Sunday, September 18, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "The Lion King"

Roaring with a majesty worthy of a jungle cat's roar, "The Lion King" is a dazzling experience that touches hearts and ignites imaginations.

Bursting at the scenes with remarkable stagecraft, puppetry and costumes, the show is a mesmerizing display.

To watch "The Lion King" is to be whisked away into the timeless Tanzanian junglescape, with antelopes prancing, giraffes and elephants looming large, birds soaring above and hyenas scurrying about. The stage production ignites the mind's eye in a way the animated and live-action movies can't come close to approaching.

Massive stage set pieces, such as Pride Rock and the Elephant graveyard are used with aplomb, and rhythmic, functional choreography captures the ebb and flow of nature. The classic tunes by Elton John and Tim Rice serves as the unceasing soundtrack, paced with bongo drums and lush orchestrations.

No matter how stunning the visuals may be, the show would falter if it weren't bolstered by astoundingly energetic and empathetic performances. The immensely talented touring production cast breathes vivid life into the impressive shell.

Spencer Plachy and Jordan Pendleton turn in remarkable star-making turns as Young Simba and Young Nala, with Aaron Nelson and Kayla Cyphers ably taking the batons in act two as their grown counterparts.

Standouts include Spencer Plachy chews up scenery as the conniving Scar, Gugwana Diamini cast a spell as the majestic Rafiki and Gerlad Ramsey looms large as Mufasa.

Whisking by at a breakneck pace, "The Lion King" weaves its timeless tale to behold. It's an honor to kneel at its throne.

"The Lion King" plays at Centennial Hall through Sept. 25. Buy tickets here.

Book Report: "Absalom, Absalom!"

Absalom, Absalom!Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The storytelling and writing style carry this book.

William Faulkner details the steadily crushed hopes of Thomas Sutpen as he attempts to make his claim on wealth and prosperity in the Antebellum South.

Ahead of its time socially, the book uses coarse language to describe harrowing subject manner. This is often a tough read.

The experience is well worth it to capture the particular setting and frame of mind of the period, but could be a struggle for those who aren't ready for the subject matter.

View all my reviews


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Phil on Film: "Clerks III"

 For my full review, click here.

Google Pixel 6a Review

Those who are looking for the power and performance of the  Google Pixel 6 Pro but can do without the 6.7-inch screen, the slimmer, sleeker 6.1-inch Google Pixel 6a.

Svelte and slick, the device slides in and out of your pocket or bag with much more ease than the bulkier, braunier 6 Pro. The light weight makes it less taxing on your hands and wrists when held aloft for long sessions.

The amount of power the little device packs is impressive, truly managing to make its bones as a pint-sized edition of Google's top-tier device. And that's at a $450 price point.

Most impressive is the camera system, which shoots video and snaps Magic Erasers-boosted shots with ease and grace. 

A visual dynamo just like its big brother, the camera system shows a remarkable affinity for capturing images, even when movement and dim light attempt to wreak havoc on your artistic vision.

The stereo speakers also punt out some remarkable depth and boom. While listening to music, podcasts or audio books, you won't even need to hook it up to Bluetooth or an auxiliary cable in order to hear some full-throated sound.

Much like the T-Mobile REVVL Pro 5G, the 6A takes full advantage of T-Mobile's blisteringly fast 5G network.

On the downside, the battery life suffers, possibly because of the OS's insistence on multitasking as gamely as the 6 Pro. A dimmer display does what it can to keep your juice level high, but the downside is that some videos are tough to see when you're outdoors in full sunlight.

The lack of wireless charging is also a drawback for some. But taken as a whole, the advantages far outweigh the minor drawbacks, making the Pixel 6a a steal, especially for those who see its tiny yet mighty size as an advantage. 

T-Mobile sent product for review.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

PHIL ON FILM: "Uncoupled"

For my full story, click here.


Book Report: "Fire & Blood"

Fire & Blood (A Targaryen History, #1)Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Martin's history book-narrative hybrid occasionally touches on his past greatness, but overall feels like a brain dump of ideas half-formed.

There are gems here, and nothing is dull, but there is an uncharacteristic laziness and reliance on cliches that don't pop up in the mainline "GOT" books.

"Fire & Blood" reads like an outline that Martin would, in a perfect world of unlimited time and ambition, write "A Storm of Ice and Fire"-style saga.

Still, I appreciated the depth and breadth of Martin's vision. There are tons of historical parallels to explore. His political mind is astute, and his romantic mind is wild and borderline perverted. The combination is what ignites his brand.

Those looking for something comparable to his mainline series will be mildly disappointed. But some Martin is better than none. At least he's still writing.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Review: T-Mobile REVVL 6 Pro 5G

Deep pockets aren't necessary to dive into the 5G smartphone world. Not with budget-friendly options such as the $220 T-Mobile REVVL6 Pro 5G.

Somehow immune to inflation, the device is a rock-solid effort that works well for those seeking a low-overhead entry into the 5G realm. Its slick, easy-to-access interface is also less intimidating than those of the superphones of the world, making the device an excellent pick for older adults or young students.

Feeling solid, durable and well-built in-hand, the phone carries an admirable craftsmanship and appealing look. It can easily be mistaken for an iPhone.

A quantum leap over the REVVL 2 -- the last phone in the series I reviewed -- the phone is meant to hang as a suitable replacement for the likes of the OnePlus 8T 5G or even the Google Pixel 6 Pro.

The 6.82-inch screen shimmers with depth and clarity, and the phone operates at satisfying speeds.

The 6GB of RAM works in concert with the MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G processor for a fluid, fast experience, especially when connected to T-Mobile's 5G network.

Boasting 128GB internal storage, which you can expand via SD card, you have plenty of space to dwonload pictures, music, movies and apps.

The 50MP rear-facing and 16MP front-facing cameras are workmanlike, if unimpressive. It will get the job done for anyone who doesn't need bells and whistles on higher-grade phones.

To keep the price tag down, minor corners were cut, but the lack of water resistance or inductive charging could nag those who are used to such benefits.

Still, the pros outweigh the cons considerably, particularly for those looking to cut down on costs while not sacrificing much in the way of performance or quality.

T-Mobile sent product for review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Pretty Woman"

Easygoing, free-spirited and fun, "Pretty Woman" is a joy to behold. 

Its cast sparkles with an overpowering sense of fun that makes it seem as though they can't believe they're getting paid to do what they do. The infectious sense of joy wafts through the audience, which is filled with giggles and applause. 

Effervescent and boisterous as call-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold Vivian, Olivia Valli buoys the show with a charismatic and tireless lead performance, powering nearly every scene with her arresting performance.

Intentionally stiff and proper as wealthy businessman Edward Lewis, Adam Pascal is her apt counterpoint. His staid, proper persona melts away for occasional bursts of joyous energy, underlining the character's transformation.

The script hews close to the film, including the giant cell phone 1990 Los Angeles setting, but changes things up in a few key places to add some welcome flourishes. Although the landmark performances of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere set the template, Valli and Pascal make the characters their own. Also making her mark is Keyonna Knight as Kit De Luca, Vivian's friend who supports her unlikely rise to the high life.

Vivacious ensemble performances by the likes of Nella Cole, Natalie Bourgeois, Carissa Gaughran, Matthew Stocke and Christian Brailsford pace the show's myriad set swaps and costume changes, taking the scene from ritzy dance halls, dingy street corners, to country clubs and the opera.

The most impressive addition is that of Happy Man (Michael Dalke), a mulleted burst of sunshine who plays myriad characters, including a hotel manager, homeless star maps distributer and even a band pit composer. The magical realism-infused character serves as the spiritual North Star of the production, signifying a self-belief in defiant dreams that leads to success and fulfillment.

Although bursting with positive messaging and boundless romance, "Pretty Woman" never strays into preachy territory. Its upbeat, heart-lifting tone gets your heart thumping along to its beat.

"Pretty Woman" plays at Centennial Hall through July 24. For tickets, click here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Book Report: To the Lighthouse

To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was extremely dry, and lacks the biting wit and observational skill of some of her better work. It was agonizing to get through, with no real plot development or sense of storytelling momentum. Its characters are slim and perfunctory. A foreboding sense of gloom hangs over the entire tale. The book was slow, arduous and unchallenging. It wallows in unnecessary detail and struggles to find a voice. Just miserable.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

PHIL ON FILM: "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down"

For my full review, click here.

Book Report: "Madame Bovary."

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Flaubert tells a tragicomic satire of social excess, focusing on a respected, moneyed woman who squanders her livelihood and family fortune on whims and excesses.

Slow-moving yet commanding, the author's storytelling blossoms into stunning revelations and watershed denouements. She strives to deceive her husband, lover and shopkeeper with whom she racks up credit bills, but ends up only punishing herself. There are definite parallels to our time of easy credit and rapid inflation.

I left fulfilled but somewhat disappointed. I expected to be shaken and moved by a classic of such a reputation, but instead got the equivalent of a solid but unastonishing beach read. I recommend reading it but with dampened expectations.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Report: "The Importance of Being Earnest"


The Importance of Being EarnestThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oscar Wilde is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Even though "The Importance of Being Earnest" feels like a somewhat phoned-in, consequenceless work, it's a fun ready due to his lively -- if somewhat formulaic -- wordplay, and hilarious context codes that reference the gay subculture of 19th century Britain.

Above all, Wilde prizes entertainment and pacing. His tale of wily bachelors who masquerade under fake names as they tiptoe around social conventions to preserve their confirmed bachelorhood as long as possible.

If there's a fault to Wilde's writing, it's that every character speaks in the same voice. It didn't bother me much, because what they have to say is so clever and amusing. This is a fun and wildly entertaining play that I would love to see live.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Book Report: "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"


The Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An essential, if thoroughly labored, rundown of the myriad factors that toppled the Jenga tower that was the Roman Empire, Gibbon's long-winded, dry tome dutifully lays out a compelling narrative.

Sorting through mountains of fact, fiction and conjecture to delve at a semblance of the truth, Gibbon explains how a combination of inner strife, the spread of Christianity and Muslim and marauding barbarians created a headwind that blew the whole house down.

Coloring barely-known characters with intriguing anecdotes while cutting away the noise to get at the truth of such figures as Nero, Gibbon accomplishes an authoritative work that bears significant warnings for the American political-cultural empire to heed.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Come From Away"

 It's a tough prospect to turn a story based on 9/11 into a feel-good extravaganza, but that's exactly what "Come From Away" succeeds at pulling off.

Set in Gander, Newfoundland, where several planes were grounded immediately following the attacks, the vivacious, incessantly positive musical captures joy and delight in the interactions of people from varied walks of life and parts of the world who were thrust together for the better part of the week.

The core ensemble of Sharone Sayegh, Harter Clingman, Marika Aubrey, Julia Knitel and James Earl Jones II oozes with enthusiasm, chemistry and polish. They make up a troupe of true believers who are locked into their cause of replicating the magic of the original Broadway production, which took home a Best Director Tony in 2017.

From the outset, with the show-starter "Welcome to the Rock" revving up the audience in the manner of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" and "Hamilton" openings, the show soars with irreversible energy. 

The 105-minute production, which has no intermission to trip it up, delivers a stream of related anecdotest that coalesce into poignant moments of truth and understanding. A particularly resonant moment has characters of varied faiths praying in harmonic unison.

While the show courageously tackles racism and homophobia, it embraces a neighborly glee that one would like to think is at the center of all facets of humanity. The magical tendency to make a little more space, rustle up a little more food or lend a bit more of understanding to your fellow man is certainly present in the residents of Gander.

The choreography is adorably hokey, as though derived from a square dance, and the rhythm dares the audience not to clap along. The orchestra matches the cast in high-energy enthusiasm throughout, note for note and beat for beat.

With ample good-natured humor and romance, "Come From Away" guides the shared hearts of the auidence and lifts them airborn to stratospheric heights. Would that we all could be as giving appreciative as the Newfoundlanders on 9/11.

"Come From Away" plays at Centennial Hall through May 29. To buy tickets, click here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Book Report: "The Bell Jar"

The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sylvia Plath's autobiographical novel is chilly, incredibly smart and observant.

A breakthrough in feminist literature, the book feels vital and relevant despite the passage of more than half a century. Maybe its significance continues to grow as society evolves to match the work, which was considerably ahead of its time.

Plath's sardonic mentality reveals how much of an influence she was on Lisa Simpson, who carries on Plath's satirical perspective today.

The protagonist struggles with turmoil brought on by harsh social expectations pressed on her by the patriarchy, as well as inner struggles with her optimism and ability to find a reason to keep pressing forward.

On the downside, the book does read a bit Liver Journal-y, but its navel-gazing tendencies also help demonstrate the askew perspective of life trapped in the bell jar.

In all, the novel is a glorious and vital accomplishment that makes me want to read the rest of Plath's work.

View all my reviews


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Book Report: "Walden"

WaldenWalden by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoreau is proudly the oddest duck on the pond, hurling himself into a self-imposed monkishly minimalist lifestyle by building a cabin and living off the land for two years.

Understandably, the time spent lost in the woods made him even loopier than he presumably started.

The author makes impassioned pleas to live the life without comforts or extravagance, or even the company of others. His seeming lack of sex or social drives is robotic in the way that predates Sheldon Cooper.

The peek inside the mind of such a man is fascinating, even if he indulges his compulsions to a dull degree at times. On several occasions he runs off meaningless statistics about pond depth, his day labor wages and his product costs. This is a man happily lost inside the depths of his own mental interiors. "Walden" is such a sassy and ludicrously pompous read that it is impossible not to be absorbed in some degree.

My favorite passage was his intricately detailed play-by-play of red and black ants doing battle. Without sarcasm or pretense, he praises the valor of the soldiers as they dismember one another.

In a sense, Thoreau is one of the ants and collective social constructs are the other. He rears his pincers with instictive ferocity.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Hadestown"

Pulsing with entrancing rhythms, tireless choreography and heartbreakingly subtle performances, "Hadestown" seizes control of the audience and never loosens its grip throughout its 150-minute running time.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2019, took home eight Tony awards. The national tour was planned in short order, dazzling fans across the nation with its ragtime blues-infused take on "Orpheus and Eurydice."

Carried by Anais Mitchell's inspired book and lyrics, "Hadestown" thrives on its brilliant cast. In the lead roles are golden-voiced Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus and vulnerable yet fierce Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice. Their star-crossed romance is the focal point of the drama, with Orpheus vowing to change the seasons with his voice and retrieve his fleeting love from damnation.

Levi Kreis is an affable emcee as the quick-witted, game show-style narrator Hermes, and looming ever large in the background is the booming voice of Kevyn Morrow, who inhabits Hades with a blistering fire. His weakness is his pompous, overbearing bride, Persephone, played with sass and flair by Kimberly Marable.

Even though the show may be padded out with two or three more songs per act than it truly needs to tell its story, it manages to crank out a succession of toe-tapping bangers. Highlights include "Way Down Hadestown," "Road to Hell" and "When the Chips Are Down."

The latter comes courtesy of the diva trio of Fates (Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne), whose sprightly lyrics taunt and mock the lead characters. The playful interaction between the actors seems genuine and vibrant. These performers truly feel each others' vibes and channel their characters with inspired empathy.

A remarkable feat of passion and ecstacy, "Hadestown" drives home its themes with a relentless momentum of a fever dream. Its descent into hell unearths heavenly epiphanies.

"Hadestown" plays through April 17 at Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Book Report: "Black Like Me"

Black Like MeBlack Like Me by John Howard Griffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While some aspects of John Howard Griffin's methods are ethically and logistically questionable, his goals and storytelling ability are unimpeachable.

Allegedly disguising himself as a Black man in 1959 in order to explore racial injustices in the Deep South, Griffin's travelogue is beautiful, insightful and powerful. His work set the stage for a decade of cultural revolution.

Remarkably brave, though alarmingly insensitive by today's standards, Griffin's social experiment paid off grandly while exacting a significant personal sacrifice.

It is hard for me to believe that a cocktail of drugs, UV exposure and makeup convincingly transformed Griffin's appearance from white to Black. But his heart was clearly in the right place, and the book that resulted was an admirable work of empathy that no doubt managed to change hearts and minds of the mid-20th century. The spirit of his effort lives on today.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Report: "Ulysses"

UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one was a tough nut to crack, but I fault my own ignorance as the reason I didn't like it all that much.

Joyce's stream-of-consciousness writing -- no doubt groundbreaking and edgy for its time -- is also meandering and obtuse. I feel that this is a book you have to re-read and study to truly appreciate, and lack the time or inclination to approach that mountain.

I'm glad to have "Ulysses" in my rear-view mirror. It had sparks of wild intelligence but overall was a homework-style chore. Still, it leaves me curious about some of James Joyce's other highly-praises works.

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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Tootsie"

Filled with "did I really just hear/see that?!?" moments, "Tootsie" is a wildcard of a stage musical. Delivering consistent laughs, workmanlike choreography and inspired musical numbers, it's a modern splash in the face to Broadway traditions, in all the best of ways.

If it's possible to have a "woke" version of a story ingrained with such a problematic premise, this musical is just that. The plot acknowledges the inherent offensiveness to the LGBTQ community in Michael's ruses. The lighthearted, self-aware touch keeps the show tiptoeing on the socially acceptable edge of propriety.

"Tootsie" is also a comedy with something to say. The adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film -- which has aged remarkably poorly -- is a wild and raucous dive into the insecurities inherent in acting, aging and navigating the dating world. 

The remarkably talented Drew Becker thrives in the multifaceted role as frustrated actor Michael Dorsey, who crafts the identity of Dorothy Michaels in an effort to land a role in a musical adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet."

This is Becker's show, but Alec Ruiz is in full-fledge scene burglar mode as Michael's cynical pal, Jeff, whose profanity-laden tirade of a number in "Jeff Sums it Up" is by far the show's best song, followed by the frantic "What's Gonna Happen" by the delightfully unhinged Payton Reilly as Sandy.

Also impressive are Leyla Ali in the role of Julie -- whom Michael pursues romantically both as Michael and Dorothy -- and Lukas James Miller as Max, the ditsy reality show star shoehorned into the musical-within-a-musical ina  cynical effort to sell tickets.

Ensemble members including Lexia Baldachino, Kyra Christopher and Michael Bingham are impressive in wildly entertaining background numbers, including a post-bow, full-cast satire of acting warmup techniques.

Good-natured while unabashedly vulgar, "Tootsie" is a riot of a time, bursting with cheer and razzle-dazzle.

"Tootsie" plays through March 27 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Book Report: "My Inventions"

My InventionsMy Inventions by Nikola Tesla
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man ahead of not only his own time, but our time as well, Nikola Tesla provides a fascinating insight into his life, perspective and vision for the future.

Driven and brimming with a sense of overpowering creativity, he sees not only himself, but all of humanity, as sophisticated robots who only believe they have a sense of free will as they react to sensory prompts and their internal engines.

It's fascinating to peek with Tesla into his childhood years, when he survived mutliple close scrapes with death, endured bullying from his overbearing father, and overcame doubts and doldrums surrounding him to strive for a future only he could see brimming.

Street smart, though, Tesla was not. His oblivious naivete is charming. He speaks of Thomas Edison as a great guy, not bitter about the ways the businessman exploited him. He also dismisses conspiracy theories that the government undermined his research, and pontificates about how the creation of instantaneous death rays might bring about world peace.

His awareness of the shape of technology, though, is mesmerizing. He forecasts the internet, androids with A.I. indistinguishable from human intelligence, global wifi and free global energy sources. He confidently speaks of these things as though they are sure to come. He is pleased and humble to have been what he sees as a dutiful cog in the machine of progress.

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Book Report: "The Red Badge of Courage"


The Red Badge of CourageThe Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen Crane's tale of Civil War hardships is a fascinating plunge into the fog of battle.

The author's technique of withholding key information about the identity of the protagonist helps draw you in as a reader, making your imagination work to piece together context clues to paint a picture of his stature and mindset.

Raw, appealing details about the difficulties and trials brought on by combat abound, with a philosophical struggle between self-preservation and patriotic valor lurking at the forefront.

I wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was by the brutal and intelligent writing. Crane's work is a moving monument to the jarring tribulation of service and combat.

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Friday, March 18, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Jersey Boys"

Making a compelling case that the Four Seasons deserve equal footing with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, "Jersey Boys" is an incredibly thrilling, fast-moving and emotionally complex story of a band's rise, fall and redemption.

Wafting its energetic, "Behind the Music"-style tell-all story along with the pacing of a concert, the show is a feel-good romp that captures both the letter and the spirit of the group's humble, poverty and crime-pocked origins to dizzying Ed Sullivan Show and world tour heights. 

The infighting and ego-driven self-destruction that follow lead to introspective nuance that fills out the philosophical weight behind a cavalcade of hits that might otherwise seem like bubblegum pop anthems.

No matter how solid the storytelling, "Jersey Boys" would be nothing without pitch-perfect casting and inspired performances. This touring performance lacks neither.

Jon Hacker delivers a spellbinding three-octave vocals as Frankie Valli, leading the way as Eric Chambers, Matt Faucher and Devon Goffman. The robotically quaint choreography nails the sound and spirit of the group, rocketing you decades back through time to make you feel as though you're at genuine Four Seasons shows. 

I was particularly impressed by the nuances in the group's chemistry and harmonies as they roll through their career. Watching the Four Seasons evolve from a ragtag, unconfident group of street performers to a polished machine of 45-rpm immortality is breathtaking.

An overwhelming sense of joy courses through the audience throughout the show, and cast members are eagerly appreciative of the energy, basking in the adulation after show-stopping turns. The smiles on these Four Seasons facsimiles can't be faked, no matter how talented the actors may be. 

This is true-blue channeling of the spirit of the 1960s and 70s, and well worthy of every clap and squeal of delight they earn.

"Jersey Boys" plays at Centennial Hall through March 20. Buy tickets here. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Book Report: "Fingerprints of the Gods"

Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost CivilizationFingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization by Graham Hancock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Graham Hancock's bizarre book fueled my guilty-pleasure interest in "Ancient Aliens"-style pseudo science meshed with mythology.

Largely a travelogue interspersed with collected myths that support his sprawling theories, all coalescing into several contradictory and loosely intertwined conclusions, such as that the world will end in the year 2000, 2012 or 2030.

Also amusing is the theory that remnants of the great ancient civilization responsible for building temples throughout the world is buried beneath miles of Antarctic ice. And that the purpose of the temples is to signify the cyclical destruction and reinvention of the global populace.

Could there be a kernel of truth buried somewhere beneath Hancock's haystack of bizarre non sequiturs? I'd like to think so. I appreciate books, no matter how sloppily researched, that stimulate a childlike sense of wonder and yearning to solve the great mysteries.

Hancock's book does at least that.

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Monday, March 07, 2022

Warpzone Twitch Stream launches

 Here's the first episode. I'll talk games, TV and movies with other KGUNers at 10 a.m. Mondays.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

BATA Opening Downtown

Owner and executive chef Tyler Fenton's small plate restaurant BATA is opening at 35 E. Toole, in a converted 1930s historic warehouse.

Here are a few dishes the restaurant offers:

Slow-Cooked SD Halibut - with mushroom dashi, Arizona barley, and charred kale

Grilled Pork Belly - with charred onion and kohlrabi 

                    Charred Brussels Sprouts - with black apple and salsa seca

Chiricahua -mezcale oaxacan rum, cherry shrub and egg white

Chocolate Mousse - with smoked almond tart and Arizona olive oil

Pork Loin - with charred squash, pecan, and coffee amino 

Apis Mellifera - small batch borboun, Southern Arizona honey, bitters

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "The Band's Visit"

 "The Band's Visit" thrives in understated moments that build slowly up to colossal emotional payoffs.

Its characters stew in unfulfilled longings and grudging acceptance of their mundane day-to-day responsibilities. They are tormented by opportunities squandered and not only a lack of prospects, but uncertainty they would have the will to lunge after them should they come along again.

Sasson Gabay plays Tewfiq, the leader of a traveling Egyptian band set to play a gig in Israel.

Lost and baffled by cultural differences, the band stops to eat at a lonely diner overseen by Dina (Janet Dacal), who has a vague curiosity in the group that grows over time. Eventually, the bandmembers crash with the locals, comparing cultural and life notes in an improvised symphony.

Lithe and direct, the show cruises by at a brisk 90 minutes, with no intermission. Each of the 15 musical numbers are toe-tapping delights, with "Waiting," "Omar Sharif," "Something Different" and especially the post-bow concert powering through as show-stopping stunners that take the crowd by storm.

The musicality of the band members is as superb as their low-key acting, which breaks the live theater norm by saying more in empty spaces and mumbling than with grand gestures and enunciation.

Above all, the story and spirit of the show are about Dina's inner torment and whispered longings, punctuated with overpowering expressions of song and dance. Decal is up to the operatic challenge, belting out tunes with a fevered glory that mends hearts as it breaks them.

An offbeat, driven palate-cleanser, "The Band's Visit" is the polar opposite of the standards, and earns its place alongside them for its brave, genre-shattering methods. The lonely song of its soul is stark and true.

"The Band's Visit" plays through Feb. 27 at Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here.

PHIL ON FILM: "Big Gold Brick"

 For my full review, click here.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Book Review: "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal"


The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and BetrayalThe Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ben Mezrich's uncanny knack for scuba diving into an ocean of court documents and unearthing a compelling narrative is as skillful as Mark Zuckerberg's transformation of a dorm room website intoa billion-dollar business.

I was led to the book by the film adaptation, "The Social Network," and floored at how much better the book is than that ridiculously absorbing screenplay.

Mezrich deserves credit for taking numerous leaps of faith in imagining socially awkward moments and male bonding rituals in concocting his tale. Even if his vision of the betrayals, misunderstandings and epiphanies that led to Facebook's creation wasn't exactly spot-on, it's certainly the way it ought to have been.

In his matter-of-fact distance and comprehensive empathy for all of the characters who emerge, Mezrich paints convincing portraits of Zuckerberg, the Winklevosses, Eduardo Saverin and Sean Parker. All are complicated egotists whose divergent and blending interests created the monstrosity that the social network giant became. Without any of their help, no doubt it would have faded to black like Friendster or MySpace.

Mezrich's book, on the other hand, will stand strong even after Facebook's relevance has vanished. "The Accidental Billionaires" is an unqualified triumph, and it broke my heart when my time with it ended.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 14, 2022

Book Report: "Ready Player Two"

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2)Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhat of a step back for Cline, the book is a worthwhile sequel for superfans of the first novel, which become a cultural phenomenon.

The story is plagued by a critical tone-deafness, as well as a protagonist whose plight is tough to care about because all he is doing is solving a problem he created. By opening a Pandora's Box of A.I. brain tampering while mass-producing Oasis immersion rigs, the hero drives away the love of his life and puts his mentor and just about everyone he cares about in jeopardy.

Cline follows the same formula he established in the first book, but scales down video game references in favor of obsessions with John Hughes and Prince. This time around, the contest is open to him alone, and there is an arbitrary time deadline he's racing against.

With nothing much at stake, it's sometimes a slog to lumber through the saga, in which seven shards must be collected -- each of them connected by obtuse riddles.

As with the first book, Cline's prose is riddled with stiff dialogue and dull humor.

A strange twist ending left me unnerved, and I credit Cline for the bold choice. It may make some feel alienated.

Despite my disappointment with the book, I enjoyed the experience. Cline is a natural, brisk storyteller, and his geeky enthusiasm is infectious. I would read a "Ready Player Three" if it comes.

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Saturday, February 05, 2022

Arizona Theatre Company Review: "Women in Jeopardy"

The Bechdel Test-thrashing comedy "Women in Jeopardy" manages to wring two hours of humor out of a murder mystery concept. 

The focus is on three divorced middle-aged women who have forged an ironclad bond of mutual support and judgment.

Working from an insightful, irony-tinged script by Wendy MacLeod, the play maintains fluid momentum throughout its two-hour run, delighting the audience with wit and poise.

Julia Brothers plays the sassy, fatalistic Jo, who cranks out scene-stealing one-liners. Veronika Duerr, stepping in on short notice for Aysan Celik, is Mary, a down-to-earth taskmaster whose wry reactions to the shenanigans deliver continual smiles and smirks.

The third member of the trio is the flighty, impulsive Liz (Gail Rastrorfer), whose budding romance casts with the oddball dentist Jackson provides the focal point of the drama. Jackson's dental assistant has gone missing, the latest possible victim in a string of murders of young women.

Joel Van Liew does double-duty as Jackson and Sgt. Kirk Sponsullar, whose bumbling investigatory ways perks up the romantic interest of Mary. Van Liew's deadpan delivery of morbid material is deliciously effective.

Lurking on the periphery are young on-again, off-again lovers Amanda (Ashley Shamoon) -- and Trenner (Damian Garcia). Amanda, Liz's daughter, has an ill-advised camping trip planned with Jackson. Jo, Mary and Trenner conspire to undermine the trip and dig for evidence that backs up their belief that Jackson is the killer.

Elaborate lights and set switching keep thjigns lively, and scene-transition dances spark moments of unexpected joy.

Filled with surprising twists, incisive observations about gender and age issues and nonstop laughs, "Women in Jeopardy" is a lighthearted treat with messages to boot.

"Women in Jeopardy" plays at the Temple of Music and Art until Feb. 5. Buy tickets here. It plays in Phoenix from Feb. 10 to Feb. 27.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Book Report: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ken Kesey's acid-tinged writing is incredibly incisive and intelligent. His exploration of not only the broken mental health care system of the mid-to-late 20th century, but the plight of mental illness in its varying forms.

Far ahead of its time -- probably even ahead of our time -- the devastating novel is even more rich and nuanced than the landmark Milos Forman movie adaptation.

Randle McMurphy, a walking id and embodiment of American excess, daring and longing, pretends to be insane to beat a criminal rap that has sentenced him to a work camp. Conniving and brimming with bravado, he rebels against the controlling, infantilizing infrastructure that crushes the hearts and minds of those who are committed.

The genius of the novel starts with the narrative device of telling the story through the ever-churning mind of Chief, a gentle giant whom others dismiss as a checked-out, mute man whose mind has been so scrambled that he can't process human interaction and has become a drone obsessed with mopping.

Instead, Chief is secretly a master of observation, nuance and intense feeling. He processes his surroundings for the reader, acting as the entry point.

In the Audible version, John C. Reilly's urgent narration gives listeners an even deeper, more nuanced access to Chief's inner workings.

A tragic and ephemeral experience, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" floored me with its style, substance and urgency. It was one of the rare books that broke my heart not only in its storytelling, but that it ended altogether.

Publisher provided review code.

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Wicked"

The spell "Wicked" casts is tough to emulate. The tireless touring production is a traveling gift to musical theater lovers across the nation. 

Since debuting on Broadway in 2003, the adaptation of the Gregory Maguire novel has thrilled audiences, inspiring passionate devotion akin to that of a sports fan. The story turns "The Wizard of Oz" tale inside out, positioning the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, as the misunderstood hero.

Graced with a knockout soundtrack, edgy cinematography and a boundless sense of momentum, the show is as much a thrill ride as it is a moving drama of acceptance, perception and forbidden romance.

Elevated by ethereal performances by Talia Suskauer as Elphaba, Allison Bailey as Glinda and Amanda Fallon Smith as Nessarose, "Wicked" soars with an elegant majesty. 

Bailey, in particular, thrives in the role of the pompous princess, whose oblivious musings elicit continual chuckles from the crowd. Suskauer's choices with Elphaba are equally moving, drawing pathos for her plight of eputational martyrdom as she pursues some semblance of personal happiness while striving for the greater good for those she loves. Smith's character is one-dimensional, but played with magnetic verve by the smirking, seething actress.

Jordan Litz also impresses as Fiero, instilling a workmanlike nuance and sensitivity into his emotionally torn character.

Spellbinding stagecraft, with giant set pieces, stirring flying, makeup and pyrotechnics give the production an air of class and top-flight quality. Watching "Wicked" is a true modern rite of theater appreciation, and not only a status symbol but a transcendent experience that colors the way you experience all other shows. 

To see "Wicked" is to defy not only gravity, but the weights of society that drag people down and pin them into boxes. The hard choice is not whether to see the show, but whether or not you can stop yourself from going again and again until it takes flight to the next lucky town.

 "Wicked" is playing at Centennial Hall through Feb. 6. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

PHIL ON FILM: "Hotel Transylvania: Transfomania"

 For my full review, click here.

Book Report: The Real Sherlock


More of a brief podcast than a full-figured audiobook, "The Real Sherlock" is a smattering of interviews and historical factoids about Arthur Conan Doyle, an enigmatic figure who seemed to resent his franchise's popularity, tried and failed to become a politician and spent much of his later life crusading for spirtualism.

The story also delves into his early years, as a medical student, doctor and soldier. A renaissance man who juggled several interests and pursued passions with the vigor and agility -- and often, the gullability -- of a child, Conan Doyle emerges as the polar opposite of Holmes. It's as though he created the grounded, logic-driven detective to complete his own psychological deficiencies.

The Audible book would have benefited from broader sourcing. Many of the interviews focus on worshipful family members and actors who have played Conan Doyle and Watson. Some impartial observations would have helped ground the piece. Author Lucinda Hawksley does deserve credit, at least, for including some of Conan Doyle's embarrassing escapades, such as the time in which he defiantly defended the veracity of the Cottingley Fairies, which were crudely faked supernatural photos that were later debunked.

Despite the silliness of some of his more outrageous beliefs, a measure of respect emerges for Conan Doyle's magical thinking and acting. He was a creator and a storyteller, given to whimsy and impulse. The world was better off for his presence.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Book Report: "The Picture of Dorian Gray"


The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oscar Wilde's horror story is a thin guise to bunch up and release his wry, cynical takes on life and love.

With little explanation or backstory, he tells a story of a man driven to insanity through vanity as a portrait shows his age and world-wariness as his own faith retains its youthful innocence and symmetry.

Symbolism abounds, but Wilde is more interested in flooding the zone with his sneaky little observations, which are rich with stinging truth.

The Audible version, narrated with sneaky verve by Russell Tovey, emphasizes Wilde's irreverence. 

An immensely funny book, it lacks dramatic impact but that doesn't much matter. The book flows well and always maintains its sense of mysterious intrigue. This is a fun book, and is filled with more one-liners than a vaudeville routine. A definite must-read.

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PHIL ON FILM: "The 355"

For my full review, click here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "My Fair Lady"

"My Fair Lady" set the template for the makeover rom-com. In the cynical and cleverly-penned tale, social powerbrokers take a woman off the streets and teach her to fit into high society.

The musical has been sparking smiles and belly laughs from audiences since Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison dazzled audiences in the 1950s. The touring production stays true to the show's roots, resisting the urge to modernize the well-honed beats and one-liners.

The dedication to tradition will likely please musical die-hards, who have likely seen the show and the film it inspired several times, and want things just they way they've always been. On the downside, the lack of evolution exposes some of the story's threadbare faults. 

Rampant sexism and stereotypes inherent in the script haven't aged well, even when spun for comedic effect. Some of the particularly wince-inducing moments occur in the first act, when Henry buttonholes Eliza into a measure of indentured servitude.

The upshot is that Henry -- played with masterful precision by Laird Mackintosh -- is the buffoon who is sure he's the genius, and the unwitting butt of the social experiment he's conducting. 

The show picks up steam after a bit of a stumbling, low-energy start, when the throwaway jokes fade into the background as the stakes rise and the nuances in the characters' conflicts deepen.

Fueled by a powerhouse lead performance by Shereen Ahmed, the production comes into its own in the second act as it continues to pick up momentum toward its emotionally-charged climax. She's got a powerful voice and uses it to cast an enchanting spell. Ahmed's show-stopping singing ability brings her solos to life in concert-style crescendos that echo through the audience.

Mackintosh's workmanlike showing paces the show, thanks to captivating chemistry with Kevin Pariseau as Col. Pickering. Scene-swiping Adam Grupper, swooping in as Alfred Doolittle, is always good for a smile.

The most awe-inspiring facet of the show is the production design. Thanks to clockwork-like orchestration from behind-the-scenes prop masters and smooth blocking by cast members, the set transforms massively from scene to scene, with towering backdrops and set pieces emerging and disappearing to fulfill the needs of the moment.

The makeup team, working in concert with Ahmed's acting, also deserves credit for the impressive transformation of Eliza from street urchin to society princess.

The melancholy conclusion speaks to female and low economic class empowerment, sending off the audience on a note of watershed social justice epiphany. This is a comedy with something to say, and its messages haven't faded since the 1950s. There's little doubt Julie Andrews would smile if she saw her show in this cast's able hands.

 "My Fair Lady" plays at Centennial Hall through Jan. 9. Click here to buy tickets.