Archive for July, 2015

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Ant-Man (2015)

July 31, 2015

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll
Director: Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up, Bring It On)

Bottom Line: When Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World dropped out of directing Ant-Man, I have to say my hopes for the film decreased drastically. I’m happy to report that Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man is a nice surprise and a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It probably didn’t hurt that Wright stayed on as a screenwriter and executive producer, thus having a say in keeping his original vision somewhat in tact.

Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a convict fresh out of jail, looking to find work and live the straight life so he can be a good father to his daughter. Unable to hold a job due to his criminal past, Lang teams up with a dopey group of robbers for a heist that he hopes can provide him with enough financial security to keep up on his child support. Unfortunately for this group of “wombats,” they are being set up so that Scott can break into a safe and discover the Ant-Man suit, left behind by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Hank wants Scott to become the Ant-Man because his old company is now being run by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a sketchy guy close to unraveling the secret behind the Ant-Man technology and selling it off to questionable government officials, something Hank has long feared could happen.

Paul Rudd was perfect casting as our reluctant hero. A solid comic actor, Rudd seamlessly steps into the role of superhero while infusing Ant-Man with plenty of laughs. In fact, Ant-Man is even funnier than Gaurdians Of The Galaxy, which I thought was hilarious the first time I watched it. Michael Pena, in particular, really steals the show as one of Lang’s ex-convict/robber friends, providing plenty of the film’s funniest lines and moments. The rest of the supporting cast is decent in their roles.

Ant-Man was more fun than the last Avengers movie and it will be interesting to see how Scott Lang fits in with earth’s mightiest heroes when they inevitably cross paths. I will offer a minor spoiler in saying that an Avenger makes a cameo in Ant-Man and it’s quite easily the highlight of the film.

There is a lot that can go wrong with a superhero whose main abilities are shrinking in size and interacting with ants. Ant-Man balances the absurd with a perfect blend of seriousness and humor. It’s pretty funny to see the film cut away from micro-sized, but intense action sequences and pan out to see what the carnage looks like from a human’s POV – in other words, like a whole lot of nothing. The visuals in the film are well done as technology has come a long way since Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. I thought Ant-Man would be must see in 3D, and maybe it is, but watching it in 3D didn’t really add any wow factor.

Ant-Man is a great entry into the MCU, providing a fun story with plenty of good action and tons of comedy.

Replay Value: Definitely worth seeing again but it will be interesting to see how well the comedy holds up on repeat viewings.
Sequel Potential: Ant-Man will probably make multiple appearances in other Marvel movies before appearing in his own sequel.
Oscar Potential: Possibly some visual effects attention.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)

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Ball Four by Jim Bouton

July 24, 2015

Ball Four has long been considered a highly controversial book – Bouton says it was banned in some places – and essential reading for any baseball fan. It’s also been included on some prominent lists, such as the New York Public Library’s 1996 list of Books Of The Century and Time Magazine’s 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time. I was kind of expecting the book to blow my mind, but reading it for the first time in 2015 probably doesn’t have nearly the same affect it would have reading it in the late 1960s and early 70s. We live in an age saturated with media exposure where practically nothing is sacred. In a decade where Jose Canseco released his tell-all book Juiced, steroid use amongst MLB players has been exposed, and candid athlete biographies are commonplace – including Jane Leavy’s excellent biography of Mickey Mantle The Last BoyBall Four feels tame by comparison.

But in the late 1960s, things were quite a bit different and Bouton’s book detailing his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros, as well as his past career with the New York Yankees, shocked the world. Ball Four is notorious for talking about players use of “greenies,” or amphetimines, as a performance-enhancing drug and for “beaver-shooting,” a specific reference to players trying to look up women’s skirts and womanizing in general. Bouton’s description of the rampant PED use is evidence enough that players of past generations probably shouldn’t be looking down upon the steroid use of recent MLB players and the current Hall Of Fame shuns are bordering on hypocritical. Perhaps the biggest backlash from Ball Four was Bouton’s chronicling of Mickey Mantle’s drinking, something most baseball fans recognize as common knowledge these days. After the publishing of Ball Four, Bouton was shunned by the baseball world for some time and by the Yankees, in particular, for decades.

Listening to Jim Bouton read his own book on Audible was a pretty fun experience. It was definitely the least professional performance I’ve heard so far, but that’s to be expected from a former baseball player. You can hear Bouton swallowing and making all sorts of mouth noises throughout the reading, something you almost never hear from the professional dictators. On the other hand, Bouton gets to relive his stories and you can hear the emotion in his retelling, often accompanied by fits of laughter mid sentence.

My version of Ball Four was accompanied by several additions to the original text, including the tragic death of Bouton’s daughter, a truly heartbreaking and almost unbearable sequence to listen to, Bouton’s post-MLB baseball career, and finally his return to Yankee Stadium for Old Timer’s Day after his son publishes a letter in the newspaper on Father’s Day pleading for the Yankees to lift their ban on Bouton. I powered through these sections even though part of me felt they were mostly unnecessary additions to the original text. Bouton’s personal life certainly wasn’t what made Ball Four so compelling. Regardless, I can confirm Ball Four as essential baseball reading, although in 2015 it’s not quite the shocker it was back when it was originally published.

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Predestination (2014)

July 22, 2015

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
Director: The Spierig Brothers

Bottom Line: I’m not going to lie: this sci-fi, futuristic time traveler made my head spin… with joy. Predestination is chock full of wonderful twists, turns, and time travelling paradoxes. Ethan Hawke plays a time-jumping Temporal Agent whose job is to prevent future killers from ever getting a chance to commit their crimes. On his latest assignment, he’s posing as a bartender when he runs into a customer (Snook) that promises to tell him the best story he’s ever heard. “His” tragic story of abandonment, lost love, and gender reassignment sets the stage for a series of surprises and a mind-bending journey through time.

Predestination requires one’s full attention. It’s not the kind of movie where you can multitask and get the full experience. If you blink, you might miss a crucial plot development. The first couple twists are pretty surprising, but eventually it’s pretty easy to guess what is coming – although that doesn’t make it any less fun. This movie breaks pretty much every time travelling rule you can think of and it would be very easy for things to get hokey, but the filmmakers take the developments seriously and Predestination totally works despite it’s many potential pitfalls.

I thought Sarah Snook gave an incredible performance in this movie. She’s tasked with a role that is built for award season yet somehow Predestination has been overlooked by pretty much everybody. It’s one of the better performances in all of 2014 – a true can’t miss.

Predestination just might wind up a cult/genre classic. It’s a riveting story with a knockout performance from Snook and a far more entertaining 2014 Ethan Hawke film than the overrated Boyhood which somehow got showered with all the awards attention. It’s a must see for sci-fi fans and I’d strongly recommend it to everyone else too.

Replay Value: A second viewing is probably required.
Sequel Potential: This should be a one and done.
Oscar Potential: Sarah Snook was certainly robbed. Really makes me wonder if this will be considered a 2015 film.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)

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Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

July 20, 2015

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow
Director: Elizabeth Banks

Bottom Line: Pitch Perfect 2 is a worthy follow-up to the surprisingly enjoyable original. This time the Barden Bellas enter an international competition after embarrassing themselves in a performance at the Lincoln Center. Elizabeth Banks’ directorial debut is a safe one: more of the same with characters and actresses she’s already familiar with. The girls are just as funny as they were the first time around and there are plenty of welcome additions. Hailee Steinfeld fits right in with the rest of the group and the German group the girls battle throughout the film make for a worthy, often hilarious foil. The best addition to the cast is Keegan-Michael Key who absolutely kills it as Anna Kendrick’s boss at the record company her character works for.

The weak parts of the film are the same as the first one. The two announcers, played by Banks and John Michael Higgins, are Dodgeball clones and they just aren’t that funny. In a movie where everyone else is naturally amusing it feels like these characters are trying way too hard – and not succeeding very often. Also, just like in the first film, the male leads are indistinguishable. Obviously this is a female driven film, but since that’s the case, why even have these pointless male characters? At least Adam Devine’s Thumper continues to steal some scenes.

Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t switch up the formula of the first film, but if you liked the original, this is a fun, satisfying sequel with some nice additions to the cast, more quality mashups, and a pretty sweet finale.

Replay Value: I could sit through both movies again and I’d watch a third one.
Sequel Potential: Pitch Perfect 3 is due out in 2017 with Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson already aboard.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Terminator: Genisys (2015)

July 19, 2015

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke
Director: Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World, Game Of Thrones)

Bottom Line: I was pretty disappointed with Terminator: Genisys as it was up there with Jurassic World as one of my most anticipated movies of the summer. Granted, the Terminator franchise hasn’t been particularly riveting since James Cameron left it behind more than 20 years ago after T2: Judgement Day. But with Game Of Throne‘s Emilia Clarke taking over as Sarah Connor and what looked like a strong trailer, I was pretty stoked.

Terminator: Genisys starts off just before the first movie began, with John Connor (Jason Clarke) sending one of his soldiers back in time to protect his mother. This time, just before Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) time jumps, it looks like John Connor is taken by surprise and when Reese arrives back in 1984, Sarah Connor is ready for him – and so is a T-800 model she has affectionately named “Pops.” I thought this was a pretty unique twist and was looking forward to where the story would go from there. Unfortunately, the movie keeps twisting and turning until it twists so absurdly that I practically lost all interest in what I was watching.

Emilia Clarke was predictably awesome as Sarah Connor and it was fun to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his most iconic role, but the casting of Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke was just atrocious. Courtney gave an extremely limp performance as there was no believable chemistry between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor and I don’t know what it is about Jason Clarke, but he has a face I just want to punch. I really felt like these two casting decisions brought the overall quality of the film way down.

Terminator: Genisys has some good action sequences and plenty of call backs to the first two films, but I suspect fans of the franchise will feel pretty mixed about this entry. The story is just a bit too hokey for me, personally, and the critics have ripped this movie to shreds. Proceed with caution.

Replay Value: This was slightly more appealing than the last two Terminator movies, both of which I only watched once.
Sequel Potential: The franchise is over 30 years old, but Arnold isn’t getting any younger. Still, Arnold’s retirement won’t stop Hollywood from making these movies.
Oscar Potential: Maybe some visual effects.

Grade: 5/10 (Watchable)

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2015 Poker Goals: April through June update

July 6, 2015

I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with my dedication to elite poker play the past three months. My focus level has fallen off tremendously and the fact that I never even posted wrap-ups for April or May is pretty telling. Granted, it’s been a busy few months. Since my March wrap-up I’ve gotten married, been to Vegas for the World Series of Poker, spent a week traveling down the coast to San Francisco, celebrated my wife’s birthday, and moved to Tacoma. And today I finally got my internet up and running. For the first time in months, I have nothing on my plate in the foreseeable future. I can once again turn my attention to crushing at the poker table. This post will focus on how I did the past three months and how I’m doing on my 2015 poker goals.

log 1200 live hours

Over the past three months I played 314 hours of live poker – just over 100 hours a month – putting my YTD total at 764 hours, well on pace to reach my goal but a noticeable dip in play compared to the first three months of the year. I now live about 10 minutes away from the Palace in Lakewood though and seeing as how parenthood is probably in my near future I should be granted the freedom to go on the super grind for the next year or so.

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

And here is where my lack of focus comes in. I literally kept notes for ZERO sessions over the past three months which means I’ve basically been playing on autopilot and spending very little time thinking about my game off the table. My mindset has remained strong during this time, so it’s nice to see the mental muscle is actually building, but it’s important not to get lazy and I will be turning on the laser focus again starting… now.

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

One of my bigger goals for 2015 was to quit spending so much time in a game both my ability and my bankroll have outgrown. The past three months I played 112.5 hours at the 4/8 level with 82 of those hours coming on the clock. That means I played 30.5 hours of 4/8 off duty out of 156 personal, non-tournament hours – or just under 20%. That’s a happy ratio and meets my goal, but it also means I only averaged just over 50 live, off duty cash game hours a month, which is a pretty poor output.

log 100 hours of spread limit

I did get some no limit hours in while I was in Vegas, but not very much. I am now at 30 hours YTD halfway through the year. There’s a chance my output will increase over the second half of 2015 as my bankroll (hopefully) increases and I dabble in the Muckleshoot 3/5 game a bit more. I now have Sundays off permanently and live 20-30 minutes away from Muck, so Super Sundays will be a must for me going forward. I should reach 100 hours just playing the next six Super Sundays.

continue 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.

This has been another area of my game that has fallen off tremendously the past few months. I did spend some time reading up on and developing my mental game, but it’s nowhere near as developed as I would expect it to be by now. While I haven’t had any notable mental game problems the past few months, I basically just treaded water. I should have a lot more free time for poker study in the future as my wife is switching to week days and it will be easy to schedule a designated time solely for working on my game away from the tables.

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

I did a poor job in this area the past few months as well. Poker felt more like a hobby than something I was putting my heart and soul into. The most telling point: I spent 54 hours in my bread and butter game – the 8/16 at the Palace – or just 18 hours a month. Considering I’ve been averaging over 1.5 big bets per hour in that game my lack of output is pretty inexcusable. Obviously I have been busy with other stuff, but still… Now that I live ten minutes away, there is really no reason I shouldn’t be able to play 90+ hours of 8/16 a month going forward.

watch opponents closely in tournaments and develop exploitative styles for each of them.

take my time in critical pots and really think things through before acting.

set a new career high tournament score.

I played 21 tournaments over the past three months and cashed three times (15%). Two cashes and nine tournaments were at my job with entry fees of $40 or less. Yawn. The other 12 tournaments had an average BI of $266 and I only managed to cash once, which fortunately was a first place finish.

In mid-April I went 0 for 3 at Wildhorse Casino during the Spring Round Up series. I finished 3rd at my table during the Shootout tournament and I remember feeling pretty unlucky about that. I don’t remember getting any momentum in the Omaha 8 or HORSE tournaments. I am planning to play a full slate at the Fall Round Up this year and I have a pretty good feeling about a breakout.

During the 2015 World Series Of Poker, I continued my drought at the Rio by going 0 for 4 in World Series and daily deep stack events, bringing my lifetime showing there to a sad 0 for 9. Whiffing nine tournaments in a row is a pretty standard stretch, but it’s not how I was hoping to start my World Series career. I was extremely disappointed with my showing in WSOP Event #1, the Casino Employee Event. I can’t remember any particular hands but I do remember feeling like I was not super happy with my play and that I didn’t set myself up for success very well.

In the $565 Colossus I fired one bullet and received an absolutely brutal table draw. On my direct left, I had notable pro Maurice Hawkins (top 130 in the world according to the GPI Rankings); on my right I had WPT champion Jordan Cristos. In fact, of the eight other players at my table, I knew for certain that I was better than one of them and he wasn’t much of a drooler either. In a tournament with a record-breaking 22,000+ entrants (and a sea of fish) I couldn’t believe how tough my starting table was. Maurice was playing every hand – seriously, I saw him call off over half his stack pre with 92dd once – and I quickly learned that I wasn’t going to be able to open lightly and he was going to make me “prove it” every time I took the lead in a pot. He was playing the Colossus like it was a $10 tournament and I was playing like it was $1500 and I wasn’t about to bluff off my stack trying to outlevel him. Being one of the top players in the world, I was shocked at how unprofessional and rude Maurice Hawkins was. He was a total ass. Possibly the least pleasant person I’ve ever played with and that’s really saying something. I had the pleasure of watching Jordan Cristos check-raise jam the turn, getting Maurice to fold an overpair, and then showing a total airball bluff when Maurice caused a MASSIVE scene after folding his hand face up and throwing his cards at Jordan. “Let’s move on to the next hand, cause this one is no good. So let’s just play the next hand.” All said with such aggressive, negative energy and repeated ad nauseum. It was a pretty cool moment for the whole table when Jordan flipped over the king high and shut his arrogant ass up. After that hand, Maurice decided to focus on someone else and picked on him relentlessly. That player handled it like a champ though and I think the whole table breathed a sigh of relief when Maurice busted… of course, he guaranteed to all of us as he was walking away that he would win the Colossus. The dude is the epitome of how a professional should NOT act at the table. A total disgrace to the game if that’s his constant MO.

Unfortunately, Jordan Cristos was also playing this tournament like $565 is nothing to him. One of his standard plays was to isolate a limper by making a huge raise in late position – something like 10+ bigs, which is a bigger bet than most three bets would be. One time he did this, I flatted him with two black aces and got it in on the KQJ all heart flop, expecting to hit the rail most of the time, but somehow holding against his QTo with a royal draw. Later in the tournament, he made a similar move and I looked down at AQ sitting on about 16 big blinds. Jordan had shown down so many trashy hands – and almost never passed on an opportunity to try to steal – that I didn’t think for a second about folding, but I also realized that I had no fold equity and that I would be playing for my tournament life. I jammed it, he was priced in, and I ended up losing to his Q9, a pretty depressing end to my day, but quite a huge improvement on my one hand exit in the Millionairemaker last year!

I decided to play the $100 weekly HORSE tournament at The Orleans and I took the majority of the money in a four-way ICM chop as the substantial chip leader. Even though I had a hefty chip lead, the blinds were large enough that one hand could change the scope of the tournament and I couldn’t say no to better than second place money without having to play it out. I played good overall and ran really hot at the final table to earn the victory. It was bittersweet. Obviously, when you enter a tournament the ultimate goal is to win it, so I was happy to take it down. On the other hand, it’s a bit frustrating to run red hot in the tournament with the smallest buy in and field size of my trip. Even with the first place victory, I still lost money on my tournament entries in Vegas. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but if there’s a time to run amazing, this is not the tournament I would have picked.

Two days later I played the $240 HORSE event at the Golden Nugget, got an amazing table draw with some of the worst play I’ve ever seen, and had absolutely no luck. I peaked in the first ten minutes of the tournament and I was barely above the starting stack at any point. I missed most of my draws and lost with most of my made hands and could never take advantage of the horrendous play that was rampant at my table. I’ve never wanted a mulligan so bad in my poker career.

I’m reaching a point where I’m getting pretty fed up with tournament poker. Excluding smaller tournaments (< $100), I have cashed 2 of 19 times this year for an ROI of -34%. In the past twelve months, I’ve cashed 3 of 29 times for an ROI of -56%. As someone with so much cash game success, I have to ask myself why I continue to punish myself with tournament variance. Or is it variance? 29 tournaments is an absurdly small sample size so it’s certainly possible. Prior to this past year, I had been a tournament crusher, so I have good reason to think things will turn around eventually. I am fully confident I am capable of a life-changing score. On the other hand, in comparison to cash games, I play tournaments so infrequently that it is much harder to develop my game plan. With cash games, I can study off the table and apply what I’m working on immediately, multiple times a week. With tournaments, I might go weeks in between events and even when I play I might not be able to apply the concepts I’m currently learning in a given tournament. Still, I’m not quite ready to give up just yet. I feel like my time is coming and I’d hate to deny myself the opportunity. I’m planning a full slate for the Fall Round Up in Pendleton and I’m going to start planning for next year’s WSOP immediately. Hopefully I will be in a position where I can sell action for and play up to five events or more. Also, now that I'm residing in Tacoma and my availability is changing, I think I will start playing Muckleshoot's Tuesday deep stack regularly. With that event and some of the weekend tournaments, I should be able play somewhere between 5-7 tournaments a month and hopefully turn my ROI around.

double my current bankroll size

maintain a 1 BB/HR win rate at 8/16

I posted a small loss in April and followed that up with two mediocre winning months in May and June. I had to use my bankroll for all the extra traveling we’ve been doing and various other expenses, so despite making a modest profit the past three months, I actually have less in my bankroll now than I did when April started. I loathe the feeling of running in place and getting complacent, but that’s how these past few months have felt. I’m ready to start grinding and really focus again.

Over 648.5 hours, these are my current YTD win rates:

1.67 big bets per hour at 8/16 (1.81 past three months)
0.77 big bets per hour at 4/8 (0.2 past three months)
0.42 big bets per hour at 10/20 and higher (all in the past three months)

I’m looking forward to doing some serious grinding and bankroll building over the rest of the summer and hopefully I can put together a hot stretch of tournament runs!