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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 21.Jun.20

Feel the Beat  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5
Feel the Beat
dir Elissa Down
prd Susan Cartsonis
scr Michael Armbruster, Shawn Ku
with Sofia Carson, Wolfgang Novogratz, Donna Lynne Champlin, Enrico Colantoni, Rex Lee, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Eva Hauge, Lidya Jewett, Sadie Lapidus, Shaylee Mansfield, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Pamela MacDonald
release US/UK 19.Jun.20
20/Canada Netflix 1h47

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Carson and Novogratz
Packed with cliches, this comedy is a carefully constructed star vehicle for actress-singer-dancer Sofia Carson. It's the usual tale of a diva who returns to her small-town to have that chip knocked off her shoulder. Sassier humour would have added some bite, but the film has some bland charm as it timidly sidesteps anything sharp-edged or honest. At least there's a positive message buried under the schmaltz.

Humiliated as she fails to launch her career as a Broadway dancer, April (Carson) returns to rural Wisconsin to live with her father Frank (Colantoni). Relentlessly surly, she immediately has a run-in with her hot ex Nick (Novogratz), and is recruited to help her former dance teacher Barb (Champlin) prepare her rather hopelessly awkward young students for a national dance competition. But April only does this because it offers her a chance to impress a trio of Broadway bigwigs (Winokur, Lee and Kaszas).
The plot is loaded with improbabilities, such as the embarrassingly rag-tag girls in Barb's dance studio who somehow triumph over flashier professional-style competitors. Throughout the film, Carson gets to strut her stuff, and it's obvious that, by the time her single appears on the soundtrack, her scowl will become a smile. Although the story takes far too long to get there. Along the way, there's a lot of contrived silliness, arch attitude and dopey sentimentality. And the funniest moment is a face-off between dance dads in a parking lot.

The cast is attractive and likeable, even when they're trying to be nasty. Carson has strong screen presence, but is badly over-styled; she's far more interesting when she lets her Insta-ready persona waver. Each other character plays directly to type, complete with the usual back-stories concocted to provide a vague hint of emotional baggage that never requires much from the actors. This includes the most colourful person in the story, April's New York flatmate (Goodman), who makes a rather weak splash in rural America with his squeaky clean queerness.

This kind of script writes itself, including the undeveloped romance and random subplots featuring side characters. Each story beat arrives right on cue, so there's never a doubt where it's going. This kind of undermines the filmmakers' relentless attempts to create a feel-good vibe. But it's energetic enough that it's never dull, with a gorgeous climactic performance before an extra half-hour of preordained melodramatic soul-searching. And the competition and love story are cute enough to win over the movie's target audience of 8-year-old girls.

cert pg themes, language 19.Jun.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir Zach Gayne
scr-prd Precious Chong, Alex Essoe, Zach Gayne
with Alex Essoe, Precious Chong, Kris Siddiqi, Anthony Matthews, Christopher Roche, Courtney Gayne, Lexi Gayne, Jeanie Calleja, Amanda Lomanaco, Bill Cocks, Rachel Doyle, Matthew Celestial
release US 3.Jul.20
19/Canada 1h16

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essoe and chong
Bright and cheerful with a grim undercurrent, this deranged comedy thriller follows a twisted encounter between two women. Filmmaker Zach Gayne maintains a light tone even as things turn increasingly freaky, adding clever layers that expose emotions and shift the movie into a cautionary parable about the dangers of social media. So even if the movie stretches out its brief running time, it's impossible to look away.
In her mid-30s, designer Michelle (Essoe) is trying to get pregnant with her husband Robert (Kiddiqi). At exercise class she meets Linda (Chong), a friendly woman in her late-40s who becomes perhaps too supportive. She invites Michelle over to help design her home, and becomes progressively more demanding, ultimately refusing to let her leave. As Linda insists that they play games like best buddies, Michelle tries to find a way to escape. But Linda is relentless, has locked all the doors from the inside and is apparently trying to steal Michelle's whole life.
Essentially a two-woman show, the film is nicely filmed in bright, colourful sets as Michelle and Linda circle around each other. The tone shifts jarringly from breezy comedy into more edgy humour, then into a fairly crazed thriller. Gayne keeps the camera close on the actresses, capturing little details in their interaction and often using split screen to juxtapose and contrast the characters. And as the story continues, there are some bracing twists and turns, even if there's also the gnawing sense that they're merely fighting over a man.

The performances are deliberately broad, finding realistic textures in a situation that's simply bonkers. Essoe is terrific as the captive Michelle, unnerved and sometimes downright terrified, but trying to play along. By contrast, Chong gives Linda a wild-eyed craziness, a woman who has never grown up and sees the world through an extremely warped perspective. As a result, Chong lets some pathos seep through around Linda's edges, which connects unexpectedly to Michelle, as each of them has both deep yearnings and nagging doubts.

There's a strong underlying theme exploring how expectations can lead to the feeling that you're missing out on the life you think you deserve to have. Michelle longs to be a mother but is unsure that her marriage is healthy; Linda is desperate for any connection at all. The way they veer between moments of deep understanding and full-on battles is amusing and sometimes nasty. And as the story evolves, the screenplay is unafraid to delve into some provocative, properly vicious angles on envy and obsession.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Jun.20

You Should Have Left  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
You Should Have Left
dir-scr David Koepp
prd Jason Blum, Kevin Bacon, Dean O'Toole
with Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex, Colin Blumenau, Lowri-Ann Richards, Joshua C Jackson, Eli Powers, Sarah Lochlan, Karen Teoh, Joseph Paxton, Ellie Keighley, Rachelle Beinart
release US 18.Jun.20
20/US Universal 1h33

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seyfried and bacon
Writer-director David Koepp begins unsettling the audience right from the start, with freaky nightmares and menacing shadows that don't let up right to the end. A mixture of domestic drama and haunted house horror, the plot takes a while to get going, but Koepp's subtler visual tricks keep things eerily intriguing, adding genuinely frightening angles as the characters find themselves in some sort of psychotic funhouse.
To get away from daily pressures in Hollywood, screenwriter Theo (Bacon) and his much-younger actress wife Susanna (Seyfried) take their sparky 6-year-old daughter Ella (Essex) to stay in an isolated modern house in Wales. Theo is hoping to finish writing the sequel to his big hit. But there's something odd about this house, and Theo begins to lose his grip on reality, thinking that Susanna is hiding something from him. Then as their marriage suffers a major blow, something in the house begins to taunt Theo in increasingly nasty ways.
Theo's backstory is revealed slowly, with references to the tragic death of his first wife and swirling rumours interwoven with the otherwise cheerful family exploring the sunny Welsh countryside. Ominously, the quirky local shopkeeper (Blumenau) asks Theo if he's seen anything yet. And the chill that descends between Theo and Susanna is sudden. In the effective quieter moments, Koepp plays with the house's illogical layout, manipulating the audience with visuals that are far more skilful than the cheap-jolt sound effects.

Bacon and Seyfried are terrific as a happy couple with unresolved issues, although both are too cold to identify with. They play the roles unapologetically, flawed people who are trying to be better, but perhaps not hard enough. And the sense that there's some sort of outside menace adds a surreal edge to the characters, as they react in different ways to what's happening and to issues from their past. Meanwhile, young Essex has a strong presence, even if Ella remains somewhat superficial.

Koepp lifts a few things directly from Kubrick, from the wonky architecture to a scary woman in a bathtub. But he also has a few inventive tricks up his sleeve, with especially ingenious lighting and editing. And while the story unfolds with oddly familiar twists and turns, and some gimmicks that never quite connect, there are also pitch-black ideas about guilt and regret woven into the narrative that give the film a vicious kick. None of this is deep enough to add much meaning, but it does leave us chilled to the bone.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 18.Jun.20

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