Critics’ Picks: May 3-9, 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: Catch the Rolling Stones as they hit Staples Center, TV stars Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman in the remarkable play “Annapurna” at the Odyssey Theatre, “Community’s” season finale on NBC and Janet Malcolm’s latest book, about art and how it is received in the culture.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
There’s a big, raw-boned appeal to “Kon-Tiki,” the Norwegian film based on its native son explorer Thor Heyerdahl and the 100-plus days he and a crew of six spent on a balsa wood raft crossing the Pacific to prove a point. Carried by currents from Peru to the Polynesian islands, the journey was already legendary, the subject of Heyerdahl’s 1948 book and his 1951 Oscar-winning doc. Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg’s dramatic version all these years later was Norway’s Oscar entry earlier this year. Starring a towering and unsinkable Pal Sverre Hagen as Thor, this is just the sort of sprawling adventure that is a perfect warm-up to summer. 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
'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
'To the Wonder'
Terrence Malick, as unconventional, esoteric and spiritual as ever, has created an ocean of love, with calm seas, treacherous storms, incredible beauty and a god who watches over it all. There is no new ground really, the distinction is in the way Malick covers it with glorious imagery, symphonies of sound, a cacophony of moods. Between the style and the substance, it is likely to leave some loving the film, others loathing it. I found it to be some kind of wonderful, flaws and all. (Betsey Sharkey) Read more
Shane Carruth is unwavering about telling his stories his own particular way, and he's so good at it that he pins us to our seats even when we're not exactly sure what's going on. Maybe because we're not exactly sure what's going on. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Socially provocative and gorgeously acted, this three-part British miniseries, which ends this week, rather astonishingly manages to leverage the current enthrallment with period dramas (it’s set in 1952), the eternal fascination with suspense procedurals involving serial killers and the roots of modern feminism. A group of four women become friends while working in a top-secret department of British intelligence known as Bletchley Park, in which they used pattern analysis and general brilliance to break German codes. After the war, however, they scatter, forced, like so many women, to return to the confines of “normal life.” When a series of gruesome murders occur, Susan (the always wonderful Anna Maxwell Martin) begins to see a pattern. Going to the police produces no results, so she reaches out to her Bletchley Park pals and soon they are back in business. (PBS 10 p.m.) Read more
“Community,” the low-rated and much-beloved comedy about a study group at a community college that is not about a study group at a community college so much as it is a comedy about a comedy about a study group at a community college that is only incidentally a study group — and so on — concludes its fourth and possibly last season this week. At some point in its first year the show jettisoned any pretense of sticking to its premise and embraced its true nature, as an avant-garde meta comedy that, at its best, plays with form and content with an almost childlike glee. (It’s actually more of a meta-meta-comedy, which takes note of its own awareness of its awareness — and so on.) There have been fine, surprising episodes of late — the puppet musical, the one in real time — and its ensemble is one of TV’s greatest. See it now. (NBC, Thursday) Read more
'Inside Amy Schumer'
Schumer came in fourth on season five of "Last Comic Standing," and went on to a busy career that's included appearances on "30 Rock," "Girls," roasts of Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr and recurring visits to Fox News' "Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfield." Here, she takes center stage in a smart mosaic comedy that mixes sketches, standup and interviews. Her main topic is sex, which is to say, people. Although she spends a lot of time at, and over, the edge, she has a straightforward sweetness that lets her travel freely to the darker corners of her subjects and her own history. That she doesn't seem to consider them all that dark is perhaps one of her strengths, and she is not afraid to let herself look bad, because in looking bad, she only looks human. The interviews — longish ones with a model and a stripper, brief questions to people on the street — are funny, but straightforward. There is no pranking, and not much irony. (Robert Lloyd) (Tuesdays, Comedy Central) Read more
"What do you do when the lights go out?" has become "How do you cope when they might come back on?" Possibly the first post-post-apocalyptic show, "Revolution" is now examining the perils and possibility of a technological restart in the midst of a battle for the soul of the nation. Things get confusing, and visually cluttered at times, but the corruptive tendencies of power give things a tonally fixed point and it's always exciting to pit advanced wiliness against advanced weaponry. How the women keep their hair so soft and shiny in a world without conditioner, however, remains a mystery. (Mary McNamara) (NBC, Monday, 9p.m.) Read more
Cat-loving angry-dog comic and podcaster Marc Maron plays himself in this 10-episode comedy, somewhat in the tradition of "Louie" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (and I suppose we might throw in "Legit," as long as we're listing cable comedies about comedians with issues). That Maron's difficult, dark character can be trying for a viewer is a fact that Maron and his writers recognize; they cushion it by having the other characters also find him trying and difficult; they call him out on it, on your behalf. And Maron is not just self-obsessed, but also self-aware: moral and finally, though it can some work for him to get there, kind. Guests include Judd Hirsch and Sally Kellerman as Maron's parents, Gina Gershon as one of several women quickly in andout of his life, and Dave Foley, Illeana Douglas, Mark Duplass Jeff Garlin and Denis Leary as characters who share their names and some distinguishing characteristics. (Leary is also an executive producer.) Bobcat Goldthwait directs several episodes. (Robert Lloyd) (IFC, Fridays) Read more
'New Girl' and 'The Mindy Project'
With its one-two punch of ensemble wackiness, Fox is making Tuesday the new Thursday. Let the cable networks experiment with the blurred lines of humor and drama; these two shows are unapologetically and exuberantly comedies, in the old-time sense. They will make you laugh, out loud. And if that's not enough, Rob Reiner once again guest stars on this week's "New Girl." (Mary McNamara) (Fox, Tuesday) Read more
"Constitution USA" In which Peter Sagal, like Peter Fonda before him, climbs on a motorcycle, straps on a helmet and goes looking for America, as it reflects and reflects upon the sturdy, fluid document on which the whole perpetually argumentative mishmash remains based. But where Fonda's Captain America, "went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere," in the words of an "Easy Rider" tag line, Sagal finds it everywhere he goes. Or so I am led to believe. I have yet to see an episode — titles include "Created Equal" and "Built to Last?" — but my faith in Sagal, familiar as the droll and well-informed host of the public-radio public affairs quiz show "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" is strong. (Robert Lloyd) (Tuesdays, PBS) 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
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
'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
'Billy & Ray'
Mike Bencivenga's new play about the stormy collaboration of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler on the screenplay for "Double Indemnity" crackles with suspense and 1940s charm in its world premiere, directed by Garry Marshall and starring Kevin Blake (Wilder) and Shaun O'Hagan (Chandler) as the notorious cinematic odd couple. (Margaret Gray) Ends Sunday, May 5. 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
In its sheer audience regard, this red-hot take on Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s Tony-winning landmark is an incandescent watershed for both DOMA Theatre Company and Los Angeles. Director Marco Gomez and his ace forces have re-conceived the original staging to serve the property’s sprawling needs, aided by our proximity to a marvelous cast. (David C. Nichols) Ends Sunday, May 5. 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
The Rolling Stones
During 50 years of performing, the Rolling Stones have done some peach gigs: They’ve stood before Hells Angels at Altamont, sold out Wembley Stadium and Madison Square Garden, gigged the Palladium in Hollywood, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for “The T.A.M.I. Show” and countless rounds at the Forum. Until last Saturday night, though, the band had never played Echo Park. In a surprise gig described early in the set by Stones singer/dancer/showman Mick Jagger as “the first show of our North American tour,” the band played the Echoplex, a basement club with a capacity of 650. It was a only a taste of what’s to come at Staples Center on Friday, May 3. Read more
Pop music critic
When pianist, pedagogue and Arnold Schoenberg’s former secretary Leonard Stein formed Piano Spheres in Los Angeles in 1994, he was providing exposure to four of the best and most imaginative students he had mentored. Gloria Cheng, Vicki Ray, Mark Robson and Susan Svrcek are now among the best, busiest and least dispensable pianists in Los Angeles, to say nothing of the most dedicated. Nine years after Stein’s death, Piano Spheres still thrives and on Saturday celebrates the series’ upcoming 20th anniversary by providing a rare opportunity to hear all four pianists on the same stage. The program, titled “Dear Leonard: a Musical Tribute,” is in the Piano Spheres tradition of being full of interest and relevance, with pieces ranging from early Schoenberg to John Harbison’s 2009 “Leonard Stein Anagrams.” Read more
Brad Mehldau Trio and the Bad Plus with Joshua Redman
So who’s your pick going into Saturday night? This could be a reference to this weekend’s welterweight bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Robert Guerrero, but the prime-time matchup L.A. jazz fans are talking about is the pairing of two of the most inventive piano trios working today in the Brad Mehldau Trio and the ever-adventurous Bad Plus. Read more
Album: 'Floating Coffin'
Relentless, powerful, tight: This San Francisco psychedelic guitar band Thee showcases its wild, spastic rock on "Floating Coffin," its seventh record. Like last year's excellent "Putrifiers II," on the new one the five sharp players, centered on founder-guitarist John Dwyer, make four-minute garage punk sound positively epic. Surprises abound; no song travels where a dumber band would take it. "Maze Fancier" sounds like a crazy Fugazi song on speed. "Minotaur" pokes along drunkenly and features one of the best guitar lines you'll hear all year. (Randal Roberts) Read more
Two years ago in MacArthur Park during its Levitt Pavilion summer concert series, Tuareg guitarist Omaro “Bombino” Moctar and his four-piece band performed a free concert for a ragtag mix of Angelenos. Since then the guitarist, 33, has witnessed much on the way to his new album, “Nomad,” which was produced by Black Keys’ singer-guitarist and Grammy Award-winning producer Dan Auerbach. (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
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
There are nearly a dozen Hunan restaurants in the greater San Gabriel Valley, and the best of them, including this one, concentrate on the oily, fearsomely hot dishes that make Hunan a paradise of peasant cuisine. What that means here may include gargantuan steamed fish heads, cucumber stir-fried with purple basil, lamb ribs fried with cumin, or the fearsome dish called "Hot Over Spicy," basically a stir-fry of chiles flavored with chiles, seasoned with yet other chiles, and dosed with a bit of ground pork. Try anything made with the awesomely smoky Hunan ham, which has the presence of great barbecue. 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
‘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
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
Video game critic
“Bioshock Infinite” is a mess, but it’s an ambitious, entertaining mess. This first-person shooter constantly hits the player with big ideas – issues dealing with racism, inequality and the intersection of church and state dominate the first half of the game – and ultimately it’s a disappointment that the action and the concepts never intersect. Yet it’s the only shooter released this year that’s attempted to say anything. Read more
Out now for about a month, Square Enix’s reboot of “Tomb Raider” still feels nothing short of brave. Today’s Lara Croft is unlike any other iteration of the Indiana Jones-inspired globe-trotter. Though relentlessly fast-paced, the game takes time to pause and show Croft struggle with having to kill a deer for the first time. She hobbles after an injury, makes known her anxieties, crouches in guilt when she messes up and never stops asking enemies why they’re coming after her, even walking away in tears the first time she pulls a trigger. But above all else, Croft continually succeeds where her guy friends largely fail, almost single-handedly confronting a male collective that shoots at her, lusts after her, fears her and attempts to deceive her. Croft is not only battling an island full of crazed inhabitants, but decades of stereotypes. Read more
‘Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon’
“Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” offers an intimate look at the less famous half of Nintendo’s core brotherly duo. Yet unlike the cheery, easy-to-root-for Mario, who has confidently bounced his way through three decades of games, we’re on Luigi’s side in this action-puzzle title out of empathy. He shivers, groans, sighs and outright begs at times to be relieved of his ghost-hunting duties in this moderately paced, humorous 3DS title. Read more
'Fire Emblem: Awakening'
“Fire Emblem: Awakening” is on the surface a turn-based strategy game, but this 3DS game is ultimately a game more obsessed with matters of the heart than war. Who you marry, for instance, is more important than who you fight. It’s also deep, at more than 50 hours into it, I still can’t wait to pick it up, as this is the rare game that understands it’s more fun to mix-and-match personalities than it is weapons. 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