Critics’ Picks: June 21-27, 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.

Gillian Anderson returns to the small screen via the imported drama “The Fall” on Netflix, and zombies attack on the PS3 in “The Last of Us.” Also Kanye West releases a new album, and on the big screen the documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom” weaves a musical tale set in the world of backup singers.

Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.

"20 Feet From Stardom." (Graham Willoughby / Radius-TWC)

20 Feet From Stardom’

This irresistible effort has just become this year’s top-grossing documentary, and if you haven’t seen it yet, this might be a good time to catch up before the deluge of fall films hits. Veteran director Morgan Neville has made a moving and joyous behind-the-scenes film about the world of rock ‘n’ roll backup singers. It’s a universe filled with big, bold personalities and the music they make: When you say names like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer, you are conjuring up entire universes of sound. These women sing in a way that is transformative for us, and, it turns out, for them as well. Director Neville has made that rare endeavor that pretty much everyone is guaranteed to enjoy. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Naome Ruzindana, a Rwandan LGBT activist, in the documentary "Call Me Kuchu." (Cinedigm)

Call Me Kuchu’

In a time when states are ratifying gay marriage and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is old news, when the Boy Scouts of America now accept gay scouts and a NBA center Jason Collins announces he’s gay, “Call Me Kuchu,” a documentary on Uganda’s gay rights debate, hits like a series of shock waves. Filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall use understatement in laying out the explosive realities of life in Uganda for the LGBT community, the so-called kuchus, which gives the film its name. Homosexuality is illegal in their homeland, a conviction can bring 15 years in prison. The mere taking of an HIV test can mean three years behind bars, while the “curative rape” of girls is sanctioned. More unnerving — and what initially brought the directors to the African country — is a bill still making its way through the Ugandan parliament that would make being gay punishable by death. Read more

Betsy Sharkey

Film critic

Other recommendations:

'Before Midnight'

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

'The East'

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

'Frances Ha'

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

'Hannah Arendt'

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

'Mud'

"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

'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

'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

'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

Gillian Anderson in "The Fall." (Steffan Hill / BBC)

The Fall’

After several years of playing peekaboo with her audience, Gillian Anderson, who first won your heart and mind as Agent Dana Scully on “The X-Files,” is back with a vengeance (in a nice way). This year saw her return to American television (the homegrown sort) in a recurring role on NBC’s “Hannibal”; next year will find her as a regular in the same network’s midseason political thriller “Crisis.” At present she may be found starring in this five-episode BBC series (miniseries? — you decide), available here only through Netflix. It finds her as a London police detective dispatched to Belfast to unstick a high-profile murder case, which she identifies as the work of a serial killer (Jamie Dornan, known here as the Huntsman in the ABC series “Once Upon a Time”). The series spends as much time with the killer as with the detective, and though it draws a lot of parallels between them (there is much visually resonant intercutting), it doesn’t romanticize the villain or reflexively give the heroine feet of clay. (Netflix) Read more

Robert Lloyd

Television critic

A scene from "Under the Dome" on CBS. (Michael Tackett / CBS)

Under the Dome’

The Stephen King experiment begins on CBS Sunday night, an open-ended series adaptation of “Under the Dome.” The novel ran 1,100-plus pages, but still the show’s creators have been given free reign in taking the story in new directions, which could be interesting. Or not — has anyone but the most deranged fans actually read the unabridged version of “The Stand”? The pilot spends very little time establishing whatever passes for normality in the seemingly idyllic town of Chesters Mill, Pa., before slamming a big ol’ invisible, impenetrable lid on it. Like ants trapped under a jar, the various residents and a few interesting outsiders bang against the glass a few times before accepting the event with remarkable calm, although the stage is clearly set for a “Lord of the Flies” scenario — “Revolution” in a teacup. (CBS, Mondays, 10 p.m.) Read more

Mary McNamara

Television critic

Other recommendations:

'Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda'

In which Nik Wallenda, of the famed Flying Wallendas circus family — celebrating something like three centuries in show business, for reals — will attempt to wire-walk across the Grand Canyon, with nothing attached or beneath him to mitigate a slip. In other words, a person might die on live television. (His great-grandfather Karl Wallenda fell from a tightrope in 1978 -- he was 73, granted — and cameras were there to catch it; there was nothing, however, to catch Karl.) That is not the plan, of course; the plan is that it will all go off as hitch-free as Wallenda's 2012 international walk across Niagara Falls (backed and carried by ABC, with the proviso that he wear a safety harness). Wallenda, who holds six Guinness world records for various difficult things, may see this stroll as a veritable walk to the corner for milk (on a sidewalk a couple of inches wide, with a 1,5000-foot drop-off on either side.) The unbearable tension begins at 5 p.m. Sunday, and ends — well, we'll see. (Robert Lloyd) (Discovery and Discovery.com, Sunday) Read more

'Homegoings'

The 26th season of the public-television documentary series "POV" opens with Christine Turner's lyrical, life-affirming film on the African-American way of death, focusing on a family-run funeral parlor with branches in Harlem and small-town South Carolina. Particularly it is the story of Isiah Owens, who as a boy played "funeral parlor" the way some kids play with army men or Barbie dolls — a matchstick served for his first corpse — and grew up to follow what he considers a calling from God: "Every body that He gave me, I gave it back to Him splendid and good, and I never slighted anybody." More generally it is a story of old-fashioned community, black history, the richness of well-lived lives and the final rites of grief and celebration that "kept us honest and sane.... Everybody knows that it's going to be a sad good time." Beautifully photographed by Marshall Stief. (Robert Lloyd) (Monday, PBS) Read more

'Drop Dead Diva' and 'Franklin & Bash'

Lighthearted basic-cable legal comedies are back to fill your summer nights. Although there are cases they try are interesting enough, both series depend heavily on the appeal of their cast members, and especially their stars. "Drop Dead Diva," whose fifth season begins this week is about a self-absorbed cartoon blond whose soul, through a plot device more or less cribbed from "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," comes to rest in the body of Jane (Brooke Elliott), a (to use the common, if unlovely term) plus-size lawyer, simultaneously deceased — the mash-up improving both the inner woman and the outer. The whereabouts of the dead lawyer's soul and the outcome of new Jane's cliff-hung aborted wedding are subjects of concern as the season begins. "Franklin & Bash," whose third season commenced last week, trades on the Mutt & Jeff chemistry of goofball leads Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, unconventional storefront lawyers who find themselves taken into a big-law firm by fellow oddball Malcolm McDowell; comic Kumail Nanjiani and Reed Diamond are there as well; Heather Locklear joins them this year. (Robert Lloyd) ("Diva" Lifetime, Sundays; "Franklin" TNT, Wednesdays) Read more

'Mad Men' Season Finale

Season 6, the series' penultimate season, comes to a close this week, with who knows what great revelation or suggestive shift of perspective. (The show's history favors the latter.) It's been a colorful, more than usually comical season, with the exception of Jon Hamm's downward spiraling Don Draper, whose feelings (he does have them) creator Matt Weiner has endeavored to make more visible, as the disposition of his fate draws nearer. If for a rich, well-dressed, handsome guy, Don was always something of a desperate man (it's his inescapable past, you understand), he has gotten sloppy this year, in body and mind, sloughing off at work and alienating his daughter, arguably the most important woman in his life, however much she hates him and he mistakes her. As for no-longer-little Sally (Kiernan Shipka), she seems set for trouble of her own, as the decade slips further into chaos and beyond the grasp of our older, aging heroes and heroines, anti- and otherwise. (Robert Lloyd) (AMC, Sunday) Read more

'Rizzoli & Isles'

Time has been kind to "Rizzoli & Isles," muting the originally cartoonish differences between the two main characters -- Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon), a liquid-eyed, tomboy-tough homicide detective, and Tess Isles (Sasha Alexander), a high-fashion medical examiner with no social filter -- and making their finish-your-sentence friendship increasingly real. (Mary McNamara) (TNT, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) Read more

'Whodunnit?'

It's hard to believe that no one thought of a reality show with a "Ten Little Indians" murder-mystery conceit before, but here it is now on ABC. in "Whodunnit?," a carefully cast group of contestants show up at a Manor House where they are greeted by a lugubrious butler who informs them murder is in the air. Before you can say "isn't this the house they used as a joke in 'Episodes,'?" the first player lies "dead," with her teammates scrambling to solve her murder. (Mary McNamara) (ABC, Sundays, 9 p.m.) Read more

'Family Tree'

We never dared hope that Christopher Guest would bring his mockumentary talents to television, but he did and it's wonderful. Sorting through a trunk full of family detritus left him by a distant aunt, Tom Chadwick (Chris O'Dowd in full sad-sack-seductive) begins a quest for his roots. Aided by his father Keith (Michael McKean), his sister Bea (Nina Conti) and her talking monkey puppet and his adorably absurd friend Pete (Tom Bennett), Tom makes a Guestian hero journey throughout England and eventually to Los Angeles, encountering all manner of odd and insightful folk along the way. Sweet, sad, very British (it's co-written by U.K. actor Jim Piddock) and utterly hilarious. (Mary McNamara) (HBO, Sunday, 10:30 p.m.) Read more

'Borgen'

Following the personal and political machinations of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the fictional first female prime minister of Denmark, "Borgen" nicely fills the gap for those who finished "House of Cards" and are still awaiting Season 2 of "The Newsroom." (Mary McNamara) (Warning: subtitles) (KCET, Friday, 10 p.m.) Read more

Hal Linden in "The Scottsboro Boys." (Craig Schwartz)

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

Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

Charles McNulty

Theater critic

Other recommendations:

'revolver'

In the final production at its longtime venue, LA's flagship gay theater scores a profoundly affecting bulls-eye with Chris Phillips' incisive study of violence and forgiveness in societal, personal and even eternal terms. Directed by Ryan Bergmann with one eye firmly trained on the present day, graced by a sterling cast, this trenchant watershed may well reach far beyond its certain Purple Circuit demographic. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

'The Crucible'

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

Antaeus Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hollywood.

'Dying City'

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

Rogue Machine at Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

'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

Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank.

'Hungry Woman'

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

New Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. 1st St., L.A.

'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

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

'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

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada

'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

Rogue Machine at Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

'The Rainmaker'

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

Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica

'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) (Through Dec. 28) Read more

The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

'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

Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga

Kanye West. (Evan Agostini / Associated Press)

Album: ‘Yeezus’

One of the many striking and often shocking metaphors within “Yeezus,” the new album from rapper Kanye West, arrives halfway into the 10-song release, during a song called “I’m In It.” It involves a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Thank God almighty, free at last,” raps West, referencing a phrase from 50 years ago that the civil-rights leader used in relation to the plight of African Americans. In West’s song, those that are “free at last” aren’t enslaved humans but a woman’s breasts, released from the bondage of a bra during a bathroom tryst. The song, which could be called bawdy were it not so lyrically dark, is one of many on West’s sixth solo studio album that reference sex, ethnicity and/or power. “Yeezus” is the most musically adventurous album West has ever released. It’s also his most narcissistic, defiant, abrasive and unforgiving. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Randall Roberts

Pop music critic

Other recommendations:

Album: "Ill Submarine"

It's not the most original conceit: blending rappers with the Beatles to create a new work. It's how Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton first made his name in 2004 with his "Grey Album,' which mixed a cappella recordings of Jay-Z rapping from his "Black Album" with reworked songs from the Beatles'self-titled record known as "The White Album." But done properly, as DJ BC has with "Ill Submarine," the results can be a lot of fun. The third volume of his so-called Beastles project once again proves how well-suited the Beatles' music is for co-opting and transforming. When coupled with the Beastie Boys' rhymes, the 20 different mash-ups confirm John, Paul, MCA, George, King Ad Rock, Mike D and Ringo to be an utterly convincing supergroup. (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

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: 'Magnetic'

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

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

Providence's chef Michael Cimarusti. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

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

Corazon y Miel, 6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell

M.A.K.E.

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

M.A.K.E., 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica

Muddy Leek

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

Muddy Leek, 8631 Washington Blvd., Culver City

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

Tamarind of London, 7862 East Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Littlefork

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

Littlefork, 1600 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood

Gary Simmons' "Black Star Shower" and "Just for One Day." (Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

Arena’

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

Regen Projects, 6750 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Other recommendations:

'Bloom'

"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

Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena

'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

Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades

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

Dodger Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave, Los Angeles

Rebecca Solnit. (David Butow for the Times)

The Faraway Nearby’

Rebecca Solnit’s latest book, “The Faraway Nearby,” began with a delivery of 100 pounds of apricots to her San Francisco home. The apricots came from her brother, who had collected them from a tree in their mother’s yard. At the time, the older woman was in the throes of Alzheimer’s; she had been moved into an assisted care facility, making the fruit a metaphor, an allegory, for everything that she had lost. First and foremost, this meant stories, which are at the center of “The Faraway Nearby,” a book about narrative and empathy that moves between a dizzying array of tales — including “Frankenstein,” the Arabian Nights and that of Solnit’s own breast cancer scare — to look at the way stories bind us, allowing us to inhabit each other’s lives with unexpected depth. Read more

David Ulin

Book critic

Other recommendations:

'Science Fiction'

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

'Joyland'

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

'Angel Baby'

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

'Little Green'

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'

"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

'The Flamethrowers'

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

Joel and Ellie in "The Last of Us." (Naughty Dog / SCEA)

The Last of Us’

The Last of Us” is not your typical doomsday narrative. Zombie-like attacks aside, tension here comes from an underutilized game-play tactic: conversation. Dialogue is almost as plentiful as weapons in this patiently cinematic tale of a smuggler and the reluctant bond he forms with the 14-year-old girl he’s hired to protect. Developed by Sony-owned Naughty Dog, responsible for the hit “Indiana Jones”-inspired “Uncharted” series, “The Last of Us” acknowledges gaming clichés and then skillfully avoids them by keeping its focus on the relationship between Joel (the smuggler) and Ellie (the teen he watches over). It’s an action game, but one with characters worth fighting for. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

‘The Dark Sorcerer’

A short film and not a game, but one designed to show what next-gen console the PS4 may be capable of. Quanitic Dream, the Paris-based developer working on the patient narrative "Beyond Two Souls," concocted this fantasy-comedy as a way to illustrate that character depth and detail can be sustained over long scenes filled with gameplay. But forget the technical stuff — it's a cute little video about a film shoot gone wrong, with goblins. Though there are no plans to turn "The Dark Sorcerer" into a game, director David Cage said fan response may inspire him to change his mind. Read more

'Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move'

The minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don't stop and it's up to the player to control and tinker with the cubic paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. With 240 stages, there are a lot cubes. Read more

‘Guacamelee!’

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

Trina Turk's Malibu Barbie Collection. (Mattel)

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

Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Other recommendations:

Tadashi Shoji

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

Aviator Nation

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

Aviator Nation, 1224 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice

'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

Wear LACMA

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

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Paloma Picasso

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

Jennifer Nicholson

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

Pearl Drop, 328 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice

Celine

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

Celine, 319 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills