Critics’ Picks: Jan 20 - Jan 26, 2017

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.

An animated film that premiered at Cannes, and the story of mastermind behind McDonalds, are on the big screen, and in music there’s a new video from singer and songwriter Cate Le Bon. Plus, did someone say “spicy food?”

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

"The Red Turtle." (Sony Pictures Classics / AP)

The Red Turtle’

A prize winner at Cannes, this immersive, meditative, stunningly beautiful animated feature is concerned with the rhythms of the natural world and the mysteries and wonders of ordinary life. Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

The Founder’

Michael Keaton gives a performance of ratty, reptilian brilliance as Ray Kroc, the American salesman who turned a California burger stand into the global fast-food behemoth that is McDonald’s, in John Lee Hancock’s shrewd and satisfyingly fat-free biopic. (Justin Chang) Read more

Justin Chang

Los Angeles Times Movie Critic

Fred Hampton. (Paul Sequeria / PBS)

The Murder of Fred Hampton: The Struggle Continues’

It’s the rare film that decades later can seem as timely as it was the day it came out. The searing documentary “The Murder of Fred Hampton” is such a film. Directed in 1971 by Howard Alk and Michael Gray, “Murder” contends officials conspired to cause the assassination of Fred Hampton, the charismatic young leader of the Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party, and what happened in the wake of the killing. A Jan. 29 screening at REDCAT will be followed by a panel discussion, “The Struggle Continues,” with artist Sam Durant, activist and educator Ericka Huggins and UCLA history professor Robin Kelley. Read more

REDCAT Theater, 631 W. 2nd St., downtown Los Angeles

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Adam Driver in "Paterson." (Mary Cybulsky / Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street)

Paterson’

Jim Jarmusch’s wonderfully serene and beguiling movie is a portrait of a young artist refining his craft, drawing impressions from his everyday existence and coaxing them into a pleasing and provocative shape. (Justin Chang) Read more

Justin Chang

Los Angeles Times Movie Critic

Other recommendations:

Kenneth Turan's Top 10 films of 2016

Because so many of the year's efforts were impressive I didn't hesitate to follow my usual practice of splitting choices and singling out a lot more than 10 films. My guide in these matters is once again Greta Garbo. "Don't be stingy, baby," she famously advised, and I've taken her words to heart. Read more

Justin Chang's Top 10 movies of 2016

To interpret cinema through the lens of current events has long been the critic’s prerogative, challenge and occasional Achilles’ heel. But by the end of a year like 2016, it also felt like an obligation. When the elegant, mind-bending sci-fi thriller “Arrival” opened Nov. 11, three days after the most painfully divisive presidential election in recent memory, it was widely embraced as a movie of the moment. Read more

'20th Century Women'

Mike Mills’ lovingly fictionalized snapshot of his late-1970s adolescence belongs to Annette Bening and her marvelously suggestive and layered performance. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Arrival'

Amy Adams stars in this elegant, involving science fiction drama that is simultaneously old and new, revisiting many alien invasion conventions but with unexpected intelligence, visual style and heart. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Elle'

Paul Verhoeven’s brilliantly booby-trapped new thriller starring Isabelle Huppert is a gripping whodunit, a tour de force of psychological suspense and a wickedly droll comedy of manners. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Toni Erdmann'

Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek give splendid performances as a high-strung businesswoman and her screw-loose dad in this magnificently unpredictable comedy from the German writer-director Maren Ade. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Jackie'

Star Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy and director Pablo Larraín brilliantly pull back the curtain on one of the most public of private lives. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'La La Land'

Starring a well-paired Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, writer-director Damien Chazelle's tuneful tribute to classic movie musicals is often stronger in concept than execution, but it's lovely and transporting all the same. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Manchester by the Sea'

Powerful, emotional filmmaking that leaves a scar, Kenneth Lonergan's drama starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams is both heartbreaking and heartening, a film that just wallops you with its honesty, its authenticity, and its access to despair. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Neruda'

Pablo Larraín's intoxicating puzzle of a movie is less a straightforward biopic of the great Chilean poet (played by Luis Gnecco) than a rigorous and imaginative investigation of his inner world. Read more

'Paterson'

Jim Jarmusch’s wonderfully serene and beguiling movie is a portrait of a young artist refining his craft, drawing impressions from his everyday existence and coaxing them into a pleasing and provocative shape. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Silence'

Martin Scorsese's wrenching adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel, about 17th century Portuguese priests experiencing a crisis of faith in feudal Japan, ponders the dogmas and mysteries of Christian faith with astonishing rigor and seriousness. (Justin Chang) Read more

Ken Todd Freeman, left, Louis Hynes, Joan Cusack and Malina Weissman. (Joe Lederer / Netflix)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’

Written by Daniel Handler under the pen name Lemony Snicket and appearing from 1999 to 2006, the 13 books gathered together under the title “A Series of Unfortunate Events” tell the story of the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, and their search for peace and security in the aftermath of their parents’ death, as the wicked Count Olaf, a self-styled “ac-tor,” attempts to steal their fortune. In 2004, the first three volumes became a feature film, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” starring Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. Some fans of the books — which here means “the writer of this review, among others” – found it disappointing. Now comes “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” the eight-episode Netflix series, premiering Friday the 13th, with Neil Patrick Harris as Olaf and Patrick Warburton as Snicket, who narrates retrospectively from within the story. I have no complaints and only praise. The only question is whether to savor or to binge. (Professionally, I had to binge; but I would advise you to take your time.) (Netflix, Anytime) Read more

Robert Lloyd

Television critic

Other recommendations:

Best on TV in 2016

New series I loved in 2016, in no particular order: "Baskets" and "Atlanta"; "Insecure"; "Better Things"; "Stranger Things"; “Crash Course: Philosophy”; "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee"; "The Good Place"; "Berlin Station"; "Lady Dynamite" and “Dice"; "Easy" and "High Maintenance." Read more

Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris and Sterling K. Brown in "Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3."

Best theater of 2016

In a year in which a woman won the popular vote and almost became president of the United States (I’m doing glass half-full here), female theater artists galvanized our stages. The producing landscape is still far from a level playing field, and the fight for equality undeniably suffered quite a few setbacks during the ugly election season, but all the more reason then to celebrate these theatrical triumphs. Read more

Charles McNulty

Theater critic

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in "The King and I." (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The King and I’

This tour of the Tony-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical, which recapitulates Bartlett Sher’s stunning original staging, features Laura Michelle Kelly as the elegant but scrappy Anna, Jose Llana as the comically poignant King of Siam, and a mother lode of classic tunes, rendered with brio by an exceptional cast. If you’re at all a fan of classic American musicals, this particular production is a joy – a real gift that proves a bracing pick-me-up in trouble times. Ends Saturday, Jan. 21. Read more

Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

F. Kathleen Foley

Theater reviewer

Other recommendations:

'Bakersfield Mist'

Based on an actual incident, Stephen Sachs' delightful and provocative comedy pits a boozy Bakersfield trailer dweller who has supposedly discovered an authentic Jackson Pollock at a local thrift shop against the intellectually snide art expert who has been sent to evaluate her find. In this reprise of his 2011 production, Sachs, who also directs, has once again cast delightful husband-and-wife acting team Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett as surprisingly equal adversaries in his intellectually well-balanced dialectic. For those who missed the production the first time around, this is a welcome opportunity to redress that oversight. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sun., Feb. 26) Read more

The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.

Cate Le Bon. (Andrew Benge / Redferns)

Video ‘Rock Pool’

In the new video for “Rock Pool,” singer and songwriter Cate Le Bon mixes filters and effects that recall 1980s public access cable with jump-cuts and repetitive edits of the artist maneuvering her body, and the result suggests a kind of Kodachrome mysticism. Scoring the sequences is a song that moves with a punky clunkiness that makes each measure wobble. Music pros might call it an amateurishness, but across “Rock Pool” and the three other tracks on her new EP, the Welsh expat living in L.A. delivers durable songs that touch on Brill Building majesty and ring as true as anything you’ll see on the charts. Read more

Randall Roberts

Pop music critic

The Los Angeles Master Chorale in "Tears of St. Peter." (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The best classical music performances of 2016

Yuja, Mirga, Mahler, Lenny, Louis, Luis and more. A year of the naked, the dead and the saved. The young and old and forgotten. A year in which 10 won’t do… Read more

Mark Swed

Music critic

Other recommendations:

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

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." (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. (Mikael Wood) Read more

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. (Todd Martens) Read more

"Jungle curry lamb rack" Jitlada Thai restaurant. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

6 Great Restaurants for Spicy Food

Spicy food is glorious stuff, particularly in times of duress or when the weather is unreasonably chilly or when you’ve misplaced that bottle of Double Chicken Brand Sriracha you still keep in your bag. So which restaurant to head for when the need for a dose of chiles calls? Here are a half-dozen places around town where what’s on the menu can blow both your mind and the Scoville scale. Read more

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Chef Jonathan Whitener. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s Looking at You

Here’s Looking at You is a corner bistro from Jonathan Whitener and Lien Ta on the site of a former cheesesteak shop, all Edison bulbs, neo-midcentury cabinetry and a blend of post-punk and old-school hip-hop that has become to this kind of restaurant what Sade and David Byrne’s Brazilian compilations were to the last generation. Whitener comes to Here’s Looking at You from a stretch as chef de cuisine at Animal, the meaty, eclectic restaurant that redefined Los Angeles cuisine. And it is easy to see traces of Animal in Whitener’s cooking. Read more

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

Everson Royce Bar

Everson Royce Bar isn’t really a restaurant. To be fair, it doesn’t even try to be a restaurant – the word Bar is in its name. When you glance at the menu, the food takes up slightly less real estate than its shortlist of shots, and if you are a drinker of a certain bent, your attention is likely to linger on the sherry-cask Japanese whiskey than it is on the shrimp roll and the chicken thighs. Beard Award-winning chef Matt Molina is more or less serving regular bar snacks here, but superbly well, like the kitchen equivalent of a band like Metallica doing a covers set just because it can: steamed buns with pork belly, smoked potato taquitos, shrimp rolls and flaky, extra-rich biscuits with maple butter that happen to be about the best things it is possible to eat with bourbon. Read more

Everson Royce Bar, 1936 E. 7th St., Los Angeles

Gus’s Fried Chicken

You’re probably going to want to try Gus’s Fried Chicken. Because it’s pretty remarkable stuff, even in chicken-obsessed Los Angeles: a burnished red-gold, pieces bigger than they are small, whose peppery heat at first seems mild, even nonexistent, until it starts creeping up a few bites in, a heat that makes you glad you have a pint of sweet iced tea by your side. You may be thinking of Nashville hot chicken, the kind you can stand in line for at Howlin’ Ray’s in Chinatown, but this isn’t that — you don’t worry whether you’ve renewed your life insurance after a wing or two, and the crunch, although considerable, is of a completely different sort. Classic Nashville chicken has a complex, multilayered crunch that maintains much of its integrity even after a day or two in the fridge. Gus’s chicken is more of a batter-fried phenomenon, with a thin, fragile crust that shatters under your teeth, releasing a flood of scalding juice. Read more

Gus’s Fried Chicken, 1262 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles

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

Kettle Black

Kettle Black is a new Italian restaurant from Beau Laughlin and his team, who also own Sawyer and the juice bar Clover on the block. The chef is Sydney Hunter III, who has been cooking in Los Angeles for 15 years or so, many of them at the right hand of Ludovic Lefebvre. Hunter’s Italian cooking is sure but eccentric, hewing to no particular regional cuisine and slightly edgy in its way, favoring a sweet-sour flavor palette, lots of crunch, and chiles used as much for fragrance as they are for heat: pizza, good handmade pastas, and fat purple slices of Japanese eggplant passed through the fire just long enough to add a bit of smokiness. Read more

Kettle Black, 3705 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Tempura Endo

There has never been a tempura restaurant in Los Angeles quite like Tempura Endo, the first American branch of a Kyoto, Japan, institution that dates to 1910. The restaurant occupies a modest storefront next door to a Japanese knife shop and right by a rental car yard. The location, although it is in the Beverly Hills triangle, has never been noted for fine dining – I remember a sushi bar that seemed really to specialize in sukiyaki. Tempura Endo is the other kind of tempura bar – an exquisitely expensive place that exists to serve intricate omakase dinners, well-calibrated multi-course meals presented with the detail and attention to seasonality of kaiseki, the lightness and purity you might not associate with two hours of deep-fried food. Read more

Tempura Endo, 9777 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills

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

A detail from Edme Bouchardon, "Self-Portrait." (Getty Museum)

Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment

His work nudged the visually delightful excesses of Rococo art toward the more sober gravity of Neo-Classicism.The only fragment of the artist’s extravagant monument to Louis XV that remains intact is the last object at the end of this enlightening exhibition. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, April 2) Read more

The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Lucas Cranach the Elder, "The Pharaoh's Hosts Engulfed in the Red Sea (detail)," 1530. (LACMA)

Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach’

LACMA’s show does an excellent job of translating 16th century German culture into a revealing 21st century exhibition. The museum has a reputation for organizing important shows of German art, mostly from the modern era, and “Renaissance and Reformation” impressively extends the range. Ends Saturday, March 26. Read more

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

Christopher Knight

Art critic

U.S. District Courthouse. (Mark Boster/ Los Angeles Times)

Architecture’s top 10 for 2016

This was a year in which Los Angeles shook off some ambivalence about its own status as a dense, tall, post-suburban city — and in which the profession of architecture continued to embrace, reassess and excavate its own history. It was also a year in which architecture critics, thankfully, saw enough completed high-profile buildings — after several years in which the aftereffects of the 2008 crisis kept that supply low — to consider putting more than one on their year-end lists. Read more

Christopher Hawthorne

Architecture critic

U.S. Courthouse Downtown

The $350-million, 633,000-square-foot federal courthouse, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, between Hill Street and Broadway, across the street from The Times, is an unusually polished work of civic architecture — especially by the standards of Los Angeles, where well-wrought public buildings have been comparatively rare in recent decades. Ten stories high, with broad shoulders and careful posture, it takes the form of a cube sheathed in walls of glass. Read more

Christopher Hawthorne

Architecture critic

Other recommendations:

Naotaka Hiro: Peaking

'To make many of the works in this thoroughly captivating show, Hiro wraps himself in canvas, drawing and painting the surface from inside. A video (made with camera held in the artist’s mouth) records the creation of one large piece, capturing the exertions of Hiro’s breath and the motions of his hands as he marks the interior of his private cave, his second skin. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Jan. 28) Read more

The Box, 805 Traction Ave., Los Angeles

Yui Yaegashi: Fixed Point Observation

At a time when those who shout loudest seem to get more attention than those who speak softly, it’s refreshing to come across whisper of an exhibition at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery. The Tokyo-based painter’s first solo show in Los Angeles fills the large rectangular space with the kind of silence that lets you know something important is taking place (David Pagel) (Ends Sat., Jan. 21) Read more

Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, 1326 S. Boyle Ave., Los Angeles

'Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like a Lady?'

The artist’s installation is an unabashed love letter to African American women. A two-channel video projection plays in a dim space furnished in the style of a 1970s living room and lined with large, silk-screened portraits of prominent entertainment figures: Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross, Pam Grier, Naomi Sims. It is a celebration of black women asserting and defining themselves through media; it is also a powerful statement about the intersection of gender and race. (Sharon Mizota) (Ends Feb. 6) Read more

Toba Khedoori

Nothing rests easily in Khedoori's work, its drama typically tamped down — even in a romantic, wall-size painting of billowing black clouds. They hang in the air, a pregnant pause, quietly setting a stage for something momentous to happen. Khedoori starts with a primary paradox of art, in which an image is also an object. Playing with contradictions intrinsic to Modernist painting, she comes up with enchanting, unexpected hybrids. (Christopher Knight) (Through March 19) Read more

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction

McLaughlin’s painting retrospective is the most moving and viscerally beautiful exhibition to be installed in BCAM since the building opened eight years ago. This is the first time a major institution has mounted a proper, full-scale retrospective. That such an indispensable painter didn’t merit one until 40 years after his death tells you all you need to know about how passed over this brilliant artist has been. In fact, I’ve been waiting those same 40 years for it. Ends Sunday, April 16. (Christopher Knight) 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

Playstation VR. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Playstation VR

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

Todd Martens

Video game critic

"Virginia" (MCT)

Virginia’

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

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

Nintendo Switch

The Wii U era is over. On Thursday morning, Nintendo unveiled its new console, the Nintendo Switch. Long code-named the Nintendo NX, the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid of sorts. The system, which will use cartridges rather than discs, will work with television sets. But it also will allow for portable use — a home gaming system that will work in the family room and on the go. 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

'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

'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

'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

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

(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