Tag Archives: boxing

Creed after Creed

I liked Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015) a lot when I watched it the first time.  Each subsequent viewing on DVD has been equally fulfilling as a boxing film and a film in general.  I didn’t see Creed II (Steven Caple Jr., 2018) in the theatres and waited a while after it came out on home video before I decided to give it a try.


The first viewing of Creed II did not motivate me to think much about it let alone write about it, but I woke up today and decided I wanted to do a double-feature and come what may.  The post I wrote on Creed is more typical of a sports film analysis.  This one, on the other hand, spotlights one question: Can a sports film exist without the element of pride and ego as both foundation and weakness in its protagonist?

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) goes from wanting to honor the memory of his father Apollo Creed to proving to himself that he can beat Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who boxed his father to death.  In this mindset, the protagonist won’t listen to reason, so the only thing to do is to make sure he doesn’t fail without at least having the best chance to win.  Enter all the pep talks and training montages.  The fighter will never learn how to gauge what risks are worth taking or what contests are worth accepting if he doesn’t get to make mistakes — whatever the consequences.

The competitions in sports films signify more than mere triumphs and defeats — they’re often emblems of redemption or humility.  Winning does not happen with skills or talent alone, there must be passion and the right reason to fight in the first place.  Take away the athlete’s unwavering need to redeem himself, which is primarily fueled by pride and ego, and what is left thematically?  An exercise in Zen Buddhism possibly.

Horse Meat Owens

They called him Horse Meat Owens because when he was a few hits away from knocking out his opponent, his eyes would bulge and his lips would draw back like a frightened horse.  His muscles would tense and blood vessels would rise like ropes underneath his skin.  When Horse Meat Owens came at you with his match-ending fists, you’d best drop before he could hit you.

Not because you wouldn’t be able to get back up or that it would hurt a lot…it’s just that sometimes he didn’t know when to stop.  His body knew the fight was over but his brain wasn’t satiated.  If he was having a bad week, Horse Meat Owens would pound your face in so hard and so fast, you’d be lucky to have a structurally sound nose before the referee could pull him away.

It was just last night that Horse Meat Owens’s opponent didn’t fall quickly enough.  Had he preemptively hit the floor of the ring, his chances at keeping a pretty face would’ve been quite high.  Horse Meat Owens didn’t like to beat excessively guys that knew when to surrender.  If he had been in the military, he would take a peaceful surrender.  Some believe there is no honor in it, but Horse Meat Owens saw no point in wasting bullets or life or limb on principle.  By the time he was done bashing in Hamstring Greyz’s face, there was hardly a nose left to reconstruct.

The referee and the trainers for both fighters pulled Horse Meat Owens off of Hamstring Greyz.  I watched all of it happen from a slit beneath the announcers’ booth.  The scent of sweat, musk, and iron wafted through the air like a misted air freshener.  I didn’t like what I was seeing but I couldn’t stop watching.  There was such determination in the downward whooshing of his gloves — in a different context, he could have been chopping firewood or demolishing drywall.

I was supposed to interview Horse Meat Owens before the match during the press conference but my iguana wouldn’t eat her dinner and then wouldn’t get back into her enclosure so I had to pick her up (which meant two scrapes to my hand that had to be disinfected).  By the time I got to the coliseum, the press conference was over and I found myself underneath the announcers’ booth.

I am not discounting the talents and skills required to be an effective boxer, but where does the inspiration come from?  What reservoir of rage must exist to guide the movements and focus of a successful boxer?  Horse Meat Owens has been on the amateur circuit for just under three years and he hasn’t lost once.  Who pissed him off in a past life that could sustain that kind of intense energy?

And can he teach me how to wield mine?



The above is entirely fictional.  I felt like writing and the name “Horse Meat Owens” came to me.

Qui Est Gene LeBell?

I was checking my Bookface feed when I came across an article that mma.tv did on Gene LeBell.  Who is he?  Watch and learn:


Paul Lazenby mentions that Gene LeBell wanted to learn judo, a Japanese martial art, and was met with ridicule…and likely some stink-eyes.  Whether or not boxing is superior to mma does not oil the contemplative gears as much as the idea that this man wanted and needed to train with people who had been forced into internment camps because the American government insisted on keeping Japanese-Americans  in a controlled environment on account of World War II.  And he succeeded.

Southpaw Creed

But first, a short video on rooftop work of the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium.  It reminds me of NFL Films; instead of sports inspirational, it’s steel inspirational.

And now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Pit Southpaw (Antoine Fuqua, 2015) against Creed (Aaron Coogler, 2015) and you get a consideration of sacrifice for others vs. sacrifice for self.

wap deerc

Does it go without saying that Southpaw is a redemption narrative?  The story-line necessitates redemption as Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), the protagonist, is getting older and life events force him to push himself to places he may never have taken seriously.  It’s not of a first chance or a second chance, but a recalibration of priorities.  Hope begins the film winning a match to the praise of a very supportive and realistic wife (Rachel McAdams) and proud daughter (a scene-stealing Oona Laurence).  What progresses as a possible sobering self-examination at how much longer he can be a boxer turns into a plea to transcend the status quo of aging as a boxer.  Hope gets into a situation where his actions indirectly lead to his wife’s death and his daughter is placed into social services.  The only way for him to get her back is to demonstrate to the courts, to society, and to himself that the fruits of his athletic labor stand for more than superficial glory.

Kurt Sutter, the screenwriter for Southpaw, said in the making-of-featurette, “You know, there’s two things that should not go together: an adoring father and uncontrollable rage.”  Billy Hope is the embodiment of these two qualities.  He channels rage in the ring to beat his opponents, as any effective boxer would, but then outside of it, he displays undeniable affection and paternal love for his daughter as well as the tendency to retaliate to taunts with violence.  As sports films (and sports in popular media) teach, off-field violence does nobody any good.  At best you’re left with a late night/early morning PR fix and at worst you may be charged with a crime.

In contrast to Gyllenhaal’s light heavyweight champion, Michael B. Jordan‘s Adonis Johnson (Donnie) is a young man journeying to self-identity.  His fists, his athletic talents, and his boxing gifts (honed by Rocky Balboa [Sylvester Stallone] himself) compel him to pursue his bliss out from a career in finance and into the boxing ring.  His demons are rooted in self-doubt and self-preservation and it isn’t until he accepts the legacy of his past that he can triumph.  Creed follows Johnson from childhood to adulthood — a rite of passage narrative spotlighting confidence and humility.

Aesthetically, the boxing sequences in Southpaw, especially the last match, take a lot of cues from televised boxing.  It seeks a verisimilitude of the media text itself.  Professional boxers, analysts, HBO camera crew.  Fuqua wanted that seamless representation of the boxing.  Creed makes similar references through Donnie’s interaction with media and through furthering the plot (the second ‘boxing’ sequence consists of Donnie watching a Creed vs. Rocky fight on YouTube; information about Ricky Conlan is presented through ESPN-esque TV segments; the last boxing sequence/match between Conlan and Creed).

Creed comes from an iconic breed, though, so there is still very much a “filmic” quality to these representations.  I prefer it as a boxing film and a sports inspirational because it’s about Donnie.  He’s doing everything for himself.  His accomplishments carry additional meanings, but he’s still conquering his own pride and vulnerabilities not only to prove his own self-worth (to himself) but also to be free of self-imposed burdens of that worth.  Southpaw is fine as a film; it’s solid in that start-over-again theme .  How Southpaw and Creed differ as boxing films, though, is that the former could be about a different sport.  Gyllenhaal could’ve been a fencer, a runner, a golfer, or even a competitive poker player.



Noteworthy asides

~ Sound editing is very important in boxing films.  The synchronization of the sound and the visuals in boxing sequences is very important.

~ Forest Whitaker portrays Jake Gyllenhaal’s trainer in Southpaw and after a second screening, I see his character as more of a counterpart to Bianca (Tessa Thompson) in Creed.  One of the sports movies tropes is the female love interest that either motivates the protagonist or distracts him and is thus part of narrative conflict.  True, the story-line in Creed as it pertains to Bianca does involve misunderstandings and disagreements that affect Donnie’s boxing, but ultimately, her life circumstances help to propel him forward. Likewise, Forest Whitaker’s character challenges and refines Billy Hope’s path to success.

~ The DVD for Creed contains many deleted scenes, all top-notch quality so they were likely cut much closer to the time of theatrical release.

Beat the Best: Doomsday Never Back Down

I spent my Saturday watching Doomsday and Never Back Down. I reviewed the former for Film Threat.


Here is an excerpt from my review:

Judging from the likes of “Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent“, writer-director Neil Marshall has an affinity towards examining the interplay between Darwinian survival and the crumbling of humanity in times of extreme stress. His latest bundle of dystopic dreams, “Doomsday,” marches onward under this thematic banner…..

Once the characters are inside, “Doomsday” curves its narrative course. Instead of serving up a compost heap of “Resident Evil” legs and “28 Days Later” arms, Marshall’s film adds a few helpings of “Mad Max,” “Gladiator“, “Timeline,” and a spritz of “The Village“. Sergeant Eden’s team finds survivors all right; it’s just unfortunate (though sociologically inevitable) that they’ve lost touch with modern society. Social disorder and desperation force one group to adopt a leather-and-tattoo, “badass” cannibalistic lifestyle, while the other group retreats from the manic streets of Glasgow into the country and sets up a medieval existence—knights, a stone castle, jousting matches and all.


Click here for a trailer for Doomsday.

Click here for more pictures from the film.

Now for my thoughts on Never Back Down.


Directed by Jeff Wadlow, Never Back Down is an amped up serenade to the distressing days of adolescent emotion that incorporates mixed martial arts as spectacle (for the viewers) and therapy (for the characters). Margot Tyler (Leslie Hope) moves her two sons, the younger Charlie (Wyatt Smith) and the older Jake (Sean Faris) from Iowa to Orlando, Florida to make a new start (after her husband died in a car accident) and so that Charlie can continue to pursue his dreams of becoming a tennis star. Oh yes, and so that Jake can hopefully end his misbehaving tendencies.


Not long after mingling with his new classmates and befriending eventual wingman Max Cooperman (Evan Peters) and fated love interest Baja Miller (Amber Heard), Jake finds himself the unwitting slap-down target of the school’s most popular set of washboard abs: Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet). Try as he might to avoid any rumblings with Ryan, Jake is ensnared. To salvage his own ego, to put a stop to his peers’ demand to see him fight, Jake must face up to his nemesis….with the help of a certain mentor in the form of Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou).


As a film about teenage angst or turmoil, Never Back Down is mostly mediocre and unnecessary–it adds little if anything to the ranks of Thirteen, Bully, Better Luck Tomorrow, and even Pretty In Pink. As a sports film, however, it fills up every slot on the dance card. Whether or not it invigorates the “genre” is debatable.

I knew very little about this film’s story when I decided to see it. I didn’t have to know much–it’s a sports film that showcases mixed martial arts and would be relevant to Sitting Pugs. I was pleasantly surprised that the opening sequence was a football game…in the rain, edited with a rapid cutting rate, filmed in hand-held mode, and consisting of more medium close-ups and close-ups than long shots (very Friday Night Lights the movie). Point-of-view shots were prevalent as well, including a visual reference to the college football film The Program (inside the helmet).

Jake Tyler is also introduced in this game sequence. The viewer learns three facts about him:

1. His dad is dead.

2. He gets angry easily and is prone to violence.

3. Mentioning his father makes him angry and figuratively induces an Incredible-Hulkian transformation.

After this opening, Never Back Down progresses like a high school film: new kid trying to bide his time and stay out of trouble. Throw in a love interest that already belongs to the soon-to-be-antagonist and there’s no doubt about it–the hero of the story won’t have the luxury of laying low. The film characterizes Jake Tyler as basically being a good kid. His fighting impulse is not borne out of leisure. He’s just got some unresolved anger and guilt issues relating to the circumstances of his father’s death.

It’s with respect to ameliorating this situation that Never Back Down achieves the most number of brownie points as a sports film. In addition to an adequate number of sports sequences (six fights and three or four practices), a female character that plays a significant role in the protagonist’s rise/fall, and other people’s wishes to consider (mother and younger brother)–all qualities of the standard sports film, the conflict in Never Back Down is both man vs. man and man vs. himself. Through the many bruises endured and heart-to-heart talks had, Jake must conquer a part of himself before he can take down his other enemy, Ryan. Some viewers might find this theme too “spelled out” for comfort, but I found its direct and unambiguous presentation to be the film’s one salvaging grace.


Observations & Miscellania:

1. Product Placement & Branding: Riddell helmets, Epcot Center, U-Haul, Jansport backpack, I-Phone, Mapquest, IMAC, Aquafina, Youtube, Nokia, Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Company, Motorola. The foregrounding of the cell phones and (the concept of ) online streaming video is narratively and thematically significant. Ryan finds Jake to be such a worthy opponent (er, punching bag) because of what he saw Jake do to a football player (from the beginning of the film). Ryan is both impressed but also determined to take out any possible threat, regardless of that perceived threat’s intentions.

2. The viewer is supposed to like and identify with Jake Tyler because he’s the protagonist. Perhaps Mr. Faris needs to brush up on those acting skills, but I wasn’t connecting with him at all. I actually found Ryan McCarthy much more sympathetic (especially in that scene with his father–no wonder he’s such a bully).

3 . It’s interesting that Baja Miller gets Jake pulled into an unwanted rivalry with Ryan, but she–minor spoiler, highlight pertinent text if you want to know details about the film’s end–doesn’t end up dismantling him, the way she would if Never Back Down were a traditional boxing film.

4. Following Jake Tyler’s first arse-kicking by Ryan, Max Cooperman brings to Jake’s attention a crucial distinction between the two. Jake has heart; Ryan only has technique. This remark reminded me of the ballet film Center Stage.

5. During aforementioned arse-kicking session, Ryan tells Jake that old school boxing methods are not going to cut it. Immediately, I thought of Annapolis. James Franco’s character had the emotion, the anger, but his technique was sloppy. He became a better human being after transforming from a brawler to a boxer. In Never Back Down, it’s essentially the opposite.

6. The comic relief in this film works a lot better than the dramatic bits.

7. Lukas Ettlin was the cinematographer for this film. The way in which the fight scenes were filmed and edited (quick cuts, POV shots, swirling camerawork, slow-motion for dramatic effect) made me think of the opening sequence in Stomp the Yard.

8. Despite the lavaflow of cheese in this film (and the terrible, cloy of an ending–the very end, final image end), I’m going to buy this movie when it comes out on DVD because of five words: exploitation of the male body.

Tinseltown cultivating a new Tom Cruise? It’s a little creepy, the resemblance:



Click here for the trailer for Never Back Down.

Click here for more pictures from the film.