Bonnaroo: Day 4

June 30, 2008

Having just returned from Bonnaroo — the annual 4-day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee — I felt it appropriate to give a review that went beyond bashing Kanye and praising all else. So over the next four days, I’m giving an artist-by-artist roundup of the shows I saw while surrounded by an amalgam of good people, better drugs and the best music lineup of the summer. We end today with Sunday — when the blues and bluegrass reigned supreme.


Robert Randolph’s Revival
2:45-4:15pm, That Tent

Behind My Morning Jacket, Robert Randolph played my second favorite set at Bonnaroo ’08 — managing to turn 4-minute songs into twenty-minute opuses heavy on rhythm, call-and-response breaks and swampy guitar sections. Robert brought out most of his hyper-talented family for the show, and new hits like “Diane” and “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” sounded just as funky as they do on record. The highlight, however, was ten-minutes of instrumental jamming on Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” — during which the ‘Roo crowd proved remarkably adept at remembering decades-old disco lyrics. Then came a spot-on version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” perhaps a sonic shout-out to Sunday evening superstar Robert Plant.

Jakob Dylan & the Gold Mountain Rebels
3:00-4:15pm, This Tent

If Robert Randolph knows a thing or two about keeping music in the family, Jake Dylan wrote the damn book. And if you couldn’t tell by the name of his critically-acclaimed, multiplatinum band — the Wallflowers — he’s not much of a frontman. Instead, the lesser Dylan was extremely low-key on stage, missing many chances to introduce giant ’90s hits like “One Headlight” and “Sleepwalker.” He didn’t ignore the entirety of the Wallflowers catalogue, however, playing album tracks like “Closer to You,” “Three Marlenas” and an alt-country version of “How Good It Can Get.” But any semblance of stage swagger was sorely lacking, and somehow Jake managed the slowest, saddest set on a day ruled by the blues.

Yonder Mountain String Band
3:45-5:15pm, What Stage

Though the red rocks of Colorado are a better fit for YMSB’s high-altitude brand of bluegrass, the four-piece string outfit rolled through nearly two hours of folk on Sunday afternoon. The best moment, however, was an epic death dirge introduced by lead singer Jeff Austin as the darker side of an otherwise bubbly band. And though I missed a rabble-rousing take on “Crazy Train” during Yonder’s encore, I thoroughly enjoyed a mature set of music from the dudes who used to call themselves the Bluegrassholes.

4:45-6:15pm, Which Stage

My distaste for O.A.R. is no secret: songs like “Crazy Game of Poker,” while catchy, sound like DMB-lite dance records; major radio hits like “Love & Memories,” meanwhile, test the limits of selling out. That said, the right atmosphere can turn sparks into dynamite, and such was the case with O.A.R on Sunday night. Playing to a capacity crowd — the largest Which audience of ’08, in fact — the band rolled through an air-tight set of horn-heavy hits and very few misses. Hell, I even found myself singing along to “Poker” alongside thousands of fans who wouldn’t be out of place at a beachside BBQ.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
6:15-7:45pm, What Stage

Robert Plant, the most legendary name attached to this year’s Bonnaroo lineup, did not disappoint with his bluegrass set on Sunday night — nor, for that matter, did his outfit (think GQ Gandalf) do anything but reestablish his post as our preeminent rock god. Alison Krauss wasn’t half bad either, and together they rolled through much of last year’s acclaimed Raising Sand album. The true treat, however, was a low-key, half-whispered take on Led Zeppelin’s immortal “Black Dog” — with the central riff played on an unaccompanied folk banjo.

Death Cab for Cutie
7:00-8:30am, Which Stage

My Bonnaroo experience ended on a quiet note — an extremely quiet note, in fact, as Ben Gibbard played a solo version of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” from Death Cab’s ’05 Plans LP. The rest of his set was similarly lo-fi, and hits like “Soul Meets Body” were very recognizable. But some of Gibbard’s electro-heavy material — think pre-Plans Death Cab and everything by Postal Service — wasn’t quite suited for Bonnaroo.


Pop Culture Diary: Incredible Hulk

June 23, 2008

I didn’t walk into Incredible Hulk with an open mind when I saw it in the theatre last week, that much I’ll admit. It wasn’t because of a predilection for the comic book series, which I didn’t read. It wasn’t because I liked Ang Lee’s take in 2005, which I didn’t see. It wasn’t because Marvel Comics new studio’s first movie cast a shadow over me, as I didn’t see Iron Man.

However, there’s no denying that “Iron Man” has had an effect on the reaction to this film. At the point where you have a resounding consensus that The Incredible Hulk isn’t as good as Iron Man, the movie is cast in a negative light. The people that claim that don’t necessarily say The Incredible Hulk isn’t good, but if you get enough people to agree in its inferiority, a bad expectation is in order. Ultimately, I figured it would be a waste of good special effects, something like Superman Returns or Spiderman 2. Of course, the “Superhero/Comicbook Genre” is a changed one, even since those two disappointing entries.

In my mind, Batman Begins changed everything. Maybe it was Sin City, which I also loved, but since it’s not a superhero movie, I’m not going to give Frank Miller that credit. It was Christopher Nolan that took a Bruce Wayne brand that had ventured into hyperbole — selling out to sex (Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone) and misplaced comedy (namely, The Riddler) — and Nolan transformed it. He saw the necessity for darkness in a story about a man standing up against greed, crime and corruption — a realization that should now become a requisite. Nolan also found a lead actor in Christian Bale that fit his lead perfectly. With the right philosophy and the right actor, any movie can be greater than the sum of its CGI.

As we desperately await Nolan’s next effort, it’s refreshing to see Marvel Studios is seeing things from a similar light. I’ve heard Iron Man isn’t as dark as Batman Begins, and that it’s even funny, but that’s okay — no way is Tony Stark as dark as Bruce Wayne. The point is that you come in with a vision of the character, and then you hire a prominent lead actor. Robert Downey Jr. might have just been the perfect person to juxtapose dark action with comedy.

Which brings us to Edward Norton. As far as I can tell, Norton is one of the most, if not the most, prominent actor to take a lead role in a superhero movie. And Bruce Banner is a funny part for the “Fight Club” alum — unassuming scientist who, in a rage, becomes something far greater. Am I talking about Banner or Tyler Durden? I do think “Fight Club” prepared Norton well for this role, and for the most part, he does his job.

I should say that expectations about The Incredible Hulk are probably best if a bit tempered, as we’re not talking about a movie in the Batman Begins, Iron Man class. But, what I like about the Hulk is that we’re seeing that even if Marvel will miss at times, they won’t miss the mark by much, and we’ll be entertained for two hours. Because, trust me, the Hulk is infinitely better than Speed Racer or Hellboy, and probably better than any Spiderman.

As far as Norton gets them, the movie has it’s flaws, starting with Zac Penn’s screenplay. He takes far too many shortcuts to call it a fluid product (the first 5 minutes are a joke, and a cop out), and the comedic breaks really aren’t funny. Finally, a supposed love backdrop is never fully realized, part of which we can blame on Penn, the other blame probably rests on Liv Tyler.

The action in the movie was inconsistent — it was actually better than I expected in smaller scenes, and less than I expected in bigger scenes. The quality really ebbed and flowed, but in the end, it’s not a significant problem. I have to say that William Hurt did a nice job, and I thought Tim Roth did a very nice job as the villain, Emil Blonsky.

In the end, Marvel has opted not to be opaque with the future direction of their films, and while I won’t spoil it, we’re certainly in for a treat. Finally, a studio that understands its genre.

Next: Lost in Translation

Bonnaroo: Day 3

June 23, 2008

Having just returned from Bonnaroo — the annual 4-day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee — I felt it appropriate to give a review that went beyond bashing Kanye and praising all else. So over the next four days, I’m giving an artist-by-artist roundup of the shows I saw while surrounded by an amalgam of good people, better drugs and the best music lineup of the summer. We continue today with Saturday — which featured music festival staple Jack Johnson, premier headliner Pearl Jam and some douche named Kanye.


Donavon Frankenreiter
1:00-2:15pm, The Other Tent

On record, Donavon Frankenreiter is a dead-ringer for Jack Johnson; on stage, he’s more individual and satisfactory. I don’t remember much material from his set, but he provided a nice acoustic opening after Friday night’s near-seven hours of unapologetic rock (Metallica and then My Morning Jacket).

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
2:00-3:15pm, Which Stage

You may not have heard of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, but you’ve definitely heard them: they’re the backing band on Amy Winehouse’s ’07 smash “Rehab.” And while Winehouse is in no shape to perform, Sharon Jones sure is: wearing what she called her “Tina Turner dress,” the pint-sized funk diva rolled through two albums of classics during her hourlong show. Better yet, all of Jones’ songs were ingrained with infectious and immediate grooves, making her set one of the more danceable of Bonnaroo ’08.

Against Me!
2:15-3:30pm, That Tent

Having already seen Against Me! open for Foo Fighters in February, I was accustomed to their impressive on-stage energy — but they took most of the Bonnaroo audience by surprise with an electrifying show. That said, they rocked harder than they did long, barely making it to 3:00 with a set that should have rolled until half past. But that doesn’t take away from rousing renditions of crowd-pleasers like “Americans Abroad,” “Stop!” and “Thrash Unreal.”

Ben Folds
6:15-7:45pm, Which Stage

Ben Folds was one of the bigger letdowns of Bonnaroo ’08, but I had already been warned that his voice doesn’t hold up in concert. Neither, evidently, does his dignity: Folds started late, ended early and forever retired his live take on Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” — the lone highlight from his show. Radio hits like “Landed” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” were hard to recognize, and Folds ignored “Brick” along with the entirety of his back catalogue with the Ben Folds Five. Just disappointing.

Jack Johnson
8:00-9:30pm, What Stage

I was least excited for Jack Johnson out of the ’08 Bonnaroo headliners, but the man responsible for more similar-sounding radio hits than Nickelback kept me standing for all ninety minutes of his pre-Pearl Jam show. He even brought out Eddie Vedder midway through to duet on “Constellations,” a nice torch song in between folksy takes on “Flake,” “Bubble Toes” (dedicated to his wife), “Sitting, Waiting Wishing” and set-closer “If I Had Eyes.” My only regret? That he didn’t play an encore.

Pearl Jam
10:15-12:15am, What Stage

Between a well-documented feud with Ticketmaster and a Denmark trampling incident that left nine dead, Pearl Jam has good reason not to play huge festivals like Bonnaroo. But for our sake, they took to the main stage Saturday night and played for nearly three hours. I went crazy for anything from PJ’s early-nineties catalogue: “Why Go,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” “Elderly Woman…,” “Daughter” and “Animal” were all fantastic. But the penultimate moment came during the singalong chorus of “Betterman,” when Eddie Vedder took a moment to look out upon the Bonnaroo faithful, seeing almost 60,000 waving lighters and calling it “beautiful.” Outside of that, newer material like “Life Wasted” and an electrifying take on The Who’s “Reign O’er Me” rocked the hardest, and a duo of closing songs (“Alive” and “All Along the Watchtower”) made up for missed classics like “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Jeremy.”

Lupe Fiasco
1:30-2:15am, The Other Tent

A lot of critics gave M.I.A. top honors for rap acts at Bonnaroo ’08, by my title goes to Lupe — who rocked a full hour alongside a sea of cronies on the festival’s smallest stage. New songs like “Paris, Tokyo” didn’t quite fill out The Other Tent like they did the United Center in Chicago, but the show-ending one-two punch of “Daydreamin'” and “Superstar” — the latter accompanied by Matthew Santos himself — was more than enough to get a full crowd on its feet.

Long-Ass Gap Waiting for an Inevitably Underwhelming Kanye

When we got to Bonnaroo on Thursday, countless flyers were posted for 2008’s “big” announcement: Kanye West, originally scheduled to coincide with Jack Johnson’s Saturday evening set, had been moved to an unheralded late-night spot at 2:45 on Saturday night/Sunday morning. This meant that the entirety of Bonnaroo could enjoy his critically-acclaimed Glow in the Dark show, which I had already seen in Chicago. Instead, Kanye let us stare at a sign (see below) for two hours, offering no explanation for the delay and eventually changing the monitor from hopeful (“Kanye West set moved to 3:15 am”) to ambiguously bleak (“Kanye West Up Next!”). The good news? His eventual light show wasn’t interrupted by any other musical act at Bonnaroo. The bad news? It was interrupted by, umm, the fucking rising sun.

Kanye West
4:30-5:30am, What Stage

Kanye West has a lyric from “Stronger” that takes on a new life in the context of Bonnaroo 2008: “You should be honored by my lateness,” he raps, “That I would even show up for this fake shit.” And to keep in the arena of Kanye lines, I might have gone nuts or even ape shit if ‘Ye hadn’t come on two hours late. Hell, I might have gone wild even at 5 in the morning — but he put on an abbreviated version of his Glow in the Dark tour and never once addressed the Bonnaroo crowd. The Glow in the Dark show, you see, is a bunch of Kanye songs matched to a plotline about him losing his way in outer space; in the Bonnaroo version, he never makes it home. (West ended with “Stronger” instead of “Homecoming.”) And when I saw him in Chicago, he addressed the crowd multiple times with jokes and asides and other commentary to make him seem human. In Tennessee, he didn’t even mutter the word “Bonnaroo.” ‘Roo attendees responded by covering portapotties with anti-Kanye graffiti, and their ever-symbolic message was clear: Kanye is shit.

Bonnaroo: Day 2

June 22, 2008

Having just returned from Bonnaroo — the annual 4-day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee — I felt it appropriate to give a review that went beyond bashing Kanye and praising all else. So over the next four days, I’m giving an artist-by-artist roundup of the shows I saw while surrounded by an amalgam of good people, better drugs and the best music lineup of the summer. We continue today with Friday — which gave Metallica its first-ever chance at a Bonnaroo headliner spot.


Drive-By Truckers
12:30-1:45pm, Which Stage

DBT aren’t afraid to be cheeky, rootsy or downright Southern — all of which became clear during the last 45 minutes of their day-opening Friday set. Different songs started to melt into each other by the end of the show, but they still proved one of the grittiest acts to grace the Which Stage this year.

Umphrey’s McGee
2:15-3:45pm, Which Stage

I slept through half of this show, but that shouldn’t take away from Umphrey’s jam band abilities. Outside of Robert Randolph on Sunday, Umphrey proved most able to ride the same rhythm for a good twenty minutes without wearing it out — a talent that keeps them playing festivals like Bonnaroo despite very little recorded material.

The Raconteurs
5:00-6:30pm, What Stage

Jack White is a demigod at festivals like this, and I have to confess that I’d rather hear him with a full band than just with Meg White — despite knowing much more White Stripes material than Raconteurs material. I wasn’t let down: the grimy riff to “Old Enough,” which I walked in on around 5:45, sounded absolutely epic to the 50,000-strong perched out at Bonnaroo’s main stage on Friday. Other classics like “Steady as She Goes” and “Salute Your Solution” were similarly awesome, so much so that I can’t wait to see the Raconteurs play a full set in August at Lollapalooza.

Willie Nelson
6:30-8:00pm, Which Stage

There’s nothing more fitting than seeing Willie Nelson on a Bonnaroo stage — accompanied, of course, by about 20 band members doing the work of four or five. But Willie’s paper-thin voice atop an already-quiet band proved barely audible, only completely recognizable during bonafide classics like “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

6:30-8:00pm, That Tent

During her rousing set, M.I.A. joked that this was her last show ever. If indeed it was, she went out with a bang –syncopated gun shots, in fact, during her crowd-pleasing “Paper Planes” finale. But it’s not her last show, and we’re better for it: the accomplished activist/artist can really get her fans hyped, going so far as to invite hordes of people on stage to dance alongside her.

Chris Rock
7:45-8:45pm, What Stage

Many scoffed at the intial premise of a comedian headlining this year’s Bonnaroo, but don’t forget that Bonnaroo is also a comedy festival. Chris Rock did well enough as a pregame to Metallica, sliding in topical humor about the election amidst his typical white/black, male/female jokes. He also took a well-aimed shot at the oft-stoned Bonnaroo crowd: “You all should be ashamed of yourselves for taking an antidepressant to see a comedian,” he said. “I am an antidepressant!”

9:00-11:30pm, What Stage

I’ve never been much of a Metallica fan, what with their consistently declining quality of output and their embarrassing campaign against Napster around the turn of the millennium. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy every second of their 150-minute set — despite only recognizing classics like “Enter Sandman,” “One” and “Seek and Destroy.” James Hetfield proved remarkably down to earth during crowd interaction, Lars Ulrich thrashed on drums and even Kirk Hammet earned his recent spot in Rolling Stone as one of the greatest guitarists of the modern era.

My Morning Jacket
12:00-4:00am, Which Stage

By all measures, My Morning Jacket stole the entirety of Bonnaroo in four short hours. I only caught the first three, but that was enough to see classics like “Magheetah,” “Dancefloors,” “Off the Record” and even a set-closing “One Big Holiday” with special guest Kirk Hammet on guitar. (That closed the first of two sets, mind you.) MMJ also threw in funkadelic covers of Erykah Badu (“Tyrone”), James Brown (“Cold Sweat”) and Kool & the Gang (“Get Down On It”) — but what really clinched the set was the midnight rain that played perfectly into their lights show. And most of Evil Urges — the band’s new disc, which dropped the Tuesday of Bonnaroo week — sounded great live, especially first single “I’m Amazed” and the Prince-tastic “Highly Suspicious.”

Bonnaroo: Day 1

June 21, 2008

Having just returned from Bonnaroo — the annual 4-day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee — I felt it appropriate to give a review that went beyond bashing Kanye and praising all else. So over the next four days, I’m giving an artist-by-artist roundup of the shows I saw while surrounded by an amalgam of good people, better drugs and the best music lineup of the summer. We start today with Thursday — traditionally Bonnaroo’s weakest day, but that’s like being the slowest guy in Kenya.


8:30-9:30pm, This Tent

Currently reeling off the success of their first hit single, “Time to Pretend,” MGMT is having somewhat of a banner year. You’ve heard the song in MTV shows and in promos for the Kevin Spacey flick 21, and the band is playing multiple summerfests behind last year’s excellent Oracular Spectacular. (Also, the jury’s still out: is it pronounced MGMT or “management”?) That said, their style of electro-funk is better suited for intimate clubs than outdoor tents, and their irony-drenched lyrics were drowned in repetitive synth riffs throughout the set. I was also waiting in line to piss during the show’s finale, so that didn’t help either.

10:00-11:00pm, This Tent

After MGMT, we decided to see Battles based on a recommendation from our Bonnaroo neighbors; it turned out to be an interesting decision. Somewhat of an indie prog supergroup, Battles’ most famous member is drummer John Stanier — former skinsman for 90s’ hard rock outfit Helmet, of whom I’m a huge fan. Stanier did not disappoint throughout the set, continuing to bash the highest cymbal in rock & roll (see left). But Battles had amp problems with their bassist, and singer Tyondai Braxton’s tendency to sing in a chipmunk falsetto made almost every lyric indecipherable. Their ’07 CD Mirrored, however, sounds great in headphones.

Dark Star Orchestra
11:45-1:45, The Other Tent

Exhaustion from a 9-hour drive complicated my enjoyment of Dark Star Orchestra, the legendary Grateful Dead cover band. They sure sounded great, but we ended up only staying for 45 minutes of a 2-hour set. Good thing, too: missing even a minute of the festival-best Friday lineup would have been a huge mistake.

WHAP Reviews: Coldplay, Viva La Vida

June 19, 2008

When Coldplay’s Viva La Vida first leaked, Perez Hilton gave his own unenthusiastic opinion: “[I]t sucks. Sad.” And normally, this offhand criticism wouldn’t phase the rest of the blogosphere — but media outlets have been comparing the beloved celeblogger to Clive Davis and as of late, so we might expect an album review with more than one verb. People have been calling this guy “the new music industry.” He doesn’t even give us a pull quote. What’s worse? He’s way off.

That said, Coldplay ain’t that hard to shit on. A year ago, they still seemed hopelessly wimpy heirs to U2’s world’s-biggest-band throne — continuing to play music somewhere between artistic sentiment and commercial sap. They were massively successful, of course, but they were still just our favorite heartbreak band. According to the New York Times, they were the “most insufferable band of the decade”; according to the rest of us, they were how I know you’re gay. Then they got retro super-producer Brian Eno to helm Viva La Vida — their fourth full-length album — and even Bono blinked.

Coldplay’s ensuing Viva campaign, of truly presidential proportion, started strong with the one-two punch of “Violet Hill” and “Viva La Vida” — the disc’s first two radio tracks. Heavy on melodrama and the letter v, “Viva” and “Violet” expose the band’s two best tones: sad and, well, sadder. But unlike other Coldplay singles, they’re impossibly inventive and still infectious — from “Violet”‘s slinky quarter-note crunch to the Renaissance-era resonance of the title track. And they’re not even Viva‘s best songs.

Instead, the album’s core — from “Lost!” through “Yes” — proves most rewarding on return visits. The spare guitar and organic percussion on “Lost!” isn’t far removed from the Talking Head’s “Once in a Lifetime,” but the beat suggests recent Chris Martin collaborator Kanye West. It’s damn near dance music, which is a big statement for a band whose arena crowds barely move when they’re not waving lighters back and forth. “42,” the next track, is a Radiohead-esque, three-part suite; “Lovers in Japan” is a 21st-century “Solsbury Hill”; and “Yes,” which mixes Eastern strings with Nashville guitars, bathes Chris Martin’s lower register in woodwind flares that update the paranoia of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.” It’s all very aurally adventurous, and it rather embarrasses 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head — once Coldplay’s best album.

Viva‘s weakest point, on the other hand, is Chris Martin’s insistence on themes of courage and valor. Look no further than the album cover — where a bare-breasted heroine stands atop a scene of manmade death and destruction — for his savior fixation, later accentuated with certain lyrics: “Be my mirror, my sword, my shield/My missionaries in a foreign field” he sings on “Viva La Vida.” Yes, it’s heroic stuff, but it’s more medieval word association than coherent commentary. And at times, it borders on bizarre economic irony — as if Martin, who’s notorious for writing “Free Trade” on his hand during performances, is boasting about saving the music industry with this album. But knowing that his band will sell more CDs than anyone else this year, it’s a chance he’s willing to take.

Elsewhere, Martin’s musical fetishes show up in his lyrics: his ramblings about big and little fish in “Lost!” echo Radiohead’s “Optimistic,” and a line about “soldiers…solder[ing] on” from “Lovers in Japan” comes awful close to a classic Killers lyric (“I’ve got soul/But I’m not a soldier”). Martin recently told Rolling Stone that one of Viva‘s best lyrics (“I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge,” from the last track) was written by Brian Eno, not the band; perhaps he should have borrowed a few more lines.

Musically, meanwhile, you wonder just how much Coldplay borrowed from Eno — or from better bands, for that matter. Chris Martin loves talking about borrowing music about as much as he likes borrowing music in the first place, and his countless influences bleed through this album. As previously mentioned, shades of Radiohead and U2 float in and out — two of Martin’s favorites — but just because you show your hand doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one. We can only hope that Coldplay is holding the cards, not Brian Eno.

Either way, Viva La Vida is an accomplishment, rarely missing outside of the pointless and pitifully-named “Chinese Sleep Chant” (the b-side to “Yes”). On album closer “Death and All His Friends,” Chris Martin sings that “we’ll make an escape” — and he might as well be talking about his band. One bad album from becoming a critical whipping boy, Coldplay has delivered a sonic departure from their entire back catalogue, and it’d be a true shame to overlook it because of some sappy song you heard on The O.C.


Pop Culture Diary: I’m Not There

June 13, 2008

If you’re loose on definition and high on tolerance, I suppose you could call “I’m Not There” a fictionalized biopic. But that canon, which has been exploited since the critical success of Ray, is becoming a genre with loosened definitions by the day. I’ll say this — in this “biopic genre”, “I’m Not There” feels like a love letter from fanboy to idol like “Walk the Line” felt like a son’s tribute to his parent’s undying love. One of those two is something we can appreciate, the other feels like an inside joke that fails to connect emotionally.

For me, that’s the problem with “I’m Not There”, Todd Haynes first work as a writer/director since “Far From Heaven”. While that picture was a brilliant take on the hush-hush 1950s, “I’m Not There” does not leave a clear message about the 1960s, or even about Bob Dylan. I’ll be the first to admit the brilliance in Haynes idea — it’s certainly a grand attempt to humanize Dylan to show that his nature can cross generations, ethnicities and even gender.

It would be hypocritical to praise the idea and then demand a linear movie, and say what you will, but the nonlinearity of this movie is its demise. Only the truest Dylan fans could be in on half the plot lines, and even then, the abstract nature to Haynes concoction threatens to put off even some of that demographic. The movie makes a bold attempt to build character arcs with each character, but it forgets to attempt to piece together how they all form into one narrative arc.

What Haynes script does call for, almost by definition, is great acting. Everything you have heard about Cate Blanchett is true, and probably more. The actress, in the top ten in her field at this moment, is perfect as a Dylan that’s, I think, a bit unsure of his purpose and his place in society. Blanchett is the most affecting character in the script, followed closely by Heath Ledger. The late, great actor puts together a very good supporting performance in this film, and collectively, the foreign pair put Christian Bale and Richard Gere to shame. Bale, in particular, failed miserably with a character that really does go through a substantial arc. Gere’s character, unfortunately for him and us, is completely unrecognizable.

But you can’t blame Bale and you can’t blame Gere for this movie’s shortcomings, because in the end, it’s Todd Haynes execution of his vision that comes up short. “I’m Not There” is lacking in accessibility, lacking as an emotive generator, and most simply, lacking as a story with a beginning, middle and end. It tries, and while I suppose you could give it credit for that, I think too many have, the movie feels like a first draft that Haynes never allowed anyone to touch, even despite Oren Moverman’s co-writing credit. For Haynes sake, I’ll try and refrain from blaming his writing skills for such a heinous mistake, and instead question his directing motives.

When we look back at this movie in decades, given its status as Blanchett’s peak, Bale’s misstep and one of Ledger’s final films, I can’t help but think we’ll shake our head and wonder what could have been.