Talking Movies

December 23, 2019

From the Archives: I’m Not There

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Crazy/Brilliant, that’s not an ‘either/or’ approach to this film where you’ll consider I’m Not There to be either crazy or brilliant. No, it’s ‘both/and’, this is one of the best films of 2007; yes, it features one of the craziest concepts ever to cobble together enough financing to get made but its execution is superb in every respect. To even attempt an explanation of the structure of the film would be madness as writer/director Todd Haynes does not follow chronologically the career of Bob Dylan but cross-cuts between different aspects of it. At no point is Dylan’s name mentioned, this is not a biopic, it is inspired by his music ‘and many lives’. It could have been an unholy mess but the intercutting of different actors and settings makes perfect sense in its own deranged fashion.

The story begins with Ben Whishaw as the poet Dylan answering police questions about himself and doing the whole Greenwich Village routine. A guitar-picking black kid calling himself Woody Guthrie is Dylan’s earliest hero-worshipping incarnation, he becomes Christian Bale’s uncanny impersonation of the protest singer Dylan while Heath Ledger’s mumbling actor Jack Rollins is the embodiment of the mid to late 1960s Dylan, drunk on his own fame, married but endlessly womanising and refusing to engage with the world in his songs because it can’t be changed. Richard Gere is the outlaw Dylan trying to escape into a mythical Old West while Bale returns as the late 1970s Dylan embracing evangelical Christianity. Cate Blanchett steals the acting honours by doing a tremendous version of the Dylan that toured England in 1966 and was given the hostile reception recorded in DA Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back.

Todd Haynes redeems the disastrous hash he made of depicting glam rock in Velvet Goldmine by using this demented set-up as a means to make Dylan’s songs incredibly fresh. Woody Guthrie’s early dirty blues rendition of ‘Tombstone Blues’ sets the scene for terrific use of many songs, probably the best of which is ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, which is made to seem a sarcastic attack on Bruce Greenwood’s sneering BBC journalist Mr Jones. The song is subsequently dissected by the Black Panthers for hidden meanings. That could be a metaphor for this film. Haynes has produced such a rich ensemble of performances (even minor turns like David Cross as Allen Ginsberg and Julianne Moore as Joan Baez), beautifully re-created film styles, and tremendous evocation of golden-green rural America (as well as capturing the disoriented vibe of Dylan in Britain in 1966 – the moment when the Beatles appear in a Help! pastiche is priceless) that this is a film which will repay subsequent re-watching and that should be seen by all Dylan fans, or people with any interest in pop culture, or…hell just anyone who’s awake!

5/5

From the Archives: Alvin and the Chipmunks

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This is a silly film, as almost goes without saying when discussing the adventures of a trio of singing chipmunks, but not without merit. There are some good jokes and the three chipmunks are splendidly animated and voiced. Theodore the youngest Chipmunk is unfeasibly adorable, Simon is given a number of good lines as the smart one, while the cocky Alvin is not as good as you remember from the 1980s cartoon show but does get a hilarious moment when his voice goes low after inhaling helium from a balloon. He uses this new voice to say the words “major rock stars” to their manager/songwriter/surrogate father Dave. It’s hard to not keep mentally putting a moustache on Jason Lee’s Dave Seville as he uses the exact same voice he does for his famous lead role in TV’s My Name Is Earl. Former Point Pleasant star Cameron Richardson stands around and looks pretty in a hardly written at all role as Dave’s ex-girlfriend who is assigned to cover his rise to fame in her capacity as a photo-journalist and who left him because of his inability to handle responsibility.

What’s sort of snooze-inducing about this film is its unstinting adherence to the formulaic set-up of what a kid’s flick ought to be, but then such laziness should not surprise given that the screen story was penned by Jon Vitti one of the many under-achieving writers who managed to bore us all into a coma with The Simpsons Movie. Of course the Chipmunks will win over Dave’s affections after initially sabotaging his life, of course they’ll alienate his ex-girlfriend from him and then his love for them and his willingness to take on the responsibility of being their adoptive father will win her back by showing that he’s matured. Of course they’ll fall out with him in the second act and be seduced by the dark side of fame and excess offered by ‘Uncle’ Ian, who will of course plot to drive a wedge between them and Dave which will only be solved by an intricate reconciliation/musical number in the finale.

David Cross has great fun playing record label executive Ian Hawke, a college friend of Dave who endlessly patronises him. He steals the Chipmunks away from Dave and flogs an endless amount of crummy Chipmunk merchandise while working them to exhaustion on punishing tour schedules, only keeping them going with extravagant coffees. This isn’t wonderfully written material by any means but Cross (Dr Tobias Funke on Arrested Development) makes the most of it. His final lines, cursing in Spanish before unleashing an Empire Strikes Back style bellowing ‘NOOOOOOOOO!!!!’, are almost enough to make up for the shortcomings elsewhere. This is a fun enough film that will keep kids entertained but their parents will frequently find their attention wandering.

2/5

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