Critics’ Picks: July 10 - July 16, 2015

Critics’ Picks: July 10 - July 16, 2015

Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.

This week: Those lovable “Minions” make mirth at the movies, the cable drama “Masters of Sex” gets busy for a third season, and a new photography show at the Hammer puts the focus on composition.

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

An image from "Cartel Land." (The Orchard)

Cartel Land’

If the key to price in real estate is “location, location, location,” the key to success in vérité-style documentaries is “access, access, access.” Which is what “Cartel Land” has in compelling amounts. Like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the hellish morass that is the drug war in Mexico has resulted in numerous documentaries, including such recent efforts as “Narco Cultura” and “Western.” “Cartel Land” is one of the most involving (and a double prize winner at Sundance) because of where it’s managed to go and what it’s managed to show us. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

"Minions." (Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures via AP)


Who doesn’t love the minions? Nominally devoted to evil but also, to borrow a phrase from Raymond Chandler, cute as lace pants, these capsule-shaped and overall-wearing creatures are so appealing that even those not wild about “Despicable Me” found them difficult to resist. But could these wacky wayfarers carry an entire movie on their own, or would they be doomed to eternal second-bananahood, relegated to supporting tacky villains who lacked their ineffable effervescence? Now “Minions” the movie is here, and the news is good. Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Amy Winehouse. (Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times)


It is the achievement of Asif Kapadia’s accomplished, quietly devastating documentary on the gifted British singer Amy Winehouse that it allows us to live the abbreviated life of this troubled and troubling individual right along with her. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Joseph Cotten, left, and Orson Welles in "The Third Man." (UCLA Film and Television Archive)

The Third Man’

A film of brilliant pieces that coalesce into a superb whole, “The Third Man” is back in the best shape of its life. The film appears in the new 4K high-resolution version that was the toast of Cannes, the first restoration of this Carol Reed-directed, Orson Welles-starring thriller since its release in 1949. Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Other recommendations:

Pixar's 'Inside Out'

Pixar stands alone, and "Inside Out" shows you why. At once sophisticated and simple, made with visual magic and emotional sensitivity, casually probing deeper questions about what matters in life, "Inside Out" typifies the best of that cartoon colossus. It goes not only to places other animation houses don't dare, but also to places the rest of the pack doesn't even know exist. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'The Farewell Party'

This Israeli film not only thinks the unthinkable, it laughs at the unlaughable. Nominated for 14 Israeli Academy Awards, this is a gentle but pointed work, a warm and comic film about an unmistakably serious subject, the end of life itself. (Kenneth Turan) (In Hebrew with English subtitles) Read more


Spy reteams writer-director Paul Feig with his "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat" star Melissa McCarthy in an affectionate sendup of globe-hopping espionage movies. With strong support from Jason Statham and Rose Byrne, "Spy" may not be a great movie, but it is great fun. And at times it will have you wondering if there's that much of a difference. (Mark Olsen) Read more

'Testament of Youth'

Star Alicia Vikander sweeps you away in this passionate World War I romantic drama based on Vera Brittain's celebrated memoir. Unapologetically emotional and impeccably made in the classic manner, it tells the kind of potent, many-sided story whose unforeseen complexities can only come courtesy of a life that lived them all. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'The Wolfpack'

"The Wolfpack" is very much the documentary of the moment, showered with all kinds of media attention. And no wonder. Winner of Sundance's Grand Jury Prize, it tells the emotionally potent story of six brothers raised on movies and rarely let out of their New York apartment. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen in "Masters of Sex." (Michael Desmond / Showtime)

Masters of Sex’

Now entering Season 3 and the year 1966, William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) are poised to publish and, at least as we the modern audience know, become household names. “We are the sexual revolution,” Virginia retorts, in answer to an early and seemingly critical question from the press, and she isn’t kidding— Masters and Johnson provided the scientific credibility and underpinnings of modern attitudes toward sex and sexuality. Early episodes of the new season, however, are more interested in the mundane than the meta. 10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime. Read more

Mary McNamara

Television critic

Other recommendations:

'The Crimson Field'

While PBS has been trumpeting "Poldark," the series that follows it on Sunday nights is just as good if not better. Three young volunteer nurses arrive in France during World War I, fleeing their old lives and determined to do their duty. Kitty (Oona Chaplin) chafes against the rules and protocols that Rosalie (Marianne Oldham) is happy to embrace, while the naive Flora (Alice St. Clair) must come to grips with the realities of war and soldiering. (Mary McNamara) (10 p.m. Sunday, KOCE) Read more

'The Strain'

The old-fashioned clunkiness of this vampire pandemic tale, though jarring at first, remains its greatest charm. Let other shows wallow in metaphor and sweaty illuminations of the human condition, "The Strain" is about good versus evil, dammit (and, perhaps, the ascendancy of Staten Island). The blood-sucking virus continues to, um, worm its way into the general population, while the absurdly tall and red-eyed Master conducts his, er, master plan, with the aid, of course, of an effete former Nazi (Richard Sammel) and an equally loathsome old capitalist (Jonathan Hyde), who now has a comely companion. (Mary McNamara) (10 p.m. Sunday, FX) Read more

Daniel Bess and Jordan Monaghan in "Picnic." (Karianne Flaathen)


William Inge’s 1953 Pulitzer-winning study of one eventful Labor Day in Eisenhower-era Kansas receives a solid, well-appointed revival at Antaeus Theatre Company. Director Cameron Watson locates subtle grace notes and spatial placements that quietly illuminate the characters’ motivations, aided by smart designers and an excellent cast. (David C. Nichols) (Ends this Sunday, Aug. 30) Read more

Antaeus Theatre Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

David C. Nichols

Theater reviewer

Other recommendations:

'As You Like It'

As part of Theatricum Botanicum's Americana-themed summer repertory season, Shakespeare's pastoral comedy is reset in the post-Civil War Deep South, an overlay that shrewdly amplifies themes of land and loyalties divided; the outdoor Topanga Canyon backdrop is an ideal fit — you can't improve on scenic design by Nature itself. (Philip Brandes) (Through Sept. 26) Read more

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga

‘The Gospel at Colonus’

It’s fairly unusual for a 30-plus-year-old experimental theater piece to remain trenchant, affecting and exhilarating at once, but that’s the ecstatic, incisive case with Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s celebrated 1983 mash-up of Greek tragedy and African American church service in its magnificent Ebony Repertory Theatre revival. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Oct. 4) Read more

Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.

'The Homecoming'

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos and his superb cast nail the arcane subtexts in Harold Pinter's creepily brilliant play about a womanless tribe whose atavistic longing — and loathing — for a female newcomer to their midst trumps all familial considerations. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Through Oct. 4) Read more

Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice.

'A Permanent Image'

Rogue Machine Theatre's deftly crafted production of this early play by Samuel D. Hunter boasts wonderful performances by Anne Gee Byrd, Tracie Lockwood, Ned Mochel and Mark L. Taylor. The play itself, in which an adult brother and sister return to their childhood home for their father's funeral, is a fairly typical dysfunctional-family drama: too much liquor triggers face-offs and revelations. But the pleasure of watching the fine cast sends this technically exceptional production into another stratosphere. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Mon., Sept. 7) Read more

Rogue Machine, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.

'Recorded in Hollywood'

Though not without new-show quirks, Matt Donnelly, Jamelle Dolphin and Andy Cooper's fervent, thoughtful musical study of legendary record store Dolphin's of Hollywood and its visionary founder is interesting, entertaining and frequently thrilling, perhaps the most promising new musical the 99-seat arena has produced since "The Behavior of Broadus," if not "Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara" and seems poised to go the full, "Jersey Boys" meets "Memphis" commercial distance. (David C. Nichols) (Through July 26) Read more

Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.

Olivia Chaney. (Ellen Nolan / Nonesuch)

Album: ‘The Longest River’

On its surface, the debut album from the British folk singer Olivia Chaney, released in April, is a simple affair. Featuring her graceful hand-picked acoustic guitar and piano work and a small backing band of strings and bass, “The Longest River” highlights an artist with a voice in harmony with rich traditions and eager to add her own pure-toned phrased accents. Below the surface, though, lay grim complications. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Randall Roberts

Pop music critic

Other recommendations:

Album: 'Platform'

The San Francisco-based Holly Herndon is a singular artist whose productions blend layers of electronically manipulated voice with beats, noise, sibilant textures and filtered sound to create eardrum-tickling joy. On her second album she manages to sound both futuristic and steeped in history. In her work on "Platform" are echoes of voice-and-sample experimenters from decades past, including Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Nobukazu Takemura and Bjork. But Herndon explores elsewhere. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'Traveller'

It's easy to imagine masses in sold-out arenas bellowing all the words to "Fire Away," the crawling country blues track that's one of many highlights of this debut album from Chris Stapleton. Or, for that matter, most of the album. A sturdy, no-nonsense collection of 14 electrified country songs about empty whiskey bottles, broken hearts, lapses of faith and getting stoned because the whiskey bottle is empty, the record is a straight-talking, unflinching look at trouble and its occasional resolution. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'California Nights'

Of all the cultural archetypes that Southern California has produced, the loosely defined genre known as "beach music" is one of its most enduring. That sunny, harmony-rich, melodically spirited permutation is the rope connecting artists as varied as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, the Go-Gos, Snoop Dogg, Mazzy Star and No Doubt. Over the last few years that sound has ridden a wave into the present through the work of Best Coast. The duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno move further toward mastering the vibe on their third studio album, "California Nights." (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'Carrie & Lowell'

Over his decade-plus as a working musician, Sufjan Stevens has tackled a range of impressively big-ticket projects, including a series of album-length odes to states in the Union, a giddy, joyous dance-rock record called "The Age of Adz" and multimedia art projects. His roots, though, are as a guitar-based songwriter, the kind searching for beauty amid strummed chords and counterpoint arrangements. "Carrie & Lowell" are the real-life names of Stevens' late mother and stepfather, so these 11 songs have an autobiographical tint to them, even if Stevens has long played with fact and fiction (see his mysterious "Concerning the U.F.O. Sighting Near Highland, Illinois") and avowedly does so throughout. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Courtney Barnett

To describe this Australian artist's new release, "The Double EP: A Split of Peas," as the product of a "singer and songwriter" is to suggest something less menacing than she is. Barnett's got a great way with lyrics and hooks, packing a lot of information, for example, into "Canned Tomatoes (Whole)," about a former neighbor/lover. "David" takes a basic blues pattern and turns it into a bouncy, insistent piece on the many reasons why the titular ex-boyfriend is getting the boot. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'Vulnicura'

In the opening measures of Björk's new album, "Vulnicura," the Icelandic artist offers a direct statement of purpose, one involving personal upheaval she describes as "a juxtapositioning fate." Mentioning "moments of clarity as so rare, I better document this," Björk directs her gaze in that first song, "Stonemilker," on the dissolution of a relationship. As she does so, what can be described only as Björkian strings and beats swirl around her. These drifting arrangements soar through tracks like birds spinning circles in prairie skies, even as the experimental pop singer, 49, lyrically crawls through the brush below in utter confusion. At times devastated, others baffled, still others strong and determined, the artist on "Vulnicura" offers nine songs, six of which move in chronological order through that juxtapositional end and beyond. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Thick-cut prime beef tongue. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)


Kinjiro, the most elegant izakaya in Little Tokyo, is in the Honda Plaza at the far end of the neighborhood, in the space most recently inhabited by the offal-intensive izakaya b.o.s., which closed last fall, and to a casual observer it may seem basically unchanged. Owner Jun Isogai still prowls the front of the house, controlling reservations and engaging his customers in long conversations on the provenance of the sake. Yoshizaku Kondo, the sous-chef at b.o.s., is behind the stove. The lines are nowhere near as long as they can be at Sushi Gen or the excellent shabu-shabu parlor Kagaya, also in the plaza, but they don’t have to be. If you don’t have a reservation, you will most likely not be allowed past the door. Kinjiro may be relatively democratic, but it is also quite small. You are not the only one with wasabi-flavored potato salad on his mind. Read more

424 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Burritos de birria. (Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

Burritos La Palma

We are all familiar with the celebrity chef. What may be more elusive is the concept of the celebrity taco — a taco so well known that it has managed to work its way into the general consciousness even of people who may have no idea of its form, provenance or location. The galbi taco is one of those — it managed to bubble its way up into the culture long before most of us had ever seen a Kogi truck — and so is the crunchy shrimp taco at Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. Guisados’ tacos toreados probably fall into that camp, as does the B.S. Taqueria taco with lardo and clams. But the celebrity taco of the moment may not even be a taco at all — it is the burrito de birria at Burritos La Palma in El Monte, a small burrito that is for all intents and purposes a taco. Read more

5120 Peck Rd., El Monte

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:


When you stroll south down Cahuenga from Hollywood Boulevard, you run into tattoo parlors, neat mobs of people gathered outside anonymous velvet ropes, and bad-decision bars not quite decadent enough to make it into Thrillist listicles. A DJ spins dated electrofunk records outside the Jamaican taco truck adjacent to the occult supplies store. Tourists suddenly realize they're not on Vine. It's not a bad block if what you're after happens to be espresso or 24-hour pancakes, but it also may be the last place you might expect to find a sleek new restaurant from a chef with Mélisse on his résumé and a knack for foie gras, a bottle of Alsatian Riesling or a plate of grilled corn with mascarpone and summer truffles. Yet there you'll find Birch: matte gray exterior, blond wood tables and monkfish tikka masala hiding under airy slabs of pappadum. Read more

Birch, 1634 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood

B.S. Taqueria

Have you heard about the taco with lardo and clams? In some circles it seems as if all anybody talks about is the taco with lardo and clams, which is the improbable specialty of B.S. Taqueria, a cocktail-oriented restaurant implanted into the carapace of the former Mo-Chica in downtown L.A. Because from the moment you spot the clam-and-lardo tacos, which at some point will be decorating the table of nearly everyone in the dining room, you know they are unlike anything else in even this taco-obsessed town. (Jonathan Gold) Read more

514 W. 7th St., L.A.

Odys + Penelope

Odys + Penelope, the modern-primitive grill from Quinn and Karen Hatfield, feels as if it has been around for decades, all stripped brick, raw wooden rafters, and an open kitchen that dominates the far end of the restaurant like a proscenium stage. The restaurant smells good, like herbs and campfires, meat and liquor. The most emblematic dish here is the well-aged sirloin cap, that star of the Brazilian churrasceria menu; the most unexpected dish, probably the gigantic applewood-smoked short rib, is a close cousin to the beef ribs in the best central Texas barbecue pits. The Hubble telescope studies mysteries less profound than crisp yet friable perfection of the rye crust on Karen Hatfield's chocolate pie. Read more

Odys + Penelope, 127 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles


If you want to understand Asanebo, the sleek Japanese restaurant at the heart of Studio City's sushi bar strip, you could do worse than to look at the tiny dish of chawanmushi there, the inevitable beginning to one of the long, multi-course omakase meals that are the restaurant's reason for being. You will find a curl of ruddy sea urchin roe, the sweetly austere stuff shipped in from Hokkaido instead of the lusher Santa Barbara uni, and some briny, lightly chewy bits of stewed abalone atop a shiny glaze of chilled reduced dashi made with deeply smoky katsuoboshi — dried bonito. Microscopic cubes of minced wasabi are strewn over the seafood, almost as much for their crunch as for their bright heat, and the chawanmushi itself, half an inch of egg custard, is crème brûlée-rich, impossibly smooth, steamed just to the point when it is maximally luscious but has not yet released its liquid. You will eat this in two bites without pausing to reflect on the thousands of air miles, centuries of technique and microseconds of timing that have come together in these few grams of food set in front of you at your table. And you are not meant to reflect — I don't think. Read more

Asanebo, 11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

California Chutney

The Chipotlization of the world seems inevitable at this point. A quick glance at Google turns up the Chipotle of South East Asian food, the Chipotle of Mediterranean food, the Chipotle of Japanese food, the Chipotle of mac 'n' cheese and more Chipotles of pizza than you can shake a pepperoni at. So it will not be a surprise when you wander down a side street in Old Town Pasadena and run into California Chutney, a gleaming new restaurant that clearly would like to be the Chipotle of Indian food — quick, handmade and almost infinitely customizable. Instead of a tortilla, there is hot naan plucked out of a tandoor; instead of carnitas, there is chicken tikka, tandoori shrimp, chickpeas or the fresh cheese called paneer, all served out of colorful enameled iron pots; instead of salsas there is a choice of chutneys — the one made with pureed cilantro isn't bad — and instead of sliced bell peppers there are shallot pickles or red chile oil. Read more

California Chutney, 45 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

Empress Pavilion

Empress Pavilion is the biggest restaurant in Chinatown, a glittery, hangar-size seafood palace built at the height of the late 1980s boom. In its early years, you would typically wait an hour or more for a table on dim sum Sunday mornings, and in the evenings, the vast hall would be subdivided for wedding banquets and business dinners that featured the best class of bird's nest soup and such oddities as Dragon and Phoenix platters that occasionally included real snake. Even as the focus of the Chinese community moved 10 miles east and the food malls that lined Broadway were eclipsed by the shinier complexes in the new Chinatowns of San Gabriel and Monterey Park, Empress' live scallop dishes and sun-dried abalone held their own against the other Hong Kong-style competitors Harbour Village and Ocean Star. Read more

Empress Pavilion, 988 N. Hill St., Los Angeles

Annette Kelm's “First Picture for a Show.” (Hammer Museum)

Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition’

Today, when a YouTube video or a tweet can go viral, mass media merges with personal media. In “Perfect Likeness,” an engaging photography exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum, a wide variety of artists have found ways to jam a metaphorical stick into the furiously spinning spokes of the hybrid photo wheel. Viewers get snared by pictorially subversive means, all designed to stop them in their tracks. Ends Sun., Sept. 13. Read more

UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood.

Christopher Knight

Art critic

"circus alphabet," silkscreen, 1968. (Don Milici, Pasadena Museum of California Art)

Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent’

The show effectively lays out how Sister Corita, the activist nun and artist, used commercial media imagery in the 1960s to advertise an enlightened liberal humanism, which grew from her religious faith. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., Nov. 1) Read more

Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E Union St, Pasadena

Christopher Knight

Art critic

(Honor Fraser Gallery)

Sarah Cain

As a painter, Cain is a major fangirl. Not the vapid or uninteresting kind but an incisive, seriously playful and intensely talented obsessive. She is fixated on putting paint where it belongs, which could be just about anywhere. The 20 results in her second solo show at Honor Fraser Gallery range from splendid to magnificent. Ends this Saturday, July 11. Read more

Honor Fraser Gallery, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Other recommendations:

Edith Beaucage

The artist's work has always been bold, but in her latest exhibition at CB1 Gallery, it achieves a new level of confidence and bravura. (Sharon Mizota) (Ends this Saturday, June 18) Read more

CB1 Gallery, 1923 S. Santa Fe Ave., L.A.

Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography

This is an illuminating and exciting exhibition, rare in its thoughtful balance of articulated theme, historical context and respect for the integrity of the individual artists. The work splays in diverse directions but stems from common impulses. Each artist honors the history of the medium by inventively subverting it. Reverent and irreverent in equal measure, they are redefining photography and ensuring its continual efflorescence (Leah Ollman) (Through Sept. 6) Read more

The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles

Kahlil Joseph

"m.A.A.d." is 15 minutes of visual verse condensed from more than seven hours of video footage. Joseph burrows inside the rhythms of a place to describe it with amplitude and tenderness. The concentrated result is a mesmerizing hip-hop tone-poem, heartfelt and deeply moving. (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 16) Read more

Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada

In the aftermath of the Watts rebellion, which tore up South Los Angeles in August 1965, sending shock waves across the country, Noah Purifoy made an extensive series of assemblage sculptures that signaled a powerful, wholly unexpected cultural shift. Working with a small circle of colleagues, he was instrumental in redefining — enlarging — an idea of black consciousness that had been established in 1920s New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Ten of those early assemblages are at the start of "Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada," the much-anticipated retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 27) Read more

LACMA, 4905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Rembrandt at the Getty

When is a portrait not a portrait? (Or, to be more precise, not exactly a portrait?) The answer: When it's a tronie, the theatrical 17th century Dutch invention in which artists weren't after a specific person's likeness but, instead, examined facial expressions as characteristic types of human emotion. Rembrandt van Rijn was good at it. When he was young and starting out, he looked into a mirror and used his own face to produce a tronie of laughter — and the result is now on view in the Getty's permanent collection galleries as the museum's newest acquisition. (Christopher Knight) Read more

The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles

Kamel Daoud. (Bertrand Langlois / AFP / Getty)

The Meursault Investigation’

Give Kamel Daoud credit for audacity. In his debut novel, “The Meursault Investigation,” the Algerian journalist goes head-to-head with a pillar of 20th century literature: Albert Camus’ existential masterpiece “The Stranger.” First published in France in 1942, Camus’ novel tells the story of Meursault — like the author, a French Algerian, or pied-noir — who under the influence of heat or fate kills an Arab on the beach at the peak of a summer afternoon. “I shook off the sweat and sun,” Meursault informs us. “… Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.” “The Meursault Investigation” takes place on the other side of that door, offering a glimpse of the fallout from Meursault’s futile violence. Read more

David Ulin

Book critic

Other recommendations:

'Maintenance of Headway'

Partway through Magnus Mills' "The Maintenance of Headway," the narrator, a bus driver in a city that must be London, is stuck on a crowded road behind a truck with a warning reading, "If you can't see my mirrors I can't see you." Bored and frustrated, the driver starts to frame a song. "If you can't see my mirrors," he sings to himself, "I can't see you anymore / I can't see you … anymore." The logic is inescapable: "Sitting in a bus composing songs might seem pointless, but there was nothing else to do." The same might be said of this strange and lovely novel, published in the U.K. in 2009 and now available in the United States for the first time. Read more

'A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me'

I'll be honest: I wasn't sure we'd see another book of fiction by David Gates. It's been 16 years since his last, the collection "The Wonders of the Invisible World," and even longer since his novels, "Jernigan," a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the magnificent "Preston Falls." In these works, Gates staked out a territory, the anxieties of a particular corner of the middle class: artsy, at one time hip or (even slightly) radical, aspirational less in the financial sense than that of creativity or spirit. That these aspirations have crumbled is part of the point, as his characters reckon with the compromises, physical and emotional, that living brings. Read more

'The Odd Woman and the City'

Vivian Gornick's "The Odd Woman and the City" is a book of ghosts. Ghosts of the past; ghosts of New York, which is for her both home and character; ghosts of a lifetime of reading, intentional and covert. These ghosts emerge when Gornick least expects it or are invoked directly in the text. "It's an evening in June," she writes, "and I am taking a turn through Washington Square. As I stroll, I see in the air before me, like an image behind a scrim, the square as it looked when I was young, standing right behind the square that I'm actually looking at. That was a good fifty years ago, when my friends and I used to come down from the Bronx and in from Brooklyn on summer evenings and we'd walk around looking at a piece of world so different from that of our own neighborhoods, we might as well have been in Europe."This is not to say "The Odd Woman and the City" is nostalgic. As she has throughout her career, Gornick stands against nostalgia, which does not mean she stands against history. For her, however, history is a source of context, a way of tracing what has changed and what remains. Read more

'The Library of Babel'

Almost three-quarters of a century after it was published, Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” continues to resonate. A year and a half ago, the online magazine Places Journal published a set of architectural drawings representing the story’s setting — a library, “composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries,” in which is collected not only every book ever written but also every book never written, possibility and perplexity blurring into one another in unexpected ways. Now, a Brooklyn writer named Jonathan Basile has begun to re-create the library in more concrete form, on a website — called, appropriately enough, “The Library of Babel ” — that, if ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lowercase letters, space, comma, and period.” That this is impossible is part of the point, as it was of the original story. Read more

'Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond'

I got to know Los Angeles through its poetry. Even before I lived here, I experienced a different, human, side of the city through the works of Wanda Coleman, Michelle T. Clinton, Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad. It's no coincidence that all of them were, at one time or another, affiliated with Beyond Baroque. The Venice-based literary center, founded in 1968 by George Drury Smith, was created as a place for poetry, particularly the poetry of Los Angeles. Over the decades, scores of local and national writers — including Allen Ginsberg, Raymond Carver, Patti Smith and Amiri Baraka — have appeared there; John Doe and Exene Cervenka, of the band X, famously met at the long-running Wednesday Night Poetry Workshop. Read through such a filter, Suzanne Lummis' new anthology "Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond" feels like a bit of a homecoming, although it is not a backward-looking book. Gathering more than 100 poets (Coleman, Douglas Kearney, and L.A. laureates Eloise Klein Healy and Luis J. Rodriguez among them), it is a celebration of what let's call a Los Angeles aesthetic, an exploration of poetry and place. Read more


"I think I get away with a lot of political stuff," says Attica Locke, "because of the presence of a dead body. If you have familiar signposts along the way — this is when the cops get called, this is when we tell the girl's parents — readers get comfortable, and then you can slide in all this other material." It's noon on a Friday, and Locke is in the lounge of the Langham Huntington in Pasadena. A pianist plays softly around the corner as the author discusses the role of social issues in her novels, which position themselves as thrillers, then open up into a larger world. Her first, "Black Water Rising," which came out in 2009 and was nominated for both an Edgar and the Orange Prize, revolves around Jay Porter, a veteran of the civil rights movement turned small-time attorney, 30, with a pregnant wife and a past as an activist once tried for attempted murder. Her second, 2012's "The Cutting Season," takes on a murder with historical implications at a Louisiana plantation turned high-end event space. For the last year, Locke has also been a writer and producer on the Fox drama "Empire," which addresses, in its own way, a related set of themes. Now, she has returned to Jay Porter with her third novel, "Pleasantville," which picks up 15 years after "Black Water Rising," as the lawyer finds himself suddenly and against his will enmeshed in the political and legal drama surrounding a 1996 Houston mayoral campaign. Read more

(Michael Nelson / EPA)

Ten games that made a lasting impression at E3 2015

The Electronic Entertainment Expo landed in Los Angeles last week with a thunder of hype. Upcoming games, such as “Fallout 4,” “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” “Halo 5: Guardians” and “Star Wars: Battlefront” tried to dazzle more than 50,000 members of the press and the industry — as well as a few fans. But now that the circus has left town, it’s time to ask the most important question: What’s worth playing? What follows is a look at 10 titles that left a lasting impression. There were others that Hero Complex is excited to keep an eye on, including “The Last Guardian,” “Uncharted” and “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” but the games listed here are ones we were allowed ample time to play. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:


Players in "Sunset" commit what would be considered acts of war by aiding a rebellion in a fictional South American city. They do this not by fighting but by housekeeping. "Sunset" is the rarest of war stories, one that touches upon those on the sidelines rather than the frontlines. "This is not like most video games where you're the actual hero and you go out and save everyone," says Auriea Harvey, one half of the two-person Belgium studio Tale of Tales. The latest game from the independent and experimental studio, "Sunset" illustrates the emotional turmoil war plays on everyday citizens, in this case an overqualified housekeeper who immigrated to South America from the United States. Read more


The enemy is around the corner. The floor is stained with the bright orange scars of battle. I can see my rival — she's wearing a baseball cap backward, high-tops and is firing blindly. This can only mean one thing: It's time to turn into a squid. "Boo-yah!" my character screams, and out come the tentacles. I dive into a pool of neon orange paint with a gooey splat of my squid limbs, never seeing the giant paint roller coming to steamroll me from behind. So much for my surprise attack. This is "Splatoon," one of the most senselessly entertaining video game shooters of this — or any — year. The shock is that it comes from Nintendo, entering an arena it long ago ceded to its competitors: the online multiplayer shoot-'em-up. Nintendo may be late to the game, but with "Splatoon," the company seems to out-weird its competitors. Read more


Maybe it's as simple as putting eyelashes on a box. Or maybe it's the way the box scrunches up and holds its eyes shut when it's in a tight spot. Or maybe it's the box's tiny little stick figure legs. But Boxboy — his real name is actually Qbby — has charisma. There are puzzles too, yes, but it's the small details that propel a player through "Boxboy!," Nintendo's charmer of a little game for its handheld 3DS device. Boxboy has a friend, a box pal with a bow, and Boxboy has superpowers, namely the ability to create more boxes, and it's somewhat of a surprise that "Boxboy!" works at all. After all, Boxboy is just a box. On the surface, it's the digital equivalent of giving a kitten a piece of cardboard. The feel is hand-me-down homemade. "Boxboy!" could have existed generations ago, and it feels like a bit of a throwback to Nintendo's old Game Boy — or maybe even of something born on a calculator. Yet "Boxboy!" is the story of a little box who thinks he can, and though its challenges aren't extremely taxing, he's a cube worth cheering. Read more

'Pac-Man' maps

Here's one negative about Google's adorable "Pac-Man" overlay of its maps function: It's not always easy to find locations for famous James Bond races. Sure, it's cute to navigate the parking lot of Dodger Stadium with Pac-Man and his not-so-friendly pals, but we at Hero Complex wanted to relive the scenic chase of "The Spy Who Loved Me," the one off the coasts of Sardinia, Italy. It took a couple of tries for it to work, but we finally got the roads surrounding the Hotel Cala Di Volpe to be remade as a "Pac-Man" game (the first few times we were told there weren't enough roads for a game). Whew. An important job, but someone has to do it. Read more

'The Flame in the Flood'

Quotes from T.S Eliot and Theodore Roosevelt aren't the texts one expects to see in the middle of a video game, but "The Flame in the Flood" has literary ambitions. Set in the American South, "The Flame in the Flood" is a journey of survival on a river. It takes place in the future — probably. The look is a bit timeless, with an art style that appears crafted from construction paper. The colors are muted, the world is rural and boney wolves are lurking in the darkness, their red eyes flashing in the shadows. The game, the first from six-person indie studio the Molasses Flood, was shown at the South by Southwest games festival in Austin, Texas. It wasn't the only game at the conference to boast a backdrop of cultural exploration. Whereas "The Flame in the Flood" is steeped in Americana, "Jotun" is focused on Norse mythologies. Read more

'Jelly Reef'

"Jelly Reef" looks adorable. At the start, players will have a school of jellyfish — all of them wide-eyed and smiling. Then, in a matter of moments, they will all be dead. This wouldn't be so harrowing if they didn't start to frown first, a simple touch that turns this accessible mobile game into one of pure dread. Ultimately, it's as much about nurturing tiny gelatinous reddish and orangeish critters as it is about reaching a goal. "Jelly Reef" is also the swan song from the three-person Netherlands-based studio Game Oven, a company that in its brief existence specialized in pushing the boundaries of the mobile experience. The studio's previous game, "Bounden," sought to teach two players how to dance as they were connected via one phone. Following on-screen prompts, participants would twirl around each other, and those averse to touching would be advised to stay away. Read more

A scene from "Fresh Dressed." (Jamel Shabazz / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Fresh Dressed’

Long before Jay Z was rapping about fashion designer Tom Ford, Pharrell Williams was pitching for Chanel or Kanye West was a front-row fixture at Givenchy, kids were customizing jean jackets with spray paint and accessorizing shell-toed Adidas shoes with starched laces. Hip-hop fashion, born from the music scene, has evolved into a global business and pop culture phenomenon that is explored in “Fresh Dressed,” a new film by Sacha Jenkins. Read more

Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Other recommendations:

Lizzie Garrett Mettler

L.A.-based blogger and “Tomboy Style” author Lizzie Garrett Mettler has entered the world of retail. She’s launched, an online destination that is part travel guide, part shop featuring clothing and accessories for traveling well. “I didn’t feel like there was a store for me that could provide items to go car camping two hours away from home or to wear while sightseeing during the day and to dress up at night,” Mettler says. “Travel items are either really masculine or if they’re for women are really jet-setter feminine. I wanted to bring some balance to the space.” Mettler launched her Tomboy Style blog in 2010 (it’s had 6.8 million views since its inception), which inspired a book by the same name published by Rizzoli in 2012, covering 80 years of women who mix masculine and feminine elements in their wardrobe. Read more

'The True Cost'

Go to any shopping mall, and inexpensive clothes are abundant — $4.99 T-shirts, $7.90 skinny jeans, $8.90 sandals. But as we fill our closets, who pays the price? That question is answered in the wide-ranging new film "The True Cost." In the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment factory workers, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Andrew Morgan set out to make a documentary about the human and environmental cost of shopping at H&M, Forever 21, Topshop, Zara and other stores associated with the $3-trillion fast-fashion industry, in which stores receive trendy new merchandise on a daily basis. Read more

One Day Without Shoes

This week, L.A.-based Toms Shoes kicked off its eighth annual One Day Without Shoes campaign with a new social media twist. Through May 21, if you Instagram a pair of bare feet and tag the photo with the hashtag #withoutshoes, Toms will donate a new pair of shoes to a child in need — no purchase necessary. The social media campaign is good for up to 1 million posts, with a limit of one post per person. But considering Toms has given away 35 million pairs of shoes since the company started, it's a significant gesture. Toms was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. A former contestant on the reality show "The Amazing Race," he discovered the comfy canvas, espadrille-like alpargatas shoes when he traveled to Argentina after the show wrapped up, to play polo, relax and volunteer. Read more

The Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has landed in stores for "try-on visits" and pre-orders ahead of the April 24 ship date. It's a pretty genius retail tactic akin to a fashion trunk show — a tease to create demand for the tech giant's first foray into wearable technology. And it seems to have worked; many models of the watches are already back-ordered. I wasn't sure what to wear to my "try-on visit." Jeans, a skirt, long sleeves or short? I went with short sleeves, a skirt and heels because I wanted to see if the watch felt right with a somewhat formal, "on-duty" outfit. It turns out it didn't much matter what I wore, because no mirrors have been installed in Apple stores for the rollout. No mirrors for a product that is supposed to be a personal style statement — are you kidding me? It was a big fashion fail, but one that I got around by taking pictures of myself on, what else, my iPhone! Read more

'Mad Men' Fashions

With the seven final episodes of "Mad Men," the most fashion-influential TV show since "Sex and the City," is coming to an end. AMC's 1960s period drama about slick ad men and curvy women has been an aesthetic gold mine, influencing the slim silhouette of men's suits, the beauty ideal for women's bodies and more, particularly during the first five years of the show's 2007 to 2015 run. It brought the worlds of fashion and costume design ever closer in the process. From the first season, I — like most viewers — was seduced by the show's post-1950s innocence. I dreamed about living in an era before surgeon general warnings, when cigarettes and booze were a given at lunchtime and the polished glamour and propriety of opera gloves and pillbox hats were the norm. "I don't think you would have liked it," said my baby boomer mother, shattering the spell. "It wasn't much of a place for women." Of course she was right, as we've seen in episodes since, but they did dress fine. Read more

Burberry in Beverly Hills

Burberry has taken Beverly Hills by storm, just in time for the holidays. In quick order, the label opened its first Rodeo Drive flagship, accepted a Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award and launched an L.A. version of its Art of the Trench campaign. It's all part of the vision of Christopher Bailey, who joined the brand in 2001, became creative director in 2004 and raised eyebrows when CEO was added to his title this year. Under Bailey, the nearly 160-year-old British heritage outfit known for trusty trench coats has been reinvigorated as a 21st century trendsetter and innovator. And the distinctive beige Burberry check, which fell out of favor in the early 2000s after it was overexposed and counterfeited, has been rediscovered by a new generation of celebs — Harry Styles, Olivia Palermo and Sarah Jessica Parker among them — who are bundling up this winter in monogrammed check scarves and blanket ponchos. The four-story Rodeo Drive boutique features the full range of the label's products for men and women, including its Prorsum, London and Brit collections, handbags and accessories, as well as a dedicated alcove for Burberry Beauty. There's a VIP floor to cater to celebs, with a wraparound rooftop terrace that has views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park. Read more

Burberry, 301 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills