What to do this weekend in L.A. Critics Picks: Jan 19 - 25, 2018
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.
“Paddington 2” charms on the big screen; in music, a daughter channels her father’s rock legacy in her new album; and Jonathan Gold predicts culinary trends for 2018.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Everyone’s favorite Peruvian-born, London-based bear is back, this time facing off against a nefarious stage actor (Hugh Grant) in this beautifully structured and executed comedy from director/co-writer Paul King. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Written and directed by Scott Cooper and powered by a dynamic trio of interwoven performances by Christian Bale, Wes Studi and Rosamund Pike, this latest example of the western revival grabs you by the throat and holds on for the duration. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
Building and improving on “The Force Awakens,” writer-director Rian Johnson’s grand space opera is the first flat-out terrific “Star Wars” movie since “The Empire Strikes Back,” full of dramatic echoes of George Lucas’ original trilogy but also rich in surprise and imagination. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
“The Post” goes against the contemporary Hollywood grain. Propulsive major studio cinema made with a real-world purpose in mind, it’s a risky venture that succeeds across the board. Prodded into existence by Steven Spielberg, one of the few filmmakers capable of making the studio system do his bidding and of persuading major players like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to go along with him, “The Post” takes on a particularly counterintuitive subject. That would be the Washington Post’s 1971 role in publishing what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret 47-volume, 7,000-page Department of Defense study of the war in Vietnam that exposed all manner of official prevarications and outright lies extending over the terms of four presidents. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘The Shape of Water’
Magical, thrilling and romantic to the core, a sensual and fantastical “Beauty and the Beast” tale with moral overtones, Guillermo del Toro’s film plays by all the rules and none of them, going its own way with fierce abandon.(Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Call Me By Your Name'
Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer give superb performances as two young men falling in love in the northern Italian countryside in this rapturously beautiful collaboration between director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory. (Justin Chang) Read more
'The Disaster Artist'
James Franco's shrewd, affectionate and frequently hilarious comedy re-creates and deconstructs the making of Tommy Wiseau's cult landmark “The Room,” with Franco giving a fully committed, even haunted performance as Wiseau. (Justin Chang) Read more
As warm as it is smart, and it is very smart, this portrait of a high school senior year marks actor-screenwriter Greta Gerwig's superb debut as a solo director and yet another astonishing performance by star Saoirse Ronan. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'
Uncommon writer-director Martin McDonagh and a splendid cast toplined by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell present a savage film, even a dangerous one, the blackest take-no-prisoners farce in quite some time. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘David Bowie: The Last Five Years’
“Doctor Who” may have got its global premieres synchronized, but it took a year for “David Bowie: The Last Five Years,” a film about Britain’s other great cultural spaceman, to make it to the United States. Francis Whately’s film, which premiered in the U.K. in January 2017, arrives on HBO near what would have been the singer’s 71st birthday and the second anniversary of his death from liver cancer. Not much has changed in that time, of course, at least as concerns us here. Bowie still feels essential, necessary and oddly present — a useful example, the global legend as inspirational outsider. This is briefly a sad story — he dies in the end — but it isn’t a tragic one. Read more
Army scientist Frank Olson plunged to his death from a Manhattan hotel window in 1953. The authorities deemed it a suicide. His son contends he was murdered by the CIA. Director Errol Morris examines both possibilities in painstaking detail — exploring Eric Olson’s lifelong obsession with discovering the truth surrounding his father’s mysterious death — in “Wormwood,” a six-episode docu-series streaming Friday on Netflix. In Morris’ hands, it’s as much a true-crime whodunit as a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, replete with covert, Cold War-era CIA operations, chemical and psychological warfare, government espionage and state-sponsored murder. The results are a mixed bag of gripping narratives and thinly sourced theories, firsthand accounts and cinematic re-creations, exhaustive research and flagrant conjecture. Read more
As viewers of HBO’s “Oz” and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” know, few actors glare quite as effectively as Chris Meloni. Gruff and intense, Meloni could have built a solid career as a character actor solely by playing square-jawed tough guys and chiseled men of few words. But something was clearly awakened in him in 2001, when he costarred in the cult comedy “Wet Hot American Summer” as Gene, the gruff and intense summer camp chef whose best friend was a can of vegetables. Thus, in addition to later roles in relatively straightforward dramas like “Underground” and “True Blood,” Meloni has become a reliable source for a uniquely taut and wild-eyed brand of weirdness in comedies such as “Wonder Showzen,” “Veep” and now “Happy!,” a new action-comedy series that arrives Wednesday on SyFy. Here he portrays Nick Sax, a fallen ex-cop turned conflicted but very adept hit man who would probably be described as “a Chris Meloni type” even before you’re introduced to his eventual costar — a small, pale blue flying unicorn, voiced by comic Patton Oswalt. Read more
'The Crown,' Season 2
The story of Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown” provides plenty of ‘50s and ‘60s nostalgia when it returns Friday. But it’s the eloquent depictions of governing protocol, diplomatic decorum and a leader who puts country above self-interest that lends the series a new relevance. Season 2 of the award-winning royal drama arrives with high expectations as it follows the story of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth (Claire Foy), from 1956 to 1963. The 10-episode season does not disappoint as it advances the narrative of a young queen — grappling with limited political power, immense cultural influence and a fraying marriage — into the second half of the 20th century. (Lorraine Ali) (Netflix, any time) Read more
‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’
Sexism and empowerment are the main themes throughout “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a ‘50s-era comedy drama about one woman’s metamorphosis from pampered Upper West Side housewife to raunchy stand-up comedian in bohemian New York City. We know the setting well now thanks to “Mad Men” and every other midcentury-obsessed show that followed — the furniture was streamline exquisite, people smoked on planes and sexual harassment was as prevalent as pencil sharpeners around the office. Look how far we have, or haven’t, come. (Lorraine Ali) (Amazon, any time) Read more
‘I Am Not a Comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce’
In this meticulously researched solo biography tracing the life and prosecution of the groundbreaking early 1960s comic provocateur, actor Ronnie Marmo and director Joe Mantegna offer subsequent generations not only a sense of who Bruce was but more importantly why he mattered. Through March 28. Read more
A big change can knock any couple out of alignment. For Alice and Fiona, the change goes to the very core of their identities. In her late 20s and several years into the relationship, Fiona reveals that she feels she’s a man. With insight and humor, British playwright Jon Brittain charts the pair’s journey as they rediscover who they are in this Olivier Award-winning play. Michael A. Shepperd crisply directs a perceptive cast. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sunday, Jan. 28) Read more
Album ‘Dearest Everybody’
Before Inara George was a musician, she spent four years as the daughter of one. Well respected today in Los Angeles pop circles for her solo work and for her many collaborations — including the Living Sisters and the Bird and the Bee — George wasn’t even 5 when her father, Little Feat frontman Lowell George, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1979. The tragedy — Lowell was only 34 — went some way toward defining Inara’s childhood, says the singer, who grew up in Topanga Canyon with her mother. As she began writing her own songs, though, Inara became determined to establish a presence outside her father’s legacy. On “Dearest Everybody,” her fourth solo album, George, 43, finally turns her attention to the death of the man known for founding one of rock’s cleverest, most idiosyncratic bands. Read more
Pop Music Writer
For Taylor Swift, love — or the idea of it — has always represented a refuge, an escape, a shelter in a storm. When she emerged, just over a decade ago, romance was a means of lifting herself out of the too-smallness of high school; later, its enduring promise cushioned her after any number of messy breakups. Swift’s idealizing impulse resonated with fans, who were using her music the same way she was using her imagination, and she quickly became one of the biggest and most closely observed pop stars on the planet. Now, on her sixth studio album, “Reputation” love is an antidote to the celebrity she so doggedly cultivated (and then fumbled as soon as everyone was watching). Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album ‘The Thrill of It All’
Who is Sam Smith kidding? “Every time you hurt me, the less that I cry,” he sings, vowing to guard his fragile heart, in “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the gospel-inspired opener from his new studio album, “The Thrill of It All.” But if there’s anything this young British soul star has made clear since he emerged five years ago, it’s that he’ll never, ever run out of tears. Read more
Pop Music Writer
Tim Buckley recordings
In early September 1969, the dynamic singer and songwriter Buckley played three nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. A tireless explorer influenced more by Nina Simone than Bob Dylan, he was accompanied during the gigs by himself and musicians playing a Fender Rhodes electric organ, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and congas. Reissue producers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas recently unearthed a bounty of tapes from those three nights in September, some of which already had been mined for an earlier concert recording, “Live at the Troubadour 1969.” The results of their effort can be found on “Greetings From West Hollywood” and “Venice Mating Call,” which come out Oct. 13. the two new releases, the former available on LP and the latter on compact disc, present wondrously remastered, previously un-issued versions from those Troubadour nights. (Randall Roberts) 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
Box set: ‘Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981’
Bob Dylan’s so-called Christian period in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is the focal point for the next installment in the ongoing “Bootleg Series” of archival releases, with the deluxe box set featuring eight CDs and one DVD that bring to light a raft of live recordings from his tours of that era along with previously unreleased studio takes. “Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981,” due Nov. 3, explores in unprecedented depth the trio of albums he recorded after delving deeply into Christian theology: “Slow Train Coming” (from 1979), “Saved” (1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981), a trilogy that sparked as much debate over Dylan’s direction and relevance as his dramatic shift from acoustic folk music to electric rock ‘n’ roll a decade and a half earlier. (Randy Lewis) Read more
Song: 'Soft Collar Fad'
The first song from the stellar L.A. punk band No Age’s first studio album in four years rips into its riffs like a pitbull into a rib-eye. Over the past decade the duo, Dean Spunt (drums) and Randy Randall (guitars), have helped redefine L.A. punk for a new century, adding its own distinctive washes of noise and melody into a mess of hardcore distortion. “Soft Collar Fad” is as unyielding and aggro as anything the two have done. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Long-Awaited Album'
During more than a half-century as an artist and entertainer, Steve Martin has consistently pushed and prodded at the boundaries of many an art form. And he’s doing it again with “The Long-Awaited Album,” his fifth collection of original music in the last eight years. (Randy Lewis) Read more
Album: 'Gone Now'
Five years ago, Jack Antonoff reached an audience of millions thanks to “We Are Young,” the Grammy-winning No. 1 single by his band Fun. And this week he’s likely to do it again with Friday’s release of “Melodrama,” the highly anticipated Lorde album that he co-produced with that young New Zealand pop star. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Album: 'Joan Shelley'
Amid today’s onslaught of breaking news notifications, it’s comforting to know that this Louisville singer and songwriter’s brand of pastoral beauty is out there. Shelley’s new self-titled album continues her focus on earthen themes that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago when another Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe, was romanticizing them: love and desire, dawning and fading light, natural beauty and the delicacy of emotion. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'You Don’t Own Me Anymore'
The third album from Muscle Shoals, Ala.-reared sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers (the Secret Sisters) shows no hint of anyone going Hollywood. Here, they’ve turned to Brandi Carlisle to co-produce with brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth after being guided on their previous two efforts by their mentor, T Bone Burnett. If anything, they’ve stripped things down further with hauntingly spare arrangements of songs that revel in Southern Gothic themes, which soar through their exquisite sibling harmonies. (Randy Lewis) Read more
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." (Mikael Wood) Read more
Jonathan Gold’s top 10 L.A. food trend predictions for 2018
1. Women in the kitchen Not so long ago, female-led kitchens in Los Angeles were so common as to seem almost unremarkable, and the era when the best restaurants were presided over by the likes of Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Evan Kleiman, Dominique Crenn, Lydia Shire, Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger, Suzanne Tracht, Odette Fada, Sossi Brady, Monique King, Xiomara Ardolina, Genet Agonafer and Josie Le Balch, among so many others, was among the greatest in the history of American cooking. The history of new California cooking to a certain point was the story of women’s cooking in the state, and a chefs’ cookbook shelf without the works of Kleiman, Goin, Alice Waters and Judy Rogers is not really a shelf at all. Read more
The new Marché Moderne has all the accouterments of a grand modern restaurant, the vast open kitchen and the oversized flower arrangements; the enormous bowls of crushed ice holding Champagne; the heavy Laguiole steak knives and the vintage red Berkel, the ‘50s-era meat slicer that every chef knows is the most glamorous way to shave transparent curls of meat from a well-aged ham. Important courses are rushed to the table in gleaming copper saucepans, which most of the customers have probably priced out at Williams-Sonoma. Tablecloths are ironed and white. The high, beamed ceilings are of the sort you might expect in an Aspen ski chateau. Most of the customers valet park although there is free strip mall parking literally three steps away. Read more
Jonathan Gold’s 10 best dishes of 2017
I’m wondering whether there has ever been a dining year quite like 2017 here in Los Angeles. The most interesting new kitchens seemed to be either in fantastically expensive tasting menu restaurants or in food courts; they stock their wine lists with either dreary classics or puzzling natural wines; and fill their pantries with farmers market vegetables or the product of their own backyards. Some of the best food came from what marketing people call brand extensions, others from the world of haute cuisine. As always, inspiration came from nearly every part of the world. Can 2017 be summed up in 10 dishes — 10 dishes that don’t happen to include well-done steak, double ice cream and Big Macs inhaled in silence? We’ll try. Read more
Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants 2017
Let us address the spaceship in the docking port here — not everybody is going to be ecstatic that we are naming Vespertine the best restaurant in Los Angeles. The entire experience at Vespertine, from the lack of right angles in the dining room, to the throbbing four-note soundtrack, to the overwhelming abstraction of the food, to the stunning cost of dinner, is going to drive many of you insane. Yet looked at as an artwork, where the architect Eric Owen Moss, the ceramicist Ryota Aoki and the musicians in the post-rock band This Will Destroy You are as vital to the experience as the chef, Vespertine is in its way perfect. Read more
Sari Sari Store
I have stopped by Sari Sari Store five times in three days, and I’m not sure if I should be admitting this to you or to a therapist. My colleagues and I have probably adored Sari Sari Store a little too much lately, partly because we’re as likely to become crushed out on a new restaurant as a 14-year-old is on the latest Zayn track, and partly because the idea of a Filipino-style lunch counter run by République’s Margarita and Walter Manzke is just too much, especially in downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market. Read more
If you gaze long into Nothingness, or at least into the San Gabriel Sichuan restaurant of that name, the Nothingness that stares back at you is likely to include steamed whole fish, braised lamb with jelly noodle, and pig feet with hot pepper. The steam rising from hot pots may suggest an infinite void, but only for that moment before the vivid red of the roiling broth becomes visible through the mist. Also, I imagine the empty world does not smell quite so strongly of garlic and toasted chiles. Why is there something rather than nothingness? Because the presumption of nonexistence does not allow for the possibility of live crawfish steamed in chile sauce, while Nothingness the restaurant does. Does existence precede essence? I haven’t read a lot of philosophy since college, but I maintain that the snap of the shell, the softness of the flesh, indicate that it probably does. Read more
A juane is an unusual dish in the Peruvian repertoire, a huge, overstuffed tamal from the headwaters of the Amazon, a kind of combo meal made in its area of origin as a convenient takeaway lunch for travelers. Juanes take their name from John the Baptist — the bulging roundness is said to resemble the severed head of the saint on a plate — and they are often served on his saint’s day. When wrapped in the traditional bijao leaf, the late chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi wrote, it looks a little like a hobo’s bundle on the end of a stick. You can stow almost anything in a juane before you boil it — rice and chicken, yuca root, plantains, hearts of palm, ground peanuts, sometimes boneless fish. At Rosaliné, the buzzy new Peruvian restaurant on Melrose, Ricardo Zarate makes his with chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs and pork shanks. Bijao is a little hard to find in California, so he steams everything in banana leaves. Read more
Favorite dishes from Food Bowl 2017
I’m not sure what you’ve been doing this month. I’ve been spending most of my evenings at the first edition of Food Bowl, The Times’ month of food events that’s been a welter of special dinners, film screenings, art displays, farmers market events, visiting chefs from some of the best restaurants in the world, panel discussions on everything from Filipino cooking to sustainable seafood to the problem of food waste, and a vast night market in the glow of City Hall. I’ve mourned dozens of dinners and events I was unable to attend. And I’ve eaten really well. Read more
Pizza, as every New Yorker is fond of telling you, is the food of the people; cheap, tasty sustenance sold by the slice. But in Los Angeles, pizza has another dimension, as anyone who has ever considered dropping six grand on a custom pizza oven can attest — in certain circles a wood-burning Italian-made behemoth is as necessary as a fire pit or a screening room. Famous pizza virtuosi make regular stops at the homes of talk show hosts and sitcom auteurs, who know that a perfectly made Margherita is worth its weight in osetra caviar. Pizza is also the food of the rich. Daniele Uditi, chef of the chic Brentwood pizzeria Pizzana, earned his bones at his family’s bakery near Caserta, the buffalo mozzarella capital of Italy, and in Naples, home of modern pizza, before he moved to Los Angeles. He probably became well known when actor Chris O’Donnell rescued him from a dead-end restaurant job and hired him to cook for him and his friends. Uditi’s pizza was a poorly kept secret, even among a lot of people who don’t run in Hollywood circles — he was regularly touted as a celebrity chef in Italian newspapers. So it became almost inevitable that he end up with a Brentwood restaurant of his own, in partnership with O’Donnell, wife Caroline O’Donnell, and Candace and Charles Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes. People line up for hours outside Pizzana’s blue, tiled dining room. Read more
Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant
Have you stopped by Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant? Because it’s kind of wild on a Sunday afternoon, a world of head scarves and bright dresses, skinny suits and skullcaps, and children dumbstruck at the massive piles of sizzling black-pepper beef. The green-onion flatbreads — every table has one! — are as big as birthday cakes, and when you pick up a wedge you can see dozens of strata. Crisp shards of beef short ribs, cut laterally and thin in what Korean restaurants call “L.A. style,” are stacked 6 inches high. The air is heady with garlic and cumin, burnt chiles and charred meat. The tables are set with forks — you have to ask for chopsticks. Jamillah Mas’ cooking is hearty and full flavored, spicy except when it isn’t, and unafraid of excess. Read more
Best art in 2017: Our critic’s top 10 exhibitions, plus one very big worry
Good things of course continue to happen in museums — in L.A., most notably, the Getty-funded initiative to underwrite a slew of exhibitions of Latino and Latin American art, the emergence of the long-sleepy California African American Museum as a lively destination and the announcement that a museum will be built at UC Irvine specifically to trace the development of California art. Here, in chronological order of their openings, are the 10 best museum exhibitions I saw in Los Angeles this year. Read more
Best architecture in 2017: In a tough year, plenty of highlights
This was a year that saw building booms continue in several American cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, along with backlashes against those booms from homeowner groups and others. It was marked by a return to basic, even stoic architecture after a couple of decades of flamboyant form-making. It was a year — above all — in which crises like homelessness and climate change seemed to outpace any and all efforts to keep them in check or even, depressingly, to get a firm sense of their true scale. All the same there was no shortage of highlights. Despite the challenges and debacles of 2017 — and there were plenty — keeping this list to 10 seemed to me tougher than in years past. Read more
Kukuli Velarde: Plunder Me, Baby
Pitch-perfect satire, Velarde’s work is both outraged and deliciously outrageous. The Peruvian-born, Philadelphia-based artist co-opts the forms of Pre-Columbian ceramics to issue a postcolonial manifesto about identity and integrity. The show, part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, is withering, wacky, and brilliant. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sun., Feb. 11) Read more
Ross Rudel: OO
Rudel’s sculptures, mostly in wood, slip in and out of familiar categories (biology, botany, cosmology) but are decisively palpable. Impeccably made, they are as physically precise as they are metaphorically expansive. Their oddity and beauty haunt, confound, fascinate. (Leah Ollman) (Through Jan. 31)
Toshio Shibata: Japanscapes
Shibata studies places of contact, where we have altered the earth, and finds there opportunities for reflection, wonder, awe. Beauty, in his work, is inclusive, and purity a matter of compositional elegance rather than rarefied subject matter. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Saturday, Jan. 20) Read more
Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell
This show, the Los Angeles artist’s first full survey, could serve as the Pacific Standard Time poster child, so vividly does it fulfill the Getty initiative’s mission to flesh out the plot and diversify the cast of characters in the art history of Latino Los Angeles As a Latina, lesbian and large-bodied woman, Aguilar personifies representational neglect. In more than 130 photographic works, mostly portraits and self-portraits, she stirringly examines identity and belonging, the friction of unworthiness and the peace of self-acceptance. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sat., Feb. 10) Read more
Video games often help define new entertainment frontiers, be they interactive, immersive or centered on virtual or augmented realities. Yet “Cuphead” resurrects a few nearly forgotten advances — namely the lost art of hand-drawn animation and the abandoned joy of big band jazz. Though the fast-paced and brutally difficult action game looks to bygone eras, its everything-old-is-new-again tone doesn’t exactly feel retro. By channeling the insanity of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Silly Symphonies” and the surreal but rough-around-the-edges work of Fleischer Studios, “Cuphead” possesses an anything-goes childlike weirdness with a sinisterly adult edge. Read more
Video game critic
Some of the most popular modern fairy tales are played rather than told. Ustwo’s “Monument Valley” spun a story about a quiet princess — Ida — who worked, often alone, to restore a colorful, geometric habitat, one inspired equally by the meticulously designed illustrated architecture of M.C. Escher as well as the joy of optical illusions. Since its release in 2014, that experience has been downloaded more than 30 million times. Gray feels confident that “Monument Valley” succeeded in its mission statement. Now the design firm is back with a new game, one that once again wants to shift the mainstream awareness of what games can — and should — accomplish. On Monday, Ustwo unveiled “Monument Valley 2,” a sequel that aims to take the calm and abstract shapes and ruins of the first title and inject even more emotional depth. Read more
Video game critic
The Nintendo Switch
Not since the debut of its original Nintendo Entertainment System has the Japanese company released a home video game console with as much potential to shake up how we play as the Nintendo Switch, which is out Friday. Thirty years ago, Nintendo reinvented the video game medium. Not only did the NES lead to such genre-defining interactive entertainment as “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda,” but it also liberated games from the arcade and brought them to the American living room. Where they could increasingly be played for hours, days, weeks, months. Rather than intense, cliffhanger-like action that demanded the next 25 cents, home games had pace, tempo and rudimentary stories. They were also accessible — no obscenely pricey home computer or trip to a teenage-infested arcade needed. The Switch takes that livability to another level. It is a home video game console that’s connected to a television. But it’s also a hand-held device designed for ultimate mobility. And at least one of its games barely requires the use of a screen at all. Read more
I’m Batman. I’ve waited years — since the release of 1989’s “Batman” — to say those words and mean them. Considering that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life writing rather than building a superhero’s physique, it seemed unlikely, save for Halloween, that such a day would come. This year we saw the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, which makes it possible to put on a pair of goggles and disappear into a digital landscape — as long as you have a high-priced, top-of-the-line computer. Now with Sony’s PlayStation VR, an add-on to the PlayStation 4 so many of us already have hooked up to our TVs, virtual reality is coming to the masses. Read more
The opening screen of the new Variable States video feature "Virginia" welcomes players to a small town named Kingdom. It's laid before us as if it were a board game, with little trails leading to a cave or a gas station, a schoolyard or an observatory, all presented with the simple, cheery look of a brightly filled-in coloring book. Come in, stay awhile and bask in the beauty of small-town life, it seems to say. Press play, however, and things get twisted, and not with the typical things-are-not-what-they-seem subversion. Read more
'No Man's Sky'
Fourteen minutes and 54 seconds. I'm on a distant planet, and I need to get to my spaceship. Yet "No Man's Sky" is telling me that the vessel is a 14-minute, 54-second hike away. So I settle into the couch. But after three minutes of strolling through a salmon-colored rocky surface — and admiring some lavender plant life — I need a break, perhaps for good. This was the second time in one week I had quit "No Man's Sky." That's because there's another, more important number to mention when it comes to discussing "No Man's Sky": 18.4 quintillion. That is, there are more than 18.4 quintillion planets to discover in "No Man's Sky." You will not live long enough — here on Earth, that is — to collect them all. Read more
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