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Five important moments in mixed martial arts movie history

Five important moments in mixed martial arts movie history (photo)

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Baseball has “Field of Dreams.” Basketball has “Hoosiers.” Hockey has “Slap Shot.” In other words: you can’t be a major American sport without a major American sports movie.

It looks like mixed martial arts might have found its major sports movie with this week’s “Warrior,” the story of two brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) who both enter a massive MMA tournament. The film’s already garnering rave reviews and strong social media word of mouth, and even generating some Oscar buzz. It looks on track to be one of the surprise hit of the fall.

While “Warrior” is certainly mixed martial arts’ biggest and potentially most acclaimed appearance on the silver screen to date, it’s far from the first movie set the world of MMA. We’ll have our review of “Warrior” later in the week; in the meantime, here is a look at five important milestones on MMA’s journey to cinematic legitimacy.

MMA invades the classic martial arts film
“Flash Point” (2007)
Directed by Wilson Yip

Fighters of different (or, y’know, mixed) martial arts disciplines have been testing their unique styles against one another for decades in Asian cinema. But modern MMA never really made its way onscreen in Asia in a significant way until mixed martial arts fan and Hong Kong megastar Donnie Yen incorporated it into his fight choreography for the 2007 film “Flash Point.” Yen became a serious fan of UFC during the several years he spent in Hollywood in the early 2000s and first experimented with MMA choreography in a fight with Sammo Hung in 2005’s “SPL.” He applied everything he learned from all those experiences to the awesome “Flash Point,” which became a massive blockbuster all over Asia. “In actual combat,” Yen said in an interview about the appeal of MMA, “anything goes. It won’t be turn-based, both [fighters] could be throwing out a punch at the same time. There might be some blows that miss. This is the true world of combat.”


MMA Gets Its “Karate Kid”

“Never Back Down” (2008)
Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Everyone loves a feel-good underdog story. Mixed martial arts got one of its own with 2008’s “Never Back Down,” a modern riff on “The Karate Kid” formula. Maybe riff is too generous; Mad Libs-esque plot substitution might be closer. Here, I’ll show you what I mean:

In “The Karate Kid,” “Never Back Down,” a new kid in high school named Daniel (Ralph Macchio) Jake (Sean Faris) gets picked on by a handsome and intensely Aryan bully (William Zabka) (Cam Gigandet) in a spat over the affections of a beautiful girl (Elisabeth Shue) (Amber Heard). Our fatherless hero finds unlikely support in the form of a pacifistic martial arts mixed martial arts instructor from a foreign land (Pat Morita) (Djimon Hounsou). Despite Daniel’s Jake’s reluctance to fight the bully, he eventually decides to enter a score-settling final tournament, where a crippling leg rib injury makes things even tougher. But it all works out in the end, thanks to Daniel’s Jake’s signature crane kick spinning roundhouse kick.

“Never Back Down” may be formulaic a photocopy of a classic, but it’s a fairly effective one, even if all the “teens” in the movie suffer from Stockard Channing’s Disease, an affliction that causes high school kids to look like they’re in their late twenties.


A bonafide auteur taps into the sport
“Redbelt” (2008)
Directed by David Mamet

By 2008, mixed martial arts had already grown into a massively popular sport, but in certain circles it was still considered less a sport than a modern version of gruesome gladiatorial combat. Movies like “Redbelt,” from a bonafide auteur like writer/director David Mamet went a long way toward combating that stigma. Organized MMA competitions were portrayed as a corrupt con game — like most organizations in David Mamet movies — but the idea of mixed martial arts, and particularly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was treated as a grand intellectual pursuit. As practiced by BJJ trainer Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), MMA is less a physical struggle than a beautiful chess match, a point reinforced by the fact that Ejiofor, rugged leading man though he might be is not exactly a hulking gym rat. For Mamet, mixed martial arts’ popularity doesn’t represent a debasement of cultural values. It’s a source of purity in an impure world.


Rocky goes to the ground game
“The Expendables” (2010)
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

No actor has done more for the sport of boxing in the last fifty years than Sylvester Stallone. While boxing itself has been beset by scandals, Stallone has propped up the myth and mystique of boxing with his six-film series of “Rocky” pictures about that lovable and indomitable fighter from the hard streets of Philadelphia. Earlier this year, Stallone was even inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. So it was definitely a sign of the times when, in the interest of relevancy, Stallone integrated mixed martial arts into the fight scenes in last year’s “The Expendables.” Suddenly Rocky Balboa traded in his left uppercut for an flying armbar. Ironically — SPOILER ALERT! — none of the Expendables actually die in the movie. The only real casualty was Stallone’s longstanding loyalty to the sweet science.


MMA becomes the undisputed champion of direct-to-video
“Undisputed III: Redemption” (2010)
Directed by Isaac Florentine

A few months before “The Expendables” hit theaters in the fall of 2010 it was quietly upstaged and outdone by a direct-to-video film made for a lot less money with a lot fewer stars. “Undisputed III: Redemption,” was the second sequel to Walter Hill’s 2002 movie about a match in prison between two former champion boxers (boxing was supplanted by mixed martial arts in 2006’s “Undisputed II: Last Man Standing”). Without Stallone’s budget or topline cast, “Undisputed III” relies on technique and pure, frenetic action. Scott Adkins — martial artist and stuntman — stars as Yuri Boyka, a Russian prisoner and fighter in an international cage match tournament. If you’ve seen “Bloodsport,” or really any movie Jean-Claude Van Damme made between the years 1986 and 1990, you know the plot. But you haven’t seen stunt choreography or action of this caliber recently, and it cleverly takes full advantage of MMA-style throws and takedowns. It’s truly one of the best pure action movies of the last couple years. And the only real star in it is mixed martial arts.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.