"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Mayweather, McGregor and the Heart of Darkness

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Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 32 seconds

Many moons ago, in my mis-spent youth as a tortured Catholic high school student, I had to do a book report on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for my English class. I was a deplorable student, ranked last in my class, so having to get up in front of everyone to give an oral report on a book I didn't want to read was something that filled me with dread. 

Luckily for me I discovered that my favorite movie at the time, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, was loosely based on Conrad's novel. This gave me an in with the book and actually inspired me to read it, which was a big deal for me at the time as I almost never read books. I ended up really loving Heart of Darkness, and was so glad that Apocalypse Now was my rough guide to the book. 

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As I prepared for my oral report, the newspaper (Unlike books, I did read the newspaper, well…at least the sports section) was filled with stories on the build up to a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. I had been a huge boxing fan since I was a little kid, watching fights on Saturday and Sunday when the regular networks would air them. It was a golden age of boxing back then, at least for the lighter weight classes, and as I devoured the fights of some of the greats, Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran, Argeullo, Pryor, Mancini etc., I developed an appreciation not only for the art of boxing, but for it's mythic and archetypal power. 

The mythic and archetypal power of boxing was on full display in the Leonard - Hagler match up. Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and considered one of the baddest men on the planet. Leonard, the golden boy, was an Olympic gold medal winner and a multiple time welterweight champion and was coming off a three year retirement in part due to an eye injury.

Hagler and Leonard were very different fighters and people. Hagler was an ominous and foreboding, no nonsense fighter with a shaved head and perpetual scowl, whereas Leonard was an athletic, flashy, handsome, charming, and camera friendly fighter who said and did all the right things. 

I was a Leonard fan, I loved the way he fought and how he carried himself. To me, Hagler was overrated, having fought in a weak weight class (middleweight) and, unlike Leonard, never having the courage to step out of his comfort zone to find top flight talent in other divisions to fight. I lived in Boston at the time of the fight and Hagler was from Brockton, Mass. so I was surrounded by Hagler fans, and as anyone can tell you, there are no more obnoxious fans than Boston sports fans, and I was mocked continuously for my support of Leonard.

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In the lead up to the fight, there were stories in the paper about how awful Leonard looked in his training camp. He looked off, and old and out of shape. He got knocked down repeatedly in sparring sessions and Boston sportswriters openly worried that Hagler may really hurt Leonard, so much so that they worried for his life. I didn't believe those stories, I had a hunch that Leonard was working an angle and was getting into Hagler's mind, but I did find that  "his life may be in danger" narrative intriguing. The idea that Ray Leonard was going into the ring to literally (and mythically) fight for his life against this superior, seemingly invincible opponent, one that is symbolic of his psychological shadow, made me think of Heart of Darkness and its protagonist Charles Marlow who goes up the river deep into Africa to face Kurtz, who embodies Marlow's, and mankind's, shadow.

So now that I had not only my favorite movie, Apocalypse Now, but my favorite fighter, Ray Leonard, to draw on for inspiration, I wrote up my book report and prepared for my oral presentation. To me the hook was pretty simple, that the story of Heart of Darkness was not some remote thing to look back upon, but was integral in people's lives today, in the here and now. We are all Marlow/Willard/Leonard who must make the journey up the river or into the ring to face our shadow.

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The Leonard - Hagler fight was on a Saturday night, I gave my presentation the following Monday morning. I was beaming because I had been right in my prediction of a Leonard victory, with Sugar Ray winning a "marvelous"  12 round split decision, and my classmates were fuming and pretty angry about it. As I gave my presentation I felt their wrath as they laughed at me and mocked me unmercifully. To be fair, as I said, I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so whenever I did anything in school it was expected that people would laugh at me, but still, this time it really stung because I was so invested. As I finished my report I still felt pretty good about what I had written, I thought it was easily the best thing I had ever done, and I was proud of the amount of work I had put into it and the fact that I had the insight to  "crack the code" of Heart of Darkness and make it relevant even to the lives of the dopey kids in my class. While my classmates mocked me, I thought my teacher would see my genius, or least be appreciative. 

After I finished, my teacher, a middle aged crone of a woman whose name I thankfully cannot remember (my psyche no doubt protecting me), came up and sneered to the entire class that she couldn't believe I brought up "that stupid fight" and how "maybe I should stop watching movies and read a book" for once in my life. I was crestfallen, but as is my nature, I was not made mournful by my teacher's rather mean-spirited criticism, instead I let the rage inside of me grow and pulsate to such a degree that, like my mythical Irish forefather Cuchulainn, I must've been burning a bright fiery red that no cold sea could douse.

The teacher, in all of her academic wisdom, gave me a "D" for my paper, no doubt deciding giving me an "F" may very well result in a life-threatening incident that just wasn't worth the risk. What made me the most angry about this situation was not my grade, or the teacher's insults or my fellow students belittling laughter, what bothered me was that I had written a piece that was actually quite brilliant, if I do say so myself, and well beyond my teacher's limited intellect and mind. She thought I was a moron, and maybe rightfully so, but the truth was that she didn't understand my report not because I was a fool but because I was speaking in a language, that of myth and archetype, of which she was illiterate. Despite a "D" being vengefully written in red ink on my paper, if I had the sense to have kept it, it would be something that I am sure I would be proud to this day.  

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You may be asking yourself, "what the hell does your 'stupid' book report and the Leonard -Hagler fight have to do with anything?" Great question. What it has to do with is that this Saturday night Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor square off in a boxing match in Las Vegas, and the build up to this fight has reminded me of that time back in 1986 in the lead up to the Leaonard - Hagler fight. While I think  Mayweather - McGregor is a cynical money grab, so much so that I, a big fight fan, will not be watching it, preferring to save my hard earned money for the much more worthy Canelo Alvarez - Gennady Golovkin bout next month, that doesn't mean that Saturday night's fight has no mythic value at all, it does, you just have to look really hard for it.

In the fight on Saturday, we have a great fighter, Floyd Mayweather, who is 49-0 as a boxer and is considered one of the best, if not the best, boxer of his era, taking on Conor McGregor, a man who has never boxed professionally and is treated by boxing professionals like the novice that he is. McGregor is an overwhelming underdog, and every boxing expert is picking Mayweather to destroy him, much like Hagler was the big favorite in 1986 and Leonard the afterthought.

McGregor has never boxed before but he is no joke as a fighter, for he has made a name for himself fighting and winning titles in Mixed Martial Arts with the UFC. McGregor is a champion MMA fighter, and if this fight were in an octagon or in the street, Conor would beat the living hell out of Floyd in no time at all, but sadly for McGregor, this fight is in a boxing ring.  

All of that said…there is one thing intriguing about this fight. Mayweather is such a heavy favorite, and deservedly so, that the narrative surrounding the fight has a familiar ring to it. There is talk of McGregor being in danger of getting really hurt, of how he has zero chance to win and how this is all a sideshow and Mayweather is unbeatable. Sound familiar? To me, it sounds exactly like the build up to the Leonard - Hagler fight. Although, to be fair, the similarities between Leonard and McGergor are nonexistent, as Leonard was one of the most accomplished boxers of his time before squaring off with Hagler, but the mythic narrative being set up for Mayweather - McGregor is somewhat reminiscent of Leonard - Hagler.

The similarities between Mayweather - McGregor and Hagler - Leonard strain and crumble under closer inspection, but there is another competition that has a mythic narrative around it that is eerily reminiscent of the Mayweather - McGregor fight...the presidential election last November between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

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One of the things this fight and the election have in common is that there is no hero, as both the participants, Mayweather and McGregor, are pretty loathsome individuals, just like Hillary and Trump. This is not one of those classic, Ali-Foreman, good vs evil type of stories, so much as it is an evil versus evil story. If the villain from Rocky III, Clubber Lang, and a cross between the villain in Rocky IV Ivan Drago and Rocky V villain Tommy Gunn fought, then this would be its equivalent. The loud mouthed, woman beating, money hungry Mayweather fighting the loud mouthed, untested, money hungry McGregor is not exactly a fight that will pique the archetypal impulse in the collective.

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Of course, somewhat like the election with its gender battle, with this fight there is the race factor as Mayweather is Black and McGregor White. But again, while a Black man fighting a White man is usually good for tapping into mankind's uglier instincts, in this case there is no "good guy" to cling to on either side so it is much less compelling as a racial drama then say, the Jack Johnson - Jim Jeffries "Great White Hope" fight in 1910, or even the Larry Holmes - Gerry Cooney "Great White Hope" fight in 1982. As we learned in the Clinton-Trump election, naked appeals to gender, or in the case of this fight, race, just don't cut it when both combatants are so terribly unlikable. 

And finally, this fight is similar to the election because one of the participants is a neophyte. McGregor has never boxed professionally just like Donald Trump had never run for elected office prior to running for president. McGregor and Trump's inexperience led experts to conclude that for their opponents, the consensus establishment picks Hillary and Mayweather, victory was inevitable. Well, in Hillary's case her victory certainly was inevitable, until it wasn't.

Every boxing expert I have read, and every person I have talked to, believe Mayweather will win easily. On paper he certainly should have an easy go of it on Saturday. Mayweather is as smooth, skilled and precise a fighter as we have seen in this generation. His technical proficiency is beyond question. He most definitely SHOULD win easily. But as Hillary Clinton learned last November, SHOULD ain't got nothing to do with it.

Conor McGregor has a tiny thing going for him heading into this bout…he is the unknown. No one knows if he can actually box, or if he can even withstand a single round with Mayweather, who it is doubtful has the ability to knock him out, but most certainly does have the ability to carve him up and humiliate him.

McGregor also has one other thing going for him, he has nothing to lose. If he loses this fight, and even if he is embarrassed, he just collects his money, says "hey, I'm not a boxer, but I am rich" and goes back to MMA. Floyd on the other hand, simply cannot lose. If Floyd loses, his ego and self-image are destroyed, his Self is annihilated. Floyd cannot even contemplate losing this fight, it is too great a fear for him to ever touch upon it. In this match-up, much like Hillary in the election, Floyd is the psychologically brittle one, and this is why I think the fight will not go the way the experts think it will.

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My years of watching, studying and training in boxing and martial arts tell me that Floyd Mayweather should trounce Conor McGregor…BUT…there is something in the air, the same thing that was in the air on April 6, 1987 when Leonard beat Hagler, and in the air in February of 1990 when Buster Douglas beat Iron Mike Tyson, and when in June of 2016 Brexit stunned the UK and last November when Trump shocked the world.  The impossible is now possible, anything can happen, just last year the Cubs won the World Series and the Patriots came back from the largest defect in Super Bowl history (down 25 points in the 3rd quarter) to win the Super Bowl. In our current time, up is down, left is right, Donald J.Trump is president and cats and dogs are living together. Crazy things are happening and I think some crazy things are going to happen Saturday night in Las Vegas (besides the usual crazy things that happen in Las Vegas).

In the turbulent age in which we live, we must expect the unexpected, which is why I think Conor McGregor wins the fight Saturday night. I think that either Conor McGregor knocks Floyd Mayweather out in the most stunning fashion imaginable, or the fight goes all 12 rounds and Mayweather wins on points. But even if Mayweather gets the decision, it will be Conor McGregor who will have "won" the fight just by going the distance. 

God knows Conor McGregor is no Ray Leonard, nor is he Charles Marlow or Captain Willard, but just like Floyd Mayweather he is going into the heart of darkness Saturday night, and while both men will face their shadows, I think Mayweather, like Hillary Clinton, is psychologically unprepared to come face to face with the deepest and darkest fear that dwells within him. McGregor will overcome his shadow, and Mayweather, and teach us once again that we know nothing, especially those of us who consider ourselves experts. 

I know, I know, it's crazy for me to pick the underdog McGregor against such overwhelming odds, but just like Conor McGregor, I have absolutely nothing to lose (except the mortgage payment and maybe getting a "D" on this blog post), which is the exactly why he will win. 

UPDATE : I was wrong.

GRADE : D-

©2017

 

Spider-Man : Homecoming - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2.35 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE. SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the coming of age story of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man. The film stars Tom Holland as Spider-Man, with supporting nods from Michael Keaton, Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first installment of the second re-boot of the third Spider-Man series of films. If that sounds confusing to you, you are not alone. The original cinematic Spiderman was Tobey Maguire who starred in three films produced by Sony from 2002, 2004 and 2007. Sony then re-booted the series in 2012, with Andrew Garfield as the new Spiderman and Emma Stone his love interest. Garfield lasted for two films, the second coming out in 2014, then he ran afoul of Sony's studio head and was summarily exiled from Spideydom. Now, just three years later, Spidey is back, this time with Disney/Marvel producing after the two mega-studios made a deal to bring Spider-Man back into the Marvel fold, adding one more branch to their gargantuan money tree. Tom Holland dons the signature blue and red tights this time for his first star turn in the Spider-Man franchise. Holland has played the character once before in a supporting role in Captain America : Civil War

I enjoyed the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, they were solid, well-made movies with a distinct aesthetic and style and that I enjoyed. The third Maguire Spider-Man was an abomination that was so atrocious it stopped the franchise in its tracks. I admit I have never seen the Andrew Garfield Spidey films because at the time they seemed to be a gratuitous money-grab being that they were re-booting the franchise just five years after the last series ended. This time around they are re-booting after only three years, but it is a true re-boot where Spider-Man is absorbed into the Avenger's universe, so that somehow seems a bit less artistically bankrupt as the Garfield versions.

I am a fan of the Spider-Man character, so I had high expectations going to the theatre, but sadly I must report that Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very mixed bag of a movie. It isn't awful, but it certainly isn't great either. There are good elements and bad elements. In keeping with my optimistic nature…*please stop laughing*...I will get to the good points first. 

First off, Tom Holland does excellent work as Spider-Man. In this re-boot, Spider-Man is fourteen and fifteen years old, in other words he is a really annoying teenager. Holland does an exceedingly good job of capturing teenage angst and ennui, as well as the frustrations, social fragility and mental chaos that encompass adolescence. His voice even has a subtle crack to it that lets you know this is a boy thrust into a man's world. Holland seems to have a very bright future, and I hope he can use the monstrous success of this Spider-Man movie to spread his artistic wings and do more than carry water for the Disney money machine.

Holland is not the only bright spot in terms of acting. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture, and he gives a terrific performance. There is an underlying menacing quality to Keaton in this film that he wears very well. It is great to see Keaton back in the game and crushing diverse, quality roles after his years of exile from the big stage. In some ways, Keaton's Vulture character is like his fictional alter ego in the movie Birdman, which can make for an ironically enjoyable perspective on his work in Spider-Man. 

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his iconic Iron Man role in the movie. Downey is the quintessential Iron Man. He is the perfect mix of charisma, charm and emotional fragility to bring a superhero to life on screen and he is uniquely qualified to never be overshadowed by all the pyrotechnics surrounding his performance. 

The film also does something very smart which a lot of television shows have started to do as well, namely, that they use music from earlier eras in order to conjure a sense of nostalgia in older audience members. Make no mistake about it, Spider-Man is a movie for teenagers, but the music in it is the music of the 70's and 80's, in other words the music from the teenage years of late baby boomers and generation X. Television shows like 13 Reasons Why and Stranger Things have used this musical technique to great effect in the last year. This is a brilliant device to bring older audiences into the story without alienating younger viewers. 

Another wise move by the filmmakers is that they do not try and do too much right out of the gate. Too many superhero films are unbalanced between superhero and villain, and superhero and task. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-man and Vulture are a pretty evenly matched, and Spider-man is not entrusted with having to save the world, just his little corner of it.

And now for the bad news…as I stated earlier, Tom Holland is fantastic at portraying a teenage boy, in fact he does too good a job. Spending two and half hours with a teenager is not something anyone in their right mind would want to actually do…hell, not even a teenager would want to spend that much time with a teenager. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we are stuck with an annoying, whiny teenage idiot who makes the same moronic decisions most every teenager would make. Teenagers will relate to him, but adults will want to slap him silly for being so continuously stupid.

Another issue is that the portions of the story that deal with Peter Parker's high school life and friends are pretty unbearable. All of the teenage characters are painfully one-dimensional and are numbingly predictable and corny as hell. Peter Parker and friends are a drag on the entire film.

The story also suffers from a lack of clarity because the film makes large jumps in time and doesn't fill in the gaps properly in order to flesh out the characters and drama. For instance, the movie open with crews cleaning up in the wake of the destruction created by the Avengers in their New York City brawl with aliens in the first Avengers film. Then the movie jumps eight years ahead and we never get to see the critical moments in the development of Keaton's Vulture character, which to me would have been the most interesting part of the film, and we never got see it. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming also suffers from two things that afflict the Marvel films in general, namely that they are visually flat and stale, and also that they are thematically much too paltry and light-hearted. In terms of the visuals of the film, director Jon Watts, whose resume isn't exactly inspiring, is in way over his head. This movie is aesthetically more akin to a made for television movie than it is a cinematic enterprise. To be fair to Watts, Disney/Marvel run a very tight ship and are not interested in artistic vision, only franchise conformity and box-office returns.

As for the light-hearted nature that permeates all of the Marvel films, Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely no exception. Like all of the Marvel movies, there is a tsunami of zippy one-liners and a flippancy that seeps out of its every pore. I understand that "entertainment' is the goal with these movies, but that doesn't mean they have to be so shallow and frivolous. Christopher Nolan proved with his Dark Knight trilogy that superhero movies can be entertaining and also artistically and archetypally illuminating at the same time. Even Sam Raimi with the original two Spider-Man films was able to pull that off, as was Ang Lee with his much maligned, Jungian inspired, Hulk. Just this year we have seen the superhero game elevated to a much higher level with James Mangold's superior Logan and Patty Jenkin's well-crafted Wonder Woman. Spider-Man fails to live up to the standards set by these quality films, but the truth is the same can be said of all of the Marvel films and Disney doesn't care as long as the money train keeps rolling. 

The final issue I had with Spider-Man: Homecoming was that the rules of the cinematic universe were never clearly defined. What I mean by that is that superhero movies are pretty incredible to begin with, so you have to have a set of rules for the film that the movie sticks to or else the story loses much needed credibility. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, Spider-Man is knocked out by bumping his head on a roof, but when he gets punched by a super-arm or is in a car crash, he comes out entirely unscathed. It is a little thing, but sometimes the little things add up to a big thing. 

There was one thing that was both good and bad about the film. There is a B-story sub-text about class in the film that is pretty fascinating, which is the good thing, the bad thing is it is so minor as to be quickly forgotten. Spider-man is a local, working class hero, or as Iron Man tells him, he has a whole "Springsteen vibe" going on. I think if the film had fleshed out this idea it would have been a very rich topic to explore. Keaton's Vulture is the same as Spider-man, a blue collar local guy, whereas Iron Man and the Avengers are a globalist bunch of elitists trying to impose their values on the locals. Politically, this is a potent narrative that we have seen play out across the globe and even in our last election. A superhero movie can sometimes be the best place to hash out archetypal and mythic conflicts so that viewers can find nuance, or clarity, whichever they most need. Sadly, Spider-Man: Homecoming spent more time with adolescent pursuits and mostly turned a blind eye to the class struggle that was taking place at the heart of the story, and the film is lesser for it. 

The bottom line is this, Spider - Man: Homecoming is just…ok. It is an admittedly fun but basically mindless movie that will no doubt entertain millions and make billions. If you are a superhero fan you will see the film regardless of what I say, but if you are lukewarm on these types of films, I think you can skip it in the theatre and see it when it's on cable of Netflix. 

In conclusion I will share this, that over the years many readers have emailed me to tell me that they think I am a vicious misogynist, racist and xenophobe, and with my tepid review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, they will no doubt add "incorrigible arachnophobe" to the list of evils that afflict me. I will simply say this in my defense…I am not an arachnophobe (some of my best friends are spiders!!), I am just a cinephile who yearns for a bit more from the standard summertime popcorn movies that Hollywood continuously uses to separate fools like me from their hard earned money. My spidey-senses are telling me I'm going to need to lower my standards. 

©2017