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Hidden Netflix Gems – Goon

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

I am not particularly interested in professional sports, generally ignoring all games except the occasional Olympics or Super Bowl viewing, but every year or so there is a sports movie that comes along and deeply and unexpectedly resonates with me. Four years ago, there was Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler, a beautiful, heartbreaking film that was easily among my favorite films of 2008; the following year, there was Big Fan, written and directed by The Wrestler writer, Robert D. Siegel. This year, the unexpected sports movie that finds a place in my heart is Michael Dowse‘s Goon, a movie about hockey that mostly ignores the game itself in favor of the fights that so often break out on the ice.

Seann William Scott delivers his best performance yet as Doug Glatt, a sweet, lovable Canadian bar bouncer who is troubled by the fact that he doesn’t have a “thing” that defines him. His father (Eugene Levy) and brother, Ira (David Paetkau), are both doctors, and his best friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel, who co-wrote the film with frequent Seth Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg), has a public access show about hockey, but Doug feels aimless, searching for his life’s real purpose. That changes one night at a hockey game, when he knocks out a player who climbs into the stands to beat up Pat, who has instigated the fight by being his usual loudmouth self. The fight in the stands garners more attention and applause than the game itself, and Doug soon finds himself recruited as an enforcer for a local minor league hockey team.

As an enforcer, Doug’s job is to injure successful players from other teams, as well as to protect his own teammates by beating up the other teams’ enforcers. It is the sense of being a protector of his team that resonates with Doug and makes him feel like he’s found his calling. It also helps him to earn the love of Eva (Alison Pill), a woman he meets one night in a bar when he knocks out an obnoxious drunk who is hitting on her, and the friendship of his team’s star player, Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Ultimately, though, what the film is building to is a showdown between Doug and his idol, Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a brutal enforcer from the majors who has been demoted for his unsportsmanlike conduct. Though Goon follows the expected beats of a classic sports movie, its formulaic nature does not detract from its quality, and by the time Doug “The Thug” Glatt inevitably faces off against his rival, Scott’s charismatic performance and the film’s surprising likability should have even the most ambivalent viewer ready to cheer.

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“Precious” tops the Indie Spirits

Gabourey Sidibe is Precious

This hasn’t been a very good year for people who like awards surprises. And, so, this year’s most high profile indie film, say it with me — “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” –  has won the lion’s share of the more high-profile awards at Film Independent’s Independent Spirit Awards, this year hosted by Eddie Izzard.

To be specific, “Precious” nabbed “Best Feature” from a field that included the very popular “(500) Days of Summer,” Berkeley-bred Cary Joji Fukunaga’s surprisingly assured directorial debut, “Sin Nombre,” and “The Last Station.” Director Lee Daniels, whose work on “Precious” has been the single most criticized aspect of the somewhat controversial film, nevertheless beat the Coen Brothers work on “A Serious Man,” Fukunaga, James Gray of “Two Lovers,” and Michael Hoffman of “The Last Station.” “Precious” also took the Best First Screenplay. The best not-first screenplay went to Scott Neustader and Michael H. Weber of “(500) Days.”

In the acting categories, Gabourey Sidibe received the Best Female Lead for playing Precious herself and, naturally, Mo’Nique proved to own her category fully across all award shows and won the Best Supporting Female category. Among the males, Jeff Bridges, took the Best Male Lead award that is deemed pretty much his due this year for the country music drama, “Crazy Heart.”

Since the $40 million dollar budget of “Inglourious Basterds” presumably put it beyond the realm of the Spirits, Christoph Waltz was not nominated for Best Supporting Male. Instead, he cut a deal in which he collected the award anyway in return for helping the show to end early. Just kidding. Woody Harrelson in his non-zombie-thwacking mode took the award for his work in the low-key stateside wartime drama, “The Messenger.” (My sympathies to Christian McKay of “Me and Orson Welles” — so much critical praise and so few awards even when this year’s male 500 pound gorilla is safely out of the room.)

Anvil! The Story of AnvilBest Foreign Film went to a film that doesn’t feel so foreign now that England is our 52nd state, “An Education.”  Best Documentary went to one some of you might actually have seen and found fun rather than upsetting, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” defeated a list that included the highly praised “Food, Inc.” (For whatever reason, “The Cove” was not nominated.) Roger Deakins took the cinematography award for “A Serious Man.”

Among the special awards, the John Cassevettes Award, which goes to a film with a budget of less than $500,000, went to a favorite around these parts, Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” edging out another film we’ve kind of taken to our breast here, “Big Fan.” The latter film looked, literally, like a million dollars to me, so kudos to the penny-saving producers on that one. “A Serious Man” won the Robert Altman award for its acting ensemble.

You can see a complete list of nominees and winners here. You can also check and see if Indiewire ever corrects their typos here.

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A visit with “Brothers”

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I’m no Hollywood insider. Nikki Finke does not rely on me for her tips and I don’t ever expect to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar after party. Nevertheless, there’s one thing I do know about show business: personality goes a very long way in “this town.” And so a few of us press people recently found ourselves the subject of a 50 megaton charm offensive by the four stars of the new Fox sitcom, “Brothers” — C.C.H. Pounder, Carl Weathers, and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, and one extremely enthusiastic newbie, former New York Giants Defensive End and Fox Sports commentator Michael Strahan. I haven’t seen the show itself yet, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m./7 central, but the visit was certainly a performance I won’t be forgetting.

From long-time writer-producer Don Reo, whose credits run from “M*A*S*H” to “Blossom” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Brothers” stars Strahan as a former NFL star who winds up moving in to the house he bought for his parents when a financial reversal puts him in the metaphorical poorhouse. Since this is a sitcom, naturally there will be conflict with his brother, played by Mitchell, and the usual issues with parents Weathers and Pounder. One ace the show will be playing will be guest appearances by some fairly big names playing themselves, including former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, hip-hop star T-Pain, celubutante Kim Kardashian, and the great Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band. Also appearing will be well actress Tichina Arnold from “Chris” and, not playing himself, rap superstar Snoop Dog. Stand-up comic Lenny Clarke will be playing a neighbor on the show.

The show has been getting some additional attention for a perhaps less fortunate reason, in that while African-American actors are featured in more diverse roles these days, it’s the only current show on the networks schedules with a predominantly black cast. That’s largely a reversal of the trend of the past when the vast bulk of decent TV parts for nonwhite actors were on shows like “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” as well as some of the later, more controversial shows aimed at black audiences like “Martin.”

The first to meet the press were Carl Weathers, perhaps still most famed as Rocky Balboa’s venerable opponent, Apollo Creed, and C.C.H. Pounder, who is taking a break from her usual intense, gravitas-laden, roles on shows like “The Shield” and seems to be enjoying every minute of it. In fact, I’m here to tell you that extremely skilled Ms. Pounder is downright bubbly in person. You heard me, “bubbly” — but in a very smart sort of way.

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The mood was light right off the bat with more than one of us entertainment journos confessing a complete lack of knowledge of sports and Ms. Pounder joining in. Weathers was the exception. “Well, I played for the Oakland Raiders so I hope I know a little bit about football.” And that somehow prompted an impersonation of Butterfly McQueen from “Gone with the Wind” from Pounder. I guess you had to be there.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Patton Oswalt talks “Big Fan,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Dollhouse,” and more

In the past several years Patton Oswalt has plotted an admirable career arc, going from being “that guy on ‘The King of Queens’” to the voice of Remy in “Ratatouille” to a progressively more well-known stand-up comedian. His hot streak continues this month with the theatrical release of the positively reviewed “Big Fan” and his latest comedy CD, My Weakness Is Strong — all of which means now is a pretty great time for Bullz-Eye’s Will Harris to have a chat with Mr. Oswalt.

“Big Fan” was naturally a main point of discussion, and Oswalt opened up about taking on a dramatic role after spending so long building his comedy chops, saying:

A lot of my instincts as an actor, I had to kind of sit on (during ‘Big Fan’). Like, my instinct was, ‘I need to end this scene with a funny look or a button of some sort,’ and I couldn’t do that. So that was certainly odd for me to not have that resource in this role, but…it was kind of cool to be in that situation for once in my career, where I’m just totally outside of my comfort zone. I mean, unbelievably outside of my comfort zone. It was kind of thrilling.

But don’t worry — Oswalt isn’t abandoning his funny side. In fact, as he discusses in the interview, his standup is evolving as he gets older, something illustrated on My Weakness Is Strong:

I think most comedians go through that, where you have to change or evolve. You don’t want to just keep doing variations on the same themes. And, besides, it would look kinda creepy for a guy my age to be doing stuff that, like, a 20-year-old would do. ‘Yeah, this is bullshit!’ It’s, like, ‘Really? You don’t have bigger concerns at this point in your life?’

To read more of the interview — including some of the performances Patton feels never got the attention they deserved, favorite unheralded films, and what it was like to work on Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” — click on the image above or follow this link!

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3-D “Final Destination” wins horror franchise battle

The Final Destination

Apparently the lure of bizarre deaths in 3-D was somewhat stronger than more traditional forms of slaughter this weekend. “The Final Destination” won the violent, R-dominated movie derby this weekend and died its way to an estimated $28.3 million for New Line. So says THR/Reuters and Nikki Finke, with Ms. Finke mentioning those 3-D ticket prices as its main advantage against  The Weinstein Company’s latest return to the Michael Myers well, “Halloween 2.” The slasher flick came in at the #3 spot with an estimate of $17.4 million, which actually could have been a lot worse. Judging by the post-release reviews that are trickling in at Rotten Tomatoes, the good will Zombie earned from gore-friendly horror fans on “The Devil’s Rejects” seems to have largely dissipated with this entry. Moreover, Finke’s post and comments are full of remarks on the oddness of facing off two scare-franchises on the same weekend when many students start returning to school. And there’s also the matter of the Weinsteins competing against themselves.

Melanie Laurent
And that brings us to “Inglourious Basterds,” which held well at $20 million on its second weekend, dipping a better-than-average 47% according to Pamela McClintock of Variety, which will no doubt be assuaging whatever disappointment Harvey Weinstein may feel re: “Halloween 2.”  The performance of “Basterds” is pretty magnificent considering last week La Finke and her sources were talking about a huge 70% drop because of the perhaps overestimated returning-to-college factor and, I’m guessing, their prejudice that “Inglourious Basterds” simply can’t possibly be an ongoing moneymaker in the U.S. market.

I caught up with “Basterds” yesterday. I guess it’s no surprise that a Tarantino-positive cinegeek with a heavy retro tendency like myself would hugely enjoy this borderline surrealist World War II opus.  However, it really was something to be in the presence of a very mainstream, semi-surburban cineplex audience rapt with attention during long stretches of subtitled dialogue in a film full of the kind of homages and film references that are supposed to ruin a movie’s chances. Proving, I suppose, the power of stories and characterization to overcome an audience’s prejudices, if not the cynical preconceptions of those inside the Hollywood bubble. Of course, it’s just easier to blow things up to please a young and male audience, and Tarantino does that, too. So there’s your formula. The other well-reviewed violent genre actioner, “District 9,” held on as well in its fourth week with an estimated $10.7 million.

Taking Woodstock Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” was pretty much a bust. It did even less well than I guessed Friday and made only an approximate $3.7 million, though in fewer theaters than the other major releases. To echo myself, fare aimed at older audiences needs favorable reviews and/or buzz to really succeed, and the mild reaction to this fact-based comedy apparently wasn’t cutting it. Even so, this film probably should have started out with an arthouse release.

Speaking of the arthouse circuit, as often happens specialty fare hosted the biggest per screen averages of the week. The documentary “The September Issue” featuring Vogue editor Anna Wintour did smashing business in its first weekend in six New York theaters, with some $40,000 per screen according to Box Office Mojo. Presumably every fashionista in the area turned up to see what I guess might be marketed as the real life version of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Not quite as great, but still at least as strong as a stocky sports geek’s headbutt, was the Bullz-Eye/PH approved “Big Fan,” which did a healthy $13,000 on each of its two coastal screens this weekend.

Patton Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan in

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Recycled horrors and boomer-bait form box office threesome

It’s an odd duck of a weekend coming up, movie-wise. Our new releases include two films seeking to squeeze just a few more dollars from some long-running horror franchises and a historical prestige comedy which isn’t generating a huge amount of prestige.

Though it’s not quite a given, the prognosticators assume that one of the horror franchises — neither of which has been screened for critics — will top the weekend box office. I think you’d have to give the edge to Warner/New Line’s “The Final Destination,” mainly because it’s in 3-D. The format may gin up interest in the fifth installment of the nearly decade old series highlighting elaborately gruesome deaths and definitely will gin up ticket prices at the nearly 1,700 venues showing it in that format. The other horror flick, The Weinstein Company’s “Halloween II,” is not only a sequel, but a sequel to a reboot/remake. The cachet of director Rob Zombie has probably helped give this thing some steam and apparently both horror films are doing the “tracking” thing well, says THR‘s Carl DiOrio. Still, splitting the fright ticket here seems almost inevitable as the films appeal to largely the same audience.

The numbers being bandied about for both films seem to top out at no higher than $20 million or so, with significantly lower amounts for one or both likely. Of course, that mean’s it’s far from impossible that neither film will win the weekend, and Quentin Tarantino‘s verifiable hit “Inglourious Basterds” might just walk away with its second #1 slot to go with its strong weekday performance. Of course, with Hollywood concerned for the fate of Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s new company, the performance of both the Tarantino and Zombie productions will be very closely scrutinized.

Taking WoodstockLikely to come in fourth place is something completely different. Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” a fact-based comedy about the young entrepreneur who found himself inside a musical/historical whirlwind when he set up the epoch-making music festival at Max Yasgur’s farm. Though Lee is thought of as a rather heavy-duty director these days in the wake of “Brokeback Mountain,” humor has always been a strong suit going back to his early Taiwan-centric international hits, “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” (which had nothing to do with cannibalism). Even the downbeat “The Ice Storm” is far more darkly funny that it’s usually given credit for.

That, however, was then. Our own David Medsker apparently reflects critics as a whole in his split decision on the film, and that doesn’t bode well because this isn’t a teenager-centric horror flick. Movies appealing to boomers are helped by good reviews; movies by arthouse-fave directors like Lee need good reviews; movie starring culty stand-ups like Demetri Martin in their first starring role might benefit from good reviews, too. So, a meh-by-definition 51% Rotten Tomatoes rating doesn’t really cut it and I will expect this one to do moderate business at best once the general apathy sets in. Still, that might be ameliorated somewhat by the ongoing interest in all things baby-boomer and to a lesser extent by the absurdly young looking Demetri Martin’s cable TV fame. (Martin, by the way, is 36, despite having a near identical hairstyle to me at age 12. Funny guy, however.) The presence of Emile Hersch, Liev Schreiber, and Eugene Levy in the Greco-Jewish dominated cast might not hurt, either. At least it gives violence-averse aging hippies and ultra-PC liberals (and I’ve known a few) some appropriate entertainment.

Patton Oswalt in That pretty much covers the new releases. However, film geeks in L.A. and New York will have the chance to see a frequently hilarious nightmare version of a sports geek via the acclaimed tragicomedy, “Big Fan,” from Robert Siegel, the very talented writer of “The Wrestler.” Our sports-loving compatriot Mike Farley digs it, and I very much admired it, in a bummed out sort of way, as well when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival several weeks back. The mass of critics agree, too. Patton Oswalt might not look much like Robert DeNiro did during his “Taxi Driver” days, but in every other way, he gives Bobby D. a run for his money.

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The boy-men of LAFF, Part 1: “Big Fan.”

The Los Angeles Film Festival is really just getting started for me, but already I’ve seen two movies that are definitely noteworthy, both having to do the age-old issues of males delaying maturity and I’m sure there’s more of that coming. I’ll discuss the mostly insightful and funny “Humpday” tomorrow. Today, I have a darker task.

In the case of last night’s screening of “Big Fan” — a last minute addition to the festival which, in Los Angeles, will be opening at the Nuart Theater in September as part of a limited release — we have a case of Peter Pan as absolute worst case scenario. Written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, who wrote last year’s terrific, and not entirely unrelated, “The Wrestler,” the film stars thinking man’s comic, one-time CGI gourmet rat, and, we’re now learning, skilled dramatic actor, Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero, (i.e. every fanboy’s worst nightmare of what he might become), who eventually encounters something beyond every fan’s worst fear.

An utterly single-minded follower of the New York Giants, a random remark to his favorite player (Jonathan Hamm) during an encounter at a strip club sets off a brutal attack by the stoned player, which sends him to the hospital and the player to suspension.  Paul is hurt by the attack, but he seems more concerned that the suspension might be destroying the Giants’ chances for a good season. In this situation, most of us would have dollar signs and/or rage in our eyes, but all poor, embittered, yet absurdly loyal Paul has is concern that he won’t be belittled by “Philadelphia Phil,” (Michael Rappaport), an equally strong fan of the Philly Eagles with whom Paul does nightly battle on a sports talk call-in show.

This might sound like an interesting setup for a comedy, but while “Big Fan” is extremely funny for fairly long stretches,  Paul, who lives at home with his despairing mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz, whose performance is too real for comfort), exists in an emotional horror show. Those who found “The Wrestler” a bit dark will see that that sometimes bleak and tragic film really was “Rocky” in comparison to this grim, utterly unredemptive, but oddly cathartic tale. If you can see this pretty extraordinary directorial debut for Siegel and not think of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” you haven’t seen them.

It’s only a shame that people who see the film in its theatrical run this September, mostly won’t have the pleasure of a live appearance by Patton Oswalt following the film. The comedian, who in real life is a pretty serious cinephile, had the audience in stitches and was probably the best antidote to what might have been the most thoroughly sad and hopeless film most of us have seen in a long time.

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