[box cover]

Rounders: Collector's Edition

Though not a major success upon release, 1998's Rounders developed a cult following exactly because it wasn't hugely popular. In the interim (at this writing), poker has become a pop-culture phenomenon, with the rise in popularity of both poker nights and cable TV shows dedicated to following the champions and celebrity gamblers. Fortunately for Rounders, the film comes across as authentic because it came out before poker was trendy, and thus it can be taken somewhat more seriously, rather than just a fad-movie cashing in on a newfound cultural popularity. Just the same, it's a very entertaining film, albeit essentially a by-the-numbers sports-picture set at the card table. Matt Damon plays Mike McDermott, struggling law student by day, genius poker player by night. After a bad run where he loses $30,000 to ex-Soviet Mafia don "Teddy KGB" (John Malkovich), he decides to retire, but when his old pal Lester 'Worm' Murphy (Edward Norton) gets out of prison, he gets sucked back in. This doesn't please his current girlfriend Jo (a bland Gretchen Mol), so she ends up dumping him. But Mike's problems get worse when he helps take on Worm's debt, which amounts to $15,000. Worm and Mike have five days to make the money through Mike's gambling skills, but Mike's always gone the straight and narrow while Worm has no problems dealing from the bottom of the deck to get ahead. Worm also has no qualms about misusing Mike's reputation to help himself get out of the hole. As directed by John Dahl (The Last Seduction), Rounders is engaging not because of the story (which is a fairly standard "Becoming a man to be the best" sort of narrative), but because of the details that populate the script. The movie is filled with all sorts of nuggets about the world of poker, and the details are convincing, while the screenplay (by David Levien and Brian Koppleman) is both clever and quotable. The filmmakers make poker come across as less a game of chance and more a battle of wills — which is what most professional poker players would say it is. It's also populated with great character actors, with Malkovich and Norton leading the pack, and solid turns by John Turturro as a conservative "grinder" who helps Mike when he needs it, and Martin Landau as an older professor who provides avuncular support. And the very New York picture is beautifully shot by the late Jean Yves Escoffer. Miramax's second release of Rounders presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include two audio commentaries, the first by director Dahl, Edward Norton, and writers David Levien and Brian Koppleman, the second by poker champions Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moneymaker, and Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson. Also included are a "making-of" spot (5 min.) and a featurette entitled "Professional Poker" (5 min.), in which Norton and Damon talk about working with and playing against professional players, and a section called "Championship Poker Tips," where the poker commentators provide sound-bite suggestions for improved play. Bonus trailers, keep-case.

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