Sunday, September 20, 2015

Two For the Money

Year 7, Day 263 - 9/20/15 - Movie #2,155

BEFORE: Day 4 of the McConnaughey chain, which means it's almost halfway over, and it feels like it just started.  But some of his films coming up this week have long running times, so I've got some marathon viewings ahead.  Better stock up on Mountain Dew. 

THE PLOT:  After suffering a career-ending injury, a former college football star aligns himself with one of the most renowned touts in the sports-gambling business.

AFTER: College football is back, and so are NFL games, which makes this film timely as can be.  But I don't really care about that.  A little over a year ago, I stopped working for a company I was tracking commercials for, which meant I had to watch a lot of sports on the weekend, because I might see an ad during a football game, or a sponsored golf or tennis tournament, that might not air anywhere else.  I did that for about 16 years, which meant I gave up a lot of weekend time, and on Sunday nights I'd often be furiously scanning through football games (after the switch to DVRs, it became very difficult to just record one hour of a game, which I could do on the old VCRs quite easily - thanks, technology).  

Now, whatever desire I had to watch baseball or football games is nearly gone, unless it's the World Series or the Super Bowl, and a NY or Boston team is involved (and if it's the Yankees, I'll watch just to root for their opponent...) and I have even less interest in sports betting.  It's a world that I just don't understand.  Particularly with college football - I don't get the whole Bowl game system, for one thing, so when people suggest some kind of better system to determine the national championship, I just smile and nod, because for all I know, they're 100% right.  Also, I don't understand the national ranking system that determines which school is better than another, before the season even begins.  Well, if we know which teams are the best, then why do they even have to play the games?  Also, why are they playing college football in September, doesn't that mean the players have to start practicing in early August, when school isn't even in session?  Way to spoil everyone's summer vacation.  What happens if a college player gets injured during practice, then can't play, loses his scholarship and never gets to attend class?  

But I digress.  An injury is just what happens to Brandon Lang, this film's central character, so his football playing days are over.  (Did he get to finish college?  I couldn't tell.)  While he tries to get back in the game, he takes a job making football picks over a 900-number hotline, and his knowledge of the game soon gets him attention from a big-time sports consultant, so he moves to New York and becomes part of the billion-dollar betting industry.  It turns out that even in states where betting on sports is illegal, charging people for betting advice is still OK.  

At some point, even though it's research and knowledge that got him to his high-paying job, Lang gets so over-confident in his new "John Anthony" persona that he starts making his picks on hunches instead.  And he's lucky for a while, before his system starts to collapse.  What I'm not clear on is why he couldn't just go back to the old system of research and knowledge, especially since that worked so well before.  Instead he becomes something of a gambler himself, flipping coins to make random picks, and that seemed out of character - earlier in the film, he said he never bet on games himself, but wasn't that essentially what he ended up doing?  

Similarly, his mentor is a recovering gambling addict and alcoholic, with a heart condition thrown in for good measure.  Placing himself in an advisory capacity to gamblers, while it seems at first like it would be the antithesis of gambling, ends up looking a lot like gambling.  Just as he says that he's not a bookie, but at the same time he wants to get a cut of his clients' winnings, and cover their losses, so even though I know very little about sports betting, how is he not like a bookie himself? 

Other things I don't understand about sports betting - handicapping, like with the point spread.  I've had people explain this to me many times, and I just don't get it.  I mean, I was good at math in high school, and still I don't see how a team can win, but if you bet on them, and they won by too much, or didn't win by enough points, you'd still lose.  That just makes the whole process more shady, if you ask me, and it was pretty shady to begin with.  And don't get me started on the over/under...

If the movie does come close to making any kind of point, it's probably about the attitude of a gambler, the WHY of it all, the chasing of that thrill when a bet pays off.  However, it also makes the suggestion that many gamblers are also inherent losers, that subconsciously they might be trying to lose, because there's also a thrill involved in watching your money get taken away after risking it.  I'm not sure that's true, but again, I'm no expert on the subject, I play the slots in casinos just so I can avoid making big bets on table games. 

I did recognize the neighborhood where much of this was filmed - the exterior of the office was shot in Brooklyn, near Fulton St., with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, near the River Cafe.  I got married (the 2nd time) about a block away from there.  

Also starring Al Pacino (last seen in "The Merchant of Venice"), Rene Russo (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World"), Jeremy Piven (last seen in "Miami Rhapsody"), Armand Assante (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Jaime King (last heard in "Red Tails"), Carly Pope (last seen in "Elysium"), Ralph Garman (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Kevin Chapman, with a cameo from Gedde Watanabe (last seen in "Edtv").

RATING: 5 out of 10 parlays

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