Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hangover Part Two -- Review

A few days ago Hammer Wife and I took a brief sabbatical from the kidlets to head out for a nice, suburban restaurant chain dinner, followed by a rare date night trip to the movies. Yes -- actually in the theater! I know! It really happened, and basically it was Hammer Wife's desire to see the sequel to The Hangover, which just recently came out, that led to us being there. We headed into town and sat down to a maybe 75%-filled theater to watch Bradley Cooper, Andy Bernard, Zack Galifinakis, and that other guy who got left on the roof let it loose for another round in The Hangover Part Two.

I'll be honest -- my expectations for this movie going in were pretty low, for several reasons. I had never even heard they were doing a Hangover sequel until suddenly seeing the commercial during some big sporting event or something like a month ago, and frankly, that started me off right away with the idea that this thing was kind of hastily thrown together, in a desperate attempt to nab some extra sales while the original movie is still somewhat fresh in the vernacular of pop culture (it certainly still is). I pretty much still think that's exactly what happened, for that matter. But it didn't give me much in the way of optimism for the movie going in. On top of that, I feared going in that this movie was going to suffer from the same problem that certain other movie sequels suffer from -- Speed and Home Alone most immediately come to mind -- just how the fike are they going to explain these four guys managing to get together, get fucked up and have another night of hijinks again, when they just did it and had that ridiculous night just last year? How can they even explain Zack Galifinakis ever getting together with those other three friends again? He was just the weirdo brother of the bride in the first movie, and was a total freak at that, but why on earth would those guys ever do something like this with him again, especially after Zack drugged them the last time -- intentionally -- to lead to all the problems in the first place? How stupid is this going to be?

Without giving too much away, let me just say this: the people in charge of The Hangover Part Two opted to kind of face these questions head on, and in doing so they decided to make basically the exact same movie as the first one all over again. In other words, they basically went the Home Alone route here -- the first movie was such a success for what it was, that when it came time to do a sequel, they overtly just reproduced basically the same movie, with the same basic plot, all over again, only in the case of Home Alone II, it was just with different supporting characters and in a different setting. Whereas the first movie was McCauley Culkin defending his home while left alone in suburban Chicago, Home Alone II was again Culkin, but this time miraculously left again, this time in the middle of New York City. In the first Home Alone, it was the scary old man who Culkin first avoided like the plague, then had a chance meeting with and ended up liking perfectly well, and who at the end came through in a pinch to save Culkin's life after Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern had once again finally just gotten their hands on him. In the second movie, it was the scary bird lady in the park who played essentially that exact same role in the story. It was basically the same movie in a new setting -- the uncle's nyc apartment under renovation vs. the family's home in Illinois -- replete with the paint cans, nails in the floor and all the other crazy booby traps that no real 10 year old could or would ever do.

The Hangover Part Two was basically the same thing, only in this movie's case, they kept most of the same characters, and simply changed the setting. This time instead of Las Vegas, it was Bangkok. They took five minutes to set up how Galifnakis ended up with the "Wolfpack" again -- a pretty lame excuse but they pulled it off ok if you're willing to suspend reality and just enjoy the movie, and then the gang was off to Thailand. But otherwise, without trying to give away too much here, let's just say that they go to have one drink, it turns out someone drugs them again, and they wake up the next morning with no idea where they are, how they got there, or what the F is going on. And, naturally, a key member of their gang has gone missing, and they must find him right away to avoid totally ruining yet another wedding that is happening just one day later in Thailand. What ensues is a number of scenes in tattoo parlors, strip clubs, bars and the crazy nightlife that only Bangkok is known for as the gang attempts to find their lost friend and make it back in time to fix the wedding. Andy Bernard gets with another prostitute who he falls in love with (kind of), there's another scene where they unlock Mr. Chow from a trunk-like thing and he jumps out and kicks the crap out of them, and instead of a tiger in this movie there's a very humanesque monkey coming along on the group's travels. And so on and so on. And the parallels even run down to the nitty gritty -- the guys get attacked out of nowhere by a gang of thugs and it turns out they've gotten themselves mixed up in another of Mr. Chow's shenanigans gone wrong, just like in the first movie. They then spend a half an hour finding a miraculous way to actually get out of that horrible situation, just like when they win Mr. Chow's 80 grand back in the first movie. And just when they believe they've got their friend back, they realize -- just like out in the desert with Chow in the first movie -- that they don't have him at all, and they aren't any closer to finding their friend, and it's basically too late to fix it. So just like in the first movie, Bradley Cooper makes the call, and just while Cooper is spilling the bad news that they aren't going to make the wedding, Andy Bernard has another stroke of insight, a rush of memories from the night before, and he knocks Cooper over before he can finish the call and proclaims that they'll make it home in time but perhaps a little late for the ceremony. They all remember, their friend was left somewhere they should have known all along, and they make it back just in time in crazy fashion but in time to save the wedding. Andy Bernard even tells off someone who had been being an asshole to him for a long time at the actual wedding. Again, just like that great scene with his girlfriend at the end of the first Hangover flick. The movie even ends with the missing guy finding his phone with photos of the entire night no one can remember and showing those pics along with the final credits!

Now, all this talk about the total parallels between the two Hangover movies is not to say that I hated it. Not at all. For a movie that basically copied the first one with some changes to the setting and the details, if you can get over that hump and spending $12 or whatever it costs where you live to see a movie these days for what is basically a retread of the first movie, The Hangover Part Two was actually quite enjoyable. There isn't a dull moment, it's impossible to fall asleep at, and there are a lot of funny scenes, and just like the first movie, a few really shocking ones as well, in a funny way. It's the characters that we've grown to love from the first movie, and those guys -- Cooper, Bernard and Galifinakis specifically -- really do their respective shticks well from start to finish in this movie. It is well written dialogue, and it had several moments where the entire theater was laughing out loud, groaning or something similar to indicate our engagement with the film and the characters. And, let's face it -- the cadence and overall plot of the first movie, which this one intentionally and overtly mimics more or less exactly, pretty much works well. We like seeing movies about guys waking up completely fucked up and piecing together the craziness that went down the night before. If done well, it's a tried and true proven winning concept (see Dude Where's My Car, which is highlarious as I've written about before here in the not too distant past).

In the end, I'm glad that the producers opted to make The Hangover Part Two's mimicry of the first movie to overt and obvious. They face the issue of how this sequel could ever actually happen head-on, and just ask the audience to suspend a little bit, relax and enjoy the next couple hours of their lives. If seeing essentially the overtly same movie as the first Hangover film over again in a different place with different details is going to bother you -- and I could certainly see how it could, I personally was a bit disappointed about the lack or originality myself with a plot line as rich in possibilities as almost any other comedy out there -- but if you can get over that and are the type to just suspend reality and enjoy the show, then you'll probably like this movie. Galifinakis is pretty much brilliant in this weirdo character he has created to perfectly suit himself, and Andy Bernard and Bradley Cooper are to my mind both quite watchable in mostly everything they do. And make no mistake, this movie is funny -- you'll laugh out loud for sure throughout. And by the end of the sequel I'm sure you will agree that these characters are as likable as ever.

I think if there's a third one, however, they're going to need to go with a different plot. Hopefully they can at least make it better than the third try at Home Alone.

Overall rating: 6.5 out of 10. Would have been in the 7s if the plot were just more original.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thinking of Vegas

So as the summer draws closer, and with the few poker bloggers left who still have major poker media outlets to write for beginning to write about departing for the desert, my thoughts have continued to swirl about this year's World Series of Poker. And although I would never have thought this could happen, the shutdown of online poker in the U.S. actually has me re-thinking whether or not to even head out to Las Vegas this year.

It's weird because, just a few weeks ago, shortly after the April 15 online poker shutdowns in the U.S., I posted here about how Vegas was only a couple of months away, I couldn't wait, etc. But since then a few things have happened. My normal crew that has come out to Vegas with me each of the past few years is leaning towards a camping trip instead this summer, in Jackson Hole or some other appropriately well-known outdoor site where I, frankly, have zero desire to be, whether in the middle of June or any other time of the year. I work too hard every day all day to spend my leisure time pretending I am homeless and at one with nature. But rather than try to convince them to hit up Vegas this summer, I am fine with them not going, I've been to Vegas before by myself, and in a lot of ways a solo trip can provide the kind of focus and clarity of thought that only isolation can bring and which might actually be a benefit in a poker tournament context. It's kind of exciting to me, in fact, when I really sit and think about the possibilities. Plus, I know a lot of people who will be in town when I'm there, and it's not like I will really be "alone" in any event, right? Right.

But then I started thinking about the poker. And about how I would be looking to plunk down $1500 or $2000 on a no-limit holdem tournament, when I literally will not have played no-limit holdem even one time -- not even for play money, not even with my daughters on the family room floor -- in nearly three months. I have always maintained right here on the blog that being even a minimally-successful nlh tournament grinder requires excellent timing and impeccable reads, both of which are much more based on instincts, instincts that unfortunately can only really be developed and maintained through practice. I mean, sure we're all degenerate junkies here, but it's more than addiction that led me to play some form of mtt's most nights of the week when my game was on and I had the time to do so -- it's my survival instinct. Because I know I don't play anywhere approaching my best nlh tournament poker unless I'm out there on the (real or virtual) felt practicing it, living it, every single day. Sure I could take off a day here and a day there and see no retracement whatsoever in my skills -- I did that all the time -- but it would be sheer folly for me to even suggest that I could stop playing poker for 11 or 12 weeks heading up to the WSOP, and then just waltz in to the Amazon Room at the Rio, plunk down a couple large, and play my best.

Quite the opposite -- I would probably play terrible, in relative terms. Relative to my "A game", anwyays. And that's what is really giving me pause here as my expected trip to Vegas marches ever closer and closer, all without me still having any plane reservations, any room selected, anything at all really. Do I really want to fly 6 hours each way, waste my precious little vacation time away from Hammer Wife and my awesome young kids, just to do what essentially amounts to throwing away a couple grand? You won't find anyone with more confidence in their poker tournament abilities than I, but even I have to admit that me not having slung a chip or even seen a playing card in nearly three months is not going to be a good matchup for the skill of the players at the WSOP, this year moreso than in past years as I would expect far fewer donkeys with online poker now no longer possible for U.S. asshats to play.

So what's the thought here? Do I suck it up and head out to the desert anyways, maybe shorten my trip, just stay a night or two, and take a chance at the WSOP? And if my plan would just be to stick to the Venetian DSE and other tournaments with smaller buyins -- ones where I would have an equally small chance of success in, given this forced poker layoff -- then why not instead consider just a trip down to Atlantic City for the Borgata Summer Poker Open which is also in mid-June, and maybe a trip to Foxwoods for their big tournament series that run throughout the summer months? That would enable me to get some poker on, play for smaller buyins which is more befitting of my forced-poker-layoff self, but still to be with my family and not waste a lot of vacation time that I could otherwise be spending with the people I love the most. Throw in a family trip maybe later in the summer with that extra vacation time, and now it starts to become really tempting.

So what is a poker blogger to do?

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Woe is Full Tilt

What the fruck is going on with Full Tilt and cashouts to U.S. players? And why aren't more people making more of a stink about it? Among our group anyways, it seems like it's basically TBA, a little bit of Josie, and then about a hundred quivering blobs of protoplasm too afraid (of something) to speak out against the site that has given us poker bloggers so much opportunity over the years to beef up our prize pools, let our group play rake-free, and even the (largely untaken) opportunity to play in the WSOP (yeah right).

Do any of you people really think that giving away a bunch of stuff to us over the years -- stuff which, believe you me, full tilt thought they were getting fair value for when they "gave it away" to us to begin with -- gives an online poker site the right to, or in any way absolves them from, commingle our U.S. player funds with the site's own funds, and now the consequent problems in giving us back our money? Can anyone really think that way? I've seen a few bloggers out there voicing that opinion, but as this cashout saga draws on and on and more and more details emerge about what is and is not happening at full tilt, is it possible that people really continue to just throw up their arms and give this site a pass?

Here's all I know: Pokerstars took what, ten days to get us our money? Less, even? They saw that they could no longer offer real-money play to U.S. players, and they basically immediately entered into a deal that would ensure the return in full of all U.S. players' funds, in conjunction with the U.S. government. This could only be done because pokerstars looked at their accounts and knew right away that they had segregated somewhere all the money they needed to cover all U.S. players' deposits somewhere in their coffers.

Now UB / Absolute, we like to think they are a different story. They're probably never returning any U.S. players' funds, and ultimately I think anyone who played at that site who expects them to do different now, simply is not in tune with the history of fraud and abuse at this company. Those funds are probably gone, and hopefully those of you who did play there anyways (like me) hedged against that risk by never leaving anything more than a few hundy on that site at any time. But guess what, guys? Full Tilt might be in that same boat as UB when it comes to returning your funds.

Yeah, I said it. And how much "free" stuff they "gave away" to bloggers over the past several years has precisely zero to do with it. What would that possibly have to do with whether or not full tilt is going to give players back their money? It doesn't. In fact, why should all the blogger "giveaways" over the years mean that we even give full tilt the benefit of the doubt at this point? Pokerstars got it done right away, because obviously they did not have player funds commingled with pokerstars funds. Full tilt, on the other hand, obviously did. And can anyone really feel secure when a bunch of professional poker players control an online poker site, and those players have just had the incredible cash cow that online poker is for most of their rolls, totally revoked, possibly forever but at least for a decently long, undetermined time to come, and when it turns out that that site now also had its own funds commingled with U.S. players' funds? Throw in what, tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars that now needs to be returned and cashed out to U.S. players, and someone thinks I should give these funds-commingling scumbags the benefit of the doubt?

I have news for you rose-colored glass, all humanity is good, etc. people out there. Commingling our funds with the company's own funds -- that is, not actually having our cash separated on hand to pay us each back if and when we ever requested a cashout -- that already is the crime, as far as I'm concerned. Whether U.S. players end up getting all or most of their money back eventually, is almost secondary in my mind. The fact is that it turns out that the people who run full tilt have been running a kind of a modified ponzi scheme -- as long as people keep depositing, there are enough funds to go around for everyone to do what they want to do, but when they have to cash out all U.S. players in one fell swoop, guess what? They can't find the money for it all. And of course this is why the communications from full tilt have been so horrible (and so scarce) over the past couple of weeks, because they don't know how to explain this situation without admitting obvious guilt / fraud / etc. Think about it -- Pokerstars had the money, they knew they were going to be ok as a continuing business offering online poker only outside of the U.S., and they got their U.S. players their money back as quickly as humanly possible, and were very clear in their communications with respect to the situation. Full tilt, on the other hand, does not necessarily have the money to return to their U.S. players, and the long-term viability of their business is much more in doubt as full tilt was primarily focused on the U.S. market, and thus far it is just lie after lie, story after story, and excuse after excuse.

For any institution with access to individuals' finances to commingle its participants' funds with its own funds is punishable in almost any context and almost every circumstance. So no matter how this story ends up, Full tilt is already guilty in my mind. I am still proceeding on the assumption that I will one day see my $265 and change left on the site at the time of Black Friday, but I'm sure as hell not counting on it at this point. And with every passing day, the odds that we ever see that money dwindle further and further IMO.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Wendy's

Dear Wendy's,

You don't know me, at least not specifically anyways, but let's just say that I've known my way around a fast food joint in my day and leave it at that. I could pretty much rate the burgers, the chicken, the fries, even specialty items like desserts and milkshakes at all the regular drive-through chains during most of my lifetime. When it comes to fast food, I've basically seen it all, and I've paid for it all through my driver side car window. And that's what makes me uniquely qualified to make this statement to you here today:

Your "natural cut" fries aren't fooling anyone.

Sure, you can keep running those radio commercials telling us about this desirable new feature of your top-selling side order item, and you can keep posting the corporate-approved signage in your parking lot and on your restaurants. You can even keep broadcasting those tv ads where the guy exclaims, after taking one bite of your new natural cut french fries, "Wow!! These are better than McDonalds!"

But I know McDonalds french fries. And you, ma'am, are no McDonalds.

Face it, pigtails: No matter how much you try to tell us about the benefits of this great new style of french fry your restaurants are going out of their way to offer us, in the end you keep running into the same problem: Your "natural cut" fries are simply not close to better in taste, but rather they are actually just a way for Wendy's corporate to save much-needed dough by having your potato vendors not remove the skin before the potatoes are cut into fries and shipped out to the stores. The french fries that result are clearly worse tasting than your previous fry recipe -- this is probably why you and all your competitors have made them the old way for, oh, my entire lifetime up until just a few months ago, not un-coincidentally just shortly after Wendy's missed its quarterly earnings estimates on Wall Street and warned of a profit shortfall for the year to come, due largely to food cost increases -- but you've decided to go ahead with the skin-on french fries anyways, because -- let's face it -- Wendy's' need to save a few bucks is greater than your need to offer the most delicious, albeit more expensive, french fries available.

Wendy's, your whole marketing push around your new "natural cut" french fries is insulting to my intelligence as an occasional customer of your drive-through windows. Ultimately, your "natural cut" fries are nothing more than an exceedingly lame attempt to spin a cost-cutting measure -- one which you doubtless know results in a worse-tasting product for your customers -- as a favor being done for your customers. Unfortunately, anyone whose vote you really should be concerned about has already started adjusting their habits and frequenting the other drive-throughs invariably scattered in close proximity to most Wendy's outlets. Which, believe you me, is not really going to help your little profitability problem at all in the end.

In sum, Wendy's, you are not a seasonal shack on a boardwalk somewhere -- you're a national fast food chain. The American people don't want skin on our national fast food chain french fries today, any more than the American people have wanted skin on our national fast food chain french fries at any time in the past forty years. And if you're going to screw us and force us to eat the skinned-up fries anyways for your own corporate gain at our direct and intended expense, at least have the decency to admit it instead of running a great big marketing push suggesting that you're doing us some great favor. Until then, please consider this note my notice that I will opt to dine elsewhere. And not even the pull of your scrumptious chocolate coca-cola frosty float will lure me back to your establishment until this great wrong has been righted.

Pissed Offingly,
Miffed in Manhattan

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

How Can it Be?

Seriously. Who are these people still playing poker at any online site that still allows play for U.S. players? I mean, I am certainly no stranger to addictions, and I understand how that all works, and I guess that is a lot of what is at work here. But I mean, I've probably spent as much time playing online poker as anyone reading this over the past five years, and if anyone was going to be feeling the itch to find a way to play after the sudden and final actions of Black Friday a few weeks ago, it would probably have been me. And in fact, I've spent a good deal of time thinking about my summer plans, and other opportunities I might be able to make for myself to play some live poker, be it in New Jersey, Connecticut or otherwise. But nowhere along the way have I even spent more than a few seconds debating playing at UB or Bodog at this point -- even though they are theoretically permitting U.S.-based players to still access their servers -- nor downloading one of these smaller skins like Carbon, Cake, Titan, etc. who are still apparently open for U.S. players. And I am realllly struggling to understand what goes in to anyone out there making that decision.

Let me put it this way. Bodog has always been run by known scumbags in Calvin Ayre and friends, and with how hard it has pretty much always been to deposit into and withdraw from Bodog, playing there at this point seems like a complete waste of time. And UB is even crazier, as they are apparently allowing U.S. players to play, but will not process any withdrawals to any U.S. players, and what's more, UB continues to fail to enter into a domain name agreement with the U.S. government as have full tilt and pokerstars, so there seems to me to be a good chance that UB has no intention whatsoever of returning any of the funds in anyone's accounts on that client. And with the smaller sites, how can anybody feel any comfort whatsoever that they will ever be able to get money in to, and in particular out of, those sites, given what has happened to online poker regulation in the U.S. over the past few weeks?

I mean, I'm all for playing poker for low stakes if that's what you like, but I'll say again now what I've said since the very first time anyone ever asked me about playing poker for play money -- poker is simply not actually poker if there is absolutely nothing at stake. There's just no way to get people to play the game with 100% the same care, attention and simultaneously the same measure of caution if the player ultimately stands to lose (or gain) no real money from his or her moves and decisions. And, a corollary of this is that, if you can't actually ever get your hands on the money, then what the hell are you really playing for? The "sport"? The "fun of it"? What's the best that can happen? You win some big tournament, say it's even your biggest all-time online poker score, and then what? You already know you can't ever get that money!! So I ask again, how the hell can you be playing for "real money" at that site to begin with?

Face it, guys. I know there is a lot of desire out there, in particular among those reading this blog, to get back on the virtual felt and play some online poker. And I know a lot of you never really played for particularly high stakes to begin with. But playing at the remaining sites that still offer access to U.S.-based players in this environment is more or less the same exact thing as playing for play-money on stars or full tilt, in terms of what cash you could ever actually get out of the site. The only difference is, by playing on a place like Cake or Carbon at this point, you're putting up real money to do so in terms of deposits, while in terms of withdrawals you're still basically dealing with play money as you'll never actually see a dime. Not to mention that you're playing on a site that is subject to being shut down and taken over by the U.S. government at any time on no notice.

Given this, I think only a chump would put actual money into online poker at this point if you're coming from the United States. Is there any other reasonable conclusion?

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Oh What a Day

I don't know if it is quite the same outside of New York City and Washington DC as it is from the inside, but there are just no words to describe how good it feels to get up at the start of another week workin for the man, making the morning rat race commute, and to hear the news that Osama Bin Laden is now just a dead body. Even with all the people I wished gory, tortuous death in the online poker chatbox back in the day when we were allowed to play it in the U.S., this particular "elimination" is really something to smile about. It not only ends an agonizing period of national embarrassment at not being able to show this garbagepail what happens to people who attack innocent American citizens like he did 9 1/2 years ago now, but also, the world today is quite literally a safer place than it was yesterday. For all of us. Even other crazed Muslim jihadists will live in a safer place due to the heroic actions of the U.S. Navy.

Go rejoice. Explain to your kids why this is such a big thing. Even those who weren't alive on 9-11.

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