Critics’ Picks: July 19-25, 2013
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California. This week, Lisa Kudrow’s “Web Therapy” starts its third Showtime season, the Andrew Jackson presidency is presented as musical theater in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” and the Pet Shop Boys sound as vital as ever on their album “Electric.” Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Made with assurance and deep emotion, this Sundance prizewinner is more than a remarkable directing debut for 26-year-old Ryan Coogler. Its story of the last 24 hours of a young man killed by the police is outstanding by any standard. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
“The Hunt” is a terrifying cautionary tale about the loss of innocence, sexual abuse and children. But in a chilling twist, the innocence lost is that of a single father, a respected member of the community, a beloved kindergarten teacher suddenly pegged as a pedophile by an angry child. Starring Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt” follows the accused teacher through the destruction wrought by a single lie that sparks a wildfire of rumors and recriminations. It is a devastating film to watch and a tragic reminder that the mere whiff of such scandalous behavior is condemnation enough. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
There are underdogs. And there are underdogs. Then there is "Turbo," a garden snail who dreams of winning the Indy 500. The latest 3-D animation event movie has an all-star cast starting with the ever-charming Ryan Reynolds as Turbo and the often-irritating Paul Giamatti as older brother Chet. Its story is as much about how big brothers can squelch little brothers' dreams as speed. The animation is great. There are taco trucks and other bumps along the way. But honestly, they pretty much had me at racing snails. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
An Israeli Palestinian surgeon investigates whether his wife could have been a suicide bomber. Alive to the pain everyone feels, this remarkable narrative captures as well as drama can the nuances of a problem that defies solution. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
It was a risk for director Richard Linklater to go so dark in “Before Midnight,” the latest round of the romantic musings he began with his stars, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, nearly 20 years ago. The illusions of a young couple’s more pristine love so captivating in “Before Sunrise” have been shelved so that the tipping point in their relationship can be laid bare. A devastating fight is the centerpiece now, the teasing flirtations a distant memory. Though the gauzy beauty of the earlier films remain, as does a sun-drenched European setting, this time Greece, what you will remember, what you will feel compelled to talk about long after, is the fight. It sears with an intensity that rivals another classic battle between the sexes, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Despicable Me 2'
The pressures of being a single father. The realization that despite everything, your kids still long for a mom. The difficulties of getting a teenage daughter's attention between texting and a boy. The boy. The treacherous emotional terrain of middle-age dating. This is “Despicable Me 2”? It is. The softhearted villain Gru, so disarmingly voiced by Steve Carell, has gotten a lot more than he bargained for after 2010's “Despicable Me.” Adopting three adorable orphans brought a slew of issues into his life and those modern problems frame the sequel. What a refreshing twist. Also a risk. But I think the filmmakers were smart to try turning the animated kid-flick formula on its head and go for the adults as much as the kids. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Fill the Void'
"Fill the Void" is a transfixing, emotionally complex Israeli drama about arranged marriage in the ultra-Orthodox community that won the Venice Film Festival's lead actress prize for star Hadas Yaron. Back home the film was nominated for 13 Ophirs, the Israeli Academy Awards, and won seven, including best picture and director. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Effortless and effervescent, "Frances Ha" is a small miracle of a movie, honest and funny with an aim that's true. It's both a timeless story of the joys and sorrows of youth and a dead-on portrait of how things are right now for a New York woman who, try as she might, can't quite get her life together. That would be the Frances of the title (the Ha isn't explained until the film's charming final frame), a joint creation of and career high point for both star Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach, who met on the director's "Greenberg" and co-wrote the script. Together they have created an American independent film that feels off the cuff but is in fact exactly made by a filmmaker in total control of his resources. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'I’m So Excited!'
I can’t remember when, if ever, Pedro Almodóvar has had as much flamboyant fun as he does in the high-flying comedy “I’m So Excited!” The sex and death, musically infused airline disaster farce is staged at 30,000 feet. Much of the story unfolds in the plane’s crowded cockpit — just one of the many entendres the Spanish writer-director doubles to take an imperiled Mexico City flight to heights of lunacy. The film is so off-the-wall, so raw, so risqué, so gay, that it may come as a shock even to Almodóvar fans used to his boundary-pushing ways. Though “I’m So Excited!” may not stand as one of the director’s defining works, for some completely frivolous, naughty nonsense, it may be just the ticket. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
A plot of ferocious creatures called Kaiju facing off against massive robots called Jaegers, may not, frankly, sound all that appealing. But director Guillermo del Toro is more than a filmmaker, he's a fantasy visionary with an outsized imagination and a fanatical specificity, and the results are spectacular. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'20 Feet From Stardom'
This irresistible effort has just become this year's top-grossing documentary, and if you haven't seen it yet, this might be a good time to catch up before the deluge of fall films hits. Veteran director Morgan Neville has made a moving and joyous behind-the-scenes film about the world of rock 'n' roll backup singers. It's a universe filled with big, bold personalities and the music they make: When you say names like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer, you are conjuring up entire universes of sound. These women sing in a way that is transformative for us, and, it turns out, for them as well. Director Neville has made that rare endeavor that pretty much everyone is guaranteed to enjoy. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Lisa Kudrow’s Skype-framed talking-heads comedy, which began on the Web in 2008, embarks upon its third Showtime season this week. Created by Kudrow — who plays online therapist Fiona Wallice, a character as far from Phoebe Buffay as might be imagined — with Don Roos, who directs, and Dan Bucatinsky, who plays Fiona’s assistant, it’s a testament to what can be made from a low-overhead idea in able hands. There is a coherent ongoing narrative (crafted by the three creators, and improvised upon by the actors) that this year finds a manuscript Fiona has written being turned into a Broadway musical, while her mother — played by Lily Tomlin, born to splash around in this pool — is setting up a rival service, Net Therapy. The new season will include appearances by Steve Carell, Billy Crystal, Chelsea Handler, Megan Mullally, Sara Gilbert, Meg Ryan and Matt LeBlanc. Showtime, Tuesdays. Read more
'NTSF:SD:SUV::' and 'Childrens Hospital'
Mock-heroic cousin comedies split a TV half-hour with episodes that last roughly 11 minutes, or about the length of a cartoon. (Brevity = soul of wit.) Created by Paul Scheer ("Human Giant"), who also stars, "NTSF:SD:SUV::" (for "National Terrorist Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle::") parodies TV procedurals and action films; its roots are in "Get Smart!," "The Naked Gun" and "Sledge Hammer," but its heroes-as-idiots approach is completely consonant with the Adult Swim brand. In this third season, Karen Gillan, who was Amy Pond on "Doctor Who," joins the cast (which already includes Martin Starr and Kate Mulgrew, barking orders like, "I want you to find everyone in the United States with the initials V.B.!") as a tech expert. (Ed Helms plays the helpless "Robocop"-cyborg she amusedly tortures in at least one episode this season, possibly under the impression that he "can't feel pain," or possibly not.) In tonight's premiere, "Comic-Con Air," deadly conventioneers (one played by Summer Glau, "Firefly" fans, wearing glasses) get loose on a plane, occasioning lines like "Get ready for your complimentary beat-down." Rob Corddry's "Childrens Hospital," now in its fifth season, does the same thing to medical dramas, although in a weird framing device the actors also play actors who play the doctors. Its cast includes Lake Bell, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally — weren't we just talking about her? (we were) — Henry Winkler, who is becoming the Fred Willard of his generation, and creator Corddry as a pediatrician in scary clown makeup, though that character might be dead. Maybe. Or maybe not. Or maybe a little of each. There will be a trip to Japan. (Adult Swim, Thursdays) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
'POV: High Tech, Low Life'
"POV: High Tech, Low Life" Steve Maing's documentary film concerns two Chinese bloggers, working from disparate points of view to the same end. His heroes are the twentysomething Zhou Shuguang, who calls himself Zola, and the 57-year-old Zhang Shihe, a.k.a. Tiger Temple. Maing sets their tales on parallel tracks, as Zola on his motorbike and Tiger Temple on his bicycle travel the country, meeting people and recording them, posting stories that contradict the official picture and finally earn the wrath of the authorities. (Each manages surreptitiously to film their harassment.) But where Beijing resident Tiger Temple is a bit of an old hippie, dedicated to improving the lot of country people — he is a believer in real, not enforced, community — small-town kid Zola begins as an incidental muckraker, more interested in Internet celebrity as a way out of the conventional future his parents see for him; censorship is something that gets in his own way. (PBS, Monday) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
In the good old Saturday spirit (and, indeed, scheduling) of Sam Raimi's 20th-century "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena, Warrior Princess" and more lately of his "Legend of the Seeker" and the 2006 BBC "Robin Hood," comes this British import about the well-known Arabian (or possibly Persian) sailor. (Syfy, Saturdays) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’
This sublimely raucous take on Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s savage emo rock evisceration of American politics via the seventh president of the United States is an in-your-face triumph. Director Kari Hayter maintains a taut balance between satirical snark and sober intent, her fervent ensemble fronted by the revelatory Keaton Williams. Bloody bloody magnificent. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 11) Read more
'The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom'
Before gay marriage was fashionable — and long before it was legal — the comedian Judy Gold thought there should be a sitcom about her family: two moms raising two sons. Her one-woman show tells the history of her failed network pitches and riffs hilariously on her lifelong desire to be on TV, whether to escape a lonely childhood or to provide a "road map" to future lesbian parents. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday, August 18) Read more
N. Richard Nash’s 1950s-era chestnut about a “spinster” swept up in romance by a dazzling con man can be laughably archaic. However, director Jack Heller crafts a striking, specific portrait of a bygone time. As for the pitch-perfect performances, they should all be distilled, bottled and preserved for posterity. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 22) Read more
In the final production at its longtime venue, LA's flagship gay theater scores a profoundly affecting bulls-eye with Chris Phillips' incisive study of violence and forgiveness in societal, personal and even eternal terms. Directed by Ryan Bergmann with one eye firmly trained on the present day, graced by a sterling cast, this trenchant watershed may well reach far beyond its certain Purple Circuit demographic. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'She Stoops to Conquer'
The Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival launches its 10th season with this frothy comedy of manners by Oliver Goldsmith, written in 1773. The spirited company has a lot of fun with the silly plot, which is predicated on an inventively prolonged misunderstanding. The outdoor theater, amid the ruins of the defunct Griffith Park Zoo, is idyllic; Mother Nature provides the lighting and sound (including coyote howls!); bring your own blanket, sweater and picnic dinner. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Saturday, July 27) Read more
'A View From the Bridge'
Arthur Miller's durable drama about an Italian American longshoreman's incestuous obsession with his orphaned niece is helmed by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, whose wrenchingly truthful staging, while larger than life, never lapses into overstatement. As for the actors, from Vince Melocchi's towering Eddie, the ill-fated protagonist of the piece, right down to the non-speaking bystanders, you simply won't see any better. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'We Are Proud to Present...'
Theodor Adorno's oft-quoted remark, "It is barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz," raises questions about the ability of artists to represent the Holocaust. How can the cultural tools that were complicit in genocide comment on its barbarity? Jackie Sibblies Drury's spry metatheatrical play (with the full title of "We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915") grapples with just this type of knotty problem. The setting of her drama, ambitiously undertaken by the Matrix Theatre Company, is a rehearsal hall, in which a company of six actors sets out to create a theater piece on the African genocide that took place in Namibia at the beginning of the 20th century. Viewing political reality through the lens of theatrical collaboration is a time-tested dramatic formula. Drury is somewhat better at playfully setting up her conceit than in developing it, but this play (performed with vigorous commitment by a young cast) introduces a sharp sensibility to the American theater, one fearless enough to tackle geopolitical concerns in adventurous theatrical form. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 11) Read more
A dozen records into a 30-plus-year career and the British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys sound as vital, catchy and frustrated as ever. Modern without feeling forced and filled with the melodic bounce that typifies their best work, “Electric,” in a word, bangs, and sees the Pet Shop Boys at their most celebratory and wittiest. “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” giddily denounces love with a big thumping dance beat while in the background a men’s choir offers majestic harmony. “Shouting in the Evening” builds to a crescendo while Neil Tennant sings of a simple pleasure: “What a feeling, shouting in the evening.” (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
The Proms in London is the biggest event in all musicdom. It is advertised as the world’s largest music festival, which it is. The first concert is Friday, and it runs nightly (with two programs some days) until Sept. 7. The breadth of this festival is, well, breathtaking in its scope, diversity and importance. All of Britain’s great orchestras and many of the world’s great musicians participate. But what makes the Proms really special is the accessibility, and that is whether you’re in London or L.A. or anyplace else. Thanks to the BBC, which sponsors the Proms, every program is broadcast and streamed live, as well as archived for a week. The Beeb offers a player for live streaming. (Mark Swed) Read more
Album: ‘Big Sur’
Is there an artist as well-suited to record an album inspired by Big Sur as Bill Frisell? Having spent much of his long career working a fertile seam in the jazz world that shares ground with Americana and folk, Frisell and his often twang-dusted tone seems tailor-made for sweeping vistas and pastoral wonders. Stemming from a 2012 commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival, “Big Sur” is the result of Frisell holing himself up in a cabin at the 860-acre Glen Deven Ranch and writing music for wherever this natural muse took him. (Chris Barton) Read more
Single: "Stand Your Ground"
In the wake of Saturday’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, New York rapper Pharoahe Monch has released an incendiary track called “Stand Your Ground.” It’s a potent, hard song that decries the verdict through a sound somewhere between punk rock and hip-hop. Monche is best known in New York circles as being half of the 1990s Queens, N.Y., duo Organized Konfusion, and has never shied from speaking truth to power. In a world in which many of today’s most powerful rappers have delivered rhymes about how rich, famous and fancy they are, Monch on “Stand Your Ground” takes a clear position on a controversial issue. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Mixtape: 'King of Rock: (Some of) The Best of Rick Rubin (Ruined by Trackstar the DJ)'
Rick Rubin has remained in the public eye for nearly 30 years now, a rare producer/executive/music enthusiast whose ubiquity hasn’t diminished either his consistency or his image. Already in 2013, the co-founder of Def Jam Records, former president of Columbia Records, producer of as many flat-out classics as anyone, has been as present as ever due to his work with both Kanye West and Black Sabbath, and his appearance with Jay-Z in a recent ad campaign for a smartphone company. The sheer volume of contributions is overwhelming, and the evidence is on the mixtape “King of Rock: (Some of) The Best of Rick Rubin (Ruined by Trackstar the DJ),” an unauthorized-but-who-cares 41-minute jam that features key moments from throughout Rubin’s decades helping to steer the musical conversation. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album reissues: 'Hi Fi Snock Uptown' and 'Armchair Boogie'
The little-known troubadour Michael Hurley released his first record on Folkways in 1964 and over a long, wandering life has crafted melodic acoustic and lightly accented electric music as curious as it is catchy. His best two records, long cult classics, are “Armchair Boogie” (1971) and “Hi Fi Snock Uptown” (1972). They’ve just been reissued, and time hasn’t damaged them at all. Topics include a song about a would-be British nobleman in an insane asylum, an ode to black crows and, his best-known work, “The Werewolf,” a song about mental illness. “Twilight Zone” (embedded below) rages against depression with a desperate melancholy. Haunting and raw with gusts of free-spirited joy — the stellar sex romp of “Open Up,” for example — Hurley’s two records are at times peculiar but in the most human of ways. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Although it's been almost four years since Terence Blanchard's last album, it's not as if the trumpeter hasn't kept busy. In addition to the Poncho Sanchez collaboration "Chano y Dizzy," he's remained a first-call film composer (with Spike Lee's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" and George Lucas' "Red Tails" among his latest), and in his spare time wrote an opera, which debuts in St. Louis next month. Though Blanchard has no shortage of outlets, he still sounds overflowing with inspiration. Again surrounded by top-tier young talent, Blanchard is equally at home with the unsettled atmospherics of "Hallucinations" as with the hard-swinging "Don't Run," which features stirring guest-turns from Ravi Coltrane on soprano saxophone and bassist Ron Carter. (Chris Barton) Read more
101 Best Restaurants
If you take into account Los Angeles’ superb produce, its breathtaking diversity and its imagination, it can be one of the most pleasurable places to eat on Earth. What follows is a ranking of the best restaurants. How many have you tried? Where would you like to go? Create a list and share it with your friends. Read more
14 great Mexican restaurants
No places matches the breadth and depth of Mexican restaurants we have in Southern California, except Mexico City itself – and maybe not even there. You can find the cooking of almost every region in the country here, crafted at street-corner taco trucks as well as cutting-edge places like the new Corazon y Miel and Bizarra Capital. Here are Los Angles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s choices for 14 of the most essential places to try. 1. Babita: One of the most serious Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. Read more
Corazon y Miel
"Corazón y miel," your waitress wants it to be known, is the signature dish of Corazón y Miel. Corazón y miel, hearts and honey, is a small bowl of warm, seared chicken hearts in a sweet, honeyed vinaigrette, tossed with a few slivers of onion, like a chicken heart escabeche. The grayish hearts look a little gnarly, organy, probably more than you want to be dealing with before your third margarita. The bowl travels around the table twice. Someone finally spears a heart. She chases it with a shot of tequila. She spears another. She corrals the bowl for herself. Like the restaurant, a dim tuck 'n' roll gastropub in the working-class suburb of Bell, the hearts are an unlikely source of deliciousness. The hearts have won again. Read more
If you are the kind of restaurant-goer who gets hung up on first impressions, M.A.K.E., Matthew Kenney’s raw-vegan restaurant in Santa Monica Place, may not be for you. But Kenney, who was a renowned New York chef well before he adopted the raw-food thing, is solidly a creature of the food world, and a lot of his techniques are also found in the famous modernist kitchens where dehydrators and Vege-Mixes are as commonly used as pots and pans. The spray of thinly sliced carrots erupting from a base of cumin-scented nut butter is a dish you might see in any modernist dining room. And if the lasagna, sushi rolls and kimchi dumplings are more raw-vegan riffs than the things themselves, it’s just the way the juice-cleanse generation wishes things to be. Read more
A former underground dining club from Julie Retzlaff and her husband, chef Whitney Flood, Muddy Leek is less an edgy pop-up than a comfortable place to drop in for a glass of grenache and a snack on a Tuesday night. There may be the occasional tiny rabbit kidney garnishing a plate of rabbit hash, a little dish of rillettes made with the shredded remnants of duck confit, or a smear of chicken liver mousse on toast, but you are not here to be challenged, you are here because you want to eat nicely composed small plates, and it is nice. Read more
Tamarind of London
Is it easy to mistake Tamarind’s careful spicing for blandness or the mild juiciness of its chicken tikka for timidity? Could it be a good thing that the parade of grilled-mushroom salads, coconut-scented vegetable korma, chickpea dal, smoky eggplant curry and hot nan stuffed with coconut and dates tends to complement the scent of a pretty Sonoma Chardonnay? Tamarind, the Newport Beach sibling of the first London Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, is Southern California’s most luxurious Indian restaurant. Read more
The new restaurant from Jason Travi, whose Mediterranean-style cooking you may have tried at the late Fraiche in Culver City, is a really good bar with high-concept eats – channeling a 1950s New England seafood joint crossed with grungy Montreal bistro, and almost inexpensive unless you let the cocktails, the maple syrup eggs and the crunchy oyster sliders add up. You would be surprised how quickly you can inhale a plate of chilled oysters, nostalgia-flavored fish sticks or even a half dozen clams casino, whose blanket of crisp, bacony bread crumbs in no way slows you down. And there are freshly fried apple-cider doughnuts for dessert. Read more
Richard Artschwager, who died in February at 89, was that exceedingly rare artist who made paintings and sculptures of virtually equal merit. The traveling retrospective now at the UCLA Hammer Museum features about 145 works that also include drawings, prints, photographs and ephemera. Some omissions from the early years and a jumble of late work make the show a bit less than satisfactory. But the eye- and mind-bending paintings and sculptures from 1962 to about 1974 cement his reputation as a major artist shaking up a pivotal era. (Christopher Knight) (Through Sept. 1) Read more
2013 California-Pacific Triennial
More than 2,000 years ago, the Silk Road emerged as a network of flourishing trade routes between Asia and Europe, as well as parts of North and East Africa. Cultures crossfertilized. Civilizations prospered, others flamed out. Art recorded the complex new entanglements. For the next 41⁄2 months, a modern Silk Road is passing through Southern California. This superhighway runs through the Orange County Museum of Art, where the 2013 California-Pacific Triennial is now on view. A prime difference from its ancient predecessor is that Asia's trading partners here focus on the Americas, not Europe. Enlarging the geographic purview to encompass artists working in countries around the vast Pacific Rim, OCMA has changed its old biennial format, which looked exclusively at California artists. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Nov. 17) Read more
Maxwell Hendler: All Summer Long
Perfection and aesthetics do not usually go together, but Hendler’s deliciously mysterious monochromes make their pairing seem natural, part of a cycle that is bigger than any of us and sublime to contemplate. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, Aug. 17) Read more
Orit HofshiThe Israeli artist, in her first substantial L.A. show, extends herself ambitiously in multiple directions, but what proves most memorable about her work is its most irreducible element, the mark of her hand (Leah Ollman) (Ends Saturday, July 27) Read more
'Sicily: Art and Invention' at the Getty Villa
There are at least three great reasons to see “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome” at the Getty Villa. Chronologically, the first is a straightforward male torso, his finely chiseled marble body quietly brimming with latent energy. Second comes a preening charioteer, physically just larger than life but expressively very much so. And third is a depiction of a minor god with major fertility on his mind, his powerful physicality an embodiment of the contortions of carnal lust, both corporeal and psychological. These major sculptures together tell an accelerating story of artistic and social power on the ancient Mediterranean island. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, August 19) Read more
James Turrell: A Retrospective
Light, the essential ingredient for sight, is Turrell's principal medium. Spiritual perception is his art's aim. The ancient metaphor of light as the engine of enlightenment is conjured in a modern way. (Christopher Knight) (Through April 6) Read more
‘Return to Oakpine’
Ron Carlson’s new novel “Return to Oakpine” revolves around a group of high school friends 30 years after graduation, in the small Wyoming town where they were raised. The book begins with a simple errand: A man named Craig Ralston is called upon to refurbish a garage apartment for his old compatriot Jimmy Brand, who is coming home to die. The year is 1999 and Jimmy is nearing 50, a writer who left home after high school, in the wake of a family tragedy. And yet, Carlson wants us to understand, we never escape the past, not even a little bit of it. In a town such as Oakpine, that can’t help but bleed into the present, reminding us of old hurts, old longings, of who we were and who we never will become. This is the tension that drives “Return to Oakpine,” between what we want to do and what we need to do, between our dreams and our responsibilities. Or, as Carlson observes late in this elegant and moving novel, “There was a vague lump in his throat that he had thought was excitement but now felt like an urgent sadness; actually it felt like both.” Read more
'Slice of Life'
Poet Amy Gerstler and collage artist Alexis Smith have been friends and collaborators for a long-time: they first worked together in 1989 on “Past Lives.” That installation — a three-dimensional collage of text and objects, originally exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art — is now back up as part of Smith’s new show “Slice of Life,” at the Honor Fraser Gallery until Saturday, July 27. “Past Lives” offers a riff on childhood, or school (or the idea of school), that juxtaposes a loose collection of child-sized chairs with bits of language composed on chalkboards, spelling charts and other classroom artifacts, and offering oblique comments or asides. Read more
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s haunting graphic novel “Genius” revolves around a physicist named Ted who was once a prodigy, before his priorities became realigned. Ted has two kids, and a wife who may be dying; do we need to say that he feels trapped, that his pressures have become too much for him? Still, Ted has one saving grace, which is his love for Einstein, who holds a place in his life akin to God. “I mean, I’m an atheist —” Ted explains, “most thinking people are — But Einstein is the pinnacle of a thinking man.” As “Genius” progresses, this relationship becomes increasingly prominent, until Einstein himself is animated in these pages, discussing the nature of the universe, the nature of discovery, and the essential notion that our lives are always in constant evolution, just waiting for that one idea, that one revelation, for everything to “start anew.” Read more
'The Faraway Nearby'
Rebecca Solnit's latest book, "The Faraway Nearby," began with a delivery of 100 pounds of apricots to her San Francisco home. The apricots came from her brother, who had collected them from a tree in their mother's yard. At the time, the older woman was in the throes of Alzheimer's; she had been moved into an assisted care facility, making the fruit a metaphor, an allegory, for everything that she had lost. First and foremost, this meant stories, which are at the center of "The Faraway Nearby," a book about narrative and empathy that moves between a dizzying array of tales — including "Frankenstein," the Arabian Nights and that of Solnit's own breast cancer scare — to look at the way stories bind us, allowing us to inhabit each other's lives with unexpected depth. Read more
Joe Ollmann's graphic novel “Science Fiction” is a minutely observed account of a relationship in crisis, from which there is (or might be) no way out. The setup is simple: Mark, a high school science teacher, and his girlfriend Susan, who works in a convenience store, rent an alien abduction movie that triggers what Mark decides are repressed memories of his own abduction years before. If this is difficult for Mark, it’s even harder for Susan because she can’t believe what he is telling her. Here we see the central conflict of “Science Fiction”: What happens when a loved one goes through an experience that is, in every way that matters, life-changing, and yet, we can’t go along for the ride? Read more
What makes Stephen King resonate for me is the way he can get inside the most mundane of situations and animate it, revealing in the process something of how we live. His new novel, "Joyland," operates very much from this territory: It's a drama that unfolds in miniature. The story of a college student named Devin Jones who spends the summer and fall of 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park, "Joyland" is a thriller but it's also a homage to the disposable culture of the early 1970s, a time when "oil sold for eleven dollars a barrel." What King is getting at is what he's always getting at, that life is inexplicable, that joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, are all bound up and can assert themselves at any time. Read more
Richard Lange's third book, "Angel Baby," is a thriller that makes its own terms. Beautifully paced, deftly written, it's a novel of moral compromise, in which we have empathy for everyone (or almost everyone) and no one at once. The story of Luz, who runs away from her husband, a Mexican drug cartel leader, and heads for Los Angeles, "Angel Baby" takes us into uncomfortable territory -- only partly because of its brutality. Rather, Lange effectively upends our sympathies by drawing us close to not just Luz but also Jerónimo, the reluctant enforcer sent to find her, as well as Malone, a San Diego County burnout who makes his money ferrying illegals across the border, and Thacker, a corrupt border cop. Read more
'Appointment in Samarra'
Fran Lebowitz has called him “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Ernest Hemingway said he was “a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well.” But mention John O’Hara today — 43 years after his death — and you’re likely to draw a look as blank as an unwritten book. Why? In part, perhaps, it’s because he was, by all accounts, difficult to get along with, a social climber, a bully, a vicious drunk. And yet, he also wrote three of the finest novels of the 1930s — “Appointment in Samarra,” “BUtterfield 8” and “Hope of Heaven.” Now, the first of these books is back in print: a tale of social success and social failure observed in precise miniature. Originally published in 1934, it unfolds over two days during Christmas 1930 and involves a socialite named Julian English, who is caught in a death spiral of alcoholism and bad behavior, as he loses everything he has ever held dear. Read more
When last we saw Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins, he had just lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu. This was in the closing pages of the 11th (and seemingly final) Rawlins book, “Blonde Faith,” published in 2007. Yet six years later, Easy is back, narrating a new novel, “Little Green” that picks up where “Blonde Faith” left off. It's 1967, and Easy must navigate a Los Angeles he barely recognizes in the wake of both the Watts riots and the Summer of Love. Read more
'Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers'
Janet Malcolm may end up best known for the line that opens her 1990 book “The Journalist and the Murderer”: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” The indictment is more powerful because Malcolm never renders herself immune. This sense — of the moral ambiguity of journalism — weaves through Malcolm’s new “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers,” a collection of pieces, most originally published in the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, that looks at both art and how art is received in the culture, which, in Malcolm’s view, is often less a matter of aesthetics than of style. Read more
"Fox 8" offers an unexpected twist on George Saunders’ darkly comic sensibility. Narrated by a fox who has learned human language, it’s a taut little tale in which the protagonist and other members of his skulk are driven away from their habitat by the construction of a new shopping mall. Saunders writes in an idiosyncratic dialect full of phonetic misspellings (“First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I learned to rite and spel as gud as I do!”), structuring the story as a letter to the reader (or “Reeder”) that turns increasingly pointed and bleak. Originally, Saunders intended "Fox 8" for his collection "Tenth of December," but he felt it was an outlier, even for him. So he decided to release it as an e-book original, his first. Read more
'The Best of the Best American Poetry'
Normally, I’m wary of “best of” designations, but the annual “Best American Poetry” collections recognize the limitations of the game they’re playing, the idea that any group of poems can encapsulate the breadth of poetry written in America in a given year. “The Best of the Best American Poetry” features 100 poems of the 1,875 that have thus far been published in the series. My favorite stuff here is the most direct, or, maybe, the most interior: Margaret Atwood’s “Bored,” which traces how childhood ennui can lead to adult curiosity; the long excerpt from A.R. Ammons’ “Garbage”; and Denise Duhamel’s magnificent “How It Will End,” in which a husband and wife watch another couple fighting, only to take sides themselves. Read more
Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” is a white-hot ember of a book. Taking place in Manhattan and Italy in the late 1970s, a time when each was awash in turmoil, the novel traces the experience of one woman, a young conceptual artist, as she navigates these disparate landscapes, a part of the action and yet always on the outside. For Kushner, the point is displacement – that, and the way art is, or should be, a provocation, with even the most abstract expression existing in (sometimes) violent reaction to the world. The result is a work of fiction that illustrates both character and culture, as well as the uneasy ways they intersect. Read more
‘The Last of Us’
“The Last of Us” is not your typical doomsday narrative. Zombie-like attacks aside, tension here comes from an underutilized game-play tactic: conversation. Dialogue is almost as plentiful as weapons in this patiently cinematic tale of a smuggler and the reluctant bond he forms with the 14-year-old girl he’s hired to protect. Developed by Sony-owned Naughty Dog, responsible for the hit “Indiana Jones”-inspired “Uncharted” series, “The Last of Us” acknowledges gaming clichés and then skillfully avoids them by keeping its focus on the relationship between Joel (the smuggler) and Ellie (the teen he watches over). It’s an action game, but one with characters worth fighting for. Read more
Video game critic
‘The Dark Sorcerer’
A short film and not a game, but one designed to show what next-gen console the PS4 may be capable of. Quanitic Dream, the Paris-based developer working on the patient narrative "Beyond Two Souls," concocted this fantasy-comedy as a way to illustrate that character depth and detail can be sustained over long scenes filled with gameplay. But forget the technical stuff — it's a cute little video about a film shoot gone wrong, with goblins. Though there are no plans to turn "The Dark Sorcerer" into a game, director David Cage said fan response may inspire him to change his mind. Read more
'Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move'
The minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don't stop and it's up to the player to control and tinker with the cubic paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. With 240 stages, there are a lot cubes. Read more
Games are wonderful at creating crazy, colorful universes full of whip-cracking vampire killers and interstellar space pirates, but they are less good at crafting ones inspired by more earth-bound cultural traditions. "Guacamelee!” is an exception. Perhaps not since LucasArts’ 1998 “Day of the Dead” noir title “Grim Fandango” has a game so lovingly draped itself in Mexican folklore. "Guacamelee!” is a colorfully humorous game centered almost entirely on the customs surrounding Day of the Dead. It’s a simple stylistic conceit that seems so obvious that it’s almost confusing it hasn’t been done with any regularity. Who needs zombies and vampires when there’s an entire holiday steeped in calavera imagery? Read more
Designer Natalie Martin has mastered the art of gypset dressing, L.A.-style. In two years, the Aussie transplant has emerged as a go-to for boho-chic styles, including breezy kurtas, tunics, wrap skirts and maxi dresses, all priced under $300, and all crafted out of colorful, Balinese block print silks. Martin has a background in fashion marketing, putting in years at Italian leather goods brands Tod’s and Hogan. Her namesake collection, which is sold at Barneys New York, Calypso St. Barth and other boutiques, as well and on her own website, brings a touch of Bali to L.A. Read more
Charlotte Olympia opens in Beverly Hills
London-based accessories designer extraordinaire Charlotte Dellal has opened her first L.A. Charlotte Olympia store, a glamorous, Art Deco-feeling boutique at the top of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The decor is an ode to Old Hollywood glamour from the moment you step inside the door, where Dellal (who has the curves and finger-wave blond hairstyle of a 1940s starlet herself) has her own pink marble Hollywood Walk of Fame star set into the ground, with "Charlotte Olympia" etched inside. "It's celebrating Los Angeles from an outsider's point of view," said Dellal, who launched her whimsical line in 2006. "I guess it's not all about Hollywood and film, but I'm a nostalgic person and I have always loved Old Hollywood." Read more
Malibu Barbie gets a makeover
With her beach blond hair, cheeky tan lines and chic shades, Malibu Barbie has been a style icon for many a young girl, including this one. Now, more than 40 years after she first hit the pop culture wave, Malibu Barbie is getting a makeover, from Los Angeles designer Trina Turk. The mythical Malibu icon is the perfect canvas for Turk’s cheerful 1960s and '70s-inspired SoCal aesthetic. Turk dresses the doll in a printed bandeau bikini and hexagon white lace cover-up and accessorizes her head-to-toe with a beach tote, pink shades, short-shorts, a peasant blouse, floppy sun hat and white wedge sandals. She’s even got a chunky cocktail ring, pink cuff bracelet and a bottle of sunscreen. To add to the fun, Turk’s June 2013 fashion collection, titled “Malibu Summer,” features the same items for women, so life-size Barbies can dress like their miniature muses. Read more
2013 marks 30 years that L.A.-based designer Tadashi Shoji has been making elegant formal wear for the rest of us. He got his start in the glitzy world of Hollywood, creating costumes for Stevie Wonder and Elton John, and more elaborate gowns for the red carpet for Florence Welch and Octavia Spencer. But the bulk of Shoji's $50-million namesake business is in department store sales of tasteful, figure-flattering and wallet-friendly cocktail dresses and evening gowns ranging in price from $198 to $508 for women who want to feel like celebrities in their own lives -- prom queens, mothers of the bride and the brides themselves. I recently sat down with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what's next.n with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what’s next. Read more
In just seven years, Paige Mycoskie has turned a passion for 1970s nostalgia into the next California lifestyle brand. Walking into her Aviator Nation store on Abbot Kinney in Venice is like stumbling into a frat house with a feminine influence. Steely Dan, Doors and Grateful Dead album covers and vintage skate decks nailed to the walls, a record player spinning Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," a 720 Degrees arcade game in the corner, stacks and stacks of foam trucker hats, T-shirts and hoodies spreading good vibes like "Pray for Surf" and "California Is for Lovers."... It's such a sensory experience, you half expect your shoes to be sticking to the floor from last night's kegger. Read more
'The Great Gatsby'
Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is the fashion film of the year. The big-screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book features stellar costumes by Catherine Martin, who collaborated with Miuccia Prada on chandelier crystal cocktail dresses adapted from her runway archives, Tiffany & Co. on Art Deco-inspired jewelry and Brooks Bros. on striped regatta blazers and suits. It adds up to a dazzling slice of the high life in the Roaring Twenties, "a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today," Luhrmann told my colleague Adam Tschorn in his must-read story about the look of the film. Read more
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has released its second Wear LACMA collection of fashion accessories created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection. Custom perfumier Haley Alexander van Oosten of L’Oeil du Vert, accessories mavens Maryam and Marjan Malakpour of NewbarK and women’s clothing designer Juan Carlos Obando were tapped for the collection, which is for sale at the LACMA store and online, with all proceeds benefiting the museum. They had the run of the museum and could choose any piece as a starting point. What they came up with offers insight into who they are as designers and a chance to see a distinct part of their brand vision distilled. Read more
Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib. Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. Read more
Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York and Paris, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a “boho goddess festival vibe,” opened just in time to dress customers for this month’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson’s favorite springtime excursions. Read more
The Rodeo Drive shopping scene heats up with the opening of the new boutique from Celine, the LVMH-owned brand that helped usher minimalism back into style under the direction of designer Phoebe Philo. What can you find inside? We'll start with Celine’s spring runway collection and tailored classics, must-have handbags, and the fur-lined, Birkenstock-like sandals and fur-covered high heels that have fashion followers buzzing. Read more