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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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Hidden Netflix Gems – Walking and Talking

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. 

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has been compared to the legendary Woody Allen because of her strong command of character and dialogue, not to mention the fact that her films tend to revolve around brainy people having trouble with their relationships, both romantic and familial. The comparison is apt and certainly not without foundation – Holofcener is the stepdaughter of Allen’s late producer Charles H. Joffe, and she found her first film industry work on Allen films such as Hannah and Her Sisters, on which she was an apprentice editor. However, despite their shared propensity for talky comedic dramas about New Yorkers who are sometimes a bit too smart for their own good, Holofcener’s films display a sensibility that is uniquely hers, as channeled through her favorite actor, Catherine Keener, who has appeared in all four of her films thus far.

Holofcener’s debut feature, Walking and Talking, takes a warm and insightful look at the mixed feelings of Amelia (Keener), a woman in her mid-30s whose longtime best friend, Laura (Anne Heche), is getting married. The news sends Amelia into a sort of “biological clock” crisis in which she confronts her conflicting desires to settle down and find happiness the way other women her age seem to be doing, while still wanting the relative freedom and ease of a single life. As she attempts to navigate this difficulty, she receives advice and moral support from Laura, her fiancée, Frank (Todd Field), and Amelia’s former lover and good friend, Andrew (Liev Schreiber), as well as a therapist (Joseph Siravo). Though she has been ambivalent at best about the prospect up until now, she finally decides to begin dating Bill (Kevin Corrigan), a video store clerk who has been flirting with her for some time now.

Walking and Talking is at its best in its portrayal of this courtship, with Amelia gradually realizing that the man who she has previously considered to be beneath her (she calls him “The Ugly Guy” when speaking of him to Laura and others) just might be a much better match for her than she thought, and in its portrayal of the friendship between Amelia and Andrew. It’s so rare in life to maintain a close, caring friendship with a former lover, but it does happen and, in my experience, it happens very much the way it is shown here. Their scenes together are especially warm and funny, but above all it is the dynamic between Amelia and Bill that makes this film rise above the average comedy. Far from being simply a geek or loser, as Amelia originally sees him, Bill is much smarter, funnier and deeper than she (or we, the audience) first assume; in fact, Amelia comes to realize that he just might be too good for her. Like Bill, Walking and Talking is much more than the sum of its parts, and well worth a look.

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Your Good Friday trailer: “Salt”

As Easter weekend continues, I’ll be catching up on few odd trailers and videos I haven’t had a chance to include up to now. We’re starting with what’s looking like a moderately intriguing action/spy thriller starring Angelina Jolie allowing her to bother and bewilder, and possibly even bewitch, two of the best actors and highly competent action performers in the biz, Liev Schreiber and Chiwitel Ejiofor.

I’m not sure about the mix of what looks like a rather serious tone with unexplained near superhuman antics, but then again maybe versatile veteran director Phillip Noyce (“Rabbit Proof Fence,” “A Clear and Present Danger”) and almost-as-veteran screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Brian Helgeland will finally be giving us that female James Bond/Jason Bourne we’ve been waiting for.

h/t Screenrant

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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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