Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)
I've been asked to moderate a three-part film series on boxing movies at the Vegas Valley Book Festival on October 17-19 (7 p.m. each night at the Winchester Cultural Center, if you're in town with nothing to do), so I'm watching the movies (which, to be perfectly honest, I'd never heard of before) to prepare and hopefully not come off as completely clueless. They're all about fixed fights, and this one is your typical classy old Hollywood melodrama (with a number of Oscar nominations), about the rise and fall of a boxing champ. It's all well done if predictable, but it didn't really wow me. Honestly, I've never been that fascinated with boxing movies, and they all seem to have very similar plots, which makes it hard for me to get excited about seeing more.
Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenabar, 1997)
I did not at all care for Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe's remake of this movie, but I like Amenabar so I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. This is indeed better than Vanilla Sky, but since it has the same plot it still suffers from the monumentally stupid ending, which commits one of the cardinal sins of twist endings by basically disregarding everything that's come before it. Still, Amenabar does a better job at setting up the creepiness of the premise, and Penelope Cruz is very good, better than she was in Crowe's version. I didn't get a feeling of annoyance until the ending, and despite what to me is a cop-out, I found myself liking the movie, which is more than I can say for Vanilla Sky.
The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949)
The second of the boxing movies I'm to talk about. I found this more interesting than the first, because it's much grittier and simpler and more realistic. Although there's a sort of optimistic note at the end, this is a very dark and cynical movie about boxing and corruption, and it plays out in real time over 72 minutes. That gimmick creates a real tension and dread, and Wise only shows a single boxing match in the whole movie, but it too unfolds in real time, giving you all the gory and painful details, both emotional and physical. Boxing cliches abound, but it does more with them than most movies.