Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day

By Bill S.
It's Father's Day, and as always, we celebrate the occasion by remembering TV and Movie dads who make us grateful for the one we had. This year I thought I'd take a slightly different approach, by focusing on one TV show, and honoring a film actor who excelled at playing questionable dads. I'll call it the "RiverDuvall" edition.

The men of Riverdale.  An insane mix of Beverly Hills 90210, One Tree Hill and Peyton Place (with just a smidgen of Twin Peaks sprinkled in), Riverdale is one of my favorite current guilty pleasures. (To give you an idea of just how far it strays from the old "Archie" comics, the reigning male sex symbol is Jughead, owing mainly to the casting of Cole Sprouse.) Just about every parent on the show is a hot mess in one way or another, with the exception of Archie's dad Fred (one reason among many why Luke Perry will be sorely missed). Among the show's terrible dads...

Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope). The father of twins Jason and Cheryl, he earned his money supposedly by selling maple syrup, but that's just a front for drug trafficking, including a substance known as "Jingle-Jangle" (an in-joke reference to a bubblegum pop hit by The Archies). When Jason found out, Clifford killed him. Once his secret was known by the town, he committed suicide. Barclay Hope returned to the series to play Clifford's twin brother Claudius, allowing to play a terrible uncle.

Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Don't ask my why I know this, but Mark won the "Choice TV Villain" prize at last year's Teen Choice Awards. Veronica's dad is the richest man in town, and it turns out he's a mob boss intent on owning all of Riverdale. Which is pretty much what we all suspected although in the comic book, although there he didn't have washboard abs and teeth that outshine the sun.

Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Monro). I'd have to recap three seasons worth of storylines to describe how evil Betty's father was, but I'll just bottom-line it for you all: he turned out to be the serial killer known as "The Hood" who'd been terrorizing the town. Which really put a strain on his relationship with Betty.

Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray). The leader of a creepy religious cult known as "The Farm". With the help of his teenage daughter Evelyn, he lured otherwise sensible people into joining by hypnotizing them into believing they were seeing deceased loved ones...and then harvesting their organs for sale on the black market. Edgar's inclusion on this list is debatable though, since we eventually find out that Evelyn is neither a teenager nor his daughter, but actually his wife. Well, one of them anyway.

A while back, I devoted a Mother's Day column to actress Jessica Walter, who played quite a few terrible moms in her career. This year, I thought I'd single out an actor for his portrayal of bad dads: seven time Oscar nominee Robert Duvall. Of course in his six decades long career, he's played a wide variety of memorable characters. Yet it's surprising how often he earned a spot on the Bad Dad list. Among them:

Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum in The Great Santini.  Probably the movie character who leaps to the front of our minds when we think "terrible dad", Bull was a bully, a racist, homophobic, sexist and seemingly incapable of showing any warmth. Who could forget the scene where he bounces a basketball off his son's head? Most of the characters are afraid of standing up to him, which is why we're grateful for his daughter Mary Anne (Lisa Jane Persky), who uses humor to undermine his authority and call him out on his crap. My favorite scene is the one in which she jokingly claims to be pregnant, describing the father, "Rufus", as  a negro, intellectual, pacifist homosexual: "You'll get to like him after awhile, Dad. Dwarfs are easy to like, especially when they're cross-eyed!" Bull is not amused.

Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies. The role that won him an Oscar. Mac is a once famous country star who destroyed his life with hard drinking and hard living. He gets a second chance in life when he meets a young widow with an eight year old son, quitting drinking and finding Jesus. Which is all very nice for him, but what about the people he left behind? He hasn't had contact with his teenage daughter, Sue Ann (Ellen Barkin) in many, many years, and when she tries to re-connect with him, he barely makes any effort. He won't even sing the song he sang to her when she was a child--her one fond memory of him--he pretends not to remember it. (The song in question is "Wings of a Dove", which every country singer knows) Later, we learn the girl has died in an automobile accident. This is heartbreaking for us, and we only saw her for a few minutes. But Mac doesn't seem to register any grief about it. Which is not the case for his ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley). In a movie where everyone--especially Mac--keeps a tight reign on their emotions, Dixie wears them on her sleeve. If Mary Ann called out her dad in The Great Santini, Dixie fills that role here. She suffers a breakdown following Sue Ann's death, and, from a hospital bed, lays into Mac like nobody else would. We'd have liked to see her smack him (he used to knock her around, which why they split up). But I guess her words packed enough punch, because by the end of the movie he's finally able to admit how senseless his daughter's death was. Which means that, just maybe, he won't screw up things with his stepson.

Mr. Childers in Sling Blade. He's not the main villain in the film--that would be Dwight Yoakum's scuzzball character Doyle. In fact he's barely in the film. But as the father of this film's protagonist Karl (Billy Bob Thornton), he was an abusive creep, who may even be responsible for his son's brain damage. He's definitely responsible for the death of his second son, who was born prematurely and was, according to Karl, "no bigger than a squirrel". He gave the baby (wrapped in a bloody towel) to Karl (then about six or eight years old) and told him to "get rid of it", which Karl, afraid of disobeying him, does by burying the baby alive.

Euliss "Sonny" Dewey in The Apostle. Sonny arrives in the Bayou of Louisiana to start a new church and preach the Gospel. His natural charisma brings in a lot of followers--he even wins over a construction worker (Billy Bob Thornton) who'd planned on knocking the church down. He also becomes a local celebrity, appearing on the radio.

Oh, did I happen to mention that the reason he's really in Louisiana is to flee a murder charge in Texas? See, after showing up at his kid's little league game, he beat his wife's lover with a baseball bat, leaving him in a coma (he eventually dies), and attempted to drag his wife home (by her hair), scaring the crap out of the kids. He leaves town, dumps his car in the lake, and destroys all evidence of his past life. When his wife hears him on the radio, she notifies the police, who show up at the church during the service. He asks them to wait until it's over, then proceeds to give a long, long sermon (it's like a filibuster) but finally turns himself in.

Judge Joseph Palmer in The Judge. When he becomes the suspect in a hit and run accident, he seeks the help of his attorney son Hank (Robert Downey, Jr.). One problem: Hank is reluctant to take the case, because he's convinced the judge is guilty. That probably tells you all you need to know about him. (Although Hank does change his mind once he finds out the attorney appointed to his father is Dax Shepherd.)

Robert Duvall is now 88 years old but as far as I know, isn't retiring. He could probably keep playing terrible dads when he's 100. I'm rather looking forward to seeing him, at 100, bouncing a basketball off his 80 year old son's head.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!

Friday, June 14, 2019

When Luvs Become Whatevs

[Borrowed from Sheri's Facebook page]

A deconstruction of the Luvs commerical I have seen 4 million times while watching Tubi streaming TV:

First Child: A mom is interviewing a babysitter. She dismisses the nice applicant with ten years of experience and a Masters in Child Development with a snide "But no Ph.D?", then asks if she can record her on the nanny-cam hidden in the teddy bear.

Second Child: the same mom, now slightly older, hands a baby to a heavy metal teen who has just entered the house, saying "Here's a list of numbers, food is in the fridge, and Bobby likes to paw jewelry, so you might want to lose the nose ring."

The narrator informs us that the parents of second children are more likely to buy Luvs - presumably because they are cheaper, and a diaper is a diaper. "Live and learn and then get Luvs".

But what ad is really telling us is that parents of first kids are anal and annoying. But by the time they have a second kid, parents don't care anymore, and willingly give their kids to random strangers and possible drug fiends. Second kids: ask your parents about this.

Also, we notice that there is no sign of that first kid in the second scene. We can only assume that the tightly-wound mom did something terrible before she lived and learned. But you make the call.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Slumgullion Episode 62: John Wick Meets the Mummy!

Jeff, Scott, and Mary talk about the best movies to watch while you quietly weep and eat ice cream on the couch in your sweatpants, and Mary explains that no, they're wrong, because 1999's The Mummy is the greatest comfort film every made. Then the New Movie Crew checks into The Continental to discuss why John Wick 3 is basically the James Brolin TV series Hotel, except everyone's a murderer.

Oh, and Benevolent and Protective Order of Belarussian Assassins has the worst ticketing system since Delta Airlines.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Post Friday Beast Blogging: The "Welcome to the Factory" Edition

MOONDOGGIE: Ah, hello. You caught me just as I was about to pose for my Andy Warhol-like portrait. Excuse me...

MOONDOGGIE: There. Nailed it.

What do you think, Shadow?

SHADOW: (Sigh) Well...

SHADOW: I know art when I see it. And I ain't seenin' it.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Happy Memorial Day

While researching an unrelated magazine article I came across this photo in a newspaper morgue, showing the Memorial Day Parade on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles in 1915. I could find no details about the event, but it's almost certain there were Civil War and Spanish American War veterans present. Possibly a few elderly survivors of the Mexican-American War and the various pre- and post-Civil War Indian campaigns, as well as the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine Insurrection, our adventures in Samoa, and our occupation of Nicaragua. Two months after this Parade we would invade and occupy Haiti, which was followed by our occupation of the Dominican Republic, the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, and then, two years later, our entry into World War I. Even in peacetime, it seems, we've kept our troops busy.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Episode 61: Star Wars meets Avengers: Endgame

Jeff and Scott visit Star Wars Celebration, then drop in unannounced on several TV science fiction franchises because who can stop them? No one!

[Insert maniacal cackle here]

Then the New Movie Crew returns from a flaky death for a super spoilery discussion of Avengers: Endgame.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Us and Them

This week Jeff and Scott chat about the peculiar way the new Joker trailer made them feel -- you know, down there -- then they debate the merits and demerits of Jordan Peele's Us and ultimately decide it's the best Easter Bunny movie since the Rankin-Bass holiday classic Here Comes Peter Cottontail.

Jeff remembers his mom's love of horror movies, while Scott recalls his Dickensian childhood reading crappy screenplays in a Victorian blacking factory, then they join hands and keep the lagomorph theme alive by plunging down a bottomless rabbit hole as they celebrate the joys and sorrows of dallying at the dollar theater. Finally, the entire New Movie Crew triumphantly returns to talk Captain Marvel, with many helpful tips on the care and feeding of Flerken.

Now put on your anti-alien cat eye protection and let's hit PLAY!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Slumgullion 59: Harlequin (1980)

Jim Donahue, writer for the Daily Grindhouse (and a Crapper from way back) joins Scott and Jeff for an all Unknown Movie Challenge show. This time, it's the 1980 oddity Harlequin (AKA Dark Forces), and this is a weird one, but let me try to set the stage...

Suppose...just suppose...that Rasputin lived in Australia, but wouldn't admit it? And suppose he was a birthday clown? And was played by a guy who used to be Jesus of Nazareth, but now just wants to be in Velvet Goldmine? And suppose David Hemmings from Blow-Up shows up as a British guy pretending to be an Australian pretending to be an American in a mid-70s paranoid political thriller like The Parallax View, and almost gets away with it, until the last moment when a drunken Broderick Crawford lumbers on camera and everyone starts to think that hmmm...maybe they're actually in an episode of Highway Patrol? In HELL!

Look, I can't explain, so just listen and let us, uh...explain it. Anyway...

Maids melt, doves cry, clowns float. You will never be the same...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Happy Birthday, MaryC!

By Bill S.

Today we celebrate the birthday of World O' Crap's own MaryC. Finding the right gift is never easy, so once again it's time to look through our favorite catalogs and Wish Books. Let's begin by seeing  what Carol Wright Gifts has to offer ;

For anyone yearning to unleash her inner Laura Petrie.

"JOHN" and "JANE" ($4.99 each)
"Ideal when you need instant relief! Whether in bed, in a car or anywhere, keep John or Jane nearby. Sanitary plastic bottle has easy-to use funnel design and sure-grip handle." this? Relief from what? Relief from whaaaaaaat?????

"The residents of this charming Bavarian chalet will step out to predict the weather. Designed with a thermometer and built-in hygrometer, this authentic Bavarian chalet is handcrafted of wood in Germany.

Woman Steps Out on Fair Days--Man Steps Out in Bad Weather"

There's no better way to get a weather report than from a German couple who can't stand to be in the same room together.

Okay, I'm not feeling it, so let's have a quick peek at that other compendium of Hard to Find gifts,  Things You Never Knew Existed:

"52 THINGS TO DO WHILE YOU POO" book ($10.99)
"This collection of entertaining activities ranging from mazes to word finds to toilet trivia---"
--will come in handy when you're down to a cardboard roll.

"Why look to the angel on your shoulder when you have the Messiah right at your desk? The next time you get the urge to plunder the fridge for unsuspecting coworkers' lunches, just give the Son of God a little tap on the head and He will silently urge you not to covet thy neighbor's burger. 8" tall, "gracefully" sculpted resin. WARNING: Choking Hazard-small parts."

CHOKING hazard? How'd they find this out? What kind of weird-ass Communion was THAT?

"Let TEX, the armadillo guard your drink until you're good and ready to chug it! Cast in high-quality designer resin, this fully handpainted lifelike critter is a sure-fire conversation piece from his textured armor to his whiplash tail. Holds one 12 oz. can."

Well, that certainly will start conversations. Probably once the owner leaves the room. I think we've found this year's gift!

Happy Birthday, MaryC!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Seventh Annual SKELLY Awards

By Bill S.

Well, the Academy Awards are airing Sunday night, and that means it's once again time for me to peruse the nominees in the four acting categories and see who'll win this year's SKELLY Award for most embarrassing prior role.

Since many of this year's Oscar nominees are past Skelly nominees, they're ineligible, for the practical reason that I've already noted their worst roles, so why repeat myself? If they were eligible, the clear winner would be Christian Bale, because, with the exception of the winner, none of this year's contenders made anything approaching the level of "What the fuck did I just watch?" insanity of Swing Kids. I feel oddly apologetic for this, and for the short list. But let's dive in, shall we?

4th Place: REGINA KING
Regina began as a child performer, most notably on the sitcom 227. She's matured into a compelling dramatic actress -- I especially liked her badass detective on Southland (a series seen by so few people, I found myself wondering if I just imagined it). So far, she's won three EMMY awards, and she's the front runner in the Best Supporting Actress category for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. Like past winner Viola Davis, most sane people wouldn't object to her winning an Oscar. And, also like Davis, she's been saddled with a few thankless supporting roles before finally getting the respect she deserved, including parts in not one, but two dumb sequels, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blue. Confession: I haven't actually seen either of them. I'm just assuming they're dumb, based upon the simple fact that, while not all sequels are bad, there are some movies that just don't need a sequel. If any of you have seen both, perhaps you can tell us which was the greater waste of King's time and talent, and also tell us if either was a stupid as the rom-com with Courtney Cox that Viola Davis was trapped in.

3rd Place: SAM ELLIOTT
Sam's been appearing in movies for over 50 years -- longer than most of this year's Oscar nominees have been alive. He's also been seen as the face of many internet memes, probably because has the look of a guy who's about to tell you why you're an idiot, and he's probably right. Like many veteran actors, he's had his share of highs and lows, good and bad...and one movie that's good and bad: the camp classic Road House.

I was kind of on the fence about including this one, because, as preposterous as it is, it's also kind of entertaining. It's one of those movies you enjoy in spite its badness, or possibly because of it.  But then I realized that most of the movie's fans know it falls in the "It's so bad it's good" category, and might well be disappointed if it wasn't in the running for a Skelly.

2nd Place: GLENN CLOSE
She received an Oscar nomination for her very first movie, The World According To Garp, and has racked up a total of seven in all. She's never won, but that might finally change this year. She's considered the favorite to win Best Actress for her turn in The Wife. It's one of her many portraits of tough, no-nonsense women.  But before she established herself as a leading lady who wasn't to be trifled with, she landed a starring role as woman who was all nonsense -- two characters actually, in the comedy flop Maxie

This fantasy film centers around a yuppie couple, Jan (Close) and Nick (Mandy Patinkin) who move into a house and discover one of its previous residents was an aspiring actress, Maxie Malone, who died in the 1920's before getting her big break. They view an old movie showing Maxie's screen test, which somehow revives her spirit, which occupies Jan. Hijinks are supposed to ensue, as Close keeps switching back and forth between playing Jan and Maxie, and we keep waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) for something truly outrageous to happen, but nothing does. Or as Roger Ebert put it, this is the kind of movie where, if Maxie had any brains, she'd appear as Jan, take one look at the script, and decide she was better off dead. To add insult to inanity, the filmmakers couldn't even be bothered to create a fictional screen test, and used old footage of Carole Lombard, a great star who died tragically young. Lombard was known for her roles in fun screwball comedies of the type that Maxie desperately wants to be. They couldn't revive the spirit of those films any more than they could resurrect Carole Lombard.

What could be sadder than that? Well, that brings us to this year's SKELLY Winner: RICHARD E. GRANT

His first film role was in a 1983 live-action short titled Essences. After nearly 40 years in films, he's finally received his first Oscar nomination (overdue) for his supporting role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? -- a question he no doubt asked many times regarding his worst film role -- a movie so bad it's in a different stratosphere from the other bad movies I just listed. I'm speaking, of course, of HUDSON HAWK.

I managed to avoid seeing this movie until just this year when I had to, for the purpose of this column. I was a bit curious to see if it was as bad as its reputation, and was shocked to find it was much, much worse. How bad? Well, have you ever been in the presence of an aggressive drunk who was convinced he was the life of the party, demanding everyone pay attention to him as he knocked over things, behaving like an obnoxious ass, oblivious to the fact that everybody wants him to just shut up and leave? Well, if a movie could get drunk, Hudson Hawk would be in blackout mode. It centers around a cat burglar (Bruce Willis)  who times his burglaries based on the running length of pop songs. (Willis also co-wrote the screenplay, and he writes exactly as well as he sings.) His efforts to go straight are derailed when he finds himself roped into performing one last job by a number of baddies, including a husband and wife team played by Grant and Sandra Bernhard, who chew up the scenery and spit it out, like a pair of bulimic psychotics. (Originally, this couple was conceived to be one character, a woman, and Audrey Hepburn was offered the role. She turned it down due to prior commitment -- namely, her lifelong commitment to avoid movies that are unwatchable garbage.)

According to Grant, who devoted a chapter of his autobiography to his experiences on the film, Bruce Willis kept injecting  new ideas throughout the production. That probably explains why the movie is such a jumbled mess, and has so little story continuity. It also explains why the picture went way over budget. It not only didn't earn back that cost, it bombed so badly it bankrupted the studio, making it the Heaven's Gate of comedies, except that Heaven's Gate  was funnier, and more coherent.

Despite being a spectacular failure, Hudson Hawk actually does have its defenders. Richard E. Grant met one such fan, who admitted to liking the film. Grant's response: "It was a stinking pile of steaming hot donkey droppings, and you are an idiot." Which is funnier than anything in the movie. And, for that, Richard, I can say on behalf of all your fans, Yes, we can forgive you. Good luck on Oscar night!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Corner Man

By Scott Clevenger

Many sports (outside of such whispered-commentary spectacles as golf or snooker) have a frankly atavistic appeal, and the potential to reduce their spectators to hooting mobs held in check solely by the weight of the 32 oz cups of concession stand Budweiser in their laps. But of all contact sports, boxing is perhaps the most primal. Like nature, it’s populated by predators and parasites, its lives are often nasty, brutish, and short, and its passions are as fierce as they are fleeting.

But sometimes a sport, even boxing, will germinate a principled oddball who holds to a code of honor older than the sport itself. Usually these outliers earn a baffled or pitying shake of the head from their more ruthless colleagues, but occasionally – not often, but every once in awhile – the nice guys finish first.


Joe Goossen had the typical Los Angeles upbringing. Seven brothers and two sisters; Irish Catholic mother; mountain-sized father who was one of the few Jewish homicide detectives in the LAPD.

Okay, maybe not so typical.

At 16 Joe snuck past a cop and into the Olympic Auditorium to see his first fight. Without a ticket he wandered down the aisle, scanning the dark, smoky rows for an empty seat and had gotten nearly close enough to reach out and touch the ring apron when one fighter suddenly jerked to his full height courtesy of an uppercut and toppled majestically toward Joe, trailing a cometary tail of blood and spittle in his wake.

“How often do you see a guy get hit with one punch and then just fall?” Joe marveled. “And it was all legal. People were cheering for it.”

“He was knocked out and my eyes were opened.” By the time that long-forgotten pugilist had hit the canvas, Joe knew what he wanted to do with his life.

A half century later, he’s still in the gym; and now also a three-time inductee of the Hall of Fame.

The Ten Goose Boxing Gym began as a hand-built ring under a tree in a Wiffle ball field. Joe and his brothers started training fighters in their off hours, stringing lights in the branches because they all worked during the day. Eventually they laid cement, put up walls and a roof, and varnished every surface, because the whole interior – right down to the speedbag racks – was crafted from wood. Sugar Ray Leonard once walked inside and declared “This is the greatest gym I’ve ever been in! It’s beautiful!” Resembling a Catskills training camp from the golden age of prizefighting, the hand-made gym had no plumbing, not even a changing room, just a wooden box grafted onto the back with barely enough room for a couple of fighters to sit on a bench and change their clothes behind a curtain.

Today Ten Goose is housed in a small, bright, modern space tucked away on a side street in Van Nuys, and frequented by both hungry neophytes and boxing royalty. The day I first met Joe there was another Hall of Famer in the house – former World Welterweight Champion Carlos Palomino, who had brought along a prospect to spar with one of Joe’s up and coming boxers.

Former World Champion Carlos Palomino watches from the corner.

After the two young fighters went a few rounds, with Joe and Carlos coaching from opposite corners, I sat down with Joe in a coffee shop and asked him to tell me about the Ruelas Brothers.


They’d never worn shoes until they came to this country.

It took an hour by truck to wind up through the jungle to the village where they were born. “Walk out the back door of any adobe, you see nothing but fields stretching to the next mountain,” Joe remembers. “Their water comes from the river. They kill something every day to eat.

“No phones, no electricity. Just one street with ten adobes on one side, ten adobes on the other, and a church – the nicest structure in the village. A tiny community centered around God, family, and food.”

Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas had grown up in this isolated environment, two of fifteen children, picking garbanzo beans on their parents’ land. At ages 8 and 7 they were both sent north to live with siblings in the San Fernando Valley, where they were expected to continue working.

Juan Ruelas, the boys’ elder brother, was a boxer, and had spent time in Joe’s gym. When their father fell ill and Juan went home to help with the ranch, he told Gabriel, “While I’m gone, I want you to find this guy, Joe Goossen,” adding “If you go train, I’ll give you five dollars a day.”

Gabriel was selling candy at the time for an outfit called Junior Careers. A man in a van (never a good beginning to any story) would pick up a dozen kids and drop them off in a neighborhood, where they’d fan out to peddle their confections. One day Gabriel found himself outside Ten Goose Gym.

How long the boy stood there, Joe doesn’t know. But eventually Gabriel stashed his cardboard box of candies under a bush and approached the entrance.

“Certain things you never forget. It was really bright outside, and this elfin silhouette interrupted the glare. After hesitating, the figure moved inside and resolved into a skinny Latino kid…”

Joe watched from the back of the room as Gabriel made the long walk around the circumference of the ring to approach him, wondering, “What the hell does this kid want?”

Whatever it was, Joe had no time for it. He’d served his apprenticeship in the corner from 1970 to 1981, accompanying his friend Randy Shields on the long road from Amateur to Professional, picking up skills and absorbing the atmosphere and traditions of the game.

And now business was picking up. Within two months, the Goossens would sign their biggest catch, Olympian Michael Nunn, who four years later became middle weight champion of the world.

So it was a grim, not to say unwelcoming, but certainly unenthused face that greeted the boy who trudged nervously across that gym floor. As Gabriel later confessed, “I was so scared,” he told Joe. “You were scary-looking. You were big.”

“I called Gabriel over, I said, ‘How can I help you?’

“He said, ‘I want to be a fighter.’

“I knew I’d have to turn this kid away, which I didn’t want to do, but I had to make a living.

I said ‘We don’t train amateurs here, we just train pros.’

“He just looked at me, didn’t blink, and didn’t budge.”

That’s when Alonzo “Strongbow” Gonzalez, the number one flyweight in the world, peeked through the drape separating the changing room from the gym and piped up, “No, no, Joe. I want you to train him! I like what I see in his eyes.”

“Great,” Joe sighs. “So now I’m thinking, how do I get out of this?

“I say to Gabriel, ‘You want to train here? Okay. Where do you go to school?’

“’Sun Valley Junior High.’

“’When do you get out?’

“’Three o’clock.’

“’Okay, you be here at 3:30. If you’re a minute late, don’t come in. If you miss a day, don’t come back.’”

Thirty minutes to get out of school and catch a bus from Sun Valley to Van Nuys? Impossible. Problem solved.

“When I saw him walk in on Monday, I looked at the clock, and it was like 3:28, right under the wire. (And he was never late once in 17 years. They never missed a day. And I rarely gave them a day off, even after a fight. I spent more time with those kids than I did with my own.)

“But a deal’s a deal. So I had him put on the gloves…

“People ask me why I took them on when everybody else in my life thought it was a waste of time; we were looking at six years before they could turn pro and even start to think about making some money. In fact, until then, I was spending money.

“But the first punch Gabriel threw, as soon as his hand hit the mitt, I thought, ‘I’ve got a world champion here!’

“It’s like handing a bat to a Little Leaguer who’s never played before. You start throwing to him and he knocks every pitch out of the park, and you go, ‘So you’ve never played?’ and he shakes his head. ‘Never even had a bat in your hand?’ ‘Nope.’

“I knew very little about working with kids, I only knew I didn’t want to start it. I’d already done the amateurs, and it was very unrewarding.”

But you don’t see that kind of raw talent walk through your door every day, and when you do, you don’t just turn it away.

“It took a little prodding from Alonzo, but it only took one day in the gym before I knew I was lucky. Nobody had to say another word to me after that.”

A month later, in July 1984, Gabriel brought his 11-year-old brother Rafael into the gym to train, and lightning struck twice. And what had started as a wild gamble gradually turned into a labor of love.

The brothers’ first amateur fight was in Oxnard that September, and they caused an immediate stir.

“Gabriel climbed in the ring and knocked this kid out cold. Which nobody was doing. No kid at that age knocks a kid out cold. And the coaches are like, ‘Who the hell is this kid? Where did he come from?’

The Ruelas brothers

“So after Oxnard, I put them in three successive fights over a couple weekends. And people are going ‘Who the hell are these kids? We’ve never seen ‘em before and they’re knocking out our best guys!’”

“A month later I signed them up for the first PAL Blue and Gold, huge national tournament. And back then there was no Junior and Open; if you enter the tournament you could fight someone with a hundred fights, even if you had just three. Which is what happened.

“Gabriel and Rafael had barely any real gym experience, but they got an intense crash course, and started working their way through the brackets.

“Now we got guys from San Francisco to Arkansas to New York, and it was a two ring, three-day tournament at the Olympic Auditorium. Packed house, thousands of spectators. In his seventh fight ever, Gabriel ends up in the finals, fights a kid with a 101-1 record and destroys him. I’ve got a picture; when the referee raises the fighters’ arms, Gabriel’s opponent just collapsed. And this was a kid hadn’t lost since he was like, six.

“So Rafael gets to the finals and faces off against Shane Mosley, who, if I recall correctly, had 80 fights and 75 wins, against Rafael’s five. Mosley was the golden child, he was the guy; they couldn’t justify giving the fight to Rafael, because, who is he? He’s never fought before.”

The officials awarded the win to Mosley, a decision which did not sit well with the crowd. “It’s the only fight they booed over the whole weekend.”

“After that, there was suddenly a lot of interest in these two boys, and all the way through Amateurs, numerous people tried to lure them away from me.

“But they were loyal to me like no other fighter.”

That loyalty was reciprocated. Joe bought them their first pairs of boxing shoes. He arranged through a friend of the family, an Irish priest, for the boys to cut through the red tape to make their first Holy Communion. They lived together for years, in the gym, in the training camps, and gradually the trust between them grew and blossomed into something Joe had experienced with none of his other fighters. And over the years he’s trained many.

But it wasn’t easy.

“Gabriel was a quiet kid. He basically didn’t say a word to me for three years. If we were in the car for three hours driving down to San Diego, he’d be staring out the side window so he wouldn’t accidentally make eye contact with me and have to speak. He later said it was because he was embarrassed about his English; Rafael was more fluent and would always be leaning forward from the back seat (this was before mandatory seatbelt laws) and chattering away.

“By the time they were both in high school, Gabriel and Rafael were both bringing me home their report cards, just like my other kids.”

Rafael was the more outgoing and, outside of the ring, the more ambitious. When Reagan signed the Amnesty act, “Rafael was working as an intern for an attorney, and he received an award from the City of Los Angeles, in a ceremony at City Hall, for processing more amnesty applications than anyone else in L.A.

“He was 15 at the time. Whatever these kids decided to do, they were going to be number one. The lawyer even said, ‘We’ll send you to law school. You have to quit boxing, though’, and Rafael just said, ‘Nah.’

“In the end, he did it on his own. He got his accounting license, his brokerage license, his real estate license…”

After the Amnesty, both boys got their Green Cards, and in 1990, became American citizens. But before that, the possibility of arrest and deportation was a constant threat to their dream. “It was scary, they had to be leery about going certain places, avoid spots La Migra patrolled in their green-and-white cars.”


“The 1988 Olympics were coming up. Gabriel and Raphael weren’t yet U.S. citizens, so they were eligible for the Mexican team. Which is a two-year process. You start in ‘86 with the trials and the tournaments, and because we’d missed the early part of this process, I had to scramble to get them into the tournament in Tijuana. And if you win there, that’s just the beginning; you have to go on and win tournaments all the way through until you get to Mexico City. Talk about an arduous journey! And Mexico already had its A and B Olympic Teams picked. To have a chance you’d have to work your way into the Olympic Center and then beat some of thoseguys—former Olympians, or guys who’d made their way up the ladder and were top amateur stars.

“So I take Gabriel and Rafael to TJ; they were around 15 and 16. They held the fight outside the arena, in the parking lot.

“Gabriel gets in the ring first with another aspiring Olympian, and hit him with a left hook that would’ve knocked out anybody. This kid went down so hard, I was worried about him. They dragged him out, and it took awhile to wake him up. Nobody was wearing headgear, and they used pro gloves – 8 ouncers, they weren’t like the padded Ringside, you could feel knuckles through them.

“The promoter got on the phone to Mexico City right after the fight and said ‘I got a kid here you’re gonna want me to send down there. He just knocked out so-and-so in like 20 seconds, and the guy still ain’t awake.’

“So Rafael gets in the ring, does the same thing, and there’s another phone call: ‘Okay, uh…There’s two of ‘em.’

We bypassed the rest of the tournament. Bypassed the regionals and the districts and went right to the Olympic Center. Gabriel was on the A Team and Rafael was on the B team. It was a hell of a journey. But once that first day in Tijuana happened, I knew where it was going to go.”


“Rafael was allowed to turn pro at 17, a year ahead of schedule, because he was knocking out all the amateurs, nobody would fight him anymore. And we had to go to Vegas to do it, we couldn’t do it in California.”

Gabriel turned pro four years to the day after his first fight in Oxnard, on September 16, 1988, in a match against Raul Martinez at Caesar’s Palace.

Rafael debuted on January 17, 1989, also at Caesar’s Palace, fighting Marcos Covarrubias. Gabriel fought on the same card.

“Gabriel’s first pro fight, he knocked the guy out and looked like the second coming of Roberto Duran. Bob Arum jumped in the ring and shouted, ‘We’ve got something special here!’

“We never had to have contracts, not even a handshake. It was just, ‘You do this? Okay, I’ll do this’. Like a brother to a brother.”

“You can always count on having business problems with most professional fighters, but not them. Never. And they were worth millions. They were hot properties. And there were two of ‘em. The odds of getting one world champion? Forget it, you might as well just play the Lotto. But the odds of getting two?” Joe shook his head; more than three decades later, it was still hard to believe.

“Money was never an overriding concern with me, it was always about the belt. You see that thing wrapped around someone’s waist and think, ‘I want one of those.’ I can get money any time, but hardly anybody gets one of those. That green belt, the WBC one with the flags of the world? Oh man, that’s the one I always wanted, because it’s one of the longest standing belts. And that’s the one we won with Gabriel. That was my objective for us. I never said to them when they were kids, ‘Hey, I’m gonna make you guys rich.’ I said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna make you champions.’

Joe’s father, Elliott “Al” Goossen [L], the Ruelas Brothers, Joe.

Joe’s single-minded focus on the belt helped drive his team forward, each of the young men earning title shots with remarkable speed. But it didn’t come without sacrifice, including one fight that, as Joe remembers it, “almost destroyed everything.”

“One day in the gym, in training camp up in Campo, San Diego, Gabriel had complained about his elbow. And Gabriel never complained.

“But he threw a right hand and made an ‘ow’ noise, and I said, okay, that’s it. He said, no, no, it’s okay, and I said, Uh…no. You’ve never complained before. So I took him to an orthopedic surgeon down in San Diego who said it was probably a hyper-extension, just let it rest.

“But it was still bugging him, so I said, let’s go to another doctor, get a second opinion.

“The diagnosis was the same: hyper-extension.

“Okay, so we finished training camp. It bothered him a little bit, but not too bad, but I decided to take him to another orthopedic surgeon in Las Vegas. He x-rayed the elbow, diagnosed a hyper-extension, and gave him a cortisone shot.

“So we get to Vegas for the Franklin fight, and the consensus of medical opinion is he’s got a hyper-extension. Nothing serious.

“It wasn’t a hyper-extension.

“Turns out he had an old stress fracture. Three doctors missed it on the x-ray. So that night in the ring, we’re having our way with Franklin. Gabriel hits him in the fifth or sixth round with a right hand and boom! I saw his arm drop…

“He came back to the corner, and I’m hammering at him to keep that hand up, and he just says, quietly, ‘It hurts.’

“And I just blew right past it. I heard it, but I knew it was a hyper-extension – three out of three doctors agreed – and I was more focused on him keeping that hand up to protect himself.

“So I send him back out. Franklin senses it’s injured, and attacks. Broke it in half, inverted it, like Theismann’s leg.

“I jumped in the ring, and I knew, with what I just saw, that this was a career ender. Even worse, the surgery I got talked into in Vegas, they said it has to be done now. Turns out it didn’t. And what happened when they did the surgery? They put the screws in backwards.

“We get back to town and I took Gabriel to another surgeon, Dr. Tony Daley, who looks at the x-rays and says ‘The screws they put in are too thin, and they’re pointing in the wrong direction. This is all going to break within the week.’ He says they’ll have to operate again, remove all the hardware, take a bone graft from his hip, etc.

“Gabriel had put in a lifetime of work to reach that night, it was his big HBO debut fight, and now an inch from the brass ring, his arm’s ruined. Everyone’s saying he’ll never fight again. Never.

“Needless to say, Gabriel was pissed, and after we got back home, he wasn’t really taking my calls…"

Then Gene Hackman intervened.

“Gene was a friend of mine. He loved Gabriel and Rafael and his son Chris literally followed them around for a couple years and made a documentary about them, but the footage got lost when his basement flooded... So Gene went over to see him, then he comes into the gym and tells me ‘He’s very angry with you.’ And I go, “I know. He deserves to be.”

“Gene said, if I were you, I’d go see him. So I took his advice and drove over there. We went out to a restaurant and I told him, ‘Gabriel, I did everything right a thousand times. I did one thing really wrong, and I could’ve done two thousand things right and it wouldn’t make up for what I did the other night.’ And then he said, ‘I forgive you.’ And that was that. That’s all he needed to hear.

“And you know, he would’ve been within his rights to say anything to me–anything–because he’d trusted me and I broke his trust. It was the worst thing in the world.

“But he never brought it up again.

“And I vowed to myself – just like I vowed to them the first month I knew them; I said, ‘You’re gonna be world champions.’ I guaranteed it. And now I vowed to myself, ‘I’m gonna right this wrong. I’m gonna go through hell to get him that belt I promised him his whole life.’

“It was a long journey back. We had to go through two operations, a year of rehab, and then we had to get back into the gym. There were tune-up fights; my brother Dan maneuvered things so he’d have a shot at the title again; and I did everything I could to make sure he was prepared. But he basically went back in the ring to face Jesse James Leija with one-and-a-half arms. He could never fully extend his right because of the bolts in his elbow.

“That’s how good he was. Where you might rely on the old one-two, Gabriel didn’t have a one-two anymore. So what’d he do in the championship fight? He knocked Leija down twice. With his right. That goes to show you how badass that right hand was. Even with half an arm, that couldn’t snap, he put him down twice. Leija landed so hard he broke his leg. Fought the rest of the match with a hairline fracture.

“And you know still to this day he can’t fully extend it. It’s never going to be 100% again. But he won the belt. He defended the title…”

And then Jimmy Garcia died.

“Gabriel was a stealth-giver. He would do things for people that you’d never know about.

“We’d be up in the mountains at training camp, working six days a week, and I’d say, ‘Get in the car, we’ll drive down to San Diego and hit the mall.’ But suddenly you look around and think, Where’s Gabriel? And you see him over with these homeless guys, giving them money. He was like that. He’d take them into restaurants and feed them.

“Meeting him for the first time, you’d never guess he was like that, because he was such a closed book. Now, he grew out of that as he got older, and became much more friendly and talkative; the conversations opened up, the laughing opened up, the jokes opened up. But at any given moment, when everybody’s sitting around talking, you’d go, ‘Where’s Gabriel?’ and he’d be over there staring out the window, just thinking.

“And some of those thoughts were dark.

Dark how?

“Gabriel had recurring dreams that he was going to die in the ring.

“He used to have visions of the devil visiting him in his room. Gabriel got a devil’s mask when we were up in training camp, and it was a frightening one too. I don’t know if he was trying to do a little self-therapy or what, but he definitely had a feeling somebody was gonna die.

“Where Rafael had no such premonitions. Rafael was like, ‘I’m gonna be champ, I’m gonna make money, I’m gonna do well, I’m gonna get my stockbrokers license.’

“But Gabriel always felt doomed. And he was right in a way, he just got it backwards. Because it wasn’t long after the training camp, with the mask and the devil and all that stuff, that he killed Garcia.”

In May 1995, Gabriel successfully defended his WBC World Super Featherweight title for the second time, scoring a TKO against Jimmy Garcia at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. But Garcia slipped into a coma, and never recovered.

I asked Joe if he was surprised about the way Gabriel took it.

“Knowing Gabriel, I’m not surprised he sat with Jimmy in the hospital room for a week, holding his hand. After everything that happened that weekend – after nine, ten weeks in the mountains -- I was exhausted, mentally, physically, spiritually. I just couldn’t have spent one more minute in Las Vegas.

“Gabriel was the only one who stayed behind. His brother left, his family left, I left. He stayed behind. And then had to face the wrath of Garcia’s mom who wouldn’t shake his hand because these were the hands that killed her son. It was horrible.

“Gabriel stayed behind for a week until Jimmy died, and it was a real act of compassion.

“People think fighters are mean, blood-thirsty guys, that you got to be like that to win. But who you are in the ring is no predictor of what’s in your heart.”

It was getting late. The sun was slanting over the low buildings as we walked back to the gym, where a new generation of young boxers waited for Joe to sharpen and shape them into something dangerous. Good prospects, he mused, ticking them off one by one. Maybe not the Ruelas Brothers, but that’s no surprise; Joe’s been around long enough to recognize a once in a lifetime deal when he sees it.

And though the fights are over, the relationship endures. Gabriel and Rafael bring their families over to Joe’s house for dinner, and several times during our conversations he called each of them to good naturedly argue a name or a detail from some long past bout (his ability to recall the minutiae of fights from thirty-five years ago is faintly eerie).

We shook hands and as I turned to go, the last thing I saw in Ten Goose Gym was the first thing I saw when I walked in: a big photograph hung above the ring. It depicts a smiling Joe with his arms around Gabriel and Rafael, each of their waists encircled by the belt he’d promised them when they were boys.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Beast Blogging: The "Cats Cocoon in Cold Conditions" Edition

Liam Neeson Hates You

New Slumgullion! We field strip the super weird Serenity (2019) with its blonde Anne Hathaways and extra nude Matthew McConaugheys. Then we go on a picaresque journey and find Judy Garland in blackface, the Lego Movie sequel, Bohemian Rhapsody, Sylvester McCoy singing on Skid Row, Velvet Buzzsaw, and Liam Neeson's best role, as a mute, imaginary baseball player.
(Serenity spoilers start at 12:30 and end at 37:00)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Slumgullion 57: Old Dark GLASS House

Scott and Jeff try to agree about Star Trek Discovery but Jeff wants Prequels without Nostalgia! While Scott just wants to throw rocks at M. Night Shyamalan's Glass. Fortunately, horror novelist Steve Van Samson (Bone Eater King) chooses that moment to join them for the Unknown Movie Challenge and makes them watch The Old Dark House, which turns out to be the cure for grumpiness.

Have a potato.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

From the Depths of Disco, I Stab at Thee!

Mike and Ike time travel back to 1977 to review Star Wars, before it was Episode IV: A New Hope.

It doesn't take 'em very long.