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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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar

via GIPHY

IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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