Monday, March 16, 2009
SXSW Film 2009: Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Drag Me to Hell
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
How long would you pursue a dream to no avail? How does 30 years sound? In 1984 a massive rock festival in Japan featured a prescient line-up of metal music stars. Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Scorpions, etc; all of whom became a success, except Anvil. Despite much love and respect from their musical contemporaries and a core of stalwart fans, Anvil never caught on. So here they are, 30 years later, still playing small clubs in their native Canada and hoping for a big break.
Let's just get this out of the way, this is the best film screened at SXSW in years. I loved it from top to bottom and very much around the middle. I'm not a fan of metal, but now count myself among Anvil's fans. I don't care for their music at all, and yet I want them to succeed passionately and it is this portrait that has put me in their corner. It's funny, heartbreaking, transcendent; I left the theater with a song in my heart (not "Thumb Hang" or "March of the Crabs", but still).
Aside from the travails of being a down-list band on tour, the doc focuses keenly on the relationship between singer/guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner. They call themselves brothers, with all the love and acrimony that implies. Lips is the hothead visionary, Reiner the cool pragmatist. When tensions boil over during a recording session, Reiner walks out and is subsequently "fired" by Lips, an obvious Spinal Tap parallel in a film full of them (seriously, it's kinda spooky). The bonds of love and music are strong however and almost immediately they are reconciling with tears all around onscreen and in the audience.
Anvil is so compelling as a subject that the form and directing of the doc is almost immaterial. Respect though must be paid to the intimacy and trust that director Sascha Gerva has earned from his subjects. Technical skills can be acquired, getting subjects to open their lives is an ability that is much harder to learn and use responsibly. A+++
Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi (Evil Dead 2, Spiderman and the sequels for both) brought the work-in-progress to a exceedingly receptive audience at this midnight show. After the blockbusters of Spiderman 1-3, I suppose he has the funds and a burning need to get back to his roots in low-budget, horror/comedy. Thanks be that he still has the chops for it. My expectations were middlin', Raimi & Company exceeded them handily.
The plot concerns Lohman's character angering a old gypsy woman who then curses her soul to Hell. Funny, mostly quick-paced, with quite good performances from lead Alison Lohman and supporting players Justin Long, Lorna Raver, and Dileep Rao. The work-in-progress moniker was definitely due to several unfinished special effects sequences, though I hope some of the dramatic sequences are tightened up a bit in the final edit. Less whip-pans than "usual" for Raimi, but the gross-out gags, supernatural themes, dutch angles, and other hallmarks of his classic style are in full effect. Just the kind of thing you want to see at midnight with a like-minded audience.