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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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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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