A Movie A Day #81: The Great White Hype (1996, directed by Reginald Hudlin)


The Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) has a problem.  He is the richest and the best known fight promoter in America but the current (and undefeated) heavyweight champion is just too good.  No one is paying to watch James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans) fight because Roper always wins.  Sultan has a plan, though.  Before Roper turned professional, he lost a fight to Terry Conklin (Peter Berg).  Conklin has long since retired from boxing and is now a heavy metal, progressive musician.  Sultan convinces Conklin to come out of retirement and face Roper in a rematch.  Since Conklin is white and Roper is black, Sultan stands to make a killing as white boxing fans get swept up in all the hype about Conklin being the latest “great white hope.”

In the days leading up to the fight, crusading journalist Mitchell Kane (Jeff Goldblum) attempts to expose the crooked Sultan before getting seduced into his inner circle.  Meanwhile, boxer Marvin Shabazz (Michael Jace) and his manager, Hassan El Rukk’n (Jamie Foxx), unsuccessfully pursue a match with Roper.  Conklin gets back into shape while Roper eats ice cream and watches Dolemite.

In its attempt to satirize boxing, The Great White Hype runs into a huge problem.  The fight game is already so shady that it is beyond satire.  This was especially true in the 90s, when the The Great White Hype was first released.  (Even more than the famous Larry Holmes/Gerry Cooney title fight, The Great White Hype’s obvious inspiration was the heavily promoted, two-minute fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley.)  The Great White Hype is a very busy film but nothing in it can match Oliver McCall’s mental breakdown in the middle of his fight with Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota twice fighting Riddick Bowe and twice getting disqualified for low blows, or Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear.

The Great White Hype has an only in the 90s supporting cast, featuring everyone from Jon Lovitz to Cheech Marin to, for some reason, Corbin Bernsen.  Damon Wayans is the least convincing heavyweight champion since Tommy Morrison essentially played himself in Rocky V.  The Rev. Sultan was meant to be a take on Don King and Samuel L. Jackson was a good pick for the role but the real Don King is so openly corrupt and flamboyant that he’s almost immune to parody.

When it comes to trying to take down Don King, I think Duke puts it best.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #93: Boogie Nights (dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)


Boogie_nights_ver1The 1997 film Boogie Nights (which, amazingly enough, was not nominated for best picture) is a bit of an overwhelming film to review.  It’s a great film and, if you’re reading this review, you’ve probably seen Boogie Nights and you probably already know that it’s a great film.  And if you haven’t seen Boogie Nights, you really should because it’s a great film.  So, this review, in short, amounts to: Great film.

Boogie Nights takes place in the late 70s and the early 80s.  Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who works as a busboy, lives with his parents, and has a really big cock.  (Indeed, one of the film’s most famous lines is, “This is a giant cock.”)  When we first meet Eddie, he’s likable and cute in a dumb sort of way.  Then he meets adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and becomes a star.  At first, everything is great.  Eddie changes his name to Dirk Diggler and no longer has to deal with his abusive mother (a chilling Joanna Gleason).  Jack and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) become his new parents.  He gets a cool older brother in the form of actor Reed Rothschild (John C. Reilly, totally nailing the “People tell me that I look like Han Solo,” line).  He makes friends with other adult film actors, like the desperately unhip Buck (Don Cheadle), the free-spirited (and secretly very angry) Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and the poignantly insecure Jessie St. Vincent (Melora Walters).  He gets new admirers, like Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  He also gets addicted to cocaine.  And while Dirk falls from stardom, the adult film industry is taken over by gangsters like Floyd Gondolli (Philip Baker Hall) and self-styled artists like Jack Horner find themselves pushed to the side.

And you may have noticed that I mentioned a lot of actors in the paragraph above.  That’s because Boogie Nights is a true ensemble piece.  It’s full of great performances and memorable characters.  Along with everyone that I mentioned above, the cast also includes William H. Macy as cinematographer “Little Bill” Daggett.  From the minutes we first meet Little Bill, we get the feeling that he might be a little bit too uptight for pornography.  Maybe that’s because his wife — played by the inspiring sex positive feminist and veteran adult film star Nina Hartley — is constantly and publicly cheating on him.  Macy and Hartley do not have as much screen time as the rest of the cast but, ultimately, their characters are two of the most important in the film.

And then there’s Robert Ridgely, who is marvelously sleazy as the paternal but ultimately icky Col. James.  When we first meet the Colonel, he’s almost a humorous character.  But then, suddenly, there’s one chilling scene where he opens up to Jack Horner and we are forced to reconsider everything that we had previously assumed about both the Colonel and his business.

And how can we forget Luis Guzman, as a club owner who desperately wants to appear in one of Jack’s films?  Or Ricky Jay as a plain-spoken cameraman?  Or how about Thomas Jane, playing one of those tightly wound characters who you know is going to be trouble as soon as you see him?  And finally, nobody who has seen Boogie Nights will ever forget Alfred Molina, singing along to Sister Christian and running down the street, clad only in black bikini briefs and firing a shotgun.

But it’s not just the actors who make Boogie Nights a great film.  This was Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film and, under his direction, we feel as if we’ve been thrown straight into Dirk’s exciting and ultimately dangerous world.  When the film begins, the camera almost seems to glide, capturing the excitement of having everything that you could possibly want.  But, as things go downhill for Dirk, the camerawork gets more jittery and nervous.   A sequence where Anderson cuts back and forth between Jack trying to shoot a movie on video (as opposed to his beloved film) and Dirk nearly being beaten to death in a parking lot remains one of the best sequences that Anderson has ever directed.

And then there’s the music!  Oh my God!  The music!

And the dancing!

And the singing!

I’ll be the first admit that I have no idea whether or not Boogie Nights is a realistic portrait of the adult film industry in the 70s and 80s.  But ultimately, Boogie Nights is not about porn.  It’s about a group of outsiders who form their own little family.  At the end of the film, you’re happy that they all found each other.  You know that Dirk will probably continue to have problems in the future but you’re happy for him because, no matter what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future, you know that he’s found a family that will always love him.

As I mentioned at the start of this appreciation, Boogie Nights was not nominated for best picture.  Titanic was named the best picture of 1997.  As I’ve said before, I loved Titanic when I was 12.  But, nearly 18 years later, Boogie Nights is definitely the better picture.

It has stood the test of time.