Restaurants

Best New Restaurant: Pink Taco
Best Mexican Restaurant: Bitz-ee Mama’s Restaurant
Best Upscale Italian Restaurant: Tomaso’s
Best Neighborhood Italian: Times Square Pizzeria
Best Thai Restaurant: Malee’s Thai Bistro
Best Indian Restaurant: Taste of India
Best Japanese Restaurant: RA Sushi Bar Restaurant
Best Chinese Restaurant: Fate
Best Vietnamese Restaurant: Cyclo Vietnamese Cuisine
Best German Restaurant: Haus Murphy’s
Best French Restaurant: Sophie’s — A French Bistro
Best Mediterranean Restaurant: Pita Jungle
Best Brewery: Four Peaks Brewing Company
Best English Pub: George & Dragon English Restaurant and Pub
Best Irish Pub: Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub
Best Fish and Chips: Pete’s Fish & Chips
Best Pizza: Zpizza
Best Bakery: Paradise Bakery
Best Gelato: The Gelato Spot
Best Coffee House: Willow House
Best Seafood: The Salt Cellar Restaurant
Best Fig Dish: Vincent on Camelback
Best Apple Pie: Bill Johnson’s Big Apple
Best Ribs: Famous Dave’s Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que
Best Salad Bar: Sweet Tomatoes
Best Deli: Chompie’s Delicatessen
Best Steak House: Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Best Wings: Wingstop
Best Caesar Salad: Oregano’s Pizza Bistro
Best BBQ: Honey Bear’s Bar-B-Q
Best Hamburger: Delux
Best Chili: Roaring Fork
Best Sunday Brunch: Sugar Daddy’s
Best Downtown Lunch: Durant’s
Best Place for a First Date: Oregano’s Pizza Bistro
Best Place for a Twilight Drink: Elements at Sanctuary
Best Margarita: Z’Tejas Grill
Best Martini: AZ 88
Best Appletini: Amsterdam
Best Hangover Breakfast: Matt’s Big Breakfast
Best View: Elements at Sanctuary
Best Patio Dining: Oregano’s Pizza Bistro
Best Restaurant for Kids: Eatza Pizza
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Pita Jungle
Best Vegan Restaurant: Green, New American Vegetarian

Phoenix Lifestyle

Best Sinner, Sports World: Barry Bonds
Best Sinner, Political World: Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Best TV Newscaster: Kent Dana
Best News Station: KSAZ-TV Channel 10
Best Alternative Rock Radio Station: KEDJ-FM 103.9 The Edge
Best Country Radio Station: KNIX-FM 102.5
Best Classical Radio Station: KBAQ-FM 89.5
Best Rock Radio Station: KUPD-FM 97.9
Best Blues/Jazz Radio Station: KJZZ-FM 91.5
Best Radio Personality: Liz Boyle
Best Public Golf Course: Papago Park
Best Miniature Golf Course: Golfland-Sunsplash
Best Spa: The Healing Arts Day Spa
Best Bookstore: Changing Hands Bookstore
Best Hiking Trail: Echo Canyon, Camelback Mountain
Best Independent Film Theater: Harkins Camelview 5
Best First Friday Hangout: Soul Invictus Gallery & Cabaret
Best Place to Go Thrifting: Goodwill
Best Market for Produce: Sprouts Farmers Market
Best Outdoor Garden: Desert Botanical Garden
Best Fruit Selection: Sprouts Farmers Market
Best City Park With Trees: Encanto Park
Best Place to Turn Your Black Thumb Green: Desert Botanical Garden
Best Place to Pretend You’re in the Garden of Eden: Desert Botanical Garden
Best Reptile Store: Pets, Inc.

Clubs, Etc.

Best Casino: Casino Arizona
Best Bar Concept: e4
Best Place to Buy Local Music: Zia Record Exchange
Best Club for Salsa: Pepin
Best Club for Blues: The Rhythm Room
Best Club for Swing: Club Red Swing
Best Venue for National Acts: Glendale Arena
Best Venue for Local Acts: Marquee Theatre
Best After-Hours: Mickey’s Hangover
Best Country and Western Nightspot: Handlebar-J
Best Bar for Watching the Game: Buffalo Wild Wings
Best Sports Bar: Zipps Sports Grill
Best Dive Bar: Bikini Lounge
Best Gay Bar: Amsterdam’s
Best Lesbian Bar: e-lounge
Best CD Store: Zia Record Exchange
Best Pool Hall: Clicks Billiards
Best Local Band: Brimstone Flowers
Best Bar for Conversation: Casey Moore’s Oyster House
Best Beer Selection: Yard House
Best Place to Be Seen: SIX Lounge
Best Place to Find a One-Night Stand: Dos Gringos
Best Place to See Snakeskin Boots: Pink Taco

Apocalypto has a faux Greek title and an opening quote from historian Will Durant that ruminates on the decline of imperial Rome. It may seem an odd way to comment on the supposed end of an imaginary, unspeakably barbaric Mayan civilization — but WWJD? Mel Gibson means to be universal.

Not just a walk in the park with Mel and the guys (in this case a large cast of mainly Mexican Indians speaking present-day Yucatec), this lavishly punishing picture is the third panel in Gibson's Ordeal triptych. The Martyrdom of the Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ have nothing on The Misadventures of the Jaguar Paw, junior citizen of a generally jovial, practical-joke-loving 16th-century Central American social unit. Given the absence of any identification, and with regard to their good looks and family values (that is, keeping pet monkeys and having babies), these noble savages might be called the Sugar Tit tribe.

Over the course of Apocalypto's 140 subtitled minutes, Jaguar Paw (American actor Rudy Youngblood) endures two calvaries. After the Sugar Tit village is overrun, sacked, and more or less crucified by a marauding group of "civilized" Mayans, JP is dragged through the jungle, carrying his cross (as well as his brothers) to the Temple of Doom. After he's saved from ritual sacrifice by a timely miracle — his Mayan captors are so degenerate they've forgotten the astronomy they invented — there's an hour of running barefoot, bleeding, back home to the cenote where he stashed his pregnant wife and child. JP dodges spears, vaults waterfalls, and slogs through quicksand. It's a nonstop sprint — complete with irate mama jaguar nipping at his keister.

Following the gory trail marked by Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is a blatantly sadistic spectacle — albeit not without a certain chivalry. Women are raped and children butchered, but Mel shows no taste for such savagery. (You might even call him protective: In one feeble bid for a PG-13, the surviving children of Sugar Tit village are left to fend for themselves in the charge of a teenage babysitter.) Mel is a glutton for male punishment. There's not a man in this movie who isn't scourged, bashed, or punctured — unless he's disemboweled.

Unlike its predecessors, however, Apocalypto is unburdened by nationalist or religious piety — it's pure, amoral sensationalism. By those standards, the most engaging sequence is played in the evil heart of the Mayan sacred city. Give the devil his due: Hieronymus Bosch or Matthias Grünewald would have appreciated Mel's vision of paganism run wild. The place is a monstrous construction site-cum-marketplace where life is cheap (and so are the extras) and the blood pours over the stone monuments like molasses on grandma's griddle cakes. It's political, too: Gesturing muck-a-mucks in feathered masks rise from their human footstools atop garish temples to address the juju-dancing mob below.

No mean panderer he, Gibson has compared the "fear-mongering" Mayan leadership to "President Bush and his guys," and their ritual human sacrifice to the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq. He may also be recycling material from his canceled miniseries. The spectacle of a village torched and its peaceful inhabitants rounded up and marched to a remote industrial complex run by slave labor under the heel of gratuitously cruel, fetish-bedecked warriors, there to be systematically mass-murdered on the altar of some irrational ideology, does suggest Poland circa 1944. There's no denying this holocaust — complete with vast corpse disposal pit — or is there?

Maybe the Mayans really did bounce human heads down the steps of their pyramids, but, being as their civilization collapsed hundreds of years before the Spanish conquest, how would we know? "A lot of it, story-wise, I just made up," Gibson confessed to the Mexican junketeers who visited his set last year. "And then, oddly, when I checked it out with historians and archaeologists and so forth, it's not that far [off]." Or far out, for that matter. Irrational as it may be, Mel's sense of history does have a logic: JP's trip to hell ends when the Christians arrive.

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow provides proof that a talented cast can sometimes triumph over mediocre material. The good folks at Actors Theatre have pulled out all the stops in an attempt to patch the elephant-size holes in Rolin Jones' high-concept comedy about a troubled girl who's trying to connect with the world. Director Matthew Wiener has done a colossal job of fusing the script's absurd fantasy elements with its more levelheaded passages with the help of a cast made up of some of our best local actors and headed by a charming thespian who's reprising her lead from the play's première production.

Somehow, it's almost enough. Jones, a product of the playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama, has crafted a script that takes a sharp left turn too late into the first act, then spends most of Act Two playing catch-up to its own sudden weirdness. There are plenty of laughs along the way, and several dark passages informed by worthy messages about the ways in which we use technology to keep the world at bay. But what starts out as a meditative, playful study of contemporary culture becomes a high-camp, absurdist comedy in a switch that happens too late, throwing its audience off kilter.

Jones' story goes like this: Jennifer Marcus is a Chinese adoptee, a teenaged agoraphobic with obsessive-compulsive disorder who spends all her time online, chatting with scientists, horny Mormons, and a bounty hunter. Her adoptive mother, an end-of-her-tether workaholic, is pissed off that Jennifer has lately been searching for her biological mother, who gave her up to a Chinese orphanage. Because Jennifer is a genius who's unable to leave the house, she builds a flying robot that she names Jenny Chow, and sends the robot off to find her real mother.

Up until the robot appears, Jones' story is a sly, entertaining dramedy about our increasingly unreal relationship with the real world. But once reality itself is abandoned in favor of the goofy shtick and deliberately cheesy "special effects" that dominate Act Two, the story's wider themes collapse into a pile of camp references that seem to belong to a less thoughtful play. Then the author, unable to come up with a suitable ending, leaves us wondering about the fate of Jennifer, her robot, and her unresolved relationship with her adoptive parents.

That Jenny Chow remains bright and engaging is due almost entirely to its superb cast and smart, breakneck direction. Cathy Dresbach's strong performance as Jennifer's perpetually enraged mother provides nice contrast to Gerald Burgess' inane, laid-back father, and Gene Ganssle hustles up a stage full of vivid oddballs — a doofy Mormon genealogist, a mad scientist, a Pentagon procurement officer — with his usual high comic style.

As Jennifer Marcus, Melody Butiu is a marvel. Through sheer talent, she persuades us that a troubled Gen-Z genius who's riddled with obsessive traits and tics is also a charismatic charmer. Butiu isn't tripped up by reams of improbable narration (she speaks much of the story to an unseen computer pal with whom she's IM-ing via a transcription headset) and remains our champion even while uttering preposterous teenaged boasts ("Like, I got a job re-engineering obsolete missile components after I lost my job at the mall!" and "Okay, one of the first things you have to get used to is I'm better than you."). She's simply lovely here, and her performance is a clear, true note in an otherwise disappointing story that seems only half there.

Whether your summer vacation starts in May and ends in September, or just consists of weekends and the Fourth of July, we want to help you make your vay-cay more than okay. So stick your toe in our guide to keeping your sanity when all those around you are sweltering. Pimp your BBQ -- or your private parts. Mosaic your back patio. Take a trip around the world without leaving metro PHX, or take our tips on how to ditch the 'Nix 'til the temperatures dip. All that, and the coolest summer books and movies.

Have a great vacation -- be sure to send us a postcard!

Feel the Burn

Get Smashed

Help Getting Smashed

Perk Up

Summer Books Roundup: This Time, It's Personal

How Your Summer Reading List Stacks Up

Get Inside! The Summer's Top Movies

Go International -- Without Leaving Town

Skip Town -- for Real

Oooh-La-Leave

Imagine two game producers rushing down the hall. One wants to pitch a WW2 game, the other a sci-fi shooter. They round a corner, crash into each other, and their papers go flying everywhere -- and in one of those great "You got chocolate in my peanut butter!" moments, Resistance: Fall of Man is born.

That, or it's just a cynical cash-in on the twin popularity of Call of Duty and Halo.

Either way, the WW2/aliens culture clash at the heart of the game does yield a cool variety of weapons -- sadly, it's the only part of the game that shows a creative spark. While you start with a trusty machine gun, before long you come across bizarre weaponry like Hedgehog grenades (which throw sharp slivers of metal in every direction) and the almighty Auger, a weapon with rounds that burrow through anything -- including walls.

Controls are the most important part of any first-person shooter, and Resistance's are a joy. With a little practice, it's easy to put bullets (or lasers, or rockets) exactly where you want them. The game even integrates the Sixaxis controller's motion-sensing capabilities in a modest way: Certain enemies latch onto you, forcing you to "shake them off" by waving the controller around. It's gimmicky, but gets your heart pumping.

The only problem is the well-documented quirkiness of the Sixaxis itself, which sometimes transmits bad information to the PS3 -- meaning your character might step out of cover on his own, or find himself turning around for no reason at all. The results, not surprisingly, range from annoying to catastrophic.

Being on the PlayStation 3, Resistance was expected to deliver awesome graphics -- and it does, mostly. Enemies are detailed and well animated, and some of the environments are breathtaking in scope; the massive Chimeran structures seen later in the game are stunning examples of sci-fi artistry.

Yet other areas are downright underwhelming, perhaps because we've seen them so many times before (how many more bombed-out European cities must we endure?). And while Resistance's levels have scale, little details are missing. Without that texture, the areas feel barren and sterile.

But at least it keeps you coming back for more. There's a plethora of hidden extras, including a whole new set of weapons. The multiplayer options are a blast -- especially the massive 20-on-20 online throwdowns. There's even a co-op for those who don't get off on slaughtering fellow gamers.

Considering the overall weakness of the PS3's launch lineup, simply proclaiming Resistance the best of the lot is like pointing to a part of the Titanic that's less under water. The game benefits from the PS3's slim pickings, making it appear better than it is. But stacked against the Xbox 360's Gears of War, Resistance is merely a competent shooter. Now compare it to the Nintendo Wii's launch titles, with which you can perform virtual surgery (Trauma Center: Second Opinion), pick up a spare in bowling (Wii Sports), and swordfight and fish (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) -- all on a console that costs half as much as the PS3.

Is it fair to make these comparisons? To expect a wildly innovative experience for your $600? To hold Resistance -- the premier title for the PS3 -- to that high a standard?

Yes, yep, and absolutely.

By all rights, 2002's Die Another Day should have been and could have been the final James Bond film. It was packaged like a cynical, weary best-of concert coughed up by an aging dinosaur, offering copious nods to the franchise's past without bothering to offer any new material of consequence. Yet here we are, not only prolonging the franchise but at its very beginning: the third attempt to get right Casino Royale, the very first book in Ian Fleming's series, which began in 1953.

Set in the present day, this kinetic, character-driven take is nonetheless intended to serve as the origin story of 007 — an introduction to the "maladjusted young man," as one love interest refers to him, who grows up to inherit a license to kill from Her Royal Highness.

And, of course, Royale is intended to kick-start a moribund big-screen series that's had more low points than high; expectations are minimal when you're next in line after such predecessors as Diamonds Are Forever, Octopussy, The Living Daylights, The World Is Not Enough and copious other mediocrities in a series more deserving of fond appreciation than critical admiration. Yet to say Casino Royale ranks among the best Bond offerings is not intended as backhanded praise.

Absolutely it goes on too long, clocking in at 144 minutes, and absolutely half of the damned thing makes no sense at all — it feels less edited than shaved — but the film works hard enough to merit its prolonged coda and nonsense storytelling. Because beneath all the gimmicks and gadgets — chief among them a collection of cell phones capable of doing things of which Catherine Zeta-Jones never dreamed — is an actor who brings to Bond all the things he's lacked since Sean Connery was fighting the Cold War in a toupee.

Those who sweated and fretted Daniel Craig's casting in the role clearly never saw Layer Cake, a sort of gangster-fried warm-up to Bond. Craig, excellent in both art-house endeavors (The Mother, Enduring Love) and blockbuster think pieces (Munich), has both a nasty streak and a soft side never before seen in the series; Fleming would recognize him as most like his literary creation: damaged goods in a tailored tux.

This Bond, unlike his smug, self-conscious predecessors, is a deadpan executioner with a penchant for letting his guard down too quickly. "I have no armor left," he tells this installment's love interest, British treasury purse-keeper Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), with whom Bond actually falls in love rather than merely into bed. This Bond's a rookie who makes mistakes that nearly lead to his death on several occasions — and to a torture sequence so simple yet so devious (and deviant) it makes Goldfinger's crotch laser seem tame by comparison. And this Bond has little interest in living up to the legend: When a bartender asks him if he'd like his martini shaken or stirred, Bond shoots back, "Do I look like I care?" In that instant, it's as if the part had never been anyone else's.

Adhering faithfully to the novel, writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (now on their third Bond movie) and Crash's Paul Haggis offer the quintessential Bond plot. There's the oily Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) with the slight disfigurement, in this case a scarred left eye that weeps blood. There's the plot involving the funding of baddies trying to take over the world (terrorists, in this case, as opposed to yesteryear's Russians). There's M (Judi Dench), the scolding boss always one moment away from revoking Bond's license, and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, wasted in a bit part intended to warm the heart).

And there's the bullet-gray Aston Martin, the high-stakes card game (in this case, Texas Hold 'Em, to appeal to the dorm-room audience), the champagne-and-caviar romp with a villain's wife, the travel-mag settings (the Bahamas, Miami, Prague) and all the other accouterments that decorate the doings. We are starting over, but not from scratch. Bond fans don't want reinvention; they'll settle for rejuvenation.

Director Martin Campbell, who resurrected the franchise with GoldenEye upon the hiring of Pierce Brosnan 11 years ago, accomplishes the same thing again — tenfold. No Bond film has ever offered a chase sequence on a par with the opening one here, during which Bond and a bomb maker scurry on foot all over — and on top of — Madagascar. It blends the raw materials of such free-running films as Ong-bak and District B13 — in which characters gallop and soar through cityscapes like everyday supermen — with the archaic conventions of the franchise, and refines the whole lot into something crisp, thrilling, and brand-new. And that is great praise to heap upon a 53-year-old character who you were just sure should have retired a long, long time ago. Meet the new Bond, not at all the same as the old Bond.

If you have any awareness at all of the existence of Running Scared -- no, not the Gregory Hines/Billy Crystal cop buddy comedy, but the new film written and directed by Wayne Kramer -- chances are you have but one question: How in God's name does anyone expect us to believe that Paul Walker can handle himself in a serious role? Walker, whose blue eyes and chiseled abs have appeared in a movie or two aimed at young ladies, is the most vacant piece of big-screen chick bait to appear in action movies since Keanu Reeves chased Patrick Swayze along the beach in Point Break.

Actually, he's well matched with writer-director Kramer, whose ability to tell a down-and-dirty story is approximately equal to Walker's ability to perform in one. Kramer's debut feature The Cooler was tremendously overrated, probably because the mere presence of William H. Macy fooled people into thinking the rest of the film measured up; his new one is formally dedicated to Sam Peckinpah, Brian De Palma, and Walter Hill. Since Peckinpah, being dead, can't appreciate the gesture, one must assume the ulterior motive of trying to persuade audiences that Running Scared is in some way a movie in the Peckinpah mold. It ain't. The filmmaker whose work this most resembles is Guy Ritchie, except that Kramer actually seems to be taking himself seriously, in much the same way that 12-year-old boys who swear constantly and talk crassly about sex think they're being "adult."

Which isn't to say that there's no fun to be had -- fans of gratuitous swearing, strip-club scenes, and blood splattering on people's faces will find much to enjoy, but it really is executed without much apparent joy or even shock value. Perhaps it may seem daring for female lead Vera Farmiga to show pubic hair, or Walker to show butt cheek, but it pales in comparison to the talent (and the skin) Farmiga showed in Down to the Bone.

Walker, adopting a humorously fake "mobster" accent, plays Joey Gazelle, a Mafia associate in New Jersey who stashes evidence in his basement. His young son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) is good friends with the neighbor boy Oleg (Cameron Bright), whose stepfather (Karel Roden) is a nutcase Russian crystal meth addict with a giant John Wayne tattoo on his back (and he's downright subtle compared to some of the characters we meet later). One day, when the boys are playing, Oleg sees the evidence stashed in Joey's house, takes a distinctive gun home with him, and shoots his stepfather, before running away into the night. Problem is, that particular gun was used in the murder of a crooked police officer, and now mobsters, cops, and other nutjob Russians are all trying to find it. Thus begins a long night for Joey, who has to find and get rid of the gun before anyone else can prove it exists.

And thus also begins a ridiculous series of contrivances to ensure that the gun gets passed from one person to another, with none of the new owners recognizing its significance, and Joey showing up on the scene after it's been handed off -- just missing it by that much. Among the crazy cartoonish characters we meet are a monstrous cackling wino, Chazz Palminteri doing that thing he does, a married couple who own their own kiddy-porn studio and appear to have an animated Freddy Krueger shadow in their bathroom (never explained), and a white pimp who quotes Scarface, only to have Joey tell him that it's lame to quote Scarface. Yes, boys, it is. So shut up already.

The stylish, comic-booky end credits imply that the whole thing has been a fairy-tale allegory like Freeway, with little Oleg as the child who runs into the haunted woods (i.e., the Czech Republic unconvincingly masquerading as New Jersey). This might have worked if Oleg were the main character, but he isn't. The movie probably would have been better if purely told from his point of view, and not just because young Cameron Bright is a vastly superior actor to Paul Walker (but, alas, his name doesn't sell tickets yet). Infuriatingly, one key detail that might have helped us sympathize more with Joey is withheld until the climax, where it's a brief surprise that doesn't change anything significantly.

If you hang in there long enough, though, you get to see Paul Walker have his face smashed with hockey pucks. That's almost worth the price of admission.

No, the Virgin Mary doesn't get high on aerosol fumes, and Joseph doesn't ride in on a skateboard, but in most other respects, The Nativity Story is less of a departure for Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke than one would have imagined. From our first glimpse of Nazareth teenagers making goo-goo eyes at one another while going about their chores, Hardwicke wants us to know that she's making her third film in a row about the difficulties of adolescence, whether the time is now or B.C. And when young Mary (Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes) comes to her parents in the first stages of pregnancy, it's clear that underage moms having babies out of wedlock was no more fashionable back then than it is today, even if the father did happen to be The Father. You try convincing Mom and Dad of that.

Little moments like those are Hardwicke's way of making The Nativity Story seem less ossified for a contemporary (read: young) audience than the Hollywood religious epics of yesteryear, and she tries to put her mark on the material in other ways, too. Taking her cue from such post-neorealist Italian directors as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ermanno Olmi (whose Cammina, cammina remains the greatest screen version of the Nativity that I know of), Hardwicke downplays mysticism and spectacle in favor of a more earthy view of how life may have been lived two millennia ago. Even when the archangel Gabriel appears in visions to Mary and Joseph, he seems less like a special effect than, you know, some guy who just happens to be standing there.

Hardwicke's most radical conceit, however, at least for a movie positioned as a red-state holiday perennial — there is already a soundtrack album featuring Christian and country artists performing "Christmas favorites inspired by the film" — is that most of the major roles are acted by performers of Algerian, Iranian, Israeli, and Sudanese descent. Castle-Hughes is Maori, of course. The powerful young actor Oscar Isaac, who plays Joseph, is Guatemalan. And one actress, Hiam Abbass (who plays Mary's mother, Anna), was actually born in Nazareth. In short, their skin is dark, which makes The Nativity Story the first Hollywood religious picture in memory (if not ever) to imply, for most of its running time, that Jesus Christ probably looked more like Jim Brown than Jim Caviezel. Until, that is, the newborn Lord makes his cameo appearance at the end, bearing a decidedly milky complexion.

Still, The Nativity Story does only so much to enliven a drama that has been playing out in Sunday schools and on suburban lawns for centuries, and which Monty Python neatly consigned to the pre-credits sequence of Life of Brian. Hardwicke, who began her career as a production designer, has a wonderful eye for detail — possibly too wonderful, for there are so many shots of Nazareth villagers making artisanal cheeses that the movie may become uncomfortable for the lactose-intolerant. Would that she brought the same intimacy to her handling of animate objects. There are a few quietly affecting scenes here, in which we see Mary and Joseph as the terribly frightened newlyweds they probably were, unsure of what to make of their extraordinary circumstances. But too often, the actors register as little more than set dressing and, despite Hardwicke's resolve to give us the real Nativity, as we've never seen it before, much of the movie smacks of convention — from the three wise men being played for comic effect to the thunderous drumbeats that portend each arrival of the shekel-hungry Roman soldiers to the CGI-darkened skies that precede King Herod's slaughter of the innocents. Finally, the stars align. A shaft of heavenly light pours down upon the earth. The audience lets out a collective yawn.

Ah, the Winter Olympics. The nip of drama in the Alpine air. The purity of amateur competition. Swedish women in full-body spandex.

These are all things we enjoy about the winter games. Now for some things we don't: losing to Canada in hockey, male figure skaters in blouses, and of course, really bad videogames.

Torino 2006, from 2K Sports, the officially licensed game of this year's Winter Olympics, follows the dubious standard set by its Salt Lake City and Nagano predecessors. In short, it's a spectacular wipeout.

The game forces you to ski, skate, and sled through 15 dreary events in several meat-and-potatoes sports from the winter competition: Alpine skiing, the biathlon, and the luge, to name a few. There's also the Nordic combined, which sounds like something kinky you might do with the Olsen twins. Alas, no. It's simply cross-country skiing and ski-jumping mashed together.

The game's controls amount to little more than robotically pushing a button in sync with an icon on the screen. If you're lucky, you might get to steer a little. That's it. Forget becoming the next Bonnie Blair. You're better off pretending to be Bode Miller, since playing the game wasted is the only way to make it less painful. Too bad there's no piss test for boredom.

More than two decades ago, on the underpowered Atari, game designers somehow found a way to make the Olympics fun. It was called Track and Field, and though no one knew it at the time, it set the bar so high that no game maker has matched it since. The concept was spectacularly simple: Pit players against each other in thumb-breaking head-to-head action. Trash-talking was half the fun.

Since then, it's been a slippery slope to crap city, especially for winter games. Torino 2006 is no exception. In fact, it may be the worst of its ilk -- frosty, hollow, and completely devoid of the kind of passion that compels someone who's never strapped on ski boots to watch the super-G, let alone pick up a game controller.

You won't find any colorful personalities here. No Picabo Streets or Tomba la Bombas. No international rivalries to get the competitive juices flowing. Nothing, really, that makes the Olympics the Olympics.

Instead, you race the clock. Alone. Silent. You win or lose to opponents named "Computer" while trying to ignore the insipid commentary. When you shatter a world record, your name is perfunctorily entered in the books, and it's on to the next event.

Why game designers choose to focus on such anemic winter sports as cross-country skiing and the biathlon is also a mystery. Even aside from hockey and snowboarding -- both of which have already carved out their own niche games -- several Olympic sports seem better suited for inclusion. Take freestyle skiing, a high-flying, creative affair in which athletes are awarded points for aerial tricks or bouncing over moguls. Or short-track skating, with its high speeds, sharp elbows, and scrappy opponents. Even curling would be more fun. Seriously.

Yet Torino 2006 doesn't even try to break new ice. The most memorable moment in this flavorless snowball is when you crash off the giant, 25-story ski jump. The impact makes a sound like a gun blast, your body crumples, and you slide on your face for several hard European meters while spectators groan.

Compared to how badly this game flops, that's a perfect landing.

Richard Trujillo may one day give a more thrilling performance than the one I witnessed on opening night of Actors Theatre's production of Kiss of the Spider Woman. If he does, I hope I'm present to see it. I usually find Trujillo's performances stamped too strongly with his own personality, but his portrayal of Valentin in Manuel Puig's play is an entirely original creation, delivered with restraint and passion.

Valentin is a political prisoner, a puffed-up militant trapped in the tenets of Marxism who, at the start of the play, is harshly intolerant of his cellmate, Molina, whom he sees as less of a man because he is an effeminate homosexual and -- worse! -- apolitical. Valentin's gradual transformation from intolerance to acceptance and eventually love is a tough acting assignment, one that's made all the more difficult by the black humor scribbled between the lines of this very dire story. Trujillo plays -- excuse the pun -- straight man to Oliver Wadsworth's histrionics, which helps illuminate the dark comedy here.

Based on his own novel (and not to be confused with the more-often-produced Kander and Ebb musical adaptation), Puig's dreamily claustrophobic play could, in lesser hands, have tipped over into camp or melodrama. There's nothing especially subtle about the juxtaposition of the story we watch unfolding and the plot of the 1940s film that Molina recounts to Valentin throughout the course of the play, but Kirk Jackson's shrewd direction overcomes the obvious. He steers the players through the tense, cramped story with a fine sense for drawing out the humor on the page without diminishing the drama, and keeps pathos from overwhelming the ultimate explosions.

And there's Trujillo's performance, which is all the more impressive when one considers that it shares the stage with Wadsworth's nearly operatic Molina. Because Molina believes he is a kind of a woman, Wadsworth easily could have played him as a simpering fruit and still nailed Molina's campy femininity. But the actor chooses a more ambiguous, almost genderless approach to a character who's really just one big ball of yearning. He plays the scene in this play that I always dread -- in which an ill Valentin shits himself, and Molina cleans him up -- with such dignity and grace that it becomes a high point rather than something laughable or horrid.

In an era where nearly every sitcom includes a gay character and when our rock 'n' roll and political icons are out-and-proud homos, this sort of story isn't as shocking as it was when Puig first presented it. But its new Actors Theatre production is both relevant and entertaining. For the next couple of weeks, at least, Brokeback Mountain has nothing on these guys.

Best Of Phoenix®