Tag Archives: B+

ADORATION

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B+

Atom Egoyan’s last film was “Where the Truth Lies,” but it wasn’t much good. That title would also suit this one, but it differs in being very fine indeed.

Egoyan is one of the most interesting directors working today; even his failures are intriguing. But his best films—“Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter”—are truly extraordinary. And if “Adoration” doesn’t quite match them, it comes remarkably close.

The linchpin of the plot is Simon (Devon Bostick), a high school student and orphan living in a modest suburban house with his uncle Tom (Scott Speedman), a sad-faced tow-truck driver. When his teacher, Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian), reads the class an old news report about a Palestinian man who sent his pregnant wife on a flight to the Middle East with a bomb in her luggage—which fortuitously did not explode—he writes an essay in which he’s the unborn child whom his father intended to sacrifice but who survived. Sabine encourages him to read the essay to the class as fact rather than fiction, and soon the whole school is not only talking about him via their computer linkups but engaging the wider net community in the discussion.

Meanwhile Simon is reflecting on videos he shot of his bigoted grandfather Morris (Kenneth Walsh) as the old man lay dying, blaming his daughter’s death or her husband. Recollections of Simon’s mother Rachel (Rachel Blanchard), a violinist, and father Sami (Noam Jenkins)—particularly the last contentious dinner they had, along with Tom and Simon, at Morris’ house—are juxtaposed with “flashbacks” from Simon’s school scenario, also with Blanchard and Jenkins. Another layer is added when a mysterious woman in a chador and elaborate niqab appears at Tom and Simon’s home asking questions about the boy’s parents—queries that challenge Tom’s attitudes and his emotional solitude.

Egoyan manages to tie all these threads together—it wouldn’t be fair to reveal precisely how—and though some of the connections and revelations strain credulity, they do what they’re intended to do: to bring out the ideas that Egoyan wants to ruminate on, taking us along with him. In those respects “Adoration” is of a piece with his other films, both stylistically and thematically. Like them it’s quiet and meditative, a fractured narrative doling out fragments of information as Simon struggles to discern where deception and his imagination end and the truth really lies. And it proceeds with an achingly slow rhythm and seductively simple, chaste visual beauty.

In the process it raises issues Egoyan has dealt with before—overcoming, or at least learning to live with, guilt; the power of intolerance and ancient hatreds; the bonds of family; the varieties of perspectives from which any event can be perceived; the difficulty of communicating; the abruptness with which violence and tragedy can erupt. But none are treated in blunt, didactic fashion. Egoyan toys with them, teasing out examples of how they operate in individual lives and the ripples they send out into the larger world. And he refuses to tell the viewer what it all means, instead inviting us to think about the ideas he raises for ourselves. For some that obliqueness will be frustrating; but for those ready to give themselves over to the picture’s melancholy complexity, it will be engrossing.

For the most part Egoyan draws refined performances from his cast. His wife Khanjian, who’s often appeared in his films, pushes the plot forward, sometimes rather bluntly, but Bostick is poignantly subdued as the tormented young student, and Speedman subtly shows the changes in his uncle. Blanchard and Jenkins do equally delicate work. By contrast Walsh is gruff and emphatic as the boy’s grandfather. Watch for Maury Chaykin as one of the more vivid interlocutors on Simon’s Internet chat room.

“Adoration” has been fashioned with care, in Egoyan’s usual style, precise but unfussy, with fine cinematography by Paul Sarossy. Particularly important contributions come from Susan Shipton, whose editing knits the narrative fragments together skillfully, and composer Mychael Danna, whose string-heavy score not only establishes the right mood of sadness and dissonance but serves as an effective linking device among the plot strands.

No Egoyan film is ever going to be popular in the multiplex sense—he’s too personal an artist, with too idiosyncratic and demanding a style. And “Adoration” is unquestionably a rarefied piece that asks a lot of viewers. But those who make an effort to respond to its challenges will find it an absorbing and haunting experience.

ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL

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B+

At first it’s easy to mistake “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” as another mockumentary in the “Spinal Tap” mode—surely the fact that the drummer in the heavy metal band it profiles is named Robb Reiner is a dead giveaway. But no: this is a serious picture about a real group. And it’s a surprisingly amusing and moving one.

The picture begins a full quarter-century ago, with footage from a 1984 concert in which Anvil appeared alongside the likes of Whitesnake and Bon Jovi and seemed poised to go to the very top; there are also comments from players in long-established bands who testify as to how great, and influential, the youthful Anvil was. But cutting to 2006, we find original lead singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Reiner toiling away at workaday jobs in their native Toronto (Kudlow’s is at a caterer that delivers to schools), desperate for small-time gigs at clubs with their newest guitarist and bassist (having gone through multiple players in each slot). And they’re trying to put together material for a planned thirteenth album, even though they’ve long lacked a big-label contract and their discs, since their three big early hits, haven’t gotten much attention.

Most of “Anvil” follows Kudlow and Reiner as the fifty-year olds try to keep their dream of rock fame alive while maintaining relatively normal home lives with their families. First they’re off on a European tour put together by a well-meaning but hopelessly inept fan named Tiziana Arrigoni, who repeatedly flubs travel arrangements and can’t even secure payment. (She comes across as a pathetic figure, though, rather than as a scam artist. And there’s a nice twist on her story in the final credits.) Then the plot turns to that thirteenth album, which a noted British producer agrees to make if the guys can raise the funds (something Kudlow manages to do in a poignant scene, though his efforts as a telemarketer prove hilariously ineffective). The resulting sessions illustrate the occasional blowups that occur in the Kudlow-Reiner relationship, as well as their continuing friendship; and when the record is finished, finding a distributor proves an impossibility.

But even while the men suffer setback after setback, their dedication continues—though it’s constantly challenged. And through their own reminiscences we get to know a lot about how the band began and the early successes it had (as well as observations from their families that are sometimes not entirely supportive). And in the end, just as it seems that their hopes are going to be dashed yet again, there comes a surprise invitation to a rock festival in Japan where, despite fears that the crowd might be small, the concern proves groundless.

You can pigeonhole “Anvil” if you like, saying it’s simply a fable that teaches us all never to abandon our dreams. But that unjustly reduces it to a tagline. It’s a deeply human piece that’s hilarious one moment and touching the next. You certainly don’t have to be a fan of Heavy Metal to appreciate this affectionate but revealing tribute by Sacha Gervasi (who, as the final credits also show, has been a fan for a long time).