I had never seen the corresponding documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys and had no idea what this film would be about beforehand, but the film does give just enough information for the viewer to walk away with some idea of what it's all about.
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Lords of Dogtown is a feature about several kids from the L.A. area of Dogtown, a part of Venice Beach, in the '70s. There, between the old, rotting piers, a bunch of kids spent their time surfing, supervised in part by the owners of the Zephyr Surf Shop, Skip Engblom, Craig Stecyk and Jeff Ho.
Outside surfing, the boys (and one girl) are also into skateboarding, a sport they get into even more enthusiastically when a new type of wheels is introduced to them - they now have the type of grip that allows them to skate up a wall and they no longer crash every time they hit a pebble.
Their rough street style, attitude and experiences in surfing drive these kids to invent new styles which are nowadays considered regular part of skateboarding. But these kids did it first. Making use of a drought in those days, they discovered drained swimming pools as their practice grounds and with this unusual surf ground, they invented the moves that today have been perfected and performed in the large concrete pipes we know from skateboarding competitions.
Skip encourages the kids to join competitions, where he sells the custom-made skateboards his surf shop now concentrates on. The success of these rebellious kids to whom skateboarding is a lifestyle more than a past-time soon attracts sponsors and managers and the formerly tight-knit group of friends starts to come apart in this business environment.
I have to say that it helps to watch the documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys before watching the film because unfortunately, the film leaves out so many details that it becomes a rather disconnected display of scenes.
Although the original Zephyr Skate Team was made up of a good dozen kids, the film conentrates mostly on Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta, the two young boys who went on to have careers in the field of skateboarding, and Jay Adams, generally credited as "the original seed" of trick skating; last not least, there's Sid, who is not listed as a member of the Zephyr Skate Team on the original Dogtown and Z-Boys pages.
In the documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys, one of the members recalls that there was "a kid named Sid" who was dying from cancer and had asked his father to allow the other kids to skate in their drained pool. Lords of Dogtown makes Sid an original member and close friend of all the kids, which doesn't correspond with the documentary.
Lords of Dogtown is trying to show the hard times these kids had and the comraderie they found at the Zephyr Surf Shop, a type of safe haven where Skip Engblom is trying to help them out as a type of big-brother figure.
As said, only a select few of the Zephyr kids are being portrayed in this feature and a lot of things are just never explained. At first, Stacy Peralta is being treated as an outcast: "What 16-year-old surfer wears a watch?" Engblom asks when he decides to start the Zephyr skate team. He has shirts and boards made for all the kids except Stacy, leaving Stacy out to compete on his own. The impression given was that Stacy making his own money as a bus boy sets him apart.
On the other hand Sid, who wasn't even a part of the Zephyr team according to the documentary, is featured as part of the team in this film: but he's the real rich kid, complete with his own American Express card.
There are also attempts at highlighting where these kids come from, why they needed to band together in this sport and compete against others as well as each other. Again, too much remains unanswered. While Tony Alva's sister, not a skater, is featured prominently, we never even see Stacy Peralta's home or parents: we have no idea what his family status is.
At first, the problem of Stacy Peralta dating Tony's sister seems to be based on Tony being protective of his sister; however, once the sister and Stacy break up, Tony encourages his team mate Jay Adams to date her, even make out with her in the same room as Tony and his girl.
Most peculiar: Jay Adams, credited as the most talented and daring skateboarder, doesn't really perform above the rest: in competitions, he actually gets bad scores and only once is he shown doing an unusual trick, but he also falls off the board at that time.
The film also has no clear timeline: Once the Zephyr kids start to draw the attention of sponsors, the film skips to different competitions and other events where the friends are already apart from one another. Still, they meet at the competitions and talk as if no time has passed.
Tony, who gets the big deals and superstar status, still lives in the same home with his father and sister at the top of his game; Stacy one day decides to quit with his current sponsor and do his own thing some day, but we get no reason why, not even any contract conflict. He just walks off.
I watched this film with my editor and afterwards, we both had about 20 minutes worth of nothing but questions about the story line and the depicted lives we'd just seen. The film is very obviously made by those who were there: they seem to have overlooked the fact that the rest of us don't know the rest of the story.
However, what makes this film worth watching and gives it the Above Average rating is the acting. The young actors who play the Zephyr kids are outstanding, particularly Emile Hirsch (Girl Next Door) who plays Jay Adams.
Sid is being played by Michael Angarano (Little Secrets, Almost Famous, Seabiscuit) and Angarano and Hirsch constantly reminded me of the Brat Pack. They were fun and exciting to watch.
Stacy Peralta is played by John Robinson (Elephant); his acting is good, but he does have a bit of an angelic look that seems slightly out of place in the gritty neighborhood of Dogtown. Last, Victor Rasuk (Raising Victor Vargas) is a vibrant, energetic Tony Alva who shines in his portrayal of whatever emotion, from fun, playful pal to conceited, self-centered bully, it's impossible to take your eyes off Rasuk.
Heath Ledger plays Skip Engblom, the surfshop owner, with a scraggly look and an odd accent which, if you watch the documentary first, turns out to be a deadpan copy of the real Skip Engblom. He makes this character very realistic: an alcoholic with occasional emotional outbursts, stuck between trying to help these kids in life and being close to bancrupcy with his shop. In the end Skip, who started it all, sees it all slipping away when the sponsors come in and he ultimately self-destructs, but moves on.
All the actors and actresses, when compared to pictures of the original team, are perfect copies of the real people. There has been some tremendous effort made in finding actors who look just like the characters they are based on.
For anybody with the slightest interest in skating, this film should be a hit; same for a young audience who will see characters with problems and a place to get away from it all: kids will identify with these guys who made their hobby into an artform and a career.
There's a multitude of well-known actors and actresses in this film, not all of them easy to match with the characters they play in the film. Since the film isn't out yet, there are not complete cast listings available yet, but some of the actors in this film are: Pablo Schreiber (Liev Schreiber's younger brother), America Ferrera (Real Women Have Curves), Rebecca de Mornay (Jay's Mother), Johnny Knoxville (Walking Tall, Grand Theft Parsons), etc.
The film is fun, despite it's story: it's surfing, skateboarding, sun and ocean, kids trying to find their way through life and all vividly portrayed. You can forgive the missing details.
The film has a great '70s soundtrack and a theatrical trailer can be viewed at www.sonypictures.com
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