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Movie Reviews: New Releases for July 8

Thor: Love and Thunder, The Sea Beast, Lost Illusions and more


The Sea Beast - NETFLIX
  • Netflix
  • The Sea Beast
Beba **1/2
Navel-gazing personal-essay cinema demands at least two pretty important things: 1) a compelling reason for why it should be a movie rather than a diary entry, and 2) a particularly interesting navel at which to gaze. I’m not convinced Rebeca Huntt meets either qualification. Huntt dives into her own life and history as the child of a Dominican-born father and Venezuelan-born mother, attempting to understand her experience both as an Afro-Latina woman in a general cultural sense, and as someone raised in this specific family. She’s much more successful at the latter, particularly in the few scenes where she captures her contentious relationship with her mother, and the mysterious non-presence of her brother. And on the other side, there’s at least one perfectly cringe-inducing sequence as Rebeca increasingly loses her patience with her white college friends’ obliviousness to their microaggressions. It just too rarely comes together in a way that transcends the inherent limitations of “voice-over narration set to generic images of New York City life,” which makes up a substantial portion of its 80 minutes. Huntt is honest enough to choose “narcissistic” as one of the adjectives describing herself, which can only do so much to mitigate the experience of watching it unfold. Available July 8 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Big Wave Guardians ***
At the intersection of old-school surf docs like The Endless Summer and earnest character study lies Luke Stirtz’s documentary celebrating those who risk their lives to rescue surfers taking on the challenging waves of Oahu’s North Shore. Mixed in with a super-condensed history of Hawai’i becoming a tourist destination in the mid-20th century—and the subsequent need for people to watch out for the safety of the inexperienced non-natives heading for the big waves—there’s some unabashed hagiography of those who pioneered rescue techniques and subsequently dedicated themselves to being lifeguards, including Brian Keaulana, Terry Ahue and more. The focus gets a little bit muddled as Stirtz seems to spend as much time on the appeal of the surfing life as on the ostensible main subject, though ultimately the crossover makes sense as we see the overlap between those two worlds. And there is plenty of interesting background exploring topics like how JetSkis became a common tool for big-wave rescues, and how the tragic death of one pro surfer inspired a movement for all surfers to learn how to be rescuers when they’re the closest ones to an accident. As celebrations of a very specific kind of “first responder” go, this one has the benefit of also being pretty cool to watch most of the time. Available July 8 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Lost Illusions ***1/2
Co-writer/director Xavier Giannoli takes his adaptation of the serialized Honoré de Balzac novel and turns it into an acidic social satire that seems to be on a personal mission to disprove clichés about turgid period pieces. In 1830s France, aspiring poet Lucien (Benjamin Voisin) travels to Paris with his married lover/patroness Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France), only to find his artistic and romantic dreams both quickly crushed. He turns to the rising world of partisan newspapers, under the tutelage of editor Etienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste), and discovers that he might be well suited for the slanted journalism of the time. The film is at its most bitterly funny during the scenes where a sardonic narrator lays out the rules of the journalistic game, with publishers and theaters paying for good reviews (or a rival’s bad ones), an underground economy in rallying approving or disapproving audiences, and newsrooms where a literal monkey chooses which books get coverage. It’s wonderfully entertaining stuff, anchored by Voisin as the kind of naïf whose naked ambition and compromised principles set him up for a fall. The tragic components are a bit less successful, built around a romantic triangle that also includes a young actress (Salomé Dewaels), and it doesn’t pack a real emotional punch. That matters much less while Giannoli’s snappy direction keeps the plot clicking along, finding all possible wry humor in the way a world of transactional relationships makes it all too easy to lose your soul. Available July 8 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

The Sea Beast ***1/2
It feels far too rare to watch a mainstream American animated feature, and feel as though you’re watching some actual filmmaking on display. In a bygone era where giant sea monsters prowl the oceans, pursued by hunter ships, the crew of the Inevitable—including Capt. Crow (Jared Harris) and his protégé Jacob (Karl Urban)—tries to snare one of the largest and most dangerous creatures, just as orphaned stowaway Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator) comes aboard. At times, the story does feel like it’s quilted together from pieces of other familiar animated stories, ranging from Pinocchio to How to Train Your Dragon. Yet instead of feeling like an uninspired copycat, The Sea Beast bursts with energy, thanks largely to the way director/co-writer Chris Williams (Big Hero 6, Moana) stages the nautical action with an attention to detail and a sense of genuine consequence. The voice performances are effective across the board, particularly Harris conveying an Ahab-like relentlessness that feeds into some bigger, unfortunately timely ideas about who benefits from manufacturing fear and crisis, and even generational conflict over political differences. But mostly, this is the kind of rousing adventure that takes advantage of all the unique things that animation can do, while still reminding you that skill behind the camera can take any kind of storytelling and elevate it to something thrilling. Available July 8 via Netflix. (PG)

Thor: Love and Thunder **1/2
See feature review. Available July 8 in theaters. (PG-13)