Critics’ Picks: April 5-11, 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’s selections include Ryan Gosling’s performance in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” art show “MexiCali Biennial,” play “The Nether” and restaurant Muddy Leek. Staying home? There’s NBC’s “Grimm,” the essay collection “The Book of My Lives” and “Tomb Raider,” the video game.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Gimme the Loot’
Only 81 minutes long and shot on the fly in a variety of New York locations, “Gimme the Loot’s” off the cuff bravado perfectly captures the texture of youthful exuberance, as two Bronx graffiti writers try their hardest to raise money to put on their own kind of show. 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
'Bless Me, Ultima'
A deeply satisfying feat of storytelling, taken from Rudolfo Anaya’s celebrated novel, that makes a difficult task look easy. Set in 1944 New Mexico, it combines innocence and experience, the darkness and wonder of life, in a way that is not easy to categorize but a rich pleasure to watch. (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
'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
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
‘Grimm’ April 2013
Other Comic-Con darlings may be grabbing the headlines lately, but NBC’s “Grimm” continues to prove that fantasy can go high stakes and family-friendly. Populating a police drama with storybook characters seemed like a long shot, but “Grimm” just keeps getting better and better, seamlessly knitting a funny, moody and increasingly epic tale out a series of smart procedural episodes. And it doesn’t require a master’s degree in geekdom to get started. Read more
A new news magazine from HBO, “Vice” — produced by the hipster-media empire of the same name (magazine, online videos, record label) — is a better and more serious series than the implications of its demographic might imply. Segments on homemade guns in the Philippines, child bombers in Afghanistan, nuclear deterrence between Pakistan and India, and an escape from North Korea are direct and informative, not without a sense of adventure, but also respectful of people in places and situations far from our own. One feels that behind it there is the desire to educate, not merely titillate; the old and probably permanently ongoing desire to wake up the world.Friday, HBO Read more
The A&E series has a lot to live up to, but it also has Vera Farmiga as Mama Bates. She's reason enough to watch this gloriously insane prelude to Alfred Hitchcock's classic film. (Mary McNamara) Monday, 10 p.m. A&E. Read more
'Game of Thrones' (April)
Shakespeare meets Tolkien meets "Asssasin's Creed." And now there be dragons. Why miss it when you don't have to? (Mary McNamara) Sunday, HBO Read more
Matthew Perry's turn as widower finding solace and wacky adventure with members of a grief support group fuels a solidly hilarious show. And Julie White deserves an Emmy. There, I said it. Tune in for the season finale Thursday at 9:30 p.m. (Mary McNamara) Read more
Jennifer Haley has written a truly 21st century play about virtual reality and responsibility. Set in what appears to be the dystopian future, the drama begins with the Kafkaesque interrogation of a businessman played by Robert Joy and travels to an alternative universe in which sexual morality is tested in ways that will have audience members squirming. The subject matter is daring in the extreme, but Neel Keller’s sensitively acted production leads us to the heart of a very modern ethical dilemma. (Charles McNulty) Ends Sunday. Read more
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
Nina Raine’s smart and sensitive (if somewhat overwritten) play centers on a young deaf man in the throes of love struggling to claim an independent identity within his quarreling family of artists, intellectuals and motormouth egomaniacs. The production, directed by David Cromer, might turn up the volume unduly on the domestic hubbub, but Russell Harvard and Susan Pourfar bring an eloquent silence to their characters’ romantic story line. (Ends Sunday) Read more
Crown City Theatre Company has boldly revived this 1970 Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical hit, a perennial darling of the Tony Committee seldom staged here, in its small space. Although director Albert Alarr has set the tale of a commitment-phobic bachelor harassed by his married friends in the present day, plenty of late-1960s New York artifacts remain in the picaresque story lines and acerbic lyrics for those who want to relive boozier, grittier days. (Margaret Gray) Ends Sunday. Read more
'Dirty Filthy Love Story'
Perhaps it’s appropriate that a play about hoarders would be so structurally shaky, with unresolved story points threatening to bury its characters at several junctures. But under the light-hearted guidance of director Elina de Santos, Rob Mersola’s world-premiere comedy is so buoyed by sheer lunacy that it floats triumphantly above its dramaturgical flaws. (F. Kathleen Foley) Ends Sunday. Read more
'End of the Rainbow'
As Judy Garland, Tracie Bennett finds the seamlessness in this bio-musical’s potentially unwieldy combination of screwball comedy, cautionary drug tragedy, and tribute concert. Even prone on a fainting couch, she’s utterly wired. As will you, even before Bennett really amps it up for the thrilling last-days musical numbers. (Chris Willman) Ends Sunday. Read more
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
Although more muted than some past editions, this adroit revival of Terrence McNally’s Tony-winning fantasia on Maria Callas, life and art carries real immediacy and thematic point. As La Divina, the expert Gigi Bermingham is less ferocious than certain predecessors, yet her innate spontaneity and native wit are their own rewards. (David C. Nichols) Ends Sunday. Read more
'Mrs. Warren’s Profession'
Among its many strengths, this superb revival illuminates what continues to shock most about Shaw’s mercilessly incisive analysis of Victorian-era social hypocrisy and the limited opportunities for women — namely, how little has really changed. A revisionist coda may give purists pause, but it balances abstract argument with emotional authenticity. (Philip Brandes) Ends Sunday. Read more
'One Night With Janis Joplin'
In a cosmic collusion of persona and perception, this electrifying concert musical resurrects the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll with seismically sensational results. Under creator Randy Johnson’s direction, the astonishing Mary Bridget Davies goes from evoking Joplin’s essence to channeling her outright, a portraitist tour de force mirrored by Sabrina Elayne Carten’s breathtaking blues archetype, killer designs and an awesome band. They will rock your world. (David C. Nichols) Ends Sunday. Read more
'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) (Ends Sunday, March 15) Read more
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
'Walking the Tightrope'
Poised between children’s fable and adult reverie, 24th Street Theater’s pitch-perfect 2013 staging of Mike Kenny’s perceptive take on the eternal cycle — as artfully simple, theatrically poetic and deeply affecting a chamber piece as any in recent memory — returns for a limited engagement, an indelible must-see for all ages. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sun., Oct. 16) Read more
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
Pop music critic
‘Trisha Brown at UCLA’
The point — or at least one point — of Trisha Brown’s dance is that it can’t be pinned down. Literally or metaphorically. She has always liked, for instance, to leave the ground. So, along with two programs in Royce Hall on Friday and Sunday that are focal points of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA’s Trisha Brown retrospective, some seminal site-specific pieces will be held around the Westside. Read More
Album: 'The Next Day'
'The Next Day' finds David Bowie at his best. The inventive artist's 26th studio album is the kind of record you hope for out of Bowie: versatile and magnetic. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Impossible Truth'
William Tyler is a solo acoustic guitarist whose 2010 album “Behold the Spirit” was a quiet but oft-menacing joy. A self-described “Nashville lifer,” Tyler has strummed in service of acts including country-soul band Lambchop, country singer Charlie Louvin, soul vocalist Candi Staton and folk troubadour Bonnie “Prince” Billy. “Impossible Truth” is impossibly beautiful. The highlight of these eight meditations is the epic 10-minute “The World Set Free,” which injects distortion and percussion into his mantras. (Randall Roberts) Read more
'Replay Last Night'
Among the many stylistic traits of Southern California cultural offerings is a certain easiness, a smooth, groove-centered vibe found both in Dr. Dre’s G-funk sound two decades ago and the dubbed out sounds of Flying Lotus, Teebs and the Gaslamp Killer today. It’s in the harmonies of the Beach Boys, the graceful delivery of Chet Baker and Frank Ocean’s relaxed story-tracks on “Channel Orange.” “Replay Last Night,” the debut full length from L.A. beat producer Astronautica, taps into this wellspring. (Randall Roberts) Read more
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
‘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
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
Video game critic
“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
‘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
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