Archive for February, 2015

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Lucy (2014)

February 20, 2015

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Director: Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional)

Bottom Line: Strange fact: someone – maybe even multiple people – recommended this movie to me. Whoever you are: damn you… DAMN YOU! I probably would have watched this on my own accord on account of Miss Johansson, but I heard enough positive word of mouth that I decided to make it a priority. Don’t make the same mistake. I honestly don’t know what the heck was going on here. For the first 45 minutes or so I was thinking it was a slightly better version of Limitless with nice eye candy and some cool Neo moments, but the last 20 minutes ranks amongst the worst climaxes I’ve ever seen. My girlfriend and I were looking at each other from across the couch like: “What the f*** are we watching?” And, just to cement my conclusion, after it was over, I stated with sincerity that it was the best 2014 movie I’ve seen so far just to see her incredulous reaction.

I really don’t think there’s anything to like here. The characters are absurdly undeveloped. You don’t care about or get to know any of them. That’s normally not a huge problem in an action movie, but unfortunately the action here is mildly entertaining at best. Scarlett Johansson’s interpretation of accessing the higher brain powers is essentially walking around looking like a confused robot. Lucy is such a dominating presence that the bad guys never pose any real threat; there’s no tension. What starts out as a somewhat intriguing concept quickly delves into weird territory and then dive bombs into the totally absurd – and unwatchable. After Lucy reaches about 40% of her brain’s capability, you’ll start viewing the numeric updates of her brain usage as a countdown to the end of the film – and release from this brutal movie.

Replay Value: No thank you.
Sequel Potential: LMFAO!
Oscar Potential: If Scarlett got nominated for a Razzie I don’t think it would have been too undeserving.

Grade: 3/10 (Just Skip It)

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Gone Girl (2014)

February 17, 2015

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, Zodiac)

“Am I supposed to know my wife’s blood type?”

Bottom Line: Gone Girl is a pretty faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel – a biting depiction of married life that will scare the crap out of you long before things get crazy. I always prefer reading the book first when a blockbuster novel is being adapted into a film, but in this case, I feel my enjoyment of the film may have suffered a bit since I knew everything that was going to happen – and this is a movie where the surprises probably add to one’s enjoyment. I know there were numerous what moments in the book that didn’t have the same affect on me when I saw it on screen. That being said, the film is perfectly cast and David Fincher continues to be one of the best filmmakers working today. Rosamund Pike in particular is brilliant in this movie – and the fact that she’s Oscar nominated for her role almost feels like a spoiler in itself. Gone Girl is definitely must see cinema – fans of the novel will like it and those that haven’t read the novel might even be blown away. It’s good stuff.

Note (Spoiler Alert!): Amy Elliot Dunne is the definition of an unreliable narrator, but her recollection of discovering her husband’s affair strikes me as genuine. In this memory, Amy sees her husband walking out of his bar with a college student he’s having an affair with and sees them kissing in a similar fashion to their first kiss. Rewind: I said his bar… that he (well, Amy) owns… where his sister tends bar… where everyone presumably knows him… where everyone likely knows Amy. Elsewhere in the movie, after it’s discovered that his sister’s woodshed is one of the spots where Nick and his secret lover did their business, Nick states helplessly: “we had limited options.” I’m guessing their own bar probably wasn’t one of them. This seems like a pretty big oversight by Fincher and Flynn, but perhaps it’s just Amy being Amy. Not a big deal either way, but something I couldn’t help but notice.

Replay Value: Knowing the twists made it less enjoyable for me. Take away the wow factor and it’s still a good movie, but not mind-blowing.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscar Potential: Best Actress nomination for Pike. Kind of surprised to see the lack of nominations as I enjoyed it considerably more than some of the Best Picture nominees.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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John Wick (2014)

February 15, 2015

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Director: Chad Stahelski

“What did he say?”

“Enough.”

Bottom Line: If you can look past the fact that an unstoppable, retired hitman – with Bruce Lee’s hand-to-hand combat skills, Houdini’s escaping abilities, and better aim than Legolas – is somehow infiltrated and overwhelmed by the hapless son of a mob boss and his two cronies, you have arguably the best action film of 2014. John Wick had me grinning the whole time – it’s the revenge movie The Equalizer wishes it was. Seriously, once you get past the fact that Keanu Reeves can’t act and Denzel Washington can… everything about John Wick makes it superior: the fight sequences, the music, the choreography, Michael Nyqvist as the mob boss was awesome, the headshots! Some how, some way, John Wick has flown under-the-radar as a must see action flick.

Replay Value: I certainly will see it again.
Sequel Potential: John Wick 2 already announced and this character is worth revisiting.
Oscar Potential: None.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)

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Chef (2014)

February 9, 2015

Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf)

Bottom Line: Maybe the next time I have a horrible poker session, I’ll come home and watch Chef and then listen to Pharell Williams’ “Happy” on repeat for 30 minutes. If that doesn’t cheer me up, I don’t know what will. Chef was definitely the feel good movie of 2014 – a film so charming I think I had a permanent grin the whole time I was watching it. Jon Favreau plays an aging, former top chef that has grown stagnant and comfortable over the years and finds himself shaken out of his stasis by a scathing review from a food critic. After a hilarious blow up that includes the best use of social media in a film to date, our heroic chef hits the road in a food truck to rediscover his love of cooking and reconnect with his son.

Chef was about as enjoyable as any film I saw from 2014. It’s funny, charming, and entertaining throughout. Jon Favreau continues to establish himself as one of Hollywood’s most underrated directors – and he’s a pretty good actor too! Chef is a slam dunk recommendation and one of the most enjoyable films of 2014.

Replay Value: A feel good movie worth watching multiple times.
Sequel Potential: I’m not sure there is more story here, but the characters are strong enough to consider pursuing further adventures.
Oscar Potential: No nominations.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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The Raid: Redemption (2012) – CLASSIC ALERT!?

February 8, 2015

Starring: Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian
Director: Gareth Evans (Merantau)

Bottom Line: I’d have to think quite a while to come up with a pure action movie I liked more than this. The fight choreography in The Raid is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen – it’s mind-blowing. It’s so stunning it looks brutally, bone-crushing, blood-spilling real most of the time. Star Iko Uwais makes Jet Li look like Steve Oedekerk in Kung Pow: Enter The Fist. The story is nothing much: 20 S.W.A.T. police officers infiltrate an apartment building run by a crime lord and riddles with loyal residents. But seriously, we are talking unrelenting and amazing action sequences throughout the whole movie – with very little emotional bull getting in the way of the next fight. Bring it on.

I couldn’t figure out how to watch The Raid in it’s original language, so it was kind of weird to watch a movie that has been clearly dubbed over in English. Also, I was completely unfamiliar with all the actors in this, so I got kind of lost the first time I watched it as it was difficult to keep track of the characters. Having a solid grasp of that, I watched it again and enjoyed it much more.

Seriously, The Raid is must see film and will eventually go down as a classic action movie – if it hasn’t already.

Replay Value: Was better the second time I watched it and it feels like a movie I should own – even after I’ve recently decided to stop buying movies.
Sequel Potential: The Raid 2 came out in 2014 and is reportedly as good as the original. The Raid 3 has been announced but seems far away from development. Also, an American remake starring Taylor Kitsch and directed by Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3) is rumored for 2018 (yawn).
Oscar Potential: No nominations.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 8.5/10 (Excellent/Potential Classic)

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What If (2014)

February 5, 2015

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver
Director: Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight)

Bottom Line: What If is a solid rom-com that showcases the comedic talents that Daniel Radcliffe occasionally flashed throughout the Harry Potter series. While not exactly genre-bending, What If is definitely one of the better romantic comedies of the past few years, mainly because Radcliffe and Kazan have such good chemistry together on screen. Funny and amusing, it’s not a must see, but it’s perfect for couples looking for a light movie to watch together. Also, I’m going to go ahead and make a bold prediction: Radcliffe picks up an Oscar nomination in the next ten years.

Replay Value: Not a keeper, but it’s a film I’d enjoy watching again I think.
Sequel Potential: I don’t think so.
Oscar Potential: None
Nudity: None.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Movie Reviews: American Sniper, Boyhood, How To Train Your Dragon 2

February 4, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Director: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven)

Bottom Line: I’ve heard that this story is quite embellished by Hollywood, but since I’m unfamiliar with Chris Kyle’s story, I can only judge the movie as a movie – and I liked it quite alright. Bradley Cooper gives another stellar and nuanced performance and, along with his awesome voice acting in last year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, has cemented himself as one of the industry’s top leading men. Clint Eastwood’s direction is as crisp and tense as it has ever been, even if this might not be his greatest film. I also found it interesting how underdeveloped Chris’ family is in the movie – perhaps a fitting scenario for active military during wartime. Overall, I enjoyed American Sniper, but it’s not the first movie I would think of for Best Picture and is probably a tad overrated in general.

Replay Value: I’m somewhat interested in reading Chris Kyle’s book and if that happens, I almost certainly will watch the movie again. Even so, it’s probably worth another watch.
Sequel Potential: It would be highly disrespectful, but Hollywood has done worse things.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 6 Oscars: Best Picture and Best Actor, plus Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay, and Sound Editing.
Nudity: Can’t remember – I don’t think so.

Grade: 6.5/10 (Strongly Recommended)

BOYHOOD

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater (School Of Rock, Waking Life, Dazed And Confused)

Bottom Line: Highly praised by critics and blasted by many as being overly boring and too long, Boyhood falls somewhere in the middle. It’s hard not to appreciate director Richard Linklater’s ambitious decision to film his story over 12 years in real time and it’s interesting to watch the kids grow up on screen. The script tackled themes of broken homes, divorce, moving around a lot, alcoholism, peer pressure, bullying, teen angst, young love – and heartbreak – experimentation, and moving on (to college or elsewhere) – and the affect all of that has on growing up – quite well. Even if it doesn’t reflect one’s own childhood exactly, I can’t imagine not being able to relate to Mason’s story in a lot of ways. However, while Mason’s transition from a naive youngster to angst-filled and too-cool-for-school teen may reflect many of today’s youth, that doesn’t make it particularly interesting. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette give pretty good performances here, but at the end of the day, Boyhood is a merely good, not great film.

Replay Value: Definitely a weakness. Even the people that loved it probably weren’t lining up to see it again.
Sequel Potential: Unlikely, but… Richard Linklater has a history of putting out unlikely sequels with his Before Sunrise franchise.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 6 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Linklater, acting noms for Arquette and Hawke, plus Editing. This is probably the favorite for Best Picture even though it’s far from my favorite 2014 film – particularly because I think the script is not all that awesome – but I do think Linklater has a good chance at Best Director and editing a 12 year epic seems like a good way to get a statue also.
Nudity: None.

Grade: 6.5/10 (Strongly Recommended)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Kit Harrington
Director: Dean Deblois (How To Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch)

Bottom Line: A mostly boring sequel to a pretty good original film that is overshadowed by a solid, feel-good ending that will leave most watchers thinking it was better than it really was.

Replay Value: Since I never watched the original again, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever see this again — until I have kids (and then I better damn well get used to it!).
Sequel Potential: #3 is due out in 2017 or 2018 and it sounds like this franchise could go deep.
Oscar Potential: Somehow got nominated for Best Animated Feature while The Lego Movie did not. What?
Nudity: None.

Grade: 5/10 (Watchable)

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2015 Poker Goals – January 2015 Review

February 2, 2015

Every month I’m going to reflect on the previous month of poker and see how well I’m doing at accomplishing my 2015 goals – well, the ones that are applicable for now anyway.

log 750 live hours

I played nearly 137 hours of live cash game poker last month – a stark increase over any output in recent memory and on pace to destroy my 750 hour goal for the year (current pace: 1644 hours).

focus on how well I played, how well I controlled tilt, and how well I paid attention to game flow instead of how well I ran.
continuing taking notes throughout all my sessions and combing through them later.

I did a really good job of this in January. I kept consistently accurate notes whenever I was planning to play an $8/$16 session. While I never tracked my play during $4/$8 sessions, I did track it if I was waiting to get in a bigger game later. Note-taking really helped me keep things in perspective – if I took a brutal beat, I’d just jot the hand down, and move on. Overall, I felt like I ran a bit poorly for the month of January — at the $8/$16 level anyway. There were a few moments when I started to get frustrated, but they were pretty brief and I felt like I did a good job of controlling my emotions overall. Also, being able to look through my notes later really helped me see how much variance affected my results and allowed me to spot potential mistakes and find holes in my game that needed plugging. Over ten years into my LHE career and I feel like I’m a much better LHE player in February 2015 than I was in December 2014 and I’m quite grateful to be able to find that much room to improve.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the more obvious spots where variance affected my results in January:

-I won 57 of the 150 times I played a pocket pair (38%).
-I won 43 of the 90 times I had 99 or better (47.8%).
-I won 19 of the 42 times I had QQ or better (45.2%).
-I won 26 of the 72 times I played a suited broadway hand (36.1%)
-I won 35 of the 68 times I played AK or AQ (51.5%).
-I made a flush 13 of the 51 times I was drawing to one (25.5%).
-I made a straight 12 of the 32 times I was drawing to one (37.5%).

Notes: There were times I made a flush or straight and lost the pot anyway. I also folded plenty of pocket pairs preflop, AQ once or twice, and probably a few suited broadways. I also started tracking my flush and straight draws differently during the middle of the month, including backdoor flush draws and gut shots in the mix since it seemed unfair to count those hands when I hit them but not when I missed them.

I’m not exactly sure what a good percentage for some of these hands are, but I’m certain that losing half the time you have QQ or better is below average. I’m also quite certain that running at 25% on your flush draws is below average, particularly when you lose some of the ones you hit.

spend less than 20% of my total hours in 4/8 games

I spent 50 of my 137 total live hours playing $4/$8 which accounts for 36.5% of my total hours. That seems like I missed on this goal, but 28 of those hours I was propping my game while I was flooring and another 6 hours were while I was waiting for a seat in the bigger game. Excluding those hours, I only played 13 of 103 hours in $4/$8 games (12.6%). Goal achieved.

log 100 hours of spread limit

I played zero hours here, but I have plenty of time to achieve my goal. I want to have at least five figure bankroll before I start playing the Muckleshoot spread game regularly – even then, I think $10k probably too small to play that game on a regular basis, but taking some shots is probably fine.

play a tournament series in a city I’ve never been to before

Didn’t happen this month, but I am developing plans to visit Canterbury Park Card Casino in Shakopee, Minnesota, possible as soon as late February. While this isn’t a tournament series and I actually have been to Minnesota previously, I suppose this would half cover this goal.

continuing reading about mental game, develop mental game profiles, and improve my c-game
focus my learning — don’t study multiple variants at the same time or games I’m not playing frequently

I was pretty consistent with these goals this past month. The only poker reading I did was on mental game and I did well at incorporating what I learned into my play, sticking to my plan, and using my notes to improve my play. Also, I only played LHE, so my focus was extremely narrow for the most part.

treat poker like a job with set hours and not like a hobby

I did pretty great here. Whenever I planned to play, I went and played a full session and crushed my overall hours goal. Also, I was very focused and in the zone when I was playing a real session – something that is much harder to do when I’m merely propping a game.

watch opponents closely in tournaments and develop exploitative styles for each of them instead of playing laggy for laggy’s sake
take my time in critical pots and really think things through before acting
set a new career high tournament score

Meh. I played three tournaments this past month: $180 monthly @ Little Creek, $220 monthly @ Muckleshoot, and $115 weekly @ Muckleshoot. I went 0 for 3.

I made a swift exit in the $220 event after (arguably) getting quite unlucky. During the first level, with blinds at 25/50, a middle player raised to 200 and three players called. I looked down at AA from the small blind and realized that I was in a great situation. This is such an obvious spot for a squeeze that I figured I could make a substantial raise and get some unwarranted action. I made it 1500 (30 bigs) to go and managed to get it heads up – a great result. Then, figuring that my opponent’s most likely hand was a pocket pair and that I looked like I was trying to steal preflop, I checked the 632 rainbow flop, hoping to jam all-in vs a bet. Instead, my opponent checked back. I bet about half pot on a board-pairing turn and he called. The river brought in a back door flush, but I felt pretty confident putting out a 40% pot bet. He called and showed me the KJ of hearts for the running flush. I dunno. I think my thought process is okay here. Obviously it’s a pretty bad result that starts with my flop check, but a free card hurts me so rarely that it can’t be that bad.  On the other hand, since I think he has a pair and I think it looks like I could be bluffing, checking the flop seems like the wrong conclusion for my best possible line – clearly betting is better if I’m not expecting him to fold.

After losing about 70% of my starting stack on that hand, I opened QQ during level 2 with a 33 big blind stack, jammed over a 3-bet, and busted after I lost a race to AK.

I finished 8th of 65+ players in the $180 event… and 6 cashed. I was very happy with my overall play, but my bust out hand leaves me unsatisfied. I’m not convinced it was a standard spot and I feel like it’s a clear violation of the second goal I have posted above. This was the situation:

I’m sitting on a stack of roughly 20 bigs holding 75o in the big blind. We are at the 1500/3000/500 level and two late players limp in, the small blind completes, and I check. We go four-handed to 743 two flush flop. I decide to lead out a mere 5000 into a pot of 16,000 – which seems extremely small in retrospect. I get called in one spot. The turn card is an offsuit 2 and at this point, I decide to take a pot-control line and check. My opponent bets 20K into 26K and I go into the tank – but not for long enough! Ultimately, I decide that a) I think I had the best hand on the flop, b) I can’t call this bet and fold on the river when I miss my straight draw, c) this is a great spot to apply pressure on me after I show weakness, and d) if I’m not folding, I have to shove – which I do and he snap-calls with A5 and I’m out after the river bricks off. During my brief tank, what I didn’t consider was: a) is this extremely marginal spot worth betting my tournament life on? or b) if I fold here, I’ll have 18 big blinds, plenty of play, and an opportunity to find a much better spot. Obviously, this is one of those spots where it’s okay to take extra time to really think things through and evaluate everything at hand.

In addition, during the $115 event, when we were down to two tables, I picked a really bad spot to bluff the river after checking back on the turn that cost me a large portion of my stack… another spot where it was pretty obvious my opponent is never folding to a standard bet and I didn’t really stop to think it through enough. So while I felt like I played pretty well overall in these events, the spots where I felt like I choked are the exact situations that I’m wanting to improve in.

double my current bankroll size
maintain a 1 BB/HR win rate at 8/16
start playing 20/40 regularly by end of year

Despite my whiff on tournaments and average/bad luck in $8/$16 games, I still managed a winning month. However, it didn’t do much in helping pad my bankroll – especially after using it to buy a really nice Valentine’s Day gift!

I ran at 0.99 BB/HR overall, 2.34 BB/HR @ $4/$8, and 0.22 BB/HR @ $8/$16.

Also, I’m not sure if $20/$40 should be my end game. Perhaps the $5-$500 spread game at Muckleshoot should be my goal.

Overall, I guess I’m happy with January, but I know things could be much better (or worse – to be fair…). Looking forward to February!