Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 2, Jan. 13, 2018

January 20, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 20, 2018

I ran a bunch of errands over the lunch break before returning for the second session of the annual Duke PBMT benefit Scrabble tournament.

I felt like I’d had a respectable morning overall. Yes, my two losses had been annoying, but to be fair to myself, I’d drawn badly at times: namely, OOQ in my opening contest against J— and OOQX in the second game against TS. (It wouldn’t be until the following week that I’d realize my ZOEAE/ZOEAS miscue in the latter encounter.)

At any rate, the fifth game saw me playing B—, a sharp elementary school student. I felt some pressure to beat B—, and moreover to beat him by a sound margin. That was because I knew B— had lost his first-round game to the top seed in the division by 300 points, and a player who kicks off a competition with such a big spread has a huge advantage over the rest of the field.

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Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament: Session 1, Jan. 13, 2018

January 19, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 17, 2018

I arranged the evening of Friday, Jan. 12, so as to get home and go to bed at a decent hour — and the plan worked out. Unfortunately, my brain and body didn’t cooperate, and it wasn’t until sometime around 5 a.m. that I finally fell asleep. This, alas, was prior to an event for which I needed to get out of bed around 8 a.m.

Despite this, I felt surprisingly normal as I showered, dressed and prepared to head out to the Duke medical facility that serves as the venue for the annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament.

I was playing in the lower of two divisions. Our group featured eight players, each of whom would play eight games on Saturday and eight more games on Sunday. Because of the size of the field, we were scheduled to play all seven of our opponents twice — a double round robin format — before games 15 and 16 determined the final standings — a king-of-the-hill format.

The opening contest of the tournament matched me with a very familiar foe: J—, a local resident whom I encounter several times a year in Sunday-afternoon club play. Over the course of 14 official meetings between us, he had an outstanding record of nine victories against five losses, including a six-game winning streak. His rating at the start of the weekend was 1051, markedly higher than my 932.

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Near-miss on the interstate: My close encounter with a wrong-way driver

January 19, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 19, 2018

I narrowly avoided serious injury and possibly death in a high-speed car crash while driving west on Interstate 40 around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18.

As is typical for me on Thursday nights, I was driving back to Durham from Raleigh when the near-miss occurred. Because of Wednesday’s heavy snow, and the inconsistency with which roads are treated following snowfall in North Carolina’s Piedmont, when I first got on the highway, I drove below the posted limit. But the road seemed to be clear of snow and ice, so I gradually pushed up to 65 miles per hour.

The highway has four lanes in each direction for much of Wake County (where the city of Raleigh is located) and Durham County (home, of course, to the city of Durham). At some point as I was approaching or passing Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is roughly midway between the two cities, I steered into the second lane from the left.

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The title character in the unusual ‘Molly’s Game’ plays her cards close to her vest

January 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 11, 2018

Molly’s Game, is a character study of a thwarted competitive skier who stumbles into the world of running high-stakes poker games.

The feature, which Sorkin directed and adapted for the screen from a memoir by Molly Bloom, opens as its title character is about to start her final qualifying run for the 1998 Winter Olympics. After her hopes of reaching Nagano are derailed by a freak accident, the recent University of Colorado graduate decides to postpone law school for a year and spend some time in Los Angeles. This decision, as narrated by Bloom, is the first spontaneous choice she’s made in her life.

While working as a nightclub waitress, Bloom (Jessica Chastain, the CIA analyst from Zero Dark Thirty and the young mother in Tree of Life) meets Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), a shady businessman with an affinity for comely young assistants. Keith is a jerk, but he’s a jerk who happens to host a weekly poker game attended by some of Southern California’s richest and most powerful men — and he needs Bloom’s help running it.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 9-5 Stanford

January 6, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 6, 2018

When time came to view the Alamo Bowl, I returned to the joint near my childhood home where I watched Stanford squeak past Oregon State in a perilous Thursday-night road game in October and where I saw the Cardinal claim a 30-22 home upset over Washington in November.

• The Bad 

Stanford’s defense never sacked Kenny Hill and had trouble pressuring him at all. The Horned Frogs passer racked up 401 combined yards passing, running and receiving and had a hand in all four of TCU’s offensive touchdowns. But the real issue here was what happened in the second half of the Alamo Bowl — that is, crunch time.

Stanford led 21-10 at halftime and trailed slightly in offensive yardage, 155-167. The Cardinal offense scored 16 more points and upped its yardage to 199 in the second half.

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Frogs nip Cardinal, 39-37, in entertaining Alamo Bowl clash

December 31, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 31, 2017

Stanford’s 2017 football season came to a disappointing conclusion Thursday night with a 39-37 loss to Texas Christian University in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The Cardinal finished 9-5, only the second time in head coach David Shaw’s seven seasons that the team failed to reach double-digit wins. The Horned Frogs moved to 11-3, a record that includes two losses to playoff contender Oklahoma.

Scoring opened after TCU quarterback Kenny Hill made an ill-advised throw while on the move. Junior free safety Frank Buncom read his intentions and raced in from the right side to intercept the ball, which he returned 37 yards to the Frogs 23-yard line.

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Historical drama ‘Darkest Hour’ is marred by unmotivated character choices

December 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 29, 2017

Darkest Hour, Joe Wright’s new historical drama about Winston Churchill’s becoming leader of Britain during the outbreak of World War II, has almost all the ingredients of a great movie.

The cast, led by a prosthesis-covered Gary Oldman as a then-untested prime minister elevated as German forces threaten to engulf all of Europe, is uniformly excellent. Director Joe Wright (AtonementPride & Prejudice) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) have well-regarded previous works. The sets, props and costumes seem authentic. The problem, I fear, is that McCarten’s script strives for an effect that it fails to earn.

The story begins on May 9, 1940, as an opposition party member speaking before a raucous Parliament demands the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) after his policy of appeasement has proven ineffective at containing Nazi aggression. In a meeting, Chamberlain and other Conservative party leaders agree to designate Churchill as his replacement.

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First contact gets a thoughtful, stimulating treatment in Denis Villeneuve’s fantastic 2016 film ‘Arrival’

December 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 23, 2017

Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 movie Arrival is a breathtakingly fresh tale of first contact with aliens. It’s also easily the most intelligent science fiction movie at least since Interstellar came out in 2014.

Arrival’s premise is simple enough. In the very near future, mysterious black objects position themselves over 12 apparently random locations scattered across the globe, inciting anxiety and panic. Every 18 hours, a panel on the bottom of the vessels — each resembles a skyscraper-sized contact lens — is opened, letting humans enter a chamber where they can have an audience with the aliens. Unfortunately, no one understands what they’re saying.

Linguistics professor Louise Banks is recruited to help the American military attempt to communicate with the extraterrestrials. She begins making sense of their language, which appears to be entirely visual, with some very minor assistance from a theoretical physicist named Ian Donnelly. However, her progress is increasingly hampered by visions from different parts of her life. Banks’s work becomes urgent when a Chinese general decides that the aliens are a threat and issues an ultimatum to them: Leave or face destruction.

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The minor gem ‘Harbinger Down’ is a terrific homage to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’

December 20, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 20, 2017

Harbinger Down is a beautifully executed homage to John Carpenter’s classic movie The Thing that’s short on originality but long on scares.

This 2015 feature was written and directed by Alec Gillis, a special-effects and makeup veteran on productions going back to ’80s action classics like AliensTremors and Starship Troopers. The plot leans heavily on Carpenter’s 1982 tour de force but is executed well enough to entertain genre fans.

The story gets under way when a professor and two graduate students book passage on the Harbinger, a dilapidated Alaskan crabbing vessel, in order to track how the migratory patterns of beluga whales are being affected by climate change. When Sadie (Camille Balsamo of the 2014–16 crime drama Murder in the First) notices that the whales are attracted to a flashing beacon set in a chunk of ice, she persuades Captain Graff (Lance Henriksen) to haul this mechanical object onto the ship.

The ice turns out to contain a badly charred lunar lander marked with Soviet-era symbols. Within the crew compartment is a sealed spacesuit. Graff orders the entire find stowed in the ship’s hold and bars his crew and the scientists from any further investigation.

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Wooden leads weigh down the dynamic script and direction of ‘Terminator Genisys’

December 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 15, 2017

Terminator Genisys, the would-be 2015 blockbuster, does its best to invigorate an action-adventure franchise that James Cameron unwittingly launched back in 1984. Alas, the movie falls flat — an immense soufflé prepared by a chef who lacked just one or two vital ingredients.

The plot is complex but holds up as long as the viewer simply accepts it as the necessary mishegas that propels the movie from one set piece to another. The action opens in the year 2029, just as John Connor (Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty, Everest and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is on the brink of leading humanity to a decisive victory over the evil computer Skynet and its legion of murderous Terminator robots.

As the last battle is seemingly won, humans seize a large machine-built device that the near-prescient Connor somehow knows is capable of sending people (and flesh-covered machines) back in time. Connor uses it to dispatch his right-hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Bruce Willis’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard and a key character in the Divergent movies), to the year 1984. Reese’s mission is to protect John’s mother from a Terminator that’s been dispatched to kill her and thus crush humanity’s rebellion even before it can reach the cradle.

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