There it was, the Jack of Spades. Already having four spades in my hand, I had turned in the lone odd card in hopes of being gifted a flush. When I laid eyes on him, ol' Jack was the most handsome man I'd ever seen. We were about five hands deep into what would be an all-night poker game between a handful of fellow soldiers. I had won an earlier pot of about thirty bucks. Now, Jack fell from heaven and caressed my fingers as he sat quietly and formed a quintet with his brethren. Better yet, he fit perfectly in the order of value to create a straight flush. Round and round the bidding went until finally, it ballooned to almost two hundred dollars. I laid 'em down, they all wept as I swept that pile of dough from the center of the table. The world could not have been a better place...until it wasn't. I don't think I saw another good card the rest of the night. By the rest of the night, I mean another hour and change as I lost those winnings plus my entire paycheck. I couldn't stop before then because another great hand was coming. I FELT IT. Unfortunately, I ran out of money first. I had no choice but to sit on the sofa since my roommate and ride was still playing. With nothing else to do, and lots of booze around, I got drunker than I've ever been, passed out, woke up to vomit all over myself, then passed out again right in the mess. The next afternoon I woke up and remembered the puke, but had to be told what happened in the aftermath. As embarrassed as I was, I wouldn't change one second of it because that was the night I had THAT HAND. Wisely, I think, I retired from my gambling career shortly after this. Okay, I still play fantasy football every year, but I kinda have to. It would be totally un-American to not play. Right?
If you couldn't tell, this week's topic for Thursday Movie Picks is gambling. As always, we're hosted by the outstanding Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. Lots of great movies on the subject. Let's see if I can find three for you. Oh, try to spot the theme within the theme.
White Men Can't Jump
(1992)We meet Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson), a random white guy who shows up in random black neighborhoods and joins random pickup basketball games. Quite often these games are for money. Most days, Billy ends up walking away with it all. He's a former college ballplayer using the stereotype that white guys can't play basketball to hustle anyone who allows him to join their game. He forms an uneasy friendship with Sidney Dean (Wesley Snipes) and the two travel around the greater Los Angeles area scheming street ballers out of their money. It's the only living Billy knows. Unfortunately, it's gotten him in deep to some mobster types who want the money he owes them.Therefore, he and his girlfriend Gloria (Rosie Perez, drool) are constantly looking over their shoulders while Billy tries to earn enough to pay them off.
(1995)John (Wesley Snipes) and Charlie (Woody Harrelson) are adoptive brothers who also happen to be partners on the police force. Their big case is trying to catch a nutjob who is going around to token booths at various subways around New York City, setting them on fire and killing the clerks who work in them. However, that's secondary to what's happening in their personal lives. Charlie has a serious gambling problem and owes fifteen thousand bucks to some very dangerous people. Eventually, Charlie decides the best way to get the loot to pay off his debt is by hijacking the Money Train, the train carrying all the cash collected on a given day. It's a bit of a cheat because it's not really about gambling, but this is a very fun action-comedy. Think of it as Lethal Weapon meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Okay, it's not as good as either of those, but it is very fun. Why yes, there's a girl coming between them. It's J-Lo. And that's enough for me.
(1996)Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) was once a pro bowler with a promising future. Trusting the wrong person got him into a game trying to hustle the wrong people. When the smoke clears, Roy has lost his right hand and spends the next seventeen years scratching out a meager existence. However, things change when he finds another big time bowling prospect, Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), in an Amish colony of all places. Roy takes the kid under his wing in hopes of helping him turn pro. Going pro requires money, so Roy tries to raise it the best way he knows. He takes Ishmael on the road and teaches him to hustle amateurs. This is one of Woody Harrelson's best (and most underrated) performances and Randy Quaid is perfectly oblivious as the Amish guy venturing out into the world for the first time. I'll admit that in my perfect world, his part is played by Wesley Snipes, but whatever. Finally, in another underrated turn, we get a marvelous villain from Bill Murray. For my money, this is the pinnacle of the Farelly brothers filmography with the exception of There's Something About Mary.