Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Dave's Hot Chicken Opens in Marana

Wednesday was a glorious day for those who live in my corner of suburbia. The lauded Dave's Hot Chicken expanded to the space formerly occupied by a lowly, ignored Burger King that long lurked in Costco's shadow.

Now the intersection of Thornydale and Orange Grove is suddenly a power center, with Top Golf holding things down and Freddy's, Firehouse Subs, Smoothie King and Popeye's beckoning from the southwest corner.

For my money, no chicken joint comes close to hanging with Dave's, which continues to expand after opening a Tucson location in 2022. The new location, at 3915 W. Costco Drive, opens for real on Friday. This one comes with a drive-thru, and will undoubtedly become my go-to when I'm looking for a cheat day on my ever-struggling weight loss journey.

I caught up with Von Dyer, Director of Operations, who beamed at the soft opening as crowds swarmed in to devour the ludicrously delicious sliders, tenders and shakes.

"As we embark on the journey of opening a new Dave's Hot Chicken location in Marana, AZ, I am filled with a sense of pride and excitement," he said. "For me, this endeavor represents more than just launching another restaurant; it symbolizes the opportunity to become an integral part of the local community, to create jobs, and to provide a memorable dining experience for our guests. Opening this new location is a testament to our team's hard work, dedication and commitment to delivering excellence in everything we do. We look forward to serving the Marana community and sharing the unique flavors and hospitality that Dave's Hot Chicken is known for.

Here are some shots I took while enjoying an introductory meal on the house.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Game Review: 'Contra: Operation Galuga'

 A reimagining of the original run-and-gun NES classic, "Contra: Operation Galuga" looks, feels and plays like a breezy blast of 1980s nostalgia.

Capturing the spirit and look of the original game while blessed with wholesale quality-of-live improvements and visual and storytelling flourishes, the game is rock solid in single-player but, like the original, truly blossoms when you're playing with a friends at your side.

Over the years, the "Contra" franchise had lost its way as it tried to fall on too many grenades, attempting to follow rather than lead. "Operation Gulaga" is a stubborn return to form, following the path set by the likes of Double Dragon," "Mega Man," "Sonic" and "Mario" as the franchises returned to the side-scrolling glory of old.

The old formula remains intact: You scour the background for power-ups, switching among your left and right hand, which can both hold a firearm with varied capabilities. You can also call for reinforcements, and the traditional platform scaling returns, buttressed by an ability that lets you hang from pivot points.

Outrageous battles, wild explosions and goofy cut frames grant the game its easygoing brilliance. This is a title clearly designed for gamers exactly like me, who grew up wasting away afternoons with a best pal while blasting through the endless reams of minions and larger-than-life boss fights. "Contra: Operation Galuga" is just about perfect for what it sets out to be.

Publisher provided review code.

Hot on Home Video: 'Lisa Frankenstein,' 'Night Swim'


Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse star in this offbeat, necromancy-themed coming-of-age/rom-com. Based on a script by Diablo Cody, Zelda Williams directs the darkly humorous, 1980s-set tale of a social outcast girl who meets a resurrected, zombified teen who died in the 19th century who helps her along her journey and becomes something of a soulmate. Liza Soberano, Henry Eikenberry, Joe Chrest and Carla Gugino round out the cast.

Extras include five deleted scenes, a gag reel and a slew of featurettes, including "Resurrecting the 1980s" and a look at the filmmaking collaboration between Williams and Cody.


A supernatural thriller from horror maestros Atomic Monster and Blumhouse, "Night Swim" stars Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Ameli Hoeferle and Gavin Warren in the story of a former pro baseball player who moves with his family to a new home with a swimming pool that tends to be linked to a dangerous force that could rip the family apart. While critics griped about the script and effects, the film does manage to pack plenty of intensity.

Extras include feature commentary with filmmaker Bryce McGuire, McGuire's breakdown of the nightmarish Marco Polo scene and a look inside the underwater sequences.

Studios provided screeners for review.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Broadway in Tucson: 'MJ - The Musical'

Bolstered by a blistering lead performance by Roman Banks, "MJ - The Musical" is a relentless surge of energy that pays tributes to the King of Pop while glossing over some of the most nefarious allegations that plagued his career.

The 2021 Broadway smash comes to life on its tour, with relentless momentum and a penchant for working its story to use bombastic performances of Jackson's greatest hits to amplify messages of loss, frustrations and perseverance that Jackson references in the framework, an interview with MTV.

Banks doesn't so much as capture Jackson's energy as he channels it. A dynamic performer who wields moves, vocals and kinetic energy that comes eerily close to that of Jackson himself, he hurls his entire being into creating a crowd-pleasing, toe-tapping spectacular.

Devin Bowles anchors the show with a dynamic dual performance as Jackson's domineering father, Joe, and manager Rob. The characters are so diametrical that it's jarring to see the same actor flip back and forth between the two so frequently, but the actor's presence provides a haunting link between the two that adds poignance to interactions with the troubled star.

The story, set before the 1993 Dangerous World Tour, is something of a wasted opportunity that fails to dig into the true fabric of the pop superstar, but that stance was likely mandated by the Jackson estate, which no doubt pushed for a warts-free hagiography rather than an honest look at a complicated, and, as many believe, nefarious figure.

It's best to check those concerns at the door and bop in delight to Banks' lights-out performances of such classics as "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Smooth Criminal," "Thriller" and "Bad." "MJ - The Musical" aims to be a rollicking tribute to a music icon that ignores the darkest corners of his personal life, and accomplishes that task with panache.

"MJ - The Musical" plays through April 7 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Game Review: 'Open Roads'

 A bittersweet dose of flip phone-era nostalgia, "Open Roads" is an introspective story of discovery that blossoms along a mother-daughter road trip.

The latest adventure from Annapurna Interactive, masters of subtle design and known for the likes of "Stray," "Florence" and "What Remains of Edith Finch," maintains the studio's high standard of intriguing writing with compelling gameplay hooks.

You guide Tess, a burned out teenager, as she tags along with her mother, Opal, on road trip that unlocks uncomfortable truths and discomforting memories among multiple generations. You start by packing up the room of a home you're leaving, then pass time behind the wheels, sometimes intentionally annoying your mother. 

Along the way, dialogue trees let you craft your own version of Tess, rendering her guarded, confrontational, conniving or some ever-changing combination thereof. Your choices don't seem to affect the narrative, but instead shed different lights on plot points that unfold.

A gorgeous and understated travelogue that boils over with astute observations and muted emotional epiphanies, the game is a short, powerful tale that begs to be re-experienced. This is one road trip that is truly about the journey rather than the destination.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'Amelie,' 'The Book of Clarence,' 'Saint Omer'


Audrey Tautou stars in her career-defining title role in this 2002 slice of whimsy, about a French waitress who performs covert acts of kindness for those around her. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's playful storytelling style and Tautou's wide-eyed performance pace the film's beating heart, making for an irresistible experience as the film resurfaces on Blu-ray in steelbook form.

Extras include a Jeunet retrospective, the filmmaker's feature commentary and featurettes on the film's visuals. There's also a Q&A with Jeunet, audition footage and storyboard comparisons.


Religious metaphors thrive in this bold, star-studded drama, which rounds up Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Alfre Woodard and LaKeith Stanfield. Director Jeymes Samuel offers a revisionist revitalization of the Biblical epic, spinning a tale of a struggling man who uproots his life to follow the rising Messiah. The film wowed critics, garnering a 92 percent Tomatometer rating.

Extras include commentary with Samuel and Stanfield, a cast roundup and featurettes on the film's music and the chemistry on set. There's also a charming gag reel.


The 2022 Venice Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner features Kayije Kagame as a novelist who travels to Saint-Omer, France, to attend the trial of a Senegalese woman (Gulsagie Malanda) who stands accused of killing her baby daughter. The women's lives merge as the tale deconstructs the interconnected web of the mother-daughter bond, post-colonialism and the struggle of migrants.

Extras in the Criterion edition -- sporting a fresh 2K digital master -- include new interviews with filmmaker Alice Diop, a conversation between Diop and filmmaker Dee Rees and a tribute booklet with an essay by critic Jennifer Padjemi.

Studios sent screeners for review.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Game Review: 'Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons'

Released in July, "Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons" managed to punch some life into the old bones of a long-decayed franchise by delivering some goofy, "River City Ransom"-style world-building elements and animation to the standard beat-em-up formula. 

Now the underappreciated game is set to a shot in the arm with the April release of "New Beginnings," a DLC pack that will add new modes, characters along with other upgrades and additions.

I missed the original release and wasn't expecting much from the game, even though I'm a sucker for just about anything in the "Double Dragon" realm. Now bolstered with a pair of female characters who join forces with the traditional male duo, the game is more diverse, open-ended and nuanced than the titles that munched my quarters in the 80s and 90s.

The challenge level has been significantly smoothed out, the move sets and combo-driven combat has gotten a boost, and the parade of villains is adorned with more personality and intricacy.

Easter eggs abound, with hidden areas that offer more enemies and loot to plunder. There's also a store that lets you bank your cash for upgrades.

I enjoyed my time with "Rise of the Dragons" and eagerly await the DLC drop. There may be some fire left in these dragons' bellies after all.

Publisher provided review code.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Book Report: 'Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s'


Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980sShowtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even as an avowed Lakers hater, I find myself drawn to the mythos and majesty that was the 1980s Showtime dynasty, which tormented my Phoenix Suns-loving heart as a child.

Pearlman delves into the fabric of what made the team as dominant as it was. He kneels at the altar of Magic Johnson while dropping subtle hints of his Machiavellian maneuverings that wielded as much or more power as owner Jerry Buss.

Pearlman also performs a full-blown character assassination on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Norm Nixon, even while quietly admiring their mental and leadership strengths. He also spins fascinating tales about goings-on inside the locker room, the boardroom and in the coach's huddle.

While oddly repetitive -- Pearlman sees fit to reintroduce several recurring people almost every time he mentions them -- the book is a hearty meal for basketball fans of any stripe. The book manages to capture a fleeting moment of time that, at the time, seemed as though it would go on forever.

View all my reviews

Game Review: 'Outcast: A New Beginning'

 A goofy, joyful lark, "Outcast: A New Beginning" seems as though it was as much fun to make as it is to play. You play as a shamelessly dorky hero who clumsily interacts with an overly serious culture that seems to be based on corny fantasy tropes, and jumps around from spot to spot via jetpack.

It's nary impossible not to have a good time as you work your way through the tale, which boasts lavish cut scenes with heartfelt voice performances that you feel bad skipping because developers worked so hard on them.

The sequel to a little-known 1999 game that managed to develop a staunch following over the years, "Outcast: A New Beginning" takes joy in its modest ambitions. The gameplay amounts to a series of mainline and optional fetch quests, which rarely grow tedious because each is filled with fresh, playful concepts that build on what came before.

You can spend lots of time collecting materials and weapons, gearing up and readying for the challenges that lay ahead, but you can usually get by just fine with little prep and letting your sense of whimsy tug you along for the ride.

While "Outcast: A New Beginning" may not break much ground, it manages to satisfy the yearnings of a gamer looking for a light, breezy distraction in between more serious offerings. Engagement and glee take top priority here, making this outcast one worth taking under your wing.

Publisher provided review code.