Critics’ Picks: Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 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.
On TV, the creators of “Law & Order” produce “Cold Justice,” an unscripted true crime series. There’s a new exhibition of the art of Sam Francis, and “Rapture, Blister, Burn” gets laughs at the Geffen, but the most fun this weekend may be an outdoor screening of Alfred Hitchock’s “Vertigo” on Saturday night.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Short Term 12’
“Short Term 12” is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate. Named for the foster care group home for children under 18 where it’s set, “Short Term 12” is anchored by the generous and persuasive acting of Brie Larson as a staff supervisor. Much to the credit of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose two years of post-college work in a similar facility is key to the film’s verisimilitude, “Short Term 12” also took the audience award at both the L.A. Film Festival and South by Southwest. This is an accessible film that honestly earns every bit of its emotional impact. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Cutie and the Boxer’
There is a scene early in “Cutie and the Boxer” of 80-year-old Ushio Shinohara brushing his teeth, although attacking his teeth would come closer. It’s a small detail, but like many in Zachary Heinzerling’s remarkable documentary debut, a carefully chosen one. The director wants us to understand Shinohara is a fierce man. The avant-garde artist is know for his “action” painting — boxing gloves are indeed involved. As riveting as Shinohara is, the real artist the film is interested in is Noriko, Shinohara’s wife of 40 years, who had only recently picked up the brush again. Unlike her frenetic husband, Noriko, 59, is the rock in the relationship. Inky watercolors and soft brush strokes leaven the graphic comic-book style, telling the story of a pigtailed Cutie’s struggle with the Boxer. The film is an extraordinary testament to love, marriage and the artistic process — hard to know which is the most difficult. At Landmark’s Nuart Theatre for another week, it is already generating Oscar buzz. Read more
Bid goodbye to summer in style with a drive-in screening of "Vertigo," the Alfred Hitchcock film that's had an unprecedented trajectory. Dismissed on its original 1958 release, it has steadily risen in critical estimation to the point where it displaced "Citizen Kane" as the best motion picture of all time in Sight & Sound's recent poll of film critics worldwide. "Vertigo's" view of San Francisco might be the most elegantly spooky vision of an American city ever put on film, and no chance to see it on a big screen should be missed. More than that, the film showcases Hitchcock's ability to take two of the biggest stars of his day, James Stewart and Kim Novak, and use them to create as dark and deeply personal a scenario as anything that's appeared at Sundance. (Kenneth Turan) (Saturday) Read more
There is a kind of denial we cling to when it comes to wild creatures in captivity. As if the smiling, performing orcas of SeaWorld are content to trade freedom for fish and applause. “Blackfish,” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s excellent new documentary, should change that. The film's focus is on SeaWorld's Tilikum, whose attack on veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau led to her horrific death in front of a theme-park audience (most of that footage isn’t shown). “Blackfish” puts forth a powerful case for leaving these amazingly intelligent mammals in the wild. SeaWorld, which declined to be interviewed, and slammed the film before its release, does not look good. The story is built out of extraordinary footage of orcas — in the wild and in captivity — experts and former SeaWorld trainers. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
If you haven't seen 'Blue Jasmine," you've missed one of the summer's best performances. Fortunately there is still time to catch Woody Allen's bleakest drama ever. "She's Come Undone." The title of one of my favorite Wally Lamb novels about a woman over the edge kept running through my mind as I watched Woody Allen's new film, "Blue Jasmine." There's just no better way to put it. Jasmine, in such a paralyzing state of denial and played with such broken vulnerability by Cate Blanchett, is coming completely undone. Jasmine's unraveling becomes the conduit for a stinging ironic jab at the Bernie Madoffs of the world and their particular brand of greed. Jasmine was married to one of them, and the question of how much she knew is significant. Yet for all of "Blue Jasmine's" darkness, the movie is among the filmmaker's most emotionally affecting. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
If “Fruitvale Station” is not yet on your must-see list, it should be. This emotionally potent, true story of the Bay Area killing of a young African American man is a striking debut for writer-director Ryan Coogler. It is also a game-changer for Michael B. Jordan, who plays 22-year-old Oscar Grant with such nuanced complexity that there is already awards talk. Much has been written — and litigated — about who is responsible for those fateful final minutes of 2008 when a transit cop shot Grant at Oakland’s Fruitvale subway station. Coogler chooses, instead, to keep focus primarily on Oscar’s life, letting us get to know him. The director doesn’t soft-pedal Oscar’s flaws: his temper, prison time, job struggles. But the portrait also reveals a devoted father, an intelligent, funny and fundamentally kind man. Someone with a future needlessly cut short. It is too easy to forget the Oscar Grants of the world. Coogler is eloquent in expressing and assessing his loss. (Betsy Sharkey)
'In a World...'
Written, directed and starring Lake Bell, “In a World...” is a slight and exceedingly sly indie that is a very entertaining first crack at what one can only hope will be a long career behind the camera for Bell. As Carol, she takes us suddenly inside the cutthroat world of movie-trailer voice-overs. And the throat she might be cutting out of a coveted job could be Dad’s. The movie captures the natural — and unnatural — competition between parent and child both grubbing for the same morsel, particularly in Hollywood, where fame and fortune are on the line. The film is funny and endearing. Even with some rough edges, it's the most fun I've had at the movies this summer. I can’t wait to see what Bell does next. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'The Spectacular Now'
This culturally astute drama is spiked with enough comedy to make it splendidly intoxicating to watch. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, as high school seniors Sutter and Aimee, bring such an authentic face of confidence and questioning, indifference and need, pain and denial, friendship and first love, that it will take you back to that time if you're no longer there, and light a path if you are. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'20 Feet From Stardom'
This irresistible effort has just become this year's top-grossing documentary, and if you haven't seen it yet, this might be a good time to catch up before the deluge of fall films hits. Veteran director Morgan Neville has made a moving and joyous behind-the-scenes film about the world of rock 'n' roll backup singers. It's a universe filled with big, bold personalities and the music they make: When you say names like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer, you are conjuring up entire universes of sound. These women sing in a way that is transformative for us, and, it turns out, for them as well. Director Neville has made that rare endeavor that pretty much everyone is guaranteed to enjoy. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'The Way Way Back'
Readers flooded me with emails over the weekend; they couldn’t say enough about the new indie “The Way Way Back.” So I couldn’t resist saying a bit more too. Don't miss one of this summer’s pure pleasures. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the film is full of fun, family insights and just enough of a burn to keep things interesting. Its terrific acting ensemble includes Steve Carell, Toni Collette and a deliciously naughty Allison Janney. But go for the heart — Sam Rockwell as Owen, the cool dude who runs the local kid-magnet, a water park. Imagine Peter Pan nearing 40, in board shorts, a day-old scruff and a wicked wit and you’ve got Owen to a T. He’s particularly good with teen strays, and 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is the wounded cub who becomes his summer project. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
From “Law and Order” czar Dick Wolf comes a true-crime detective procedural. Playing a bit like reality’s version of “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Cold Justice” follows attorney and former Texas prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary as they travel through small-town America attempting to solve cold cases. The show is a stark reminder of how dramatically groomed and often romanticized scripted crime dramas can be. Instead of clever tales of elaborately covered-up crimes involving a carefully constructed array of canny and colorful characters, these deaths are tragically and brutally mundane, both victim and suspect often poor and marginalized. Neither are the re-investigations modern miracles of DNA testing or dramatically provoked confession. Instead, the “Cold Justice” team must diligently review imperfectly preserved files, interview witnesses and build their cases on common sense and circumstantial evidence. TNT, Tuesday. Read more
James Franco Roast
James Franco keeps busy in a way that troubles some people; he is perceived as a dilettante, a man whose reach – here, there and everywhere – often exceeds his grasp. “James Franco, acting, teaching, directing, writing, producing, photography, soundtracks, editing – is there anything you can do?” Natasha Leggero will ask in this already-filmed special, as the actor-cum-you-name-it is turned on a spit by some of his famous friends and a few people he knows less well, or possibly not at all. And yet, it is hard not to admire his go-for-it attitude. Life is short, and whether or not art is long (most of it is shorter even than a short life), you might as well do what you feel, however much the less lucky may deride you for it. And Franco’s side projects (all his projects are side projects, in a way) are not limited to arty overreach (short stories, painting); he’s also been on “General Hospital,” and not just as a walk-on. Now he has said yes to following the likes of William Shatner, Flavor Flav, David Hasselhof, Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump as the object of a Comedy Central roast. Hosted by Seth Rogen. Comedy Central, Monday. Read more
If there is any man alive who wears a jacket better than Idris Elba as Detective Inspector John Luther, I have never seen him. Not that Elba's looks should be the main reason to tune into Season 3 of this multilayered character study posing as a detective series from the BBC. The four-episode season airs in quick succession, which is exactly how I watched it, and I am forced to admit it is not the show's strongest season. As is so often the case with these "haunted policeman" series, Luther finds himself ever at odds with his colleagues and superiors despite the fact that he is the best they've got. Which gets a little tiresome. Still, I'd put a weak season of "Luther" up against strong seasons of many other shows, and the sight of Luther walking down the street with his fists in his pocket or getting out of a car and straightening his tie is a fine and satisfying way to spend an hour. (Mary McNamara) (BBC America Tuesday thru Friday) Read more
'The Daily Show' and 'Totally Biased with Kamau Bell'
Jon Stewart returns to "The Daily Show" this Tuesday (post-holiday weekend), having spent his summer working vacation as a first-time movie director. (See James Franco, above.) With all due respect to John Oliver, his more-than-able stand-in over the last several weeks, Stewart is the Dean of Fake News -- he has the gray hair, anyway. And though he was not the first host of this show, it is indisputably his. Another late-night topical-comedy talk show, "Totally Biased with Kamau Bell," also returns to the air after a break this week, moving from FX to the new FXX, the laffcentric FX offshoot that has an extra "X" in it, and going from weekly to daily in the bargain. Though they share certain aspects, including a cast of writer-"correspondents," there are of course great gulfs between them. Stewart, according to a recent report by TV Guide, is the highest paid host in late-night (and makes oodles more than non-fake-news anchors); Bell must be somewhere near the bottom of that list. (Robert Lloyd) (Comedy Central, weeknights; FXX, weeknights) Read more
After several years of playing peekaboo with her audience, Gillian Anderson, who first won your heart and mind as Agent Dana Scully on "The X-Files," is back with a vengeance (in a nice way). This year saw her return to American television (the homegrown sort) in a recurring role on NBC's "Hannibal"; next year will find her as a regular in the same network's midseason political thriller "Crisis." At present she may be found starring in this five-episode BBC series (miniseries? — you decide), available here only through Netflix. It finds her as a London police detective dispatched to Belfast to unstick a high-profile murder case, which she identifies as the work of a serial killer (Jamie Dornan, known here as the Huntsman in the ABC series "Once Upon a Time"). The series spends as much time with the killer as with the detective, and though it draws a lot of parallels between them (there is much visually resonant intercutting), it doesn't romanticize the villain or reflexively give the heroine feet of clay. (Netflix) Read more
I must have been about 17 when I first encountered the works of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse in a small collection I found in a used bookstore – I will explain "books" and "stores" to you another time -- they were just something we used to have, back in the 20th century. There is now a corner of my brain that is forever England, peopled with comical aristocrats, capable servants and colorful assorted others, their speech full of singular similes and metaphors and original figures of speech. ITV's six-episode "Blandings," which ran in the U.K. earlier this year and arrives here on DVD this week (another season has been ordered), adapts the second most famous of Wodehouse's creations, the Blandings Castle stories surrounding Clarence Threepwood, ninth Earl of Emsworth, his kin, butler and prize pig, the Empress of Blandings. (Robert Lloyd) (Acorn Media DVD) Read more
"Regular Show," the Cartoon Network cult item that isn't "Adventure Time," returns for a fifth season (which is not to say year — it debuted in 2010). Its cast: a blue jay, a raccoon, a kind of lollipop man, a Yeti with the voice of Lionel Stander (Mark Hamill, actually), a fat little green monster, Hi-Five Ghost (a video-game spook with a hand growing out of the top its body-head and a walking gumball machine, the boss of them all. (The characters live and work together in "a park.") For all its eccentricity, it seems the less original series; nevertheless, I recently watched a million episodes in a row — I think it was a million — and have come to like its unique and assured mix of slacker buddy-comedy, workplace sitcom (work-avoidance sitcom, better said), funny-animal cartoon and dimension-slipping monster movie. (Robert Lloyd) (Cartoon Network, Monday). Read more
‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’
To judge by appearances, Catherine is a roaring success. A celebrated New York academic who still fits into her skinny jeans, she’s dubbed the “hot doomsday chick” when she appears on Bill Maher’s program. Riding high in her career, this fortysomething feminist provocateur is a magnet for envy. She’s smart, she’s sexy, she’s independent. So why is she suddenly having a middle-aged meltdown, agonizing over her life choices and feeling bereft because she doesn’t have a husband and children? The age-old question about whether a woman can have it all is given a defiantly un-P.C. spin in Gina Gionfriddo’s bright comedy. The production, which stars Amy Brenneman as the outwardly formidable, inwardly shaky Catherine, reassembles under Peter DuBois’ direction the top-notch cast of the play’s off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons. (Charles Mcnulty) (Ends Sept. 22) Read more
'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'
Looking for a refreshing change from alfresco Shakespeare? Then you might want to consider a trip to San Diego's Old Globe for this metapharcical romp (to coin a genre) by Tom Stoppard, in which "Hamlet" is glimpsed through the oblique perspective of the prince's twin buddies, sent to spy on him by Gertrude and Claudius in that Elsinore castle of murder, adultery and occult intrigue. Thanks to Adrian Noble, the departing artistic director of the Old Globe's Shakespeare Festival, this madcap caper, which dresses Shakespeare in Beckettian clothing, is enjoying a sprightly revival. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sept. 26) Read more
'El Grande de Coca-Cola'
Prolifically produced for almost 40 years, this lunatic revue, set in a seedy cabaret somewhere south of the border and delivered mostly in gibberish Spanish, has been directed by Alan Shearman and stars Ron House, both of whom have been with the show, as writers and performers, since its inception. Formerly two acts, the play has been judiciously pared to a breezy 75 minutes — and the comic momentum never flags. Wearing a hairpiece that looks like a small animal in distress, House is the lynchpin of a superlative, marvelously agile cast. If you don't like broad slapstick, give "El Grande" a very wide berth. But if you're in the mood to get goofy and giggle, this could be your ticket. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Saturday December 14) Read more
'One Night in Miami...'
Although this well-appointed dramedy about what might have gone down in the Hampton House the night Cassius Clay became world heavyweight champion slightly overdoes the 20/20 hindsight, that doesn’t stop it from grabbing our imaginations. Director Carl Cofield keeps the action tautly entertaining, and his actors, who express rather than mimic their real-life counterparts, are first-rate. (David C. Nichols) (Ends September 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
'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 Tuesday, December 31) Read more
'The Taming of the Shrew'
This rip-roaring take on William Shakespeare's romantic comedy opens the 40th anniversary season at Theatricum Botanicum with marvelous forward momentum. Shrewdly trimming text without losing clarity or hilarity, director Ellen Geer achieves a gratifyingly straightforward triumph, and the fearless players embrace some merry passion at every turn, starting with inspired leads Willow Geer and Aaron Hendry. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sept. 29) Read more
'A View From the Bridge'
Arthur Miller's durable drama about an Italian American longshoreman's incestuous obsession with his orphaned niece is helmed by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, whose wrenchingly truthful staging, while larger than life, never lapses into overstatement. As for the actors, from Vince Melocchi's towering Eddie, the ill-fated protagonist of the piece, right down to the non-speaking bystanders, you simply won't see any better. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more
Musical obsessions are some of life’s great pleasures, and “Doris,” the latest album by Los Angeles rapper and Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt, 19, has lived in my car at huge volume for a month now. I’ll confess to crawling up next to cars blasting “Molasses,” a dubby, reggae-rolling jam co-produced by RZA and Christian Rich, sonic humble-bragging my way through L.A. I know the nooks and crannies of this baby — Earl rapping “new patterns, patty-caking with mannequins” while a spooky organ hums out a carousel melody on “20 Wave Caps,” for instance — and the moments of joy I’ve discovered are notable. Some are tiny but part of huge narratives: Of one weed-smoking character, Earl raps: “Kept the sticky in the Stussy pouch.” Autobiographical tidbits blossom with linguistically acrobatic lines. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: 'Psychic Temple'
As has been thoroughly documented, the past decade or so has not been easy for independent musicians, particularly for those with a taste for venturing outside typical bounds of rock and pop. Consider producer-musician Chris Schlarb, who at 36 years old has a wife, two kids and a full-time job as a short-haul truck driver that carries him around Southern California. “I’ve been working there off and on for about 10 years and what I’ve found is it ... allows me to think about music all day,” Schlarb said, speaking by phone while driving home in Long Beach. “Because I could -- and often do -- just turn the radio off and if a melody comes to me I can sing it into my phone. It allows me the freedom of thought, which is so important to me because my mind is always going.” In between job and family obligations, Schlarb also ran the indie label Sounds Are Active (which has released albums from local explorers Nels Cline and Anthony Shadduck), wrote the music for the Nintendo 3DS game “NightSky” and as well as recording on his own and as part of the experimental-jazz duo I Heart Lung. (Chris Barton) Read more
The Proms in London is the biggest event in all musicdom. It is advertised as the world's largest music festival, which it is. The first concert is Friday, and it runs nightly (with two programs some days) until Sept. 7. The breadth of this festival is, well, breathtaking in its scope, diversity and importance. All of Britain’s great orchestras and many of the world’s great musicians participate. But what makes the Proms really special is the accessibility, and that is whether you're in London or L.A. or anyplace else. Thanks to the BBC, which sponsors the Proms, every program is broadcast and streamed live, as well as archived for a week. The Beeb offers a player for live streaming. (Mark Swed) Read more
While working on her well-received 2012 album "Ekstasis," Los Angeles singer-composer Julia Holter crafted a song that was such a departure that she set it aside. The piece, "Maxim's II," was inspired by a famous scene in the 1958 movie musical "Gigi" and is one of the hubs of her striking new album, "Loud City Song." In the film, as the titular heroine very publicly moves through the fancy Parisian restaurant Maxim's with her scandalous beau, the entire room takes note. "Everyone's staring at her and gossiping about her when she walks in," said Holter while sitting on a park bench near Levitt Pavilion Pasadena. "I wanted to re-create this scene in a song." Five-plus minutes of swirling brass, strings, piano and Holter's cool, Chet Baker-suggestive vocal, "Maxim's II" variously suggests an avant-garde classical piece or Phil Spector's famous wall of sound being imploded. Cymbals crash, tenor and alto saxophones battle, and Holter ties it all together with a chaotic crescendo. The piece is a monumental construct and unlike any song you'll hear all year. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Dawn of Midi'
How, exactly, does one define Dawn of Midi? Composed of bassist Aakaash Israni, drummer Qasim Naqvi and pianist Amino Belyamani who have roots in Morocco, India, Pakistan and the fertile music program at CalArts, the group that is superficially a piano trio is far from anyone's definition of jazz with this album, which has a single, locked-groove composition that spirals through nine tracks and 47 engrossing minutes. The closest analogue may be the Necks, a category-defying Australian trio who built a following around long-form improvised sets. But where the Necks' sound features an in-the-moment ebb and flow, Dawn of Midi is dedicated to perpetual forward motion, a rigorously composed blend of minimalism and trance music. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album: 'My Favorite Picture of You'
Arguing the success or failure of a Guy Clark album at this point is like critiquing the aesthetics of an armadillo. The Texas-born, longtime Nashville singer, guitarist and songwriter, who over four decades has written songs recorded by Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Kenny Chesney and dozens of others, is a fact, a truth all his own. “My Favorite Picture of You,” his sturdy new album, sees the 71-year-old crafting lyrical works that, though drawn sparely and with great precision, reveal huge ideas. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'North Hero'
Never underestimate the power of the Midwest. Continuing a recent run of Minnesota-born jazz talent that includes guitarist Todd Clauser and the Bad Plus, bassist Chris Morrissey offers a snapshot of his inviting way with melody on the wryly titled “North Hero.” The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the album was also produced by Bad Plus drummer Dave King, a connection that stands to reason given Morrissey also performed with King’s limber Minneapolis-based project Happy Apple. With those kinds of connections you might expect Morrissey to have nimble chops, and he's also been heard backing the intricate indie rock of Andrew Bird along with fellow singer-songwriters Ben Kweller and Sara Bareilles. (Chris Barton) Read more
Reissue: 'Total Destruction of Your Mind'
Those not familiar with the iconoclastic soul artist Swamp Dogg might know him through his biggest hit, "Don't Take Her (She's All I've Got)," which hit the top five twice in the 1960s and '70s. If not for that, perhaps you've seen the singer, songwriter, producer, psychedelic soul music purveyor on some of the most surreal album covers of the 1970s. Dogg, born Jerry Williams Jr., also penned gems later recorded by Bob Dylan, Irma Thomas, Patti LaBelle and dozens of others. Williams will make a rare appearance at the Echo on Saturday night, where he’ll perform songs from throughout his career. The impetus? His tripped-out early 1970s albums “Total Destruction to Your Mind,” “Rat On!” and “Gag a Maggot” have just been reissued by label Alive Naturalsound, bringing back to life work that combined lyrics about politics, race and psychedelia through frantic early 1970s soul. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Big Sur'
Is there an artist as well-suited to record an album inspired by Big Sur as Bill Frisell? Having spent much of his long career working a fertile seam in the jazz world that shares ground with Americana and folk, Frisell and his often twang-dusted tone seems tailor-made for sweeping vistas and pastoral wonders. Stemming from a 2012 commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival, “Big Sur” is the result of Frisell holing himself up in a cabin at the 860-acre Glen Deven Ranch and writing music for wherever this natural muse took him. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album reissues: 'Hi Fi Snock Uptown' and 'Armchair Boogie'
The little-known troubadour Michael Hurley released his first record on Folkways in 1964 and over a long, wandering life has crafted melodic acoustic and lightly accented electric music as curious as it is catchy. His best two records, long cult classics, are “Armchair Boogie” (1971) and “Hi Fi Snock Uptown” (1972). They’ve just been reissued, and time hasn’t damaged them at all. Topics include a song about a would-be British nobleman in an insane asylum, an ode to black crows and, his best-known work, “The Werewolf,” a song about mental illness. “Twilight Zone” (embedded below) rages against depression with a desperate melancholy. Haunting and raw with gusts of free-spirited joy — the stellar sex romp of “Open Up,” for example — Hurley’s two records are at times peculiar but in the most human of ways. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Although it's been almost four years since Terence Blanchard's last album, it's not as if the trumpeter hasn't kept busy. In addition to the Poncho Sanchez collaboration "Chano y Dizzy," he's remained a first-call film composer (with Spike Lee's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" and George Lucas' "Red Tails" among his latest), and in his spare time wrote an opera, which debuts in St. Louis next month. Though Blanchard has no shortage of outlets, he still sounds overflowing with inspiration. Again surrounded by top-tier young talent, Blanchard is equally at home with the unsettled atmospherics of "Hallucinations" as with the hard-swinging "Don't Run," which features stirring guest-turns from Ravi Coltrane on soprano saxophone and bassist Ron Carter. (Chris Barton) Read more
Los Angeles burgers
The eyes of the world were recently focused on what surely must be the most repulsive hamburger in the history of mankind: 10,000 bits of cloned cow stem-cell tissue formed into a patty, seared in foaming butter and served to three food scientists in front of a crowd of decidedly unhungry journalists. If you would rather eat a hamburger than grimace at what your great-grandchildren might be forced to consider lunch, you can do better. Read more
101 Best Restaurants
If you take into account Los Angeles’ superb produce, its breathtaking diversity and its imagination, it can be one of the most pleasurable places to eat on Earth. What follows is a ranking of the best restaurants. How many have you tried? Where would you like to go? Create a list and share it with your friends. Read more
14 great Mexican restaurants
No places matches the breadth and depth of Mexican restaurants we have in Southern California, except Mexico City itself – and maybe not even there. You can find the cooking of almost every region in the country here, crafted at street-corner taco trucks as well as cutting-edge places like the new Corazon y Miel and Bizarra Capital. Here are Los Angles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s choices for 14 of the most essential places to try. 1. Babita: One of the most serious Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. Read more
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
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
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
Throughout his career — Sam Francis died in Santa Monica in 1994 at 71 — the artist engaged philosophical conundrums in paint. He was an avid student of Jungian psychology and Japanese aesthetics. Watercolor was his most-common choice of painting medium, whether in the conventional form used on paper or its popular 1960s canvas-cousin, acrylic paint. Fluidity is key to all his most successful series, starting with luminous examples from the 1950s made with thinned oil paint. It applies to the early 1960s orbs of expanding color in the “Blue Balls” works; the mid-1960s edge paintings, which use lush color only along the framing edges of the canvas while leaving the central area a bright, somehow muscular and visually aggressive white; and, the incredibly complex 1970s grids, in which crisp linear structure melds with oozing liquidity. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Jan. 5) Read more
American landscapes at LACMA
The subject of a yearlong, one-room permanent collection installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is 19th century American landscape art. The west wall has a spare lineup of all five LACMA paintings that show the American West, hung to create a continuous horizon line. The east wall is entirely covered, floor to ceiling and corner to corner, by a salon-style installation of 25 of its East Coast views. The face-off is stark between Eastern profusion and Western scarcity, the East Coast as unfolding history and the West as an elusive border. On the south wall in between, six photographs show Eastern landscapes, while 24 depict the West — a nearly exact reversal of the numbers in the two walls of paintings. Old and new landscapes are identified with old and new technologies: Paintings are "back there," photographs are "out here." (Christopher Knight) (Through Dec. 31.) Read more
James Turrell: A Retrospective
Light, the essential ingredient for sight, is Turrell's principal medium. Spiritual perception is his art's aim. The ancient metaphor of light as the engine of enlightenment is conjured in a modern way. (Christopher Knight) (Through April 6) Read more
Optic Nerve 13
Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve is one of my favorite alternative comics: smart, understated and with a subtle yet pointed bite. Merging straight realism with an impressionistic sense of narrative, his stories often seem to be offhanded when, in fact, they are highly structured and defined. As an example, look at “Winter 2012,” one of three pieces in the newly released Optic Nerve 13, a one-pager, told by way of 20 small panels, in which Tomine portrays himself as a Luddite, distressed by the indignities of the electronic age. Optic Nerve 13’s other stories include a long central piece, “Go Owls,” in which a woman meets an older man in a 12-step program and winds up in a relationship that becomes increasingly abusive and fraught, and the exquisite “Translated, From the Japanese,” a love letter from a mother to her baby that is among the most beautiful things Tomine has ever done. Read more
'Never Built Los Angeles'
When, in the 1920s, the pioneering Southern California social critic Louis Adamic called Los Angeles "the enormous village," he didn't mean it as a compliment. Rather, he was referring to L.A.'s insularity, its status as what Richard Meltzer would later label "the biggest HICK Town (per se) in all the hick land," a city of small-town values and narrow vision that "grew up suddenly, planlessly." A similar sensibility underpins "Never Built Los Angeles," a compendium of more than 100 architectural projects — master plans, skyscrapers, transportation hubs, parks and river walks — that never made it off the ground. Edited by former Los Angeles magazine architecture critic Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, West Coast editor of the Architect's Newspaper, and accompanied by an exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum, it's a lavish counter-history of the city as it might have been: a literal L.A. of the mind. Read more
'The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey'
"He who makes a beast of himself," Samuel Johnson famously observed about inebriation, "gets rid of the pain of being a man." And yet, if Lawrence Osborne's new book, "The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey," has anything to tell us, it's that there is more to drinking than derangement, that it may lead to a transcendence more profound. "The Wet and the Dry" is a paean to drinking, but it is also a travelogue unfolding largely through the Islamic states of the Middle East and a memoir of sorts, in which Osborne's upbringing, in "a steadfast English suburb" during the 1970s, becomes a lens through which to read his life. "The drinker knows that life is not mental and not a matter of control and demarcation," he argues. "The teetotaler, on the other hand, knows full well how even a molecule of alcohol changes body and mind. The Muslim, the Protestant puritan, and the teetotaler are kin; they understand the world in a very similar way, despite all their enormous differences, while the drinkers know that the parameters that contain us are not all human, let alone divine." Read more
'Men in Miami Hotels'
Charlie Smith's terrific new novel, "Men in Miami Hotels," walks a line between genre and something considerably wilder, a fictional territory where a character might lose his or her soul. The story of a Miami hoodlum named Cotland Sims, on the run from a brutal mob boss, it is both existential thriller and a book of homecoming, as Cot returns to Key West, where he was born and raised, to confront the living ghosts of his past. These include his on-again-off-again girlfriend Marcella and her husband Ordell (the county prosecutor), as well as his mother and his oldest friend from high school, a drag queen named CJ. To this mix, Smith adds an army of hired killers out to wreak vengeance on Cot, although their violence, while pervasive, ends up seeming almost incidental. Read more
'Return to Oakpine'
Ron Carlson's new novel "Return to Oakpine" revolves around a group of high school friends 30 years after graduation, in the small Wyoming town where they were raised. The book begins with a simple errand: A man named Craig Ralston is called upon to refurbish a garage apartment for his old compatriot Jimmy Brand, who is coming home to die. The year is 1999 and Jimmy is nearing 50, a writer who left home after high school, in the wake of a family tragedy. And yet, Carlson wants us to understand, we never escape the past, not even a little bit of it. In a town such as Oakpine, that can't help but bleed into the present, reminding us of old hurts, old longings, of who we were and who we never will become. This is the tension that drives "Return to Oakpine," between what we want to do and what we need to do, between our dreams and our responsibilities. Or, as Carlson observes late in this elegant and moving novel, "There was a vague lump in his throat that he had thought was excitement but now felt like an urgent sadness; actually it felt like both." Read more
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s haunting graphic novel “Genius” revolves around a physicist named Ted who was once a prodigy, before his priorities became realigned. Ted has two kids, and a wife who may be dying; do we need to say that he feels trapped, that his pressures have become too much for him? Still, Ted has one saving grace, which is his love for Einstein, who holds a place in his life akin to God. “I mean, I’m an atheist —” Ted explains, “most thinking people are — But Einstein is the pinnacle of a thinking man.” As “Genius” progresses, this relationship becomes increasingly prominent, until Einstein himself is animated in these pages, discussing the nature of the universe, the nature of discovery, and the essential notion that our lives are always in constant evolution, just waiting for that one idea, that one revelation, for everything to “start anew.” Read more
'The Faraway Nearby'
Rebecca Solnit's latest book, "The Faraway Nearby," began with a delivery of 100 pounds of apricots to her San Francisco home. The apricots came from her brother, who had collected them from a tree in their mother's yard. At the time, the older woman was in the throes of Alzheimer's; she had been moved into an assisted care facility, making the fruit a metaphor, an allegory, for everything that she had lost. First and foremost, this meant stories, which are at the center of "The Faraway Nearby," a book about narrative and empathy that moves between a dizzying array of tales — including "Frankenstein," the Arabian Nights and that of Solnit's own breast cancer scare — to look at the way stories bind us, allowing us to inhabit each other's lives with unexpected depth. Read more
Joe Ollmann's graphic novel “Science Fiction” is a minutely observed account of a relationship in crisis, from which there is (or might be) no way out. The setup is simple: Mark, a high school science teacher, and his girlfriend Susan, who works in a convenience store, rent an alien abduction movie that triggers what Mark decides are repressed memories of his own abduction years before. If this is difficult for Mark, it’s even harder for Susan because she can’t believe what he is telling her. Here we see the central conflict of “Science Fiction”: What happens when a loved one goes through an experience that is, in every way that matters, life-changing, and yet, we can’t go along for the ride? Read more
What makes Stephen King resonate for me is the way he can get inside the most mundane of situations and animate it, revealing in the process something of how we live. His new novel, "Joyland," operates very much from this territory: It's a drama that unfolds in miniature. The story of a college student named Devin Jones who spends the summer and fall of 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park, "Joyland" is a thriller but it's also a homage to the disposable culture of the early 1970s, a time when "oil sold for eleven dollars a barrel." What King is getting at is what he's always getting at, that life is inexplicable, that joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, are all bound up and can assert themselves at any time. Read more
Richard Lange's third book, "Angel Baby," is a thriller that makes its own terms. Beautifully paced, deftly written, it's a novel of moral compromise, in which we have empathy for everyone (or almost everyone) and no one at once. The story of Luz, who runs away from her husband, a Mexican drug cartel leader, and heads for Los Angeles, "Angel Baby" takes us into uncomfortable territory -- only partly because of its brutality. Rather, Lange effectively upends our sympathies by drawing us close to not just Luz but also Jerónimo, the reluctant enforcer sent to find her, as well as Malone, a San Diego County burnout who makes his money ferrying illegals across the border, and Thacker, a corrupt border cop. Read more
'Appointment in Samarra'
Fran Lebowitz has called him “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Ernest Hemingway said he was “a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well.” But mention John O’Hara today — 43 years after his death — and you’re likely to draw a look as blank as an unwritten book. Why? In part, perhaps, it’s because he was, by all accounts, difficult to get along with, a social climber, a bully, a vicious drunk. And yet, he also wrote three of the finest novels of the 1930s — “Appointment in Samarra,” “BUtterfield 8” and “Hope of Heaven.” Now, the first of these books is back in print: a tale of social success and social failure observed in precise miniature. Originally published in 1934, it unfolds over two days during Christmas 1930 and involves a socialite named Julian English, who is caught in a death spiral of alcoholism and bad behavior, as he loses everything he has ever held dear. Read more
When last we saw Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins, he had just lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu. This was in the closing pages of the 11th (and seemingly final) Rawlins book, “Blonde Faith,” published in 2007. Yet six years later, Easy is back, narrating a new novel, “Little Green” that picks up where “Blonde Faith” left off. It's 1967, and Easy must navigate a Los Angeles he barely recognizes in the wake of both the Watts riots and the Summer of Love. Read more
'Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers'
Janet Malcolm may end up best known for the line that opens her 1990 book “The Journalist and the Murderer”: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” The indictment is more powerful because Malcolm never renders herself immune. This sense — of the moral ambiguity of journalism — weaves through Malcolm’s new “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers,” a collection of pieces, most originally published in the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, that looks at both art and how art is received in the culture, which, in Malcolm’s view, is often less a matter of aesthetics than of style. Read more
‘The Last of Us’
“The Last of Us” is not your typical doomsday narrative. Zombie-like attacks aside, tension here comes from an underutilized game-play tactic: conversation. Dialogue is almost as plentiful as weapons in this patiently cinematic tale of a smuggler and the reluctant bond he forms with the 14-year-old girl he’s hired to protect. Developed by Sony-owned Naughty Dog, responsible for the hit “Indiana Jones”-inspired “Uncharted” series, “The Last of Us” acknowledges gaming clichés and then skillfully avoids them by keeping its focus on the relationship between Joel (the smuggler) and Ellie (the teen he watches over). It’s an action game, but one with characters worth fighting for. Read more
Video game critic
‘The Dark Sorcerer’
A short film and not a game, but one designed to show what next-gen console the PS4 may be capable of. Quanitic Dream, the Paris-based developer working on the patient narrative "Beyond Two Souls," concocted this fantasy-comedy as a way to illustrate that character depth and detail can be sustained over long scenes filled with gameplay. But forget the technical stuff — it's a cute little video about a film shoot gone wrong, with goblins. Though there are no plans to turn "The Dark Sorcerer" into a game, director David Cage said fan response may inspire him to change his mind. Read more
'Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move'
The minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don't stop and it's up to the player to control and tinker with the cubic paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. With 240 stages, there are a lot cubes. Read more
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
“Bohemian isn’t a trend; it’s a lifestyle.” That’s the motto upon which L.A. designer Cynthia Vincent has staked her decade-old brand, Twelfth Street, named after the street she grew up on in La Verne. The brand is known for its tribal print maxi-dresses and rompers, serape-stripe cardigans, rugged short Western boots and gladiator wedge sandals, all with a multi-culti, beach-and-canyon vibe. In a city where designers can come and go in a few seasons, Vincent is a fashion success story. She attended L.A.’s Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, winning the Silver Thimble Award while she was there. In 1993, she started her first line, St. Vincent. She also opened a retail store, Aero & Co. in Los Feliz, to feature local independent designers. Read more
Designer Natalie Martin has mastered the art of gypset dressing, L.A.-style. In two years, the Aussie transplant has emerged as a go-to for boho-chic styles, including breezy kurtas, tunics, wrap skirts and maxi dresses, all priced under $300, and all crafted out of colorful, Balinese block print silks. Martin has a background in fashion marketing, putting in years at Italian leather goods brands Tod's and Hogan. Her namesake collection, which is sold at Barneys New York, Calypso St. Barth and other boutiques, as well and on her own website, brings a touch of Bali to L.A. Read more
Charlotte Olympia opens in Beverly Hills
London-based accessories designer extraordinaire Charlotte Dellal has opened her first L.A. Charlotte Olympia store, a glamorous, Art Deco-feeling boutique at the top of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The decor is an ode to Old Hollywood glamour from the moment you step inside the door, where Dellal (who has the curves and finger-wave blond hairstyle of a 1940s starlet herself) has her own pink marble Hollywood Walk of Fame star set into the ground, with "Charlotte Olympia" etched inside. "It's celebrating Los Angeles from an outsider's point of view," said Dellal, who launched her whimsical line in 2006. "I guess it's not all about Hollywood and film, but I'm a nostalgic person and I have always loved Old Hollywood." Read more
Malibu Barbie gets a makeover
With her beach blond hair, cheeky tan lines and chic shades, Malibu Barbie has been a style icon for many a young girl, including this one. Now, more than 40 years after she first hit the pop culture wave, Malibu Barbie is getting a makeover, from Los Angeles designer Trina Turk. The mythical Malibu icon is the perfect canvas for Turk’s cheerful 1960s and '70s-inspired SoCal aesthetic. Turk dresses the doll in a printed bandeau bikini and hexagon white lace cover-up and accessorizes her head-to-toe with a beach tote, pink shades, short-shorts, a peasant blouse, floppy sun hat and white wedge sandals. She’s even got a chunky cocktail ring, pink cuff bracelet and a bottle of sunscreen. To add to the fun, Turk’s June 2013 fashion collection, titled “Malibu Summer,” features the same items for women, so life-size Barbies can dress like their miniature muses. Read more
2013 marks 30 years that L.A.-based designer Tadashi Shoji has been making elegant formal wear for the rest of us. He got his start in the glitzy world of Hollywood, creating costumes for Stevie Wonder and Elton John, and more elaborate gowns for the red carpet for Florence Welch and Octavia Spencer. But the bulk of Shoji's $50-million namesake business is in department store sales of tasteful, figure-flattering and wallet-friendly cocktail dresses and evening gowns ranging in price from $198 to $508 for women who want to feel like celebrities in their own lives -- prom queens, mothers of the bride and the brides themselves. I recently sat down with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what's next.n with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what’s next. Read more
In just seven years, Paige Mycoskie has turned a passion for 1970s nostalgia into the next California lifestyle brand. Walking into her Aviator Nation store on Abbot Kinney in Venice is like stumbling into a frat house with a feminine influence. Steely Dan, Doors and Grateful Dead album covers and vintage skate decks nailed to the walls, a record player spinning Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," a 720 Degrees arcade game in the corner, stacks and stacks of foam trucker hats, T-shirts and hoodies spreading good vibes like "Pray for Surf" and "California Is for Lovers."... It's such a sensory experience, you half expect your shoes to be sticking to the floor from last night's kegger. Read more
'The Great Gatsby'
Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is the fashion film of the year. The big-screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book features stellar costumes by Catherine Martin, who collaborated with Miuccia Prada on chandelier crystal cocktail dresses adapted from her runway archives, Tiffany & Co. on Art Deco-inspired jewelry and Brooks Bros. on striped regatta blazers and suits. It adds up to a dazzling slice of the high life in the Roaring Twenties, "a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today," Luhrmann told my colleague Adam Tschorn in his must-read story about the look of the film. Read more
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
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
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
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