Critics’ Picks: May 10-16, 2013
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
This week’s selections include some classic films for Mother’s Day, a guide to the best Mexican restaurants in the area (take mom!) and Christopher Guest’s new mockumentary series on HBO. We also highlight the fashion in “The Great Gatsby,” a new Walter Mosley novel and an innovative video game.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Mother’s Day movies
No matter whether your mother’s taste is sweet or sour, the American Cinematheque has Mother’s Day programming to suit the occasion. If your mom likes things sweet, the Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica features a 5 p.m. screening of “The Sound of Music,” with Julie Andrews and all those Von Trapp children singing their hearts out. On the other hand, if she enjoys the dark end of the street, the Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood features the hair-frying 7:30 p.m. double bill of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and the Joan Crawford biopic “Mommie Dearest,” starring Faye Dunaway. Read more
‘Something in the Air’
There is fire everywhere in Olivier Assayas’ scorching new coming-of-age drama. It is in the passions, the politics and the sex roiling through the filmmaker’s vision of 1970s-era Paris. For this is a memoir of sorts of Assayas’ youth — the forces that pulled at him and the choices that shaped who he would become. His screenplay is so adept at moving between the mood swings of the talented and torn central character, Gilles (Clement Metayer), that you feel as much as watch. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
"Do you love her?" The question comes early in "Mud" and will haunt the movie until the final frame. The answer — to what loving means, to how urgent it feels the first time, to how easily it can slip away — is wily and willful. With a sprawling cast anchored by Matthew McConaughey and young Tye Sheridan, "Mud" is filled with miscreants, mysteries, a scandalous hero and a couple of boys as headstrong as Huck Finn. It's one of the most creatively rich and emotionally rewarding movies so far this year. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'In the House'
French director Francois Ozon mixes dark irony and imaginative comedy to delicious effect in his latest film. An excellent Ernst Umhauer plays the talented and tricky 16-year-old whose imagination drives "In the House." A school assignment from his literature teacher gets things rolling. Soon fact and fiction blur, the teacher is hooked on the story, and mirth ensues. Much like the teacher, you won't want the story to end. (Betsy Sharkey) In French with English subtitles. Read more
'The Place Beyond the Pines'
Violence is the trigger in Derek Cianfrance's latest love letter to bad breaks. But it's the ripple effect of responsibility, regret, limited resources and guilt that makes "Pines" particularly relevant in a time when so many struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Ray Liotta and Dane DeHaan, the movie is intimate in its telling, sweeping in its issues and stumbles only occasionally. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'
With a potent novel as its starting point and a splendid performance by Riz Ahmed as its focus, this Mira Nair-directed story is rich in complexities. It's able to deal with the geopolitical ramifications of the world we've made, a world where people who should be our friends may have unaccountably become our enemies. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's'
A lively, clever, fast-moving documentary that goes behind the scenes at the legendary New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Christopher Guest has made you a TV series. Thank him. The director of “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show” and one of the forces behind and in “Spinal Tap,” Guest has been an architect of modern comedy, from the improvised dialogue that marks his films to the documentary style in which most have been shot. Its sound is his sound, its look his look. In the wonderful “Family Tree,” hangdog Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids,” “The IT Crowd”), finding his life stalled after losing a girlfriend and a job in short order, goes in search of his roots and relatives. It’s a trip that takes him into the theater, a boxing club, England’s rural north, the back end of pantomime horse and finally to America. (HBO, premieres Sunday) Read more
Shonda Rhimes’ whacked-out buzzfest of a political drama comes to a much-fanticipated close after its first full season (it debuted as a mid-season replacement). As super-sleuth and super-stylin’ D.C. power-fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) continues her on-again/off-again (currently very much on) affair with the perpetually lovesick President Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) — your tax dollars at work! — she and her fellow gladiators are also desperate to reveal the traitor passing state secrets out of the White House directly to terrorists. And the right one this time, please; when they previously, and wrongly, accused the CIA director, he wound up dead. Eager to please its Twitter-lovin’ audience, “Scandal” prides itself on U-turn plot twists and shocking reveals and Rhimes has built up high expectations for the season finale. Prepare to be shocked and most likely cliffhung, gladiators! (ABC, Thursday, 10 p.m.) Read more
'Elementary' Season Finale
In the two-hour season finale of the modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes, we meet the iconic Irene Adler ("Game of Thrones" and "The Tudors'" Nathalie Dormer), glimpse the cause of Holmes' (Jonny Lee Miller) fall into addiction, continue the education of Lucy Liu's Watson and play more cat and mouse with the mysterious Moriarity. Benedict Cumberbatch had better be careful; soon we won't care if "Sherlock" comes back or not. (Mary McNamara) (CBS, Thursday, 10 p.m.) Read more
Although I am not privy to what goes on behind the closed doors of ABC, it is hard not to suspect that the course of "Nashville" has been shaped by other series that have done well for the network — that is, from a show that seemed pretty interested in how people made music, sold music and related to other people who made and sold it, it has come more and more to resemble "Scandal" and "Revenge" and "Grey's Anatomy" in the speed and intensity of its soap-opera reversals of allegiance and fortune. It's all sickness and death and intrigue and betrayal and self-betrayal and reformation and reclamation and so forth on these banks of the Cumberland. Still, it's a show I continue to watch, for Connie Britton — her mature country star Rayna James is the Bette Davis in this "Y'all About Eve" story — and Clare Bowen as the humble Southern phenom Scarlett O'Connor. Two episodes remain this season; last week's coming attractions hinted at violence. The finale, on May 22, will feature Brad Paisley as himself. (Robert Lloyd) (ABC, Wednesday, 8 p.m.) Read more
'10 Buildings That Changed America'
Chicago public broadcasting personality Geoffrey Baer visits 10 landmark structures — in chronological order from Thomas Jefferson's Virginia State Capitol to Frank Gehry's Disney Hall — in this sprightly dash through two centuries of American architecture. Baer's choices reflect a range of style and purpose and let him cover a lot of territory in a few strokes. It's a bit like a package tour of five countries in four days, but you'll learn something if you pay attention. Features the quite adorable Robert Venturi (on the postmodernist house he built his mother, though that's not a term he likes himself) and his equally adorable partner and wife, the architect Denise Scott Brown. (Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Sunday) Read more
The Patricia Heaton-led family sitcom has been going from perfect episode to perfect episode for a while now. Subversively, and with one great exception, it concerns people who know their limits — the limits of what they can do and what they are capable of doing for one another — and are fine with them. The exception is excitable underachiever Su Heck — one of television's most original creations, divinely played by Eden Shur. But she is just one light among many. Also, a recent episode in which brothers Axl (Charlie McDermott) and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) made a James Bond film with bunnies and kittens, was one of the best things I have ever seen, on television or anywhere else. This week's episode, entitled "The Ditch" includes guest shots by Dave Foley, as Brick's school therapist, and "30 Rock" alum Jack McBrayer as Heaton's new boss. (ABC, Wednesday, 8 p.m.) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’
The setting for this August Wilson classic is a boardinghouse in 1911 Pittsburgh, but the spiritual location is a crossroads between the ghostly past and the forbidding future, slavery and freedom, despair and hope. This powerfully acted revival, directed by Phylicia Rashad, is a gift for audiences hungering for theatrical nourishment after being fed a steady diet of snacks. Fortified with history, politics and religion, the play bursts with the rituals of communal life. John Douglas Thompson’s profoundly moving performance as Herald Loomis, the wanderer searching for his wife after years of bondage, is key to this production’s success. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday) Read more
This classic dark comedy by David Mamet about the con game known as the free enterprise system is set in a junk shop, but there are jewels to be found in the play, and they are thrillingly laid out for us in the Geffen Playhouse's dynamically acted production. What a pleasure to experience again the ferocious gusto of Mamet's language when it was still being composed for individual characters. Lately, Mamet seems to be writing for his own bullhorn, but this relatively early work reminds us of the reason his style set off a revolution in American playwriting. The revival’s success is a credit to the blue-collar commitment of its performers — Bill Smitrovich, Freddy Rodriguez and Ron Eldard — and to director Randall Arney for recognizing that, contrary to what Mamet has dogmatically asserted, a play without convincing characters is just a bag of air. (Charles McNulty) Ends Sunday. Read more
With ferocious satire, time-bending surrealism, and songs fiercely throbbing to the wild heart of early rock 'n roll, Dan Dietz' darkly brilliant new play defies easy labels — as befits a full-volume celebration of the dissonant rebellious chord sounding throughout our nation's history. (Philip Brandes) Ends Sunday. Read more
Sharr White's remarkable two-person play about a dying poet's reunion with the wife who abandoned him 20 years previously stars husband-and-wife acting team Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, best known as comedic performers on “Will and Grace” and “Parks and Recreation,” respectively. Director Bart DeLorenzo elicits achingly slice-of-life turns from his superb performers in a play that builds masterfully from the hilarious to the tragic. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'The Beaux' Stratagem'
How often do you get to see a classic bawdy Restoration comedy by George Farquahar, a long-lost Thornton Wilder meditation on marriage and other human foibles, and a frenzied Ken Ludwig farce — all for the price of a single ticket? Granted, they happen to be the same play, but this hilariously staged post-modern adaptation is a great deal nonetheless. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday) Read more
Crown City Theatre Company has boldly revived this 1970 Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical hit, a perennial darling of the Tony Committee seldom staged here, in its small space. Although director Albert Alarr has set the tale of a commitment-phobic bachelor harassed by his married friends in the present day, plenty of late-1960s New York artifacts remain in the picaresque story lines and acerbic lyrics for those who want to relive boozier, grittier days. (Margaret Gray) Ends Sunday. Read more
Sarah Ruhl’s delicately feminist play revisits the Orpheus legend from the perspective of his doomed bride, Eurydice, but the story is, somewhat unexpectedly, more a tale of enduring fatherly love than of star-crossed passion. Geoff Elliott’s deft direction and dazzling design elements result in a hypnotic and purifying atmosphere that is just right for catharsis. (F. Kathleen Foley) Ends Sunday. Read more
'Falling for Make Believe'
A grand cast and 21 classic songs propel Mark Saltzman's musical study of Lorenz Hart and his struggles with Richard Rodgers, the bottle and the closet. To move beyond this elegant chamber staging, some clashes between form and content will have to be addressed, best left to archivists, quibblers and future producers. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'Heart of Darkness'
Actors' Gang stalwart Brian T. Finney invites us to venture deep into the interior of the African Congo in his adaptation of Joseph Conrad's classic novella. This stripped-down production zooms in on Finney's intensely contained performance as Marlow, the seaman who tells the story of his obsessive pursuit of the mysterious Kurtz, an ivory trader who has come to symbolize, among other things, the insatiable greed of imperial conquest. Flanked by two performers, Finney gives himself over to Conrad's words, the production's true star. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Saturday) Read more
N. Richard Nash’s 1950s-era chestnut about a “spinster” swept up in romance by a dazzling con man can be laughably archaic. However, director Jack Heller crafts a striking, specific portrait of a bygone time. As for the pitch-perfect performances, they should all be distilled, bottled and preserved for posterity. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 22) Read more
'Walking the Tightrope'
Poised between children’s fable and adult reverie, 24th Street Theater’s pitch-perfect 2013 staging of Mike Kenny’s perceptive take on the eternal cycle — as artfully simple, theatrically poetic and deeply affecting a chamber piece as any in recent memory — returns for a limited engagement, an indelible must-see for all ages. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sun., Oct. 16) Read more
Mixtape: ‘Acid Rap’
An infinite jest, Chicago lyricist Chance the Rapper’s stellar new mixtape “Acid Rap” begins with a woman’s seductive voice — chanteuse Lili K. — uttering, “Even better than I was the last time, baby, ooh oooh oooh, we back, we back, we back.” Over the following 13 songs the assured voice of Chance runs through a surreal tale of pills, rap, a Chicago high school for gifted students, cigarette stink, “chauffeurs with road rage,” cocoa butter kisses, Chuck E. Cheese and LSD. “I think we’re all addicted,” he sings on “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” adding that “if I sip any Henny my belly might just be outie.” (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
New West Symphony performs Beethoven’s Ninth
The New West Symphony is performing Beethoven’s Ninth, the great symphony of rebirth and community, for the celebratory final program of Marcelo Lehninger’s first season as music director. The orchestra also chose to use this occasion to select four emerging vocal soloists from a competition it hosted over YouTube. The choruses are local — New West Symphony Chorus and Los Robles Master Chorale. But mainly all eyes and ears will be on the enthusiastic 33-year-old Brazilian music director in this, Lehninger’s first really big outing. Concerts take place at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center (Friday), the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks (Saturday) and Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall. Read more
Would she actually use the word “hashtag” in the lyrics? Would it be about, God forbid, Tweet love? Why would Miguel, one of the best young R&B singers on the scene right now, participate in such nonsense? Mariah and Miguel have now answered, and I’m struggling to adjust Monday to the reality that “#Beautiful” just may be said jam of the summer. Despite the hashtag, and the wariness, “#Beautiful” is as close to a perfect pop song as has been released in 2013. Produced by Miguel and Carey, the track is gritty and vital, filled with a crawling, dirty bass line, a seductive, immediately embeddable guitar melody and just enough tambourine to get the engine running. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Inspiration Information' (reissue)
Shuggie Otis as a boy was the prodigal son of Los Angeles rhythm & blues, a guitarist whose father, Johnny Otis, helped define a West Coast sound in the '40s and '50s as both a band leader and talent scout. In 1974 Shuggie released "Inspiration Information," a delicate, tripped-out bedroom funk record that used early drum machines, keyboards and Otis' guitar playing to create magic. It was a commercial flop but, gradually, deservedly found an audience. A comforting record, "Inspiration" is an ideal companion on days when you're too depressed to make listening decisions or too down on humans to interact with any of them save a man with faraway voice and a heart. This double disc reissue features "Inspiration," a few surprising out takes and a bonus disc of some of Otis' work from 1975 to 2000. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Devandra Banhart's new "Mala," is a pleasant return to form. The Venezuelan-American (and longtime Californian) bard, who for a few years nearly became a parody of himself as the figurehead of the unfortunately named "freak-folk" movement, has relocated to New York, shaved his beard and cut his hair — prompting some of the best work of his career. Mixing folk, rock, beat-based experiments, Brazilian pop and touches of synthpop with his confident, and often beguiling, lyrics, Banhart on "Mala" has offered an utterly charming, witty, honest record about love's successes and failures. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Single and video: 'Becky from the Block'
Inglewood has gotten its share of love over the years, courtesy of rappers including Mack 10, Dr. Dre and Tupac, but few have been as joyous, infectious and vivid as Becky G’s new single, “Becky from the Block.” The track features the young rapper honoring her neighborhood with a series of snapshot rhymes about life in the southwest Los Angeles town — all performed to an updated riff on Jennifer Lopez’s hit, “Jenny from the Block.” Released in early April, the video is as pure a love letter to Los Angeles life as you’ll hear: She raps in front of the L.A. Forum, beneath the iconic Randy’s Donuts sign, name-checks Oak Street Elementary School, the Inglewood cemetery. The Mexican American rapper is only 16, but she’s got some big names supporting her. (Randall Roberts) Read more
14 great Mexican restaurants
No places matches the breadth and depth of Mexican restaurants we have in Southern California, except Mexico City itself – and maybe not even there. You can find the cooking of almost every region in the country here, crafted at street-corner taco trucks as well as cutting-edge places like the new Corazon y Miel and Bizarra Capital. Here are Los Angles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s choices for 14 of the most essential places to try. 1. Babita: One of the most serious Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. Read more
Corazon y Miel
"Corazón y miel," your waitress wants it to be known, is the signature dish of Corazón y Miel. Corazón y miel, hearts and honey, is a small bowl of warm, seared chicken hearts in a sweet, honeyed vinaigrette, tossed with a few slivers of onion, like a chicken heart escabeche. The grayish hearts look a little gnarly, organy, probably more than you want to be dealing with before your third margarita. The bowl travels around the table twice. Someone finally spears a heart. She chases it with a shot of tequila. She spears another. She corrals the bowl for herself. Like the restaurant, a dim tuck 'n' roll gastropub in the working-class suburb of Bell, the hearts are an unlikely source of deliciousness. The hearts have won again. Read more
If you are the kind of restaurant-goer who gets hung up on first impressions, M.A.K.E., Matthew Kenney’s raw-vegan restaurant in Santa Monica Place, may not be for you. But Kenney, who was a renowned New York chef well before he adopted the raw-food thing, is solidly a creature of the food world, and a lot of his techniques are also found in the famous modernist kitchens where dehydrators and Vege-Mixes are as commonly used as pots and pans. The spray of thinly sliced carrots erupting from a base of cumin-scented nut butter is a dish you might see in any modernist dining room. And if the lasagna, sushi rolls and kimchi dumplings are more raw-vegan riffs than the things themselves, it’s just the way the juice-cleanse generation wishes things to be. Read more
A former underground dining club from Julie Retzlaff and her husband, chef Whitney Flood, Muddy Leek is less an edgy pop-up than a comfortable place to drop in for a glass of grenache and a snack on a Tuesday night. There may be the occasional tiny rabbit kidney garnishing a plate of rabbit hash, a little dish of rillettes made with the shredded remnants of duck confit, or a smear of chicken liver mousse on toast, but you are not here to be challenged, you are here because you want to eat nicely composed small plates, and it is nice. Read more
Tamarind of London
Is it easy to mistake Tamarind’s careful spicing for blandness or the mild juiciness of its chicken tikka for timidity? Could it be a good thing that the parade of grilled-mushroom salads, coconut-scented vegetable korma, chickpea dal, smoky eggplant curry and hot nan stuffed with coconut and dates tends to complement the scent of a pretty Sonoma Chardonnay? Tamarind, the Newport Beach sibling of the first London Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, is Southern California’s most luxurious Indian restaurant. Read more
The new restaurant from Jason Travi, whose Mediterranean-style cooking you may have tried at the late Fraiche in Culver City, is a really good bar with high-concept eats – channeling a 1950s New England seafood joint crossed with grungy Montreal bistro, and almost inexpensive unless you let the cocktails, the maple syrup eggs and the crunchy oyster sliders add up. You would be surprised how quickly you can inhale a plate of chilled oysters, nostalgia-flavored fish sticks or even a half dozen clams casino, whose blanket of crisp, bacony bread crumbs in no way slows you down. And there are freshly fried apple-cider doughnuts for dessert. Read more
Stephen Prina’s sculptures at LACMA
The top floor of BCAM at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art looks a bit like a gallery of painted sculpture crossed with a thrift shop for salvaged furniture. Artist Stephen Prina filled the big room with roughly two dozen sculptures based on famous modern furniture designs. They copy inventive furniture designs for two Hollywood houses from the 1940s, now razed, by ground-breaking Modernist architect R.M. Schindler (1887-1953). In that, the installation is like most of the art in LACMA’s collection - say, a 17th century altarpiece that once would have been encountered in the solemn precinct of a European church, or a painted scroll that would be an alcove’s solitary focal point in an 18th century Japanese house. “As He Remembered It” establishes a self-conscious kinship with the art of the past. (Christoper Knight) (Through August 4) Read more
Architecture: Dodger Stadium revamp
The new owners of the Dodgers didn’t just go on a spending spree to sign new players during the offseason; they also opened their wallets for a $100-million project to revamp 51-year-old Dodger Stadium. Many of the upgrades are invisible (such as improved wireless coverage), others buried into the hillside at the base of the stadium. The most noticeable changes, aside from new high-def scoreboards, have come near the entry gates, where several dozen parking spots have been replaced with new landscaping, souvenir shops, life-sized bobble-heads and even playgrounds. The goal is to make one of the most privatized stadiums in the majors, one designed near the height of L.A.’s love affair with the car, a little more public. (Christopher Hawthorne) Read more
'Ming Masterpieces From the Shanghai Museum'
A new exhibition of Chinese Ming dynasty paintings includes just 10 works, but it’s more absorbing than many shows two or three times its size. These 15th and early-16th century paintings are high-wire acts of aesthetic dexterity, fusing philosophical perception with formal persuasion. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday) Read more
The third installment of the MexiCali Biennial is winding down at East L.A. College’s Vincent Price Art Museum (the show closes April 13), and its somewhat shaggy theme of cannibalizing established cultures as a means for creating new artistic identities isn’t exactly fresh (it dates back nearly a century). But there is a considerable amount to like among the varied paintings, sculptures and installations by 26 artists and collectives working in the U.S. and Mexico, starting with Carolyn Castaño’s satirical video of a rapid-fire news broadcast. In “The Female Report,” she slices, dices and turns televised reality against itself to devastating effect. (Christopher Knight) Read more
'Sicily: Art and Invention' at the Getty Villa
There are at least three great reasons to see “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome” at the Getty Villa. Chronologically, the first is a straightforward male torso, his finely chiseled marble body quietly brimming with latent energy. Second comes a preening charioteer, physically just larger than life but expressively very much so. And third is a depiction of a minor god with major fertility on his mind, his powerful physicality an embodiment of the contortions of carnal lust, both corporeal and psychological. These major sculptures together tell an accelerating story of artistic and social power on the ancient Mediterranean island. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, August 19) Read more
When last we saw Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins, he had just lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu. This was in the closing pages of the 11th (and seemingly final) Rawlins book, “Blonde Faith,” published in 2007. Yet six years later, Easy is back, narrating a new novel, “Little Green” that picks up where “Blonde Faith” left off. It’s 1967, and Easy must navigate a Los Angeles he barely recognizes in the wake of both the Watts riots and the Summer of Love. Read more
'Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers'
Janet Malcolm may end up best known for the line that opens her 1990 book “The Journalist and the Murderer”: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” The indictment is more powerful because Malcolm never renders herself immune. This sense — of the moral ambiguity of journalism — weaves through Malcolm’s new “Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers,” a collection of pieces, most originally published in the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, that looks at both art and how art is received in the culture, which, in Malcolm’s view, is often less a matter of aesthetics than of style. Read more
"Fox 8" offers an unexpected twist on George Saunders’ darkly comic sensibility. Narrated by a fox who has learned human language, it’s a taut little tale in which the protagonist and other members of his skulk are driven away from their habitat by the construction of a new shopping mall. Saunders writes in an idiosyncratic dialect full of phonetic misspellings (“First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I learned to rite and spel as gud as I do!”), structuring the story as a letter to the reader (or “Reeder”) that turns increasingly pointed and bleak. Originally, Saunders intended "Fox 8" for his collection "Tenth of December," but he felt it was an outlier, even for him. So he decided to release it as an e-book original, his first. Read more
'The Best of the Best American Poetry'
Normally, I’m wary of “best of” designations, but the annual “Best American Poetry” collections recognize the limitations of the game they’re playing, the idea that any group of poems can encapsulate the breadth of poetry written in America in a given year. “The Best of the Best American Poetry” features 100 poems of the 1,875 that have thus far been published in the series. My favorite stuff here is the most direct, or, maybe, the most interior: Margaret Atwood’s “Bored,” which traces how childhood ennui can lead to adult curiosity; the long excerpt from A.R. Ammons’ “Garbage”; and Denise Duhamel’s magnificent “How It Will End,” in which a husband and wife watch another couple fighting, only to take sides themselves. Read more
Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” is a white-hot ember of a book. Taking place in Manhattan and Italy in the late 1970s, a time when each was awash in turmoil, the novel traces the experience of one woman, a young conceptual artist, as she navigates these disparate landscapes, a part of the action and yet always on the outside. For Kushner, the point is displacement – that, and the way art is, or should be, a provocation, with even the most abstract expression existing in (sometimes) violent reaction to the world. The result is a work of fiction that illustrates both character and culture, as well as the uneasy ways they intersect. Read more
'The Book of My Lives'
There’s a tendency to look askance at essay collections, to see them as incidental, as if they had no urgency of their own. I defy anyone to make such an argument after reading Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Book of My Lives.” Ranging from his youth in Sarajevo to his present-day life in Chicago, this suite of 15 essays never looks away or pulls its punches — portraying if not a life exactly, then a life in collage. Particularly affecting is the heartbreaking “The Aquarium,” originally published in the New Yorker in 2011, which details the death of Hemon’s 1-year-old daughter Isabel from a rare cancer of the brain. Read more
'A Tale for the Time Being'
Ozeki’s third novel is constructed around a pair of interlocking narratives — the first that of Nao, a 16-year-old Japanese girl, and the second that of Ruth, a novelist who finds Nao’s diary when it washes up on the beach in Vancouver Island. Together, they make for a stunning meditation on meaning, narrative and our place in the universe. Written from something of a Buddhist perspective (the author is, among other things, a Zen priest), “A Tale for the Time Being” covers everything from the vagaries of love to the paradox of quantum physics, finding its resolution in an unflinching resistance to being resolved. Read more
Part game/part graphic novel, “Year Walk” from experimental Swedish studio Simogo is first-person but not in the format most common to gamers. The cold, fantastical world is navigated by swiping left, right or up and down (drawing a map is suggested) and the look is inspired by the work of Yuri Norstein, much of it appearing to be hand-drawn paper cutouts long lost to Nordic winters. The protagonist Daniel insists on setting forth on a year-long journey, one that will inspire hallucinations and supposedly allow him to see his future. It begins with a warning. “We are not supposed to know what happens in the future.” Proceed with caution. Read more
Video game critic
'Toki Tori 2'
Players are blessed with only two controls — jumping and singing — and this means tasks are nominally solved by stomping and chirping the young chicken known as Toki Tori around the screen. Toki Tori can at once scare a fuzzy bug into the mouth of a frog or sing a crab-like creature to its side to help the chick move across dangerous terrain. Plenty of time, however, will be spent alone in the dark, trying to find a way to lead a disinterested light-shining bug to a gaggle of scared-of-the-nighttime frogs. Navigating through the game, it felt as if Toki Tori was begging for help rather than singing for it. Read more
'Thomas Was Alone'
'Thomas Was Alone' Few of the people and places we’ve met via games this year have the ability to break your heart in the way that Chris and Laura can. They are boxes. They don’t ever speak — none of the main characters in “Thomas Was Alone” will do any typical communicating — and their thoughts are relayed to players via a narrator. It’s as if someone is reading aloud a book and player actions — in this case, moving a series of boxes around the innards of what is described as code for a computer program — dictate when a page is turned. Never before have tiny boxes felt so lonely. Read more
Games are wonderful at creating crazy, colorful universes full of whip-cracking vampire killers and interstellar space pirates, but they are less good at crafting ones inspired by more earth-bound cultural traditions. "Guacamelee!” is an exception. Perhaps not since LucasArts’ 1998 “Day of the Dead” noir title “Grim Fandango” has a game so lovingly draped itself in Mexican folklore. "Guacamelee!” is a colorfully humorous game centered almost entirely on the customs surrounding Day of the Dead. It’s a simple stylistic conceit that seems so obvious that it’s almost confusing it hasn’t been done with any regularity. Who needs zombies and vampires when there’s an entire holiday steeped in calavera imagery? Read more
‘The Great Gatsby’
Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is the fashion film of the year. The big-screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book features stellar costumes by Catherine Martin, who collaborated with Miuccia Prada on chandelier crystal cocktail dresses adapted from her runway archives, Tiffany & Co. on Art Deco-inspired jewelry and Brooks Bros. on striped regatta blazers and suits. It adds up to a dazzling slice of the high life in the Roaring Twenties, “a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today,” Luhrmann told my colleague Adam Tschorn in his must-read story about the look of the film. Read more
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has released its second Wear LACMA collection of fashion accessories created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection. Custom perfumier Haley Alexander van Oosten of L’Oeil du Vert, accessories mavens Maryam and Marjan Malakpour of NewbarK and women’s clothing designer Juan Carlos Obando were tapped for the collection, which is for sale at the LACMA store and online, with all proceeds benefiting the museum. They had the run of the museum and could choose any piece as a starting point. What they came up with offers insight into who they are as designers and a chance to see a distinct part of their brand vision distilled. Read more
Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib. Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. Read more
Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York and Paris, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a “boho goddess festival vibe,” opened just in time to dress customers for this month’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson’s favorite springtime excursions. Read more
The Rodeo Drive shopping scene heats up with the opening of the new boutique from Celine, the LVMH-owned brand that helped usher minimalism back into style under the direction of designer Phoebe Philo. What can you find inside? We'll start with Celine’s spring runway collection and tailored classics, must-have handbags, and the fur-lined, Birkenstock-like sandals and fur-covered high heels that have fashion followers buzzing. Read more