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Poker Night (2014)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/10/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/30/2015
As with novels, time can be manipulated in movies and it didn't take the early pioneers of cinema to learn this, as flashbacks, and then, flashforwards, became a common storytelling device in film. Movies like 1950's Rashomon introduced the idea of not only breaking down time, but of telling stories from multiple viewpoints. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino took these notions even further, weaving together different stories and times to create a pastiche that gave the viewer a lot to follow. And therein lies the issue with this kind of moviemaking. Having different stories which are taking place simultaneously or at different times is fine, but don't bite off more than you can chew, which is exactly what happens in Poker Night.
Police officer Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) has just been promoted to Detective, and with this promotion comes a special perk. He gets to attend a regular poker game which is hosted by Lieutenant Calabrese (Ron Perlman). In attendance are Bernard (Giancarlo Esposito), Maxwell (Titus Welliver), Cunningham (Ron Eldard), and Davis (Corey Large), all police detectives who love to swap stories as they play cards. Jeter's job is to listen to their tales and learn from them. After leaving the game, Jeter stops to check on a woman who he saw fleeing into the night, and he's attacked. He awakens to find himself being hold captive by a masked man. This man knows a lot about Jeter and seemingly has no plans to release him. Jeter must find a way to escape, especially when he learns that he's not the only hostage.
Poker Night represents the feature film debut of Writer/Director Greg Francis. Yes, he is a veteran of he industry, as he has directed TV shows since the mid-1990s. Most of these have been crime-related reality shows, such as FBI: Criminal Pursuit and Outrageous 911, with supernatural entries like Ghost Stories and A Haunting thrown in as well. I can't help but assume that Francis has taken bits and pieces from these experiences and woven them into Poker Night, as the movie contains many different story elements. As each player at the poker game tells their story, each of which focuses on a specific crime from their case files, Jeter feels/sees himself participating in the story. So, this gives us several different mini-stories within the confines of the movie. Then, we have Jeter's ordeal, as he's held captive by someone wearing a mask which looks as if he's playing in a Slipknot cover band. Then, we have flashbacks of how Jeter got his promotion and how he become involved with a girl (Halston Sage). Then, we have the story of those who are looking for Jeter.
Somehow, Poker Night avoids being a complete mess, but just by a hair. It's admirable that Francis wanted to create a movie which offered layer after layer and wasn't afraid to tell multiple stories. However, the end result is unfocused that the movie is draining. I found the movie very difficult to watch in one sitting (it reality, it took several tries to finish it), as it kept changing and therefore couldn't hold my interest. Adding insult to injury is the fact that none of the stories are particularly great by themselves. The poker game feels very stale and the scenes in which Jeter is held hostage feel like something from a Saw clone. The movie's conceit is that by having listened to the various stories at the poker game, Jeter will have tools to help him get away from the kidnapper. However, this doesn't come to fruition, leading one to question the entire film's motivation.
In 1986, a low-budget horror film called Spookies was released. It quickly became infamous because it was essentially footage from two different movies (an original shoot, and then a re-shoot with a different cast and story) which had been edited together. Poker Night isn't quite that bad, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching two (at the least) stories which had been shoved together to make a movie. Clearly, the film is filled with familiar faces, and the acting is good, but the story can't ever find a groove. The fact that the movie ends with somewhat of a groaner certainly doesn't help. It's cool that Francis was able to make the leap from television series to a feature film, but he clearly couldn't shake the habit of making things episodic.
Poker Night (insert you own "flush" joke here) on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of XLRator Media. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and the image is only slightly dark in some shots. The level of detail is good, and the picture rarely shows any softness. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action scenes show off some nice stereo and surround effects -- we especially get nice effects when Jeter is held captive and hears noises from the next room. These same scenes produce subwoofer effects which are palpable, but never overwhelming.
The lone extra on the Poker Night Blu-ray Disc is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long