Critics’ Picks: June 14-20, 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’s offerings include the smartly heretical blockbuster comedy “This Is the End,” a jazz festival at the Hollywood Bowl, an otherworldly graphic novel and the return of the animated sci-fi comedy “Futurama.”
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
What makes the students at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts so compelling in “Fame High” is their willingness to open a window into their lives at the moment when they’re taking their first tentative steps toward becoming their own people both personally and professionally. Directed, photographed and co-edited by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, “Fame High” covers a year and change in the life of LACHSA, one of the top performing arts schools in the country. Though this scenario may sound familiar, courtesy of both the 1980 and 2009 versions of “Fame” and TV hits like “Glee,” the film itself is not. Try as they might, fictional kids can’t compete with the real thing, don’t compel us like these earnest, hopeful and winning young people, bound and determined to devote themselves to their art. Playing for one week starting Friday at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. 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
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
It was a risk for director Richard Linklater to go so dark in “Before Midnight,” the latest round of the romantic musings he began with his stars, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, nearly 20 years ago. The illusions of a young couple’s more pristine love so captivating in “Before Sunrise” have been shelved so that the tipping point in their relationship can be laid bare. A devastating fight is the centerpiece now, the teasing flirtations a distant memory. Though the gauzy beauty of the earlier films remain, as does a sun-drenched European setting, this time Greece, what you will remember, what you will feel compelled to talk about long after, is the fight. It sears with an intensity that rivals another classic battle between the sexes, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
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
"Do you love her?" The question comes early in "Mud" and will haunt the movie until the final frame. The answer — to what loving means, to how urgent it feels the first time, to how easily it can slip away — is wily and willful. With a sprawling cast anchored by Matthew McConaughey and young Tye Sheridan, "Mud" is filled with miscreants, mysteries, a scandalous hero and a couple of boys as headstrong as Huck Finn. It's one of the most creatively rich and emotionally rewarding movies so far this year. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself'
Plimpton spent a lifetime stepping into other people’s shoes. It’s only fitting that he’s finally talking about what it was like to walk in his own. That this is possible, 10 years after his death in 2003 when Plimpton was a robust 76, is due to a treasure trove of audio, video and written archives. Filmmakers Tom Bean and Luke Poling have polished up the best of it in this engaging new documentary. (Betsy Sharkey)
'Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's'
A lively, clever, fast-moving documentary that goes behind the scenes at the legendary New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. (Kenneth Turan) 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
'What Maisie Knew'
It is night in an upscale Manhattan apartment. A child, tucked safely into bed, drifts toward sleep to the sounds of her parents tearing each other apart in the next room. Her eyes close, the fighting rumbles on. We are in Maisie's world and about to find out in uncomfortable detail just “What Maisie Knew.” This smart — and smarting — film based on the Henry James novel brings into the modern age the 19th-century author’s unforgiving examination of the effect of a messy divorce on a child. For all the ugliness that suggests, and there is plenty provided by Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as vengeful exes, this is a beautifully rendered film. Without slipping into melodrama, we watch the precocious six-year-old witness and weather the break-up of her family. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Science fiction and comedy are “like that.” (Writer crosses fingers to indicate closeness.) Each takes emerging facts to their extreme, often absurd conclusions; both are fundamentally philosophical — though each has time for exhilarating idiocy — and in imagining what might be, each takes the measure of what is. Created by Matt Groening, who invented “The Simpsons” and changed the world, and developed with David X. Cohen, “Futurama” fuses the two as if in the warp core of some spaceship. It has to some extent labored under the shadow of its more eligible look-alike older cousin and echoes it here and there, but is very much its own creature with its own interests. Its return this week, marking the second half of its seventh and final season, opens with back-to-back episodes. (Comedy Central, Wednesdays) Read more
'The Revolutionary Optimists'
Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen directed this vibrant documentary set in a 9,000-person shantytown in Kolkata, the city formerly written as Calcutta, India. Some critics have dunned the film for lacking a coherent narrative, as if that were something life ever supplied; there is progress for some of its characters and regress for others, and, as in many documentaries it is left to the closing titles to say how the world has gotten on since we left them. There are times, to be sure, that one is not exactly sure how this bit fits with that, but it is also the bits that emotionally matter most: an excited young face, a colorful sari in a dun-colored brickyard, a man and his students dancing in a corridor. (Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Monday) Read more
The story of a boy (a man, nominally) and (more or less) his dog, whom he sees as a human in a costume, where everyone else sees an animal, is back for a third season. It is in some ways the story of the comfort we take from other breathing things, but it is also a story of territorial marking and jealousy and of how we encourage the bad habits of others to support or own. The series is inevitably frustrating in that it needs to keep protagonist Ryan (Elijah Wood) from any sort of settled state, but it is also funny and deftly played; Wood is born to play put-upon heroes (I include those Hobbit movies) and as Wilfred, the dog, Jason Gann (who originated the role in the FX series' Australian forerunner) is wonderfully at once a person and a beast. (Robert Lloyd) (FX, Thursdays) Read more
The first scripted series from the basic-cable mostly-music network Fuse follows the fortunes of a Brooklyn rap duo breaking out from the underground. Created by Prentice Penny (who has written for "Happy Endings," "Scrubs" and "Girlfriends"), it has some of the scrappy casual realism of HBO's late and personally lamented "How to Make It in America" and is as smart and serious about music-making and the music business as is "Nashville," without its distracting high gloss and dramatic extremity. (Robert Lloyd) (Fuse, Wednesdays) Read more
‘The Scottsboro Boys’
Catch one of the most inventive American musicals to come around in a long while. This Kander & Ebb show, which mixes minstrelsy with Brechtian theatrics in an irony-whipping postmodern manner, is a sophisticated knockout, a musical for those who like their razzle-dazzle with a radical, unsentimental edge. “The Scottsboro Boys” reminds us that remembrance can be a kind of redress, that not letting evil escape into oblivion can be a partial victory. Tony-nominated Joshua Henry’s powerhouse performance as one of nine black youths unjustly accused of raping two white Southern women who happened to be passengers on the same Memphis-bound train gives this dazzling, envelope-pushing show a beautiful gravity. Ends Sunday. Read more
In the premiere of Jozanne Marie's stunning and courageous autobiographical one-woman show, produced by the Latino Theater Company, the actress, writer and ordained minister describes a Jamaican childhood blighted by betrayal and abuse, redeemed by forgiveness. (Margaret Gray) (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
'Falling for Make Believe'
A grand cast and 21 classic songs propel Mark Saltzman's musical study of Lorenz Hart and his struggles with Richard Rodgers, the bottle and the closet. To move beyond this elegant chamber staging, some clashes between form and content will have to be addressed, best left to archivists, quibblers and future producers. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
Food, family and post-feminist freedom are the thematic ingredients of Josefina López’s witty, compelling fantasia, and though still refining, it’s perhaps her richest work yet. This nonlinear account of an Angeleno journalist (bravura Rachel Gonzalez) on a Parisian journey of self-discovery finds tasty universality both inside and outside of the Chicano perspective, which director Corky Dominguez’s capable forces devour with gusto. (David D. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream'
Even by the Troubadour Theater Company’s typically reliable comic standards, this commedia dell’arte-infused mash-up of classic Shakespeare and 1970s disco culture is an exceptionally hilarious and energetic romp. (Philip Brandes) (Ends July 7) Read more
'Next to Normal'
This Pulitzer-winning musical about the trickle-down toll of one woman's mental illness on an entire family receives a stellar staging from director Nick DeGruccio and musical director Darryl Archibald. Bets Malone spearheads an extraordinary ensemble in an emotionally arduous evening that offers no easy answers, but is as uplifting as it is shattering. (F.Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) 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
'Priscilla Queen of the Desert'
The eponymous vehicle for fabulously dressed, bantering drag queens has pulled up at the Pantages at last. The heart of this jukebox musical lies, not surprisingly, in the jukebox, featuring eye-popping, drag-inflected renditions of dance-club anthems such as "It's Raining Men," "MacArthur Park" and "I Will Survive." (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday) 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
'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
Playboy Jazz Festival
A two-day celebration of the spirit of jazz that freely draws from the many genres in its orbit, the 35th annual Playboy Jazz Festival also offers a diverse snapshot of contemporary blues, R&B and global-tilted funk. This year’s is no exception with Saturday offering one of the biggest stories in jazz in the Grammy-winning Robert Glasper Experiment along with soul singer Gregory Porter, a salute to John Coltrane’s “Ole” led by Poncho Sanchez and saxophonist James Carter, Herbie Hancock teamed with the nimble a capella group Naturally 7 and more. Sunday boasts the “rockjazz” of keyboardist ELEW, Trombone Shorty, Sheila E, the Brubeck Brothers, India.Arie and others. Read more
International Contemporary Ensemble at LACMA
A key moment in the history of post-World War II European avant-garde music was when Stanley Kubrick threw out the score for “2001: A Space Odyssey” and replaced it with the temporary track he had been using. Along with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube” was the Hungarian composer György Ligeti’s mysteriously misty “Atmosphéres.” It seemed that everybody saw the film, and that every college student in America brought the soundtrack. For the first time, ultra-modern music was in the mainstream. LACMA will celebrate that moment Saturday night in the final program of this year’s Art & Music series in the museum’s Bing Theater, with the Los Angeles debut of the International Contemporary Ensemble. (Mark Swed) Read more
Album: 'Personal Record'
Best known for her work as half of the sibling duo the Fiery Furnaces, singer and songwriter Eleanor Friedberger has been a rock outlier since her band burst out of the same '00s New York scene as the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Over the following decade they poured forth ridiculous amounts of music that melded brother Matthew Friedberger's encyclopedic knowledge of music with Eleanor's gentle, wavering voice and way with a curious lyric. On her second solo album, Friedberger strikes further afield of her brother's impatient prog-rock tendencies, offering a dozen reasonably focused, verse-chorus-verse art-rock songs that draw on guitar-based '70s rock — as seen through a spider-cracked windshield. (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: 'Modern Vampires of the City'
At some point, every enduring musician has to prove his or her worth and silence the doubters. The Beatles first succeeded with "Revolver," the Beastie Boys with "Paul's Boutique," Wilco on "Summer Teeth." Talking Heads raised the bar with "Fear of Music," Lauryn Hill with "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." New York band Vampire Weekend's "Modern Vampires of the City" is one of those records, a brave, surprising third effort that's both challenging and confident, catchy but progressive, expertly imagined and executed. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Mixtape: 'Acid Rap'
An infinite jest, Chicago lyricist Chance the Rapper's stellar new mixtape "Acid Rap" begins with a woman's seductive voice -- chanteuse Lili K. -- uttering, "Even better than I was the last time, baby, ooh oooh oooh, we back, we back, we back." Over the following 13 songs the assured voice of Chance runs through a surreal tale of pills, rap, a Chicago high school for gifted students, cigarette stink, "chauffeurs with road rage," cocoa butter kisses, Chuck E. Cheese and LSD. "I think we're all addicted," he sings on "Cocoa Butter Kisses," adding that "if I sip any Henny my belly might just be outie." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Die Walküre'
May 22 marked Richard Wagner's 200th birthday, and Bayreuth’s big dude is bigger than ever, which is saying something. Record companies have been releasing and re-releasing Wagner recordings this year to an endlessly excessive extent. But the one that thus far stands out most, which is also really saying something, is a performance of Wagner’s most popular “Ring” cycle opera, “Die Walküre,” from the Mariinsky Orchestra in St. Petersburg and conducted by Valery Gergiev. This new recording, the first of a forthcoming “Ring” set from the Mariinsky was made as a concert performance over two occasions in the company’s concert hall and features a dream international cast. But what brings this all together with such moving eloquence is Gergiev’s deeply penetrating conducting. (Mark Swed) 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
Boxing isn’t what it used to be. What it used to be was a hugely popular, organized form of violent theater that crystallized the tensions among working class youth of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in polyglot America. “Arena,” Gary Simmons’ wistfully beautiful exhibition of recent mixed-media paintings at Regen Projects, recalls that storied and controversial past, while shifting the social competition from sports to art. The most imposing work features scores of vintage fight posters printed on paper and affixed directly to the wall, stretching 40-feet across and rising 12 feet high, becoming virtually environmental. Painted and smeared black stars, large and small, cascade down the surface – a shower that is at once celebratory and elegiac. Through June 22. Read more
"Bloom," a compact show of eight recent painted sculptures by Christopher Miles, takes its name seriously. The flowering at hand is excitement over the extreme, hybrid nature of contemporary experience. These artistic mutts celebrate incongruity, heterogeneity and multiplicity -- even if irradiated with a certain creepiness, which certainly feels right for our time. Miles starts with heavy paper thickly coated in multicolored layers of acrylic paint. Wrapped around tubular aluminum legs, which lift them up off the floor or tabletop, the forms suggest a cross between amoeba-like creatures and giant cyborgs on stilts. Subtitles like "Hopper Rosebud Voltri Chopper" and "Barbara Enola Barbarella Falkenstein Frankenstein" do their part, smashing together apocalyptic fusions of art and popular culture in versions both sacred and profane. Miles' resulting hybrids are about as refreshingly alien as they can be. Through July 28. 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
Architecture: Dodger Stadium revamp
The new owners of the Dodgers didn’t just go on a spending spree to sign new players during the offseason; they also opened their wallets for a $100-million project to revamp 51-year-old Dodger Stadium. Many of the upgrades are invisible (such as improved wireless coverage), others buried into the hillside at the base of the stadium. The most noticeable changes, aside from new high-def scoreboards, have come near the entry gates, where several dozen parking spots have been replaced with new landscaping, souvenir shops, life-sized bobble-heads and even playgrounds. The goal is to make one of the most privatized stadiums in the majors, one designed near the height of L.A.’s love affair with the car, a little more public. (Christopher Hawthorne) 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
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
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
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
'A Tale for the Time Being'
Ozeki’s third novel is constructed around a pair of interlocking narratives — the first that of Nao, a 16-year-old Japanese girl, and the second that of Ruth, a novelist who finds Nao’s diary when it washes up on the beach in Vancouver Island. Together, they make for a stunning meditation on meaning, narrative and our place in the universe. Written from something of a Buddhist perspective (the author is, among other things, a Zen priest), “A Tale for the Time Being” covers everything from the vagaries of love to the paradox of quantum physics, finding its resolution in an unflinching resistance to being resolved. Read more
Part game/part graphic novel, “Year Walk” from experimental Swedish studio Simogo is first-person but not in the format most common to gamers. The cold, fantastical world is navigated by swiping left, right or up and down (drawing a map is suggested) and the look is inspired by the work of Yuri Norstein, much of it appearing to be hand-drawn paper cutouts long lost to Nordic winters. The protagonist Daniel insists on setting forth on a year-long journey, one that will inspire hallucinations and supposedly allow him to see his future. It begins with a warning. “We are not supposed to know what happens in the future.” Proceed with caution. Read more
Video game critic
'Toki Tori 2'
Players are blessed with only two controls — jumping and singing — and this means tasks are nominally solved by stomping and chirping the young chicken known as Toki Tori around the screen. Toki Tori can at once scare a fuzzy bug into the mouth of a frog or sing a crab-like creature to its side to help the chick move across dangerous terrain. Plenty of time, however, will be spent alone in the dark, trying to find a way to lead a disinterested light-shining bug to a gaggle of scared-of-the-nighttime frogs. Navigating through the game, it felt as if Toki Tori was begging for help rather than singing for it. Read more
'Thomas Was Alone'
'Thomas Was Alone' Few of the people and places we’ve met via games this year have the ability to break your heart in the way that Chris and Laura can. They are boxes. They don’t ever speak — none of the main characters in “Thomas Was Alone” will do any typical communicating — and their thoughts are relayed to players via a narrator. It’s as if someone is reading aloud a book and player actions — in this case, moving a series of boxes around the innards of what is described as code for a computer program — dictate when a page is turned. Never before have tiny boxes felt so lonely. 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
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