Friday, July 19, 2024

Book Report: "The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance"

 

The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern FinanceThe House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mark Chernow is my favorite historical writer. Just as he did in his biographies of Hamilton, Washington, Lincoln and Grant, he sifts through mountains of historical data, records and accounts and weaves them into a tight, entrancing tapestry.

"The House of Morgan" forces me to view history through a new lens, considering the financial implications and influence wielded over world events by bankers and their whims, needs and mandates.

It's astounding how little national leaders and their armies had to do with the fates of civilization in comparison to the power wielded by the most influential banking entities of their respective times. This three-dimensional glimpse at historical events makes you reconsider a lot of what you thought you knew.

This was Chernow's first book, and he was still developing his authoritative voice. While it may not top his later, greater works, it's a foundational building block for one of our time's greatest authors. Like his other efforts, "The House of Morgan" is a treasure worth experiencing and studying.

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Early Game Review: 'EA Sports College Football 25'

Back when it was an annual release in the earlier part of the century, "EA Sports NCAA Football" franchise was taken for granted. NIL disputes drove it into hibernation, and the franchise's absence loomed larger than its presence ever did. Now, with the rebirth of the series as "EA Sports College Football 25" - due out Friday - hype has ratcheted up to a fever pitch, and gamedom thirsts for its release in the manner Texas fans long for a national title.

Built from scratch, with the likenesses of more than 11,000 players and the intricate details of tradition, stadiums and crowds of more than 150 teams, this is the game that fans of "NCAA Football" always dreamed of but never realistically expected. The time is right for the game to capitalize on its moment, and it breaks out of the locker room with the enthusiasm and pomp of a team busting through its banner in front of a fog machine and blasting music as fans hop up and down at fever pitch.

Like so many other fans have been doing since the game dropped in early release for preorders, I have lapped up every bit of the pageantry, excitement and intricate attention to detail bestowed on "College Football 25." When I faced off against Ohio State at home, I captured and shared an amazing highlight - of Arizona linebacker Justin Flowe stepping in front of a Kyle McCord pass in the end zone and taking it coast-to-coast for a pick six, then shared it with friends as though it were a triumphant moment from a real game. The upshot: This is a game that allows college football fanatics to dream and virtually live out the most audacious of visions.

Sure, there are some flaws. When you're dealing with 11,000 players, some likenesses will be off, and EA Sports has acknowledged that the initial release is missing a few updated logos. The kicking game is wonky, and the AI often has a preternatural, Madden-like ability to snag midfield interceptions or rubber band to track down runners with open fields. It would also be nice to add in the CFS teams and rosters that fill out the teams' schedules. Instead, those teams are replaced by generic stand-ins.

But those wrinkles fade to the background as I appreciated the larger whole of what's at play here. This is a magnificent accomplishment that will set the stage for must-play annual releases from here on out. It also promises to be a living document of the wild road that awaits in the first year after massive conference realignment and the inaugural 12-team playoff. Content updates promise to buttress real-life developments, breakout stars and magic moments that are sure to flow from the season ahead.

Whether you are taking on all comers in online quickplays, building up your program in Dynasty Mode, pacing out your own walk-on-whimsy in Road to Glory or succumbing to the siren song of card-based, upgradeable, pay-to-win talent in College Ultimate Team, there are countless hours of content in which to lose yourself. Although the old ESPN branding is absent, the presentation feels authentic, and the commentary, led by Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, give every matchup the impression of a College GameDay atmosphere.

The sheer excitement and execution of a grand, audacious vision makes this game a triumph on nearly every level, and nothing short of a treasure for college football fans of any stripe. Even the lowliest benchwarmer on every roster will always be able to treasure this game's release for their moment in the sun, and fans like me will get to live out our Saturday night light hopes with vigor. It was worth the series' lengthy absence to experience the thrill of such an exuberant renewal.

Publisher provided code for review.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'Challengers,' 'Tarot,' 'True Detective: Night Country'

CHALLENGERS

The bold, wildly successful and well-reviewed psychosexual drama from filmmaker Luca Guadagnino features Zendaya as a tennis coach who engages in psychological manipulation with members of the opposite sex. She pits her husband and ex-boyfriend against one another in a high-stakes game filled with twists and turns. Josh O'Connor and Mike Faist round out the lead cast.

TAROT

Devoured by critics but largely praised by audiences, the jump scare-packed horror film delves into the mysterious realm of the occult. A group of goofy friends accidentally unleashes an evil entity trapped within a Tarot deck, causing figures from the cards to deal out grim fates to those involved. Harriet Slater, Adian Bradley, Avantika and Wolfgang Novogratz lead the cast. 

Extras include the "Circle of Friends" featurette, a small making-of documentary and outtakes.

TRUE DETECTIVE: NIGHT COUNTRY

The Max series maintains its reputation for spinning darkly fascinating tales of investigators who face down unspeakable darkness in the obsessive pursuit of solving grisly cries. Jodie Foster and Kalu Reis play detectives who investigate the disappearance of eight scientists who were carrying out experiments deep in the icy wilderness. The investigation turns up unexpected ties, a web of deceit and disturbing revelations.

Extras include a slew of making-of featurettes and social environmental shots that point to significant moments in the series. 

Studios sent screeners for review.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Galaxy Pixel 8A Thrives on T-Mobile Network

If you're in the market for a budget phone that looks, feels and performs like a top-tier device, you will be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying option than the Google Pixel 8A.

Rounding up an impressive package of processing power, visual dynamics, AI integration and a powerful camera suite, Google's reworked Pixel 8 adds form and function while retaining just about everything that makes its latest flagship device a standout.

While testing the phone with a bevy of apps, streaming functions and games, I found it to be a dynamo at multitasking. Working in silk-smooth tandem with T-Mobile's class-leading 5G network, the device marauded any challenge I could toss in front of it. 

While the phone was a bit slow to charge, that was a minor setback because each charge lasted so long. In idle mode, it could go days without a recharge, and through constant use, it easily lasted a day and a half before needing to go back to the cord.

The screen's 120Hz refresh rate on its 6.1-inch OLED screen was bright and starkly defined. Weighing in at just 6.8 ounces, it never tired out my hand or wrist as I put it through the paces. The Tensor G3 processor roared on 8GB of RAM, knocking out any task it confronted with ease.

The 64MP rear camera and 13MP front camera captured images and video with aplomb, with Google's AI capabilities touching up the images to look even better. 

The fact that such a capable phone is only $500 makes it even sweeter. With the Pixel 8A, you can roll like a power player on a penny-pincher's budget.

T-Mobile provided device for review.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Game Review: 'Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game'

I wonder what it says about my youthful development that I spent nearly every morning of my later elementary school years watching the 1988 exploitation flick "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" as it played on HBO. 

I was clearly not alone, because the oddball film, about an invasion of aliens who look like circus performers who off unsuspecting teens in comical fashion, has inspired the team at IllFonic Inc. to create a game in its image. The passion and attention to detail in crafting the characters, backgrounds and weaponry shows a deep appreciation for the movie's oddball brand of horror.

While heavily influenced by asymmetrical hunter/killer games such as "Predator" and, especially, "Dead by Daylight," there is plenty to distinguish the title as something unique and vibrant.

Matchmaking assigns you to play as a human or Klown. Each side has its advantages and drawbacks, with the lumbering, powerfully-armed Klowns trying to track down the lithe, quicker victims, who can either escape or take down their bullet-sponge opposition.

Creative, extravagant maps, which boast openable doors, vertical perches and multiple escape routes, make for a strategic, Pac-Man-style game of cat and mouse. Environmental objects can reshape the tone of battle at a moment's notice, shifting the advantage toward those who had been on the run.

The game even manages to pay tribute to the film's sordid humor, which leans on twisting carnival tropes into death traps. The game no doubt takes on an elevated level of entertainment if you're able to squad up with friends, with whom you can coordinate tactics, but even with strangers, it's still wildly entertaining. It's nice to see these Klowns resurrected from the trash heap of 1980s nostalgia.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Game Review: 'Beyond Good & Evil: 20th Anniversary Edition'

There will always be a spot for "Beyond Good & Evil" for gamers who came of age in the early 2000s. Its latest rerelease sparks a knowing smile in those who have been looking for an excuse to relive the dizzyingly creative adventure once again.

The action-adventure escapade boasts a twist-filled story, puzzle elements and a lively combat system. There are also elements of racing and photography that play major parts in gameplay. The dizzying potpourri that keeps the game's wheels greased and has made it one of the most highly-praised cult classics of its era.

Orginally released in 2003 on PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the game got a remastered release in 2011 on the Xbox 360 and PS3. The new release seems to be a graphical and gameplay proof of concert meant to whet the appetite for the long-awaited sequel.

Set on a mining planet in the year 2435, the tale follows green-skinned heroine Jade, an avid photographer with a wild boar-like sidekick who faces off against the DomZ, which has launched a propaganda campaign to undermine the peoples' trust as the powers that be exploit and kidnap the populace.

Jade is a well-written protagonist whose character arc has a decidedly cinematic bent. Just as loveable for her flaws and quirks as she is for her talent and dogged determination, she is a gutsy leader who is just as capable of winning battles with her mind as she is her firepower. Steadfast in the face of crushing adversity, her willingness to take an iconoclastic stand is admirable. 

"Beyond Good & Evil" thrives just as much in its quieter moments as it does in its swashbuckling set pieces. It's a classic that has stood the test of time and looks and plays better than ever in its latest iteration. And the prospect of that elusive sequel seems ever more tantalizing now.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'The Boys in the Boat,' 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,' 'Monkey Man'

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT

Thoroughly hokey yet disarmingly inspiring, this true-life tale of the 1936 University of Washington rowing team, which competed for gold at the infamous Berlin Olympics, manages to hit the right strokes. Joel Edgerton, Callum Turner, Peter Guinness and Jack Mulhern headline the cast int he underdog tale of uknown athletes who banded together and shocked the world. Director George Clooney shows a deft feel for the material, mixing personal moments with training montages and racing action to create a timeless story.

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE

The 80s-spawned franchise shows it's still got plenty of life in it. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Erine Hudson team with Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard for a continuation of the story that started in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" (2021). The Spengler family returns to the New York City firehouse that once served as Ghostbusters HQ. They band together with the OG Ghosbusters squad to fend off an army of evil spirits bent on ushering in a new Ice Age.

Extras include deleted and extended scenes, filmmaker commentary, and featurettes on the movie's equipment and ghosts. There's also an extended look at the film's score, as well as a making-of mini-doc.

MONKEY MAN

Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Sobhita Dhulipala and Vipin Sharma star in the kinetic, crowd-pleasing action film, which focuses on a nameless man who makes his living in an underground fighting ring. He faces down the men responsible for pushing him as a boy into a life of poverty and obscurity, channeling his rage in a mission of righteous vengeance.

Special features include deleted scenes, a slew of making-of featurettes and filmmaker commentary.

Studios sent screeners for review.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Saguaro City Music Theatre Review: 'Willy Wonka'


By Gina Walsh

To watch "Willy Wonka" is to be transported to a land of pure imagination. Anything goes in this candy-fueled wonderland of dreams and delight. 

Lurking underneath the idyllic, sugar-rushed indulgences are harsh lessons in morality and moderation, orchestrated by a snarky puppet master who is all too willing to give his bratty visitors and their parents enough licorice rope with which to figuratively hang themselves.

Bolstered by a cast of stunningly talented children and a rock-solid supporting cast of adults, the production thrives under the direction of Drew Humphrey, who crafts a colorful tapestry of sight and sound. 

Each of the musical numbers pop with whimsy and crackling humor, led by spirited vocal performances from the likes of Lucy Cable, who plays Charlie Bucket, Raind Gonda as Willy Wonka and Ayla Olivas, who turns in a scene-swiping performance as Veruca Salt.

My 2-year-old and I were captivated at the Friday matinee showing. We adored the way the musical blended aspects of the two Hollywood films, the Roald Dahl source material and a hefty helping of fresh touches. We were particularly floored by the Oompa-loompa overtures, Gonda's captivating "There's No Knowing" soliloquy and the death-defying "Flying-Burping."

Making use of expert stagecraft enhanced by projection highlights, the stage sucks the audience into a realm of flight and fantasy. The show cruises by at a breakneck pace, earning the attention of older and younger viewers alike, who connect to it on different levels.

With the staggeringly entertaining "Willy Wonka," Saguaro City Musical Theatre continues to assert itself as a force to be reckoned with on the Tucson stage scene. The passion and talent on display is nothing short of spellbinding, and the talented collaboration is a sheer joy to behold. 

"Willy Wonka" plays through June 23 at Berger Performing Arts Center. Buy tickets here

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'American Fiction,' 'The Karate Kid'

AMERICAN FICTION

Best adapted screenplay Oscar winner Cord Jefferson, who also directs the best picture-nominated film, bursts onto the scene with a biting satire of the media landscape. Jeffrey Wright stars as Monk, a struggling novelist who leans into cultural stereotypes to create a mockery of them in the form of a controversial novel that begins to take on a life of its own and disrupt his career. Funny and poignant, the film was one of the best of 2023. The stellar cast of Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander and Leslie Uggams elevates Jefferson's writing and directing to sublime levels.

THE KARATE KID

The seminal 1984 underdog tale, which has gained new life with the success of the "Cobra Kai" franchise, stands as one of the iconic films of its time. "Rocky" director John G. Avildsen executes his storytelling talents to their finest degree, pairing Ralph Macchio with Pat Morita in a tale of an uprooted, bullied teen who learns the way of the open fist in order to find purpose and fulfillment. Elisabeth Shue and William Zabka round out the underrated cast.

The 4K restoration is loaded with extras, including feature film commentary by the creators of "Cobra Kai" and 30 minutes of previously unreleased deleted scenes.

Studios provided screeners for review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire,' 'La Femme Nikita,' 'Welcome Back, Kotter'

 GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE

As big, loud and brainless as its CGI-generated monster stars, the mash-up film leaves its dull human characters off to the wayside as it focuses on a chain of action that rarely hits the pause button. The plot may be laughable and the effects are lackluster, but the film works well enough as a goofy trifle. Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens headline the cast.

Extras include a ton of featurettes, including "Into the Hollow Earth," "The Battles Royale" and 'The Intrepid Director." Filmmaker commentary" and a breakdown of the battle scenes.

LA FEMME NIKITA

Director Luc Besson is in top form in this 1990 thriller, which stars Anne Parillaud, Jeanne Moreau Jean Reno. In a plot with a hint of "The Suicide Squad," a killer and drug addict played by Parillaud goes on a vendetta for redemption, taking on deadly missions as a secret agent. Exquisite action scenes and powerful lead performances pepper the cult classic.

Extras in the steelbook edition, but it's nice to see the oft-forgotten film available in a dazzling 4K restoration.

WELCOME BACK, KOTTER: THE COMPLETE SERIES

The seminal 1975-79 high school comedy launched the career of John Travolta. Gabe Kaplan stars as a middle-aged man who heads back to his Brooklyn alma mater to teach a group of goofballs who remind him of himself as a teen. While many of the jokes have dated, Travolta's charisma as Vinnie Barbarino is undeniable. The show packs a heavy nostalgia factor and manages to retain much of its comedic value and pathos.

Studios provided screeners for review.

Friday, June 07, 2024

T-Mobile Offers Deals for Dads, Grads

With graduations aplenty this time of year, as well as Father's Day fast approaching, T-Mobile is offering some intriguing deals on a range of devices. 

Here's the breakdown:

T-Mobile exclusive deals:

Free iPhone 15 Pro (up to $1000 off) when you trade in a device on Go5G Next.

Free iPhone 15 (up to $830 off) when you trade in an eligible device and add a line on a Go5G plan.

Free Samsung Galaxy S24 (up to $800 off) when you trade in an eligible device on Go5G Plus or Go5G Next.

Free Samsung Galaxy S24/S23 or Google Pixel 8 (up to $800 off) when you add a new line on Go5G Plus or Go5G Next.

Free iPhone 15 or iPhone 14 (up to $700) when you purchase the same device and add a line on any plan. 

Free Apple Watch (up to $250 off) when you purchase the same watch and add a qualifying watch line.

Free Samsung Galaxy Watch6 (up to $380 off) when you add a qualifying watch line.

Metro exclusive deals:

Free iPhone 11 or Samsung A35 when (up to $499) when you sign up for Metro Flex Plus and bring your number to Metro.

Free Samsung A15 or REVVL 7 Pro (up to $249) when you sign up for Metro Flex Up and bring your number to Metro.

$300 off the Onyx Studio 8 speaker.

$40 off the JBL Charge 5 starting June 13.

FreeTCL TAB 8 LE (up to $159) when you add a new tablet line.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Game Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade: Wrath of the Mutants'

Building on the momentum of last year's spectacular animated "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
film, as well as the two 2022 release of "Shredder's Revenge" and "The Cowabunga Collection" retro anthology "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Wrath of the Mutants" attacks the beat-em-up genre it once ruled with style and panache.

Adapting an animation style that echoes the modern look of the Nickelodeon series, the game puts you in control of the four heroes in a half shell as they battle the Foot Clan and its diabolical string of jump kick-sponge bosses.

As with most games of its ilk, "Wrath of the Mutants" shines brightest in multiplayer, which is geared to have you help and grief buddies at intervals. While the gameplay is samey and button-mashing heavy, there is sublime satisfaction in mastering its combos and boss attack patterns to fabricate dream runs through replayed levels.

While "Shredder's Revenge" is still the better of the two modern TMNT games, the new entry provides plenty of heft and replayability to fans of both old and new-school adaptations of the fabled heroes. 

The writing smacks with a smarmy glee, and there is a genuine throughline of exuberance that shows the developers' love of all things TMNT that shines through.

Publisher provided review code.

Hot on Home Video: 'The American Society of Magical Negroes,' 'Glory,' 'Kung Fu Panda 4'

 THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES

The often jarring, brutally irreverent satire of the Hollywood trope epitomized by the Will Smith character in "The Legend of Bagger Vance," the film takes a scalpel to embedded pop culture racism. Writer/director Kobi Libu's daring message film is uneven, but worth a look for its moments that hit. The cast includes Justice Smith, David Alan Grier and Michaela Watkins.

Libii's feature film commentary headlines the extras, which also boast a cast conversation, making-of featurette and a look at the film's social mission. 

GLORY

The revered 1989 historical drama focuses on the 54th Regiment, which was made up of freed former slaves who fought Confederate forces during the Civil War. The film took home five Oscars, led by Denzel Washington in a career-defining turn as best supporting actor. Cary Elwes, Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman round out the stellar cast of the film, which has only grown in its social impact over the three and a half decades after release.

Extras include filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, a documentary entitled "The True Story Continues" and a pair of making-of featurettes.

KUNG FU PANDA 4

Released March 8 in theaters, the continuation of the riotous DreamWorks franchise continues. Jack Black reprises his role as the ursine martial arts stud who leads an array of warriors to defend the Valley of Peace against a new threat. The usual parade of wild antics and clever dialogue are there, but there's a general sense that the series has run its course. If so, this is a specatcular send-off.

Extras include filmmaker commentary, deleted scenes, a cast roundup, drawing lessons, a shadow puppet tutorial and a featurette on Black making dumplings.

 Studios provided screeners for review.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Broadway in Tucson Review: 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

The musical adaptation of "Mrs. Doubtfire" tiptoes a fine line that hinges entirely on its lead performance. Because it leans so heavily on the character, Daniel, a struggling, recently divorced voice actor who masquerades as a Scottish nanny in order to spend more time with his kids, the show's entire tone and upside is set by the performer's panache and magnetism. If the performance is cloying and overexerted, the entire show would be an agonizing bore.

Rob McClure, however, is anything but that. A dynamic, astoundingly talented performer and gifted comedian, he serves as the dynamic lynchpin that holds together the wily, impossibly funny parade of whimsy, pop culture satire and subtle, yet effective, sentimentality.

Based on the 1993 movie that starred Robin Williams, the show ran on Broadway in 2022 and 2023, when it launched a national tour. McClure played the role on Broadway, and he manages to elevate Williams' original creation into a bombastic virtuoso turn that's entirely his own. His considerable talents, which reach their peak in the numbers "Easy Peasy" and "About Time," thrive in a role that at times demands rapping, breakdancing, juggling, tap dancing and impressions.

An exquisite bookend to the Broadway in Tucson season, which opened in September with another heavily Williams-influenced production, "Aladdin," "Mrs. Doubtfire" is a spellbinding spectacle that is undoubtedly the funniest musical I have ever seen, topping "The Book of Mormon" by a longshot.

Other standouts in the cast include Maggie Lakis as Dennis' flustered ex-wife, Miranda, and Giselle Gutierrez as their oldest daughter, Lydia, through whose lens the show plays out as a coming-of-age story.

While the plot is crammed with nonsensical non sequiturs that grow even more absurd and outlandish on stage than what the original film offered, every note and flourish stays true to the core impetus of painting Dennis as a troubled, terminally immature parent who will go to any ends to stay in the lives of his children. Even in its wildest moments, the emotional core stays firm, and McClure is always able to shift on a dime from showman to sensitive shrinking violet, making the serious moments register, and even sting a little.

"Mrs. Doubtfire" surprised me with its irrepressibly entertaining fervor. Its instant standing ovation was well-earned and exuberant, rather than the grudgingly polite sort you so often see. The show is a true treat, and if you're a fan of musical comedy, you owe it to yourself to catch McClure's performance while it's near/

"Mrs. Doubtfire" plays through June 2 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Game Review: 'Braid Anniversary Edition'

Originally released in 2008, developer Jonathan Blow's "Braid" set the indie scene on fire. The 2D platformer satirized "Super Mario Bros." and other pop culture icons while also telling a deep, subversive tale that grows more complex the farther you advance.

An unequivocal masterpiece of minimalist game design, the game gets a remastered special edition not so much because it needed a fresh coat of paint, but because it deserves a victory lap in the manner of a Criterion home video release.

Just as with the simplicity of the original game, the additions are minimal and largely unobtrusive. Those who want to re-experience the game with some historical perspective have the opportunity to trigger a running commentary track that provides deep insight into the craft and strategy that went into nearly every pixel of the effort.

The game gets an HD makeover, but those who crave the original art design look can toggle back and forth between the new and former look. The ability to appreciate the game on multiple levels speaks to the depth and strength of the rock-solid, deceptively intricate design factors at play.

"Braid Anniversary Edition" is a jubilant celebration of the game and the indie movement it spawned. No doubt responsible for inspiring a generation of fresh, vivid thinking in game design, the rereleased version stands as the definitive form of one of indie gaming's grandest treasures. I envy those who get to experience it the first time in this impressive form.

Publisher provided review code.

 

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Samsung Galaxy S24+ rocks T-Mobile's speedy 5G network

A larger, slightly bulkier version of its base-model cousin, the Samsung Galaxy S24+ is geared for those who need a phone with some more durability, screen real estate and battery life.

Boiled down to basics, the phone is a souped-up version of the flagship Samsung Galaxy S24 model.

Like the standard S24, the S24+ comes with a promise of seven years of consistent update support and a slew of AI features.

Just as in the base model, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy CPU deals out a bewildering amount of processing power, working in tandem with T-Mobile's blisteringly fast 5G Magenta network to tame whatever array of multitasking challenges you ca hurl at it.

The 6.7-inch display is an upgrade over the 6.2-inch screen on the standard S24, upping the resolution from FHD+ to QHD+. The difference may at first seem inconsequential, but upon regular use, the colors stand out as richer and the image contrast appears sharper.

The bump from 8GB to 12GB of RAM is considerable, with the S24+ taking advantage of the extra memory to handle games, apps and streaming video with silk-smooth ease.

A larger, more powerful device needs more juice, and the S24+ gets just that in the form of a 4,900mAh battery, which bests the 4,000mAh battery found in the S24. I found the device could handle at least 16 hours of heavy use without needing a charge-up break.

The camera array remains consistent. The main 50MP camera with a 12MP lens and 10MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom capabilities is familiar, with the ability to capture images with as much as 50MP resolution, as well as 8K video.

Object Eraser helps you deploy AI to touch up pictures and delete photobombers, and Circle to Search lets you juggle your web surfing with Google Image scans. 

While the S24+ may lack the S-Pen and souped-up features fo the S24 Ultra, it serves its need as an impressive mid-tier option that passes the eye test and turns heads. There's no middle child syndrome here.

T-Mobile sent device for review.



T-Mobile Mother's Day Weekend deals

T-Mobile is rolling out new offers for Mother's Day weekend, including a free iPhone 15 (up to $830 off) with eligible trade on Go5G Plus or Go5G Next, or when you add a line on most plans; free Samsung Galaxy S24 with eligible trade OR when you add a line on Go5G Plus or Go5G Next50% off iPad 9th Gen 64GB when adding a line; free Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 (40mm or 44mm) when adding a watch line; $300 off the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 8 speaker in any color and an Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen 40mm on Us (or 44mm for just $30) when adding a new watch line.

The T-Mobile Magenta Status, comes with special offers on things such as hotels, rental cars, food, concert and movie tickets and more. According to T-Mobile, customers can unlock as much as $1,500 in added value every year in Magenta Status perks. Other offers in the array of plans include free Apple TV+HuluNetflix and free season-long subscriptions to MLB.TV, to free in-flight Wi-Fihigh-speed data abroadScam Shield protection, exclusive deals and freebies every week through T-Mobile Tuesdays and more.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Game Review: 'Final Fantasy VII Rebirth'

With impressive ambition, monumental scope and exuberant execution, "Final Fantasy VII Rebirth" somehow manages to match and even surpass its sprawling fanbase's unreasonable demands.

Expanding on the impressive start of 2020's "Final Fantasy VII Remake" and its 2021 follow-up, "Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade," the massive release expands on the foreboding groundwork established before it. There are spiritual and story similarities to the original game, which works as a sort of framekwork which the current team of developers flesh out with current interpretations.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the new series, particularly its towering recent release, is that it manages to break the shackles of "Final Fantasy" archetypes while also embracing them conceptually enough to preserve the commanding feel and tone that's been established. 

The middle section of a planned trilogy, the game's story veers off in daring new directions, blending with an immersive combat system and seamless world-building to craft a whirlwind assault on the senses. "Final Fantasy VII Rebirth" goes beyond a cinematic impression to a realm that movies themselves can never touch and video games only rarely reach. Think the grandiosity of "Red Dead Redemption 2" blended with the sizzling combat of "Elden Ring" and the challenging narrative of "Chrono Trigger" and you begin to claw at the surface of the plateau in which "Rebirth" hovers.

All seriousness aside, it's also a joy to see how non-self-important the game is. Side quests, Easter eggs and knowing nods to superfans show a dev team unafraid to make fun of itself, the game development process, and JRPG cliches that date back to the series' original entry.

It's rare that a game takes me by the shoulders and sinks into me, body and spirit, from the opening moments and never lets go, but that's exactly what "Rebirth" managed to do. This is truly one for the ages, and the shivers that started in my spine at the opening titles were matched an exceeded many times over as the story twisted and turned, drawing chuckles, winces and, very nearly, tears.

"Final Fantasy VII Rebirth" is aptly named because, even though this is the hungry-for-attention middle child of a colossal endeavor of a trilogy, it feels like a fresh rejuvenation of all things "Final Fantasy," and perhaps gamedom itself. It makes you see its world and your own as if for the first time.


Publisher provided review code.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Early Game Review: 'El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron HD'

A fascinating curiosity of mainstream gamedom, "El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" was one of the only games in memory that embraces mainstream religion. The 2011 release turned heads for its daring content and skillful execution, blending striking visuals with engaging combat and spellbinding storytelling.

While sales may not have delivered any sequels or imitators, the game remained an intriguing relic that became food for think pieces and analysis videos aplenty. 

Now comes an HD remaster, due out April 28, in which Enoch's quest for redemption as he takes on a host of fallen angels in a brutal, somehow poetic hack-and-slash. Originally released on the Xbox 360, before getting a PC release in 2021, the game seems to be an apt fit on the Switch, with its sewing circle of eclectic oddities from every corner of the indieverse, both modern and historical.

If ever there were a game in which you did yourself a disservice by skipping the cut scenes, this was it. The writers explore mainstream and obscure religious texts for the characters and scenarios that populate its story. Told with the steady, shamanistic cadence, the fable unfolds with poignance and emotional urgency. Enoch is striving not only for his own salvation, but that of man. In microcosm, his journey touches the most ancient urges of human storytelling.

Many HD remasters are more successful at showing a game's age rather than updating it, but "El Shaddai" holds up surprisingly well in the gameplay department. Not a moment of my time with the game seemed as though time had passed it by. This game, like the saga represents, is timeless. And it now looks the part as well, whether docked to your HDTV or taking it as a spiritual injection on the go.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Early Game Review: 'Top Spin 2K25'

Save for the occasional Mario Tennis release, fans of the sport haven't had much to cling to when it comes to gaming. But a baker's dozen of years between "Top Spin" releases has done the franchise well, and developer Hangar 13 has used the time well for what amounts to a relaunch of the franchise.

Helping "Top Spin 2K25," due out Friday, look toward the future is old-school favorite John McEnroe, who acts as a narrator and guides you through TopSpin Academy, a longform tutorial that guides you through the finer points of the game.


"Top Spin 2K25" hurls you into the mix with an intense showdown against Andy Murray. Playing as Roger Federer, you play out key points in an effort to come out victorious. After that, you are free to plunge into MyPlayer to craft your avatar. 

While the game launches as a single-player-only experience, online multiplayer is set to be added in an update sometime in May. The lack of a full suite at the outset may be discouraging, but at least the solo time allows you to hone your skills before the multiplayer scene opens up. Also, the player base will no doubt be stronger by the time the update comes along.

To get you going, you can trade serves with a slate of 25 current and past pros, including the likes of Serena Williams, Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Świątek, Frances Tiafoe and Andre Agassi.

With all four segments of the Grand Slam available, you can can serve and volley on the biggest stages in the sport. There are also MyCAREER and MyPLAYER modes available, matching the suite of options in the "NBA 2K" series.

The game looks and flows with gorgeous fluidity, surpassing past efforts, especially the Mario stuff, by leaps and bounds. 

With the confident burst of a first serve, "Top Spin 2K25" rushes the net with vigor and skill, marking an impressive return to form for the long-neglected franchise.

 Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Broadway in Tucson Review: Hairspray'

"Hairspray" first dazzled audiences as a 1988 John Waters movie, then captured Broadway hearts as a musical in 2002. That show was so successful that it inspired an encore film adaptation in 2007. The Broadway show's national tour is an endless victory lap for the phenomenon.

Bursting with catchy tunes, body-positive and civil rights messaging, "Hairspray" is as much an irresistible force of nature as its lead character, Tracy Turnblad. Played with vigor and determination by Caroline Eisman, Tracy longs to be included on the TV dance show, which nearly always consists of only thin, white performers. 

Determined not to let her plus-size body be the factor that holds her back, she turns heads at auditions and achieves her dream. But she doesn't stop there, using her newfound momentum to rally for racial equality, she makes new friends and enemies in the process. The throughline is that Tracy knows she will prevail because she's on the side of progress. As the show's tagline declares, you can't stop the beat.

From the show-launching "Good Morning Baltimore" to the dazzling duet "(You're) Timeless to Me" and the watershed "I Know Where I've Been," "Hairspray" is a nonstop succession of catchy ballads that infuse the audience with good cheer. 

The capable supporting cast, with Andrew Scoggin as showman Corny Collins, Caroline Portner as snotty Amber Von Tussle and Micah Sauvageau and Greg Kalafatas as Tracy's parents, "Hairspray" comes to life with gorgeous scenery, precision choreography and hummable music that coalesces into a boisterous extravaganza. I adored the timely additions to the script, which included a swipe at the Donald Trump regime and a crowd-wowing references to the Old Pueblo and University of Arizona.

"Hairspray" is a show for dreamers, early 1960s nostalgia and vestiges that still remain of the bygone oppressive era. Society has come a long way since the days in which "Hairspray" was set, but still has miles to go. It will take the Tracy Turnblads of the world to get us there.

"Hairspray" plays through April 28 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'Drive-Away Dolls,' ''Madame Web,' 'Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths - Part Two'

DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS
Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan co-star in this comedic coming-of-age thriller about a pair of friends -- both lesbian -- who take a road trip to Tallahassee, Florida, after their personal lives hit brick walls. Unaware that the vehicle they're renting is holding some highly sought-after contraband, they become targets of law enforcement and criminal elements alike. A winning script combines with two striking lead performances and a cameo from Matt Damon for a disarming, easy-to-like effort from filmmakers Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke.

Extras include interviews with the cast and filmmakers, a look back at the 20-year process it took for Coen and Cooke to bring the film to screen and a featurette dubbed "Road Trip Essentials."

MADAME WEB
Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney join forces for this awkward spinoff of the Sony Spider-Man/Venom universe. Johnson plays the title character, Manhattan paramedic Cassandra Webb, who discovers psychic abilities that connect her with three young women who are destined to take on superpowers if they can overcome sinister threats that plague them. 

As the film's 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating indicates, the stiff, slow affair is largely forgettable. Extras include a gag reel, Easter eggs, a deleted scene and featurettes on the film's casting . 

JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS - PART TWO
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The second part of the animated adaptation of DC's monumental 1980s superhero crossover is as much of a crowd-pleaser as January's initial entry. The likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman and the Flash band together to take on the realm-decimating Anti-Monitor. Engaging storytelling, spirited voice performances and challenging storylines deliver a faithful yet inventive retelling of a classic story.

Extras include "Voices in Crisis," "The Bat-Family of the Multiverse" and a sneak peak at the third and final part of the saga.

Studios provided screeners for review.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Book Report: 'A Season on the Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers'

 

A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana HoosiersA Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers by John Feinstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Feinstein's access and blunt storytelling capture the essence of a bygone era of college basketball. The vintage Bob Knight Indiana teams captured a moment in time when the three-point shot had just been introduced, teams could stall out a 45-second shot clock and players redshirted and stayed for as many as five years with one program, immersed in the program's culture until they could lead the team as fifth-year seniors.

The book lionizes Knight, who had little control of his mercurial temper, bulled just for the sake of exerting powerful on those he controlled, and fed his insatiable ego with his every move. The book is set two seasons before I started watching the game, and helped fill in some blank spots for me, granting me a thorough understanding of the power dynamics of the period.

The psychological damage exerted by Knight is excused by the author in the grand cause of cutting down the nets, but the tome does work as a prophetic sign of the self-immolation that would one day consume not only Knight and the Indiana program, but destroy this era altogether.

The writing is pretty solid, save for the long spells of mundane play-by-play that lacks color or context.

View all my reviews

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'

LISA FRANKENSTEIN

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.

NIGHT SWIM

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.