John Dahl/Steve Zahn

I watched Joy Ride last night, hoping for a straight-ahead genre thriller. I was totally on board until just after the first plot point, when plausibility gets tossed out the window and never finds its way back in. I just don’t get why someone (much less a whole film crew) would go to the trouble of laying out a good foundation for believable tension and drama, only to destroy it with a series of increasingly absurd events. I want all of that nice cinematography and pictorial composition to add up to something. I seem to remember the end of Red Rock West being disappointing in a similar way, but after The Last Seduction I had hopes for Dahl. Should I give up on him? Is Rounders or Kill Me Again any good?

Joy Ride was disappointing in the same way that I found Pacific Heights disappointing. Although John Schlesinger’s hit-to-miss ratio seems to be the inverse of Dahl’s.

On the other hand, Steve Zahn just plain rocks. I love him in everything he does, and the first half of Joy Ride is made bearable almost entirely by his good natured riffing.

ROUNDERS is a very good little movie, particularly if you have any interest in poker.

Rounders is really good. Probably Ed Norton’s best role. Turturro and Malkovich are in scene stealing form, and there’s some pretty quality card playing in there. If you don’t like poker, the movie will make you like it. But Mike McD is lying about poker being skill, it really is mostly luck.

Although, as anybody who plays poker at any serious level will tell you, the way they play in that movie (and in almost all poker films) bears very little relation to the way in which real poker is played. Apart from the gross statistical improbabilities of the monster-hand-beating-monster-hand cliche, the rampant string bets, card-handling and other issues of form and etiquette are all things that would get you kicked out of a Vegas game faster than you could say “Johnny KGB.”

It’s understandable why they do this, though - whereas most serious poker is played pretty much in silence with the minimum of physical movement, the actions in a movie game need to be punched-up and also explained for a mainstream audience to be able to follow.

Actually, that’s completely wrong. It is almost entirely about skill. As the movie points out, do you really think the top poker professionals, who consistently win championships all over the world, year after year, do so because they’re luckier than everybody else? Of course not. It’s an incredibly deep game of judgment, psychology and temperament, and anybody who thinks that luck has anything more than a marginal part to play is going to get fleeced the first time they sit down at a table with an experienced player.

So, who’s up for some poker? I play intermittently at Poker Room which has been the best online poker game I’ve yet found in terms of game quality, interface, and accessibility.

Hmmm… Bluff club?

Thanks for the heads up, guys. I just watched Rounders and enjoyed it immensely. Despite the lack of realism Gary points out, I still found it to be extraordinarily well-written, smart, and subtle. Edward Norton is great, and I didn’t mind Matt Damon, even in voice-over. In fact, it’s one of the better uses of voice-over I’ve seen in a film.

This is the kind of thing I want to see more of from John Dahl. The tightness and efficiency of his filmmaking really lends itself to straightforward, neo-noir stuff. I’d love to see him adapt Elmore Leonard. Maybe his spotty filmography just means that it’s just really hard to get smart scripts produced.

Actually, that’s completely wrong. It is almost entirely about skill. As the movie points out, do you really think the top poker professionals, who consistently win championships all over the world, year after year, do so because they’re luckier than everybody else? Of course not. It’s an incredibly deep game of judgment, psychology and temperament, and anybody who thinks that luck has anything more than a marginal part to play is going to get fleeced the first time they sit down at a table with an experienced player.[/quote]
It took me a long time to understand this. After years of playing off and on, I’m maybe half a notch above utter neophyte in terms of the “head game,” but that half a notch makes a noticeable difference when I play against people who don’t get it at all.

Gary, it isn’t the same four guys like he says.

The table this year
MONEYMAKER, CHRIS
VAHEDI, AMIR
FARHA, SAM
BENVENITSI, TOMER
SINGER, DAVID E.
LESTER, JASON
HARRINGTON, DAN
PAK, YONG
GREY, DAVID

The final table last year:
Rob Varkonyi
Julian Gardner
Rafael Perry
Scott Gray
Harley Hall
Russ Rosenblum
John Shipley
Tony D (Tam Duong)
Minh Ly
Sorry about the formatting, but you get the point.

Yeah, your average Joe will get murdered against a real player, but at the highest level it’s far more luck than, say, chess or some similar activity. I don’t understand the appeal of online poker. It completely removes the psychological aspects of the game, which is where actual skill manifests itself beyond the base common sense betting behavior. Granted, very few people follow that, but anyone serious enough to play online is probably not going to be an idiot. Which really does make it all luck.

The guy who won the World Series of Poker this year was just a random dude who was inspired by Rounders to try his hand at poker.
Are there levels of skill? Yes. Chan and the assorted other regulars are excellent poker players. But it’s never like the scene where Damon reads the hands at the judges’ game.

I will never beat a Grand Master at chess, but I could win many, many hands against Eric Seidel. He’ll win more often, but I wouldn’t be as toast as I would be against Kasparov. I grade myself as pretty good at both games, by the way. I don’t do either very seriously.

And it’s Teddy KGB. And he’ll splash the pot whenever the fuck he pleases. Oh, and he’s like the worst poker player ever. His horribleness at poker never seems to bring down the movie, but it’s the equivalent of having Apollo Creed be wheelchairbound. The whole movie is about beating this one guy at this one thing, but as it happens the guy is absolutely horrible at it. You’d think that would hurt the film, but it never does.

Norton is actually cheating in his cheating scenes, which is a nice touch when compared to The Sting style editing tricks.

Well of course poker involves less skill than chess, which is a 100% pure skill game and has nothing to do with luck at all. What I was contradicting was your original contention that poker is “mostly luck”, which it isn’t. The more experienced you become, the more luck is edged out of the equation. Yes, even at the final table at the WSP it still has a part to play, but at that level it’s marginal.

It’s true that you could win some hands again Eric Seidel, but that he would win more than you. What that means over the course of a long session is that you would be broke and he would have all your money. At that point, the fact that you at least won some hands will come as little consolation, or that some hands you lost were down to luck. It’s irrelevant.

To get back on topic, though, Damon’s reading of the hands in the judge’s game is indeed a classic example of poker skill blown out of proportion for dramatic purposes. A real poker expert, particularly those adept at the specific type of probability math involved (as many of them are) can indeed make very educated guesses as to what a player may be holding, but not to the exacting degree that Damon did in that movie.

Whilst online poker does indeed remove many of the psychological aspects of face-to-face play, it does not remove all of them.

Sure, you do not have the tells of your opponent chomping on Oreos, or twitching madly upon sighting the flop, but you do have the timing of responses (and manipulation thereof) and perception of whether someone is a tight or loose player to work with. Despite the facade of faceless, emotionless avatars personality still comes through in the hands and that can be analysed and used.

Of course, the main advantage online poker has over its casino/club/kitchen table sibling is that it doesn’t require clean socks, travel, or a knowledge of who at the table is the Wookie who’ll rip your arms out if they lose. This is an advantage that should not be downplayed.

Actually, it’s spelled Wookiee.

(This post added for the purpose of irritating Chick.)

If you really want to torment me, talk about what you’re doing in Animal Crossing, which is a game that recreates a Hell on Earth of Sartrean proportion.

 -Tom

For what it’s worth, at least Joy Ride wasn’t Dahl’s worst movie. That honor would go to Unforgettable.