Thursday, June 02, 2005

REV: Yeaaaaagh . . . Lords opens tomorrow

Lords of Dogtown opens tomorrow . . . yeah Catherine!

And look already, a great review, and it's from The New York Times! Yeah Catherine!

Update: Okay, i've seen a number of reviews now, and most of them are really good. There are a couple of not-so-good critiques, but why not, not everyone can like 'em all. I guess i'm a bit stunned that so many critics are liking a skateflick. So below the NYT review i've posted a few others (all good ones, since i'm tight with this movie).

When California Started Sliding on Little Wheels

By A. O. SCOTT, June 3, 2005

"Lords of Dogtown," directed by Catherine Hardwicke from a script by Stacy Peralta, is about a minor pop-cultural earthquake made possible by the serendipitous convergence, in Los Angeles in 1975, of two otherwise unremarkable events. One was a drought that emptied the region's swimming pools, leaving their smooth, curving concrete interiors available for other uses, and the other was the arrival, in a Santa Monica surf shop, of a paper bag full of urethane wheels.

Attached to a skateboard, these wheels enabled a skilled rider to execute hard turns; long, easy glides; and quick changes of direction.

In an empty swimming pool or along a section of concrete pipe, skateboarding could at last realize its potential to become the land-based equivalent of surfing, with its own ethos, its own stars and its own marketing possibilities.

Mr. Peralta, one of the founders of this legend-shrouded subculture (played in the film by John Robinson, a slender, pretty young actor introduced to movie audiences in Gus Van Sant's "Elephant"), has lately emerged as its leading cinematic historian. "Lords of Dogtown" represents both a dramatic expansion and a narrative compression of the story he told in "Dogtown and Z Boys," an energetic documentary released in 2002.

This film follows the knot of teenage boys at the center of the Venice, Calif., skateboarding scene - Mr. Peralta, Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) and Sid Gianetti (Michael Angarano) - as they grapple with rivalry, family problems and the consequences of sudden fame.

They must also struggle with their shaggy mentor, Skip Engblom, owner of the Zephyr surfboard shop and a less than ideal role model. Played by Heath Ledger in what seems to be a demented tribute to Val Kilmer's performance in "The Doors," Skip is always volatile, frequently drunk and consistently the most entertaining figure in the movie.

Which is saying something, since "Lords of Dogtown," from start to finish, is pretty much a blast.

Ms. Hardwicke, whose previous film as a director was "Thirteen," shares with Mr. Peralta an enthusiastic interest in young people that is neither condescending nor exploitative.

Drawing on her long experience as a production designer (and on the skills of her director of photography, Elliot Davis, who also shot "Thirteen"), she has given the movie an appropriately scruffy, unpolished look consistent with the resourceful, do-it-yourself aesthetic of the place and time it depicts. She and Mr. Peralta are more interested in evoking a milieu than in telling a story, and their scenes have both the loose, stop-and-start rhythms of a long summer day and the restless, competitive energy of young men in the heat of adolescence.

What plot there is consists of a set of familiar signposts and crises - girl trouble, family trouble, emotional trouble, skateboard trouble - but the filmmakers nonchalantly weave through them, subordinating the predictability of narrative to the spontaneous pleasures of style.

The acting is appealingly low-key, in keeping with the skaters' code of cool, watchful reserve, but the distinct and contrasting personalities of the main characters emerge all the same.

Tony, with his caramel skin and curly blond mane, is vain and ambitious, eager for the stardom that awaits him and perhaps willing to betray his friends to achieve it. Jay, perhaps the most talented skater, is also the least able to cash in on his skills. Stacy, the straight arrow, is at first left off the Zephyr team because he is unwilling to let go of the responsibilities of job and school.

Sid, a rich kid whose inner-ear troubles prevent him from doing much on the board, serves as an all-purpose sidekick.

The main women in the story are Jay's sad, burnt-out mother (Rebecca De Mornay) and Tony's sister, Kathy (Nikki Reed), whom both Jay and Stacy have a thing for. And there is a louche promoter (Johnny Knoxville) who makes Skip look like a scoutmaster.

What unites the younger characters, and what gives "Lords of Dogtown" its buoyant, rebellious kick is the combination of recklessness and discipline that defines their approach to skateboarding. Their lives are a complicated and perhaps typically Southern California blend of hedonism and striving.

Apart from Sid, they have all grown up pretty hard: Kathy and Tony are the children of a tough, working-class Mexican-American father; Jay's mother, perpetually sunburned and a little unstable, works in a lamp factory and lives with her son in a tiny, cluttered apartment near the beach. But the climate and their own rambunctiousness combine to give these kids a sense of freedom and possibility that is at once antisocial - they throw punches, trash restaurants and break into suburban homes - and upwardly mobile.

Not having been there, I can hardly vouch for the movie's accuracy, but there is something about it that feels right - the looseness of its construction, the eclectic welter of its soundtrack, the faces of its cast. Mr. Peralta, having sustained his youthful obsession into middle age (and turned it into a varied and lucrative career), looks back without nostalgia, and Ms. Hardwicke makes you feel as if it's all happening now.

"Lords of Dogtown" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has some bad language, sexual situations and mild violence.

Lords of Dogtown
Opens nationwide today

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke; written by Stacy Peralta; director of photography, Elliot Davis; edited by Nancy Richardson; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Chris Gorak; produced by John Linson; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Emile Hirsch (Jay Adams), Victor Rasuk (Tony Alva), John Robinson (Stacy Peralta), Michael Angarano (Sid), Nikki Reed (Kathy Alva), Rebecca De Mornay (Philaine), Heath Ledger (Skip Engblom) and Johnny Knoxville (Topper Burks).

Lords of Dogtown
Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

When the sullen and fearless blond teenage boys in Lords of Dogtown ride their skateboards, never pausing to think about anything that isn't directly in front of them, the movie joins them right on the pavement, racing forward with grungy velocity, showing us what the skaters are seeing and feeling as they ride along back alleys, dilapidated asphalt playgrounds, and any other available surface: a world of trash transcended. The camera, sharing the high, threads its way through a double row of cars, and it's like a moment out of a Jerry Bruckheimer chase thriller, except that there's nothing at all fanciful or exaggerated about it. The sequence gives you a charge because it's entirely real — a God-on-the-street's-eye view of skateboard heaven.

The year is 1975, and the daredevil boarders — Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) — are the original skate punks. They're from Venice and Santa Monica, a.k.a. Dogtown, a rough-and-tumble ''ghetto by the sea'' that's nevertheless been touched by the stoned karma of surf culture. The surfers, macho as bikers, are a fading breed, but the skateboarders are too young to have tasted the '60s. They're disaffected hippie fallout, the long-haired sleepy children of divorce and drugs, and they translate surf moves — the extremes of balance and plunging bravado — from water to concrete. They take a pastime that's little more than a hula hoop novelty and turn it into a sexy, thrashing assertion of underground style.

Lords of Dogtown is a docudrama, rare in its grit and authenticity, that also strives for the mythical youth-rebel excitement of something like 8 Mile. The film was written by Peralta himself, and it stays extremely close to the events laid out in his superb 2002 documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys. We see the introduction of urethane wheels, which allow the skaters to grip any surface, and we meet Skip Engblom, the bedraggled burnout of a surf-shop owner who organizes the kids into the Zephyr Team, which becomes their debauched surrogate family. Skip is played by Heath Ledger, who gives a witty performance as a sloshed old lion who still has some bite left. The first time the Z-Boys show up at a competition, skating to Black Sabbath, it's hilarious — they're like devil hooligans invading a garden party. But they become a sensation.

You might say that they're escaping the reality of their lives, except that the director, Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), shows you how skateboarding, for these kids, is reality — the only one they care about. When they sneak into emptied-out swimming pools during a Southern California drought, riding their boards up and over the walls of the curvy smooth basins, it's because they're looking for a more bone-jangling rush, a way to cut through the numbness, to vent their aggression as they soar. The pools become bowls of vertical bliss.

Hardwicke is the rare director whose work is at once kinesthetic and delicate. She stages Lords of Dogtown with a rushing, caught-on-the-fly realism that may, in the end, prove more artful than commercial, yet she makes her characters vibrant and full. The contrasting temperaments of the brash, moonstruck Tony, the chivalrous Stacy, and the moody, troubled Jay come to the fore gradually, as they're confronted with success. The three become stars, boy kings of the '70s media/endorsement culture, and in different ways it tears each of them apart. But that, the movie says, is tied to the nature of what they invented: a sport that never had any motive beyond the go-for-broke impulse of flying off the next curve.

Lords of Dogtown
Annlee Ellingson, BoxOffice Magazine

Starring Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, Heath Ledger and John Robinson. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Written by Stacy Peralta. Produced by Art Linson and John Linson. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for drug and alcohol content, sexuality, violence, language and reckless behavior, all involving teens. Running time: 105 min.

When Julius Erving slam-dunked a basketball from the free throw line during the ABA All-Star Game dunk contest in 1976, no one had ever seen anything like it. In 1984 Carl Lewis was the first to break the 10-second barrier in the 100-meter dash. And in 2002 both Mike Metzger and Travis Pastrana brought their previously unseen motocross back flips to competition for a showdown.

In sports, there are moments when one witnesses what should be impossible--feats that have never been achieved before but will be again and again, only to be taken to the next level. It's this sense of discovery, the excitement of experimentation, that helmer Catherine Hardwicke captures in this '70s-set coming-of-ager about the Z-Boys of Dogtown, who were the first to realize that they could surf asphalt.

Based on a 1999 Spin article, which also spawned an award-winning documentary by screenwriter Stacy Peralta, "Lords of Dogtown" recounts the serendipitous convergence of polyurethane skateboard wheels and a Southern California drought that drains the area's backyard swimming pools, inspiring surf rats Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), Peralta himself (John Robinson) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) to ride walls like waves. Low to the ground, one hand outstretched, their style--aggressive yet agile--launches a whole new industry, laying the foundation for the X Games, and propels the Z-Boys to rock-star celebritydom. But eventually the constant competition wreaks havoc on their relationships, splitting up the Zephyr team and leading each of the boys to very different ends.

For purposes of narrative, Alva, Peralta and Adams represent three disparate trajectories of experience. Alva, who choreographed stunts and served as his own character's stunt double on the film, is the most ambitious of the three, but it's the cherubic Peralta who best markets himself. Acknowledged as the most talented, Adams is also the most self-destructive, a risk-taker who revolutionizes the sport but is unable to conform to please his sponsors. Think of it this way: Alva is to Jimi Hendrix as Peralta is to disco as Adams is to the Sex Pistols.

Ample footage of the skaters from the era, familiar to fans of the doc "Dogtown and Z-Boys," poses a challenge for casting, but virtual unknowns Rasuk ("Raising Victor Vargas") and Robinson ("Elephant") are not only talented up-and-comers--proverbial "ones to watch"--but dead ringers for their real-life counterparts. Superficially, Hirsch is less convincing, skewing a bit older than Adams was at the time, but he here he blends unpredictability, gravity and a feline physicality for a complex portrait of a troubled young man. The 20-year-old actor (yes, the kid from "The Girl Next Door," but also "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") has crafted an intriguing oeuvre and could carve a career akin to that of Leonardo DiCaprio, whom he sometimes resembles. Meanwhile, channeling Val Kilmer is Heath Ledger in a nuanced portrait of Skip Engblom, team founder and surrogate father until fame and fortune lures his proteges away.

Aside from some lost momentum in the third act and extraneous romantic entanglements that, while based on fact, are transparent in their attempt to amp the pic's sex appeal, "Lords of Dogtown" is deftly filmed by "Thirteen's" Hardwicke and cinematographer Elliot Davis. Using desaturated tones, the filmmakers employ handheld camerawork, tightly framed close-ups and kinetic cuts for a fluid, aggressive, punk-ass style that captures the energy of that singular moment in sports history.

"Lords of Dogtown"
Review by Eric D. Snider

Despite having teenage wastoids who spend all their time skateboarding as its protagonists, "Lords of Dogtown" is a Real Movie. It has themes and character arcs and nothing but mid-'70s rock on the soundtrack. What could have been only a pandering skate-ploitation flick instead treats its true story with maturity and skill.This may be disappointing to skaters who were hoping for two hours of skate heroes executing gnarly stunts while scantily clad babes look on admiringly. There is good skate footage here, but the focus is on the boys more than on their actual on-the-ramp exploits. It is spawned from skating legend Stacy Peralta's 2002 documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys," which told of how he and his friends basically invented modern skateboarding in 1975. Peralta wrote the screenplay to this mildly fictionalized version ("inspired by a true story," it says); fellow Sundance alum Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen") directs it in what has become, in two films, her distinctive style: gritty film stock, hand-held cameras, and an unswerving focus on the angst of teen-hood. "Dogtown" is a nickname for Venice, Calif., the seaside town that is home, in 1975, to a handful of high school students who live to surf. We quickly focus in on four of them: Stacy (John Robinson), the responsible, job-holding one, with long, pretty hair; Jay (Emile Hirsch), reckless and dangerous and possessed of an insane mother; Sid (Michael Angarano), a rich kid with an inner-ear problem that gives him poor balance (a liability for a surfer, you'll admit); and Tony (Victor Rasuk), a Mexican-American boy whose father pushes him to excellence, hoping he will rise above their meager surroundings. These four know the best waves are near the dilapidated old pier at Pacific Ocean Park; however, that spot is closely guarded by older surfers who make our heroes wait their turn. While they wait, they casually (and, unbeknownst to themselves, expertly) engage in surfing's cousin, skateboarding. The local surf shop, Zephyr, is run by Skip (a very odd Heath Ledger, channeling Val Kilmer), a surf bum who opens the store only when the waves aren't coming. He has but an ounce of business sense, but it's enough to realize he could make a fortune designing, building and selling skateboards. After all, only kids on the coasts can surf, but anyone can skate.Skip forms a skateboarding team of the local kids, and their appearance at a regional tournament is revelatory. The other participants' routines are reminiscent of figure skating -- staid, demure and unthrilling. The Zephyr kids are used to skating on the streets, though, leaping over trash cans and careening down staircases. They bring a new flavor to the stodgy skateboarding tournament, something like if Jimi Hendrix had crashed a classical guitar recital.The California drought leads to the next development in the evolution of skating.

Neighborhood swimming pools are empty, and Jay and the gang are bored. If you have seen the modern "X-Game" style of skating, here is its genesis: empty pools and listless teenagers. The sport is forever changed, and the boys are on their way to success on the tournament circuit.The movie cannot avoid the trappings of all movies like this: the pressures of fame, the tested loyalties, the growing arrogance of this character, the self-destruction of that character, and so forth. But it handles well the four boys' distinct personalities and trajectories, juggling them all so as not to neglect anyone too severely (though I do think we could have seen more of Tony's rise and fall as a skating superstar).That said, the movie's strong points do not come in its words.

Peralta has shown his worth as a documentarian (see his "Riding Giants," also), but his knack for writing dialogue has not yet emerged. Most of what the boys say to each other is predictable and ordinary, sounding like the things movie characters usually say to each other. The characters emerge as strong types, though, thanks to four winning performances. At the center, and emerging as the film's de facto main character, is Emile Hirsch, who plays Jay as the most directionless of these directionless boys, the most wantonly rebellious. His cycle of recklessness and misery feels exactly like what most teenage boys go through -- amplified beyond what most of us experience, but having the same causes and symptoms. Hirsch, who has never failed to be interesting in his various unusual roles ("The Mudge Boy," "The Girl Next Door"), is, as they say One to Watch.The movie is not as much fun to watch as the documentary was -- ironic, given that surely the only reason for making it was to draw in the crowd that wouldn't be caught dead watching a documentary -- but it captures the boys and their moods well enough to make it a fruitful character study. I suspect those who will enjoy it most are people who wouldn't be caught dead watching a skateboard movie. Grade: B

Rated PG-13, scattered profanity, a little sexuality, some underage drinking and pot-smoking
1 hr., 47 min.

Lords of Dogtown
Film Blather

It's a dangerous business, writing a movie about your life. Writing one for Hollywood is even more dangerous. It's awfully easy to flatter and self-aggrandize when trying to mythologize oneself. For proof, you need go no further than Denzel Washington's Antwone Fisher, which was written by the title character as a tedious, inspirational autopraiseography. It's a dangerous business.

Lords of Dogtown, a somewhat fictionalized account of the rise of professional skateboarding among a group of now legendary young guys in Venice, California, was written by one of those legends: Stacy Peralta, who also directed a popular documentary on the same subject called Dogtown and Z-Boys. And indeed, the movie does fall into some of the traps you might expect. Young Peralta, played here by John Robinson (Elephant), is easily the most flawless and saintly of the characters the film presents, by turns noble, unassuming and betrayed. If you know the identity of the screenwriter, it does become somewhat uncomfortable to watch.

Fortunately, the similarities to Antwone Fisher end there. For if Lords of Dogtown is plagued by a couple of moments that are tacky or classless, they are easily overshadowed by its big heart, offbeat manner, and a couple of displays of virtuoso filmmaking -- including, yes, screenwriting. Considering that the only previous major skateboarding movie, aside from Dogtown and Z-Boys which is a little-seen documentary, has been the utterly dire Grind, enthusiasts of the sport should be particularly grateful for this effort. The rest of us should just savor its isolated but considerable pleasures.

The film's visual style should be familiar to anyone who saw Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke's acclaimed debut. It's a nice break from the gloss and sheen of most mainstream films, and I was reminded, on a very superficial level, of Paul Greengrass' work in The Bourne Supremacy, though the look of Lords of Dogtown is less likely to confuse and more apt to be mistaken for an "edgy" music video. But then, that's more negative than I want to sound; it's a good look for the film, gritty and immediate (if somewhat stereotypically so), adding some tension to what may otherwise have just been mundane.

I mentioned that the film has moments of greatness, and indeed there are a few shots and scenes that transcend the material and speak to Hardwicke's talent. The movie's perhaps unintended centerpiece is an extended party sequence roughly halfway through the film. It begins amusingly and ends powerfully, as Hardwicke and the screenplay effortlessly juggle and develop a half-dozen storylines, building momentum as the characters slowly but inevitably head for a major meltdown. The fundamental formulas of the plot and the relationships between the players underlie everything -- we know that cocky hotshot Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and fiery outsider Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) must part ways explosively, that loyalties will be tested in familiar ways, that there will be a pivotal competition in which some will get their comeuppance -- but for fifteen minutes or so they fade into the background and the screen practically burns with possibility. We even begin to entertain the thought that we don't know what's going to happen next. It's a marvelous scene.

Much like the rest of Lords of Dogtown, the performances have a way of hitting and missing in spots but adding up nicely at the end of the day. I was not initially sold on Emile Hirsch's supposed badass (though I was willing to allow for the possibility that he was playing someone who was not a badass but was trying to be one), but by the end of the film both Hirsch and his character won me over with sheer persistance. Victor Rasuk is perhaps a touch overeager (there is one line delivery in particular -- "We're going to be the first to ride it!" -- that's a horrid miscalculation), but then so is Tony Alva. And if those two fall in the middle, John Robinson and Heath Ledger are on opposite ends, with the former handling the tricky Peralta role with dignity and class, diffusing some of the screenplay's self-importance, and the latter resembling nothing so much as Ledger playing Johnny Depp playing a famous skateboard pioneer. Some have suggested Val Kilmer, but I think Depp is closer.

This film won't be the easiest sell on the mass market, but it won me over: it's just unconventional enough, it has a heart and a rhythm, and it strives for greatness. Hardwicke and Peralta tread familiar ground at their own pace and on their own path.

--Eugene Novikov


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