Critics’ Picks: July 31 - Aug 6, 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.
In books, a novelist gives a heart-wrenching account of a personal of tragedy as nonfiction. On stage is a new and timely adaptation of a play about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany, and our television critic welcomes Lifetime to the TV revolution.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Has there ever been a more durable, more adaptable fictional character than Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated Sherlock Holmes? The great detective has been played by dozens of actors in every medium, and modern authors have placed him in new adventures set in locales as far from London as India, Montana, even north of the Arctic Circle. Doing something completely different with this character, then, is no easy task, but the beautifully done “Mr. Holmes” has made it happen. Maneuvering shrewdly within the boundaries of the traditional canon and aided by the impeccable performance of Ian McKellen, Bill Condon directs an elegant puzzler that presents the sage of Baker Street dealing with the one thing he’s never had to contend with before: his own emotions. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
There’s no need for psychiatric intervention just quite yet, but the mighty Marvel movie empire is showing definite signs of having a split personality. On the one hand, you have those big clanking machines like “The Avengers” and “Captain America,” stuffed to bursting with superhero braggadocio. Then there are the loose, anarchic films, more offbeat items that seem to come from another universe entirely. Films like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Films like “Ant-Man.” Playful in unexpected ways and graced with a genuinely off-center sense of humor, “Ant-Man” (engagingly directed by Peyton Reed) is light on its feet the way the standard-issue Marvel behemoths never are. Read more
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
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
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
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 summer’s most talked-about show came from a surprising source — please welcome Lifetime to the televised revolution. More super-smart satire than spoof, “UnReal” goes behind the scenes of a “Bachelor”-like romance reality show to expose the naked ambition, near-criminal manipulation and personal drama of the people who create it. “UnReal” is a splendidly realized drama about reality TV. It’s a blast. And the fact that “Bachelor” host Chris Harrelson recently threw a major hissy fit about how terrible it is and how no one watches it just proves it’s stellar worth. (Constance Zimmer as the ruthless producer alone makes it worth watching.) Here’s how good it is: My husband recently got mad at me when I watched an episode without him. Which brings the number of shows we both can’t wait to watch to three: “Game of Thrones,” “Homeland” and “UnReal.” Alas, it comes to an end this week, with a finale both of the show and the show-within-a show, so over the top it’s set in London. And if it’s not quite the ticket that Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Hamlet” is, well, it should be. And, mercifully, it has already been renewed for a second season. You can catch up on episodes at mylifetime.com and watch the finale Monday on Lifetime, Monday. Read more
‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’
This is it, American society, media, politicians: You’ll still have “The Daily Show” to kick you around after Thursday, but it won’t be Jon Stewart’s foot doing the kicking, and whatever that will be, it won’t be the same. Trevor Noah, who begins rebooting the brand Sept. 28, might turn out to be the host of your dreams — and the current host, in the seat since 1999, was, after all, not the show’s first — but it’s clear from listening to him for, like, six seconds, is that his approach, his energy, his frequency-range, his schtick, will be nothing like Stewart’s, with its echoes of an older comedy world, its particular mix of ironic and real seriousness with a weaponized Borscht Belt voice. (He’s late night’s only Jew, interestingly.) Stewart has been in the news himself of late after a reminiscence by former “Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast (and subsequent links to some older stories) made it sound like he might have not been the world’s best boss always, for everyone — which makes him sound like … a boss. But that is all almost behind us now. Whatever else, Stewart and his team established the daily nightly topical comedy show as an important, playful player in the life of the nation, a platform whose reckonings must be reckoned with. Amy Schumer, Denis Leary and Louis C.K. are the final week’s announced guests, though one would assume some unannounced ones as well. Thursday’s finale goes double-wide. Comedy Central, weeknights Read more
'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll'
If you are not a fan of Denis Leary, stop reading here. Although there are many appealing players in this half-hour comedy about an aging and never truly successful rock star coping with an unexpected second chance, it is, essentially, a platform for Leary (who stars, writes and sometimes directs), on which he riffs about rock music, culture, the creative process, aging, addiction and whatever else he feels like riffing on. Oh, he tries to tie it together with a narrative, but the plot is desultory at best. Johnny Rock (Leary), an early '90s bad boy/flameout meets Gigi (Elizabeth Giles), the daughter he never knew he had. She wants to be a rock star too and figures the least Johnny can do is reunite with his co-writer and guitarist, Flash (John Corbett), and the rest of his band to write music for her. (She mysteriously has a bunch of money to fund all this.) The band is one big dysfunctional family that happens to write beautiful music together, when they're not fighting. And like 768 previous films and series, they only manage to come together around a kid.(Mary McNamara) (FX, Thursdays) Read more
'Hudson Valley Ballers' Returns
After two years, best friends Paula Pell and James Anderson are back with their funny little Web series about how they left show business to run the Embarrassed Lamb, a "bed & brunch" in upstate New York. The new season, a prequel — shades of "Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp" — begins as the longtime "SNL" writers give their easily accepted notice to Lorne Michaels. ("I think it's time," says Michaels. "Comedy writing's like an avocado; once it's too soft, you really don't want it in your guacamole. We good?") Where the first season offered mostly discrete bits in which Pell and Anderson also played characters other than themselves, the new series is a continuing narrative in which the stars encounter the country for the first time and find it a tough nut to crack. (Robert Lloyd) (Above Average, L/Studio) Read more
My 8-year-old daughter recently added this to her personal DVR queue (which often threatens to take over mine, but only because "Jessie" seems to run on Disney Channel every hour of every day), and it is pretty amazing. For four seasons now, "tree whisperer" Pete Nelson and his crew have traveled the country building treehouses of every shape and size in every sort of ecosystem and tree type. It's like "Cribs" meets "This Old House" for kids. Watching Nelson and his crew spend the sort of money and time on a treehouse that many spend on an actual house is occasionally weird ("Tree Houses of the Rich and Famous"), but the locales are gorgeous, his enthusiasm infectious, the craftsmanship mesmerizing and who doesn't want a treehouse? I certainly do. (Mary McNamara) (Animal Planet, Fridays) Read more
'The Jim Gaffigan Show'
Big, pale and doughy "clean comic" Jim Gaffigan's lower-Manhattan single-camera family-sitcom-that's-all-about-the-grownups is one of the treats of the summer, and this week's episode, "In the Name of the Father," is an especially good one. (Gaffigan is a Catholic — that's part of the premise — but one not beyond stealing a line from the liturgy for his situation comedy.) It makes great use of its four principals — Gaffigan as sort of himself, Ashley Williams as his wife, Adam Goldberg as his best friend and Michael Ian Black as hers — by putting them together, filling them up with Scotch and sending them out into the New York night and the valley of the shadow of death, to messy, joyful, sweet, salty ends. (Robert Lloyd) (TV Land, Wednesdays) Read more
'Mad Men' Auction
Bits and pieces of the 1960s used to make "Mad Men" are up for auction this week at Screenbid.com. Items range from Don Draper's 1965 Cadillac Couple DeVille on the high end to ash trays and playing cards on the low; in between you will find such treasures as Sally's plaid pool bag, Pete's wool plaid scarf , Bert's Asian-inspired lighter and ashtray, Betty and Don's tiered dessert tray and plates, Dawn's desk ceramic cat (one of three), Sally's Highlight magazines, "While You Were Out" messages signed by Megan, Joan's burgundy velvet stilettos, a Kodak Cavalcade projector, Megan's wedding ring, Don's "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" newspaper ad, Peggy's gold wire medicine cabinet, Betty's musical jewelry box, Don's Social Security card, Sally's family tree, Joan's office bar cart, Pete's final episode overcoat and Don's gray pinstripe damaged arm suit (he's a 42 regular), and more than 1,300 other items of midcentury clothing, accessories, furnishings, housewares and ephemera; indeed, if you were rich enough and lucky enough, you might be able to remake your own life in the image of your favorite "Mad Men" character. It was a show whose subject was in a sense these objects — that made a fetish of these fetishes — and whose characters were understood in part by what they owned, wore, used, sold or gave or threw away. This collection is a text in itself. (Robert Lloyd) (Online, until Aug. 7) Read more
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent” renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity that today can be universally appreciated for its enduring theatrical power. While deeply respectful of the gravity of the historical material, this sensationally acted production reveals that there’s much more to this drama than a history lesson. Ends Sun., Aug. 23. Read more
Inspired by Matthew Sweet's 1991 alternative rock album of the same title, this two-character musical unfolds in the summer between high school graduation and the daunting prospect of adulthood for two young men who don't on the surface have much in common yet are powerfully drawn together. Sensibilities in a hurry may dismiss this coming-of-age gay romance as slight and sluggish, but those who can enter the rhythm of the show (featuring a book by Todd Almond) may find themselves returning to some epic emotions from their youth. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 9) Read more
'El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola'
Ron House's follow-up to his, John Neville-Andrews, Alan Shearman and Diz White's 1973 international phenomenon is a knee-slapping festival of broad hilaridad, an un-PC fiesta that is simultaneously a throwback to the Golden Age of live television, a current-day-minded sequel and its own muy histérico entertainment. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sun., Dec. 13) Read more
'Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin'
That indefatigable purveyor of composers Hershey Felder applies his singular blend of musical biography, character study and piano virtuosity toward the iconic American songwriter. Although the richly entertaining, ultimately touching result could stand a few trims and affords less concert fireworks than previous excursions, the empathy, showmanship and craft on tap may just be the best match of historical figure and performing artist yet in this franchise, wholly attuned to a gratefully participating audience. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 7) Read more
'The Great Divide'
As the final production in its longtime Hollywood venue, Elephant Theatre Company presents Lyle Kessler’s darkly comic look at warped family dynamics in Fishtown, Pa. Despite fleeting new-play issues, it’s a wild and woolly ride. Kessler’s knack for scabrous dialogue and unexpected twists remains intact, and director David Fofi referees a deft cast that tears into the seriocomic fracas without blinking. (David C. Nichols) (Ends this Saturday, Aug. 29) Read more
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
'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
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
Riffing on a modern-day incarnation of the goddess Shiva, this subtly crafted portrait of a Hindu immigrant girl’s coming-of-age in her new American homeland shapes seemingly unrelated narrative fragments into a poetic, often humorous and ultimately profound journey of self-discovery, metaphorically mapped to the wonders and terrors of space exploration. (Phillip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 9) Read more
Album: ‘Hall of Records’
Lionel Williams, who makes music and visual art as Vinyl Williams, crafts sparkly electronic beat music that exists in its own curious realm. “Hall of Records” is one of 14 tracks on his new album, “Into,” and makes for a good portal. Tinted with the sonic tone of an overused Maxell cassette, rich with humming frequencies that recall German Krautrock and dense with muffle-tone beats suggestive of 1990s label Too Pure, the track swirls with synthesizers and waves of untethered noise. Williams is less skilled as a vocalist, though. He quivers in pitchy falsetto throughout “Into.” It hardly matters, though. The stuff is mesmerizing. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: 'Heaven's Room'
Guitarist Matt Mondanile is perhaps best known for his work with New Jersey guitar pop band Real Estate, but his solo project Ducktails has generated equally sublime tracks across four albums. The fifth, "St. Catherine," is filled with many languid, jangled guitar lines. Among the best is "Heaven's Room," which features Los Angeles musician Julia Holter. Mondanile, who relocated to Los Angeles, is a master of smooth, shimmering guitar tones, but "Heaven's Room" blossoms through masterful arrangements and a sonic depth courtesy of producer Rob Schnapf. (Randall Roberts) Read more
While most other superstar artists are either on vacation, on tour or otherwise removed from the conversation, Prince is spending the summer focused on protest and injustice. The artist just released the lyric video for "Baltimore," his invective against police brutality that draws attention to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and others. The track, released earlier this year, is one of the most searing protest songs the Minneapolis artist has recorded, and the video is just as pointed. It documents the protests that followed Gray's death in the back of a Baltimore police van, matching shots of frustrated citizens with the artist's lyrical questions. "Are we going to see another bloody day? We're tired of crying and people dying — let's take all the guns away." (Randall Roberts) Read more
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
Essential albums of 2015
Embarking on a mid-year rundown of 2015's best pop albums so far is as much an exercise in mix-and-match diplomacy as it is a definitive truth. Within the various portals of "popular music" in 2015 are so many sounds, approaches, accents, instrumental varieties and ear-popping engineering feats that one tilt of the kaleidoscope yields wildly divergent patterns. I've constrained myself to focus on voices pushing at the edges of so-called popular music. (Randall Roberts) Read more
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
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
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 'Rebel Heart'
Madonna named her 13th studio album "Rebel Heart." The title fits the Madge mold of past titles: adjectives, a noun or two, perhaps a preposition, combined to suggest a loose theme. "Like a Virgin," "Ray of Light," "Hard Candy," "Bedtime Stories" and her relatively epic "Confessions on a Dance Floor" confirm her long-player branding technique, each connecting a concrete idea with the themes conveyed through the songs, more or less. The outlier, her forgettable last album, "MDNA," was a coy reference to the drug MDMA (a.k.a. molly or ecstasy). It sounded as spent as the Monday following an epic Saturday binge. "Rebel Heart" is a far better album than "MDNA" — cleaner, crisper, more sober, less a flimsy attempt at drawing fickle youth ears and more a sturdy rhythmic platform to showcase some of the most striking tracks she's made in 15 years (specifically, since "Music," her last great album). Featuring production by artists including Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West and Sophie and guests including Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj and (in spoken form) Mike Tyson, it has completeness to it rather than the mishmash of could-be stabs at relevance that dots her lesser work. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Shadows in the Night'
Call them standards if you must — imagine dusty old classics of the so-called Great American Songbook. But as interpreted by Bob Dylan, more accurate is to consider the entirety of "Shadows in the Night" as a gathering of meditations, or a booklet of hymns, or a selection of reveries. Ten songs, 34 minutes, a soaring lifetime's worth of emotion conveyed with the fearlessness of a cliff diver spinning flips and risking belly flops in the open air — that's Dylan and his band on the graceful, often-breathtaking "Shadows." The record comes out Feb. 3. Strikingly unadorned and as emotionally raw as anything in the artist's canon, Dylan's new studio album is rich with moaning pedal steel lines and tonal whispers that drift in and out of measures. Guided by bassist Tony Garnier's liquid lines, "Shadows" is an exercise in precision, each syllable essential, each measure evenly weighted. Absent are piano, overdubs, all but the most minimal percussion or any lyric written by Dylan himself. And it's as slow as molasses. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Best known as an original member of Danity Kane, R&B singer Dawn Richard left the group last year (again) after a public kerfuffle revealed deep divisions among the crew. No disrespect to the others, but Richard is thriving without them. Over the last few years she's issued a series of works that hinted at a wildly visionary approach to soul sonics, and she's gone even further on "Blackheart." A collaboration with the Los Angeles producer Noisecastle III, Richards' second studio album is thick with synth-based polyrhythms and layers of Richard's fine voice. When delivered straight, it's solid and pitch perfect. More often, though, she and Noisecastle run her words through strange filters, electronically manipulating it to move from male bass to female soprano and beyond. She merges her words with Vocoders like she's rolling onto Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," hums with Giorgio Moroder-like synth throbs. The result is magnetic future funk, rife with Roland 909 tones, British drum and bass accents and much left-field surprise. (Randall Roberts) Read more
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
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
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
Tumanyan Khinkali Factory
Meet khinkali, your latest obsession. Khinkali are soup dumplings from the mountains north of Tbilisi, Georgia. When you check Google Maps for the mountain village in which they may have been born, khinkali is the only word you will be able to read on the screen — the location, apparently, of a restaurant. Pasanauri was a center of dumpling tourism in the Soviet era, although it has fallen on hard times. Dumpling tourism is not what it used to be. A proper khinkali is about the size and heft of a lemon, a lump of oniony meat encased in a sturdy pleated wrapper gathered at the top in a thick, doughy knob. If you poke around in old cookbooks, you see khinkali after khinkali lined up on big platters, resembling nothing so much as Eastern European folk-art heads of garlic. Tumanyan Khinkali Factory is a new khinkali specialist hidden in a Glendale shopping complex courtyard, a branch of the most famous khinkali restaurant in Armenia's capital, Yerevan. Its dumplings more closely resemble old-fashioned hot water bottles, or, really, like Claes Oldenburg's Pop art sculpture of a hot water bottle that used to grace the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's courtyard. Read more
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
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
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
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
Redbird may be the most anticipated Los Angeles restaurant of the current decade, a venture involving the city's highest-profile food entrepreneur at the moment, an actual deconsecrated cathedral and a chef for whom greatness has lain just out of reach for more than a decade. No local restaurant has ever taken quite so long to open; no spit-grilled lamb belly with kumquats and Aleppo pepper has ever taken quite so long to reach the plate. But here we are, walking up the steps to the former rectory, passing through a softly glowing cocktail lounge and into a former patio, newly crowned with a retractable roof. From some angles, you can see bits of the former cathedral interior through the big glass windows — at night, the changing colored lights give the nave the look of a James Turrell installation. A locomotive-size grill chugs at one end of the dining room. The former apartments of the rectory, recently converted into private dining areas, soar overhead. And more than at any Los Angeles restaurant since Rex or the first decade of Campanile, you feel as if you are part of something bigger than yourself, a hungry, chattering component of a grand pleasure machine — even before the 32-ounce porterhouse shows up. Read more
Avocado toast? That was so last year. We are now in the age of the phenomenon I have come to think of as Things in a Bowl, a culinary invention that may depend on rice, pasta, whole grains or legumes but usually includes a poached egg of one sort or another and always, always comes with kale. The sorrel rice at Sqirl? Things in a Bowl. That grains-and-greens dish at Field Trip? Things in a Bowl. That concoction at Superba, Gjusta, Akasha or M Café that looks like something your yogini might make the morning she decided to clean out her refrigerator? Things in Bowls, all of them. They are healthful. They keep you regular. You could probably survive on them for weeks if you had to, especially if you got to throw in lamb bacon like they do at Little Sister. The great Eastside destination for Things in a Bowl is probably Lincoln, a new Pasadena brunch restaurant up by the Altadena border, which can sometimes seem as if it has as many varieties of Things in a Bowl as Baskin-Robbins has of ice cream. There is the breakfast bowl, which has the beans, sausage, runny egg, toast and tomato of a proper English fry-up but with baby kale and a lot more herbs. There is the farro bowl, which includes dabs of peppery romesco sauce and a handful of spiced chickpeas along with the grains and greens. There is a spicy shrimp bowl, a more lettuce-intensive breakfast salad, and a bowl of huevos rancheros that may be spicy and vaguely cheesy but otherwise has all the characteristics of a bowl. Read more
Barrel & Ashes: Texas Barbecue
When you talk to the masters of Texas barbecue, men and women who measure their lives in cords of post oak and fatty beef by the ton, you will hear about convection rates and sedimentation, humidity and wind, and the way fat renders in April as opposed to the way it renders in May. You learn about the complexities of brisket, a cut made up of two separate muscles that react to heat as if they were from two different planets. You'll hear a lot about the aging of split logs, the role of black pepper in crust formation, the perils of both over-smoking and under-smoking, and the difficult consistency of subcutaneous fat. Plus, if you're doing the job correctly, you have to show up to work around 1 a.m., before the bars have even closed. Barbecue is hard. In Texas, even being a fan of barbecue is hard. Barrel & Ashes is easy. Or rather, Barrel & Ashes is meant to be easy: a Texas-style barbecue restaurant with a convenient location in Studio City, cheerful valet parking and reservations readily available on OpenTable. Some of the seating is at long communal tables, but it is pleasant enough if you're OK with sitting on bar stools, and you may catch a glimpse of the lenticular clouds of meringue crowning the banana pudding or a can of Icelandic beer flavored with bilberries. There are even forks, which at the best Texas places are used only when eating cole slaw and dessert. Read more
Like the community it serves, Gjusta, the newish place from owner Fran Camaj and chef-owner Travis Lett, the people who brought you Gjelina and Gjelina Takeaway, is dedicated to creative disruption. The cotton coats that the bakers wear are fetishized by fashion blogs. The baklava croissants have become cult objects. A city planning hearing on a proposed patio drew Zach Galifianakis among the protesters. Is it a bakery? Kind of. The charred, crunchy baguettes, sourdough loaves and whole-grain boules dominate the north end of the enormous counter, along with the tarts, flatbreads, quiches and butter-saturated croissants. Is it a deli? Also yes: A few yards farther down in the glass case are house-cured pastramis, pickles and hams, along with an extensive array of the smoked fish and condiments that people in New York call "appetizing'' — food meant to be eaten with bagels and bialys. A lot of the food has a hint of Middle Eastern flavor — you can get the thickened yogurt called labneh on your bialy instead of cream cheese if you like. Alongside the pain au chocolat are those "baklava'' croissants stuffed with pistachios. And puffy flatbreads smeared with the herb paste za'atar lean next to the ones topped with dried tomatoes. Read more
If you are fond of visiting Los Angeles restaurants in their first months, you have run into chef Kris Morningstar a lot, probably more times than you can imagine. He has cooked at Shutters and AOC, Grace, Meson G and Opaline, Casa and the weird rooftop-to-table restaurant Blue Velvet. He was in and out of the Hollywood restaurant District in what seemed like weeks, although people still talk about his term in the kitchen, and he opened Ray's & Stark Bar, the vegetable-focused restaurant in the shadow of Chris Burden's lamppost installation in a courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. So it is nice to see Morningstar finally open what seems like his dream restaurant: Terrine, a huge, relaxed place in what used to be the Italian restaurant Pane e Vino. The once fussy dining room has been streamlined into a brisk, airy space, adjoining one of the pleasantest, tree-shaded dining patios in town. The music is too loud — it is always too loud — but conversations are easy enough to follow. And Terrine seems to have been immediately adopted as a clubhouse by the local chefs' community. Especially late at night, restaurant people sometimes seem to outnumber civilians. Morningstar cooks what chefs like to eat. What that means, basically, is meat, lots of meat, along with rustic red wine, decent beer and cocktails that actually taste like the spirits with which they are made. When the best salad on the menu is made with crunchy, thick-cut slices of toasted pig's ear, you know you're in a restaurant that welcomes chefs. Read more
A site-specific mural, a video installation and 12 new paintings comprise Mark Bradford’s ruminative exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum, organized by curator Connie Butler. Together they form a kind of thumbnail sketch of the artist’s varied artistic approaches since he began showing regularly in 2002, launched at the former Patricia Faure Gallery. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 27) Read more
Still life gets turned on its head. The genre often has a moralizing subtext, which is inevitably keyed to religious or secular considerations of mortality. Likewise, Bruno's monumental still-life paintings emphatically, almost defiantly, insist on the temporal virtues of flat-out joy (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 15) Read more
Floris Neusüss: Dreams + Photograms
Neusüss' photograms are less technical innovations than they are cross-disciplinary meditations on aesthetic fundamentals, regardless of time or place. Their perhaps surprising sense of intimacy comes from the simple knowledge that human bodies actually touched the paper that we're looking at (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 15) Read more
"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
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
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
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
'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
'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
‘Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother’s Story’
On Nov. 8, 2000, David Payne’s younger brother, George A., died in a car wreck north of Roanoke, Va. Payne, the lead driver in an impromptu two-vehicle caravan, watched the whole thing unfold in his rearview mirror. His brother was helping him transport belongings from Vermont to North Carolina as part of a move. This is the impetus for “Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother’s Story,” Payne’s first book of nonfiction after five novels, including “Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street.” To say “Barefoot to Avalon” is about the accident, however, is to underestimate what Payne has achieved. George A., who was 42 when he died, suffered from bipolar I disorder and had been through multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations; he had lost his job, his marriage, his self-sufficiency, living with his mother for the last nine years of his life. Payne, for his part, had “failed to see what had happened to George A. and had let things shutter down till there was almost no light left between us.” The brothers’ trip together, then, was meant to be a reclamation project, a way of bringing them back into proximity again. That it ended as it did is just one of the many tragedies that permeate this piercing book. Read more
'Poetry Is Useless'
Anders Nilsen is called a comics artist, but that's not exactly what he does. Yes, his books are visual, but Nilsen seems at times to be about the deconstruction of form itself in favor of a purer style of storytelling, gathering evidence: images, correspondence, notes from the author to himself.... It's a vivid approach to narrative, immediate and unexpected, and it encourages — no, requires — us to engage. On the one hand, a stunning, apparently unfiltered humanity, and on the other, a sense of form as malleable, as less straitjacket than structure, a way of piercing the surfaces to get at all the uncontrolled or uncontrollable material underneath. And yet, filtering is what an artist does — the shaping of perception, of experience — and this creates the tension at the heart of Nilsen's work. How to make order out of chaos and still give the chaos its due? The question echoes through Nilsen's new book, "Poetry Is Useless," which reproduces seven years of his sketchbooks; much of the work here originally appeared on his blog "The Monologuist." Read more
'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
'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
'The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy'
Masha Gessen does something unexpected with "The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy." In a book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, she barely describes the crime. Here it is, her account, which comes almost exactly at the halfway point: "Patriots' Day 2013 fell on April 15, tax day — an ironic coincidence for a big American holiday. At 2:49 p.m. that day, a couple of hours after the winner completed the Boston Marathon, when runners were crossing the finish line in a steady stream, two bombs went off near the end of the route, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others, including sixteen who lost limbs." Read more
Online Magazine: 'The Offing'
Next week, a new literary magazine, the Offing, will premiere online. Based (for the most part) in Los Angeles, where it is affiliated with the Los Angeles Review of Books Channels project, it is really a national, or even international, effort, which aspires to break down boundaries, to level the playing field. Editor in chief Darcy Cosper (who is also an editor at LARB, although the Offing is editorially and financially independent) and executive editors Airea D. Matthews and Michael D. Snediker head up an editorial team that also includes Danez Smith, Leslie Parry and Margaret Wappler; the magazine, its website tells us, "is a place for new and emerging artists to test their voices, and for established artists to test their limits." Among these limits are those of diversity, which is a key part of the Offing's focus, to break down barriers, to blur — or even more, to eclipse — the lines that keep certain writers, certain communities, on the edges of the conversation, to redefine the mainstream by willfully stepping outside the bounds. Read more
'Eventually Everything Connects'
What do Alfred Hitchcock, Edith Head, Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton have in common? They're all featured in Loris Lora's glorious, and unexpected, "Eventually Everything Connects," a celebration of mid-20th century California Modernism in visual form. Lora, a 2014 BFA grad of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, takes her inspiration and her title from designer Charles Eames' assertion that "Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects .... The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se." The work here, however, is entirely her own. Read more
Here’s a beautiful curio: Frontier, a quarterly series from San Francisco indie comics publisher Youth in Decline. Each issue features a stand-alone work by a single artist. The most recent is “Ann by the Bed,” a 32-page comic by Emily Carroll, and it’s a powerhouse — a gothic horror story in which a child’s what-if scenario becomes a portal to a terror that is all too real. The set-up is simple: “In the early morning of October 12th, 1934,” Carroll tells us, “someone took a hatchet to Ann Herron’s room and woke her up with a blow to the head.” The killer followed her throughout the house before finishing her off “in the parlour of her family home.” But there are complications: Ann’s parents, and her brother, George, have also died in a series of strange accidents. Her sister, Jennie, who survived, may or may not have been engaged in witchcraft. This is the best thing about “Ann by the Bed,” which is named for a game kids play to scare themselves — that it raises questions without having, or even trying, to answer them; the whole point is the mystery. Read more
About a decade ago, Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard released “N” as a reaction to all that was excessive in video games. They swapped out flashy color for essentially various shades of gray, there was no musical score and if it was story you were looking for, forget it. The main character was a tiny stick figure ninja that could jump high and run fast as robots targeted it around a minefield of explosive objects. The end. Now, on the verge of the release of “N++,” the second proper sequel in what has proved to be a rather venerable indie franchise, Burns and Sheppard aren’t quite as minimalistic in their gaming views. They have an audience, and the two wouldn’t mind expanding it. The latest edition of their game will be coming to the PlayStation 4 as a downloadable title on July 28. It follows the 2008 release of “N+,” an edition that Sheppard estimates sold more than 400,000 downloads. That’s been enough to allow the duo to make “N” games full time, as well as wonder why their title hasn’t reached even more players. “It’s never gotten the recognition that we at least feel it deserves,” says Sheppard. “We thought that part of that was because it’s a little bit unapproachable. We wanted to give it one last shot and make it a bit more friendly.” Read more
Video game critic
Take a little bit of "Dora the Explorer" and maybe a dash of David Lynch, and the resulting mix should be weird, whimsical, mysterious and, in theory, still kid-friendly. That's the hope, at least, of Joe Russ, whose "Jenny LeClue" is in development for home computers and mobile devices. "We've been calling it a dark whimsy," he says. In a free playable teaser of the game, available now, little Jenny LeClue is a young detective who's about to discover the world is far more dangerous than she ever could have imagined. There are ghost ships, for one, and even more imposing is the realization that her entire town, including her life, is under surveillance by a mysterious figure. Read more
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
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
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
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" 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 simple phrase at the outset of "White Night" sets this mood for this Depression-era thriller. "Times were worse than hard, and the bar was about to close." The words come from a down-on-his-luck man, struggling like much of the United States was in 1938. He staggers to his car, a clearly unfortunate action the player has no control over, and kicks off the game when he crashes into a tree. What follows in "White Night," available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, is a ghost story at its most cerebral. The man (we aren't given a name) is in desperate need of medical care when he stumbles into a seemingly deserted mansion. We know this is a bad idea. The crumbling cemetery out front makes that clear, but worried times lead to bad decisions. Can what's inside a country house really be worse than what's outside, where jobs are scarce, people are starving and what little wages there are have already been spent on booze? Read more
'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse'
Pink, puffy and potent, "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" is Nintendo at its most aggressively cute. But just because Kirby looks like a piece of bubblegum, don't write the veteran Nintendo character off as child's play. Though Kirby hasn't been around as long as his peers Mario or Donkey Kong, since introduced in the early '90s he's won a reputation as an experimental shape-shifter. Sometimes, Kirby has the power to inhale much larger foes. Other times, he can turn into a rocket. Then there was a time when Kirby was just a piece of yarn. Here, Kirby, still looking like a gelatinous pink ball of puff, is transformed into clay and rolls through side-scrolling worlds by following the stylus of a player. Each swipe, dash or circle of the pen creates a rainbow-colored rope for Kirby to latch onto. It's like directing a tiny digital creation to dance, only one must also watch out for ghosts. The Wii U-exclusive is played entirely on the system's touchpad-like controller, the GamePad. Read more
Snowboarding: Outside of the Olympics I didn't think there was any way it could excite me. Then "Alto's Adventure" came along. "Alto's Adventure" gives the sport a dapper makeover, as its diminutive star slickly traverses detailed never-ending forests. Llamas are on the loose (of course) and it's the player's job to save them, having to avoid prickly rocks, treacherous chasms and sleepy-but-ornery elders along the way. Try, if possible, to sneak in some tricks, that is if the tiny little specks emanating from a campfire don't distract your view (spoiler: they'll totally distract you). The game is simple – tap the screen to jump, that's it – but the look is elegant. Every panorama is given a wistful gauze. A moon twinkles in the distance, snow glistens as it falls, the sun leaves a pensive haze and lightening streaks across the night sky. Often, Alto would stumble into a rock simply because I was taken with a slow-moving windmill atop a hill or was caught watching the birds that scattered when I approached off the slope of a crescent-shaped hill. Read more
The hero at the core of the independent game “Gravity Ghost” is, in fact, an adolescent: 12-year-old Iona. Even more unusual, she’s dead — an apparition who haunts the solar system, looking for lost souls to save. Far from a ghost story, this title created by Erin Robinson takes a fanciful eye to the afterlife, turning the high-flying spirit into something of an outer space superhero. She treats the cosmos as a giant intergalactic plaything, toying with planets as if they were bouncy balls and turning globes into gelatinous, fish-tank-like orbs. Underlying it all is the sadness that comes with knowing a young life was lost. How Iona died and why she’s on an intergalactic quest becomes the title’s central mystery, lending an air of emotional complexity to a game that explores the wonders of a girl in flight, complete with rainbow-colored stardust contrails. It’s heartache, but one with a charm offensive. Read more
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
Lizzie Garrett Mettler
L.A.-based blogger and “Tomboy Style” author Lizzie Garrett Mettler has entered the world of retail. She’s launched The-Reed.com, 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
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
When Tory Burch wants centerpieces for a rooftop dinner at her Rodeo Drive boutique, Louis Vuitton executives need gifts for VIPs or Tom Ford wants to say "thank you," they call Eric Buterbaugh. For 17 years, Buterbaugh has been the go-to floral designer for L.A.'s stylish set. And after he dresses up the tables for dinners hosted by Jessica Alba, jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer or super-stylist Rachel Zoe, Buterbaugh joins the party as one of the most-sought-after guests in town. Now he's bottling the essence of what he does into his first fragrance collection, Eric Buterbaugh Florals. Read more
Clare Vivier has turned her love of French chic and American prep — and a search for the perfect, non-corporate-looking work bag — into a made-in-L.A. success story. Her collection launched eight years ago with a single vegetable-tanned leather tote called La Tropezienne, manufactured in Los Angeles. Buoyed by the early support of social media, it has grown to include small accessories, gifts, stationery and French-phrase T-shirts. Available at 300 outlets worldwide, it is on the way to becoming an American lifestyle brand — maybe even the next Kate Spade. "I have a lot of admiration for what Kate and Andy built," says Vivier, 44. "I also like what Vanessa Bruno did, starting with bags and then doing clothing." This month, Vivier is scheduled to open her fourth Clare V. store, her biggest yet, in L.A.'s Melrose Avenue shopping district. She is also dipping her toes into shoe design. Read more
Hometown hero Jeremy Scott has opened the first Moschino store in Los Angeles, with all the playful “Drink Moschino” cola can window displays, Barbie-pink shrunken biker jackets and chain-link-trimmed baseball caps you’d expect from fashion’s reigning king of pop. The designer, who took over as creative director of Italian fashion brand Moschino in October 2013 and now splits his time between his L.A. base and Milan, arrived stateside on Sunday to open the 3,500-square-foot boutique, located in a former gallery space on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. 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
London designer darling Simone Rocha is following her New Establishment British Fashion Award win this week with a denim capsule for J Brand now available online. Rocha is the daughter of the well-established, Dublin, Ireland-based designer John Rocha, who was until recently a mainstay on the runways in London. She launched her namesake collection at London Fashion Week in 2011, after graduating from fashion school Central Saint Martins. Since then, she's been racking up young designer awards across the globe and gaining a steady following for her darkly feminine, goofy-glam, ruffled and sparkly designs, which sell at Colette, Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter, among other places. Read more