It boasts one of the biggest Hollywood casts ever assembled, was co-written by one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century and directed by Seinfeld alumni Larry Charles, who went on to make blockbuster mockumentaries Borat and Bruno. And yet virtually nobody saw -- or even heard of -- 2003's strikingly weird apocalyptic spectacle Masked and Anonymous. The oddness surrounding virtually every facet of its production helps explain why.
According to the credits at the time of release, Masked and Anonymous was written by Sergei Petrov and Rene Fontaine. It was later revealed that the writers were actually Charles and the performer who plays the film's protagonist, a mumbling gritty-voiced troubadour named Jack Fate. That performer is none other than Bob Dylan, who over the years has dabbled in the cinematic medium with generally unflattering results, notably as a wooden supporting actor in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and the star/director of the befuddling Renaldo and Clara(1978).
Masked and Anonymous is set in a futuristic America ravaged by crime and destitution. Fate, who has spent many years in the slammer for reasons eventually unravelled, is released on the condition that he plays at a benefit concert to alleviate the financial woes of a sweaty fat cat (John Goodman) and his business partner (Jessica Lange). In addition to Goodman and Lange the film stars Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Penn, Cheech Marin, Mickey Rourke, Angela Bassett, Ed Harris (in blackface) and others. That's one hell of a cast.
The most simplistic answer to the question of why Masked and Anonymous almost immediately sunk into obscurity is that it wasn't very good, at least according to the consensus of the small pocket of critics who actually saw it. I found the film fascinatingly bizarre, with a jaunty concert rhythm (the soundtrack is comprised of international covers of Dylan tracks plus some fresh renditions from the man himself). It's a messy and ambitious one-of-a-kind littered with dialogue that bounces back and forth like a verbal intellectual tennis match and occasionally opens up into long, sprawling philosophical monologues. It's also a must see for Dylan fans who don't mind -- or better yet, even love -- his smokey frog-belching-into-a-cup voice.
There are some stunning self-contained moments, my favourite an interaction between Dylan and Val Kilmer in which the title of the film is explained -- or at least eluded to. In a short but memorable performance, Kilmer rambles to Bobby D about the nature of human existence in the context of vanity, ambition, delusion and estrangement from Mother Nature. It's quite something.
** this post was originally published on Cinetology
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Every actor is allowed a rotten egg from time to time but Murphy is way, way over his quota and the trailer for Imagine That (from Over the Hedge director Karey Kirkpatrick) suggests he isn’t wizening up or scaling back on schmaltz any time soon. In it Murphy plays Evan, a struggling advertising executive who revives his career not by working harder or better but by embracing his young daughter’s imaginary world and somehow using it to enhance his work. The voiceover man shamelessly announces that “he’s about to get some help from the last person he ever imagined” (sigh) and the premise appears to kick into gear once Evan submits documents to his boss that have been defaced with doodles from his daughter, replete with predictions that certain companies are “going to get married.” Instead of showing him the door, Evan’s boss incredibly asks “how did you know about this impending marriage? Where are you getting this information?” Evidently Evan’s daughter’s imaginary friend is also a prophetic corporate insider. Evidently corporate mergers are now known as “marriages.”
The voiceover man continues his saccharine salesmanship ramble with “imagine that the magic you’ve been looking for is right before your eyes!” while Everlasting Love jingles on the soundtrack and, pe-eww, the audience are given a mounting list of reasons to stay away from Imagine That – including scenes depicting Murphy falling over in various assumedly hilarious ways, i.e. on a ice skating rink (no points for originality) and out of a window and onto a trampoline. Movie trailers have always been more about selling a product than enabling the public to make educated decisions, but in its defence this trailer (watch it below) does provide education of sorts. The lesson reads, in very large letters, BUYER BEWARE.
Check out this picture from the book:
Now check out the film poster:
Going by what we can see of the huge furry creature, it looks like Ludo from Labyrinth. Evidently he/she/it is a little too large for a Happy Meal tie-in: as rumour has it, McDonalds scotched a huge marketing deal after the filmmakers demanded the creature should be at least the size of a regular thickshake.
Remember you read it here first people. And for a very good reason: I made it up.
With three Spider-Man movies under his belt – and a fourth on the way – director Sam Raimi revisits his horror roots for Drag Me to Hell, an old school ‘curse’ movie about a pretty loan manager who finds herself on the wrong side of a geriatric woman with a bung eye, a bad temper and a direct line to hell.
The trailer is now online (see Youtube clip below) and suggests this may be Raimi’s rather caricatural commentary on the banks: protagonist Christine (Alison Lohman) badly wants a promotion but needs to prove to her bank manager that she’s “perfectly capable of making the tough decisions.” So Christine knocks back a loan extension application from a desperate elderly lady, who responds not by complaining to the ombudsman but by placing a curse on her: a demon will come and torment Christine for three days and then escort her downstairs to burn in hell for eternity. If I had these kind of powers, I’d curse all the people who stymie the flow of traffic on escalators by standing still on the right-hand side (it’s keep left unless overtaking, you jerks). Impressively, Drag Me to Hell looks like it could conceivably be a worse movie than Spider-Man 3 – though admittedly that seems unlikely – but kudos to the trailer editors (and the filmmakers) for segueing so audaciously from sterile bank offices to full-blown supernatural slosh. Given one of the commonly identified causes of the global financial downturn is the approval of bad loans, Raimi's latest is sure to offer some fascinating commentary.
Perverse polemics and voluminous violence - a Turkey that aint no turkey (film review: Turkey Shoot)
On the weekend I finally caught up with the classic Ozploitation movie Turkey Shoot. It was made in '82 by cult director Brian Trenchard-Smith, whose credits include Dead-End Drive In, The Man From Hong Kong and BMX Bandits. Turkey Shoot has a reputation for being one of Australian cinema's most ferociously deranged cult films, so naturally I had to see it. The verdict: thumbs up. Read my review over at In Film Australia.