Critics’ Picks: May 27 - June 2, 2016
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
This week the one-woman show ‘The Madwoman in the Volvo’ starring Sandra Tsing Loh returns to the stage. Also back is Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s brilliant comedy ‘La Cage Aux Folles.’
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘O.J.: Made in America’
An exceptional 7 1/2-hour documentary on the celebrated murder case and its relation to racial justice in Los Angeles, this film is so perceptive, empathetic and compelling that you’ll want it never to end. It is the O.J. project to watch if you are watching only one. Read more
‘The Jungle Book’
By turns sweetly amusing and scarily unnerving, crammed with story, song and computer-generated visual splendors, this revisiting of the old Rudyard Kipling tales aims to be a model of modern crowd-pleasing entertainment. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Emotional and effective, this is a torch-song melodrama convincingly set in the specific world of Havana's drag performers even though it's written and directed by a pair of Irishmen, Mark O'Halloran and Paddy Breathnach, respectively. Read more
‘Bajillion Dollar Properties’
This spot-on mocking of a Bravo-style serve-the-rich workplace reality series comes to you from Seeso, NBCUniversal’s relatively new all-comedy subscription service. Here, Paul F. Tompkins plays a high-end Los Angeles real estate mogul who declares to his brokers that he has decided to make one of them a partner, precipitating aggressive competition among an already aggressively competitive staff. Created by Kulap Vilaysack (Nurse Kulap on “Childrens Hospital”), the show is semi-scripted — like reality television itself, one might say — which works or it doesn’t from moment to moment and line to line but lends the series an authentic air of uncertainty, of its characters not knowing exactly what they’re going to say. The performances run from the as-good-as-real to Tompkins’ lordly, velvet-jacketed chairman, who seems to believe that he has invented real estate — “The idea of buying and selling bits of the earth, can you imagine the hubris? And yet, here we will stand.” Seeso, anytime. Read more
‘Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie’
Former “Onion” Editor Joe Randazzo wrote this hour-long sketch about the future Republican front-runner’s younger days. It stars a prosthetically altered, barely recognizable Johnny Depp as Donald Trump in what purports to be Trump’s own TV-movie adaptation of his memoir “The Art of the Deal,” supposedly preempted from its original scheduled airing by a football game and subsequently — in the words of Ron Howard, who introduces it — “thought to be lost in the Cybill Shepherd blouse fire of 1989.” (It later “turned up at a yard sale in Phoenix, Arizona,” says Howard. “I had to physically wrestle it from a nice woman named Jennie.”) Director Jeremy Konner, who also directs “Drunk History,” knows some things about re-creating a past world on a budget. It is not meant to be a perfect pastiche — the characters use words that could not be spoken on television then, they exhibit a knowledge of future events; Trump, who sometimes doesn’t understand references in a script he supposedly wrote himself, assesses his own performance, as himself, as Oscar worthy. Funny or Die. Read more
Prince on YouTube
Oh, Prince, Prince the unpronounceable, the artist, "The Artist," the Artist Formerly and Always Known as Prince, the Purple One, the man of many names and not-names, of many hairstyles and high heels, who wore his influences on his billowing sleeves yet made them all his own. He is gone, unbelievably, awfullly, and the world turns to the Internet to find — not much. Under the quite accurate claim that the Internet routinely deprives artists of income, encouraging a wider culture of digital shoplifting, Prince and his representatives kept and apparently will continue to keep a close watch on his intellectual property, with the result that the global video-sharing that constitutes how we grieve now has been short-circuited; besides having no officially available video of "When Doves Cry" or "Thieves in the Temple" to repost, you may also find that that low-res clip you linked to last night of Prince performing "Purple Rain" at First Avenue, has been blocked by the morning. But Prince was an internationally famous performer in an age of television, and he left traces in the ether; you can't erase them all. Here are some (as of this writing) surviving clips, not all of them musical, to get you through the sad days between denial and acceptance. YouTube, anytime. Read more
Originally available only to stream from the niche-y Anglomaniacal Acorn TV, this deep and delightful comedy, which sat at the top of my 2015 best-of list, is now also up on Netflix — a much-deserved instant widening of reach. Written, directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook, best known here as the wooden-eyed sailor Ragetti in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films and the wildling warg Orell on "Game of Thrones," it's a quiet, small-town comedy, set among misfit hobbyists who go off into the woods and fields with metal detectors, searching for Saxon gold but really looking to connect with something bigger and older and deeper than themselves. "I wanted it to be a love song to the English countryside," Crook told me last year, mentioning Thomas Hardy as an influence; the trees and grass and passing birds all have a role to play. There's something almost Shakespearean too in its scope and setting: a romantic, bromantic pastoral comedy in which characters go from the town to the country and into the woods, to be translated, broadened, changed, improved or beloved. Netflix and Acorn TV, anytime. Read more
'Washington D.C. Live Bald Eagle Cam'
Live from a relatively remote corner of the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., two 24-hour cams focus on the nest of the mated bald eagles known since 2014, when they first arrived, as Mr. President and the First Lady. One egg hatched Wednesday; a second is expected to hatch this weekend. It's as if, as national birds, they're trying to remind the body impolitic that there's more to this country than the weird noises emanating from the current presidential campaign, halls of Congress, etc., something that predates and hopefully will survive human fecklessness. (Still, it was people who put these cameras up; there may be hope for us yet.) ( www.DCEagleCam.eagles.org, anytime) (Robert Lloyd) Read more
‘The Madwoman in the Volvo’
Sandra Tsing Loh’s midlife crisis may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to her career. For those who missed her confessional rambles in the Atlantic magazine or her menopausal memoir or her solo performance cabaret on hormonal madness, here’s another opportunity to discover what the lifting of the “fertility cloud” has done to Loh’s comic instincts. This multi-character play, impressively directed by Lisa Peterson, shows that for all the havoc “the change” has wreaked on her body and mind, her sense of humor has only grown sharper. Ends Sunday, June 26. Read more
‘The Golden Dragon’
German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s drama, set in and around a “Chinese-Thai-Vietnamese” fast-food restaurant in an unnamed city, makes visible what globalization would rather conceal and exploit. In another of co-artistic director Michael Michetti’s inspired ensemble productions at the Theatre @ Boston Court, five performers slip in and out of roles without regard for race, gender, age or any other category. In this dark contemporary fluid fable, the universe is gleaned in a white takeout carton. Ends Sunday, June 5. Read more
‘La Cage Aux Folles’
Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning 1984 musical is the final staging of East West Players artistic director Tim Dang’s storied tenure. It’s a felicitous match-up of sensibilities. Centered by delightfully off-kilter leads Jon Jon Briones and the great Gedde Watanable, the engaging company dives into anything-goes drag shenanigans, and by the time we’re clapping along to “The Best of Times,” it’s long since made its ineluctable point. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, June 26) Read more
'The Boy From Oz'
Celebration Theatre lands a significant coup with this West Coast premiere of the 2004 Tony winner about legendary singer-songwriter Peter Allen, and what a festive party it is. Director Michael A. Shepperd, a crackerjack creative team and a triple-threat cast surrounding Andrew Bongiorno’s stellar turn as Allen give us first-rate theater from top to bottom. It’s a joyous, sensitive, electrifying company benchmark. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 21) Read more
Not for the faint of heart, Ruby Rae Spiegel’s play about the effects of an unwanted pregnancy on a tough but terrified teenage girl and her lonely new friend receives a taut and harrowing staging in this remount of Echo Theater Company’s 2016 production. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, May 21) Read more
'The End Times'
Jesse Mu-En Shao’s timely and provocative world-premiere play, the first co-production between Skylight Theatre Company and Playwrights' Arena, examines the plight of a young man, raised in an apocalyptic cult, whose painful questioning of his lifelong indoctrination puts him on the edge of a breakdown. Jon Lawrence Rivera deftly directs a youthfully fervent cast, while Joe Spano, seen only in rear-projection, is chilling as the cult's leader, who projects the insufferable schadenfreude of the “saved.” (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, May 29) Read more
Deftly skewering platitudes and self-delusions surrounding racial identity in our advertising-driven society, this sharply written, smartly performed satire manages to be simultaneously thoughtful and laugh-out-loud-funny. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, July 17) Read more
'John is a father'
Observed with the economy and grace of a latter-day Horton Foote play, Julie Marie Myatt’s naturalistic portrait of a troubled man’s late-in-life attempt to reconnect with his estranged family is capped by Sam Anderson’s moving performance. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Saturday, July 16) Read more
Album: ‘Take Me to the Alley’
Last year Gregory Porter told me that “Holding On,” his sleek, skittering collaboration with the British dance duo Disclosure, started out as a bare-bones piano ballad. Given how much I’d thought of Porter’s fine 2013 album, “Liquid Spirit,” this was something I had to hear. Now I can: A handsome, slow-and-low rendition of “Holding On” — not merely unplugged, but with different chords that alter the vibe of the song — opens Porter’s new record, “Take Me to the Alley,” due Friday. The tune’s placement on the album speaks to the importance of “Holding On” in Porter’s career, the way it put this Southern California native in front of unfamiliar listeners after years of hard work in jazz clubs and on Broadway. Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’
In the music video for “Aviation,” the first song on their new album as the Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner and Miles Kane play two men forced to dig what look like their own graves by a suave but sadistic crime-boss type. There’s a woman too, weeping in the back seat of a vintage Rolls-Royce, and we seem meant to understand that she’s been caught carrying on with one of these guys; now her wicked husband is punishing the whole lot. Whatever the specifics, Turner and Kane — both Jason Statham-soulful in their grimy undershirts — are clearly identified as the noble victims in this little drama. Yet that’s rarely what they look like on “Everything You’ve Come to Expect,” the second full-length from this British orchestral-pop duo. Due Friday, the album comes nearly a decade after the Last Shadow Puppets’ swooning 2008 debut, “The Age of the Understatement.” Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: ‘Mind of Mine’
A year after Zayn Malik quit One Direction (which likely led to the remaining four band members hitting pause), this 23-year-old singer has become the first of the bunch to release a solo record. And listening to “Mind of Mine,” due Friday, it seems clear that Zayn left not because he couldn’t handle the pressure of global stardom, as he intimated at the time, but because he wanted to get serious — really serious — about music. Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: 'This Is What the Truth Feels Like'
Sixteen years ago, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt sang about wanting "a simple kind of life." That's not how things turned out. Sure, No Doubt — the Anaheim ska-pop band that blasted off in 1995 with the zillion-selling album "Tragic Kingdom" — continued its straightforward ascent for a few more years, racking up hit songs with impressive efficiency through the mid-2000s. But then Stefani launched a solo career that added new wrinkles to her sound and persona. She went into fashion and starting having children, which she's said made a mess of her schedule. Following two huge solo records, she returned to No Doubt for a reunion album, 2012's "Push and Shove," which quickly fizzled, disrupting a narrative neatly defined to that point by success. Then last year, her life got really screwy: Stefani's marriage to Gavin Rossdale, frontman of the band Bush, fell apart (reportedly because of his affair with the couple's nanny), and she began dating Blake Shelton, the country star with whom she recently appeared on NBC's "The Voice." "Never thought this would happen ... Don't know what I'm feeling," she sings in "Used to Love You," a moody, down-tempo single released only months after she filed for divorce. Stefani dives deeply into those complications on her first solo album in a decade. Due Friday, "This Is What the Truth Feels Like" has songs about betrayal and disappointment, and songs about moving on from a broken relationship and falling in love again. Read more
You can't name your album "Anti" without inviting your audience to think about what you oppose. So what is Rihanna standing against on her eighth studio record? A smoothly choreographed product rollout, for one. After repeated delays, "Anti" finally appeared online Wednesday night, first in an apparently unauthorized leak, then as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal; Samsung also gave away a limited number of free downloads through a complicated promotion. By Friday, the album was available for sale through iTunes (where it quickly topped the chart) and Tidal, though it hasn't yet shown up on other streaming services such as Spotify, and a physical release date has yet to be announced. (Mikael Wood) Read more
There's something delightfully perverse that David Bowie waited until he was 69 to release what's being described as his first jazz album. It was at that age too when veteran rock stars who include Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney took up with big bands or reached for the Great American Songbook to demonstrate their taste and hard-won stature. Even Bob Dylan got in on the act last year with "Shadows in the Night," his lovely (if desolate) tribute to Frank Sinatra. So when you hear that Bowie hooked up with a New York saxophonist and his crew for “Blackstar,” out Friday (just two days before his death from cancer), you think perhaps that Bowie has joined the club — that after cycling through countless styles and personas over his half-century career, he’s finally become a finger-snapping crooner with Count Basie on his mind. Ah, no. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Album: 'HitNRun Phase Two'
Is this becoming a habit? That's the question Prince raised Saturday morning when without warning he released a new album, "HitNRun Phase Two," on the streaming-music service Tidal. As its title suggests, the 12-track set follows an earlier album, "HitNRun Phase One," which Prince had made available in similar fashion in September — proof, it would seem, that this legendary control freak has shed his once-famous disdain for the unruly Internet. Maybe this double-shot system is how Prince, as prolific as he's ever been, intends to roll from here on out. Works for me. A proudly organic companion to the EDM-inflected "Phase One," Prince's latest album shows that he hasn't lost his interest in (or his knack for) the creeping funk and lush R&B balladry he was making in the early 1990s on records like the great "Diamonds and Pearls." Read more
When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." (Mikael Wood) Read more
Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'
Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more
Album: 'Crosseyed Heart'
On Keith Richards' first solo album in more than 20 years the Rolling Stones co-founder crafts songs using the same tools and templates he's employed throughout his creative life: blues, early rock 'n' roll, classic country & western and a pinch of reggae. You will not find a Diplo production credit or guest verse from Chance the Rapper anywhere on this album. But as Richards' reflexes suggest, the guitarist still possesses the skills to whittle a stick into a rock song if so inclined. That's a diplomatic way of saying that our hero is a creature of habit who knows what he does and doesn't like. Recent interviews suggest he's as dismissive of contemporary music as Frank Sinatra was to the sound of the Stones. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Hall of Records'
Lionel Williams, who makes music and visual art as Vinyl Williams, crafts sparkly electronic beat music that exists in its own curious realm. "Hall of Records" is one of 14 tracks on his new album, "Into," and makes for a good portal. Tinted with the sonic tone of an overused Maxell cassette, rich with humming frequencies that recall German Krautrock and dense with muffle-tone beats suggestive of 1990s label Too Pure, the track swirls with synthesizers and waves of untethered noise. Williams is less skilled as a vocalist, though. He quivers in pitchy falsetto throughout "Into." It hardly matters, though. The stuff is mesmerizing. (Randall Roberts) Read more
It is cold in Los Angeles. Rain is in the air. What you want to be eating is dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew, flavored with turmeric and dried lime — a popular street food dish from Tehran that seems to have a tonic effect against the chill. And for dizi, you should probably be at Nersses Vanak, a slightly faded restaurant in an industrial district of Glendale, where dizi, served with long-pickled garlic, platters of fresh herbs, and hot slabs of flatbread snatched smoking from the grill, is always the thing. Read more
10 best dishes of 2015
A decade or two from now, when line-caught sea bass will seem as rare and unobtainable as sturgeon caviar is now, drive-through windows sell more lentil bowls than cheeseburgers and we have gotten used to the idea of Taylor Swift as the governor of Pennsylvania, 2015 may well seem in retrospect a fairly important year in Los Angeles restaurants. Menus just seemed to be mostly vegetarian without anybody talking about it much, and even French chefs began to talk among themselves about the primacy of Mexican cooking. The differences between high and low cuisine, which had started to crumble as far back as the 1980s, were utterly annihilated. Exotic fermentation techniques began to creep out of the lab. The idea of abolishing the practice of tipping took hold. And as always, there were 10 dishes that attempted to encapsulate it all. Read more
101 Best Restaurants
If you take into account Los Angeles’ superb produce, its breathtaking diversity and its imagination, it can be one of the most pleasurable places to eat on Earth. What follows is a ranking of the best restaurants. How many have you tried? Where would you like to go? Create a list and share it with your friends. Read more
Is it possible to become converted in a single bite? Because with a single fried chicken wing at the original Portland Pok Pok in 2007, I dropped my prejudices about non-European cooking in Oregon, the crossover potential of extreme Asian funk, and the ability of a non-Thai to prepare anything like upcountry Thai food. So eight years, many affiliated restaurants, a James Beard award, a Michelin star and a Chinatown noodle stand later, here we are at Pok Pok Los Angeles, an enormous restaurant in the old Fu Ling space in the Mandarin Plaza at the relatively deserted north end of Chinatown. Chef Andy Ricker's gift is the ability to make Thai food seem new again, to take it out of that comfortable place in the suburban strip mall, where it has become the default takeout comfort food for a huge chunk of Los Angeles, and put it back into the roadside stands and rural villages of Northern Thailand. Read more
Five of the tastiest Chinese restaurants in the SGV with the name 'Tasty'
In last week's column, I alluded to the flood of San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants with the word "Tasty'" tucked somewhere into their English-language names. Depending on whether you count doughnut shops, burger stands or branches of the same restaurant as Tasty, Not-Tasty or Tasty in their own right – well, there are a lot of them. Here are five of the tastiest. Read more
George Condo: ‘Entrance to the Void’
Condo has always been besotted with pushing paint around canvas, ever since his first show in Los Angeles more than 30 years ago. The pleasure is infectious. The New York-based painter is still smitten. Most of the 11 bracing paintings, all from the last two years, start in modern Spain. Goya and Picasso are launching pads for Condo’s irresistible scribbling. Ends Saturday, June 11. Read more
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium
Without classic 1960s Pop art, especially Andy Warhol’s, there would be no Robert Mapplethorpe photographs as we know them from the 1970s and 1980s. That’s the big takeaway from a visit to this impressive two-museum exhibition (The Getty Center and Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Ends Sun., July 31. Read more
State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda
The show is almost entirely text printed on pallid photo-reproductions of posters, newspapers and cartoons. But nothing compares to coming upon an actual Nazi banner under glass, its black swastika screen-printed on a white cloth circle neatly stitched to a blood-red field. The banner’s astute graphic punch startles. And that is what one wants from a show on this critically important topic. Actual artifacts pull the past into the present in ways no reproduction can. (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 21) Read more
The small exhibition is an elegiac tone poem, spoken in visual shades of black. With just 10 works by eight artists, it presents no defined thesis but resonates beyond its modest scale. (Christopher Knight) (Through March 31, 2017) Read more
In Johnson's stop-motion animations, each iteration of a painted canvas becomes a filmed frame. The magnetically compelling works are driven by the momentum of their own ceaseless making. With a shaggy, restless style, Johnson holds the eye and snags the soul. (Leah Ollman) (Through June 3) Read more
Laurie Lipton: 'Techno Rococo'
This selection of Lipton's large drawings in pencil and charcoal is a feast of toxic confections. Every lavishly-detailed scene straddles the seduction/repulsion divide. Each visual spectacle registers some aspect of societal decay. Much of the Los Angeles-based artist's work reads as a parable of the here and now, and pokes at the contradictions inherent in our device-dependent lives (Leah Ollman) (Through June 30) Read more
'Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940'
One of the most fascinating chapters in American art from the first half of the 20th century is also among the least known. An absorbing, must-see exhibition goes far in bringing the episode back into long-awaited view. Simply put: Issei photographers, most of whom immigrated to Los Angeles from Japan while still in their teens, went on to make some of the most adventurous avant-garde photographs in the years between the two World Wars. (Christopher Knight) (Through June 26) Read more
Want to clear your mind? Get a pickup truck, then spend a couple years driving across and around the continent — alone. That's the first lesson of this lovely retrospective of abstract paintings. The show is divided in two, early work and late work, and the separation between them was launched by her decision to make an extended cross-country sojourn. In stripped-down canvases, Martin created an entirely distinct, largely unprecedented artistic vocabulary for spiritual consciousness. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Sept. 12) Read more
Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty
"Orange Crush," "Green Pink Caviar," "Blue Poles," "Smash" – Minter's best work pumps up the volume of glossy commercial advertisements to billboard dimensions. The colors are lush, the tactile surfaces shiny and the swirl of moist, organic forms orgiastic. Visually they're exhausting. That's a benefit. When you slow down to catch your breath, you begin to see a lot. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., July 10) Read more
The Ocular Bowl: Alex Olson, Agnes Pelton, Linda Stark
Mystery whispers through all of the works in this group exhibition. Its Realism is magical, a matter of making connections — and fostering relationships — between ordinarily overlooked intuitions and the things from which they spring (David Pagel) (May 28) Read more
'Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women'
Sometimes the seemingly simple act of occupying space can be a radical, profoundly political act. Space invasion is the savvy artistic subject of the fine inaugural exhibition at the sixth outpost for the Zurich-based Hauser & Wirth, which also has powerhouse galleries in London and New York. (Ends Sun. Sept. 4. Read more
'Roman Mosaics Across the Empire'
Combat. Conflict. Life or death skirmishes. Brawling. Judging from the admittedly small sample of nearly a dozen fragments of floor mosaics, several quite large, in a new exhibition at the Getty Villa, ancient Romans across the sprawling empire were pretty obsessed with the bloody violence necessary to sustaining their imperial position around the vast expanse of the Mediterranean. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Sept. 12) Read more
‘Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War’
“I perceive the world through the medium of human voices,” Svetlana Alexievich declares near the end of “Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War,” explaining both her method and her point of view. For Alexievich — who in October became just the third nonfiction writer and 14th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature — testimony may be as close as one can get to faith. “We’ve worshipped many gods,” she writes in this slender but vivid account, told in the voices of survivors of the Soviet Afghan war. “Some have been consigned to the scrapheap, others to museums. Let us make Truth into a god! A god before whom each of us shall answer according to his own conscience, and not as a class, or a university year, or a collective, or a people….” Read more
'The Bazaar of Bad Dreams'
Stephen King, I've come to think, is at his most adept when writing in the midlength range. His big novels — "The Stand," "It," "11/22/63" — have always felt a little baggy to me, while his shortest work (he has published more than 200 stories, gathered in a number of collections) can feel sketchy, more idea than nuanced narrative. That middle zone, however: His finest efforts emerge from this territory, shorter novels "Misery," "Joyland" and "The Shining," novellas such as "The Body" or the chilling "A Good Marriage." In this material, King has the breadth to do what he does best, which is to evoke the very human underpinnings of terror, while also remaining constrained by certain limitations of space. As he explains in "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," which gathers 20 pieces of fiction, along with brief reflections on their composition, "Only through fiction can we think about the unthinkable, and perhaps obtain some sort of closure." The key word there is not the unthinkable in which King traffics but "closure," the closure of the midrange form. Read more
'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink'
New wave rocker, country crooner, balladeer, collaborator and showman: Elvis Costello has been all of these and more in the course of what is now a 40-year run. Of all the first-generation punkers, he remains (with Patti Smith and possibly David Byrne) among the few who can claim the longevity and diversity of, say, Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, both of whom appear in this book. Like minds, perhaps, or water seeking its level. Either way, this is the company to which Costello belongs. And yet, if "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink" has anything to tell us, it is that its author remains a fan. Here he is, for instance, on his first experience singing with Paul McCartney, a rehearsal duet on "All My Loving": "I locked on to the vocal harmony the second time around, as I'd done a thousand times before while singing along to the record. It never really occurred to me that learning to sing either vocal part on a Beatles record was any kind of musical education. I was just a kid singing along with the radio in our front room." Or this, recalling a good-natured cutting contest, trading lyrics with Bob Dylan: "It was just fun to be in the ring with the champ for a minute or two." Read more
'City on Fire'
A long book represents an act of faith. On the writer's part, to be sure: The faith that he or she has something to say that's worth all the hours it will take for us to hear it, that it won't dissolve in ephemera and flash. But on the reader's part, also: The faith that we can trust the writer, that there will be a payoff, that it will add up. Certainly, this is the challenge faced by Garth Risk Hallberg's first novel, "City on Fire," which, clocking in at more than 900 pages, seeks to re-create, in panoramic fashion, the New York City of the late 1970s. Hallberg's book, of course, is much anticipated, for its length, its scope and its deal (he sold the book for $2 million) — but all of that is beside the point. The only criteria worth considering is whether, or how, the narrative works, the extent to which it draws us in. Read more
First, let's clear up a misconception: Patti Smith's "M Train" is not a sequel to her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids." In fact, "M Train" is not a memoir at all, except in the loosest sense — a book of days, a year in the life, a series of reflections, more vignettes than sustained narrative. By saying that, I don't mean to be critical, for vignettes are what Smith does best. Read more
'So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood'
Patrick Modiano opens his most recent novel, "So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood," with an epigraph from Stendhal: "I cannot provide the reality of events, I can only convey their shadow." It's an almost perfect evocation of the book, not to mention Modiano's career. The French writer, who won the Nobel Prize last year for a body of work as deft and beautiful as any in postwar European literature, is an excavator of memory — not only his own or those of his characters (many of whom bear, as J.D. Salinger once observed of his fictional alter ego Seymour Glass, "a striking resemblance to — alley oop, I'm afraid — myself"), but also that of Paris. That's why his fiction resonates so deeply; it occupies an elusive middle ground between place and personality. Read more
Among my favorite aspects of Clancy Martin's second novel, "Bad Sex," is that it is not about bad sex; in fact, the sex is relentless, passionate. Rather, it is about all the bad stuff sex — or sexual obsession — can make us do. Narrated by Brett, a recovering alcoholic who betrays her sobriety, and her marriage, for a yearlong affair with her husband's banker Eduard, the book records the spiral, the ripple effect, of transgressive behavior, the way that once we slip the bounds of propriety, it can be ever more difficult to find a passage back. Read more
Early in the game “Severed,” one of the more striking images you’ll see this year in a video game appears. A woman of mixed-race descent stands before a mirror, her yellow dress bloody, her arm a stub and her eyes wide in shock. The world is bright and blocky — a handcrafted-looking universe that seems constructed of paper, but immediately the tone drifts toward melancholic. The art almost appears lifted from a Día de los Muertos display, and though this is the beginning of the journey for young Sasha, it also feels like the beginning of an end. Read more
Video game critic
Early in the film "Late Shift," Matt, a student on his way to a night job, faces an easily relatable dilemma: help a lost tourist with directions and risk being late to work or ignore the man and hop on a waiting subway train. Here is where you would expect director Tobias Weber to show the audience the outcome of Matt's decision as the story unfolds. Matt's choice, however, is up to you, the viewer. In fact, you control every major plot turn in the film. "Late Shift," created by CtrlMovie, a small studio in Switzerland, and written by Weber and Michael Robert Johnson, best known for Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," may be the world's first fully realized choose-your-own-adventure film. Read more
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood
The opening of Universal Studios' new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood brings to the West Coast what many consider the grandest theme park attraction in North America. A mix of fully realized sets — including a steamy, fire-breathing dragon — as well as screens interspersed with actors from the "Harry Potter" films, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a highly kinetic motion simulator that aims to re-create the sense of flying. Guests sit on what appears to be a bench, pull down an over-the-shoulder harness and are soon whisked into the air, gliding in and out of filmed moments and elaborately constructed scenes. Read more
A Few New Mobile Video Games
There are a lot of mobile games out there — last year more than 100,000 iOS games were released in North America. Here are a few recent mobile games worthy of exploration: "Love You to Bits" (Alike/Pati). Breakups stink. They're worse when your girlfriend is scattered around the galaxy. In this iOS game a young boy tries to put back together his first love, a female robot, and learns to live on his own along the way. "Story Warriors: Fairy Tales" (Below the Game). Tales such as "Snow White," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella" and more get remixed in this text-driven puzzler about a young woman who gets trapped in folklore. Tap on words to bring them to life, and piece together nouns and adjectives as if they're math problems, the right solution inspiring a cutesy animated sequence. "SPL-T" (Simogo). Swedish studio Simogo is one of the most adventurous companies out there, specializing in head-scratching, text-heavy games such as "Device 6" and "The Sailor's Dream." "SPL-T" is a back-to-basics puzzle game. In the black and white game, players place a horizontal line and then a vertical one, trying to create as many splits as possible. "Super Phantom Cat" (Veewo). Cats! Robots! "Super Phantom Cat" takes the weirdness of "Super Mario Bros.," gives it a zany feline-meets-sci-fi makeover, and uses slick touch controls to create a freshly retro experience. It's all delivered with a gooey feel-good message and some rainbow-hued prettiness. "The Swords." (Sunhead Games). Imagine a scene in an action movie, one in which one swordsman is surrounded by an army on all sides. Now imagine all the action is presented in a minimal ink wash art style. By zeroing in on the blades, "The Swords" emphasizes the chaos of battle. Swipe fast, and do so with precision. Read more
Dave Hagewood didn't set out to create the next big thing in electronic sports. Ten years ago he simply envisioned a game in which cars did crazy things. Cars with rockets on them. The result was the breakout independent game of 2015, "Rocket League." The key to its success was one simple addition to Hagewood's original vision: a giant, bouncy soccer ball. Thus, a zany game in which cars crashed into one another became something else entirely, a madcap sport. "Rocket League" has now reached more than 12 million players, with revenue topping $70 million. In late February, the game — already a hit on Sony's PlayStation 4 and computing platform Steam — arrived on Microsoft's Xbox One, where in less than a month it attracted more than 1 million players. Read more
'Fire Emblem Fates'
In my first 25 hours with Nintendo 3DS' "Fire Emblem Fates," families argued, attempts at flirting were rebuffed and relatives threw a fit over poorly cooked meals. Were it not for the swords and the spells and the half-fox/half-human, the game wouldn't be all that different from the last month or so of my life. Though there is sword and sorcery here, including a main character who has the ability to turn into a dragon, "Fire Emblem Fates" is really about family drama. In this case, it's about the pull of one's blood family versus the connection with an adopted one. Do you help the stepbrothers and stepsisters who always supported you, or the brothers and sisters you've only just met? The player's avatar, which can be male or female, was kidnapped at a young age and raised as a warrior prince/princess. Her (I chose a female avatar and named her Kes) adopted-but-criminal family took good care of her, and it's clear she's tight with her siblings. But her father — a.k.a. the king — is a monster. Read more
"Firewatch," set in the quiet Wyoming wilderness, is a game in which its main character does little more than walk. Yet at its heart this is a game about running. It's about running from our pasts, running from our emotional trials and running from the unknown. It's about how avoidance often makes things worse and how the road to conquering our fears can be downright frightening. And things get pretty bad in "Firewatch." Read more
'Leo's Red Carpet Rampage'
Winning an Academy Award, it proves, can be nearly an impossible task, at least according to the lighthearted Web game "Leo's Red Carpet Rampage." The game puts players in control of a mini, vintage-style Leonardo DiCaprio in a quest for an Oscar. And while the game is pure goofiness when it starts — simply mash a couple of buttons to run the red carpet and dodge photographers — it goes dark, and quickly. Read more
Just in time for the holiday shopping season, a new boutique has opened on Robertson Boulevard marrying East and West Coast style. Reservoir is the concept of New York City transplants Aliza Neidich and Alissa Jacob and features a well-edited mix of clothing, accessories and home goods with an easy sophistication made for L.A., including Ryan Roche hand-knit sweaters, Denis Colomb ponchos, Ellery sleek crepe dresses and tops, Solid and Striped denim jumpsuits, Madeworn tees, Newbark shearling slides, Dosa patchwork totes and Wendy Nichol fringed leather bucket bags. Read more
'Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897'
With famed film mogul Sam Goldwyn as her grandfather, Liz Goldwyn's family name is practically synonymous with old-school Hollywood glamour. But it's Los Angeles before it became the capital of the motion picture industry that's the subject of the style maven's new book, "Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897" (Regan Arts). The work of historical fiction looks back on the city's seedier past, with loosely connected stories about the madams, prostitutes, orphans, hustlers and tramps who roamed Alameda, Los Angeles and Spring streets. I chatted with Goldwyn about what drew her to this time period in L.A., her impressions of the book's rough characters, and what role women had in a culture where prostitution was tolerated. Read more
'Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe'
Ladies, the next time you are teetering on high heels, you can blame men. But not for the reason you think. In Western fashion, high heels were popularized by men, starting in the court of Louis XIV where a talon rouge (red heel), identified a member of the privileged class centuries before Christian Louboutin made red soles the calling card of his luxury shoe brand. That's just one of the tasty tidbits in "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe," an exhibition scheduled to run through Dec. 13 at the Palm Springs Art Museum that examines the fashion accessory we all love to hate, including its history, its relation to gender identity, sex appeal and power. Read more