1. These self-conscious cameos do nothing but take viewers out of the world Charles and his team have so ingeniously created as do the inside jokes and Dylan quotes that pepper the cross-talk and background scenery.
2. He's made a film that for all of its references to his discography and career winds up being as elliptical as its elusive star.
3. And Cheech Marin and Christian Slater and Giovanni Ribisi!
4. Occasionally Fate and his musicians break into the tight lyrical renditions of the endless repertoire they've been performing of late giving viewers and fans respite from the talky hyperactive goings-on backstage.
5. What Masked and Anonymous is about is something of a mystery although religion politics sex war and the wages of fame might be a start.
6. With his vintage country-western suit his odd shuffling trot and Clifton Webb mustache he's still a timeless and transfixing performer whether he's uttering one in a series of gnomic pronouncements or engaging in the punning cornball humor that he favors in his stage patter.
7. A worthy work of art or an inside-Hollywood vanity production more along the lines of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World?
8. Primarily it's about Bob Dylan who as in his past screen appearances isn't an actor here as much as a presence.
9. Voice of a generation or Victoria's Secret shill?
10. Which also happens to be the appropriate response to so many questions about the film's star muse and driving creative force.
11. In an indeterminate future the country is in the throes of a corrupt revolution that itself is in the midst of an anxious transition.
12. Christian or Jew?
13. It's here that Charles a longtime TV director making his feature debut seems to lose control of the production; with its cardinal themes of race and cultural history and its densely layered plots and characters you can't help wondering what Masked and Anonymous would have become in the hands of say John Sayles.
14. Most happily he meets up with a Jack Fate cover band -- called what else Simple Twist of Fate -- which comprises the prodigious real-life musicians Dylan has been touring with in recent years: Tony Garnier George Receli Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton.
15. What exactly is Masked and Anonymous?
16. That distance isn't helped by the purposely dense script which is at once overburdened by endless self-important chatter and a pervading sense of ennui.
17. If Masked and Anonymous is a vanity production that's not necessarily a problem -- Dylan fans are always grateful for the chance to pin their protean idol to the velvet for a closer look.
18. As Fate prepares for his performance he crosses paths with all manner of desperadoes hucksters true friends and one Tom Friend (Jeff Bridges) a journalist whose inane questions and prying insinuations might have been modeled on the subject of Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man.
19. Is Bob Dylan a prophet or a seeker?
20. The woman in charge of broadcasting the concert on television is a high-strung producer named Nina Veronica (Jessica Lange) a direct descendant of Faye Dunaway's character in Network whose hobbies are smoking and busting men in the nether regions.
21. Does he want to spurn those who still look to him for answers after four decades?
22. A biting social satire or a wrenching apocalyptic allegory?
23. Poet or showman?
24. And practically every shard of what we have thought of as the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman is on hand in Masked and Anonymous a fascinating vexing indulgent visionary pretentious mesmerizing pop culture curio.
25. Or is he still expecting us to ask?
26. And Charles and his design team have created a stunning vivid vision of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles which has become a ragtag palimpsest of languages cultures races and shifting power groups.
27. As the film's final scene suggests the answer my friend is -- well you know.
28. And Angela Bassett and Bruce Dern and Chris Penn!
29. What's distracting and irritating about the production is the endless parade of actors who show up even for the briefest of appearances; Penelope Cruz and Luke Wilson are on hand in supporting roles but look -- there's Val Kilmer and Ed Harris and Mickey Rourke!
30. Fans hoping that Masked and Anonymous will be the Rosetta stone for Dylan's most enigmatic musings will most likely be disappointed.
31. Law has broken down morality has disintegrated people are on edge. (Particularly fabulous are the foreign-language covers of Dylan classics that compose the soundtrack from a Japanese version of My Back Pages to a Turkish singer performing One More Cup of Coffee.) Directed with uneven success by Larry Charles from an incomprehensible script that he wrote with Dylan Masked and Anonymous is a kaleidoscopic journey through America on the eve of destruction a multi-culti postmodern polyglot bazaar of greed venality violence and dispossession.
32. It's all of the above.
33. This being America it's the perfect time to put on a show.
34. ad_icon Enter Jack Fate (Dylan) a once-legendary singer who's just been released from a Mexican jail and whose sleazy manager Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman) has arranged for him to headline a benefit concert for a worthy cause mostly having to do with Uncle Sweetheart's deals.
35. He is or has been all of those things of course.
36. An oracle or a cipher-like screen for his audience's deepest projections?
37. A brilliant evocation of Americana or the solipsistic complaint of a disillusioned artist?
38. An elusive press-shy artist or a genius of self-mythology?
39. Layered both visually and aurally with the vestiges of a still-recognizable past Masked and Anonymous has a peculiarly anarchic energy and authenticity.