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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 – Southland Tales

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.

Most viewers, even those who eventually became its biggest fans, initially found Richard Kelly‘s debut feature, Donnie Darko, to be strange, convoluted and challenging to fully comprehend on a single viewing. However, compared to his 2006 follow-up, Southland Tales, Darko now seems like Where’s Waldo? Perhaps the absolute craziest film ever made, Southland Tales is a wild ride through pre-apocalyptic paranoia, fevered hallucinations and madness that really defies any kind of classification. It is pulpy, surreal, funny, political and, above all, very weird. I won’t try to convince anyone that this film is a success, per se, but its wild ambition and complete originality make it well worth a look.

Southland Tales takes place in a near-future alternate reality, after nuclear attacks taking place on the fourth of July, 2005, have begun World War III. Post-9/11-style paranoia abounds, and the world is in a far-reaching energy crisis, which the wealthy Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn) is attempting to alleviate with his new energy generator, Fluid Karma, which uses the ocean’s currents as a power source. The only problem with Fluid Karma is that it is altering these currents, causing the earth to slow its rotation, and ripping holes in the space-time continuum. This space-time rift seems to be particularly felt in the criss-crossed destinies of the film’s main characters: Boxer Santaros, aka Jericho Cane (Dwayne Johnson), an amnesiac action star who may have become the main character of his own screenplay; Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a porn star and social activist who co-wrote the screenplay with Boxer; and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), a cop who may or may not also be his own twin brother, Ronald.

Does that all make sense? Obviously, not even close, and believe me, there’s much, much more going on in Southland Tales, including but not limited to: a brilliantly strange musical interlude featuring Justin Timberlake in a blood-soaked T-shirt; a neo-Marxist conspiracy involving no fewer than four former Saturday Night Live cast members (Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler); and, of course, that screenplay written by Boxer and Krysta, which may or may not foretell the end of the world as we know it. For good measure, the film also features Kevin Smith as a mad scientist and Christopher Lambert as an illegal arms dealer who sells his wares out of an ice cream truck, as well as hilarious philosophical dialogue like “Teen horniness is not a crime,” and “Pimps don’t commit suicide.” Southland Tales is gloriously chaotic and incoherent, similar to being plunged headfirst into the fever dream of a stoned pop-culture addict. It doesn’t completely make sense, even after multiple viewings, but it is an endlessly fascinating mess.

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Box Office Preview: In the Cold Winter between two Megahits, only an Ice Age can Survive

Ice Age: Continental Drift

With “The Amazing Spider-Man” eating up more than its fair share of moviegoers (for some reason) and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” coming out next Friday (oh, and new “Breaking Bad” on Sunday), we’re stuck in a bit of an awkward week. Studios didn’t want to compete with these sure to be giants, so the only movies coming out will be those with distinctly different demographics. This week, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” fits the bill, and, well, that’s all there is, there isn’t any more.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the newest Ice Age film, the fourth in the series. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary, who have been around since the first film, will reprise their roles as Manny the mammoth, Sid the sloth, and Diego the saber-toothed tiger, respectively. Do you really want to hear about the “plot”? Alright, here it is:

Scrat’s nutty pursuit of the cursed acorn, which he’s been after since the dawn of time, has world-changing consequences – a continental cataclysm that triggers the greatest adventure of all for Manny, Diego and Sid. In the wake of these upheavals, Sid reunites with his cantankerous Granny, and the herd encounters a ragtag menagerie of seafaring pirates determined to stop them from returning home.

Currently at a 51 percent on the Tomatometer, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” is exactly what it seems to be: a movie that will get the kids to stop screaming for a few hours, without really breaking any new ground for the series, and offering what little apologies and in-jokes it can for the adults along for the ride. Oh, and if the first three movies are any indication, it’ll probably drag in over $150 million while it’s at it. The first film, which was the weakest financially in the series so far, still hauled in over $176 million at the domestic box office. The more recent releases each grossed over $195 million.

Perhaps the only interesting thing about the film is the sheer number of recognizable names on that cast list. Along with the big three there’s Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage (who I’m very disappointed in, then again, get your golden dragons Tyrion, you’ve earned it), Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and even Sir Patrick Stewart.

Save your money for Batman, people.

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Monday movie bits and pieces

Just another one of those days filled with sequels and other things no one really needs.

* Armando Iannucci, the “In the Loop” guy, on his screenwriting Oscar chances:

“Our puppy Bramble won last night’s puppy training course. This gives us the momentum we need going into the Oscars.”

* Movie bloggers seem to agree that Ian McShane of “Deadwood” fame can only help the next “Pirates of the Caribbean 4″ while playing the legendary real-life pirate Blackbeard. Insert c-cks-cker joke here.

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* An English Jihadi comedy to screen at SXSW. Here’s hoping the documentary “American Grindhouse” covers its (huge) subject well, because I’ll want to see that one.

* Nikki Finke informs us Harvey Weinstein signed a DVD deal with Sony. I know, your world will never be the same. Just be grateful I don’t pass along all her news about whose at which agency now.

* Whilst promoting Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out,” Bruce Willis is telling people that there’ll be a “Die Hard 5″ and that it’ll should go “worldwide.”

* What do you do when you find out your best friend’s wife is cheating on him? That’s the knotty question that’ll be examined in an upcoming Ron Howard comedy starring Vince Vaughn that just attracted Kevin James, as per Screencrave’s Krystal Clark. Intriguingly, the script is by a writer more associated with dramas.

* Speaking of Mr. Smith, AICN’s Merrick reveals that it appears that Seann William Scott will star in his upcoming hockey comedy. Merrick also has the Warren Zevon/Mitch Albom song it’s based on, “Hit Somebody.”

* Coming eventually, maybe: Leonardo DiCaprio in a “‘Mystic River’ meets ‘Taken‘ storyline.”

* Glenn Kenny on people who don’t know the man personally referring to a certain director as “Marty”:

My general policy with movie people is to address them as “Mr.” or “Ms.” until explicitly instructed otherwise. I’m not trying to lord it over anybody with this etiquette tip. I’m just saying that my mother raised me with some fucking manners…I’ve always loved the phrase “fucking manners,” haven’t you?

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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Easily the best of the “Ice Age” movies to date, though there is still room for improvement. The main characters of Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo) are still bland as waffles, as are “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” returning characters Ellie (Queen Latifah), Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). But the “Ice Age” gang gains one huge upgrade in the form of Buck (Simon Pegg) a daredevil weasel who also happens to be completely nuts, which of course wins Buck the instant affections of Crash and Eddie. They even worked dinosaurs into the mix without jumping the shark – they live in a secret world beneath the ground – though it did cause me to wonder how the other animals knew what they were, since they had never seen one before and presumably do not have history books. There is a hilarious tribute to ’90s action movies where Buck tries to save Manny and Diego from a meat-eating plant, and must choose between cutting the red root and the blue root. The Scrat subplot is still the best part of the movie, and is ramped up by a new love interest, the eyelash-batting Scratte. But the A-story is slowly but surely holding its own.

We cannot vouch for the 3D aspect of the movie, but considering the number of thrilling first-person chase sequences contained here, it appears they were quite generous with it. They were also quite generous with the extras, including every Scrat short film and a deluge of featurettes on drawing characters and coming up with the designs for Scratte and the dinosaurs. Why Fox decided not to screen this for us is a mystery, as the movie is quite good.

Click to buy “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”

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