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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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An audience with the “Iron Man 2″ crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2″ — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On 'Iron Man 2'] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2″ actually takes place before 2008′s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

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Midweek movie news

It’s quite late, or quite early, here on the west coast, so this edition will be swift.

* Captain America has got his girlfriend, and I’ve never heard of her! However, those of you who keep up with your TV may know Hayley Atwell, who’ll be playing Peggy Carter, Cap’s WWII era love interest. Among other shows, she was featured on the not-so well received AMC redo of “The Prisoner.”

* The folks over at Dreamworks have been busy beavers. First, they began the roll out of their “Kung Fu Panda” “virtual theme park” — basically a collection of Panda-based games for kids. Also, their gearing up for the May release “Shrek Forever After.” Today, CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) confab about, naturally, 3-D conversions on the first three “Shrek” productions and how they won’t suck like certain live-action 3-D conversions.

Still, there was a fly in the family-friendly ointment, and that was a photo spread that’s coming out in the glossy Vman Magazine that apparently caused some unhappiness at Dreamworks Animation. I could explain why, and you may definitely read the Paul Bond’s THR article about it. On the other hand, I don’t have to tell you how many words a picture is worth.

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Movies for sale

I’m thoroughly fried this evening having done my Southern California thing and driven 180 miles basically to run family errands, but there is some more stuff going on that’s worth a mention.

* The American Film Market opens tomorrow. In case you haven’t heard of AFM, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an event at which foreign buyers come to pick up the rights to mostly American films in various states of production. It’s an pretty important slice of the film financing process and one big event of the year in the foreign sales departments of film companies. (I actually worked in one of those myself in another life.)

One project on offer: a new version of one of the least performed of Shakespeare’s plays and one of the few this ex-English major has never read or seen: a contemporary “Coriolanus” being directed by Ralph Fiennes and starring Gerard Butler, who could use a little Shakespearian cred. Also, a film of an obscure classical play can definitely benefit from some star power. On the other hand, the script is being credited to John Logan of “The Last Samurai.” Ah, reminds of “Romeo and Juliet” … “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.”

* Not only “Scream IV,”  but “Scream V” and “Scream VI,” may actually be coming, says writer Kevin Williamson.

* Desperate for some more potent Oscar bait in the wake of the demise of “Amelia,” Fox Searchlight may apparently be moving up the release of “Crazy Heart” a country-music drama starring Jeff Bridges which, Steven Zeitchik writes, is being touted as “The Wrestler” goes country music. Sounds good to me, but in some ways that movie was already made back in ’73 with Rip Torn.

Okay, Mickey Rourke‘s character was a lot nicer, but the underlying spirit isn’t all that different.

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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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