Critics’ Picks: Aug 19 - Aug 25, 2016

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.

A teenage band’s new singles shows they are wise beyond their years, and “Little Men” does well on the big screen.

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

Theo Taplitz. (Magnolia Pictures / AP)

Little Men’

In his 2014 drama “Love Is Strange,” about a longtime gay couple forced to take shelter under separate roofs, the writer-director Ira Sachs displayed a rare and delicate talent for braiding together the emotional lives of adults and children caught up in an unenviable, utterly believable situation. The same is equally true of his wonderful new film, “Little Men,” which, like its predecessor, is set in motion by a crisis involving a piece of New York real estate. Over the course of just 85 minutes, Sachs gives us five beautifully developed characters — a husband and wife (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle), a single mother (Paulina García) and the two young boys (Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri) of the title — and gently holds them up to the light, examining them with patience, tenderness and unerring emotional honesty. Don’t be fooled by the title: At the end of another long summer of turgid superheroics, it’s splendid to be reminded what a grown-up movie looks like. Read more

Justin Chang

Los Angeles Times Movie Critic

Alan Sabbagh and Julieta Zylberberg. (Kino Lorber)

The Tenth Man’

This Argentine effort written and directed by Daniel Burman is a complete charmer, an unlooked-for combination of Jane Austen and Isaac Bashevis Singer. With a twist of Buenos Aires thrown into the mix. Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Logan Lerman. (Alison Cohen Rosa / Roadside Attraction)

Indignation’

Indignation Adapted by director James Schamus from the Philip Roth novel and starring Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon, this is a melancholy, star-crossed romance laced with Roth’s piercing sense of humor.  Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Matt Damon and Julia Stiles. (Universal Pictures / TNS)

Jason Bourne’

The fourth film to feature Matt Damon as the unstoppable secret agent, the third to be directed by Paul Greengrass, this most propulsive motion picture is a model of what mainstream entertainment can be like when everything goes right.  Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Other recommendations:

Café Society

Woody Allen’s new film, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell, is, of course, funny, but it also ends up, almost without our realizing it, trafficking in memory, regret and the fate of relationships in a world of romantic melancholy. Read more

'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'

This wonderful New Zealand film has a gently absurdist quality, a simultaneously sweet and subversive sensibility all its own, mixing warmth, adventure and comedy in ways that consistently surprise. Don’t miss it. Read more

'The Innocents'

Anne Fontaine's post-World War II drama involving a Polish convent and a French female doctor proves yet again that though moral and spiritual questions may not sound spellbinding, they often provide the most absorbing movie experiences. Read more

'The Jungle Book'

By turns sweetly amusing and scarily unnerving, crammed with story, song and computer-generated visual splendors, this revisiting of the old Rudyard Kipling tales aims to be a model of modern crowd-pleasing entertainment. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Sarah Lancashire. (Ben Blackall / Netflix)

Binge watching options

Life in the digital age means it’s never too late to catch up on all those shows you’ve been hearing so much about, and there’s no better time than summer. To aid in this endeavor, I have compiled a shortlist, which is (a) completely, and even randomly, subjective, and (b) specific to the notion of the beach-binge, i.e., at least two seasons are or soon will be available. As often as possible, I have chosen series that transport American viewers to another place and/or time. So in no particular order, a list that is limited, subjective, specific and not to be confused with a list of the best TV shows of all time. Just the ones you might want to consider hanging out with this summer. Read more

Mary McNamara

Television critic

Lucille Ball. (CBS)

Interviews from ‘American Masters’ and others

The PBS documentary series “American Masters,” which for 30 seasons has made a case for American arts high and low, has launched “The American Masters Digital Archive,” rummaging into its giant storage locker of old interviews originally mined for useful snippets and sound bites but allowed to run at length here. There is a somewhat random video component, composed mostly of brief clips, as far as I can tell, and a more organized and substantial audio wing, “The American Masters Podcast,” whose episodes run upward of 20 minutes. The first “season,” titled “Women on Women,” includes Gloria Steinem on Marilyn Monroe, Betty White on Carol Burnett, and the latest edition, in which Fran Drescher, Burnett and Doris Singleton triangulate Lucille Ball (whose 105th birthday would have been Aug. 6). Read more

Robert Lloyd

Television critic

Other recommendations:

'Future-Worm!'

Ryan Quincy, who created IFC's 2013 "Out There," a lovely small-town coming-of-age cartoon in which he did not bother to make his characters look consistently human, is back in a noisier way with this Disney XD slapstick sci-fi series about a boy and his best friend, a big talking worm with a bushy blond hairdo and beard, rock-hard abs, the manner of a B-movie action hero and a lunchbox-shaped time machine. (Web shorts appeared last year; the TV series is new.) Cartoons about young humans and their animal/supernatural/alien or all-of-the-above friends are not unusual — "Adventure Time," "Sanjay and Craig," "Steven Universe," "The Fairly OddParents" — but the series distinguishes itself with a brand of speed and nuttiness and the way in which Danny (Andy Milonakis) and Future-Worm (James Adomian) use time travel to extremely banal ends (which seem often to be related to food): a trip to the year 3000 to cure Danny's slushy-induced brain freeze, on a medical reality show starring a T. rex in a lab coat; going back in time to buy a favorite cereal before it's sold out; traveling 20 minutes into the future because that's too long to wait for a pizza to be delivered. Monsters are often the result of these travels. Disney XD, Mondays. Read more

'Agatha Raisin'

The not merely delightful Ashley Jensen, late of "Ugly Betty" and "Extras" and currently also of "Catastrophe," stars in this sprightly comical mystery series, as a London PR phenom who gives up the high-powered city life for a house in the Cotswolds and an unexpected life of amateur detection. (It's one of those picturesque fictional villages unusually prone to murder, and to the messy human behaviors that lead to it. This is your complicated, genteel brand of homicide.) After a film-length pilot slightly top-heavy with exposition and the need to get Agatha (Jensen) from clueless outsider to clue-sniffing sleuth in her new home, the series shifts into gear with an eight-episode series that visits many of the settings and themes you'd expect from a country-life mystery: fairs, baking contests, property rights, church-bell ringing. (The pilot is titled "The Quiche of Death.") (Acorn TV) Read more

David Rasche and Jennifer Ikeda. (Jim Carmody)

‘Junk: The Golden Age of Debt’

In his thrilling new play, Ayad Akhtar, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Disgraced,” tackles modern finance and the new religion of money. Part Shakespearean history play, part “The Big Short,” “Junk” tells the story of how debt overtook value as the path to enormous wealth and reshaped American society. The production, directed by Doug Hughes with chest master precision, finds compelling drama in the complexity of 1980s junk bond economics and the new titans of business who are still ruling today. Ends Sunday, Aug. 21. Read more

La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla

Charles McNulty

Theater critic

Other recommendations:

'The Boy From Oz'

Celebration Theatre lands a significant coup with this West Coast premiere of the 2004 Tony winner about legendary singer-songwriter Peter Allen, and what a festive party it is. Director Michael A. Shepperd, a crackerjack creative team and a triple-threat cast surrounding Andrew Bongiorno’s stellar turn as Allen give us first-rate theater from top to bottom. It’s a joyous, sensitive, electrifying company benchmark. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 21) Read more

Celebration Theatre @ the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood

‘The Eccentricities of a Nightingale’

Tennessee Williams preferred his 1951 revision of “Summer and Smoke” to its predecessor, and the delicate amalgam of pathos and poetry mined by director Dana Jackson and her proficient cast raises a persuasive argument for Williams’ viewpoint, with the transcendent Ginna Carter beyond praise as spinster Alma Winemiller. A richly atmospheric, emotionally rewarding revival. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Saturday, Oct. 29) Read more

Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice

‘The Engine of Our Ruin’

One wouldn’t expect a play about the clash between Western and Middle Eastern cultures to yield consistent belly laughs, but Jason Wells’ sophisticated new comedy about the miscommunications that result during an American diplomatic mission to a totalitarian Middle Eastern regime is consistently hilarious. Director Maria Gobetti helms a superlative cast in a perfectly paced production that is as intellectually provocative as it is side-splitting. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Friday, Aug. 26) Read more

The Big Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank

Maxx Morando, left, Genessa Gariano , Lydia Night and Sage Nicole. (Jen Rosenstein)

Single: ‘A Living Human Girl’

Out of the gate, teen band the Regrettes aren’t holding back. The group’s first major single, “A Living Human Girl,” takes aim at the patriarchy in one verse and societal expectations of beauty in another, with lead singer Lydia Night rattling off perceived faults as if they’re cause for celebration. Pimples? Check. Stretch marks? Bring ‘em on. “I can dress how I want, not looking for a show of hands,” she snarls over a snappy, ‘60s-inspired groove. Although the 15-year-old says the song was inspired by her first few days of high school in downtown Los Angeles, the tune’s worldview transcends adolescence. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Beyonce. (Parkwood Entertainment)

The Best Pop Music of 2016 (so far)

So much about the first few months of pop in 2016 has been about mourning. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, George Martin, Prince, Scotty Moore, Maurice White, Bernie Worrell and the just-starting-out Christina Grimmie are among those who have left us. But while the music community has been dealt serious blows, the first six months of 2016 have also given us much to celebrate. What follows is a look at some of the most notable albums and singles of 2016, as picked by the pop staff of The Times. There are plenty of recognizable names — and one artist has made such an impact she’s listed twice — but the emphasis here is on those who may have been overlooked. Happy listening. Read more

Pop Music Staff

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Staff

Paul Simon. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Album: ‘Stranger to Stranger’

Sound is the theme of this album,” Paul Simon writes in the press notes accompanying this new album, “as much as it’s about the subjects of the individual songs. If people get that, I’ll be pleased.” True to his word, the visceral sonic qualities of the 11 tracks on the collection are as commanding as his ever-literate lyrics and consistently inviting melodies. Yet this is nothing new for one of the premiere singers and songwriters of the rock era. At 74, Simon reaches ever further for new textures, musically and sonically, to help him say what he wants to say, making “Stranger to Stranger” a distinguished and captivating extension of, rather than a dramatic departure from, his rich body of work. It’s a work reflective of an artist still hungry for exploration. Read more

Randy Lewis

Reporter

Other recommendations:

Album: 'Take Me to the Alley'

Last year Gregory Porter told me that "Holding On," his sleek, skittering collaboration with the British dance duo Disclosure, started out as a bare-bones piano ballad. Given how much I'd thought of Porter's fine 2013 album, "Liquid Spirit," this was something I had to hear. Now I can: A handsome, slow-and-low rendition of "Holding On" — not merely unplugged, but with different chords that alter the vibe of the song — opens Porter's new record, "Take Me to the Alley," due Friday. The tune's placement on the album speaks to the importance of "Holding On" in Porter's career, the way it put this Southern California native in front of unfamiliar listeners after years of hard work in jazz clubs and on Broadway. Read more

Album: 'Everything You've Come to Expect'

In the music video for "Aviation," the first song on their new album as the Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner and Miles Kane play two men forced to dig what look like their own graves by a suave but sadistic crime-boss type. There's a woman too, weeping in the back seat of a vintage Rolls-Royce, and we seem meant to understand that she's been caught carrying on with one of these guys; now her wicked husband is punishing the whole lot. Whatever the specifics, Turner and Kane — both Jason Statham-soulful in their grimy undershirts — are clearly identified as the noble victims in this little drama. Yet that's rarely what they look like on "Everything You've Come to Expect," the second full-length from this British orchestral-pop duo. Due Friday, the album comes nearly a decade after the Last Shadow Puppets' swooning 2008 debut, "The Age of the Understatement." Read more

Album: 'Mind of Mine'

A year after Zayn Malik quit One Direction (which likely led to the remaining four band members hitting pause), this 23-year-old singer has become the first of the bunch to release a solo record. And listening to "Mind of Mine," due Friday, it seems clear that Zayn left not because he couldn't handle the pressure of global stardom, as he intimated at the time, but because he wanted to get serious — really serious — about music. Read more

Album: 'This Is What the Truth Feels Like'

Sixteen years ago, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt sang about wanting "a simple kind of life." That's not how things turned out. Sure, No Doubt — the Anaheim ska-pop band that blasted off in 1995 with the zillion-selling album "Tragic Kingdom" — continued its straightforward ascent for a few more years, racking up hit songs with impressive efficiency through the mid-2000s. But then Stefani launched a solo career that added new wrinkles to her sound and persona. She went into fashion and starting having children, which she's said made a mess of her schedule. Following two huge solo records, she returned to No Doubt for a reunion album, 2012's "Push and Shove," which quickly fizzled, disrupting a narrative neatly defined to that point by success. Then last year, her life got really screwy: Stefani's marriage to Gavin Rossdale, frontman of the band Bush, fell apart (reportedly because of his affair with the couple's nanny), and she began dating Blake Shelton, the country star with whom she recently appeared on NBC's "The Voice." "Never thought this would happen ... Don't know what I'm feeling," she sings in "Used to Love You," a moody, down-tempo single released only months after she filed for divorce. Stefani dives deeply into those complications on her first solo album in a decade. Due Friday, "This Is What the Truth Feels Like" has songs about betrayal and disappointment, and songs about moving on from a broken relationship and falling in love again. Read more

Album: 'Anti'

You can't name your album "Anti" without inviting your audience to think about what you oppose. So what is Rihanna standing against on her eighth studio record? A smoothly choreographed product rollout, for one. After repeated delays, "Anti" finally appeared online Wednesday night, first in an apparently unauthorized leak, then as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal; Samsung also gave away a limited number of free downloads through a complicated promotion. By Friday, the album was available for sale through iTunes (where it quickly topped the chart) and Tidal, though it hasn't yet shown up on other streaming services such as Spotify, and a physical release date has yet to be announced. (Mikael Wood) Read more

Album: 'Blackstar'

There's something delightfully perverse that David Bowie waited until he was 69 to release what's being described as his first jazz album. It was at that age too when veteran rock stars who include Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney took up with big bands or reached for the Great American Songbook to demonstrate their taste and hard-won stature. Even Bob Dylan got in on the act last year with "Shadows in the Night," his lovely (if desolate) tribute to Frank Sinatra. So when you hear that Bowie hooked up with a New York saxophonist and his crew for “Blackstar,” out Friday (just two days before his death from cancer), you think perhaps that Bowie has joined the club — that after cycling through countless styles and personas over his half-century career, he’s finally become a finger-snapping crooner with Count Basie on his mind. Ah, no. Read more

Album: 'HitNRun Phase Two'

Is this becoming a habit? That's the question Prince raised Saturday morning when without warning he released a new album, "HitNRun Phase Two," on the streaming-music service Tidal. As its title suggests, the 12-track set follows an earlier album, "HitNRun Phase One," which Prince had made available in similar fashion in September — proof, it would seem, that this legendary control freak has shed his once-famous disdain for the unruly Internet. Maybe this double-shot system is how Prince, as prolific as he's ever been, intends to roll from here on out. Works for me. A proudly organic companion to the EDM-inflected "Phase One," Prince's latest album shows that he hasn't lost his interest in (or his knack for) the creeping funk and lush R&B balladry he was making in the early 1990s on records like the great "Diamonds and Pearls." Read more

Album: '25'

When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." Read more

Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'

Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more

Merry's House of Chicken. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Favorite Asian fried chicken joints

Does Los Angeles live by Nashville hot chicken alone? No — not as long as there’s a universe of Asian fried chicken too. Read more

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

Nersses Vanak

It is cold in Los Angeles. Rain is in the air. What you want to be eating is dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew, flavored with turmeric and dried lime — a popular street food dish from Tehran that seems to have a tonic effect against the chill. And for dizi, you should probably be at Nersses Vanak, a slightly faded restaurant in an industrial district of Glendale, where dizi, served with long-pickled garlic, platters of fresh herbs, and hot slabs of flatbread snatched smoking from the grill, is always the thing. Read more

Nersses Vanak, 6524 San Fernando Road, Glendale

Pok Pok

Is it possible to become converted in a single bite? Because with a single fried chicken wing at the original Portland Pok Pok in 2007, I dropped my prejudices about non-European cooking in Oregon, the crossover potential of extreme Asian funk, and the ability of a non-Thai to prepare anything like upcountry Thai food. So eight years, many affiliated restaurants, a James Beard award, a Michelin star and a Chinatown noodle stand later, here we are at Pok Pok Los Angeles, an enormous restaurant in the old Fu Ling space in the Mandarin Plaza at the relatively deserted north end of Chinatown. Chef Andy Ricker's gift is the ability to make Thai food seem new again, to take it out of that comfortable place in the suburban strip mall, where it has become the default takeout comfort food for a huge chunk of Los Angeles, and put it back into the roadside stands and rural villages of Northern Thailand. Read more

Pok Pok, 978 N. Broadway, Los Angeles

Five of the tastiest Chinese restaurants in the SGV with the name 'Tasty'

In last week's column, I alluded to the flood of San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants with the word "Tasty'" tucked somewhere into their English-language names. Depending on whether you count doughnut shops, burger stands or branches of the same restaurant as Tasty, Not-Tasty or Tasty in their own right – well, there are a lot of them. Here are five of the tastiest. Read more

Alex Da Corte. (Hammer Museum)

Alex Da Corte: ‘A Season in He’ll’

With its vivid colors, direct appeal to commerce and jaunty emphasis on diversionary amusement, Pop is not often regarded as one of the dark arts. The work of Da Corte seems to be an exception to the rule. A thread of deep, disquieting despair runs through the seemingly cheerful environment and eccentric theatrical props of the elaborate installation. Through Sept. 17. Read more

Art + Practice, 4339 S. Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Hanging sculptures by Ruth Asawa. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women’

Sometimes the seemingly simple act of occupying space can be a radical, profoundly political act. Space invasion is the savvy artistic subject of the fine inaugural exhibition at the sixth outpost for the Zurich-based Hauser & Wirth, which also has powerhouse galleries in London and New York. (Ends Sun. Sept. 4. Read more

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 901 E. Third St., Los Angeles

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Other recommendations:

Julie Blackmon: Down Time

Blackmon, from Springfield, Mo., uses the domestic sphere and the rituals that unfold there as the raw material for an ongoing body of work begun nearly a decade ago. Each frame is a meticulously orchestrated slice of ethnographic theater, starring a Midwestern tribe of scuffed and diapered blonds. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sat. Sept. 3) Read more

Fahey/Klein Gallery, 148 N. La Brea Ave.

Timothy Paul Myers: The Living Room

This gasp-inducing installation, a true-to-scale domestic interior all sheathed in gray felt, derives its power in part from its internal contradictions. It is a slice of reality at once amplified and muted, heightened and yet reduced to a bare minimum. It feels whimsical and yet reads too as a ghostly trace (Leah Ollman) (Ends Saturday) Read more

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles

Ken Price Drawings

The exhibition paints a picture of an artist who had no interest in the god-like control some artists pretend to. Instead, he found transcendence in the most incidental of details. That is what he gives visitors, repaying, in spades, our attentiveness to life's mundane wonders. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday Sept. 10) Read more

Matthew Marks Gallery, 1062 N. Orange Grove, West Hollywood

Bob Law: 1959-2001

The six paintings and 12 drawings in the exhibition take visitors to the simplest of times and the most basic of places: right here and right now. That's the beauty of the British minimalist's works. The art bets everything on your capacity to understand the rudimentary moves that Law (1934-2004) made when he created them. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, Sept. 10) Read more

Marc Selwyn Fine Art, 9953 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills

Agnes Martin

Want to clear your mind? Get a pickup truck, then spend a couple years driving across and around the continent — alone. That's the first lesson of this lovely retrospective of abstract paintings. The show is divided in two, early work and late work, and the separation between them was launched by her decision to make an extended cross-country sojourn. In stripped-down canvases, Martin created an entirely distinct, largely unprecedented artistic vocabulary for spiritual consciousness. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Sept. 12) Read more

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Non-fiction

The small exhibition is an elegiac tone poem, spoken in visual shades of black. With just 10 works by eight artists, it presents no defined thesis but resonates beyond its modest scale. (Christopher Knight) (Through March 31, 2017) Read more

The Underground Museum, 3508 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles

'Roman Mosaics Across the Empire'

Combat. Conflict. Life or death skirmishes. Brawling. Judging from the admittedly small sample of nearly a dozen fragments of floor mosaics, several quite large, in a new exhibition at the Getty Villa, ancient Romans across the sprawling empire were pretty obsessed with the bloody violence necessary to sustaining their imperial position around the vast expanse of the Mediterranean. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Sept. 12) Read more

Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades

State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda

The show is almost entirely text printed on pallid photo-reproductions of posters, newspapers and cartoons. But nothing compares to coming upon an actual Nazi banner under glass, its black swastika screen-printed on a white cloth circle neatly stitched to a blood-red field. The banner’s astute graphic punch startles. And that is what one wants from a show on this critically important topic. Actual artifacts pull the past into the present in ways no reproduction can. (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 21) Read more

Getty Gallery at the Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles

Svetlana Alexievich. (Markus Schreiber / AP)

Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War’

I perceive the world through the medium of human voices,” Svetlana Alexievich declares near the end of “Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War,” explaining both her method and her point of view. For Alexievich — who in October became just the third nonfiction writer and 14th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature — testimony may be as close as one can get to faith. “We’ve worshipped many gods,” she writes in this slender but vivid account, told in the voices of survivors of the Soviet Afghan war. “Some have been consigned to the scrapheap, others to museums. Let us make Truth into a god! A god before whom each of us shall answer according to his own conscience, and not as a class, or a university year, or a collective, or a people….” Read more

David Ulin

Book critic

Other recommendations:

'The Bazaar of Bad Dreams'

Stephen King, I've come to think, is at his most adept when writing in the midlength range. His big novels — "The Stand," "It," "11/22/63" — have always felt a little baggy to me, while his shortest work (he has published more than 200 stories, gathered in a number of collections) can feel sketchy, more idea than nuanced narrative. That middle zone, however: His finest efforts emerge from this territory, shorter novels "Misery," "Joyland" and "The Shining," novellas such as "The Body" or the chilling "A Good Marriage." In this material, King has the breadth to do what he does best, which is to evoke the very human underpinnings of terror, while also remaining constrained by certain limitations of space. As he explains in "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," which gathers 20 pieces of fiction, along with brief reflections on their composition, "Only through fiction can we think about the unthinkable, and perhaps obtain some sort of closure." The key word there is not the unthinkable in which King traffics but "closure," the closure of the midrange form. Read more

'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink'

New wave rocker, country crooner, balladeer, collaborator and showman: Elvis Costello has been all of these and more in the course of what is now a 40-year run. Of all the first-generation punkers, he remains (with Patti Smith and possibly David Byrne) among the few who can claim the longevity and diversity of, say, Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, both of whom appear in this book. Like minds, perhaps, or water seeking its level. Either way, this is the company to which Costello belongs. And yet, if "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink" has anything to tell us, it is that its author remains a fan. Here he is, for instance, on his first experience singing with Paul McCartney, a rehearsal duet on "All My Loving": "I locked on to the vocal harmony the second time around, as I'd done a thousand times before while singing along to the record. It never really occurred to me that learning to sing either vocal part on a Beatles record was any kind of musical education. I was just a kid singing along with the radio in our front room." Or this, recalling a good-natured cutting contest, trading lyrics with Bob Dylan: "It was just fun to be in the ring with the champ for a minute or two." Read more

'City on Fire'

A long book represents an act of faith. On the writer's part, to be sure: The faith that he or she has something to say that's worth all the hours it will take for us to hear it, that it won't dissolve in ephemera and flash. But on the reader's part, also: The faith that we can trust the writer, that there will be a payoff, that it will add up. Certainly, this is the challenge faced by Garth Risk Hallberg's first novel, "City on Fire," which, clocking in at more than 900 pages, seeks to re-create, in panoramic fashion, the New York City of the late 1970s. Hallberg's book, of course, is much anticipated, for its length, its scope and its deal (he sold the book for $2 million) — but all of that is beside the point. The only criteria worth considering is whether, or how, the narrative works, the extent to which it draws us in. Read more

'M-Train'

First, let's clear up a misconception: Patti Smith's "M Train" is not a sequel to her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids." In fact, "M Train" is not a memoir at all, except in the loosest sense — a book of days, a year in the life, a series of reflections, more vignettes than sustained narrative. By saying that, I don't mean to be critical, for vignettes are what Smith does best. Read more

'So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood'

Patrick Modiano opens his most recent novel, "So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood," with an epigraph from Stendhal: "I cannot provide the reality of events, I can only convey their shadow." It's an almost perfect evocation of the book, not to mention Modiano's career. The French writer, who won the Nobel Prize last year for a body of work as deft and beautiful as any in postwar European literature, is an excavator of memory — not only his own or those of his characters (many of whom bear, as J.D. Salinger once observed of his fictional alter ego Seymour Glass, "a striking resemblance to — alley oop, I'm afraid — myself"), but also that of Paris. That's why his fiction resonates so deeply; it occupies an elusive middle ground between place and personality. Read more

'Bad Sex'

Among my favorite aspects of Clancy Martin's second novel, "Bad Sex," is that it is not about bad sex; in fact, the sex is relentless, passionate. Rather, it is about all the bad stuff sex — or sexual obsession — can make us do. Narrated by Brett, a recovering alcoholic who betrays her sobriety, and her marriage, for a yearlong affair with her husband's banker Eduard, the book records the spiral, the ripple effect, of transgressive behavior, the way that once we slip the bounds of propriety, it can be ever more difficult to find a passage back. Read more

Abzu’

There are peculiar stone structures in the shape of sharks throughout the game “Abzu.” They exist not to be investigated or warn of foreboding territory ahead. Instead, these objects are built for meditating. Have a seat, they beckon, and take in marine life. Play voyeur to a whale, a jellyfish, a shark or any number of undersea inhabitants. While “Abzu” is far from a documentary or a simulation, perhaps no other video game has ever been so singularly focused on re-creating the vast, majestic and mysterious nature of an aquatic universe. It does this with no voice, no text and no conflict. Your character in “Abzu” cannot “die” in the traditional video-game sense. Instead, the game centers on postcard-worthy imagery — swarming, silver schools of fish or sparkling green leaves or warm, orange coral — and Austin Wintory’s thoughtful, patient score. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

"Mirror's Edge: Catalyst." (EA Games)

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’

Imagine if the world were filtered through the home screen of a smartphone. Picture opening your eyes to an image overloaded with headlines and messages. Notifications no longer buzz, they flash before you. “Warning,” the display blinks in the lower right, “your bank balance is low.” This is the view of Faith, early in “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.” Having just been released from prison, Faith may not be happy with her financial prospects, but she definitely isn’t too keen with the sensory overload of this futuristic, uncomfortably modern society. “Is this what the employees see all the time?” she wonders. In the world of “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” there aren’t citizens so much as employees — workers for one of a handful of conglomerates that controls the world. You are identified not by your ethnicity or your interests but your job. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds'

Another long-standing Nintendo franchise gets spruced up. Like "Mario 3D," the look and controls are familiar, the tone is entirely new, as this action-adventure emphasizes smarts and exploration over tedious dungeon crawling. Read more

'Severed'

Early in the game "Severed," one of the more striking images you'll see this year in a video game appears. A woman of mixed-race descent stands before a mirror, her yellow dress bloody, her arm a stub and her eyes wide in shock. The world is bright and blocky — a handcrafted-looking universe that seems constructed of paper, but immediately the tone drifts toward melancholic. The art almost appears lifted from a Día de los Muertos display, and though this is the beginning of the journey for young Sasha, it also feels like the beginning of an end. Read more

'Late Shift'

Early in the film "Late Shift," Matt, a student on his way to a night job, faces an easily relatable dilemma: help a lost tourist with directions and risk being late to work or ignore the man and hop on a waiting subway train. Here is where you would expect director Tobias Weber to show the audience the outcome of Matt's decision as the story unfolds. Matt's choice, however, is up to you, the viewer. In fact, you control every major plot turn in the film. "Late Shift," created by CtrlMovie, a small studio in Switzerland, and written by Weber and Michael Robert Johnson, best known for Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," may be the world's first fully realized choose-your-own-adventure film. Read more

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood

The opening of Universal Studios' new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood brings to the West Coast what many consider the grandest theme park attraction in North America. A mix of fully realized sets — including a steamy, fire-breathing dragon — as well as screens interspersed with actors from the "Harry Potter" films, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a highly kinetic motion simulator that aims to re-create the sense of flying. Guests sit on what appears to be a bench, pull down an over-the-shoulder harness and are soon whisked into the air, gliding in and out of filmed moments and elaborately constructed scenes. Read more

Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City

A Few New Mobile Video Games

There are a lot of mobile games out there — last year more than 100,000 iOS games were released in North America. Here are a few recent mobile games worthy of exploration: "Love You to Bits" (Alike/Pati). Breakups stink. They're worse when your girlfriend is scattered around the galaxy. In this iOS game a young boy tries to put back together his first love, a female robot, and learns to live on his own along the way. "Story Warriors: Fairy Tales" (Below the Game). Tales such as "Snow White," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella" and more get remixed in this text-driven puzzler about a young woman who gets trapped in folklore. Tap on words to bring them to life, and piece together nouns and adjectives as if they're math problems, the right solution inspiring a cutesy animated sequence. "SPL-T" (Simogo). Swedish studio Simogo is one of the most adventurous companies out there, specializing in head-scratching, text-heavy games such as "Device 6" and "The Sailor's Dream." "SPL-T" is a back-to-basics puzzle game. In the black and white game, players place a horizontal line and then a vertical one, trying to create as many splits as possible. "Super Phantom Cat" (Veewo). Cats! Robots! "Super Phantom Cat" takes the weirdness of "Super Mario Bros.," gives it a zany feline-meets-sci-fi makeover, and uses slick touch controls to create a freshly retro experience. It's all delivered with a gooey feel-good message and some rainbow-hued prettiness. "The Swords." (Sunhead Games). Imagine a scene in an action movie, one in which one swordsman is surrounded by an army on all sides. Now imagine all the action is presented in a minimal ink wash art style. By zeroing in on the blades, "The Swords" emphasizes the chaos of battle. Swipe fast, and do so with precision. Read more

'Rocket League'

Dave Hagewood didn't set out to create the next big thing in electronic sports. Ten years ago he simply envisioned a game in which cars did crazy things. Cars with rockets on them. The result was the breakout independent game of 2015, "Rocket League." The key to its success was one simple addition to Hagewood's original vision: a giant, bouncy soccer ball. Thus, a zany game in which cars crashed into one another became something else entirely, a madcap sport. "Rocket League" has now reached more than 12 million players, with revenue topping $70 million. In late February, the game — already a hit on Sony's PlayStation 4 and computing platform Steam — arrived on Microsoft's Xbox One, where in less than a month it attracted more than 1 million players. Read more

'Fire Emblem Fates'

In my first 25 hours with Nintendo 3DS' "Fire Emblem Fates," families argued, attempts at flirting were rebuffed and relatives threw a fit over poorly cooked meals. Were it not for the swords and the spells and the half-fox/half-human, the game wouldn't be all that different from the last month or so of my life. Though there is sword and sorcery here, including a main character who has the ability to turn into a dragon, "Fire Emblem Fates" is really about family drama. In this case, it's about the pull of one's blood family versus the connection with an adopted one. Do you help the stepbrothers and stepsisters who always supported you, or the brothers and sisters you've only just met? The player's avatar, which can be male or female, was kidnapped at a young age and raised as a warrior prince/princess. Her (I chose a female avatar and named her Kes) adopted-but-criminal family took good care of her, and it's clear she's tight with her siblings. But her father — a.k.a. the king — is a monster. Read more

(Monica Wang Photography)

Reservoir

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, a new boutique has opened on Robertson Boulevard marrying East and West Coast style. Reservoir is the concept of New York City transplants Aliza Neidich and Alissa Jacob and features a well-edited mix of clothing, accessories and home goods with an easy sophistication made for L.A., including Ryan Roche hand-knit sweaters, Denis Colomb ponchos, Ellery sleek crepe dresses and tops, Solid and Striped denim jumpsuits, Madeworn tees, Newbark shearling slides, Dosa patchwork totes and Wendy Nichol fringed leather bucket bags. Read more

Reservoir, 154 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles

Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Other recommendations:

'Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897'

With famed film mogul Sam Goldwyn as her grandfather, Liz Goldwyn's family name is practically synonymous with old-school Hollywood glamour. But it's Los Angeles before it became the capital of the motion picture industry that's the subject of the style maven's new book, "Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897" (Regan Arts). The work of historical fiction looks back on the city's seedier past, with loosely connected stories about the madams, prostitutes, orphans, hustlers and tramps who roamed Alameda, Los Angeles and Spring streets. I chatted with Goldwyn about what drew her to this time period in L.A., her impressions of the book's rough characters, and what role women had in a culture where prostitution was tolerated. Read more

'Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe'

Ladies, the next time you are teetering on high heels, you can blame men. But not for the reason you think. In Western fashion, high heels were popularized by men, starting in the court of Louis XIV where a talon rouge (red heel), identified a member of the privileged class centuries before Christian Louboutin made red soles the calling card of his luxury shoe brand. That's just one of the tasty tidbits in "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe," an exhibition scheduled to run through Dec. 13 at the Palm Springs Art Museum that examines the fashion accessory we all love to hate, including its history, its relation to gender identity, sex appeal and power. Read more

Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs