Rounders: The Best Poker Movie Ever Made

     We’ve all been there at some point in our lives; we’re sitting on top of the world, kicking ass, and then we lose it all, making us question what the hell do we do now? Rounders is the perfect movie to sum up our downtrodden luck. 

     What I just summed up was the beginning of the movie. That’s a bold movie since this happens at the end of the story in a lesser film, but the movie is more interested in the struggle to get your mojo back. 

     The film hinges on the narration by Mike (Matt Damon) to explain the ins and and outs of poker in all its forms, even causing me to learn that you’re not playing the cards, but the person, or people around you. That poker is a skill game, nothing to do with luck. 

     And that there sets the film apart from other card shark films, like The Cincinnati Kid, its compelling need to teat the game as seriously as possible. Joey Kinish (John Turturro) explaining that this isn’t a “grind” to him, he has rent, alimony, child support. You know, responsibility and obligations. Like an adult. As much of a fucking asshole Worm (Edward Norton) was, he had the right idea of not giving up your talent because of one bad night. 

     But all that shit doesn’t matter if the final battle, and it was a battle, didn’t mean jackshit. Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) is a douchebag of the highest order. You really want him to get his ass handed to him. This last game builds a tension that just becomes thrilling. Once again, the narration allowed a laymen like me to follow what the hands were, and the next strategic move is. Once the dust settles, you breathe a sigh of relief, and a tear of joy. 

     All in all, what hits me is the moral of the best thing to do when you’ve lost everything is to start over; not running away from your gift like a dumbass. When people talk about that its the journey not the destination, they’re talking about Rounders. Because if this guy can go through this living hell of a journey and ante up again, then maybe we all can. 

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Blair Witch (2016) Review 

      I still remember when The Blair Witch Project came out 17 years ago. The sheer lunacy around its marketing campaign, people actually thinking if the footage itself was real, if we were going to see these three kids actually get killed on camera. Humanity can be pretty savage. 

     Well, it turned out to just be a movie, which disappointed many savage folks, and it ended up being a damn good one if you can get on board with all of the ambiguity. 

     Blair Witch is for all intents and purposes, a worthy follow up to the original, while keeping the same found footage format, while also giving it an update. The story centers around James (James Allen McCune) finally heading back out to the infamous Blair Witch woods to find out what happened to his sister who disappeared 20 years prior. Joined by Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott), and Ashley (Corbin Reid), they come to find out that the Blair Witch may be more than just a legend. 

     I had no idea how the hell the filmmakers were going to follow up a Blair Witch sequel after the piece of shit that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Not only was the film really terrible, but it made no fucking sense. So I entered the film with some trepidation, but I had some confidence in director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (both of You’re Next and The Guest fame).

     The filmmakers both knew that the key to making a film in this franchise work is trying to keep the simplicity of the original piece. And they do, for the most part. The ending is like if The Blair Witch Project had a budget, which I think a lot of you are going to dig. 

     As far as sequels released over a decade after its relevance was well past due, it’s a fun little horror film. I personally prefer the filmmakers’ earlier work, but I still have to admire the boldness that came with doing an entry in an old relic of a horror series. If you’re looking for a nostalgia trip, then this is perfect for your neck of the woods. 

My Difficulty in Reviewing The Conjuring 2 Because of its Ethics 

     I was in my Intro to Film Studies class when I got this question on a quiz:

     What does it mean when a movie claims to be “Based on a true story?”

     I was feeling cheeky and wrote, “It means it’s full of shit.” My professor wrote on the quiz when I got it back, “Not the way I would have phrased it, but that’s right.”

     Ever since I saw the movie Ed Wood as a child and found out that a lot of the stuff didn’t happen in the film as in real life, I always approached these claims with trepidation. 

     Especially when it comes to horror films. 

     Ever since the 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was marketed as based on a true story, I called bullshit on ever horror film since then. Ethically, it’s fucking shitty to dupe people, even gullible ones, into believing something happened when it sure as hell didn’t even occur. 

     Now this brings me to The Conjuring film series, in particular the second installment. Not only is the whole marketing built on the true story claims, but it’s within the film itself. With that, it’s damn near impossible to put that shit out of your mind. 

     It really sucks because there’s a real good movie here.

     I wasn’t a huge fan of the original when it came out. It was well made, but it was a little too formulaic for my tastes, especially when it takes itself so seriously. And that true story thing kept creeping in, keeping me from enjoying the film as, well, a film. 

     Now, I didn’t want that to happen with The Conjuring 2 but I knew it was going to. It’s in its cinematic DNA. Even the filmmakers realized this with a great opening calling into question the authenticity of the Warrens’ investigation into the Amityville Horror. Honestly, I wish the whole movie was about that, but ghosts are fine. I guess. 

     The sections of The Conjuring 2 that were downright uninteresting involved the Enfield Poltergeist. The family at the center of it were just boring. And since I read that the little girls made some of it up, it gave me pause. During this entire section the thought of, “Did this happen?” keep coming in like a flood, and I couldn’t shake it, to be honest. 

     But during the very rare moments that I was able to escape those thoughts, I saw a very well constructed, expertly shot horror film that one doesn’t really see nowadays; especially from a major studio. 

     But the best part of the movie are the performances, especially the chemistry between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens. Man, I really felt for them as actual people (I know they’re real people, shut up). Every time the story focused on them, it was just gold. Easily the greatest improvement on the first film, actually fleshing out that relationship and it got me even thinking, how many horror films lately actually delves into the characters this well?

     That’s where I feel conflicted about the ethical issue of its claims of truth; the movie presents the events as facts, but how can one be certain? The true story claims, certainly when it comes to horror films, are just a cheap marketing ploy to not only get audiences into the cinema, but it also causes the filmmakers to be lazy in creating a believable world that this could happen. Instead of creating skillful scares to make the audience believe, it uses the true story gimmick as a crutch. 

     I’m still at odds with myself over its claims, but I’d be lying if I didn’t care about the Warrens, and that it is a well crafted ghost story. It’s just a practice that needs to stop, and it overshadowed a good movie, all thanks to some assholes in marketing.