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It's about 11:30 PM PST on January 20, 2003, and I'm just returning back to my hotel room after a long day of schmoozing and watching films at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. While there are some solid films that have already played at Sundance, there's a fair amount of schlock as well. I am not one to usually write about these films or review them on the imdb, but I just saw something that I need to write about. So after viewing this debacle, I headed back to my room, plugged my laptop into the wall, and began typing the following review for Mark Illsley's Bookies, a screeing I caught at 8:30 PM at The Prospector Sqaure Theatre: I'll be the first to say that I tend to favor films about gambling. I find the topic facinating, and when they are done right, they usually make good films. Usually. That is not the case here, however. Having known many real bookies in my day (an acquaintance of mine was sent up for five years after getting busted for running an operation out of a moving Winnebago. When I have enough money, I plan on buying the rights to his story and will attempt on getting the story made...but that's another story), I was hoping that this would be a gritty take on the world of bookmaking. What I saw was a bastardized and warped take on the subject. Cliche after Hollywood cliche came flying at me one after another, the most notable was the whole "mafia" thing. In reality, the mafia doesn't affect a small time bookie. Out of 100 bookmaking operations out there, perhaps 1 might rub elbows with the Cosa Nostra, and that's pushing it. The reality of the situation is that the biggest problems a bookie faces is their own stupidity, dead beat clients, the occasional ambitious cop, and other scum in that world. NOT the mafia! Furthermore, the facts are all wrong, down to even the simplest things like the types of bets that are described in the film. It seems like the producers, the writer, and the director pooled together their limited knowledge of the subject and the result was this mess on celluloid. Or perhaps the problem is simply the director since he's supposed to be the one who steers the boat. I saw Mark Illsley walking around a lot during the festival, wearing his trademark cowboy hat. I don't know. Perhaps his hat is on too tight and it's cutting off the air flow to his head hampering his decision making. But I digress... Looking at the financial prospects of this film, I would be shocked if an indie distributor picked up the rights to this one. With all the better product out there to invest in factored together with Illsley's track record (Happy, Texas played here 4 years ago to sizable buzz. Miramax overpaid for the rights to the film, $10 million to be exact, only to see that film gross only $2 million at the box office. I saw that film here 4 years ago and couldn't figure out what all the hoopla was about then, and I don't understand what the big deal is now regarding this one), it is suggested that you do NOT bet on these BOOKIES. For a good film about the world of gambling, check out THE COOLER starring William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin. Now THAT's the stuff dreams are made of.
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