Arts & Entertainment

Showbiz Seven: Most realistic gambling movies

Casino and Gambling IndustryTravelTourism and LeisureLotteriesLifestyle and LeisureEntertainmentMovies

In the movie "21," opening in theaters Friday, Jim Sturgess plays an MIT student and math whiz who learns the ways of card-counting and joins an elite gambling club so that he can pay his tuition. The movie is based on a book called "Bringing Down the House," and the book is based on the real-life experiences of Jeff Ma.

This morning I spoke with Ma, who had just arrived back in his San Francisco office from a night of partying in New York City. He admitted that the film based on his life was pretty Hollywood-ized--although he was not bothered that his character is being played by the decidedly un-Asian Sturgess.

"My race is important to me, but when people were asking me who I would want to play me in a movie, I wasn't saying Jet Li or Chow Yun Fat," he said. "I was saying Topher Grace."

Since Ma has so much gambling experience, I asked him to tell me which movies portray gambling the most accurately. He agreed, but prefaced his list by saying that most movies bungle gambling horribly.

7. "Two for the Money." "It's an absolutely terrible movie, but it portrays gambling in a somewhat realistic sense because it captures the ideas of 'touts.' There are people out there that tout their services and tout their picks. They make a lot of money off of people, but they aren't guaranteeing wins and they are no better than anyone at picking games, but they convince people they are."

6. "Vegas Vacation." "It's funny that it's on here, but there is a great scene when Chevy Chase is down on his luck and he goes to a casino where they play alternate games like Rock, Paper, Scissors, or Pick a Number. When gamblers are down on their luck, they are willing to play anything to make it back--even something like Pick a Number."

5. "Casino Royale" (the 2006 Daniel Craig version). "It's not all about gambling, but it has got great gambling scenes where he is trying to get in the head of the guy he is playing against. That's definitely true to real life. People are trying to get reads on you and pick up on any kind of mannerisms."

4. "The Color of Money." "I think that movie is very realistic and captures the notion of the hustle -- setting someone up to beat them. And I love the cockiness involved -- how he'll take the shots with big money on the table and he won't even look at what he's doing. He'll look at his opponent. That's an idea of how cocky gamblers get."

3. "Bookies." "I'm not sure how many people have seen it, but this is a really good small movie about a bunch of kids who start their own bookie service in college, and then it gets out of hand because of the greed. I could easily see that happening in college."

2. "Rounders." "This movie was way ahead of its time. If it came out now it would be a total blockbuster. I think it was a limited success because of how into gambling it got -- the Texas Hold 'Em Game, the cheating and betting, the reads. It's a great movie."

1. "21." I think it is realistic for what we did. They show us winning all the time, and we didn't necessarily win all the time, but the level [at which] they try to tackle the concept of card counting is impressive. It tries to tackle such an intricate subject and does that absolutely accurately."

Ma currently runs a website called ProTrade.com where players can trade sports stars as if they were playing the stock market.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Casino and Gambling IndustryTravelTourism and LeisureLotteriesLifestyle and LeisureEntertainmentMovies
  • Los Angeles Opera comes to the beach in Santa Monica
    Los Angeles Opera comes to the beach in Santa Monica

    Giuseppe Verdi's fallen woman soared at sunset Wednesday on the Santa Monica Pier as the Los Angeles Opera staged its first live digital simulcast, with an estimated 2,500 viewing "La Traviata" on a giant screen by the beach while the action was unfolding live at L.A.'s...

  • Simon Pegg finds happiness
    Simon Pegg finds happiness

    At 44, Simon Pegg thinks he's finally found happiness. The "Star Trek" and "Mission: Impossible" actor has that particular achievement on his mind recently, thanks to his new film, "Hector and the Search for Happiness." The quest film, which opens Sept. 19 and...

  • 'This Is Where I Leave You' is a dramatic turn for Bateman, Levy
    'This Is Where I Leave You' is a dramatic turn for Bateman, Levy

    Between the two of them, actor Jason Bateman and director Shawn Levy have made more than 30 film comedies. So when it came time to shoot one of several dramatic scenes in their new movie, "This Is Where I Leave You," they felt far from sure-footed.

  • 'Sesame Street' and the number of the day: 45 years on TV
    'Sesame Street' and the number of the day: 45 years on TV

    Calling "Sesame Street" children's programming is like calling "Saturday Night Live" a sketch comedy show or "The Simpsons" a cartoon. Technically it may be accurate, but the label fails to grasp its wide and powerful reach in pop culture.

  • Camerata Pacifica introduces John Harbison's curvy string trio
    Camerata Pacifica introduces John Harbison's curvy string trio

    Tuesday night, entering the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, it was out of the oven — the temperature still in the upper 90s at 8 p.m. — and into John Harbison's frying pan for the premiere of his String Trio, commissioned by Camerata Pacifica to open the Santa Barbara-based...

  • From narco-wars to urban basketball, making art out of activism
    From narco-wars to urban basketball, making art out of activism

    In 1996, L.A. artist Suzanne Lacy gathered together two teams of players in Oakland for a very unusual basketball game. Part performance art, part social activism, "No Blood/No Foul" brought together a team of cops and a team of Oakland youth for a lightning-paced game of street...

Comments
Loading