"In the case of an earthquake hitting Las Vegas, be sure to go straight to the Keno Lounge. Nothing ever hits there."
There's lots of poker on TV these days and the vast majority of it is pap like Celebrity Poker Showdown. Instead of dropping off, why don't you make it a Blockbuster night and rent one of these examples of celluloid poker at its very finest?
For some, this is where it all started. Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a law student who gives up his true talent, poker, when he loses all of his money to Russian mobster Teddy KGB (played memorably by John Malkovich) in a high stakes game of No Limit Texas Holdem. When his friend Worm (Edward Norton) is released from jail and is on a strict deadline to repay a $15K debt to Teddy, Mike has to decide between helping his friend and jeapordising both his studies and his relationship with his girlfriend, Jo (Gretchen Mol). If you've ever wondered why people at your table were fond of saying "Veeerry aggreeasive" then watch this and wonder no more. The essential 'must-see' Poker movie.
Three small-time grifters come up with an ambitious plan to overcome the ultimate card mechanic - known simply as 'The Dean' (played convincingly by Stallone) - in this story of of L.A.'s underground gambling scene. Gabriel Byrne, Melanie Griffith and the extremely yummy Thandie Newton also star in this stylish film in which sleight of hand and shady alliances keep the viewer guessing right until the final hand is shown down. 'The Cincinatti Kid' meets 'Tilt' meets 'The Sting'. Despite the fact that this one went straight to video IMHO the producers did a pretty good job with this film, the card tricks will definitely impress, and the ending has more than one surprise in store...
On the way to New York City, James Nashe (Mandy Patinkin) stops at the side of the road to offer a lift to a beat-up and bedraggled stranger. The man turns out to be Jack Pozzi (James Spader), a young road-gambler. As the two get to talking, Pozzi tells Nashe of a recent robbery that lost him the $10K he was going to use in an upcoming 'sure thing' poker game. Intrigued by the idea of making some quick, easy money, Nashe offers Pozzi a proposition: he'll advance him the 10K he needs to sit down if all the profits get split 50/50. The deal is struck and the two head off to the rural Pennsylvania residence of Flower and Stone (Charles Durning and Joel Grey), where the game begins. Unfortunately they get more than they bargained for...
'The real poker movie. Made by a real poker player'. That's what their website says anyway. The Big Blind co-stars Scotty Nguyen and Jennifer Harman and features a brief cameo by Daniel Negreanu. It offers its audience a brief glimpse into the lives of various poker players who frequent a run-down poker room in the Lake Elsinore Casino, and to be painfully honest it has something of a B-movie feel to it. You don't develop any real empathy for any of the characters, and it struggles to hold the attention. I fell asleep no less than 3 times whilst watching which is probably not a very good testament to the storyline. Having said that, it was amusing at times, so if you've nothing better to watch, go for it.
Newman in one of his most memorable screen roles as the stubborn, tough and non-conformist Luke of the title. Luke Jackson is arrested by the police early one morning for cutting down parking meters. His justification for this senseless act of vandalism? "Small town, not much to do in the evening". His punishment? Two years on a prison farm chain gang (they didn't mess about in those days)! Luke stubbornly refuses to bow down before any of the difficulties he later encounters, and his defiance earns him the respect of his fellow inmates but not of the guards nor of the prison governor. Defiant to the end, Luke eventually forces a tragic confrontation between himself and the system he so rebels against. Probably best remembered for the poker scene in which Luke bluffs another player off a hand with nothing, but as we all know "sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand"
A Western with no gunslinging, no saloon fights, no Indians and no bad guys in black hats - how bloody good can that be? Well, pretty damn good is the answer. Henry Fonda plays Meredith, a compulsive gambler turned homesteader, who finds himself drawn into a high stakes poker game with some wealthy cattlemen and puts his family's entire fortune at stake. When he gets dealt a hand which he is sure can't lose and the stakes get too high for him to stay in the game he suffers a heart attack at the table and Mary, his long-suffering wife steps up to the plate. A clever plot, distinguished cast, and some top notch acting make for a great film which holds the attention throughout, all the way to the surprise ending! Recomended viewing, but if you haven't seen this film yet (and don't have Turner Classic Movies) you might just have to wait until they do the transfer to DVD 'cos at the mo you can only get it in NTSC format. For shame.
Probably best remembered for the sleight of hand scenes (where John Scarne's hands double for Newman's) and the unforgettable honky-tonk ragtime jazz piano sequences, The Sting deservedly won no less than 7 Academy Awards (including the one for Best Picture). Robert Redford and Paul Newman star in probably their most memorable roles yet (second only to 'Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid') as Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff, a pair of Chicago con artists who find themselves involved in (amongst other things) a high stakes poker game against New York mob boss Doyle Lonnegan when they set out to avenge the murder of fellow grifter and mutual friend, Luther Coleman. A classic.
OK, OK, there's not a whole lot of poker in this film, but it IS the poker right at the beginning of the film which most people remember, and which becomes the driving force for the rest of the film. When Eddie, Soap, Tom and Bacon lose £500,000 in a rigged poker game with London porn king and mob-boss "Hatchet" Harry they find themselves involved in a race against time to raise the cash before Big Chris (a career-kick-starting performance by Vinnie Jones) removes their fingers. The film also humorously follows the paths of countless other groups of criminals whose paths cross (and re-cross) more than once during the course of the film. All this and one of my mate's brothers is in it (he plays one of Harry's thugs). Go buy it.
OK, OK, it's the small screen not the BIG screen and it's been soundly slagged off in the 2+2 forums in addition to, well, just about everywhere, but Tilt was (and is) undisputably about poker, so it's worth a mention here for that reason alone. An ESPN offering, capitalizing on the current poker craze and from the same writers who gave us Rounders, Tilt brings poker's underground elements to the goggle box. It's the story of "The Matador" (played by Michael Madsen), who dominates the game more through his alliances with players, casino owners, and the police than through his poker skills. Look out for cameos by Daniel Negreanu, T.J. Cloutier, Phil Hellmuth, David Williams, and more!
Maverick is the story of Brett Maverick, a card-playing gunslinger (portrayed by Mel Gibson, visibly enjoying his role) who meets up with wily gambler Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and a famous marshal named Zane Cooper (played here by James Garner, who played the original Maverick in the TV series back in the 1960s). Maverick is on his way to a huge poker tournament being held in St. Louis, and the film follows the action - and laughs - that take place as he tries to raise the $5,000 required entry fee for the big game. Look out for the humorous cameo from Gibson's Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover when he and Gibson appear to recognise each other and then shake their heads 'Nah'. Quality.
'California Split' is probably Robert Altman's best film to date, and one not many people this side of the pond will have heard of, but it's well worth a looksee. George Segal and Elliott Gould star as Bill and Charlie, a couple of committed gamblers bouncing off one another as they traverse a landscape of poker rooms, race tracks, boxing rings and high-stakes 7-card poker games in their hunt for action. Sometimes they win, more often than not they lose and sometimes they just get beaten up. If you liked 'Rounders' you'll LOVE this film. Watch out especially for the cameo by the legendary poker player and gambler “Amarillo Slim” Preston. Sadly it's only available in NTSC format at this writing.
Set in depression-era New Orleans, the Cincinnati Kid is a gritty, realistic film whose primary focus is poker and the power of corruption (the latter comes mainly in the rather - erm - shapely form of Ann-Margret). 'The Kid' from the title is Eric Stone (a great performance by Steve McQueen), an up-and-comer on the local stud poker circuit who's trying to prove he's the best player in town. All he has to do to secure this reputation is to beat the best poker player in the country, Lancey Howard aka 'The Man' (played memorably by Edward G. Robinson) who just happens to be back in town. The film culminates in a classic high stakes poker showdown between the two protagonists. As one reviewer succinctly put it, this movie is to Rounders what The Hustler is to The Color of Money. Am I alone in saying this is one of the best films about poker ever made? I suspect not.
Kirsten Dunst plays Lidda Doyles, a young woman who hasn't seen her father Charlie (Caan) in many years. On her 18th birthday, however, Charlie sends her a cheque as a present, and Lidda, excited to finally hear from her dad again, heads off to Las Vegas to meet him face to face. On the way, she picks up Colonel (Kartheiser), a convenience store clerk who fancies himself a cool hand with a deck of cards. Once in Vegas, Lidda goes looking for Charlie, while Colonel ends up in a high stakes poker game. He wins, but that turns out to be bad luck on his part when he sees how Tony, the owner of a strip joint, reacts to losing a big hand. An OK fillum if you're a Kirsten Dunst fan, but bear in mind this went straight-to-video.
Does exactly what it says on the tin. This film covers the story of 3-time World Series of Poker winner Stuey 'The Kid' Ungar, from his his earliest days as a talented Gin Rummy specialist in New York's Lower East Side, through his golden days of poker and his historic (and as yet unequalled) three WSOP main event wins, to his ultimate decline and death in the Oasis motel in Las Vegas at the tender age of 45. With great poker scenes, a high degree of historic authenticity and a touching narrative, this is a must-see for poker enthusiasts and Ungar fans alike. Watch out for Vince Van Patten appearing as one of Stu's fellow poker pros. Only available in NTSC.
- "Behold the power of the Beer Hand!" -