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Cinematic Spillover: Short reviews of The Secret: Dare to Dream, Summerland and The Shadow of Violence 

click to enlarge GRAVITAS VENTURES, IFC FILMS AND SABAN FILMS
  • Gravitas Ventures, IFC Films and Saban Films

It's nearly August and we've had zero summer blockbusters. If you're a film aficionado, you definitely understand how surreal that is. Nevertheless, VOD platforms continue to pump out movies each week, so there's plenty of content out there. You just have to find it. Here are three movies you should check out soon.

The Secret: Dare to Dream

Filmmaker Andy Tennant’s (Hitch) The Secret: Dare to Dream is so wholesome, harmless and sweet-natured, the most cynical viewers are likely to gouge their eyes out. That said, if the family-friendly drama were featured on TV’s Lifetime station instead of getting a release on VOD, it would probably be a high point for the network this summer. Tennant’s film is solely for idealists, which this critic is not, but its sincerity is admirable. Based on the self-help book of the same name by Australian author Rhonda Byrne, The Secret tells the story of Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes), a stressed-out widow living in New Orleans with her two young children. Everything seems to be going wrong for Miranda and her kids until they cross paths with Bray Johnson (Josh Lucas), an architecture professor from Nashville, who lives a life of positive thinking. “Even the bad stuff can lead to better things,” he says unironically. Aside from the fortune-cookie philosophy Bray delivers, he also brings hope to the family during a time when a little kindness can make all the difference. But what are Bray’s real intentions? Can someone be a nice person without any ulterior motives or is — wait for it — the secret Bray is keeping from Miranda too much to overlook? The story all hinges on a twist that slowly reveals itself during the film’s 107-minute run time, which, surprisingly, won’t trigger an aneurysm caused by extreme hokiness. The Secret: Dare to Dream is available on VOD platforms July 31. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

Summerland

Playwright and first-time feature writer/director Jessica Swale makes a convincing directorial debut with Summerland, a charming and touching drama set on the English countryside during WWII. The film stars underrated English actress Gemma Arterton (Tamara Drewe) as Alice Lamb, an impolite writer and researcher who lives alone and wants nothing more than to be left alone (think Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as It Gets  except British and female and lesbian). With a war raging on, Alice is tapped to look after Frank (Lucas Bond), a young evacuee from London whose father is fighting in the war and whose mother is working for the Ministry. Reluctantly, Alice takes the boy in despite not having any desire to play mother to anyone. It’s a job she never wanted, but one that her ex-lover Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) longed for her entire life. Through flashbacks, Alice and Vera’s relationship is centered on unconditional love, which Vera ends since children are not in their future. As predictable as the narrative becomes, Swale’s script keeps the emotion from becoming too melodramatic. As Alice, Arterton’s performance is devilishly charismatic. Summerland is available on VOD platforms July 31. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

The Shadow of Violence

First-time feature filmmaker Nick Rowland and screenwriter Joe Murtagh (American Animals) create a stunning and destructive world in The Shadow of Violence, a bare-knuckle independent crime drama set in the most corrupt corners of rural Ireland. In an incredible performance, English/Armenian musician and actor Cosmo Jarvis (TV’s Peaky Blinders) stars as Arm, a former boxer who now works for the powerful and ruthless drug-dealing Devers family as their personal enforcer. When Arm fails to follow through with an assignment, he and his best friend Dympna (Barry Keoghan), who is a member of the Devers clan, are forced to determine where their loyalties lie. With a young, autistic son depending on him to be a better father, Arm must attempt to dig himself out of a situation he no longer wants but feels confined to serve. The Shadow of Violence, which had a long festival run last year under the name Calm with Horses, is the kind of raw, indie gem that is easy to overlook like 2010’s Animal Kingdom or 2017’s Good Time. It’s so visceral, you can almost taste the blood in your mouth. The Shadow of Violence is available at limited theaters July 31. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)

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