Tag: poker

Top 5 Poker Movies

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If you love poker, casinos, or card games, then there’s a good chance that you’ve watched a few poker-related movies. The reason that poker is so compelling to watch is that it’s isn’t merely a game of chance: there’s skill involved. What’s more, the type of skill required is particularly amenable to on-screen representation.

There’s nothing quite like watching your favourite actor sweat as he or she gambles with high stakes, hoping to beat adversaries.

Many screenwriters and directors use poker games to heighten suspense in their movies. But the question remains: what are the top 5 poker movies of all time?

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TV Networks embrace poker . . . again

ESPN seems to cover every major sport these days, with soccer being the fastest growing part of the portfolio. It’s amazing how much impact ESPN can have when they “bless” a sport. With poker, we saw a huge explosion in popularity over the past 15 years, and the amount of poker on television certainly fueled that growth, with ESPN being a huge part of that. Viewers will be reminded of that now that the World Series of Poker is around the corner, and ESPN will have plenty of coverage across its various channels. The WSOP poker buzz takes the game to another level, and every sport/game needs a signature event to take the excitement to another level, but poker on TV has become much more than just an annual circus around this event.

Poker on television has grown for years, though the shenanigans by the feds has at times thrown some cold water on the poker boom. That hasn’t done much to slow down all of the various television outlets desperate for entertainment content, so finding a poker game on TV usually hasn’t been that difficult. But the uncertainty surrounding the federal regulatory climate has had an some impact on the game. It’s always a buzz kill when big name sites get into a fight with the feds.

Now things are heating up again, as recent court decisions have basically given a green light to the states to set up their own regulatory frameworks. Unfortunately the dysfunction in Washington has made it impossible to get uniform rules throughout the country, but state actions are reinvigorating the poker movement.

Meanwhile, the television big wigs are paying attention, and we’re going to see another big push into poker content. Showtime will air the 2009 documentary “All In – The Poker Movie” about how poker became part of the mainstream culture in the US. This will be the TV premiere of this film. More TV shows like “Queens are Wild,” , a new reality show from NBC Universal is another example. It will follow four female poker players around the world. Babes and poker – we agree that’s probably a winning formula!

So get ready for the next TV poker boom!

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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