Archive for June, 2016

An ex-jock gets tangled up in a scheme to abscond with ill-gotten cash in the crime thriller ‘Caught Stealing’

June 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 30, 2016

More than 16 years ago, novelist Colin Harrison published a gritty crime thriller called Afterburn. I read it not long after its release, and while a lot of the details have faded with time, I remember its brutality. One of the main characters is tortured by mobsters eager to recover some missing money; although at least one character in the book arrives at a happy ending of sorts, most of the others experience grievous and permanent harm along the way.

I thought of Afterburn recently while reading Caught Stealing, a 2004 Charlie Huston novel that shares part of the earlier book’s premise, along with its penchant for putting characters through the grinder. Moreover, the volumes have almost the same setting — Manhattan at the close of the 20th century, although Harrison’s book takes place in 1999 while Huston’s spans Sept. 22 through Oct. 1, 2000.

Huston’s protagonist is Hank Thompson, a 30-something (or nearly so) alcoholic bartender. He inadvertently gets caught up in a vicious caper when his neighbor asks him to take care of his cat, Bud, while he goes to visit his terminally ill father.

The neighbor is named Russ Miner, and he’s got a secret: Although his father is dying, he’s actually skipping town in an attempt to avoid cutting his partners-in-crime in on the $4.5 million dollars taken in a string of small-town bank robberies around the country — money which they trusted him to store until the heat had cooled a bit.

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More (mostly minor) ups and downs of life with an activity tracker

June 24, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 24, 2016

Since I wrote about walking last month, I’ve had two informal walking competitions with my niece and my Parental Unit. One was a Workweek Hustle challenge, conducted at the beginning of June, while the other was a Goal Day challenge, which we did for the first and so far only time in mid-June.

The hustle covers five work days; we had ours over the first full week of June, which coincided with my June 2016 Pokerpalooza. If you haven’t spent much time in a casino, well, as long as you’re not glued to a handful of tables, there are plenty of opportunities to get in many, many steps. However, on the Thursday of that week, I spent most of my time in the car. In part because of that, I finished the challenge with 73,054 steps, about 7,000 steps behind my parent but roughly 8,000 ahead of my niece. Happily, I surpassed my daily goal of 10,000 steps (about which more shortly!) on each of the five days.

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Anatomy of a hand gone wrong

June 23, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 23, 2016

This happened earlier this week, but already a few of the details are vague.

In the big blind, I find myself holding the queen and jack of hearts. I raise to 1,800 chips. A few people come along, including Aziz, the dealer.

The flop includes two hearts, one of which is either the 10 or nine of hearts. (The non-heart is something lowish — a three or a six, say.) I make a modest bet.

The turn is a heart — either the nine or the 10, whichever one wasn’t part of the flop. Now I have a flush. Moreover, this card gives me the nine through the queen of hearts, leaving me open-ended for the rarest and best hand in poker: The straight flush, five cards in consecutive order that all belong to the same suit.

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The cryptic art-house movie ‘The Lobster’ is a strange meditation on couplehood and society

June 21, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 21, 2016

Author’s note: Parents, please be aware that this post obliquely refers to sex. MEM

Some movies are intended to entertain their audience. Some are intended to instruct or inspire. Others are intended to explore a question of some sort.

The Lobster, the latest feature movie from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, falls squarely into the latter category. Or to be precise, this art-house film, which Lanthimos co-wrote with fellow Athens native Efthymis Filippou, asks a set of questions.

The film is set in a near-future society, perhaps located in part of what is now Britain, where adults who lose their romantic partners must either become part of a new pair or be transformed into an animal of their choosing. The emotionally detached protagonist of the piece is David (Colin Farrell), a mild-mannered architect whom we first encounter shortly after he has been dumped by his wife and moments before he is picked up by employees of a hotel where singletons must either find new mates or undergo species-reassignment surgery.

The resort and its grounds are physically magnificent, but the place is a joyless, oppressive socialist nightmare. “Guests,” who have 45 days to attempt to find a new mate, are issued identical sets of clothing. (There are no half-sizes, a maid played by Ariane Labed coolly informs David when he arrives.) In the afternoons, the supposed vacationers are taken to the woods to hunt loners, renegade former guests who have gone opted for an existence as feral campers rather than live out their days as animals.

During down time, resort staff subject the guests to short morality plays (“Man dines alone,” one is titled; it depicts a man choking to death over his meal) and nightly dances where they are serenaded by the hotel manager (Olivia Colman), her partner (Garry Mountaine) and a competent but un-enthusiastic band. (During one of these scenes, I recall leaning over and sarcastically whispering “White people dance!” to my companion.)

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My mid-2016 mouth update!

June 19, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 19, 2016

Author’s note: Some readers may find this entry to be slightly gross due to its discussion of a bad thing that happened to one of my mouth parts. Sensitive readers, please proceed with caution. MEM

I went to the dentist last week.

Although — or perhaps because? — I made several visits to the dentist over the course of 2015, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this appointment. But it turned out to be a routine visit.

I was directed to floss more, my teeth were cleaned, I was asked whether my teeth staining was due to coffee or tea (“Uh, tea,” I responded, in a trademark example of my world-renowned witty repartee), and I made an appointment to return in December. Aside from a moment when one of the cleaning implements was misdirected and made a funny noise, there was nothing alarming. (It didn’t hurt at all, but I was afraid it would, and sometimes I can be a big ol’ baby.)

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Memo to Donald: Everyone loves a mischievous television scamp

June 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2016

Yesterday, I surveyed the troubled state of the campaign of New York real-estate mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump. Today, I wanted to offer a modest proposal aimed at revitalizing his run for the presidency.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Trump is a master at grabbing the attention of the news media, largely because he says a lot of outrageous things. It’s a truth nearly as widely accepted, however, that an alarmingly high proportion of the outrageous things he says earn him condemnation.

My solution is simple: Turn the candidate’s liability into an asset by casting Trump as an archetypal sitcom character that everyone recognizes and loves.

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Candidate Donald: A brief status report on the GOP presidential candidate

June 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 17, 2016

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is struggling — and his difficulties could harm his party’s electoral chances.

Recently, Trump issued several scathing attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge overseeing civil fraud lawsuits against the defunct Trump Entrepreneur Initiative Trump “University.”  Trump’s sharp words earned him reprimands from several Republican allies. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s facing a difficult re-election battle in Illinois, withdrew his endorsement of Trump, saying, “I cannot support him because of what he said about the judge. That was too racist and bigoted for me.” U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a frequent Trump critic despite their shared party affiliation, tweeted that “[s]aying someone can’t do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of ‘racism.’”

After Sunday morning’s tragic gun massacre in Orlando, the New York businessman suggested that President Obama is some kind of Islamic terrorist sympathizer, if not an outright mole, and reupped his recommendation that Muslims be banned from entering the nation. Politico had a good roundup of Republicans’ dismayed responses to Trump’s swagger. “I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said.

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‘Money Monster’ explores what happens when terrorism, business journalism and live TV collide

June 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 15, 2016

Money Monster is a competent, modest thriller about a terrorist — sorry, a white man beset by financial difficulties and other troubles — who hijacks a live TV show. The show is called Money Monster; its host is the fatuous Lee Gates (George Clooney), who likes being on television but doesn’t trouble himself with any of the ethical issues that normally attend an enterprise with journalistic (or even quasi-journalistic) airs.

The story plays out almost in real time over the course of a few hours on a Friday afternoon. The plot is triggered by the abrupt crash of the stock of a company called Ibis; only a few days before the movie opens, it lost $800 million in value due to what executive Walt Camby (Dominic West) opaquely describes as a computer “glitch.” Shortly before Money Monster goes on the air, producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) learns that Camby has broken his promise to appear for a live in-studio interview about the situation.

But disgruntled — and now financially bereft — janitor cum amateur investor cum gunman Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connor) doesn’t know about this late cancellation. That’s why he shows up on set waving a gun and lugging two boxes, which he says contain suicide-bomber vests fitted for Gates and Camby. By threatening to shoot Gates, Budwell blackmails the network into airing the TV-jacking live and uncut. The New York Police Department shows up quickly, but the world is captivated by this life-and-death drama that threatens to go on indefinitely…

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: The rest of the mess

June 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 13, 2016

Tournament of champions semifinals, Tuesday afternoon, June 7, 2016. When I busted out of the national championship event, I wasn’t quite done with my pursuit of glory. By virtue of a second-place finish in a tavern tournament of champions event a few months earlier, I had qualified for the semifinals of the national TOC.

The previous year, I’d had a deep and entertaining run in the finals of the national TOC (or half of the finals, anyway — but I digress) at the very same venue. This time, however, I had to make my way through the semifinals just in order to get to the finals.

The format of the semifinals is a shootout, something I dislike. To advance to the finals, you have to be one of the final two players at your table. (Players don’t move from table to table, as normally happens when competitors are eliminated.)

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June 2016 pokerpalooza: Day 3, tournament 5

June 12, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 12, 2016

National championship finals, Tuesday morning, June 7, 2016. When I got back to the motel early Tuesday after that night’s epic near-miss, I asked the front desk clerk for some paper, a pen and some tape. wrote a note to my roommates: “Please wake me up at 8:30 but not before.” I attended to some matters in the lobby bathroom before retiring for the night in room 173.

All three of my roommates were asleep. I taped the note on the wall above my cot. I blacked out just after 4 a.m. and awoke about five hours later. (As it turned out, nobody saw the note that I’d taped to the wall above my cot.)

The motel served a complimentary breakfast until 9:30, so I put on pants and shoes and a baseball hat and dashed over to the dining room to grab some yogurt, some muffins and a small glass of water. When I finished this extremely modest feast, I went back to my room and closed my eyes for a little longer. About an hour after I’d first awoken, I got up and prepared to shower, only to find that there were no longer any dry bath towels. I asked two of my roommates to get some more from the front desk as they headed over to the casino for the ultimate national championship session, which would get under way at 11 a.m.

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