Critics’ Picks: Oct. 11-17, 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.

The space-opera “Gravity” is visually stunning, while TV revisits “Wonderland,” “Toy Story” and, 50 years later, the kids from “7 Up.” There are a few new video games this week and the Huntington explores influences in the Renaissance.

Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.

Gravity’

Words can do little to convey the visual astonishment this space opera creates. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock as an astronaut in trouble, this is a film whose impact must be experienced in 3-D on a theatrical screen to be fully understood. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Director Jacob Kornbluth and Robert Reich. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Inequality for All’

I know the idea of going to the movie theater and paying to watch a film that will number-crunch the country’s current economic straits into clarity, might not be your idea of a good time. But in the mesmerizing new documentary “Inequality for All,” former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has a way of making the medicine go down. And without sugarcoating it, for these are not times for sugarcoating and Reich is not a sugarcoating kind of guy. What he is, though, is a master of insight and irony. Whether Reich is speaking directly to the camera, i.e. “us,” or to a UC Berkeley auditorium jammed with his students, the economist breaks down his theories on why the decline of the middle-class is endangering the country with all the style of a seasoned raconteur. You would want him at your cocktail party. Director Jacob Kornbluth takes his cues from his subject, intercutting Reich’s deconstruction of the problem with a blend of news clips, charts, graphs and talks with the rich and poor alike, that are sharply incisive without being heavy-handed. The rich — talking about how they do and don’t spend money — are more interesting than you might imagine. Those fighting to stay above the poverty line, as you might expect, have compelling stories to tell. But the families are pragmatic and clear-sighted in describing the job or house they lost, what they do now to get by. For those who fear the film might be a political one, after all Reich is most closely tied to the Clinton administration, there is no need. As the Berkeley professor tells his students, conservative or liberal assumptions should both be challenged and that ideological dividing line is increasingly irrelevant to the problem solving required anyway. Fortunately, the numbers don’t take sides. But they do make their point. It is hard not to come away from the film wondering why we the people, and the politicians we elect, don’t pay more attention to those somewhere in the middle. Between the 1% and welfare that’s a lot of us.

Betsy Sharkey

Film critic

Other recommendations:

'The Summit'

A compulsively watchable documentary about a deadly 48 hours in which 11 people died on K2 is a complex and gut-clenching human drama that has the great advantage of all being true. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Enough Said'

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is her own person, and her work, once seen, reminds you of no one else's. Actors James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are the boldface names that will convince moviegoers to see her latest film, "Enough Said," but it is Holofcener's world they will be entering — and celebrating when they leave. In this, her fifth feature, Holofcener continues to make funny, melancholy, dead-on honest films about fallible people attempting not to make a complete mess of their lives. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Prisoners'

Like the kidnapping at the tortured heart of "Prisoners," once this chilling thriller about a parent's worst nightmare grabs you, it refuses to let go. The linchpins for the devastation wrought in the film are Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano. Exciting, terrifying, worrisome stuff saturates every second of "Prisoners," holding you captive, keeping you guessing until the bitter end. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more

'Rush'

Polished to a high sheen by director Ron Howard, "Rush" stars Chris Hemsworth as British Formula One racer James Hunt, a role that allows the flexing of some acting chops as well as muscle. The 1976 racing season is screenwriter Peter Morgan’s focus. Hunt, the playboy, was locked in a showdown with Austrian driver Niki Lauda (an excellent Daniel Bruhl), their rivalry as legendary as their racing. Lauda, a taciturn tactician, was headed for another World Championship title when a fiery crash left him near death. His recovery was as painful as it was remarkable, his return for the final race against all odds. The exceptional camera work makes you feel as if you’re experiencing it with them, the rain pouring down, the track flashing by at impossible speeds, the roar of the engine vibrating through you. It’s a rush just watching. (Betsy Sharkey)

Sophie Lowe in "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland." (Jack Rowand / ABC)

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’

ABC’s spinoff of “Once Upon a Time” comes out of the box more fully realized than its parent ship, if only because the tale of the curious and curiouser Alice and her famous fall down the rabbit hole is so well known. This Alice (Sophie Lowe), however, is full grown and suffering the consequences of interdimension travel. When we meet her, she has been institutionalized for mysterious disappearances and subsequent ravings. What she really suffers from, however, is a broken heart. While searching for proof that Wonderland exists, she fell in love with a genie who was then torn from her by the evil Red Queen. But when the White Rabbit (John Lithgow) sends the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) with news that her beloved lives, Alice cranks into Victorian-on-the-edge action. With a Steampunk look reminiscent of Tim Burton’s version of the tale, “Wonderland” makes full use of modern technology, and the Disney fairy tale library, to bring Alice’s new adventures to marvelous life. If things don’t veer too quickly into a Fun Fair Parade of various Disney characters, this could be the show the whole family can enjoy, with bonus points for allowing the princess to save the prince for once. ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Read more

Mary McNamara

Television critic

"Toy Story of Terror" (Disney / Pixar)

Toy Story of Terror’

And so the three-headed holiday season begins, with a Halloween special wrought from the “Toy Story” franchise — a franchise, it hurts my brain to realize, that is nearly 20 years old. No expense, horses or gigabytes have been spared for its being merely a TV show. (I do assume all the relevant codes reside on a supercomputer somewhere, waiting to bring these characters economically back to life.) Tom and Tim and Joan and Don and Wally and Timothy and Kristen (Hanks, Allen, Cusack, Rickles, Shawn, Dalton and Schaal, that is) are back as Woody and Buzz and Jessie and Potato Head and Rex and Pricklepants and Trixie, with new-to-the series Pez Cat (Kate McKinnen), Pocketeer (Ken Marino) and Combat Carl (Carl Weathers), whose specs are contained in his name. (It’s a name you will hear a lot, as he refers to himself in the third person). Although Woody and Buzz get their screen time, it is the plucky cowgirl, facing her fears, whose story this is. ABC, Wednesday. Read more

Robert Lloyd

Television critic

Other recommendations:

'The Walking Dead'-

If it's not one thing, it's another in a world turned inside out by a zombie apocalypse. Last season, against all odds, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl (Norman Reedus) and all the gang defeated the Governor (Mathew Morrissey) and the more murderous members of the Woodbury settlement (though the Governor got away). But does that mean they are now free to live in peace, cultivating Rick's victory garden and communing with Woodbury refugees in their groovy prison-turned-gated community? No, of course not. The minute Rick is lulled into believing he can lay down the albatross of leadership, beat his pistol into a plowshare and concentrate on keeping his son from becoming a full-blown sociopath, things take a turn for the worse. The zombie hordes seem drawn to the fence like it was made of brains, Michonne (Danai Gurira) gets hurt and people start getting sick. Real sick. On the upside, Daryl is now an official hero, which is fun; Carol (Melissa McBride) has taken on some new and disturbing but kind of awesome duties and Hershel (Scott Wilson) becomes more Gandalf-like with every passing day. The Season 4 opener doesn't pack as big a punch as previous premieres but the point is clear -- there is no real sanctuary in a world where the dead still walk, and no return to normal in sight. (Mary McNamara) (AMC, Sundays) Read more

'Reign'

The premiere of the CW's spin on the life of Mary Queen of Scots is the nutso TV event of the year. "Gossip Girl" meets "The Tudors" in this gorgeously ridiculous revise (History? What a drag! Can we at least smother it in soundtrack?) in which the French court is run like a coed dorm, with hot sex of every type occurring upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber, while Mary (Adelaide Kane) attempts to survive assassination, heartbreak and life without a smartphone. I think it was the sight of 16th century Catholic women attending a ball in tank-topped gowns that made me a believer, or perhaps it was the intimation that Mary has the second sight (Really? Because someone needs to tell her that Elizabeth is not someone you want to tangle with.) It's tough to imagine "Reign" showing up in classrooms like episodes of "John Adams" (though the kids would no doubt like it better), but that's not the point. Every season needs a show that's just utterly insane, and this year it's "Reign." And who knows? Maybe this time around it will be Elizabeth who loses her head. (Mary McNamara) (CW, Thursdays, 9 p.m.) Read more

'56 Up'

Michael Apted's great, growing lifelong documentary project reaches late middle age. The series began (with a different director) in 1964 to provide a "glimpse of Britain's future" as embodied by 14 7-year-olds from different economic and cultural backgrounds; in its premise was the suggestion that the future had already been largely written. But the subsequent films (all directed by Apted and made for television, though sometimes released theatrically here), which return to the same subjects after seven-year intervals, argue that life is not that predictable, apart from the fact that we all get older (if at seemingly different rates of decay), if we live. They have become something bigger, grander, more universal. What we find in this latest episode, despite ups and downs, divorces and deaths and disease, is a great deal of contentment, and, barring contentment, acceptance, and barring acceptance, understanding — the recompense age gives for taking away all that beautiful youth. (Each new film incorporates material from its predecessors, and so we see the characters at several ages, the young and the old and the in-between compounded into one.) And the story has grown over the years, like stories do, as spouses and children and grandchildren have come into the picture and grown old or grown up — the series contains its own echoes, like a human canon. (Robert Lloyd) (PBS, Monday) Read more

'Burton and Taylor'

Lifetime's ghastly "Liz & Dick" made it easy for the Brits to step in and show us how it's done, which the BBC has done, enlisting Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter to play the famous couple, seen here as they reunite to star in a Broadway production of "Private Lives" (so, yay, no scenes from "Cleopatra" or issues with the pope). The two continue to defy the confines of cinematic storytelling, but this smaller slice proves the "less is more" adage, as well as the superior talents (surprise, surprise) of West and Carter. (Mary McNamara) (BBC America, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.) Read more

'Reign'

"Reign," or Mary Queen of Scots, the High School Years. Any network series that begins with a title reading "France 1557" and does not lead straight to vampires or leap forward to present-day Manhattan, is going to be worth a look. (This being the supernatural CW, however — "The Vampire Diaries" is its lead-in — we do get a soothsayer, with Rossif Sutherland, Keifer's half-brother, as Nostradamus, or as I think of him, Hot Nostradamus. Also some scary woods and possibly a ghost.) "You're nearly a woman," a mother superior tells a convent-departing Mary (Adelaide Kane), off to meet her French royal intended (Toby Regbo), "and Francis is nearly a man. It's time." And we're off. (Robert Lloyd) (CW, Thursdays) Read more

'Burton and Taylor'

Wonderful performances, by Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, anchor this fine work of biographical re-creation and speculation. That there would be two biopics I'd like in a single year, given my problems with the form, surprises me; but, along with that Liberace movie, this disquisition on love and regret does things right. Set in 1983, on the occasion of the twice-married, twice-split couple's last collaboration — a revival of Noel Coward's comedy "Private Lives" that echoed and exploited their own relationship — it keeps the focus tight and, with small exceptions, does not make dramatic mountains out of everyday molehills. (Robert Lloyd) (BBC America, Wednesday ) Read more

Anna Theoni DiGiovanni and Jonathan Lipnicki. (John Flynn)

Lost Girls

John Pollono, author of the much-feted “Small Engine Repair,” has supplied Rogue Machine with the world premiere of another gritty New Hampshire drama. The play, about the reunion between a stressed-out retail clerk and her recovering alcoholic ex-husband after their teenage daughter goes missing, provides further theatrical evidence that the traumatic past doesn’t die but rather moves underground, waiting for justice yet grateful for even a flicker of sympathy. The production, directed with emotional sensitivity by Rogue Machine artistic director John Perrin Flynn, lays on the local color a bit thick in the opening moments. We’re in white working-class New England, and the accents (similar to the “Saturday Night Live” Boston teen sketches) and grim furnishings don’t let us forget it. Through November 4. Read more

Rogue Machine, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Charles McNulty

Theater critic

Other recommendations:

'The Guardsman'

Hilarity, warmth, and insight abound in this perfectly-staged revival of Ferenc Molnár’s long-neglected comic gem about about the perpetual romantic gulf between the sexes. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday) Read more

A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

'The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later'

This potent follow-up to the landmark Tectonic Theater docudrama reminds anew of how theater provides context in ways no other form can match. Director Ken Sawyer's inspired staging wraps us around the action, up close and personal, and the ensemble is beyond praise, interfacing with preternatural versatility and control. A haunting achievement as trenchant as it is artful, and not to be missed. (David C. Nichols) (Through Nov. 24) Read more

Davidson/Valentini Theatre, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles

'El Grande de Coca-Cola'

Prolifically produced for almost 40 years, this lunatic revue, set in a seedy cabaret somewhere south of the border and delivered mostly in gibberish Spanish, has been directed by Alan Shearman and stars Ron House, both of whom have been with the show, as writers and performers, since its inception. Formerly two acts, the play has been judiciously pared to a breezy 75 minutes — and the comic momentum never flags. Wearing a hairpiece that looks like a small animal in distress, House is the lynchpin of a superlative, marvelously agile cast. If you don't like broad slapstick, give "El Grande" a very wide berth. But if you're in the mood to get goofy and giggle, this could be your ticket. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Saturday December 14) Read more

Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica

'Humor Abuse'

This is a show about clowning, and I’m the straight man,” says actor Lorenzo Pisoni early on in “Humor Abuse,” currently sending Mark Taper Forum audiences skyward with the velocity of a helium balloon. He pauses, then adds, “Seriously.” Pisoni is only being honest, albeit self-effacing, and thus begins a rapturous 90 minutes that sail past like cascading juggling pins. By keeping its knee-slapping, gasp-inducing and heart-tugging elements in quietly accelerating balance, this Obie-winning solo piece about growing up with the Pickle Family Circus lands an uproarious, astounding and affecting tour de force. Co-created with ace writer-director Erica Schmidt, “Humor Abuse” follows a course as deceptively casual as the lights that designer Ben Stanton runs above our heads from upstage center, where the original Pickle curtain hangs behind a steamer trunk. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

'The Old Settler'

A humanist work with a moving vision of endurance and connectedness, the best qualities in John Henry Redwood's romantic dramedy set in 1943 Harlem are admirably served by this fine staging featuring Ruby Hinds and Jolie Oliver. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

'Pericles, Prince of Tyre'

Arguably largely written with a mediocre collaborator, Shakespeare's hectic play has a baffling array of reiterative subplots. However, buoyed by solid acting and superb technical elements, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott wisely embraces the random nature of the piece in this blissfully eclectic production, which succeeds surprisingly — and sublimely. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more

A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

'R II'

"Richard II," Shakespeare's history play about the fate of a king who talks a better game than he delivers, is given an entrancing stripped-down production. Jessica Kubzansky, the theater's co-artistic director, has adapted and directed this deft distillation, which begins after Richard has been taken prisoner. Performed by an adroit cast of three, Kubzansky's version proceeds in flashbacks that are staged with laser-like precision, each scene offering another angle on this political object lesson. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena

'The Rainmaker'

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

Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica

'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) (Extended through Dec. 31) Read more

The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

'Tone Clusters'

Dark, elliptical, and uncompromising in its intellectual rigor, this superbly performed revival of Joyce Carol Oates' 1990 one-act about ordinary parents being interviewed in the wake of a horrific crime proves eerily prescient in depicting the media's ever more voracious and invasive exploitation of tragedy. (Philip Brandes) (Through Oct. 12.) Read more

Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga

'A View From the Bridge'

Arthur Miller's durable drama about an Italian American longshoreman's incestuous obsession with his orphaned niece is helmed by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, whose wrenchingly truthful staging, while larger than life, never lapses into overstatement. As for the actors, from Vince Melocchi's towering Eddie, the ill-fated protagonist of the piece, right down to the non-speaking bystanders, you simply won't see any better. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more

Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice

Stacy Keach. (Imeh Akpanudosen / Getty Images)

My Moby Dick’

The Los Angeles Public Library has been obsessing over “Moby-Dick” lately, with celebrity readings, discussions, scientific studies, family days, film screenings and whatnot. Its “Whatever Happened to Moby Dick?” will now wind up Saturday night with “My Moby Dick” at the Broad Stage. In what is described as a multimedia voyage, Stacy Keach, Alan Mandell, Shohreh Aghdashloo and others expect to pursue this particular literary great white whale from a variety of points of physical, metaphysical and fantastical points of view. The director is David Schweizer, who not only has been responsible for some of Long Beach Opera’s most outrageously effective productions (Purcell’s “Indian Queen” and Thomas Adès’ “Powder Her Face”) but also directed at REDCAT two years ago Rinde Eckert’s brilliant one-man oddity “And God Created Great Whales.” In it a dementia-stricken composer tries to finish an opera based on Melville’s classic before he completely loses his memory. Read more

The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica

Mark Swed

Music critic

Matana Roberts. (Brett Walker / Constellation Records)

Album: ‘Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile’

Matana Roberts does not make easy listening music. Although in mainstream culture jazz is frequently relegated to an awards show backdrop or an oh-so-spooky bit of shading for pay-cable political dramas, the music remains a springboard into avant-garde expression for this Chicago-born saxophonist, who explores both personal and social history on “Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile.” A challenging, engrossing listen that follows her ambitious “Chapter One” from 2011, this 49-minute piece (broken into 18 seamless tracks) continues Roberts’ synthesis of free improvisation and spoken word into a unique, shape-shifting compositional voice that she calls “panoramic sound quilting.” Where Roberts’ last record could be tumultuous with passages of fiery blowing offset by a big band drive, “Mississippi Moonchile” is a swirling celebration of smaller-ensemble free jazz. (Chris Barton) Read more

Chris Barton

Jazz critic

Other recommendations:

Claudia Quintet: Album: 'September' and a performance at REDCAT

Trafficking in a mixture of chamber music, intricate post-rock and jazz, the Claudia Quintet has carved out a distinctive niche under the leadership of Grammy-nominated drummer/composer John Hollenbeck (even if it's obviously a challenge to define where exactly that niche lies). Regardless, this album marks a return to all-instrumental composition for the quintet, which in 2011 featured vocalists Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann on "What Is the Beautiful?" which was inspired by the poetry of Kenneth Patchen. Still, in the best music there's a sense that someone is talking to you, and here the subject is Hollenbeck's favorite month in "September," a time when the composer typically finds creative solitude. Though the 10 pieces are the result of Hollenbeck (for the first time) communicating them to the band without writing them down, each bears the group's tightly composed signature. The Claudia Quintet performs at REDCAT on Friday with the trio of Jim Black, Tim Lefebvre and Chris Speed as part of the Angel City Jazz Festival. (Chris Barton) Read more

REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles

Album: 'Holding It Down'

If there's any one thread running through today's pop music, it's the amazing ability for most songs to be about absolutely nothing. Despite scores of crises around the world, the biggest hits of the summer (i.e. "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines") are party-ready, escapist marshmallow fluff. The year's revolving door of package music festivals — events once at least peppered with voter registration and social outreach booths — mostly exist as target marketing efforts and a means of giving music fans the sunny feeling of how wonderful it is to attend a music festival. At their best, hip-hop and jazz remain most adept at breaking the mold, and the footprints of both genres can be heard on Vijay Iyer's and Mike Ladd's inspiring new album. An ambitious collaboration between one of the most celebrated jazz pianists today in Iyer and poet-MC Ladd, who has worked with a host of underground rap acts including El-P's Company Flow and Saul Williams, "Holding It Down" is the duo's third in a series of unclassifiable blends of music, theater and spoken word that paint a vivid oral history of post-9/11 America. (Chris Barton) Read more

Album: 'Nothing Was the Same'

If it's true, as some have suggested, that rapper and singer Drake is the musical voice of his generation, one statistic on his new album is instructive: Through 13 tracks over the course of an hour, the platinum rapper mentions himself nearly 500 times. This third volume, called "Nothing Was the Same," sees the Toronto hip-hop superstar, 26, offering thoughts on his day-to-day, the spoils of his riches, his girls and his bitches (but seldom his ladies or women), his dad, his mom, his success and his isolation. He's the would-be King of Generation Selfie, whose mirror gaze is directed at matters occasionally universal but too often minuscule: "I hate stopping for gas this late," "I'm on a roll like Cottonelle," "The one that I needed was Courtney from Hooter's on Peachtree" (whom he considers "the piece to complete me") are among the lines he offers. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Fiio X3

That was fast. This summer was the first time portable music players finally went really high end, thanks to Astell&Kern, a South Korean audio outfit. The AK 100 and it’s big brother AK 120, which came out in time for a hi-def Fourth of July, make  iPods and Android devices sound, in comparison, downright primitive -- like an AM car radio in a ’55 Chevy. The only problem has been price. Hold your breath: The two A&K models are, respectively, $699 and $1,299. Now for Labor Day, and from China (where Labor Day may not mean too much), there is the Fiio X3. It, too, will play HD downloads and it has the same digital-to-analog converter (which has a major influence on the quality of any files, even lowly mp3s) as the A&K players. It may not have A&K’s same sweet and open sound, but the price is $200.The means there really is a better alternative to the iPod, which will not play HD downloads. Yes, the X3 is thicker and clunkier than an iPod Touch and significantly more so than a Nano. (Mark Swed) Read more

Album: 'Wise Up Ghost'

Few musical pleasures are as satisfying as an eloquent artist with a sharpened pen and bitter tongue delivering perfectly pitched poison -- especially if the songwriter name-checks Disco-Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes and cites soldiers “playing their Doors records and pretending to be stoned.” It doesn’t hurt if the band propelling these darts is the Roots. Bitterness and Elvis Costello, how sweet the sound. On “Wise Up Ghost,” the musician's powerful new collaboration with the hip-hop group (and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” backing band), the artist offers a dozen songs that tackle war, peace, dishonor, disappointment and strife. A record that pops with urgency, it’s a journey into the world of big-picture alienation, one that highlights the little lives trying to survive amid the chaos. (Randall Roberts) Read more

'Tootie's Tempo'

It can be a delicate thing, honoring jazz history. On one hand, you might lose count when trying to tally the many tribute concerts and reissues dedicated to an artist like Miles Davis, but on the other, no other music carries such a vital link to its past like jazz. Take, for example, the continuation of jazz tradition that is "Tootie's Tempo," a gorgeous showcase for 78-year-old drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, who can be heard on recordings from one side of jazz tradition to the other with the likes of Lester Young, John Coltrane, Anthony Braxton and Herbie Hancock. Backed by a pair of talented artists from this generation in the Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson and in-demand bassist Ben Street, the record is a study honoring tradition even while maintaining a sharp focus on forward motion. (Chris Barton) Read more

Video: 'Lose Yourself to Dance'

Raise a Champagne flute to sparkly simplicity, for the notion that bliss can arrive from something so primitive as a groove, that sweat mopped up with Pharrell Williams' shirt may be only a dance move away. That's the central theme to Daft Punk's new video for "Lose Yourself to Dance," the shimmering ode to the health benefits and human-spirit lifting qualities of coming alive on the dance floor. A clip that feels like a lost outtake from "The Midnight Special" circa 1975, it's pretty straightforward: The helmeted French duo play keyboard and bass, guitarist and "Random Access Memories" collaborator Nile Rodgers strums a clean rhythm and a sunglassed Williams croons front and center. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'Psychic Temple'

As has been thoroughly documented, the past decade or so has not been easy for independent musicians, particularly for those with a taste for venturing outside typical bounds of rock and pop. Consider producer-musician Chris Schlarb, who at 36 years old has a wife, two kids and a full-time job as a short-haul truck driver that carries him around Southern California. “I’ve been working there off and on for about 10 years and what I’ve found is it ... allows me to think about music all day,” Schlarb said, speaking by phone while driving home in Long Beach. “Because I could -- and often do -- just turn the radio off and if a melody comes to me I can sing it into my phone. It allows me the freedom of thought, which is so important to me because my mind is always going.” In between job and family obligations, Schlarb also ran the indie label Sounds Are Active (which has released albums from local explorers Nels Cline and Anthony Shadduck), wrote the music for the Nintendo 3DS game “NightSky” and as well as recording on his own and as part of the experimental-jazz duo I Heart Lung. (Chris Barton) Read more

Julia Holter

While working on her well-received 2012 album "Ekstasis," Los Angeles singer-composer Julia Holter crafted a song that was such a departure that she set it aside. The piece, "Maxim's II," was inspired by a famous scene in the 1958 movie musical "Gigi" and is one of the hubs of her striking new album, "Loud City Song." In the film, as the titular heroine very publicly moves through the fancy Parisian restaurant Maxim's with her scandalous beau, the entire room takes note. "Everyone's staring at her and gossiping about her when she walks in," said Holter while sitting on a park bench near Levitt Pavilion Pasadena. "I wanted to re-create this scene in a song." Five-plus minutes of swirling brass, strings, piano and Holter's cool, Chet Baker-suggestive vocal, "Maxim's II" variously suggests an avant-garde classical piece or Phil Spector's famous wall of sound being imploded. Cymbals crash, tenor and alto saxophones battle, and Holter ties it all together with a chaotic crescendo. The piece is a monumental construct and unlike any song you'll hear all year. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'Dawn of Midi'

How, exactly, does one define Dawn of Midi? Composed of bassist Aakaash Israni, drummer Qasim Naqvi and pianist Amino Belyamani who have roots in Morocco, India, Pakistan and the fertile music program at CalArts, the group that is superficially a piano trio is far from anyone's definition of jazz with this album, which has a single, locked-groove composition that spirals through nine tracks and 47 engrossing minutes. The closest analogue may be the Necks, a category-defying Australian trio who built a following around long-form improvised sets. But where the Necks' sound features an in-the-moment ebb and flow, Dawn of Midi is dedicated to perpetual forward motion, a rigorously composed blend of minimalism and trance music. (Chris Barton) Read more

The Beatles a cappela recordings

Just when you thought it wasn't possible to experience the Beatles' work with fresh ears, there arrives a reminder of their power, focus and vocal skill. As the fantastic website Dangerous Minds pointed out, a trove of a cappela recordings are floating around YouTube, featuring the voices of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in perfect harmony. The best of them further reveal the untapped riches still to be discovered in the Beatles archives. A stumble on one of them can often lead into a YouTube wormhole in search of more gems, and sure enough, the bounty reveals music perfect for afternoon surprise. Whether the eerie Moog synthesizer that roams "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," Lennon's melancholy vocal for "A Day in the Life" or his blissful lead, and yawn, in "I'm Only Sleeping," exploring the crannies of the Beatles' work is worth the time. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'North Hero'

Never underestimate the power of the Midwest. Continuing a recent run of Minnesota-born jazz talent that includes guitarist Todd Clauser and the Bad Plus, bassist Chris Morrissey offers a snapshot of his inviting way with melody on the wryly titled “North Hero.” The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the album was also produced by Bad Plus drummer Dave King, a connection that stands to reason given Morrissey also performed with King’s limber Minneapolis-based project Happy Apple. With those kinds of connections you might expect Morrissey to have nimble chops, and he's also been heard backing the intricate indie rock of Andrew Bird along with fellow singer-songwriters Ben Kweller and Sara Bareilles. (Chris Barton) Read more

Chef Govind Armstrong. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Willie Jane

If you follow the restaurant scene in Los Angeles, you have known about Govind Armstrong for years, possibly since he was a teenage cooking prodigy whose mom drove him to stints on the line at the original Spago the way that other moms drive their kids to Little League practice. Or perhaps you know him from his long collaboration with locavore Ben Ford, or from his solo gigs at Table 8 and 8 Oz. Burger Bar. You may have followed Armstrong’s short-lived adventure in New York, which wasn’t well-received, and his appearances on “Top Chef” and on the list of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. It is more likely that you noticed his restaurant Post & Beam, which he started a couple of years ago with business partner Brad Johnson and is the most ambitious restaurant ever to open in the Crenshaw District. At Willie Jane, the new restaurant he runs with Johnson on Abbot Kinney’s restaurant row, Armstrong’s style has become more refined yet — it’s kind of a fantasy mash-up of Low Country cuisine with farm-driven California presentation, heavily reliant on the sharply tart notes that have become his trademark, and heavily reliant on Geri Miller’s urban farm Cook’s Garden next door. Read more

Willie Jane, 1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

Allumette

How do you know you're in a serious restaurant at the moment — a place where the chef ferments his own turnips, keeps a copy of "Modernist Cuisine" by his bedside and dreams of visiting Spain's Mugaritz restaurant? There will probably be a seaweed or two on any given plate, for the color, the crunch and the occasional spark of brininess, and bits of citrus zest will make it into places where you have never tasted citrus before. You will see at least one slow-poached egg, cooked to a perfect near-runniness at 63 degrees Celsius; top-shelf boutique greens that disappear long before you straggle into the farmers market on Wednesday morning; and a couple of flavors snagged from the bartender's cache. The presentation will be modern French, but the dishes may well be inspired by Italy, China and especially Japan, because Japanese (and New Nordic) cooking are what young chefs are crushing out on these days. Read more

1320 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park

Los Angeles burgers

The eyes of the world were recently focused on what surely must be the most repulsive hamburger in the history of mankind: 10,000 bits of cloned cow stem-cell tissue formed into a patty, seared in foaming butter and served to three food scientists in front of a crowd of decidedly unhungry journalists. If you would rather eat a hamburger than grimace at what your great-grandchildren might be forced to consider lunch, you can do better. 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

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

Corazon y Miel, 6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell

M.A.K.E.

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

M.A.K.E., 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica

Muddy Leek

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

Muddy Leek, 8631 Washington Blvd., Culver City

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

Tamarind of London, 7862 East Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Littlefork

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

Littlefork, 1600 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood

Paintings by Domenico Ghirlandaio; Memling Man; Rogier van der Weyden; Hans Memling

Face to Face: Flanders, Florence and Renaissance Painting

Renaissance art made in Florence, Italy, more than half a millennium ago wouldn’t look the way it does without art and artists working elsewhere in Europe. It’s easy to forget that travel and trade between Italy and other countries was frequent, including travel by artists and trade in art. Yet cosmopolitan interchange played an indispensable role in the blooming notion of a Renaissance. One of the most important of these interchanges is the subject of a newly opened exhibition at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. “Face to Face: Flanders, Florence and Renaissance Painting” is a knockout, the fall’s first great museum show. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Jan. 13) Read more

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Other recommendations:

'Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions'

"Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions" surveys the impact of the devout Franciscan friar who established nine of the state's 21 missions, transforming the region. Serra also towed the colonial line for Spain, was fervent about his religion and saw no contradiction between Christian charity and a slave system that destroyed the Indians' traditional way of life. The exhibition, which coincides with the 300th anniversary of Serra's birth, looks at all sides of his mixed legacy. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, January 6) Read more

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino

Sam Francis

Throughout his career — Sam Francis died in Santa Monica in 1994 at 71 — the artist engaged philosophical conundrums in paint. He was an avid student of Jungian psychology and Japanese aesthetics. Watercolor was his most-common choice of painting medium, whether in the conventional form used on paper or its popular 1960s canvas-cousin, acrylic paint. Fluidity is key to all his most successful series, starting with luminous examples from the 1950s made with thinned oil paint. It applies to the early 1960s orbs of expanding color in the "Blue Balls" works; the mid-1960s edge paintings, which use lush color only along the framing edges of the canvas while leaving the central area a bright, somehow muscular and visually aggressive white; and, the incredibly complex 1970s grids, in which crisp linear structure melds with oozing liquidity. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Jan. 5) Read more

Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 East Union Street, Pasadena

American landscapes at LACMA

The subject of a yearlong, one-room permanent collection installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is 19th century American landscape art. The west wall has a spare lineup of all five LACMA paintings that show the American West, hung to create a continuous horizon line. The east wall is entirely covered, floor to ceiling and corner to corner, by a salon-style installation of 25 of its East Coast views. The face-off is stark between Eastern profusion and Western scarcity, the East Coast as unfolding history and the West as an elusive border. On the south wall in between, six photographs show Eastern landscapes, while 24 depict the West — a nearly exact reversal of the numbers in the two walls of paintings. Old and new landscapes are identified with old and new technologies: Paintings are "back there," photographs are "out here." (Christopher Knight) (Through Dec. 31.) Read more

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

James Turrell: A Retrospective

Light, the essential ingredient for sight, is Turrell's principal medium. Spiritual perception is his art's aim. The ancient metaphor of light as the engine of enlightenment is conjured in a modern way. (Christopher Knight) (Through April 6) Read more

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Author T.C. Boyle. (Jamieson Fry / Penguin Group)

Stories II

T.C. Boyle’s “Stories II” gathers all the short fiction he has published in the past 15 years — 58 stories, including 14 that have never appeared in book form. This is no mere collection, in other words, but an edifice intended, not unlike its equally massive predecessor “Stories” (1998), to define a legacy. To some extent, that’s a sign of Boyle growing older; he will turn 65 in December. Death, or the threat of death, is all over these stories — or more accurately, a sense of mortality, of time zeroing in. But even more, it’s a signifier that here, he is holding nothing back. In “Stories II” we stare down 15 years of fiction, and how does it add up? “All part of the questing impulse,” Boyle suggests, “that has pushed me forward into territory I could never had dreamed of when I first set out to write — that is, to understand that there are no limits and everything that exists or existed or might exist in some other time or reality is fair game for exploration.” Read more

David Ulin

Book critic

Other recommendations:

'Salinger'

When news emerged three years ago that filmmaker Shane Salerno and writer David Shields were working on an oral biography (with accompanying documentary) about J.D. Salinger, I assumed it would be all smoke and no fire. Salinger, after all, had gone to ground after the publication of his novella “Hapworth 16, 1924” in June 1965; even in the wake of his death, in January 2010 at age 91, his estate had preserved the silence of his final 45 years. But if Salerno and Shields' book “Salinger” is, at nearly 700 pages, a bit of a shaggy monster, what may be most astonishing about it is its (largely) even tone. The idea is to present a portrait of Salinger as both his own savior and something considerably darker, and for the most part, the co-authors get the goods. Read more

Optic Nerve 13

Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve is one of my favorite alternative comics: smart, understated and with a subtle yet pointed bite. Merging straight realism with an impressionistic sense of narrative, his stories often seem to be offhanded when, in fact, they are highly structured and defined. As an example, look at "Winter 2012," one of three pieces in the newly released Optic Nerve 13, a one-pager, told by way of 20 small panels, in which Tomine portrays himself as a Luddite, distressed by the indignities of the electronic age. Optic Nerve 13's other stories include a long central piece, "Go Owls," in which a woman meets an older man in a 12-step program and winds up in a relationship that becomes increasingly abusive and fraught, and the exquisite "Translated, From the Japanese," a love letter from a mother to her baby that is among the most beautiful things Tomine has ever done. Read more

'Never Built Los Angeles'

When, in the 1920s, the pioneering Southern California social critic Louis Adamic called Los Angeles "the enormous village," he didn't mean it as a compliment. Rather, he was referring to L.A.'s insularity, its status as what Richard Meltzer would later label "the biggest HICK Town (per se) in all the hick land," a city of small-town values and narrow vision that "grew up suddenly, planlessly." A similar sensibility underpins "Never Built Los Angeles," a compendium of more than 100 architectural projects — master plans, skyscrapers, transportation hubs, parks and river walks — that never made it off the ground. Edited by former Los Angeles magazine architecture critic Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, West Coast editor of the Architect's Newspaper, and accompanied by an exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum, it's a lavish counter-history of the city as it might have been: a literal L.A. of the mind. Read more

'The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey'

"He who makes a beast of himself," Samuel Johnson famously observed about inebriation, "gets rid of the pain of being a man." And yet, if Lawrence Osborne's new book, "The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey," has anything to tell us, it's that there is more to drinking than derangement, that it may lead to a transcendence more profound. "The Wet and the Dry" is a paean to drinking, but it is also a travelogue unfolding largely through the Islamic states of the Middle East and a memoir of sorts, in which Osborne's upbringing, in "a steadfast English suburb" during the 1970s, becomes a lens through which to read his life. "The drinker knows that life is not mental and not a matter of control and demarcation," he argues. "The teetotaler, on the other hand, knows full well how even a molecule of alcohol changes body and mind. The Muslim, the Protestant puritan, and the teetotaler are kin; they understand the world in a very similar way, despite all their enormous differences, while the drinkers know that the parameters that contain us are not all human, let alone divine." Read more

'Men in Miami Hotels'

Charlie Smith's terrific new novel, "Men in Miami Hotels," walks a line between genre and something considerably wilder, a fictional territory where a character might lose his or her soul. The story of a Miami hoodlum named Cotland Sims, on the run from a brutal mob boss, it is both existential thriller and a book of homecoming, as Cot returns to Key West, where he was born and raised, to confront the living ghosts of his past. These include his on-again-off-again girlfriend Marcella and her husband Ordell (the county prosecutor), as well as his mother and his oldest friend from high school, a drag queen named CJ. To this mix, Smith adds an army of hired killers out to wreak vengeance on Cot, although their violence, while pervasive, ends up seeming almost incidental. Read more

'Return to Oakpine'

Ron Carlson's new novel "Return to Oakpine" revolves around a group of high school friends 30 years after graduation, in the small Wyoming town where they were raised. The book begins with a simple errand: A man named Craig Ralston is called upon to refurbish a garage apartment for his old compatriot Jimmy Brand, who is coming home to die. The year is 1999 and Jimmy is nearing 50, a writer who left home after high school, in the wake of a family tragedy. And yet, Carlson wants us to understand, we never escape the past, not even a little bit of it. In a town such as Oakpine, that can't help but bleed into the present, reminding us of old hurts, old longings, of who we were and who we never will become. This is the tension that drives "Return to Oakpine," between what we want to do and what we need to do, between our dreams and our responsibilities. Or, as Carlson observes late in this elegant and moving novel, "There was a vague lump in his throat that he had thought was excitement but now felt like an urgent sadness; actually it felt like both." Read more

'Genius'

Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s haunting graphic novel “Genius” revolves around a physicist named Ted who was once a prodigy, before his priorities became realigned. Ted has two kids, and a wife who may be dying; do we need to say that he feels trapped, that his pressures have become too much for him? Still, Ted has one saving grace, which is his love for Einstein, who holds a place in his life akin to God. “I mean, I’m an atheist —” Ted explains, “most thinking people are — But Einstein is the pinnacle of a thinking man.” As “Genius” progresses, this relationship becomes increasingly prominent, until Einstein himself is animated in these pages, discussing the nature of the universe, the nature of discovery, and the essential notion that our lives are always in constant evolution, just waiting for that one idea, that one revelation, for everything to “start anew.” Read more

'The Faraway Nearby'

Rebecca Solnit's latest book, "The Faraway Nearby," began with a delivery of 100 pounds of apricots to her San Francisco home. The apricots came from her brother, who had collected them from a tree in their mother's yard. At the time, the older woman was in the throes of Alzheimer's; she had been moved into an assisted care facility, making the fruit a metaphor, an allegory, for everything that she had lost. First and foremost, this meant stories, which are at the center of "The Faraway Nearby," a book about narrative and empathy that moves between a dizzying array of tales — including "Frankenstein," the Arabian Nights and that of Solnit's own breast cancer scare — to look at the way stories bind us, allowing us to inhabit each other's lives with unexpected depth. Read more

'Science Fiction'

Joe Ollmann's graphic novel “Science Fiction” is a minutely observed account of a relationship in crisis, from which there is (or might be) no way out. The setup is simple: Mark, a high school science teacher, and his girlfriend Susan, who works in a convenience store, rent an alien abduction movie that triggers what Mark decides are repressed memories of his own abduction years before. If this is difficult for Mark, it’s even harder for Susan because she can’t believe what he is telling her. Here we see the central conflict of “Science Fiction”: What happens when a loved one goes through an experience that is, in every way that matters, life-changing, and yet, we can’t go along for the ride? Read more

'Joyland'

What makes Stephen King resonate for me is the way he can get inside the most mundane of situations and animate it, revealing in the process something of how we live. His new novel, "Joyland," operates very much from this territory: It's a drama that unfolds in miniature. The story of a college student named Devin Jones who spends the summer and fall of 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park, "Joyland" is a thriller but it's also a homage to the disposable culture of the early 1970s, a time when "oil sold for eleven dollars a barrel." What King is getting at is what he's always getting at, that life is inexplicable, that joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, are all bound up and can assert themselves at any time. Read more

'Angel Baby'

Richard Lange's third book, "Angel Baby," is a thriller that makes its own terms. Beautifully paced, deftly written, it's a novel of moral compromise, in which we have empathy for everyone (or almost everyone) and no one at once. The story of Luz, who runs away from her husband, a Mexican drug cartel leader, and heads for Los Angeles, "Angel Baby" takes us into uncomfortable territory -- only partly because of its brutality. Rather, Lange effectively upends our sympathies by drawing us close to not just Luz but also Jerónimo, the reluctant enforcer sent to find her, as well as Malone, a San Diego County burnout who makes his money ferrying illegals across the border, and Thacker, a corrupt border cop. Read more

'Appointment in Samarra'

Fran Lebowitz has called him “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Ernest Hemingway said he was “a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well.” But mention John O’Hara today — 43 years after his death — and you’re likely to draw a look as blank as an unwritten book. Why? In part, perhaps, it’s because he was, by all accounts, difficult to get along with, a social climber, a bully, a vicious drunk. And yet, he also wrote three of the finest novels of the 1930s — “Appointment in Samarra,” “BUtterfield 8” and “Hope of Heaven.” Now, the first of these books is back in print: a tale of social success and social failure observed in precise miniature. Originally published in 1934, it unfolds over two days during Christmas 1930 and involves a socialite named Julian English, who is caught in a death spiral of alcoholism and bad behavior, as he loses everything he has ever held dear. Read more

Screen shot from "Rain." (PlayStation)

Rain’

Rain,” Sony’s download-only PlayStation 3 title, plays with an idea central to many fairy tales. What monsters come out to play when the lights are turned off? But ultimately, it ends up dealing with a far darker question — is there any monster quite so scary as loneliness? With such an emphasis on text and narration, this could be considered an interactive book more than a game but is, instead, a moderately paced exploration through a fantastically realized nighttime setting, where narrowly escaping the clutches of pursuers rewards players with more pieces of the narrative rather than larger battles. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

'Spaceteam'

"Spaceteam" is high-stress nonsense, but high-stress nonsense at its most absurd, addictive and ridiculous. Available now for iOS and Android, think of "Spaceteam" as a board game for mobile devices. The concept is simple, as players are crew members on a ship that's in danger of exploding and must shout technobabble at one another to prevent destruction. But each has a different view, so one player's Voltsock is another player's Newtonian Photomist. Read more

'Gone Home'

"Gone Home," out now as a PC download, will likely feel more personal than any game you'll play this year. Players explore it from the first-person perspective of a college-aged daughter, Katie, who has been studying abroad and is visiting her family's new home for the first time. Traverse just one house and discover untold secrets about a family, be it struggles with failed ambitions or the teenage unease that comes with discovering one's sexuality. Read more

'The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD'

A remake of an old Gamecube title is not the Zelda game Wii U fans have been clamoring for, but Nintendo has freshened up "Wind Waker" to the point that it feels a new experience. This early 2000s Zelda title still stands as one of the franchise's crowning moments, as it set its main character loose on the high seas and gave the universe a zippy, cartoonish makeover. The animated film look works even better in HD, and the subtle adoption of new control techniques offered by the Wii U makes it one of the more accessible adventure role playing games around. Read more

'The Last of Us'

"The Last of Us" is not your typical doomsday narrative. Zombie-like attacks aside, tension here comes from an underutilized game-play tactic: conversation. Dialogue is almost as plentiful as weapons in this patiently cinematic tale of a smuggler and the reluctant bond he forms with the 14-year-old girl he's hired to protect. Developed by Sony-owned Naughty Dog, responsible for the hit "Indiana Jones"-inspired "Uncharted" series, "The Last of Us" acknowledges gaming clichés and then skillfully avoids them by keeping its focus on the relationship between Joel (the smuggler) and Ellie (the teen he watches over). It's an action game, but one with characters worth fighting for. Read more

‘The Dark Sorcerer’

A short film and not a game, but one designed to show what next-gen console the PS4 may be capable of. Quanitic Dream, the Paris-based developer working on the patient narrative "Beyond Two Souls," concocted this fantasy-comedy as a way to illustrate that character depth and detail can be sustained over long scenes filled with gameplay. But forget the technical stuff — it's a cute little video about a film shoot gone wrong, with goblins. Though there are no plans to turn "The Dark Sorcerer" into a game, director David Cage said fan response may inspire him to change his mind. Read more

'Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move'

The minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don't stop and it's up to the player to control and tinker with the cubic paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. With 240 stages, there are a lot cubes. Read more

‘Guacamelee!’

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

Isabel and Ruben Toledo. (Stephen Lovekin / for New York Magazine / Getty Images)

Isabel and Ruben Toledo

Ignored by mainstream fashion designers for years, the plus-size market got a boost with the announcement that Isabel and Ruben Toledo would be designing a collection for size 14-plus retailer Lane Bryant. Isabel Toledo famously made the lemongrass yellow coat and dress that First Lady Michelle Obama wore to President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Speaking about the collaboration with Lane Bryant, Isabel Toledo told Women’s Wear Daily that she and her husband “were intellectually on board from the first moment.” That statement to me is key. The excuse so many designers use for ignoring the plus-size market, and showing their clothes on increasingly skinny models, is that clothes just look better on bodies resembling bony hangers. But any designer worth his or her salt should look at designing for a different size or shape as an intellectual challenge. Read more

Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Other recommendations:

Cynthia Vincent

"Bohemian isn't a trend; it's a lifestyle." That's the motto upon which L.A. designer Cynthia Vincent has staked her decade-old brand, Twelfth Street, named after the street she grew up on in La Verne. The brand is known for its tribal print maxi-dresses and rompers, serape-stripe cardigans, rugged short Western boots and gladiator wedge sandals, all with a multi-culti, beach-and-canyon vibe. In a city where designers can come and go in a few seasons, Vincent is a fashion success story. She attended L.A.'s Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, winning the Silver Thimble Award while she was there. In 1993, she started her first line, St. Vincent. She also opened a retail store, Aero & Co. in Los Feliz, to feature local independent designers. Read more

Natalie Martin

Designer Natalie Martin has mastered the art of gypset dressing, L.A.-style. In two years, the Aussie transplant has emerged as a go-to for boho-chic styles, including breezy kurtas, tunics, wrap skirts and maxi dresses, all priced under $300, and all crafted out of colorful, Balinese block print silks. Martin has a background in fashion marketing, putting in years at Italian leather goods brands Tod's and Hogan. Her namesake collection, which is sold at Barneys New York, Calypso St. Barth and other boutiques, as well and on her own website, brings a touch of Bali to L.A. Read more

Charlotte Olympia opens in Beverly Hills

London-based accessories designer extraordinaire Charlotte Dellal has opened her first L.A. Charlotte Olympia store, a glamorous, Art Deco-feeling boutique at the top of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The decor is an ode to Old Hollywood glamour from the moment you step inside the door, where Dellal (who has the curves and finger-wave blond hairstyle of a 1940s starlet herself) has her own pink marble Hollywood Walk of Fame star set into the ground, with "Charlotte Olympia" etched inside. "It's celebrating Los Angeles from an outsider's point of view," said Dellal, who launched her whimsical line in 2006. "I guess it's not all about Hollywood and film, but I'm a nostalgic person and I have always loved Old Hollywood." Read more

Charlotte Olympia, 474 North Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills

Malibu Barbie gets a makeover

With her beach blond hair, cheeky tan lines and chic shades, Malibu Barbie has been a style icon for many a young girl, including this one. Now, more than 40 years after she first hit the pop culture wave, Malibu Barbie is getting a makeover, from Los Angeles designer Trina Turk. The mythical Malibu icon is the perfect canvas for Turk’s cheerful 1960s and '70s-inspired SoCal aesthetic. Turk dresses the doll in a printed bandeau bikini and hexagon white lace cover-up and accessorizes her head-to-toe with a beach tote, pink shades, short-shorts, a peasant blouse, floppy sun hat and white wedge sandals. She’s even got a chunky cocktail ring, pink cuff bracelet and a bottle of sunscreen. To add to the fun, Turk’s June 2013 fashion collection, titled “Malibu Summer,” features the same items for women, so life-size Barbies can dress like their miniature muses. Read more

Tadashi Shoji

2013 marks 30 years that L.A.-based designer Tadashi Shoji has been making elegant formal wear for the rest of us. He got his start in the glitzy world of Hollywood, creating costumes for Stevie Wonder and Elton John, and more elaborate gowns for the red carpet for Florence Welch and Octavia Spencer. But the bulk of Shoji's $50-million namesake business is in department store sales of tasteful, figure-flattering and wallet-friendly cocktail dresses and evening gowns ranging in price from $198 to $508 for women who want to feel like celebrities in their own lives -- prom queens, mothers of the bride and the brides themselves. I recently sat down with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what's next.n with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what’s next. Read more

Aviator Nation

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

Aviator Nation, 1224 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice

Wear LACMA

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

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Paloma Picasso

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

Jennifer Nicholson

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

Pearl Drop, 328 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice

Celine

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

Celine, 319 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills