Saturday, July 26, 2008

Turn the River

When I opened my Netflix delivery this week I was happy to see that Turn the River was finally out. I had seen the previews and was excited to see what appeared to be an intelligent film featuring a fair amount of pool, even if its not a "pool movie."

I enjoyed the film, although probably more for the decent character development and good acting by Famke Janssen and the actor playing her son. Major props for featuring one-pocket, although eventually the film ends with a 9-ball match, the change is introduced by the main character saying that 9-ball "seems like a chumpy game for us."

First let me say, I think it takes some courage to even attempt to put any kind of pool narrative in a film, especially on a low budget. The editor must have gone nuts trying to piece together legitimate sequences or even montages.

But any pool player is going to go into a movie like this trying to see who can really play and who is just an actor (actually recognizing Tony Robles doesn't count)...and the couple of editing mistakes can't help but jump out at you (like during the 9-ball sequence, it looks like she shoots straight in at the four and the cue ball cozies up to the 2.)

Famke Janssen did all of her own shots in the movie. Apparently, she is a good shot, but I never bought her as a real player. Her stroke was unconvincing and she never seemed confident at the table. Even considering she is down on her luck and living out of a truck she won at poker, she struck me as the kind of woman who could have a good night holding the table at a local bar, but not the kind of player who should be playing races to 5 for $10,000.

And then there was this exchange with her mentor after upping the bet to $10,000:
Mentor (Rip Torn): "You know he's going to try and f*ck with you?"
Famke: "F*ck with me? How?"

Are you serious? This woman is supposed to be a pool hustler and she's never been sharked before? Or, gosh any reasonable non-pool playing human being might be unsurprised by the suggestion that someone placing 10K on a pool match might try to play some mind games. Maybe she should play more league pool.

I could go on, but it would be unfair, because the director has stated that he didn't want the movie to be about the pool, and that he made a conscious decision to have as little pool as possible. He just wanted the audience to know who was winning and who was losing.

Which is too bad. I think letting the pool games carry a little more of the narrative weight would have added some needed tension and texture missing during the match sequences. (Is it too much to ask for a few full table shots during the one-pocket to give people a better feeling of the game? Maybe on a low-budget it is too much...)

Perhaps this could have avoided the need for the bizarre, oddly comic, thriller ending. Although, I guess the story needed some kind of conclusion...

Anyway, out of the hour and a half, I'd really only like the last 10 minutes of my life back. That's pretty good. Good acting & and dissing 9-ball. I'm glad I saw it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Its not all in my head!

Have you ever been to the doctor for some random ache or pain that just doesn't seem to go away? On the one hand, you're hoping they don't find anything, because its better to be healthy. On the other hand, if they don't find anything, you may be healthy, but you don't know what to do about your problem. You're stuck just waiting or dealing with a "psychosomatic" something or other....Its kind of good news, bad news either way.

This is how I felt after my latest practice session with Coach. I had come to the conclusion that my slump was mostly due to mental fatigue from overplaying. I thought it was all in my head and I just needed to get my confidence back. But who knows how long that will take? Unfortunately...or fortunately, a test of my fundamentals came back with some very bad results: Whacking, not stroking the ball, jacking up, poor alignment, jumbled inconsistent eye pattern and pre-shot routine. Ugh.

Good news: I'm not just a "loser" cuz I think like one.
Bad news: I actually suck and have a lot of work to do to regain the ground I've lost.
Good news: At least now I know.
Prescription: Lots of straight in stop shots. Lots.

I'd like to say this happened over the course of only a month, but I've gradually noticed some changes:
*My stop shots have beeen less precise.

*I've started to bring my head lower over my cue to see shots better, but as a result my stroke has angled down a bit.

*I've been trying to bring more power to my stroke, but sometimes I think I've forced it instead of building it gradually. Maybe this contributed whack/punch non-stroke thing I've been doing?

Anyway, however I got here, this is where I am....good thing I like doing straight in stop shots :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And the secret password is.....

"I love competing more than winning."

That's my new mantra....

I finally finished reading The New Toughness Training for Sports by James Loehr. I've had it for over a year, and read bits and pieces after Liz Ford and a couple of people on AZBilliards recommended it. There was lots of good information in the book, but that's the one little line that is making me really happy I read it.

I guess I'm just pleased to have something that expresses where my head's at when I'm in my happiest pool state. I've gone back and forth over the whole "wanting to win" thing. Once upon a time it was suggested that in order to win, I needed to let go of winning. That didn't quite work for me. When I tried to let go of winning, sometimes I just cared less when I lost. Then I thought maybe it wasn't wanting to win that was the problem, but the fear of losing. This was helpful, but "I'm not afraid to lose" may not be the best visualization to have in the middle of a game. I've tried "just wanting to play my best", but knew in my heart that was a lie. Let's face it...I want to win.

But "loving competing more than winning", doesn't pretend that winning isn't important, it just puts it under the love of competition and the game itself. And when I look back at some of my best wins, that's how I was feeling...I wanted to win, but I was loving every shot it took to get or lose.

Okay, its not going to end up on a T-Shirt or anything, but I will be happy thinking about it while I'm wearing my "Bitch, I will cut you" shirt.

And I think it will help me get back into a good mental space at the table.

(Note: The book that was actually recommended was Loehr's first book "Mental Toughness Training for Sports" but it wasn't available at the time, so a friend got me the newest book. Judging from some of the reviews on amazon, some people think the first one was superior.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back in the saddle

I'm pleased to say that my return to the table resulted in a win. Even though I have been committed to being positive about the L-word and not buying into the "losing streak" concept, it was a relief.

Its was an easy match, one that I was supposed to win, but that comes with its own pressure. If I lost this one, then I would have to go into therapy. Fortunately, while I wasn't playing my best, I was pocketing balls well enough to stay ahead, playing safe when I should and didn't make too many mistakes. My opponent made it easy on me by giving me ball in hand twice when I was either on my last ball or on the 8.

When I was on the hill, I missed the 8 a couple of times. I had ball in hand with one ball left and drew the cue back a little far for the eight, so I had kind of a tricky cut, which I almost made. When I went back to my seat I was thinking "Damn, I wish that had gone in. Then it would be over." Not, as in over as in won, but over as in, I didn't want to have to keep playing this match. My opponent missed and left me a pretty easy cut in the side. As I lined up I wasn't thinking, something to the effect of "This is an easy shot, don't miss it, don't miss it." And of course, I did.

Even if I had lost that game, I still had two more chances, so there wasn't any pressure except what I was putting on myself, because I was so darn scared of losing. What the hell? This ain't the Olympics, its league pool....

The next and final shot was a gift from the heavens, as incredibly, my opponent missed his ball entirely and I got ball in hand. It was a relief to sink that last ball and sit down...and then I had a great time drinking and chatting with my teammates until the wee hours of the morning.

I think my ego was a little bruised when people suggested I needed to get some easy wins to get my confidence back. But, I have to say, I think they were right. Sometimes it helps to lower the pressure a little and remember what it feels like to sink an 8-ball (even if its an easy one). It ain't pretty, but I guess this is just a first step to getting back into the groove.

Somewhere I read that in river rafting one of the keys to successfully navigating the rapids is to focus on where you want to go rather than trying to avoid the rocks. Right now all I see are rocks....and I don't get it. Why can't they just get out of the way?