 minutes! As you can imagine from that run time the pacing is an issue. The beginning feels drawn out and a bit choppy and then when we get to the various action set-pieces it picks them. Then there is a point where the Kessell Run is done and they have delivered the stolen goods. The movie should have ended there. It was a natural stopping point and would have left our heroes on a victorious note. But it goes on for another 35 minutes and even introduces new characters at that late point, which did not work at all.

Also, there is a problem with a droid named L3-37. She is presented as a companion droid for Lando, but she bothered me greatly. I have no problem with messages or activism in Star Wars but it has to come from an authentic and natural place. If it doesn’t it comes off as forced and patronizing. Unfortunately L3 was the latter. She is a droid concerned with equal rights for droids (think Dobby in Harry Potter)- a worthy goal. The problem is she yelled and screamed her case in times that any sensible character would know is fruitless. You are not going to be able to fight for equal rights in the middle of an action scene. This makes it feel, like I said, inauthentic and forced. And when a character preaching social justice is inauthentic and forced, it is very grating. As a woman it doesn’t make me feel represented to have a character that is unbelievable, cloying and one-note. In fact, it is kind of insulting when writers feel the only way to portray a minority viewpoint is in such a shrill, awkward way.

To make matters worse they make L3 a permanent part of Star Wars canon in a very meaningful way, which I was not a fan of. (Also it kind of undermines her entire message and makes her a slave for all of the history of future Star Wars films, which is weird). I also found it hard to believe a character like Lando would be attached to a droid like L3.  For all the praise Donald Glover is getting, we don’t see him that much (he doesn’t make an appearance until an hour in). And I did not think he even liked being around L3 (I mean who would want to be around such a droid?…) and certainly not have a deep and meaningful connection. Despite Donald Glover’s charm, there was no chemistry between the two characters.

I can appreciate wanting to have an activist droid and wanting to make Star Wars more socially conscious but it has to be written with more of a deft hand for it to be effective. Jar Jar Binks is a super annoying character but at least he has a role and purpose aside from being an activist. He ends up getting his people, the Gungans, to fight with the rebellion and takes the Jedi to meet them. L3 was just a sidekick fighting for equal rights! That’s not enough to make an interesting character. Plus, Jar Jar was an attempt at comic relief and some kids found him funny. There is nothing funny about L3. So yes, I think L3 is the worst character in the history of Star Wars. Worse than Jar Jar Binks. Boom!

But all that said, I walked away from Solo: A Star Wars Story having had a pretty good time. It was the pulpy space adventure I had been looking for and hadn’t gotten for the last 2 films. I look forward to seeing it again. Something I also couldn’t say about the last two films. Flaws and all, this is my type of Star Wars movie.

PS. There is also a reveal at the end, which was very groan inducing and if you watch Rebels or Clone Wars will not be much of a surprise.

What did you think of Solo? Let me know in the comments section.

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Book Club Review

One trend I have noticed recently is movies are being made for older demographics both male and female. Whether it is an action movie like Red, a drama like I’ll See You in My Dreams, or a light romcom like The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, these films have an audience, and I think it is great they are being made. Many theaters have senior citizen discounts and it is not uncommon for me to see many retired men and women there enjoying films. Some I see so much I recognize them and they wave hello.

Anyway, the latest entry in this demographic is the romantic comedy Book Club and going into it I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy it. First of all, I love romantic comedies. You don’t have a Hallmark podcast and not love romcoms! LOL. I also love the cast with Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Stenburgen- some of the funniest ladies in Hollywood today. Finally, I am a huge fan of book clubs. For pretty much all of my adult life I have been a member of a book club. It is such a welcome release to have a guaranteed monthly social interaction and the mental stimulus of group discussion and debate. My book club this month is this upcoming Thursday and even though the book was a bit of a chore I am eagerly awaiting it!

So, I  was primed to like this movie and sure enough I did! It’s not reinventing the wheel, but I consistently laughed throughout and thought the 4 women had great chemistry. They all felt like legit friends who were loving and yet sassy with one another. Some of my more conservative readers will struggle with the 50 Shades of Grey references and frank talk about sexuality, but I found it funny and kind of refreshing. It reminded me of a good episode of The Golden Girls (which I love) where mature women were allowed to talk about their frustrations, desires and passions. That’s a good thing!

In truth, the 50 Shades element is just the beginning to get things rolling and most of the movie is about their various dating escapades, which were hilarious and sweet. Diane Keaton is recently widowed and struggling with children who think she’s ancient. Candice Bergen is a judge who is trying online dating for the first time. Jane Fonda is a confirmed bachelorette who has no interest in settling down with a man and Mary Steenburgen is dealing with a lull in her marriage that started once her husband retired.

All the men they got for the ladies are top notch and great. Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson, Wallace Shawn, Richard Dreyfus are all great but my favorite was Andy Garcia. I think I might have a crush on him after this movie. He was soooo charming!

Book Club is not perfect, and I wouldn’t be surprised if critics are very harsh on it, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There is some wonky green screen work that looks dumb and it is all very predictable and silly. Also the 50 Shades references would probably have been funnier several years ago. It seems like the trend has basically faded now that the movies are done, so it makes the movie feel a little dated.

But none of that mattered to me. I had a great time watching Book Club. It’s rated PG-13 but will not be for everyone because of sensuality, so just make sure you check various resources before to make sure it is something you feel comfortable with.

I also really enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club if you are looking for something to stream that is more of a drama. More book club movies please! 🙂

Blind Spot 29: Gallipoli

This month’s Blindspot pick, 1981’s Gallipoli, is an interesting one because it is my best movie buddy Phaedra’s favorite movie. She is a blogger just like me but at least with prestige pictures we often have very different tastes. We can both have fun at silly films like 47 Meters Down (she went with me and enjoyed it!) but let’s just say our picks at Sundance are quite different. LOL. So knowing Gallipoli was her favorite film and that it was a war movie I prepared myself for some intense stuff. What I got was very surprising. Gallipoli is more of a coming of age film than a war movie and despite a very sad ending is surprisingly hopeful.

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Gallipoli stars a very young Mel Gibson (you can definitely see how Gallipoli influenced Gibson’s Braveheart and Hacksaw Ridge) as Frank and Mark Lee as Archy. They are young men in 1915 Australia who meet sprinting together. Archy yearns to go to the war where Frank is more blasé about it but eventually agrees to go along for the ride.

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After a long walk through the desert the boys enlist and are sent to Cairo and eventually to the Gallipoli Peninsula at Anzac Cove.  Surprisingly we don’t see much of the war or any fighting until the final act. Most of the time is spent getting to know Frank and Archy and their friends. In many ways it reminded me of Chariots of Fire in the slice of life portrayal of young boys trying to figure out what they believe in.

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When we get to the ANZAC attack it is quite devastating because the characters have been built up so well. The most frustrating part of the bloodshed is that it is based upon a miscommunication between 2 officers, not on any actual need to fight. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but Frank desperately tries to stop the advancement as a messenger in the final scenes and it is very intense.

In many ways it makes sense that Peter Weir directed Gallipoli. He always has a way of bringing out sincere and moving performances from young actors (Dead Poets Society, Witness) and this is probably his best movie. I was really engrossed in the story and felt attached to Frank and Archy as their journey progressed. There were light moments where you got to know them as people that made the losses of war feel all the more real and devastating. It was very well done.

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I also thought all the production values were strong in Gallipoli. The cinematography was striking capturing the dry, deserts of both Australia and the Anzac Cove. It also had fantastic music featuring both modern electronic and classical orchestrations. The war scenes felt convincing, which helped build the tension well and drew me into the story. I recently watched a WW1 movie called The Journey’s End and it was so dull, so I know this is not an easy task to achieve.

What makes Gallipoli a hopeful film is promise and potential we see in Frank, Archy and their friends. Yes they were put in a war and that is awful but seeing that potential and getting to know these characters is still a good thing. Hopefully we can see the joy and dreams in young people today and do a better job at not snuffing it out far too early. Even the imagery of Archy running throughout the film (and in the closing shots) is hopeful.

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Gallipoli is a great movie, and it should be talked more about as such. I think it is even better than Saving Private Ryan to be honest (both good films). It develops its characters better and builds up to the battle instead of starting with it. This makes you more invested (and devastated) with what is happening. There was a humanity in Gallipoli that moved me because it wasn’t just a clinical exercise but a story of 2 young men who wanted to run but ended up being unable to outrace the foolish decisions of their generals.

smile worthy

 

Maya the Bee: The Honey Games Review

Back in 2015 I was one of the few people to praise Maya the Bee. It is an adaptation of the 80s animated TV show, and I thought they did a good job making a sweet, adorable film for little children. Now 3 years later we have a sequel, Maya the Bee: The Honey Games, and I once again found it charming and adorable.

In this adventure cute little Maya gets in over her head when she challenges a neighboring bully queen to a series of games called the Honey Games (the hint at Hunger Games is merely coincidental). Maya must then gather a group of lazy bugs together, motivate them to practice and deal with a mean girl bee named Violet. If they lose than Maya’s hive will have to give up all their Winter pollen which would be disastrous.

If you are looking for something new and exciting this is not your movie. It is completely predictable in every way. It is honestly about the same story as Aardman’s recent film Early Man. The difference is my expectations are higher for an Aardman film and the character designs here are much cuter than the weird pig noses in Early Man. Maybe it’s just me but I really find the character designs in this series to be super cute and well done.

It’s also a series which should appeal equally to little girls and boys and that is always nice for parents. Maya’s best friend Willi is a sweet character who learns to deal with his jealousy and be a loyal friend. They are very cute together.

The cast of professional voice actors does a nice job and they even have a decent score with some nice violin playing from the grosshopper character Flip. It makes Maya the Bee: The Honey Games a pleasant-enough watch for parents watching with their kids.

Maya the Bee: The Honey Games does not reinvent the wheel but for little kids it is cute, positive and a brief 85 minutes. If you can find it on blu-ray and you have kids, give it a purchase. I think you will like it.

Avengers: Infinity War Review

So Avengers: Infinity War has come and gone and I am left with mixed to positive feelings. I gave my review on my youtube channel last night and I would love if you guys would watch and give the video a thumbs up if you have a chance. But let’s talk about Infinity War:

Most of Infinity War is pretty awesome. I have a great affection for Marvel and have enjoyed almost all of their movies. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is really the only one that left me deflated. The original Avengers is still one of my favorite superhero movies of all time because of the way it blends the great characters with snappy dialogue and energetic action. Having Loki as your villain also never hurts! That film was the culmination of 5 films with their heroes into one epic team-up film.

Now with Infinity War Joe and Anthony Russo have the mammoth task of culminating 18 previous films into 2 epic films. One of my big worries going into it is if all of the many characters would be able to shine (how could they?). Naturally the directors have to pick and chose characters to focus on, but I felt like almost everyone got a good line or moment to shine. The dialogue was snappy and funny like I have come to expect with Marvel films. I also thought the action was uniformly entertaining and enjoyable.

They were very smart with how they teamed characters up. I loved seeing Starlord and Thor take jabs at each other. Doctor Strange and Iron Man were great together. There’s an awesome scene where Black Widow, Scarlett Witch and Okoye fight a female henchman of Thanos I loved. All the team-ups worked and didn’t make me annoyed at the characters like I was with Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 although Drax is still kind of irritating if you ask me.

Thanos played by Josh Brolin is a good villain although I certainly don’t think he is better than Loki. Many villains have wanted to purge the earth and start anew. Most recently we had this same motivation in Apocalypse in X-Men Apocalypse but this is handled about a billion times better. At least he has some motivation rather than being a evil man in a suit like many Marvel movies. I also liked that all of Thanos’ henchman were really strong and not just mindless drones.

So over all, this is a fun film. It has witty banter and great action with people that I really like. My only real problem was the ending. I hate movies where I feel like the creators think I am stupid. I remember feeling this way at the ending of Batman v Superman. We all knew Superman was coming back for Justice League so when they try to play off that he is dead it is hollow and manipulative rather than moving.

Something happens at the end of Infinity War that you would have to be a moron to believe is actually going to stick. So this left me frustrated rather than moved, which I think the filmmakers wanted to me feel. How do I cry when I know it isn’t real? It’s not going to last? When Steve Trevor dies in Wonder Woman it felt real so it was tragic and I cried. What happens here is not real and it made what is going to happen in part 4 incredibly predictable and obvious. Also it kind of gives them a massive out for the stakes we were promised which is a problem.

Without giving away spoilers it’s hard to go into details but under no planet is what happens at the end of this film going to stick. Also, it was executed in a way that was really confusing. I wasn’t sure until I got home what had actually happened. It was weird.

It’s frustrating for me because I feel they were so close to having something great but then they didn’t stick the landing. Granted this isn’t the real landing as the final movie is the true ending but still I think they wanted me to feel devastated and I didn’t because I know it isn’t real.

Oh well. It’s still mostly a good movie. (But I prefer Black Panther tbh)

Rampage Review

Often when I don’t respond favorably to movies like Jurassic World, San Andreas, Geostorm and Kong Skull Island I am asked with derision “Rachel, why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy a dumb movie…?” Well, my friend I can enjoy dumb fun but not when it is uninspired and boring as the 4 movies listed above. When the film can provide charismatic performances, new visuals or an energetic pace/tone I can enjoy a stupid film. Case in point- Rampage.

What Rampage gets right is pretty simple. First, the two main lead actors, Dwayne Johnson and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are charismatic as heck. They are both funny, engaging and Johnson and the Gorilla have a nice chemistry together. There is a believable relationship between the gorilla and Johnson that works and gives heart to the film.

The second reason it works is the CGI monster-fest was actually something new and fresh. I have seen a million dinosaur scenes like in Jurassic World (snooze) but I haven’t seen a giant wolf fight an oversized gorilla and crocodile creature. That’s novel and enjoyable. The movie also gets pretty grisly which was kind of refreshing. Several named characters are eaten by the monsters and in one scene the wolf gets his teeth right up next to the character and stays there before snapping. Pretty memorable moment!

The science in Rampage is stupid but it isn’t dwelt on too much. It’s basically some magic genetic goo that gets the plot going. Rampage is a blessed 107 minutes and doesn’t waste our time trying to justify the ‘science’ of giant monsters fighting each other. Most of the movie is a fun cat and mouse type chase to capture these giant creatures.

Unfortunately there is one part of Rampage that seriously holds it back. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy play corporate execs who want the genetic goo to do something with, and they are SO AWFUL. Every scene they are in is like nails on a chalkboard. I am sure Akerman is a lovely person, but I honestly don’t know why she has a career acting. She has been terrible in every project I’ve seen her in, and she’s terrible here. Every scene they are in is painful to get through, and they are in quite a bit.

Naomi Harris also does not work as the female scientist who agrees to help Johnson out. She seemed like she was in a different, more serious, movie than the rest of the cast.

Still, if someone asked me to recommend a ‘dumb fun’ movie to enjoy with friends on a Friday night I might go with Rampage. It had engaging performances with some heart and gave me new images and spectacle to enjoy. That’s all I’m asking for folks. It’s really not that complicated.

Blind Spot 28: The Cat Returns

When I announced my 2018 Blind Spot picks I was planning on reviewing one of the last Studio Ghibli films for me to check off my list, The Cat Returns, in June but it ended up being the Studio Ghibli Fest selection for April, so I am swapping my picks and will review The Green Mile in June instead of April. (On a side note, if you aren’t seeing the Studio Ghibli Fest films you totally should! It’s an amazing opportunity to see these anime films on the big screen).

So what did I think of The Cat Returns after seeing it on the big screen? Well, while not the greatest Studio Ghibli film by any measure, I was thoroughly entertained by the creative and strange story of a young girl and her adventures in a world of cats.

The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita and is his only feature for Studio Ghibli . It is evidently based on a manga and is a pretty strange story. Like many Ghibli films, it focuses on a young girl as the lead character. Her name is Haru and one day she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Unbeknownst to her she has rescued Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In an effort to repay her she is taken to marry Lune, and she even starts to develop cat-like qualities such as whiskers and a tail.

Fortunately there are two cats who come to her defense and help her find a way out of the Cat Kingdom before it is too late: a suave debonair cat named the Baron (also featured in Whisper of the Heart evidently) and an overweight white cat named Muta.

These characters were a lot of fun. I thought the Baron had a bit of a Sherlock Holmes vibe to him. He is cocky, not very self-aware and loves to make a special kind of tea. Muta is a curmudgeon who gets a lot of the comic relief of the film.

The Cat Returns is definitely an odd film, but I found the world-building to be very unpredictable in an appealing way. It is also witty and unlike some Ghibli films, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is just a strange, comic fantasy, and I enjoyed it on that level. At 75 minutes it also doesn’t outstay its welcome and become boring.

The music by Yuji Nomi almost seemed too orchestral and grand for such a silly story but it is beautiful. The animation is of course great, and I loved the way the characters moved and flowed through scenes. Plus, there is something cute about all these cats!

It doesn’t have the emotional complexity that the great Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke have, but I still enjoyed The Cat Returns. It’s a fun little creative, strange romp through a world of cats! It kind of reminded me of Porco Rosso in a way- a comedy with anthropomorphic animals/human merging in together in unusual ways.

I did see it with the English dub that has Anne Hathaway playing Haru, Cary Elwes as the Baron and Peter Boyle as Muta. They all do a good job and are perfectly fine in their roles.

Overall Grade- B

Only one more Studio Ghibli film for me to see (Whisper of the Heart) and I will be finished their entire canon!

What do you think of The Cat Returns?

I Feel Pretty Review

Last night I had the chance to see the latest Amy Schumer comedy I Feel Pretty. I walked into the theater having only heard negative reviews but trying to have an open mind as usual. I also had no bias against Amy Schumer as this is the first movie or TV show I’ve seen her in. What was my response? Well, I am happy to say I really enjoyed I Feel Pretty. It is a sweet and consistently funny romantic comedy film that I think critics are being way to harsh on.

The conceit of I Feel Pretty reminded me of a Penny Marshall film from the 90s. In fact, they even show a clip of Marshall’s film BIG, which inspires some of the magic that takes place.

Amy Schumer plays a 30-something woman named Renee who is happy enough with a boring but decent job and a nice group of friends; however, she has settled on not trying for the great life she wants because of massive insecurities she feels about her appearance.

Some have criticized I Feel Pretty and claimed it is ‘fat shaming’ given Amy Schumer is only overweight by Hollywood standards. However, I disagree. The film is not saying that Schumer is fat. They are saying that Renee feels insecure about her entire body. She feels insecure about her skin, hair, clothes, weight everything. In contrast, I Feel Pretty also shows women who are bigger than Schumer who do not struggle as much with body imaging and women slimmer that have their own insecurities, so I found it to be quite accurate to the struggles most women have.

I loved Aidy Bryant (who was also great in The Big Sick) and Busy Phillips as her best friends. They were not as insecure as Renee but still had their own struggles. I also like that they told her the truth when she is too much of a diva on them. They in many ways were the most confident characters of the movie.

There have been many body-switching comedies over the years (a favorite genre of mine) but one thing I liked that I Feel Pretty does differently than most is they never actually body swap. We never see the beautiful woman that Renee is seeing in the mirror. This is an improvement upon films like Shallow Hal where we see Gwyneth Paltrow in the fat suit and then her beautiful self. Seeing Renee feeling confident, empowered and beautiful as just Renee helped convey the message that she was the best version of herself all along.

There are a couple of scenes where Renee is shown as too fat to ride a bike at a gym that are a little over-the-top, but I didn’t care as they worked into the plot quite nicely.

I really liked Rory Scovel as Ethan, the new boyfriend Renee gets because of her confidence. She assumes she is way above him and that’s impresses him. He’s the one who is shy and insecure and a confident Renee teaches him to loosen up. I thought they had pretty good chemistry and were sweet together.

Michelle Williams is practically unrecognizable as a cosmetic heiress who is insecure about her voice and who envies Renee’s speaking abilities and innovative ideas. I’m so used to seeing her as an indie darling that it was fun to see her flex her comedic chops again.

My only criticisms are minor. I kind of wish they hadn’t set the movie in the fashion world because it created a strange dynamic. Renee is confident because she believes she is beautiful but at the same time the very industry she is working for is partly responsible for her lack of confidence in the first place. At the end there is a rousing speech but it would have been more inspiring if it wasn’t also a product pitch for makeup. It’s an odd juxtaposition.

But overall, I thought I Feel Pretty was charming. It made me laugh a lot and the message was very sweet.If I had a teenage daughter I would take her to see this film, and I think we would have a lot of laughs. We would also talk about the importance of confidence and how no matter what we look like we have value to God and this world. It worked for me! I guess you could say I feel pretty 🙂

There is some nudity and sensuality and a little language. PG-13 film.

Overall Grade- B+

You’ve Got Mail Podcast

Anyone who follows this blog knows one of my all time favorite movies is the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. I love pretty much everything about it especially Nora Ephron’s witty dialogue. It is perhaps my favorite remake ever and one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Recently my friend Christine sat down with me to talk about the film and why we love it and what it has to say about work, life, love and the human experience. It’s a really fun podcast that I think you will all enjoy. Give it a listen 🙂  You can also listen on itunes here.