Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: poker movies

“Poker Face:” The Russell Crowe Movie (Not the Lady Gaga Song)

We rented “Poker Face,” Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, on the advice of someone who identified herself as a Russell Crowe fan.

The synopsis for the film read as follows:  “A tech billionaire hosts a high-stakes poker game between friends, but the evening takes a turn when long-held secrets are revealed, an elaborate revenge plot unfolds, and thieves break in.”

I was glad I had read that Russell Crowe, portraying Jake Foley (the billionaire), had a terminal disease (pancreatic cancer). It took quite a while for this plot point to make its way to the screen. In that interim, the plot moved very slowly and there were far too many characters to try to follow the misdeeds or betrayals of each and every one of them.

Who were these boyhood friends that Russell summons to his expensive lair high above Sydney to play poker (and, as it turn out, to poison them)?

Mikey (Michael Nankervis), played by Liam Hemsworth, a fellow Australian actor.

Drew – (Andrew Johnson), played by RZA.

Paul – Steve Bastoni as Paul Muccino.

Alex – Aden Young as Alex Harris.

Sam (McIntyre) played by Daniel MacPherson.

That is way too many “leads” to follow in such the necessary amount of depth to find out who has done what to Russell to justify his inviting them all to his luxury penthouse to play high stakes poker.

The female lead is the wife of Liam Hemsworth’s older brother Chris: Elsa Patacky as Penelope.

Other main female characters were Brooke Satchwell as Nicole Foley and Molly Grace as Rebecca Foley.

The leader of a group that breaks into the billionaire’s house to rob him was Paul Tassone as Victor.

For me, there were too many characters to keep track of and some of the important plot points (like Jake Foley’s terminal illness) were not clear immediately. It also seemed as though there were two plots competing for attention. Wouldn’t the poker game and Russell Crowe’s vengeance against his old friends have been enough? Did we really need the additional gang of thugs planning to rob the tech billionaire at the very moment they are assembled in the luxurious penthouse to play poker?

The film had many musings on one’s mortality, including these scripted lines:

“All living things die.”

“Answers don’t always have the structure we expect. Sometimes the insistence of the question can drown out the response. Let’s go and untie some knots.”

“You will know when it’s time.”

“Opening up to others is one thing. Opening up to yourself may be hard.”

“Some people take comfort in knowing that they have some means of control.”

“They might not be the best decisions I’ve ever made, but at least I won’t live to regret them.”

Russell’s advice to his daughter:  “Friendship and love start when you forgive imperfections. Listen to Drew the most.” (from the reading of the will).

If you want a more thrilling recent Russell Crowe film to stream try “Unhinged,” instead. It was the first film we saw after movie theaters opened up again post pandemic. It is best compared to “Duel.”

Best Poker Movies of the Past 25 Years

When it comes to movies,  setting can be everything.

Movies about love, conflict, redemption (and any other theme) are judged as much by where and when they’re set as on their themes.  Take “Titanic,” for example.  It’s a love story, but it is set against the backdrop of that well-known tragic disaster, adding to the poignancy of the romance.

“Forrest Gump” was the biggest live action film of 1994. This Tom Hanks/Robin Wright/Sally Field film utilized multiple locations to present a complicated tale of equality and acceptance. “Forrest Gump” was popularized using numerous nods to history, including some instances in which star Tom Hanks is inserted into actual photographs of the time, “Zelig” style. Along with references to Elvis Presley, there were historical references that made the movie accessible to any audience and helped emphasize Director Robert Zemeckis’ messages. (I met Robert Zemeckis in Chicago when he was publicizing the 2012 film “Flight” with Denzel Washington.)

Choosing the right backdrop and setting can make or break a film.

Poker is a setting writers use to accentuate tension. When poker is included in a film, it can leave you feeling like you have been dealt a royal flush. Worldwide, it is a popular game, with complex rules. Audiences are generally familiar with common poker terms and rules, which helps sell the film. Taking the tension of a high stakes poker game and interpreting it in writing, however, can be a difficult task. But when poker is incorporated skillfully into the plot of a film, it can enhance the viewing experience.

The iconic poker movie  was “Rounders,” released in 1998. The film featured Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Gretchen Mol in a plot that IMDB.com describes this way: “A young, reformed gambler must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks, while balancing his relationship with his girlfriend and  his commitments to law school.”

That classic aside, here are three of the best, albeit, lesser-known poker films of the past 25 years:

“Finder’s Fee” (2001) dropped just before the original poker boom, which changed poker overnight.
Rather than raising the stakes, it folded quickly, which is a real shame. This Ryan Reynolds, James Earl Jones, Matthew Lillard film is overlooked among poker films. The central character finds a $6 million winning lottery ticket. The twist come when he finds himself embroiled in a backroom poker game where the stake is a simple lottery ticket. The action takes place over a single night.

Released in 2017, “Molly’s Game” is the best poker movie to hit  screens in the past five
years. It features Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, the real-life organizer of illicit poker games between high profile stars.
The film is based on Molly Bloom’s book of the same name and was Aaron Sorkin’s (“The West Wing”) directorial debut.
Kevin Costner and Idris Elba also appeared in the all-star cast with characters based on real-life poker-playing personalities, such as Tobey Maguire. Michael Cera (Player X) and Jeremy Strong, Emmy-nominated this year for his role as Kendall Roy in “Succession,”also were featured in the cast. “Molly’s Game” won several awards, including Best Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin at AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards.  It is just one of many Jessica Chastain strong roles that were overlooked prior to her Oscar win last year for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” (“Take Shelter” was another, in support of Michael Shannon.)

“Lucky You” (2007) attempted to seize upon the popularity of poker during the boom. Filmed on location in Las Vegas, $58 million was invested in this story of Huck Cheever (Eric Bana), a young talented poker player who made it to the World Series of Poker while striving to move out of the shadow of his poker-playing father (Robert Duvall). The movie made only $8.4 million at the box office, opening opposite “Spider-Man 3.” Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, and Robert Duvall starred, directed by Curtis Hanson (“8 Mile,” “L.A. Confidential”) who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”). As with “Rounders,” the film has stood the test of time, although it did not find an audience at the time of its release.


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