Edinburgh

The God, the Bad and the Ugly

Mad-god-movie-review
Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Mad God (2021)

Humanity is moldy on the inside and ugly on the outside, which isn’t news to anyone. Phil Tippett’s “Mad God” has plenty of both mold and ugliness, plus blood and viscera and the contents of the digestive tract, lovingly rendered through the full resources of the animator’s craft. Mr. Tippett’s Stygian odyssey, a film that has been in the works for decades, employs models and some C.G.I. and a smattering of live action; but mainly tells its story through stop-motion animation, the venerable field in which Mr. Tippett’s skills are nonpareil in Hollywood. Propelled by unseen hands, a cast of critters long of fang and foul of breath prowl the circles of “Mad God’s” post-human hell in that slightly jerky over-cranked gait that always conveys the infinite patience of the animator and the fragile mortality of the puppet character, stop-motion’s mix of divinity and disgust. And drollery, since the heavyweight visuals and colossal suffering don’t stop the film cracking a few sprightly jokes from the pit, a distinctly American rather than European damnation.

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A Bug's Life

Mandibles-movie-review
Magnet Releasing

MOVIE REVIEW
Mandibles (2021)

When Quentin Dupieux pitches a film, the producers get what they were promised. “Mandibles,” as the people who paid for it were no doubt happy to find, really is about two amiable French layabouts who discover a genuine giant red-eyed fly the size of a 10-year-old child in the trunk of a stolen car and who immediately consider training it to go and fetch things from the shops, rather than asking why the fabric of reality has sustained major damage. But reality is always a bit threadbare in Mr. Dupieux's tales, with their bleached daylight and vivid nonsense. His last film, “Deerskin,” steered the director's absurdist style into a darker lane, as a psychotic Jean Dujardin discovered his life's purpose in basic narcissism. The two guileless goons in “Mandibles” don't have a narcissistic thought in their heads, or indeed much else. They’re a blithe underclass, abandoned by the materialist world before and after something amazing happens. They're dumb and dumbeur.

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Moonlite

We-the-animals-movie-reviews-evan-rosado-raúl-castillo
Tayarisha Poe/2018 Tribeca Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
We the Animals (2018)

Based on Justin Torres’s eponymous novel, “We the Animals” recounts the coming-of-age of a Puerto Rican child amid his parents’ turbulent relationship and his own budding (homo)sexuality.

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The Agony and the Effigy

Final-portrait-movie-review-geoffrey-rush-armie-hammer
Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Final Portrait (2017)

Stanley Tucci's fifth film as a director – and the first in which he doesn't appear himself – tells an episode from the late life of artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, a topic that clearly chimes with Mr. Tucci's long-standing interest in fine art and the turbulent urges that go into its creation. "Final Portrait" features Geoffrey Rush in full shambling dishevel as the 63-year-old Giacometti and Armie Hammer as James Lord, a younger American who sits for one of the artist's last works and starts to wonder if it will never actually be finished. The film has the utmost compassion for artists helplessly at the mercy of their own creativity and libido; and if its small scale keeps the external world mostly out of view, it at least believes the art to be worth all the internal aggro.

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Nun of the Above

The-little-hours-movie-review-alison-brie-kate-micucci-aubrey-plaza
Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Little Hours (2017)

Watching Aubrey Plaza shout at people ranks high on my personal list of reasons to turn out for movies, only slightly behind the joys of Tracy Letts being cruel and vindictive. In "The Little Hours" she shouts and swears like a stevedore, a raucous deadpan dynamo restrained by a 14th century nun's habit and wimple in the same way that a tin can constrains an atom bomb. Jeff Baena's film transfers a bunch of thoroughly modern comics — Ms. Plaza, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Kate Micucci, several others — to Middle Ages Tuscany with their vocal patterns and wry exasperations intact, for a tale sliced out of Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron" that drips with frustrated desire and the sins of the flesh. Hit or miss, it's at least a reminder that American sex comedies weren't always modern-dress bosses and bridesmaids, or offcuts from the Judd Apatow factory.

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Peace, Free Love and Understanding

The-commune-movie-review-trine-dyrholm-ulrich-thomsen-fares-fares-julie-agnete-vang-kollektivet
Sydney Film Festival 2016

MOVIE REVIEW
The Commune (2016)

The Copenhagen of the 1970s lurked groovily over the horizon like a seven-day saturnalia to anyone peering toward the source of all the noise from the wrong side of the North Sea at the time. But Thomas Vinterberg revisits the environment of his childhood in "The Commune" and is careful to make it seem brittle, awkward and potentially corrosive to domestic harmony, full of the same misjudged fumblings toward happiness as everywhere else. Based primarily on a play by Mr. Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov and more distantly on the director's own experiences, its characters are either helplessly insensitive or just hard of thinking, as well as adrift in an ocean of beige.

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Boyhoods

Little-men-movie-review-michael-barbieri-theo-taplitz
Magnolia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Little Men (2016)

Ira Sachs's "Love Is Strange" had moments of inspiration from top to bottom; but the most finely honed of all was the last one, when the story of two longtime companions in their 60s ended by drifting dreamily down the generations and following a pair of teenagers on a wordless glide through New York, skateboarding into a future of infinite possibilities. His new film "Little Men" starts with the relationship between two 13-year-old boys and looks up at the adult world of labor and gentrification from there, admitting that the possibilities might not be so infinite in practice. Life goes messily on anyway.

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Dickman & Throbbin Ride Again

The-virgin-psychics-movie-review-erina-mano
2015 Busan International Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
The Virgin Psychics (2016)

Sion Sono's gonzo gangster-cannibal-hip-hop fantasia "Tokyo Tribe" had its tongue in its cheek and death on its mind; "The Virgin Psychics" puts mortality to one side and gives Eros its day, but without feeling the need to calm down. Originally a manga by Kiminori Wakasugi (and already brought to TV by Mr. Sono in 2013 with a bunch of the same actors as here), it's a relentlessly ribald sci-fi burlesque about a group of young virgins with shared prenatal connections who all acquire lascivious superpowers at the same time. They then get caught up in a particularly carnal version of the end of the world on loan from some cheapo 1970s porn parody - which for all the resulting difficulties certainly looks like more fun than the Midwich Cuckoos ever got up to.

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It's Time to Listen; It's Time to Fight

A-flag-without-a-country-movie-review
2016 Sundance Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
A Flag Without a Country (2016)

Bahman Ghobadi's new sort-of documentary "A Flag Without a Country" declares itself to be scripted from the lives of its subjects, making it a spiritual cousin of "No One Knows About Persian Cats" - his 2009 film about two Iranian musicians trying to leave the country - which blurred the distinctions between invented characters and nonactors playing themselves into a continuous smudge. It worked then in urban Iran, and it works again now in beleaguered Kurdistan, where a much thinner helping of anything resembling a narrative is balanced by wider humanitarian concerns. "Flag" and "Cats" may share some kindred drollery, but it feels like Mr. Ghobadi has found a suitably fissile material for his method in the faces of Kurdish children scanning a horizon only just far enough away to conceal the ISIS fighters hurrying toward them, as if the interlocking sadnesses of northern Iraq were now dense enough for documentary truth to become bent by gravity on its way out.

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Coming Home to Roost

Iona-movie-review-ruth-negga
Verve Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Iona (2016)

This is a very capable small Scottish film, but it is let down by two things: The first is the obvious plot developments — they are meant to be twists, but perhaps only to people who know nothing of human nature. The second is that the title character (Ruth Negga), who was awkwardly named after the island where she was born and raised, is the only mixed-race person in the film.

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