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The film may ultimately remind you of "American Graffiti" or "The Last Picture Show." Those iconic early 1970s films about disaffected youth in small-town America inspired filmmaker Anthony Burns, who is making his directorial debut and shares screenwriting credit with Brandon Freeman and Heath Freeman. The influence is obvious, but the result is refreshingly original and adult in an age when this kind of material usually veers toward silliness. "Skateland" deftly documents the awkward transition into adulthood of a number of high school buddies in a very small Texas town where all the action seems centered on a skating rink called Skateland, which serves as a symbol of changing times, just as the shuttered movie palace in "The Last Picture Show" did in that 1971 classic.
In "Skateland," set during the early 1980s, the lives of many in the town are directly affected by the rink's imminent closing, particularly rink manager Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez), who does not seem to be able to come to grips with the changing times. He appears happy with life at the rink but knows it is coming to an end. He is also dealing with his impatient girlfriend (Ashley Greene), who is pushing him toward greater things. Her brother Brent (Heath Freeman) also plays a key part in Ritchie's world, along with smart-aleck Kenny Crawford (Taylor Handley).
It is nice to see character actors like D.W. Moffet and James LeGros show up, if only briefly.
But what makes this film tick is the gallery of brilliantly talented new faces we get to meet here. Fernandez, who gained notice on "Gossip Girl" and in the recent film "Red Riding Hood," proves he is more than a hot face with this soulful and sincere performance as a small-town guy losing a grip on what he's about. Greene leaves the baggage of the "Twilight" films behind, nicely portraying a good girl who wants more than she is getting in a dead-end town. Handley is highly entertaining as the footloose Kenny, but best of all is Freeman, whose tragic Brent stays in our memory long after the lights go up. Sometimes it pays to write your own script.
"Skateland," though similar to the earlier films mentioned above, can't compare to their brilliance. But in capturing a unique period and its impact on small-town America, this is a film worth savoring, one you won't forget anytime soon—a terrific coming-of-age movie with an extraordinary ensemble of hot new stars.
Written by: Anthony Burns, Heath Freeman, Brandon Freeman
Directed by: Anthony Burns
Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman, James LeGros, D.W. Moffet, Taylor Handley.
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