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Drawing Dead: The Highs and Lows of Online Poker

Posted by martinteller on April 4, 2013

First-time documentarian Mike Weeks presents the story of two people from the world of internet poker.  One is Dusty Schmidt (who uses the intriguing, and slightly gross, alias of “leatherass” when he plays), a man who made a million dollars gambling in online poker games.  He’s written books about the subject and clears tens of thousands of dollars every month.  The other is Michael Korpi, Jr., an aspiring violinist whose college education was derailed — multiple times — when his online poker addiction drove him to steal his friends’ credit cards.  Korpi is attempting to raise awareness about gambling addictions by walking across the country, from Seattle to Boston.

This review has two stories.  I’m going to get a little personal here.  Over the years, I’ve become more and more reclusive, to the point where my entire life is going to work, then coming home to my wife and watching movies.  I’ve done almost no socializing over the past decade.  With some prodding from my therapist, I decided it was time to expand my social circles.  You know, to include more than one person.  It didn’t take much Googling to find the “Portland Film & Movie Club” (I’m curious about why “film” and “movie”, I use the terms interchangeably… I gotta remember to ask about that), a group of folks who go to local screenings and discuss them afterwards.  It sounded like the ideal way to meet people with similar interests.

When I arrived at the theater, I recognized the organizer from his picture.  He was there with one other person, a pleasant young woman.  I tried to make conversation.  Crippling shyness.  This is going to take some time to get used to.  I settled into my seat, trying to think of something to say before the movie started.  Something that wasn’t stupid.  I kept toying with the promotional poker chip that was sitting on the armrest.

But let’s put that aside for now and talk about the movie.  For a first feature, it was an impressive effort.  Weeks utilizes the style that seems to be all the rage in documentaries these days, mixing up the talking heads with news clips, stock footage, animation, big words on the screen.  I’m not sure exactly when this style emerged, but I’m gonna say Bowling for Columbine probably popularized it.  It’s a lot of flash, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It certainly keeps the proceedings from getting too dry.  I am a little tired of seeing the same gimmicks, but Weeks (with assistance from his mentor Jay Cornelius) does a professional job of putting it together.  I wouldn’t have guessed it to be a director’s first feature.

Weeks covers all the bases.  He talks about the explosion in poker’s popularity thanks to televised events, and then the “gold rush” of amateur online poker fiends hoping to score big like the regular-looking joes on the TV.  He talks about the pitfalls and common mistakes that face inexperienced players.  He talks about “Black Friday”, when the three largest online poker sites were shut down by the government… some of them later exposed as Ponzi schemes.  He talks, and of course Dusty and Michael talk.  Michael talks about the addiction side, how it wasn’t about the money as much as the rush.  I kind of wanted to hear more from Michael, it seemed as if there might have been more inherent drama in his tale than was revealed.  But the film is quite informative and never dull.

The biggest misstep Weeks makes is that he can’t resist some editorializing.  Late in the film, he starts proselytizing to the audience about how they should live their lives, do something meaningful instead of sitting in front of a computer screen.  While I don’t disagree — and it kind of hits home — this is something the action of the film should communicate, or at least let one of the interviewees say it.  I don’t want to hear it from the director.  It’s preachy, and it’s a big turnoff.

Unfortunately, although the house was packed (an amazing crowd for a small documentary) it was a rather low turnout for the PF&MC.  It was just us three sitting there together.  After the Q&A session with the director and stars (Korpi showed off his violin skills), we spotted another member.  There was some chatter about the film for a few minutes.  It felt good to share opinions, even if only for a brief time.  There was to be a meetup at a restaurant a few blocks away, but seeing as it was an afterparty for the whole movie production and not just the club, it didn’t seem like a good opportunity to socialize just with the club members.  Or maybe I chickened out.  There’s always a next time, and little by little I’ll start coming out of my shell.  Rating: Good (76)


2 Responses to “Drawing Dead: The Highs and Lows of Online Poker”

  1. JamDenTel said

    I do hope you can make it to Chicago again this Thanksgiving. I know that has nothing to do with the movie, but THE DOLL looks more interesting to me anyway.

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