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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

BodyCombatversary!

It’s the last weekend of March. You know what we did last year on the last weekend of March? We went to our first Body Combat class! This is momentous, guys. On March 29, 2014, I finally got off my ass and ended the longest period of inactivity in my adult life. Planners and agendas are useful like that… you can look back and note such things. I love celebrating -versaries of all kinds. There has to be one for everything! Happy BodyCombatversary to Callaghan and me!

The idea of getting established in a workout routine was hard, but it hurt my brain more than my out-of-shape muscles. I’d been sedentary for so long, and out of training for even longer. We’d actually signed up at our gym a few months earlier, but I hardly went because zero motivation. Callaghan had way more determination than I to get to the gym. When I did manage to drag myself there to half-heartedly walk on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes, all I felt was this weird mixture of boredom and accomplishment and more boredom. Like, YAY, I went to the gym, go me! OH NO… I just spent 20 minutes of my life on a piece of cardio equipment. I could have been doing laundry. The struggle was real, folks, as they say. It’s HARD to get back into habitual exercise once you’ve fallen out of it for any length of time!

Then I decided to check out the group fitness class offerings, and everything changed.

According to my 2014 agenda:

–Tuesday, March 18, 2014: I went to a Body Pump class, just to try it. I didn’t hate it, but I never went back. I think I’m too lazy to do Body Pump. The very idea of making numerous trips to the equipment corner and hauling things over to the floor and then having to quickly change the configuration of the weights in between sets and then hauling all the stuff back to the corner at the end makes me feel annoyed (and bored)! Conclusion: I’m not badass enough to do Body Pump.

(Side-note 1: You know who’s really badass? THE PEOPLE WHO DO BODY PUMP IMMEDIATELY AFTER BODY COMBAT. I marvel at all you guys who do the classes back-to-back! When I’m done with Combat, I’m done. I got nothing left.)

(Side-note 2: I really should start some kind of strength-training routine, though. Shadow-boxing with dumbbells in my garage for five minutes once a week ain’t cutting it.)

–Wednesday, March 26, 2014: I tried a boot camp class. It was super hard. I loved it. Conclusion: Yes!

–Saturday, March 29, 2014: I tried Body Combat. The word “combat” on the schedule caught my eye, and my interest perked up immediately. I hadn’t thrown a punch in almost seven years. Okay, I thought. Let’s try this! So I went, and that was it. I was hooked. Body Combat is simple: I go in and follow the instructor’s commands until we’re done, and that’s it. No fuss, no muss, no equipment! You’re in and out and home before you know it, dripping sweat and feeling accomplished.

Overall conclusion: I made a standing date with the gym for Monday evenings and Saturday mornings (Body Combat), and Wednesday evenings (Boot Camp).

There was no reluctance from that point on; I surprised myself with my 180 turn-around. I’d been against the idea of group fitness classes before I even saw the schedule, because even though I really wanted to work out, in my advanced state of workout apathy and gym-self-motivating-brain-cells-atrophy, the notion of committing myself to a workout “schedule” seemed about as appealing as escaping from jail by digging a tunnel with a teaspoon. Sunken deep in my routine of sitting on my ass, I was perversely comfortable in my little prison cell of inactivity.

Of course, doing Body Combat brought back the old obsession with actual training (the sweet science addiction never really goes away once it bites you), and this led to the equipment in our garage. We went out there to play a little late last night. Callaghan took pictures.

Excuse the demon eyes. It was late and we had to use the flash in the dimly-lit garage... plus, these pics were taken with my phone, as usual. I still haven't replaced my camera since my last one died.

Excuse the demon eyes. It was late and we had to use the flash in the dimly-lit garage… plus, these pics were taken with my phone, as usual. I still haven’t replaced my camera since my last one died.

Elbows on the WaveMaster

Elbows on the WaveMaster

Jumping rope

Jumping rope

Elbows on the ground

Elbows on the ground

 WaveMaster, bare fists

WaveMaster, bare fists

Now, we do three Body Combat classes per week and no Boot Camp, because the Wednesday night Boot Camp went away and was replaced by the third Body Combat.  I’m not complaining about the extra Body Combat, though I do miss the Boot Camp! In a perfect world, I’d be able to get away from work one morning a week just long enough to do Suzy’s Core, Cardio & More class (Wednesdays), or Geeny’s H.I.I.T. class (Thursdays). If I’m ever off work on either of those days, that’s where I go! Huge shout-out to those ladies, and to our phenomenal regular Combat instructors and friends Izzy, Rebecca and Amelia, and also to our sometimes-instructors Jessica and Diane!

That’s the best part… in the last year, I’ve gained much more than a higher level of fitness with increased energy, strength and balance. I’ve gained new friendships with other class participants and the instructors, themselves.  I’ve also gained something concrete to look forward to, three times a week (looking forward to stuff is so important if you have clinical depression, by the way). Each time we leave the gym, I can’t wait for the next time, and that is awesome.

Happy Friday, Everyone! =)