Saturday, June 30, 2012

New on DVD/Blu-ray: BULLHEAD (2011) and GOON (2012)

(Belgium/The Netherlands - 2011)

This Oscar-nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is a riveting drama with an astonishing lead performance by Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who gained 60 lbs. of muscle to play Flemish thug Jacky Vanmarsenille.  Jacky's family runs the top cattle farm in their region, breeding cows with all manner of added hormones and steroids obtained in their shady business deals with the local "hormone mafia." Jacky has been abusing these hormone drugs for years, which explains his bulked-up appearance (which Schoenaerts achieved naturally), but addiction to growth hormones is only one problem on his plate.  A cop has been found murdered and the police are slowly building a case against the Vanmersenilles with the help of informant Diederik Maes (Jeroen Perceval), a childhood friend of Jacky's and a witness, shown in an extended flashback, to a traumatic assault he suffered at the hands of young Bruno Schepers (David Murgia), the son of a rival farming family.  Jacky also tries to romantically pursue Bruno's sister Lucia (Jeanne Dandoy), who runs a small perfume shop.  As played by Schoenaerts, Jacky is initially unappealing, violent, and completely antisocial (he's often compared to an animal, especially in the way he intimidates others by approaching them and butting heads very much like a bull).  But Schoenaerts and writer/director Michael R. Roskam slowly reveal layers of Jacky's personality and his inner torment to present a truly tragic figure whose life was derailed by one horrific moment in his childhood that still affects him every moment of every day.  Roskam's film is densely plotted and doesn't wrap everything up in a tidy fashion (we can conclude from Jacky's visit brief visit with an adult Bruno--who's not quite the same person he was as a teenager--that Jacky enacted some kind of revenge, but when and how are never explained) but it falls a little short when it comes to the handling of Lucia.  Perhaps Roskam is being deliberately ambiguous in the presentation of this platonic relationship, but it's hard to tell if Lucia recognizes Jacky or not.    It's not credible either way, but plausibility be damned, Roskam needs Lucia to drive Jacky down the path he takes.  Other than this shaky bit of plot convenience, BULLHEAD is a gut-wrenching, powerful character study of tragedy, masculinity, and the often-frayed bonds of friendship that stays with you long after it's over.  (R, 129 mins)

(Canada - 2012)

This dark, foul-mouthed, blood-splattered Canadian hockey comedy draws obvious comparisons to the 1977 classic SLAP SHOT.  While it's not quite on that level in terms of quality, there's a surprising depth and character to GOON that you wouldn't think is there based on the slapsticky advertising and the presence of Seann William Scott.  Scott really dials down his AMERICAN PIE/Stifler persona to play Doug Glatt, a nice, earnest, not-very-bright Massachusetts bar bouncer who only lucks into a spot with the minor-league Halifax Highlanders not because he's good at hockey (he's not), but because he's good at beating the shit out of people.  Director Michael Dowse and writers Jay Baruchel (who also appears as Doug's buddy, the host of a web-based hockey talk show) and Evan Goldberg (who co-wrote SUPERBAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS), working from Adam Frattasio & Douglas Smith's book (Glatt is based on Smith), do a very good job of conveying the unglamourous, blue-collar life of minor-league hockey and present it in a much more drab, realistic fashion than you'd think.  There's no Hanson Brothers wackiness here.  Even with all the laughs, GOON still comes off as gritty and real, and Scott's performance is a bit of a revelation.  He's generally not been one to play moody, introspective, and well-meaning-but-kinda-dumb, and he demonstrates range that he's never before shown. Solid work by the supporting cast, including Liev Schreiber as Ross "The Boss" Rhea, a legendary badass St. John's Shamrocks enforcer who's close to retirement, Kim Coates as the irate Highlanders coach, Alison Pill as Doug's possible girlfriend ("You make me want to stop sleeping around with a bunch of guys," she tells him), and Eugene Levy, serious and not befuddled as Doug's disapproving father.  Also with one-time Cronenberg regular Nicholas Campbell, Marc-Andre Grondin, and a training montage set to Rush's "Working Man."  GOON is one of those small, under-the-radar sleepers that don't take very long to become a word-of-mouth cult item.  Highly recommended. (R, 92 mins, also streaming on Netflix)


  1. I was lucky enough to catch GOON on the big screen at Asheville, NC's Actionfest back in April. It *killed* -- I know there were jokes I missed because the crowd was still roaring from something prior. Definitely looking forward to watching it again. It didn't play Baltimore at all.

  2. Totally caught me by surprise. A real gem.