Fight Night

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This weekend I got together with some friends for a house party. The excuse for the gathering was to watch the Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward boxing match, but in reality only handful of guest stuck around to watch the fight (which ended around 1 am). I’m not a boxing fan – I’d never heard of either of these boxers – but I if I am put in a position to watch a match I usually enjoy it. I’m still learning about boxing – understanding the scoring system is a work in progress – and it can be a little brutal to watch, but there is also something a little poetic about boxing. Most of the boxing that I was exposed to when I was younger were Mike Tyson fights, which were often quick knockouts, but as I start watching more evenly booked matches that are won by decision, I’ve found that I like those more (as long as something happens – the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight was a snoozefest).

Since I have boxing on the brain and today is coincidentally the 40th anniversary of Rocky being released in theaters, this seemed like as good a time as any to take a look at some of my favorite boxing movies. Boxing has been a fertile subject for movies and there have been plenty of good ones, even beyond the Rocky franchise.

Creed

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All the Rocky movies are generally enjoyable – though I’ve never seen the much maligned Rocky V – but I think the latest installment may be the best of the bunch. Michael B. Jordan was great as Apollo Creed’s son and Sylvester Stallone did some of the best work of his career in a more supporting role. Creed got my blood pumping and totally reinvigorated a franchise that just refuses to die. This was one of my favorite movies of last year and I look forward to continue collaborations between Jordan and director Ryan Coogler. They bring out the best in each other. My only complaint? It was hard to watch Jordan get hit in his beautiful face; I haven’t seen Jake Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw yet for much the same reason.

 

The Fighter

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Christian Bale rightfully won the Oscar for his depiction of Dicky Eklund in this movie; he totally steals every scene that he’s in and provides a much needed foil to Mark Wahlberg’s Mickey Ward. This movie is as much about familial relationship as it is about boxing, and provides what I’ve heard is a pretty accurate depiction of Lowell, MA. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are also great.

The Hurricane

The Hurricane

Obviously there is a lot more going on The Hurricane than your typical boxing movie, but Rubin Carter’s identity as a boxer and the dashing of his dream to win the middleweight boxing title add another layer of tragedy to his false arrest. He “coulda been a contender,” but that was all lost when he was wrongly convicted for a triple murder. Denzel Washington is great as always.

Real Steel

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I am not going to argue that Real Steel is a good movie. It is not. But considering it is a film about robot boxing, it was much better than it had any right to be. I may have set the bar pretty low for this one, but I did enjoy it. I was surprisingly invested in the outcome and since the movie featured robot combatants, I felt less guilty about the inherent violence.

Now it’s your turn – what are your favorite movies about boxing? Sound off in the comments.

Creed – A Review

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When I was five years old, I was friends with another little girl with whom I occasionally used to go to the movies. Growing up, I didn’t go to the cinema very often – if we did go to see a movie, it was more than likely at the drive-in – so this was a special treat. She and I would take turns picking what movie we would go see and our parents would alternate who was responsible for taking us. When it was her turn, she selected a re-release of Alice in Wonderland, marking my only exposure to Disney movies until I was a teenager. When it was my turn to pick, I selected Rocky III – what can I say, I was a weird kid. Her father, who was in charge of chaperoning this particular film outing, was pretty over the moon with this choice and I cemented myself as a cool kid in his eyes. I hadn’t seen any of the other Rocky films, so I’m guessing my pick had more to do with Mr. T and Hulk Hogan being in the movie than anything else; regardless, a Rocky fan was born. I would eventually go on to see all the rest of the films in the franchise, with the exception of Rocky V, which I think we as a nation have just agreed to pretend never happened.

But while I enjoyed all of the Rocky installments, by the time 2006’s Rocky Balboa came out I was curious if there were any more stories left for this franchise to tell. I really liked Balboa, but it seemed like a fitting ending point. The story had basically come full circle, with Balboa nicely paralleling the original Rocky. When I heard that a new film about Apollo Creed’s son was moving forward, I was dubious that they could wring that much more out of a franchise after nearly 40 years and six movies deep. Hollywood hasn’t exactly been bursting with original ideas the last few years, so I went into Creed prepared for a rehashing of Rocky’s greatest hits and a reliance on nostalgia rather than storytelling. I was rooting for Creed to at least be watchable, not only from an affinity for the franchise in and of itself, but because of an affinity that I had for star Michael B. Jordan. Fresh off the heels of the disastrous Fantastic Four reboot, I didn’t want another disappointing film to tarnish his career. If Creed was mediocre, I was ready to call that a win for all involved.

What I had not prepared myself for Creed to win me over completely, not by decision but by knockout. This film not only reinvigorates the franchise in a way that I didn’t think was possible, but has a different spin on the story and offers a different perspective. Creed is full of fantastic performances, led by the always great Michael B. Jordan, who managed to transform himself mentally and physically into a fighter. This may also be the best performance of Sylvester Stallone’s career and the performance shows a lack of vanity as his Rocky is an older guy facing health issues. Though I’m sure Stallone could still punch a dude out if he had to, he allows himself to be less than vital in this film and assume basically the role of Burgess Meredith from the original Rocky. Creed in many ways is the symbolic passing of the torch and they handle that transition flawlessly. There is enough for Stallone to do so that he doesn’t feel superfluous – he has his own emotional arc in the film – but this is most decidedly Jordan’s movie.

In Creed, Jordan plays Adonis “Donny” Johnson, the illegitimate child of boxing great Apollo Creed. Donny has no idea who his father is, as Apollo was killed in a fight before he was born, but he is innately drawn to boxing. The kids just loves to fight and that feeling doesn’t subside once he discovers his paternity or is provided every advantage in life. Over the objections of his family, Donny quits his well-paying white collar corporate job to devote himself to boxing full time. When no local trainers will work with him, he packs up his things and seeks out his father’s friend and rival Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia. Rocky had no idea that Donny existed and is not initially interested in training the newcomer. However, much like Donny, Rocky can’t ignore the call of the boxing ring and eventually concedes to becoming his trainer. Donny also becomes romantically involved with his neighbor Bianca, a singer-songwriter who is also chasing her dream at all costs. In a lot of other movies, the role of Donny’s girlfriend would be a thankless performance, but in Creed they spend the time to make Bianca a fully realized character as well and respect her enough to be interested in her perspective and views. She isn’t just there to tell Donny not to fight or to give him someone to come home to; it’s a small thing, but an important distinction.

I enjoyed Creed immensely, but I did not anticipate my fondness for Jordan making the boxing scenes somewhat difficult for me to watch. I’ve been a fan of Jordan since he debuted on The Wire in 2002 as Wallace and have followed his career ever since. And while I can tell the difference between fiction and reality, it somehow did not make me any less anxious during Donny’s climactic boxing match; every time Donny/Jordan took a punch to the face or a particularly brutal body shot, I became incredibly anxious. I noticed that I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat and had to fight the inclination to cover my eyes. For someone who is normally pretty immune to violence on the big screen, this is a testament to how realistic the character of Donny became. Sure, I have a soft spot in my heart for the actor, but my reaction was more than that. Creed made me care about Donny and his physical welfare. I was totally invested and had no idea what the ultimate outcome would be. That’s good movie making.

Some other thoughts:

  • Wire alert – not only does Creed star Michael B. Jordan, but it also features a brief appearance by Wood Harris (aka Avon Barksdale). The duo even share a scene together.
  • I had to laugh to myself during the scene where Michael WIlbon and Tony Kornheiser debate whether the news that Apollo Creed had an illegitimate son tarnished his legacy. Considering what shenanigans professional athletes have gotten into lately (murder, rape, domestic violence, guns, etc.) no one is batting an eye over one child born out of wedlock – especially in boxing, where, you know, one guy bit off enough guy’s ear during the match.
  • I’ve only spent a negligible amount of time in Philly, but from my experience this movie pretty much nailed the Philadelphia experience, in particular the gray hues that hang over the city during the winter months.
  • The final fight takes place in Goodison Park, which happens to be the home stadium for the Everton football club (the team I root for).
  • Haha…Watch Scott Stapp of the band Creed review the movie Creed.
  • You don’t need to be a Rocky fan to enjoy Creed, but if you happen to like the franchise there are plenty of little nods to previous films that you’ll recognize.
  • Speaking of which – Creed revels who won that secret third fight between Rocky and Apollo!

Creed was way better than it had any business being; while this could have been a film that limped across the finish line as a final cash grab from Rocky fans, it instead pumped a whole new life into the franchise. The acting was stellar, the story felt fresh and original and I’m already hopeful that Creed II will be in development. Creed pumped me up and made me cry; don’t be surprised if Sylvester Stallone gets a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Michael B. Jordan has solidified his place as a star and director Ryan Coogler has demonstrated that it is possible for relatively new directors to take over a major franchise and not crash and burn. It is amazing that this is only his second movie (his first, Fruitvale Station, also starred Jordan and was a very powerful film). I enjoyed this movie so much; everyone involved with Creed should be proud of the finished product. From top to bottom, it was an energetic, funny, touching and heartwarming film.

Last Day at The Office

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Tonight Dunder Mifflin will close its doors as NBC airs the series finale of The Office. Now, I’ve been harsh on The Office the last two seasons; one of the first things I wrote for the blog was an open letter to the show asking it to stop being so terrible. I stand by all that criticism – somewhere in the sixth season the show started to deteriorate in quality and then went completely off the rails when Steve Carrell left the show. It became borderline unwatchable and if they hadn’t announced that ninth season was going to be its last, I don’t know that I would have even been watching this year.

My condemnation of the later season of The Office, however, comes from a place of love. I am tough on The Office because it has disappointed me; I know that it is capable of being a great and funny show. A quick perusal of the first five seasons demonstrates that fact. It could be smart, witty, silly and sweet – often all at the same time. The Office was easily one of my favorite comedies and I looked forward to watching and re-watching the episodes every week. It is better than the dreck that they have been putting on air. I expected more of it. It’s like when you honor roll student suddenly starts getting Cs – you are disappointed in them squandering their potential. When the show is on, it’s great; when the show if off its game, it is a disaster. Last week’s penultimate episode showed some glimmer of that former glory. If you ignored everything that had to do with Andy – who the writers have NEVER figured out how to write for since they made him manager – it was reminiscent of a classic episode of The Office. They still have some of the magic left and that makes me hope that tonight’s finale will send the show out on a high note.

In honor of this momentous occasion, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and check in with some of my favorite moments on The Office. We had our differences and I still think the show stayed on air two seasons two long, but I am still thankful for these great memories.

Jim impersonates Dwight

Jim pulled some great pranks on Dwight over the years, but this one tickled me more than most.

 

Dwight says “That’s what she said”

“That’s what she said” may be the greatest gift that The Office gave America, but none were quite as unexpected as when Dwight dropped Michael’s catch phrase post-concussion.

 

“The Client”

Between Michael and Jan’s sales pitch at Chili’s and the staff doing a table read of Michael’s screen play Threat Level Midnight, this episode is top to bottom one of my all-time favorites . Sadly I couldn’t find any good clips.

“The Office Olympics”

I can’t believe I couldn’t find any good clips of this classic episode either, but watching the staff fool around and play games while Michael and Dwight were out of the office almost made me care about the actual Olympics. Almost.

Creed

He was used so sparingly – usually only a line or two an episode – but he was clear comic gold

 

The Wedding Dance

I cited Jim and Pam’s wedding as my favorite TV wedding of all time, but the dance that the gang from Dunder Mifflin performed during their ceremony was so perfect that it deserves to be included in this roundup as well.

 

Michael vs. Toby

I love that we never really got an explanation as to why Michael hated Toby so much. Toby seemed like a nice enough guy – kind of a harmless sad sack – but Michael just hated him with the fire of a hundred suns. Perhaps it is best that we don’t know. Whatever the origin, it made for some funny moments

 

Jim asks out Pam

The Jim/Pam relationship is my favorite part of The Office and is the one part of the show that I think they did consistently well. The will they or won’t they element couldn’t go on forever and I was glad that they decided to only draw it out for the first three seasons. When this episode first aired and this moment happened, you probably heard my squeal clear across the country. I am far too invested in this fictional couple.

 

I’m not the only one paying tribute to The Office’s swan song:

  • The Huffington Post lists 10 things that they want to see in the finale.
  • The entire cast converged on Scranton, PA (where the show was set, but not filmed) a few weekends ago for a huge going away party and Q&A. Steve Carrell surprised everyone by attending. I wish I had known – Scranton isn’t a terrible drive from here and we all know there ain’t no party like a Scranton party.
  • The cast says some emotional goodbyes:
  • Don’t forget that the finale tonight is a supersized 1 hour and 15 minute episode, so set your DVRs accordingly. NBC will air a special about the series before the finale, at 8 pm (ET).

Even though the show is past its prime, I will be a little sad to watch The Office ride off in the sunset if for no other reason than I quite liked John Krasinski being a part of my week for the last nine years. The early years of the show will always hold a special place in my heart and I wish the best for this talented and funny cast. They made me very happy but it’s time to put the show to bed.

That’s what she said.