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.