Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gettin' Metal: ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL Review - Plus: 24, Smallville, Simpsons, The Celtics, and MORE

Whoah, it's a frustrating feeling when your actual blog can't keep up with your internal one. I mean, in this day and age, who has time to write down coherant sentances and well thought-out phrases? I mean, god, I could just do the Twitter thing and bring my every waking thought to you in all of their fractured and nonsensical glory. But no my friends, I am a man of words, and I prefer overlong, long-winded ramblings to lowest-common-denominator insta-punditry any day of the week. So, suck it, Ashton Kutcher.

Anyways, um ... so, yeah ... I have a lot to talk about and have gotten WAY behind here. I've got lots of TV to talk about, ANVIL, and of course (SNIKT!) WOLVERINE. Will I fit it all in this very blog post? Let's find out, shall we?

- Before I talk about anything else, how about a big congrats to the BOSTON CELTICS for a huge Game 7 victory on Saturday over the Chicago Bulls. The epic back and forth battle will likely go down as one of the all-time great NBA playoff series, with numerous overtimes, dozens of last-second heroics, and just a great level of intensity and competition from both teams. I give it up to the Bulls - they played well and it was hard to hate them even if they nearly eliminated the C's. All I can say is, what a series.

But, no rest for the weary. Last night the Celtics quickly moved into Round 2 of the playoffs, where they faced off with the up and coming Orlando Magic. It was yet another intense game for Boston, who came back from 28 points down to nearly win the game. There were some real positive signs in the game - Boston got some better-than-expected play from players like Scallebrini and Stephon Marbury, who had some brief flashbacks to the "Starbury" of old. But Ray Allen with only 11 points is not a good thing. Allen has to be a consistent scorer if Boston hopes to win without KG. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how well the C's can contain Dwight "Superman" Howard. The guy is simply a beast. So, last night was a tough loss for the Celtics, but ... I think we could be in for yet another close and exciting series.

And by the way, let me throw in a shout-out to the Houston Rockets, who managed to come in strong in their first game against the Lakers and, basically, whoop some ass. I've got to ask: how can anyone who isn't a die-hard Lakers fan like Kobe Bryant? Sure, you can respect his talent, but the guy is a whiny egomaniac who acts like he is destined for all these great things. All I know is, Jordan never spent a whole game complaining to the refs.


- On last night's episode of TWENTY-BY-GOD-FOUR (24): Well, I thought it was a decent episode, but I do think it was kind of filler to pave the way for next week's seemingly more action-packed installment. I mean, it was still an episode that had some particularly choice scenes - Jack's emotional confession of his deadly sickness to Chloe for example was pretty intense. And I also liked the scenes with Jonas Hodges coming to terms with his final fate. But ... I was a bit turned off by the somewhat heavy-handed insertion of racial profiling, etc. into the mix. 24 has already dealt at length with the plight of Arab-Americans in a post-9/11 world, and featured numerous storylines about unfair prejudices against Muslims, etc. Creating a new character here to fill the role of moralizing cleric seemed a bit clunky. What would have been nice instead is if the show took some time to develop Tony's true motivations, which we still don't know. Or how about giving the President a reason to be awake at 4 am other than to field one phone call after another about what the FBI's botched this time. Also, I give this season credit for avoiding the usual cheesy subplots that 24 is known for, but, that said, the whole Olivia thing is getting to that point. Within a couple of hours she decides to arrange for the assassination of Jonah Hodges, then decides she can't go through with it (though it happens anyway), and the point of all of that was, what exactly? I know that I and others tend to give 24's perpetually lame subplots a pass just because they've almost become something of a tradition on the show (and at least when it was Kim and a cougar-trap there was a fun, B-movie quality at work). But you can't help but wonder -- if we just got rid of Olivia completely, and focused more on developing the villains, the President's cabinet, etc -- would anyone be upset? In any case, next week should be sufficiently action-packed and gravitas-filled so that we don't have time to wonder why the heck Aaron Pierce is hanging around the White House as if he never left, with a bullet-wound, no sleep, and presumably no contract. Honestely though ... upon further reflection I feel like part of why this ep frustrated me a bit is that it felt like this *should* have been the ep where we really build up Jack vs. Tony. Right now, I just don't feel as hyped for the epic Sack vs. Soulpatch smackdown as I want to be. I mean, what's up with Tony anyways? Is he just a morally-gray hired gun or is he truly an evil bastard who wants to bring down Jack and America itself? If Tony is going to be a full-fledged badguy, give us a true reason to hate him other than the killing of that Larry dude from the FBI. If it's gonna be Jack vs. Tony with everything on the line, give it the epic buildup it deserves, dammit. Think of it this way -- to me, there had better be a good reason why Tony replaced the friggin' Candyman as our big bad villain. Oh well, at least we got the cheestastically awesome line where the wise Muslim guy tells Jack to forgive himself and Jack is all like "I gave up on that a long time ago." Dammit all.

My Grade: B

- I do want to mention THE SIMPSONS from Sunday. While the episode wasn't perfect, it was surely one of the best of this season to date. It benefitted from a hilarious Homer-Marge subplot that saw Homer move into a bachelor pad, causing he and Marge's relationship to randomly take on the characteristics of a twenty-something fling. Pretty funny stuff, and the main plot with Bart and Lisa attending a swanky new school in "Waverly Hills" had some great comedy as well. A couple of the jokes fell flat (Ellen Page's turn as the tween star Alaska Nebraska, for example), but overall this was a pretty memorable ep.

My Grade: B+

- FAMILY GUY had an above-average episode as well, in my opinion, at least as compared to the past couple of subpar eps. The premise, which saw Brian begin dating Lauren Conrad of The Hills fame, was pulled off pretty well, and there were a couple of pretty good cutaway gags to boot. Family Guy still has a looong way to go if it ever wants to get back to its Season 1 and 2 peak, but at least this one was something of a step in the right direction.

My Grade: B

- As for KING OF THE HILL - a decent episode that had a somewhat odd twist. Basically, it turns out that depite his lack of athletic talent, Bobby looks forward to little league every year, much to Hank's frustration. Hank would rather Bobby not play than embarrass himself out on the field. So when Bobby's new coach turns out to be big on following your dreams and believing in yourself, Hank is made to look like the badguy for being a realist when it comes to Bobby's chances of baseball success. This episode struck me as strange in that Hank, as usual, is proven "right" in that ultimately the overeager coach sets up Bobby for failure in the big game. Hank yanks Bobby off the field at the last minute, sparing him humiliation. In one respect, I give KOTH credit for being one of the only shows that would present a situation like this with this degree of subtlety and wit. On the other hand, it felt like a bit of a cop out in that Hank's actions made for a "happy" ending, when in fact they were kinda awful if you think about it. Hmm ...

My Grade: B

- SMALLVILLE last week was a fun and suspenseful episode that finally brought the neverending Davis Bloome storyline to something of a head. The ep left us still bracing for a climactic confrontation between Clark and Davis, but it did put the wheels in motion for a pretty exciting finale. That said, while this was an intense episode, you couldn't help but feel that a clot of the conflict was a bit contrived. In order to keep Clark away from Doomsday, the writers set up Chloe as sympathetic to Davis and even as an accomplice of sorts. Chloe had to make one bone-headed decision after another in order to help out Davis, and you have to wonder what her real motivation would be to cling to the side of a guy who happens to be a deranged monster. Still, Chloe's craziness did set up some good scenes between her and Oliver, who sufficiently chewed her out for her reckless actions. Again, I give Smallville credit for delivering a pretty compelling ongoing storyarc, something the show has rarely been able to do at this level. At the same time, there had damn well better be some payoff coming soon.

My Grade: B+

- For my money, THE OFFICE continues to be on a roll, while 30 ROCK slips a bit each week. The Office has seemingly found a near-perfect blend of absurdist humor and great characterization in recent weeks, mixing in hilarious quotables and sight-gags with some genuinely interesting character development. Michael Scott's solo venture as the head of the Michael Scott Paper Company was handled brilliantly overall, and it also provided a great setup for Michael's eventual return last week to Dunder Mifflin. While not quite as on-the-mark as the previous couple of weeks, Thursday's Office was yet another winner. Meanwhile, 30 Rock is consistently one of the funniest shows on TV, and every episode has 4 or 5 classic lines that are guaranteed to be quoted on Facebook status updates the next morning. BUT ... 30 Rock needs to be careful about trying to be all things to all people. The last several eps have really tried to have more emotional / dramatic storylines that would feel more at home in a traditional sitcom. Where the 30 Rock of old would have completely satirized the old sitcom tropes, the nu-30 Rock more often than not plays things straight. I mean, did we really need a genuine moment between Jack and his mother? To me that's not what the show is about - it's about being a madhouse of crazy characters and random humor. We still get some of that in each ep (thank god for Tracy Morgan, who has never played anything straight in his life), but I still worry that the show is being watered down for the masses.

My Grades:

The Office: A-
30 Rock: B

- Finally, I'm psyched for what might happen on tonight's FRINGE. Last week's ep was good stuff - I am loving the slowly-unravelling mythology of the ZFT, etc., and I love how each week if you read between the linesa bit, you can infer a little more about Walter's true role in all of this. Overall, the show is just really gelling, and managing both to tell interesting and creepy freak-of-the-week stories while also tying them into a much larger framework. Last week's ep, with a spinal-fluid-sucking succubus, was case in point. We got an X-Files style one-in-done mystery but also another piece of the larger puzzle revealed, with the revelation tht Walter Bell has a lot to do with the wave of fringe science-based mayhem that agent Dunham has been investigating. Also, congrats to Fringe on being renewed for Season 2. Considering how much the show has improved in the span of 20-odd episodes, I'm psyched to see where it goes from here.

My Grade: A-



- As the summer movie season begins with a weekly parade of overhyped blockbusters, I would urge anyone looking for something completely different to check out a movie that rocks harder than Stonehenge - ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL. Many are calling the movie a real-life Spinal Tap, and those people would be right. Anvil is an absolutely hilarious documentary that looks at the journey of a past-their-prime metal band known as Anvil. Well, actually, Anvil never really even had a prime - they had a brief moment of glory in the early 80's while on tour with the likes of Bon Jovi and The Scorpions, during which they actually did gain a cult-fan-following. They also proved to be an influence on a number of bands from Metallica to Guns n' Roses, with a faster-paced, proto-speed-metal style that put a heavier, thrashier spin on the usual 80's shenanigans. And yet, despite that, Anvil fizzled out before they ever truly made it big. Lifelong friends Steve "Lips" Kudlow and the ironically-named Robb Reiner ended up retreating back to their small Canadian hometown. They took menial jobs and started families. But, all the while, Anvil never quit. They kept playing in small clubs and bars, recruited new members, and put out an amazing 14 albums on a small record label. All the while, Lips and Robb were convinced that Anvil's big moment was yet to come - they dreamt big, and even as they reached their 50's, they kept on reaching for that brass ring and they never stopped believing. They kept on rocking.

It's for this reason that Anvil is both hilarious and yet surprisingly heartfelt. You laugh at Anvil on many occasions, but you also find yourself drawn to Lips' charismatic and well-meaning personality and you really begin rooting for him to see his impossible dream to fruition. This is a true underdog story in that way - you are there with Anvil through the tragedies and triumphs, and you can't help but want to stand up and cheer when it looks like they might actually get their shot.

Again, so much of the movie is driven by the relationship between Lips and Robb. They are in many ways real-life cartoon characters - Lips is nutty and crazy and wears his heart on his sleave, whereas Robb is sullen and brooding and takes himself seriously to the point of absurdity (his gallery of paintings is absolutely hilarious - all I can say is that his art is reflective of his self-serious and somewhat oblivious personality). But the two are a classic odd couple. You laugh along with them as they have the usual rock n' roller arguments, but at the same time, you can't help but admire their brotherly relationship. The two are there for each other through thick and thin. They decided to be rockers as kids, as many kids do, and they never stopped trying for that dream.

The movie works so well in that you do get that juxtaposition of these guys who totally believe they are would-be titans of rock (and hey, maybe they are ...), with the reality that they are a couple of middle-aged Jewish guys who are to some degree stuck in the 80's and milking a fifteen minutes of fame from twenty-five years ago long past its expiration date. But there is a real sincerity to these guys that is contagious. And in an age where all kinds of lame pop acts are billed as the next big thing, you have to wonder: why aren't these guys getting a shot? They did influence the likes of Slash and Lars Ulrich after all. And once you hear their trademark tune, "Metal on Metal," you can't help but feel like, at the least, it deserves to be on every Monsters of Rock collection alongside "We're Not Gonna Take It." Perhaps a song or two on Guitar Hero?

Whatever the case may be, ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL is certainly one of the must-see movies of the year so far. My one issue with it is that the doc can feel a bit contrived at times. When the band treks across LA to visit with the major record labels, for example, you have to wonder a bit how much of this was staged for the cameras. But that aside, there is a genuine passion and likability to the band that this movie completely captures. It can be sad to see these guys living out broken dreams, and at the same time hilarious to see the absurdity of their rock n' roll lifestyles that will not die. But at the same time this is an inspirational story - a real life lesson to keep the dream alive and never stop rockin'. Anvil rocks, dude.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, I'll save WOLVERINE for its own post. Until then, ROCK.

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