*** From Star Wars to Jurassic Park to RoboCop, visual effects master Phil Tippett’s creatures and contraptions have captured millions of imaginations. Now a 70-year-old director, he’s back to turn all your clay dreams into cataclysmic nightmares. For three decades, he labored over Mad God, a barely narrative steampunk fantasia of a stop-motion world laid waste by a wrathful Levitical deity. We follow a masked soldier in the post-apocalypse descending into a realm of beasts, golems and reapers so textured they’d make Dante Alighieri and James Blake envious—the film is epic and scummy, like Ray Harryhausen taken to a psychedelic extreme. There are also traces of Metropolis’ socio-industrial brutality and Eraserhead’s gawky viscera, but while Tippett impressively sweeps the camera across his practically animated 3D worlds, anyone who argues Mad God is just corpses and critters being intermittently squished would be mostly right. Yet behind the mayhem lies Tippett’s conviction that true creation is an act of unrelenting authority, solipsism and propagation. Why else would one work for 30 years to render an exquisitely hopeless night terror? Mad God believes hell is worth not only seeing but assembling—entrail by entrail. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinemagic June 22-23, Hollywood.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
**** Good Luck to You, Leo Grande deconstructs expectations with fascinating storytelling that speaks to our fluid modern age. Director Sophie Hyde and writer Katy Brand begin by gender-swapping the traditional May-December romance, focusing on Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a widow who hires Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for an evening of intimacy she hopes can make up for a lifetime of sexual neglect. Nancy and Leo’s story is told through a series of three encounters that gradually expose their true selves. There are fully nude sex scenes, but the movie shines during quiet, chemistry-building conversations that take us to unexpected (and sometimes uncomfortable) places. Despite offering few glimpses beyond the hotel room where most of the story unfolds, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande presents a compelling contrast to the scores of coming-of-age movies. Because it’s not about misguided youth blossoming into self-actualization. It’s about self-actualization after a life of regret. R. RAY GILL JR. Hulu.
** Early in Elvis, Baz Luhrmann’s bejeweled biopic of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) hires Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) to represent him exclusively. When the pact is made, the Ferris wheel they’re sitting on creaks to life and then, via movie magic, seems to transform into a spinning record. That jazzy juxtaposition is Elvis in a nutshell—it’s always in motion, surging through space and time like the Millennium Falcon in hyperspace. In 159 minutes, Luhrmann chronicles Elvis’ evolution from gyrating idol to Vegas sideshow, rarely stopping for a breath along the way. The film’s preference for speed over soul is exhausting and irritating, but it’s not without its pleasures. There are inspired edits—one sequence elegantly cuts back and forth between Elvis striding onstage in his legendary pink suit and experiencing spiritual ecstasy in a revival tent—and brazen performances, particularly Hanks’. Jowly and growly, his Tom Parker is a bloated Merlin to Elvis’ gleaming King Arthur. Despite his title, the real Parker never served in the military, but Hanks uncovers mesmerizingly grotesque truth in his charlatanism. When Elvis vows that his career won’t come between him and his mother, the Colonel smiles nastily at the audience and asks, “Wanna bet?” His crudeness and his cruelty bring shape and texture to Luhrmann’s stretched-out film, daring us to wonder who the real king is. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, City Center, Clackamas, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Mill Plain, Studio One, Tigard.
** Joseph Kosinski’s Spiderhead imagines a world where prison inmates volunteer as lab rats for experimental mood drugs in exchange for Silicon Valley-style office perks like appetizers, arcades and free run of the building. That may sound far-fetched, but we already live in a world where this movie was released four weeks after Top Gun: Maverick (also directed by Kosinski), Chris Hemsworth shines as a villain, and Netflix is willing to squeeze a speculative George Saunders short story into a glossy, half-decent thriller. Miles Teller stars as Jeff, a prisoner in the oceanside pharma-carceral overseen by Hemsworth’s chiseled, buddy-buddy warden, who prefers that inmates call him Steve. Spiderhead is set mostly in the shadow of a two-way mirror, with Steve observing his subjects and mining Jeff for feedback. Unfortunately, Kosinski too strongly prefers the deluded, borderline satirical vantage of Steve to Jeff’s interrogation of this dystopia. Teller spends most of the movie deflated, while Hemsworth burns every ounce of available charisma to ensure we keep watching his snide, too-familiar science bro. Letting a streaming service swap emotions and data for stimulation and comfort seems like a safe bargain, right? R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Netflix.