Saturday, December 07, 2019

Book Report: "No Better Friend"

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWIINo Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII by Robert Weintraub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Weintraub crafts a story tailor-made for movie adaptation. An inspirational and often devastating tale of survival despite onerous odds, "No Better Friend" is a captivating travelogue about a British sailor and his trusty dog.

Avoiding flowery descriptions and overdramatization in favor of economical, understated storytelling, Weintraub goes beyond his considerable research to place you inside the minds of his human and canine protagonists.

Through captivity in prison camps, long, harrowing voyages via sea and marches and cutthroat combat, the heroes endure, overcoming starvation, exhaustion and flagging hope in order to strive to see the next day.

A workmanlike profile in courageous friendship and sacrifice in the face of looming doom, this is a powerful historical document that doubles as a resounding fable, the novel is a triumphant accomplishment.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Jesus Christ Superstar"

You can't go wrong with "Jesus Christ Superstar" during Christmas season.

The creative team could be excused for soft-pedaling and hitting the easy marks, well-established by decades of success.

Director Timothy Sheader, however, isn't content with the status quo, and instead adds a fresh take on the classic, injecting it with fresh, vibrant energy that makes it seem as new as it must have during its initial run.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is peak Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thumping, rhythmic music pulses through the audience, and the performers expend maximum energy, leaving every ounce of their exertion on the floor with beet-faced abandon.

The latest touring production does away with the 70s rock opera aesthetic for a grungier, 1990s mosh pit-style feel. Drew McOnie's raw, charismatic choreography gives the tone a rustic elegance that blends with the aesthetic.

Above all, the refreshed take on the production makes the story Judas's personal story of anguish, divided loyalty and resentful fatalism. James Delisco Beeks commands the show in the role, belting out his songs with the gusto of Aaron Burr in "Hamilton."

Not to be upstaged, topknot-donning Aaron LaVigne thrives in the given lead role, leveling the audience with a rockstar performance that adds a welcome masculinity to the traditionally milquetoast interpretations.

Jenna Rubaii completes the masterful lead trio as Mary, delivering heartbreaking renditions of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Everything's Alright."

A passion play in both the traditional and emotional senses, the production revitalizes "Jesus Christ Superstar," somehow making the show even better than you remembered with a vigor that could be described as heaven-sent.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" plays through Sunday at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Monday, December 02, 2019

"Where the Water Tastes Like Wine" Switch Review

"Where the Water Tastes Like Wine" speaks to a sense of cultural fabric that makes up Americana, the joy of road trips and the historical texture that blends together to coalesce into culture.

Less a video game than a branching-paths graphic novel, the narrated text-heavy journey provides a barebones narrative structure to a succession of short stories. You travel an overworld, meeting eccentric characters along the way who spill their yarns, which you collect and deploy in the manner that you would currency and items in a traditional RPG.

After releasing on PC in February, the adventure game makes its way to Switch, where it's a natural fit for handheld mode. You can practically feel the dog-eared pages yellowing in the virtual paperback, and can just about taste the dust kicking up from the trail, as well as the pleasant sting of sunshine as you meander along your rocky paths.

Developer Serenity Forge takes an eccentric concept and plays it out to the defiant extreme, caring little about pacing or a cohesive plot. The threadbare narrative hook places you on the losing end of a poker game to a diabolical yet sagely wolf figure, who commands you to collect yarns from the road in order to redeem your freedom.

The joys of the game come not in advancing the storyline, but from bathing in the eclectic tales the game is stuffed with. A short story showcase disguised as a game, "Where the Water Tastes Like Wine" is every bit as poetic and obtuse as its title.

I crave offbeat experiences such as this, and if the premise intrigues you, you'll no doubt find yourself just as entranced by the strange marvels the game offers. Just a few sips will work up a fine buzz that will only have you craving more.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: 5 Shows to Binge in December 2019

For my full post, click here.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

"Strange Telephone" Review

Since the telegraph introduced the prospect of long-distance communication, humanity has wrestled with the juxtaposition of isolation and instant connectivity.

The advent of the telephone and internet brought different media into the equation, further muddying the landscape, and presenting opportunities for romance, exploration and horror.

Developer HZ3 Software's "Strange Telephone" uses the awkward communication conundrum and mines it for its branching storytelling potential. A port of the 2D adventure game released on PC in January, the oddly entrancing "Strange Telephone' dials up the Switch.

Taking on the role of Jill, you are trapped in darkness. Her one outlet to the outside is Graham, a sentient digital assistant and telephone she uses to solve, cause and ruminate on all her problems.

You use Graham to enter various realms, each of which contains puzzles that unlock items you can use to unlock new passageways. With the end goal of finding your way through the dark labyrinth to make your way home, you sink into the increasingly murky cross-dimensional catacombs.

While the puzzle difficulty ranges from insultingly simplistic to find-me-a-walkthrough-right-now impenetrable, the storytelling remains consistent enough to keep pulling you along.

Appealingly offbeat, the one-note tale leans on its intrigue to draw you back for multiple playthroughs to see where different choices take you. A slim, spirited package, "Strange Telephone" keeps you guessing as you meander your way through its sprawling telephonic web.

Publisher provided review code.

Friday, November 29, 2019

"FIFA 20" Review

Racking up more club and player licenses than rival PES, "FIFA 20" continues its steady march forward. "FIFA 20" may not reinvent the series, but does manage to push it forward in many significant ways.

Chief among the advancements is a mode that has nothing to do with the soccer game proper.

Street soccer takes a step to the forefront in the form of Volta, a side mode that encourages stylish, wild play. Whether you're knocking passes off the walls, pulling off ludicrous spin moves or slamming balls into the goal from the area around your own goal slot, Volta provides fast-paced fun that allows players' personalities to shine.

Player Carer mode, which plays it straight, marks the franchise's continuing direction away from story-heavy narratives of the past. The upside is you get more freedom to select your team, rather than play through a preset, cheesily-written story with fewer variables.

FIFA Ultimate Team continues to be EA's cash cow, as well as an addictive obsession for virtual card collectors. Patching your squad together from a bare-bones roster, scoring major upgrades along the way with big players and savvy chemistry upgrades until you can dominate both in offline challenges and online play is a rewarding enterprise. Those who prefer to avoid being bombarded by pay-to-win microtransactions, though, could be turned off.

The base game provides the smooth, entrancing brand of soccer that EA has had down pat for the past decade. With convincing physics, top-notch presentation and fluid strategy-shifting adjustment capabilities that put you in full control of your offensive and defensive philosophies, "FIFA 20" continues to replicate the beauty of the beautiful game.

While franchise mode could use more of a touch-up in next year's edition, and even more player likenesses would continue to drive home the sense of realism, "FIFA 20" offers up a package that's tough to beat. There's a reason the series continues to dominate the mindshare of video game soccer fans year in and year out.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Book Report: "Journey to the Center of the Earth"

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages, #3)Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the pioneers of sci-fi, Jules Verne blended the state of scientific research in the mid-19th century along with what then seemed like plausible leaps in order to extrapolate dizzying tales of daring and exploration.

A visionary who was far ahead of his time, Verne's powers are at their peak in "Journey to the Center of the Earth." It helps that the core protagonists generate a strong emotional core. A flighty, duty-before-reason professor leads his skeptical nephew and a hired hand to do the grunt work. Using a hidden volcanic passageway, they hurl themselves headlong into parts unknown, discovering hidden oceans and continents beneath the surface, and tangle with prehistoric beasts sheltered within.

Verne keeps the pace forging ahead with the urgency of the journey itself, while always taking care to keep the flights of fancy grounded with in the realm of feasibility. The trio's struggles with nourishment and exhaustion makes up much of the tension, and their sense of possible doom always looms over the voyage.

An excellent read for all ages, the Verne classic has lost nothing over the past century and change.

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