|Index||5 reviews in total|
Dogtown is the meandering story of a young man (Philip)who returns to
his hometown after 12 years of trying to make it in Hollywood. Everyone
in his hometown of Cuba thinks he's a big star and asks him about the
famous people he's met, but Philip was just another dream-chaser, and
he's come home to lick his wounds.
While he's home, he sees what has become of all the people he went to school with: the pretty cheerleader, the athlete, and the unknowns. Maybe seeing what they've made of their lives helps him to make sense of his own.
The acting is mostly pretty good and interesting. It's interesting to see Jon Favreau as the young, greasy ex-athlete. Karen Black gives a fine performance as Philip's mother.
Overall--it's not phenomenal, but worth seeing.
"Dogtown" peers deep into the lives of a handful of middle America working class men and women, all classmates K thru' 12 in a small town, who at age thirty are old enough to know they'll never realize the dreams they dared to dream, now frozen in time, trapped, needy, clinging, and beaten down. Hickenlooper spreads this harsh slice-of-life indie drama out over a character range from the low life to the clean cut, sufficiently blurring good and bad, balancing sensationalism against realism while painting a portrait of pain on a canvass of finely nuanced visages. An excellent watch for indie lovers.
Philip returns home to find himself after failing n Hollywood. The small town folks of Cuba, however, seem to think he has made the big time and treat him accordingly. There are a few cliches in Cuba - the bored sheriff, the benevolent old war veteran, the wanna-be's, has beens and the ne'er-do-wells. Philip finds his mother in a de-facto relationship with one of the latter, an itinerant musician who doesn't say much but has a band which like to play early in the morning next to Philip's room. There is not a lot happening but the alcohol and testosterone flow thick and fast around these parts. Enter Dorothy, Philip's fixation since she teased him in kindergarten - she has been having a hard time of it lately and having an incestuous layabout for a father and a stormy relationship with the churlish Ezra has her pondering the dilemma "to be - or not to be". Will Philip be her knight in shining armour or should he concentrate on saving himself while he still can? Excellent cinematography and dialogue makes this a worthwhile vehicle, but watch out for the roadkill as you are passing through.
Not much to say about this film, other than mentioning Karen Black's fine cameo. She gets a chance to sing and act typically Karen - - the wacky mother/aunt role in a small Southern town that she's done too many times in the past 10-15 years. Give this woman the role she deserves! Maybe Steve Balderson's "Firecracker" really will be the comeback role some people are saying it is. Also, interesting to note is this film's young star, Trevor St. John, has become quite the fan favorite of daytime, as he is now starring on ABC's "One Life To Live". A few other interesting folks pop up like Mary Stuart Masterson and Jon Favreau, but most entertaining is Natasha Gregson Wagner as the mentally challenged daughter of Karen Black's character. She plays the character exactly how you would imagine any child raised by a Karen Black character - totally whacked out!
"Dogtown" is a film worth seeing which, unfortunately, also happens to
be the kind of movie modern day Hollywood doesn't seem to want to make.
It's a film that is in no rush to tell a story. In doing so, it allows
itself to breathe and the audience to take the story in piece by piece,
very much in the tradition of movies like "Five Easy Pieces" (1970) and
"The Last Picture Show" (1971).
Because of the fact that the movie, despite some shocking parts, is less in-your-face than your average big budget multiplex staple, it was given a very limited theater release. It's too bad also, because the acting in the film is fantastic, and every character stays with you. It is also a story that should hit close to home for everyone who grew up in a small town, left for the big city, and returned even to visit.
The dilemma facing Phillip Van Horn (Trevor St. John) is that he tried to make it as an actor in Hollywood, did not quite make it, and returned to his hometown of Cuba, Missouri in hopes that he would get back on his feet. Although the most notable work he received in Hollywood was an extra in a Jeff Bridges film, most of the town sees him as a hero who "made it" on the outside. Other townies, particularly tow truck driver Ezra Good (Jon Favreau), whom Phillip knew from high school, are just plain jealous, although they would never admit it.
While Phillip has prospects that give him the possibility of getting out of living with his eccentric mother (Karen Black) and mentally handicapped sister (Natasha Gregson Wagner), one thing holds him back: Dorothy Sternan (Mary Stuart Masterson), a woman who was the most popular girl in his high school. The trouble is that she also happens to be dating Ezra.
While this love story is quite familiar, it's really the supporting actors who make this film great. Trevor St. John is a good actor, and he serves as a good emotional anchor around a town of what the untrained eye would consider crazy people.
Jon Favreau serves as a great antagonist, and, as you get to know his character better, he excels at reflecting the past disappointments of the former high school basketball star. His dried out glory days also serve as an understandable, but not condonable, root to his racism, which plays out later in the film.
Mary Stuart Masterson's character also seemingly had it easy in high school, only to have it very rough afterwords. Plus, when you see the scenes with her and her father (Ancel Cook), who sits in the shadows, it reveals a lot about how her high school glory was really an illusion in which even she believed.
There were two other performances that stayed with me. The first was Rory Cochrane, who played Custis Lasky, Ezra's co-worker and friend who has a bit more moral grounding than Ezra.
Harold Russell, who played World War II veteran and cigar store owner Blessed William, was perhaps the most memorable character in the film. Anyone who grew up in a small town knows an elderly veteran like Blessed William, someone who is recognized and respected by all in the community in part because they're always around. Having hooks for hands as a result of defending our country further enhances that unspoken gratitude.
Russell, who actually did lose both his hand in an explosion while fighting in World War II, shines in every scene. The movie cuts to him a few times sitting on a park bench smoking a cigar, and even those scenes are profound.
I thought the best scene with Russell was when he, as Blessed William, describes to Phillip how he earned the moniker "Blessed". Russell's natural storytelling skills pull you into the scene. Any other filmmaker would have cut to black and white flashback scenes. Director George Hickenlooper fortunately never did. It could be argued that Hickenlooper didn't have the budget for it, but I like to think differently.
While the film was draggy at times, and there was narration by Trevor St. John that didn't need to be there, "Dogtown" is still a great movie. It was Hickenlooper's third feature film after directing a few documentaries (most notably "Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (1991)) and short films (most notably "Some Call It A Sling Blade" (1994), which star Billy Bob Thornton would later expand into the celebrated full-length film "Sling Blade" (1996)).
"Dogtown" did not get the theatrical release it deserved, partly because of it's low, low budget of less than $500,000, and partly because of typical Hollywood politics. It also hasn't gotten the attention it deserves because of it's title, thereby being confused with the documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys" (2001) and the docudrama "Lords of Dogtown" (2005), both movies about Southern California skateboarding culture in the 1970's.
Hopefully, its current availability on Netflix and streaming will get it a wider audience with an open mind. It should be seen for Harold Russell's performance, which turned out to be his very last film appearance. He had won two Academy Awards for his performance in "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), making him the only actor in movie history to win two Oscars for the same film role. His scenes in "Dogtown" showed how truly blessed he was.
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