Skateland


Vogue, Seventies style.

Vogue, Seventies style.

(2010) Drama (Freestyle) Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Haley Ramm, James LeGros, Taylor Handley, A.J. Buckley, Heath Freeman, Brett Cullen, Melinda McGraw, Ellen Hollman, Casey LaBow, James Landry Hebert, Ross Francis, Caleb Michaelson, D.W. Moffett, David Sullivan, Joshua Bridgewater, Morgana Shaw, Rachael Lee Magill, Krystal Mayo. Directed by Anthony Burns

 

The summer after we graduate high school is a kind of a cusp between the first stage of our lives and adulthood and yet speaking just for myself I don’t even remember it very well. Different responsibilities and higher expectations are demanded of us as we enter into college, the military, the job market. The world becomes a much different place for us than it was in high school and we struggle to figure out how to adjust.

In a small Texas town in 1983 Ritchie Wheeler (Fernandez) has graduated high school and is managing a roller skating rink called Skateland. His sister Mary (Ramm) and girlfriend Michelle (Greene) are pushing him to submit college applications but Ritchie is in no hurry to go to college. He enjoys hanging out at Skateland with his friends, particularly Brent (Freeman), Michelle’s brother who has just returned to town after a stint as a motorcycle racer. There’s also Kenny (Handley) who is a rich kid who hosts frequent keggers and appears to be going nowhere.

You’d think Ritchie’s parents would be pushing him to start moving forward with his life but his Mom (McGraw) and Dad (Cullen) are having serious marital problems which take up most of their focus, leaving none upon their son who is beginning to drift aimlessly. He’s a talented writer (as most kids in movies like this are) but he’s in danger of having nobody ever find that out. And when Skateland announces that it’s closing its doors, his troubles are really beginning because Michelle, getting ready to attend the University of Texas in Austin in the fall, is beginning to suspect that she’s growing up while her boyfriend isn’t….and that they might just be growing apart.

Skateland is going for a bittersweet nostalgia which isn’t a bad thing. It definitely takes its cues from movies of the era with a kind of John Hughes-like appeal in teens who are reaching a crisis point in their lives. Whereas Hughes made those films funny and poignant, Burns has to settle for poignant.

The young cast is pretty decent here. Greene, who appeared in the Twilight films, is actually a pretty good actress and even though she doesn’t get as much screen time as the hunky Fernandez, when she is on she’s performing so confidently that you can’t help but notice her in a good way.

I do like how Burns captured the era so well – an era that I lived through, so I can attest to the look, the design and especially the attitudes. Whoever chose the soundtrack chose wisely; the songs really brought back the era nicely in my mind. One should never underestimate the importance of music to setting a scene of time and place in a movie.

This reminded me of a lot of different teen angst movies, many made in the era being depicted here. That’s not always a bad thing but sometimes you wind up asking yourself the question whether or not your time would have been better spent watching those films instead of this one. My big complaint is that it really doesn’t add anything to the coming of age genre, but it doesn’t disgrace it either. You could do worse than seeing this movie as an example of the teen rite of passage film. Then again, you could do better, too.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures the era perfectly. Some strong performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Has been done better in other movies.

FAMILY VALUES: There is teen drinking, smoking and drug use as well as a little violence and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is dedicated to the memory of John Hughes, a director whose work the movie emulates somewhat.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $19,411 on an unknown production budget; it’s unlikely that the movie made any money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dazed and Confused

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Unfinished Song

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Molly


Molly

Take me out to the ball game…

(1999) Drama (MGM) Elisabeth Shue, Aaron Eckhart, Thomas Jane, Lucy Liu, Jill Hennessy, D.W. Moffett, Elizabeth Mitchell, Robert Harper, Elaine Hendrix, Michael Paul Chan, Jon Pennell, Sarah Wynter, Lauren Richter, Tanner Lee Prairie, Musetta Vander. Directed by John Dulgan

 

When we look at the disabled, often all we truly see is their disability. The hardest thing for us so-called normal folk is to look beyond and see the person within. This is often true of those who love the disabled, as well.

Buck McKay (Eckhart) has a good job, a great loft in trendy Venice (California, not Italy) and a busy social calendar. He’s restoring a vintage sailboat. He is leading a quietly fulfilling, productive life. Then, he gets a letter from the state of California.

The care facility at Bellevue is being shut down due to funding constraints. What does this have to do with McKay? That’s where his sister, Molly (Shue) has been staying for a number of years, ever since both their parents died in a car crash. She’s autistic, with the emotional and mental state of a three-year-old.

Immediately, Buck’s life is thrown into chaos. He loses his job when Molly prances into an important meeting naked because she’s too warm although if Elisabeth Shue pranced into one of my meetings naked, I’d probably give her brother a promotion. Maybe that’s just me, though. In any case, the constant attention that his sister requires has emptied his social calendar. Yes, it’s true: The Buck stopped there.

A lifeline is thrown when Sam (Jane), a learning-disabled orderly who had developed a rapport with Molly at Bellevue, gets a new job at a new clinic. Doctors at this clinic are looking to perform experimental surgery that would activate the portion of her brain that isn’t functioning. Molly is an exceptional candidate for the surgery. The result would be the mental and emotional flowering of a young woman her self-absorbed brother has never taken the trouble to get to know. But what science giveth, capricious fate often taketh away.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for it. The plot is very similar to Daniel Keyes’ classic novella Flowers for Algernon, which later was made into the gripping Cliff Robertson movie Charly. Both of those versions are far superior to this distaff version, but Molly is not without its charm.

Shue, once an Oscar nominee for Leaving Las Vegas, had by this point without much fanfare become an impressive acting talent. In this film she plays a woman buffeted by a world she scarcely understands. Alternately full-of-life joyous and angry and frightened, she displays her emotions vividly and without reservation. The supporting cast was mostly unknown at the time, although many of them have gone on to good careers. Here, most of them are pretty solid.

The problem with the movie is predictability. The story is just too close to Charly for my own personal comfort. While it does raise the important issue of considering the person behind the disability, Molly often flails and wallows in maudlin sentiment, like a pig in a mud hole. During those periods, the movie drags, big time.

Molly didn’t really get a lot of theatrical play in its day and is probably difficult to find although I understand Netflix carries it, but is worth checking out if you either run into it or seek it out, if for no other reason to enjoy Shue’s performance, which is definitely superior.

WHY RENT THIS: An excellent performance by Elizabeth Shue.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kind of by-the-numbers. Solid but unspectacular performances after Shue.

FAMILY MATTERS: A little bit of sexuality and a little bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was unusual in that it premiered on airplane flights before its theatrical release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,650 on a $21M production budget; the film was a huge flop.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Charly

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Last Mistress