Documentaries

Thought-provoking documentary cinema covering horror, culture, music, sports.

The Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini

BOOM_BOOM_MANCINI“You’ll box oranges, apples Ray.”

That’s the kind of fatherly ball-busting Ray Mancini got growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, a dilapidated, crime-ridden mill town.

But box he did.

The Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini is a heartbreaking documentary about a man trying to please his father (also a pro boxer, Lenny) and the tragic circumstances the family faced. This included the biker gang hit on Ray’s older brother (a pro fighter, who’d gotten mixed up with the local mob) and of course, the tragedy in the ring that night in Vegas, November 13, 1982, which has dogged Ray Mancini for a lifetime and put a black cloud on the sweet science ever since.

In that infamous fight, in front of millions for the WBA title, opponent Kim Duk-koo suffered a subdural hematoma, bleeding of the brain, and died four days later in hospital. He was not the first pro fighter to die in the ring (and certainly won’t be the last) but this one was different as it was on such a high-profile global stage*.

Boom_boom_Mancini_filmIt’s the reunion with Kim’s widow and son that puts this sports documentary into another stratosphere. It’s impossible not to be moved by son Jiwan and his mother’s composure having dinner with the man who killed their loved one.

As “The Real Deal” Evander Holyfield said in the equally exemplary boxing doc, Champs, “if you forgive, you have peace.”

In The Good Son we get to hear from the likes of pals Mickey Rourke and fellow Youngstown kid who made it big, Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill. We find out that Frank Sinatra was eager to meet Boom Boom, whose career never really found its footing again after the tragic incident.

Perhaps most tragic though, is the environment opponent Kim grew up in, fatherless, frequently homeless and living along the coast a few miles from the North Korean DMZ. He’d be forced to fight as a kid by guardians, much like Ray Mancini’s father had been. What kind of adult says “you can’t whip my son” and uses them as pawns to further gambling habits?

The fight game is an ugly business. For the courage displayed by “warriors,” there is the long-term effects: the dementia pugilistica, the Parkinson’s, the post-fight malaise that plagues former champs used to the celebrity spotlights. Like pro wrestlers, boxers frequently meet with tragic ends. We can look no further than Canadian hero, Montrealer Arturo “Thunder” Gotti.

Regardless, courage is courage for a reason. Putting yourself in harm’s way while knowing the risk, is something with which nothing else compares. That kind of mental willpower and strength in combat sports cannot be denied.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[*Editor’s note: Boxing is finished as a sport, the Conor / Floyd Mayweather debacle notwithstanding. Without a single governing sanctioning body, and a piecemeal approach to belts/champions, there is no hope for it. Imagine if hockey didn’t just have a Stanley Cup champion, but had 4 competing “best hockey team” contenders? That’s a pretty good idea about the nonsense surrounding boxing belt title holders for IBF, WBC, WBA, WBO, NABF, etc. There’s no way fans can keep it straight]

Keith Richards: Under the Influence

keith_richardsKeith was “teased into becoming a guitarist” by his grandpa Gus.

Now a grandpa himself, the indefatigable musician and punchline to a boatload of tedious age-related and post-apocalyptic zingers, explores his lifetime mission of making musical echoes and incredible rock ‘n’ roll in Keith Richards: Under the Influence. 

However…For a guy who’s been a rock fixture for going on 5 decades, there aren’t many deep deposits left to drill.

So why bother at this point?

Director Morgan Neville (Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal) sagely focuses less on the war stories (the bulk of which are pretty well known to Stones fans — the shame Keith felt when busted for heroin, the dust-up with Chuck Berry, the shock the band experienced south of the Mason-Dixon line in their early days) and zooms a camera in on the gnarled hands of the guitar phenom.

However, this gets a bit old if you’re not a wholly invested fanboy…or…fan grandpa (this site’s contribution to the bad ageism yuks).

In this reviewer’s opinion, the Rolling Stones, both as a creative force and especially as a live act, are more vinegar than fine wine at this point, with their last serviceable album, 1981’s Tattoo You, released decades ago. And that’s not to downplay the incredible stamina of Mick, Keith’s underrated guitar prowess, and Charlie’s unique drumming.

Keith Richards: Under the Influence is a pretty standard 12-bar stomp.

It’s basically Classic Albums / Behind the Music stuff, with a few highlights: Keef shooting billiards with Buddy Guy, impromptu Jamaican horn jams with band-mates Waddy Wachtel and Steve Jordan. There’s also a terrific bit where we get to hear Richards tinkling the ivories (“pianos are laid out like a chess game” in front of you).

The film really comes alive when we hear about how Street Fightin’ Man and Sympathy for the Devil were recorded, and when Keith visits the Grand Ole Opry. Still, at 81 minutes, it seems long.

**3/4 (out of 5)