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"Moonage Daydream" Blu-ray Review

January 11, 2016 was a day I dreaded for a long time. As more and more of my girlfriend's musical idols had passed away in previous years including all of the Ramones and Joe Strummer, I knew one day her biggest idol, David Bowie, would inevitably return to his home planet and that Monday was the day the news broke that he'd passed the day before from liver cancer, merely two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar. That was a rough phone call to make.

After Bowie's return to his homeworld, his estate gave filmmaker Brett Morgan (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Cobain: Montage of Heck) access to five million(!) items including painting, drawings, films, journals, etc. and officially blessed a documentary to be made with them. After five years of work comes Moonage Daydream, which completely fails as a documentary while excelling as a superfan's wet dream.

We'd intended to see it at the theater during its limited run, but word of mouth and some reviews gave us pause, calling it the cinematic version of those "Laser Pink Floyd" shows planetariums and museums would put on for stoners to trip out to the groovy lights while music blasted. Did we want to pay money for some weird meaningless trip? Eventually we decided to wait for home video and me being a good boyfriend bought the Blu-ray for her for about what a trip to the show would've run us. 

So how is it? Well, I watched it with her and a friend, both of whom are Bowie superfans. They both enjoyed it immensely because they are superfans and the wealth of new footage like Jeff Beck's appearance during the Ziggy Stardust concert which he had cut, BUT they agreed with my take that this is strictly a superfans only film because anyone who doesn't know what they're looking at will have no idea what they're looking at.

Eschewing the usual talking head format where people who knew the subject share their perspectives on the topic, Morgan has assembled a kaleidoscopic melange of images, unearthed performances and interviews, movie clips, and snippets of interviews where Bowie's unreliable narration - he frequently revised his legends over time - and Morgan's editing attempt to contextualize, recontextualize, interpret, and deconstruct his long and prolific career.

There are no training wheels for neophyte fans here. No one will go into Moonage Daydream who isn't part of the Bowie's Biggest Boosters club and emerge evangelized like how my seeing Stop Making Sense made me want to hear more Talking Heads beyond the handful of tunes I knew going in. There are no captions for where or when footage comes from, no guidance for the unbaptized. If documentaries like Edgar Wright's The Sparks Brothers suffer from "and then this happened and then this happened" linearity, Moonage Daydream is the opposite which demands of viewers to know his life very well already then shows you the deleted scenes from that knowledge.

As far as the Blu-ray presentation goes, the wildly divergent source materials make for uneven video simply due to old 16mm or television tapes making for crunchy images. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track however is loud and clear and really gives the surround channels a workout. My receiver's Neural:X upmatrixing gave a psuedo-Atmos effect that compensates for the Atmos mix being reserved for the Region B UK release.  

On the extras front, there ain't any other than the film's trailer. No commentary, no deleted scenes, nada. Considering the mountains of material Morgan had to cull from, this is a disappointment.

 Too often I wonder who the intended audience of some films are and this applies to Moonage Daydream as well. Bowie had fans of varying levels of intensity for five decades, but this film seems only for the hardest of hardcore aficionados. If your interest peaked with 1983's Let's Dance and you vaguely remember that there was some song talking about Major Tom being a junkie or us being heroes, then this is NOT the movie for you. At all. 

Instead go watch the documentaries David Bowie - Five Years which came out in 2013 and covered his post-Ziggy reinventions and David Bowie: The Last Five Years which was released posthumously in 2017 and covered his surprise unretirement and final two albums, The Next Day and Blackstar as well as the stage show Lazarus based on the latter. You'll actually learn a lot from those.

But if you're an uber-super-duper-mega-hardest core fanatic about all things Bowie, you'll find stuff to enjoy here and its sensory overload presentation almost makes repeat viewings necessary. Freak out, indeed.

Score: 6/10. Skip it if you're a casual Bowie listener; catch it on cable if you're a more in-depth fan; buy it if you're a mega-fan.

"Smile" Review

 I'm not a big horror movie fan; it's more the girlfriend's thing. It just doesn't interest me much and what I've seen lately like the last two Halloween debacles hasn't improved its standing in my eyes. But after she tapped out of Black Adam after about two minutes, we were looking for something to watch and the horror sleeper hit of 2022, Smile ($214M global gross for a $17M budget, though that seems high for what it is), was available. 

Smile had a brilliant viral marketing campaign where they placed actors behind home plate at baseball games who sat their smiling weirdly and generally freaking out audiences. "What's the deal with those smiling people?!?" was all the buzz and it hyped up the opening weekend attendance, but why did it have legs? So I decided to take one for the team and see what's popular with the masses and two hours later, I have to say the masses just need to start mailing their cash to me because they have no taste in movies.

Smile is about Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon, daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick), a overworked psychiatrist whose encounter with a disturbed woman (Caitlin Stasey) whose art history professor had committed suicide with a hammer(!!) in front of her ends with the woman freaking out and slicing her throat while creepily smiling.

In the aftermath, Rose begins to have hallucinations of....something threatening her, sometimes horrific apparitions, sometimes people she knows who are telling her she's going to die (rude!) and smiling at her. Her fiance (Jessie T. Usher) and boss (Kal Penn) think she's losing her marbles, but her ex-boyfriend and cop, Joel (Kyle Gallner), helps her investigate which leads to the discovery that the woman and her professor were the latest links in a chain of gruesome suicides where each victim was a witness to a previous suicide. Will Rose be able to break the chain?

There are multiple problems with Smile beyond the fact its core premise is a mashup of It Follows and The Ring. With few exceptions the performances are all subpar and Bacon is particularly one-note, though she's not given much to do by the thin script by writer-director Parker Finn expanding from his short film Laura Can't Sleep. Speaking of expanding, clocking in at nearly two hours it's easily a half-hour too long which is lethal considering how little is done with the time. 

Rather than set Rose up as a fairly balanced woman and establish a baseline to decline from, we instead are introduced to a woman already not in a great place so her descent doesn't seem as steep as we're meant to feel. The rush to get that inciting suicide in puts everything subsequent in its shadow so it's all rushed up front than slows down massively. Almost every plot twist is predictable and even the jump scares are telegraphed. The unsatisfactory ending clearly intended to set up a sequel which no one will care about makes it all a waste of viewers time.

Afterwards I asked the missus whether all horror movies are this stupid and she said pretty much, though this was supposedly better than the heavily hyped Barbarian, which she found underwhelming. As for Smile, my verdict is is 🙁.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Slumberland" 4K Review

 As the culture wars poison everything that used to be fun in the world, the disconnect between what critics and the unwashed masses enjoy or dislike seems to be growing farther apart as movies that critics applaud because they tickle their woke spots have vastly more negative ratings from viewers (who are dismissed as "toxic trolls review bombing out of bigotry"; the all-purpose excuse for bad movies these days) and vice versa as critics hate on movies for the crime of just being entertaining and the rabble enjoy being entertained.

Such as it goes with this weekend's Big Netflix Movie, Slumberland, starring Jason Momoa in a family-friendly adaptation of the classic comic Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, which I haven't read and whose critic fans really hate this movie for not being as good as. Looking now, post viewing, I see it's showing a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics an 88% from fans. Since there's no political aspect to it, those excuses don't fly - it's just that critics are jaded miserable folks who want every movie to be kale? Pretty much. ("Aren't you a critic, Dirk?" you may ask? Shut up and read.) Since the missus loves her some Momo, I was roped into watching it, too.

 Slumberland opens with a prologue introducing us to Nemo (Marlow Barkley) who lives with her father, Peter (Kyle Chandler), in a lighthouse. He is a kind man who dotes on his daughter, telling her fantastical bedtime stories of his wild outlaw adventures in his younger single days with a partner named Flip, so you know he's not long for this world and movie and, yep, that emergency call he went out on the boat for during a storm kills him.

Since Nemo's mother died when she was a baby (because this always works for Disney), her sole relative is her uncle Philip (Chris O'Dowd), a wealthy doorknob salesman who has a nice large apartment that is sterile and cold-feeling. He was long-estranged from his brother (for reasons that are explained over time) and very awkward about this new responsibility - he has to Google "how to raise a child" - but he enrolls her in a posh prep school and genuinely tries to caretake her. 

Sad and lonely in this new life, Nemo falls asleep one night and is awakened when her stuffed pig, named Pig (because creativity is dead), comes to life as does her bed which smashes out her high window and walks her down the street (to the notice of no one) and then swims her to the lighthouse. (She seems weirdly chill about the whole situation, too.)

Upon arrival, she finds the lighthouse ransacked and discovers Flip (Momoa, playing it like a kiddie version of Beetlejuice), a wild satyr-like fellow with ram's horns and twitchy ears and feet, who is searching for a map of the world of dreams where he hopes to find magic pearls that can grant wishes. He demands she give it to him, but she has no idea what he's talking about. Luckily, the next night Pig unearths the map from a storage box from the lighthouse and she returns to Slumberland demanding to team up with Flip on the quest so she can get a pearl to bring back her father.

 So the odd couple proceed to trek through other people's fantastical CGI-enhanced dreams, seeking doors to the next dream that leads to their goal, all while being chased by "dream cop" (because calling them Dream Police would require paying Cheap Trick) Agent Green (Weruche Opia in a giant Pam Grier Afro wig) who wants to lock up Flip for general miscreant behavior.

 While a tad long at two hours even, Slumberland is an enjoyable fantasy lark filled with bright visuals, some occasionally above-average humor, and anchored by good performances from its three leads. Barkley avoids the annoying precocious brat trap; O'Dowd balances his deeply repressed psyche and eventual evolution (though I figured out his twist long before the movie got around to it); and Momoa is clearly having a blast as Flip with his dad bod gut and wacky antics.

Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games sequels, I Am Legend, Constantine) brings visual panache and whimsy to proceedings and manages to balance the elements of grief, adventure, comedy, and sadness without getting too kiddie, too adult, too dark and scary, or too slight and silly. Glancing at other reviews, it appears other critics wanted it to be more like The Sandman than Candyland, because heaven forbid children get a break from having liberal doom, gloom, misery, and confusion pounded into them.

 While Slumberland is likely for many to be another one of Netflix's endless parade of streamed and forgotten movies like that one with The Rock and Deadpool and Wonder Woman doing something or the other one from the Avengers directors with Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling trying to kill each other for some reason which cost over $400 million combined to produce, it's a fine enough escape from the sad realities of the world today to a place made for mindless fun. 

For the home theater enthusiast, it's a good showcase of Dolby Vision and Atmos audio which really make the colors pop and the milieu aurally surround you from all directions. Netflix sucks because they're the only service that limits 4K content to their most expensive ($20) plan when every other service includes it gratis, but at least you can see what you're paying for.

Score: 7/10. Watch it.

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