Critics’ Picks: July 5-11, 2013
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
This week our book critic ventures out for an exhibition at the Honor Fraser Gallery. In movies, the sequel “Despicable Me 2” and “The Attack” are the top picks. There’s also Michael Tilson Thomas at the Hollywood Bowl, Judy Gold on stage and in fashion, designer Natalie Martin brings a touch of Bali to L.A.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
An Israeli Palestinian surgeon investigates whether his wife could have been a suicide bomber. Alive to the pain everyone feels, this remarkable narrative captures as well as drama can the nuances of a problem that defies solution. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Despicable Me 2’
The pressures of being a single father. The realization that despite everything, your kids still long for a mom. The difficulties of getting a teenage daughter’s attention between texting and a boy. The boy. The treacherous emotional terrain of middle-age dating. This is “Despicable Me 2”? It is. The softhearted villain Gru, so disarmingly voiced by Steve Carell, has gotten a lot more than he bargained for after 2010’s “Despicable Me.” Adopting three adorable orphans brought a slew of issues into his life and those modern problems frame the sequel. What a refreshing twist. Also a risk. But I think the filmmakers were smart to try turning the animated kid-flick formula on its head and go for the adults as much as the kids. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Starring Brit Marling and Alexandar Skarsgard,"The East" is a provocative industrial espionage thriller. It pits counterculture revolutionaries intent on exposing corporate villainy against the undercover intelligence specialists paid exceedingly well to keep their compromised clientele clean. By spicing up a complex morality tale marked by sophisticated themes with down and dirty back stabbing and betrayals, the movie turns corporate malfeasance into a spy game that is entertaining without being dumbed down. (Besty Sharkey) Read more
'Fill the Void'
"Fill the Void" is a transfixing, emotionally complex Israeli drama about arranged marriage in the ultra-Orthodox community that won the Venice Film Festival's lead actress prize for star Hadas Yaron. Back home the film was nominated for 13 Ophirs, the Israeli Academy Awards, and won seven, including best picture and director. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Effortless and effervescent, "Frances Ha" is a small miracle of a movie, honest and funny with an aim that's true. It's both a timeless story of the joys and sorrows of youth and a dead-on portrait of how things are right now for a New York woman who, try as she might, can't quite get her life together. That would be the Frances of the title (the Ha isn't explained until the film's charming final frame), a joint creation of and career high point for both star Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach, who met on the director's "Greenberg" and co-wrote the script. Together they have created an American independent film that feels off the cuff but is in fact exactly made by a filmmaker in total control of his resources. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
History is forever marked by the horrific. The emotional wounds from Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon and just last week, Santa Monica College are still raw. The question that haunts is always "Why?" It makes German director Margarethe Von Trotta's riveting new bio-film, "Hannah Arendt," about the political theorist-philosopher, particularly trenchant. Writing about Adolf Eichmann's war crimes trial for the New Yorker, Arendt, a Jew who barely escaped the Nazis, came looking for a monster. Instead, she found an ordinary man. In writing four words — "the banality of evil" — she answered one of history's great questions. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
"A Hijacking" is as lean, focused and to the point as its title. A cargo ship is hijacked in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and this expertly done, ultra-tense Danish thriller places you in the middle of the action in the most intense way. Gripping from first frame to last, "A Hijacking" is written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, best known as the co-writer on Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt" as well as the crack Danish TV series "Borgen." (Kenneth Turan) In Danish and English, with English subtitles. Read more
'I’m So Excited!'
I can’t remember when, if ever, Pedro Almodóvar has had as much flamboyant fun as he does in the high-flying comedy “I’m So Excited!” The sex and death, musically infused airline disaster farce is staged at 30,000 feet. Much of the story unfolds in the plane’s crowded cockpit — just one of the many entendres the Spanish writer-director doubles to take an imperiled Mexico City flight to heights of lunacy. The film is so off-the-wall, so raw, so risqué, so gay, that it may come as a shock even to Almodóvar fans used to his boundary-pushing ways. Though “I’m So Excited!” may not stand as one of the director’s defining works, for some completely frivolous, naughty nonsense, it may be just the ticket. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Star Trek Into Darkness'
“Star Trek Into Darkness,” bursting at the seams with enemies, wears its politics, its mettle, its moxie and its heart on its ginormous 3-D sleeve. Director J.J. Abrams and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise try to build a better sequel with action spectacles to get lost in, clever asides to amuse, emotional waves to ride and allusions to terrorism in general and 9/11 specifically. The crew is back and still firmly anchored by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, respectively. There are new worlds, new villains and new emotions. “Into Darkness” doesn’t quite match Abrams’ 2009 reimagining, but it’s a great deal of fun and also intensely personal. It’s the best of the summer’s biggies so far. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Stories We Tell'
Don't be fooled by its deceptively simple title or the hesitant, unassuming way it begins. Writer-director Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" ends up an invigorating powerhouse of a personal documentary, adventurous and absolutely fascinating. Unexpectedly moving in unanticipated ways, this unusual film is a look at the complexities of one specific family's story as well as a broad examination of the interlocking nature of truth, secrecy and memory, not to mention the endless intricacies of human relationships. Five years in the making, "Stories We Tell" reveals its secrets slowly, like an onion being unpeeled layer by unexpected layer, not unlike the way Polley herself discovered what she did about her own background. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'This Is the End'
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s apocalyptic comedy considers many burning questions. Does movie-star cred automatically put one on the A-list of the blessed? Can last-minute goodness buy salvation? Is James Franco really that effete? The filmmakers get by with little help from their friends — half of Hollywood drops in for the “after” party. The movie is stupidly hysterical, smartly heretical and earns its R rating. It’s basically funny as hell. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'20 Feet From Stardom'
This irresistible effort has just become this year's top-grossing documentary, and if you haven't seen it yet, this might be a good time to catch up before the deluge of fall films hits. Veteran director Morgan Neville has made a moving and joyous behind-the-scenes film about the world of rock 'n' roll backup singers. It's a universe filled with big, bold personalities and the music they make: When you say names like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer, you are conjuring up entire universes of sound. These women sing in a way that is transformative for us, and, it turns out, for them as well. Director Neville has made that rare endeavor that pretty much everyone is guaranteed to enjoy. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom’
Before gay marriage was fashionable — and long before it was legal — the comedian Judy Gold thought there should be a sitcom about her family: two moms raising two sons. Her one-woman show tells the history of her failed network pitches and riffs hilariously on her lifelong desire to be on TV, whether to escape a lonely childhood or to provide a “road map” to future lesbian parents. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday, August 18) Read more
'A View From the Bridge'
Arthur Miller's durable drama about an Italian American longshoreman's incestuous obsession with his orphaned niece is helmed by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, whose wrenchingly truthful staging, while larger than life, never lapses into overstatement. As for the actors, from Vince Melocchi's towering Eddie, the ill-fated protagonist of the piece, right down to the non-speaking bystanders, you simply won't see any better. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more
The Crucible Co-directors Armin Shimerman and Geoffrey Wade's risky, even outlandish staging works beautifully with the polemical nature of Arthur Miller's arguably over-produced masterwork, a denunciation of the McCarthy hearings set during the Salem witch trials. By having the characters address the audience, preacher-like, the proceedings take on the immediacy of a Chautauqua tent revival. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more
Christopher Shinn's psychologically acute drama, now having its Los Angeles premiere courtesy of Rogue Machine, offers an intriguing tussle between Kelly, a psychotherapist, and the memory of her husband, Craig, who was killed in the Iraq War under circumstances that leave open the possibility of suicide. This past is brought back in all its anguish and bitterness by the unexpected visit of Peter, Craig's identical twin brother. The acting is as meticulously observed as it is emotionally tense. And though confined to a cramped room, the staging fluidly handles the shifts of time and situation. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Monday, August 5) Read more
'One Night in Miami...'
Although this well-appointed dramedy about what might have gone down in the Hampton House the night Cassius Clay became world heavyweight champion slightly overdoes the 20/20 hindsight, that doesn’t stop it from grabbing our imaginations. Director Carl Cofield keeps the action tautly entertaining, and his actors, who express rather than mimic their real-life counterparts, are first-rate. (David C. Nichols) (Ends September 15) Read more
N. Richard Nash’s 1950s-era chestnut about a “spinster” swept up in romance by a dazzling con man can be laughably archaic. However, director Jack Heller crafts a striking, specific portrait of a bygone time. As for the pitch-perfect performances, they should all be distilled, bottled and preserved for posterity. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 22) Read more
In the final production at its longtime venue, LA's flagship gay theater scores a profoundly affecting bulls-eye with Chris Phillips' incisive study of violence and forgiveness in societal, personal and even eternal terms. Directed by Ryan Bergmann with one eye firmly trained on the present day, graced by a sterling cast, this trenchant watershed may well reach far beyond its certain Purple Circuit demographic. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'Smoke and Mirrors'
As actor and Magic Castle illusionist Albie Selznick’s superb theatrical magic show explores the connections between his life and art, perhaps his greatest feat is making any trace of boredom completely disappear. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, March 15) Read more
'The Taming of the Shrew'
This rip-roaring take on William Shakespeare's romantic comedy opens the 40th anniversary season at Theatricum Botanicum with marvelous forward momentum. Shrewdly trimming text without losing clarity or hilarity, director Ellen Geer achieves a gratifyingly straightforward triumph, and the fearless players embrace some merry passion at every turn, starting with inspired leads Willow Geer and Aaron Hendry. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sept. 29) Read more
Album: ‘Morton Feldman: Violin and Orchestra’
I predict a hot summer. And, thanks to ECM, which has just released the first international major label recording of Morton Feldman’s Violin and Orchestra — the most impressive, and startlingly least known, of all major American violin concertos — we have a new aural sunscreen that is dry, clean, clear and with an SPF number in the stratosphere. A study in stillness and stirring, the score is a brilliant companion to a warm day. I’ve already used this mysteriously alluring labyrinth of strange sounds as a stimulating alert to dawn, as dazed transport during mid-day sun and as an evening’s big event. Read more
Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas’ last appearance at the Hollywood Bowl was a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from “West Side Story” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in summer 2007. It was glorious, Bernstein’s Broadway score resurrected into music of Mahlerian expressivity and Tchaikovskian lushness. The emotions expressed were as complex and transcendent as those found in opera. MTT, as he is known, finally will be back to open the L.A. Phil’s Hollywood Bowl season next week. This time he conducts two programs, with a fullblown Mahlerian “Resurrection,” as the composer’s Second Symphony is known, and Tchaikovsky’s fraught Fourth Symphony. July 9 and 11. (Mark Swed)
One of the many striking and often shocking metaphors within "Yeezus," the new album from rapper Kanye West, arrives halfway into the 10-song release, during a song called "I'm In It." It involves a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Thank God almighty, free at last," raps West, referencing a phrase from 50 years ago that the civil-rights leader used in relation to the plight of African Americans. In West's song, those that are "free at last" aren’t enslaved humans but a woman's breasts, released from the bondage of a bra during a bathroom tryst. The song, which could be called bawdy were it not so lyrically dark, is one of many on West's sixth solo studio album that reference sex, ethnicity and/or power. "Yeezus" is the most musically adventurous album West has ever released. It's also his most narcissistic, defiant, abrasive and unforgiving. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Random Access Memories'
For a sense of the random oddities that dot Daft Punk's strange, funky, cosmic new album, "Random Access Memories," consider a partial discography of the musicians employed by the two Frenchmen in service of its creation. The duo, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, are best known for their use of robot helmets to mask their physical identities but employed prominent men whose résumé includes work for, among others, Michael Jackson, Jim Henson and Miles Davis. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: Serengeti's 'Kenny Dennis LP'
Who is Kenny Dennis? He's a 53-year-old, Mike Ditka-loving, mustachioed Chicago lunkhead and rapper who formerly starred in a fictional hip-hop trio. A project that began as a character invented by rapper Serengeti in 2008, Kenny's got an opinion about everything: A man who'll shush loudmouths on the El, who rips up traffic tickets but whose code dictates he pull over to help a stranded motorist. The fictional Kenny rules this album with an iron fist, and Serengeti conveys a Chicago-accented persona with the skill of an actor while producer Odd Nosdam offers left-field beats that buzz with accomplishment. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Although it's been almost four years since Terence Blanchard's last album, it's not as if the trumpeter hasn't kept busy. In addition to the Poncho Sanchez collaboration "Chano y Dizzy," he's remained a first-call film composer (with Spike Lee's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" and George Lucas' "Red Tails" among his latest), and in his spare time wrote an opera, which debuts in St. Louis next month. Though Blanchard has no shortage of outlets, he still sounds overflowing with inspiration. Again surrounded by top-tier young talent, Blanchard is equally at home with the unsettled atmospherics of "Hallucinations" as with the hard-swinging "Don't Run," which features stirring guest-turns from Ravi Coltrane on soprano saxophone and bassist Ron Carter. (Chris Barton) Read more
101 Best Restaurants
If you take into account Los Angeles’ superb produce, its breathtaking diversity and its imagination, it can be one of the most pleasurable places to eat on Earth. What follows is a ranking of the best restaurants. How many have you tried? Where would you like to go? Create a list and share it with your friends. Read more
14 great Mexican restaurants
No places matches the breadth and depth of Mexican restaurants we have in Southern California, except Mexico City itself – and maybe not even there. You can find the cooking of almost every region in the country here, crafted at street-corner taco trucks as well as cutting-edge places like the new Corazon y Miel and Bizarra Capital. Here are Los Angles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s choices for 14 of the most essential places to try. 1. Babita: One of the most serious Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. Read more
Corazon y Miel
"Corazón y miel," your waitress wants it to be known, is the signature dish of Corazón y Miel. Corazón y miel, hearts and honey, is a small bowl of warm, seared chicken hearts in a sweet, honeyed vinaigrette, tossed with a few slivers of onion, like a chicken heart escabeche. The grayish hearts look a little gnarly, organy, probably more than you want to be dealing with before your third margarita. The bowl travels around the table twice. Someone finally spears a heart. She chases it with a shot of tequila. She spears another. She corrals the bowl for herself. Like the restaurant, a dim tuck 'n' roll gastropub in the working-class suburb of Bell, the hearts are an unlikely source of deliciousness. The hearts have won again. Read more
If you are the kind of restaurant-goer who gets hung up on first impressions, M.A.K.E., Matthew Kenney’s raw-vegan restaurant in Santa Monica Place, may not be for you. But Kenney, who was a renowned New York chef well before he adopted the raw-food thing, is solidly a creature of the food world, and a lot of his techniques are also found in the famous modernist kitchens where dehydrators and Vege-Mixes are as commonly used as pots and pans. The spray of thinly sliced carrots erupting from a base of cumin-scented nut butter is a dish you might see in any modernist dining room. And if the lasagna, sushi rolls and kimchi dumplings are more raw-vegan riffs than the things themselves, it’s just the way the juice-cleanse generation wishes things to be. Read more
A former underground dining club from Julie Retzlaff and her husband, chef Whitney Flood, Muddy Leek is less an edgy pop-up than a comfortable place to drop in for a glass of grenache and a snack on a Tuesday night. There may be the occasional tiny rabbit kidney garnishing a plate of rabbit hash, a little dish of rillettes made with the shredded remnants of duck confit, or a smear of chicken liver mousse on toast, but you are not here to be challenged, you are here because you want to eat nicely composed small plates, and it is nice. Read more
Tamarind of London
Is it easy to mistake Tamarind’s careful spicing for blandness or the mild juiciness of its chicken tikka for timidity? Could it be a good thing that the parade of grilled-mushroom salads, coconut-scented vegetable korma, chickpea dal, smoky eggplant curry and hot nan stuffed with coconut and dates tends to complement the scent of a pretty Sonoma Chardonnay? Tamarind, the Newport Beach sibling of the first London Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, is Southern California’s most luxurious Indian restaurant. Read more
The new restaurant from Jason Travi, whose Mediterranean-style cooking you may have tried at the late Fraiche in Culver City, is a really good bar with high-concept eats – channeling a 1950s New England seafood joint crossed with grungy Montreal bistro, and almost inexpensive unless you let the cocktails, the maple syrup eggs and the crunchy oyster sliders add up. You would be surprised how quickly you can inhale a plate of chilled oysters, nostalgia-flavored fish sticks or even a half dozen clams casino, whose blanket of crisp, bacony bread crumbs in no way slows you down. And there are freshly fried apple-cider doughnuts for dessert. Read more
‘Sicily: Art and Invention’ at the Getty Villa
There are at least three great reasons to see “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome” at the Getty Villa. Chronologically, the first is a straightforward male torso, his finely chiseled marble body quietly brimming with latent energy. Second comes a preening charioteer, physically just larger than life but expressively very much so. And third is a depiction of a minor god with major fertility on his mind, his powerful physicality an embodiment of the contortions of carnal lust, both corporeal and psychological. These major sculptures together tell an accelerating story of artistic and social power on the ancient Mediterranean island. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, August 19) Read more
Woodcuts and more by Orit Hofshi
Israeli artist Orit Hofshi, in her first substantial L.A. show, at Shulamit, extends herself ambitiously in multiple directions, but what proves most memorable about her work is its most irreducible element, the mark of her hand. Hofshi is primarily a printmaker, working in woodcut. Her deftly carved strokes resonate beautifully with the rugged texture of the landscapes she depicts — rocky places, partially glimpsed, sometimes with a lone figure gazing or sketching, sometimes bearing signs of habitation or construction. (Leah Ollman) (Through July 27) Read more
Maxwell Hendler: All Summer Long
Perfection and aesthetics do not usually go together, but Hendler’s deliciously mysterious monochromes make their pairing seem natural, part of a cycle that is bigger than any of us and sublime to contemplate. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, Aug. 17) Read more
‘Slice of Life’
Poet Amy Gerstler and collage artist Alexis Smith have been friends and collaborators for a long-time: they first worked together in 1989 on “Past Lives.” That installation — a three-dimensional collage of text and objects, originally exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art — is now back up as part of Smith’s new show “Slice of Life,” at the Honor Fraser Gallery until Saturday, July 27. “Past Lives” offers a riff on childhood, or school (or the idea of school), that juxtaposes a loose collection of child-sized chairs with bits of language composed on chalkboards, spelling charts and other classroom artifacts, and offering oblique comments or asides. Read more
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s haunting graphic novel “Genius” revolves around a physicist named Ted who was once a prodigy, before his priorities became realigned. Ted has two kids, and a wife who may be dying; do we need to say that he feels trapped, that his pressures have become too much for him? Still, Ted has one saving grace, which is his love for Einstein, who holds a place in his life akin to God. “I mean, I’m an atheist —” Ted explains, “most thinking people are — But Einstein is the pinnacle of a thinking man.” As “Genius” progresses, this relationship becomes increasingly prominent, until Einstein himself is animated in these pages, discussing the nature of the universe, the nature of discovery, and the essential notion that our lives are always in constant evolution, just waiting for that one idea, that one revelation, for everything to “start anew.” Read more
'The Faraway Nearby'
Rebecca Solnit's latest book, "The Faraway Nearby," began with a delivery of 100 pounds of apricots to her San Francisco home. The apricots came from her brother, who had collected them from a tree in their mother's yard. At the time, the older woman was in the throes of Alzheimer's; she had been moved into an assisted care facility, making the fruit a metaphor, an allegory, for everything that she had lost. First and foremost, this meant stories, which are at the center of "The Faraway Nearby," a book about narrative and empathy that moves between a dizzying array of tales — including "Frankenstein," the Arabian Nights and that of Solnit's own breast cancer scare — to look at the way stories bind us, allowing us to inhabit each other's lives with unexpected depth. Read more
Joe Ollmann's graphic novel “Science Fiction” is a minutely observed account of a relationship in crisis, from which there is (or might be) no way out. The setup is simple: Mark, a high school science teacher, and his girlfriend Susan, who works in a convenience store, rent an alien abduction movie that triggers what Mark decides are repressed memories of his own abduction years before. If this is difficult for Mark, it’s even harder for Susan because she can’t believe what he is telling her. Here we see the central conflict of “Science Fiction”: What happens when a loved one goes through an experience that is, in every way that matters, life-changing, and yet, we can’t go along for the ride? Read more
What makes Stephen King resonate for me is the way he can get inside the most mundane of situations and animate it, revealing in the process something of how we live. His new novel, "Joyland," operates very much from this territory: It's a drama that unfolds in miniature. The story of a college student named Devin Jones who spends the summer and fall of 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park, "Joyland" is a thriller but it's also a homage to the disposable culture of the early 1970s, a time when "oil sold for eleven dollars a barrel." What King is getting at is what he's always getting at, that life is inexplicable, that joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, are all bound up and can assert themselves at any time. Read more
Richard Lange's third book, "Angel Baby," is a thriller that makes its own terms. Beautifully paced, deftly written, it's a novel of moral compromise, in which we have empathy for everyone (or almost everyone) and no one at once. The story of Luz, who runs away from her husband, a Mexican drug cartel leader, and heads for Los Angeles, "Angel Baby" takes us into uncomfortable territory -- only partly because of its brutality. Rather, Lange effectively upends our sympathies by drawing us close to not just Luz but also Jerónimo, the reluctant enforcer sent to find her, as well as Malone, a San Diego County burnout who makes his money ferrying illegals across the border, and Thacker, a corrupt border cop. Read more
'Appointment in Samarra'
Fran Lebowitz has called him “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Ernest Hemingway said he was “a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well.” But mention John O’Hara today — 43 years after his death — and you’re likely to draw a look as blank as an unwritten book. Why? In part, perhaps, it’s because he was, by all accounts, difficult to get along with, a social climber, a bully, a vicious drunk. And yet, he also wrote three of the finest novels of the 1930s — “Appointment in Samarra,” “BUtterfield 8” and “Hope of Heaven.” Now, the first of these books is back in print: a tale of social success and social failure observed in precise miniature. Originally published in 1934, it unfolds over two days during Christmas 1930 and involves a socialite named Julian English, who is caught in a death spiral of alcoholism and bad behavior, as he loses everything he has ever held dear. Read more
When last we saw Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins, he had just lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu. This was in the closing pages of the 11th (and seemingly final) Rawlins book, “Blonde Faith,” published in 2007. Yet six years later, Easy is back, narrating a new novel, “Little Green” that picks up where “Blonde Faith” left off. It's 1967, and Easy must navigate a Los Angeles he barely recognizes in the wake of both the Watts riots and the Summer of Love. Read more
'Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers'
Janet Malcolm may end up best known for the line that opens her 1990 book “The Journalist and the Murderer”: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” The indictment is more powerful because Malcolm never renders herself immune. This sense — of the moral ambiguity of journalism — weaves through Malcolm’s new “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers,” a collection of pieces, most originally published in the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, that looks at both art and how art is received in the culture, which, in Malcolm’s view, is often less a matter of aesthetics than of style. Read more
"Fox 8" offers an unexpected twist on George Saunders’ darkly comic sensibility. Narrated by a fox who has learned human language, it’s a taut little tale in which the protagonist and other members of his skulk are driven away from their habitat by the construction of a new shopping mall. Saunders writes in an idiosyncratic dialect full of phonetic misspellings (“First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I learned to rite and spel as gud as I do!”), structuring the story as a letter to the reader (or “Reeder”) that turns increasingly pointed and bleak. Originally, Saunders intended "Fox 8" for his collection "Tenth of December," but he felt it was an outlier, even for him. So he decided to release it as an e-book original, his first. Read more
'The Best of the Best American Poetry'
Normally, I’m wary of “best of” designations, but the annual “Best American Poetry” collections recognize the limitations of the game they’re playing, the idea that any group of poems can encapsulate the breadth of poetry written in America in a given year. “The Best of the Best American Poetry” features 100 poems of the 1,875 that have thus far been published in the series. My favorite stuff here is the most direct, or, maybe, the most interior: Margaret Atwood’s “Bored,” which traces how childhood ennui can lead to adult curiosity; the long excerpt from A.R. Ammons’ “Garbage”; and Denise Duhamel’s magnificent “How It Will End,” in which a husband and wife watch another couple fighting, only to take sides themselves. Read more
Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” is a white-hot ember of a book. Taking place in Manhattan and Italy in the late 1970s, a time when each was awash in turmoil, the novel traces the experience of one woman, a young conceptual artist, as she navigates these disparate landscapes, a part of the action and yet always on the outside. For Kushner, the point is displacement – that, and the way art is, or should be, a provocation, with even the most abstract expression existing in (sometimes) violent reaction to the world. The result is a work of fiction that illustrates both character and culture, as well as the uneasy ways they intersect. Read more
'The Book of My Lives'
There’s a tendency to look askance at essay collections, to see them as incidental, as if they had no urgency of their own. I defy anyone to make such an argument after reading Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Book of My Lives.” Ranging from his youth in Sarajevo to his present-day life in Chicago, this suite of 15 essays never looks away or pulls its punches — portraying if not a life exactly, then a life in collage. Particularly affecting is the heartbreaking “The Aquarium,” originally published in the New Yorker in 2011, which details the death of Hemon’s 1-year-old daughter Isabel from a rare cancer of the brain. Read more
‘The Last of Us’
“The Last of Us” is not your typical doomsday narrative. Zombie-like attacks aside, tension here comes from an underutilized game-play tactic: conversation. Dialogue is almost as plentiful as weapons in this patiently cinematic tale of a smuggler and the reluctant bond he forms with the 14-year-old girl he’s hired to protect. Developed by Sony-owned Naughty Dog, responsible for the hit “Indiana Jones”-inspired “Uncharted” series, “The Last of Us” acknowledges gaming clichés and then skillfully avoids them by keeping its focus on the relationship between Joel (the smuggler) and Ellie (the teen he watches over). It’s an action game, but one with characters worth fighting for. Read more
Video game critic
‘The Dark Sorcerer’
A short film and not a game, but one designed to show what next-gen console the PS4 may be capable of. Quanitic Dream, the Paris-based developer working on the patient narrative "Beyond Two Souls," concocted this fantasy-comedy as a way to illustrate that character depth and detail can be sustained over long scenes filled with gameplay. But forget the technical stuff — it's a cute little video about a film shoot gone wrong, with goblins. Though there are no plans to turn "The Dark Sorcerer" into a game, director David Cage said fan response may inspire him to change his mind. Read more
'Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move'
The minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don't stop and it's up to the player to control and tinker with the cubic paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. With 240 stages, there are a lot cubes. Read more
Games are wonderful at creating crazy, colorful universes full of whip-cracking vampire killers and interstellar space pirates, but they are less good at crafting ones inspired by more earth-bound cultural traditions. "Guacamelee!” is an exception. Perhaps not since LucasArts’ 1998 “Day of the Dead” noir title “Grim Fandango” has a game so lovingly draped itself in Mexican folklore. "Guacamelee!” is a colorfully humorous game centered almost entirely on the customs surrounding Day of the Dead. It’s a simple stylistic conceit that seems so obvious that it’s almost confusing it hasn’t been done with any regularity. Who needs zombies and vampires when there’s an entire holiday steeped in calavera imagery? Read more
Designer Natalie Martin has mastered the art of gypset dressing, L.A.-style. In two years, the Aussie transplant has emerged as a go-to for boho-chic styles, including breezy kurtas, tunics, wrap skirts and maxi dresses, all priced under $300, and all crafted out of colorful, Balinese block print silks. Martin has a background in fashion marketing, putting in years at Italian leather goods brands Tod’s and Hogan. Her namesake collection, which is sold at Barneys New York, Calypso St. Barth and other boutiques, as well and on her own website, brings a touch of Bali to L.A. Read more
Charlotte Olympia opens in Beverly Hills
London-based accessories designer extraordinaire Charlotte Dellal has opened her first L.A. Charlotte Olympia store, a glamorous, Art Deco-feeling boutique at the top of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The decor is an ode to Old Hollywood glamour from the moment you step inside the door, where Dellal (who has the curves and finger-wave blond hairstyle of a 1940s starlet herself) has her own pink marble Hollywood Walk of Fame star set into the ground, with "Charlotte Olympia" etched inside. "It's celebrating Los Angeles from an outsider's point of view," said Dellal, who launched her whimsical line in 2006. "I guess it's not all about Hollywood and film, but I'm a nostalgic person and I have always loved Old Hollywood." Read more
Malibu Barbie gets a makeover
With her beach blond hair, cheeky tan lines and chic shades, Malibu Barbie has been a style icon for many a young girl, including this one. Now, more than 40 years after she first hit the pop culture wave, Malibu Barbie is getting a makeover, from Los Angeles designer Trina Turk. The mythical Malibu icon is the perfect canvas for Turk’s cheerful 1960s and '70s-inspired SoCal aesthetic. Turk dresses the doll in a printed bandeau bikini and hexagon white lace cover-up and accessorizes her head-to-toe with a beach tote, pink shades, short-shorts, a peasant blouse, floppy sun hat and white wedge sandals. She’s even got a chunky cocktail ring, pink cuff bracelet and a bottle of sunscreen. To add to the fun, Turk’s June 2013 fashion collection, titled “Malibu Summer,” features the same items for women, so life-size Barbies can dress like their miniature muses. Read more
2013 marks 30 years that L.A.-based designer Tadashi Shoji has been making elegant formal wear for the rest of us. He got his start in the glitzy world of Hollywood, creating costumes for Stevie Wonder and Elton John, and more elaborate gowns for the red carpet for Florence Welch and Octavia Spencer. But the bulk of Shoji's $50-million namesake business is in department store sales of tasteful, figure-flattering and wallet-friendly cocktail dresses and evening gowns ranging in price from $198 to $508 for women who want to feel like celebrities in their own lives -- prom queens, mothers of the bride and the brides themselves. I recently sat down with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what's next.n with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what’s next. Read more
In just seven years, Paige Mycoskie has turned a passion for 1970s nostalgia into the next California lifestyle brand. Walking into her Aviator Nation store on Abbot Kinney in Venice is like stumbling into a frat house with a feminine influence. Steely Dan, Doors and Grateful Dead album covers and vintage skate decks nailed to the walls, a record player spinning Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," a 720 Degrees arcade game in the corner, stacks and stacks of foam trucker hats, T-shirts and hoodies spreading good vibes like "Pray for Surf" and "California Is for Lovers."... It's such a sensory experience, you half expect your shoes to be sticking to the floor from last night's kegger. Read more
'The Great Gatsby'
Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is the fashion film of the year. The big-screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book features stellar costumes by Catherine Martin, who collaborated with Miuccia Prada on chandelier crystal cocktail dresses adapted from her runway archives, Tiffany & Co. on Art Deco-inspired jewelry and Brooks Bros. on striped regatta blazers and suits. It adds up to a dazzling slice of the high life in the Roaring Twenties, "a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today," Luhrmann told my colleague Adam Tschorn in his must-read story about the look of the film. Read more
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has released its second Wear LACMA collection of fashion accessories created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection. Custom perfumier Haley Alexander van Oosten of L’Oeil du Vert, accessories mavens Maryam and Marjan Malakpour of NewbarK and women’s clothing designer Juan Carlos Obando were tapped for the collection, which is for sale at the LACMA store and online, with all proceeds benefiting the museum. They had the run of the museum and could choose any piece as a starting point. What they came up with offers insight into who they are as designers and a chance to see a distinct part of their brand vision distilled. Read more
Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib. Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. Read more
Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York and Paris, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a “boho goddess festival vibe,” opened just in time to dress customers for this month’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson’s favorite springtime excursions. Read more
The Rodeo Drive shopping scene heats up with the opening of the new boutique from Celine, the LVMH-owned brand that helped usher minimalism back into style under the direction of designer Phoebe Philo. What can you find inside? We'll start with Celine’s spring runway collection and tailored classics, must-have handbags, and the fur-lined, Birkenstock-like sandals and fur-covered high heels that have fashion followers buzzing. Read more
A great and terrible idea that yields hilarity pretty consistently: Heavily intoxicated narrators (comics, comic actors) retell episodes from history as accurately as they can manage; other comic actors (and assorted ringers), costumed and bewigged, mouth the speaker’s words as dialogue in what might be called ahistorical reenactments. Offering actual drunkenness rather than play-drunkenness as something to laugh at feels a little fraught, morally, and, indeed, there will be those for whom the whole enterprise (originally created by Derek Waters, who hosts, for the website Funny or Die) will seem distasteful and very wrong. Nevertheless, I did laugh. A lot. Comedy Central, Tuesdays. Read more
With two sets of alien invaders, a mega death ray under construction, the threat of mind-controlling silverfish around and a crazy alien-accelerated baby doing everything but reciting John Donne, it’s hard not to fall for “Falling Skies.” Even in a landscape littered with post-apocalyptic tales, “Falling Skies” stands out, if only because it’s not afraid to have a little fun, with the audience and the genre. Sure it would be nice if you’d watched from the beginning (if only to see Noah Wylie’s transition from mild-mannered professor to kick-ass president Tom Mason) but it’s totally not necessary; jump in any time. TNT, Sundays, 10 p.m. Read more
Friday Night Spotlight: François Truffaut
The closest thing TV has to Z Channel nowadays is Turner Classic Movies, whose programming is at once more catholic -- as it apparently owns almost every movie made in America before 1970 -- and less adventurous, which is also a function of owning the rights to so many films. (You get around to the arty ones less often.) But this month the channel is getting its French on, devoting every Friday to Francois Truffaut -- the most lovable of Nouvelle Vague directors, to be sure -- and showing nearly every one of his feature films. (TCM, Fridays in July) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
If you need to be reminded why the recent death of James Gandolfini generated so much elegiac press, HBO wants to remind you by making the series that made him a star available on HBO On Demand. For those who missed "The Sopranos" the first time around, or who have only seen it once, a marathon viewing of the show that turned HBO into a cultural force and launched the modern renaissance of American television, is definitely worth the time. It really was, and remains, all that. (HBO On Demand) (Mary McNamara) Read more
Chris O'Dowd (currently starring in Christopher Guest's "Family Tree," on HBO) co-created, co-writes and stars in this charming and fanciful but distinctly unsentimental memory piece -- something like a small-town Irish "Wonder Years" or "Everybody Loves Chris" crossed with something like a family-friendly "Wilfred," minus the psychosis. (Still, when I say "family friendly," I do not mean "G-rated.") (Hulu) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
'666 Park Avenue'
I know, I know. It never quite lived up to either its scare factor or satiric potential -- the things people will do to get a nice apartment in New York! -- but it still had a few things going for it: stars Vanessa Williams and Terry O'Queen, a cheesified "Dark Shadows" charm, and, of course, Whoopi Goldberg revisiting her "Ghost" roots by once once again playing a psychic. Don't you want to know how it ends? (ABC, Saturdays, 9 p.m.) (Mary McNamara) Read more
The "Inspector Morse" prequel, which floated a single movie-length episode at just this time last year, returns to "Masterpiece Mystery" with four more. Shaun Evans stars as the younger version of the older man played by the late John Thaw, a stripling police detective in mid-1960s Oxford, as yet only semi-irascible but already addicted to puzzles and opera and acquiring a taste for ale. (PBS, Sunday) (Robert Lloyd) 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
'Legends of Chima'
Based on a new series of Lego toys, which is to say, also an ad for them, "Chima" is a sort of "Game of Thrones" for small fry, sprinkled with essence of "Avatar" and with a wad of "The Return of the King" stuck to its shoe. If anything is ripe for CGI animation it is painted plastic figures -- they look oddly "authentic" in this mode -- and their toyness keeps things light here even after total war breaks out between the talking Lions and the talking Crocodiles, Wolves and Ravens. (Cartoon Network, Wednesdays) (Robert Lloyd) Read more