Monday, April 22, 2013

The 25 Best Films of the Eighties

Ultimately any "Best of" list is opinion, and mine is no different. I've seen a lot of different lists online of the "best" eighties films, but they seem to all revolve around the same set of movies. Labyrinth, Die Hard, Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc. Sure, those are all great films (except Labyrinth, fight me), but those lists get boring after awhile. So this is a list of my favorite movies from the 80's, and therefore to me they're the best.

The Top 25 Films of the Eighties

25. Vampire's Kiss
(1989, dir. Robert Bierman)

Thursday, April 11, 2013


There’s something admirably primal about boxing. It’s a pure and honest sport. Two men agree to step into a ring and pummel each other to their last breath. It’s that simple. What boxing does is that it seems to speak to our innermost desires. It’s the unleashed Id, running wild and delighting in the blood and ruin the sport entails.

In order to box, one must be able to withstand as much pain as he can deliver. The boxer must be ruthless, but calculating and strategic. It’s a sport that simultaneously combines our most primitive tendencies towards senseless violence and the most advanced, tactical parts of our minds. But most importantly, the boxer must be willing to self-destruct.
Ian Palmer’s Knuckle is a film that gets to the heart of the sport. This documentary, filmed over the course of twelve years from 1997 to 2009, chronicles the decades-long feud between three Irish traveler families – The Quinn McDonaghs, The Joyces, and The Nevins’. Despite all being cousins, the longstanding feud regularly leads to challenges for bare-knuckle boxing matches.

Unlike professional boxing these bare-knuckle fights are fought outdoors and without rounds. They merely go until one man knocks out the other or one man gives up. There are referees to enforce a clean fight but otherwise it’s purely a raw and personal brawl between two men who fiercely hate each other.

Palmer mainly follows the Quinn McDonaghs, who repeatedly claim that they don’t instigate the fights, they only accept the challenges. To them boxing seems more like a chore that must be done once every couple of years. 

In contrast, the Joyce family, lead by the aging “Big Joe” Joyce, seems to breathe boxing. Big Joe is a loud and rough figure akin to a WWE wrestler with his constant threats and tirades. When it’s his turn to fight, Big Joe unleashes a flurry of punches, protecting his title as “King of the Travelers.” 

Unlike many boxing movies, Palmer doesn’t shy away from the fights. In fact, he shows them in their entirety. Many films tend to only use the fighting as a backdrop for character studies (Raging Bull, Rocky), but Knuckle is as much about boxing as it is about the families involved. There is a gaze during the matches that makes them exciting. They could be horrifying, but they’re just the opposite. 

That’s not to say Palmer doesn’t also focus on the personal stories of the people involved. There is as much of the film about the fights as there is about how this feud has destroyed the relationships between these people. When he interviews the wives of the boxers they all express a desire for the fighting to end and for the families to finally get along again. Palmer also focuses on the children, especially the young boys who have grown up watching their fathers fight and are learning to continue the cycle of violence.

But even Palmer is not immune. Through narration he finally realizes that at some point he had stopped caring about the documentary and had let himself become a part of this bare-knuckle boxing culture. He was no longer going to the fights for the film; he was going because he enjoyed them. And I think that speaks to boxing’s primal appeal. Even those who recognize it’s horror and devastation are still drawn in. He can acknowledge that this feud has caused endless damage, but even he can’t deny the seduction.

And at its core that is what Knuckle, and really boxing itself, is about. It’s watching destruction in action. But Knuckle goes far enough to show what happens when it bleeds outside the ring and it’s no longer fun.