When it comes to boxing greats a lot of names spring to mind. Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Frazier, Max Baer, Lennox Lewis, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Australia's Kostya Tszyu. Few would instantly name Sonny Liston, but his feats were just as impressive in moving from a criminal in jail to World Heavyweight Champion.
Sonny Liston, the controversial former heavyweight boxing champion is brought to vivid life by actor Ving Rhames in the compelling new biopic 'Phantom Punch.' From his discovery by a priest while serving time at the Missouri State Penitentiary to the infamous "Phantom Punch" by Cassius Clay which effectively ended his career. Phantom Punch chronicles Liston's triumphs and tragedies. His run-ins with racism, the mob, and the law, to become the champion of the world!
Directed by Robert Townsend (Eddie Murphy RAW) this movie doesn't do anything too out of the ordinary. Performances all round are solid with Bridgette Wilson brilliant as Farah and Nicholas Turturro equal to the task as Sonny Liston's fried and mentor Ceasar Novak. All the kudos though must go to Ving Rhames who portrays Sonny Liston quite brilliantly. The movie uses some archive footage from each of the years to break up the segments of the movie which sets the tone (and no doubt saves production costs of having to re-create the streets of the time. Still it works quite well. The movie manages to keep a brisk pace from the opening scenes at the jail, to the fights with Cassius Clay. If anything though I felt the final segment of the movie seemed a little rushed.
Phantom Punch is a decent movie which tells the story of on of the most overlooked boxers of all time. His rise from abused child, to criminal to World Champion is awe inspiring and this movie covers the hardships in his life quite well. Performances across the board are solid, and Ving Rhames manages to portray Sonny Liston quite well (or at least what he may well have been like). The movie certainly isn't up there with Will Smith's Ali, however if you're a sports fan, or even just one who likes true stories, then Phantom Punch is a movie worth checking out.
Phantom Punch is presented on Blu-Ray at 1080p in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and the video quality ranges from exceptional to quite average. The bitrate hovers between something around 15Mbps and 30Mbps depending on the requirements and much of the film has a quite polished 'Hollywood' look with some remarkably sharp scenes. Throughout the movie the filmmakers have used some archived footage to separate the years, and the quality of that is a little variable, but is understandable.
All is not perfect in this transfer however with some quite evident compression artifacts. One scene in particular had the five of us viewing the movie jumping up with some horrendous black crush and colour blocking between 38:12 and 38:28. Have a look at the walls, and how Nico's jacket is exactly the same colour as the walls with no shadow detail.
As with Eagle Entertainment's other Blu-Ray discs we've reviewed to date there is only a single audio track on this disc - a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Despite being a fairly low budget movie (We assume), the sound quality, and sound mix here is very impressive. There is ample use of surround sound channels and also the sub-woofer with some great music used throughout the movie to set the tone, and storyline. Dialogue, including Ving Rhames' deep voice come across crystal clear.
There are no other languages on this disc but, more disappointingly, there are no subtitles either so if you're deaf, you will probably want to give this release a miss.
Trailers (9:30): Trailers for Far North, Autumn Hearts (aka Emotional Arithmetic), Forever Strong, My Father's Footsteps, and Cass. Sadly these are only presented in Standard Definition despite some coming to Blu-Ray in future.
Image Gallery: 60 images taken directly from the movie.
Making of Forever Strong (22:12): WTF? What we have here is a making of documentary, but not from the feature film on this disc (Phantom Punch) but rather from another movie coming out very soon. With a runtime of 22 minutes this is decent enough, but why not include something for this movie instead?? Even some cast or crew interviews would have been more worthy and this smacks too much of a promotion for other discs to include it here (despite Forever Strong being a quite good movie from what we've heard).
While no where near the best sports based movie ever released, there is certainly still plenty of merit to Phantom Punch. The transfer to Blu-Ray is solid but has a few blemishes here and there. The real disappointment with this release is the lack of any extras related to the movie especially given that it includes some of the most famous boxing matches in history. Worth checking out, but just don't expect too much.
Review By: Dave Warner