Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Early Game Review: 'EA Sports FC 24'

The FIFA license may be gone, but the essence of what made the series great remains.

Due out Sept. 29 but available now on early access for those who preordered it, 'EA Sports FC 24' is a capable reboot of the storied soccer franchise, built like a veteran team that's gotten a burst of energy from the addition of a new stud from the transfer market. Like Lionel Messi's Roman spring on Inter Miami, the game has a newfound spring in its step and is ready and willing to assault the back of the net.

On the field, the new animation engine dubbed HyperMotionV is proudly on display. Players react in lifelike ways to the situations they encounter, with bountiful PlayStyles-driven motion capture blended with lifelike physics to create a captivating result of players behaving in distinctive ways rather than following robotically predestined protocols.

The smooth onfield animations and balanced netcode come at a perfect time for the introduction of current-gen crossplay, which will democratize the player base and halt the irritation tradition of siloing that had forever plagued the game in the past. With the exception of the insular Switch title, current-gen gamers will be able to match up in multiplayer modes to swap bragging rights.

Ultimate Team continues to pull the load as the centerpiece fantasy-minded game mode, with cards based on current and former greats to mix and match as you piece together your dream squad. Continuing off the foundation of recent "FIFA" games, female players are integrated seamlessly into the fray. The purposefully equity-minded move shows how the series welcomes fans of the female game with open arms, and makes for some fascinating "what if?" matchups.

The career and franchise modes continue to grow in robustness of feature offerings, letting you live out your dreams a an up-and-coming star or grizzled GM who's trying to squeeze the most out of a club's meager offerings to climb up the ranks toward glory. The silly, street soccer-focused side mode, Volta, also offers smiles and ways to blow off steams for whimsical, trick-focused matchups.

Playing all weekend with my soccer-obsessed 11-year-old, "EA Sports FC 24" gave me loads of laughs along with moments of triumph and despair that the beautiful game tends to disperse in droves. An excellent jump-on point for faded FIFA fans of the past, the game shows that the present and future of video game soccer.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Review: 'T-Mobile REVVL Tab 5G'

The T-Mobile REVVL line of devices continues to grow in stature and capability. The latest shot across the bow of the big guys is the brand's venture into the tablet realm in the form of the T-Mobile REVVL Tab 5G.

Available for $200, or free to T-Mobile customers who activate a tablet line, the device is a handy, capable device that wields a gorgeous 10.36-inch screen and battery life that extends well past 10 hours of heavy, bright-setting use. It can do you proud on a series of long flights with connections, and still have some juice left over as you wind down at your destination.

While the tablet may not hang with the latest Galaxy and iPad entries of the world, it does work as a well-rounded, lower-cost option that can handle most of the functions of higher-end devices, and manages to compete with the likes of Amazon's Fire tablets.

Packing a long-lasting 7,040mAh battery, dual stereo speakers and an 8MP dual-camera system, the device can tackle the demands of mobile games, streaming apps and e-readers. The Android functionality opens it up to far more than the Fire tabs can -- including Vudu, the Chrome browser and the NFL app -- and manages to record video as a 30fps clip.

The REVVL Tab 5G is also durable, able to withstand some rough handling by my one-year-old daughter, who'd prefer to play her games on a larger screen rather than my phone. While I think too highly of the tablet to give it to her, I'm happily to lend it to her, as long as I can have it back to binge my shows during her naps. Like my daughter, the tablet is spunky, tough and never should be underestimated.

T-Mobile sent device for review.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Hot on Home Video: 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,' 'Matlilda,' 'No Hard Feelings'

Matilda (1996)

The beloved and devilishly subversive 1996 Roald Dahl adaptation, which starred Mara Wilson in the title role, continues to thrive as a family comedy classic. The supporting cast of Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Embeth Davidtz, who manage to thrive on similarly zany notes, lifts the source material to the peak of its potential.

Bonus features include new commentary with DeVito, who also directs, as well as a slew of making-of featurettes. The most charming of the lot is Wilson's own mini-film about the shooting of "Matilda."

No Hard Feelings

After a long break, Jennifer Lawrence gets back in the saddle in a charming rom-com about a woman with financial troubles who's hired by overprotective parents to date their 19-year-old son (Andrew Barth Feldman). Critics praised the coming-of-age story's savvy writing and snappy lead performances, which lifted it to a 71 percent positive rating.

Extras include outtakes, bloopers and character profiles, as well as the making-of featurette dubbed "A Little Wrong."

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The sequel to the 2018 Best Animated Film Oscar winner is a better film than the original in nearly every way imaginable, delving far deeper into the breadth and depth of Spider-Persons inhabiting the scattered multiverses and funneling them into a cohesive, invigorating tale of courage in the face of daunting odds. The stellar voice cast includes Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Jake Johnson and Jason Schwartzman. '

More than 90 minutes of bonus features are included in the Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack, including a spotlight on the more obscure characters, a deleted scene and a glance at the comic book influences.

Studios sent screeners for review.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Game Review: 'NBA 2K24'

This year's NBA 2K game gives Kobe Bryant the Michael Jordan and LeBron James treatment, with his visage plastered on the cover and a game mode dedicated to his greatest triumphs.

"NBA 2K24" strives to live up to the Black Mamba ethos, pouring effort into the minutiae with full awareness that the work will pay off on the macro scale.

Among the additions, the most exciting to me was the introduction of crossplay into current-gen systems. The expanded player audience and precision balance across the consoles vastly expands the pool of competition in the revered online mode.

Gameplay is geared to more realistic animations with tech dubbed ProPLAY. Players move with lifelike, motion capture-enhanced flow, and scrambles for loose balls look more fluid rather than stilted, pre-determined animations.

The stalwart MyCAREER and MyTEAM dovetail into a singular experience that reflects both your created player and the franchise you try to micromanage via card collection into a dynasty. There is solid support for the WNBA in The W mode, which is also blended into the throughline. The surface is a beachfront basketball paradise laden with challenges that help you bump up your experience and VC.

The Kobe Bryant-dedicated mode, Mamba Moments, takes you through his career highlights, challenging you to match his clutch performances.

I appreciated the way each team included alternate uniforms from memorable eras, as well as all-time great teams and a squad from the franchise's most impactful season. I always like delving into quick play games to get a feel for court redesigns, the looks of new uniforms -- I'm psyched for the soon-to-drop City Edition threads for the new season -- and the relationships between the new players. It was a thrill to see Bradley Beal charging down the wing on a fast break alongside Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

While the latest version of NBA 2K may lack any massively game-changing moments, it's a must pickup for Kobe Bryant fans, and an invigorating appetizer for the upcoming season. This one does Mamba proud.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Broadway in Tucson Review: 'Aladdin'

 For my money, there is no single production -- theatrical or cinematic -- that matches the song quality of "Aladdin." The 1992 animated film bowls you over with a series of catchy, clever and timeless Alan Menken rainmakers that pulse with romance, whimsy and laughter.

The theatrical musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2014, captures the essence of the rollicking animated film, while expanding and grounding the flighty story and characters in meaningful ways. To watch the show is to be whisked away into a fantasy world of hopeless longing, redemption, wishes granted and denied and meteoric rises and falls. In short, it's Disney magic in the least ironic sense of the term.

Bulky, loud, bright and gorgeous, the touring production manages to distill the essence of the original film and bring it to stage in an arresting burst of creative heft. While the Bollywood-flavored production is padded out with a few songs that don't nearly rise to the level of the source material, the continuity the numbers add helps make the emotional pressure points pay off with more convincing payoffs.

The show lives and dies on the strength of its three leads, and this one is powered by three superstars in the making. Marcus M. Martin is a rambunctious force of kinetic energy as Genie. Adi Roy captures the devil-may-care charm of Aladdin, and the songbird-voiced Senzel Ahmady shines into the back rows as the proto-feminist princess Jasmine.

Crafted to bear the weight of a 150-minute musical, the writing is filled with pragmatic choices that strengthen the story. The jettisoning of the film's talking animals in favor of sidekicks helps ground the absurdist angles of the material, and workmanlike supporting performances from ensemble members polish the characters to lifelike sheen. Jasmine's attendants, in particular, pump up the crowd with their spirited dance breaks. Kudos to Alysssa Anani -- who doubles as the fortune teller -- Lizzy Marie Legregin and Sonia Monroy.

The projections and backgrounds are works of art, but some of the lighting choices are bizarre, such as a Cave of Wonders sequence that blinded part of the midsection of the crowd by shining lasers into eyeballs. But even that off-kilter choice helped drive home the majesty and wonder of the cave.

I had colossal expectations for "Aladdin," and the show obliterated them all. It lifts you on its magic carpet to a whole new world.

 "Aladdin" plays through Sept. 10 at Centennual Hall. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Review: REVVL 6X Pro 5G

Now that smartphones that access 5G service have become commonplace rather than luxuries, the benefits trickle down to base users. It's not only possible, but expected, to get free or nearly-free 5G smartphones that are leaps and bounds above those that cost $1,000 or more just a couple years ago.

Once barely adequate for heavy users, the REVVL brand has now become something of a flagship for the T-Mobile-using common man. Engineers have figured out ways to cram efficient, effective technology into its lower-grade chassis. 

A nominal upgrade over last year's REVVL Pro 5G, the REVVL 6X Pro 5G is a spruced-up version of its already solid predecessor. 

The device, which is available to T-Mobile customers for free when adding a line, buying a REVVL Tab 5G and activating service on the tablet, or for $50 with a trade-in of any device in any condition, fulfills the needs of those looking for an entry-level Android smartphone that can hang with the big boys.

While the value you get for that rock-bottom price may not turn heads, it will free up your income while keeping you astride with the latest games and apps. Its 6.82-inch screen presents vivid, crisp images, and its 6GB of RAM and MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G processor lets you access the best of T-Mobile's impressive network without losing a step.

The 50MP rear-facing and 16MP front-facing cameras handle any social media or work functions you can hurl at it. 

While the REVVL 6X Pro 5G may struggle a little when confronted with some of the more battery and processor-taxing games and apps on the market, it still was functional with the punishing amount of usage I tend to put smartphones through. I admired the phone's hand-friendly feel and resilience.

While there is little reason to upgrade for base-level REVVL 6 Pro 5G users, those who have missed the past couple of generations will be pleased with the suite of ramped-up upgrades with the X model. The times when the REVVL name was synonymous with corner-cutting have long since passed.

T-Mobile provided review unit.