Monday, January 30, 2012

Talking with Sugar Ray Leonard, Albert Nobbs, The Grey

Quick Chat with Sugar Ray Leonard re Real Steele

Boxing Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard was a firebrand of energy and star power during his heyday and he is considered to be one of the best fighters of all time.  His career was colorful and his good looks didn’t hurt; he’s remained in the public eye since his first amateur win in Montreal in 1976. 

Now retired from boxing, Leonard has managed other fighters and done his fair share of acting in film, series and reality TV,  and  sports commentary and last year he popped again last year competing in Dancing with the Stars.  Leonard’s 2011 autobiography The Big Fight rocked the boxing world with revelations of abuse at the hands of coaches and the resulting personal problems he suffered.  

The 55 year old recently extended his resume to include training Hugh Jackman to fight robots in Real Steel.  Or at least make him look good doing it.  It was an eye-opening experienced as he told Monsters and Critics. 

AB: Do you think this kind of robot boxing in Real Steel will ever be reality?

You know if you’d asked me ten years ago, I’d say no way that’s crazy, but based on technology ...  I’m thinking about cell phones;  when they first came out were huge and now they’re so small.  I lose my all the time.  It’s plausible maybe not in 5 or 10 years but maybe 20.

AB: You appeared in Reel Steel as yourself.  Do you see an acting career at this stage of the game?

I also did a cameo with The Fighter with Wahlberg and Bale and on Reel Steel I had a great time choreographing and working with Hugh Jackman.  He is just amazing.   Who knows, I may have a behind-scenes new gig.  Anne, I’m calming down now.  It’s a great place to be.  It really is. 

AB:  How much of boxing is showmanship?

Very good question.  People don’t realize this - and I’ve never been asked that – it’s together hand in hand.  You separate yourself from the man.  Muhammad Ali had such flare and so did Sugar Ray Robinson, any boxer who could really fight and had personality charm and charisma.  Wrestling without question had that showmanship craziness.  It was sensationalized and boxing had the same thing and then it kind of slowed down.   Now it’s taken more seriously.  You don’t know what happens.  It happens to you when you close your eyes and it goes one way or another.  So I sit back and take a breather and inhale and look around and say to myself, now what?

AB: You wrote a bestselling autobiography book last year that was revealing and shocking.  Was that cathartic?

That book without question got me to this place.  The revelations of sexual abuse to the good and bad things that happened, it was such a release and cathartic.  It played a major role in accepting every day I have on this earth.  I took things for granted but life is good now.  The greatest change in my life is humility.  Life is precious.

AB:  You’re friends with Michael J Fox.  How is he?

We met and liked each other and hung a little and I see him and we hug each other and acknowledge each other.  I haven’t seen him lately except on TV.  I’m so proud of him and taking on this monster [Parkinson’s disease] and not let it defeat him.  That’s a big fight and he’s standing strong and fighting.

AB: Real Steel was a huge theatrical hit last year.   And now young kids will know who you are and your importance.  Is that meaningful to you?

It’s just a whole different generation reintroduced to the world, dancing with the stars, plane kids say “Sugar Ray the dancer"!   After thirty years of boxing!  [Laughs]  I was honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades California at the parade and was sitting in a huge red car and this little girl runs up to me and screams “OMG!  You’re Khloe Kardashian’s godfather!!”  You have to accept that with open arms!
Albert Nobbs
Glenn Close makes a breathtaking transformation from ball bustin’ femme fatale/ lawyer amazon to play Albert Nobbs in one of the year’s most poignant, heartbreaking and oddly quiet films.  Close is Nobbs a woman permanently disguised as a man in her pursuit of a livelihood in Edwardian Ireland, who has lost all sense of self and her true gender.

Nobbs has lived in constant, crippling panic for thirty years rightly fearing that she will be discovered and lose her job and worse than that, her reputation.  “He” is one of the best servants in the city because of his utter conventionality and reliability and his dependence on the job is total because he is alone in the world otherwise.   Nobbs fluffs, serves and kowtows to the upper echelon of Irish society with the heartbreakingly subservient James Stevens in The Remains of the Day.   Nobbs is worse off than Stevens; she is crippled by her choices and the secret life she leads.

Nobbs is in love with a young housemaid (Mia Wasikowska) a wily, impoverished brat who sleeps with her male lover while systemically fleecing Nobbs of his money.  Nobbs is of course, unable to defend himself against her; he’s smitten beyond caring and inexperienced in the world outside the doors of the stately mansions where she lives her borrowed life.  Nobbs is unable to read others in a non-professional way; his experience has been waiting tables in a structured, unchanging milieu, reading the need for a glass of sherry.    

Nobbs finds a friend at long last when a workman comes to paint the house.   They develop a close emotional bond; Hubert (Janet McTeer) seems to understand Nobb’s unspoken anxieties.   Hubert reveals that he too is a woman, disguised and living a good life.  The difference between Nobbs and Hubert is that Hubert is happy, confident, in a stable relationship with his wife and has the ability to be a true friend.  He manages to get a couple of sketchy details of Nobbs life including the fact that he no longer remembers his roots.  We are watching a life willingly wasted in fear and servitude.

As depressing as it may sound there are two excellent reasons to see Albert Nobbs - Glenn Close and Janet McTeer.  These are juicy roles, certainly, but their performances are beyond the call of duty.  They are perfection.  Close has dared to be a walking shell of a human being and McTeer has the strength to carry Nobbs out of fear – for a while.

Albert Nobbs has the upstairs downstairs juice of Downton Abbey and shadows of many others films in which repression in stately mansions is a way of life.  It is claustrophobic in the extreme, as we know that every move Nobbs makes is designed to keep her identity a secret.   Nobbs is made of sadness; her double repression – domestic and sexual – is a heavy load to carry.  The film won’t lift anyone’s spirits.  The film is more than worth it to see Close and McTeer in a behemoth, game-changing battle of the actresses.

The Grey
Here is one of the top storylines of all time - man versus nature.  Where do we sit in the scheme of things?  What is this thing we can’t control but arrogantly strive to control?  The Grey pits helpless, starved and frozen plane crash victims against a ravening wolf pack in the icy barrens where they meet the Arctic tree line.  If the wolves don’t kill them, the climate will.

So when a small plane transporting pipeline workers crashes into the ice, the seven who escaped death will now have to survive a double whammy of frigid unforgiving nature and angry wolves ticked that aliens have landed in their territory.   Suspension of disbelief alert.  Apparently, wolves don’t attack humans unless they are provoked.  Here the provocation is that the plane lands hard by the den.  I dunno.
Liam Neeson is John, hired by the oil company to shoot wolves that enter the compound.  He has two things in his favour – he knows wolves and their behaviours and he’s big with an alpha personality.   But otherwise, he’s haunted and alone in the dark literally and figuratively;  he has a perpetual sadness yet pulls it together to take charge. 

The rest of the party is a rag tag assembly of oil workers – ex cons, drifters, and guys looking for big paydays away from regular society.   And they’re as far away as it gets, in Alaska in winter, stuck in the icy wilderness. 

John becomes leader of the human pack early and easily, thereby cutting off dissent.  He oversees the unthinkable task of surviving as dead and dying bodies of their coworkers lay round them.  They build fires and eat scraps from the plane’s wrecked kitchen, and take turns guarding their pathetic encampment from the wolves. 

A wolf attacks and kills one of them in the night, and the next day, they gather up backpacks and head somewhere “out there”.   The wolves follow - more wolves than they can count.  It’s roughousers versus Mother Nature, and we know who’s boss.

The group dynamic is interesting; each has his pain that he’s carrying and his fear.  But what’s crucial here is not what a man is but what he does.  How will they interact?  Will they team up and co-operate? Will they splinter off and die alone?  It’s quite the dance they dance over a chilling hour and a half of big chills, big bloody losses and few gains.  We take sides and root for our guys. 

Liam Neeson is the actor I want with me when I’m in danger.  His alpha male persona – and willingness to be uncomfortable - makes him the one to lean on.  He braved icy water in Seraphim Falls, led rebellions in The Gangs of New York and Michael Collins and crawled inside a dead cow’s carcass in Rob Roy.  You don’t forget these things.

Joe Carnahan knows action (The A-Team, Smokin’ Aces) and he knows it’s no good unless you connect with the characters.  We get just enough information but, not too much to get in the way of what is basically an old-fashioned “thrill ride” slash wilderness meditation.   The Grey is haunting and penetrating and saturated with danger.  How do our cosy worlds compare? 

1 comment:

  1. OT: I'm excited to see the megafight on May 2. The Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao Megafight will be epic, that's for sure!