Saturday, April 23, 2016

A review you can use: "Creed" and "Southpaw.

Good morning!

I am not a boxing fan. I do not watch boxing. I do not understand boxing. It's the one sport during Olympic coverage that I get up and go do housework.  (2016, Rio...can't wait!)

That said, I can't leave boxing MOVIES alone. I love them.  I've seen many of them.  All the Rocky movies, check. Cinderella Man, one of my all time favorite movies, check.  And most recently I've watched two, "Creed" and "Southpaw."

"CREED" is the next installment/continuation/sequel in the Rocky movie series. I know people are going to disagree with that, because this is a whole knew chapter in a whole new story...except Sylvester Stallone is in it and they call him Rocky and there's boxing in the movie. So yeah, it's the next chapter in the Rocky series.  Anyway, "Creed" follows the youngest son of Apollo Creed, Rocky's rival and friend.  Michael B. Jordan is Adonis Johnson, Apollo Creed's unknown illegitimate son.  He's living in a children's group home when Apollo Creed's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) finds him, takes him in, and raises him.  Boxing is in his blood, however, and Adonis wants to make it on his own without invoking the name of his father, so OF COURSE he heads to Philadelphia and searches out the aging Rocky Balboa for training.

The plot might sound tired and far fetched, but the end result is a touching, exciting, heartfelt film with some great boxing sequences.  Michael B. Jordan walks a fine line with his portrayal of a man whose father is a stranger to no one but him.  And Sylvester Stallone is a revelation with a surprisingly sensitive, layered revisit to the beloved Rocky Balboa.  It's a role that garnered Stallone another Oscar nomination in 2015. Tessa Thompson rounds out the leading cast as Bianca, the nearly deaf musician who becomes Adonis' love interest.  As inspiring and tearful as any of the Rocky movies, "Creed" is a solid outing and I look forward to any more chapters in this new story.

"Southpaw" is about boxing as well, but this time we start at the top, slide to the bottom, and then work our way up.  Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal in some spectacular shape) is 43-0 and the reigning light heavy weight champ and he has it all:  Wife, child, massive house, expensive gifts for everyone in his posse, cars and cars and cars.  When his wife (Rachel McAdams) dies unexpectedly, however, Billy loses it all in a fast slide to the bottom.  His posse leaves, his money dries up, he loses the house. None of it matters until Social Services takes his daughter, Layla (Oona Lawrence...adorable!) and he is instructed to get a job and prove he can be an adult.  he finds hope in grumpy boxing coach Tick Wells (Forest Whitaker) and the two of them learn to fight their demons together. 

It's really not as schmaltzy as it sounds.  Told with grit and very little sentimentality, and a lot of really graphic boxing scenes, "Southpaw" is a little bit of a different view as boxing movies go.  Gyllenhaal turns in what might be one of his best performances yet and Forest Whitaker is his usual magic on screen.  With a score written by the late great James Horner (who did the work for free since the budget for the film was a tiny $30M, and the producers couldn't afford to pay him much, but Horner loved the plot.) "Southpaw" is a solid outing, definitely worth a look if you enjoy boxing movies or good family drama.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why do I live in Wisconsin?

Good afternoon!

Wow!  Where did March and half of April go?

I realized I've been MIA from this blog now since the Oscars.  Maybe it's my shock that "Spotlight" took best picture instead of "The Revenant."  I didn't feel either one was best, so whatever, but still I was surprised. Not enough to neglect my blog, however.

It's finally Spring here in America's Dairy land. After a couple brief false starts, we've finally gotten a weather weekend that's amazing.  I was reminded how precious and surprising days like these are around here this morning at my favorite coffee shop. Hubby and I walked down and the young man behind the counter started up a conversation with us about how amazing the weather was today.  He is from Oregon, and the winters here are far harsher, more uncomfortable than they would be up in the Pacific Northwest.  

Hubby and I continued the conversation while we sipped coffee at a table on the sidewalk. He'd recently spent the week with a coworker who lives in Houston, Texas.  Recently Houston has had a spate of baseball and grapefruit sized hail. We marveled at some of the pictures Hubby had gotten from other insurance adjusters of the damage to property and cars.

This got me to thinking:  Why do I live in Wisconsin?

Out of state people ask this of Upper Midwesterners all the time.  Minnesota, Iowa, the northern part of Illinois, the Dakotas, what on earth possesses us to live here where the winters are no joke six months long and the summers are as hot and humid and bug infested as anything Florida could offer up?

The last couple days have answered that question.  There are brief, shiny moments here in the northern parts of America's Heartland that are so beautiful and fleeting and precious...if you blink, you'll miss it and then you'll have to wait until next year.  

Spring is a very short season and sporadic. You can't point to a span of time on the calendar and say, "This is Spring." More likely, you'll find a day when the sun is shining, there's a lovely breeze and everything smells alive. Tiny little flowers of blue and yellow pop up out of grass that's so green it makes your eyes water.  All the colors are bright, as if trying to beat back the thought of so many days of dark, dreary, cold rain.  These spring days are rare, and a gift, and breathtaking.  People put shorts on and walk around outside even though it's probably only 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) because it's 50 degrees more than it was for the last five months and it feels so good.

The snow is gone, except for those black mountains of filthy ice lining the sides of some parking lots. Some of those frozen dirt piles might be there until June.  The ground is soft, just like the air. It's not yet packed down with the heat of summer.  Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks all skitter about in a frantic choreography, looking for food, playing with each other, mating, birthing.  Birds sing, their beaks upturned in joy after a spring rain has brought the worms to the surface.  

Spring here in the northern world comes later than it does for the rest of country.  I have coworkers in the South who are running their central air, while I just today turned off my furnace. Not for good, I'll probably need to turn it on again before April and May come to a close.  But the anticipation of that beautiful weekend is savored.  And once that weekend comes....

Well, we all get outside and rake up the rubbish that's been building under the snow. Discarded cigarette butts, soda cans, fast food wrappers, all rustle in the matted grass.  Homeowners clear out yard rubbish and hazardous materials from their garage and take them to the recycling center where they wait in line with all of the other spring cleaners.  Back yard bonfires light the night skies as we all realize that the mosquitoes aren't out yet and we're safe to sit outside for a little while. 

We wave at neighbors we haven't seen since September.  We chat about the winter and how we're glad it's gone and we blow the final fuel out of the snow blowers before we, in great hope, put them away not to be touched again until, again in great hope, December.

Soon it will be summer. Time for festivals with music and beer and fried foods.  Soon it'll be time for central air and humidity and wearing sweaters in stores and movie theaters because it's always so cold in there.   But right now, in these magical days scattered through out April and May, we have Spring and it's just NICE outside.

And that's why we stay. That's why we tolerate being considered second rate states and why our votes rarely count in elections and why we don't mind that our baseball and basketball teams haven't won a darn thing in two lifetimes.  Because of these blessed drops of gold that are our days of Spring.

And now, if you don't mind, I'm going out to enjoy mine right now!