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Trailer: Fairfax

With a voice cast that includes Skyler Gisondo, Kiersey Clemons, Peter S. Kim, and Jaboukie Young-White, and guests such as Billy Porter, Zoey Deutch, Camila Mendes, Rob Delaney, Yvette Nicole Brown, Ben Schwartz, JB Smoove, John Leguizamo, and Colton Dunn, this latest animation for grown ups follows 4 besties in middle school who hang out on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, 'the pulsing heart of hypebeast culture'.
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Birds of Paradise

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Making a name for yourself in the ballet world takes talent, sacrifice, determination, and — if the current trend of dance films is to be believed — no small amount of backstabbing and manipulation. To top it off, no story about ballet dancers is complete without shots of bleeding, calloused feet or a knowing nod to the strict diet and exercise regimes that their bodies are forced to endure. On this at least, Birds of Paradise surely delivers.

Ballerinas are “warriors of pain”, says Marine (Kristine Froseth), the former star pupil at the Opéra National de Paris’ school of ballet. After time away to grieve her beloved brother’s suicide, Marine returns to school to find both her place at the top and her boyfriend usurped by former friend and rival Gia (Eva Lomby), and the private room she’d slept in since she was eight years old, now housing a roommate in the form of Kate (Diana Silvers), an awkward and inexperienced American scholarship student.

With a set up like that, you could be forgiven in thinking this will be another Centre Stage, following the melodrama of teenagers in a boarding school: love, loss and life lessons all interspersed with captivating dance numbers.

What director Sarah Adina Smith (Buster’s Mal Heart) offers us instead is more akin to a high school production of Black Swan. The twists are darker and far more cruel than a simple rivalry over the cutest boy in class. Working together with Buster’s Mal Heart cinematographer Shaheen Seth, there’s an ethereal, dreamlike quality to the world Smith builds, almost surreal at times, with the threatening air of something nightmarish pushing at the edges.

For a film about ballerinas, the dance numbers are brief and unremarkable. Perhaps a cast of professional dancers would have made things more authentic, but for all the characters insist that dancing is their life, there is very little passion in their performances. In saying that, both Froseth and Silvers are captivating in their roles as sometimes rivals/sometimes best friends/sometimes something more. Their charged relationship is the true core of the film, and both leads bring a depth of emotion to their characters’ obsessive competitiveness that is otherwise lacking.

The story is based on Young Adult author A.K. Small’s debut novel, Bright Burning Stars, but the transition from book to screen does leave audiences with the feeling that there was more being said between the lines that was lost in translation. Characters that might have been more fleshed out on the page become distorted caricatures, their motivations barely touched on, all which leads to an anti-climactic final act that is sadly formulaic and unfulfilling.

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

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On his sixteenth birthday, Jamie New (Max Harwood) wakes up in the same boring council flat in the same boring town in the same boring life. But boring is not a word you could ever use to describe Jamie New. He dreams of a life on stage, but not as a pop idol or a YouTuber like his classmates all long to be. Jamie’s got his sights set on the spotlight: Jamie’s going to be a drag queen.

Inspired by true events, this adaptation of Tom MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells’ smash hit musical follows Jamie as he defies the bullies and the disbelievers and walks his own path — and he does it all wearing six-inch heels.

There’s a level of charisma and magnetism required to headline a film like this, and newcomer Max Harwood is more than up for the challenge. Jamie is Harwood’s film debut and much like the character he embodies, he steps into the spotlight without hesitation.

Having Jonathan Butterell as director is an added boon: Butterell not only directed the stage version of Jamie on the West End but he’s also a notable choreographer. His eye for movement and staging ensures Jamie dazzles just as brightly on the screen as he does beneath the theatre’s spotlight.

The soundtrack is upbeat and joyful, each number a showstopper, but none more so than “This Was Me”, written specifically for the film. The song is a collaboration between Richard E. Grant (as the once great drag queen Loco Chanel), and Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer Holly Johnson. New additions to beloved musicals can be a dangerous gamble — the ultimately forgettable “Suddenly” from 2012’s Les Misérables comes to mind — but this brilliantly ‘80s-esque ballad plays over Loco Chanel’s old home movies, giving Jamie some insight into queer history; the victories and the struggles, the love and the loss; all those sacrifices that paved the way to let Jamie live out loud the way so, so many who came before him never could.

Occasional heartache aside, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at its core a truly optimistic and uplifting film, something we could definitely see more often from LGBTQIA+ cinema. A warm-hearted, occasionally cheesy celebration of queer culture, of friendship, of love and of family — be it the family you’re born with or the family you chose for yourself along the way.

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LuLaRich

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From the directors of Fyre Fraud, Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason’s new 4-episode docuseries LuLaRich takes the viewer through the dumpster fire that is the billion-dollar US multilevel marketing company, LuLaRoe.

Interviews with cofounders DeAnne and Mark Stidham, along with former and current employees, the series highlights how the many people who joined just wanted to make a better life for themselves only to be drawn into, in some cases, bankruptcy and a desperation to get out of the situation they have found themselves in.

The interviews with both DeAnne and Mark come in stark contrast when compared with all of the other interviews and footage included, including court depositions by the founders and their family members.

What began in 2012 as a company selling maxi skirts, the focus soon shifted to other clothing but specifically the “buttery soft leggings” which were introduced in 2014. The company quickly came to be known for its over-the-top patterns and the fact that there was only a limited supply of each particular design, which in turn, then made it rare and more desirable to the consumer.

A seller/distributor calls finding the ultimate dream print a “unicorn”, as they never knew what patterns or designs that they would receive with their order. The exorbitant buy-in fees to sell the product didn’t seem to deter many, as the people viewed being a part of this company as an all or nothing life changing experience.

This series shows how a small company, selling women’s empowerment and independence, quickly deteriorated into a cult-like Pyramid Scheme. And with that, led to LuLaRoe’s downfall, amid revelations that the company misled thousands of women with the multilevel marketing platform, a jaw-dropping decline in the quality of the products, and bulk refunds which the company rarely approved. Washington State even brought a civil lawsuit against the company in 2019 for running a Pyramid Scheme.

LuLaRoe became a viral hit targeted at young mothers who wanted something they could do from the comfort of their own homes. Wearing the products and selling online was something everyone could do but it ended up costing many of them dearly.

With the four episodes spanning just over three hours, this series is presented in such an entertaining and informative way that it is easily consumable in one sitting and gives the viewer a better idea of the fuss over LuLaRoe. And as a by-product, it offers the viewer eye-opening food for thought and social commentary on the dangers of unfettered capitalism and social media.

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The Voyeurs

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Pippa and Thomas are a young, winsome couple in their late 20s: she’s a budding ophthalmologist, he’s a freelance composer specialising in commercial jingles. Soon after settling in their new, high-rise studio apartment in Montreal, they discover that their windows peer directly in an exquisitely-proportioned, unnaturally-attractive couple’s apartment ‘across the way’. Their neighbours are unknowing exhibitionists (either that, or humble objectors to the concept of curtains), and their every move is readily visible to Pippa and Thomas.

At first, Pippa and Thomas spy on their neighbours out of harmless curiosity, observing their carnal escapades (which are both plentiful and intense) with as much investment as the volatile, everyday dramas of their relationship (also plentiful and intense). When Pippa buys binoculars, their viewing parties even provide some sexual inspiration for their own, stagnating sex-life — taking the Old Testament’s ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ to another level. Soon, however, sexual fantasy takes hold of Pippa, and what began as a harmless hobby turns into something of a ruinous obsession — maybe, wethinks, this will be an allegory for porn? How clever, wethinks, how clever indeed.

We soon find out that the man from across the way is quite the philanderer, one who unfailingly seduces his models (oh yes, he’s a top-notch photographer who works from his living room and exclusively with shirtless women) into sleeping with him after every shoot — scenes to which, it must be said, the filmmaker dedicates more time (and we mean time, not care) than any others. Now, just as monsters don’t necessarily make a film scary, and an abundance of jokes don’t ensure a film’s comedic merits, nor does an indulgence in drawn-out, subtlety-free sex scenes make a film sexy — that’s when we’re getting into smutty territory.

Here, we’re reminded of the Seinfeld episode wherein Jerry visits a Catholic priest so as to dob on his dentist, Dr Whatley, who having only just converted to Judaism is already making Jewish jokes: ‘and this offends you as a Jew?’ asks the priest with genuine concern; ‘no, this offends me as a comedian!’ responds Jerry — and cue the canned laughs… In the case of The Voyeurs, we didn’t find the abundance of artless sex-scenes offensive on a moral level, but more-so as a humble practitioner/enthusiast/critic of film.

Ironically, The Voyeurs gives the impression that it’s a film made by someone who has suffered from the pernicious effects of excessive porn-watching. Besides the innumerable plot-holes, shallow characters, laughable backstories and (at times) horrid acting, the narrative progresses rapidly, in what at first seems a thrilling, no-bullshit pace, but reaches its climax prematurely and with little control; so that the last act resembles a teenage boy frantically cleaning up his gluey mess before his mum comes home.

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Cinderella

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Writer/director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, Girlboss) has made a career of women-centric stories where the ambitious lead strives for more out of life. Fitting then, that she should take the helm of Cinderella, the latest in a long line of retellings of the classic fairy tale made famous by Charles Perrault.

Starring two-time Latin Grammy winner Camila Cabello, the film opens with Ella and her fellow townsfolk bursting into song. Not your classic throw-open-the-windows-and-shout-bonjour type of song either, this is a mash up of “Rhythm Nation” and “You Gotta Be” that would make the cast of Glee proud.

From the opening notes, Cannon drives home the point that Ella has big dreams. As a dress designer looking to make a name for herself, she wants to make her own way, be her own woman. She’s bringing feminism back to fairy tales, which is a wonderful concept…only it’s been done before, and with a lot more charm.

1998’s Ever After and 2004’s Ella Enchanted both put an empowering spin on the Cinderella story by giving their Ellas progressive ideals and the courage to seek out a more equal society, while incidentally falling in love along the way. Cabello’s Cinderella also has a worthy goal, but instead of equality for the oppressed masses, she’s fighting for the right to sell her dresses in the marketplace.

Another twist to the tale: instead of Ella suffering a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her wicked stepmother and cruel stepsisters, Cannon has taken steps to humanise the women in Ella’s family. The stepmother, Vivian (played by Idina Menzel, whose talent far outweighs the screentime afforded her), wants nothing more than security for her daughters — ideally via a prestigious marriage. She has more in common with a mother from an episode of Bridgerton than a fairy tale villain. True, Ella does live in the basement, but her space is papered with brightly coloured sketches and filled with endless reams of material rather than dustpans and mops (it’s also home to three bumbling mice, one of whom is voiced by James Corden, the less said about that the better).

The ideal husband, according to Vivian, would of course be Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine). Prince-of-where-exactly is a little murky, the accents are hardly consistent. As the son of King Rowan and Queen Beatrice (Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver in the most unexpected of Goldeneye reunions), Prince Robert doesn’t seem to echo Ella’s dreams of emancipation. In fact, his idea of a hard day’s work is getting drunk and going fox hunting.

He might be a prince but it’s a stretch to call him charming.

Keeping with tradition, the King plans to hold a ball in the hope that his son will finally find himself a bride, and well, you can probably guess what happens next.

Unfortunately, the prince’s big solo number is a cover of “Somebody to Love”, which naturally will be weighed against Anne Hathaway’s version in Ella Enchanted and found wanting. No shade to Galitzine, who is sure to win many hearts with this role, but we can’t help but question the decision behind casting Fra Fee, a trained classical tenor and star of the West End, and leaving him to waste away in the role of prince’s buddy #2.

It seems like most of the film’s powerhouse performers barely get a look-in, the most notable being Billy Porter in the role of fairy godmother. (It’s worth noting that up until his arrival, the concept of magic hasn’t been addressed at all. But as the godmother, or “Fab G” tells Ella: “Let’s not ruin this incredibly magical moment with reason”.) Porter is a showstopper. His presence, comedic timing and sheer vocal talent make his few minutes of screentime the most vibrant of the film.

Cinderella is very aware of what it wants to be, but unfortunately while the songs may be flashy and fun, the beats of the story are off. There aren’t enough laughs to call it a comedy, not enough chemistry between the leads to call it a romance, and while above all it might strive to be something of a feminist manifesto, the message feels clichéd and condescending in its heavy-handedness.

It’s hardly a crime to introduce a new generation to their very own empowered Cinderella, but for those looking for a truly enchanting adaptation with a soundtrack to match, we recommend 1997’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, currently streaming on Disney+.

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Kevin Can F**k Himself

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It’s every sitcom couple to grace our screens over the past eight decades: thirty-something oafish manchild and the out-of-his-league wife who nit-picks his every move and yet somehow can’t help loving him for his foibles — only this time around, creator Valerie Armstrong (writer on Lodge 49, SEAL Team) is flipping the script and flipping-off the tired trend of chauvinistic TV husbands while she’s at it.

Kevin Can F**k Himself (likely a play on Kevin Can Wait, the short-lived Kevin Hart series infamous for killing the wife off between season 1 and season 2 simply because they “ran out of ideas”) takes the character of the sitcom wife, too often dismissed as disposable or interchangeable, and asks: who is she when her larger-than-life husband isn’t around?

Annie Murphy, fresh off her Emmy winning role on Schitt’s Creek, plays Allison, the wife in question. Ten years into her marriage with Kevin, Allison spends her days floating in and out of Kevin’s brightly lit, multi-cam world of canned laughter and simple-minded hijinks, bringing him coffee and beer and freshly laundered basketball shorts, and standing in as the butt of an endless volley of belittling jokes. The minute the door swings shut between them, we’re treated to a glimpse of Allison’s world: grey and grim, not a single laugh to be heard, save for her own hysterical chuckles over her miserable situation. Allison is suffocating under the bright lights of Kevin’s world, longing for a life that means something more than a punchline.

The cuts between multi-cam sitcom and single-cam dark comedy are jarring, but serve their purpose, giving audiences a glimpse into the true affect Kevin’s boorish behaviour has on Allison. The laugh track quickly becomes less of an irritating yet familiar background noise and instead feels almost menacing, highlighting Allison’s suffering and turning Kevin’s shiny, candy-coloured world from the American Dream to a waking nightmare.

Creating a character who can believably weave their way through both worlds isn’t an easy task, but Annie Murphy and co-star Mary Hollis Inboden (Patty, Allison’s neighbour and sometimes friend) succeed brilliantly with solid performances from both. One scene in particular strikes home, as Allison calls out Patty’s complacency over the years: “You just watched him and laughed.” Patty’s response of “it seemed harmless” echoes generations of viewers who sat back and ate their dinners in front of the television with the latest sitcom on for background noise, something we might just second guess after this glimpse behind the curtain.

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