Critics’ Picks: June 12 - June 18, 2015
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
At the movies Alicia Vikander stars with Kit Harrington in a World War I drama, and on TV Harrington is featured in the season finale of “Game of Thrones.” Also on TV there’s a new series that features magic and spells. In Food we visit a gourmet restaurant in Hollywood.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Testament of Youth’
Star Alicia Vikander sweeps you away in this passionate World War I romantic drama based on Vera Brittain’s celebrated memoir. Unapologetically emotional and impeccably made in the classic manner, it tells the kind of potent, many-sided story whose unforeseen complexities can only come courtesy of a life that lived them all. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'The Farewell Party'
This Israeli film not only thinks the unthinkable, it laughs at the unlaughable. Nominated for 14 Israeli Academy Awards, this is a gentle but pointed work, a warm and comic film about an unmistakably serious subject, the end of life itself. (Kenneth Turan) (In Hebrew with English subtitles) Read more
Spy reteams writer-director Paul Feig with his "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat" star Melissa McCarthy in an affectionate sendup of globe-hopping espionage movies. With strong support from Jason Statham and Rose Byrne, "Spy" may not be a great movie, but it is great fun. And at times it will have you wondering if there's that much of a difference. (Mark Olsen) Read more
Shrewdly imagined and persuasively made, this is a spooky piece of speculative fiction about artificial intelligence that's completely plausible, capable of thinking big thoughts and providing pulp thrills. But even saying that doesn't do full justice to this quietly unnerving Alex Garland film starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
The late Albert Maysles was one of America’s great documentarians, a force in the field for nearly six decades, but even with all that excellent work behind him, his latest film, “Iris,” has got to be one of his most charming. With her trademark huge round glasses and her genius for costume jewelry, the 93-year-old Iris Apfel could qualify as the world’s oldest fashionista. But when she talks, you want to listen. That’s because she not only has a lively sense of humor and a great spirit, but also is a remarkably sane and sensible individual who effortlessly holds your attention. Iris Apfel is a complete individual, having her moment and relishing it. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'When Marnie Was There'
This story of two lonely girls and the strange bond between them, the latest animated feature from Japan’s Studio Ghibli does not fall neatly into any conventional narrative category. But that doesn’t get in the way of it being visually spectacular. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’
Spells from dusty books, talking statuary, thundering horses conjured from sand — “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” certainly begs comparison to its younger countryman, “Harry Potter,” but its themes are a bit more adult. And by adult, I do not mean (for once) grisly violence and graphic sex — this is not the magic of “Trueblood” or “Penny Dreadful” either. Instead it is an examination of power, morality and manners, of social mores and individual inclinations. For much of the first three episodes, the main tension is the eternal one between scholarship and innovation: Is it nobler to thoroughly “own” one’s subject or, armed with a less thorough knowledge, try to further it. This may sound completely boring in a world where dragons roast dozens in a roar and werewolves adorably navigate senior year, but it absolutely is not. Infused with the considerable talents of Bertie Carvel and especially Eddie Marsan in the title roles, the series, adapted by Peter Harness, is deft combination of Dickensian satire, Austenian wit and Gothic anxiety. BBC America, Saturdays. Read more
The FX series "The Americans" meets the Oscar-winning film "The Lives of Others" in the miniseries "Deutschland 83." The first German-language series to appear on an American network, "Deutschland 83" follows the adventures of a young East German soldier (Jonas Nay) compelled to work as a spy in West Germany, where American forces are becoming increasingly, and proactively, anti-Communist. (Mary McNamara) (Sundance, Wednesdays) Read more
'Game of Thrones' Fifth Season Finale
As always, 10 episodes fly by in a moment and once again we are facing a "Game of Thrones" season finale. It's been a big year for the show, the first written without the full aid of a novel — though George R.R. Martin consulted, he still has not finished the sixth book in his series. Complaints about slow pacing in early episodes were quickly replaced by outrage at the rape of Sansa (Sophie Turner), which was drowned out in its turn by more outrage over the sacrificial burning of Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) by her father in the penultimate episode, and a more general joy that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) had finally met Daenerys (Emilia Clark) and that Danerys had finally begun to reclaim her dragons.(Mary McNamara) (HBO, Sunday) Read more
If you missed Deaf West’s deft production of the Tony-winning musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater the first time around, count yourself lucky that you have an opportunity to catch it now. Michael Arden’s stage plan stunningly employs all sorts of chiaroscuro effects to create a theatrical world — half-modern, half-antique — in which this musical poem, based on Frank Wedekind’s daring 1891 play about the societal oppression and irrepressible sexuality of teenagers, can be lyrically reborn with actors who sign as expressively as they sing. Ends Sunday, June 14. Read more
'As You Like It'
As part of Theatricum Botanicum's Americana-themed summer repertory season, Shakespeare's pastoral comedy is reset in the post-Civil War Deep South, an overlay that shrewdly amplifies themes of land and loyalties divided; the outdoor Topanga Canyon backdrop is an ideal fit — you can't improve on scenic design by Nature itself. (Philip Brandes) (Through Sept. 26) Read more
'A Permanent Image'
Rogue Machine Theatre's deftly crafted production of this early play by Samuel D. Hunter boasts wonderful performances by Anne Gee Byrd, Tracie Lockwood, Ned Mochel and Mark L. Taylor. The play itself, in which an adult brother and sister return to their childhood home for their father's funeral, is a fairly typical dysfunctional-family drama: too much liquor triggers face-offs and revelations. But the pleasure of watching the fine cast sends this technically exceptional production into another stratosphere. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Mon., Sept. 7) Read more
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos and his superb cast nail the arcane subtexts in Harold Pinter's creepily brilliant play about a womanless tribe whose atavistic longing — and loathing — for a female newcomer to their midst trumps all familial considerations. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Through Oct. 4) Read more
'Around the World in 80 Days'
Mark Brown’s adroit reduction of Jules Verne’s classic globe-trotter is a regional staple. Its buoyant Actors Co-op revival reminds us why. Director Rhonda Kohl deftly balances narrative sobriety and daft hilarity, gleaning nonstop invention from ace designers and a wonderful ensemble, whose disciplined abandon and sheer versatility amount to a group tour de force that drives this delightful confection. (Ends Sunday, June 14). Read more
'I and You'
The Los Angeles premiere of Lauren Gunderson's latest play, directed by Robin Larsen, could be a testimonial to the power of intimate theater. The story of two high school students wrestling with a report on Walt Whitman evokes an Afterschool Special, duly ticking off the markers of teen angst, then abruptly opens out into a stunning exploration of cosmic interconnectedness. (Margaret Gray) (Ends this Sunday, June 21) Read more
The San Francisco-based Holly Herndon is a singular artist whose productions blend layers of electronically manipulated voice with beats, noise, sibilant textures and filtered sound to create eardrum-tickling joy. On her second album she manages to sound both futuristic and steeped in history. In her work on “Platform” are echoes of voice-and-sample experimenters from decades past, including Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Nobukazu Takemura and Bjork. But Herndon explores elsewhere. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
It's easy to imagine masses in sold-out arenas bellowing all the words to "Fire Away," the crawling country blues track that's one of many highlights of this debut album from Chris Stapleton. Or, for that matter, most of the album. A sturdy, no-nonsense collection of 14 electrified country songs about empty whiskey bottles, broken hearts, lapses of faith and getting stoned because the whiskey bottle is empty, the record is a straight-talking, unflinching look at trouble and its occasional resolution. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'California Nights'
Of all the cultural archetypes that Southern California has produced, the loosely defined genre known as "beach music" is one of its most enduring. That sunny, harmony-rich, melodically spirited permutation is the rope connecting artists as varied as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, the Go-Gos, Snoop Dogg, Mazzy Star and No Doubt. Over the last few years that sound has ridden a wave into the present through the work of Best Coast. The duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno move further toward mastering the vibe on their third studio album, "California Nights." (Randall Roberts) Read more
The Best of the Best at 2015 Coachella
We laughed, we danced and we slogged through dust, coughing up muddy phlegm and glugging water. At the Valley Music and Arts Festival, which concluded on Sunday, 90,000 fans reveled in heat while artists revealed their pumping musical hearts onstage. But the truth is, not every set was equally great. Some, such as Belle & Sebastian, seemed to merely go through the motions. Others, like Kaskade, drew the masses but delivered one-dimensional music. Despite the buzz, British band Jungle's sound seemed fleeting, already dated. But who cares what didn't work? Suss that out among yourselves online. Let's celebrate the festival's accomplishments with the highly biased Coachella Awards, which were determined by a poll of one. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Carrie & Lowell'
Over his decade-plus as a working musician, Sufjan Stevens has tackled a range of impressively big-ticket projects, including a series of album-length odes to states in the Union, a giddy, joyous dance-rock record called "The Age of Adz" and multimedia art projects. His roots, though, are as a guitar-based songwriter, the kind searching for beauty amid strummed chords and counterpoint arrangements. "Carrie & Lowell" are the real-life names of Stevens' late mother and stepfather, so these 11 songs have an autobiographical tint to them, even if Stevens has long played with fact and fiction (see his mysterious "Concerning the U.F.O. Sighting Near Highland, Illinois") and avowedly does so throughout. (Randall Roberts) Read more
To describe this Australian artist's new release, "The Double EP: A Split of Peas," as the product of a "singer and songwriter" is to suggest something less menacing than she is. Barnett's got a great way with lyrics and hooks, packing a lot of information, for example, into "Canned Tomatoes (Whole)," about a former neighbor/lover. "David" takes a basic blues pattern and turns it into a bouncy, insistent piece on the many reasons why the titular ex-boyfriend is getting the boot. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album 'Rebel Heart'
Madonna named her 13th studio album "Rebel Heart." The title fits the Madge mold of past titles: adjectives, a noun or two, perhaps a preposition, combined to suggest a loose theme. "Like a Virgin," "Ray of Light," "Hard Candy," "Bedtime Stories" and her relatively epic "Confessions on a Dance Floor" confirm her long-player branding technique, each connecting a concrete idea with the themes conveyed through the songs, more or less. The outlier, her forgettable last album, "MDNA," was a coy reference to the drug MDMA (a.k.a. molly or ecstasy). It sounded as spent as the Monday following an epic Saturday binge. "Rebel Heart" is a far better album than "MDNA" — cleaner, crisper, more sober, less a flimsy attempt at drawing fickle youth ears and more a sturdy rhythmic platform to showcase some of the most striking tracks she's made in 15 years (specifically, since "Music," her last great album). Featuring production by artists including Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West and Sophie and guests including Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj and (in spoken form) Mike Tyson, it has completeness to it rather than the mishmash of could-be stabs at relevance that dots her lesser work. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Shadows in the Night'
Call them standards if you must — imagine dusty old classics of the so-called Great American Songbook. But as interpreted by Bob Dylan, more accurate is to consider the entirety of "Shadows in the Night" as a gathering of meditations, or a booklet of hymns, or a selection of reveries. Ten songs, 34 minutes, a soaring lifetime's worth of emotion conveyed with the fearlessness of a cliff diver spinning flips and risking belly flops in the open air — that's Dylan and his band on the graceful, often-breathtaking "Shadows." The record comes out Feb. 3. Strikingly unadorned and as emotionally raw as anything in the artist's canon, Dylan's new studio album is rich with moaning pedal steel lines and tonal whispers that drift in and out of measures. Guided by bassist Tony Garnier's liquid lines, "Shadows" is an exercise in precision, each syllable essential, each measure evenly weighted. Absent are piano, overdubs, all but the most minimal percussion or any lyric written by Dylan himself. And it's as slow as molasses. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Best known as an original member of Danity Kane, R&B singer Dawn Richard left the group last year (again) after a public kerfuffle revealed deep divisions among the crew. No disrespect to the others, but Richard is thriving without them. Over the last few years she's issued a series of works that hinted at a wildly visionary approach to soul sonics, and she's gone even further on "Blackheart." A collaboration with the Los Angeles producer Noisecastle III, Richards' second studio album is thick with synth-based polyrhythms and layers of Richard's fine voice. When delivered straight, it's solid and pitch perfect. More often, though, she and Noisecastle run her words through strange filters, electronically manipulating it to move from male bass to female soprano and beyond. She merges her words with Vocoders like she's rolling onto Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," hums with Giorgio Moroder-like synth throbs. The result is magnetic future funk, rife with Roland 909 tones, British drum and bass accents and much left-field surprise. (Randall Roberts) Read more
In the opening measures of Björk's new album, "Vulnicura," the Icelandic artist offers a direct statement of purpose, one involving personal upheaval she describes as "a juxtapositioning fate." Mentioning "moments of clarity as so rare, I better document this," Björk directs her gaze in that first song, "Stonemilker," on the dissolution of a relationship. As she does so, what can be described only as Björkian strings and beats swirl around her. These drifting arrangements soar through tracks like birds spinning circles in prairie skies, even as the experimental pop singer, 49, lyrically crawls through the brush below in utter confusion. At times devastated, others baffled, still others strong and determined, the artist on "Vulnicura" offers nine songs, six of which move in chronological order through that juxtapositional end and beyond. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Black Messiah'
In a brief foreword in the liner notes for "Black Messiah," the great new album from the soul artist known simply as D'Angelo, the creator declares his intentions with a dose of humility. "'Black Messiah' is a hell of a name for an album," he writes, explaining that the title of his first long-player in 14 years, and only his third in 19 years, might be misconstrued as being about religion or paint the artist as some sort of egomaniac. But, writes D'Angelo, to him the title is "about the world. It's about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah. It's about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Pinkprint'
Those who have followed Nicki Minaj's often-thrilling ascent to hip-hop superstardom have been hoping for another straight-up rap album for years. After annihilating virtually all takers on mixtapes and guest verses starting in 2007, the 32-year-old began gunning for the pop charts, pouring forth two albums, "Pink Friday" (2010) and "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded" (2012). Both often paired her charismatic wit and style with of-the-moment dance floor bangers and big-umbrella commercial sounds, along with a teasing dose of hard-edged hip-hop. She's earned those hits, to the chagrin of some of her most devoted defenders — those who understand that when Minaj flips that switch and devotes herself to the art of the well-crafted hip-hop verse, uninterrupted electricity flows through her. When she's on, her phrasing, her myriad personas, her playfully percussive vocal flow and the overall presentation combine to create as striking a presence as anyone who's ever rhymed along to beats. "The Pinkprint," released Monday, won't fully placate the hard-core rap heads, but it's got the bangs and the thrills many of us have hoped for, even if it's a slow build kind of power and slacks at times. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels is the team of two indie titans, El-P and Killer Mike, who have upended convention by remaining idealistically true, artistically adventurous and creatively emboldened well into their second decade as rapper-producers. The pair's second album, released as a free download, proves it 11 times over. As smart as it is sonically imaginative and unpredictable, "Run the Jewels 2" proves the team's debut was less a fluke than a portent. Headphone rap of the highest order, tracks on this sequel hum and groove, laced with texture and hidden sonic accents. Psychedelic jams — but not in the hippie sense — including "Close Your Eyes (And Count to …)" and "Lie, Cheat, Steal" are both trippy and menacing, the product of two rappers whose understanding of cadence, phrasing and language as syllabic percussion is often awe-inspiring. (Randall Roberts) Read more
When you stroll south down Cahuenga from Hollywood Boulevard, you run into tattoo parlors, neat mobs of people gathered outside anonymous velvet ropes, and bad-decision bars not quite decadent enough to make it into Thrillist listicles. A DJ spins dated electrofunk records outside the Jamaican taco truck adjacent to the occult supplies store. Tourists suddenly realize they’re not on Vine. It’s not a bad block if what you’re after happens to be espresso or 24-hour pancakes, but it also may be the last place you might expect to find a sleek new restaurant from a chef with Mélisse on his résumé and a knack for foie gras, a bottle of Alsatian Riesling or a plate of grilled corn with mascarpone and summer truffles. Yet there you’ll find Birch: matte gray exterior, blond wood tables and monkfish tikka masala hiding under airy slabs of pappadum. Read more
Tumanyan Khinkali Factory
Meet khinkali, your latest obsession. Khinkali are soup dumplings from the mountains north of Tbilisi, Georgia. When you check Google Maps for the mountain village in which they may have been born, khinkali is the only word you will be able to read on the screen — the location, apparently, of a restaurant. Pasanauri was a center of dumpling tourism in the Soviet era, although it has fallen on hard times. Dumpling tourism is not what it used to be. A proper khinkali is about the size and heft of a lemon, a lump of oniony meat encased in a sturdy pleated wrapper gathered at the top in a thick, doughy knob. If you poke around in old cookbooks, you see khinkali after khinkali lined up on big platters, resembling nothing so much as Eastern European folk-art heads of garlic. Tumanyan Khinkali Factory is a new khinkali specialist hidden in a Glendale shopping complex courtyard, a branch of the most famous khinkali restaurant in Armenia's capital, Yerevan. Its dumplings more closely resemble old-fashioned hot water bottles, or, really, like Claes Oldenburg's Pop art sculpture of a hot water bottle that used to grace the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's courtyard. Read more
Odys + Penelope
Odys + Penelope, the modern-primitive grill from Quinn and Karen Hatfield, feels as if it has been around for decades, all stripped brick, raw wooden rafters, and an open kitchen that dominates the far end of the restaurant like a proscenium stage. The restaurant smells good, like herbs and campfires, meat and liquor. The most emblematic dish here is the well-aged sirloin cap, that star of the Brazilian churrasceria menu; the most unexpected dish, probably the gigantic applewood-smoked short rib, is a close cousin to the beef ribs in the best central Texas barbecue pits. The Hubble telescope studies mysteries less profound than crisp yet friable perfection of the rye crust on Karen Hatfield's chocolate pie. Read more
If you want to understand Asanebo, the sleek Japanese restaurant at the heart of Studio City's sushi bar strip, you could do worse than to look at the tiny dish of chawanmushi there, the inevitable beginning to one of the long, multi-course omakase meals that are the restaurant's reason for being. You will find a curl of ruddy sea urchin roe, the sweetly austere stuff shipped in from Hokkaido instead of the lusher Santa Barbara uni, and some briny, lightly chewy bits of stewed abalone atop a shiny glaze of chilled reduced dashi made with deeply smoky katsuoboshi — dried bonito. Microscopic cubes of minced wasabi are strewn over the seafood, almost as much for their crunch as for their bright heat, and the chawanmushi itself, half an inch of egg custard, is crème brûlée-rich, impossibly smooth, steamed just to the point when it is maximally luscious but has not yet released its liquid. You will eat this in two bites without pausing to reflect on the thousands of air miles, centuries of technique and microseconds of timing that have come together in these few grams of food set in front of you at your table. And you are not meant to reflect — I don't think. Read more
The Chipotlization of the world seems inevitable at this point. A quick glance at Google turns up the Chipotle of South East Asian food, the Chipotle of Mediterranean food, the Chipotle of Japanese food, the Chipotle of mac 'n' cheese and more Chipotles of pizza than you can shake a pepperoni at. So it will not be a surprise when you wander down a side street in Old Town Pasadena and run into California Chutney, a gleaming new restaurant that clearly would like to be the Chipotle of Indian food — quick, handmade and almost infinitely customizable. Instead of a tortilla, there is hot naan plucked out of a tandoor; instead of carnitas, there is chicken tikka, tandoori shrimp, chickpeas or the fresh cheese called paneer, all served out of colorful enameled iron pots; instead of salsas there is a choice of chutneys — the one made with pureed cilantro isn't bad — and instead of sliced bell peppers there are shallot pickles or red chile oil. Read more
Empress Pavilion is the biggest restaurant in Chinatown, a glittery, hangar-size seafood palace built at the height of the late 1980s boom. In its early years, you would typically wait an hour or more for a table on dim sum Sunday mornings, and in the evenings, the vast hall would be subdivided for wedding banquets and business dinners that featured the best class of bird's nest soup and such oddities as Dragon and Phoenix platters that occasionally included real snake. Even as the focus of the Chinese community moved 10 miles east and the food malls that lined Broadway were eclipsed by the shinier complexes in the new Chinatowns of San Gabriel and Monterey Park, Empress' live scallop dishes and sun-dried abalone held their own against the other Hong Kong-style competitors Harbour Village and Ocean Star. Read more
Redbird may be the most anticipated Los Angeles restaurant of the current decade, a venture involving the city's highest-profile food entrepreneur at the moment, an actual deconsecrated cathedral and a chef for whom greatness has lain just out of reach for more than a decade. No local restaurant has ever taken quite so long to open; no spit-grilled lamb belly with kumquats and Aleppo pepper has ever taken quite so long to reach the plate. But here we are, walking up the steps to the former rectory, passing through a softly glowing cocktail lounge and into a former patio, newly crowned with a retractable roof. From some angles, you can see bits of the former cathedral interior through the big glass windows — at night, the changing colored lights give the nave the look of a James Turrell installation. A locomotive-size grill chugs at one end of the dining room. The former apartments of the rectory, recently converted into private dining areas, soar overhead. And more than at any Los Angeles restaurant since Rex or the first decade of Campanile, you feel as if you are part of something bigger than yourself, a hungry, chattering component of a grand pleasure machine — even before the 32-ounce porterhouse shows up. Read more
Avocado toast? That was so last year. We are now in the age of the phenomenon I have come to think of as Things in a Bowl, a culinary invention that may depend on rice, pasta, whole grains or legumes but usually includes a poached egg of one sort or another and always, always comes with kale. The sorrel rice at Sqirl? Things in a Bowl. That grains-and-greens dish at Field Trip? Things in a Bowl. That concoction at Superba, Gjusta, Akasha or M Café that looks like something your yogini might make the morning she decided to clean out her refrigerator? Things in Bowls, all of them. They are healthful. They keep you regular. You could probably survive on them for weeks if you had to, especially if you got to throw in lamb bacon like they do at Little Sister. The great Eastside destination for Things in a Bowl is probably Lincoln, a new Pasadena brunch restaurant up by the Altadena border, which can sometimes seem as if it has as many varieties of Things in a Bowl as Baskin-Robbins has of ice cream. There is the breakfast bowl, which has the beans, sausage, runny egg, toast and tomato of a proper English fry-up but with baby kale and a lot more herbs. There is the farro bowl, which includes dabs of peppery romesco sauce and a handful of spiced chickpeas along with the grains and greens. There is a spicy shrimp bowl, a more lettuce-intensive breakfast salad, and a bowl of huevos rancheros that may be spicy and vaguely cheesy but otherwise has all the characteristics of a bowl. Read more
Barrel & Ashes: Texas Barbecue
When you talk to the masters of Texas barbecue, men and women who measure their lives in cords of post oak and fatty beef by the ton, you will hear about convection rates and sedimentation, humidity and wind, and the way fat renders in April as opposed to the way it renders in May. You learn about the complexities of brisket, a cut made up of two separate muscles that react to heat as if they were from two different planets. You'll hear a lot about the aging of split logs, the role of black pepper in crust formation, the perils of both over-smoking and under-smoking, and the difficult consistency of subcutaneous fat. Plus, if you're doing the job correctly, you have to show up to work around 1 a.m., before the bars have even closed. Barbecue is hard. In Texas, even being a fan of barbecue is hard. Barrel & Ashes is easy. Or rather, Barrel & Ashes is meant to be easy: a Texas-style barbecue restaurant with a convenient location in Studio City, cheerful valet parking and reservations readily available on OpenTable. Some of the seating is at long communal tables, but it is pleasant enough if you're OK with sitting on bar stools, and you may catch a glimpse of the lenticular clouds of meringue crowning the banana pudding or a can of Icelandic beer flavored with bilberries. There are even forks, which at the best Texas places are used only when eating cole slaw and dessert. Read more
Like the community it serves, Gjusta, the newish place from owner Fran Camaj and chef-owner Travis Lett, the people who brought you Gjelina and Gjelina Takeaway, is dedicated to creative disruption. The cotton coats that the bakers wear are fetishized by fashion blogs. The baklava croissants have become cult objects. A city planning hearing on a proposed patio drew Zach Galifianakis among the protesters. Is it a bakery? Kind of. The charred, crunchy baguettes, sourdough loaves and whole-grain boules dominate the north end of the enormous counter, along with the tarts, flatbreads, quiches and butter-saturated croissants. Is it a deli? Also yes: A few yards farther down in the glass case are house-cured pastramis, pickles and hams, along with an extensive array of the smoked fish and condiments that people in New York call "appetizing'' — food meant to be eaten with bagels and bialys. A lot of the food has a hint of Middle Eastern flavor — you can get the thickened yogurt called labneh on your bialy instead of cream cheese if you like. Alongside the pain au chocolat are those "baklava'' croissants stuffed with pistachios. And puffy flatbreads smeared with the herb paste za'atar lean next to the ones topped with dried tomatoes. Read more
If you are fond of visiting Los Angeles restaurants in their first months, you have run into chef Kris Morningstar a lot, probably more times than you can imagine. He has cooked at Shutters and AOC, Grace, Meson G and Opaline, Casa and the weird rooftop-to-table restaurant Blue Velvet. He was in and out of the Hollywood restaurant District in what seemed like weeks, although people still talk about his term in the kitchen, and he opened Ray's & Stark Bar, the vegetable-focused restaurant in the shadow of Chris Burden's lamppost installation in a courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. So it is nice to see Morningstar finally open what seems like his dream restaurant: Terrine, a huge, relaxed place in what used to be the Italian restaurant Pane e Vino. The once fussy dining room has been streamlined into a brisk, airy space, adjoining one of the pleasantest, tree-shaded dining patios in town. The music is too loud — it is always too loud — but conversations are easy enough to follow. And Terrine seems to have been immediately adopted as a clubhouse by the local chefs' community. Especially late at night, restaurant people sometimes seem to outnumber civilians. Morningstar cooks what chefs like to eat. What that means, basically, is meat, lots of meat, along with rustic red wine, decent beer and cocktails that actually taste like the spirits with which they are made. When the best salad on the menu is made with crunchy, thick-cut slices of toasted pig's ear, you know you're in a restaurant that welcomes chefs. Read more
Pok Pok Phat Thai
Pok Pok Phat Thai is the first Los Angeles outpost of Andy Ricker, the American-born chef who has built a small Thai food empire in Portland, Ore., and New York. It is a small counter built into the Chinatown mall storefront where the chicken pho dive Hoan Kiem used to be, right down from Chego, and even in its earliest weeks a line curled out its door. Ricker is adept at adapting the strong, herbal flavors of northern Thai drinking food — his original Pok Pok in Portland is marvelous — in a manner fairly similar to what Kris Yenbamroong is doing here at Night + Market. He plans to open a larger, more ambitious restaurant up the street in a few months, but Pok Pok Phat Thai serves just noodles for takeout or to eat at one of the oilcloth-covered picnic tables set outside in the mall. Read more
Water-boiled fish is one of the most impressive dishes in the Sichuan repertoire: an enormous bowl of vegetables and broth bloodied with a half-inch of vivid chile oil. At Fang's Kitchen, the sleek new Chengdu-style Sichuan restaurant in Monterey Park, the fish, called here Bashu fish fillet, lies atop what must be a triple handful of bean sprouts, which I've never actually seen anybody eat but which keep the pale fillets right at the surface. Fang's, all red walls and shiny glass, is sharp-looking, almost sophisticated in its corner space, long home to the Shanghainese restaurant Giangnan, a few storefronts down from the dumpling specialist Dean Sin World in a faded mini-mall south of the 10 Freeway. It seems to be more popular with groups of young couples than with families, although it serves nothing stronger than pitchers of smoky plum juice, and there is only one table that could conceivably seat a party larger than six. Almost every time I've been in, a waitress has told the group that if we promised to write up the restaurant on the Chinese-language message board Weibo, we'd get a free dessert. I neither read nor write a word of Chinese, but the lure of the crisply toasted rice cakes, sprinkled with powdered mung bean and drizzled with liquid black sugar, is pretty strong. I confess: I have lied for dessert. Read more
Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada
In the aftermath of the Watts rebellion, which tore up South Los Angeles in August 1965, sending shock waves across the country, Noah Purifoy made an extensive series of assemblage sculptures that signaled a powerful, wholly unexpected cultural shift. Working with a small circle of colleagues, he was instrumental in redefining — enlarging — an idea of black consciousness that had been established in 1920s New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Ten of those early assemblages are at the start of “Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada,” the much-anticipated retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 27) Read more
Chris Burden: Ode to Santos Dumont
In the 1970s, Burden’s radical performance art courted danger and grappled with violence. The artist’s remarkable final sculpture performs a sly and elegant reversal. It rescues today’s most controversial weapon of war a drone — and spirits it away from dark and shadowy realms of death and destruction. Through June 21. Read more
'Andre D. Wagner: Tell It Like It Is'
Wagner is a young photographer with an old soul. He shoots black-and-white film, prints his own pictures, and practices a quiet, lyrical kind of humanism that comes straight out of the traditions of mid-20th-century street photography and the social documentary photo essay (Leah Ollman) (Ends this Sunday, July 5) Read more
If ants had cameras — as well as helicopters, drones and hydraulic lifts — they might make photographs that look a lot like Burtynsky's sublime pictures of the marks humans have made on our planet. (David Pagel) (Ends this Saturday) Read more
"m.A.A.d." is 15 minutes of visual verse condensed from more than seven hours of video footage. Joseph burrows inside the rhythms of a place to describe it with amplitude and tenderness. The concentrated result is a mesmerizing hip-hop tone-poem, heartfelt and deeply moving. (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 16) Read more
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
"Trinket" is a monumental 2008 installation sculpture by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, 59. "Trinket" is immense. The American flag is 16 feet tall, 45 feet long and affixed to a sturdy aluminum pole rising from floor to ceiling. Four big industrial fans, the special-effects type used in Hollywood to create phony cinematic storms, are positioned near the flagpole. When the fans rev up, the forceful wind lifts the Stars and Stripes and sends the banner billowing. A loud and steady rumble issues from the gale. Banks of klieg lights are sequentially programmed, further cranking up the pageantry. Today's disheartening displays of media-mad political theater are put into devastating perspective. (Christopher Knight) (Through June 28) Read more
‘The Meursault Investigation’
Give Kamel Daoud credit for audacity. In his debut novel, “The Meursault Investigation,” the Algerian journalist goes head-to-head with a pillar of 20th century literature: Albert Camus’ existential masterpiece “The Stranger.” First published in France in 1942, Camus’ novel tells the story of Meursault — like the author, a French Algerian, or pied-noir — who under the influence of heat or fate kills an Arab on the beach at the peak of a summer afternoon. “I shook off the sweat and sun,” Meursault informs us. “… Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.” “The Meursault Investigation” takes place on the other side of that door, offering a glimpse of the fallout from Meursault’s futile violence. Read more
'Maintenance of Headway'
Partway through Magnus Mills' "The Maintenance of Headway," the narrator, a bus driver in a city that must be London, is stuck on a crowded road behind a truck with a warning reading, "If you can't see my mirrors I can't see you." Bored and frustrated, the driver starts to frame a song. "If you can't see my mirrors," he sings to himself, "I can't see you anymore / I can't see you … anymore." The logic is inescapable: "Sitting in a bus composing songs might seem pointless, but there was nothing else to do." The same might be said of this strange and lovely novel, published in the U.K. in 2009 and now available in the United States for the first time. Read more
'A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me'
I'll be honest: I wasn't sure we'd see another book of fiction by David Gates. It's been 16 years since his last, the collection "The Wonders of the Invisible World," and even longer since his novels, "Jernigan," a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the magnificent "Preston Falls." In these works, Gates staked out a territory, the anxieties of a particular corner of the middle class: artsy, at one time hip or (even slightly) radical, aspirational less in the financial sense than that of creativity or spirit. That these aspirations have crumbled is part of the point, as his characters reckon with the compromises, physical and emotional, that living brings. Read more
'The Odd Woman and the City'
Vivian Gornick's "The Odd Woman and the City" is a book of ghosts. Ghosts of the past; ghosts of New York, which is for her both home and character; ghosts of a lifetime of reading, intentional and covert. These ghosts emerge when Gornick least expects it or are invoked directly in the text. "It's an evening in June," she writes, "and I am taking a turn through Washington Square. As I stroll, I see in the air before me, like an image behind a scrim, the square as it looked when I was young, standing right behind the square that I'm actually looking at. That was a good fifty years ago, when my friends and I used to come down from the Bronx and in from Brooklyn on summer evenings and we'd walk around looking at a piece of world so different from that of our own neighborhoods, we might as well have been in Europe."This is not to say "The Odd Woman and the City" is nostalgic. As she has throughout her career, Gornick stands against nostalgia, which does not mean she stands against history. For her, however, history is a source of context, a way of tracing what has changed and what remains. Read more
'The Library of Babel'
Almost three-quarters of a century after it was published, Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” continues to resonate. A year and a half ago, the online magazine Places Journal published a set of architectural drawings representing the story’s setting — a library, “composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries,” in which is collected not only every book ever written but also every book never written, possibility and perplexity blurring into one another in unexpected ways. Now, a Brooklyn writer named Jonathan Basile has begun to re-create the library in more concrete form, on a website — called, appropriately enough, “The Library of Babel ” — that, if ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lowercase letters, space, comma, and period.” That this is impossible is part of the point, as it was of the original story. Read more
'Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond'
I got to know Los Angeles through its poetry. Even before I lived here, I experienced a different, human, side of the city through the works of Wanda Coleman, Michelle T. Clinton, Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad. It's no coincidence that all of them were, at one time or another, affiliated with Beyond Baroque. The Venice-based literary center, founded in 1968 by George Drury Smith, was created as a place for poetry, particularly the poetry of Los Angeles. Over the decades, scores of local and national writers — including Allen Ginsberg, Raymond Carver, Patti Smith and Amiri Baraka — have appeared there; John Doe and Exene Cervenka, of the band X, famously met at the long-running Wednesday Night Poetry Workshop. Read through such a filter, Suzanne Lummis' new anthology "Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond" feels like a bit of a homecoming, although it is not a backward-looking book. Gathering more than 100 poets (Coleman, Douglas Kearney, and L.A. laureates Eloise Klein Healy and Luis J. Rodriguez among them), it is a celebration of what let's call a Los Angeles aesthetic, an exploration of poetry and place. Read more
"I think I get away with a lot of political stuff," says Attica Locke, "because of the presence of a dead body. If you have familiar signposts along the way — this is when the cops get called, this is when we tell the girl's parents — readers get comfortable, and then you can slide in all this other material." It's noon on a Friday, and Locke is in the lounge of the Langham Huntington in Pasadena. A pianist plays softly around the corner as the author discusses the role of social issues in her novels, which position themselves as thrillers, then open up into a larger world. Her first, "Black Water Rising," which came out in 2009 and was nominated for both an Edgar and the Orange Prize, revolves around Jay Porter, a veteran of the civil rights movement turned small-time attorney, 30, with a pregnant wife and a past as an activist once tried for attempted murder. Her second, 2012's "The Cutting Season," takes on a murder with historical implications at a Louisiana plantation turned high-end event space. For the last year, Locke has also been a writer and producer on the Fox drama "Empire," which addresses, in its own way, a related set of themes. Now, she has returned to Jay Porter with her third novel, "Pleasantville," which picks up 15 years after "Black Water Rising," as the lawyer finds himself suddenly and against his will enmeshed in the political and legal drama surrounding a 1996 Houston mayoral campaign. Read more
'The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy'
Masha Gessen does something unexpected with "The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy." In a book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, she barely describes the crime. Here it is, her account, which comes almost exactly at the halfway point: "Patriots' Day 2013 fell on April 15, tax day — an ironic coincidence for a big American holiday. At 2:49 p.m. that day, a couple of hours after the winner completed the Boston Marathon, when runners were crossing the finish line in a steady stream, two bombs went off near the end of the route, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others, including sixteen who lost limbs." Read more
Online Magazine: 'The Offing'
Next week, a new literary magazine, the Offing, will premiere online. Based (for the most part) in Los Angeles, where it is affiliated with the Los Angeles Review of Books Channels project, it is really a national, or even international, effort, which aspires to break down boundaries, to level the playing field. Editor in chief Darcy Cosper (who is also an editor at LARB, although the Offing is editorially and financially independent) and executive editors Airea D. Matthews and Michael D. Snediker head up an editorial team that also includes Danez Smith, Leslie Parry and Margaret Wappler; the magazine, its website tells us, "is a place for new and emerging artists to test their voices, and for established artists to test their limits." Among these limits are those of diversity, which is a key part of the Offing's focus, to break down barriers, to blur — or even more, to eclipse — the lines that keep certain writers, certain communities, on the edges of the conversation, to redefine the mainstream by willfully stepping outside the bounds. Read more
Here’s a beautiful curio: Frontier, a quarterly series from San Francisco indie comics publisher Youth in Decline. Each issue features a stand-alone work by a single artist. The most recent is “Ann by the Bed,” a 32-page comic by Emily Carroll, and it’s a powerhouse — a gothic horror story in which a child’s what-if scenario becomes a portal to a terror that is all too real. The set-up is simple: “In the early morning of October 12th, 1934,” Carroll tells us, “someone took a hatchet to Ann Herron’s room and woke her up with a blow to the head.” The killer followed her throughout the house before finishing her off “in the parlour of her family home.” But there are complications: Ann’s parents, and her brother, George, have also died in a series of strange accidents. Her sister, Jennie, who survived, may or may not have been engaged in witchcraft. This is the best thing about “Ann by the Bed,” which is named for a game kids play to scare themselves — that it raises questions without having, or even trying, to answer them; the whole point is the mystery. Read more
'Eventually Everything Connects'
What do Alfred Hitchcock, Edith Head, Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton have in common? They're all featured in Loris Lora's glorious, and unexpected, "Eventually Everything Connects," a celebration of mid-20th century California Modernism in visual form. Lora, a 2014 BFA grad of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, takes her inspiration and her title from designer Charles Eames' assertion that "Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects .... The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se." The work here, however, is entirely her own. Read more
'Guys Like Me'
“There are no second acts,” Dominique Fabre writes in his new novel “Guys Like Me” (New Vessel Press: 144 pp., $15.99 paper). It’s a nod to Fitzgerald, sure, but it is also an existential statement, made by an unnamed Parisian who, as he drifts through his 50s, finds himself increasingly unmoored. Divorced, the father of an adult son, he works in an office, although we never find out much about what he does. Rather, the novel revolves around small interactions, particularly with two old friends and with a woman he meets on a dating site. “Sometimes,” he tells us, “you’re so alone you think you’re talking aloud even when you haven’t said a word.” Fabre is a genius of these nuanced, interior moments; his 2008 novel, “The Waitress Was New,” offered a similar glimpse of quiet lives. Read more
'John Lennon: The Collected Artwork'
I’ve long had a thing for John Lennon’s drawings: the loopy sketches (loose, impressionistic) he made throughout his life. Quick takes, they are akin to diary entries or visual haiku. One hangs on my living room wall, a 1969 portrait of John and Yoko, beneath a banner declaring “Peace.” It’s a prized possession, familiar and yet at the same time vivid, a reminder that the moment is all we really have. That image appears, as it should, in “John Lennon: The Collected Artwork” (Insight Editions: 204 pp., $50), edited by Scott Gutterman, which claims to be a comprehensive collection of Lennon’s visual work. I don’t know about that, but the 200 or so pieces here span his life as a creative figure, from childhood images (recognizable from the cover of his 1974 album “Walls and Bridges”) to those created just before he died. Read more
The enemy is around the corner. The floor is stained with the bright orange scars of battle. I can see my rival — she’s wearing a baseball cap backward, high-tops and is firing blindly. This can only mean one thing: It’s time to turn into a squid. “Boo-yah!” my character screams, and out come the tentacles. I dive into a pool of neon orange paint with a gooey splat of my squid limbs, never seeing the giant paint roller coming to steamroll me from behind. So much for my surprise attack. This is “Splatoon,” one of the most senselessly entertaining video game shooters of this — or any — year. The shock is that it comes from Nintendo, entering an arena it long ago ceded to its competitors: the online multiplayer shoot-‘em-up. Nintendo may be late to the game, but with “Splatoon,” the company seems to out-weird its competitors. Read more
Video game critic
Maybe it's as simple as putting eyelashes on a box. Or maybe it's the way the box scrunches up and holds its eyes shut when it's in a tight spot. Or maybe it's the box's tiny little stick figure legs. But Boxboy — his real name is actually Qbby — has charisma. There are puzzles too, yes, but it's the small details that propel a player through "Boxboy!," Nintendo's charmer of a little game for its handheld 3DS device. Boxboy has a friend, a box pal with a bow, and Boxboy has superpowers, namely the ability to create more boxes, and it's somewhat of a surprise that "Boxboy!" works at all. After all, Boxboy is just a box. On the surface, it's the digital equivalent of giving a kitten a piece of cardboard. The feel is hand-me-down homemade. "Boxboy!" could have existed generations ago, and it feels like a bit of a throwback to Nintendo's old Game Boy — or maybe even of something born on a calculator. Yet "Boxboy!" is the story of a little box who thinks he can, and though its challenges aren't extremely taxing, he's a cube worth cheering. Read more
Here's one negative about Google's adorable "Pac-Man" overlay of its maps function: It's not always easy to find locations for famous James Bond races. Sure, it's cute to navigate the parking lot of Dodger Stadium with Pac-Man and his not-so-friendly pals, but we at Hero Complex wanted to relive the scenic chase of "The Spy Who Loved Me," the one off the coasts of Sardinia, Italy. It took a couple of tries for it to work, but we finally got the roads surrounding the Hotel Cala Di Volpe to be remade as a "Pac-Man" game (the first few times we were told there weren't enough roads for a game). Whew. An important job, but someone has to do it. Read more
'The Flame in the Flood'
Quotes from T.S Eliot and Theodore Roosevelt aren't the texts one expects to see in the middle of a video game, but "The Flame in the Flood" has literary ambitions. Set in the American South, "The Flame in the Flood" is a journey of survival on a river. It takes place in the future — probably. The look is a bit timeless, with an art style that appears crafted from construction paper. The colors are muted, the world is rural and boney wolves are lurking in the darkness, their red eyes flashing in the shadows. The game, the first from six-person indie studio the Molasses Flood, was shown at the South by Southwest games festival in Austin, Texas. It wasn't the only game at the conference to boast a backdrop of cultural exploration. Whereas "The Flame in the Flood" is steeped in Americana, "Jotun" is focused on Norse mythologies. Read more
"Jelly Reef" looks adorable. At the start, players will have a school of jellyfish — all of them wide-eyed and smiling. Then, in a matter of moments, they will all be dead. This wouldn't be so harrowing if they didn't start to frown first, a simple touch that turns this accessible mobile game into one of pure dread. Ultimately, it's as much about nurturing tiny gelatinous reddish and orangeish critters as it is about reaching a goal. "Jelly Reef" is also the swan song from the three-person Netherlands-based studio Game Oven, a company that in its brief existence specialized in pushing the boundaries of the mobile experience. The studio's previous game, "Bounden," sought to teach two players how to dance as they were connected via one phone. Following on-screen prompts, participants would twirl around each other, and those averse to touching would be advised to stay away. Read more
A simple phrase at the outset of "White Night" sets this mood for this Depression-era thriller. "Times were worse than hard, and the bar was about to close." The words come from a down-on-his-luck man, struggling like much of the United States was in 1938. He staggers to his car, a clearly unfortunate action the player has no control over, and kicks off the game when he crashes into a tree. What follows in "White Night," available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, is a ghost story at its most cerebral. The man (we aren't given a name) is in desperate need of medical care when he stumbles into a seemingly deserted mansion. We know this is a bad idea. The crumbling cemetery out front makes that clear, but worried times lead to bad decisions. Can what's inside a country house really be worse than what's outside, where jobs are scarce, people are starving and what little wages there are have already been spent on booze? Read more
'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse'
Pink, puffy and potent, "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" is Nintendo at its most aggressively cute. But just because Kirby looks like a piece of bubblegum, don't write the veteran Nintendo character off as child's play. Though Kirby hasn't been around as long as his peers Mario or Donkey Kong, since introduced in the early '90s he's won a reputation as an experimental shape-shifter. Sometimes, Kirby has the power to inhale much larger foes. Other times, he can turn into a rocket. Then there was a time when Kirby was just a piece of yarn. Here, Kirby, still looking like a gelatinous pink ball of puff, is transformed into clay and rolls through side-scrolling worlds by following the stylus of a player. Each swipe, dash or circle of the pen creates a rainbow-colored rope for Kirby to latch onto. It's like directing a tiny digital creation to dance, only one must also watch out for ghosts. The Wii U-exclusive is played entirely on the system's touchpad-like controller, the GamePad. Read more
Snowboarding: Outside of the Olympics I didn't think there was any way it could excite me. Then "Alto's Adventure" came along. "Alto's Adventure" gives the sport a dapper makeover, as its diminutive star slickly traverses detailed never-ending forests. Llamas are on the loose (of course) and it's the player's job to save them, having to avoid prickly rocks, treacherous chasms and sleepy-but-ornery elders along the way. Try, if possible, to sneak in some tricks, that is if the tiny little specks emanating from a campfire don't distract your view (spoiler: they'll totally distract you). The game is simple – tap the screen to jump, that's it – but the look is elegant. Every panorama is given a wistful gauze. A moon twinkles in the distance, snow glistens as it falls, the sun leaves a pensive haze and lightening streaks across the night sky. Often, Alto would stumble into a rock simply because I was taken with a slow-moving windmill atop a hill or was caught watching the birds that scattered when I approached off the slope of a crescent-shaped hill. Read more
The hero at the core of the independent game “Gravity Ghost” is, in fact, an adolescent: 12-year-old Iona. Even more unusual, she’s dead — an apparition who haunts the solar system, looking for lost souls to save. Far from a ghost story, this title created by Erin Robinson takes a fanciful eye to the afterlife, turning the high-flying spirit into something of an outer space superhero. She treats the cosmos as a giant intergalactic plaything, toying with planets as if they were bouncy balls and turning globes into gelatinous, fish-tank-like orbs. Underlying it all is the sadness that comes with knowing a young life was lost. How Iona died and why she’s on an intergalactic quest becomes the title’s central mystery, lending an air of emotional complexity to a game that explores the wonders of a girl in flight, complete with rainbow-colored stardust contrails. It’s heartache, but one with a charm offensive. Read more
'Elegy for a Dead World'
You can battle an Orc king. You can steal a car or maybe a boat. You can even rescue the princess in your plumber overalls. Actions and story arcs are plentiful in most games, but the underlying narrative, malleable it may be, is almost always pre-written. "Elegy for a Dead World" puts forth a different theory. Maybe you, the player, can write the story. Maybe a blank page can be turned into a game. Part writing exercise, part teaching tool and part sci-fi story generator, "Elegy for a Dead World" aims to turn players into budding Arthur C. Clarkes — or at least amateur poets. It's a high-minded goal, one reflective of the game's haughty title, and meeting it can be more daunting than facing off against a barrel-throwing ape. Here, the only enemy is a blinking cursor, or a case of writer's block. Read more
Confession: I like cats more than I like video games. The upcoming “Night in the Woods” combines these passions, and a recently released mini-game from its developers asks the unanswerable questions every cat herder has pondered: What do cats think of when they daydream? Answer: It’s certainly not mice or canned tuna. Infinite Fall and Finji’s “Lost Constellation” doesn’t shy away from big topics; it tackles religion, the loss of a loved one and tricks of the mind with deft touches of humor and light flourishes of mysticism. Here domesticated animals grapple with the same existential issues that keep us up at night. Read more
'Super Smash Bros.'
My relationship with Nintendo is maybe not as healthy as it should be. This realization comes to me as the year draws to a close, when one is pressed to discuss the most innovative or thoughtful interactive experiences of the year. Games such as the haunting "The Vanishing of Ethan Carter" or the whimsically lonely "Broken Age: Act 1" are some that immediately spring to mind. These are titles that made the same sort of lasting impression as a TV season of "Orphan Black" or a movie screening of "Big Hero 6," which was full of unexpected considerations on loss. Like the getting-by struggles at the heart of hip-hop act Run the Jewels, these are all examples of pop culture with layers, where revisiting is encouraged. Yet there is one Wii U game in heavy rotation that I didn't expect to be there. That game is "Super Smash Bros.," a button-smashing, jump-and-sock 'em extravaganza of punching, kicking and crazy moves with nonsense titles such as the "Peach blossom" and "konga beat." There are fights at haunted mansions, fights in suburban streets and fights around space lava. Read more
Alan Gershenfeld was already skeptical that this January 2012 trip to Alaska would yield a video game. The blizzard wasn't helping. But his business partner, Michael Angst, was insistent. "[He] said, 'We have to go! I've been to 49 states but not Alaska.'" For the Alaskans awaiting Gershenfeld's arrival, this two-day business adventure carried much more weight than whether a video game executive completed a travel bucket list. The Cook Inlet Tribal Council, an Anchorage-based nonprofit supporting eight tribes in the region, wanted to launch a for-profit arm. The goal? Make money and be less dependent upon government assistance. The big plan? At one point it was funeral homes. This month it was a video game. Read more
‘The True Cost’
Go to any shopping mall, and inexpensive clothes are abundant — $4.99 T-shirts, $7.90 skinny jeans, $8.90 sandals. But as we fill our closets, who pays the price? That question is answered in the wide-ranging new film “The True Cost.” In the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment factory workers, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Andrew Morgan set out to make a documentary about the human and environmental cost of shopping at H&M, Forever 21, Topshop, Zara and other stores associated with the $3-trillion fast-fashion industry, in which stores receive trendy new merchandise on a daily basis. Read more
Lizzie Garrett Mettler
L.A.-based blogger and “Tomboy Style” author Lizzie Garrett Mettler has entered the world of retail. She’s launched The-Reed.com, an online destination that is part travel guide, part shop featuring clothing and accessories for traveling well. “I didn’t feel like there was a store for me that could provide items to go car camping two hours away from home or to wear while sightseeing during the day and to dress up at night,” Mettler says. “Travel items are either really masculine or if they’re for women are really jet-setter feminine. I wanted to bring some balance to the space.” Mettler launched her Tomboy Style blog in 2010 (it’s had 6.8 million views since its inception), which inspired a book by the same name published by Rizzoli in 2012, covering 80 years of women who mix masculine and feminine elements in their wardrobe. Read more
One Day Without Shoes
This week, L.A.-based Toms Shoes kicked off its eighth annual One Day Without Shoes campaign with a new social media twist. Through May 21, if you Instagram a pair of bare feet and tag the photo with the hashtag #withoutshoes, Toms will donate a new pair of shoes to a child in need — no purchase necessary. The social media campaign is good for up to 1 million posts, with a limit of one post per person. But considering Toms has given away 35 million pairs of shoes since the company started, it's a significant gesture. Toms was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. A former contestant on the reality show "The Amazing Race," he discovered the comfy canvas, espadrille-like alpargatas shoes when he traveled to Argentina after the show wrapped up, to play polo, relax and volunteer. Read more
'Dior and I'
Luxury fashion brands are notoriously insular and protective of their images. Yet 37-year-old filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng was able to persuade the house of Christian Dior to participate in his revealing documentary "Dior and I," which opens Friday in L.A. Tcheng trails designer Raf Simons in summer 2012 as he creates his first haute couture collection as creative director for the storied house, built on the legacy of Dior, a master of invention who held so much sway in the fashion world that he landed on the cover of Time magazine in 1957. Simons, a Belgian, started in furniture design, then launched his own menswear label in 1995. In April 2012, after being appointed creative director at Dior, he had just two months to complete his first haute couture collection. Like Simons, Tcheng considers himself a fashion outsider, even though he also worked on "Valentino: The Last Emperor" and "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel," and it's that perspective that he wanted to bring to haute couture. Read more
The Apple Watch
The Apple Watch has landed in stores for "try-on visits" and pre-orders ahead of the April 24 ship date. It's a pretty genius retail tactic akin to a fashion trunk show — a tease to create demand for the tech giant's first foray into wearable technology. And it seems to have worked; many models of the watches are already back-ordered. I wasn't sure what to wear to my "try-on visit." Jeans, a skirt, long sleeves or short? I went with short sleeves, a skirt and heels because I wanted to see if the watch felt right with a somewhat formal, "on-duty" outfit. It turns out it didn't much matter what I wore, because no mirrors have been installed in Apple stores for the rollout. No mirrors for a product that is supposed to be a personal style statement — are you kidding me? It was a big fashion fail, but one that I got around by taking pictures of myself on, what else, my iPhone! Read more
'Mad Men' Fashions
With the seven final episodes of "Mad Men," the most fashion-influential TV show since "Sex and the City," is coming to an end. AMC's 1960s period drama about slick ad men and curvy women has been an aesthetic gold mine, influencing the slim silhouette of men's suits, the beauty ideal for women's bodies and more, particularly during the first five years of the show's 2007 to 2015 run. It brought the worlds of fashion and costume design ever closer in the process. From the first season, I — like most viewers — was seduced by the show's post-1950s innocence. I dreamed about living in an era before surgeon general warnings, when cigarettes and booze were a given at lunchtime and the polished glamour and propriety of opera gloves and pillbox hats were the norm. "I don't think you would have liked it," said my baby boomer mother, shattering the spell. "It wasn't much of a place for women." Of course she was right, as we've seen in episodes since, but they did dress fine. Read more
When Tory Burch wants centerpieces for a rooftop dinner at her Rodeo Drive boutique, Louis Vuitton executives need gifts for VIPs or Tom Ford wants to say "thank you," they call Eric Buterbaugh. For 17 years, Buterbaugh has been the go-to floral designer for L.A.'s stylish set. And after he dresses up the tables for dinners hosted by Jessica Alba, jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer or super-stylist Rachel Zoe, Buterbaugh joins the party as one of the most-sought-after guests in town. Now he's bottling the essence of what he does into his first fragrance collection, Eric Buterbaugh Florals. Read more
Clare Vivier has turned her love of French chic and American prep — and a search for the perfect, non-corporate-looking work bag — into a made-in-L.A. success story. Her collection launched eight years ago with a single vegetable-tanned leather tote called La Tropezienne, manufactured in Los Angeles. Buoyed by the early support of social media, it has grown to include small accessories, gifts, stationery and French-phrase T-shirts. Available at 300 outlets worldwide, it is on the way to becoming an American lifestyle brand — maybe even the next Kate Spade. "I have a lot of admiration for what Kate and Andy built," says Vivier, 44. "I also like what Vanessa Bruno did, starting with bags and then doing clothing." This month, Vivier is scheduled to open her fourth Clare V. store, her biggest yet, in L.A.'s Melrose Avenue shopping district. She is also dipping her toes into shoe design. Read more
'Zoolander' at Paris Fashion Week
The crowd went wild after the Valentino show at Paris Fashion Week on Tuesday afternoon, and it wasn't because of the clothes. Actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson closed out the show, reprising their roles as male models Derek Zoolander and Hansel from the 2001 film "Zoolander" in a runway "walk-off" that announced the sequel to the film. After the conservative-looking Valentino runway show — which was inspired by artist Celia Birtwell and swinging London but looked more like church clothes with long sleeves and patchwork lace — the crowd erupted at the surprise appearance by Stiller and Wilson. As Zoolander, Stiller wore a custom Night Butterflies brocade suit with hand-embroidered overcoat and Creeper shoes. Wilson wore a silk contingent print pajama suit with double cashmere overcoat and sneakers. Read more
You knew the fashion fanfare around the opening of the ultimate rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Cinderella," was going to be good, and it has been, from the custom "glass" slippers shoe designers have made to celebrate the film, to what the stars have chosen to wear at the red carpet premieres. At the Berlin premiere on Feb. 13, the film's star Lily James played the role of princess on the red carpet in a pale pink Christian Dior gown with pleated bodice and sparkly crystal Jimmy Choo shoes, while Cate Blanchett looked like anything but an evil stepmother in a custom mosaic embroidered gown by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. At the L.A. premiere on March 1, James continued to play up the crystalline theme, choosing a silvery blue Elie Saab gown, while Blanchett wore what may be the first Phoebe Philo for Céline red carpet look, a custom white crepe top and long black skirt, with a modernist pendant necklace. Read more
Hometown hero Jeremy Scott has opened the first Moschino store in Los Angeles, with all the playful “Drink Moschino” cola can window displays, Barbie-pink shrunken biker jackets and chain-link-trimmed baseball caps you’d expect from fashion’s reigning king of pop. The designer, who took over as creative director of Italian fashion brand Moschino in October 2013 and now splits his time between his L.A. base and Milan, arrived stateside on Sunday to open the 3,500-square-foot boutique, located in a former gallery space on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. Read more
Burberry in Beverly Hills
Burberry has taken Beverly Hills by storm, just in time for the holidays. In quick order, the label opened its first Rodeo Drive flagship, accepted a Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award and launched an L.A. version of its Art of the Trench campaign. It's all part of the vision of Christopher Bailey, who joined the brand in 2001, became creative director in 2004 and raised eyebrows when CEO was added to his title this year. Under Bailey, the nearly 160-year-old British heritage outfit known for trusty trench coats has been reinvigorated as a 21st century trendsetter and innovator. And the distinctive beige Burberry check, which fell out of favor in the early 2000s after it was overexposed and counterfeited, has been rediscovered by a new generation of celebs — Harry Styles, Olivia Palermo and Sarah Jessica Parker among them — who are bundling up this winter in monogrammed check scarves and blanket ponchos. The four-story Rodeo Drive boutique features the full range of the label's products for men and women, including its Prorsum, London and Brit collections, handbags and accessories, as well as a dedicated alcove for Burberry Beauty. There's a VIP floor to cater to celebs, with a wraparound rooftop terrace that has views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park. Read more
London designer darling Simone Rocha is following her New Establishment British Fashion Award win this week with a denim capsule for J Brand now available online. Rocha is the daughter of the well-established, Dublin, Ireland-based designer John Rocha, who was until recently a mainstay on the runways in London. She launched her namesake collection at London Fashion Week in 2011, after graduating from fashion school Central Saint Martins. Since then, she's been racking up young designer awards across the globe and gaining a steady following for her darkly feminine, goofy-glam, ruffled and sparkly designs, which sell at Colette, Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter, among other places. Read more