VOD Review Triple-Play: Boxing Day.
We take a quick look at some movies about the sweet science to determine who’s a contender and who’s a bum.
We recently celebrated one of the most beloved holidays ever invented: Boxing Day. A magnificent British holiday where people gather together to regale each other with stories about the fine art of fisticuffmanship (editor’s note: literally none of that is true). That or a relic holiday that may have been about giving servants a Christmas box as a yearly bonus before fucking off to go fox hunting. Either way, it’s a bit rubbish.
We here at Deluxe Video Online have gathered together a fight card of three movies all about Boxing, and will be using the Marquis of Queensbury rules to determine which ones are practiced pros of pugilistic proficiency, and which are punch-drunk palookas of pusillanimous pedigree. One Judge (me) will sit at ringside and grade each film on a ten point must scoring system in three categories: how hype is the soundtrack, how crazy bananas is the training montage, and how realistic are these displays of fisticuffs. Now touch gloves and… let’s get ready to rummmmmmmmbbbbbbbbbblllllllleeeeeeee!
Jake Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, an orphaned tough guy that has boxed his way to the American dream: a beautiful wife, adoring child, cars, money and mansions. After successfully defending his title, Billy and his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) attend a charity event that goes south when an up and coming contender starts beef with Billy in hopes of getting a title shot. Things get out of hand quickly, resulting in one of the contender’s entourage pulling a piece and accidentally murdering Maureen. This loss starts a long downward spiral that includes Billy losing his wealth, his belt, his daughter and nearly his life. To get everything back Billy turns to Tick Wills (Forrest Whitaker), the retired trainer of the only fighter Billy ever lost to.
The Soundtrack: 8/10 Hearts on Fire
The soundtrack is very good with everything from John Paul to the Weekend showing up. Many of the songs felt like they came straight out of EA’s Fight Night game, to the point where until an Eminem song came on I thought they had just lifted the entire soundtrack from Fight Night: Champion. It captures the mood and provides strong motifs, from training sessions to entrance music to hanging with Billy’s posse of former street thugs. All it lacked was a cheesy 80’s song to amp the mood.
The Montage: 9/10 Chickens Caught
Jake got absolutely shredded for this role, and his comeback training montage was all kinds of delicious. Roads were run, bags were punched, and medicine balls were slammed into Billy’s 18-pack abdominals. The music is all kinds of hype during the montage thanks to Eminem. I only docked one point off what would have been a perfect score because Billy did some crossfit during the montage, and fuck that shit. Crossfit is a cult.
The Boxing: 8/10 Slabs of Meat Massacred
The boxing on display in the final fight was pretty damn good. Billy slips, jabs and even changes defensive postures believably, and the only demerit to the final fight was the coup de grace, a southpaw punch that gives the movie it’s name. It’s a gimmick punch that felt a little hokey and unnecessary. Naming the movie after a punch that’s used once just felt lame. The cinematography is well done, alternately gritty and clear, which makes all the fighting that much more satisfying.
The Verdict: Winner by KO
The best boxing movies generally hit greatness by having compelling out of the ring stories. The long hard look at a man untethered from his emotional anchor, wallowing in grief, despair and unbridled rage was powerful. The music, training and boxing were the real deal to boot.
Stone Cold Steve Austin plays a former boxer turned high school janitor that mentors a kid being bullied by the ace of the school’s boxing program. Many platitudes are given, the Rattlesnake stares a bunch of people down, and everything culminates in a boxing tournament where the plucky nerd can stand up for himself using his love of boxing as way to learn all kinds of life lessons. Yup, this is a boxing flavored after-school special.
The Soundtrack: 0/10 Fanfares for the Common Man
This “movie” has your standard made for TV soundtrack, which is awful. The opening song to The Masters golf tournament would get your blood pumping better than anything offered up here.
The Montage: 5/10 Stairs in Philadelphia Ran Up
This kid starts out his training by stating how much he hates running. Which is surprising, as the montage is pretty much just him getting better and better at roadwork. But the training regimen SCSA dishes out is pretty authentic for high school athletics, and we do get to see the nerd improve in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or unearned. So I guess it’s got that going for it.
The Boxing: 3/10 Low Blows
Our protagonist spends his entire fight prep time learning jabs and straights, which is perfectly fine. But then coach tells him to work the body in the final round of the fight, which would require learning to use hooks. He then scores a knockdown on the bully by using an uppercut, a punch he never once practiced. I would have given a lower score, but even if the boxing on display is abysmal, the writer of this movie must really like boxing: the story is a constant geek-fest where the kid and Austin name drop just about every famous pugilist and classic fight ever. They even mention my favorite fighter, Wayne “The Irish Buzzsaw” McCollough, so kudos to you. Just learn to keep your damn hands up next time, it was giving me an aneurysm.
The Verdict: Loss by Unanimous Decision
By Hallmark Channel standards, this is a reasonably done teen movie. The acting isn’t that bad, the life lessons avoid being total treacle and they even have a high school romance sub thread that was done very well. But I wanted boxing dammit, and this movie takes that desire, gives it a wedgie and then steals its lunch money.
Michael B. Jordan is Adonis Johnson, an angry young man with a need to fight. It turns out Apollo Creed had an affair shortly before Dolph Lundgren murdalized him, and Adonis has the blood of champions in him. Now all he needs is a role model. This pursuit leads him to the doorstep of one Rocky Balboa, a man adrift as everything in his world has moved on except him. Even his son doesn’t visit anymore, the spoiled prick.
Adonis eventually wins uncle Balboa over, and through training they get closer, each providing the other with the family they desperately need. When word gets out that Johnson is actually a Creed, the current pound for pound champion sees a chance to make one final payday before his legal troubles catch up to him. Oh, and Rocky has cancer, the same foe that took his beloved Adrian from him. Both men must support each other through the fight of their lives.
The Soundtrack: 8.5/10 Eyes of the Tiger
Much like Southpaw, this movie is choc a bloc full of heavy hitters. Meek Mill, Nas, and Tupac drop bombs on this soundtrack with just a hint of iconic Rocky songs to balance it out. I had a hard time deciding which soundtrack I liked better, but I’d give the edge to Creed. You can’t NOT get all jazzed up when you hear “fanfare for the common man”.
The Montage: 10/10 Guys in Short Shorts Running Along the Beach
I’m confident in my sexuality, so I can say without reservation that Michael B. Jordan made me sploosh. Jake Gyllenhaal may have been chiseled out of stone, but watching every sinew on Creed move like velvet covered dynamite as he entered the ring the first time was the Olympian ideal. Just as fun as the final results is the process of getting that phenomenal physique. The standard training regimen of jumping rope, one armed pushups and yes, catching chickens was all glorious and turned up to 11 with Tupac providing the montage song. The most impressive part for me was the mitt work, where Jordan is trained in the film by an actual professional trainer, Ricardo “Padman” McGill. Hearing those mitts pop with every punch was electrifying.
The Boxing: 9/10 Fights of the Century
The actual boxing in Rocky movies has tended to be the series Achilles’ heel. They generally felt like brawls between famous actors rather than realistic depictions of the sweet science. With 2006’s Rocky Balboa, this changed. More realism was added to every aspect of the boxing, from ESPN and HBO coverage of the fights to using real boxers as the antagonists (Yes, I know Rocky 5 used a real fighter too, but that film is dead to me). We get an even more polished version of this in Creed.
From real trainers and cutmen to a murderer’s row of real boxing talent (such as Andre Ward), we get some of the best on-screen boxing yet, with just a touch of Rocky’s trademark momentum changing hay makers intentionally thrown in for flavor. They also used a filming technique during a few rounds where a camera circles and dips around both fighters, letting you alternately feel the thrill of punching and the pain of being punched. It’s not overused, and it gives a new twist to the standard presentation.
The Verdict: Your Winner and Still Undisputed Champion
Rocky Balboa was a phenomenal movie, a touching personal story that kinda had some boxing thrown in at the end. Creed reboots the series as a dual threat: great personal moments and jaw dropping action. I hear that a sequel is in the works, and I can’t wait.