the gambling flick

December 24, 2006

i finally caught Casino Royale. growing up I used to be a really big Bond fan, so it’s rather surprising that it took me this long to see it. still, it’s an improvement over the last bond. I didn’t even see “Die Another Day” in the theater, and fell asleep the first time I watched it on video. i’m pretty mixed on the Brosnan Bond. Goldeneye was really good, and I liked the next two when I saw them, but Goldeneye is the only one with any replay value. Brosnan was simply a corporate pitchman. it was good to see him mock his Bond portrayal in “the Matador.” it’s too bad he wasn’t allowed to be more playful with his Bond.

“Casino Royale” was good. weirdly paced, but good. i was actually surprised that there was as much gambling in the movie as there was. normally you’ld expect a movie called “Casino Royale” to have a ton of gambling, but considering the action heavy nature of the recent bonds, i expected CR to be a lot more like it’s first 30 minutes than anything else.

CR also fit into my recent gambling movie kick. it started out unintentionally, but now it’s in full swing. i’m even watching that ESPN show “Tilt” which probably should have been great, but was just too much. none of the characters are likeable, and i don’t want michael madson to be the bad guy.

so, in honour of Tilt’s dishonourable showing, my top 7-10 gambling movies (let’s see where i stop writing).

1. The Hustler

The Hustler is unquestionably one of the greatest movies of all time. Incredibly acted and executed. Silence on screen is rarely as compelling as it is in this film. Gambling movies are ultimately about flawed people and their attempts to pick up the pieces, and the Hustler handles its archetypes better than most other movies I’ve seen. A true classic.

2. The California Split

The California Split inadvertently started my Gambling kick. I rented it as part of my Altman retrospective, and got sucked into the Gambling milieu. Elliot Gould and George Segal are both terrific as gamblers on different life paths. Like in the Hustler, the Gambling in California Split is peripheral to the human stories. Real character development in this one. Though not the best of Altman’s ’70’s work, California Split is still a great movie. Btw, was there a greater movie star than a young Elliot Gould? This guy is just electric. What happened to him?

3. Rounders

I like it more than the next movie on this list, The Cincinnati Kid. Rounders is infinitely rewatchable. Fun and serious, with nary a dangling moment. One of Norton’s best roles. My biggest problem with the movie is the effect its had on Poker. nobody plays anything but Texas Hold’Em anymore.

4. The Cincinnati Kid

Ann Margret’s presence alone makes this a top five flick. If only there was more of her (wink wink). Most of the movie is a bit slow, but the ending is electric, and perfectly filmed. Add in Steve McQueen, and one of the best title songs in history, and you’ve got a hit. The real problem with TCK is it’s lack of character development. Everyone’s flat in this movie.

5. Croupier

This movie could easily have been higher. Clive Owen knows how to fill out a Tuxedo, and the movie doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. A wonderful genre pick, with good twists along the way. Props for spreading the word Croupier to the American world.

6. The Color of Money

Though a poor substitute for the Hustler, the Color of Money has some great moments, and a deceptively great performance by Newman. Though his Oscar was clearly a make-up award, his acting job is nuanced and splenetic in this movie.

7. The Deer Hunter

Only this low on the list because the movie isn’t about Gambling, per se. The Deer Hunter is also at the top of my wedding movie list, and prison list. At the bottom of Vietnam movies, though.

And that’s all the juice my computer’s got. I’ll try and expand the list when I have time.

word of the day: croupier

December 24, 2006

inspired by the glut of gambling movies i’ve been watching recently (stay tuned for my next post), today’s word is “croupier.”

croupier comes from the French, “croupier”, which means “one who rides behind on the croup.” the word eventually comes to mean, “one who assists at the game of basset” (basset? thankfully wikipedia is here to help. Basset “is a card game that was considered one of the most polite card games, and only fit for persons of the highest rank to play at, on account of the great losses or gains that might accrue on one side or the other. It is said that Basset was invented by a noble Venetian, who was punished with exile for the contrivance. see for more info) and eventually one who assists at any card game.

nowadays, the word primarily refers to ” n.   An attendant at a gaming table who collects and pays bets. ” (AHD). interestingly, the word’s primary definition, now obsolete, is “A second standing behind a gamester to back him up and help him.” (OED) while the word still refers to assistance, the croupier is now an agent of the house, and not a comrade of the gambler.

the word has one final definition, however: “3. One who sits as assistant chairman at the lower end of the table at a public dinner.

as in:

1785 CRAIG in Lounger No. 26 §10 He is no longer Croupier at Lord E.’s, his place there being filled up by Tom Toastwell.”

it’s hard to imagine anyone making a movie about that type of croupier, but you never know. it could be a “Gosford Park”ish Michael Gambon vehicle. I can just here the narration over the trailer: “When the host starts to fall flat, or is otherwise negligent in his duties as host, the Croupier, is there with pun and anecdote to save… the… dinner.”

exchange with my dad after we saw the trailer for “Live Free…Die Hard”:

Dad: that movie looks like it was made for Bruce Willis

Me: Whatever do you mean?

Dad: It’s just like that movie he was in. Die Hard.

Me: It is a Die Hard movie.

Dad: You mean they’re making a sequel to Die Hard?

-this brings up an important question: has my dad never seen a movie sequel? have the wonders of Godfather II, Empire Strikes Back, Rocky II and III, American Pie 2, and Cabin Boy 3: still emotionally retarded, escaped him?