Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Book Report: 'Atlas Shrugged'

Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It was exhausting to get through this one. Finishing it is a triumph of the will over my nagging urge to cast it aside to give up.

While I enjoyed Rand's "The Fountainhead," this one is the monstrosity that resulted in the author's unchecked whims running unchecked or challenged.

Characters speak in idiotic, pages-long diatribes. There are disturbingly detailed love scenes that seem like sad expressions of the longings of the romantically challenged. The story is a nonsensical fever dream that is comical for its childish idiocy.

Do not make the mistake I made. Avoid this book, even if you liked "The Fountainhead."

View all my reviews


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Phil on Film: 'Linoleum'

 For my full review, click here.

Broadway in Tucson Review: 'Dear Evan Hansen'

With my first experience with "Dear Evan Hansen" having been the mediocre 2021 film, I went into the beloved show with tempered expectations. 

From the initial curtain, marked by a blast of cell phone notifications and a background screen cluttered with frenzied projections of social media posts, the touring production defines its presence and ensures that you'll be in for 150 minutes of captivating, moving, thought-provoking and envelope-pushing entertainment.

It's immediately apparent that "Dear Evan Hansen" never should have been a movie. Such is the spell cast by the stagecraft, the orchestra perched on a high-rise in the background and the thunderous emotion related by the performers that this is a stage show at its heart, and to take the stage out of the equation is to take away its pulse.

Anthony Norman is a powerhouse in the lead role. Rather than trying to imitate the iconic mannerisms and voice fluctuations of Ben Platt, he makes Evan thoroughly his own. Norman's Evan is an endearing jumble of jitters, stutters, tics and self-loathing that captivates throughout the entirety of the show.

Evan is at the center of an adolescent hellscape, surrounded by others who only seem to have it together, barely concealing their own inner torrents of doubt and despair.

Coleen Sexton is an empathetic, frazzled battlefield of conflicted interests as Heidi, Evan's single mother who desperately tries to help his son cope with his debilitating social anxiety while scrapping together enough income to get by while working and striving for a more lucrative career while going to night school.

August Emerson delves into distressingly dark territory as Connor, the boy whose suicide serves as the focal point of Evan's descent into self-actualization via deception. After Connor's death, Evan starts masquerades as his secret best friend. Through Evan, Connor's family -- including Evan's No. 1 crush, Zoe (Alaina Anderson) -- as well as the rest of the community, grieve through the lost boy they never truly knew, using Connor as their touchstone.

Anderson, whose tender, guarded demeanor masks her growing attraction to Evan and her conflicted feelings about Connor, thrives in a tour de force performance that is nearly equal to Norman's revelation of a central role. Together, they capture the tragicomic madness of teen romance.

Other standouts include Micaela Lamas's turn as Alana, the alpha female who spearheads Evan's efforts and Lady Macbeths him into realms far over his head, and Pablo David Laucerica's comic relief turn as Jared, Evan's frenemy, co-conspirator and one-man Greek (geek?) chorus.

Bolstered with an uplifting soundtrack and buttressed with the steady background patter of the mindless, irrepressible force of social media pressures, "Dear Evan Hansen" obliterated my expectations, leaving me stunned, heartbroken and oddly hopeful that I was not alone.

"Dear Evan Hansen" plays through Feb. 26 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Game On: 'Like a Dragon: Ishin'

For the full review, click here.

Game On: 'Hogwarts Legacy'

 For the full review, click here.

Phil on Film: 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'

 For my full review, click here.

Arizona Theatre Company Review: 'The Glass Menagerie'

Tennessee Williams' 1944 autobiographical memory play "The Glass Menagerie" is an exquisite example of how dense writing can combine with subtle performances to extract riches that far exceed the sum of their parts.

Part tone poem, part coming-of-age drama, part elegy for faded promise, the play offers a stunning insight into the origins of one of the most lauded American playwrights.

Director Chanel Bragg orchestrates a dynamite cast. Aaron Cammack owns the stage as the wise-cracking narrator, Tom, who recalls the limbo of living with his delusional, domineering mother and church mouse sister while stuck at a dead-end job.

Lillie Richardson delivers sass and punch as Amanda, the mother, and Michelle Chin provides the delicate emotional core as Tom's sister, Laura. Paul Deo Jr. provides a much-appreciated burst of scene-shifting energy in the second act as Jim, the gentleman caller Amanda badgers Tom to bring home in hopes of kindling romance with Laura.

Thems of fragility, withering hope and steaming angst fume throughout the play, which becomes a metaphor for Deep South society struggling to assume a new identity in the early 20th century. 

Looming in the background is the neon sign from a dance hall, which promises escape from the daily routine while also serving as a hollow metaphor for the act of longing for adventure and romance.

I was stunned at the majesty of the production, which filled my soul, crushed my heart and teased my brain with its intricacies. 

I watched the show starring Amy Adams in London's West End in August, and found that the ATC production compared favorably in almost every respect, from performances to stagecraft and actor chemistry. This is truly a special production, and its kinetic energy flows through the audience.

"The Glass Menagerie" plays in Tucson through Feb. 11, then moves to Phoenix Feb. 16-March 5. Buy tickets here.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Phil on Film: 'Somebody I Used to Know'

 For my full review, click here.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Sizzles on Top-Flight Network

I used to be a hardcore Samsung Galaxy smartphone user, but haven't checked out a device since the Galaxy Note 9. which was released in 2018.

When I got my hands on the Galaxy 23, I was impressed with the myriad advancements. Boasting considerable growth in processing, multitasking, battery life and camera areas, Samsung's latest entry-level smartphone manages to fight to the top of the heap in the battle for Android supremacy.

Comparable to Google's Pixel 7 Pro, the device excels in the realms of heavy gaming, video editing and high-taxing app use, such as GPS.

I was impressed with the tone and range in colors and depth that the 200-megapixel sensor -- equipped to a 50-megapixel main camera -- managed to capture.

Likewise, the 3,900-mAh battery -- an upgrade from the Galaxy S22's 3,700-mAh unit, managed to maintain a charge through hardcore days of use and abuse among T-Mobile's blistering 5G network and intermittent switchbacks to WiFi. 

While I was distressed at how long it took the phone to rise to full battery life on my induction charger, it managed to hold its percentages well enough not to cause me any anxiety of needing to charge up mid-day.

The performance and efficiency is largely due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, which handles the demands of Android 13 with ease, juggling and prioritizing resource drain in your apps and connectivity needs.

The generous 128gb internal storage -- ugpradable via SD card -- also was a stress-reliever. It's pleasing to see Samsung equip the device with adequate storage, not demanding an immediate expansion.

Operating at impressive speeds and handling my abusive demands with ease, the Galaxy S23 had the muscle and heart to meet my needs as a daily driver. Galaxy smartphones have come a long way in the last half-decade.

T-Mobile provided review unit.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Book Report: 'The Fountainhead'


The FountainheadThe Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While long-winded and overbearing in the way it shoves its social theories down your throat, I appreciated the storytelling and strength of characters.

Rand goes all-in on her dogged ideals of individualism and proud antisocialism. While the plot twists are ludicrous to the level of YA fiction, her passion and reverence for their ideals rings home.

Rand doesn't have much of an ear for the way human beings communicate with one another, her novel works as a spirited piece of evangelism for hardcore conservative beliefs and ideals.

Unlike "Atlas Shrugged," "The Fountainhead" shows that Rand has the skills and vision it takes to tell a compelling story. I enjoyed the experience.

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Game On: Fire Emblem Engage

 For the full review, click here.

Game On: "Dead Space"

 For the full review, click here.

Fentonelli's Pizzeria & Bar Opening in Oro Valley

Reilly's Craft Pizza's Oro Valley location is rebranding as Fentonelli's Pizzeria & Bar. 

The restaurant, located at 7262 N. Oracle Road, is aiming for what restaurateur Tyler Fenton calls "A New York, red sauce joint, Italian-American vibe."

The original Reilly Craft Pizza, at 101 E. Pennington, will remain unchanged.

Here are some dishes the restaurant offers:

Crispy brussels sprouts, hot sauce, pecan brittle

Marinara braised beef meatballs, garlic bread

Gelato swirl

Classic Moscow Mule

Iron Horse old fashioned

Pepperoni Pizza with tomato sauce, mozarella and fontina

Rigatoni with vodka sauce and meatballs

Spaghetti, Uncle Al's Sunday gravy and sausage