In 1977, Paul Newman starred in a profane, violent, and absolutely hilarious movie about a minor-league hockey team, which was met with mixed reviews but eventually became a cult classic, and probably the most revered movie about the sport ever made. That movie, Slap Shot, figures heavily into many reviews of Goon, also a profane, violent comedy about minor-league hockey. The comparisons have largely been favorable, too; combine critical love with a limited release, and a lot of buzz around the Internet from fans of sports flicks, and this too might just have the makings of a future cult classic.
The film stars Sean William Scott as a lovable lunkhead who's recruited from the stands to be a minor-league enforcer (the guy who's not particularly skilled at offense or defense, but can deliver pain to the other team like nobody else) after the coach sees him knock out a player who attacks his friend in the stands. This despite the fact that he has no real hockey experience. There are, of course, love interests and violent on-ice rivalries, just like the scruffy classic comedy to which this is being compared.
Last year after Peter Falk's death, I made a regular Saturday afternoon date with my Netflix queue to watch old episodes of Columbo for a number of weeks following the news. The show might be otherwise unremarkable--a formula-following police procedural with a parade of big-name guest stars, as was common for that type of program back in the '70s and '80s--except for the distinctive presence of Falk as the "I'm not a dumb guy, but I play one to fool crooks" detective. Falk, with his gruff speech and that cockeyed gaze thanks to his one glass eye, had the face and the quirks of a lifelong supporting character actor: He should have been one of those guys you always see in movies, but can never remember his name. But Falk brought a subtlety and sensitivity to his work that was truly special, and one only needs to see his turn in John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence to realize he was not just a lovable character actor, but also a massive talent. That film, along with a couple of his other Cassavetes collaborations, will screen over the next few months at the AFI, along with a number of other titles for a total of ten Falk classics. In addition to the Cassavetes titles (which I think remain his best work), there's also The Brink's Job, a heist comedy directed by William Friedkin; Wings of Desire, Falk's turn as the earthbound contact for Bruno Ganz's angel in Wim Wenders's most celebrated work; collaborations with Blake Edwards and Frank Capra; and Falk's best-loved role to many, as the grandfather in The Princess Bride. Things get underway this weekend with one of his earliest roles, the crime drama Murder, Inc., for which he received an Oscar nomination.
Despite the longstanding popularity and international fascination with reggae star Bob Marley, even three decades after his death, there's never been a major documentary about his life. His family maintains strict control over his music and legacy, and finally decided to grant the access required for such a project a few years ago. The film was worked on by both Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme before eventually landing in the hands of director Kevin Macdonald. A director of both documentaries (Touching the Void) and narrative features (The Last King of Scotland), Macdonald is a straightforward storyteller, and his approach to Marley is as traditional as can be. He begins with Marley's birth, ends with his death, and hits the time between largely chronologically, with plenty of interviews with friends and family, archival footage, and old photographs. And of course, Marley's music, which provides the constant soundtrack to the film, maintains a constant presence, even though the film is more a documentary about Marley's life than his work. Macdonald takes great pains to concentrate on aspects of Marley's life that tend to be downplayed in his usual public perception, including his very calculated rise to the top, his large degree of power in Jamaican politics during the height of his fame, and his constant womanizing. A fascinating and long-awaited portrait of a fascinating figure.
What movie featured a Beatle, a member of the Who, one of the earliest heavy metal stars, a future James Bond, one of Hollywood's earliest sex symbols, and a future morning television host? That would be Sextette, a bizarre musical sex comedy from 1978 that starred a then-84-year-old Mae West (in what would be her last movie) as an aging sex symbol on a trip with her sixth husband (played by Timothy Dalton). She's accosted by a range of strangers and ex-husbands (including Ringo Starr, Tony Curtis, and George Hamilton), who all seem obsessed with trying to get her into bed; there are also appearances from Regis Philbin, Dom Delouise, and Keith Moon. The movie was beset by difficulties ranging from West's inability to remember lines or even to see well enough to walk around the set unassisted; it's garnered minor cult status just for being such an unmitigated disaster, and is surprisingly off-the-wall for such a star-studded production. All of which makes it perfect fare for the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, which screens it next week.
Japanese director Naomi Kawase was not yet 30 when she won the Best New Director award at Cannes in 1997, and has had her films at the festival a number of times in the years since, winning the Grand Prix ten years after that first award. Despite her excellent reputation in the south of France, as well as much of the rest of the world, her films haven't made much headway in the US, and the latest, Hanezu, is no exception. It played at Cannes last year, but never found US distribution. The National Gallery of Art will host a screening this weekend, however, giving local audiences a chance to see this typically elegant work from the director. The film, a meditative work as concerned with the natural world as with its characters (as her work often is), looks at a love triangle in a rural community between a woman, her live-in boyfriend, and the woodworker with whom she's having an affair.
trailer. Tomorrow at 4:30 PM
at the National Gallery of Art.
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol
It's always a pleasant surprise when, many movies into a longstanding franchise, one finds a film that actually outshines any of the rest of the entries in the series. That's what we got late last year with the fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible series, with Pixar director Brad Bird trying his hand at live action for the first time, and proving he's just as skilled with people as he is with pixels. Bird takes an unremarkable plot--a tired one even, largely left over from Cold War-era Russian fearmongering--and infuses it with new life by using it as a simple framework to show off his formidable visual skills. The result is among the finest action movies in recent memory, with some truly dazzling set pieces that make full use of the large-format Imax technology Bird used to shoot much of the film. Show it on the biggest screen you've got at home, and you may feel like you're about to fall from the tallest building in the world right along with Tom Cruise.
You can read my complete review over at NPR.
Special Features: Some reportedly very in-depth and extensive making-of features, which are apparently much more detailed than standard DVD-extra fare, along with commentary-accompanied deleted scenes.