Archive for May, 2016

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The Martian (2015)

May 26, 2016

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels
Director: Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien)

Bottom Line: In this Cast Away on Mars, Mark Watney (Damon) is left behind on the red planet after a storm separates him from his crew and they assume that he is dead. It’s a familiar trope (stranded man) in a new setting (Mars) and while it’s easy to follow how a man on an island is figuring out how to survive, the math, science, and space knowledge required to understand what Watney is doing to stay alive is quite a bit more advanced. Even so, The Martian makes for an enjoyable film with plenty of light comedic moments – despite his predicament, Watney’s sense of humor never wavers. On the other hand, the light nature of the film undermines the severity of the situation and you never really feel like this man’s life is seriously in danger.

I enjoyed Matt Damon a lot in the main role and Michael Pena (Ant Man) once again does a great job providing a funny side role, but the rest of the cast raised some question marks. Jessica Chastain probably deserves beefier roles – she has immense talent but little to do in this film. Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover (a.k.a. rapper Childish Gambino) seem miscast – Wiig plays it stiff and straight and Glover’s character seems to come from nowhere to play a pivotal role but does provide one of the film’s biggest laughs (“Who are you again?”. I like both actors, but their roles in The Martian are pretty ho hum.

Overall, The Martian is a good, but not great movie that seems to be a bit overrated, but is plenty worth watching.

Replay Value: Not strong.
Sequel Potential: I would say zero.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay – all of which seem pretty generous to me.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

May 7, 2016

Starring: The Avengers
Director: The Russo Brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, You, Me and Dupree)

Bottom Line: Somehow Marvel keeps outdoing themselves. Starting with The Avengers in 2012, Marvel has been putting out a nonstop string of top notch superhero films (with the clunky Age Of Ultron being an exception). With the same creative team responsible for The Winter Soldier in charge of making Civil War, fans of the MCU had every reason to believe this could be Marvel movie yet.

And it is. While The Dark Knight will be extremely difficult to top as my favorite comic book movie of all time, Civil War is quite easily my second favorite. Just like The Winter Soldier, the label of “comic book movie” can be dropped from the equation when discussing Civil War‘s greatness – it transcends the genre; this is simply great filmmaking.

Civil War explores what happens when The Avengers are held responsible for the consequences of their actions – in other words, what happens to innocent bystanders while they are trying to save the world. So when the United Nations steps in to try to control the superheroes, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark find themselves on opposite sides of the agenda – and then all sorts of fun things start happening.

A decade ago, I never would have dreamed that I’d be more excited to see Captain America and Iron Man duke it out over a Batman/Superman conflict, but this is the world we live in today – Marvel is king and DC is… struggling. Where it seems like DC is trying to do too much by having its big three all in the same film, Marvel seamlessly tells a story that involves up to 12 superheroes. Everyone contributes in Civil War – both to the humor and to the awesome action pieces – and it never feels like the film is crowded or trying to cram too much into the plot.

It also somehow introduces two major characters into the MCU – Black Panther and Spider-Man – and instantly turns them into fan favorites. Fourteen years and six films later, we finally get a Spider-Man that feels totally true to the character. Tom Holland is genius casting – he’s a teenager and this Spider-Man acts like a young Peter Parker should: wowed by everything around him and constantly running his mouth to hilarious results. To say I can’t wait for Spider-Man: Homecoming would be an understatement. And Chadwick Boseman is brilliant as T’Challa, the Wakanda native that takes up the Blank Panther mantle when he becomes king of his nation. His nuanced performance is the best one Marvel has produced since Robert Downey Jr. first blew us away in the original Iron Man. I can’t wait to see what he does with a starring role in 2018’s Blank Panther.

Civil War is about as fun as summer blockbusters get. With solid performances all around, good surprises, the perfect dose of humor, and relentlessly awesome action, this movie takes over the top spot as Marvel’s best film yet – and it’s not all that close, it really blows The Avengers away. Phase 3 of the MCU and the upcoming Ininity War movies are in great hands with the Russo brothers. Take note DC… this is how you make great movies.

Replay Value: A rare movie that’s worth seeing in theaters more than once.
Sequel Potential: Marvel’s Phase 3 has release dates all the way out to The Avengers: Infinity War Part II in 2019.
Oscar Potential: I would have nominated The Winter Soldier over American Sniper for Best Picture, but comic book movies are generally dismissed come awards season – even The Dark Knight got snubbed. Maybe Civil War will finally break tradition and snag a Best Picture nomination.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Must See)

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2016 Poker Update – January through April

May 6, 2016

I’ve been struggling to update my blog regularly lately, so a week into May I’m somehow just now writing my first blog about my 2016 poker results.

Well, my year started off amazing… like so good, it was feeling surreal. For the first three months of the year, I was trending at $33.53 an hour in all forms of poker and was well on my way to having what could be my best year ever. By far. In fact, March 2016 was the best month of gambling I’ve had since June of 2005, when I turned a $150 deposit on Poker Room into a $25,000 bankroll. Some of you might not know how that story ended. Less than a year later, I had -$900 in my bank account, I was unemployed and homeless – I had to move back in with my parents – and I was starting to lose my battle with alcoholism. It would take half a decade before I returned to sustained success at the poker table. So even though I had an amazing run in the summer of 2005, it was merely a run of good variance that I rode all the way up to the $20/$40 level on Party Poker. Back then, I didn’t understand anything about variance or bankroll management, so it’s no surprise I eventually went broke – and I would do so again many times over the next several years. So when I think about my poker career, I really consider 2011 the start of it… and May 2016 was my best month since then.

And then April 2016 was my worst month. I posted zero wins in my first eight $8/$16 sessions and I wasn’t just posting losses, I was getting trounced. During that stretch, a -$406 session was my second best result. At my worst, I was down over 250 big bets at the $8/$16 level for the month. I managed to shave about half of that off before it was all said and done, so while things could have been worse, it still resulted in my worst month since January 2011.

Here’s a look at how my goals are shaping up:

Play 1250 hours

Through the end of April, I had played 573 hours of poker which puts me on a pace that would exceed 1700 hours of live play. That’s even more hours than I played last year and honestly, a week into May, I’m exhausted. I’m averaging over 140 hours a month of poker play – and I work 30 hours a week at my day job. That’s over 260 hours of work a month so far. Needless to say, it’s drastically decreased my quality of life away from the casino. I’ve posted very little on my blog; I’ve seen three movies in theaters this year and I still haven’t seen a number of the more important films from 2015 (The Big Short, Spotlight, The Martian, Creed); and, most importantly, I can feel the strain it’s putting on my marriage. Lastly, I just never relax and taking some time off to just do nothing is probably an underrated factor in my long term success. Certainly it would behoove me to spend more time working on my game away from the tables that I don’t learning curve doesn’t become stagnant. So, going forward, I will be taking more time off poker so I can maintain a semblance of balance in my life.

Play 150 hours of Omaha 8 or better and maintain a 1 BB/HR win rate

So far I’ve played 10 sessions of Omaha, totaling 33 hours, for a net loss of -$6 (and actually I got killed in a $10/$20 session on May 4th that I’m not including those results). Of course, these results are basically worthless, but one thing I can make note of is that my average session has been less than 4 hours each. In fact, I’ve only played one session that reached 8 hours in length. Of course, part of the issue is that five of these sessions have either been warm ups for other games or just killing time. It’s probably unlikely that I will achieve my goal of playing 150 hours of O8, especially since the game at Clearwater is a good 90 minutes away now and the game in Renton is on Mondays when I work my day job. So the majority of my O8 play will probably happen when I take poker trips to play big tournament series like the WSOP next month.

Play 100 hours of no limit cash games

Eek. Through 4 months I’ve played one NL cash game session for just over one hour and a profit of $39. With Super Sundays at Muckleshoot falling on Sundays when I work, I just haven’t made getting into NL cash games a priority. It’s pretty difficult to justify making the trip to Auburn when I am mashing an $8/$16 game ten minutes away from home.

Do the Advanced Poker Training weekly challenge every week and spend at least an hour a week playing hands on APT

I’ve done a number of the APT weekly challenges, but certainly not all of them. Maybe not even half. I did simulate a bunch of MTTs leading up to the Muckleshoot Spring Classic with settings mirrored to match those of the events I planned to play. While there are aspects of the software that I find laughable at times, a one time payment for a lifetime membership has already been justified. Still, I could spend more time on the website improving my game away from the table.

Play 3-5 WSOP events

I’m just now starting to sell action for the 2016 WSOP. I’ve already booked a flight to Vegas on May 31st to play the $565 NLHE Casino Employee Event the next day, the $565 NLHE Colossus later that week, and the $1500 H.O.R.S.E. on June 7th. My wife and I are also both playing the $1500 Omaha 8 or Better event in mid June. Finally, I am planning to play the $1500 NLHE Monster Stack the last week of June, but I have not booked a flight for that trip yet. I’m looking to sell up to 60% of my action for the $1500 events and I’ve already capped my sold pieces at 30% for the smaller events. Let’s get it!

Cash a WSOP event

I actually accomplished this goal already, unexpectedly. In late February I made the trip to Vegas to play the WSOP Circuit stop at Ballys and while I didn’t cash either of the events I went to play – the $250 H.O.R.S.E. and the $330 Monster Stack – I final tabled a $330 NLHE event that I only decided to play last minute. I came back on the second day of the tournament with a short stack and I decided to take a different approach to short stack tournament poker and it paid off handsomely. Rather than getting my chips in the middle every time I had a +EV push, I passed up on some marginally profitable jamming situations with the intentions of hanging around and laddering up. I’m not going to debate the merits of this approach here, but so far I am happy with the results it has produced. I ended up final tabling with quite a few notable WSOPc grinders, including current Card Player 2016 Player Of The Year front-runner Ari Engel. I eventually found a super sexy spot where I was able to jam 17 bigs over an open and a flat with AK, but wound up losing the race when the flatter found a call with 77. But I managed to score my first WSOP cash, a final table no less, and binked my second $5000 score in less than five months. Still, while a WSOPc cash will show up on my WSOP resume, it will even more legitimate when I get it done at the Rio this summer. With 5 events lined up, I like my chances, especially with how well I’ve been doing in tournaments lately.

Read through Jared Tendler’s The Mental Game Of Poker vols. 1 & 2 and do ALL the work

Here’s where my poker game has suffered the most. When you’re running pure and nothing feels challenging, it’s easy to get complacent about the mental game. I’ve literally spent next to zero time working on my mental game away from the table in 2016. I was crushing it, so why bother? So when things finally got brutal in April, I was ill prepared. I said I was done for the month after multiple sessions… but then the mental game work I’ve put in the past few years kicked in and I told myself not to be a wimp and get in there and play. And I wound up cutting my losses for the month nearly in half. So while my mental game probably hasn’t progressed much this year, it’s refreshing to know that I’ve built up enough skill that I can battle through the darkest of times and that the accumulated tilt doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to. The extra time off going forward will open up more time for me to continue developing my mental muscle.

Maintain a 1.25 BB/HR win rate at the $8-$16 level

For the first three months of the year, I was running pure, trending at 1.74 BB/HR over 315 hours of play through the end of March. Looking at a graph of my results, I had very little negative variance, with my biggest valleys being about -60 big bets and my plateaus lasting maybe a week before I’d go back to crushing. As noted earlier, I finally experienced some extended negative variance in April and my win rate sat at exactly 1 BB/HR entering May 2016.

Reach a $30,000 bankroll

Here’s where things get really disappointing. Despite being on pace for what would be my best year of poker ever, my bankroll is actually less now than when the year started. There are a number of reasons why this has happened – some of which I won’t go into detail here – but it’s incredibly frustrating. Still, even with basically no forward progress, I think I will manage this goal before the year is over.

That sums up my progress towards my 2016 poker goals. It’s bittersweet. My results have been borderline fantastic – on top of my WSOPc final table, I also made multiple deep runs in the Muckleshoot Spring Classic (two cashes) and another deep run in the Spring Round Up in Pendleton, Oregon. All told, I’ve cashed 5 of 11 major events I’ve played so far this year for an ROI of 83% and I’ve been a hand or two going the other way from cashing for tens of thousands of dollars. So the results have been good, but I’ve been running myself into the ground and I haven’t put enough time into my game away from the tables as I should. So here’s to hoping for a more relaxing, but even more profitable summer in the upcoming months!

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The Jungle Book (2016)

May 6, 2016

Starring: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef, Elf)

Bottom Line: Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book was borderline amazing. Favreau and his team of computer VFX geniuses bring the Disney animated classic to stunning life in this “live action” adaptation. I quote “live action” because all the characters – with the exception of Mowgli – and all the locations are computer generated – and you can barely tell. Of course, motion capture technology has drastically increased the realism of these artificial performances. The voice acting is all A-listers (Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Kingsley, Giancarlo Esposito, Idris Elba) and top notch throughout. I didn’t hate the kid that played Mowgli, but Favreau got a much better performance out of the kid in his last movie, Chef.

While this version of The Jungle Book is far more intense and scary than its predecessors, it should still be suitable for most families, especially those with older kids. The Jungle Book was absolutely gorgeous and a testament to how far animation has come – in fact, it’s the new bar for CGI film making.

Replay Value: I would be happy to watch this again. A must own for families.
Sequel Potential: Crushing the box office = guaranteed sequel (already announced).
Oscar Potential: A strong favorite for any Visual Effects awards – this is really superb work here.

Grade: 7.5 (Must See/Excellent)