Critics’ Picks: May 17-23, 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.
Several favorite TV series are wrapping up their seasons this week, while a few new shows are just getting started. Plus there’s a new production of a Mozart opera and, at the movies, a charming and airy love story. Visit a designer’s clothing store with a decidedly ‘70s feel or watch a video dramatizing David Foster Wallace’s remarkable commencement address, “This Is Water.”
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Love Is All You Need’
This is the time of year when the number of indie movies in theaters shrinks while the big, brassy ones beat the drum loudly. Unless you want to fight the first-weekend crowds for a “Star Trek Into Darkness” ticket, which is definitely worth your dime, consider going small and light with “Love Is All You Need.” It’s the latest from Danish director Susanne Bier, an Oscar-winning specialist in family dramas. So it’s nice to see her go for frothy for a wedding weekend that explores all the ways romance can surprise you at any point in life. The most surprised — and the ones to watch — are Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm. As Philip and Ida, father of the groom and mother of the bride respectively, all the worries they brought with them evaporate in the Italian sunshine. Watching this effervescent love story just might have the same effect on you. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Effortless and effervescent, “Frances Ha” is a small miracle of a movie, honest and funny with an aim that’s true. It’s both a timeless story of the joys and sorrows of youth and a dead-on portrait of how things are right now for a New York woman who, try as she might, can’t quite get her life together. That would be the Frances of the title (the Ha isn’t explained until the film’s charming final frame), a joint creation of and career high point for both star Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach, who met on the director’s “Greenberg” and co-wrote the script. Together they have created an American independent film that feels off the cuff but is in fact exactly made by a filmmaker in total control of his resources. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Regard the hands of Ricky Jay. Watch them making cards do things cards never have done before, things cards didn't even know they could do. And for this master of manipulation, cards are just the beginning. Seeing is definitely not believing in the wonderfully titled "'Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay," directed by Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein. This documentary provides an elegant, enthralling peek behind the curtain and into the you-won't-trust-your-eyes world of this celebrated contemporary conjurer. (Kenneth Turan) 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
"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
'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
'Stories We Tell'
Don't be fooled by its deceptively simple title or the hesitant, unassuming way it begins. Writer-director Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" ends up an invigorating powerhouse of a personal documentary, adventurous and absolutely fascinating. Unexpectedly moving in unanticipated ways, this unusual film is a look at the complexities of one specific family's story as well as a broad examination of the interlocking nature of truth, secrecy and memory, not to mention the endless intricacies of human relationships. Five years in the making, "Stories We Tell" reveals its secrets slowly, like an onion being unpeeled layer by unexpected layer, not unlike the way Polley herself discovered what she did about her own background. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘The Middle’ (May)
Too long have the hilarious and down-rent relatable Hecks lived in the shadow of their upscale-yet-seeming-unemployed neighbors on “Modern Family.” Patricia Heaton’s Frankie and Neil Flynn’s Mike remind us on a weekly basis that fatigue and bewilderment are the real resting states of family life and their assorted children — jock Axl (Charlie McDermott), sweet ‘n’ goofy Sue (Eden Sher) and oddball bookworm Brick (Atticus Shaffer) — are the anti-Abercrombie kids most of us once were. The season finale will be chock full o’ milestones: Axl graduates high school, Brick moves on to middle school and Sue tries to get her license, for the sixth time. (ABC, Wednesday, 8 p.m.) Read more
The latest blockbuster nature documentary to justify your purchase of an HDTV (see also “Planet Earth,” “Life,” “Frozen Planet,” “Africa”) is the seven-part “North America.” There are some hectoring musical passages, and the narration, delivered by Tom Selleck, can run to the precious and dramatically over-personified: Why does the continent need to be “she,” or the yearning-to-breathe-free behavior of wild animals be taken to somehow express “the American heart”? But you can turn down the sound to eliminate that human element and feel all the power and mystery of the wilderness without distraction. The real honor the series does the natural world is to pay it witness, and this it is does exceedingly well: It is gorgeous clean through. The usual caveat applies: Nature is beautiful but not always pretty. (Discovery Channel, Sunday) Read more
At the halfway point in the series' sixth — and, we are given to understand, its penultimate — season, it is safe to assume that much of what we're being shown relates to what might be called the ante-endgame. Certainly, creator Matt Weiner is drawing our attention more closely toward Don Draper (Jon Hamm, in a performance worn so close to the skin that some commentators have mistaken him for a bad actor) as if to remind us that, Roger and Joan and Peggy and Pete notwithstanding, Don's is the story he's telling. More obviously than ever not the hero some still mistake him for, not the villain he is to others, he's a kind of shell with a survival instinct, an intellectual without interests who finds meaning in power but trusts neither. Don sifts the world to sell it things while retaining nothing for himself. An often exasperating show but an ambitious one; and when it's great, it's great like nothing else on TV. (Robert Lloyd) (AMC, Sundays) Read more
Following the personal and political machinations of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the fictional first female prime minister of Denmark, "Borgen" nicely fills the gap for those who finished "House of Cards" and are still awaiting Season 2 of "The Newsroom." (Mary McNamara) (Warning: subtitles) (KCET, Friday, 10 p.m.) Read more
'The Ghost Army'
Rick Beyer's fascinating, detailed and oddly delightful account of the World War II military camouflage artists whose job was not to hide men and material but to create battalions where none actually existed, drawing German eyes and ears to the wrong place. Working with inflatable rubber tanks, a studio-created soundtrack of military activity broadcast through speakers with a 15-mile range, and scripted radio communications, the "ghost army" gave the term "European theater" a new meaning, as they traveled from Normandy to the Rhine on what one veteran describes as a series of "one-night stands," sewing deception. With art students making up half its ranks — including the future minmalist painter Ellsworth Kelly, the photographer Art Kane and the designer Bill Blass, even then sketching designs for women's wear — the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops also drew and painted as they went along; the works shown here have a wonderful, time-collapsing immediacy. (Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Tuesday) Read more
'How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)'
Protest ABC's cancellation of this very funny midseason replacement by watching its final episodes. More biting than "Modern Family," more reckless than "The Middle," it's a show not afraid to own the real pathology of parenting. Also, it has Brad Garrett married to Elizabeth Perkins and when is that dream date ever going to happen again? (Mary McNamara) (ABC, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.) Read more
'Make a Noise: Mel Brooks'
"I've go to admit something," says Mel Brooks in Robert Trachtenburg's bouncy "American Masters" documentary. "I don't really do anything for the audience ever. I do it for me, and most of the time the audience joins me." It's worked out well: Brooks, 86, has lived to see even "Spaceballs" become beloved. The new interview footage is a little visually overexcited, as if to capture the hyperactivity of its subject, and anyone who's been through the recent DVD set "Mel Brooks: An Inspired Collection of Unhinged Comedy" (Shout Factory) will have heard most of these stories. But it's a bounty of clips and commentary, from collaborators and colleagues, including 2,000-Year-Old Man partner Carl Reiner, Tracy Ullman, Barry Levinson, Nathan Lane and Joan Rivers. You should laugh some, or check your pulse.(Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Monday) Read more
'Grimm' May, 2013
Celebrate the continued life (picked up for a third season!) of the only criminal procedural in which the monsters are really monsters by watching the second half of its season finale. For the uninitiated, a Portland, Ore., detective is also a Grimm, that is a human who can see the various nonhuman characters who walk among us. Dark and fun and endlessly imaginative, it should be a much bigger hit than it is. (Mary McNamara) (NBC, Tuesday, 10 p.m.) 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
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
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
'Smoke and Mirrors'
As actor and Magic Castle illusionist Albie Selznick’s superb theatrical magic show explores the connections between his life and art, perhaps his greatest feat is making any trace of boredom completely disappear. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Tuesday, December 31) Read more
'Walking the Tightrope'
Delicately poised between children’s fable and adult reverie, this pitch-perfect West Coast premiere of Mike Kenny’s perceptive take on the eternal cycle is as artfully simple, theatrically poetic and deeply affecting a chamber piece as any in recent memory — an indelible must-see for all ages. (David C. Nichols) Ends Saturday. Read more
Exceptional integrity distinguishes “Parade” in Fullerton. The company 3-D Theatricals attains a rarefied level of artistry with this arresting, beautifully appointed take on Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Tony-winning 1998 account of the notorious Leo Frank trial in 1913 Atlanta. Combining the intimately revised 2007 Donmar Warehouse version (seen at the Mark Taper Forum in 2009) with the larger scope of Harold Prince’s epic Vivian Beaumont staging, director T.J. Dawson, choreographer Dana Solimando and musical director David Lamoureux approach the fact-based property and its complex themes — anti-Semitism, legal malfeasance and political expediency among them — with uncompromising conviction. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
‘The Marriage of Figaro’
For the Los Angeles Philharmonic production of “Marriage of Figaro,” the second in Gustavo Dudamel’s cycle of the Mozart operas with librettos by Lorenzo Da Ponte, the famed French architect Jean Nouvel will design installations as a set for the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage. What will the Paris-based Tunisian avant-garde clothes designer Azzedine Alaïa come up with for the costumes? What will the L.A. Phil do about where to place the orchestra given that behind the stage didn’t work out so well for “Giovanni”? What edgy concept will Christopher Alden find for the staging this time after his stately yet emotionally intense “Giovanni”? And what about Dudamel? (Mark Swed) (Ends Saturday) Read more
Album: ‘Modern Vampires of the City’
At some point, every enduring musician has to prove his or her worth and silence the doubters. The Beatles first succeeded with “Revolver,” the Beastie Boys with “Paul’s Boutique,” Wilco on “Summer Teeth.” Talking Heads raised the bar with “Fear of Music,” Lauryn Hill with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” New York band Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” is one of those records, a brave, surprising third effort that’s both challenging and confident, catchy but progressive, expertly imagined and executed. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: 'Everybody Loves Sausages'
For its recent album of cover songs, “Everybody Loves Sausages,” Los Angeles rock band the Melvins mined rock history to reveal some unlikely inspirations. The record hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves, especially for those who love surprising versions of familiar songs. Known for its crawling, versatile melding of punk and metal on thick and brutal '90s and '00s albums such as “Stag,” “Honky,” “Nude With Boots” and the trilogy of “The Maggot,” “The Bootlicker” and “The Crybaby,” the Melvins over nearly three decades have conquered genres like Everest climbers, and illustrate their breadth on “Sausages.” The track that’s become an obsession for me is the band’s version of “Carpe Diem” by 1960s avant folk band the Fugs, whose early records on ESP-Disc contain some of the dirtiest pre-punk depravity of that decade. (Randall Roberts) 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
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
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
'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
‘This Is Water’
May is graduation season, which makes it only fitting that the folks over at the Glossary should produce a video of the most resonant commencement speech in recent years, David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water,” delivered at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 2005. “This Is Water” achieved viral fame in September 2008 after Wallace committed suicide; in it, he argues for remaining conscious, suggesting that our salvation (if such a thing exists) is a matter of empathy, of compassion, of making decisions every day about how we want to act and react. The video captures this precisely, using audio of Wallace’s address, while dramatizing the mundane interactions — driving through traffic, waiting in a supermarket checkout line — he describes. 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
In just seven years, Paige Mycoskie has turned a passion for 1970s nostalgia into the next California lifestyle brand. Walking into her Aviator Nation store on Abbot Kinney in Venice is like stumbling into a frat house with a feminine influence. Steely Dan, Doors and Grateful Dead album covers and vintage skate decks nailed to the walls, a record player spinning Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” a 720 Degrees arcade game in the corner, stacks and stacks of foam trucker hats, T-shirts and hoodies spreading good vibes like “Pray for Surf” and “California Is for Lovers.”… It’s such a sensory experience, you half expect your shoes to be sticking to the floor from last night’s kegger. Read more
'The Great Gatsby'
Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is the fashion film of the year. The big-screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book features stellar costumes by Catherine Martin, who collaborated with Miuccia Prada on chandelier crystal cocktail dresses adapted from her runway archives, Tiffany & Co. on Art Deco-inspired jewelry and Brooks Bros. on striped regatta blazers and suits. It adds up to a dazzling slice of the high life in the Roaring Twenties, "a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today," Luhrmann told my colleague Adam Tschorn in his must-read story about the look of the film. Read more
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has released its second Wear LACMA collection of fashion accessories created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection. Custom perfumier Haley Alexander van Oosten of L’Oeil du Vert, accessories mavens Maryam and Marjan Malakpour of NewbarK and women’s clothing designer Juan Carlos Obando were tapped for the collection, which is for sale at the LACMA store and online, with all proceeds benefiting the museum. They had the run of the museum and could choose any piece as a starting point. What they came up with offers insight into who they are as designers and a chance to see a distinct part of their brand vision distilled. Read more
Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib. Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. Read more
Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York and Paris, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a “boho goddess festival vibe,” opened just in time to dress customers for this month’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson’s favorite springtime excursions. Read more
The Rodeo Drive shopping scene heats up with the opening of the new boutique from Celine, the LVMH-owned brand that helped usher minimalism back into style under the direction of designer Phoebe Philo. What can you find inside? We'll start with Celine’s spring runway collection and tailored classics, must-have handbags, and the fur-lined, Birkenstock-like sandals and fur-covered high heels that have fashion followers buzzing. Read more