It has been very quiet on the cinematic front with gambling and poker movies as of late. The last “gambling” film that saw wide release was a remake of The Gambler starring Mark Wahlberg (save your money, the better film was the 1974 version with James Caan starring), which was released at Christmastime in 2014. Now a trio of films – two theatric and one documentary – have come to the fore, depending on what you may like.
One that has been out for a bit is the movie Mississippi Grind. Starring Ryan Reynolds (soon to be seen in the upcoming superhero film Deadpool) and Ben Mendelsohn, the story is set around Mendelsohn, a broke gambler who is trying to change his luck. He meets up with Reynolds and, as the twosome work their way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and share their stories and experiences, they both make a few bucks amongst the adventures.
The film technically has been released, but if you blinked you might have missed it. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival back in January of this year, Mississippi Grind was released to a limited number of cities on September 25. Three weeks later, it premiered on Video on Demand channels across the United States. Why it didn’t have a longer life span in the theaters isn’t known as it has received decent reviews; the website Rotten Tomatoes has it with an 89% rating based on 90 reviews and a 7.4 out of 10 average rating.
There is a film set for release on December 4 that has a smidgen of poker related to its plotline. The theatrical release Cold Deck is slated to hit theaters that day with a cast that is pretty much unknown except for veteran character actor Paul Sorvino. The co-writer of the film, Stefano Gallo, stars as the main character Bobby Locke, who goes broke in a poker game. With his mother in need of pricey medical attention, Locke conjures up a plan to rob a group of businessmen when they play poker at a local club owned by Sorvino’s character, Chips.
Of course, it can be expected that something goes wrong. The game is run by a gangster who sets out to take revenge on the thieves, at which point the poker theme of the movie is pretty much finished except for bad clichés. At this time, Cold Deck has not earned any reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and there is little buzz on any other movie websites.
If the theatrical releases are leaving you less than excited, then the documentary that is now up for viewing might be your cup of tea. Entitled Freeway City, the documentary was released earlier this week on the Vimeo video service for the decent price of “FREE.” Focusing on the birth of the California card room industry in the 1930s, the documentary examines the man who opened the first card room in Gardena, Ernie Primm, and the development of the California industry since that time.
There has been a dearth of good poker films and/or documentaries pretty much since 2013. Several outstanding documentaries, including All In: The Poker Movieand Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker, both hit well with the poker audience. The theatrical release of Runner Runner, from the same men who wrote Rounders, failed to connect with the audience, however, despite having such star power as Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake on the screen.
It is going to be a tough road for any poker film to capture the essence of the game of poker without setting up outlandish Hollywood-style situations or endings. Perhaps the future for poker is in the documentary route as there are plenty of subjects that could be tackled; what may be lacking is the producers and filmmakers willing to delve into that type of subject or the genre, however. Outside of Cold Deck in a week, there is little in the well for 2016 when it comes to poker movies.