Hidden Netflix Gems – The Grand

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

While most sports movies tend to take themselves very seriously, with triumphant underdogs and platitude-filled speeches in their third acts, some sports just inherently lend themselves to comedy. Bowling is a great example of this, as evidenced by the success of films like the Farrelly brothers’ Kingpin and the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Poker is another, though the game itself is so relatively inactive that it’s debatable whether it should even be called a sport, and Zak Penn‘s underrated improvisational comedy The Grand takes full advantage of a poker tournament’s many humorous possibilities.

Similar to the revered work of Christopher Guest and his regular ensemble of actors in films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, Penn assembles a talented ensemble cast and gives them direction on who their characters are, then leaves the dialogue and the development of situations largely up to them. In fact, the poker tournament at the center of the film is a real tournament, and its outcome was undetermined in the script; the winner at the end of the film actually just beat the other actors, regardless of narrative expectations. This approach gives the film extra vitality and excitement, and with so much room to breathe, the cast creates lively, hilarious characters that often riff on and expand their real public personae.

Woody Harrelson stars as “One Eyed” Jack Faro, the owner of The Rabbit’s Foot casino, which he hopes to save by winning an annual tournament called The Grand. Of course, it is the drug-addled, 74-time divorcée Jack’s own bad investments and reckless behavior that has jeopardized his ownership of the casino in the first place, but despite his many vices, Jack is a charming and lovable rogue worth rooting for. His main competition in the tournament includes the Schwartzman twins, Larry (David Cross, who had a good real-life run on Celebrity Poker Showdown) and Lainie (Cheryl Hines); the Rain Man-like genius Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell, best known as 30 Rock‘s incompetent Dr. Leo Spaceman); and oblivious newcomer Andy Andrews (Richard Kind).

As funny and well-developed as all these primary characters are, however, it is the bit parts that really shine in The Grand. Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog brings a deadpan menace to his character, “The German,” a ruthless cheat who brings a small menagerie of animals with him to the casino’s hotel because, as he says, “To feel alive and to get this energy, it is essential for me to kill something each day.” Dennis Farina is also particularly memorable as LBJ “Deuce” Fairbanks, a Las Vegas veteran nostalgic for a less family-friendly time in the city’s history; as he fondly remembers it, “It was a place where the Jews and the blacks had to enter the casinos through rear entrances. By the way, on this corner right here, I stabbed a bum.” Though barely released in theaters and largely ignored, The Grand is a consistently funny, anarchistic good time for poker fans and novices alike.

  

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Friday trailer #1: So how big a b.o. 3D bump will Will Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” get?

I’m way busy and way behind, so this week’s Friday movie news dump will have to itself be dumped. Nevertheless, I’ve got time for trailers. Also, yes, when you start mentioning grosses in connection with a Werner Herzog documentary about miraculously well-preserved cave paintings, you’ve definitely been writing too much about movie box office.

In any case, here’s a trailer for “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” the latest documentary from Herzog which really will be in 3D. Take a look.

h/t Movieline.

  

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A Roundtable Chat with the Cast and Director of “Saw 3D”

In 2003, director James Wan and screenwriter Lee Whannell put together a short film featuring a man with a rusty metal “reverse beartrap” on his head and a creepy-looking puppet in hopes that someone would take a chance on this film script they’d written.

Someone did.

Eight years later, the “Saw” franchise is reportedly coming to a close, and although the history of the horror genre – specifically, the fourth “Friday the 13th” film – has taught us that no chapter is ever truly final, they’re at least trying to make us think they’re going out with a bang, eschewing a straightforward “Saw VII” and instead offering fans an additional dimension of gory fun with “Saw 3D.”

Although the studio is predictably taking a pass on providing press screenings for the film (since everyone knows it’s going to be critic-proof, anyway), director Kevin Greutert and a trio of actors from the cast – Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell – turned up at the New York Comic Con to do a series of roundtable interviews for members of the media.

The demand to chat with these folks were significant, as you might imagine, so in order to maximize our time while working with minimal space, both the interviewers and the interviewees were split into two groups, with the interviewees switching groups after 15 minutes.

First up, Costas Mandylor and Kevin Greutert…

Journalist: So there’s, like, a volcano eruption of 3D films out there now, with the whole “take that and run with it” Hollywood attitude. What sets this one apart from other 3D horror films?

Kevin Greutert: Well, for one thing, this film was actually shot in 3D. We didn’t do a post-conversion like a lot of the other movies that have come out lately. I think that shooting it in 3D makes all the difference in the world, so it just looks that much better. This was shot with state-of-the-art cameras that are a lot more lightweight than any previous 3D films, so we were able to preserve the “Saw” style of doing a lot of stuff handheld and keeping the camera moving around a lot and very dynamic. Because technology is advancing so quickly, we were able to just take advantage on all aspects.

Journalist: Has 3D changed the blocking of the set and what you’re actually doing in the film?

KG: Yeah, it affects the way we block the scene, because we want to maximize the feeling of depth in the image, even if it’s not an in-your-face moment where stuff’s flying into the camera. We still wanted it to look as rich and full of space as possible.

Journalist: At what point in the production process was the decision made that the film was going to be in 3D? Was that from the outset, or did that happen…

KG: It was decided…that was probably the very first decision made on the film, and I had actually hoped even before we made “Saw V” to direct “Saw VI” in 3D but wasn’t able to make that work. So by the time “Saw VII” came along, now there’s enough infrastructure in terms of theaters that are equipped with 3D equipment to go forward, and…yeah, no one ever thought twice about doing it in 3D.

Journalist: How does 3D enhance the storyline?

KG: Well, I don’t know how much it actually plays into the story. There’s a bit of self-reference in the opening scene of the movie, which is the first “Saw” scene that takes place in broad daylight, with a big crowd watching one of Jigsaw’s big contraptions at play. There’s, I think, a little bit of an implicit message about horror audiences watching voyeuristically. 3D, I think, just kind of takes that to another level.

Journalist: Costas, what keeps bringing you back to this franchise?

Costas Mandylor: You know what? In a way, luck. And the character seems to have worked. And, you know, when you collaborate with people like Kevin and a couple of the other guys before him, and you know what you’re doing together, it’s a comfortable situation where you don’t have to get really… (Hesitates) I mean, some guys in life are a pain in the ass, and they die. “Saw” does that really easy. I committed to it as best as I could, and spending time with Tobin (Bell) and seeing how committed he was to keeping a certain standard, not letting the fans down was really important to him, so it wasn’t just going to a gig, doing my thing, and leaving. I actually paid attention. There’s a great example of…when I first started, I think it was in “IV,” he had a great idea for a scene and he called me at, like, 11:30 at night. He goes… (Does a Tobin Bell growl) “Hey, Costas, are you awake?” Jigsaw’s calling me at midnight on the phone. I’m in trouble here. (Laughs) I went to see him…reluctantly…but we spent some time together, and the scene…that was a really long scene that we did, with the gun to the…? It just worked beautifully, because he put the effort in and forced me to be okay with putting in my ideas as well. So I’m still here ‘til the end of this one, and…we don’t even know the endings. But for now, I’m in.

KG: We have more control over Costas by not letting his character die. (Laughs) We hold that over his head every year.

Journalist: But that doesn’t keep Tobin from coming back!

KG: (Laughs) He has more screen time dead than he did alive!

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Movies news on a Monday night

Direct from the Starbucks at Pico & Robertson…

Jon Hamm in * Rumors have been circulating for at least a week that Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” and now “The Town” is being considered to play Superman. I’m a huge fan of the guy, but count me among those who think he’s a bit old to play an eternally youthful superguy, if there’s going to be more than one movie anyhow. Kal-El is not Tony Stark. In any case, apparently someone else who it appears did turn down the role of Superman director was Guillermo del Toro. Actually, if they ever make a movie set in the Bizarro world, del Toro would be the guy. Otherwise, I don’t see it at all and, it seems, neither did del Toro.

* In terms of film biz transactions, the Toronto International Film Festival surprised everyone and did rather well with numerous indie films being purchased for release. What doe it mean? Mike Fleming sees a modified return of the indie market, though with a thriftier than ever edge.

* The first casting news has come for the J.J. Abrams’ science fiction Steven Spielberg homage/collaboration, “Super 8.” Naturally, one of the stars is a young person — Elle Fanning. The other is closer to my age and is best known for his TV work. No, it’s not Abe Vigoda, but Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights.”

* Speaking of people in my general age cohort who can’t escape their youth, Keanu Reeves is apparently getting colleauges like Alex Winter ready to do a middle-aged edition of the “Bill & Ted” epic. As actors go, Reeves may not be a Philip Seymour Hoffman-level thespian, but he really excels at certain kinds of comedy and I’m board for this. He does a pretty good Werner Herzog, besides.

* Tim Burton is going back to where he started as a director with a stop-motion version of his career-starting live-action short, “Frankenweenie.” The voice cast has just been announced and it will include Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, and SCTV alums Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short.

* Did anybody out there ask for a “Timecop” reboot? Simon Brew is game.

* Re: l’affaire du Hulk back in July, Edward Norton continues to kill Marvel’s Kevin Feige with perhaps not kindness, but civility. Ouch.

* I beg to differ with Sarah Silverman, her “full frontal” nude scene will be pretty. Very pretty.

sarah_silverman

* I’ve seen movies in some mighty small “shoebox” multiplex theaters and screening rooms, but if you’re wondering how small a movie theater can be, this promotion for “Buried” answers the question.

* As I write this I’m getting ready to watch the multi-director documentary “Freakonomics” for free. You however, may pay as little as a penny and as much as a $100 to see it this Wednesday. It’s your choice. Still, we know there’ s no such thing as a truly free, or almost free, anything and, as with writers like myself, some effort is expected in return. Details here.

  

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Without Werner Herzog, it might have been called “I’m Not Here”

Okay, actually it wouldn’t have been called anything because Joaquin Phoenix might well be dead or at least in no shape to engage in elaborate hoaxes/performance art like “I’m Still Here.”

I’ve long known the remarkable only-in-L.A. tale of how world-class auteur/raconteur Werner Herzog, the actual most interesting man in the world, helped Phoenix on a windy canyon road above Sunset Blvd. However, until I saw what’s below, I’ve never heard it from Herzog’s own lips and I’ve never seen it animated. Therefore, my thanks to Roger Ebert and filmmaker Sascha Ciezata for the video below.

I’m not sure if I remember the bit about the cigarette, which is pretty crucial if you think about it. It wasn’t included in the early accounts from Phoenix. It’s also worth noting that while it’s funnier to imagine this happening with the bloated, bearded faux rapper Phoenix, this was actually back in 2006, long before he sported that look. Also, does Herzog really drive a VW Bug?

  

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