Friday, January 14, 2005

Poker problem

I'm going to run through a hand I played recently, which illustrates a situation I run into quite often.

Short-handed game (6 players), no-limit.

Early position ("EP") calls. I limp in middle position with A-3 off. BB checks.
* * * Flop comes: T 7 2 rainbow.
BB checks. EP checks. I bet half the value of the pot, a standard bet to steal the pot with a trash flop. BB folds. EP calls.
* * * Turn is 6 D. Two diamonds on the board.
EP bets $3 (about half the value of the pot). I raise $3. EP calls.
* * * River comes a Q, no 3-flush on the board.
EP checks. What should I do here?

(a) Bet a little more than half the size of the pot, representing a strong hand betting for value.
(b) Sensing weakness, bet the size of the pot and muscle out EP.
(c) Check, since the book says you shouldn't bluff an A high when the other guy checks. Either you'll beat a drawing hand, or you'll lose to a calling hand.
(d) Go all-in and muscle out EP. (This is a play I never make, though it's a common online play.)

I'll reveal how it played out in the comments, but I'm interested in hearing how folks approach this situation. I put him on a hand like J-9 suited, straight and flush draw.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Drive-by reviews of 2004 Releases (seen in the last two months)

Because nobody can get past the fiftieth word anyway...

Crimson Gold (Panahi) A-/B+
In a nutshell: Fear and Loathing in Tehran.
Amazon movie match: Taxi Driver.
To read a more eloquent take, what he said.
The skinny: A preçis of class resentment in five stunning set pieces, the best of which is the pizza delivery at the stakeout, but the most incisive being the trip to the jewelry store, where every subtly condescending move by the clerks stings more acutely because Panahi and amateur actor Hossain underplay Hussein's reaction until the end. Only the last trip to the playboy mansion feels schematic. A welcome reprieve from the ultra-minimalism that now dominates Iranian cinema, this great movie is not underappreciated but is perhaps undervalued.

Troy (Petersen) B
In a nutshell: Men's Health magazine presents Homer's The Iliad.
Amazon movie match: Gladiator
To read a more eloquent take, what he said and he said.
The skinny: Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- said this movie sucked, but I still can't understand why it flamed out with audiences. It's an involving epic with good battle scenes, enjoyably broad acting, and with an intensely heroic Eric Bana at the center. Sure, it's more a loose riff on the Iliad, one of my favorite stories, but the departures are not always what you'd expect or awful, and perverse for an American blockbuster to leave its heart with the fallen rather than with the triumphant invaders. Iraq War subtext disposable, but I enjoyed the gods-as-ideological-pretext echo. Brad Pitt physically perfect as Achilles; just plug your ears when he delivers oratory.

Notre Musique (Godard) B/B-
In a nutshell: La guerre n'est jamais finie.
Amazon movie match: In Praise of Love
To read a more elquent take, what he said.
The skinny: In praise of abstraction: Hell is a ferocious ten minute montage of archival war footage, movies, and random bits of impishness that confirms Godard as a dissemminator of images of the first order. However, Godard's annoying habit of confusing paradoxical aphorisms for wisdom emerges in Purgatory. Good thing that unlike his previous anti-American tract, he puts in his mouthpieces more considered rants and devises a more involving scenario involving the inconsolable Israeli filmmaker. Better than most late Godards, but not within hailng distance of his best works.

Bad Education (Almodóvar) B+
In a nutshell: Pedro's Greatest Hits
Amazon movie match: Mulholland Dr., on the Vertigo side of the family.
To read a more eloquent take, what he said.
The skinny: As widely commented on, it's a fusion of young Pedro the sexual provocateur with the emotional depth of the mature Pedro, only that he's got one too many balls in the air here, making this tricky noir homage somehow less affecting than his last movie Talk to Her or the very similar Mulholland Dr., another movie about the liberating effects (but also the limits) of willing yourself into a whole new persona. (The limits being you cannot transcend those who cannot see you for what you have become but see you for what you are.) A tiny step back from the indelible Talk to Her, but still the work of a master at the near-top of his game.

Ocean's Twelve (Soderbergh) B-
In a nutshell: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Amazon movie match: Topkapi
To read a more eloquent take, what he said.
The skinny: Stars pretty. Brad Pitt clothes cool. Clooney need to see more of. CZJ hotter than ever. Damon funny. Cassel a hoot. Cassel gymnastics to steal egg awesome. Soderbergh direction stylish. Tone too smug. Story totally disposable. Movie same. Better if more non-sequiturs.

Vera Drake (Leigh) B+
In a nutshell: The Secret Life of Grandmothers.
Amazon movie match: High Hopes, I guess.
To read a more eloquent take, what he said (except for that culture of death stuff).
The skinny: Virtues of this movie unrelated to the hot button topic, but in Leigh's lovingly detailed re-creation of working class life in England, circa 1950 and in focusing on the kind of character that has never been, to my knowledge, the protagonist of any movie: the mother who gives and gives because that's just what she does. Vera's lack of reflection and self-doubt about her actions (she's just helping people) is spot-on, and this movie's power comes from Leigh's wise choice to withhold his judgment on her non-self-awareness. Even if the film is overtly political, Leigh's smart to focus on a protagonist who stands blissfully outside politics. Reminded me of my own grandmother, but I could've done without about half the beatific close-ups of Imelda Staunton. Superbly acted of course, and a welcome return to form for Leigh after the one-note miserablism of All or Nothing.

House of Flying Daggers (Zhang) B
In a nutshell: All that the Shaw Brothers Allow
Amazon movie match: Golden Swallow
To read a more eloquent take, what he said (except for the part comparing Zhang Ziyi to Ingrid Bergman, I mean jesus).
The skinny: No Chris Doyle, but that might be a good thing: the superb action direction is never absurdly overwrought or arty the way it often was in Hero (see deflecting arrows on rooftop; fight on the lake; Jet Li at the library), with the little dagger-CGI and wire-fu working organically within the action sequence rather than becoming the focus of the set piece. Visually more old-school Zhang as opposed to his previous bastard child with Wong Kar-wai -- lots of horizontal and verticals coupled with Zhang's taste for a kind of muted decorative beauty (seen in the costumes), but takes an ill-advised detour and becomes a ridiculously feverish yet undernourished melodrama. Zhang hangs Kaneshiro, Andy Lau and especially Zhang Ziyi -- emotionally limited actors all -- out to dry. Best when it sticks to genre and action set pieces, with the Echo Game being the best of the year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Right Might

CBS fucks up in its sloppy hit piece on Dubya, and it's on the news for three months, providing fodder for all the enduring liberal media conspiracy theories, and leading to a blue ribbon investigation that ultimately led to yesterday's axing. Bush won, Rather lost, Howard Kurtz concludes.

Can't disagree with the conclusion, and yet... There are countless examples of media fuck-ups that end up favoring the right -- Judith Miller's neocon fantasies printed as fact in the NY Times, the pre-Iraq media war dance, the disgusting attention paid to the Swift Boat Liars, Whitewater -- end with no one led to the guillotine. Why?

It's really because liberals don't apply enough pressure. There's no left-wing echo-chamber, or if there is, there's no amplifying device like Fox News to take the crap to the real world, just Krugman and Herbert, who push lines for a couple of newscycles and then move on to something else. Maybe it's the nature of the liberal mindset that prevents the kind of rabid, single-minded doggedness you often find among conservatives. Wingers will grind you down by repeating the same inane lines over and over. Liberals, we say our piece, and once we're satisfied with that demonstration of our fairmindedness or intelligence or whatever liberal virtue we believe we own, we soon tire of the topic and move on to something else. Remember Abu Ghraib? If you read the liberal blogosphere, you'd barely know there's a trial going on.

It's trendy to finger "failure of framing" as the culprit of Democratic ills. I've beat that drum repeatedly here myself, and nodded along to George Lakoff's prescriptions like every other chastened Democrat. But I can't help but think that liberals are losing the war in the trenches because too many of us are not wired for close-quarter fighting, lacking the wherewithal, thick hide, and ruthlessness to take down the wingers.

Celebrity Deathmatch

George Clooney and Bill O'Reilly apparently don't like each other. The animosity stems from an alleged "investigation" O'Reilly did on a Clooney-spearheaded telethon for 9/11 victims, claiming that the money was squandered. Now, O'Reilly's trying to muckrake again on Clooney's tsunami telethon, but Clooney instead tore him a new asshole. Pretty fun squabble -- check it out.

(Beware I'm linking to an extremely biased account of this spat. But Clooney's move apparently worked, and O'Reilly's gonna be on the telethon instead of bitching and whining on the sidelines.)

Top Old Movies Seen Last Year

Those who've had the misfortune to have dated me come to tolerate (or not) my compulsion to plan much of my free time around catching rep screenings of movies "I've been waiting for years to see, and it's not on video!" Old movies continue to provide me with my greatest moviegoing pleasures, not because I think "they don't make 'em like they used to" (though in some cases, they don't), but because history has already weeded out the flotsam. The rep calendar offers the cream from 100 years of movie history, while the multiplex screens Man on Fire. If you're a gambling man, where would you put your money?

Ten years ago, Los Angeles lagged far behind the Bay Area on the rep/revival front: LA had UCLA, LACMA and the New Beverly; the Bay Area had the PFA, Castro, Red Vic, Roxie, Fine Arts, UC Theater and others. But as the rep theaters in the Bay Area slowly died off or changed courses over the last ten years (even the venerable Castro is now reportedly planning to screen only first runs), LA saw a renaissance in rep programming led by the American Cinematheque, which runs the beautiful Egyptian Theater and just opened up a second rep theater, the Aero. Outside of New York, there's no other city in the U.S. that offers more diverse and innovative programming, and in top-notch viewing conditions.

Anyway, enough of the b.s.; here are the non-2004 movies that gave me the greatest pleasure last year. (Re-posted from jottings sent to another forum. Many of you have already seen this.)

01. Tabu (Murnau & Flaherty, 1931) w/ City Girl (Murnau, 1930)

As with Gaughin, sometimes you gotta just shelve the reservations
about the "colonial gaze" and succumb to the beauty of Tabu's crisp,
emotionally direct imagery. Also, it's about the perils of loose
credit, which makes it more relevant to our lives than 3/4 of the
movies made today. We associate Murnau with pastoral poetry (seen in
the Days of Heaven-like shots of wheat fields in his films), but the guy's
versatility is something to behold: check out the action cutting and
the comic moments in the diner in City Girl, the urban (dare I
say, blue state) response to that celebration of agrarian virtue,

02. An Autumn Afternoon (Ozu, 1962) w/ Equinox Flower (Ozu, 1958)

We know about the peerless eye for the nuances of familial dynamics.
We know about the rigors of his tatami-mat level frontal camera angle
and the poetry of his establishing shots. But what about Ozu's humor?
You'd expect that his final movie, An Autumn Afternoon, would be wise
about the fear of old men of letting go, but Ozu keeps it light, never
giving in to wintry morbidity. A perfect film. Plus, Why Humanism
Rules, Pt. 27: the exquisite Equinox Flower, where Ozu gently nudges a
well-meaning, hypocritical conservative patriarch with good humor and,
yes, empathy. One of Ozu's very best.

Varying degrees of awesomeness: about 10 other Ozus I saw at the
retro, with special mention to Setsuko Hara in Early Summer.

03. Love Me Tonight (Mamoulian, 1932)

Would be immortal for the opening scene alone, but the brilliance of
this effervescent musical never lets up, reaching its apex in the
"Isn't It Romantic" Paris montage. Most fun I've had at any movie all
last year.

04. The Leopard (Visconti, 1963)

Finally a Visconti retro plays and I'm out of town for most of it. At
least I caught his masterpiece in its projected splendor. Celebrated
for the extended ballroom dance, there's a beautiful moment at the end
of the sequence, when Lancaster's nobleman, ever so cognizant of his
class's own obsolescence, finally walks out of the ball and all that
it represents, alone. Also, White Nights, if only for Marcello going
nuts on the dance floor.

05. Jeanne Dielman (Akerman, 1975)

Waited ten years to see Chantal Akerman's famous experiment in extreme
naturalism, and it didn't disappoint. Akerman hypnotizes you by
lingering on banalities -- Jeanne tenderizing meat for ten minutes,
etc, -- so that any event out of the ordinary is suffused with tension,
like Jeanne roughly handling the baby. Also: The Eighties, a glorious
deconstruction of a musical that hadn't yet been filmed.

06. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Peckinpah, 1973)

Hard-living tough guys like Sam Peckinpah don't fade away, they burn
out, contracting every STD known to man before drinking themselves to
death. Less an elegy than an epitaph, Pat Garrett is the best of
Peckinpah's movies that eulogize a time that never was, a mythical
period in American lore when men who live by a code like Peckinpah are
fated to, yes, fade away.

Ranking other Peckinpahs seen for the first time last year: The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Junior Bonner.

07. F for Fake (Welles, 1973)

The antidote to Akerman's reality fetishism, Welles' slippery movie
essay on trickery, illusion, cons, legerdemain, and storytelling
serves as a definitive statement of principles.

08. Meshes of the Afternoon (Deren, 1943)

Felt like a clown to have waited until now to catch up to this seminal
avant-garde work. Also: Ritual in Transfigured Time.

09. Gunman's Walk (Karlson, 1959)

A Guy Maddin kind of movie -- a western fueled by Oedipal rage, and
charged by yet another great performance from Van Heflin as an
arrogant, but not ruthless patriarch. Seems like you can watch a
great western from the 50s every month for the rest of your life.
Another 50s western: Day Of the Outlaw, a bleak existentialist western
from de Toth.

10. Naked City/Night and the City (Dassin, 1948/1950)

The amazing Richard Widmark doesn't give an inch as a smarmy wrestling
promoter in the latter, a fatalistic noir classic from Jules Dassin. The
former's a gritty valentine to New York as only tough-as-nails
Dassin can make it.

Honorable mention: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, The Wages of Fear,
Bay of Angels, the Rohmer short Girl at the Monceau Bakery, Leisen/Brackett/Wilder's Hold Back the Dawn.

Reconsidered: Playtime in 70 mm -- if you only saw this on video, you've never seen it; Stagecoach, which I mistakenly thought was underwhelming based on an impression from bits and pieces of the movie gleaned from spotty TV viewings over the years; and Jacques Demy's Donkey Skin in a beautiful new print.