|Available at Amazon.com|
Welcome to the world of the North American Indoor Poker League Championship where the grand prize is $10 million!
Zak Penn has had an interesting career. For a man who has made living writing super hero films (X2, Elektra, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Incredible Hulk and the up coming Avengers and Captain America) his directorial efforts have been completely different. His first film, Incident at Loch Ness and is sophomore effort, The Grand are both Christopher Guest style ad-lib films.
Guest’s are big shoes to fill and Penn fills them admirably. He picks a solid cast of comedians who are all very funny and build these complete characters that are strange and hilarious. Lainie and Larry Schwartzman (Cheryl Hines and David Cross) are competitive siblings. One-Eyed Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) is a drug-addled man trying to save his grandfather’s casino. The German (director Werner Herzog) loves killing little animals as much as he loves gambling. Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell) is a social awkward nerd who looks at poker analytically and quotes Dune. Andy Andrews (Richard Kind) is a newbie who accidentally wound up on an on-line poker website and got really good at it. And L.B.J> Deuce Fairbanks (Dennis Farina) an old school Vegas poker player who misses the way things used to be.
There are also some create actors filling out the smaller roles. Gabe “Mr. Kotter” Kaplan plays Seth Schwartzman, father to Lainie and Larry. This is the first time he’s acted since 1984. Ray Romano plays Fred, Lainie’s husband, who plays fantasy football and was struck by lightning. Michael McKean plays Steve Lavisch who is going to destroy Jack Faro’s hotel if he can’t raise the money. Estelle Harris plays Ruth Melvin, Harold’s over protective mom. Then to top it all off Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria and many others round out the cast as random poker players.
Of all the great talent in the film the stand performance comes from Chris Parnell. Harold Melvin has the funniest lines and his deadpan delivery is classic. Whether he’s quoting Dune or insulting someone’s poor poker playing everything he says brings a laugh.
The plot is very straightforward. It’s the poker championship and we follow these characters as they make their way to the final showdown. The jokes fly at you faster than you can laugh. Each character has their own obstacles and problems that they deal with and you’ll never guess who wins in the end.
The film is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 and fullscreen 1.33:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo surround. English and Spanish subtitles. This is a great looking film.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Zak Penn, Writer/Executive Producer Matt Bierman and Actor Michael Karnow: This is a pretty good commentary. They split the time rather well between talking about the film and cracking jokes. The most interesting thing they talk about is how the final poker game was real and filmed live. They couldn’t decide who they wanted to win so they let the cards decide.
Selected Scenes Commentary With… (45 min.) You get three of these. One with Zak Penn and Woody Harrelson, one with Zak Penn, Cheryl Hines and Ray Romano and one with Zak Penn Cheryl Hines and Woody Harrelson.
Alternate Endings: (2 min.) Not knowing who was going to win a couple endings were shot. We get one where Andy wins and we get one where Lainie loses with optional commentary with Zak Penn, Cheryl Hines and Ray Romano.
Deleted Scenes: (11 min.) There are six of these all but two of them have optional commentary with Zak Penn and Woody Harrelson. These are pretty good scenes and Harrelson’s commentary is hilarious. The last deleted scene has commentary by with Cheryl Hines and Ray Romano.
Wild Card: Player Profiles: (20 min.) There are outtakes from the film used to give you an idea of each character. Specifically: Jack Faro, Lainie & Fred, Larry, Deuce, Harold, Mike Werbe, The Dealer, and Cameos.
This is a pleasantly, surprising film. It’s very funny and uses the ad-lib technique very well. All that actors do a fantastic job and to top it off there are very great extras. Do yourself a favor and check this film out.
Anchor Bay presents The Grand. Directed by Zak Penn. Starring Woody Harrelson, David Cross, Werner Herzog and Ray Romano. Written by Zak Penn and Matt Bierman. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated R for language and some drug content. Released on DVD: June 10, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.