IMAX

Moonage Daydream

20/09/22

Cineworld IMAX, Edinburgh

Anyone expecting a straightforward biography of the late David Bowie is in for a surprise. Brett Morgan’s art film (I hesitate to use the word ‘documentary’) is as experimental as anything I’ve seen in a very long while, a pulsing kaleidoscopic collection of vivid images and found footage, propelled by some of the most memorable rock songs ever committed to acetate.

In its peculiar way, it’s as elusive and enigmatic as its subject.

I was twenty when I first heard The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, already a little too old to be completely captivated by his androgynous alter ego, but it’s here that the film opens – with Bowie at the height of his fame, pursued everywhere by adoring fans, working-class kids doing their level best (and mostly failing) to appropriate his ‘look’. We learn only a little about his earliest years and there’s no mention of the infamous Angie, to whom he was married for a tumultuous decade. Morgan prefers to let the music do the talking, while the screen explodes with a myriad visual references: the films; the books; the paintings; the actors; the locations that influenced Bowie, that made him what he became – a rock chameleon, inhabiting a whole series of different personae, constantly reinventing ways to take an audience by surprise.

Viewed on the IMAX screen, the result is immersive, hypnotic, even overwhelming at times and, on the few occasions when Bowie is allowed to deliver an entire song, I’m thrilled by how contemporary it sounds. Of course his gender-fluidity was way ahead of the curve, but so too was the music, visiting places where few others dared to tread. And his presence here seems predominantly to be that of the wanderer, always on the move, visiting an endless list of new locations, always on the lookout for what can be assimilated into his ‘new’ sound. It’s interesting to note that it’s only when he finds happiness (through his marriage to Iman) that his music finally begins to lose its dangerous edge.

Some will find this too much of an assault on the senses, but for my money it serves as a fitting – and long overdue – tribute to one of the most remarkable performers in music history. And those who choose to come along simply to hear his best songs performed in Dolby stereo won’t be disappointed.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Ad Astra

22/09/19

Imagine, if you will, that in Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard’s journey takes him not upriver to the dark heart of Vietnam, but out across the cosmos, to the Moon, Mars and ultimately Neptune – and you’ll have the essence of Ad Astra, a story about a son’s hazardous search for his lost father.

Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut famed for his self-control. In the film’s hair-raising opening sequence, he survives a terrifying near-death experience without so much as a discernible rise in his heart rate. But, capable though he undoubtedly is, that reserve has cost him his relationship with Eve (a barely glimpsed Liv Tyler), and he still suffers from the loss of his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), a pioneering space explorer last seen approaching Neptune and long presumed dead.

But, when a series of catastrophic power surges threatens the very existence of the universe, evidence emerges that Clifford might still be very much alive out there and, what’s more, he may have caused those power surges. Roy is given a thankless mission: to head out to Jupiter to reunite with his father and, if he can, to save the world from destruction (so no pressure there).

Director James Gray (who helmed the much-underrated Lost City of Z) has created a fascinating and original slice of science fiction. The film somehow manages to balance ravishing planet-scapes and nail-biting action set-pieces with slower, more cerebral stretches, concentrating on Roy’s internal conflict as that legendary self-control starts to break down. It’s a long journey and an eventful one, taking in a colonised moon with branches of Virgin Atlantic and Starbucks, an eerily silent space-buggy chase and, best of all, a sequence where Roy has to make a forced entry onto a spaceship, seconds before it blasts off from its launch pad.

As his quest progresses, he is increasingly confronted with a terrible realisation – that his long-missed father might not be quite the hero that Roy has always believed him to be. Pitt does an extraordinary job in the lead role, managing to emote so much from behind a permanently impassive mask; it’s probably a career-best performance from him and one that may well get a nod at next year’s Oscars.

That said, Ad Astra is surely destined to be a marmite movie. Those who turn up expecting a rollicking space adventure are in for a severe disappointment. Those seeking something more meaningful, however, are likely to have a very good time with this, particularly those who opt for the eyepopping majesty of an IMAX screening

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney