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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Masked and Anonymous
Masked and Anonymous
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // February 20, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 9, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Jeff Bridges (starting off looking like his "Dude" character, from "The Big Lebowski"), Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Laura Elena Harring, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater, Fred Ward. These are only some of the cast members you'll find in director Larry Charles's "Masked and Anonymous", which seemed to attract cast members like bees to honey thanks to one name in the cast: Bob Dylan.

Written by Dylan and Charles (but credited to Sergei Petrov & Rene Fontaine, either due to embarassment about how bad the dialogue is or as some sort of twisted joke), Dylan stars as aging folk singer Jack Fate, pulled out of some sort of third-world prison in what appears to be some sort of futuristic, war-torn, post-apocalyptic America. He's taken out of prison by Nina Veronica (Lange) and sleazy concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart (Goodman), who want stage a benefit concert for medical aid, or maybe not.

"Maybe, or maybe not" is a good way to describe most scenes in "Masked and Anonymous", a film that really seemed to make little sense. Scenes seem like some sort of bad trip, with cast members sputtering lines that sound as if they've been improvised while on drugs and acting as if everything was completely one take and unrehearsed. Almost completely disjointed, the picture remains more a series of little episodes. Meanwhile, Dylan occasionally wanders into the scene, says line or two, stares quietly, and generally plays what seems to be himself.

To put it simply, this is possibly the weirdest, most incomprehensible picture I think I've ever seen. The only thing that made it somewhat involving, for me at least, was how puzzling it was. I've read that Charles was attempting to make a film that resembled a Dylan song. I thought at first maybe Charles was trying for an abstract piece or some sort of commentary, but the dialogue seemed too clumsy and the assembly of it all too messy. Maybe Terry Gilliam could have made something great out of all of this, but Charles has not.

Part of me wondered if there really was a screenplay, and if there was, whether or not any of the actors actually read it, or whether they got "Punk'd" by Charles and Dylan. The only genuinely good performance in the film, I felt, was by Luke Wilson, who turns in a surprisingly sincere and enjoyable performance as Fate's former roadie, who leaves his bartending job to bring the singer his old guitar. Wilson's character seemed to be the only normal one in a film full of cartoonish or forced performances.

If there's anything positive about the film, it would be the handful of on-screen musical performances by Dylan, which are terrific and certainly more capably filmed than most of the rest of the movie (I wish the DVD had a "music only" option.) The soundtrack is also enjoyable, including a series of Dylan covers/remixes of the singer's tunes. Stick with the soundtrack instead.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Masked and Anonymous" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on digital video, the picture has a rather subdued appearance and certainly doesn't look as slick as some of the other DV-shot films in recent years. Sharpness and detail are a bit all-over-the-place, seemingly more a fault of the filmmakers than the transfer. Sharpness and detail are generally pretty satisfactory, but some scenes look noticably softer.

Although detail is a bit of an issue, there really wasn't much else amatter with the presentation. Slight edge enhancement was present in a couple of scenes, but it was hardly noticable. No compression artifacts were present, while the element used was in excellent condition, with no debris or wear. The film's color palette is inconsistent, but seemed well-rendered, with no smearing or other issues.

SOUND: "Masked and Anonymous" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in Dolby Digital 5.1. Overall, this isn't that much of a soundtrack, largely dialogue-driven. However, during the performances, things open up considerably, with the surrounds kicking in to provide effective, enjoyable reinforcement of the soundtrack. The front speakers also provide a wide soundstage, with the instrumentals and vocals distinctly and clearly heard. Dialogue also seemed well-recorded throughout.

EXTRAS: "Masked and Anonymous" writer/director Larry Charles provides a full-length audio commentary, which I turned off shortly in, right after Charles stated that he thought this was a life changing and spiritual experience for the cast and crew. 5 deleted scenes are presented, including a musical performance - "Standing in the Doorway". A 15-minute "making of" documentary and trailers for "Masked and Anonymous", "My Life Without Me", "Mambo Italiano" and "Laurel Canyon" round out the DVD.

Final Thoughts: Bizarre and inaccessible, "Masked and Anonymous" just seems like a vanity project whose only bright spots are the occasional musical performances randomly scattered throughout. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers a few supplements and satisfactory audio/video quality. A rental only for interested hardcore Dylan fans.

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