Thursday, June 16, 2005

Two Movies That Require Anti-Perspirants

Friday Night Lights
2004, USA
Peter Berg

OK, OK, I get it already, football is war. Except, instead of young men barely old enough to shave hurling themselves over trench-lines into the midst of battles where victory is measured in yards, it’s a bunch of obese thirty year olds pushing each other while a middle aged white guy throws a ball at a middle aged black guy. How heroic. Friday Night Lights is the kind of movie that reminds us why the entire world thinks of Americans as sweaty hicks with double-digit IQs, because every third film released by Hollywood is about redneck Texas high school football players trying to win a state championship while simultaneously drinking enough beer to drown an English soccer team. The other 30% of Hollywood films are about inspirational Illinois basketball coaches, and the rest have Dakota Fanning in them. This film is based on a true story, that of the Permian High Panthers in Odessa, Texas, which makes sense, because it’s certainly not interesting enough to be made up. To be fair, Friday Night Lights isn’t your typical Bad News Bears-type high school football movie, mainly because it doesn’t rely too heavily on stereotypical characters. Mainly, that’s because it doesn’t rely too heavily on character at all, choosing instead to provide small snapshots into the players’ lives without delving too deeply or overstating the obvious. This is a sort of refreshing change in a time when most scripts have more expository dialogue than actual plot development, but a curious companion to this admirable trait is the fact that the film doesn’t focus terribly much on football either. Much of the team’s successful season is glossed over, much like the Rocky’s first bout with Apollo Creed, which made me question where the last two hours of my life went after the film was over. Of course, I tend to question that often, as a combination of Clozarin and the Space: The Imagination Station often lead to mid-afternoon blackouts, but I’m fairly sure I stayed awake and lucid for the entirety of this film. The movie also does have the distinction of being US President George W. Bush’s favorite film of last year, dubious though that may be. There are many reasons why that could be, possibly because it’s set in his home state, possibly because of its all-American nature, and probably because of the title’s low-syllable count, but he could have picked worse movies. After all, he could have chosen The Passion of the Christ, which, like Friday Night Lights, suffered from a lack of character development or football.

Lords of Dogtown
2005, USA
Catherine Hardwicke

Ah, skateboarding. One of the most age-specific fads that exist, skateboarding appears to be the be-all and end-all of cool for males aged 13-17, then immediately evaporates into a Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture question as soon as the summer after high school graduation ends. At least for most. There will always be those guys who dropped out in grade 11 and now cook in Mexican restaurants who will defend the ‘sport’ to the death, using words of seven letters or less interspersed with surfer lingo, but most people move on to more challenging hobbies once they read their first book, though the phenomenon of passing around bootlegged skateboard videos like two-paper joints at a Bad Religion concert never seems to go away. Lords of Dogtown is the boring fictionalization of the equally boring documentary about the birth of skateboarding as an act of teenage rebellion. While this may seem exciting to some, it must be noted that this film takes place in the time before Tony Hawk, where skateboarding was just long-haired kids with spotty facial hair spinning around in circles and riding up and down pool walls like a pendulum with an acne problem, only with more bruises. At least nowadays, skateboarders flip their boards in the air a few times before they fall down and everyone applauds. Back then, you were lucky if they didn’t use their hands to stop and start their tricks, paddling around on the sidewalk like a voyageur. The film is entertaining enough, with some fairly diverting performances by the girl from Elephant, and Emile Hirsch from The Girl Next Door. Hirsch puts in a fairly strong performance, actually, as his slightly scary and brow-heavy look is more suited for Jay Adams, the star skater-turned-Latino gang member, than the high school geek from his previous starring role. But the best performance in the movie comes from Heath Ledger, who plays surf and skate shop owner Skip Engblom, nearly exonerating himself for the turn of the millennium double whammy of The Patriot and A Knight’s Tale. Lords of Dogtown departs from the documentary, Dogtown and Z Boys, in many ways, notably changing Tony Alva into a Mexican and making skateboarding look slightly more interesting than a really quick way to break your wrist and waste your allowance on pot. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, from Thirteen, who seems to think that nothing says teen angst like shaky camerawork and quick cutting, the film keeps up a quick pace and never lets you get tired, though it does let you get awfully sick of the word ‘bro’ But so does high school, so I guess as a throwback to the immaturity, stupid hair, and pre-pubescent male musculature, the film is a rousing success.


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