#307. Card Games

If you have a deck of cards, you can have endless hours of fun. There are numerous solitaire games you can play, but if you have a group of friends with you, there are even more games you can play with these 52 cards. Whenever I would go camping with the Boy Scouts, especially on longer trips like summer camp or to Philmont, we found the weight of a deck of cards could entertain us night after night in a variety of ways. Even though there are plenty of games that can be played with a deck of cards, a few have entered into the collective mindset of our popular culture, becoming almost ubiquitous in terms of the general populous immediately knowing the rules of play. Consequently, some of these games easily lend themselves to gambling, which in turn provides room for drama. This week’s two films feature card games as part of their plot.

MaverickMaverick
Year: 1994
Rating: PG
Length: 127 minutes /  2.11 hours

Some card games aren’t necessarily based on the luck of the draw. Take blackjack, for instance. In films like 21 (2008) or Rain Man (1988), we see that an in-depth knowledge of the cards that have been played, combined with a knowledge of which cards remain, can result in some solid outcomes with sizeable winnings. While the drama of these card games comes from trying not to get caught by the casino, the drama in card games like poker come with the people playing the game. While much of poker is determined by the luck of the draw, the human element of reading people’s reactions and being able to bluff effectively are what make this game a little more interesting. Of course, I’m speaking in the strictly theatrical sense of interesting, since most of the professional poker I’ve seen has been pretty boring.

Based on the television show of the same name, Maverick (1994) follows the eponymous Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) as he sets out to prove that he can play five-card draw poker better than anyone else in the world. Unfortunately, the tournament he plans to enter has a hefty entrance fee, so he sets out to collect on some debts to make up the difference. Since he is not the only person in town who wants to enter the tournament, he soon runs across rival poker players, Angel (Alfred Molina) and Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster). While Angel has his reasons for keeping Maverick from playing in the tournament, Annabelle teams up with Maverick to “earn” enough money for both of them to enter via a con involving a Russian Grand Duke. Once the cards are dealt and the hands are played, four players remain, of which three of them are Angel, Bransford, and Maverick. Who will emerge as the victor?

Casino RoyaleCasino Royale
Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours

One of the problems with so many different types of card games is that inevitably there are some which are less well known, and thus much more difficult to find someone to play with. Of course, much of this has to do with the unyielding march of time. In the past, many card games were well known because it was all that people really had for in-home entertainment. With no internet, video games, or smartphones, these people learned how to fully use a deck of cards. This is why, when Casino Royale was first written by Sir Ian Fleming, the card game James Bond played was Baccarat, but when the film was rebooted in 2006, the film version of Casino Royal featured Texas hold ‘em poker, itself a variant of the poker featured in Maverick but used mostly due to its cultural popularity at the time the film was released.

Through a mission in Madagascar, James Bond (Daniel Craig) follows a trail of clues that leads him to the Bahamas and eventually Miami, where he foils a plot to destroy an airliner built by Skyfleet. Since this plot was meant to double the investment of black market financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), Bond’s interference forces Le Chiffre to organize a high-stakes Texas hold ‘em tournament in Montenegro’s Casino Royale. MI6 sees this as an opportunity to capture Le Chiffre and obtain information about his creditors by bankrupting him through the game, which itself requires $10 million to even sit at the table. While Bond takes an early lead, he eventually loses everything and must scramble to find a new financier. Luckily for him, he gets an infusion of funds that he uses to win everything, but at the cost of his immediate safety as the action ramps up to an exciting conclusion.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 poker-based plots

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#306. Based on TV

The rallying cry of fans of the TV series, Community was “Six seasons and a movie.” While playing to an established fan-base is a wise move for movie producers, sometimes striking a nostalgic chord with audiences is the better path to success. Sure, there have been plenty of movies based off of TV shows which have also featured the original cast, but sometimes a reinterpretation with modern actors gives the concept a fresh feel. That’s not to say that the movies based off of TV shows that feature the original cast (a la the Star Trek films before 2009) are bad, it’s just that an original take on the themes and motifs of the TV show makes the movie feel more like a standalone story, instead of just an extended TV episode. This week’s two films were based off of television shows but did not feature the shows’ original cast.

The A-TeamThe A-Team
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

Clearly, the wave of nostalgia for those people who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s is what has inundated Hollywood with the plethora of TV show adaptations. Starting around 2004, the trend to bring these television shows from the golden era of television has only continued. Films like Starsky & Hutch (2004), Bewitched (2005), and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) all played as standard comedies, albeit updated to the comedic styles and tastes of the new millennium. A couple of years later, we saw these adaptations gain steam again with such films as Get Smart (2008), Land of the Lost (2009), and Dark Shadows (2012) leading the pack. Of course, none of these films were that great. Occasionally audiences would get a treat with such fantastic films like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), but these were rare. Most films were campy throwbacks, much like The A-Team (2010).

Acting as an origin story for the eponymous “A-Team”, this film modernizes the original premise behind the television show. “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.” Instead of taking place in 1972, these commandos were shown to be Army Ranger veterans from the Iraq war. Upon being framed for a botched mission involving U.S. Treasury plates, these four men set about to find the man behind their wrongful incarceration and manage to bring him to justice.

MaverickMaverick
Year: 1994
Rating: PG
Length: 127 minutes /  2.11 hours

Even before Hollywood began marketing on the nostalgia of comedic television shows, they had already adapted a few films to prove that the concept worked. What’s interesting about these earlier adaptations from TV was that they almost were able to maintain their own notoriety apart from the source material on which it was based. Films like The Fugitive (1993) earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, whereas Mission: Impossible (1996) spawned a five-film franchise. Even newer adaptations like Star Trek (2009) have been able to cash in on the popularity of its fan-base, even if most of them don’t particularly care to be pandered to. Of course, there are also the television shows that haven’t remained nearly as relevant in popular culture, so few modern moviegoers will know that these films were even based on TV shows. One such film that would fit this category for me would be Maverick (1994).

Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) is confident he is the best card player in the world, so in order to have definitive proof of this, he enters in a poker tournament that requires $25,000 as an entry fee. While he’s a little short on the money, he sets out to get the rest of it from some of his contacts. Along the way, he meets two others who want to participate in the tournament: Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and Angel (Alfred Molina). Bransford and Maverick manage to con a Russian Grand Duke out of some money so they can both enter the tournament, while Angel is on a mission to stop Maverick from playing. Meanwhile, Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner, who also played Bret Maverick in the original show) is keeping an eye on all the players, hoping to arrest some of them for illegal activities. The tournament comes down to a single card to determine who will win. So, who has luck on their side?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 TV transitions