Movie Reviews: Moonage Daydream, Strawberry Mansion, Commis

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Published:
11:26 a.m. September 8, 2022



Lunar Reverie (15)

***

I’ve used this line before, but one of David Bowie’s great gifts was to spot trends before anyone else, an ease best expressed when he passed away in January 2016.

He was already a revered and beloved figure, but over the next six-and-a-half years, this avant-garde poseur of cut-out, provocative interpretive dance mime, has become a cozy totem of remembrance for better times and happier. There is, I think, a huge demand for a grand and extravagant celebration of his life and his music. It’s not that movie.

Morgen wants to give us Bowie the Tortured Artist. Much like in his previous film Cobain: Montage of Heck, the musician is portrayed in a dense and frenetic collage of sound and image. It’s globally chronological, but constantly back and forth through its thousand points of light: excerpts from concerts, interviews, film extracts. Bowie provides the narration, a steady stream of painful self-analysis. It begins with a quote about Nietzsche. Pretentious? Yes ; but it wouldn’t really be a David Bowie movie if it wasn’t.

The through line is simple. The young ’70s Bowie took on a plethora of personas to cover his own uncertainty about who he was. The last of these characters was Bowie, the sold-out mid-’80s rock star Bowie who would ultimately give him the least satisfaction. But then he fell in love, found contentment, and largely quit making good music. There’s nothing new here, though the film perhaps explains the emotional cost of it all, the ferocity of the demons he had to defeat.

The problem is that the high intensity visual aggression wears off pretty quickly and the film lasts quite a long time. The casual fan may even find it a bit boring. Benefiting from unprecedented access to the Bowie estate, Morgen spent five years sifting through his archives and it seems that a little bit of everything has been poured into this great assembly dryer.

All the non-Bowie stuff is fantastically unoriginal and yawning: bits of Kubrick, ’50s B-movies, German Impressionism, Bunuel and, to no one’s surprise, those same old scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s 95 years old, but still the favorite lazy visual shorthand for antiquated dystopia.


David Bowie in Moonage Daydream directed by Brett Morgen
– Credit: Courtesy of Starman Productions/Universal

Directed by Brett Morgen. With David Bowie. In Imax theaters September 16, other theaters September 23. Duration: 135 mins.


strawberry mansion

strawberry mansion
– Credit: Bulldog Film Distribution

Strawberry Mansion (12A)

***

In the bizarre and surreal future of Strawberry Mansion, our dreams are checked by the taxman.

Preble (Audley) arrives at a remote country house to audit an old lady, Bella (Fuller), who hasn’t filed a statement in years and has all her dreams stored on videotape. As he begins to travel through his dream worlds, he discovers that they contain a message and a warning for him.

Writers/directors Birney and Audley call it a $20 million fantasy made on an independent budget. It’s a nice premise that suggests creative debts to Gilliam, Gondry, and Svankmajer, among others, all delivered with a make-and-repair visual style that simply suggests debt.

A range of techniques – practical and computer-generated effects; hand-drawn animation and stop motion – are used, with a range of results. Partly because it includes lots of talking animals or humans with animal heads, it often feels like a weird, forgotten children’s movie from an alternate reality. Still, there’s something quite endearing about his chintzy, chintzy eccentricity, and perhaps he’s destined to create a cult following, albeit a very selective one.

Directed by Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley. With Penny Fuller, Kentucker Audley, Grace Glowicki, Linas Phillips, Constance Shulman and Reed Birney. In theaters and on demand. Duration: 91 mins.


Clerk III

Clerk III
– Credit: Lionsgate Films

Clerk III (15)

***

Almost 30 years after the original Clerks, Kevin Smith visits Dante, (Halloran) Randall, (Anderson) and the rest of the original cast to see how they’re doing. It turns out, not so well. They still work at the same convenience store they’ve been stuck in for the past three decades, and Randall is about to survive a heart attack that forces them both to reevaluate their priorities and their lives.

III is very much a fan-only effort, and you’ll have to feel lenient about it. Where Clerks II was a confident and assured return, it struggles to rekindle the old magic. He is hampered by the limited acting abilities of most lead actors. Halloran’s Dante has become a Syd Little-type straight man, and the montage exposes this by repeatedly cutting him for tense reaction shots.

There are laughs to be had, but the meta-plot that has them making a movie about their lives, much like the original Clerks, is a bit of a dead end. But Smith can still fashion a sharp pop culture observation, like the description of the “grumpy, Gran Torino Luke Skywalker from Last Jedi.”

Directed by Kevin Smith. With Brian Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes, Jennifer Schwalbach, Kevin Smith and Rosario Dawson. Operating time: 100 mins.


Clerk III

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith in Clerks III
– Credit: Lionsgate Films

Go to www.halfmanhalfcritic.com/ for a review of the CultFilms Blu-ray release of Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman.

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