Critics’ Picks: March 20 - March 26, 2015
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘The Wrecking Crew’
Providing backup on hundreds if not thousands of songs, the Wrecking Crew was responsible for the musical DNA for so many of the anthems that ruled the airwaves from the 1960s through the early 1970s that it makes your head spin. An affectionate tribute to a group of legends. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Indulging in a vicarious experience is one of the central pleasures of movies, and “Wild Tales” provides more than its share. Writer-director Damian Szifron conjures up six revenge fantasies in the tragicomedy extravaganza from Argentina that earned a foreign language Oscar nomination earlier this year. The winner was “Ida,” a somber nun’s tale from Poland and very different from Szifron’s light touch with dark forces. He’s picked out varying degrees of betrayal to anchor each of the vignettes, starting with a road rage scenario that somehow manages to be hysterical, horrific and highly relatable. Getting even involves a good deal more mayhem than merely cake in the face. After a brief Oscar qualifying run last year, it is back in town for a short stay. So should you feel the need to settle old scores, consider the zany contemplation of revenge in “Wild Tales” instead. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
An incendiary film that takes off like a house afire, this tense British thriller about a soldier caught behind enemy lines in 1971 is so spectacularly well done you may find yourself forgetting to take a breath. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
In “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” Michael Keaton is something of a cross between an aging Icarus and the emperor with no clothes — metaphorical until the tighty-whitey Times Square streak. As a latter-day celluloid superhero come to Broadway's proving ground for a rebirth, the Burning Man histrionics are hysterically on point. Irony lurks in every shadow. Fittingly the film begins with a fiery object streaking toward Manhattan where the highly agitated life of the actor Riggan (Keaton) plays out. The city is the perfect spot for filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu to build his pyre. Exactly whose death is being celebrated or mourned — Hollywood? Theater? Society? A single shooting star? — well, that is the question. And oh, the flames that follow. Delicious. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
As pure of heart as its heroine, "Cinderella" floats across the screen like a gossamer confection, full of elegant beauty and quiet grace. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film stars Lily James in the title role and Richard Madden as the charming Prince. Together they make a magnetic couple you root for even knowing the happily ever after is preordained. Indeed the film, written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Chris Weitz, follows the well-known classic fairy tale chapter and verse. No sly asides, no double entendres and nary a hint of modern-day gender politics dilute this poetically, if not prophetically, imagined storybook fable. If you can content yourself with a little enchantment and little enlightenment, "Cinderella" succeeds. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
This city's hunger for fine pastrami and corned beef is apparently equaled by its appetite for an entertaining documentary about the world of Jewish delicatessens. "Deli Man," directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou, is not only holding over at Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town Center 5 in Encino, it's expanding to the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena starting Friday and the Claremont 5 on March 21. "Deli Man" is an unexpectedly charming and informative doc that focuses on describing the essence of the deli experience and conveying it to a waiting world. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem'
Disturbing and shocking, "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" is a fiction about an unimaginable fact of life in present-day Israel. The divorce-centered drama is so provocative it's become a lightning rod for debate inside the country. Even watching from a distance is unnerving. For all intents and purposes, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz), a wife and mother, is chattel. No rights to speak of, no voice or choice in her desire to end her long-dead marriage. Her only hope rests in the hands of rigid rabbis and a resistant husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), neither inclined to grant her request. As we learn through the course of the trial in which she presses the rabbinical court to overrule her husband and grant her a divorce, there is no other avenue open to her, no civil court procedure to end a marriage. As it is, her decision to live separately from her husband has branded her as surely as that scarlet letter did Hester Prynne. For Viviane, though, there have been no indiscretions. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'The Hunting Ground'
Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, the filmmaking team behind "The Invisible War," return with another devastating and disturbing film, a look at the plague of sexual assaults on college campuses and why so little is done about it. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
"Still Alice," anchored by Julianne Moore's remarkable disappearing act as a linguistics professor suffering from the early onset of dementia, is moving into more theaters as its star's performance continues to pile up accolades. There are no doubt a thousand ways to deal with the confusion and dislocation that settles in with the disease, but in Alice Howland, if Alzheimer's hasn't quite met its match, it has certainly found a worthy warrior. It is her quick, clinical acceptance and pragmatic plans for dealing with her mental decline that form the spine of the script, which directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland adapted from the bestselling novel. It does not make Alice's journey less personal. Particularly affecting is the bond between mother and daughter, powerfully portrayed by Moore and Kristen Stewart. We both sense and see their bonds simultaneously strengthen and weaken. Somehow, by working on so many levels with such fine actors, "Still Alice" plays as neither tragedy nor triumph, just the aching resilience of some ordinary hearts. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
With an amazing Miles Teller on drums and a terrifying J.K. Simmons setting the tempo, "Whiplash" is a movie you feel as much as you see, and what you see is both exquisite and excruciating. Writer-director Damien Chazelle draws on his nightmare memories of high school, an intense time when the aspiring jazz drummer was driven to excel by a merciless teacher who favored verbal torture and humiliation to mold young minds. The question Chazelle poses is whether psychological pain is the price of greatness. These sorts of stand-offs and power games have given us some truly great films — Duvall in "The Great Santini," De Niro in "This Boy's Life" come to mind. Now "Whiplash" will too. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
‘Little White Lie’
If “The Jinx” left a bad taste in your mouth — the only taste it could have left, if you are not yourself a monster — you might cleanse your palate with this “Independent Lens” entry, another film about life stranger than fiction, not without its tragic elements but happy in the end. Director Lacey Schwartz grew up as a Jewish white girl in Woodstock, N.Y., believing herself the biological child of both her parents; her birth father was actually a black family friend — a fact that every childhood photograph of Schwartz makes obvious to the viewer but which everyone around her managed somehow not to see; even her mother shut herself off from the truth. The accepted theory: Schwartz took after a swarthy Sicilian grandfather. (“White people will believe anything,” Schwartz’s high school boyfriend, biracial himself, says.) Notwithstanding the experienced technical hands and creative advisors listed in the credits, the film has the slightly (not distasteful) amateur flavor of many confessional documentaries — a tone similar to that of “This American Life,” the influential radio center of the My Strange Story movement. Cameras and recorders, which have become as common as pencils, seem to be the way we process reality now. It’s briefly odd to realize that Schwartz brought a crew to confrontational encounters with her parents, once she came to accept what her friends already knew; but it is the sort of thing you only consider afterward, when you are not flushed with amazement at people and what they’re capable of and incapable of. Schwartz’s story is probably not unique — the child unconscious of his origins, from Moses to Mowgli to Buddy the Elf, is a staple of our storytelling, not to mention the failed duckling revealed as the perfect swan — but it is extraordinary; and while it has much to say in passing about identity, race and generational change, it is above all one particular woman’s strange and ultimately successful trip to selfhood. (Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Monday) Read more
'It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise'
Lena Dunham — you know her — produced and is all over this more sweet than bitter documentary, directed by Matt Wolf ("Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell"), about the artist and illustrator Hilary Knight. Knight most famously gave line and life to Kay Thompson's Eloise, the little girl who lived at the Plaza Hotel with her nanny Nanny, her pug Weenie and her turtle Skipperdee. A phenomenon when it was published in 1955, "Eloise" was not originally intended for children (it was subtitled "A Book for Precocious Grown Ups"), subsequently its main though certainly not its only audience. (Dunham became a friend after Knight learned that she sported an Eloise tattoo and sent her a pile of signed books — at which, she says, she burst into tears.) Thompson, a cabaret performer best remembered for her Diana Vreeland-inspired turn in the film "Funny Face," split with Knight over control of the character, a control she continues posthumously to maintain, blocking "my real participation for the rest of my, I hope not the end of my life." (Still, it's a kind of love story.) (Robert Lloyd) (HBO, Monday) Read more
'Off Camera with Sam Jones'
All the conversations take place in a small white box furnished sparsely in midcentury modern; all are shot, like the Wilco film, in black and white, granting the image a formality and elegance that maintains even when the guests dress down (or, as Ferrell does at one point, undress entirely); the look betokens a certain seriousness and distinguishes the series from a legion of other, less pretty or more cacophonous talk shows and talk streams. (Never before have so many interviewed so many.) Having no audience means that there's no pressure to entertain; this is not about the pitch or the plug. Jones is not out to call attention to himself, but it's also clear from the context and conversation (and the clipboard) that he's not just rolling out of bed; he's done homework. Even with its well-finished, multi-platform presence, the show feels more a personal project than a (show) business proposition. There's no particular agenda other than to be interesting and, with each session lasting just under an hour, plenty of time for relaxation and for revelation. There is an audio podcast version as well. (Robert Lloyd) (DirecTV Audience Network, Thursdays; offcamera.com) Read more
'Broadchurch' Second Season
The disaster of "Gracepoint" shouldn't put viewers off the second season of the original marvelous and unsettling British murder mystery. Season 2 is much faster paced and plot driven than the first but remains as more character study than detective tale, albeit with a few rather eyebrow-raising twists required to keep things moving. Because the murder of young Danny Latimer was supposedly solved at the end of season 1, with David Tennant's Det. Inspector Hardy discovering that it was the husband of his partner, Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman). So where on earth does the show go from there? Well, first off Ellie's husband changes his plea to not guilty and gets a cutthroat lawyer to begin lacerating all the detective work and bringing all the principals together again. Then, the botched murder investigation that landed Hardy in Broadchurch and possibly contributed to his worsening heart condition catches up with him. (Mary McNamara) (BBC America, Wednesdays) Read more
‘The Twenty-Seventh Man’
Suffused with the pathos of historical tragedy, Nathan Englander’s short story is so impeccably pulled off, so beautifully composed in the spirit of the great Yiddish writers it depicts, that the notion of adapting it to the stage seemed a foolhardy gamble. Why theatricalize a work that achieves its excellence through the short-story virtues of modesty, compression and understatement? Barry Edelstein’s stunning production of Englander’s resourceful dramatization answers this question with poignant intelligence and grace. Ends Sunday, March 22. Read more
Even in a burgeoning spring season already packed with excellence in every direction, Nick Jones' ineluctable tragicomedy about the infinite dichotomies of communication, parenthood, show biz and human/simian interface leaps to the top of the counter. Directed with invisible ambidexterity by Stella Powell-Jones, expertly designed, the brilliantly subversive premise lands due to an ace cast, with the amazing Jimmi Simpson and ever-axiomatic Laurie Metcalf beyond praise at its center. Original, unexpected and indelible, it's a sensational West Coast premiere. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, April 19) Read more
‘Confessions of a Mormon Boy’
Wrenchingly honest, hilariously jubilant and utterly clear-eyed, Steven Fales' autobiographical testimony is an exceptional achievement to rank beside the best of the solo genre, and director Jack Hofsiss frames this terrific writer-performer with cagey expertise. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, April 26) Read more
'Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea'
A mesmerizing blend of magical realism and poetic social comment courses through Nathan Alan Davis' meta-theatrical parable about an idealistic African American teen in search of his heritage. Brilliantly directed by Gregory Wallace, graced with a sterling ensemble surrounding Omete Anassi's appealing title character, its thematic veracity and original authorial voice float past fleeting new-play issues. (David C. Nichols) (Through March 29) Read more
Smart, quirky and always engaging, this surreal seriocomic tour de force explores mysteries of love, existence and human connection with the best precision that staging a finely tuned 12-member professional ensemble can deliver in an intimate space — a poster child for the kind of daring, thrilling, affordable experience that would never have been possible without Los Angeles's endangered 99-seat Theater Plan. (Philip Brandes) (Through March 28) Read more
‘The Other Place’
Solid stagecraft, tautly quirky writing and crackerjack acting distinguish this compelling Los Angeles premiere of playwright Sharr White's celebrated 2013 study of a neurologist who may be descending into dementia. Andre Barron's suave direction prohibits our getting ahead of the steadily unraveling plot, as does the transcendent Taylor Gilbert, whose mercurial, layered turn as the beleaguered heroine is acutely memorable, with costar and longtime producing partner Sam Anderson meeting her at every juncture. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, May 31) Read more
'Sons of the Prophet'
Stephen Karam's acclaimed 2011 comedy-drama, about two gay Lebanese-American brothers in Pennsylvania dealing with spiritual, economic and medical challenges in the wake of their father's death, was a Pulitzer finalist, and it's easy to see why. By couching the unfolding series of calamities and reversals in farcical terms that verge on absurdist at times, author Karam ensures that the deeper issues at play sneak into our brainpans, realized to the hilt by director Michael Matthews, a fine design team and a wonderful ensemble. Ends Sunday, May 17. Read more
Album: ‘Rebel Heart’
Madonna named her 13th studio album “Rebel Heart.” The title fits the Madge mold of past titles: adjectives, a noun or two, perhaps a preposition, combined to suggest a loose theme. “Like a Virgin,” “Ray of Light,” “Hard Candy,” “Bedtime Stories” and her relatively epic “Confessions on a Dance Floor” confirm her long-player branding technique, each connecting a concrete idea with the themes conveyed through the songs, more or less. The outlier, her forgettable last album, “MDNA,” was a coy reference to the drug MDMA (a.k.a. molly or ecstasy). It sounded as spent as the Monday following an epic Saturday binge. “Rebel Heart” is a far better album than “MDNA” — cleaner, crisper, more sober, less a flimsy attempt at drawing fickle youth ears and more a sturdy rhythmic platform to showcase some of the most striking tracks she’s made in 15 years (specifically, since “Music,” her last great album). Featuring production by artists including Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West and Sophie and guests including Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj and (in spoken form) Mike Tyson, it has completeness to it rather than the mishmash of could-be stabs at relevance that dots her lesser work. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: 'Shadows in the Night'
Call them standards if you must — imagine dusty old classics of the so-called Great American Songbook. But as interpreted by Bob Dylan, more accurate is to consider the entirety of "Shadows in the Night" as a gathering of meditations, or a booklet of hymns, or a selection of reveries. Ten songs, 34 minutes, a soaring lifetime's worth of emotion conveyed with the fearlessness of a cliff diver spinning flips and risking belly flops in the open air — that's Dylan and his band on the graceful, often-breathtaking "Shadows." The record comes out Feb. 3. Strikingly unadorned and as emotionally raw as anything in the artist's canon, Dylan's new studio album is rich with moaning pedal steel lines and tonal whispers that drift in and out of measures. Guided by bassist Tony Garnier's liquid lines, "Shadows" is an exercise in precision, each syllable essential, each measure evenly weighted. Absent are piano, overdubs, all but the most minimal percussion or any lyric written by Dylan himself. And it's as slow as molasses. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Best known as an original member of Danity Kane, R&B singer Dawn Richard left the group last year (again) after a public kerfuffle revealed deep divisions among the crew. No disrespect to the others, but Richard is thriving without them. Over the last few years she's issued a series of works that hinted at a wildly visionary approach to soul sonics, and she's gone even further on "Blackheart." A collaboration with the Los Angeles producer Noisecastle III, Richards' second studio album is thick with synth-based polyrhythms and layers of Richard's fine voice. When delivered straight, it's solid and pitch perfect. More often, though, she and Noisecastle run her words through strange filters, electronically manipulating it to move from male bass to female soprano and beyond. She merges her words with Vocoders like she's rolling onto Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," hums with Giorgio Moroder-like synth throbs. The result is magnetic future funk, rife with Roland 909 tones, British drum and bass accents and much left-field surprise. (Randall Roberts) Read more
In the opening measures of Björk's new album, "Vulnicura," the Icelandic artist offers a direct statement of purpose, one involving personal upheaval she describes as "a juxtapositioning fate." Mentioning "moments of clarity as so rare, I better document this," Björk directs her gaze in that first song, "Stonemilker," on the dissolution of a relationship. As she does so, what can be described only as Björkian strings and beats swirl around her. These drifting arrangements soar through tracks like birds spinning circles in prairie skies, even as the experimental pop singer, 49, lyrically crawls through the brush below in utter confusion. At times devastated, others baffled, still others strong and determined, the artist on "Vulnicura" offers nine songs, six of which move in chronological order through that juxtapositional end and beyond. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Black Messiah'
In a brief foreword in the liner notes for "Black Messiah," the great new album from the soul artist known simply as D'Angelo, the creator declares his intentions with a dose of humility. "'Black Messiah' is a hell of a name for an album," he writes, explaining that the title of his first long-player in 14 years, and only his third in 19 years, might be misconstrued as being about religion or paint the artist as some sort of egomaniac. But, writes D'Angelo, to him the title is "about the world. It's about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah. It's about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Pinkprint'
Those who have followed Nicki Minaj's often-thrilling ascent to hip-hop superstardom have been hoping for another straight-up rap album for years. After annihilating virtually all takers on mixtapes and guest verses starting in 2007, the 32-year-old began gunning for the pop charts, pouring forth two albums, "Pink Friday" (2010) and "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded" (2012). Both often paired her charismatic wit and style with of-the-moment dance floor bangers and big-umbrella commercial sounds, along with a teasing dose of hard-edged hip-hop. She's earned those hits, to the chagrin of some of her most devoted defenders — those who understand that when Minaj flips that switch and devotes herself to the art of the well-crafted hip-hop verse, uninterrupted electricity flows through her. When she's on, her phrasing, her myriad personas, her playfully percussive vocal flow and the overall presentation combine to create as striking a presence as anyone who's ever rhymed along to beats. "The Pinkprint," released Monday, won't fully placate the hard-core rap heads, but it's got the bangs and the thrills many of us have hoped for, even if it's a slow build kind of power and slacks at times. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels is the team of two indie titans, El-P and Killer Mike, who have upended convention by remaining idealistically true, artistically adventurous and creatively emboldened well into their second decade as rapper-producers. The pair's second album, released as a free download, proves it 11 times over. As smart as it is sonically imaginative and unpredictable, "Run the Jewels 2" proves the team's debut was less a fluke than a portent. Headphone rap of the highest order, tracks on this sequel hum and groove, laced with texture and hidden sonic accents. Psychedelic jams — but not in the hippie sense — including "Close Your Eyes (And Count to …)" and "Lie, Cheat, Steal" are both trippy and menacing, the product of two rappers whose understanding of cadence, phrasing and language as syllabic percussion is often awe-inspiring. (Randall Roberts) Read more
CD Set: 'The Basement Tapes Complete'
It's the most famous room in the annals of pop music, its history equal parts legend and truth. In the decades since its use as a rehearsal space, this subterranean refuge has become known as the birthplace of some of America's most examined (non-Paris-Hilton-sex, non-Watergate) tapes. The Basement Tapes. Many of a certain generation know the basics: In and around Woodstock, N.Y., Bob Dylan and his then-backing band, the Hawks, converged to create stripped-down, defiantly un-psychedelic artistic magic. As the story goes, while recuperating from a motorcycle crash and starting his life as a husband and father of two, Dylan and his compadres, who soon rechristened themselves the Band, crafted a mysterious vessel on more than 40 reels of tape that have since become sacred texts of sorts. The most famous of these works are well known: "This Wheel's on Fire," "I Shall Be Released," "Tears of Rage," "Sign on the Cross," "I'm Not There," "Lo and Behold." Many were traded on the underground circuit through the decades: as whispers on poorly mastered bootleg albums starting with the "Great White Wonder" from 1969, on hissy cassettes, duped CDs and voluminous megabytes. But until this week, the full set has never been officially issued. Nearly 50 years after Band keyboardist Garth Hudson started setting up recording gear, Columbia/Legacy's new six-CD set "The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11" gathers everything the team recorded from February through December 1967, more than 100 songs or fragments. A two-CD volume collects highlights. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Too Bright'
Wearing a loose-knotted black sweater that revealed his carved torso beneath, the pianist, singer and songwriter known as Perfume Genius sat before a whisper-quiet sold-out crowd at the Roxy in West Hollywood and tried to explain the raw, full-throated wail he'd just unleashed. Dubbing it his "general horror movie scream," the artist born Mike Hadreas had just poured forth during "Grid," a highlight from his new album, "Too Bright," and devastating as performed live in a room with so much history. It was a harrowing cry amid a remarkable set, delivered from the thin membrane that separates singing and raging, a place expertly inhabited by artists including Jeff Buckley and his father, Tim, Fiona Apple and the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. A realm that straddles an egoless display of creative emotion and uncontrollable onstage breakdown. (Randall Roberts) Read more
John Cage CDs
Classical music has a habit of burning out on birthdays. Two years ago, John Cage's music was everywhere, what with Los Angeles and the world celebrating the centennial of his birth on Sept. 5 at Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown L.A. The party lingered. Last September, Gustavo Dudamel opened the Los Angeles Philharmonic season with a performance of Cage's famous so-called silent piece, "4'33"." This year, though, the pickings are slim for Cage's 102nd birthday. But three excellent ongoing Cage CD series have new releases to frost the Cage birthday cake. (Mark Swed) Read more
Album: 'Manipulator' Ty Segall
By the time that Ty Segall hit age 26, he had already recorded and released six solo albums, appeared or collaborated on a dozen or so other albums of frantic guitar rock, issued 20 singles or extended-plays through various record labels, appeared on dozens of compilations and composed a few hundred songs. In that burst of inspiration, the Laguna Beach-born guitarist, singer, surfer, skater and songwriter toured nonstop, gigging hundreds of shows across the country. He produced similarly minded bands, played punk and indie festivals and tore through many wickedly searing guitar solos. The Memphis garage rock label Goner had already released the first Segall singles collection by the time he was 24. His titles for these records included "Sleeper," "Gemini," "Horn the Unicorn," "Lemons," "Melted," "Reverse Shark Attack," "Twins" and "Goodbye Bread." Each recorded with immediacy and on the cheap, they captured the uncontainable energy of a muse so busy both consuming and producing music that few but the most devoted could keep up. Before starting work on his new album, "Manipulator," Segall (pronounced like the bird) had accumulated a bulldozer's worth of distorted rock 'n' roll riffs, amassing ideas while sweating the proverbial 10,000 hours required of an expert craftsman. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint'
When trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire released his Blue Note debut three years ago, “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” it felt as if his talents could take him anywhere. So it makes sense that in crafting his follow-up, Akinmusire nearly goes everywhere. Engrossing, elusive and packed to its literal limits with ideas at 79 minutes, “The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint” beautifully takes Akinmusire’s distinctive tone to new realms, including slow-burning orchestral swells and convention-defying vocal collaborations that attempt to translate his vision into words. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album: 'Blank Project'
"Good things come to those who wait," Neneh Cherry sings over stormy electronics and a skittering rhythm on her first solo album in 16 years. If there's a lingering take-away from "Blank Project," that's it. Cherry, whose breakout hit "Buffalo Stance" was practically inescapable in the late '80s, left music for years before reemerging with "The Cherry Thing" in 2012. A brash stab of skronky jazz-punk that paired Cherry's soulful vocals with a blustery Scandinavian saxophone trio, the record was one of the year's best. Here Cherry proves that comeback was no fluke. (Chris Barton) Read more
Barrel & Ashes: Texas Barbecue
When you talk to the masters of Texas barbecue, men and women who measure their lives in cords of post oak and fatty beef by the ton, you will hear about convection rates and sedimentation, humidity and wind, and the way fat renders in April as opposed to the way it renders in May. You learn about the complexities of brisket, a cut made up of two separate muscles that react to heat as if they were from two different planets. You’ll hear a lot about the aging of split logs, the role of black pepper in crust formation, the perils of both over-smoking and under-smoking, and the difficult consistency of subcutaneous fat. Plus, if you’re doing the job correctly, you have to show up to work around 1 a.m., before the bars have even closed. Barbecue is hard. In Texas, even being a fan of barbecue is hard. Barrel & Ashes is easy. Or rather, Barrel & Ashes is meant to be easy: a Texas-style barbecue restaurant with a convenient location in Studio City, cheerful valet parking and reservations readily available on OpenTable. Some of the seating is at long communal tables, but it is pleasant enough if you’re OK with sitting on bar stools, and you may catch a glimpse of the lenticular clouds of meringue crowning the banana pudding or a can of Icelandic beer flavored with bilberries. There are even forks, which at the best Texas places are used only when eating cole slaw and dessert. Read more
Like the community it serves, Gjusta, the newish place from owner Fran Camaj and chef-owner Travis Lett, the people who brought you Gjelina and Gjelina Takeaway, is dedicated to creative disruption. The cotton coats that the bakers wear are fetishized by fashion blogs. The baklava croissants have become cult objects. A city planning hearing on a proposed patio drew Zach Galifianakis among the protesters. Is it a bakery? Kind of. The charred, crunchy baguettes, sourdough loaves and whole-grain boules dominate the north end of the enormous counter, along with the tarts, flatbreads, quiches and butter-saturated croissants. Is it a deli? Also yes: A few yards farther down in the glass case are house-cured pastramis, pickles and hams, along with an extensive array of the smoked fish and condiments that people in New York call "appetizing'' — food meant to be eaten with bagels and bialys. A lot of the food has a hint of Middle Eastern flavor — you can get the thickened yogurt called labneh on your bialy instead of cream cheese if you like. Alongside the pain au chocolat are those "baklava'' croissants stuffed with pistachios. And puffy flatbreads smeared with the herb paste za'atar lean next to the ones topped with dried tomatoes. Read more
If you are fond of visiting Los Angeles restaurants in their first months, you have run into chef Kris Morningstar a lot, probably more times than you can imagine. He has cooked at Shutters and AOC, Grace, Meson G and Opaline, Casa and the weird rooftop-to-table restaurant Blue Velvet. He was in and out of the Hollywood restaurant District in what seemed like weeks, although people still talk about his term in the kitchen, and he opened Ray's & Stark Bar, the vegetable-focused restaurant in the shadow of Chris Burden's lamppost installation in a courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. So it is nice to see Morningstar finally open what seems like his dream restaurant: Terrine, a huge, relaxed place in what used to be the Italian restaurant Pane e Vino. The once fussy dining room has been streamlined into a brisk, airy space, adjoining one of the pleasantest, tree-shaded dining patios in town. The music is too loud — it is always too loud — but conversations are easy enough to follow. And Terrine seems to have been immediately adopted as a clubhouse by the local chefs' community. Especially late at night, restaurant people sometimes seem to outnumber civilians. Morningstar cooks what chefs like to eat. What that means, basically, is meat, lots of meat, along with rustic red wine, decent beer and cocktails that actually taste like the spirits with which they are made. When the best salad on the menu is made with crunchy, thick-cut slices of toasted pig's ear, you know you're in a restaurant that welcomes chefs. Read more
Pok Pok Phat Thai
Pok Pok Phat Thai is the first Los Angeles outpost of Andy Ricker, the American-born chef who has built a small Thai food empire in Portland, Ore., and New York. It is a small counter built into the Chinatown mall storefront where the chicken pho dive Hoan Kiem used to be, right down from Chego, and even in its earliest weeks a line curled out its door. Ricker is adept at adapting the strong, herbal flavors of northern Thai drinking food — his original Pok Pok in Portland is marvelous — in a manner fairly similar to what Kris Yenbamroong is doing here at Night + Market. He plans to open a larger, more ambitious restaurant up the street in a few months, but Pok Pok Phat Thai serves just noodles for takeout or to eat at one of the oilcloth-covered picnic tables set outside in the mall. Read more
Water-boiled fish is one of the most impressive dishes in the Sichuan repertoire: an enormous bowl of vegetables and broth bloodied with a half-inch of vivid chile oil. At Fang's Kitchen, the sleek new Chengdu-style Sichuan restaurant in Monterey Park, the fish, called here Bashu fish fillet, lies atop what must be a triple handful of bean sprouts, which I've never actually seen anybody eat but which keep the pale fillets right at the surface. Fang's, all red walls and shiny glass, is sharp-looking, almost sophisticated in its corner space, long home to the Shanghainese restaurant Giangnan, a few storefronts down from the dumpling specialist Dean Sin World in a faded mini-mall south of the 10 Freeway. It seems to be more popular with groups of young couples than with families, although it serves nothing stronger than pitchers of smoky plum juice, and there is only one table that could conceivably seat a party larger than six. Almost every time I've been in, a waitress has told the group that if we promised to write up the restaurant on the Chinese-language message board Weibo, we'd get a free dessert. I neither read nor write a word of Chinese, but the lure of the crisply toasted rice cakes, sprinkled with powdered mung bean and drizzled with liquid black sugar, is pretty strong. I confess: I have lied for dessert. Read more
If you've traveled much in Italy, you probably have an idea of what an Italian steak meal might be like: a small antipasto or two, an unchallenging pasta and then a honking piece of meat, charred salty black in the fireplace but warm and bloody within, portioned out among everybody at the table. If there is a sauce, it is a few drops of harsh, green olive oil. If there is a side dish, it is a handful of potatoes or some beans. You will drink cheap, rough wine. You will still spend more than you expect, but you will be unreasonably happy. Pistola, the new restaurant from Gusto's Vic Casanova, is another kind of Italian steakhouse, halfway between a pasta house and a luxury steakhouse like Boa or Mastro's. Read more
The arts district, flanking the Los Angeles River downtown, is approaching peak restaurant density. We're seeing new concentrations of restaurants in Highland Park, Manhattan Beach, Silver Lake, Venice and Boyle Heights that are strong enough to excite anti-gentrification activists who are frightened that craft beer and avocado toast might attract the wrong sort of neighbors. But if you had to choose the next neighborhood to attract long lines, innovative kitchens and blurbs in national magazines, you would do well to put your money on Chinatown. If you grew up in Los Angeles, your fondest memories of Chinatown may involve live crabs at Mon Kee, pan-fried dumplings at Mandarin Deli or punk-rock shows at the Hong Kong Cafe; dim sum at Miriwa, char-edged chow fun at Home Cafe, or 2 a.m. oyster-pork hot pots at Happy Valley — institutions now as lost to history as the memory that the district was once an Italian neighborhood. But today's Chinatown, sparked into life by cheap rents and the gallery boom, is in the process of becoming an entirely new place. Read more
Perhaps you are in Little Tokyo, as one often is, and you are in the mood for noodles, and you fear that you may perish from hunger, pure hunger, if you are forced to endure the wait at either Daikokuya or Shin-Sen-Gumi. So you settle in at Marugame Monzo, where the line is only half as long, and you console yourself with what is probably the best udon in Los Angeles. Really, even if you’d never heard of udon, you could probably guess that this was the place to get it because 1) literally everybody else in the restaurant has a bowl of it on his or her table, and 2) in the back of the restaurant, clearly visible in an enclosed glass booth, a highly trained man is whomping away at huge gobs of dough with what looks like an industrial paper cutter. Read more
The old Pete's was a place you stopped into for a plate of blue cheese fries after the bars closed. As rejiggered by Josef Centeno, the restaurant, renamed Ledlow, is a neighborhood restaurant for a different kind of neighborhood, a place where the chalkboard menu listed things like beef tongue salad and caramelized sunchoke remoulade, the crudités come straight from the farmers market, and both the chicken and the shrimp salad come straight from the pages of James Beard. Centeno, a master of genre cooking, is making a bold statement about serious American cuisine. Read more
Porridge and Puffs
We all have particular ideas of what a porridge restaurant might look like, whether a Hong Kong-style congee shop like Delicious Corner in Monterey Park or a Taiwanese porridge hall like Lu's Garden in San Gabriel, Atlacatl and its list of Salvadoran atoles, the Koreatown pumpkin-porridge specialist Bon Juk or Veronica's Kitchen in Inglewood, with its Nigerian fufu menu. I consider myself open-minded when it comes to porridge. But I never expected a spot like Porridge and Puffs, the semi-elegant restaurant that takes over the lunch counter Field Trip a few nights a week. The porridge is prepared with the obsessive care that the hairy-chested kitchens devote to charcuterie and is served in flights as if rare vintages of Montrachet. It is easy to laugh at the idea of a porridge-intensive restaurant until you taste a spoonful of the rice porridge with pickles and jam: an arrangement of herbs, fermented mustard greens and a spoonful of a sharp, lemongrass-infused chile condiment as dazzling in its complexity as anything coming out of the most famous kitchens in town. Read more
Scopa Italian Roots
Scopa is a second collaboration between Antonia Lofaso, also chef of Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City, and the team of Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix, who have been involved with half of the stylish bars in Los Angeles, including Black Market, La Descarga, Pour Vous and Harvard & Stone. Lofaso, a protégée of Spago's Lee Hefter, is on television a lot — she was a star of "Top Chef's" fourth season and is on "Cutthroat Kitchen." She also wrote the 2012 "Busy Mom's Cookbook," which is actually kind of good to have around if you need an easy recipe for braised brisket or blueberry muffins. In the book she confesses that her restaurant jobs have also included stints waiting tables at Chin Chin and Puff Daddy's soul food restaurant Justine's. Her heritage is Italian American, but her experience is fairly eclectic. A traditional Italian American meal? Almost, but not quite. Read more
Your opinion of Saint Martha, a cramped new bistro in a Koreatown mini-mall, will probably correlate pretty closely with your view on steak and oyster tartare, the default signature dish. The tartare appears on the short menu under the heading Rawesome. It comes to the table flanked by two scorching-hot empanadas stuffed with molten bone marrow. A pair of sauces, tart sabayons, are presented one inside the other and look like a fried egg. And while you may have tasted the combination of raw meat and raw seafood before — a raw beef-octopus dish is popular in the South Korean city of Gwangju — Saint Martha's surf 'n' turf is a little odd, the bits of oyster discernible mostly as a briny note almost lost among the bloody tang of the chopped steak and the crunch of minced pickles. The scarlet mound is almost a self-saucing mechanism, designed to maximize umami. I think I like it, but I change my mind every time I taste it. The dish is a shotgun marriage of opposites. Read more
Santa Rita, Jalisco
This taco truck, parked permanently deep in the Eastside, is famous for pescuezos, delicious deep-fried chicken necks The skin is pushed up the shaft of the neck before frying, which gives the effect of a tanned, meaty cylinder surmounted by an Elizabethan collar of pure crunch; hidden bits of chewy meat and a corona of pure, fatty pleasure. Because the truck has colonized a largish brick-and-mortar taqueria, there are plenty of tables to sit around, and you can always find parking. If pescuezos aren't your thing, the pork al pastor, sliced from its spit to order is decent. But really, you should try the necks. Tear off a bit of meat, and wrap it in a warm tortilla with a splash of peppery tomato salsa. At $2.25 for an order of four necks, it's about the cheapest happiness in town. And on weekends, Santa Rita is open until 3 a.m. Read more
At his best, Demand manipulates photographic light, shadow and paper to undercut our blithe acceptance of what the picture purports to tell us. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Saturday, April 4) Read more
Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989
Gaines' drawings from the 1970s and 1980s are not for the faint of heart. Encountering all those big sheets of graph paper filled in with row upon row of tiny little numbers and Latin alphabet letters has the immediate appeal of undergoing an IRS audit. Do not despair. Plunge in. Things will soon, well, begin to add up (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, May 24) Read more
Mariah Robertson: Photography Lovers' Peninsula
Robertson pares down photography to a few of its most basic ingredients: light, chemicals, and a light-sensitive surface. Hers is an untamed art, stomach-flipping in its wild energy and jolts of rapturous beauty (Leah Ollman) (Through April 8) Read more
Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings
At the UCLA Hammer Museum, "Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings From 1860 to Now" is billed as the first museum survey of the genre, in which a sheet of paper is laid over a textured surface and rubbed with pencil or pastel. Ninety-two works by 48 artists were selected. Two-thirds were made since 1960, including provocative examples by Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois. There could have — and probably should have — been even more. The show's most vexing question can be posed in two words: Why now? (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, May 31) Read more
Thomas Burke: Dutch Jail Break
Burke's new paintings are eye-grabbing extravaganzas that pack more visual wallop into their brightly colored surfaces than has been seen since artists like Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Julian Stanczak and Victor Vasarely invented Op Art in the 1960s. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, March 28) Read more
Neither ironic nor straightforward, Currin's oils-on-canvas works are curdled and perverse, timely and twisted. That brings them into the present, where they are catnip for critics. (David Pagel) (Ends Sat., April 11) Read more
The artist's new paintings are dense, gritty and fluid. They're also loose, goofy and smart. And they don't suffer fools. If you're not up to the task of holding a multiplicity of perspectives in mind while making unexpected discoveries, these pint-size paintings will leave you out in the cold. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, April 4) Read more
'Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork'
Unless one is Native American, getting a grasp of complex Native American spiritual cosmologies is not easy. And that distinction, which might be called a quality of profound otherness, is in essence what drives a fascinating show recently opened at the Autry National Center of the American West in Griffith Park. It's a story of survival, of a will to endure in the face of crushing opposition. And it is a story told through beads. (Christopher Knight) (Through April 26) Read more
Josef Koudelka retrospective
Given subjects that repeatedly focus on human barbarism, whether between people or by people against the natural environment, you won't find yourself smiling much in the large Josef Koudelka retrospective at the J. Paul Getty Museum. But again and again, you won't be able to avert your eyes. Bleak and powerful, the best images by the Czech-born French photographer merge incisive reportage with a keen sense of graphic design. A great Koudelka photograph creates an almost subliminal perspective, which burrows into your slowly awakening consciousness. (Christoper Knight) (Ends Sunday, March 22) Read more
Rembrandt at the Getty
When is a portrait not a portrait? (Or, to be more precise, not exactly a portrait?) The answer: When it's a tronie, the theatrical 17th century Dutch invention in which artists weren't after a specific person's likeness but, instead, examined facial expressions as characteristic types of human emotion. Rembrandt van Rijn was good at it. When he was young and starting out, he looked into a mirror and used his own face to produce a tronie of laughter — and the result is now on view in the Getty's permanent collection galleries as the museum's newest acquisition. (Christopher Knight) Read more
J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free
Interest in J.M.W. Turner has come in waves over the last 150 years. The late work's atmospheric, luminescent veils of color — often bordering on a mid-19th century eruption of total abstraction — have driven much of the curiosity. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, May 24) Read more
Brian Weil is best remembered for having been instrumental in founding New York City's first needle-exchange program for intravenous drug users in the late 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was exploding. He was also an artist of some note, and his archive is now at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. "Brian Weil, 1979-95: Being in the World," a traveling retrospective organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, is now at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Saturday, April 18) Read more
Online Magazine: ‘The Offing’
Next week, a new literary magazine, the Offing, will premiere online. Based (for the most part) in Los Angeles, where it is affiliated with the Los Angeles Review of Books Channels project, it is really a national, or even international, effort, which aspires to break down boundaries, to level the playing field. Editor in chief Darcy Cosper (who is also an editor at LARB, although the Offing is editorially and financially independent) and executive editors Airea D. Matthews and Michael D. Snediker head up an editorial team that also includes Danez Smith, Leslie Parry and Margaret Wappler; the magazine, its website tells us, “is a place for new and emerging artists to test their voices, and for established artists to test their limits.” Among these limits are those of diversity, which is a key part of the Offing’s focus, to break down barriers, to blur — or even more, to eclipse — the lines that keep certain writers, certain communities, on the edges of the conversation, to redefine the mainstream by willfully stepping outside the bounds. Read more
'Eventually Everything Connects'
What do Alfred Hitchcock, Edith Head, Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton have in common? They're all featured in Loris Lora's glorious, and unexpected, "Eventually Everything Connects," a celebration of mid-20th century California Modernism in visual form. Lora, a 2014 BFA grad of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, takes her inspiration and her title from designer Charles Eames' assertion that "Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects .... The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se." The work here, however, is entirely her own. Read more
Here’s a beautiful curio: Frontier, a quarterly series from San Francisco indie comics publisher Youth in Decline. Each issue features a stand-alone work by a single artist. The most recent is “Ann by the Bed,” a 32-page comic by Emily Carroll, and it’s a powerhouse — a gothic horror story in which a child’s what-if scenario becomes a portal to a terror that is all too real. The set-up is simple: “In the early morning of October 12th, 1934,” Carroll tells us, “someone took a hatchet to Ann Herron’s room and woke her up with a blow to the head.” The killer followed her throughout the house before finishing her off “in the parlour of her family home.” But there are complications: Ann’s parents, and her brother, George, have also died in a series of strange accidents. Her sister, Jennie, who survived, may or may not have been engaged in witchcraft. This is the best thing about “Ann by the Bed,” which is named for a game kids play to scare themselves — that it raises questions without having, or even trying, to answer them; the whole point is the mystery. Read more
'Guys Like Me'
“There are no second acts,” Dominique Fabre writes in his new novel “Guys Like Me” (New Vessel Press: 144 pp., $15.99 paper). It’s a nod to Fitzgerald, sure, but it is also an existential statement, made by an unnamed Parisian who, as he drifts through his 50s, finds himself increasingly unmoored. Divorced, the father of an adult son, he works in an office, although we never find out much about what he does. Rather, the novel revolves around small interactions, particularly with two old friends and with a woman he meets on a dating site. “Sometimes,” he tells us, “you’re so alone you think you’re talking aloud even when you haven’t said a word.” Fabre is a genius of these nuanced, interior moments; his 2008 novel, “The Waitress Was New,” offered a similar glimpse of quiet lives. Read more
'John Lennon: The Collected Artwork'
I’ve long had a thing for John Lennon’s drawings: the loopy sketches (loose, impressionistic) he made throughout his life. Quick takes, they are akin to diary entries or visual haiku. One hangs on my living room wall, a 1969 portrait of John and Yoko, beneath a banner declaring “Peace.” It’s a prized possession, familiar and yet at the same time vivid, a reminder that the moment is all we really have. That image appears, as it should, in “John Lennon: The Collected Artwork” (Insight Editions: 204 pp., $50), edited by Scott Gutterman, which claims to be a comprehensive collection of Lennon’s visual work. I don’t know about that, but the 200 or so pieces here span his life as a creative figure, from childhood images (recognizable from the cover of his 1974 album “Walls and Bridges”) to those created just before he died. Read more
'How to Be Both'
Ali Smith's sixth novel, "How to Be Both," is a book of doubles, featuring twin narratives paired back to back and published in separate editions. In one, the first part evokes the 15th century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa and the second the contemporary saga of a British teenager named Georgia; in the other, these two stories are reversed. That this is a gimmick goes without saying, and yet it is a gimmick that resonates. "[T]he first thing we see," Smith writes late (or early) in the novel, "S and most times the only thing we see, is the one on the surface. So does that mean it comes first after all? And does that mean the other picture, if we don't know about it, may as well not exist?" What she's describing is the art of the fresco, which was Del Cossa's, and involves a certain tension between what are called "underdrawings" — think of them as basic sketches — and the finished work. The same could be said about this book. Read more
When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature in October, a lot of readers (myself included) were taken by surprise. Until now, he has been relatively unknown in the U.S., although he is a bestseller in his native France and winner of the Prix Goncourt who has published steadily since his first novel, "La Place de l'Étoile," appeared in 1968, and co-wrote the screenplay for Louis Malle's 1974 movie "Lacombe Lucien." Like that film, much of Modiano's fiction has roots in the paradoxes of the Vichy era, which remains, for him, a matter of both personal and collective history. Read more
'Family Furnishings: Selected Stories'
The most astonishing aspect of Alice Munro's "Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014" may be its chronology. The two dozen efforts here come from late in her career, after she had established herself as (perhaps) the preeminent short-fiction writer of her time. Munro's first book came out in 1968; she had already received pretty much every award possible before winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 2013. Yet rather than fall into any sort of expected pattern, she has, as Jane Smiley notes in her introduction to this deep and constantly surprising collection, "in the last six volumes, written since 1996 ... gotten more experimental rather than less." This is especially true of the "not quite stories" Munro has written over the past decade, pastiches the author calls "autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact." Three of them ("Working for a Living," "Home" and "Dear Life") appear in "Family Furnishings," and they bring a certain resonance to the enterprise. Why? Because they remind us that fiction, at its most profound and moving, is about human endurance, which makes it very much a reflection of reality. Read more
'The Laughing Monsters'
Denis Johnson tends to let his work speak for itself. Since the publication of his debut novel, "Angels," in 1983 he's written some of the most essential books in contemporary American literature, but he doesn't often talk about them. "My general policy," he tells me in an email, "is to duck every such opportunity to make a fool of myself." And yet to mark the publication of his 10th novel, "The Laughing Monsters" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 228 pp., $25), Johnson has agreed to what he calls "an electronic back-and-forth" an email correspondence about the new novel, a political thriller set in Sierra Leone, Uganda and the Congo (a region he has covered as a journalist for Harper's, among other publications), writing in general and the breadth of his career. Read more
'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate'
Naomi Klein has made a career critiquing the effects of global capital and consumerism. Her 2000 book "No Logo" looked at the exploitation of workers by large multinationals, including Nike; her follow-up, "The Shock Doctrine" (2007), examined the ways in which corporations benefit from disasters, wars and other upheavals, often with the assistance of policy initiatives. These books have led to the Canadian-born Klein being called "the most visible and influential figure on the American left." For Klein, the tensions between individual freedom, individual rights and the primacy of the political-corporate complex exist in something of a crisis state. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to climate change, the subject of her new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate," which argues, in the starkest terms imaginable, that we as a culture have reached a tipping point. Read more
First, a few facts: Edward Hirsch's son, Gabriel, died on Aug. 27, 2011, at age 22. Hurricane Irene was making landfall in New York. The previous evening, he went to a party in New Jersey, where he took GHB (known in the vernacular as Grievous Bodily Harm). He had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest. It took Hirsch and his ex-wife four days to find out what had happened to their son. That is the back story, the bare-bones context for Hirsch's book-length poem "Gabriel," which is as raw, as relentless in its inconsolability, as anything I've read. But the real point here is that facts, that context, offer no comfort. What we most want — for things to work out differently — is what we cannot have. "I wish I could believe in the otherworld," Hirsch writes. "I wish I could believe in a place / Of reunions outside of memory." Read more
'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage'
Haruki Murakami's "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" begins with a simple premise: A Tokyo railroad engineer, the Tsukuru Tazaki of the novel's title, finds himself borne back ceaselessly to the summer of his sophomore year in college, when, for no reason he can determine, he was cut off by his close-knit group of high school friends. The betrayal sent Tsukuru into a spiral. "It was as if," Murakami writes, "he were sleepwalking through life, as if he had already died but not yet noticed it." It's a condition that lingers into adulthood. There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to this situation, a sense that the surface of the world is thin. This is true even after Tsukuru reaches back across the years to make contact with his former friends. How do we connect, or reconnect, Murakami wants us to consider, not only to those around us, but also to the very essence of ourselves? Read more
'The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle'
Francisco Goldman's "The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle" is so sneakily brilliant, it's hard to put into words. Part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage on Mexican politics and the scourge of narcoterrorism, it is also, in the finest sense, a book that creates its own form. "I could use words as my compass to map the route I'd taken," Goldman tells us late in the first part of this journal-like accounting, "and give it a narrative order, a sequence of incident and meaning, and rescue it from being something other than just circumstantial and ephemeral. The stories one tells about oneself aren’t necessarily true, of course, but I wanted this one to be as true as I could make it. This didn’t mean that it all had to be factually true, but I decided that this story needed to be factually true too." Read more
“Jelly Reef” looks adorable. At the start, players will have a school of jellyfish — all of them wide-eyed and smiling. Then, in a matter of moments, they will all be dead. This wouldn’t be so harrowing if they didn’t start to frown first, a simple touch that turns this accessible mobile game into one of pure dread. Ultimately, it’s as much about nurturing tiny gelatinous reddish and orangeish critters as it is about reaching a goal. “Jelly Reef” is also the swan song from the three-person Netherlands-based studio Game Oven, a company that in its brief existence specialized in pushing the boundaries of the mobile experience. The studio’s previous game, “Bounden,” sought to teach two players how to dance as they were connected via one phone. Following on-screen prompts, participants would twirl around each other, and those averse to touching would be advised to stay away. Read more
Video game critic
A simple phrase at the outset of "White Night" sets this mood for this Depression-era thriller. "Times were worse than hard, and the bar was about to close." The words come from a down-on-his-luck man, struggling like much of the United States was in 1938. He staggers to his car, a clearly unfortunate action the player has no control over, and kicks off the game when he crashes into a tree. What follows in "White Night," available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, is a ghost story at its most cerebral. The man (we aren't given a name) is in desperate need of medical care when he stumbles into a seemingly deserted mansion. We know this is a bad idea. The crumbling cemetery out front makes that clear, but worried times lead to bad decisions. Can what's inside a country house really be worse than what's outside, where jobs are scarce, people are starving and what little wages there are have already been spent on booze? Read more
'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse'
Pink, puffy and potent, "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" is Nintendo at its most aggressively cute. But just because Kirby looks like a piece of bubblegum, don't write the veteran Nintendo character off as child's play. Though Kirby hasn't been around as long as his peers Mario or Donkey Kong, since introduced in the early '90s he's won a reputation as an experimental shape-shifter. Sometimes, Kirby has the power to inhale much larger foes. Other times, he can turn into a rocket. Then there was a time when Kirby was just a piece of yarn. Here, Kirby, still looking like a gelatinous pink ball of puff, is transformed into clay and rolls through side-scrolling worlds by following the stylus of a player. Each swipe, dash or circle of the pen creates a rainbow-colored rope for Kirby to latch onto. It's like directing a tiny digital creation to dance, only one must also watch out for ghosts. The Wii U-exclusive is played entirely on the system's touchpad-like controller, the GamePad. Read more
Snowboarding: Outside of the Olympics I didn't think there was any way it could excite me. Then "Alto's Adventure" came along. "Alto's Adventure" gives the sport a dapper makeover, as its diminutive star slickly traverses detailed never-ending forests. Llamas are on the loose (of course) and it's the player's job to save them, having to avoid prickly rocks, treacherous chasms and sleepy-but-ornery elders along the way. Try, if possible, to sneak in some tricks, that is if the tiny little specks emanating from a campfire don't distract your view (spoiler: they'll totally distract you). The game is simple – tap the screen to jump, that's it – but the look is elegant. Every panorama is given a wistful gauze. A moon twinkles in the distance, snow glistens as it falls, the sun leaves a pensive haze and lightening streaks across the night sky. Often, Alto would stumble into a rock simply because I was taken with a slow-moving windmill atop a hill or was caught watching the birds that scattered when I approached off the slope of a crescent-shaped hill. Read more
The hero at the core of the independent game “Gravity Ghost” is, in fact, an adolescent: 12-year-old Iona. Even more unusual, she’s dead — an apparition who haunts the solar system, looking for lost souls to save. Far from a ghost story, this title created by Erin Robinson takes a fanciful eye to the afterlife, turning the high-flying spirit into something of an outer space superhero. She treats the cosmos as a giant intergalactic plaything, toying with planets as if they were bouncy balls and turning globes into gelatinous, fish-tank-like orbs. Underlying it all is the sadness that comes with knowing a young life was lost. How Iona died and why she’s on an intergalactic quest becomes the title’s central mystery, lending an air of emotional complexity to a game that explores the wonders of a girl in flight, complete with rainbow-colored stardust contrails. It’s heartache, but one with a charm offensive. Read more
'Elegy for a Dead World'
You can battle an Orc king. You can steal a car or maybe a boat. You can even rescue the princess in your plumber overalls. Actions and story arcs are plentiful in most games, but the underlying narrative, malleable it may be, is almost always pre-written. "Elegy for a Dead World" puts forth a different theory. Maybe you, the player, can write the story. Maybe a blank page can be turned into a game. Part writing exercise, part teaching tool and part sci-fi story generator, "Elegy for a Dead World" aims to turn players into budding Arthur C. Clarkes — or at least amateur poets. It's a high-minded goal, one reflective of the game's haughty title, and meeting it can be more daunting than facing off against a barrel-throwing ape. Here, the only enemy is a blinking cursor, or a case of writer's block. Read more
Confession: I like cats more than I like video games. The upcoming “Night in the Woods” combines these passions, and a recently released mini-game from its developers asks the unanswerable questions every cat herder has pondered: What do cats think of when they daydream? Answer: It’s certainly not mice or canned tuna. Infinite Fall and Finji’s “Lost Constellation” doesn’t shy away from big topics; it tackles religion, the loss of a loved one and tricks of the mind with deft touches of humor and light flourishes of mysticism. Here domesticated animals grapple with the same existential issues that keep us up at night. Read more
'Super Smash Bros.'
My relationship with Nintendo is maybe not as healthy as it should be. This realization comes to me as the year draws to a close, when one is pressed to discuss the most innovative or thoughtful interactive experiences of the year. Games such as the haunting "The Vanishing of Ethan Carter" or the whimsically lonely "Broken Age: Act 1" are some that immediately spring to mind. These are titles that made the same sort of lasting impression as a TV season of "Orphan Black" or a movie screening of "Big Hero 6," which was full of unexpected considerations on loss. Like the getting-by struggles at the heart of hip-hop act Run the Jewels, these are all examples of pop culture with layers, where revisiting is encouraged. Yet there is one Wii U game in heavy rotation that I didn't expect to be there. That game is "Super Smash Bros.," a button-smashing, jump-and-sock 'em extravaganza of punching, kicking and crazy moves with nonsense titles such as the "Peach blossom" and "konga beat." There are fights at haunted mansions, fights in suburban streets and fights around space lava. Read more
Alan Gershenfeld was already skeptical that this January 2012 trip to Alaska would yield a video game. The blizzard wasn't helping. But his business partner, Michael Angst, was insistent. "[He] said, 'We have to go! I've been to 49 states but not Alaska.'" For the Alaskans awaiting Gershenfeld's arrival, this two-day business adventure carried much more weight than whether a video game executive completed a travel bucket list. The Cook Inlet Tribal Council, an Anchorage-based nonprofit supporting eight tribes in the region, wanted to launch a for-profit arm. The goal? Make money and be less dependent upon government assistance. The big plan? At one point it was funeral homes. This month it was a video game. Read more
'That Dragon, Cancer'
One of the first things you hear in Ryan Green's video game is a voice mail. Though it's not a horror game, the sound isn't just frightening; it's borderline bone-chilling. A woman leaving a message for her husband sounds exasperated. She's leaving the doctor's office and coming home without any answers. The couple's baby boy is vomiting. Maybe it's this? Maybe it's that? There is no diagnosis. And why is the child's head always cocked to one side? Everyone is thinking the worst, but no one is saying it. Read more
The long-standing Mad magazine comic strip "Spy vs. Spy" is occasionally like a puzzle — a short back-and-forth that asks the reader to piece together images to see which spy has the upper hand. If it were a film, the cuts would be fast and the swapping of one frame for another would change the entire outcome. Now imagine dragging the frames around the page. Instead of resulting in one's demise, the larger-than-life hammer or roped-together dynamite could set off a brief tale of revenge. Or we could call a truce. Perhaps we could rewrite the end of the narrative to reveal a twist. Maybe the two spies had been played as pawns in a larger scheme all along. If you get rid of the Looney Tunes-like imagery and turn all that into a game, the result would feel something like "Framed." Read more
'A Bird Story'
There are first loves, which are important, yes, and then there are first pets. "A Bird Story" documents the mysterious emotional grip of the latter, tracing the connection between a humble winged critter and the little boy who dreams of joining his pal in flight. The power of imagination as well as a little ingenuity when it comes to crafting the perfect larger-than-life paper airplane goes a long way toward forging the relationship in this heartwarming tale, one that just so happens to be completely wordless and textless. Read more
'The Vanishing of Ethan Carter'
“The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” is a ghost story. Or maybe it’s a game about the mind’s powerful ability to fool itself. In both execution and play, however, it’s a tale about what’s missing. It’s a search for a boy, one whose family appears to have a mysterious and murderous history, and it unravels with a patience and exploratory nature that will challenge players and test the narrative conventions of gaming. With traces of pulpish sci-fi and hints of hard-boiled noir, “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” makes clever use of the interactive medium. There is no designated order to the game; its puzzles are random and need to be stumbled upon. Players are set free, dropped in a gorgeous, photorealistic world and told essentially nothing. Read more
Clare Vivier has turned her love of French chic and American prep — and a search for the perfect, non-corporate-looking work bag — into a made-in-L.A. success story. Her collection launched eight years ago with a single vegetable-tanned leather tote called La Tropezienne, manufactured in Los Angeles. Buoyed by the early support of social media, it has grown to include small accessories, gifts, stationery and French-phrase T-shirts. Available at 300 outlets worldwide, it is on the way to becoming an American lifestyle brand — maybe even the next Kate Spade. “I have a lot of admiration for what Kate and Andy built,” says Vivier, 44. “I also like what Vanessa Bruno did, starting with bags and then doing clothing.” This month, Vivier is scheduled to open her fourth Clare V. store, her biggest yet, in L.A.’s Melrose Avenue shopping district. She is also dipping her toes into shoe design. Read more
'Zoolander' at Paris Fashion Week
The crowd went wild after the Valentino show at Paris Fashion Week on Tuesday afternoon, and it wasn't because of the clothes. Actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson closed out the show, reprising their roles as male models Derek Zoolander and Hansel from the 2001 film "Zoolander" in a runway "walk-off" that announced the sequel to the film. After the conservative-looking Valentino runway show — which was inspired by artist Celia Birtwell and swinging London but looked more like church clothes with long sleeves and patchwork lace — the crowd erupted at the surprise appearance by Stiller and Wilson. As Zoolander, Stiller wore a custom Night Butterflies brocade suit with hand-embroidered overcoat and Creeper shoes. Wilson wore a silk contingent print pajama suit with double cashmere overcoat and sneakers. Read more
You knew the fashion fanfare around the opening of the ultimate rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Cinderella," was going to be good, and it has been, from the custom "glass" slippers shoe designers have made to celebrate the film, to what the stars have chosen to wear at the red carpet premieres. At the Berlin premiere on Feb. 13, the film's star Lily James played the role of princess on the red carpet in a pale pink Christian Dior gown with pleated bodice and sparkly crystal Jimmy Choo shoes, while Cate Blanchett looked like anything but an evil stepmother in a custom mosaic embroidered gown by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. At the L.A. premiere on March 1, James continued to play up the crystalline theme, choosing a silvery blue Elie Saab gown, while Blanchett wore what may be the first Phoebe Philo for Céline red carpet look, a custom white crepe top and long black skirt, with a modernist pendant necklace. Read more
Straight from the fashion capital of the world to the entertainment capital of the world, Louis Vuitton has brought its spring 2015 runway show from Paris to L.A. as a pop culture experience for all. There is no product for sale at the gallery-like space on North Highland Avenue, just a free, immersive exhibition intended to give visitors a glimpse into the time-traveling vision of designer and self-described sci-fi enthusiast Nicolas Ghesquière, who became artistic director of Vuitton's women's collections in November 2013. The exhibition, titled "Series 2," features seven rooms with displays that shed light on the process behind Ghesquière's luxe-meets-lava-lamp women's spring ready-to-wear collection, which originally debuted on the runway inside the silvery, new Frank Gehry-designed Foundation Louis Vuitton museum during Paris Fashion Week in October 2014 and just hit the racks at the newly renovated Louis Vuitton boutique on Rodeo Drive last week. Ends Sunday, Feb. 22 Read more
Hometown hero Jeremy Scott has opened the first Moschino store in Los Angeles, with all the playful “Drink Moschino” cola can window displays, Barbie-pink shrunken biker jackets and chain-link-trimmed baseball caps you’d expect from fashion’s reigning king of pop. The designer, who took over as creative director of Italian fashion brand Moschino in October 2013 and now splits his time between his L.A. base and Milan, arrived stateside on Sunday to open the 3,500-square-foot boutique, located in a former gallery space on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. Read more
Burberry in Beverly Hills
Burberry has taken Beverly Hills by storm, just in time for the holidays. In quick order, the label opened its first Rodeo Drive flagship, accepted a Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award and launched an L.A. version of its Art of the Trench campaign. It's all part of the vision of Christopher Bailey, who joined the brand in 2001, became creative director in 2004 and raised eyebrows when CEO was added to his title this year. Under Bailey, the nearly 160-year-old British heritage outfit known for trusty trench coats has been reinvigorated as a 21st century trendsetter and innovator. And the distinctive beige Burberry check, which fell out of favor in the early 2000s after it was overexposed and counterfeited, has been rediscovered by a new generation of celebs — Harry Styles, Olivia Palermo and Sarah Jessica Parker among them — who are bundling up this winter in monogrammed check scarves and blanket ponchos. The four-story Rodeo Drive boutique features the full range of the label's products for men and women, including its Prorsum, London and Brit collections, handbags and accessories, as well as a dedicated alcove for Burberry Beauty. There's a VIP floor to cater to celebs, with a wraparound rooftop terrace that has views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park. Read more
London designer darling Simone Rocha is following her New Establishment British Fashion Award win this week with a denim capsule for J Brand now available online. Rocha is the daughter of the well-established, Dublin, Ireland-based designer John Rocha, who was until recently a mainstay on the runways in London. She launched her namesake collection at London Fashion Week in 2011, after graduating from fashion school Central Saint Martins. Since then, she's been racking up young designer awards across the globe and gaining a steady following for her darkly feminine, goofy-glam, ruffled and sparkly designs, which sell at Colette, Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter, among other places. Read more
'Tory Burch: In Color'
Tory Burch has created an American brand that's both aspirational and attainable, and she's become a billionaire in the process. In the 10 years since she started her business, she's opened stores around the world, most recently in Shanghai, launched a fragrance, dressed tastemakers in the White House, in Hollywood and beyond and formed the Tory Burch Foundation to support female entrepreneurship. And she's done it all by telling a story through color. A new book, "Tory Burch: In Color" (Abrams), brings readers into her world through 11 color-themed sections. Read more
Gucci's, Beverly Hills
On a recent afternoon at Gucci's newly remodeled Rodeo Drive flagship, creative director Frida Giannini is looking very at home in L.A. She's wearing a colorful patchwork print silk blouse from the label's forthcoming spring collection, a pair of perfectly faded Gucci boyfriend jeans and metallic platform sandals that hint at her love of all things David Bowie and 1970s. This is the look of Giannini's Gucci now: everyday luxe. "Evening gowns are an incredible market for us," she says in the store's lush new third-floor VIP suite, built for celebrity dressing, with crystal-embroidered gala gowns hanging nearby. "But for me, it's important to have special items in each collection that you can keep in your closet for years. I call them essentials, but they are still objects of desire." Under construction for two years, the remodeled boutique at 347 Rodeo Drive announces itself in gold and crystal, with a sparkling façade. Read more
Barneys New York in Beverly Hills
Just in time for its 20th anniversary, celebrated on Oct. 15, Barneys New York in Beverly Hills has had a face-lift. The main floor, cosmetics floor and men's fifth floor have all been redesigned, and the store includes the first Freds restaurant on the West Coast, creating a new see-and-be-seen scene in Beverly Hills, complete with terrace tables with views of the Hollywood sign. Shoppers will notice the changes immediately. The store's curving Regency-style staircase remains the centerpiece, except now that curving motif is being carried throughout the design of the store and its fixtures, which have a soft but modern style that might be described as organic minimalism. Read more
The new "Hollywood Costume" exhibition at the May Co. building — future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, opening in 2017 — is on view through March 2 and features more than 150 costumes from the golden era to the present, including pieces from "American Hustle," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Great Gatsby," and the most famous shoes of all time, Dorothy's ruby-red slippers. The expansive show includes a soaring soundtrack composed especially for it by Julian Scott, and multimedia displays highlighting how costume designers work with directors and actors. Read more
Elyse Walker's Online Boutique
For 15 years, Elyse Walker's Pacific Palisades boutique has been the destination for high-end designer fashion in a neighborhood where residents would rather cross the Gobi Desert than the 405. But it's what Walker has been doing outside the store, using technology to create an omni-channel experience, that's taking the tradition of the plugged-in L.A. retailer-to-the-stars into the future. Walker can sell a pair of $2,300 Saint Laurent boots without ever having to put them on the floor, just by sending a text message to a well-heeled client. She can blow out $4,600 Stella McCartney lace jumpsuits before they've even been unpacked from the box by posting a runway photo to her Instagram account with the hashtag #Everydayisarunway. Launched two years ago, her e-commerce site, ForwardByElyseWalker.com, is poised to hit $100 million in sales this year. Read more
New York Fashion Week: Michael Kors
If there is one phrase that sums up the spring season at New York Fashion Week, Michael Kors has it: optimistic chic. His collection brought many of the week's trends together, including 1950s-inspired circle skirts and crop tops: garden florals and embroideries; natural hues; gingham checks; spare, simple accessories and shoes made for walking. Read more