Critics’ Picks: July 4-10, 2014
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.
A compelling documentary and a vision of a frozen world (not at all like the animated one) are this week’s film picks, and a Chekhov classic gets an irreverent treatment on stage. Also: Francisco Goldman’s newest book is brilliant.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’
A compelling documentary that will leave you heartsick as well as more than a little furious. Whether Aaron Swartz is a personal hero or someone you’ve never heard of until now, his story cannot help but move you. Read more
Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho packs all of his apocalyptic angst inside an unforgettable “Snowpiercer.” Using a great cast, a gripping idea and a gorgeously grimy retro aesthetic, Bong keeps this eerie examination of the train wreck of humanity racing along. Bong and Kelly Masterson adapt the chilling French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” in which society’s remnants survive on a train speeding through a frozen world. Both the material and the messengers — Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton lead a cast top-heavy with international talent — lend a kind of gravitas to what might otherwise have been mindless action fare. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Edge of Tomorrow'
Just when you were ready to give up on the summer season and its cookie-cutter, been-there blockbusters, "Edge of Tomorrow" saves the day. It's a star-driven mass-market entertainment that's smart, exciting and unexpected while not stinting on genre satisfactions. Certainly a $178-million Tom Cruise-starring science-fiction epic about humanity's fight to the death against pesky alien invaders does not sound as though it's pushing any envelopes, but with Doug Liman in charge, don't be so sure. As previous credits like "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" attest, Liman is a director congenitally averse to doing things in an ordinary way. Aided by performances by Cruise and costar Emily Blunt that also depart from what's come before, "Edge of Tomorrow" manages to show us familiar events in a way we're not used to seeing them. Read more
Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow'
Watching the very entertaining sci-fi thriller "Edge of Tomorrow," with its "Groundhog Day" rewind-replay conceit applied to a space alien invasion rather than romance, I was reminded of how good Tom Cruise can be in the right role. For an A-list actor with steady work in big-budget projects, Cruise hasn't fallen on hard times exactly. But breakout hits have been hard to come by as the 52-year-old has gotten deeper into middle age. The last truly good Cruise movie was 2011's "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," and the off years have clearly taken a toll. Though critics embraced "Edge" — and indeed its smart, wry, tightly coiled action makes for a great ride — audiences aren't flocking to see it. If you've been resisting, reconsider. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'The Fault in Our Stars'
Shailene Woodley is the reason to put "The Fault in Our Stars" on your should-see list if it's not already there. The film has other reasons to recommend it: The smarter-than-usual take on teenage life. The way director Josh Boone keeps novelist John Green's premise about love and kids with cancer from turning maudlin or schmaltzy. The other actors, including her charismatic costar Ansel Elgort. But Woodley is the big-red-underline-it reason to make time. The 22-year-old knocked around for a few years in smaller TV and film roles before her breakouts: On TV in the ABC Family drama series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which had a five-season run beginning in 2008; in film playing a rebellious teen in 2011 opposite George Clooney's dad in "The Descendants." The actress is one of a new generation of actors relying on, gulp, talent to make their mark. A few months ago, Woodley showed she could carry a blockbuster in "Divergent." When it comes to indie fare, the actress makes good choices: for one, 2013's "The Spectacular Now." Woodley is, as they say, the real deal, someone with real staying power. And she has never been real-er than in "The Fault in Our Stars." (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'How to Train Your Dragon 2'
From the fashionable day-old scruff on Hiccup's 20-year-old Viking chin to the amped-up fire power of Toothless, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" has made good use of the years since the villagers of Berk and the boy who'd rather not be chief first charmed us. The growing pains, starting with the decision to visibly age the animated characters, only begin with Hiccup's hip facial hair. Meanwhile, much of the tension in "2" turns on the art of negotiating peace in a world that prefers taking up arms. Sound familiar? "Dragon's" already spot-on cast, led by Jay Baruchel as the emerging hero, has improved with age too, thanks in part to the addition of Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, Oscar-nominated Djimon Hounsou and impressive newcomer Kit Harington. He's known to "Game of Thrones" fans as Jon Snow, though instead of brooding hunk, "Dragon" exposes his lighter side. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Spare, haunting, uncompromising, this Polish film about a novitiate who discovers she is Jewish is a work of exceptional artistry whose emotions are as potent and persuasive as its images are indelibly beautiful. (Kenneth Turan) (In Polish with English subtitles) Read more
In re-imagining the infamous evil queen who curses an innocent girl, "Maleficent" is very much a cautionary tale for modern times. It essentially begs the question — are you sure it was the shrew that needed taming? It stars a wickedly good Angelina Jolie as the legendary Maleficent. In her hands, the queen is endlessly fascinating and worlds away from the fairy tale staple that so many generations have been introduced to via Disney's animated "Sleeping Beauty" (1959). The new film's position is clear and uncompromising on the question of who was in the wrong. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Masterfully brought to life by Guy Pearce in a performance of pure controlled ferocity, Eric and his implacable, obsessive, stop-at-nothing quest to recover his stolen vehicle is the centerpiece of David Michod's tense and remorseless "The Rover," a film shot in 100-degree-plus heat that chills the blood as well as the soul. Michod's name may not be familiar, but his debut film, "Animal Kingdom," was one of 2010's great successes. This second venture, though very different, confirms the Australian director (who wrote the script and shares story credit with Joel Edgerton) as an impressive filmmaker with a talent for creating distinctive worlds and depositing us right in the heart of them. "The Rover's" spare, uncompromisingly bleak setting is a very particular one, a time 10 years after an economic collapse that is both unnervingly familiar yet dangerous, deranged and even malevolent in a way we have not experienced. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘East Los High’
A welcome second season for this Web-based Latino teen drama, set in East Los Angeles, begins this week, following some gap-bridging prequels. Originally created with an educational ulterior motive, specifically to address and possibly to counter high rates of teenage pregnancy among Latinas, it remains true to its mission at no expense to its raciness and racy at no expense to its seriousness. (The word “condom” is a kind of mantra here.) Not surprisingly, it focuses on the female characters, who bear the brunt of sexual bad decisions, or lack of decision, and are, let’s face it, generally more interesting and complicated than teenage boys. Hulu.com, anytime Read more
'My Way to Olympia'
In which disabled German filmmaker Niko von Glasow (his arms are severely shortened, with his hands about where his elbows ordinarily would be) visits with athletes preparing for the 2012 London Paralympic Games: Bosnian-born Norwegian one-armed tennis player Aida Husic Dahlen; the Rwandan sitting volleyball team, whose ranks are made up of formerly warring Hutus and Tutsis; Greek paraplegic boccia player Greg Polychronidis, who has spinal muscular atrophy; and American archer Matt Stutzman, whose condition resembles van Glasow's, and who shoots with his feet. (Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Monday)Read more
Classic Brit TV
It may be Fourth of July weekend but that doesn't mean we can't honor the country we once defeated. So grab your Twinings and Hobnobs and cosy up to "Prime Suspect," "Foyles War" "Midsommer Murder" and "Miss Marple," which are just a few of the titles now available on Acorn TV's online streaming service. (AcornOnline.com/TV) (Mary McNamara) Read more
'Welcome to Sweden'
Amy Poehler's real-life little brother Greg, a lawyer who moved to Sweden for love and became a stand-up comedian -- as unlikely a sentence as I will write this year -- stars in this cream-filled, culture-clash sitcom as Bruce, an accountant who moves to Sweden for love and, several episodes in, hasn't become anything at all. An American insistent on his right to be casual and to be accommodated, he is perhaps less charming and more of a pill than he is meant to be. We don't quite see what his Swedish girlfriend (Josephine Bornebusch, who also co-writes) says she sees in him, and in nearly every conflict he creates or encounters we tend to take the other person's side. (Robert Lloyd) (NBC, Thursdays). Read more
'Orange Is the New Black' Second Season
The second season continues Piper Chapman's (Taylor Schilling) journey from privileged yuppie to self-aware survivor of penal incarceration. More importantly, it continues to deliver the most powerfully eclectic cast of characters, female or male, on any screen today. (Mary McNamara) (Netflix, anytime) Read more
‘Stupid … Bird’
The whole profane title of “Stupid … Bird” can’t be printed in a family newspaper. But anyone with a love of Anton Chekhov and a taste for theatrical horseplay ought not to miss Aaron Posner’s bright, jocular and not-in-the-least offensive modernization of “The Seagull.” The play is a good deal more comically rambunctious than Donald Margulies’ Chekhovian mash-up “The Country House.” But it’s every bit as serious an investigation into what might be called the melancholy of everyday life. Director Michael Michetti has assembled what just may be the most sprightly-sulky ensemble of the year. This game crew makes the most of the metatheatrical mischief while never losing sight of the double torment of being an artist in love. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 10) Read more
'All's Well That Ends Well'
Although it has some stylistic quirks and still-refining aspects, this affable, accessible revival of the Bard's rambling comic study of class distinctions, romantic ambition and hard-earned wisdom is a representative Theatricum Botanicum outing. While the decision to cast actors of color as the nobility, Caucasians as the common folk, could be further examined within the staging, it certainly upends preconceptions and provokes thought. Despite some periodic vagaries of design and attack, the matchless venue and the zigzagging narrative fit fairly well under Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones' knowing co-direction. Their stalwart cast weathers some scattered overblown and/or under-baked beats to deliver the goods when it counts, centered by a never-better Willow Geer, whose supremely lucid Helena is an eloquent, self-actualized heroine for any era. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Saturday, Sept. 27) Read more
Aeschylus meets Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid in the latest deconstruction from Troubadour Theater Company. Maintaining a tightrope balance between grand neoclassicism, sunny 70s kitsch and the company's own inbred spontaneity, chief lunatic Matt Walker and his demented triple-threat forces yank the House of Atreus and ABBA into taut, tickling symbiosis. This compact, jam-packed hybrid may just be the Troubies' most refined synthesis of artistic mission and subversive attack yet. You may have to sacrifice one of your kids to obtain tickets; so be it. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sun., Aug. 3) Read more
'Against the Wall'
Charlie Mount's rollicking world premiere comedy about a struggling stand-up comic and his rocky romance with an earnest actress/activist may strike some as fluffy. That's deceptive. Mount, who also directs, crafts a charmer that is as crisply staged as it is well-constructed, while his comedically gifted cast delivers the laughs with plenty of heart. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Through July 27) Read more
'The Brothers Size'
The Fountain Theatre follows up its award-winning 2012 production of Tarell Alvin McCraney's "In the Red and Brown Water" with the second, stand-alone installment in McCraney's Brother/Sister Plays, "The Brothers Size." This simple story of two brothers in Louisiana, one a hardworking mechanic, the other a restless adventurer, acquires a mythic resonance through its invocation of Yoruba archetypes. Shirley Jo Finney's vibrant direction, the vivid choreography and songs, and the remarkable three-man cast make this intimate production richly theatrical. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 14) Read more
Guillermo Cienfuegos stages Shakespeare's great military play, in which the dissolute Prince Hal transforms himself into the triumphant commander of the Battle of Agincourt, in the Pacific Resident Theatre's black-box space, with no set, no costumes, one prop (a cheap crown), and one completely unexpected and magical special effect. The spare, stripped-down staging brings the thrilling story vividly to life. Joe McGovern, who co-adapted the text with Cienfuegos, stars as a charismatic, punk-rock Henry V; and the radiant Carole Weyers, in only her second Los Angeles stage role, lights up the whole room as his French princess, Katherine. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday, July 20) Read more
While this gender-scrambled take on Shakespeare's darkest tragedy has its limitations, it's impressive how well co-adapter/directors Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall succeed in both illuminating subtextual elements and broadening the scope of the source; Geer's performance in the title role rivals the best in intensity and heartbreak. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 28) Read more
Daniel Hope plays Richter’s ‘Four Seasons’
German composer Max Richter’s recomposing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” throwing out a good deal of Vivaldi and taming what is left with electronica drones, loops and whatnot, is only the latest in a long line of covered classical wagons. Still, this latest “Four Seasons” has gotten a lot of attention thanks to a heavily promoted bestselling CD on Deutsche Grammophon by the versatile violinist Daniel Hope, who premiered the piece in London two years ago. Read more
Best albums of 2014 — so far
Summer offers ample time for the kind of concentrated listening that drives musical love affairs. Whether aboard a luxury liner headed for Alaska or in a hand-me-down Hyundai road-tripping to Joshua Tree, the season presents opportunities galore to catch up on hot records that plugged-in friends have had on repeat. Here are 10 records released this year that I’ve been recommending to friends. The “best” so far? Sure, but don’t expect the same list at the end of the year — or even the end of next week. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Consider the wonder and magic of conjuring a song from the ether. Creating from a mix of oxygen, blood, water and energy a few minutes of something real, something melodically memorable, something as durable as the architecture surrounding us and the technology enveloping us. "Temporary Ground," off Jack White's new solo album, "Lazaretto," is an insta-classic ode to the fleeting beauty of life, delivered through fiddle, acoustic guitar, piano, pedal steel, voice and heart. It opens with a couplet that with precision and poeticism describes the earth and the "drifting continental shelf" upon which we toil. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Albums: 'I Never Learn' and 'Sheezus'
Beware the third album, otherwise known as the Decider. Among would-be career artists, it's the make-or-break release that separates adult from child, evolving creator from one-cycle wonder, the luckily timed from experienced, focused musical connector. Prince's "Dirty Mind," Jay Z's "Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life," Madonna's "True Blue," Kanye West's "Graduation" — each arrived to a public wondering on an artistic direction after assured introductions. This week sees the arrival of two notable third albums, both by artists, Lily Allen and Lykke Li, gunning for stateside pop crossover equal to their homeland success but approaching the task from wildly varied perspectives. (Randall Roberts) Read more
From the first, there was the voice, and with it Michael Jackson crafted beauty. The sequins and moonwalk came later. Even as a tyke he captivated with tonal purity, and in the intervening four decades and 10 studio solo albums that voice was a unifier, one nestled not just within universal playlists but our very neurons — as anyone who's ever awakened with the bass line to "Billie Jean" or the chorus to "Rock With You" out-of-the-blue rolling through their heads can attest. "You've got to feel that heat" indeed. Nearly five years after his death, that voice remains, and is at its most powerful on the new album "Xscape." (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: 'The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint'
When trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire released his Blue Note debut three years ago, “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” it felt as if his talents could take him anywhere. So it makes sense that in crafting his follow-up, Akinmusire nearly goes everywhere. Engrossing, elusive and packed to its literal limits with ideas at 79 minutes, “The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint” beautifully takes Akinmusire’s distinctive tone to new realms, including slow-burning orchestral swells and convention-defying vocal collaborations that attempt to translate his vision into words. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album 'Blank Project'
"Good things come to those who wait," Neneh Cherry sings over stormy electronics and a skittering rhythm on her first solo album in 16 years. If there's a lingering take-away from "Blank Project," that's it. Cherry, whose breakout hit "Buffalo Stance" was practically inescapable in the late '80s, left music for years before reemerging with "The Cherry Thing" in 2012. A brash stab of skronky jazz-punk that paired Cherry's soulful vocals with a blustery Scandinavian saxophone trio, the record was one of the year's best. Here Cherry proves that comeback was no fluke. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album: 'Blue Film'
Lo-Fang is the pseudonym of Matthew Hemerlein, a singer and pop composer who wrote, recorded and played all the instruments on this debut. Drawing on digital R&B, modern pop, "Kid A"-era Radiohead and electronic music, he presents three- and four-minute song bursts that are tightly structured but labyrinthine in detail. "When We're Fine" floats on a digital loop, a tiny-but-mighty rhythm, backward-spinning bleeps and bloops and a catchy chorus. An early contender for debut of the year, "Blue Film" comes out Feb. 25. Lo-Fang goes on tour with his most famous fan, Lorde, this spring. Highly recommended. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Invention of Animals'
Looking back from the fragmented media landscape of 2014, it's hard to imagine someone like John Lurie was ever possible. An immediately recognizable character actor who appeared in landmark indie films including Jim Jarmusch's "Down by Law" and "Stranger Than Paradise," Lurie was also a brilliant saxophonist who helped push the boundaries of jazz in the '80s and '90s with his band, the Lounge Lizards. But Lurie was forced to give up music and acting after being stricken with advanced Lyme disease and has since switched to painting (his work has been exhibited numerous times and was collected in a 2007 book, "A Fine Example of Art"). Lurie's low profile in recent years is also because of significant trouble with a stalker — a situation that was examined in a 2010 New Yorker profile (the facts of which Lurie has vigorously disputed). Still, he recently ventured back into the public eye with "The Invention of Animals," a new set of live tracks and rarities by the John Lurie National Orchestra, his trio with drummers Calvin Weston and Billy Martin of Medeski Martin and Wood. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album: 'Gathering Call'
You can't talk about drummer Matt Wilson without talking about swing, that pulse of jazz that's been his specialty on more than 250 recordings as a sideman. Reconvening his longtime quartet, Wilson again shines with some unexpected help in keyboardist John Medeski. Often lumped into some jam-band ghetto for his ventures with the avant-funk trio Medeski Martin and Wood, Medeski's talents have long been harder to pigeonhole, including a contemplative solo record in 2013. Here, he's a precisely moving part on an album that should be mandatory listening for traditionalists and jazz-curious Phish-heads alike. (Chris Barton) Read more
Claudio Abbado Recordings
When Claudio Abbado, the revered Italian conductor who died Monday, turned 80 last summer, record companies celebrated with several super-sized box sets of his recordings and videos. It's not hard to find discs with which to spend the weekend remembering one of the greats. Abbado's career was a grand one, fairly well documented. He headed and/or recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic, with the London Symphony and Chicago Symphony, with the Vienna State Opera and La Scala. His interpretations of the 19th-century masters – Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Mahler, Verdi, Rossini – are exquisitely accomplished. Abbado was a polisher and took no note for granted. But sometimes his mid-career recordings can sound almost too reliable. It's the vibrant early and the masterly moving late performances that really shine, as well as the more offbeat. (Mark Swed) Read more
Box set: The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records 1917-1932
The ambitious new set "The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records 1917-1932, Volume 1" comes packaged in a sturdy wooden suitcase dubbed "The Cabinet of Wonder," an apt title considering the awe-inducing sounds and history it resurrects. A label whose ragtag story stars two white Wisconsin business partners more concerned with record player sales than music, an A&R man whose race and history as a Chicago bootlegger (and ex-pro football player) allowed him access to the clubs where unrecorded talent gigged and a roster of artists with equally fascinating biographies, the Paramount and affiliated labels' output during its 15-year life comprises more than 1,600 songs. They were released through a subsidiary of a Port Washington, Wis.-born furniture company during the rise of the phonograph era. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile'
Matana Roberts does not make easy listening music. Although in mainstream culture jazz is frequently relegated to an awards show backdrop or an oh-so-spooky bit of shading for pay-cable political dramas, the music remains a springboard into avant-garde expression for this Chicago-born saxophonist, who explores both personal and social history on "Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile." A challenging, engrossing listen that follows her ambitious "Chapter One" from 2011, this 49-minute piece (broken into 18 seamless tracks) continues Roberts' synthesis of free improvisation and spoken word into a unique, shape-shifting compositional voice that she calls "panoramic sound quilting." Where Roberts' last record could be tumultuous with passages of fiery blowing offset by a big band drive, "Mississippi Moonchile" is a swirling celebration of smaller-ensemble free jazz. (Chris Barton) Read more
At first glance, Union, in a stripped-down storefront on a block lined with restaurants and bars, may not seem especially different from the Old Town Pasadena norm. The primary decoration is a chalkboard on which are scrawled quotes from Alice Waters and a schedule for local farmers markets. Where you might expect to find flowers on each table is a small Mason jar holding wheat stalks. The waiters do not need much prompting to tell you the provenance of the walnuts or where the asparagus may have been grown. Shelves on the wall display row after row of pickles — the chef, Bruce Kalman, is locally famous for the pickles he sells at farmers markets — and you can be sure that the duck prosciutto is house-cured, the pasta is house-made, and the duck egg is free-range. The wine list is modest, mostly Italian, and leaning toward natural wine and small producers. If such a thing as a California-cuisine theme restaurant existed, it would probably look a lot like this. Read more
101 Best Restaurants, 2014
High-end restaurants construct entrees out of what used to be considered weeds. Uni has replaced foie gras as the go-to luxury. And when you ask a local food-obsessive about her favorite restaurants, she is far more likely to mention a Thai noodle shop or a renegade taquero than she is anything with a Michelin star. Welcome to the Los Angeles restaurant scene, 2014. Read more
It has never been easier to eat high-end sushi than it is now in Los Angeles — to surrender two hours and half a month's rent to the choreographed roll of the waves. You can experience the masculine crispness of Mori or the postmodern wackiness of Wa; the gentle experimentation of Kiriko or the discofied modernism of Nobu Malibu; the gold leaf and truffle oil of Go's Mart or the intellectual approach of Kiyokawa. The idea of purist edomae sushi, or at least its rigor, is well-established here. For years, unsuspecting diners have been booted from places like Hiko, Sasabune and Nozawa for the audacity of ordering the caterpillar roll they usually have for lunch down the street, and for the regulars, the walk of fame is part of the show. But until Q opened downtown last fall, there had been nothing like real edomae sushi in Los Angeles — plain-looking sushi that accentuates the flavor of the fish rather than of the rice or condiments, a universe of pickling and curing and aging whose culture may edge closer to a great charcuterie counter than to the sushi floor show at a place like Koi, but so subtly as to be almost imperceptible to a senior accountant stopping by for a quick expense-account lunch. Read more
Hyper-intellectual cuisine has its place, but parody can be more fun. So in a Los Angeles restaurant scene dominated at the moment by extreme localism, modernist trickery and the marriage of European and Asian technique, Scratch Bar, a sleek, dim gastropub next to Matsuhisa on La Cienega's restaurant row, is a welcome bit of comic relief, the wiseguy telling jokes in the corner while the popular kids forage miner's lettuce and make buttermilk cheese with a centrifuge. At Scratch Bar, chef Phillip Frankland Lee and his band roast half-cylinders of sourdough bread, scoop out grooves in the center and fill them with bone marrow — trompe l'oeil marrow bones, garnished with ruddy bits of beet-marinated vegetables. They bake whole smelt inside crackers, so that the little fish appear to be emerging from the flat surface like nudes in a Robert Graham sculpture, and set them upright in blood-red smears of beet and beef marrow. Read more
Church & State
Most people with even a passing interest in local cooking have visited Church & State since it opened half a dozen years ago, a ground-level bistro on the ground floor of an old Nabisco factory, known for bringing dim lighting, expressive cocktails and Alsatian tarte flambée to a part of downtown then better known for illicit commerce than for kitchens serving blanquette de veau. Its first year or so saw a restaurant perhaps more centered on the cocktail trade than it was on the world of cuisine beyond steak-frites and chocolate mousse. Walter Manzke took over the stoves for a while, fresh from his term at Bastide, and he took the restaurant in the direction of southern France, inflecting his savory tarts with herbs and summery vegetables (or even Époisses cheese), cooking his deeply flavored short ribs sous-vide and plucking live spot prawns from a tank before sizzling them with garlic and burying them under drifts of diced cucumbers. Manzke had a pretty spectacular run for a guy whose signature dish was probably fried pig's ears. Read more
Without putting too fine a point on it, the pizza at Settebello is closer to real Naples pizza than anyplace that has ever existed in Los Angeles: 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, olive oil from Campania, and a trip through the 900-degree domed wood-fired oven that typically lasts no more than a minute, minute and a half. Whether the soft, thin, sparingly topped pizza is your thing or not is a different question — a lot of people prefer heft and crunch — but the pizza from the Las Vegas-based chain might do fairly well if it were plunked down on Spaccanapoli. Read more
On a warm January night in Los Angeles, one of those evenings when we have trouble visualizing what the phrase "wind-chill factor" might even mean, the patio outside Maccheroni Republic is one of the most pleasant places downtown, a long, alley-narrow space, all greenery and soft air. The financial district's glass towers peeking out over the shrubbery is a distant part of the view. The restaurant is on Broadway but somehow not of Broadway, although Grand Central Market is right across the street. The downtown boom has seen a lot of Italian restaurants open in this part of the city, sleek dining rooms with wood-burning ovens, hot and cold running truffles, and rivers of expensive Super-Tuscan wine. In some parts of downtown you are never more than a few blocks from shade-grown coffee or a plate of wood-roasted pigeon. But Maccheroni Republic isn't a temple of cuisine, it's a trattoria — the kind of place where it is possible to go for both lunch and dinner on a single day, a restaurant where waitresses race down the aisle with four identical bowls of rigatoni with eggplant. Read more
A lot of chefs in Los Angeles are associated with a favorite ingredient in ways that seem fairly indelible. It is hard to imagine Walter Manzke without his pig's ear, Nancy Silverton without her bread or Suzanne Goin without her short ribs. The lineage goes back at least as far as John Sedlar and tamales, Jonathan Waxman and roast chicken, and Wolfgang Puck and pizza. But until I visited Acabar, the grand neo-Moroccan lounge-restaurant in the space long occupied by Dar Maghreb, I had rarely seen a chef rub up against an ingredient with quite as much passion as Octavio Becerra shows a simple can of sardines. Read more
If a theme has emerged in Los Angeles restaurants over the last several years, from Picca and Spice Table to Lukshon, A-Frame, Rivera and Corazon y Miel, it is the idea of Asian American and Latin American chefs trained in classical European kitchens, driven to reinterpret the tastes they grew up on through rigorous French technique. This isn't fusion food, which tends largely to be the application of Asian flavors to non-Asian dishes; this is chopped-and-channeled cooking designed to heighten the original sensations, a kind of reverse colonialism of the plate. The latest anti-fusion hero on the block is Tin Vuong, chef and owner of the Manhattan Beach restaurant Little Sister, who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, worked his way up through grand hotel kitchens and has spent the last couple of years as chef at the well-regarded Hermosa Beach gastropub Abigaile. Read more
If you dine regularly in Los Angeles' Italian restaurants, you have probably lived through the fresh-pasta wars, the head cheese skirmishes and the incursion of the massive T-bones. We have not yet quite climbed out of the charred rubble of the wood-fired pizza moment, where the mozzarella comes from buffaloes and the thermostat is always set to 800 degrees. So you may be surprised to discover that the latest battleground may be the obscure Ligurian specialty called focaccia di Recco, a stuffed flatbread from a town 20 minutes outside Genoa. Like burrata, a cheese whose fame until recently was confined to a few square miles of central Puglia, focaccia di Recco is a food whose time has come. When prepared correctly, as it is at the Factory Kitchen in the arts district east of downtown (and also at chiSpacca on Melrose), focaccia di Recco is a marvelous thing, oiled dough stretched thin as filo and folded around milky, tart crescenza cheese. Read more
Colonia Taco Lounge
Are we living in the golden age of the California taco? We may be — or at least it can seem as if we are when your tummy's full late on a Saturday night. You can find tacos here from almost every region of Mexico, from Baja sting ray tacos to Zacatecas goat tacos; from Sinaloan marlin tacos to Yucatecan tacos made with pit-roasted pork. The Colonia Taco Lounge is the newest and possibly most consequential restaurant from Ricardo Diaz, in the southwest corner of La Puente, an area not previously noted for its fine cuisine. You may remember Diaz from Cooks Tortas in Monterey Park, which was dedicated to whimsically constructed Mexican sandwiches, or from Dorado's, his ceviche bar up the street. He was one of the people behind Guisados, which introduced the Eastside to a kind of stew-based taco popular in Mexico City; he is set to open the crunchy-taco house Duro in Silver Lake, and he continues to serve the region's best guacamole, aguachile and fried huauzontle at his Bizarra Capital in Uptown Whittier. So it may come as a surprise that, unlike his other restaurants, Colonia is basically a bar — a family-friendly bar perhaps, with plenty of kids crowded in on Sunday mornings when the soccer games are on the corner TVs, but a bar nonetheless, windowless, fragrant and gloomy even at noon. Read more
If you have spent much time in L.A.'s farmers markets, you have probably run into C.J., Chris Jacobson, an affable chef, tall enough to be an NBA power forward, who seems to know every farmer in town. He worked on the line for a while at the old Campanile, where everybody called him Stretch, and he ran the Yard, a small gastropub in Santa Monica known for its beer list and fish tacos but which he managed to nudge toward fine dining at the end. As you might expect from a young Los Angeles chef, Jacobson did his time on TV, including "Top Chef." Girasol, really Jacobson's first restaurant of his own, in many ways resembles a typical Studio City place, located on a fast avenue lined with more condos than cafes, occupying a building that has been more restaurants than I can remember, in a neighborhood where the sidewalk is empty but the parking spaces are full. Read more
If you follow the restaurant scene in Los Angeles, you have known about Govind Armstrong for years, possibly since he was a teenage cooking prodigy whose mom drove him to stints on the line at the original Spago the way that other moms drive their kids to Little League practice. Or perhaps you know him from his long collaboration with locavore Ben Ford, or from his solo gigs at Table 8 and 8 Oz. Burger Bar. You may have followed Armstrong's short-lived adventure in New York, which wasn't well-received, and his appearances on "Top Chef" and on the list of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. It is more likely that you noticed his restaurant Post & Beam, which he started a couple of years ago with business partner Brad Johnson and is the most ambitious restaurant ever to open in the Crenshaw District. At Willie Jane, the new restaurant he runs with Johnson on Abbot Kinney's restaurant row, Armstrong's style has become more refined yet — it's kind of a fantasy mash-up of Low Country cuisine with farm-driven California presentation, heavily reliant on the sharply tart notes that have become his trademark, and heavily reliant on Geri Miller's urban farm Cook's Garden next door. Read more
The Joseon Dynasty
The Joseon Dynasty being surveyed at LACMA represented a profound social and cultural transformation. Buddhism had been the official government religion on the Korean peninsula for a thousand years. Now, religious authority gave way to secularism. A large, bureaucratic government was led by royalty. Buddhism wasn’t forbidden for private practice, but the religion was no longer officially sanctioned. Joseon introduced a separation of temple and state, which is reflected in the dynasty’s art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 28) Read more
Group Show: Phantom Color
Three Santa Barbara-based artists — Eric Beltz, Nathan Hayden, and Brian Scott Campbell — use a reductive palette of black and white to invoke states of expanded consciousness (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sunday, July 20) Read more
Calder and Abstraction
If you like Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, you'll love the sculpture of Alexander Calder. And vice versa. As an artist Calder certainly wasn't in the business of illustrating difficult scientific postulates. (Born on the cusp of the 20th century, he died at 78 in 1976.) In fact, one frequent knock on him was the claim that, while charmingly whimsical, his sculpture is physically, emotionally and intellectually lightweight. After all, this is the guy who built an entire miniature circus out of cardboard, some buttons and a bunch of twisted wire. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, July 27) Read more
'Chinese Paintings From Japanese Collections'
"Chinese Paintings From Japanese Collections" is something of a coup. It features 35 scrolls, some consisting of multiple panels, from the Tokyo National Museum and other collections in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. Japanese museums are often reluctant to allow important works to leave the country, even for temporary exhibitions. But LACMA has managed a remarkable group of loans that span seven centuries -- including some that are just now making their premiere abroad. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, July 6) Read more
'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get'
Principally organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, this show is a collaborative endeavor with the Pomona College Museum of Art in Claremont and LACMA. Because of the trifurcation, few will see the entire show. And those who do will be deprived of some fundamental benefits of a museum retrospective. That's a shame. The good news is that, even seen in disordered chunks, Divola's photographs can provide immensely satisfying rewards. (Christopher Knight) (Emds Sunday, July 6) Read more
'Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections'
Think of Byzantium, and a color leaps to mind. That color is gold. Why gold? On the evidence, because of its capacity to serve two rulers: The exhibition's title and its 187 objects together demonstrate how gold can represent power that is both earthly and heavenly at once. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Aug. 25) Read more
Mike Kelley Retrospective
The sprawling Mike Kelley retrospective has the restless feel of a morbid fun house. The way it is installed generally conforms to the show's excellent catalog -- groupings determined not solely by date but according to discrete bodies of work. Kelley, for all his art's low-down sources in the ephemera of popular culture and the rag-tag crudeness of many of his materials, was a brilliantly well-read intellectual. He often returned to themes and revisited materials, deepening his explorations as he went and extrapolating among them. Seeing those bodies of work together helps to underscore his art's ricocheting resonance. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, July 28) Read more
'Made in L.A.' 2014
According to catalog biographies for the Hammer Biennial, "Made in L.A. 2014," fewer than half the 35 artists have had solo shows in the city in the intervening two years since the last biennial (and many of those were at alternative venues). Under-exposed and emerging are the usual terms, but unfamiliarity lends some freshness to the exhibition. Once again, the biennial meets my yardstick for a successful survey: At least a third should be worth seeing. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., Sept. 7) 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
'Sinful Saints and Saintly Sinners'
Sizable if somewhat jumbled, "Sinful Saints and Saintly Sinners at the Margins of the Americas" looks at a variety of mythic figures who fuse the sacred and the profane in areas that encompass parts of the southern and western United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina and Brazil. Fowler Museum curator Patrick A. Polk has brought together examples of folk, popular and fine art. The subjects defy simple, binary characterizations of good and evil. Forget god or devil, hero or villain. These saintly sinners (and vice versa) instead operate in a gray zone that incorporates both. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, July 27) Read more
A typical video by Francesco Vezzoli in his show at the Museum of Contemporary Art is a veritable cavalcade of stars, mostly women — Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, Catherine Deneuve, Eva Mendez, Milla Jovovich, Michelle Williams, Lauren Bacall and many more, plus a few men (Helmut Berger, Benicio Del Toro) — whose movies have referred to art ("Dorian Gray," "Basquiat"). Detractors of the often-controversial work complain that, celebrity-wise, it's all just too much — as if the gross excess had not occurred to the artist. Well, it is all too much. And we should be glad for that. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Aug. 11) Read more
June Wayne: Paintings, Prints and Tapestries
Artist June Wayne (1918-2011) started to make tapestries in 1971. The large wall-hangings are the most impressive works in this broad but modest survey at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., Aug. 31) Read more
‘The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle’
Francisco Goldman’s “The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle” is so sneakily brilliant, it’s hard to put into words. Part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage on Mexican politics and the scourge of narcoterrorism, it is also, in the finest sense, a book that creates its own form. “I could use words as my compass to map the route I’d taken,” Goldman tells us late in the first part of this journal-like accounting, “and give it a narrative order, a sequence of incident and meaning, and rescue it from being something other than just circumstantial and ephemeral. The stories one tells about oneself aren’t necessarily true, of course, but I wanted this one to be as true as I could make it. This didn’t mean that it all had to be factually true, but I decided that this story needed to be factually true too.” Read more
'Ecstatic Cahoots' and 'Paper Lantern'
Stuart Dybek's stories occupy a territory somewhere between Vladimir Nabokov and Nelson Algren — beguiled by the play of language, but also gritty and specific, fundamentally urban at their core. And yet, to read him is to be reminded of the resonance of small moments, the connections that arise and dissipate with the passing power of a thought. "[T]he story might at first be no more than a scent," Dybek observes in "Fiction": "a measure of the time spent folded in a cedar drawer that's detectable on a silk camisole." What he's getting at is the power of inference, the longing implied, and inspired, by a gesture or a phrase. "Fiction" comes late in "Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories." It's a superlative collection and its appearance would be notable even if it weren't accompanied by a companion volume, "Paper Lantern: Love Stories," which has been published simultaneously. Read more
Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” is the buzz book of the moment — or more accurately a certain kind of buzz book, for a certain kind of audience. It is also a provocation, sharing its title with one of the most notorious works of the 20th century (Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”) while seeking to break down everything we thought we knew about personal narrative. And yet, deep in the second book of this six-volume, 3,600-page autobiographical project, Knausgaard offers us an unexpected key. “A life is simple to understand,” he explains, “the elements that determine it are few. In mine there were two. My father and the fact that I had never belonged anywhere.” There you have it, “My Struggle” in a nutshell ... although how to get at this simplicity is something else again. Self-absorbed, expansive, constantly doubling back on itself, “My Struggle” is an attempt to make an epic of the banal facts of the author’s existence. This is what makes “My Struggle” so brilliant: the understanding that, in recalling, or re-creating, our history, we give it a meaning it would not otherwise possess. Read more
'The Days of Anna Madrigal'
The first time Armistead Maupin ended his "Tales of the City" serial — in 1989, with his sixth novel, "Sure of You" — he did it with a departure. Mary Ann Singleton, who had initiated the series by calling her mother in Cleveland to say she was staying in San Francisco, took a network TV job and left the Bay Area for New York. It was a sad if not unexpected outcome. In the 15 years since Maupin had first started writing about Mary Ann, her friends Michael, Mona, Brian and their irrepressible landlady, Anna Madrigal, a lot had happened: Anita Bryant, the People's Temple, AIDS. Maupin was ready to move on. It was nearly two decades before he returned to these characters, first with the 2007 novel "Michael Tolliver Lives" and then with the follow-up, "Mary Ann in Autumn," in 2010. What makes "Tales of the City" so resonant is Maupin's ability to draw broad, human lessons from the particularity of his characters' lives. This is why it has struck such a chord for close to 40 years now: adapted into three miniseries and an opera, the source of "Tales"-related San Francisco tours. Now, Maupin has chosen to end the series again with "The Days of Anna Madrigal," a work that is less about departure than coming home. Featuring the full complement of "Tales" regulars (with the exception of Mona, who died in the 1984 novel "Babycakes"), the book is an elegy — for San Francisco, for its characters, for a way of life. Read more
T.C. Boyle's "Stories II" gathers all the short fiction he has published in the past 15 years — 58 stories, including 14 that have never appeared in book form. This is no mere collection, in other words, but an edifice intended, not unlike its equally massive predecessor "Stories" (1998), to define a legacy. To some extent, that's a sign of Boyle growing older; he will turn 65 in December. Death, or the threat of death, is all over these stories — or more accurately, a sense of mortality, of time zeroing in. But even more, it's a signifier that here, he is holding nothing back. In "Stories II" we stare down 15 years of fiction, and how does it add up? "All part of the questing impulse," Boyle suggests, "that has pushed me forward into territory I could never had dreamed of when I first set out to write — that is, to understand that there are no limits and everything that exists or existed or might exist in some other time or reality is fair game for exploration." Read more
When news emerged three years ago that filmmaker Shane Salerno and writer David Shields were working on an oral biography (with accompanying documentary) about J.D. Salinger, I assumed it would be all smoke and no fire. Salinger, after all, had gone to ground after the publication of his novella “Hapworth 16, 1924” in June 1965; even in the wake of his death, in January 2010 at age 91, his estate had preserved the silence of his final 45 years. But if Salerno and Shields' book “Salinger” is, at nearly 700 pages, a bit of a shaggy monster, what may be most astonishing about it is its (largely) even tone. The idea is to present a portrait of Salinger as both his own savior and something considerably darker, and for the most part, the co-authors get the goods. Read more
Optic Nerve 13
Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve is one of my favorite alternative comics: smart, understated and with a subtle yet pointed bite. Merging straight realism with an impressionistic sense of narrative, his stories often seem to be offhanded when, in fact, they are highly structured and defined. As an example, look at "Winter 2012," one of three pieces in the newly released Optic Nerve 13, a one-pager, told by way of 20 small panels, in which Tomine portrays himself as a Luddite, distressed by the indignities of the electronic age. Optic Nerve 13's other stories include a long central piece, "Go Owls," in which a woman meets an older man in a 12-step program and winds up in a relationship that becomes increasingly abusive and fraught, and the exquisite "Translated, From the Japanese," a love letter from a mother to her baby that is among the most beautiful things Tomine has ever done. Read more
'Never Built Los Angeles'
When, in the 1920s, the pioneering Southern California social critic Louis Adamic called Los Angeles "the enormous village," he didn't mean it as a compliment. Rather, he was referring to L.A.'s insularity, its status as what Richard Meltzer would later label "the biggest HICK Town (per se) in all the hick land," a city of small-town values and narrow vision that "grew up suddenly, planlessly." A similar sensibility underpins "Never Built Los Angeles," a compendium of more than 100 architectural projects — master plans, skyscrapers, transportation hubs, parks and river walks — that never made it off the ground. Edited by former Los Angeles magazine architecture critic Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, West Coast editor of the Architect's Newspaper, and accompanied by an exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum, it's a lavish counter-history of the city as it might have been: a literal L.A. of the mind. Read more
'The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey'
"He who makes a beast of himself," Samuel Johnson famously observed about inebriation, "gets rid of the pain of being a man." And yet, if Lawrence Osborne's new book, "The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey," has anything to tell us, it's that there is more to drinking than derangement, that it may lead to a transcendence more profound. "The Wet and the Dry" is a paean to drinking, but it is also a travelogue unfolding largely through the Islamic states of the Middle East and a memoir of sorts, in which Osborne's upbringing, in "a steadfast English suburb" during the 1970s, becomes a lens through which to read his life. "The drinker knows that life is not mental and not a matter of control and demarcation," he argues. "The teetotaler, on the other hand, knows full well how even a molecule of alcohol changes body and mind. The Muslim, the Protestant puritan, and the teetotaler are kin; they understand the world in a very similar way, despite all their enormous differences, while the drinkers know that the parameters that contain us are not all human, let alone divine." Read more
'Men in Miami Hotels'
Charlie Smith's terrific new novel, "Men in Miami Hotels," walks a line between genre and something considerably wilder, a fictional territory where a character might lose his or her soul. The story of a Miami hoodlum named Cotland Sims, on the run from a brutal mob boss, it is both existential thriller and a book of homecoming, as Cot returns to Key West, where he was born and raised, to confront the living ghosts of his past. These include his on-again-off-again girlfriend Marcella and her husband Ordell (the county prosecutor), as well as his mother and his oldest friend from high school, a drag queen named CJ. To this mix, Smith adds an army of hired killers out to wreak vengeance on Cot, although their violence, while pervasive, ends up seeming almost incidental. 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
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
‘Third Eye Crime’
The hand-held video game “Third Eye Crime” has all the trappings of a classic noir mystery. For starters, there’s a tough-talking, no-good gumshoe for hire with “Dick Tracy’s” eye for fashion. Then, of course, there’s a double-crossing femme fatale modeled after Jessica Rabbit. Mix in a jazz soundtrack marked by bourbon-stained brass notes and a plot full of unsavory characters, and it’s clear that the tales of the underworld here are rooted in vintage novels and black-and-white films. Yet “Third Eye Crime” also has a few thoroughly modern touches that James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler probably never foresaw. Take, for instance, a slick touch interface, one that brings a dash of “Angry Birds”-like movement to the hard-boiled genre. “Third Eye Crime,” released in late April for Apple’s mobile platforms, collects bits and pieces of familiar genres — the pick-up-and-play puzzle game, a pulpy comic style — and fuses them together for an interactive experience that has a new angle on tradition. Read more
Video game critic
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
For the last three decades, one of the video game world's greatest antiheroes has been a barrel-throwing ape. He's arrogant, ornery and not nearly as dexterous as he thinks he is. A kidnapper whose jungles were construction sites, he'd steal your girlfriend and trap her atop a skeletal steel structure. But as males-behaving-badly became a pop-culture norm — and an unfortunate requirement of most video games — Donkey Kong softened up. The once attention-desperate gorilla shed his hostage-taking ways and settled into a more healthful lifestyle with the launch of "Donkey Kong Country" in 1994. Now five iterations of the game later, he's morphed into a rather lovable grump who just wants to enjoy a slice of cake with a frosted banana on top in peace. "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze," released last weekend for Nintendo's home console the Wii U, finds the king of the jungle continuing the makeover from villain to reluctant hero. Arctic creatures are invading the lush isles he calls home, and Kong wants the polar beasts off his lawn. Read more
PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
The next-gen video game consoles are here, and so far the games look an awful lot like the ones from the generation coming to an end. But the presentation of the consoles — the arguments they put forth about how games can and should be integrated into our lives — varies greatly. Sony's PS4 takes a targeted approach by emphasizing games and the places players go to talk about those games. Microsoft's Xbox One has broader, non-gaming ambitions, relying heavily on voice controls (look ma, no remote!) to have viewers magically shifting among television, film, music and sports apps. Read more
'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds'
Another long-standing Nintendo franchise gets spruced up. Like "Mario 3D," the look and controls are familiar, the tone is entirely new, as this action-adventure emphasizes smarts and exploration over tedious dungeon crawling. Read more
'Super Mario 3D World'
Nintendo's Italian brothers Mario and Luigi are the closest thing the video game world has to a Mickey and Minnie, and this Wii U-exclusive may be the freshest spin yet on a trustworthy gaming tradition. The secret? Cats. Mario and pals shape-shift into felines with the help of a little video game magic, allowing the characters to crawl, scratch, climb and meow in completely unexpected ways. Trust us. Read more
"Rain," Sony's download-only PlayStation 3 title, plays with an idea central to many fairy tales. What monsters come out to play when the lights are turned off? But ultimately, it ends up dealing with a far darker question — is there any monster quite so scary as loneliness? With such an emphasis on text and narration, this could be considered an interactive book more than a game but is, instead, a moderately paced exploration through a fantastically realized nighttime setting, where narrowly escaping the clutches of pursuers rewards players with more pieces of the narrative rather than larger battles. Read more
"Spaceteam" is high-stress nonsense, but high-stress nonsense at its most absurd, addictive and ridiculous. Available now for iOS and Android, think of "Spaceteam" as a board game for mobile devices. The concept is simple, as players are crew members on a ship that's in danger of exploding and must shout technobabble at one another to prevent destruction. But each has a different view, so one player's Voltsock is another player's Newtonian Photomist. Read more
"Gone Home," out now as a PC download, will likely feel more personal than any game you'll play this year. Players explore it from the first-person perspective of a college-aged daughter, Katie, who has been studying abroad and is visiting her family's new home for the first time. Traverse just one house and discover untold secrets about a family, be it struggles with failed ambitions or the teenage unease that comes with discovering one's sexuality. Read more
'The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD'
A remake of an old Gamecube title is not the Zelda game Wii U fans have been clamoring for, but Nintendo has freshened up "Wind Waker" to the point that it feels a new experience. This early 2000s Zelda title still stands as one of the franchise's crowning moments, as it set its main character loose on the high seas and gave the universe a zippy, cartoonish makeover. The animated film look works even better in HD, and the subtle adoption of new control techniques offered by the Wii U makes it one of the more accessible adventure role playing games around. 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
‘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
This summer, the Abbot Kinney shopping scene is becoming even more boho-chic. Figue, the New York-based gypset-lifestyle collection founded in 2012 by fashion vet Stephanie von Watzdorf, has opened a pop-up shop on the famed retail stretch in Venice. The store features the spring/summer collection, including folkloric beaded tuxedo shirts, ikat-print tunic dresses and fringed bags, as well as limited-edition accessories sourced from the designer’s travels, such as hand-embroidered kaftans and one-of-a-kind, hand-embellished military jackets. Von Watzdorf designed the 1,300-square-foot space herself, with Moorish arches, filigree lanterns, a hammock and Berber blankets that make you want to stay a while. Read more
Mary-Kate, Ashley Olsen open first flagship for the Row
Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera, meet the Row. Taking its rightful place on Melrose Place, one of L.A.'s toniest shopping streets, is the new American luxury brand created just eight years ago by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The opening of the first retail store for the Row is a homecoming for the 27-year-old twin sisters, who were born in Sherman Oaks and made their fortune in Hollywood, starting at the age of 9 months, when they shared the role of Michelle Tanner on the TV series "Full House." Read more
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala
When Kim Kardashian, in a draped petrol blue Lanvin gown, is one of the best dressed, you know it was a crazy night. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala for the fashion exhibition "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" was beyond fashion indeed. James, who is often called "America's first couturier," was at his height from the 1930s to the 1950s, when he revolutionized fashion from the inside out. A sculptor of cloth, he championed strapless dresses, the figure-eight skirt and spiral cuts. His work was the antithesis of today's disposable fast-fashion. Each piece was painstakingly constructed, hand-sculpted to the client's measurements, took hundreds of hours to complete, and only available to the super-wealthy. Read more
Lou & Grey
Ann Taylor and Loft have a new, free-spirited sibling. The American retailer has launched a brand called Lou & Grey that's a tomboyish fusion of active and street wear, or "lifewear" as its being positioned. Available in Loft stores, on LouandGrey.com, and in the first Lou & Grey freestanding store recently opened in Westport, Conn., the brand features sporty and loungey soft-dressing pieces in a pale color palette, including mélange knit moto jackets, slouchy linen T-shirts, textural oatmeal knit sweaters, sweat-shirt dresses and lace sweat pants from $30 to $100. I caught up with Austyn Zung, creative director of Loft and Lou & Grey, and a veteran of Loft, Gap's Fourth & Towne, and Oscar de la Renta before that, to chat about the new brand under the ANN Inc. umbrella, its roots in California ease, and the key building blocks of the collection. Read more
Like Vince, Joie and A.L.C.? Meet their French cousins Sandro, Maje and Iro. Los Angeles, birthplace of some of America's most successful contemporary fashion labels, is seeing a new wave of brands from Paris opening stores with their own French take on affordable luxury. One such brand is Sandro, which made its presence known in Los Angeles last week by hosting a star-studded bash at the Chateau Marmont on Thursday night to celebrate two new stores, one on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, and the other in the Beverly Center. Read more
Dries Van Noten: 'Inspirations'
"I feel a bit like a spoiled child with all these beautiful things around me," says Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, giving a tour of the spectacular new exhibition chronicling his nearly 30-year career, which opens Saturday at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. He's referring to the wealth of artworks from the Renaissance to the present day on view as part of "Dries Van Noten: Inspirations." The show is a tour of his creative mind, placing his runway collections in context of his many cultural reference points. In the galleries, works by Yves Klein, Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Peyton and more are shown alongside vintage fashions ranging from Christian Dior's famous 1947 New Look, to a funky 1967 jacket that belonged to Jimi Hendrix. (In the run up to the exhibition, Van Noten found the flowery jacket that inspired one of his men's wear collections for sale on EBay and was able to score it with the help of a generous donor.) The romance of dance partners Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire seen in a clip from the 1935 film "Top Hat" was the starting point for the swaying ostrich feather dresses in the fall 2013 collection, and lightscapes by British photographer James Reeves inspired city lights prints in the spring 2012 collection. (Ends Sun., Aug. 31) Read more
Tory Burch celebrated the opening of her Rodeo Drive boutique with a star-studded party Jan. 21 and the release of the limited edition Rodeo Drive collection inspired by the flowers of Southern California and the glamour of Old Hollywood. The capsule collection includes resort-ready pieces embellished with coral flowers and embroidery, including the gladiator sandals above and the caftan-style dress. The capsule collection includes resort-ready pieces embellished with coral flowers and embroidery, including the gladiator sandals above and the caftan-style dress and flower-drop earrings Burch is wearing. There are also several styles in guipere lace, such as the shorts above. L.A. style maven and artist Lisa Eisner shot a dreamy short film featuring the collection in the gardens at Lotusland near Santa Barbara. You can see it here. Burch's website includes several other L.A.-centric editorial features geared to the opening, including Kaling, Hailee Steinfeld and other celebs discussing why they love L.A. Read more
10 Fashionable Things
As we all try to get back into the swing of work after the holidays, here are 10 stylish things on my to-do list for the next few months. 1) Celebrate the dress that started it all. 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of Diane von Furstenberg's iconic wrap dress, which will be celebrated with "Journey of a Dress" on Jan. 11 to April 1 at the Wilshire May Co. building in Los Angeles, a retrospective exhibition of vintage and contemporary wrap designs — from the first sample to what has become a symbol of power and freedom for generations of women. 2) Pick up some cold-weather style inspiration... Read more
The coolest store now open in downtown L.A. is called Acne Studios. That's right. Get over it. If you don't know, Acne (an acronym for Ambition to Create Novel Expression) was founded in 1996 in Stockholm by musician-turned-fashion designer Jonny Johansson. In seven years, it has grown into a $120-million brand with 40 stores around the world, men's and women's fashion collections, runway shows in Paris, as well as a publishing wing that has collaborated on projects with the likes of photographers Lord Snowden and William Wegman. Which is why when you walk into the new 5,000-square-foot boutique in the historic Art Deco Eastern Columbia Building on Broadway, it's appropriate that you first lay eyes on "Giant Triple Mushroom," a trippy toadstool of an installation by Belgian artist Carsten Holler that seems to symbolize the curious rise of a brand that is known for doing things differently. Read more
Standout Books on American Design
Several new style books focus on great American jewelry design. Here we zero in on two of the standout volumes of the season. 'David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler' and 'Jewels by JAR' have an eye for the dazzling. "David Webb: The Quintessential American Jeweler" American jewelry designer David Webb was a fixture on New York's social scene during the 1960s and '70s, beloved by Diana Vreeland, Nan Kempner, Doris Duke, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and many other style-setters. Webb is perhaps best known for his animal bracelets, more fierce than cute, featuring lions, tigers and dragons, which were part of the ladies-who-lunch uniform of the day. "Jewels by JAR," the catalog for the exhibition of the same name that runs through March 9 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a jewel of a book with 69 photographs of incredible pieces by Joel Arthur Rosenthal, today's preeminent American jewelry designer, who has been working in Paris since the late 1970s for a small group of in-the-know clientele. Designing under his initials, JAR, Rosenthal creates works of art using colorful gemstones, pearls and other materials such as beetle wings. Each piece is unique and "set in metals that are sometimes subject to a degree of alchemy," art dealer Adrian Sassoon writes in the introductory essay. Read more
Isabel and Ruben Toledo
Ignored by mainstream fashion designers for years, the plus-size market got a boost with the announcement that Isabel and Ruben Toledo would be designing a collection for size 14-plus retailer Lane Bryant. Isabel Toledo famously made the lemongrass yellow coat and dress that First Lady Michelle Obama wore to President Obama's first inauguration in 2009. Speaking about the collaboration with Lane Bryant, Isabel Toledo told Women's Wear Daily that she and her husband "were intellectually on board from the first moment." That statement to me is key. The excuse so many designers use for ignoring the plus-size market, and showing their clothes on increasingly skinny models, is that clothes just look better on bodies resembling bony hangers. But any designer worth his or her salt should look at designing for a different size or shape as an intellectual challenge. Read more
"Bohemian isn't a trend; it's a lifestyle." That's the motto upon which L.A. designer Cynthia Vincent has staked her decade-old brand, Twelfth Street, named after the street she grew up on in La Verne. The brand is known for its tribal print maxi-dresses and rompers, serape-stripe cardigans, rugged short Western boots and gladiator wedge sandals, all with a multi-culti, beach-and-canyon vibe. In a city where designers can come and go in a few seasons, Vincent is a fashion success story. She attended L.A.'s Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, winning the Silver Thimble Award while she was there. In 1993, she started her first line, St. Vincent. She also opened a retail store, Aero & Co. in Los Feliz, to feature local independent designers. 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