Critics’ Picks: April 26-May 2, 2013

Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.

This week: a chance to catch Lon Chaney’s “Phantom of the Opera,” with orchestral backing, and the performance of a Benjamin Britten rarity. On the home front, A&E’s “Bates Motel” spotlights the fabulous Vera Farmiga, and there’s a new e-book from George Saunders.

Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.

Lon Chaney in "The Phantom of the Opera." (Universal Pictures)

The Alloy Orchestra at Cinefamily

If you think piano or organ is the only choice for the musical accompaniment of silent films, you have a lot to learn — and the Alloy Orchestra is the group to teach you. This standout ensemble, featuring masters of myriad musical styles and pioneers of alternative silent film music, is a regular at the Telluride Film Festival and the Motion Picture Academy. Now you can hear the orchestra perform in two separate Monday shows in the intimate confines of the Cinefamily Theater at 611 Fairfax Ave. First up at 7:30 p.m. is the 1925 Lon Chaney-starring “The Phantom of the Opera.” Screening at 10 p.m. is 1920’s much less-known “From Morn to Midnight,” said to be especially rich in German Expressionist imagery. Read more

Cinefamily Theater, 611 Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard's "Le Petit Soldat." (Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal)

Le Petit Soldat’ at the Nuart

There is a chilling resonance in watching “Le Petit Soldat,” Jean-Luc Godard’s classic story of love and allegiance that begins a special one-week run at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles on Friday with a newly remastered print and enhanced subtitles. Its political intrigues entangled with a love story, Godard used the movie as a way to discuss his own take on the rumors of government torture of those who supported the Algerian insurrection against French occupation. Due to be released in 1960, the politically sensitive film was banned in France until 1963, roughly a year after the Algerian war of independence had ended and the reports of torture of insurgents and innocents alike lingered like a dark shadow over the country. Read more

Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd, West Los Angeles

Betsy Sharkey

Film critic

Other recommendations:

'Miradas Multiples, La Maquina Loca' ('Multiple Visions, The Crazy Machine')

To celebrate the opening of the Paris Photo Los Angeles photography fair on the Paramount lot, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is screening "Miradas Multiples, La Maquina Loca" ("Multiple Visions, The Crazy Machine"), a gorgeous documentary directed by Emilio Maille about the great Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who will be the subject of a LACMA exhibition later this year. Figueroa shot more than 200 films, and the stunning imagery here shows what a complete master of black and white he was. (Kenneth Turan) Screening at 8 p.m. on April 26, at LACMA's Bing Theater. Read more

Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

'Ginger & Rosa'

An empathetic, sensitively modulated movie about a teenage girl’s worry about nuclear destruction, this Sally Potter film is most noticeable as the showcase for a performance by Elle Fanning that is little short of phenomenal. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'No'

The nation of Chile voted “No” in a 1988 referendum, causing a political earthquake that uprooted Augusto Pinochet’s tenacious dictatorship and formed the basis of this smart, involving and provocative new film starring Gael Garcia Bernal as the ad man who made it happen. In Spanish with English subtitles. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'To the Wonder'

Terrence Malick, as unconventional, esoteric and spiritual as ever, has created an ocean of love, with calm seas, treacherous storms, incredible beauty and a god who watches over it all. There is no new ground really, the distinction is in the way Malick covers it with glorious imagery, symphonies of sound, a cacophony of moods. Between the style and the substance, it is likely to leave some loving the film, others loathing it. I found it to be some kind of wonderful, flaws and all. (Betsey Sharkey) Read more

Scandinavian detective dramas

A smart company called MHz Networks has come up with the shrewd idea of presenting to American audiences the European TV movies that have been made from the works of great modern European detective novels. The first of the great Nordic detectives was Sweden’s Martin Beck, created by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and MHz brings us multiple episodes of “Beck,” TV stories inspired by those memorable novels. And that is just for starters. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'From Up on Poppy Hill'

Written by the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, this is as beautiful a hand-drawn animated feature as you are likely to see. It’s a time-machine dream of a not-so-distant past, a sweet and honestly sentimental story. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Ryan Gosling in 'The Place Beyond the Pines'

Ryan Gosling, currently starring opposite his real-life love Eva Mendes in the darkly wrought drama of "The Place Beyond the Pines," is always chemically combustible on screen. That romantic power crystallized early on in 2004's "The Notebook." His rain-soaked embrace of co-star Rachel McAdams, also an off-screen love for a time, made him into an overnight heartthrob. But Gosling was never a one-night stand. Over time the roles, and the performances, have only gotten better. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more

Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga in "Bates Motel" on A&E. (Joe Lederer / AP / A&E)

Bates Motel’

It is impossible for me to overstate how truly fabulous Vera Farmiga’s performance is in the crazy, creepy yet emotionally resonant prequel to “Psycho.” The setting is “Twin Peaks”-evocative and the writing is terrific, if a bit overly concerned with making every person in the mythical White Pine Bay, Ore., (which is really Canada) Not Quite What They Seem. All the actors are solid, especially Freddie Highmore as a young sweater-tugging, fugue-state-experiencing Norman and Max Thieriot as his older black-sheep brother Dylan. But it would all come to naught without Farmiga, who makes Norma Bates an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of a character. A&E, Monday, 10 p.m. Read more

Mary McNamara

Television critic

Cartoon Network

Incredible Crew’

This single-camera teenage sketch comedy, created by Nick Cannon, premiered the last of its 13 episodes in mid-April, but they continue in rotation, are highly re-watchable and deserve your attention, whether or not you fit the target demographic. This is one of the most imaginative shows the year has produced — absurdist, energetic, silly and smart, with high production values and a cast of talented performers locked in with one another from the get-go. Jeremy Shada, who is the voice of Finn on “Adventure Time,” is, relatively speaking, the celebrity among them, but Shauna Case, Shameik Moore, Tristan Pasterick, Chanelle Peloso and Brandon Soo Hoo each brings something distinctive to the mix. Cartoon Network, Thursdays. Read more

Robert Lloyd

Television critic

Other recommendations:

'Teen Titans Go!'

Seven years after the end of CN's popular "Teen Titans," the network revives the junior superhero brand as a kind of domestic comedy with attitude, rendered in the Japanese-sprung chibi style (big heads, little bodies) and written in the droll, rockem-sockem spirit of its own "Powerpuff Girls." (The "Teen Titans" cast reprise their original roles.) Last week's premiere revolved around sandwiches and pie; this week Robin (the Boy Wonder) must take driver's ed after wrecking the Batmobile. (Robert Lloyd) (Cartoon Network, Tuesdays) Read more

'The Following'

Monday is the season finale of the serial killer drama that brought Kevin Bacon to TV. Its brutal violence drew some initial criticism and though the carnage has continued, the show's tone took an interesting twist. James Purefoy's mad-twinkle performance as criminal mastermind Joe Carroll and the absurdest concept of an army of sociopaths lent moments of hilarity to the gory proceedings. Intentional or not, creator Kevin Williamson's satiric "Scream" roots are showing. Who will be left when the season ends, and what note will the show leave us on? (Mary McNamara) (Fox, Monday, 9 p.m.) Read more

'Doctor Who'

We are halfway through the half-season featuring Jenna Louise Coleman as Clara Oswin Oswald, the latest companion to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, and, except for the misstep of the under-thought and overwrought "The Rings of Akhaten," their second official adventure together, it is turning out to be a good one, bearing down into a series of especially suspenseful, fast-paced and focused episodes. (The complicated, timey-wimey, intertwined multicharacter narratives of the Amy, Rory and River years have been for the moment streamlined; this is a time machine for two.) The streak continues with Saturday's episode: "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS," set in an interstellar salvage ship, is one of the show's racing-against-the-clock-in-a-confined-space stories (this does constitute a series sub-genre, including the episode before last, the submarine-bound "Cold War"), though here it also contains, in the Doctor's newly redesigned time-spaceship, an unconfined space. (Robert Lloyd) (BBC America, Saturday) Read more

'Parks and Recreation' (April)

It's a Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ron (Nick Offerman) smack-down, as the two lock horns over the fate of a miniature golf course. Oh, how I love this show. (Mary McNamara) (NBC, Thursday, 9:30 p.m.) Read more

'The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection'

AngloTVphilia, to coin a word, has had something of a revival in recent years, between blockbuster PBS series, BBC America and a legion of ancient and recent British series made available for streaming. But "Downton Abbey" was built on the shoulders of giants. One of the pillars of 20th century public broadcasting is this detective series from the 1970s (adapting five Dorothy L. Sayers novels), which has been conveniently collected into a single box, being released this week by Acorn Media. Ian Carmichael, a stalwart of Ealing comedies in the 1950s and '60s, stars as the sleuthing aristocrat Lord Peter, with Glyn Houston as butler (and former batman) Bunter. (A subsequent adaptation, starring Edward Petherbridge, was produced in the late 1980s.) Originally written and set in the 1920s and '30s, the mysteries encompass a range of settings and situations, from town to country, socialites to socialists and upper class to lower -- Lord Peter, notwithstanding his title, is a born democrat. "Downton Abbey" fans will find this familiar ground; there is even a Dowager Duchess. Shot largely on video on constructed sets, these series are modest by current television standards of splendor, but the writing and performances are sharp and witty, and it does not take long to fall under their spell. (Robert Lloyd) (On DVD) Read more

'Vikings'

Plague hits the village and Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) continues to expand his influence and legend on History's fast-paced, fun and occasionally educational first dramatic series. (Mary McNamara) Read more

Bill Smitrovich, left, Freddy Rodriguez and Ron Eldard. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

American Buffalo’

This classic dark comedy by David Mamet about the con game known as the free enterprise system is set in a junk shop, but there are jewels to be found in the play, and they are thrillingly laid out for us in the Geffen Playhouse’s dynamically acted production. What a pleasure to experience again the ferocious gusto of Mamet’s language when it was still being composed for individual characters. Lately, Mamet seems to be writing for his own bullhorn, but this relatively early work reminds us of the reason his style set off a revolution in American playwriting. The revival’s success is a credit to the blue-collar commitment of its performers — Bill Smitrovich, Freddy Rodriguez and Ron Eldard — and to director Randall Arney for recognizing that, contrary to what Mamet has dogmatically asserted, a play without convincing characters is just a bag of air. (Charles McNulty) Ends Sunday. Read more

Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood

Charles McNulty

Theater critic

Other recommendations:

'Dreamgirls'

In its sheer audience regard, this red-hot take on Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s Tony-winning landmark is an incandescent watershed for both DOMA Theatre Company and Los Angeles. Director Marco Gomez and his ace forces have re-conceived the original staging to serve the property’s sprawling needs, aided by our proximity to a marvelous cast. (David C. Nichols) Ends Sunday, May 5. Read more

Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.

'American Misfit'

With ferocious satire, time-bending surrealism, and songs fiercely throbbing to the wild heart of early rock 'n roll, Dan Dietz' darkly brilliant new play defies easy labels — as befits a full-volume celebration of the dissonant rebellious chord sounding throughout our nation's history. (Philip Brandes) Ends Sunday. Read more

Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena

'Annapurna'

Sharr White's remarkable two-person play about a dying poet's reunion with the wife who abandoned him 20 years previously stars husband-and-wife acting team Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, best known as comedic performers on “Will and Grace” and “Parks and Recreation,” respectively. Director Bart DeLorenzo elicits achingly slice-of-life turns from his superb performers in a play that builds masterfully from the hilarious to the tragic. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.

'The Beaux' Stratagem'

How often do you get to see a classic bawdy Restoration comedy by George Farquahar, a long-lost Thornton Wilder meditation on marriage and other human foibles, and a frenzied Ken Ludwig farce — all for the price of a single ticket? Granted, they happen to be the same play, but this hilariously staged post-modern adaptation is a great deal nonetheless. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday) Read more

A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena.

'Billy & Ray'

Mike Bencivenga's new play about the stormy collaboration of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler on the screenplay for "Double Indemnity" crackles with suspense and 1940s charm in its world premiere, directed by Garry Marshall and starring Kevin Blake (Wilder) and Shaun O'Hagan (Chandler) as the notorious cinematic odd couple. (Margaret Gray) Ends Sunday, May 5. Read more

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

'Eurydice'

Sarah Ruhl’s delicately feminist play revisits the Orpheus legend from the perspective of his doomed bride, Eurydice, but the story is, somewhat unexpectedly, more a tale of enduring fatherly love than of star-crossed passion. Geoff Elliott’s deft direction and dazzling design elements result in a hypnotic and purifying atmosphere that is just right for catharsis. (F. Kathleen Foley) Ends Sunday. Read more

A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

'Heart of Darkness'

Actors' Gang stalwart Brian T. Finney invites us to venture deep into the interior of the African Congo in his adaptation of Joseph Conrad's classic novella. This stripped-down production zooms in on Finney's intensely contained performance as Marlow, the seaman who tells the story of his obsessive pursuit of the mysterious Kurtz, an ivory trader who has come to symbolize, among other things, the insatiable greed of imperial conquest. Flanked by two performers, Finney gives himself over to Conrad's words, the production's true star. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Saturday) Read more

The Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City

'The Rainmaker'

N. Richard Nash’s 1950s-era chestnut about a “spinster” swept up in romance by a dazzling con man can be laughably archaic. However, director Jack Heller crafts a striking, specific portrait of a bygone time. As for the pitch-perfect performances, they should all be distilled, bottled and preserved for posterity. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 22) Read more

Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica

'Smoke and Mirrors'

As actor and Magic Castle illusionist Albie Selznick’s superb theatrical magic show explores the connections between his life and art, perhaps his greatest feat is making any trace of boredom completely disappear. (Philip Brandes) (Through Dec. 28) Read more

The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

'Walking the Tightrope'

Delicately poised between children’s fable and adult reverie, this pitch-perfect West Coast premiere of Mike Kenny’s perceptive take on the eternal cycle is as artfully simple, theatrically poetic and deeply affecting a chamber piece as any in recent memory — an indelible must-see for all ages. (David C. Nichols) Ends Saturday. Read more

24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.

Liam Vineyand and Anna Grinberg (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Curlew River’

Benjamin Britten wrote much peculiar music but little that is stranger than “Curlew River.”   Struck by the Noh drama “Sumidagawa,” which the composer saw in Tokyo in 1956, Britten morphed that already odd “operatic” experience into a curious hybrid of Noh and church parable. A ferryman tells a traveler the tale of a 12-year-old boy who died a year earlier. A madwoman, performed by a tenor in an exquisite mask, hops aboard and turns out to be the boy’s mother. A handful of musicians make unforgettably eerie sounds on their instruments; the ancient Western musical traditions shake hands with ancient Eastern ones, as Gregorian chant miraculously merges with Gagaku. And that’s not the only miracle on the Curlew River. Jacaranda, the New Music outfit in Santa Monica, had originally meant to stage the unstageable “Curlew River” as the highlight of its several offerings for Los Angeles’ Britten/100 festival. Funding fell through and the small organization needed a Kickstarter campaign to make the performance happen. Happen it will 8 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, but in concert form (which is pretty much what Britten wanted anyway).  Read more

First Presbyterian Church, 1220 2nd Street, Santa Monica

Mark Swed

Music critic

Becky G in a screenshot from her video, "Becky from the Block" (Kemosabe / RCA Records)

Single and video: ‘Becky from the Block’

Inglewood has gotten its share of love over the years, courtesy of rappers including Mack 10, Dr. Dre and Tupac, but few have been as joyous, infectious and vivid as Becky G’s new single, “Becky from the Block.” The track features the young rapper honoring her neighborhood with a series of snapshot rhymes about life in the southwest Los Angeles town — all performed to an updated riff on Jennifer Lopez’s hit, “Jenny from the Block.” Released in early April, the video is as pure a love letter to Los Angeles life as you’ll hear: She raps in front of the L.A. Forum, beneath the iconic Randy’s Donuts sign, name-checks Oak Street Elementary School, the Inglewood cemetery. The Mexican American rapper is only 16, but she’s got some big names supporting her. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Randall Roberts

Pop music critic

Other recommendations:

Album: 'Floating Coffin'

Relentless, powerful, tight: This San Francisco psychedelic guitar band Thee showcases its wild, spastic rock on "Floating Coffin," its seventh record. Like last year's excellent "Putrifiers II," on the new one the five sharp players, centered on founder-guitarist John Dwyer, make four-minute garage punk sound positively epic. Surprises abound; no song travels where a dumber band would take it. "Maze Fancier" sounds like a crazy Fugazi song on speed. "Minotaur" pokes along drunkenly and features one of the best guitar lines you'll hear all year. (Randal Roberts) Read more

Album: 'Nomad'

Two years ago in MacArthur Park during its Levitt Pavilion summer concert series, Tuareg guitarist Omaro “Bombino” Moctar and his four-piece band performed a free concert for a ragtag mix of Angelenos. Since then the guitarist, 33, has witnessed much on the way to his new album, “Nomad,” which was produced by Black Keys’ singer-guitarist and Grammy Award-winning producer Dan Auerbach. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Corazon y Miel's Savadorian Whole Turkey Leg Sandwich. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Corazon y Miel

Corazón y miel,” your waitress wants it to be known, is the signature dish of Corazón y Miel. Corazón y miel, hearts and honey, is a small bowl of warm, seared chicken hearts in a sweet, honeyed vinaigrette, tossed with a few slivers of onion, like a chicken heart escabeche. The grayish hearts look a little gnarly, organy, probably more than you want to be dealing with before your third margarita. The bowl travels around the table twice. Someone finally spears a heart. She chases it with a shot of tequila. She spears another. She corrals the bowl for herself. Like the restaurant, a dim tuck ‘n’ roll gastropub in the working-class suburb of Bell, the hearts are an unlikely source of deliciousness. The hearts have won again. Read more

Corazon y Miel, 6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

M.A.K.E.

If you are the kind of restaurant-goer who gets hung up on first impressions, M.A.K.E., Matthew Kenney’s raw-vegan restaurant in Santa Monica Place, may not be for you. But Kenney, who was a renowned New York chef well before he adopted the raw-food thing, is solidly a creature of the food world, and a lot of his techniques are also found in the famous modernist kitchens where dehydrators and Vege-Mixes are as commonly used as pots and pans. The spray of thinly sliced carrots erupting from a base of cumin-scented nut butter is a dish you might see in any modernist dining room. And if the lasagna, sushi rolls and kimchi dumplings are more raw-vegan riffs than the things themselves, it’s just the way the juice-cleanse generation wishes things to be. Read more

M.A.K.E., 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica

Muddy Leek

A former underground dining club from Julie Retzlaff and her husband, chef Whitney Flood, Muddy Leek is less an edgy pop-up than a comfortable place to drop in for a glass of grenache and a snack on a Tuesday night. There may be the occasional tiny rabbit kidney garnishing a plate of rabbit hash, a little dish of rillettes made with the shredded remnants of duck confit, or a smear of chicken liver mousse on toast, but you are not here to be challenged, you are here because you want to eat nicely composed small plates, and it is nice. Read more

Muddy Leek, 8631 Washington Blvd., Culver City

Tamarind of London

Is it easy to mistake Tamarind’s careful spicing for blandness or the mild juiciness of its chicken tikka for timidity? Could it be a good thing that the parade of grilled-mushroom salads, coconut-scented vegetable korma, chickpea dal, smoky eggplant curry and hot nan stuffed with coconut and dates tends to complement the scent of a pretty Sonoma Chardonnay? Tamarind, the Newport Beach sibling of the first London Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, is Southern California’s most luxurious Indian restaurant. Read more

Tamarind of London, 7862 East Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Littlefork

The new restaurant from Jason Travi, whose Mediterranean-style cooking you may have tried at the late Fraiche in Culver City, is a really good bar with high-concept eats – channeling a 1950s New England seafood joint crossed with grungy Montreal bistro, and almost inexpensive unless you let the cocktails, the maple syrup eggs and the crunchy oyster sliders add up. You would be surprised how quickly you can inhale a plate of chilled oysters, nostalgia-flavored fish sticks or even a half dozen clams casino, whose blanket of crisp, bacony bread crumbs in no way slows you down. And there are freshly fried apple-cider doughnuts for dessert. Read more

Littlefork, 1600 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood

Hunan Mao

There are nearly a dozen Hunan restaurants in the greater San Gabriel Valley, and the best of them, including this one, concentrate on the oily, fearsomely hot dishes that make Hunan a paradise of peasant cuisine. What that means here may include gargantuan steamed fish heads, cucumber stir-fried with purple basil, lamb ribs fried with cumin, or the fearsome dish called "Hot Over Spicy," basically a stir-fry of chiles flavored with chiles, seasoned with yet other chiles, and dosed with a bit of ground pork. Try anything made with the awesomely smoky Hunan ham, which has the presence of great barbecue. Read more

Hunan Mao, 8728 Valley Blvd., Rosemead

Fred Hayes / Getty Images

Fox 8’

Fox 8” offers an unexpected twist on George Saunders’ darkly comic sensibility. Narrated by a fox who has learned human language, it’s a taut little tale in which the protagonist and other members of his skulk are driven away from their habitat by the construction of a new shopping mall. Saunders writes in an idiosyncratic dialect full of phonetic misspellings (“First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I learned to rite and spel as gud as I do!”), structuring the story as a letter to the reader (or “Reeder”) that turns increasingly pointed and bleak. Originally, Saunders intended “Fox 8” for his collection “Tenth of December,” but he felt it was an outlier, even for him. So he decided to release it as an e-book original, his first. Read more

David Ulin

Book critic

Other recommendations:

'The Best of the Best American Poetry'

Normally, I’m wary of “best of” designations, but the annual “Best American Poetry” collections recognize the limitations of the game they’re playing, the idea that any group of poems can encapsulate the breadth of poetry written in America in a given year. “The Best of the Best American Poetry” features 100 poems of the 1,875 that have thus far been published in the series. My favorite stuff here is the most direct, or, maybe, the most interior: Margaret Atwood’s “Bored,” which traces how childhood ennui can lead to adult curiosity; the long excerpt from A.R. Ammons’ “Garbage”; and Denise Duhamel’s magnificent “How It Will End,” in which a husband and wife watch another couple fighting, only to take sides themselves. Read more

'The Flamethrowers'

Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” is a white-hot ember of a book. Taking place in Manhattan and Italy in the late 1970s, a time when each was awash in turmoil, the novel traces the experience of one woman, a young conceptual artist, as she navigates these disparate landscapes, a part of the action and yet always on the outside. For Kushner, the point is displacement – that, and the way art is, or should be, a provocation, with even the most abstract expression existing in (sometimes) violent reaction to the world. The result is a work of fiction that illustrates both character and culture, as well as the uneasy ways they intersect. Read more

'The Book of My Lives'

There’s a tendency to look askance at essay collections, to see them as incidental, as if they had no urgency of their own. I defy anyone to make such an argument after reading Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Book of My Lives.” Ranging from his youth in Sarajevo to his present-day life in Chicago, this suite of 15 essays never looks away or pulls its punches — portraying if not a life exactly, then a life in collage. Particularly affecting is the heartbreaking “The Aquarium,” originally published in the New Yorker in 2011, which details the death of Hemon’s 1-year-old daughter Isabel from a rare cancer of the brain. Read more

'A Tale for the Time Being'

Ozeki’s third novel is constructed around a pair of interlocking narratives — the first that of Nao, a 16-year-old Japanese girl, and the second that of Ruth, a novelist who finds Nao’s diary when it washes up on the beach in Vancouver Island. Together, they make for a stunning meditation on meaning, narrative and our place in the universe. Written from something of a Buddhist perspective (the author is, among other things, a Zen priest), “A Tale for the Time Being” covers everything from the vagaries of love to the paradox of quantum physics, finding its resolution in an unflinching resistance to being resolved. Read more

Guacamelee! (DrinkBox Studios)

‘Guacamelee!’

Games are wonderful at creating crazy, colorful universes full of whip-cracking vampire killers and interstellar space pirates, but they are less good at crafting ones inspired by more earth-bound cultural traditions. “Guacamelee!” is an exception. Perhaps not since LucasArts’ 1998 “Day of the Dead” noir title “Grim Fandango” has a game so lovingly draped itself in Mexican folklore. “Guacamelee!” is a colorfully humorous game centered almost entirely on the customs surrounding Day of the Dead. It’s a simple stylistic conceit that seems so obvious that it’s almost confusing it hasn’t been done with any regularity. Who needs zombies and vampires when there’s an entire holiday steeped in calavera imagery? Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

‘Bioshock Infinite’

“Bioshock Infinite” is a mess, but it’s an ambitious, entertaining mess. This first-person shooter constantly hits the player with big ideas – issues dealing with racism, inequality and the intersection of church and state dominate the first half of the game – and ultimately it’s a disappointment that the action and the concepts never intersect. Yet it’s the only shooter released this year that’s attempted to say anything. Read more

‘Tomb Raider’

Out now for about a month, Square Enix’s reboot of “Tomb Raider” still feels nothing short of brave. Today’s Lara Croft is unlike any other iteration of the Indiana Jones-inspired globe-trotter. Though relentlessly fast-paced, the game takes time to pause and show Croft struggle with having to kill a deer for the first time. She hobbles after an injury, makes known her anxieties, crouches in guilt when she messes up and never stops asking enemies why they’re coming after her, even walking away in tears the first time she pulls a trigger. But above all else, Croft continually succeeds where her guy friends largely fail, almost single-handedly confronting a male collective that shoots at her, lusts after her, fears her and attempts to deceive her. Croft is not only battling an island full of crazed inhabitants, but decades of stereotypes. Read more

‘Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon’

“Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” offers an intimate look at the less famous half of Nintendo’s core brotherly duo. Yet unlike the cheery, easy-to-root-for Mario, who has confidently bounced his way through three decades of games, we’re on Luigi’s side in this action-puzzle title out of empathy. He shivers, groans, sighs and outright begs at times to be relieved of his ghost-hunting duties in this moderately paced, humorous 3DS title. Read more

'Fire Emblem: Awakening'

“Fire Emblem: Awakening” is on the surface a turn-based strategy game, but this 3DS game is ultimately a game more obsessed with matters of the heart than war. Who you marry, for instance, is more important than who you fight. It’s also deep, at more than 50 hours into it, I still can’t wait to pick it up, as this is the rare game that understands it’s more fun to mix-and-match personalities than it is weapons. Read more

L'Oeil du Vert; Stuart Pettican; J.C. Obando

Wear LACMA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has released its second Wear LACMA collection of fashion accessories created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection. Custom perfumier Haley Alexander van Oosten of L’Oeil du Vert, accessories mavens Maryam and Marjan Malakpour of NewbarK and women’s clothing designer Juan Carlos Obando were tapped for the collection, which is for sale at the LACMA store and online, with all proceeds benefiting the museum. They had the run of the museum and could choose any piece as a starting point. What they came up with offers insight into who they are as designers and a chance to see a distinct part of their brand vision distilled. Read more

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Other recommendations:

Paloma Picasso

Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib. Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. Read more

Jennifer Nicholson

Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York and Paris, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a “boho goddess festival vibe,” opened just in time to dress customers for this month’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson’s favorite springtime excursions. Read more

Pearl Drop, 328 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice

Celine

The Rodeo Drive shopping scene heats up with the opening of the new boutique from Celine, the LVMH-owned brand that helped usher minimalism back into style under the direction of designer Phoebe Philo. What can you find inside? We'll start with Celine’s spring runway collection and tailored classics, must-have handbags, and the fur-lined, Birkenstock-like sandals and fur-covered high heels that have fashion followers buzzing. Read more

Celine, 319 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills

J. Paul Getty Museum

Sicily: Art and Invention’ at the Getty Villa

There are at least three great reasons to see “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome” at the Getty Villa. Chronologically, the first is a straightforward male torso, his finely chiseled marble body quietly brimming with latent energy. Second comes a preening charioteer, physically just larger than life but expressively very much so. And third is a depiction of a minor god with major fertility on his mind, his powerful physicality an embodiment of the contortions of carnal lust, both corporeal and psychological. These major sculptures together tell an accelerating story of artistic and social power on the ancient Mediterranean island. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, August 19) Read more

Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Architecture: Dodger Stadium revamp

The new owners of the Dodgers didn’t just go on a spending spree to sign new players during the offseason; they also opened their wallets for a $100-million project to revamp 51-year-old Dodger Stadium. Many of the upgrades are invisible (such as improved wireless coverage), others buried into the hillside at the base of the stadium. The most noticeable changes, aside from new high-def scoreboards, have come near the entry gates, where several dozen parking spots have been replaced with new landscaping, souvenir shops, life-sized bobble-heads and even playgrounds. The goal is to make one of the most privatized stadiums in the majors, one designed near the height of L.A.’s love affair with the car, a little more public. (Christopher Hawthorne) Read more

Dodger Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave, Los Angeles

Christopher Hawthorne

Architecture critic

Other recommendations:

'Ming Masterpieces From the Shanghai Museum'

A new exhibition of Chinese Ming dynasty paintings includes just 10 works, but it’s more absorbing than many shows two or three times its size. These 15th and early-16th century paintings are high-wire acts of aesthetic dexterity, fusing philosophical perception with formal persuasion. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

'MexiCali Biennial'

The third installment of the MexiCali Biennial is winding down at East L.A. College’s Vincent Price Art Museum (the show closes April 13), and its somewhat shaggy theme of cannibalizing established cultures as a means for creating new artistic identities isn’t exactly fresh (it dates back nearly a century). But there is a considerable amount to like among the varied paintings, sculptures and installations by 26 artists and collectives working in the U.S. and Mexico, starting with Carolyn Castaño’s satirical video of a rapid-fire news broadcast. In “The Female Report,” she slices, dices and turns televised reality against itself to devastating effect. (Christopher Knight) Read more

East Los Angeles College's Vincent Price Art Museum 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park