RIP Muhammad Ali.

He was the warrior poet who stood by his beliefs.

As you can imagine, this would endear me to Muhammad Ali even if he hadn’t had an enormous part in shaping some of my most cherished childhood memories. Ali is the reason I’ve loved the sport of boxing for most of my life, as I’d spent Saturday afternoons in the 70’s bonding with my Dad while we watched boxing on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Ali celebrated the imagination, and I loved that. (The man who has no imagination has no wings.)

He was a conscientious objector who refused draft into the Vietnam War, and I admired that, too. As a combat veteran, I recognize that objecting the war was his right as an American citizen.

Later, he leveraged his fame to do service by participating in the release of American hostages in Iran. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth… the first version I’d heard of this quote came from Ali.

For years, I had a poster of this iconic photo from Ali’s (then Clay’s) second fight with the great Sonny Liston:

 

Cassius Clay (Ali) knocks out Sonny Liston

Cassius Clay (Ali) knocks out Sonny Liston

 

Ali practically invented the sport of pre-fight trash-talking, and he literally made an art of it. He sometimes used his poetry guns to fire off his trash talk:

Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat,

If Liston goes back an inch farther he’ll end up in a ringside seat.

Clay swings with a left,

Clay swings with a right,

Just look at young Cassius carry the fight.

Liston keeps backing but there’s not enough room,

It’s a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom.

Then Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing,

And the punch raised the bear clear out of the ring.

Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown,

But he can’t start counting until Sonny comes down.

Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic

But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic.

Who on Earth thought, when they came to the fight,

That they would witness the launching of a human satellite.

Hence the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money,

That they would see a total eclipse of Sonny.

 

RIP Muhammad Ali.

“Southpaw” floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-SouthpawMoviePoster

 

It seems like a long time ago that an upcoming boxing drama called Southpaw crossed our radar… or, rather, a long time since we found out that Jake Gyllenhaal, one of our favorite actors (we’ve never seen a film of his we haven’t enjoyed), would be portraying a boxer called Billy “The Great” Hope. We went online and found a photo of his Southpaw physique, and we hardly recognized him. Needless to say, we were stoked.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-SouthpawJakeGyllenhaal

 

We admire Gyllenhaal because he’s consistently good, and he has a knack for choosing solid projects. He has depth. He has range. But we’d never seen his range extend into action/sports hero territory, and he’d never been an actor I’d expect to see in a gritty, testosterone-driven role such as that of Billy “The Great” Hope. Along with the rest of the world, we were eager to find out how he did. How he did was he went out and trained obsessively and developed himself the bod and the skills, and he smashed it.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-SouthpawJakeGyllenhaal2

 

Some actors, you can see how they come to casting directors’ minds for such roles: Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, Russell Crowe in Cinderlla Man, Michael Jai White in Blood and Bone, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, and Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter, for instance. Then you have excellent but unexpected choices, like Will Smith, who bulked up and trained to play Ali and nailed it, killing everyone’s skepticism (that marked the beginning of Smith’s action hero career, didn’t it?)… and now, Gyllenhaal, who does the same in Southpaw.

There are several ways you can describe Southpaw. It’s a fight movie, a boxing drama, a story of redemption, a vendetta movie, a come-back story… and it’s a family drama.

Here, I have to say that fight movies – especially the ones about boxing – always carry a note of sentimental value for me, so I can’t approach them unbiased. I’ve mentioned before how my fascination with boxing began in early childhood, growing up in the 70’s sitting in front of the T.V. with Dad on Saturday afternoons watching the likes of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Duran, and Hagler, and into the 80’s with Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns (not to mention Howard Cosell throughout it all) on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Because of those intervals of bonding with Dad throughout my grade school years, I’ve loved the “the sweet science” of boxing for as long as I can remember.

Because I watched the film through the lens of some of my fondest childhood memories, I saw Southpaw as more of a family drama than as a straight-up fight movie. Southpaw is a simple story about a father-daughter relationship and how it was both shaken and healed by boxing. My own enduring affection for the sport of boxing was inspired by my father when I was a young girl of the same age as Billy Hope’s daughter. Unsurprisingly, I found the drama of that relationship to be the most inspired theme in the film.

Nevertheless, Southpaw follows a standard fight-movie formula; fortunately, it does its thing exceptionally well. It transcends the mundanity of its story with great acting and all the technical trimmings of the film-making craft. Neither Callaghan nor I had trouble forgiving the film its baldly formulaic plot, because if you turn it upside down, you can see that the formula works in Southpaw’s favor in some ways. It relieves the film of obligations to be fresh, and it opens up space for the characters and conflicts to develop. It’s telling an old story rife with clichés, and the refreshing part is seeing it done so well.

Family drama aspect aside, Southpaw’s boxing scenes are beautifully filmed and keenly impactful, and we found ourselves on edge even if we could predict the outcome of the bouts. Much of the movie is painful to watch. Southpaw is relentless, a film that needs no time to find its footing, gliding into its rhythm right from the outset. I’d love to watch Southpaw contend for Academy awards, and I think it could, considering the talent that infuses it: Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer); actors such as Forest Whitaker and Rachel McAdams, and, of course, Gyllenhaal. Then there’s the music by James Horner (the film was dedicated to his memory) and Eminem’s contribution of four songs, including “Phenomenal” and “Kings Never Die”… and the fact that the film was brought to us courtesy of the Weinstein Company.

Of all his memorable quotes, Muhammad Ali is perhaps most famous for proclaiming that he’d “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and that’s what Southpaw does. It floats along on its easy, predictable plot, but in the end, it’s a knock-out.