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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Masked and Anonymous (2003)

"As long as I keep talking, I know I'm still alive."
- Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: February 16, 2004

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Bob Dylan, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson
Other Stars: Angela Basset, Bruce Dern, Ed Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater, Chris Penn
Director: Larry Charles

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language, brief violence
Run Time: 01h:46m:26s
Release Date: February 17, 2004
UPC: 043396014435
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BB+A+ A-

DVD Review

Masked and Anonymous takes place in a fictional apocalyptic future America torn by civil war. It features the biggest cast of actors since Michael Todd's Around the World in Eighty Days including John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Luke Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Angela Basett, Giovanni Ribisi, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Ed Harris, Steven Bauer, Christian Slater, Chris Penn, Fred Ward, and Bruce Dern. It has music by Bob Dylan. Any expectations?

"How do you define war in this day and age? I don't know what they are fighting about. Do the Hindus, Arabs, Jews, Irish, Muslims, Buddhists know what they are fighting about? The last person who actually knew that was killed along time ago." -Nina Veronica

Masked and Anonymous was not well received at theaters by critics, who found the story impenetratable and the performances unendurable. It is very common that the same critics who bemoan a lack of creativity or uniqueness from the Hollywood dream machine are the first to lambast any film that attempts to step outside of the carefully defined lines of sameness that make most movie fare easily comprehended pablum. Or they might be looking for a chance to shoot a bon mot toward such an established franchise as Bob Dylan. An indie film like Masked and Anonymous would usually not receive such critical notice, but because of the names associated with it, this is far from the usual indie film. Is Masked and Anonymous a great film? Not by any stretch. Is it an interesting film? Certainly that.

Jack Fate: I ain't felt free in a long time.
Guard: Keeping people from being free is big business.
Jack Fate: I'll keep it in mind.

Dylan's career on film is a mixed bag to say the least. His film debut was as an earnest if sharp-tongued folk singer in the almost real documentary by D.A. Pennebaker, Dont Look Back. Dylan was a featured performer at The Concert for Bangladesh, brought to film, in which he was backed by George Harrison, Leon Russell, and Ringo Starr for five songs. Taking his first definitely fictional role in 1972 as Alias in Sam Peckinpaugh's Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, Dylan also created an excellent soundtrack that included one of his enduring and most recognizable songs, Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Three years later, Dylan turned up as the closing act on The Band's The Last Waltz, doing several dynamic tunes with the group as Martin Scorcese's cameras ran.

Dylan went on the road the next year and was set to make his own movie. Writer Sam Shepard and some of Pennebaker's old crew took flight with the Rolling Thunder Revue to record the concerts and improvise some scenes that featured Ronnie Hawkins as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez as Woman in White, Allen Ginsberg as The Father, Bob Neuwirth as The Masked Tortilla, and Dylan himself and his wife Sara as the title characters of Renaldo and Clara. Almost 10 years later, the concert video of Dylan live in Australia with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was released, called Hard to Handle, and then came Hearts of Fire with Bob portraying a washed-up rock star. Yikes. However, now Academy Award winner is added to his name for his win in the Best Song Category for Things Have Changed on the Wonderboys soundtrack.

Renaldo and Clara was an attempt to create a film using non-actors in improvised situations using a loosely realized script and little or no direction, and it was certainly hit or miss...mostly miss. Ultimately, Renaldo and Clara came in at over six hours of amateurish looking film. Masked and Anonymous attempts to achieve something on the order of the same type of spontaneity using very accomplished actors. Interestingly, it is still hit or miss, with perhaps some of it saved in the editing room. The actoring is uneven, delivering some very well-conceived monologues and some hesitatingly awkward dialogue. Often seeming to be an acting exercise in which the instructor has said, "Think Bob Dylan: You are the joker and you are thief," one can only imagine the nightmarish scenes this might evoke. With these established actors who participate in Masked and Anonymous, it is less so and more so... nightmarish, I mean.

Editor: So, are you still a journalist or a novelist?
Tom Friend: It's the same thing out here.

Money is mentioned several times in director Larry Charles' commentary, and one has to think in seeing the finished film that it would simply have been better with more rehearsal. But one could only imagine the logistical nightmares of maintaining these egos on set to "practice" their lines when certainly the magic must emerge from their heads fully realized like Athena born from her father Zeus. Much of the film seems to have been shot in one take, or so Charles tells us. There is some poetry in the dialogue, but it is little and far between. More tellingly, it is the dry, sarcasm humor of certain one-liners that seem to have more impact than any soaring extended contemplations of the human condition.

Christian Slater and Chris Penn come off fairly well in their bits as disgruntled roadies. Jessica Lange, in a certain Faye Dunaway/Joan Crawford mode, hits one note as Nina Veronica in the first scene and has nowhere to go. John Goodman seems to be acting with his shoes off and has some genuine moments, but also some that will make you cringe. Luke Wilson seems out of place, Mickey Rourke unrecognizable, and the others are barely mentionable.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special treat for you this evening. Not only do we possess the Twist of Fate but we possess the cha-cha, the bugaloo and the watusi of fate: Jack Fate." -Uncle Sweetheart

The film is saved by the music, although I have not yet heard and it would be my number one question for someone involved in the decision: What's up with the dude singing the Dylan songs in Italian? However, Dylan's performances with his touring band (Larry Campbell, Charlie Sexton, Tony Garnier, George Receli) are outstanding, and the single-shot filming technique is excellent. Of course, it would be all too simple to wish that Masked and Anonymous had a drama-to-music ratio that was tilted a lot more to the music. Sometimes, when Dylan is sitting in the chair holding a guitar while yet another actor or another is spouting off about something or another, I just wish that he would lay down a little Frankie and Johnnie or Botany Bay or something, to save us from the banality of it all. Oh well.

"Sugar for sugar and salt for salt/If you go down in the flood, it will be your fault." - from the song Down in the Flood

There are some interesting moments in Masked and Anonymous that almost make one want to figure out what it all might be about. Anything with Bob Dylan's participation is going to have some interest, but no matter how they try to dress it up in the interviews... Bob can't act. There should have been a stand-in for his character. I wonder if all those Hollywood superstars would have participated if they did not have scenes with Dylan. Ultimately, this film will remain a curiosity to most film fans as kind of a freak show set to music.

"Yeah, cellulose. It's in the grass. Cows can digest it, but you can't... and neither can I." -Jack Fate

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Solid, crisp and clear video transfer in the original 1.78:1 widescreen format. There is a certain indie quality to the digital video style of the film and that comes across in the transfer as well.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Good sound transfer in the Dolby 5.1, although I must admit I expected more flash and bang. The sounds of the civil war in the background are reasonably subtle in the ambient speakers. The music sequences are up front and potent as Bob's band rocks the house on several tunes.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Larry Charles
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Pleasantly, Masked and Anonymous comes with some decent extras: a featurette, an audio commentary by the director, and deleted scenes.

Larry Charles' commentary includes some nice anecdotes, a few explanations, and he points out what some of the settings were for some of the scenes. It certainly doesn't unlock the key to what the movie means, but it certainly helps in understanding how it came to be what it is.

Masked and Anonymous Exposed (15m:33s): A self-congratulatory piece of fluff about the film that pretty much exposes the fact that most of the people working on this project had no idea what it was all about and were probably just as surprised as all of us at the result.

Deleted Scenes

"Alternate Bar Confrontation" (1m:45s): Luke Wilson with Fred Ward in a more violent version of the scene

"Jack Fate Meets the Lady in Red" (1m:13s): Bob hooks up.

"Uncle Sweetheart and the Bad Boys of Shutterbugs" (1m:49s): Story of a classic photo used by an underwear company and public decency

"Standing in the Doorway" (5m:30s): Bob sings an extra song. One has to imagine that, with Larry Charles mentioning that 22 songs were recorded for the movie, the others will end up on the CD.

"Tom Friend's Past" (3m:11s): Jeff Bridges and Penelope Cruz find some unchewed scenery.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A must for Dylan fans only, Masked and Anonymous is an experimental film that produces uneven results. However, it has interest and some good moments of music and black comedy.


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