Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Douglas Tirola's ALL IN: THE POKER MOVIE -- history, cards and a lot of talking heads

Do you love poker? Then you're a shoo-in for ALL IN: THE POKER MOVIE, the new documentary that looks very much like a labor of love from filmmaker Douglas Tirola (An Omar Broadway Film, A Reason to Believe), who insists (maybe once too often) that poker is somehow America and America poker. Poker is a part of our history, played by everyone from Presidents to pikers, and full of that rebellious streak that so personifies our country. Or something like that. Juggling historical footage with a large array of present-day talking heads and taking us into important games and events (the rise, fall and -- maybe -- rise again of online poker), the movie would seem a "must" for poker-heads and possible viewing, too, for people like me, who may have played poker as kids but don't have much interest in it now.

Tirola, shown at left, begins with the FBI indictment of online poker (notes one player, expressing the movie's typical poker-centric universe: "Like the Kennedy assassination, everyone remembers exactly where he was when he first heard about this"), then goes back in time to gather up that history and talk with folk both classy (historian/author Doris Kearns Goodwin and social commentator Ira Glass) and crass (you choose, once you've seen the movie). We hear a lot from actor Matt Damon (below), who, along with Edward Norton, made that famous flop poker-movie Rounders -- of which and about which we see so much here that for awhile it appears that Mr. Tirola is trying to conjur some kind of revival (or maybe a remake) of that film.

We learn about and watch some old footage of poker legend Thomas "Amarillo Slim" Preston, as well as meeting one of the newest legends, pro player Chris Moneymaker (yes, that's his real and, as we see, quite fitting name). Mr. Moneymaker, shown below with his daughter on his lap, turns out to be the most interesting thing in the movie (along with a fellow named Henry Orenstein, who invented the "hole cam," now used in all video-ed poker games), and his entry into online poker provides the film with its most suspenseful moments (unless you follow poker and already know the outcome).

How poker grows from being a player's to a spectator's sport also proves an interesting journey, and a discussion of exactly how poker has become so popular leads to the film's funniest line: "Things don't grow that don't have growabilitiness to them."

Statistics are occasionally spoken of and shown on-screen -- in 1961, most homes included a card table; in 1991, almost all casinos had closed their poker rooms; in 2001, 60 million Americans played poker weekly -- and someone tells us that poker is now more popular than the NFL games. Really?

Much is also made of the freedom that is being taken away from us Americans by the government's banning of online poker. However, as of this year, online gaming appears to be coming back, via various of our individual states, so freedom, thank god, is secure again. Even if this may be, in reality, the freedom to get fleeced. Earlier in the movie, in reference to Rounders, one person calls this, "The best movie ever!" Yes, notes another, "Thank you for bringing million of suckers into the game and making us rich!"

All In: The Poker Movie, from 4th Row Films and a little too long at 109 minutes (though I may have seen a slightly longer version on the screener sent me than the 100 minutes that will play theatri-cally), opens this Friday in New York City at the Cinema Village. Upcoming playdates all the around the country, with cities and theaters, can be found by clicking here and then scrolling down.

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