Poker Weekend

We’re just back from a long weekend in Las Vegas! Last year we went for 4 nights since we went out to see the Hoover Dam, but I think we felt that was a little long, so we cut it back to our usual 3 nights this time around.

We flew out Saturday afternoon and despite worrying about the weather (it’s been raining a lot in the Bay Area, and some in Las Vegas, too) and whether the fire at the Monte Carlo would result in people rebooking their hotel stays and keeping us from getting our room, everything went perfectly smoothly. I guess the fire made life hell for a lot of local workers for a while, but we didn’t notice. (You couldn’t even see the damage from the Strip, since it’s on the other side of the hotel.)

We’ve been staying at the Excalibur the last few trips, largely because it’s really cheap to stay there, but this time we got a decent deal and stayed at the MGM Grand. Not only is it in the monorail, but it also has Fat Tuesday, the daiquiri place we patronize.

MGM Grand Exterior

We were really impressed! Not only did we actually get a king-sized bed (something the Excalibur always seemed to promise but never delivered) but our room wasn’t down at the end of the hallway. It’s also kind of neat how the hotel’s exterior lights give the room a green glow when you get back at night.

MGM Grand hotel room
(click for larger image)

Yes, it’s the little things. But fundamentally we were happy with the bed, and the shower, and the location, which is pretty much what you pay for in a hotel. So I’m sure we’ll be going back.

We weren’t sure which show to go see this time around, although there are several that interest us. But while I was browsing various hotels’ web sites looking for information about their poker rooms, I came across the winner: We bought a couple of tickets and went Saturday night to see Wayne Brady, whom we’ve enjoyed for years on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, who’s playing at The Venetian. Although Brady was the headliner, he had a partner/foil for his improvisational comedy. The 90-minute show featured a song for an audience member, and the side-splittingly hilarious sketch where Brady and his partner alternated words in a story. This one was so funny I nearly peed myself. Brady is also a talented singer and performed several soul and funk songs with a strong backing band. It was a great show and we might go back next time.

I played a lot of poker this weekend. The reason I’d been checking out the casinos’ poker rooms on-line was that I’m interested in playing 7-card stud, but it appears that stud is all but dead on the Strip. The only stud game I actually saw going in the rooms wde went to was at The Mirage, but the 8 people seated all looked to be older, serious players, so I expect it was a very tough game, and I decided to pass on it.

I’d also expected to crack no-limit hold ’em in a casino, but I ended up playing a lot of low-limit hold ’em and was having pretty consistent success at it, so I figured I’d stick with what was working.

Although another reason we decided to stay at the MGM was that they have a large a good poker room, I actually only played there once. Instead I played in a lot of different rooms this time, mostly ones I’d never played in before:

  • The Venetian: I played in the 4/8 game here, which was lively and felt tough, although I only played for an hour before Wayne Brady’s show. I didn’t get a strong feel for the room, but it felt classy.
  • The Mirage: I played in 3/6 game here. The Mirage seemed skewed toward an older crowd, but I was happy to play there for several hours. The chairs were particularly comfortable, I thought. (This might sound frivolous, but after a couple hours of folding hands and tossing out chips, you come to appreciate the quality of the chair you’re sitting in.)
  • Planet Hollywood: Formerly the Aladdin, PH has substantially renovated this hotel. Unfortunately I had a bad experience playing 2/4 in their brand-new poker room, in that the table had a couple of ill-tempered players at it which gave the whole thing a bad vibe. I left soon after I got there. They also don’t have a computerized waiting list. Disappointing.
  • Bally’s: Despite having stayed there once and gambled there many times before, I’d never played poker there. The poker room is small and in the middle of the casino floor, which means it’s not as isolated from the ambient smoke as other rooms. That said, I had a terrific time here playing 3/6: The dealers were friendly, funny, and professional. The chips are stylish. The other players were friendly, too. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. I’d definitely play here again.
  • Mandalay Bay: This is why I only played at the MGM once: Mandalay Bay has a terrific poker room, with excellent dealers, high-quality tables and chips, and fantastic table service. Also, the 2/4 game has only a single $2 blind, eliminating the $1 small blind, and no requirement to post to come in. The players were a mix of younger and older players, but the older players mixed in well with a younger crowd. I recommend this one.

I had a very up-and-down time playing poker (which is sort of how poker goes, really). But I did end up winning money at it overall, though only a few bucks. I feel like I’m getting there in becoming a good low-limit player. I still make a few bad plays, but I’m making some good ones, too. A few memorable hands:

  • Rivering quad Jacks and getting paid off by someone who made a full house.
  • Flopping top pair (a pair of 8s!) and getting bet down to the river by an opponent. An Ace hit on the river, he bet, I thought for a short while, and finally called. “Nice call,” he said, turning over King-high. Somehow I just couldn’t buy that he had me beat. More importantly, I figured I had the best hand at least half the time, so the pot odds made it worth the call. This sort of thinking is what I’m most pleased with in my development.
  • Playing K-J on a K-Q-x flop, betting and getting called by two players. The turn is a J, giving me two pair, and the river is a Q which also completes a diamond flush. One player bets, another one raises, and I just see too many ways I can lose, so I fold. Naturally I folded the best hand, which was a bummer since that was my biggest losing session of the weekend.
  • Here’s the big one: One guy is playing almost every hand and raising preflop every time as well. Preflop he goes all-in for $5, and every player at the table calls him – a 9-way pot. I call with A-To. Flop is T-8-3 with two hearts. I’m first to act (I was the small blind) and I bet with top-pair-top-kicker. Everyone calls. The turn is an 8, and I bet. Only one player folds. At this point the dealer remarks on what a big pot this is. The river is a 7, so someone could have hit a straight, but the flush didn’t come in. I bet, and only 2 players call. I show my tens-and-eights with top kicker, and one other player shows tens-and-eights with a King. The other two fold, and I win. Wow.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement, of course, and I haven’t even cracked no-limit other than against my friends, but still, I had fun and I feel like I’m getting better. Can’t beat that.

Monday night we rode The Deuce bus (so called because it costs $2 each way to ride) downtown to the Fremont Street Experience, which is basically “old school” Las Vegas. It’s where the World Series of Poker began, at Binion’s Horseshoe. Fremont Street has been turned into a partially-covered pedestrian mall with an hourly show projected on the roof in the evening. It was worth a visit, but I wasn’t especially impressed (the show was an impressive display of technology used for very frivolous ends). Binion’s is surely nothing like it was back in the day, but it does have a large poker room and a number of displays related to poker history. Worth a look.

It was interesting to me that some of the old Las Vegas kitsch is still there (like the cowboy above the Pioneer casino), but the insides of the old casinos feel very classy, with wood paneling and stylish decor. Contrast to the “new Vegas kitsch”, like the Luxor‘s elaborate Egyptian themes, or even the swank Italiana of the Venetian. The newer Vegas seems more self-conscious, whereas the old Vegas seems to scream, “It may be goofy, but we guarantee you’ll have fun!” If a 50-foot-tall neon cowboy can seem more authentic than a giant glass pyramid, then that’s what Fremont Street has going for it.

The rest of our trip involved the usual good food (including our annual trip to Bally’s Steakhouse) and visits to a few more hotels we hadn’t been to, like the Sahara, which purports to be the last original Rat Pack hotel remaining. Also the Tropicana, where part of the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever takes place. I think I figured out where they might have filmed some of the scenes, but nearly 40 years later you can’t really tell. (The Tropicana was apparently brand-new when the film came out, but it’s slated to be demolished in the next few years.)

And of course we played some slot machines and video poker. And didn’t win at either, although Debbi seemed to do better at them when I wasn’t around. Plus we got to brave some rain both on Fremont Street and while wandering around on Monday. But nothing like what the Bay Area’s gotten, I understand.

The weekend went by way too quickly, and I definitely don’t feel like going into work tomorrow. But, all good things etc. As always, it was a fun trip and we’ll go back if not this year then next winter. Maybe by then I’ll be ready to play some no-limit hold ’em in a casino.

Another Trip Around the Sun Completed

Today I’m 39 years old!

Where does the time go?

For my birthday, Debbi bought me a Mosquito RC helicopter, which I spent some time flying around last night. Roulette and Newton were both fascinated by it. I managed to get it hovering pretty good, but wasn’t so good at moving it where I wanted it to go. Practice practice! I’m impressed with how long a charge of its battery pack lasts – it gave me a good long time to figure out some of the basics (like “don’t run into the ceiling”).

Dad, meanwhile, bought me the James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set, which will keep me busy for a while. Plus, now I can finally see the two Pierce Brosnan Bond films I haven’t yet seen in their entirety!

Turning 39 doesn’t feel much different from those other late-30s years. We’ll see how I feel when I turn 40. Mostly I think I should go to Hawaii or something for my 40th, since I have some friends who are already 40 who have been marking the days until they can give me a hard time on my own 40th. So it’d be good to escape from all that! 🙂

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 14 November 2007.

Due to my vacation over Thanksgiving week, I’m running behind on these. This entry is for comic books I bought the week of 14 November 2007:

  • All-Star Superman #9, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Booster Gold #4, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #24 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Fables #67, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC)
  • Salvation Run #1 of 7, by Bill Willingham, Sean Chen & Waldon Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #3 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #12, by Gail Simone & Neil Googe (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Nova #8, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Thor #4, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #5 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier HC, by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (America’s Best)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Atomic Robo #2 of 6, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Salvation Run #1 Salvation Run is yet another Countdown tie-in – sort of. These days it’s hard to tell what’s a Countdown tie-in (like this) and what’s not (like Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, whose lead stories both have nothing to do with Countdown). Score another one for DC editorial in the ongoing fiasco that is Countdown.

Anyway, Salvation Run is loosely based on a decade-old idea by George R. R. Martin, which – believe it or not – has nothing to do with my decision to pick it up. No, instead I was mainly interested in the artwork of Sean Chen (who’s art is the reason I started picking up Nova), and I figured the sardonic writing of Bill Willingham (Fables) might work well with the book’s premise, that being that the United States gets tired of all the super-villains stealing, killing, and generally disrupting society, so it decides to start shipping the repeat offenders out to an alien world, to fend for themselves. A world full of super-villains is sure to be a powderkeg – especially since most villains tend to be men – and the moral question of exiling villains to another world seems worth exploring. Anyway, there seems to be a lot of promise here.

The first issue is okay. Chen’s artwork is dynamic but not as detailed as I think it’s been in the past. The story mainly focuses on the Flash’s rogues gallery surviving on the world for some weeks – it’s a pretty hostile and bizarre place – before meeting up with a large number of second-string villains who have just arrived (plus the Joker). The issue ends with the hint that someone’s been tricked in this whole setup, but leaves open the question of why.

So it seems worth following for a 7-issue run, but I hope they do something worthwhile with it. I suspect it would have worked better in Martin’s original Elseworlds configuration.

Nova #8 Man, does Nova have some of the blandest covers in comics these days? I mean, the renderings by Adi Granov are pretty good, but the designs are bo-ring! (I assume these are designs created by editorial and not by Granov.) If they actually reflected the contents of the book, I think they could really help sales.

Anyway, in the wake of his ill-considered Annihilation Conquest storyline, Nova has ended up at the edge of the universe – literally. Unable to escape, he ends up being stranded on a giant space station, which seems nearly deserted except for a few extremely powerful – and somewhat crazed – super-beings, and a talking Russian dog, Cosmo. Cosmo gets the best line of the series so far: “You have seen end of universe and met space zombies, and talkink dog is what freaks you out? Bozshe moi.”

So there’s something nasty going on on this space station, the station itself has a surprising nature, besides being outside the edge of the universe, and Nova’s powers are significantly diminished because the Worldmind that powers him is still spending most of its energy fighting off the Phalanx’s techno-virus. Our hero looks to be in for a rough time – which means this book ought to be back on track now that Nova’s not dealing with the conquest, which he wasn’t really participating in meaningfully anyway.

Thor #4 Thor is now officially combining the world elements of J. Michael Straczynski’s comic book writing: Not only is the story moving at a glacial pace, as Thor gradually tries to reconstruct Asgard, but it’s got Straczynski’s tedious tendency to try to highlight real-world problems through a brief encounter by his larger-than-life protagonist. In this case, Donald Blake goes to a war-torn African nation and ends up in the middle of a civil war. Ya-a-awn. This book went horribly wrong when it became a “visit a problem area somewhere in the world” travelogue, and I’m rapidly running out of confidence that Straczynski can salvage it. Honestly, there’s just not much story here. Coipel’s art is still pretty, though.
World War Hulk #5 Well, I was a little off in my prediction of how World War Hulk would end, but it’s still be a fun ride – a big smash-fest. There was a nifty little surprise regarding what exactly happened to send the Hulk back to Earth looking for revenge, and the Hulk comes to a certain closure at the end of the story. It basically ended the way it had to, but of course this being a superhero comic it’s not really the end. We’ll get back to the status quo sometime.

I do wish that this book had been used to show Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic how wrong they’d been in their treatment of the Hulk and that they were on the wrong end of the Civil War, but Marvel is inexplicably committed to casting two of their long-standing heroes in the roles of villains, so that was clearly too much to hope for. Oh well.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier The Black Dossier is the third volume in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and it’s easily the worst one to date. The problem is that there’s not much story in it, and what there is is both dull and not much fun.

Volume 1 was the best volume to date, because it seemed primarily inspired by the Justice League, assembling a group of 19th century heroes to tackle a threat. The characters and setting made it very different from a Justice League story, but it still had a solid narrative with a lot of tension and a concrete resolution. It also had a lot of little asides referring to other Victoriana, but they were just bonuses and not central to the story.

Volume 2 was enjoyable, but was a big step down from Volume 1. The core idea of the League dealing with H.G. Wells’ Martian invasion was nifty, but it took a turn into the no-fun zone with its rather explicit sex and its brutal resolution. Plus, while the first volume had a text backup story featuring Alan Quatermain, Wells’ time machine, and some H.P. Lovecraft creatures, this volume had a very self-indulgent and tedious travelogue of the League’s world, filled with lots of references to extremely obscure people and places. Little bits of it were entertaining, but mostly it didn’t really add anything.

The Black Dossier goes for the clever references in spades, with extended text sequences featuring characters like Orlando, Fanny Hill, and various other historical background for the League. And most of that stuff is very, very boring, not least because this is supposed to be a graphic novel, and nothing takes the edge off a graphic novel like throwing big blocks of text into it. Honestly, I didn’t even read the bulk of the text sections for that very reason. Snooze. I agree with Johanna Carlson’s observation that the book feels too much like homework much of the time, and that’s no fun. It feels very self-indulgent.

The core story involved Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray – who have both become young again – capturing the Black Dossier from post-Big Brother Britain (the 1950s) so they can learn just how much their government knows about what they’ve been up to for the last decade or two. The Dossier contains the backstory of the League dating back for centuries, and it is reproduced within the main story and accounts for the text segments of the book. The main story has its moments mainly as our heroes are pursued by James Bond, Hugo Drummond and Emma Peel as they try to escape from Britain, but the end of the book is extremely disappointing, making the whole thing feel rather pointless.

I wonder whether this will be the last LoeG book. It’s hard to imagine the series getting much worse from here, though another festival of clever references would probably do the trick. The series has fallen an awful long way from its promising beginnings, so I can’t say it would be a great loss if this is the last installment. This was pretty mediocre stuff.

Anyway, if unlike me you really enjoy all the references – obscure or otherwise – Jess Nevins has posted his annotations for the book so that should keep you busy for a while. I think the joke is long past its sell-by date, personally.

Charles Stross: The Jennifer Morgue

Review of Charles Stross’ novel The Jennifer Morgue.

I enjoy Stross’ books generally, and in specific I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives, his first novel about the Laundry, a British agency tasked with dealing with supernatural threats. The Jennifer Morgue is the sequel.

Our geeky hero Bob Howard is once again sent out to save the world, this time by trying to stop billionaire Ellis Billingsley from extracting elder artifacts from a subterranean graveyard in the Caribbean. In this, he’s paired with Ramona Random, an agent from the United States’ Black Chamber (apparently the Laundry’s counterpart, but more mysterious and crafty). Ramona is not human, but hides this under a glamour; she also has frightening voracious – and fatal – appetites, which creep the hell out of Bob when a spell results in the two of them being psychically linked.

Billingsley, it turns out, has a mystical generator protecting him by being a plot device (literally!) such that only someone filling the role of James Bond in a Bond film can stop him. Since Bond is British, guess who’s been tabbed for this role? The catch is that if a Bondian hero actually gets close to stopping Billingsley, then he could just turn off the generator and off the hapless chump.

I enjoyed The Jennifer Morgue most when it was exploring the world of the Laundry: The first effort – by the US – to raise an item from the Morgue, Billingsley’s background, and the entertaining notion that humanity has a treaty with the Deep Ones who live at the bottom of the ocean. The main story was less rewarding, as it involves a lot of feint-and-counter-feint, but perhaps two or three too many layers of that so that the story doesn’t quite hang together. There’s more going on than meets the eye, but unfortunately it rather undercuts Bob’s role in the story, which made me wonder what the point of it all was. And the presence of Ramona in the story, though an abstractly interesting dilemma for Bob, seemed rather superfluous as well.

At some meta level, I can understand that Stross is deconstructing the Bond films here, recasting them in a considerably different environment. The problem is, I think the Bond films are self-deconstructing, especially after 40+ years of the things; some of them have veered so far into the realm of self-parody that the basic elements of the formula are clear to everyone, and their ridiculousness is equally evident. It seems an unnecessary experiment.

So, although it’s got its clever and entertainment stretches, I don’t think The Jennifer Morgue is a very successful novel. Maybe I just didn’t appreciate what it was trying to do, but the combination of elements just didn’t work for me.

After the novel is a short story, “Pimpf” (the etymology of that title escapes me), in which Bob gets an intern at work, and his intern gets caught in a trap in a local server of an on-line computer game. It’s quite a clever idea, using computer games as mechanisms for raising eldritch horrors, and this story has a nifty kicker which sends it in a completely different – yet still satisfying – direction at the end. Really, for what it is I liked it better than the novel.

Rounding out the volume is the afterward, “The Golden Age of Spying”, in which Stross examines the James Bond novels and films and their eccentricities, particularly how Bond was exactly not the sort of spy who could have thrived during the Cold War. The essay goes off the rails part-way through when Stross starts mixing his fictional world in with the essay, so it loses its interest there (although it’s still amusing), but the first half is quite insightful and informative.

For Your Eyes Only

It’s time for SpikeTV‘s Christmas Bondathon, and right now we’re watching the best Roger Moore Bond film, For Your Eyes Only (1981).

My favorite part of this film is maybe the opening sequence, which essentially lays to rest some of the dangling elements from the Sean Connery days: Bond’s marriage, and his old foe Blofeld (who’s filmed the way he was in the early films, without any view of his face). Despite a couple of corny lines, it’s a terrific sequence. I’d also love to get an MP3 of the incidental music from the moment that Bond yanks the cable on the helicopter, which I think is just a neat bit of adventure music.

(The rest of the film is quite good as well. It would have been a fine place to relaunch the franchise, but sadly the series spluttered creatively following this film.)

The early 80s are such a weird time to look at in retrospect: The lingering effects of late-70s fashion and pop music, but the beginnings of the businesslike conservatism of the Reagan years. FYEO navigates this territory in the bizarre manner of James Bond films, seeming both an embodiment of the period and a funhouse mirror of it. I think the fact that it remains a fundamentally serious film, and more a part of the Cold War then any other Bond film are what elevates it above the other Moore films.

Rating the Bond Films

Here’s how I’d rank the James Bond films, from best to worst:

Here’s how I’d rank the James Bond films, from best to worst:

  1. Goldfinger (1964)
  2. From Russia With Love (1963)
  3. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
  4. Dr. No (1962)
  5. GoldenEye (1995)
  6. Live And Let Die (1973)
  7. Casino Royale (2006)
  8. Octopussy (1983)
  9. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
  10. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
  11. You Only Live Twice (1967)
  12. Thunderball (1965) and Never Say Never Again (1983), which are basically the same movie
  13. The World is Not Enough (1999)
  14. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
  15. Die Another Day (2002)
  16. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
  17. The Living Daylights (1987)
  18. Moonraker (1979)
  19. A View to a Kill (1985)

I haven’t seen enough of License to Kill (1989) or Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) to have an opinion of them. (Honestly, I barely remember The Living Daylights, either.)

Specific rankings might change depending on my mood. I would say that Dr. No and above are the great Bond films, The World is Not Enough and above are the good Bond films, and the rest are the bad Bond films.

The high ranking of the Connery films and low ranking of the Brosnan films are more a reflection of the scripts than the actors.

I admit it: I like The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s an incredibly cheesy, campy film, but that’s actually part of its appeal. Somehow it’s so ludicrous that it’s actually entertaining because of, rather than in spite of, its failings.

A lot of people really seem to hate Octopussy. I think it’s a decent run-of-the-mill Bond film. It’s really not much worse than – or much different from – Live and Let Die. But for my money, the best Moore film is For Your Eyes Only, which not only has the best opening sequence of the whole series, but is the one Moore film which is basically played as a straight adventure, rather than a silly piece of camp or with a completely ridiculous plot.

Casino Royale

Review of the film Casino Royale.

Movie night last night was to go see Casino Royale, the new James Bond film with Daniel Craig as the new Bond, the producers having ousted Pierce Brosnan, the Bond of the 90s.

(John Scalzi wrote a nice eulogy for Brosnan’s time as Bond. One thing he doesn’t mention – but which I recall from the late 80s – is that Brosnan wanted to be the Bond to follow Roger Moore, but his contractual commitment to Remington Steele caused the producers to choose Timothy Dalton instead – to no small fan outcry.)

Honestly, the only two Bond films I’ve seen in the theater since the Roger Moore days were The Living Daylights (1987) and The World is Not Enough (1999), but I’ve enjoyed the Bondfests on SpikeTV so much the last couple of years that I was pretty enthusiastic about seeing the new one.

Bond uncovers an ongoing plot by the investor Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), who short-sells stocks whose companies he knows will be the target of terrorist attacks. Bond foils one such plot by one of Le Chiffre’s agents, forcing Le Chiffre to play at a $150M Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament at the Casino Royale to recoup his losses to pay back his investors (who are themselves not very nice men). Bond is accompanied by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a government accountant overseeing the funds used to enter Bond in the tournament.

Casino Royale is sort-of presented as Bond’s first mission: The film’s teaser shows him getting his first two kills to achieve double-0 status. The film is then broken into four parts: First, chasing a lone bomber in Madagascar, which leads him to a plot to destroy a prototype airplane in Miami. Then the casino sequence in Montenegro, and finally a concluding sequence in which Bond falls for Vesper in a big way. The running theme of the story is of Bond’s coldness towards others, and the emotional armor he employs to allow him to do his job.

Daniel Craig as Bond is not bad. Having seen previews of the film for weeks, he kept reminding me of someone. Finally, I realized who:


On the left, Daniel Craig. On the right, Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner: Similar heavy brows, similar shapes to their noses and mouths. On screen the resemblance is even more clear, I thought.

My main complaint about Craig’s performance is that he doesn’t have the sense of humor that previous actors have brought to the character. Many of my favorite Connery moments involve his expression of “oh dear, this is going reather badly for you, isn’t it?”, and while Roger Moore could admittedly be over-the-top, he still had a good comic sense when presented with good material. Craig really does come across as ruthless and humorless, and while it’s not true that he never smiles, it seems almost unconvincing when he does.

But maybe it’s the script’s fault: The story is brutal, almost unrelentingly so. Certainly with 40 years of history behind it, including some pretty ludicrous plot premises, there’s a lot to live up to, and Casino Royale almost self-consciously works to break with tradition. There are no gadgets, no Q, and very little witty banter. There’s plenty of action, though, and at times the film feels very much like From Russia With Love (one of my favorites).

But I think the film gets away from some of what makes Bond films fun: The series isn’t really about the glamour or the women; fundamentally, Bond is a consummate professional, but he also cares, because he’s not just a killer, his job is to protect his country and its citizens. He may keep people at arm’s length emotionally, but he’s more than just a “blunt instrument”, as M (Judi Dench) calls him at one point. I think the script tries to recreate Craig as a Bond who is less fun to watch than his predecessors.

All that said, the film is often a lot of fun, with some amazing action sequences: The pursuit of the bomber in Madagascar is fantastic, and the chase at the Miami airport is equally terrific, the latter feeling more like a Bond film than any other scene in the film. The Casino Royale sequence has many interesting elements, but kind of goes on too long, with too many twists and turns and diversions. And then the denouement is almost agonizing, because you know that any woman who Bond genuinely falls for is doomed (c.f. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The final shootout is actually not as strong as some earlier fights, although it’s not bad.

(Mean Gene writes about the film from a poker standpoint. I was pretty impressed with the level of detail of the mechanics of playing poker they worked into the film.)

The plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why Bond was in Madagascar to start with was unclear, and the trail leading up the chain of the conspirators was pretty thin, I thought. I didn’t see the point of going through with the whole poker tournament, either, from MI6’s standpoint. There never seemed to be much of a plan, and intent to follow up after the tournament was over. But strong motivation has not always been a big concern in the Bond films.

Overall I enjoyed the film, but I agree with Debbi who said afterwards that it didn’t feel like a Bond film. It may take another film or two for me to decide what I really think of Daniel Craig. Casino Royale was fun, but it had its flaws. I’ll be curious to see if they correct them in the next film, or if they continue to take the series in a new direction.