Movie Reviews: Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Dragonball: Evolution, Hannah Montana: The Movie
GO ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL With testimonials from the likes of Lemmy Kilmister, Lars Ulrich and Slash, you’d think that Anvil — the subject of Sacha Gervasi’s hilarious and achingly touching documentary — was Canada’s answer to Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. But 13 albums into a career that began in the late ’70s, the metalheads from the Great White North have yet to enjoy the fame and fortune of their fellow hard-rock stars. Director and one-time roadie for the band, Gervasi (who wrote the story for what became The Terminal) follows Anvil’s remaining original members, singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, two nice Jewish knuckleheads of Spinal Tap–ian proportions; Kudlow used to play his guitar with a dildo; his early songs were inspired by the Spanish Inquisition. Amphitheaters the band once shared with Bon Jovi and Whitesnake have given way to sports bars and community centers. They have middle-age fans with names like “Cut Loose” and “Mad Dog,” who drink beer through their noses, not to mention relatives with names like Droid, who still sport feathered hair. And if they’re not missing trains thanks to bumbling managers, they’re being screwed by European club owners (including a Hungarian who is filmed also serving goulash to customers — easily the doc’s funniest moment). But even while trudging through 9-to-5 jobs in their 50s — Kudlow as a driver for a catering company, Reiner as a construction worker — the duo still talk the dream. When you have to schlep all the way to Japan to play a gig at the ungodly hour of 11:35 a.m. just for a little love and recognition, it’s never a question of when, already? but rather why not? For related story, see Music. (Nuart) (Siran Babayan)
DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION It serves you best to not know a damn thing about Akira Toriyama’s much-beloved Dragonball manga (or the TV series and video games it spawned); better to enjoy director James Wong’s loony live-action adaptation for the exquisite-corpse exercise that it is — its rules reinvented and subplots obfuscated with each new set piece. Under the wing of producer Stephen Chow — good-natured king of CGI-laden martial-arts comedy — Evolution is far more entertaining than it deserves to be, unless you’re a 10-year-old boy, in which case it’s only the greatest movie ever made. Two thousand years after nearly destroying Earth, green-skinned demon Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) escapes captivity to hunt down seven of them titular orbs, except he never counted on facing high school hero Goku (Justin Chatwin), a bedheaded wire-fu trainee who geekily pines for ass-kicking classmate Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). Arbitrarily aided by fellow dragonball seekers, including his grandfather’s mentor (Chow Yun-Fat, the only actor dedicated enough to play his role as if still animated), Goku defeats school bullies without touching them, learns to toss blue fireballs, shows up at a fighting tournament, makes stepping stones over lava out of dead goo monsters, becomes a werewolf, resurrects a friend and finds true love. As a cartoonish coming-of-ager, this one goes, well, balls out. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)
THE ESCAPIST There’s a certain joy to be had from watching an ace character player such as the barrel-chested Scottish lion Brian Cox sink his teeth into a juicy lead role in a film, even when the film itself is a workmanlike prison-break picture that does nothing to eclipse one’s memory of Robert Bresson — or Don Siegel. Cox (who also executive-produced) cuts a weary yet imposing figure as Frank Perry, a 60-ish lifer resigned to the inevitability of his fate, until news that his junkie daughter is close to death spurs him to concoct an ingenious escape plan replete with the requisite narrow passageways, improvised tools and willing accomplices (well-played by the likes of Joseph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper and Hunger co-star Liam Cunningham). Even though we’ve seen it all before, The Escapist barrels through its opening moments with lean, B-movie industry, as first-time director Rupert Wyatt maps out the prison day to day (including the obligatory episode of steam-shower sodomy) while dispensing with such trivialities as why these men are behind bars in the first place. Then Wyatt tries to get fancy, cutting back and forth between the escape and the events leading up to it — a sub-Tarantino bit of temporal trickery that seems designed to ratchet up the tension but instead dilutes it. Still, all might have been forgiven were it not for a needlessly Shyamalanized ending that deserves to earn Wyatt at least 25 years for grand-theft cinema. (Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)
GO FORBIDDEN LIE$ In 2003, 35-year-old Jordanian virgin Norma Khouri published Forbidden Love, her best-selling memoir recounting a Muslim friend’s murder by her father for falling in love with a Christian man. A year later, Khouri was revealed to be a fraud, a married mother of two from Chicago, not Jordan, wanted by the FBI for scamming an elderly neighbor. In an attempt to vindicate herself, Khouri persuaded first-time documentarian Anna Broinowski to suss out “the truth.” At first, Broinowski seems as captivated by Khouri’s cunning and charisma as her victims were, and one of Forbidden Lie$’ deepest pleasures is watching Broinowski’s struggle to resist her subject, as Khouri’s story gradually falls apart. The first half-hour follows Khouri reading from her book to besotted audiences, as Broinowski illustrates the passages with playful re-enactments, often blue-screening Khouri into a scene. Rapid-fire interviews with Khouri’s detractors seem to seal the case against her, but then the film’s heart — an antic sequence worthy of a Hollywood thriller, in which Khouri persuades Broinowski to take a “fact-finding” trip to Jordan — raises doubts again. This entertaining, provocative film raises pointed issues about con artists and their sometimes-culpable “victims,” and also speaks to the elusive pursuit of documentary truth. (Elena Oumano)
HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE It’s almost foolish to review Hannah Montana: The Movie as anything other than the latest cog in a cultural phenomenon/mass-marketing juggernaut. The film itself certainly doesn’t aspire to anything more. A brightly colored yet cheap-looking affair (director Peter Chelsom doesn’t even try to push beyond the material’s TV roots), the movie brings Hannah’s schizo life (ordinary teen, Miley, by day/internationally famous pop star, Hannah, by night) to a head, as she’s forced to choose between country-girl authenticity and the glam life of a celebrity. The crisis is sparked by a lean-bodied young cowboy who oozes common sense and blond-god sex appeal in equal measure — the former illustrated by his preference for Miley over Hannah. Fleshed out with insipid songs (and one decent tune), a cookie-cutter tabloid villain, lots of salt-of-the-earth country folk and a catfight featuring a game Tyra Banks, what’s most interesting about the flick (and the Miley phenom, period) is its refurbishing of a tried-and-true conflation — all-American wholesomeness and flagrant consumerism — disturbingly pushed on a whole new generation of kids. The youngsters at the screening I attended fell silent during the film’s many lulls but were roused to cheers by its big musical finale — pumped up to plead for the latest Hannah merchandise. (Citywide) (Ernest Hardy)
THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH After a history of preproduction false starts, Michael Chabon’s 1988 debut novel gets its promised wide-screen adaptation by Dodgeball helmer Rawson Marshall Thurber, providing fresh ammo for the “book is always better than the movie” crowd. Art Bechstein (Jon Foster) has just finished college, paid for with laundered money from his mobbed-out old man (Nick Nolte, with a sticky dye job). Art is planning on a minimum of consequence and responsibility over the last summer before he’s crushed by adulthood, until his minimum-wage coasting is upended when he meets a turbulent couple, Jane (Sienna Miller) and her breakneck bisexual boyfriend, Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard, usually sighing out the last two drags on a cigarette). Devotees of Chabon will find particular points on which to disdain Thurber’s treatment — for the uninitiated, it’s enough to feel the howling gulf between intention and what’s actually onscreen. In lieu of any rapport between performers, Mysteries relies on voice-over readings and an instructively soundtracked montage to articulate relationships, and these flimsy foundations blow away just when they should be a-quiver with the drama of criminal skullduggery and a ménage à trois tangle (the least compelling this side of Threesome). Mena Suvari, as Art’s vindictive ex–fuck buddy, gives sole signs of life — Miller is so void of presence that one can forget she’s in the movie from scene to scene. (Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Nick Pinkerton)
GO SHALL WE KISS? The 38-year-old actor-writer-director Emmanuel Mouret has been tagged by some critics as the most “Rohmerian” (as in Eric) filmmaker of his generation, a potentially daunting burden Mouret carries gracefully in his witty, insightful portraits of hyperverbal, self-conscious young people falling in and out of love. Shall We Kiss? — Mouret’s fourth feature and his first to receive U.S. distribution — begins in Nantes, where a chance encounter between a Parisian fabric designer (Julie Gayet) and a local art restorer (Michaël Cohen) leads to dinner, drinks and a near meeting of the lips. But wait, the woman says — first, she must tell a cautionary tale about how a similarly innocent smooch created seismic shifts in the relationships of two other couples. That story then plays out in flashback, with the hangdog Mouret perfectly self-cast as a lovelorn schoolteacher who falls for his platonic female friend (Virginie Ledoyen), no matter that she’s happily married and he’s dating a beautiful stewardess (played by the magnificently ditsy Frédérique Bel, star of Mouret’s previous Change of Address). If Rohmer is Mouret’s closest reference, he has also learned much about smart dialogue and screwball couplings from the 1930s comedies of Hollywood vets like Hawks and Lubitsch, and those of his own countryman Sacha Guitry. And he does it all with a beguiling lightness of touch. (The Landmark; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Scott Foundas)
THE SONG OF SPARROWS The direct appeals of his melodramatic groundswells have long made Oscar-nominated Iranian director Majid Majidi a dismissed old-school counterpart to Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. His latest film observes ostrich-wrangling father Karim (Reza Naji) struggling to remain the man of the house as he weathers a series of bad breaks. There’s an element of silent comedy not just in the mild humor or Karim’s tapir-nosed grimaces but in the simple (not simplistic) sentiment of the scenarios: the pursuit of an escaped bird across barren hills, the businessman in cluttered Tehran, who plops on his motorbike and instantly turns into a cabbie. Beleaguered Karim, fond but suspicious of his kids, shifts between overreacting and lugging stuff like a pack animal, as the city opens up new opportunities for profit and ethical quandaries. But his perspective begins to feel a bit confined in Naji’s hands, and it’s a shock when after his young son’s crew endure a setback to their get-rich-quick-through-goldfish scheme, Karim busts out a ditty about the world being a lie and a dream. The film is pleasingly meandering, till the more typically Majidian soulful and teary-eyed climax — for better or worse, nothing on the level of the once-blind professor’s operatic reckoning in Majidi’s previous The Willow Tree. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Nicolas Rapold)
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