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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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Box Office Recap: “The Dark Knight Rises” Continues to Dominate

While it made just shy of $100 million less than its opening weekend figures, “The Dark Knight Rises” continued to demolish the competition. After all, a $100 million drop from the third best opening of all time still left the film with over $62 million by the time things were said and done. I mean, last week “The Dark Knight Rises” grossed $100 million more than the second through tenth place films combined. It couldn’t hope to top that, but in its second week Batman’s $62 million was identical to the combined grosses of the rest of the top 10.

Despite “The Dark Knight Rises” falling a hefty but expected 61.4 percent, the weeks two new wide releases, “The Watch” and “Step Up Revolution,” came in third and fourth place with $13 and $11.8 million respectively. Frankly, that’s embarrassing, especially for “The Watch” given its counter-programming angle and star power. The film was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team that brought you “Superbad,” and stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade.

It might not have made “Avengers” money, but “The Dark Knight” is here to stay. We’ll see if “Total Recall,” the new “Bourne” film, or “The Campaign,” which stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis will be able to top it, but I don’t see it happening. No one messes with the Bat.

Here are the results for this weekend’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume

1. The Dark Knight Rises, 2/4,404, Warner Bros., $62.84 million, $287.851 million.
2. Ice Age: Continental Drift, 3/3,886, Fox, $13.3 million, $114.847 million.
3. The Watch, 1/3,168, Fox, $13 million.
4. Step Up Revolution, 1/2,567, Summit, $11.8 million.
5. Ted, 5/3,129 Universal, $7.353 million, $193.619 million.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man, 4/3,160, Sony, $6.8 million, $242.053 million.
7. Brave, 6/2,551, Buena Vista, $4.237 million, $217.261 million.
8. Magic Mike, 5/2,075, Warner Bros., $2.58 million, $107.587 million.
9. Savages, 4/1,414, Universal, $1.753 million, $43.899 million.
10. Moonrise Kingdom, 10/853, Focus, $1.387 million, $38.396 million.

 

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Box Office Preview: ‘The Watch.’ That’s All, Because You don’t Mess with the Bat.

The Watch

Studios were afraid to release much in the way of blockbusters this week, what with competition from “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” That hasn’t changed. Not a lot of big name movies (or movies with big names) are being released around now, save as counter-programming. That is, films that have star power but are decidedly different from those two blockbusters. For a case in point, look to  ”The Watch,” the newest picture written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team who brought “Superbad” into the world. You can almost see the gears churning in the studio exec’s head: the demographic who saw Batman last week might like a nice splash of comedy right about now.

From afar, it looks like “The Watch” could slide perfectly into that hole, given its writers and cast, which includes comedic heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in leading roles. Then there’s the fact that it was directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island and “smaller names” like Will Forte and Richard Ayoade in the cast. For those of you wondering who the fourth guy in the above picture is, it’s Ayoade. He’s not very well known stateside, but he’s massively funny and a big deal across the pond. Watch “The IT Crowd” if you don’t believe me, it’ll be a Hidden Netflix Gem one of these days.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Despite all that potential, “The Watch” currently sits at a 14 percent on the Tomatometer. Bullz-eye’s Ezra Stead had this to say:

Much of the humor comes from screaming, dick jokes and colorful profanity, and the film overall is pretty loud and dumb. Hill and Forte give the funniest performances, and Stiller and Vaughn deliver exactly what is expected of them at this point (I’m pretty sure Vaughn is just playing himself in most of his comedies), but Ayoade and DeWitt have very little to do until the third act. Delivering exactly what is expected is this film’s modus operandi, though, and it’s entertaining and intermittently very funny. It’s only when the audience is asked to care about the idiotic Evan and Bob as characters – particularly in subplots involving Abby or Bob’s teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) – that “The Watch” falls short of its relatively modest ambitions.

Oh, yes, I’m sure you’re wondering about the plot. Four bored suburban guys come together to form a neighborhood watch after after a friend of Stiller’s character, who works as a night shift security guard, is brutally murdered. But guess who’s actually responsible for the crime? Aliens. No, seriously.

If you do fit “The Watch’s” target demographic: you need to see a movie this weekend and don’t care to see “The Dark Knight Rises” twice, then it could be for you. Just don’t expect the film to be anything but the phoned-in counter program that it is.

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Interview with Please Give Writer-Director Nicole Holofcener

After studying film at Columbia University, writer-director Nicole Holofcener made her first feature, Walking and Talking, in 1996, and she has been going strong ever since, directing feature films such as Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money and Please Give, as well as working in television, for acclaimed series such as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Bored to Death and Parks and Recreation. I had a chance to speak briefly with Holofcener on the occasion of Columbia’s panel on women filmmakers.

Ezra Stead: There is a striking realism and intimacy to your films, going back to the first one, Walking and Talking, and I know a lot of material is taken from your own life or that of your friends. Is your apparent muse, Catherine Keener, generally playing the Nicole Holofcener alter-ego, or is your own personality spread out more among all your characters?

Nicole Holofcener: I guess I could say she has been my muse, but in a couple of movies she has not played the “me” character. She certainly does play me well, and all the characters, I suppose, are a part of me, and even if that character she’s playing is based on someone else, there’s still pieces of me. She has been a muse, definitely.

ES: I read somewhere, in another interview with you, where you said your friends say, “Don’t say that around Nicole, it’ll be in a movie.”

NH: I know, just one friend in particular; she’s very nervous [laughs]. If somebody has shame, I suppose they don’t want to be revealed. Most people’s shame is not very interesting or theatrical, so don’t worry I’m not gonna write about it. Whatever you’re doing that you’re embarrassed about, I don’t care [laughs].

ES: So in general, your films are fairly autobiographical, or was Walking and Talking more that way?

NH: No, they all are. I mean, none of them are real, none of them come from things that really happened; I suppose there are moments that really happened and lines that really happened, but most of it is made up but, I would say, based on me and my experiences, and my friends.

ES: What future projects are you working on now, if you can tell us?

NH: I’d love to tell you. I’m so glad I have that, thank god, it’s so hard when there isn’t one. Yeah, I’m in pre-pre-production for a movie that I wrote that Fox Searchlight has been making, and I start shooting in August, I think. I hope.

ES: Untitled, so far?

NH: It is. Not fun. I’m not good at titling things. The only title I really like, that seems correct, is Friends with Money, and that’s what I wrote when I first started writing it, you know, this is gonna be about “friends with money,” it was easy. This one has Julia Louis-Dreyfus in it, and James Gandolfini, so I’m happy to publicize my next movie.

ES: I also read that you were involved at one point in directing the Seth Rogen / Joseph Gordon-Levitt film 50/50. Is that you’re still interested in pursuing – directing features written by other people?

NH: I’m still gonna direct 50/50 [laughs]. It’s something I am very interested in, and I’m sad that I didn’t get to direct it, but it was family stuff, and that’s okay, it turned out well. I liked the movie.

ES: But you are interested in directing someone else’s script?

NH: Yes, if I fall in love with it. I really want to, have to, fall in love with it. Yes, please send me things. Send me good things [laughs].

ES: You’ve directed a lot of TV as well. What are some of the differences in TV vs. feature film directing?

NH: There’s not much difference. The television shows that I’ve worked on have all been single camera. It feels like I’m working on a little film. It differs from show to show. A show like Enlightened, I feel like I’m working on a movie; a show like Parks and Recreation, I’m at a party. I mean, it’s different. I guess, to some extent, working on a television show is easier because it’s not my problem, in the end – I didn’t write it, I didn’t create it – and for the same reason, it makes me more anxious because I have someone else that I wanna please, besides myself, and I really only work on shows that I respect and am proud to have my name on, so I really do wanna please the writer, and the creator. Other than that, they’re pretty similar.

ES: So you think that, when and if you end up directing someone else’s script, it’ll be similar to that?

NH: I hope so, yeah. I hope that I have that relationship where I turn to the writer and say, “You happy with that? Is that how you saw it?” That’s a real collaboration.

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A roundtable chat with Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, of “Barney’s Version”

If you’re going to be shallow about it, Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike might seem like a slightly odd pair of movie lovebirds. However, the love affair between their characters in “Barney’s Version” hasn’t aroused any of the complaints Seth Rogen regularly gets when his movie character gets lucky with a beautiful woman. No offense to Rogen, but maybe that’s because Giamatti gets a pass for being an extraordinarily brilliant actor — who, as it happens, just picked up a well-deserved Golden Globe for his performance in this very film — and Pike gets points for having the sense to work with him, not to mention for being rather extraordinary herself.

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In fact, the pair have some things in common. Pike’s parents are accomplished serious musicians and she is an Oxford Graduate. Paul Giamatti’s father was the noted Yale University President and Commissioner of Baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti. Naturally, the younger Giamatti is himself a graduate of Yale. Both have also been busy working actors for some time. After “American Splendor,” “Sideways,” and — on a more heroic level — the miniseries “John Adams,” not to mention innumerable outstanding supporting roles, Giamatti is a bonafide star. The sky is the limit for Ms. Pike, a vastly-above average “Bond girl” opposite Pierce Brosnan in 2002′s “Die Another Day,” who more recently has received a lot of notice for her very diverse roles as a less than brilliant conman’s girlfriend in “An Education” and, more under the radar but no less brilliant, as a highly educated but frustrated housewife and mother in “Made in Dagenham.”

When I and a bunch of other junket journos encountered Giamatti and Pike, they were promoting the new adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic final novel about the life and loves of a youthful hustler and bohemian turned aging Montreal television producer and crank. For us shallow types, Giamatti bats 1000 well out of his league with three wives in the course of “Barney’s Version,” played by the lovely Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver, and Pike as Miriam Grant-Panofsky, whom he actually loves. If you read my review, you’ll see that I think the film is a very mixed bag, but the performances are first rate throughout. In addition to that Golden Globe, Giamatti’s performance was praised by his colleague Ron Perlman, and easily deserves whatever accolades it may find. Pike is, as the cliche goes, luminous in a role as a really good person that a lesser actress would have rendered merely saintly and dull.

Rosamund Pike arrived first, but in a moment Paul Giamatti entered, bantering with a female reporter. “She forced me to proclaim myself an ‘indie darling’ yesterday,” Giamatti said.

“Nobody forced you to do anything,” the reporter remonstrated.

“Yes, you did,” he argued. “You tricked me into saying it on camera. She said, ‘When you became an indie darling,’ and I went ‘Well, when I became an indie darling…’” and I thought, ‘I just said those words! Goddammit, that’s on film now, forever.’”

Giamatti, a born comedian as well as a master thesp, was already breaking up the room.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Weekend box office: “The Green Hornet” packs some financial punch; “The Dilemma” is problematic

Seth Rogen really is Yes, the Golden Globes are tonight, and I’m sure you’re all devastated to hear that I’ve had to can any thoughts of live blogging it tonight — I’ll barely have time to watch it much of it, and then with a heavy hand on fast-forward button.  On the other hand, Anne Thompson will be blogging and tweeting away, she promises. Also, the box office beat goes on and this week the masses voted with their wallets for the over-serious fanboy’s bane, “The Green Hornet.”

Apparently, while the character from an old-time radio show and short-lived television series is really not all that well known, something about the idea of spoiled rich brat Seth Rogen and his vastly more disciplined and smart employee/buddy kicking the bad guys’ butts in comical fashion appealed to the masses. Ironically doing much better than films that have been pre-praised by geeks that we can all name, “The Green Hornet” has earned an estimated $34 million for Sony according to Box Office Mojo.

Nikki Finke writes that that makes it one of the stronger January openings for any movie. On the other hand, because that’s who she is, she also reminds us that the film still performed softly in comparison to some of the higher figures that were being touted on Thursday night. Still, the long Martin Luther King day weekend has one more day and night on it, so there’s more green ahead for the Hornet, perhaps $40 million, La Finke estimates.

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are on the horns of Despite a “high concept,” big stars, and a director whose name might actually mean something to what remains of America’s Mayberrys, “The Dilemma” only managed a squishy second place showing of an estimated $17.4 milllion this weekend for unlucky Universal. That is significantly lower than post opening weekends for movies starring Vince Vaughn or Kevin James.

There was something about this movie that people just didn’t want to see all that much and I kind of get that. The fact that critics at least were finding the movie surprisingly dramatic, could not have helped. As far as I can think, audiences never seem to respond well to a bait and switch even when the movie is actually good. On the other hand, “The Dilemma” cost maybe 50 percent of what “The Green Hornet” did — but was still expensive for a comedy at $70 million.

In the #3 spot, “True Grit” is holding up nicely and has passed the $125 million mark this weekend with an estimated $11.2 million for Paramount. #4 is an interesting semi-surprise: Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” doubled the number of theaters it was in this weekend and made something like $9 million and change, just ahead of this year’s other big art house crossover, “Black Swan,” which grossed an estimated $8.1 million for Fox Searchlight.

Meanwhile, among limited releases my attendance at the junket for Sony Classic’s “Barney’s Version” seems to have awarded the film the previously non-existent Bob Westal bump, even if my review was mixed. It earned the nation’s highest per-screen average with a very respectable $17,925 in four theaters in L.A. and New York, for a total of $71,700.

Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman in

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Box office preview: Will “The Green Hornet” sting? Will anyone want to solve “The Dilemma”?

Time is at a total premium tonight, so I’ll be keeping the bad puns and what not brief.

There’s some disagreement about whether it’ll make an amount in the $30 millions or $40 millions at my usual sources. However, I don’t think there’s any way around the likelihood that this will be the weekend in which Seth Rogen, co-writer Evan Goldberg, and director Michel Gondry’s take on “The Green Hornet” will dominate things.

Seth Green and Jay Chou lose their cool in

If only because the trollish fanboys who pre-decided to hate this movie irritate me no end, I’ve been rooting for this action comedy approach to the masked hero of old-time radio and a short-lived sixties TV program, remembered today mainly for the presence of Bruce Lee. In fact, there’s been some positive buzz on it lately and our own Jason Zingale mostly likes it. Overall, however, the overall critical reaction is disappointing, with top critics being significantly harsher. Even the usually rather gentle Roger Ebert calls it “almost unendurable” and gives it the one-star rating qualifying it for his next edition of Your Movie Sucks.

Still, I’ll probably check this one out eventually, if only to see new-Kato Jay Chou, who I really think might be a very big U.S. star in the making (he’s already huge in Asia), do his stuff. I’ll probably avoid the extra price tag for an extra dimension, however. The 3D on this is getting a negative reaction from at least some. It’ll be interesting to see whether audiences who’ve been stung by sub-par 3D before steer more towards the 2D “Hornet.”

Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder think about their odds in With Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, and Winona Ryder starring and Ron Howard directing and a easily understandable premise, you might expect big things from a comedy like “The Dilemma.” However, the box office gurus tell us that not a gigantic people will actually go to see it this weekend. The critics mostly tell us they shouldn’t.

Maybe see one of those potential Oscar nominees you’ve missed so far this weekend. Perhaps “Black Swan,” which is still expanding several weeks into it’s run and expected to continue its strong run. That’s what I’ll do if I can find the time. If you’ve seen all of those and live in New York or L.A., there’s “Barney’s Version” featuring a great lead performance by Paul Giamatti and an outstanding supporting cast and getting mostly good reviews, if only for the great acting. Of course, I didn’t think even the cast made up for the drab second half of the film. Still, you could easily do worse in this or any January.

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James Franco explains today’s weather

There’s a bit of a let-up happening at the moment right where I am, but we’re told that all of us here in this place where they make the movies have another day or so to look forward to of constant wetness. This is strange and oddly creepy to those of us acclimated to desert climes. However, it’s not quite like rain is unknown here. As the song says,

It never rains in [Southern] California, but, girl, don’t they warn ya’, it pours, man, it pours.

What Albert Hammond was trying so hard to explain to all of you non-SoCalers back in the day was that we usually get about 1-2 weeks of solid, uninterrupted rain, but it’s usually in February-May sometime. The result: higher consumption of microwave popcorn and TCM, and some very dissatisfied tourists.

Now, reporter types tell us that the reason we have to put up with the usual mud slide dangers, terrible driving, and odd cases of sudden unexplained depression caused by this weird thing that happens when water falls from the sky so early in the year has to do with a Hawaii-based meteorological phenomenon know as “the Pineapple Express.” Okay, it’s true other reporter types tell us this weather system is actually really coming from Asia, but “Rice Express” doesn’t have the same ring.

And, so, from the film of the similar name, James Franco explains it all to a credulous Seth Rogen as well as it’s relation to a high quality variant of a highly popular medicinal herb. It’s all very scientific and, of course, NSFW for bad language, drug humor, and a reference to babies having sex, “God’s vagina,” and engineering of an illegal nature.

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Saturday trailer #2: “Paul”

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, an overly relaxed ET voiced by Seth Rogen and director Greg Mottola mix it up in an international trailer with slightly disappointing picture quality in every embeddable version I can find. You might want to check out the version available over at UK Yahoo, but if you’re feeling lazy today like me, this will probably do. This trailer also offers glimpses of characters played by Jason Bateman and, yes, Kristin Wiig who doesn’t appear to be at all annoying here.

I think I agree with Monika Bartyzel that really doesn’t look to be quite in the same ballpark as previous Pegg & Frost outings. Actually, to be honest, it doesn’t even look close to that good in this particular trailer. Considering that Edgar Wright isn’t involved, maybe that’s not too surprising. On the other hand, screenwriters Frost and Pegg and Greg Mottola don’t have some skills of his own and Mottola’s last film, “Adventureland,” had a trailer that many thought sold it short. Let’s hope there’s more going on here than meets the eye in this trailer.

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Another Saturday trailer: “The Green Hornet,” the gay panic edition

If there’s one recurring theme in Seth Rogen‘s career so far, is that he thinks that straight male friendships and straight male fears of being perceived or perceiving themselves as not so straight, not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that, are hilarious. He’s right, of course, but anything can get a little old.

Fortunately, that’s not quite only the only arrow in the quiver of this latest trailer which provides us with more gadgetry, more of the very real martial arts skills of Taiwan’s Jay Chou, and a bit more of the apparent go-to-baddie of the next several years, Christoph Waltz. See what you think.

H/t Deadline where the schadenfreude brigade in comments has declared it horrible, horrible, horrible because Seth Rogen lacks abs of steel and because everything is horrible, horrible, horrible — because they said so. Not saying it’s going to be director Michel Gondry’s best, or even necessarily good, but I liked parts of this trailer a lot, particularly the gas gun gag right at the end. Also, I still think Rogen is funny, though that the internalized homophobia shtick feels forced.

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