Archive for the ‘Boxing’ Category








THE SET-UP is a genre film with style, a sports noir, based on a poem of all things, and directed by the versatile Robert Wise.  Though shot in film noir tradition with film noir themes of steep odds and tragic heroism, THE SET-UP is primarily a sterling example of a boxing picture, and it is a widely-acknowledged inspiration for Martin Scorsese while shooting RAGING BULL.  (I guarantee you that Quentin Tarantino saw it too, when considering Bruce Willis’ storyline in PULP FICTION.)



In this movie, Robert Ryan plays Stoker, an over-the-hill boxer who discovers that he’s expected to take a dive by a powerful gangster.  He’s a loser several times over, but he’s not about to lose for lack of trying – but there’s a price to standing up against the underworld.  That price is apparent through the pummeling Ryan takes throughout the movie.  Ryan was seldom better cast – imposing enough to be credible as a professional boxer, but wearing his heart on his sleeve, lacking of the drive and the viciousness of the most successful of punch-drunk champions. The soul is in his eyes; the fists only secondary implements by contrast. An essential Robert Ryan performance for longtime fans and soon-to-be fans of one of the most fascinating, thoughtful, and under-acknowledged of old-Hollywood film stars.


– Jon Abrams.


Please read this excellent essay on the film over at Screen Slate today.


THE SET-UP plays at 5pm this evening at the IFC Center in New York City. It isn’t on Blu-Ray yet but you can still find it on the DVD format.



Tyson (2008)


The man tattooed his face.

He… tattooed… His face.

How does a world-class athlete, household name, and one-time multi-millionaire get to the point in his life where he decides to get a tattoo on his face?

On the subject of Mike Tyson, the comedian Artie Lange once remarked that when you tattoo your face you’re basically declaring that your life is over.  He was exaggerating for the sake of comedy, but there’s a point in there.  You can’t ever go back from the face tattoo; once that happens, straight-world suit-and-tie jobs are out of the question forever.  You’re giving up on at least half the world.

If you’ve ever wondered about why he opted for this facial alteration, or if you are curious about what Tyson almost imprinted on his left profile before he ultimately settled on Maori warrior markings [that trivia answer would be “hearts”!!!], then you need to see the new Tyson documentary – entitled “TYSON,” for obvious reasons. If you are a boxing aficionado like me, or if you are just a student of human nature, it’s a necessity.

The filmmaker James Toback is apparently a controversial figure himself, but he dials that infamous persona down for this movie.  While Toback’s sympathies are clearly aligned with his subject (Tyson appeared in Toback’s improv film BLACK & WHITE), here he simply sets the camera on Tyson’s face and only occasionally cuts away to archival footage and photographs.  He lets Mike Tyson tell Mike Tyson’s story, in effect.  Obviously the perspective is slanted, then, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth attention.

Some of the bad deeds attributed to Tyson were well-documented; some were completely fabricated; some true but exaggerated; some true but explainable; some forgivable; some not.  Is Mike Tyson a monster?  Absolutely not.  That’s a hellish title to lay on an obviously troubled, conflicted human being.  He’s a rageful man, yes, but one might argue that this is a requirement and a function of his profession.  The only steady job he ever held demanded that he hit grown men in the face.  He’s also sensitive and sentimental and has a weird poetry in him, which has made him endlessly quotable.  The reality is almost always more complicated than we expect or want it to be.  This is absolutely a realization that Tyson, the documentary, will lead you towards, even if you retain your negative perception, which you are free to do.

Mike Tyson’s voice isn’t really the most soothing voice to listen to for more than an hour, and his face is not the most reassuring face to gaze upon for that long either.  But his words are worth considering – both for what he says out loud, and for what he as a continuing presence in popular culture says about the rest of us.




I wrote the above piece all the way back in September 2009.  I’m not even positive I still agree with myself, but I’m reprinting it today because Mike Tyson finds himself in the public eye again.  Last night he appeared on the Tony Awards, singing and dancing alongside Neil Patrick Harris.  (He did a tour on Broadway this past spring in a Spike-Lee-directed one-man-show, so it’s not totally without context.)  This new musical duo is garnering rhapsodic reviews with the theater crowd, which just shows how much public perception can change in twenty years.  Then again, Chris Brown sings and dances all the time, and half of America thinks it’s totally swell.  It’s funny what and who we’re willing to forgive, and when.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Mike Tyson myself — take away the disturbing allegations and he’s basically Forest Whitaker in GHOST DOG, a large violent man who has a soft spot for pigeons.  Vocally and visually, he’s an outsized character, just south of a cartoon, and that’s always going to be compelling.  But we’re absolutely living in stranger days when Mike Tyson is the toast of Broadway.  Among the cooing audiences in Radio City Music Hall last night, I bet Tracy Letts got the irony, but I wonder if anyone else in that room did.


Put up your dukes on Twitter: @jonnyabomb



P.S.  Remember when Michael Jai White played Mike Tyson




The Hangover (2009)


One of the greatest boxers of all time passed away yesterday at the age of 67.  (Here’s the New York Times’ obituary.)  Joe Frazier was an amazing character, heavyweight champion of the world and a lifelong rival of Muhammad Ali.

I’m no sportswriter, but I have always had an admiration for the sport and its practitioners, so I have a couple recommendations to start with as you start learning more about this American original today:

Check out the great documentary Facing Ali to hear Joe’s perspective on the epic, very real rivalry.

Check out this truly amazing remembrance of Joe Frazier as the vivacious person he was.

Also, for New Yorkers, the documentary Joe Frazier: When The Smoke Clears will be playing tonight at 6:30pm at the IFC Center.

And now here are some of the coolest pictures I found on the internet so far featuring “Smokin’ Joe”, appearing here in a very appropriate photobomb format…




If you own any of these pictures and want me to credit you or take them down, contact me here or on Twitter and I will — it’s all love.




Hey, what did the beat-up boxer say when his trainer asked him how he was feeling?


Le Thor.

Le Thor.

So Thor‘s out on DVD and Blu-Ray today.  My review was pretty funny, if I do say so myself.  And I do. “So myself.”  Anyway.  Thor.  Let’s go back there together, shall we?’


Here’s what I liked about Thor:


They had to change up Thor’s costume.  They couldn’t have gone with the winged helmet and the yellow hooker boots.  But that giant robot thing?  That’s the Destroyer.  And if you look at the above pictures, you’ll see that it looks a whole lot like the way Jack Kirby first drew it, almost fifty years ago.  That’s pretty cool.  The reason that most of us who grew up on superhero comics love them so much has almost everything to do with the drawings of Jack Kirby, the guy who created the looks of most of the most famous superhero comic characters.  Kirby’s drawings STILL leap off the page.  They have a sense of weight and a kineticism, a strange energy, that remains just as effective today.

And somebody at Marvel (and Paramount) had the good sense to not mess with Kirby’s vision too much.  How cool is it that, nearly fifty years later, we’re seeing a Jack Kirby character on the big screen, looking much the way that Kirby first designed it?  I’ll answer that.  It’s extremely cool.

To me, it’s so extremely weird that a major summer movie was made from one of the most esoteric of 1960s Marvel Comics that I can’t help but embrace it.  Thor was always one of my least favorite Marvel characters, but in my opinion this is as good a Thor movie as we could reasonably expect.

Here’s the Thor story really quick:

The world of Thor supposes that the characters of Norse mythology exist in our dimension as super-powered extraterrestrial beings.  Thor, the arrogant god of thunder, grows up alongside his half-brother Loki, the god of mischief, under their father, the all-powerful Odin.  Thor’s impetuousness sees him exiled by Odin, powerless, to Earth, where he has to prove his worthiness before he can lift his mighty hammer and wield the power of Thor.

Basically, that’s all here.  Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, and what I like about the character here is that Thor starts out as a total dick.  I like when he yells at an army of approaching Frost Giants (as much a Robert E. Howard notion as an ancient Norse one), I like when he does the whirling-hammer trick that you see on that Kirby cover up above, and I like that he gets Tasered by a flighty college student when he’s stuck powerless on Earth.  Hemsworth is good, even if he’s  hardly the most interesting character in the movie.

More interesting is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who gets several more notes to play as a character who starts out as a friend to Thor and becomes his main antagonist – although the way it plays out, there are some real and almost understandable reasons why.

I also liked Anthony Hopkins as Odin, maybe because in his early scenes he looks like Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn.

At this point it’s a pretty generic idea to cast Hopkins in this kind of a role, but again the weirdness of the setting makes it more interesting than it could have been.  I like the scene where he goes into a strange hibernation that all the characters call “the Odinsleep.”  I’d love to start referring to my own need for napping as “the Jonnysleep.”

I liked Thor’s buddies, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three.  I liked Sif (Jaimie Alexander) because she’s pretty, I liked Fandral (Josh Dallas) because it was fun trying to figure out whether or not he was played by Matthew Modine, and I liked Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) because I honestly couldn’t tell that he was Ray Stevenson until his second or third scene.  And yes, I liked the big cameo, as a Marvel Comics zombie in recovery.  It was a blatant plug for the upcoming Avengers movie, but it almost makes sense.

I also liked Natalie Portman in this movie, and I really liked Stellan Skarsgard, as her very skeptical coworker who eventually becomes a believer.  It’s nice to have solid supporting players who can help a skeptical audience member like me start to take more seriously a truly ridiculous premise.

And Idris Elba, forever The Wire’s Stringer Bell, grounds some of the most ridiculous moments of all, as the guardian over the bridge between Earth and the world of the gods.  My man literally stands in front of a rainbow bridge (sounds like something Prince would sing about), in a helmet that’s taller than I am, and somehow manages to remain a convincing badass.  Let us remember him at years’ end for Great Achievements In Badassness.


Is this a great movie?  No.  No, it is not.  For one thing, it has more distracting product placement than just about any movie in recent memory.  (I understand that this movie was a tough sell and they needed all the ad revenue they could get, but still:  I got contact-high brain-freeze from all the 7-11 logos on hand.)  More damningly, Kenneth Branagh’s direction inexplicably has more Dutch angles than any movie ever should.  Thor has more Dutch angles than Citizen Kane, though, to be fair, less than Battlefield Earth.  Why so many Dutch angles?  Was it some misunderstanding, considering all the Norse references at hand?  It’s really distracting, and pretty corny.  And the same issues that plagued Iron Man 2, where Marvel Studios is working too hard to shoehorn subplots for the upcoming Avengers movie into all of its movies, are present here, though not quite as distractingly as in Iron Man 2.

Overall, I enjoyed Thor, and way more than I ever thought I would.  As is very clear by now, I grew up as a big fan of Marvel Comics.  I don’t remotely have the same passion nowadays, but I can still enjoy a decent comic-book flick when they come around.  Thor to me is like when I was living in my most voracious comic-book reading phase –  it’s not a character I care much about, and it isn’t the best comic story ever told, but it’s a solid enough detour from my regular reading habits.  I may rather be reading about Spider-Man and Batman, but since I’ve already read their best stories over and over, this is an okay change of pace.

Seriously guys, follow me on Twitter already. This all happens there too.

Me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

The Fighter is a pretty damn excellent example of what a mainstream movie can (and should) be. It’s a screen story that delivers all the crowd-pleasing notes while still taking pains to make plenty of room for great performances, genuine emotion, thoughtfulness, detailed production design, brilliant use of locations, and often-subtle stylistic innovation.  The script comes from the work of a small army of writers, and was directed by the odd and iconoclastic David O. Russell.

But this is the David O. Russell of Three Kings (his greatest film before now), the guy who sees making a star-driven mainstream movie as an opportunity to take dramatic risks and to get frisky with the camera.  The Fighter integrates documentary-style shooting, with the now-traditional handheld approach, into boxing scenes rooted in the pixellated look of HBO “live-on-pay-per-view” events from the ’80s and ’90s.  It’s surprisingly effective and it doesn’t stop there: 

One of the first shots in the movie is a behind-the-back shot of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), as the camera trails him from the perspective of his brother Dicky (Christian Bale). Dicky swings ghost-punches in the air — his perspective is ours (or at least, Russell’s).  Not only is this is a strange way to open a Rocky-esque underdog-boxing story, but it is an interesting attempt to align an audience with a difficult, hyperactive, drug-crazed, inconsistent character.  The story’s allegiance is with Micky Ward, but the filmmaking approach owes plenty to Dicky.  The rest of the film maintains that same energy — at one point, Russell’s camera roves up and along a telephone cord in order to trace the events of a pivotal phone call.

The whole movie has a fighter’s energy, which is why it’s rewarding.  The filmmaking matches the performances:  Mark Wahlberg, playing to his best strengths; Christian Bale, showing he has plenty of notes to play besides Batman-dark and Bateman-broody; Melissa Leo, real-world sinister; Rescue Me‘s Jack McGee, always a grounding, authentic presence; Amy Adams, playing the real kind of angel and playing it sexier than anywhere before.  And then there are that coven of haggy sisters:  Awesome.  Unlikely to ever get a “Girls Of The Fighter” spread in Maxim magazine, but providing the best kind of verisimilitude.  Even if we don’t know people like this ourselves, we definitely believe that people like this, unlike the lippy and chinny movie stars we’re so used to seeing, absolutely exist in plenty of places.  (Fun trivia:  One of them is Conan O’Brien’s sister!)

Despite being one of the best Boston movies of all time, The Fighter plays tonight in New York City, for free!, at Hudson River Park, as part of the summertime RiverFlicks for Grown-Ups film series.  If you haven’t had the pleasure, go have the pleasure.



Foxy Brown.                                              The Fighter.



When you get in a habit of writing about movies and their makers, you get in a secondary habit of writing memorial pieces to the dearly departed.  Looking back doesn’t have to be a melancholy process; it can also be an occasion to celebrate favorite film presences who always deserve the attention.

Today, November 11th, is Robert Ryan’s birthday.  If you don’t know who he is, I’m about to help you with that.

Robert Ryan is one of the great unsung movie stars of the past century.  While it’s certainly fair to classify Robert Ryan as “unsung”, it may not be entirely accurate to generalize him as a movie star – while he had the occasional lead role and his headshot lines the walls of the Formosa alongside much more famous names, Ryan was more often a supporting player, a character actor, and very often, a heavy.

It’s somewhat fitting that today is Veteran’s Day, as Ryan served in the United States Marine Corps as a drill instructor during World War II.  He was also a boxer, a ranch hand, and an attempted playwright.  When he entered movies as a contract player at [initially] RKO Pictures, film noir was the name of the game, and Ryan was a perfect, if unlikely, fit for the genre.  He was equally adept at playing cops and killers, and so he did, for the majority of his career (sometimes even playing both at once).  As he started looking older, he started getting cast more often as generals and men out of step with changing times.  Never could he have been cast as an out-and-out weakling, but very rarely was he allowed to play a thoroughly decent man either.

I suggested that Robert Ryan was an unlikely fit for the dozens of tough-guy roles he played because he was in real life a pacifist and a prominent civil rights activist.  More than that, though, all you have to do is look at a still photograph of Robert Ryan to wonder how he ever got pigeonholed as a tough guy.  He had the heavyweight boxer’s frame and the dark brow of a tough guy, and clearly the integrity and the talent, but there is a kindness and an obvious sensitivity in his eyes that cannot be missed.  Maybe it’s that dichotomy that was so endlessly fascinating to directors and casting agents.  He looks immediately like a good guy; maybe that’s why it was so shocking and effective when he played against that initial impression.  That conflicted image is still potent and alive and born out by his many performances if you watch them today.

There’s not a ton written about Robert Ryan.  There are a couple scarce or out-of-print biographies, but otherwise I’ve just used the internet and David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary Of Film to write this piece.  The best place to learn about Robert Ryan, fittingly, is in his movies.  Here are some of my favorite Robert Ryan roles (a couple are probably already familiar to you, but some, like The Outfit, are harder to find, and I am still questing to see them myself!):

Crossfire (1947)

In this movie, Robert Ryan plays one of a group of American soldiers released home from the military.  One of them apparently killed another man, and Robert Mitchum and Robert Young play the investigating officers in the case.  The motive turns out to have been anti-Semitism, and the guilty man turns out to be Ryan’s character.  It’s a testament to his frightening talent that it’s not immediately apparent that Ryan is playing a hateful murderer, and that he’s never quite entirely, one-sidedly, despicable either.  The horrifying thing about racists is that they begin as people, before hatred twists them into the demons they are, and Robert Ryan resolutely illustrates this idea in this movie.

Also, in a movie with a surplus of ‘Robert’s, including the venerable Mitchum, he stands out as the most memorable.

Act Of Violence (1948)

This is a quietly astounding movie, one which is not as well-remembered as it could be.  Directed by Fred Zinnemann (who also made High Noon and From Here To Eternity), Robert Ryan plays a crippled POW who returns to plague a local war hero, played by Van Heflin (from Shane), and his young wife, played by Janet Leigh (of Psycho fame).  Ryan is so furious in his pursuit that Heflin, in desperation, turns to some shady characters for protection.  Why is Ryan’s character so intent on wreaking vengeance on such an all-American hero (and his former friend)?  The answer to that question is truly surprising – it’s one of the great morality plays of the film noir era.  In Act Of Violence, Ryan literally appears from shadows; he’s intense, and scary, and ultimately, entirely within comprehension, as the kind of tormented figure that can emerge from wartime.


The Set-Up (1949)

The Set-Up is another film noir, this one directed by the versatile Robert Wise.  Though shot in film noir tradition with film noir themes of steep odds and tragic heroism, The Set-Up is primarily a sterling example of a boxing picture, and it is a widely-acknowledged inspiration for Martin Scorsese while shooting Raging Bull.  (I guarantee you that Quentin Tarantino saw it too, when considering Bruce Willis’ storyline in Pulp Fiction.)  In this movie, Robert Ryan plays an over-the-hill boxer who discovers that he’s expected to take a dive by a powerful gangster.  He’s a loser several times over, but he’s not about to lose for lack of trying – but there’s a price to standing up against the underworld.  That price is apparent through the pummeling Ryan takes throughout the movie.  He was seldom better cast – imposing enough to be credible as a professional boxer, but at heart, lacking of the drive and the viciousness of the most successful champions.  He’s too down-to-earth, too human for that.  Essential Robert Ryan.

The Racket (1951)

Another film noir, The Racket was actually a remake of an earlier, Howard Hughes produced, Academy Award nominated film.  Just goes to show that remakes aren’t always a terrible thing.  The Racket is a fairly straightforward story of an incorruptible cop who goes up against an otherwise unstoppable crime boss.  It’s a story at least as old as cinema itself, but one thing that distinguishes it  — besides the classic tough-guy dialogue — is the casting of Roberts Mitchum and Ryan, reteamed from Crossfire, as the two polar opposites.  Guess who plays who?  Actually, maybe it’s not necessarily that obvious.  Both stars had a tremendous capacity for menace as well as embattled decency, but in this case Mitchum is the cop and Ryan is the crook.  The Racket is a solid B-picture, maybe not as transcendent as some others of the same vintage, but for certain fans of studio-era crime movies, this could be considered the Heat of its day.

The Naked Spur (1953)

For his role in this movie, I put Robert Ryan on my list of the top twenty movie villains of all time.  Already well-practiced at threatening Janet Leigh on screen (as in Act Of Violence), Ryan also gives Jimmy Stewart a run for his money in The Naked Spur, the third of the batch of five dark-themed Westerns that Stewart made with director Anthony Mann.  Those who only know Jimmy Stewart from the perception of the idealistic and square persona that he is believed to have embodied in several Frank Capra films (a perception that isn’t entirely accurate to begin with) would be surprised to see Stewart in the films he made with Mann (and in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, for that matter) – Stewart plays a desperate, stern man who is determined to bring a notorious killer to justice, dead or alive.  Ryan plays the killer, of course, but this time without his usual shades of gray.  In this movie, he’s a schemer who thrives on the discord and chaos that he creates; pretty unrepentant.  If this were the only movie one ever saw Robert Ryan in, one might despise him on sight, so good is his performance.


Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) 

Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin play Robert Ryan’s henchmen in this movie.  Let me repeat that:  Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin, in their imposing prime, play secondary bad guys to Robert Ryan’s lead bad guy.  Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin take orders from Robert Ryan.  And in this corner:  the ever-lovable Spencer Tracy, as a one-handed stranger who arrives at a small town run by the aforementioned gentlemen, stirring up secrets that they may kill to keep hidden.  All we can say to you, Spencer Tracy, is “good luck!”

I’m being somewhat flippant about this John Sturges classic, which is a comparatively-lesser-known great American film of the 1950s – both a solid thriller and a significant political statement.  It’s just that so much has been written about Bad Day At Black Rock already, that it’s hard to add much besides additional praise.  Paul Thomas Anderson is just one of many contemporary directors who have cited this movie as a formative influence; I wonder how many contemporary onscreen bad guys have studied Robert Ryan’s performance in it!


The Professionals (1966)

Ten years later, Ryan’s friend Lee Marvin was a big movie star, and he, along with the eternally great Woody Strode, played supporting roles to Marvin and Burt Lancaster in The Professionals.  This is kind of an all-star super-team of old-school movie tough guys, the four of whom are hired by railroad tycoon Ralph Bellamy (you know him best from a weirdly similar role in Trading Places) to rescue his young wife from a marauding revolutionary who has taken her south of the border.  In the great Hollywood tradition of casting great stars in ethnically incongruous roles, Jack Palance plays the revolutionary, “Jesus Raza,” and the Italian bombshell Claudia Cardinale plays the Mexican-born “Maria,” an old flame of Raza’s, as it turns out.

The Professionals is a great big-screen action classic with some fascinating sociopolitical subtext, but as an item of interest for Robert Ryan completists, it’s more of a fun sidebar than a necessity.  He and Woody Strode, as the horse wrangler and the team scout, are really playing strong support to the buddy-movie pairing of Marvin and Lancaster.  Ryan does play an interesting contrast to his frequent persona, though.  This is one of his most thoroughly decent roles – Ryan’s horse expert is tender and protective of every horse the group encounters.  He’s one of those guys who seems to care more about animals than people, and who can blame him, in a movie where one species is clearly more consistently trustworthy than the other.


The Dirty Dozen (1967)

What can I tell you about The Dirty Dozen that you don’t already know?  Hopefully, not much.  This is a man’s-man’s classic, featuring some of the screen’s toughest tough guys in a story of an elite squad of criminals and killers who are recruited by Lee Marvin himself to fight the Nazis.  My one regret about The Dirty Dozen, which reunites Marvin with Borgnine and Ryan, is that the latter two aren’t on the team – instead, they play a bureaucrat and an officious rival, respectively.  As Colonel Breed, Ryan definitely gets saddled with the most thankless role (well, second to those Nazi creeps, anyway).  He’s the Walter Peck.  More accurately, if you’ve seen Stripes, he’s the John Larroquette.  He’s still on our side, technically, but he’s a total prick.  Not the best movie to be a fan of Robert Ryan in, but otherwise, The Dirty Dozen is an action-movie essential.


The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Wild Bunch is one of the greatest American films, without hesitation.  It’s arguably rebel-director Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece.  It’s one of those classics that doesn’t feel like homework; it feels like a still-living document.  It feels dynamic, alive.  If it’s that, though, it’s more like the flare-ups of a dying bonfire.  It’s the last mission to end all last missions.  It’s one of the best-ever examples of possibly my favorite genre of film, the badass-old-guy movie.  The Wild Bunch captures a group of movie actors at a moment closer to the ends of their careers than the start.  (Except for Ernest Borgnine, of course, who’s still a fully active badass at 93 years of age.)  This movie is notorious for setting new levels of onscreen bloodshed and gore, but that reputation obscures its true legacy as a melancholy recording of the twilight years of the Western.

In a film full of unforgettable performances, Robert Ryan gives arguably the most affecting one.  Certainly he’s my personal favorite character, as Deke Thornton, the bounty hunter so designated by the railroad tycoons (them again) who are blackmailing him against his freedom to hunt down his fellow outlaws, most of whom – specifically William Holden’s Pike Bishop — he used to run with in their glory days.  (I’m not sure if it was screenwriter Walon Green’s contribution or Peckinpah’s that makes The Wild Bunch a movie that has some of the best character names ever.)

The Wild Bunch was one of Robert Ryan’s last screen performances.  At this point in his career, he was 60 years old, but looked significantly older (perhaps due to the lung cancer that eventually claimed his life in 1973, a year after his wife died of the same disease.)  The life lived shows in every moment of the performance.  Thornton is a neutered pit bull on a leash, forced to track down his old partners by a venal corporate monolith.  If he were free to roam, would he join back up with Pike and the others?  What would be the point?  Those guys are pretty clearly doomed, one way or another.  There at the dusty, wind-swept border, at the end of a violent life whose most hard-lived days are well in the past, what is the point of going on?  And if you do, then which direction do you go?  Nobody says anything remotely like this in the movie, by the way – it’s all there on Robert Ryan’s face, all of the above and much more.  His face was his character, and he knew how to wield it like a mighty instrument.  You can watch and re-watch The Wild Bunch for many great reasons, but I find myself watching it more often than not for Robert Ryan.

So there’s a start; some enthusiastic recommendations to get acquainted with one of the great film careers.  You can go further, or choose different movies, but whichever way you choose, you won’t go wrong.

An answer track, in musical vernacular, is a response to a previously recorded and released song.  The Ten Awesomest Movies About Fighting is a post by my great friend Zach Oat over at Television Without Pity (read his work daily!) to celebrate the release of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.  (Read my review!)  I thought it would be fun to add my own take on such a list, since my movie blog Slow-Motion Quick-Draw is all about this kind of flick.

I really can’t argue with the original list, since it either comes up with great movies I wouldn’t have considered, or it has a few that I would have surely added to my own list of 10 Awesomest Movies About Fighting.  In particular, Enter The Dragon probably is the greatest “tournament” movie of all time, and unquestionably the finest cinematic showcase for the shitkicking talents of one Bruce Lee, without whom no list like this would be complete.  Meanwhile, Fight Club is probably the funniest and the most perceptive movie ever made about why we male human beings are so innately driven to watch and participate in real-life fights.

So no arguments here.  But here’s another batch of ten:

Master Of The Flying Guillotine

This movie is not very good, and it’s not always as fun to watch as its best moments.  It’s not remotely as polished as Enter The Dragon, and the score is occasionally unbearable.  We’re a long way from Lalo Schifrin here.  Still, just try to resist the central idea, of a one-armed martial artist who is drafted into a lethal tournament where he must ultimately confront a blind wizard who wields the most beheading weapon of all time.  Did you play Street Fighter 2 for hours and days in the 1990s?  Do you know that this is where they lifted everything from?  You’ve gotta see this movie to believe it – it’s worth it if only for the guy with the extending arms, among many other reasons.

The Wrestler

Part Marty and part Raging Bull, this is the most mournful and profound movie that pro wrestling is ever likely to get.  (Although I also highly recommend the documentary Beyond The Mat.)  When I last wrote about The Wrestler, I disputed that it’s a redemption story, and I still don’t think it is, not for its lead character.  But it probably was for its star, Mickey Rourke, who seemed to have been training for two decades for the role, and all that that implies.  As he states late in the movie, Randy “The Ram” looks like a banged-up piece of meat, and yeah, he almost literally resembles one of those battered sides of beef that Rocky wales on in Rocky 1.   This movie is all ups and downs, all about the human cost and the liberation of the ring.  It’s like life.  With a better soundtrack.

Hard Times

If we’re talking about movies about fighting, we’re talking about movies about badass two-fisted men of action and adventure, and one of the foremost cinematic chroniclers of that breed is director Walter Hill.  Hard Times is a somewhat-forgotten Walter Hill movie which stars Charles Bronson and James Coburn.  Do you really need more?  Bronson plays a street fighter who punches more than he talks, and Coburn is his motor-mouthed promoter.  This is a really convincing period piece, and one of the better and more overlooked action flicks of the 1970s.

Emperor Of The North

Also known as Emperor Of The North Pole, this is another period piece from the ‘70s about down-n’-out drifters.  This one stars Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, which arguably makes Bronson and Coburn look like Clooney and Pitt.  If you don’t want to watch a movie where Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine take swipes at each other on the roof of a moving train using chains and axes and their own giant fists, I hope you can track down the lady who swiped your balls from you.  This is not only an underrated entry in the filmography of the underrated Robert Aldrich, but it’s also a movie about hobos.  Find it and watch promptly.

Every Which Way But Loose

Did you really think I was going to attempt a list like this without including Clint?  I suppose that Clint’s great movie about fighting, and the toll it takes, is arguably Million Dollar Baby.  But that movie is pretty sad, and the main criteria here is awesomeness, which precludes moping around.  Every Which Way But Loose and its sequel are [surprisingly] the only movies on Clint’s resume where he plays a hard-partying, free-roaming bare-knuckle brawler, and they’re the only two in which he costars with a farting orangutan, so that’s why I selected this one.

Eastern Promises

Some movies qualify on the basis of just one scene, and if you’ve seen Eastern Promises, you know which scene I’m talking about.  And if you haven’t seen Eastern Promises, go fix that.

Jason & The Argonauts

Again, some movies get in the door just for one killer scene.  This movie without a single doubt has one of the greatest scenes in all of cinema.  Skeleton-on-human violence.  The pinnacle of cinematic awesome.

King Kong

I don’t know that I could make a list of Awesome Movies About Fighting without including at least one movie about animal fights.  King Kong is the original pioneer on that battlefield.  You guys know all about this one:  Giant gorilla fights tyrannosaurus rex; inspires one-hundred years of glorious filmed-and-faked animal fights.  Later on he climbs up the Empire State Building and takes on the U.S. military.  He doesn’t win, except he absolutely does.

Shogun Assassin

You could round out this list with any number of martial arts flicks, but I ultimately gave this one the nod.  Why?  This soundtrackShogun Assassin is the rare example of a cinematic remix – it’s the most violent scenes from a series of Lone Wolf & Cub films strung together and scored to a proto-electronica soundtrack.  It’s deeply, profoundly ridiculous.  It’s never been an easy movie to find, but if you can manage it, you goddamn better.

Team America: World Police

One of my top ten movies of the previous decade, Team America is one of the few American movies that manages to make a persuasive case for how stupid fighting really is.  Fun to watch on screen, but those who aggressively pursue violence in real life are worthless, unless you count their worth as objects of ridicule and scorn.  Also in this movie: Puppets fight housecats.  Everybody benefits.