Critics’ Picks: March 11 - 17, 2016
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
At the movies, the documentary “Rabin, The Last Day” tells the tragic story of a political assassination. In theaters, there’s a familiar story from the Old West, and among video games, rocket-powered cars play soccer.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Rabin, the Last Day’
Amos Gitai’s powerful examination of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin includes talking head interviews with former President Shimon Peres and Rabin’s widow, Leah, as well as a certain amount of documentary footage, but most of it consists of re-enactments and staged scenes. Read more
Cineteca di Bologna
Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna, one of Europe’s top restoration facilities, gets to showcase some of its treasures in a mini-film festival at Loyola Marymount University. On Monday, March 14, the extended, uncut, four-hour and 15-minute version of Sergio Leone’s gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America” will open the fest. On Tuesday, it will showcase Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” and Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers.” On Wednesday, it will conclude with Robert Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy” and Ray’s “Aparajito.” Read more
'The Big Short'
Adam McKay, with the help of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, has made a very funny film about a very serious situation, 2008’s global financial collapse. Read more
Impeccably directed by John Crowley, feelingly adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín's fine novel and blessed with heartstopping work from star Saiorse Ronan and the rest of the cast, "Brooklyn" is about love and heartache, loneliness and intimacy, what home means and how we achieve it. Read more
Impeccably acted by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women in love, with an exquisite look captured by cinematographer Ed Lachman, “Carol” has been made under the complete and total control of Todd Haynes, a gifted director who always knows what he’s doing. Read more
In the hands of director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, what is nominally a spinoff of the celebrated “Rocky” series plays like a spiritual remake of the 1976 film that retells the original story in the kind of involving way one would not have thought possible. Read more
'Embrace of the Serpent'
This Oscar-nominated Colombia film is a strikingly photographed black-and-white epic that intertwines a passionate attack on the depredations of invasive capitalism with a potent adventure story. Read more
'The Good Dinosaur'
The latest Pixar event is antic and unexpected as well as homiletic, rife with subversive elements, wacky critters, and some of the most beautiful landscapes ever seen in a computer animated feature. Read more
A droll Coen brothers tribute to and spoof of Hollywood past that amuses from beginning to end with its site specific re-creation of the studio system and the movies that made it famous. Read more
'Mad Max: Fury Road'
Words are not really the point when it comes to dealing with this barn-burner of a post-apocalyptic extravaganza in which sizzling, unsettling images are the order of the day. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are the leads, but the real star is filmmaker George Miller. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Brie Larson excels in a film able to give full weight to both sides of the emotional equation as it tells the story of a young woman imprisoned for years in a single room in a tiny shed and the young son who was born to her there and knows no other world. Read more
'Son of Saul'
This drama set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 is an immersive experience of the most disturbing kind, an unwavering vision of a particular kind of hell. No matter how many Holocaust films you’ve seen, you’ve not seen one like this. Read more
The saga of how the Boston Globe won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for uncovering sexual abuse by Catholic priests, "Spotlight" is mightily impressive not only because of the importance of the story it tells but also because of how much effort and skill went into bringing it to the screen in the best possible way. Read more
‘Mom’ Third Season
It’s tough to imagine a more winning duo than the stars of “Mom,” in which Anna Faris plays Christy, a recovering addict and single mom, and Allison Janney plays Bonnie, her even more troubled mother. And indeed Janney has won two Emmys for the role. But if creators Chuck Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker are happy to embrace mother-daughter dysfunction as a comedic trope, they were more interested in the comedy, and drama, of their characters getting better. With the same result for their show. The queasy joke of a familial twin set — not only are Christy and Bonnie both alcoholics, they both became single mothers at a very early age — is continually made but increasingly as an entry point for empathy and understanding as much as a punchline. CBS, Thursdays. Read more
‘Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie’
Former “Onion” Editor Joe Randazzo wrote this hour-long sketch about the future Republican front-runner’s younger days. It stars a prosthetically altered, barely recognizable Johnny Depp as Donald Trump in what purports to be Trump’s own TV-movie adaptation of his memoir “The Art of the Deal,” supposedly preempted from its original scheduled airing by a football game and subsequently — in the words of Ron Howard, who introduces it — “thought to be lost in the Cybill Shepherd blouse fire of 1989.” (It later “turned up at a yard sale in Phoenix, Arizona,” says Howard. “I had to physically wrestle it from a nice woman named Jennie.”) Director Jeremy Konner, who also directs “Drunk History,” knows some things about re-creating a past world on a budget. It is not meant to be a perfect pastiche — the characters use words that could not be spoken on television then, they exhibit a knowledge of future events; Trump, who sometimes doesn’t understand references in a script he supposedly wrote himself, assesses his own performance, as himself, as Oscar worthy. Funny or Die. Read more
Megan Fox on 'New Girl'
In case you didn't hear, Megan Fox joined the cast of "New Girl" last week, and it turned out just fine! Better than fine! Though Fox's Reagan is no Jess — Jess remains sequestered on jury duty (translation: star Zooey Deschanel remains on maternity leave) — she has an astringent deadpan that adds just the right amount of sting to the group's often overwhelming adorableness. Presented as both bombshell and no-nonsense pharmaceutical rep, Reagan is in town for an extended business trip and, after much sturm and high jinks (it turns out that she and Ceci hooked up years ago at the MTV beach house!), decides to rent Jess' room. It may be the first time in television history that a lead character has been even temporarily replaced, but if the rest of the season (Deschanel will return for the season finale) goes as well as Fox's intro did, it may not be the last. (Mary McNamara) (Fox, Tuesdays) Read more
'Super Sentai: Gosei Sentai Dairanger: The Complete Series'
Japanese pop culture has grown deeply entwined with our American own, going back to Godzilla and Mothra and Gidorah, the Three-Headed Monster; "Star Wars," then and now, is a samurai space opera; manga and anime and mecha are no longer exotic terms. And yet it remains at the same time satisfyingly foreign. The elements of Japan's "Super Sentai" TV franchise are familiar, because we have long since seen them domestically repurposed as "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." There are color-coded masked and helmeted heroes skilled in balletic-gymnastic martial arts; giant sentient transforming mechanical animals; monsters who grow big and stomp around miniature landscapes like Godzilla before them. But the unaltered original item has a flavor of its own — at once more spiritual, if that's quite the word, and more slapstick, more romantic and more comical. Recently issued in its entirety, "Gosei Sentai Dairanger (Five-Star Squadron Dairanger)" — "dai" can be translated either as "generation" or "great," research reveals — is the 17th installment in the series, which ran weekly from February 1993 to February 1994. (The preceding series, "Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger," was the basis for the original "Power Rangers"; it has also been issued complete by Shout Factory.) The currently running "Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger (Animal Task Force Beast King Ranger)" is the 40th entry in the franchise. (Robert Lloyd) (Shout Factory DVD) Read more
David Bowie on YouTube
David Bowie is dead — still dead, sadly, though it's somehow easy to doubt it. And in the wake of his going, the cyberspace filled up with selections of his "greatest" videos — old popular favorites like "Heroes" and "Ashes to Ashes" and "Let's Dance" and new popular favorites like "Lazarus" and "Blackstar"— along with other digitally shareable shards of history. Here is a selection of Bowie clips and related clips you are less likely to have seen. YouTube, anytime. Read more
This wily two-character drama by Bess Wohl never becomes the play you think it’s going to become. In this erotic tale of two strangers stumbling through a drunken pickup, the playwright stays one step ahead of theatergoers — not to trick them but to hold out for deeper truth. Under the assured direction of Trip Cullman, this Geffen Playhouse production stars the superb Betty Gilpin (formerly of “Nurse Jackie”) as a brash and clumsy American tourist and a near-perfect Carlos Leal as the moody Spaniard who is both attracted and repelled by his intoxicated visitor. Ends Sunday, March 13. Read more
‘Safe at Home: An Evening With Orson Bean’
In this gem of a solo show, master raconteur and television personality Orson Bean, an 87-year-old theatrical prodigy, takes his audience on an autobiographical stroll through his life. A natural performer who delights in enthralling a paying crowd, he has a twinkling manner even when his material is streaked with sadness. When the old childhood sorrow threatens to become too much, he performs goofy magic tricks, tells a few hoary jokes and captivates with the canny stage sense of an all-around entertainer who knows how to keep an audience in the palm of his hand. Ends Sunday, April 10. Read more
'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'
Not to be confused with the John Ford classic film, this recent take on the original Dorothy M. Johnson short story is both a nostalgic homage to the Wild West and a self-aware reflection on the double-edged civilizing tide that laid its culture to rest on Boot Hill. (Philip Brandes) (Extended to March 26) Read more
Will Arbery's “The Mongoose” details the effects of a mystical talking mongoose on a troubled Dallas family — and while overwrought and unquestionably bizarre, the play is also memorable, a fever dream that seems poised to float into the ether at any given moment. Director Michael Thomas-Visgar and a superb cast moor Arberry's disgressive sprawl into a stringently realistic construct that emphasizes the play's humanity as much as its peculiarity. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, April 17)Read more
'Summer and Smoke'
Although it may stand less high than it merits in the canon, this exceptional Actors Co-op revival of Tennessee Williams' 1947 drama certainly redresses the balance. Avoiding clichéd pitfalls, embracing the humanity that drives this symbology-ridden study of the eternal clash between spirit and flesh, director Thom Babbes unearths the mercurial yet specific qualities that make “Smoke” a masterwork, aided by a superb design team and a pluperfect ensemble the revelatory Tara Battani and excellent Gregory James as, respectively, the play's metaphoric soul and literal eros. Don't miss it. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, April 17) Read more
As deceptively slight and hilariously quirky as a shelf of painted unicorns, playwright Padraic Duffy's intergenerational romantic comedy is generally charming, funny and effective. Director Jeremy Aldridge pulls every color from the script's metaphoric palette, and his cast — Leon Russom and Ruth Silveira, Josh Weber and Julia Griswold, and a valiant French Stewart as the functionary character who carries the seriocomic point — does yeoman work. An ideal date show. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Saturday, April 9) Read more
Purists beware: “Tempest Redux” at the Odyssey Theatre boldly transposes Shakespeare's play into a darker, more unsettling key, but its inventive staging and solid command of source text make for a vivid, memorable re-imagining. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Saturday, April 23) Read more
In this new drama by Stefanie Zadravec (a name to remember), the plight of missing children and their distraught parents lends a framework to the main canvas: the tale of a teen who’s about to go missing in plain sight as the adults in his life fail him in ways large and small. Set in rural Oregon, this is a portrait of a wounded America. Jessica Kubzansky directs with her usual magic. Jessica Kubzansky directs with her usual magic. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sunday, March 20) Read more
Samuel D. Hunter sympathetically chronicles Middle America’s quiet despair. His sorrowful yet laugh-out-loud funny tale is set in a struggling branch of an oppressively generic chain restaurant where the manager, his family and his staff are losing their sense of self and their connections to one another. The performers disappear into these very real people. John Perrin Flynn directs Rogue Machine’s production with quiet insight. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sunday, April 10) Read more
‘Louis & Keely: ‘Live’ at the Sahara’
The local watershed and genuine phenomenon returns to Southern California in triumph. Although some measure of intimate impact has been lost, the property remains original, most entertaining and frequently electrifying, courtesy of director Taylor Hackford's tightened grip on the script, a superb band and stellar headliners Anthony Crivello and Vanessa Claire Stewart. It's the most infectious show in town. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, March 27) Read more
'Man Covets Bird'
The 24th Street Theatre follows up last year's award-winning “Walking the Tightrope” with another play for families that touches on struggle and loss, “Man Covets Bird,” by the Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer. If the storyline is a bit poetic and meandering, the performers are winsome and the production elements (including live music as well as charming, cartoony video projections) are beautifully designed. Both children 7 and up and adults will find something to enjoy in the experience. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday, May 15) Read more
You can’t name your album “Anti” without inviting your audience to think about what you oppose. So what is Rihanna standing against on her eighth studio record? A smoothly choreographed product rollout, for one. After repeated delays, “Anti” finally appeared online Wednesday night, first in an apparently unauthorized leak, then as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal; Samsung also gave away a limited number of free downloads through a complicated promotion. By Friday, the album was available for sale through iTunes (where it quickly topped the chart) and Tidal, though it hasn’t yet shown up on other streaming services such as Spotify, and a physical release date has yet to be announced. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Pop Music Writer
There’s something delightfully perverse that David Bowie waited until he was 69 to release what’s being described as his first jazz album. It was at that age too when veteran rock stars who include Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney took up with big bands or reached for the Great American Songbook to demonstrate their taste and hard-won stature. Even Bob Dylan got in on the act last year with “Shadows in the Night,” his lovely (if desolate) tribute to Frank Sinatra. So when you hear that Bowie hooked up with a New York saxophonist and his crew for “Blackstar,” out Friday (just two days before his death from cancer), you think perhaps that Bowie has joined the club — that after cycling through countless styles and personas over his half-century career, he’s finally become a finger-snapping crooner with Count Basie on his mind. Ah, no. Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: ‘HitNRun Phase Two’
Is this becoming a habit? That’s the question Prince raised Saturday morning when without warning he released a new album, “HitNRun Phase Two,” on the streaming-music service Tidal. As its title suggests, the 12-track set follows an earlier album, “HitNRun Phase One,” which Prince had made available in similar fashion in September — proof, it would seem, that this legendary control freak has shed his once-famous disdain for the unruly Internet. Maybe this double-shot system is how Prince, as prolific as he’s ever been, intends to roll from here on out. Works for me. A proudly organic companion to the EDM-inflected “Phase One,” Prince’s latest album shows that he hasn’t lost his interest in (or his knack for) the creeping funk and lush R&B balladry he was making in the early 1990s on records like the great “Diamonds and Pearls.” Read more
Pop Music Writer
When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." Read more
Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'
Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more
Album: 'Crosseyed Heart'
On Keith Richards' first solo album in more than 20 years the Rolling Stones co-founder crafts songs using the same tools and templates he's employed throughout his creative life: blues, early rock 'n' roll, classic country & western and a pinch of reggae. You will not find a Diplo production credit or guest verse from Chance the Rapper anywhere on this album. But as Richards' reflexes suggest, the guitarist still possesses the skills to whittle a stick into a rock song if so inclined. That's a diplomatic way of saying that our hero is a creature of habit who knows what he does and doesn't like. Recent interviews suggest he's as dismissive of contemporary music as Frank Sinatra was to the sound of the Stones. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Hall of Records'
Lionel Williams, who makes music and visual art as Vinyl Williams, crafts sparkly electronic beat music that exists in its own curious realm. "Hall of Records" is one of 14 tracks on his new album, "Into," and makes for a good portal. Tinted with the sonic tone of an overused Maxell cassette, rich with humming frequencies that recall German Krautrock and dense with muffle-tone beats suggestive of 1990s label Too Pure, the track swirls with synthesizers and waves of untethered noise. Williams is less skilled as a vocalist, though. He quivers in pitchy falsetto throughout "Into." It hardly matters, though. The stuff is mesmerizing. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Heaven's Room'
Guitarist Matt Mondanile is perhaps best known for his work with New Jersey guitar pop band Real Estate, but his solo project Ducktails has generated equally sublime tracks across four albums. The fifth, "St. Catherine," is filled with many languid, jangled guitar lines. Among the best is "Heaven's Room," which features Los Angeles musician Julia Holter. Mondanile, who relocated to Los Angeles, is a master of smooth, shimmering guitar tones, but "Heaven's Room" blossoms through masterful arrangements and a sonic depth courtesy of producer Rob Schnapf. (Randall Roberts) Read more
While most other superstar artists are either on vacation, on tour or otherwise removed from the conversation, Prince is spending the summer focused on protest and injustice. The artist just released the lyric video for "Baltimore," his invective against police brutality that draws attention to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and others. The track, released earlier this year, is one of the most searing protest songs the Minneapolis artist has recorded, and the video is just as pointed. It documents the protests that followed Gray's death in the back of a Baltimore police van, matching shots of frustrated citizens with the artist's lyrical questions. "Are we going to see another bloody day? We're tired of crying and people dying — let's take all the guns away." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Longest River'
On its surface, the debut album from the British folk singer Olivia Chaney, released in April, is a simple affair. Featuring her graceful hand-picked acoustic guitar and piano work and a small backing band of strings and bass, "The Longest River" highlights an artist with a voice in harmony with rich traditions and eager to add her own pure-toned phrased accents. Below the surface, though, lay grim complications. (Randall Roberts) Read more
It is cold in Los Angeles. Rain is in the air. What you want to be eating is dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew, flavored with turmeric and dried lime — a popular street food dish from Tehran that seems to have a tonic effect against the chill. And for dizi, you should probably be at Nersses Vanak, a slightly faded restaurant in an industrial district of Glendale, where dizi, served with long-pickled garlic, platters of fresh herbs, and hot slabs of flatbread snatched smoking from the grill, is always the thing. Read more
10 best dishes of 2015
A decade or two from now, when line-caught sea bass will seem as rare and unobtainable as sturgeon caviar is now, drive-through windows sell more lentil bowls than cheeseburgers and we have gotten used to the idea of Taylor Swift as the governor of Pennsylvania, 2015 may well seem in retrospect a fairly important year in Los Angeles restaurants. Menus just seemed to be mostly vegetarian without anybody talking about it much, and even French chefs began to talk among themselves about the primacy of Mexican cooking. The differences between high and low cuisine, which had started to crumble as far back as the 1980s, were utterly annihilated. Exotic fermentation techniques began to creep out of the lab. The idea of abolishing the practice of tipping took hold. And as always, there were 10 dishes that attempted to encapsulate it all. Read more
Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants, 2015
Your next great meal in Southern California is as likely to come from that tiny storefront next to the 7-Eleven as it is from a Beverly Hills gastronomic palace. Los Angeles, which is both where American ideas about food tend to be formulated and where they come back eventually to die, can be a spectacular place to eat. Read more
Is it possible to become converted in a single bite? Because with a single fried chicken wing at the original Portland Pok Pok in 2007, I dropped my prejudices about non-European cooking in Oregon, the crossover potential of extreme Asian funk, and the ability of a non-Thai to prepare anything like upcountry Thai food. So eight years, many affiliated restaurants, a James Beard award, a Michelin star and a Chinatown noodle stand later, here we are at Pok Pok Los Angeles, an enormous restaurant in the old Fu Ling space in the Mandarin Plaza at the relatively deserted north end of Chinatown. Chef Andy Ricker's gift is the ability to make Thai food seem new again, to take it out of that comfortable place in the suburban strip mall, where it has become the default takeout comfort food for a huge chunk of Los Angeles, and put it back into the roadside stands and rural villages of Northern Thailand. Read more
Five of the tastiest Chinese restaurants in the SGV with the name 'Tasty'
In last week's column, I alluded to the flood of San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants with the word "Tasty'" tucked somewhere into their English-language names. Depending on whether you count doughnut shops, burger stands or branches of the same restaurant as Tasty, Not-Tasty or Tasty in their own right – well, there are a lot of them. Here are five of the tastiest. Read more
The artist calls his new wall drawings in neon, wire and electrical transformers “portals,” and their design motifs and titles do refer to forms from ancient Roman and medieval architecture, often ecclesiastical. Elegant and deceptively simple, they display a masterful hand. Through May 7. Read more
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV
Over the course of nearly 17 years, before he finally assumed the throne as Louis XIV in 1661, little Louis-Dieudonné had a front-row seat in the practical methods of pulling the levers of power. As an imposing exhibition at the Getty Museum shows with splendid pomp and circumstance, big and elaborately woven tapestries were one useful tool. Through May 1. Read more
The Frank Gehry exhibition at LACMA
Has Stephanie Barron pulled off a curatorial miracle? Not quite. In reshaping the Pompidou Center’s major Frank Gehry retrospective for a run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she is senior curator, Barron hasn’t managed to magically solve all the show’s problems. Her version of the exhibition, like the one that appeared in Paris last year, barely scratches the surface of Gehry’s unorthodox working method, which has evolved over the years to combine his intuitive design technique with an increasingly sophisticated use of digital technology. At the same time, the exhibition has shed a good deal of the starched, carefully sealed conservatism that held it in check in Paris. Ends Sun., March 20. Read more
At a time when too much half-baked art takes itself too seriously, it's refreshing to see some serious art behaving as if it's half-baked. The relationship between brains and gags takes smart shape in Holloway's six sculptures in this exhibition. (David Pagel) (Through March 26) Read more
Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957
The fit is ideal: A large and absorbing exhibition analyzes a legendary school that had a profound influence on the emergence of the midcentury American avant garde, and it opens in the city now known for a proliferation of first-rate art schools that have had a profound influence on the shape of late 20th and early 21st century international art. "Leap" offers an engrossing bit of back story to where we are today. Ends May 15. Read more
‘Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War’
“I perceive the world through the medium of human voices,” Svetlana Alexievich declares near the end of “Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War,” explaining both her method and her point of view. For Alexievich — who in October became just the third nonfiction writer and 14th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature — testimony may be as close as one can get to faith. “We’ve worshipped many gods,” she writes in this slender but vivid account, told in the voices of survivors of the Soviet Afghan war. “Some have been consigned to the scrapheap, others to museums. Let us make Truth into a god! A god before whom each of us shall answer according to his own conscience, and not as a class, or a university year, or a collective, or a people….” Read more
‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’
Stephen King, I’ve come to think, is at his most adept when writing in the midlength range. His big novels — “The Stand,” “It,” “11/22/63” — have always felt a little baggy to me, while his shortest work (he has published more than 200 stories, gathered in a number of collections) can feel sketchy, more idea than nuanced narrative. That middle zone, however: His finest efforts emerge from this territory, shorter novels “Misery,” “Joyland” and “The Shining,” novellas such as “The Body” or the chilling “A Good Marriage.” In this material, King has the breadth to do what he does best, which is to evoke the very human underpinnings of terror, while also remaining constrained by certain limitations of space. As he explains in “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” which gathers 20 pieces of fiction, along with brief reflections on their composition, “Only through fiction can we think about the unthinkable, and perhaps obtain some sort of closure.” The key word there is not the unthinkable in which King traffics but “closure,” the closure of the midrange form. Read more
'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink'
New wave rocker, country crooner, balladeer, collaborator and showman: Elvis Costello has been all of these and more in the course of what is now a 40-year run. Of all the first-generation punkers, he remains (with Patti Smith and possibly David Byrne) among the few who can claim the longevity and diversity of, say, Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, both of whom appear in this book. Like minds, perhaps, or water seeking its level. Either way, this is the company to which Costello belongs. And yet, if "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink" has anything to tell us, it is that its author remains a fan. Here he is, for instance, on his first experience singing with Paul McCartney, a rehearsal duet on "All My Loving": "I locked on to the vocal harmony the second time around, as I'd done a thousand times before while singing along to the record. It never really occurred to me that learning to sing either vocal part on a Beatles record was any kind of musical education. I was just a kid singing along with the radio in our front room." Or this, recalling a good-natured cutting contest, trading lyrics with Bob Dylan: "It was just fun to be in the ring with the champ for a minute or two." Read more
'City on Fire'
A long book represents an act of faith. On the writer's part, to be sure: The faith that he or she has something to say that's worth all the hours it will take for us to hear it, that it won't dissolve in ephemera and flash. But on the reader's part, also: The faith that we can trust the writer, that there will be a payoff, that it will add up. Certainly, this is the challenge faced by Garth Risk Hallberg's first novel, "City on Fire," which, clocking in at more than 900 pages, seeks to re-create, in panoramic fashion, the New York City of the late 1970s. Hallberg's book, of course, is much anticipated, for its length, its scope and its deal (he sold the book for $2 million) — but all of that is beside the point. The only criteria worth considering is whether, or how, the narrative works, the extent to which it draws us in. Read more
First, let's clear up a misconception: Patti Smith's "M Train" is not a sequel to her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids." In fact, "M Train" is not a memoir at all, except in the loosest sense — a book of days, a year in the life, a series of reflections, more vignettes than sustained narrative. By saying that, I don't mean to be critical, for vignettes are what Smith does best. Read more
'So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood'
Patrick Modiano opens his most recent novel, "So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood," with an epigraph from Stendhal: "I cannot provide the reality of events, I can only convey their shadow." It's an almost perfect evocation of the book, not to mention Modiano's career. The French writer, who won the Nobel Prize last year for a body of work as deft and beautiful as any in postwar European literature, is an excavator of memory — not only his own or those of his characters (many of whom bear, as J.D. Salinger once observed of his fictional alter ego Seymour Glass, "a striking resemblance to — alley oop, I'm afraid — myself"), but also that of Paris. That's why his fiction resonates so deeply; it occupies an elusive middle ground between place and personality. Read more
Dave Hagewood didn’t set out to create the next big thing in electronic sports. Ten years ago he simply envisioned a game in which cars did crazy things. Cars with rockets on them. The result was the breakout independent game of 2015, “Rocket League.” The key to its success was one simple addition to Hagewood’s original vision: a giant, bouncy soccer ball. Thus, a zany game in which cars crashed into one another became something else entirely, a madcap sport. “Rocket League” has now reached more than 12 million players, with revenue topping $70 million. In late February, the game — already a hit on Sony’s PlayStation 4 and computing platform Steam — arrived on Microsoft’s Xbox One, where in less than a month it attracted more than 1 million players. Read more
Video game critic
The Top 10 Video Games of 2015
The top 10 video games of 2015, ranked below, include both the extremely personal and the return of a household name, Lara Croft. The bulk of my favorite games of the year allowed me to explore the world from unexpected points of view — a teenager with unexplainable powers, a dying tree struggling to come to life or a woman losing her virginity. Today, there’s more diversity than ever in interactive entertainment, not just in characters but in experiences, as the games that made a lasting impression range from big-budget console endeavors to experimental mobile titles. Read more
Video game critic
‘Fire Emblem Fates’
In my first 25 hours with Nintendo 3DS’ “Fire Emblem Fates,” families argued, attempts at flirting were rebuffed and relatives threw a fit over poorly cooked meals. Were it not for the swords and the spells and the half-fox/half-human, the game wouldn’t be all that different from the last month or so of my life. Though there is sword and sorcery here, including a main character who has the ability to turn into a dragon, “Fire Emblem Fates” is really about family drama. In this case, it’s about the pull of one’s blood family versus the connection with an adopted one. Do you help the stepbrothers and stepsisters who always supported you, or the brothers and sisters you’ve only just met? The player’s avatar, which can be male or female, was kidnapped at a young age and raised as a warrior prince/princess. Her (I chose a female avatar and named her Kes) adopted-but-criminal family took good care of her, and it’s clear she’s tight with her siblings. But her father — a.k.a. the king — is a monster. Read more
Video game critic
"Firewatch," set in the quiet Wyoming wilderness, is a game in which its main character does little more than walk. Yet at its heart this is a game about running. It's about running from our pasts, running from our emotional trials and running from the unknown. It's about how avoidance often makes things worse and how the road to conquering our fears can be downright frightening. And things get pretty bad in "Firewatch." Read more
'Leo's Red Carpet Rampage'
Winning an Academy Award, it proves, can be nearly an impossible task, at least according to the lighthearted Web game "Leo's Red Carpet Rampage." The game puts players in control of a mini, vintage-style Leonardo DiCaprio in a quest for an Oscar. And while the game is pure goofiness when it starts — simply mash a couple of buttons to run the red carpet and dodge photographers — it goes dark, and quickly. Read more
Draw a line. It sounds simple, doesn't it? "The Witness," from a sort of zoned-out satellite view, is a game about drawing lines. To be even more precise, it is a game populated with puzzles, the bulk of them solved by drawing a line. Again, it all sounds so simple. Yet "The Witness" just so happens to be the rare puzzle game that's less about answers and more about mysteries and epiphanies. Read more
Meet Yarny. Yarny doesn't look like much at a quick glance. Yarny is red, the size of an index finger with an alien, triangular face and nimble body made up of a single piece of, well, yarn. Yarny is quite fragile. Keep Yarny out of water, and don't let Yarny near a critter. A single claw of a crab will wreak havoc on Yarny. Yarny is also full of personality, the standout star of a new video game dubbed "Unravel." Those old family photographs collecting dust on a bookshelf? Yarny wants to explore them, transport inside them and make old connections feel new again. Among Yarny's likes is nostalgia. Dislikes? Families that drift apart. Read more
Just in time for the holiday shopping season, a new boutique has opened on Robertson Boulevard marrying East and West Coast style. Reservoir is the concept of New York City transplants Aliza Neidich and Alissa Jacob and features a well-edited mix of clothing, accessories and home goods with an easy sophistication made for L.A., including Ryan Roche hand-knit sweaters, Denis Colomb ponchos, Ellery sleek crepe dresses and tops, Solid and Striped denim jumpsuits, Madeworn tees, Newbark shearling slides, Dosa patchwork totes and Wendy Nichol fringed leather bucket bags. Read more
'Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897'
With famed film mogul Sam Goldwyn as her grandfather, Liz Goldwyn's family name is practically synonymous with old-school Hollywood glamour. But it's Los Angeles before it became the capital of the motion picture industry that's the subject of the style maven's new book, "Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897" (Regan Arts). The work of historical fiction looks back on the city's seedier past, with loosely connected stories about the madams, prostitutes, orphans, hustlers and tramps who roamed Alameda, Los Angeles and Spring streets. I chatted with Goldwyn about what drew her to this time period in L.A., her impressions of the book's rough characters, and what role women had in a culture where prostitution was tolerated. Read more
'Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe'
Ladies, the next time you are teetering on high heels, you can blame men. But not for the reason you think. In Western fashion, high heels were popularized by men, starting in the court of Louis XIV where a talon rouge (red heel), identified a member of the privileged class centuries before Christian Louboutin made red soles the calling card of his luxury shoe brand. That's just one of the tasty tidbits in "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe," an exhibition scheduled to run through Dec. 13 at the Palm Springs Art Museum that examines the fashion accessory we all love to hate, including its history, its relation to gender identity, sex appeal and power. Read more