This week’s big movie should be NopeJordan Peele 3rd a. But again, publicists in Canada haven’t talked about it widely. One of my favorite sources, The Wrap, compiled some early US reviews and found many to be positive, though some were also confusing.
Peele, who received huge praise for his first two films, “get out” and “We“, for using horror movie ideas to explore race relations, this time turned to alien invasion movies, you know, like those 1950s space monster movies. There’s a saucer flying in the trailer that lands on a California farm owned by a black brother and sister played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. What happens then? I don’t know yet. Toronto critics may know. .
In the meantime, we have a bunch of new, smaller movies to consider.
Become queen: 3 ½ stars
Costa Brava, Lebanon: 4
Fire of Love: 4
Gulliver’s Return: 2 ½
BECOME A QUEEN: It’s a grand and colorful depiction of Toronto’s bustling summer event, now known simply as Carnival. Caribana used to be called and has long since grown from a 3 day festival to a 3 week festival celebrating Caribbean culture. It peaks next weekend, July 28-August 1, and so this movie is absolutely on time. We get the story, the feel of what’s going on, and some personal drama as a young woman tries once again to be crowned carnival queen.
Joella Crichton has won it nine times, including seven in a row, and is aiming for her 10th. No one has done this before. It will also be his last. So there’s a lot at stake. It takes months of preparation, the support of his family, and the artistry of Kenney Coombs, the family friend who designs what is called his costume.
It’s more than that. It’s like a parade float or a giant display of peacock feathers. She will have to push him and at the same time make a gesture towards the crowd. With enthusiasm, of course. She will be marked on it, as well as the appearance of the “costume” standing above her. We learn that Carnival originated in Africa, arrived in the Caribbean, and now the one in Toronto is the biggest outside of Trinidad. Joella, originally from St. Vincent, talks about how it allows her to connect to her culture and at the same time celebrate strong and powerful women. Chris Strikes, with a background in music videos, did a great job as a director bringing together all the glitz and rhythm and information like that. (Available digitally) 3 ½ out of 5
COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON: Anyone who has ever been involved in a back-to-the-land movement or longed to escape environmental horror will find this film resonating. And in more ways than one. It takes place in Lebanon but could be anywhere. Maybe on an ordinary street with a six-story building right next to it. Even if you have only heard of such things, you will feel for the family in this story.
The mum and dad used to protest in Beruit where there was trash in the streets, pollution in the air and “living hell everywhere”. They had had enough of the “passive resistance” and they moved to a peaceful country plot. “We had so many dreams and they wore us out,” says the wife (Nadine Labaki). It’s nothing compared to what’s happening to them.
Giant trucks, bulldozers and excavators arrive one day and start demolishing the land next to them. They’re building a landfill, a giant dump. The national president, against whom they used to demonstrate, is there to make a speech. A young construction worker sympathizes and says corruption and foreign money are behind the project. The husband (Saleh Bakri) wants to file a complaint but cannot find a solution.
Worse, it was his idea to go there and that arouses strong tensions with his wife who had hesitated and renounced a singing career to go there. “Where are we going to run to this time? she asks. They are trapped. Their two daughters manage but they cannot. It’s a universal story, perfectly crafted by writer-director Mounia Akl and, although the ending seems too easy, very compelling. (Only two cities so far: Ottawa, the ByTowne, and Vancouver, the VIFF Center. Watch it.) 4 out of 5
KARMALINK: This one is intriguing. It will be a little hard to find but try. You don’t often see science fiction and Buddhism tied together like this. Novelty alone is an attraction. Mix reincarnation and the search for enlightenment with the urban abuse of the poor and you have an unusual film. It’s Cambodia’s first sci-fi movie, but it’s directed by an American (Jake Wachtel) who taught at a film school there (Phnom Penh) and put his two best students in his film.
One, 13-year-old Leng Heng, dreams of his past lives. In one, a boy steals a valuable Buddha statue and Leng is convinced it exists. If only he can find it, he can help his community. Residents of his neighborhood are being evicted to make way for a giant construction project, including a new high-speed train to Beijing. Leng is joined by a young girl named Srey Leak, known as someone “who can find things”. Repeated dreams, some with a little artificial help, come close to what happened to the statue, especially around a certain tree. The sci-fi aspect includes virtual reality and a device attached to your forehead that injects “nanobugs” into your brain and separately a device that can read your memories of your past lives. Technology and Buddhism together? The film also creates stark visual contrasts, such as when gleaming slums and skyscrapers regularly appear in the same visual. The drama wanes a bit but the film remains interesting. (Major VOD platforms like Apple TV and Google Play). 3 out of 5
FIRE OF LOVE: It circulated in documentary festivals but deserves to be mentioned again because it returns in general release. Well, in three cinemas, so far. But the story is remarkable and true and the visuals are amazing.
Katia and Maurice Krafft study volcanoes. We see them at Etna, Stromboli, Mount St. Helens and many more as they erupt or as soon as they can get there. Everyone’s film is wonderful. They close in as lava flows or fire sparks fly overhead and debris falls around them. They descend into the crater because, as he says, “I always like to do what people tell me not to do. The two are from France, came together during protests against the Vietnam War and found they had a common interest in volcanoes. They started studying them full time because they were “disappointed in humanity”. The information in the film and their dedication are excellent. (Montreal, Toronto—Bell Lightbox—and Vancouver—International Village) 4 out of 5
GULLIVER’S RETURN: This is a movie that you really try to like. It’s animated, made in Ukraine (albeit in English and with the help of some Hollywood veterans) and is based on an idea of daring president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, probably when he was still an actor and personality of television. It’s surprising how much of his current situation is reflected in this story. The country of Lilliput is again attacked by a larger nation, Blefuscu. Gulliver is invited back because he had helped fight off a previous assault.
When he gets there, he finds that a lot has changed. The weather, for example. By royal decree, it goes much faster. He hasn’t aged but people think he’s been there for 40 years. A prophecy said he would return. The doofus king, who had promoted the image that he is a giant, is disappointed that he is just an ordinary guy and orders his execution. The king is also a judge, prosecutor, jailer, executioner and a number of officials. That’s about all that’s left of Jonathan Swift’s bitter satire on people who don’t use reason. What’s left is a subpar action movie. The story gets silly and the animation is very ordinary. When the Blefuscu armada and the army of 10,000 men arrive, Gulliver shows that it is not size that makes a giant; it is spirit and courage. You can just hear Zelenskyy’s thought there. Too bad the movie doesn’t support it properly. (Available digitally and soon on DVD) 2½ out of 5