CINEMA: Glitzy Becoming a Queen, spoiled paradise on the Costa Brava and Buddhist science fiction in Karmalink

This week’s big movie should be NopeJordan Peele’s 3dr a. But then again, advertisers in Canada didn’t preview it extensively. One of my favorite sources, The Wrap, compiled some early American reviews and found many to be positive, though some were also confused.

Peele, who received high praise for his first two films, “Salt” Y “U.S” for using horror movie ideas to explore race relations, this time he’s turned to alien invasion movies, you know, like those space monster movies from the 1950s. There’s a flying saucer 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 do not 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

Karma Link: 3

Fire of love: 4

Gulliver’s Return: 2 ½

BECOME A QUEEN: It’s a big, colorful representation of Toronto’s vibrant summer event, now known simply as Carnival. Caribana used to be called and a long time ago it went from being a 3 day festival to 3 weeks celebrating Caribbean culture. It peaks next weekend, July 28-Aug 1, 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 again to be crowned queen of Carnival.

Joella Crichton has won it nine times, seven of them in a row, and is on her tenth. No one has done that before. She will also be the last. So there is a lot at stake. It takes months of preparation, the support of her family, and the art of Kenney Coombs, the family friend who designs what is called her costume.

Courtesy of Game Theory Films

It is more than that. It’s like a parade float or a giant display of peacock feathers. You will have to push it and at the same time make a gesture towards the crowd. With enthusiasm, of course. She will be marked on that, as well as the “costume” aspect that sits high above her. We learned that Carnival originated in Africa, made its way to the Caribbean and now the one in Toronto is the largest outside of Trinidad. Originally from St. Vincent, Joella explains how she allows her to connect with her culture while celebrating strong and powerful women. Chris Strikes, with a background in music videos, has done a good job as a director of bringing all the sparkle, rhythm and information together in this way. (Available digitally) 3 ½ of 5

COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON: Anyone who has ever been involved in a back-to-earth movement or longed to escape an environmental horror will find this film resonates. And in more than one way. It’s set in Lebanon, but it could be anywhere. Maybe on an ordinary street with a six-story apartment building next to it. Even if you’ve only heard of those things, you’ll feel for the family in this story.

The mother and father used to march in demonstrations in Beruit where there was litter in the streets, pollution in the air and “hell everywhere”. They got tired of the “passive resistance” and moved to a quiet piece of land in the countryside. “We had so many dreams and they wore us out,” says her wife (Nadine Labaki). That is nothing compared to what happens to them.

Giant trucks, bulldozers and bulldozers arrive one day and start tearing up the earth next to you. They are building a landfill, a giant dump. The national president, against whom they used to demonstrate, is there to give a speech. A young construction worker sympathizes and says that corruption and foreign money are behind the project. The husband (Saleh Bakri) wants to sue but can’t find a way.

Courtesy of Kino Lorber

Worse still, it was his idea to go there and that creates serious tensions with his wife, who had been reluctant and gave up her singing career to go there. “Where will we run to this time?” she asks. They are trapped. His two daughters manage but they can’t. It is a universal story, perfectly crafted by writer-director Mounia Akl, and although the ending seems too easy, it is very convincing. (Only two cities so far: Ottawa, ByTowne, and Vancouver, the VIFF Center. Stay tuned.) 4 of 5

KARMALINK: This one is intriguing. It will be a bit difficult to find, but give it a try. You don’t often see science fiction and Buddhism connected in this way. Novelty alone is an attraction. Mix reincarnation and the search for enlightenment, as well as urban abuse of the poor, and you have an unusual film. It’s Cambodia’s first sci-fi movie, but it’s made by an American (Jake Wachtel) who taught at a film school there (Phnom Penh) and put his two best students in his film.

Courtesy of Good Deed Entertainment

One, 13-year-old Leng Heng, is having dreams about his past lives. In one, a valuable Buddha statue is stolen by a boy and Leng is convinced that it exists. If he can only find it, he can help his community. People in his neighborhood are being evicted to make room for a giant construction project, including a new bullet train to Beijing. Leng teams up with a young woman named Srey Leak, who is known as someone “who can find things.” Repeated dreams, some with a little artificial help, come close to what happened to the statue, particularly around a certain tree. The sci-fi aspect includes virtual reality and a device attached to his forehead that injects “nanobugs” into his brain and, separately, a device that can read his memories about his past lives. Technology and Buddhism together? The film also creates striking visual contrasts, such as when slums and gleaming skyscrapers regularly appear in the same image. The drama falters a bit, but the movie is still interesting. (Major VOD platforms such as Apple TV and Google Play). 3 of 5

FIRE OF LOVE: It’s been at documentary festivals, but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s back in general release. Well, in three theaters, so far. But the story is remarkable and true and the images are amazing.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Katia and Maurice Krafft study volcanoes. We see them on Etna, Stromboli, Mount St. Helens and many others as they erupt or as soon as they can get there. Each one’s film is impressive. They get closer as lava flows or fiery sparks fly overhead and debris falls around them. They go down into the crater because, as he says, “I always like to do what people forbid me to do.” The two are from France, they came together in protests against the Vietnam War and discovered that they had a common interest in volcanoes. They began to study them full time because they became “disappointed in humanity”. The information in the film and his dedication is excellent. (Montreal, Toronto—Bell Lightbox—and Vancouver—International Village) 4 of 5

GULLIVER’S RETURN: This is a movie that you really try to like. It’s animated, made in the Ukraine (albeit in English and with the help of some Hollywood veterans), and based on an idea by audacious President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, presumably when he was still an actor and TV personality. However, it is surprising how much of his current situation is reflected in this story. The land of Lilliput is once again under attack from a larger nation, Blefuscu. Gulliver is asked to return because he had helped fight off a previous assault.

Courtesy of Shout Studios

When he gets there, he discovers that many things have changed. The weather, for example. By royal decree, he moves much faster. She has not aged, but people believe that she was there 40 years ago. A prophecy said that she would return. The foolish king, who had promoted the image of him being a giant, is disappointed that he is just a regular guy and orders him executed. The king is also a judge, prosecutor, jailer, executioner, and any number of officials. That’s pretty much all that’s left of Jonathan Swift’s bitter satire on people who don’t use reason. What remains is a sub-par action movie. The story gets silly and the animation is very ordinary. When Blefuscu’s army and 10,000-man army arrive, Gulliver proves that it’s not size that makes a giant; it is spirit and courage. You can hear Zelenskyy thinking there. He’s too bad the movie doesn’t support him properly. (Available digitally and soon on DVD) 2½ of 5

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