Understanding Casino Games

roulette table and players

Maybe I’m old school, but I still love visiting a casino with friends now and then, or even hosting a poker night in my apartment. There’s just something refreshing about good drinks, good friends, and good games. But too many times I’ve had buddies join in who had no idea what to do when they actually approached a popular game like poker, blackjack, or even roulette. It’s as if they think, “Oh, I’ve seen Rounders and Ocean’s 11, it’ll just kick in when I take my seat.”

Not exactly!

It doesn’t bother me that a lot of people don’t know how the most basic casino games work. At this point, most of us are playing these games online and in apps anyway, and everything is streamlined and simplified to be idiot-proof. But if you’re like me and have an appreciation for the actual games and the thrill of gambling, read on for a basic explanation of some of the most popular games.

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Another World: Dubai Etiquette and Culture Tips for Tourists

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Dubai is a fascinating destination and a great place to enjoy a vacation. If you are looking for somewhere exotic and completely different, you will find it here. However, one thing that you have to be careful of is that the customs and culture here are very different from back home.

There are a few things that you should avoid doing while you are in Dubai if you want to get the most from your stay, and a few etiquette tips that you may want to follow. Here is what you need to know when you arrive to enjoy your stay and avoid experiencing any problems.

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Blu Tuesday: Big Eyes, Batman vs. Robin and Odd Man Out

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Big Eyes”

WHAT: In 1958, aspiring artist Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) leaves her husband for a fresh start in San Francisco, and before long, she marries smooth-talking artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). But when Walter starts taking credit for Margaret’s kitschy paintings (after all, they both sign their art “Keane,” and Walter insists they’re a team), the lie grows so big that Margaret is unable to stop it in fear that the whole Keane empire, and her life’s work, will be tarnished in the process.

WHY: Tim Burton’s first live-action feature to not star Johnny Depp in over a decade may be a bit of a departure for the oddball director, but “Big Eyes” is his best film in years, even if that comes off like a backhanded compliment considering some of the recent garbage he’s released. Amy Adams delivers an outstanding performance as Margaret Keane, whose façade of female empowerment is stripped away by Walter’s passive-aggressive bullying, leaving behind an emotionally defeated shell of a woman that Adams plays with such honesty that you feel her heartbreak with every betrayal. And though Christoph Waltz’s bombastic fraud isn’t afforded the same level of complexity, he still takes what could have been a one-dimensional character and turns him into somewhat of a tragic figure, so desperate for recognition that it’s sad to watch as he becomes consumed by his own lie. Unfortunately, “Big Eyes” doesn’t feel like a Burton movie at all, to the point that it makes you wonder what drew such a creative and visual filmmaker to what’s pretty standard biopic material. Kudos to the director for taking a break from his usual genre leanings in order to make a more straightforward drama, but while “Big Eyes” features some strong lead performances and a fascinating story, just like Margaret Keane’s paintings, it never amounts to more than a pleasant distraction.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and some Q&A highlights.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Batman vs. Robin”

WHAT: After being trained as a killer by Ra’s al Ghul, young Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) is having difficulty adjusting to Batman’s moral code and his new role as Robin. So when a secret society known as the Court of Owls tries to recruit Damian to their cause, he’s forced to decide what kind of hero he wants to be: one that seeks justice or vengeance.

WHY: “Batman vs. Robin” is just the latest in a line of mediocre animated films from DC Comics. The biggest problem with the movie is its horribly misleading title, because the dynamic duo only faces off against each other once, and even then, it’s a relatively brief skirmish that ranks as the weakest of the included action scenes. A direct sequel to last year’s “Son of Batman,” the movie integrates elements from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s popular “The Court of Owls” story arc into the continuing narrative of Damian’s transformation into Robin. Unfortunately, Damian is such an incredibly annoying character (made even worse by Stuart Allan’s irritating voice work) that you don’t care what happens to the pint-sized brat, and the story suffers as a result. The rest of the characters don’t fare any better, particularly Batman, who resorts to fighting inside a lame robot suit for the climactic battle in what the filmmakers probably thought would be the film’s crowd-pleasing moment. Instead, it’s when Alfred enters the fray seconds later armed with a shotgun, and for as great as that moment may be, it’s a rare highlight in an otherwise forgettable movie.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with the filmmakers, a pair of featurettes on the Court of Owls and the Talons of the Owls, a sneak peek at “Justice League: Gods & Monsters” and four bonus cartoons from the DC Comics vault.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Odd Man Out”

WHAT: When IRA gunman Johnny McQueen (James Mason) is shot during a failed robbery in Northern Ireland, he’s forced to go on the run, seeking refuge throughout the city while being hunted by the police. As Johnny’s fellow conspirators are captured one by one, his lover (Kathleen Ryan) enlists the help of the local priest to track him down.

WHY: Carol Reed is probably best known as the director of “The Third Man,” and for good reason, because it’s one of the greatest films of the 1940s. Just two years before making that movie, however, Reed directed an adaptation of F.L. Green’s novel, “Odd Man Out,” and though it shares many of the same visual cues as “The Third Man,” it doesn’t hold up as well. That’s partly because it’s very much a product of its time, and as such, there are a lot of silly things that transpire over the course of the film that simply don’t make sense. (The fact that all of the characters refer to McQueen’s criminal group as “the organization” and not the IRA, which it very clearly is, smacks of political censorship.) Additionally, the setup is weak and the ensuing story isn’t particularly interesting, losing focus in the latter half as it devolves into a bunch of metaphysical psychobabble. James Mason delivers some good work as the speechless, almost zombified protagonist, and Kathleen Ryan is the unsung hero of the piece, but it doesn’t have the “wow” factor of “The Third Man” to make up for its lesser qualities.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of new interviews with British cinema scholar John Hill and music scholar Jeff Smith, there’s a new featurette about the film’s production, the 1972 documentary “Home, James,” the 1952 radio adaptation of the movie, and an essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Sights to See around London

Y-On Location London

London, the capitol of England, is one of those cities that you could spend many months in and only see a fraction of all the sights it has to offer. The largest city in England has an enormous amount of treasure to offer those who choose to visit this fabulous historic city. London has something for everybody. If you are a lover of soccer, otherwise known as football, you can take in a game played by Arsenal, Chelsea or any of the other local English Premier League clubs. If you like concerts, the O2 Arena and the Royal Albert Hall host some of the biggest music acts in the world. The city is also full of some of the top rated restaurants in all of Europe. Before you book your flight, do some research to find London hotels at a discount rate. Here are some of the best sights to see around London.

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Drink of the Week: The Proud Rebel (TCM Fest Salute #2)

The Proud Rebel.I know from all too personal experience that creating a new cocktail is a lot easier than crafting a compelling film story. Yet, they’re not entirely dissimilar in that sometimes you need one final ingredient to bring everything together…even if that final ingredient is a bit of a cliche. Yes, just as the too-little known 1958 western/family drama “The Proud Rebel” kind of needed the slightly contrived gunfight that ends it to bring everything together for a satisfying conclusion, the cocktail it inspired in me never really became something to be proud of until I came up with the idea of topping the thing off with soda water. 0 points for originality, but I’d rather win ugly than not win at all.

I like my drink quite a bit but I like the recently restored and sincerely entertaining film I was lucky to see at this year’s TCM Fest even more. As a pretty obvious follow-up to 1953’s “Shane,” also starring Alan Ladd, “The Proud Rebel” doesn’t get a huge number of points as groundbreaking cinema but it’s big traditionalist heart more than makes for up for it.No disrespect to the great George Stevens, who I actually think is a better director than “Proud Rebel” helmer Michael Curtiz in many respects, but in this case I prefer the quasi-knock-off to the original.

The kicker here is that, instead of chatty Brandon de Wilde as the surrogate son of ex-gunfighter Shane, we have Mr. Ladd’s real-life son, David, forced to act almost entirely without words as the progeny of a former confederate soldier struck mute by the wartime death of his mother. The 10 year-old, who would eventually become a major Hollywood player as an executive and producer, performs brilliantly not only with his legendary dad, but the film’s equally formidable leading lady, Olivia de Haviland (“The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Gone with the Wind,” just for starters).

Oh, and there’s also a dog, played by two very convincing and charismatic canine performers (billed collectively as “King.”) And, yeah, I got choked up a couple of times. What’s it’s to you?

Sure, the movie has a somewhat disturbing undercurrent, as did many postbellum westerns, given that we’re told Alan Ladd character was once wealthy prior to the war and we all know what wealthy Southerners routinely did that, er, kinda sorta started the Civil War. Still, the drive of a father to help his son live a full life and the love of a boy for his dog pretty much transcends everything in a movie like this.

As for the drink, and yeah, there really is a drink buried in here, it’s kind of an Old Fashioned striking out out its own. This beverage lives up to it’s name. It does not back down and it takes care of what’s important.

The Proud Rebel

1 1/2 ounces Laird’s Applejack
1/2 ounce Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
1 teaspoon Southern Comfort
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1-2 ounces soda water
2 apple slices
1 dash aromatic bitters

Muddle an apple slice in a shaker, it might take a little bit of effort, but the more juice you get out of it, the better. Next, add all of the liquid ingredients, except for the carbonated water, together with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain — just once, no need for any highfalutin’ double straining — into a rocks glass with ice. Then, add your second apple slice as a garnish and top off with soda water, stirring gently. Toast the basic yet crucial ties that can, in a really good story, make themes as potentially bland as family ties and simple human decency enormously compelling.

****

I decided that applejack should make a return after being prominently featured in last week’s selection because, as I said last week, this might just be the most American of all base spirits…though many would certainly argue that rye or bourbon whiskey should have that honor. Splitting the difference, I’ve once again combined the two, this time spicing up my relatively mild blended 80 proof Laird’s with the 120 proof Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, which I happened to have on hand because of the kindly gods of PR who send me free stuff.

As I said above, adding the maple syrup, Southern Comfort, and crushed apple slice, made for an okay modification of an Old Fashioned…but just okay. It really needed an ounce or so of carbonated water to push the thing over the top. And it fits the movie, too. Because Alan Ladd’s character really is a proud guy, too proud at times. And fizzy water is proud, too? Right? Well, it’s fizzy.