Lords of Dogtown

This story begins in 1975, as we see teenage surfers Peralta, Tony & Jay surfing the waves at Venice Beach, LA. While not surfing they help out at the local surfboard store owned by Engblom (Heath Ledger). As well as being surfboard fans, they also enjoy skateboarding and begin to hone their skills when new stronger wheels come in for their boards. The 3 guys also take advantage of a severe drought, which sees residents emptying their swimming pools - empty curved space for the skaters to really let loose. Soon enough, their hobby gets noticed by big business and sponsorship deals come their way. What follows is how each of the 3 boys handle the opportunities presented to them, and how this affects their relationships to each other.’Lords of Dogtown’ is based on true events from the mid ’70s, when skateboarding really became apart of popular culture. For the people riding them, it became like a religion - an escape from their real lives. The boys in this film are depicted being from lower to middle class backgrounds, which gave them the motivation to aim for the best skating sponsorship deal they can. When ‘Corporate America’ comes knocking on their door, suddenly their hobby just becomes another job, and greed suddenly sets in for one of the boys. However, this allows the boys to learn the financial side of the business - which they use to their advantage as they get older.

The film is mainly cast with unknowns, but all of them give very energetic performances, with lots of enthusiasm which comes across to the audience. Of the 3 boys, Emile Hirsch is a stand out and is one to watch in the future. There are a few well known people of the cast, one of them being Heath Ledger, who gives a fantastic performance as the Jim Morrison type ‘leader of the group’ Engblom. This would have to be one of Ledger’s best performances ever, and is definitely memorable. Rebecca DeMornay is almost unrecognisable as the mother of one of the boys, and gives a very sympathetic performance. Johnny Knoxville pops up as a local gangster type, who sponsors one of the boys, and tries to turn him into as greedy as he is.

The cinematography and skating scenes are excellent in this. The audience really gets a sense of being with the boys as they skate, and the tricks that the guys do on the boards are quite something. The storyline is slightly cliché ridden, as at times it feels like the usual ‘coming of age story’. But the fairly strong performances from the leads, and the excellent skating scenes generally overcome any minor quibbles.

Skateboarding is a multi million dollar industry these days, so it’s interesting to see what it would have been like in its early days before the Corporations took things over. The music and costume design of the 70s are always fun to watch, as is the case here. This is well worth a look, and is an entertaining and interesting history lesson.

Rating out of 10: 7 and a half

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Jet Li plays Danny, a man who is locked in a cage wearing a collar, who is the personal assassin of evil loan shark, Bart (Bob Hoskins). After one of Bart’s victims takes revenge on him, Danny staggers into the workplace of blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman). Sam takes Danny to his home, where he meets his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). With his new found ‘family’, Danny slowly learns to adapt to the outside world that has been hidden from him, and also to learn the fate of his deceased mother. After awhile, Bart comes back looking for Danny and all hell breaks lose! Much action and furious glares ensue.

Western audiences have taken their time to getting used to Jet Li’s films. His first American film was Lethal Weapon 4, where he played the villain, but since then he has mostly played good guys roles in films such as ‘The One’, & ‘Cradle to the Grave’. His last film was the excellent ‘Hero’, where he finally showed how good he could be in action roles without the restraint of the Hollywood machine. ‘Unleashed’ is a change of pace for Jet Li, as in this one he actually has to give a ‘performance’, and act convincingly amongst the action. He does this surprisingly well, and makes his role very sympathetic and endearing. Naturally his action scenes are at his usual high standards, but this film is more of an acting piece for him. His scenes with Morgan Freeman are well handled and believable.

The rest of the cast do their usual good roles. Bob Hoskins delights in playing a rare bad guy role and chews the scenery as much as he can. Hoskins exudes evil and makes his dangerous psycho role, a very scary one. Morgan Freeman lends his usual dignity to proceedings, and plays his usual mentor type role to perfection. Kerry Condon as the stepdaughter is very charming, and thankfully the film mostly stays away from making her part the ‘token love interest’. Her character has an important role to play and helps guide the Danny character to discovering himself.

The film isn’t mostly about the drama of course, and the action in this is quite impressive. Jet Li certainly has a great technical knowledge of fight scenes and impresses at every turn. Whilst the films of Jackie Chan feature fight scenes that are mostly played for laughs, Jet Li takes his scenes very seriously, which adds to the tension and danger. There is very little CGI work in this and most of the fight scenes are done for real. There are some holes in the storyline, but generally the acting and action mostly overcome them.

Martial Art type films have their own cult audiences, while other people dismiss them out of hand for being ’silly’. This is one of the better films made of the genre and has more substance in between people getting thrown around. Definitely one of the best American made Jet Li films, with good performances all around.

Rating out of 10: 6 and a half.

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