Warrior

After the debut of last year’s criminally underseen and severely underrated Warrior, writer and director Gavin O’Connor did manage to find one major silver lining – the adoration of scads of brand new fans who loved his film and wanted to see more of his work. Fortunately, while Warrior went without much of the notice it deserved, O’Connor has not, as the filmmaker has been steadily lining up work in the months since the film hit theaters. Next up, Universal Pictures has picked the director to helm Yakuza, “a contemporary Japan-set thriller” that focuses on “an American intelligence expert who becomes embroiled in the affairs of a notorious yakuza godfather and finds himself plunged into the violent criminal underworld and toxic landscape of post-tsunami Japan.” The film’s script was penned by Chap Taylor (Changing Lanes), but O’Connor will now rewrite it, along with Josh Fagin. Imagine Entertainment and Brian Grazer are producing. While that storyline sounds a bit done-before, setting it in a modern time period adds some intrigue and, paired with O’Connor’s knack for getting emotional performances out of beefy brawlers, Yakuza could end up being something special.

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It’s been a year filled with silent screen stars seeking redemption, the 1920s coming alive in Paris, a young boy searching for the first great director, sex addicts in New York City, horses going to war, maids of dishonor, and skulls getting crushed in elevators. Now it’s time to celebrate all of those things and more with the 84th annual Academy Awards. They’ve come a long way since the Hotel Roosevelt in 1929 (although sex addicts have almost always been a fixture). Get to ready to smile, ball your fists with snubbed rage, or be generally unsurprised. Here they are. The 2012 Oscar nominees:

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Hundreds of movies are released each year in theaters or straight to DVD, and a large percentage of them suck. A much smaller group though are fantastic slices of cinema that thrill, excite, invigorate and entertain, and while some of them are recognized at the box office many more are left to die a quick and undeserved death. And it’s essentially your fault. Of course I don’t mean you specifically, but instead I’m referring to the average American movie-goer who chose not to see these movies in the theater. They ignored the critical acclaim, reviews and recommendations from sites like ours and instead bought multiple tickets for the latest Twilight or Transformers movie. So while it’s too late to affect their box office returns (most of them anyway), Jack Giroux and Rob Hunter have put together a list of eleven movies that deserved far better treatment in 2011.

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This started out as a list of overrated movies, but we (“we” being Rob Hunter and Kevin Carr, rabblerousers) decided fairly quickly that “overrated” is an overused and abused term. Who are we, or anyone, to tell you that you like a movie too much? It’s a rude thing to say regardless of whether or not we’re right. But thanks to the internet sometimes one person’s exuberance can find a virtual megaphone in all the tubes and anonymous users online, and that misguided praise can become deafening. And yes, we’re just as guilty as the rest of you…especially in regard to our first pick below. To be clear, most of these are not bad movies. The majority of them are actually good. But none of them deserved the near-constant accolades that seemed to echo from one corner of the web to another ad nauseum. So without further ado, pomp, or circumstance, here are 11 12 movies (in alphabetical order) you people wouldn’t shut up about in 2011. (**Note, there may be a few minor spoilers below.**)

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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The 10 Best Action Films of 2011

Some other sites or site runners may look down on lists, but those people are what are known as no-fun douche bags, because really, lists are awesome. They are short, easy to digest little morsels that you can wash down with a carbonated beverage, argue about, and take recommendations from. If you don’t like lists, you are worse than Hitler. You know what’s better than Hitler? Lots of stuff, like peanut butter cookies with little peanut butter cups pressed into them. That, and also these ten action movies, which are my favorite for the year. Yeah, you’ll probably disagree, so comment below or get your own damn website.

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This Week in DVD

It’s a fairly quiet week in the world of DVD releases, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some quality titles hitting shelves. Two fantastic films arrive today, and while they barely made a ripple at the box office that doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time. Other movies out today include the wonderfully suspenseful Julia’s Eyes, the ridiculously overrated Midnight In Paris, the just plain ridiculous Columbiana and more. As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Warrior Two men, one a high school teacher with a family (Joel Edgerton) and the other an ex-Marine hero (Tom Hardy), find themselves on different paths to the same goal: winning a high-profile MMA tournament and the large cash prize that goes with it. The story moves back and forth between the men and their situations until they finally merge together in the ring. Sports stories in general aren’t really my thing, but I do enjoy a tale well told. Director Gavin O’Connor and his two leads (as well as supporting player Nick Nolte) fill the film with heart, great character and honest suspense. Most surprising of all, both men have an equal shot at victory and viewers will be thrilled and satisfied whichever way it ends. Lots of fantastic films were missed by audiences by year, but this is one underdog that deserves a second shot at victory. Check out Robert Levin’s full review.

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The Holiday Gift Guide: DVD and Blu-ray

Merry Christmas movie/TV/goat-cheese lovers! As part of our week-long gift guide extravaganza thingamajig we’ve put together a list of Blu-rays, DVD and a few other ideas for you to use when shopping for others or for putting on your own Christmas list. Or both. Some of the films below are from years past, but they all hit Blu-ray and/or DVD this year so they totally count for this gift guide. Click on the links to be magically transported to Amazon, AmazonUK and other places where lovely things can be found.

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If I told you a couple years ago that a movie about two MMA-fighting, down-on-their-luck brothers who inexplicably enter into a professional fighting tournament and subsequently beat all of the best in the world to face each other in the finals was really good and you should check it out, you probably would have looked at me like I was stupid. But then Warrior came out, and it had Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton in it, so we checked it out despite the ridiculous premise, and it actually turned out to be a fine little film. It’s funny how the world works. While the performances were definitely my favorite part of Warrior, I must admit that the movie had a subtle touch when dealing with potentially cheesy material, and that went a long way toward keeping me along for the ride. Credit for that, and the casting for that matter, has to be largely given to director Gavin O’Connor. So now this guy finds himself on my radar. I’m going to be following whatever he does next very closely. And according to Deadline Suffolk, the next thing he’s going to be doing is a movie called The Samurai, which he co-wrote with Michael J. Wilson and has sold as a spec script to Warner Bros. for six figures and change.

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The Reject Report

I may have spoken a little too soon about the Circle of Life in this week’s Reject Report. The Circle of Life isn’t complete until a 17-year-old film, The Lion King in this case, gets re-released in 3D on over 2,300 screens and subsequently takes the box office by storm. That’s right. More than 17 years after its initial run, which pulled in $825.7m worldwide, The Lion King has Hakuna Matata’ed in the #1 spot yet again. It didn’t match the $34.2m opening weekend numbers it made the first weekend of July in 1994, but it came reasonably close. Close enough to let Disney as well as anyone who even had an inkling of an idea to re-release an older film in 3D know that that might be the way to go. Just five weekend ago article were being written about the possible demise of 3D. With films like Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night not living up to expectations, it seemed the novelty of seeing films that literally come at you may have been at its frayed end. Of course, you can’t give 3D all the credit for The Lion King stacking up against the competition. The film is a classic, regarded by many as one of Disney’s best, and the children of 1994 who fell in the love with the film are now taking their own kids to watch it. Even without the 3D element it’s a formula for success, one made even more potent with the added […]

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The Reject Report

I thought about opening this Reject Report with a play on the lyrics to “Circle of the Life.” A certain Disney classic is getting its re-release in 3-D this weekend, and you know how we love playing around with lyrics here at the Reject Report. But then we witnessed Ryan Gosling wearing leather driving gloves. Never mind the white bomber jacket complete with scorpion embroidered on the back. Those gloves are what we focused on. Then, after about 45 minutes of staring, we remembered we have a job to do. There’s box office analyses that need to be…um…analyzed, and four new wide releases to split the box office dollars between them. Two R-rated thrillers, that Disney classic that’s getting a re-release on over 2300 screens, and a rom-com starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Over/under on how many words I give that movie.

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The Reject Report

America had a fever…and the only cure…was more fever. Not cowbell this time. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion hit audience wallets hard this weekend bringing the director his biggest opening outside of films starring Julia Roberts. Maybe there is something to that American darling. Contagion was pretty well on par with analysis, knocked The Help off of its three-week pedestal, and ended up taking the #1 spot with a feverish vengeance. Okay, enough quips about sickness. Well maybe one or two more. As far as disaster movies go, the $60m star-studded film was pretty middle of the road, fitting in as far as opening weekends go between Poseidon‘s $22.1m and Knowing‘s $24.6m. Of course, looking at that reported budget, you can tell the film will be just fine in the long run. Most of the disaster films that have much bigger openings are Summer blockbusters, most of them involving some sort of alien being blowing up national monuments. But Soderbergh proved that even with a whimper you can create an effective end-of-the-world scenario and still rake in some decent cash.

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In the wrong hands, Warrior could have been a disaster. If a few beats in Gavin O’Connor‘s family drama missed the mark even in the slightest, the final result could have been a sports parody. Despite playing in familiar territory, the Miracle and Pride and Glory director didn’t make that parody. Instead, the filmmaker strived to be as honest as possible with the material at hand. In doing so, he’s made an underdog of a film that’s, ironically, about underdogs. Like his previous works, O’Connor explores the meaning of brotherhood, family, and overcoming insurmountable odds. The trick for O’Connor was to make those well-known — drama, not sports — tropes believable. Here’s what co-writer and director Gavin O’Connor had to say about striving for realism, telling personal stories in mass appeal films, and love stories among men:

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr heads into the MMA ring to battle Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, after being trained by a strung-out Nick Nolte who looks like he’s ready to have an aneurysm at any moment. Then he is sent into a bird flu panic when someone coughs on him at the airport. Not wanting to suffer the same fate as Gwenyth Paltrow, he takes a road trip down to the Louisiana bayou where he runs into a hillbilly redneck alligator mutant. But at least he didn’t have to see Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.

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Critics love to bemoan the high concept Hollywood production, those movies with an easily comprehended hook that seems ready-made for the pitch meeting. Their disgust is often justifiable. After all, these are usually safe, creatively bankrupt cliché fests, the scourge of the corporately-run studios. At first glance, Warrior — one-part Cain and Abel, one part Rocky and one part a blatant cash-in on the Mixed Martial Arts phenomenon — appears to be just such a flick. But when it comes to a picture’s most basic purpose — entertaining its audience — an easily definable premise doesn’t necessarily spell doom. When the commonplace is done well, with real feeling and strong characterizations, it can still seem fresh. Director Gavin O’Connor, who achieved that effect with his 1980 Winter Olympics hockey drama Miracle, does it again here. The premise is familiar — estranged blue collar brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) hash out their differences against the backdrop of an athletic competition (MMA tournament). The passion imbued in the storytelling and the performances, however, is not.

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I’m not usually interested in writing stories about photos. Most of the time, especially when you’re not dealing with a superhero film, there’s not much room for speculation or any sort of interesting commentary. With these behind the scenes pics for Warrior, not much can be said about them. However, I’ll take any chance I can get to discuss Gavin O’Connor‘s family drama, because it’s just that good. To make an easy comparison, it’s this year’s The Fighter. They are different films, but one big fact they both have in common? They’re genuine crowd-pleasers. Warrior never panders to please. It, mostly, features well-earned drama that wins you over. If you need to feel secure about yourself, make sure to checkout how flabby and out of shape Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton look here. God, I feel bad for these guys.

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No, no, this is not a free contest. It’s even better: an auction for The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. So if you want a Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton signed Warrior poster, you have to bid for it and do some good. If the awesome actors duo signature and that it’s for charity doesn’t convince any of you bums, perhaps the fact that Warrior is excellent might. Having just seen the film last night, I’m still surprised by how effective it is. It’s a great comeback for Gavin O’Connor, who directed the solid Miracle and the big, big misfire Pride and Glory – the movie where Colin Farrell held a steaming iron right next to a baby’s face, then went on to call the baby beautiful after doing so. Yes, this is indeed a big step forward for O’Connor. Warrior is a true crowd-pleaser, and not the dopey kind. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are fantastic in it too, so even more reason to buy the poster before the auction closes. Head over to Ebay before the sale closes at about 5 p.m. (ET). Go get a cool signed poster for a lovely film and giveback, it’s a win-win.

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Consider this a gift of sorts. Sometimes the stars align and guys like Tom Hardy (Bronson) and Joel Edgerton (The Square), two men of talent on the verge of major stardom, get paired up together in a film with a more than capable director (Gavin O’Connor) working in a genre he’s known to be great with (sports films, a la Miracle). The result is Warrior, the subject of the following trailer. It’s the first Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) film trailer I’ve seen that has me interested. Not for the men beating each other to a collective pulp, but for the story it appears to be telling. Two brothers, hell bent on beating each other senseless in front of millions of people. Now that’s a story I can get behind. See the trailer for yourself after the jump.

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