FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

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Against the Ropes

By BrianOrndorf

February 19th, 2004

One of the first and most successful female boxing managers in the history of the sport, Jackie Kallen is a life that is ripe for a real cinematic exploration. “Against the Ropes” isn’t that film, but it is an entertaining enough sit, bolstered by a nice lead turn from Meg Ryan, and earnest direction from Charles Dutton.


Ever since she was a little girl, Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan) has loved the world of boxing. Told time and again that she doesn’t belong, Jackie has kept herself in the fringes of the sport, working for men who don’t know half as much about the business as she does. When a vile boxing manager (Tony Shalhoub) offers the contract of a crackhead boxer to Jackie as a joke, she takes him up on the offer, finding her way to Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) in the process. A rough young urban drug dealer, it will take Kallen’s persistence and an aging trainer (Charles S. Dutton) to whip Shaw into shape and take on the establishment that wants nothing to do with Kallen or her fighter.

“Against the Ropes” is based on the life story of Jackie Kallen, one of the first and most successful female boxing managers in the history of the sport. And in true managerial style, Kallen managed to find herself with an executive producer credit on this film, thus restraining just how faithful this drama is to true events. The film claims to be “inspired” by Kallen’s tale, and I assume they mean that in the loosest possible way.

“Ropes” marks the feature film directorial debut of Charles S. Dutton, a hurricane of an actor who is also a lousy decision maker of material (the recent “Gothika“). Dutton is as passionate an actor as they make these days and, even in garbage, he has a way of bringing all the eyes to him. His enthusiasm shows clearly in “Ropes,” assembling a film that plays to both the upper and lower decks of the stadium seating. The script is written in a very crayola way, with characters outside of Kallen either saintly good or Beelzebubish evil and nothing in between. Dutton works around that the best that he can, and his ability to find nooks and crannies of genuine character in Kallen is a precious achievement, keeping the film from falling apart.

Dutton is assisted in building an interesting Kallen by Meg Ryan, who, after slogging through the rust colored mire of Jane Campion’s wild misfire, “In the Cut,” finds herself back on comfortable ground enjoying the luxury of using her charm again. Though Ryan is encumbered with a New England accent and a series of revealing outfits which threatens to “Erin Brockovich” the character to death, she’s able to make the disagreeable behavior of Kallen at least understandable. Kallen is an intelligent lady burdened by being a woman in a man’s world, and through Ryan’s portrayal, the audience is allowed to sense very palpable career and personal frustrations, even when the script heaps on the lothario caricatures and cigar-chomping mob types. This is a good performance from Ryan.

Though the film isn’t structured to support the big boxing match that must climax the piece, Dutton goes for the throat by staging one. What began as a portrait of a young woman’s rise to success eventually dissolves into an umpteenth “Rocky” knockoff, and loses integrity points in the process. Kallen is the main focus here, sanitized or not, and when her story is sidelined for a clichéd sports flick ending, “Against the Ropes” goes down for the count.

My rating: C+