Tag Archives: Boxing

Mapping The Legacy Of Boxing On Celluloid With 10 Boxing Films Picks

7 Aug
Published in WBUR’s ARTery

Paul Newman in

Paul Newman in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” (Courtesy)

The recent release of “Southpaw,” the new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the ring rat of the title, again floats the paradigm of the American Dream realized in the toughest of all venues. Largely due to the primal, violent and intimate nature of pugilism, boxing has always been a storied staple of film throughout history.

“Southpaw” tries to achieve a post of solemnity and seriousness by playing against the archetype but in execution, it’s so heavily riddled with cliched jabs it never even flashes the mettle to reach the heights of any of the narratives it aches to be. One can understand the allure to Gyllenhaal, an actor who regularly seeks the challenge of off-the-beaten-path roles (take “Brokeback Mountain” or last year’s turn as a career-minded sociopath in “Nightcrawler”), as many an Oscar has been won by stepping in the ring (Robert De Niro and Hilary Swank to name two).

By definition, the sport demands blood and sweat, and total immersion by any thespian hoping to sell the gritty gut-pounding reality of the ring. It’s been a well-noted undertaking — the extremes actors go to in conditioning and preparation — and something De Niro took deeply to heart (going from a toned and ripped fighter to flabby nightclub host by tossing on 50 pounds) in immersing himself into the volatile persona of middleweight Jake LaMotta for Martin Scorsese’s heralded bio-pic, “Raging Bull” (1980). It’s one of the great fight films, if not the greatest, and while the bold choices by Scorsese — shooting in smoky black-and-white and a framed narrative arc — provided grounding and context, it was De Niro’s indelible turn, employing extreme method acting to soulfully get at the turbulent embodiment of LaMotta, that ensured the film of its mantle spot as a timeless American classic.

In looking back at the legacy of boxing on celluloid, three other Oscar winning films would likely hang at the top of anyone’s top 10, the most obvious of which, besides “Bull,” being “Rocky,” the 1976 Best Picture fairy tale and Cineplex-sweeping crowned pleaser which also capped an incredible real-life underdog story for screenwriter/actor Sylvester Stallone who had toiled thespian Palookaville before, and more recent hits about the gritty downside to ring life, “The Fighter” and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

Below, arranged in alphabetical order, is a list composed of some other great pugilist profiles with a conscience lean to include the eclectic and the classic. Five receiving serious consideration but not making the bell: “Cinderella Man” (2005), “The Set-Up”(1947), “The Quiet Man” (1952), “The Boxer” (1997) and “The Great White Hope” (1970).  Continue reading


30 Jul

Lots of expectation here by pairing peaking star Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s compiled an eclectically impressive resume over the past decade or so (“Zodiac” and “Brokeback Mountain,” and let’s not forget the uber-creepy “Nightcrawler” oozing out from under a stone last year) with director Antoine Fuqua, who’s been all over the road (“Shooter,” “King Arthur” and “The Equalizer”) since making his mark with “Training Day” back in 2001. Fuqua has the gift of folding urban hip in seamlessly with the mainstream. His works possess auteur flourishes while notching much off the blockbuster checklist. In short, he’s an anomaly and a blessing during these dog days of summer.

072415i SouthpawAnd while that old dog might not want to learn a new trick, he might like to witness one, which is why “Southpaw” nearly disappoints – it’s about as clichéd a retread as you can ask for. The plot feels like something right out of a middle “Rocky,” with the champ on top before he loses it all in a single stroke and has to go toe-to-toe old-school in a dingy gym to get back to his regal perch. But because of the sharp partnering, “S’paw” dances around a lot more nimbly and entertainingly than its pat regime would otherwise indicate. It opens with a bouquet of roses for Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) and his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams). They grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, met at a home for wayward kids and now he’s the light heavyweight champion of the world and they live in a spacious New York manse. Not to give too much away, but there’s a serious tumble that happens early on, and the people who were around Billy and getting paid large scatter, pretty much leaving him for dead in the aftermath. It’s the perfect spot for the venerable Forest Whitaker waltz-in as the reluctant Titus “Tick” Wills, a boxing gym owner and former pro trainer who now works only with troubled youth. To get an “in” with Tick, Billy’s gotta get back to the basics – no, not bobbing and weaving or defense (he never had much, and his face looks like a tomato at the end of most of his battles), but cleaning the toilets and getting clean and sober. That’s the launching point for a shot at the guy who took his belt and fairy-tale life (Miguel Gomez, trying hard to channel Mr. T’s menace). Continue reading

Boxing Gym

20 Mar

Review: Boxing Gym

Frederick Wiseman serves up blood, sweat, and hypnotic cadences

By TOM MEEK  |  November 11, 2010

Whatever his subject matter, documentarian Frederick Wiseman has always been concerned with blood and sweat. La Danse, his 2009 look at the grueling rehearsal routine at the Paris Opera Ballet, is emblematic. Boxing Gym moves in a similar direction as he sets up his camera in a dingy Austin establishment. Owner Richard Lord, a former boxer with a Texas drawl and a rattail, treats all his patrons (pros and amateurs who span sex, age, race, and socio-economic strata) with equal care and respect. And despite the violent nature of the sport, Lord’s dogma of rhythm, footwork, and conditioning is delivered in a calm, avuncular tenor. Wiseman records the rituals of repetition (speed bag and footwork) in poetic long shots that often have two pugilists side by side, each unaware of the other. The cadence is both primal and hypnotic.

When We Were Kings

18 Mar

When We Were Kings

When We Were Kings captures Muhammad Ali at his greatest.

Leon Gast’s feisty documentary chronicles the events surrounding the 1974 boxing extravaganza between Muhammad Ali and George Forman in Zaire. Financed by dictator President Mobutu with $10 million from his country’s reserves, the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” cast Ali as the underdog for the first time in nearly a decade. He had been inactive in professional boxing for several years after being arrested and then stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing to serve in Vietnam. At age 32 he was making this his comeback fight, but no one, not even longtime adherent Howard Cosell, gave Ali a chance against the then taciturn Forman, who was considered unbeatable after mowing down the likes of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. The poetic and prophetic Ali saw things differently: “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait till I kick Foreman’s behind.”

It took more than 20 years for Gast to bring his material to the big screen. Originally he was chartered to film the African cultural festival that was to be an appetizer while Forman and Ali went about their training. Then Forman cut himself sparring and the bout was delayed six weeks. The adjournment gave Gast the opportunity to shoot the boxers, but later his two Liberian financiers were murdered during a military coup, leaving no funds to finish the film until 1995, when director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) stepped in as a producer and editor.

Gast brought back more than 450 hours of footage and Hackford shot additional interviews to provide the historical retrospective. Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, who were at ringside to record the affair, elaborate on the mood of the time and provide sprightly insights into Ali’s psyche. Also on hand is the always opinionated Spike Lee, who pops up from time to time to interject his two cents. Ali and Forman appear on screen only in their prime. It would have been interesting to contrast the sleek Forman of ’74 with the preset portly Midas Muffler spokesperson, but to have shown Ali, now afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, would have been unfair and inappropriate.

And it’s Ali’s charismatic presence that makes When We Were Kings so appealing. He gravitates to the camera naturally; love him or hate him, there’s no denying his legacy. Hackford and Gast chisel the hours of celluloid into a compelling and comprehensive result (which gained them an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary), but at times they flirt with the notion of a grandiose social statement that never materializes. Gast’s real-life Rocky is a crowd pleaser that works best when the man who “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee” is dancing and prancing. The potent musical performances by B.B. King and James Brown are an added pleasure, and it’s an obscene amusement to watch Don King squirm into bed with Zaire’s dictatorship in order to launch his dubious career.

— Tom Meek

Rocky Balboa

17 Mar

Rocky Balboa

Solid for 15 rounds

It’s been 16 years since the last Rocky, and even then, most thought of star/creator Sylvester Stallone as a has-been kicking a dead horse. But we’re talking boxing, a sport propelled by kitsch and lore. So into the ring the 60-year-old actor goes again, outdoing George Foreman’s return by nearly a decade and a half, but before the big brawl against the undefeated champion (generic, real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) there’s the Rock update: Adrian has passed (perhaps Talia Shire got tired of being a shrew in the later Rockys), and as we learned in Rocky V, the aging pugilist is of humble means and estranged from his son. Stallone, who also writes and directs, is still able to conjure the rough and earnest underdog with infectious results. And the film is surprisingly wry, especially when Burt Young as Rock’s morose brother-in-law, Paulie, is on screen. It’s no knockout, but it does go a solid, nostalgic 15 rounds.