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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Skateland

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SKATELAND (2010)

Starring Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman, Taylor Handley, A.J. Buckley, Brett Cullen, Melinda McGraw, James LeGros, Haley Ramm, David Sullivan, Ellen Hollman, James Hébert and D.W. Moffett.

Screenplay by Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman & Heath Freeman.

Directed by Anthony Burns.

Distributed by Freestyle Releasing.  98 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

 

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Skateland 

The nostalgic 80s coming-of-age drama Skateland is dedicated to the late film director John Hughes, who made a name (and a fortune) creating films about growing up in the 80s – including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 

Ironically, Skateland (which is not to be confused with Stakeland, an indie vampire movie coming out at about the same time) has more in common with the work of Howard Deutsch, Hughes’ gun-for-hire director.  Deutsch helmed some of the prolific filmmaker’s more serious (and some might say maudlin?) scripts that the director himself wasn’t interested in making, such as Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. 

As a director, Hughes’ films tended to be funnier and less heavy-handed than those two scripts.  They were also much more enjoyable. 

Actually, even more than the films of either Hughes or Deutsch, Skateland is reminiscent of previous 80s nostalgia films like Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused or Greg Mottola’s similarly titled Adventureland. 

The only difference is, like the Deutsch films, Skateland just takes itself a bit too seriously – while the other two films I just mentioned were able to juggle the emotions with humor to make for a more pleasing viewing experience. 

Not to say that Skateland is not good, just that ironically for a film about a roller rink, it is not very light on its feet, nor does it move very gracefully. 

Actually, for a film called Skateland, relatively little of the movie takes place in the titular setting.  Skateland was a roller skating venue in small-town Texas which is going through its final days in the early 80s.  Although the movie never specifies a date, judging from the soundtrack music and decorations I would guess that Skateland is supposed to take place in around 1983 or 1984.  (A good four years or so after roller-mania had died down.) 

Now as someone who came of age during those years, I tend to be more attuned to era touchstones, and honestly other than some ugly outfits, a few bad hairdos and a pretty accurate (if a little safe) new wave soundtrack, Skateland could have really taken place at any time.  Occasional period props show up (big cheers for the art director who found the hero a Radio Shack TRS-80, one of the first home computers that hooked into your television set) but otherwise, too much of this dustbowl town feels stuck in an era long before even the film’s past setting. 

Like most of these films, the thrust is about a young guy (Shiloh Fernandez) trying to find love, a job and a purpose as he moves on from childhood.  All the stock types are here: the dude who is too old to still be hanging with the kids (Heath Freeman), the sweet and sexy girl the hero thinks of as just a friend (Ashley Greene), the horndog buddy (David Sullivan), the gorgeous girl who got away (Ellen Hollman) and the crazy ex-boyfriend (James Hébert). 

Ritchie is out of school but not ready for a career yet.  His parents are getting divorced and he doesn’t know where he wants to live.  He doesn’t know if he wants to work for his dad or go to college.  He doesn’t know if he wants to win his gorgeous ex back or settle for his even more gorgeous girl-next-door who obviously worships him and is open to occasional unprompted booty calls.  He doesn’t know if he wants to hang around, drink beer, party, fight and race with his buddies or move on to his dream of being a writer.  (A dream which is not really revealed until late in the film, though earlier there is a single scene that showed a girl looking at an essay that he did in high school – which appears to be at least 40-50 pages long and fully collated and looks much more like a shooting script than any high school term paper made in the 80s.) 

He works through these dilemmas with friends and family – discussing their innermost feelings with such unnatural openness that it often feels awkwardly scripted rather than how people really talked back then (or do now, for that matter).  Not that I don’t believe the characters feel the things they are saying – I just don’t believe that they would state them in such black and white and open terms.  These scenes have no nuance, no subtext… it all feels like student fiction. 

If you watch The Breakfast Club, even with 25 years of hindsight, you will see that this is where Skateland can’t keep up.  Yes, that film took stock situations as well.  And, yes, that movie also occasionally got overly navel-gazing.  But – and this is a big but – every time the movie swerved into sappiness, Hughes made sure to toss in some razor sharp dialogue or an inspired turn of phrase or a goofy rejoinder to keep the movie from sinking into the quicksand. 

Skateland has some terrific parts and some fine acting, but all too often it is swerving directly into the quagmire of sappy period drama.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 30, 2011.

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Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 30, 2011.