Friday, March 31, 2023

My Goodbye Letter to KGUN

This looks like the end of my journalism career. It started in 1997, when I was a U of A student who the newspaper hired to cover high school sports. When I first started, there were still typewriters in the newsroom, the phones were dumb and there was no internet on the computers.

I was one of the youngest people at the paper, and even when I was laid off at age 35 in 2014, I was still one of the youngest people working there at the time. For my last eight years at the paper, there were no pay raises, constant layoffs and everyone was always grouchy and miserable. No one in management was interested in my input about our direction or strategy. When it came time for my head to roll, I was ready for something new.

Three weeks later, I started at KGUN, and it was a refreshing change. Suddenly, I was the old man. People cared what I had to say, and my opinions about what we should cover and how we should go about doing it mattered. I was only getting paid $13 an hour, but I was refueled. I felt just like many of my coworkers, a year or two out of college and eager to embark on a new career. Soon after I started, Scripps completed its acquisition of KGUN, and there was a philosophy of investment in place. Instead of layoffs, new positions were added.

There was something special about this place. I felt like I belonged. It didn't take long to see that being laid off by the paper and hired by KGUN was the best thing that could have happened to me.

In my nearly nine years at KGUN, I've gotten older, but most of my coworkers are just about the same age as when I started. The youthful energy and enthusiasm has always ignited me, and was shared by most of my colleagues here who were my age or older. I mentored the younger journalists all I could, but they taught me much more. 

It was always sad to see coworkers leave, but it was also inspiring, because they so often fulfilled the dreams they had that drove them as they paid their dues here and found their voices as they sharpened and discovered their talents. Over the years, KGUN embraced its role as a finishing school for the stars, launching journalists to greatness. 

I worked a little more than 2,000 shifts here in my 8 1/2 years. Every day was a fresh new challenge, and it fueled my competitive spirit to try to help us nail breaking news and finding stories before the competition. I thrived on being a part of the team.

I also did things I never believed would be possible. Thanks to support from managers who were willing to try wild ideas, I ended up reviewing movies on the website, and then on air, for more than six years. I even got to review some video games on TV.

I am grateful to everyone I worked with at KGUN in the past and today. I now have friends I met here who are doing amazing things all over the country, as well as this newsroom.

I have a deep respect for everyone at KGUN. You do incredibly tough jobs that take guts and commitment. You are truth-seekers and tellers, and it's been an honor to share that mission with you.

Wishing you the best,

ATTENTION LONGTIME CONTACTS: My new work email will be

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Book Report: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'


Once Upon a Time in HollywoodOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somehow, Tarantino is every bit as incisive, edgy and heartfelt as an author as he is a filmmaker. Even though I love the film "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and believe it to be one of the greatest films ever made, the novel's depth and voluminous insight make it far more astounding.

The filmmaker's love letter to bygone days of Hollywood, as well as a wistful alternate historical fiction wish, the novel bursts with scandal, nuance and conspiracies that Tarantino scooped up in his decades crafting some of the greatest films ever made.

An absolute treasure, this is a brilliant book that deserves to be savored, reread and used as a rabbit hole in which to dive through the connections and insinuations it implies. It makes me see the film in new light, and hope that Tarantino continues to write literature as well as direct.

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Broadway in Tucson Review: 'Mean Girls'

 Adapted from the seminal 2004 movie, the touring production of "Mean Girls" elevates the core concept to its absurd magical realism breaking point.

A cavalcade of backstabbing, misdirection and political maneuvering in the cruel halls of North Side HS, the show bursts with personality, inspired performances and energetic choreography. Buttressed by an ever-evolving projection background of Burn Book etchings and social media flame wars, the show rocks with chuckles, swoons and show-stopping tap dance breaks.

The pride that progenitor Tina Fey takes in the production is evident from the radio spots to the pre-recorded introduction, in which she quips that there's no need to film the show, since it was already a movie.

Expertly cast with a cream-of-the-crop selection of possible Broadway superstars in waiting, the show seizes control of the audience with kinetic energy. Even though the story and lesson-driven second act loses some of the charm of the anything-goes opening act, the end result far exceeds the sum of its impressive parts.

The most dynamic force is English Bernhardt, who brings nuance and full-throttle commitment to the lead role of Cady, the outsider who penetrates the social stranglehold of the Plastics as she starts to lose her sense of self in a power-mad lunge at the teenage dream. Able to project wide-eyed wonder, conniving ruthlessness and withering insecurity -- often between dialogue lines -- English displays immense capability and captivating promise.

Nadina Hassan is impressive as Bernhardt's frenemy, Regina, swan diving into the delectable cruelty of the queen bee scrambling to avoid a tumble from grace. Jasmine Rogers delivers a spunky take on unappreciated sidekick Gretchen, and Megan Grosso is sneakily impressive as the doe-eyed Karen, bubbling with pizzazz in deadpan line delivery and flashy dance moves.

The serial scene stealers are the geek chorus of Janis (Lindsay Heather Pearce) and Damian (Eric Huffman), social outcasts who take Cady under their tattered wings, coaxing her to infiltrate the Plastics before snidely bemoaning the monster they create.

Adante Carter is solid as BMOC Aaron, and Heather Ayers channels Fey's cynicism as teacher Ms. Norbury, also ably tackling the roles of Cady and Regina's moms.

A sugary-sweet treat, "Mean Girls" falters only when it gets preachy, stumbling over its core nihilism to spread a weak message of unity and support. The show is at its best when it is cheerfully sadistic, playing to its core strengths. Like its core characters, it proves artfully hilarious at relating vindictive survival skills.

"Mean Girls" plays through April 2 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Arizona Theatre Company Review: 'Pru Payne'

Powered by a watershed performance by TV and film star Mimi Kennedy, "Pru Payne" is an insightful and emotionally devastating look at a great mind being rapidly washed away by dementia.

Kennedy, who was a part of the original Broadway cast of "Grease" before appearing in TV series such as "Mom" and "Dharma & Greg," as well as films including "Erin Brockovich" and "Midnight in Paris," delivers a passionate and incisively observant performance in the title role. 

A globally renowned theater critic who finds herself in a rapid downward spiral as she tries to cobble together her memoir, Pru is bewildered, bubbling with anger and on the verge of depression as she loses her faculties. Kennedy's stunning command of the stage reverberates through the theater.

Gordon Clapp is nearly as impressive as Gus Cudahy, a  soft-spoken, blue-collar worker Pru meets in rehab who sparks a long-dimmed light within her. Clapp's magnetism and chemistry with Kennedy helps color the romance and make it seem real.

In the periphery are Pru's son, Thomas (Tristan Turner), Gus's son, Greg (Art Cudahy) and Dr. Dolan (Veronika Duerr).

Sean Daniels' direction of the tight, intense 90-minute drama  pulses with energy and creative stagecraft, with giant background slats that represent Pru's mental state lifting and lowering in time with her moments of lucidity and cloudiness.

Steven Drukman's script recalls "The Father" -- the 2020 film for which Anthony Hopkins won a best actor Oscar -- and is filled with clever references and acknowledgments, but perhaps stacked a bit too densely with showy nods for its own good. 

A dynamic and riveting experience, "Pru Payne" is a stunning experience to behold, as well as a priceless specimen of a powerful actress using her vast experience to approach the peak of her massive potential.

"Pru Payne" plays through March 25 in Tucson and March 30-April 16 in Phoenix. Buy tickets here.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra dazzles, delights

Boasting an impressive camera setup, robust battery life and smooth S Pen stylus integration, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra flexes it’s muscles at the top of the Android high-end smartphone pyramid.

In my time with it, the device juggled  apps, games and video with ease on T-Mobile’s blisteringly fast 5G network.

The dizzyingly detailed 200mp camera is the showpiece, capturing images and video with effortless ease from distance, in dark or overly bright conditions and at high speeds. It has a way of sharpening your touch and making your shooting skills look better than they actually are.

On the flip side, the 12mp selfie cam is also remarkably dynamic and efficient.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor makes its presence known with silk-smooth multitasking and audio-visual presentation.

While the 8.2-ounce weight and overall bulk of the phone may be a slight hindrance, efficient and smooth design makes the form factor feel impressively simple to handle. As with a high-performance sports car, you can simply feel the muscle purring beneath the hood.

A quantum leap above the comparatively tiny and mighty Samsung Galaxy S23, the Ultra gave me the feeling of Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone.

Although I was impressed with the Galaxy S23, I was blown away by the majesty and capability of the Ultra. This is a high water point for Samsung’s smartphone engineers.

Review unit provided by T-Mobile.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Book Report: 'Moneyball'


Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Lewis's book is so well-written that it can make anyone a fan of the intricacies of baseball, as well as the late 1990s/early 2000s Oakland A's.

Benefitting from incredibly intimate access and an obsessive research bent, the tale breaks down the superstitions and "magic" involved in the game into similarly incongruous beliefs bolstered by higher math and scientific applications.

What it amounts to is an analytical breakdown of how exactly David will take down Goliath.

The unfortunate postscript is that the Goliaths will eventually adapt to the same analytic methods, griding the Davids further into the dust. But Lewis's snapshot of baseball history captures the once-in-a-lifetime moment when the smartest guys in the room worked for the poorest owners, and just about anything was possible.

Please, oh please, give baseball a salary cap.

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