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Head-bangers who refuse to give up hope? Call it the next cult classic

3 out of 4 stars


Anvil: The True Story

of Anvil

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

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With Steve (Lips) Kudlow

and Robb Reiner

Classification: 14A


For a film that celebrates a band that sings about Satan, torture and nasty sex, Anvil: The True Story of Anvil is surprisingly touching and funny. The delights of the film, which seems destined to become a minor cult classic, have little to do with the band's head-banging music and everything to do with smart storytelling from director Sacha Gervasi. A British screenwriter ( The Terminal, The Big Tease) who befriended the band when he was 15, he offers this film as a mischievously affectionate tribute to the heroes of his youth (and a possible career reboot).

Anvil opens with a Japanese heavy-metal festival in the early eighties, where, according to the title crawl, every band on the bill except one went on to make millions as recording and touring acts. The losers were Anvil, who came out of Toronto early in that decade with great fanfare, and after three albums disappeared off the radar.

Testimonies from various journalists and rock idols - Slash from Guns N' Roses, Lars Ulrich from Metallica, Lemmy from Motorhead - assert the historic importance of the band, along with puzzlement about its failure to break through.

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Cut to contemporary Scarborough, where Steve (Lips) Kudlow, on the verge of turning 50, is driving a truck for a company that caters school lunches: shepherd's pie one day, meatloaf another, followed by spaghetti and meat balls - a litany that could cause even a non-heavy-metal singer to fall to his knees and scream. The sequence also introduces us to Kudlow's unique brand of cock-eyed optimism: "It could never be worse than how it is. ... But on the other hand, if it did get worse, at least this time after all is said and done at least I can say that's all said and done."

We learn how guitarist, singer and songwriter Kudlow met drummer Robb Reiner in Downsview when they were 14, both children of Eastern European immigrants. A couple of years later, they dropped out of school to become rockers. Family and friends describe them as being like conjoined twins: Kudlow is emotionally volatile while Reiner is a steady, sensitive brooder (he's also a talented painter, whose masterpiece is a photo-realist image of an unflushed toilet). We see archival clips of the young feminine-looking duo talking to a head-bobbing MuchMusic interviewer, J.D. Roberts, (now CNN's John Roberts) and appearing on The Shirley Show, where a disgusted audience listens to Anvil's lyrics read aloud.

Clearly, Anvil's future seems to be behind it. Back to the present, where Kudlow and Reiner reminisce at the local deli and then head home, where fresh hope arrives by e-mail. A Russian fan named Tiziana has long loved the band and has arranged a European tour for them, and suddenly, they're hard-rocking kids again. At a Swedish metal festival, Kudlow is like a kid at a fairground, running to greet old heavy-metal friends, some who embrace him and some who don't seem to know him. But things go downhill quickly. Tiziana is not an experienced manager. She fails to book their train tickets and they end up in a baggage car in sleeping bags. In Prague, they get lost on the way to the club and the owner tries to pay them in goulash.

"It's done," says Reiner's sister when they return home. But Kudlow and Reiner have one more plan. What if they can get back with their old English producer and make one more great album, portentously titled Thirteen?

The final sequence mirrors and amplifies the highs and lows of their European tour with the same addictive run of crushing disappointments and fresh hopes. Anvil: The True Story of Anvil is only 80 minutes long, but it packs a lifetime worth of drama, setbacks and especially friendship into its brief running time.

Anvil members Steve (Lips) Kudlow and Robb Reiner will be at AMC Dundas Square in Toronto for the first two evening shows of Anvil: The True Story of Anvil today and tomorrow, when they will be joined by director Sacha Gervasi.

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