Poker: The Real Deal

By Phil Gordon and Jonathan Grotenstein

My wife and I have been having occasional friendly games of poker with a couple of our friends for a while now, but a couple of months ago I did well in a tournament that my friend's coworker hosted, and now it looks like I've caught the fever. This book stood out for me only because I've seen it mentioned so many times on Celebrity Poker Showdown. It's a fun read, but a little light in terms of substance. I did pick up a few basics in terms of probability and strategy, but a lot of the stuff I already knew. The real value of this book comes from it's amusing anecdotes, easy style, and, most of all, the recommendations for further reading.

Started: 11/12/2005 | Finished: 11/27/2005

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Rent has always been one of those shows I've felt like I ought to have seen but haven't had the opportunity, so I was very interested to see the film adaptation. Having seen it, I can see why it was such a big deal, even though a lot of what made it provocative in 1996 has lost some of its edge. When a revolutionary show loses its shock value and people lose interest in the issues it presents the show often suffers--Hair is an example of that, in my opinion. Rent, though, manages to survive this transition largely due to the character drama and the great music. Six of the eight members of the original Broadway cast reprised their roles in this film adaptation, and I think that their familiarity with the characters really showed in the performances. The two newcomers, Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, also integrated very well with their veteran counterparts. The only catch in my mind was that, as good as this movie was, it seemed like the stage musical would have been better. Throughout the film I kept finding myself wondering how scenes had been staged in the Broadway production. It seemed to me that the only thing really gained by turning it into a movie was that people got a chance to see it who otherwise might not have had the chance--like me, for example.

Viewed: 11/25/2005 | Released: 11/22/2005 | Score: A

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What I'm Thankful For

Life has been kind of hectic lately, and between that and my natural tendencies to focus on the negative, it's easy for me to lose sight of the ways my life is good. Today, though, I want to take the time to be positive, to think of the parts of my life that are happy.

I have a wonderful, intelligent, beautiful wife who loves me and supports me, who listens to me and hugs me and wants to take care of me. I have parents who are proud of me and forgive the fact that I don't call them often enough, who have always done right by me and have been there when I needed anything from them. I've developed a good friendship with my younger brother--after years of fighting and friction we've come to understand each other and look forward to seeing each other. I make enough money to waste it on luxuries like going to the movies every week and maintaining this web site. I work with people I like, who I actually want to see outside the office. I have good friends who make me laugh and who I know I can count on. The future is full of potential, and I'm young enough to have time to make the most of it.

I think it's important to take a step back from the hassles of daily life and count your blessings from time to time, and not just on Thanksgiving. Life is too short to waste time dwelling on the things that get us down, especially when they're so often so trivial.

Walk the Line

With all the buzz generated last year by Ray, it's no surprise that the studios would be interested in putting out more movies about music legends. There's always the danger that the followers won't be as good, that they'll be too derivative and too formulaic. It's impossible not to compare Walk the Line to Ray. Not only are they both about famous musicians, but the storylines are surprisingly similar. Both Johnny Cash and Ray Charles came up from humble beginnings, both were tortured by the memory of a lost brother, both struggled with drug addiction. With such similarities, it's a real testament to the actors and filmmakers of Walk the Line that it manages to be an excellent movie in its own right. From an acting and musical standpoint, this film was superb. Joaquin Phoenix has done a lot that I've liked over the years (and one or two that I haven't) and this is some of his finest work. And Juliette said--and I agree--that this is the best acting she's ever seen from Reese Witherspoon. The chemistry between the two of them, the tortured love obvious in the way they look at each other, would be enough to make this a good movie, even without the music, but the music really did put it over the top. I've been interested in Johnny Cash's music for about five or six years now--not that long, I know, but long enough to hear a fair amount of his music. I have to say, even though everything I've heard and read has indicated that Phoenix did all of his own singing, I'm still having trouble believing it, his impression was that good. When I think of how much work must have gone into preparing for this role, I am quite honestly awestruck. The only problems I had with the film were the pacing--it felt a little scattered and slow to me, though not to Juliette--and the fact that I had trouble getting into the love story between Cash and June Carter because I felt so bad for Cash's first wife, Vivian.

Viewed: 11/19/2005 | Released: 11/17/2005 | Score: A

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It's hard to say what exactly was missing from this film that would have made me like it better. I did like it, but I definitely felt it was the weakest of the series so far. For the first twenty minutes or so I felt that it was moving very slowly and I wasn't very interested, while the rest of the film felt decidedly rushed--there was hardly enough time to introduce the other three Tri-Wizard champions, much less develop them into real characters. On top of that, I thought that a fair amount of the direction--especially the cinematography--just wasn't up to snuff. I continued to like the actors as much as I had in the previous films, but something about the camera work felt . . . I don't know, a little forced, maybe. I think my biggest problem, though, is with the new Dumbledore, Michael Gambon. I remember when I saw the first film, I wasn't completely in love with Richard Harris' Dumbledore. He didn't really seem to capture the image I had of this bumbling, slightly confused old man who provided a fair amount of comic relief in the books. What he did get right, though, was the sense of gentle wisdom and kindness that my Dumbledore had. Gambon, on the other hand, has neither of those. He's too loud and angry-seeming to be Dumbledore to me. I imagine that I'll just have to put up with him, though. Other little touches I didn't care for were things like the boys' haircuts and the fact that Professor Flitwick seemed to be quite a bit younger than in the previous films. Despite all of my complaints, though, I did like the movie overall. I just hope that the next one is better.

Viewed: 11/17/2005 | Released: 11/11/2005 | Score: B

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Between Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and Jamie Foxx, it was pretty much a lock that I was going to see this one. It didn't disappoint. Having never been in the military, I can't say how accurate the film's portrayal of the marine mindset was, but I found the whole thing both enthralling and disturbing. All at once, the film was able to put a human face on the modern day warrior while also presenting characters that I was absolutely incapable of relating to. Watching the way the characters interacted with each other, the vulgarity and violence that pervaded every aspect of their lives, was so utterly foreign to me that at times it was like watching aliens, which is, I think, exactly what I found so fascinating. Additionally, the way the film dealt how being a marine changes a person really struck me. Man, what an intense film.

Viewed: 11/11/2005 | Released: 11/3/2005 | Score: B

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Hornblower and the Atropos

By C. S. Forester

I feel like there's no way for me to continue reviewing these books without repeating myself, and I'm only half way through the series. So I will just go ahead and apologize in advance for all of the rest of my Hornblowed-related reviews. This one, like the preceding four, was a great read. That's all.

Started: 10/31/2005 | Finished: 11/8/2005

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