Monday, September 12, 2011

Warrior - It's That Effing Good -

While the tag team is more commonly associated with the WWE than MMA, the Catfish is working the corner with the Reel Rhino and the outcome is victory.  I love having the Cat swing by, he is the poet laureate of the Reel Rhino site and I appreciate it, no matter how much I bust his balls outside the posts, he sure can write.


As a former D-1 athlete, the word always carries some resonance with me.  I have known some true warriors.  I feel as though I may have made some warrior-like moves in my day, but my flashes of brilliance were fleeting and I was fortunate enough to play besides some of the greatest athletes of the 1990's. 

I am a Maryland Terrapin...oh, how the floodgates of hatred may open now that I have shown my colors, but I am proud of my roots.  I played football in the mid-90's and had the good fortune to run along side the likes of Jermaine Lewis, Lamont Jordan, Eric Barton, Eric Hicks, John Feugill, and Kris Jenkins.
We must protect this house? 

Yep, I had the honor of running with Under Armour founder and all around nice guy, Kevin Plank.  I say honor not for his accomplishments in the business world, but for the respect he built first as a walk-on special teams specialist, through to the moments his senior year when he served as the heart and soul of the team, Captaining the special teams and throwing punishing blows on kick-offs and punts, and basically redefining 110%.  That guy next to him...Eric "We Must Protect This House" Ogbogu...a relentless warrior and true competitor.

I married my college sweetheart, who when the timing is right, will remind that she is owner of three national championship rings, that help her win just about any argument...well she really doesn't need the rings, but they do help add the exclamation point.

Joe Smith and Steve Francis ran the hardwood under the tutelage of the great Gary Williams in my years with the Terps.

I made many great friends and relish those days with a great warmth in that remembrance.  I know many great warriors.

My brother is a US Marine.  I once said that he was a Marine, and I was quickly corrected that once a Marine, always a Marine.  I can't deny that the error was mine.  I'd be lying if I said that my past, my pride for my brother, the urge to leave the theater and sign up for some rec league hoops...all of this, made this week's review strike an exceptionally deep nerve in me when watching.


I make a bold statement in this: Warrior has earned itself a place in my all-time top 10 films. 

I loved this movie.  I loved it.

I was reduced to tears on several occasions and I had truly visceral reactions to this film.

I agreed with the guy sitting two rows behind me when he leaped to his feet in one of the culminating moments of this film. 

I felt the pain of the woman who was sobbing on her companions arm, notably moved, as I walked out of the theater.

I felt the moments of this movie like sledgehammers banging gongs inches from my head.

The only thing I don't understand, is how the take for this flick was only 5.2 million, coming in a paltry 3rd place this weekend. 

My plea is this...see this movie.  It is an emotional roller coast that works on every level. 

Yes, I have a history that leaves me exceptionally susceptible to the sports flick genre.  But I think the messages in this film transcend a love of competition.

The running time is long at 2 hrs 20 mins, but the additional time building this world makes every moment in the back half all the more powerful. 

Maybe this film needed bigger stars to succeed, but the truth is, for the lesser known folks in this movie, this will be a star making turn.  Nick Nolte was the biggest name, but Tom Hardy is a stone cold beast.  I enjoyed him in Inception, last year's Reel Rhino #1 flick of the year, and I am looking forward to Hardy as the Bat-breaking Bane in next year's Batman-trilogy finale.

This is an entirely 5 of 5 Horn movie for me, and I hope it will be for you, as well.  If this film doesn't move you...check to see that you still have a pulse.

Gavin O'Connor has woven together a masterpiece, serving as both writer and director.  He gave us magic in 2004 with Miracle and in truth, he may have been born to deliver us inspiration sports stories.  For my money, he is two for two. 

Enough drivel from a sentimental softee like me...what does the Catfish say?

(SPOILER ALERT: Granted, the trailer gave away some of the key issues that in the film, don't arise until the end of the movie, the Cat got spoiler-rific in his review.  If you want to go in cold, save the back half of this post for after your viewing of the film).

I am admittedly a fan of combat sports.  I was exposed to boxing predominately on ESPN as a youngster.  Things began evolving and I found myself not only rooting for favorite boxers my dad and grandfather liked, but kickboxing began getting more attention.  Kansas City native Bob Thunder Thurman took kickboxing to another level, which caught my attention and fed my imagination. 

I participated in Tae Kwon Do as a pre-teen.  I was pretty good at it as I recall.  I'm not sure why I stopped taking it, but I think it just got to be a bit too expensive for Mom and Dad.  In 1999, the empire crumbled all at once for me.  My friends and I split up the cost of the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis heavyweight unification pay-per-view fight.  I was rooting for Evander, but even to a biased observer it was painfully obvious Evander was outmatched that night.  There was not a knockout or fight stoppage.  The decision went to the judges.  The fight was ridiculously determined to be a draw.  I had heard all the talk of corruption in boxing, but I had never personally experienced anything quite like this travesty.  That evening I vowed never to spend another dime on a boxing pay-per-view.  As a matter of fact, to this day I have not watched as much as a single round of a boxing match.

A wee bit behind the UFC curve due to the persistent sour taste in my mouth, I began taking in my first real experience with MMA (mixed martial arts).  I really liked what I was seeing, but I proceeded with caution.  As far as I knew every combat outfit was corrupt.  I recall watching the Rich Franklin and Ken Shamrock fight in 2005.  Ken Shamrock was destroyed in short order, but I was a bit hesitant to believe this fight wasn't rigged.  Shamrock had slipped at one point, but he never even attempted to stand back up.  That was the beginning of the end for him as Franklin obliterated him on the ground.  It seemed I had been duped again.  I wanted to get to the bottom of this fiasco. 

I talked to a guy who really wasn't well versed in the UFC, but he planted the idea that some guys would rather fight on the ground.  I began doing my research.  I went backwards and began renting the old UFC videos.  Fighters using different styles of martial arts were competing in this sport, but at least in the early days, ground fighting was the Achilles heel of most competitors.  Royce Gracie, the undersized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artists, took down men twice his size by fighting on the ground and submitting them with joint locks and choke holds.  He revolutionized the fight game.  This was the great awakening I needed to get me back as a fan of combat sports.

When I first saw the advertisements for Warrior I had lukewarm interest at best.  There are just too many B rated fighting movies starring actual MMA fighters that are absolutely painful to watch.  It wasn't until I watched the trailer for this movie that I had a bit more intrigue.  Sometimes it takes a slap in the face to realize the difference between a big budget production and the B rated turds I was accustomed to.  Since watching Inception I have been willing to give any actor in that movie the benefit of the doubt (unadulterated blind bias on my part).  Since Tom Hardy plays a starring role in Warrior I felt obligated to give the film a chance.  

The big test was convincing my wife to agree to go with me.  Our 11th anniversary was Friday 09/09/11, but we spent the evening at the school Fun Fair.  With a bit of coaxing I convinced my mom to babysit Saturday so we could celebrate a day late and a few dollars short from the fair.  Dinner and a movie is the standard fare.  Agreeing on a movie, however, is something different altogether.  She mentioned Contagion, but I had zero desire to see that.  I am a fan of Robin Cook who happened to write a book called Contagion.  Reel Rhino informed me this movie was unrelated to his book.  For whatever reason that turned me off. 

If you have ever read this blog then you know Reel Rhino likes just about every movie made (no exaggeration).  I convinced my wife to watch the Warrior trailer.  The storyline in those few minutes turned her in my direction.  She warmed up to it and begrudgingly agreed to see the film.  At dinner as I perused some Facebook posts.  Unknowingly, Reel Rhino with an uncharacteristically negative review of the movie Contagion made our movie-going decision final as my wife completely capitulated.  We were going to see Warrior.

Warrior had it's share of fighting, but make no mistake, it was story driven.  It was a layering of the consequential separate lives of a dysfunctional family spawned by an alcoholic father.  The characters are sympathetic and their background stories were riveting, grabbing your attention and holding you through the end.  Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, but I was quite intrigued as their individual stories unfolded throughout the movie on paths that would all eventually intersect.  Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is a former fighter who is now a likable high school physics teacher trying to raise a family and keep his head above water.  Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) is a former high school wrestler and Iraq war veteran heading down the same unfortunate road his father, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), paved for him.  He is a brooding man with so much pent up anger that is boils over anytime he's put remotely close to conflict.  As patriarch of the family, Paddy Conlon has finally come to grips with his demons and actually has remorse for the damage he caused in his family's life. 

Brendan and Tommy's resentment for their father shaped their lives.  Brendan always wanted to be where Tommy was in Paddy's eyes, but never thought he could live up to that standard.  When their mother and Paddy split up Tommy stuck to the plan and left town with his mother while Brendan stayed behind because he had found the love of his life, his eventual wife, Tess Conlon (Jennifer Morrison).  You know me, having a beautiful actress to watch throughout a movie gets high points in my book.  She gets mighty high points.   Tommy resents his brother for staying behind.  He and Brendan resent their father for being a drunk.  Tommy is awash in self loathing as he returned from the war as the only surviving member of a squadron that was killed by friendly fire.  Brendan wants a relationship with his brother again.  These side stories collide in an MMA gran prix event called Sparta.  It's a single elimination tournament with a $5 million dollar purse for the winner.  This is the incentive Brendan needs to keep his home out of foreclosure.  This is the incentive Tommy needs to aid the family of a fallen soldier he promised to support.  This movie takes you on an emotional ride as you are pulled into rooting for both brothers as they fight for their respective causes.  As the brothers clash in an unlikely finals match-up the tension is at its height. 

It is undeniably an unforgettable and exciting finish.  When the rubber hits the road this film is about human emotions, not really about fighting.  It illustrates the importance of a child's environment.  Children are a blank slate who are formed and shaped by their experiences.  You take two sons who have similar experiences.  One lives with rage and resentment and the other tries to live his life exactly opposite of how he was raised.  All any child wants is their mother and father to love and respect each other and give them the attention and love all children deserve and need.  Oh, and when humans act like the flawed beings we are then forgiveness is the only way we get back on the path of healing. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  A casual moviegoer would be grabbed by the storyline.  I think even fight fans will buy into most of the fighting scenes.  I doubt a referee would allow someone to fight on with an obvious shoulder injury that prevents him from using his entire arm, but guys fight on with broken arms and hands as long as the referee is unaware. 

Although the final lines of the climax were a bit cheesy, it was touching nonetheless.  Don't forget to enjoy the bit of comic relief from Principal Zito (Kevin Dunn) who perfected this acting niche in the Transformers films.    

4.5 out of 5 Catfish Whiskers

Until later, take care...
Reel Rhino

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