<em>Anvil! The Story of Anvil</em> and <em>Star Trek</em>
Anvil! The Story of Anvil, 2008. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Featuring Anvil: Steve “Lips” Kudlow (lead guitar with dildo, singer), Robb Reiner (drums), Glenn Five (bass, backing vocals), manager Tiziana Arrigoni, and a host of other friends, producers, well-wishers, and head bangers.
When they were all of fourteen years old, suburban Torontoites Steve Kudlow and Robb Reiner made themselves a pact: that they would boldly go where many young teens have gone before, namely, into the bizarre and often cruel universe that is rock and roll. They formed the heavy metal band Anvil, and began to rock hard, often times in parent’s basements or garages.
Anvil, however, rocked really hard. They worked their asses off, had some talent and ended up making the iconic (or at least iconic-sounding) album “Metal on Metal”. On the basis of that success, they blasted off, touring around the United States, Europe, and ended up in one of the biggest blowouts of all-time, a 1984 concert in Tokyo with such luminaries as the Scorpions and Whitesnake (and, yes, I’m aware that ‘luminary’ is a relative term). Considered the “godfathers” of thrash metal, there was no question Anvil would become stars.
That they didn’t is the thrust of Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Director Sacha Gervasi, himself a former metalhead and onetime groupie, saw that the two men, Kudlow and Reiner, were wonderful people, that their struggle was compelling, and had himself gone on to discover other music, which keeps Anvil! focused–there’s not a moment wasted in this great film, whose narrative power accumulates as it goes on, reaching a climax that is unparalleled in movies this year. You won’t find a more exciting, stirring, and joyous film this summer. I guarantee it.
Anvil! opens with the band in its heyday, and a precious few talking heads, guys like Slash (from Guns ‘N’ Roses) ruminating on how incredible Anvil was back in the 1980s. Then we cut to a cold winter’s day, and Steve, who is known herafter as Lips, is pushing a cart of hot lunches around for Children’s Choice Catering. Lips drives around, talking about the history of Anvil, but he’s also deeply committed to its future. Robb Reiner, the drummer, the weighty ballast to Lips’ etherial optimism, is equally committed, if not to the band, but to his friend. Which, as we discover, is really the same thing.
Anvil gets hooked up with Tiziana Arrigoni, a fan with some savings, who offers to be their manager and books the guys on a European tour. Arrigoni is almost completely without talent in the world of managing–the band’s gigs are cancelled, poorly attended (about 175 in a 10,000 seat auditorium, for instance), and they have trouble being paid. Not to mention trouble catching trains and making it on time to shows.
Things go wrong, disastrously wrong, but this is no Spinal Tap… by the time you’ve joined Anvil on its tour, you’ve come to care about these men. And their journey is as inspiring as it is exciting.
Right away, then, we’re struck by the depth of Anvil!. Is Lips a metal Willy Loman? Is this a real-life Spinal Tap? The answer is no–it is a stirring adventure with a moral that resonates for everyone who yearns to make it in any field, be it music, film, acting, medicine, you name it. Lips doesn’t hate his silly job; in fact, he talks with some pride about the food he brings to schools; Robb brags about his parents and shows off a pair of diamond drumsticks his father, a jeweler, made for him. As the film progresses, and we follow them on this quixotic journey and then into the hell of dropping a ton of money to produce an album no one wants, we see these friends tested. In the process, we discover that Anvil is a success, if only because through these years they have managed to remain close friends, and people possessed of great dignity.
What might at first appear to be a silly romp soon reveals itself to be a touching examination of the nature of friendship, art, and sacrifice. In fact, the film leaves one wondering if it is Lips’ and Robb’s grace and human decency—and not any lack of passion or talent—that kept them from fame.
Star Trek, 2009. Directed by J. J. Abrams, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nemoy, and, briefly and ridiculously, Winona Ryder.
Star Trek is a good movie. I enjoyed it, OK? But it’s not a great movie, so please get that idea out of your head, and stop acting like it’s incredible simply because it isn’t as bad as the rest of the Star Trek movies. For it is a 60/40 movie–the forty represents the garbage one must wade through to reach the end.
Let’s talk about its strengths: the cast. Chris Pine is a very pleasant surprise as James T. Kirk, funny and brash, tough and charming. I’m surprised, because he looked like one of the many pretty faces J. J. Abrams likes to populate his films with (like Cloverfield and Lost–and yes, I know he didn’t actually direct Cloverfield but we all know it’s his.) Simon Pegg is fab as Scottie (though he could be in it a lot longer), and Zachary Quinto makes a good Spock. Eric Bana is just damn good as the bad guy Romulan.
It’s exciting. The effects are good, the fight scenes well staged. There’s a battle atop a giant fiery drill that’s one of the best I’ve seen in many years, recalling the very best of the original Star Wars, gripping you with vertigo, making you duck from the Romulans every swing, just terrific. Well, there you go.
What drags Star Trek down is its acting, too, for the other half the cast are tedious and wearisome, forced to insert catchphrases from the old shows (“I’m a doctor, Jim!”) J. J. Abrams is a problem, too. He’s a man with a warehouse of ideas at his disposal, quantity over quality every time. Just as we were supposed to marvel at the beast in Cloverfield which was a derivative rehash of every single other movie monster in history, so, too, Star Trek has everything–fighting on platforms, planets blown up, black holes, an ice planet and its attendant beasts (one of which is a lizard-like creature that makes you wonder how it survives the cold.) Trekkies will be thrilled to see a goofy plot that involves time-travel and parallel universes, and it may interest Abrams to know that no other successful sci-fi film actually peddles in such lazy garbage. Why make a world when you can just toss in an alternate?
Star Trek owes a lot to the Star Wars franchise, as the fight in the Romulan ship resembles fights in both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and the blasting of the planets looks just like the Death Star attack on Tatooine in Star Wars the first. And why have James Kirk almost sliding off the edge of something once (a cliff at the start), when you can have him do it three or four times? Because it’s thrilling! Abrams seems to say, and he never stops to allow his plot to breathe. As usual, he doesn’t get interior space–the layout of the Enterprise was better developed in any one of the many TV shows. Here its just a series of mazes and flashy rooms.
So go, enjoy your Star Trek. Overall, it’s pretty good. Just don’t go telling me it’s great. Time will tell, and I get the feeling only guys in Klingon suits are going to be heralding this one in the future.