This Week in Geek (20-26/03/17)

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: I'm a big fan of Goon, a fun, funny film with a lot of heart. Goon: Last of the Enforcers isn't as strong - its script and improvisation aren't as sharp as the original's - but it's often enough that we get to revisit these largely endearing characters. Some years after the first film, good-hearted Doug Glatt isn't in as good a shape as he used to be and may be forced to quit the Halifax Highlanders and commit to his family full time. The team owner wants to replace him with his own, somewhat disturbed son anyway. And Liev Shrieber's retired goon is in here looking for his own relevance. It's all about the next step for these guys, how they have to adapt to changing circumstance, advancing years and shifting priorities. The hockey action is once again excellent, with some nice new gags, but it's really about the characters confronting the fact that you can't play the sport professionally forever. If you enjoyed the first film, you'll likely want to reconnect with these guys and won't be disappointed with their various arcs.

DVDs: Slap Shot is a cult film in French Canada thanks to a Quebec dub that is highly colorful and quotable. It's not quite that in English, so we're left with a film that feels unfinished. It's got something to say, but never puts a button on it. So the factories are going to close and turn this Rust Belt city into a ghost town, which seems real important in the beginning, but everyone is really too selfish to care about anyone but themselves. If it's thematically connected to Paul Newman's midlife crisis as an over-the-hill hockey coach/player, there's no real commentary there. The romance subplots don't really go anywhere, either being left open-ended, or getting fixed too easily. Where did the Hanson Brothers come from? And though I get that, like Goon, the film is more about fighting on the ice than it is about playing hockey, there's far too little of the latter to keep me interested in the sports story. The last exhibition (can't really call it a game) gets the satire right, contrasting sex and violence in the public eye, but it's tagged on. There was no indication this was what the film was really about in the first two acts. Something of a disappointment from the director/actor team that brought us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting.

Mystery, Alaska is a very small town that takes its hockey very seriously. It's a weekly tradition and the players account themselves the best to play on an iced pond. That boast, made by a locally-born journalist, gets them a big game with the NY Rangers, an event that of course spins out of their control. This home town pride story has a large cast of characters - Colm Meany's participation as mayor put me in mind of the similarly motivated The Man Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain - and that's really the focus here, to the point where you might feel like you're watching a pilot for an ongoing series. Perhaps that's TV writer David E. Kelly's stamp on the material. The intersection of so many lives means the script often avoids sports movie clichés. Joining movie stars like Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds and Hank Azaria are a lot of recognizable Canadian actors (it was filmed in Alberta), which feels quite correct for a hockey film. But is it a good one? Yes. The game with the Rangers has thrilling ups and downs for the team, offering both drama and humor.

Netflix: Red Army is a documentary about the nearly unbeatable Soviet hockey team from the 70s and 80s, mostly told through interviews with team captain (and now Minister of Sport in Putin's Russia) Slava Fetisov, whose mastery of English and central role made him a natural subject. The Soviet hockey program, a mix of chess, ballet and hard man competition, produced incredible players, which we track from the program's inception to the USSR's dissolution, then follow to the NHL and back again. Good hockey stories, but also its connection to the Cold War, and documentary maker Gabe Polsky has no fear when it comes to using outtakes as part of his footage, using them to highlight the fear under which many of these men still live, or Fetisov's enormous ego and by extension, Russian attitudes towards themselves and the West. You can't really ever escape politics even when the topic is sports, not in this context, which gives the film a greater and more relevant scope.

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