Florida Times-Union — The first thing music fans will notice in watching Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home is that Dylan is talking.
On camera. In person.
Chatty, conversational, mischievous. Funny, even.
For longtime Dylanphiles, this is sort of like J.D. Salinger doing a signing at Barnes & Noble.
Only Dylan knows what’s compelled him to embark on this recent surge of self-revelation, which includes last fall’s best-selling memoir Chronicles: Volume I, and a coffee-table book of bric-a-brac that’s been released to accompany the film, but one thing’s for sure: It’s not to definitively clear the cobwebs out of the dusty and more impenetrable corners of the Bard’s psyche.
If anything, the black-clad Dylan who stars here does more of his pathologically addictive dance, dropping hints about truths, then stepping back to distance himself from anything too revealing. Of his early development, Dylan rasps, “Well, it didn’t happen in any of the ways I read about.” A great answer, if you’re John Roberts.
Peppered with many rare and previously unearthed live performances, home demos and session work (though none presented in complete form, unless you buy the DVD, where you’ll find some in the bonus materials), No Direction Home sticks to the period between Dylan’s 1961 arrival in Greenwich Village through his uncomfortable deification by the folk-rock establishment and ending with the 1966 motorcycle accident that kept him off the road and holed up in upstate New York for eight years. It’s bookended by his legend-building performance in Manchester, England — what was long mislabeled in bootlegs as the “Royal Albert Hall” concert — the second-most-famous of his chaotic “electric” performances and the gig where bitter, confused fans stung the singer with cries of “traitor!” and “Judas!”
On those bootlegs, such vitriolic bullets sounded as though they were spat on stage; in the film, they’re almost played as punchlines to a media/fan/counterculture machine that had gotten totally out of hand. “To be on the side of people struggling against something doesn’t mean you’re political,” he says, introducing With God on Our Side, and the movie, like Dylan or anyone, leaves the issue dangling of what a “protest song” is and whether he ever wrote one anyway.
Manchester is the main course of Scorsese’s film, the apex in which the evolution of Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., (where Dylan plays down his youth by claiming “it was too cold to be bad”) into some folk-rock Jesus reaches its most absurd, and, according to Scorsese’s storytelling, damning point. The 1966 Dylan bristles at angry, take-take-take fans. He dryly jousts with combative and comically square reporters, many of whom speak in 1950s-propaganda-movie voices and can be easily imagined wearing short-sleeved buttoned-up shirts — the most fantastic example of which is a Swedish guy who admits to having “never heard him sing.”
And he reflexively builds up an ironic-but-uncomfortable line of defense at a nutty state that his then-drummer, Mickey Jones, ably sums up: “Here was someone who everybody loved, and they didn’t like what he was doing. And they were showing it.” (“How can they buy tickets up so fast?” Dylan wonders, not entirely jokingly.) Modern-day Dylan regards it all in hindsight with a detached demurring, but what else would you expect?
What begins as a biographical walk through New York’s folk/beat/hippie scene in Part 1 turns into something more tragic, and Scorsese and Dylan both making the point that when Dylan was christened as a savior, he grew instantly weary of the ludicrousness of it and fled pretty literally into the hills.
There are other telling quotable nuggets scattered throughout — such as Dylan’s claims that “very few of my [ideal performances] could be found on any of my records” and that he still considers his mates in the Band “gallant knights” for their loyalty on those electric shows.
But if there’s any truth, any moral to be found here, it’s how impossibly huge Dylan got, despite what appear to be herculean efforts to the contrary, and how it visibly turned his original resolve into a pathological need for change (and may help explain what he’s doing on Victoria’s Secret commercials now). Moreover, No Direction Home shows us the beginning chapters of what’s turned into drooling celebrity culture being written, intercut with clips of Dylan and Johnny Cash harmonizing on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and the jarring shift between purity and noise is telling and scary to watch.
But as with all Dylan lore, that truth is shifting, amorphous, written in comically overlapping fashion by the thousands upon thousands of folks who have either been part of the story, or claimed to. The best evidence of this is the 1965 Newport Folk Festival segment, wherein Pete Seeger, and a half-dozen folks who aren’t Pete Seeger, recount the story in which Seeger was rumored to threaten to hack Bob’s electric cords to pieces with an axe. (For his part, Dylan doesn’t even seem to have figured it out entirely.)
The various tales are stacked up like planes landing at an airport, never making any sense, really. But they’re note-perfect indicators of how history and hand-me-downs have clouded the Dylan myth, fueled not least of all by the man himself, who’s never done a thing to quash it. In a couple of glinting expressions glimpsed by the camera, Dylan seems to enjoy offering no closure. This many years into a career of incalculable influence, there’s probably no definitive Dylan tale to tell, and the words of Bob himself don’t get us any nearer to a gospel truth. But Scorsese and No Direction Home have come about as close as anyone ever has.
Florida Times-Union — The Island is this summer’s second Ewan McGregor movie about clones, but there’s one big departure from Star Wars: In this one, he gets to emote!
Then again, since The Island is directed by Michael Bay, the auteur behind dialogue-driven indie flicks such as The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, most of that emoting is of the yelling-while-plummeting-off-a-skyscraper variety, with a little bit of the screaming-while-being-chased-by-helicopters variety and a small dash of the hollering-during-a-shootout-in-a-train-station variety.
A logic-free shoot-’em-up masquerading as a Matrix knockoff, The Island takes a slick idea and quickly scuttles it under action cliches — it’s the kind of movie that says: Why have a guy just fall, when you can him fall into a very large wine rack? As with anything Bay, it has plot holes the size of hot-air balloons, but the good sense to, if one of those holes becomes too obvious, blow up some cars.
Set in the near future, The Island kicks off with a neat hook: A legion of developmentally stunted white-clad drones work methodically in a self-contained colony that, they’re told, has been sealed off from an outside world that’s been “contaminated.” Their moods are monitored, their gruel-heavy diet is controlled and they toil in the hopes of being sent to “the island,” a futuristic Margaritaville you can only get to by winning a lottery.
But if you’ve ever read more than three pages of sci-fi, you know that winning a lottery is never, ever a good thing. Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) is suspicious of the whole place, especially when his crush, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), becomes a lucky powerball winner.
And though Lincoln’s every step is tracked, he gets “proximity warnings” every time he spends more than 14 seconds with Jordan and his urine is always scanned for quality, he manages to sneak around long enough to uncover the truth about the place: Evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean, overdoing it) is growing extra humans that he harvests for parts for his rich clients. “You guys are just replacement engines on their Bentleys,” the “insurance policies” are told.
Bay sets it up nicely, and for a minute, he even lets you hope that The Island might be gearing up to make a statement on stem-cell research, or maybe the ethical limits of science or the fundamental nature of humanity. And then he punts the action outside to L.A. and stages a brain-rattlingly loud car chase.
From then on, there’s nothing you won’t see coming a mile down the turnpike. Action set pieces whiz by in flurries of jump-cut confusion (in many of the schizophrenic fistfights, Bay has to put glasses on one of his competitors so audiences have a fighting chance at knowing who’s punching what). Clone Lincoln seeks out his “sponsor,” Real Tom Lincoln, who, surprisingly, owns a very fast car. Steve Buscemi plays Steve Buscemi. Djimon Hounsou adds class as an assassin hired by Merrick to track down the “product,” but there’s never much drama about which side he’ll end up on.
And, sure, this isn’t the sort of thing that demands a lot of logic, but come on: There’s only one Tom Lincoln in 2019 L.A.? How does Clone Lincoln know how to handle a flying motorcycle, or, for that matter, a car, or, for that matter, his shoelaces? Who’s handling security in this bunker so badly that Lincoln gets to go play with a butterfly when he feels like it? And what of the clones? There’s a fascinating story to tell about the events right before the closing credits, but Bay pathologically steers clear of philosophizing, probably because that would require talking scenes.
Oh well. Johansson looks great at all times, although McGregor, as he did in Star Wars, totally mutes his natural roguishness for some reason (until the clones hook up with ultra-rich Real Tom, who’s a kick).
But you can’t help but get the feeling that 10 years ago, in the pre-Independence Day age, this would have been the summer blockbuster. This summer, scuttled at the end of July and without half the buzz of the Sith or the Batman, The Island is destined to be quickly wiped from your memory.
Florida Times-Union — Not that there was ever much doubt, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s take on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is completely nuts.
It’s too nuts sometimes, and not quite nuts enough in others. But fans looking for Burton’s new-era-Seuss madness and Depp’s nuttiness will go home quite happy, their eyes taffy-pulled as much as Mike Teavee’s body.
Charlie — not a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, Depp has stressed, but a more faithful take on the Roald Dahl book — still stands as one of children’s literature’s weirdest brain-scrambles. With its demented protagonist, roster of unpleasant kids and rather detached take on child welfare, it’s sort of a version of Seven with way, way more marshmallows.
But it’s exactly that monstrous dark side that makes it the perfect playground for Burton, who rises and sleeps with this sort of glistening madness, and Depp, who, since his pitch-perfect, Oscar-nominated turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, knows he can make big studios pay for as much bizarro behavior as he wants.
What he gets away with is an uneven but pathologically watchable man-child who ends up proving more psychologically bruised than the wild-eyed nutcase dialed up by Wilder (and often not far from Depp and Burton’s tremblingly innocent Edward Scissorhands).
The Michael Jackson parallels pretty much jump off the screen: Depp’s Wonka lives in his own sealed universe, talks like a 14-year-old, has Mary Tyler Moore’s hair, wears Victorian clothing, gives in to fits of inappropriate giggles and is seemingly completely unprepared for life with other humans. Part of Wonka’s twisted outlook is explained in flashbacks involving Wonka’s father, played by horror vet Christopher Lee, and though I’m not the movie expert here, I can definitively say that Lee has come up with American cinema’s best-ever pronunciation of the word “caramels.”
Depp’s a hoot to watch, even if something about his mood swings — sometimes mysteriously dark, sometimes garishly innocent — never quite gels.
At least until a ragged new ending, the story remains the same: Penniless Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Depp’s sad-eyed co-star in Finding Neverland) scores one of the prized Golden Tickets that grants him and his kindly grandfather (David Kelly) a one-day tour of the candy recluse’s castle (“Everything in here is eat-able!” cries Depp. “I’m even eat-able!”).
The other winners are the unforgivably gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz, who does not appear without chocolate on his mug), bratty Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), ultra-competitive Violet Beauregard (Annasophia Robb) and Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), who’s been upgraded from a couch potato to a connoisseur of violent video games. As the tour goes on, each repugnant little mutt ends up suffering a comically gruesome fate, which is followed, without fail, by a dance number.
Needless to say, the film doesn’t really rev up until the gang gets to Wonka’s factory. And if the ’71 film had a dark undercurrent, this one parades its weirdness, and it becomes a careening boat-ride of fantastical contraptions, bizarre back rooms and production numbers by the Oompa Loompas, who have been shrunk to 2 feet tall, are all played by actor Deep Roy and walk off with every scene and dance number they’re in (especially the funk one).
Still, for all their arty giddiness, the scenes in the factory, and the final act, struggle to find their mood, and Burton, as he does, hints at more darkness than he ends up being comfortable providing. Where Wilder had a terminal glint of mischief in his eye, Burton lets Depp hint at nefarious, possibly pre-conceived intentions that are never quite explained. (Burton pulls his punches, too — in the Oompa Loompas’ first production number, they assure the gaping throng that “Augustus Gloop will not be harmed”). And there’s the matter of the show-closing semi-sweet Lesson, which is as clamped on as Lessons get.
But, like Charlie Bucket says, candy isn’t supposed to have a point, and this movie isn’t either. And when Burton and Depp are left to frolic in their own gooey playground, they serve up a nutty, creamy, fizzy factory that’s too weird to have possibly come from anyone else.