Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Days of Shame and Disappointment: Michael Bay’s Existential Relevance to This Year’s World Series of Poker

In a very general sense I’m somewhat happy with myself. I could definitely be doing much better in many different ways, but overall I’m able to sleep at night. Nonetheless, I’m not a man of great “accomplishments.” I have never swam the English Channel or founded a culture changing website.

However, there are two small things I have done. I do not talk about them much, but I have taken personal pride in them over the years. What I'm proud of is that I have never once been knocked out of the World Series of Poker on the first day, nor have I ever seen a Michael Bay film. At least that’s how it used to be.

This year, for the first time in the 7 years that I have been playing the world championship, I did not make it to day two. I won’t bore you with the specifics of the hand I went out on. I will just say that it was one hour before the end of the first day. I had 15 outs twice and if I were a better tournament player I would have hit one of them. I would have won the hand and ended the day with well over two times the average stack. But that didn’t happen. I could use one of those “I was trying to win the tournament and not just survive it” rationalizations, but I think that’s a cop out. I had just been moved to a new table and I didn’t have nearly enough information on my opponent to make the play I did. It wasn’t a horrible tournament play but it was a little sloppy and unnecessarily risky. To win an event of this size there’s not much room for sloppy play. You have to be, as I once heard it described, shit-house lucky (a term, the origin of which I do not know but that I understand nonetheless) or you have to be flawless in your play. I was neither.

As I’ve described before, getting knocked out of the WSOP is a particularly unpleasant moment for a poker player. And this year for me, going out on the first day, was the worst in a while.

And on top of that, I found out that sometimes when you’re not happy with yourself you’re not so concerned about taking care of yourself. “Screw it!” you think. Who cares. Sure, you promised your son you wouldn’t drink this weekend, but since you already had one beer (it would have been rude not to) another one isn’t going to change anything. And yeah, now you’re drunk. You hate yourself so much for lying to your son, the only person who’s ever believed you, that you’re just plain numb by the time you use that stolen Unicef money to pay for the tranny hooker. Naturally, one thing leads to another, and before too long you think “yeah I always did want to kill a hobo” and that’s when bad things start to happen.

So that’s the state of mind I was in waking up this morning. That’s the place I was at that allowed me to say “Ehh, maybe I’ll catch a matinee of Transformers.”

Now, just for the record, I have nothing against the film director Michael Bay. There’s no logical justification for taking pride in never having seen one of his movies. It’s just that, in the most insignificant of ways, it made me feel like I was beating the system. The Michael Bay film represents something fairly powerful. It isn’t even the movies themselves so much as the brute force marketing of them. When a new Michael Bay film is about to come out, I want to see it. Saturated by the trailers, and posters, and the articles that show up in the Sunday Times, I start to feel the illicit pull of the siren’s call.

I just naturally assumed I would have to see Pearl Harbor, one of the most expensive movies ever made, or something or another to that effect. It was supposed to be Titanic but with even more things blowing up. The Island: Ewen McGregor, high concept sci-fi, how wrong could that be. But with each movie I resisted those first weekend screenings. I was able to put off seeing it just long enough for the reviews to come out. The reviews offered an immunization of sorts. And after that opening weekend the TV commercials died down a little, and room was made for the next weekend’s premier, and for some reason seeing Pearl Harbor no longer seemed so utterly imperative. For whatever reason, this made me feel as though I had accomplished something.

Transformers though, I knew Transformers was going to be tough to beat. The Transformers cartoon was not an integral part of my childhood, but it is something I remember. I’m in no way ashamed to say that, as a young boy, I enjoyed seeing giant robots beating each other up. Obviously, the giant robot stuff coming out of Japan, Macross/Robotech and the like, was far more advanced than the half hour toy commercials we got here in America. But I remember watching the Transformers cartoons nonetheless. And, sure, it was cool to see cartoons of robots slamming into each other, but there was always that nagging fantasy of what it would be like in real life. At nine you realized that that would be the ultimate in cool, actual 30 foot robots, actually punching each other in the face, and blowing things up with laser cannons. And of course that is just what Michael Bay spent over a hundred million dollars to taunt me with.

Naturally, it was a silly point of pride, never having seen a Michael Bay film. But nonetheless it did make me feel good that I wasn’t going to let the studio’s marketeers tell me what movies to watch. As I said though, I was not in a very good place this morning. Hence the matinee.

Walking over to the Palms’ theater, I feel dirty. Through the trailers, through the opening credits, I sit alone in the theater saddled with a sense of personal failure. But then the movie starts, and I watch an unidentified army helicopter being escorted by jet fighters to a Middle Eastern military base. Once there, the copter starts to whirl and shift and transform itself into an evil robot, and it starts to rain down unholy robot vengeance upon the puny humans and their primitive military technology. It is a short sequence, but it is about as cool I would have imagined unholy robot vengeance would be. I start to think that I’ve unfairly misjudged this Michael Bay guy.

But then we cut away from the giant robot blowing things up. We cut away to people talking; and that’s where things start to fall apart. Within a couple minutes of this I begin to wonder why we can’t just have the robots blowing things up without all the jibber-jabber cluttering it up. For almost two hours people keep talking to each other. Some kid buys a car and bags a girlfriend far hotter than he should, and the African American kid cracks an alien super code with about 15 keystrokes on his home computer, and because he’s overweight he eats a whole plate of doughnuts, and other stuff happens, and hopefully John Turturro gets a really big paycheck.

Eventually however, as though Mr. Bay had read my mind, the entire last half hour happily tosses all the jibber-jabber aside. The evil robots attack the good robots and mere anarchy ensues.

There is a sequence where the evil jet-robot flies through a squadron of human jets and tears them apart, jumping from one to the next, transforming between robot and jet as it does. But besides that, there unfortunately isn’t very much carnage of a really creatively holy gee-whiz sort. And sometimes it’s a little tough to tell one giant robot from the next. The hard to follow blur of “real life” robot action occasionally makes me long for the more stylized Japanese cartoon action.

I think one of the good robots got killed but I’m not entirely sure. It just got ripped in two and being a robot I would think that might be more or less fixable. Of course, if I was following the action correctly I think that the robot who died was the “urban” robot that liked to breakdance and talk in that rapping grandma sort of way that white people sometimes write black dialog. So I may not actually be too upset if that robot doesn’t show up for the inevitable sequel.

And then a bunch more things get blown up, and a plane flies through an office building, and eventually the kid from the first Project Greenlight movie shoves a box into one robot’s chest, and I guess that’s as good a reason as any to end the movie.

In all honesty, I have obviously seen worse movies (Silent Rage still exists). Taken as a popcorn blockbuster for the kids, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Transformers. If this was some little Korean film that I had discovered at the video store, I would have thought, wow, it’s a little flawed but it definitely has it’s fun moments.

So part of me is perfectly happy to ignore the stupid and say “Ehh, it could have been worse.” And when I first went to bed after getting knocked out of this year’s WSOP, that’s pretty much how I felt about the last hand I played. Ehh, it could have been worse.

But when I woke up the next morning and really did the analysis, I was struck with a far more burdensome realization. Obviously, the painful part is not that it could have been worse, it’s that it could have been better, it should have been better.

And I suppose that’s the fundamental existential question that seeing Transformers throws in my face. If you make a hundred and fifty million dollar action film, are you trying to make something as good as James Cameron’s Aliens or are you just trying to make something that is not as bad Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla.

If I had never seen James Cameron’s Aliens, then sure, I might not know how good an action movie can be. But I have, and to pretend that Transformers is the best you could hope for is deceitful. Transformers is not evil by any means. But to not acknowledge and criticize its lowest common denominator aspirations is a sad surrender of sorts.

As it happens, I have some idea of what my poker capabilities are. I know I could have played that last hand better. Was the play I made Roland-Emmerich’s-Godzilla-horrible? No. But, was it the best possible play I could have made? Not really.

There’s nothing wrong with coming close. Being almost good is obviously better than being bad. But being almost good is by no means the same as being actually good. Sometimes it is important for me to be reminded of this. For that I thank you Mr. Michael Bay. Please keep trying.


Anonymous said...

You're way too hard on yourself, buddy. Nothing wrong with 15 outs twice. Any schmo who wins the WSOP has hit longer shots than that at some point. Didn't the great Johnny Chan win 12 coin flips on his way to the championship back in the day when there were under 300 runners? You really shouldn't have punished yourself so harshly. Save Michael Bay for when you gamble your money on a 2-outer, okay?

The idiot who took half of you said...

I don't feel that I got my 6 dimes worth of good feelings from that post.

BTL said...

Word is, Michael Bay is something of a complete bastard to work for. So I get some satisfaction out of the fact that his movies suck.

Don't know much about poker (uh, flush beats a straight, right??) but your writing cracks me up.