Saturday, August 1, 2015

Play It to the Bone

Year 7, Day 213 - 8/1/15 - Movie #2,107

BEFORE: Boxing personality Jim Lampley carries over again from "Undisputed".  According to IMDB, Wesley Snipes also has a cameo somewhere in the crowd, so that's two reasons to put this one next.  

THE PLOT:  Two best friends and former middleweight contenders travel to Las Vegas to fight each other for the first time.

AFTER: I've still got one boxing movie left after this, but it looks like this is where some of the week's themes will get tied together.  We've got two boxers who share an ex-girlfriend ("Grudge Match") and she's a woman who dispenses constructive boxing advice ("Against the Ropes") to fighters who are being manipulated by unscrupulous promoters ("The Great White Hype").  And there's a long, slow build-up to the fight itself ("Undisputed").  

But in this case, the delay takes the form of a car trip to Las Vegas - it's a road movie, then a boxing movie.  Because if the fighters took a plane as they were supposed to, the film would only be about an hour long.  Instead we get a chance to know them over the long drive, and all their inner fears and desires about boxing and relationships are exposed.  But the delaying tactics are quite evident - whenever there's an incident that a character doesn't want to talk about, despite repeated inquiries, you can tell that a screenwriter is just stalling for time.

The addition of another driving companion halfway through the trip seems like just another delaying complication - or perhaps she's there just to reinforce one character's sexuality, otherwise one might question how close these two men are, and whether there's any more to their relationship than being sparring partners.  But the worst stalling tactic is having the other female character go into a truck stop restroom and spread her clothes and make-up all over the place, getting herself ready for the big fight, completely ignoring the need of the boxers to arrive at the casino.  Did she forget that they're on a tight timetable?  Meanwhile, we the audience are not only watching a woman apply make-up, but also watching the boxers do NOTHING while waiting for her to finish.  Ha, ha, women sure do spend a lot of time getting dressed, don't they?  

During the boxing match, things get weird, presumably because the fighters are getting hit in the head so much, jarring loose some old memories and causing some bizarre hallucinations to happen.  This is where it becomes less like "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and more like "Requiem for a Dream".  

We're told it's very important to "play it to the bone", but what exactly does that mean?  Is it just general advice about endurance, or does it mean something specific, like "don't wait until the count of 9 to start getting up"?  Maybe it just means that you've got to give the fight everything you've got, because if you don't, you're going to remember that and focus on it, and you'll drown in regret. 

In the end, nothing is resolved, which is very disappointing.  Who gets the girl?  Who won the fight?  Who gets a shot at the middleweight title?  Come on, does it really matter?  Umm, yeah, it kinda does.  Instead our heroes just take a shower (together?), play some roulette and drive home.  If one of them weren't so homophobic, I'd say they should have a three-way with their shared ex-girlfriend and get it over with.  At least then maybe a few things would be settled.

The well-choreographed fight goes the distance, but if you ask me, the plot takes a dive with about 15 minutes left.  But if you've ever wondered how two boxers can beat the hell out of each other for 10 rounds, and then hug each other right after the fight, this film goes a long way toward answering that little conundrum.  I guess you just have to take this film for what it is, a character study about two nearly washed-up contenders who get another shot by filling in on an undercard fight.

Also starring Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Now You See Me"), Antonio Banderas (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Lolita Davidovich (last seen in "Cobb"), Lucy Liu (last seen in "True Crime"), Tom Sizemore (last seen in "Get Carter"), Robert Wagner (last seen in "Midway"), Richard Masur (last seen in "Heaven's Gate"), Willie Garson, Jack Carter, Eloy Casados (also last seen in "Cobb"), with cameos from Aida Turturro (last seen in "Angie"), Mike Tyson (last seen in "Grudge Match"), Michael Buffer (ditto), George Foreman, Kevin Costner, James Woods (last seen in "Jobs"), Drew Carey, Jennifer Tilly, Tony Curtis (last seen in "The Great Race"), Steve Lawrence, Rod Stewart, Steve Schirripa (last seen in "Must Love Dogs").

RATING: 4 out of 10 cornermen

Friday, July 31, 2015


Year 7, Day 212 - 7/31/15 - Movie #2,106

BEFORE: I went to a food and beer tasting event last night, one of those well-organized ones where about 25 or so restaurants have tables set up and hand out small samples of their food, and the food's already been paired with samples from craft breweries, by people who know how to do such things.  I've been to this annual event twice before, and both times fell JUST shy of making it all the way around the space and tasting everything.  So this time, the challenge was to move quickly between stations, taking photos of the signs listing the names of the food and beer, rather than writing down notes.  (Just like with the bird-watching in "The Big Year", or my movie selection process, the challenge is to not get so caught up in the note-taking process that you miss out on the experience itself.)  

The night was successful, my drinking companion and I made it to every single table, and I tasted a food or beverage sample from each one.  While the logical, OCD side of my brain was congratulating me for doing everything in an orderly fashion and sampling everything, the other part of my brain wished we could have just stood next to the tables serving pieces of whole roast hog and barleywine ale, tasting sample after sample of just that.  Which would have been delicious, but hardly sporting, and also not medically recommended.  

But it happened to be the most humid day of the year - screw that, perhaps the most humid day of all time, thanks to two days of 90-degree NYC heat, plus an afternoon thunderstorm that did a little to cool things off, but not much.  The whole city just got soaked and then smelled like wet dog - and inside the event, there were 500 people crammed into two floors of event space, an A/C ventilation system that clearly wasn't up to the challenge, and some stations were even grilling food to order.  So after about an hour I was dripping with sweat, and by the end I think I was more of a liquid than a solid human.  And drinking beer tends to dehydrate people even further, so I'm honestly surprised that people weren't passing out left and right.  A beer festival in late July really, really, needs to be held outdoors, or in a completely air-conditioned space. 

Tonight's film is set in a prison in the desert, so sweltering conditions probably prevail there as well.  No Michael Buffer tonight, instead boxing commentator Jim Lampley carries over from "Grudge Match".  Why do we call these sports people "commentators", anyway?  Shouldn't the job be called "commentor"?  Because that's what they do, they make comments - they don't commentate, right?  That shouldn't be a word.  It's like when people say "disorientate" instead of "disorient" or "conversate" instead of "converse" - why add a syllable and make the word more complicated than it needs to be?  

THE PLOT:  When heavyweight champion George 'Iceman' Chambers lands in prison, the resident gangster arranges a boxing match with the reigning prison champ.

AFTER: I'm not sure how believable this film is supposed to be.  I mean, there's a lot about boxing that I don't understand, and there's a lot about prison that I don't care to know - but would a prison with some of the worst murderers and rapists in the country also be outfitted with one of the nicest boxing rings ever built?  (Plus, isn't every fight in prison already considered a "steel cage" match?)  This thing looks like the Octagon from MMA fighting, but it's a PRISON.  The whole point of incarceration is to limit prisoners' rights, and here we are providing them with sports equipment, training and the best boxing matches that can be arranged?  Plus the prisoners all get front-row seats?  What's wrong with this picture?

Apparently this is all done on an intramural basis between prisons - one prison's champ takes on another prison's champ, for bragging rights, I guess, or maybe just for the amusement of the warden and guards.  (Hey, they had a prison rodeo in "Stir Crazy", why not a boxing league?)  And one guy's been in so long, trained so well and beat so many fights, the reasoning is that he could probably take on the heavyweight champion of the world.

Which is exactly what happens, when the real champ gets locked up on a he-said/she-said rape charge.  Any similarity to real-life boxers being incarcerated is purely coincidental.  No, wait, I meant purely intentional.  We're programmed to hate this guy, I think, because of the (probable) rape he committed, and his arrogance in thinking that there's no way a prison boxer could even challenge a real boxer.  Why is this so hard for him to understand?  This guy's been training for like a decade, under prison conditions, and he's beaten everyone in every weight class you can name.  Don't let the word get out, or we'll see all kinds of boxing champions committing crimes, just to get locked up so they can be part of this tough training program...

Like the pair of boxers in "Grudge Match", these two boxers are destined to meet and fight again and again, only every time they do here, it leads to a potential prison riot.  So the film had to engineer a way to keep them apart - putting one in solitary did the trick.  Great, now how's he supposed to train for the match?  And where did he get all those matchsticks and that glue?  

Nobody like someone who acts all entitled, and that's what the real title-holder is.  He wants a CD player in prison, he doesn't want anyone talking to him, he even turns down the offers for intimate companionship in prison - now, that's just damn impolite.  By removing the prison champion from the general population, the other prisoners (and the audience) don't develop a similar hatred for him, so we all end up rooting for the prison champ over the real-world champ.  

But, as the old joke goes, if he's the "undisputed" champion, then why is everyone still fighting over the title?  There's always going to be at least one guy willing to dispute the champ's status as the champ, right?  And anyone with a title is going to have to defend that title, sooner or later, so the word "undisputed" only had any meaning at all after that period when there were like three different boxing organizations with different champions.  Otherwise, it's an unnecessary term - there's no difference between "world champion" and "undisputed world champion", because if someone can legally challenge his status, then he's not really the world champion to begin with.

The film follows the (by-now) familiar pattern of telling us, via graphics on the screen, the name of each inmate and the crime they're incarcerated for.  I've seen this on TV shows like "Oz", and I presume it's also done on "Orange Is the New Black".  But, with only a few exceptions, this is not something the audience needs to know in this film - the vast majority of the time, it doesn't matter.  The characters even point out that it's against the code of ethics for the inmates to ask each other why they're in jail - so why does the audience need to know?  It's not really about the minor inmates' stories, anyway.

Considering the overcrowding problem in U.S. prisons, maybe we should institute a boxing program, where the highest-ranked boxers could win earlier parole?  Except for those serving life sentences, of course.  They would certainly have an incentive to win matches, because each win could take them one step closer to being released.  And then every year the prison champion (winner of a televised final bout, of course) could be released right into Don King's custody so he could start training for a boxing career on the outside.

NITPICK POINT: Why is there a boxing announcer/commentator inside the prison? OK, he's probably an inmate who calls the matches, but why is this necessary?  It's not like the match is being broadcast on the radio or TV, not even after the Iceman gets in the ring.  And every inmate who wants to see the match is probably there already - so who is he broadcasting to?  Some kind of in-house prison radio channel for the guys in solitary confinement to listen to?  Like the commentators seen in "Pitch Perfect", this is most likely there for the benefit of the movie audience, so we can understand what's happening, but the presence of the character makes no sense. 

Also starring Wesley Snipes (last seen in "The Fan"), Ving Rhames (last seen in "Jacob's Ladder"), Peter Falk (last seen in "The Great Race"), Michael Rooker (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Jon Seda, Wes Studi (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Fisher Stevens (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Denis Arndt, Ed Lover, Amy Aquino, Dayton Callie, with cameos from Peter Jason (last seen in "Some Kind of Hero"), Maureen O'Boyle.

RATING: 5 out of 10 mess hall trays

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Grudge Match

Year 7, Day 211 - 7/30/15 - Movie #2,105

BEFORE: The Michael Buffer boxing film festival continues, as he carries over from "Against the Ropes".  Buffer is NOT seen in the film "Southpaw", according to the IMDB, so I see no need to rush out and see that film in a theater just to complete the topic. 

THE PLOT:  A pair of aging boxing rivals are coaxed out of retirement to fight one final bout -- 30 years after their last match.

AFTER: I think they really missed the boat here, giving this film such a generic title.  Any sport can have a grudge match, right?  Any football team that meets an opponent year after year or any team that has a rivalry can have a grudge match, it's so generic.  Why not call this film "Ready to Stumble" or work the Stallone angle and call it "Grudge Dredd"?  Or my personal favorite alternate title, "Aging Bull"?  

It makes me wonder what came first here, the story or the casting.  Did someone write a film about two aging boxers and then check to see if both Stallone and De Niro were available, or did the two actors decide they wanted to work together, and had someone develop a project they could both do?  Or, much more likely, this came from some development people sitting around over a couple of beers, wondering, "Who would win in a fight, Rocky Balboa or Jake LaMotta?"  

There's more to this story than just boxing, of course.  These two characters have a personal rivalry based on dating the same woman, so really it doesn't matter if they're boxers or hit men or shoe salesmen.  They could go at each other with guns or knives if they truly hated each other, but boxing just happens to be the method used for them to channel their anger and hatred for each other.

But as we all know, hatred is just inner loathing turned outward.  Neither guy had much of a successful career in boxing after their last match-up.  One became a steelworker and a recluse, and the other opened a bar and a car dealership, and both remained unfulfilled in their personal life.  But the unexpected consequences of fighting again include putting "Razor" Sharp back in touch with his old girlfriend, and "Kid" McDonnen back in touch with his adult son (conveniently the child of that same woman).  

This is one messed-up family, in the end.  That son had a stepfather that he regarded as his father, only to find out that his biological father is one boxer, and his mother is in love with another boxer.  And those two boxers are rivals scheduled to fight each other.  And he just got hired as a trainer, and he has to call his father "Kid".  That's bound to be confusing. 

There was something weird with the boxing footage - some of it didn't look quite right.  Did they try to use CGI versions of Stallone and De Niro for some of the more grueling action sequences?  Or were they so old and slicked-back that they didn't really look like themselves?  

Unexpectedly, though, I did like a lot of the humor in this film.  They sort of established a running joke, with a pattern that showed that every time these two guys got in the same room, their rivalry took over and they ended up smacking each other around, again and again.  And since they're so old, they never realized that everyone around them always has a phone that can record video, so they kept ending up making the news again and again, acting like spoiled children, accidentally going viral time after time.  There were plenty of other knowing winks to the audience, like having Stallone drinking eggs like "Rocky" or finding himself in a meat locker.

But why stop here?  Next year's going to see the release of the "Batman vs. Superman" movie, after all.  And we had the mash-up of "Aliens vs. Predator" a few years back - why not have Rambo take on De Niro's character from "The Deer Hunter"?  or Travis Bickle vs. Jack Carter?  You might think that logically I'm going to watch "The Expendables 3" next, but nope - more boxing tomorrow.

NITPICK POINT: I realize that the situation is played for laughs here, but don't they do a rehearsal before anyone sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a sporting event?  Geez, Stallone's character can barely speak coherently, what would have made anyone think that he could sing clearly?

Also starring Robert De Niro (last seen in "We're No Angels"), Sylvester Stallone (last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"), Alan Arkin (last seen in "Jakob the Liar"), Kim Basinger (last seen in "Never Say Never Again"), Kevin Hart (last seen in "This Is the End"), Jon Bernthal, LL Cool J (last seen in "The Hard Way"), Jim Lampley, with cameos from Anthony Anderson (last seen in "The Big Year"), Mike Tyson (last seen in "Rocky Balboa"), Evander Holyfield, Don Lake, Rich Little.

RATING: 6 out of 10 butterscotch jelly beans

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Against the Ropes

Year 7, Day 210 - 7/29/15 - Movie #2,104

BEFORE:  I feel pretty confident in my boxing chain, even though I can no longer call it "Boxing's Final Round", as I wanted to.  Thanks a lot, "Southpaw".  And in just over a week, I'm going to break for some documentary action.  That might be a good time for me to review the films left on the list, to make sure I've got the best possible links set up, a chain that will incorporate the most films with the least number of breaks, both in 2015 and in 2016.  Up until now, most of my linking work has been done with cast lists written on pen and paper, but I finally came up with a way to use the IMDB web-site to assist me with my linking.  SO, maybe it is time to tear apart the remainder of the list and put it back together again.  Or if all of 2016's films form a chain, maybe I can leave the rest of 2015 alone.  But I'll never know I've got it right until I check it all out.  

Ring announcer Michael Buffer carries over from "Ready to Rumble", as I said he would, so let's, well, you know...

THE PLOT:  A fictional story inspired by North America's most famous female boxing promoter, Jackie Kallen - her struggle to survive and succeed in a male-dominated sport.

AFTER: I really didn't mind this film at all - it wasn't flat-out great, just right down the middle.  Maybe watching "The Great White Hype" and "Ready to Rumble" made it seem better by comparison, I'm not sure.  But it's a perfectly fine boxing film, it's got the standard training montage, it's got the improbable title shot with the unrefined challenger against the cocky champion, it's got just enough information about technique to make you think it's teaching you something about boxing, when it probably isn't.

What makes it difference is the focus on the boxer's female manager, and since this is based on a true story (Jackie Kallen started managing in 1988, although the time period isn't that important - there are so few references to news events or tech things that this could be set in just about any decade) it becomes not just a story about sports, it becomes a story about equal rights.  There's that delicate balance that took place in the 1980's and 1990's where a woman could technically do anything she wanted, only for certain jobs, there just weren't any women who were interested.  Even today, we COULD have a woman coaching a major league baseball or football team, but why don't we?  Is it still a men's club that's tough to break into, or are women just not interested in holding those positions?  

Sports movies are funny, too, in that the most popular ones are still all about men (not counting documentaries, of course, I recently watched part of one about Billie Jean King that I found quite fascinating...) and the focus varies wildly from sport to sport, I've found.  Boxing films, of course, tend to be about particular boxers ("Ali", "The Hurricane"), and so do films about golf or track ("The Legend of Bagger Vance", "Without Limits").  When you get into team sports like hockey or football, you get films like "The Mighty Ducks" or "Any Given Sunday", with lots of characters.  Baseball sort of goes both ways, with some films about individual players ("Babe", "Cobb", "42") and some about teams ("Major League").  

And then there are the films that concentrate on the coaches, for team sports like basketball ("Hoosiers", "Blue Chips") and football ("Friday Night Lights", "We Are Marshall").  The coach is kind of like a member of the team, right?  Boxing touches on this a little, in films like "Rocky" and "Million Dollar Baby".  But there aren't many films about sports managers - the only other one I can think of is "Moneyball".  So it's really strange that for three films in a row, boxing and wrestling managers and promoters have been quite prominent.  Hey, maybe that's just good planning on my part.

But whether you find Jackie Kallen's story interesting probably depends on how much of it you're willing to believe (right, because every drug-dealing thug has the heart of a boxing champion...) or perhaps on how you feel about women working in a very male-dominated sport.  (I realize now that we do have female coaches, but they're still relegated to coaching women's teams, so clearly there's still a long way to go...)  There is tension between the fictional Kallen and her boxer protegé, but it's debatable how much of that comes from the man/woman dynamic and how much of it comes from one or the other just trying to one-up each other.  

The life lessons here include the familiar "Be nice to people on the way up, because you're going to be seeing them again on the way down", or perhaps it's "Treat people the way you want to be treated", or some variation of "Honesty is the best policy".  Jackie keeps telling herself that any publicity she gets for herself is also good publicity for her boxer, but then at some point has to question whether that's really the case.  

Also starring Meg Ryan (last seen in "In the Cut"), Omar Epps (last seen in "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood"), Charles S. Dutton (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Tony Shalhoub (last seen in "A Life Less Ordinary"), Tim Daly, Kerry Washington (last seen in "The Last King of Scotland"), Holt McCallany (last seen in "The Peacemaker"), Juan Carlos Hernandez, with cameos from Dean McDermott, Jason Jones (last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), Sean Bell.

RATING: 5 out of 10 sparring partners

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ready to Rumble

Year 7, Day 209 - 7/28/15 - Movie #2,103

BEFORE: I suspect that when I designed this chain, I figured that new films would be inserted between the ones already on the list, and therefore this part would have ended up much later in the year - because the next film on my list is "8 Crazy Nights", with Jon Lovitz carrying over from "The Great White Hype", and providing a link to this one.  But it doesn't feel right to watch a Hanukkah-based film when it's 90 degrees outside, so I'm going to invoke executive privilege and move that film to December, or whenever Hanukkah starts this year. (Ah, December 6.  See ya then.)  

The link still works, Jon Lovitz was in "8 Crazy Nights" with Ellen Albertini Dow, who appears here as a wrestling fan.  And yes, I know this is the boxing chain, but I'm working in a wrestling film.  Same basic thing, right?  Plus, this film's title comes from the catchphrase of ring announcer Michael Buffer, who's my secret linking weapon this week. I mean, come on, you can't really have a film based on his famous trademark saying without him being in it, can you?

THE PLOT: Two slacker wrestling fans are devastated by the ousting of their favorite character by an unscrupulous promoter.

AFTER: This is another case where a film felt sort of half-written, because the story fires in many diffferent directions, the characters are wildly inconsistent, and they keep moving the goalposts.  The goal is to meet the famous wrestler - no, wait, the goal is to rekindle his spirit.  Wait, the goal is to get him to the next match and get him a shot at the title.  OK, you guys go on ahead without me, I'm too tired.

The debate on wrestling was always - is it real or fake?  Neither, it's staged.  Just like a play or a film, the heroes and villains trade lines and work together to put on the best show, with the most dramatic outcomes.  People don't walk out of a play or a film and debate whether what they just saw was "real", because they know it wasn't, but part of them wants to believe the illusion that it is.  Perhaps a better analogy is the circus - where people are doing stunts to entertain the audience - nobody questions whether that woman is really on the trapeze, or that lion tamer is really in a cage with dangerous animals.  Professional people are doing something they've trained to do, to give the illusion of danger so the audience can have a thrill.  

But the film can't even decide, there are a few winks to the home audience, where cameramen are confused that people are deviating from the "script", but then the promoter's plan to discredit goes out the window just because one remote segment goes wrong?  I doubt it.  What's planned carefully is the overall storyline, where the most popular (or most hated) wrestlers get a shot at the title belts.  And how many times has a wrestling champion been "defeated" in a match, only to have the president of the league declare that it wasn't a title match, so the belt doesn't change hands?  You have to call that sort of thing in advance.  

Look, if a promoter wanted to fire a difficult wrestler, he wouldn't have him beaten so badly in a match, he just wouldn't call him to show up the following week.  And if wrestling is staged, which it is, then there's no point in traveling from town to town to get someone back in the game, because unless management approves it, he's not getting back in.  "What's that, you snuck into a match, ambushed the champ and took him down?  Ya got moxie, kid - I know I fired you last week, but clearly you deserve a shot at the title!"  Nope, it just doesn't work that way.  

This film was released in 2000, the early days of the internet.  You can tell because our heroes need to find a teen who knows how to use a computer, just to track down someone's address.  Did they forget how to use a phone book?  And naturally the kid is a hacker, because he can somehow find anyone, anywhere.  But how come later in the film they dropped this angle and Scott Caan's character suddenly became a genius about where to find things?  I guess being in contact with a computer nerd made hims smarter somehow.  

NITPICK POINT: I have this same beef with "CSI: Cyber", a show starring a different Arquette.  Traveling across the country is much, much too easy here.  The investigative team on "CSI: Cyber" is based outside of Washington DC, but their jurisdiction is federal.  So when someone is killed or hacked in Chicago or Florida, they're somehow there in an instant, before the body is even cold - how?  Even if they have a private jet, there's still the issue of travel time.  Our wrestling fans here have an RV and travel from city to city for different showings of "Monday Nitro", but the travel time is omitted, mostly for the sake of narrative expediency.  But later in the film they drive from NYC to Wyoming like it's nothing, and I'm betting that's like 5 days of non-stop driving, even with three people behind the wheel.  There's a limited amount of time to train Jimmy King, why waste a week of it on driving?  Plus, who's paying for gas and meals, if these guys have no money and no jobs?

Also starring David Arquette (last seen in "Never Been Kissed"), Scott Caan (last seen in "Novocaine"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "Postcards From the Edge"), Rose McGowan, Joe Pantoliano (last seen in "Congo"), Martin Landau (last seen in "Rounders"), "Diamond" Dallas Page, Bill Goldberg, Steve "Sting" Borden, Richard Lineback, Chris Owen, Caroline Rhea, Ahmet Zappa, with cameos from Kathleen Freeman (last seen in "The Best of Times"), Lewis Arquette, Randy Savage, Booker T, Perry Saturn, Rey Mysterio, Michael Buffer and Gene Okerlund.

RATING: 3 out of 10 port-a-potties

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Great White Hype

Year 7, Day 208 - 7/27/15 - Movie #2,102

BEFORE:  Here's a quick run-down of what's coming up in the last 98 films of 2015.  Boxing films, Paul Newman films, which leads into art and artist documentaries, and then a week of other documentaries, during which time my actor linking will be suspended.  On the other side of that, I'm going to finally get to that second "Hobbit" film, which leads to some fantasy & animation films, then some Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill/Aubrey Plaza comedies, and some time-travel films once again.  After that comes the big McConnaughey-fest, and once that's over, I really have to count my slots carefully to allow enough space for October's horror and Halloween films, then I'm off until December, when I've got a couple of winter/Christmas movies, a quick link to "Star Wars" and boom, I'm done with 2015.

What's become disheartening is that I never really seem to finish any category, any genre of films.  OK, so I don't have any Westerns on my list right now - given time, I could easily come up with a few I haven't seen.  Same goes with time travel - I can clear the category with the films I have in the collection now, but I don't yet have copies of "Project Almanac" or "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" - so I either have to rework the chain and move the films I do have into 2016, or proceed as planned and do some pick-up work later.

That's the way it is with boxing films, too - I've covered this topic before, with "Raging Bull", "Ali", "Million Dollar Baby", "The Hurricane", "Cinderella Man", all the "Rocky" films, "The Hammer", "The Boxer", "The Fighter", etc.  And now just as I'm finally getting into a position to clear the category again, what happens?  You guessed it, Hollywood releases a new boxing film, "Southpaw".  It's like they're telling me that I'll never, ever, really be able to finish this project, because there will always, always be one more buddy cop thing or superhero/sci-fi film or an animated movie released that I haven't seen yet.  I finally got around to watching "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol" a few months ago, so guess what?

Corbin Bernsen carries over from "Hello Again".  The guy showed up maybe once in my first 2,000 films, and now here he is for the third time in a week. It's funny how these things work.

THE PLOT:  When the champ's promoter, Rev. Sultan, decides something new is needed to boost the marketability of the boxing matches, he searches and finds the only man to ever beat the champ.

AFTER: Here's something that I don't say about a lot of movies - this one was much too short.  But not necessarily in a good way - I mean that my usual complaint about a boxing film is that it doesn't usually tell me enough about the science of the sport.  My main complaint about this film is that it needed more boxing in it.  Really, there's just one match at the beginning to introduce us to the champion, and then there's one at the end where he faces the hand-picked white contender. 

The rest is all about the other things that surround boxing, like the title-mentioned hype, the betting, the sports programs where analysts try to predict the outcome, and especially the fighter's manager and entourage, portrayed as a master manipulator and a bunch of crazy hangers-on.  If the characters didn't constantly state what their jobs are ("I'm the publicist!" and "I own the casino!") then we might not ever know what they're supposed to be doing it, because they're rarely seen accomplishing those things.  Instead they sit around and try to brainstorm ways to game the system to increase the fight's revenue.

Now, I'm not saying this doesn't happen.  Maybe that's what boxing managers do, just spend their time thinking of ways to create rivalries in order to get more people to order pay-per-view matches.  Maybe the Rev. Fred Sultan is based on a real-life figure who some people have suggested had the entire Nevada boxing commission and the heads of several boxing organizations on his payroll, either in reality or in spirit.  Maybe it's possible to track down an obscure fighter, grease some palms, and get him ranked in the Top 10 just to give him an unreal shot at a real title.  But I'll never know for sure, and since the whole crazy situation is played for crazy laughs here, we'll never know.  If you're going to do an exposé, do a damn exposé.

But maybe this is intended as a parody of boxing films?  Again, tone is everything, so if I can't grok the intent from a film's tone, then I can't really tell what message it's trying to send or what point it's trying to make.  Are boxing managers corrupt?  Yeah, probably.  And I hear water is also wet.   Can anyone make sense out of which fighters get ranked where, or who gets to fight who?  I'm not sure, but I'd like to know more about it.  This film can't stop patting itself on the back over how hilarious it thinks it is in order to get anything across, though.  

Almost a NITPICK POINT: My limited understanding of boxing's weight classes led me to believe that a boxer usually has to "make weight" for a fight, meaning that his weight has to fall within a specific range (flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, welterweight - do we need this many distinctions?) and it's played for laughs here that the world champion has a prominent pot belly.  I figured that if a fighter didn't get down to his "fighting weight", that he wouldn't be able to fight.  Which is true, except for the heavyweight class, which I've just learned has no upper limit.  OK, good to know. 

But I think the movie sells itself short (and most boxing fans as well) by suggesting that more people will watch a boxing match between a black man and a white man because of some deep racism that's still to be found in sports fans.  Basing the whole plot of a film around this seems inherently racist itself, and I don't know how to get past that.  And we'll never get past it as a society until people stop looking at situations that way, so why feature characters who continue to do so?

Also starring Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Damon Wayans (last seen in "The Last Boy Scout"), Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Peter Berg (last seen in "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"), Jon Lovitz (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Cheech Marin (last seen in "Tin Cup"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), John Rhys-Davies (last seen in "The Living Daylights"), Albert Hall, Rocky Carroll, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, with cameos from Brian Setzer, Method Man, Chi McBride.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Rolls-Royces

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hello Again

Year 7, Day 207 - 7/26/15 - Movie #2,101

BEFORE: Before I start my final 100 films of 2015, it's time for a quick TV update.  We usually think of summer as a dead time for TV, but that's just not true any more.  I would like this to be my time to catch up on the May season finales I haven't gotten to yet, but it's hard when there are new shows I want to watch, too.  Losing a week to Comic-Con hasn't helped either - and they started some new series while I was gone, so I missed the first episodes of a few things.  Turns out the DVRs only help you catch things when you KNOW they're going to be on, and you can't program the DVR to record a title if it's not airing within the next 2 weeks.  

I picked up the new season of "True Detective", and I've managed to stay current after my wife bailed on it.  "Wayward Pines" is another new show I caught, it switched genres twice in 9 weeks, which is no mean feat, but finding out that M. Night Shyamalan was behind it explained why the payoff ultimately wasn't there.  And my wife and I are almost caught up on the two shows we watch together over dinner, "Master Chef" and "The Next Food Network Star".  Other returning shows: "Welcome to Sweden", "Penn & Teller: Fool Us", "Food Fighters", "Last Comic Standing", "Little People, Big World", "Mythbusters", and when you add those to my regular line-up of "The Daily Show", "@Midnight", Conan and Seth Meyers, I have to spend most of my weekend clearing the week's shows.  (My thanks to ABC for finally not bringing back "Wipeout" this summer...)  

I'm busy during the week trying to clear May's shows off of VHS - I got to the season finale of "Gotham", but not "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" just yet.  Still two weeks of "The Voice" to go for me, plus a couple episodes each of "Law & Order: SVU", "CSI: Cyber", "Shark Tank", "Storage Wars" and "Restaurant: Impossible" before I can declare the 2014-15 season over for me.  

Gabriel Byrne carries over from "A Simple Twist of Fate", joining a couple TV stars here, and after this, it's just 99 films to go until "Star Wars: Episode VII".  

THE PLOT:  A suburban housewife chokes to death and is brought back to life by a spell cast by her wacky sister.

FOLLOW-UP TO: Practical Magic (Movie #2,083)

AFTER: I knew going in that this film wouldn't be great, but you have to take the bad with the good, right?  How else would we know that other films are good, unless we can point to what a film should NOT do.  Seriously, though, I got this to put on a DVD with "Night Shift", and I'm really only using it here because it links to my new themed chain, which starts tomorrow.  It's a poor excuse, I know.  To be fair, this film doesn't seem to belong in October with horror movies, or in February with straight romances - so it doesn't really fit anywhere, all the more reason to watch it and get it off the damn list.  

But it's just not enough for me to say, "Oh, this is a terrible film."  I have to explain WHY it's a terrible film, or else I've learned nothing from the experience.  This is a bad concept, bad execution, and I'd point to bad writing, if not for the fact that most of the time, the actors don't even act like they know what to say, so I wonder if anyone wrote a screenplay for this at all, or if they were just winging it.  You can tell a script is bad if characters say each other's names much too often, or if a character REALLY needs to tell someone a piece of information, yet never really gets around to saying it, though there are ample opportunities.   

You can also tell the story is going nowhere if, just as someone seems like they're about to come to a decision or a conclusion about something, there's a pratfall or someone bumps into someone.  There's some appropriate slapstick at the start of this film, before our heroine dies, where we can tell that she doesn't fit in at a fancy dinner party because her skirt falls down, or that she feels embarrassed after spilling something on her blouse, and this causes her to fall down on to the table when she stands up.  Bad slapstick happens when she's asked a question during a press conference, and before she can answer, she stumbles into the microphones and knocks them down.  There's just no reason for this, other than to distract the viewer from the fact that she hasn't answered the question coherently. 

Another screenwriting sin - the film spends about 30 minutes with a woman brought back from the dead, who refuses to believe this fact, or can't quite understand it, so her sister needs to tell her this again, and again, and again.  The sister runs some kind of occult bookstore, and finds a magic spell that will bring someone back from the dead one year later, assuming that the earth, moon and a specific star form a perfect isoceles triangle.  Which taken together is impossible according to medicine, physical science, and also astronomy.  

To even discuss this film we have to move past this impossible point - I mean, magic has its place in movies like "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter", but those are different worlds, with different rules. This is set on regular Earth - and this spell brings her spirit back from beyond, and then suddenly her whole body is above ground, sitting on her tombstone.  So wait, didn't her body decay over the course of a year?  Is it still in the coffin below the ground, while she's sitting above ground?  Shouldn't someone have had to dig her up, so her spirit had some place to go?  Nope, because magic, that's why.  

She returns to find out her husband has remarried - OK, so in a way this is similar to those romantic comedies like "My Favorite Wife", where a woman was stranded on an island and came back 7 years later, right?  Oh, I wish.  At least there was some conflict there, but here a woman finds out her best friend married her widowed husband, and she's not only OK with it, she's delusional enough to think that everything's OK, she'll just get her marriage reinstated, her old job back, and her husband will fall back into line.  And nobody will be freaked out at all that mom's a zombie, or was dead and somehow restored.  

She goes back and re-meets cute with the doctor who was there when she died, and he orders a bunch of medical tests to determine how this medical miracle came to pass - and we never see the results of those tests or get any explanation for what happened, because writing that would be hard.  And then when the press finds out about a dead woman's return, they make no attempt to prove or disprove it, other than taking either her word for it, or that of her husband's new wife.  Because reporters are just a bunch of sheep who ask questions and hound people for photos, they have no way to check or confirm things.  

The big push at the end isn't even to prove what took place, it just seems way more important to get another character to admit she told a lie.  Are you kidding?  A woman came back from the dead, and all the movie can focus on is whether another woman told a lie about it.  I think maybe someone's screenplay drifted pretty far out of control here, missing the big picture.  It's kind of like that tour guide in "White House Down" who was being held hostage by terrorists and he was concerned about the antiques in the room. 

I think what's worse is that this woman comes back from the dead, and then has no focus, or any clue what to do with her life.  One would hope that after being dead, a person would realize that life is precious, and short, and she better accomplish something with her second chance.  Nope, here once she realizes she can't get back her old job or old husband, she stars a daycare center and falls in love again, that's it.  There's zero thought to what it all means, or using the experience to inform or educate or gain any kind of insight to the workings of the universe.  What a damn waste.  

Also starring Shelley Long (last seen in "Outrageous Fortune"), Corbin Bernsen (last seen in "The Big Year"), Judith Ivey (last seen in "A Life Less Ordinary"), Sela Ward, Austin Pendleton (last seen in "The Notorious Bettie Page"), with cameos from Lynne Thigpen (last seen in "Novocaine"), Tony Sirico, John Rothman (last seen in "Copycat"), Illeana Douglas.

RATING: 2 out of 10 dog biscuits