Critics’ Picks: Sept. 20-26, 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.

James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus stand out in “Enough Said” at the movies, and Shakespeare is big on both TV and stage. In music, there’s a new Elvis Costello album and the Carlsbad Music Festival.

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

James Gandolfini. (Fox Searchlight/ Lacey Terrell)

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

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Forest Whitaker in "The Butler." (Anne Marie Fox /The Weinstein Co.)

The Butler’

In “The Butler,” director Lee Daniels sets the table with a great deal of care, especially because it unfolds during the volatile years of desegregation. It stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler privy by sheer proximity to a series of presidents during the contentious Civil Rights era. Wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) keeps the home fires burning, while the irony in her observations is stinging. The film tackles the big picture of changing race relations, a time awash in protests and flames. The smaller story, which is arguably more distinctive, examines an African American family’s internal warfare. The battle is generational. Cecil, the son of Southern sharecroppers, holds his dreams in check. For his son, Louis (David Oyelowo), things can’t move fast enough. Their fractious relationship is a candid window into a divide rarely examined by Hollywood. It is Daniels’ best film yet. Serious and refined, entertaining and insightful, plenty of food for thought left on the table. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more

Betsy Sharkey

Film critic

Other recommendations:

'Blue Jasmine'

If you haven't seen 'Blue Jasmine," you've missed one of the summer's best performances. Fortunately there is still time to catch Woody Allen's bleakest drama ever. "She's Come Undone." The title of one of my favorite Wally Lamb novels about a woman over the edge kept running through my mind as I watched Woody Allen's new film, "Blue Jasmine." There's just no better way to put it. Jasmine, in such a paralyzing state of denial and played with such broken vulnerability by Cate Blanchett, is coming completely undone. Jasmine's unraveling becomes the conduit for a stinging ironic jab at the Bernie Madoffs of the world and their particular brand of greed. Jasmine was married to one of them, and the question of how much she knew is significant. Yet for all of "Blue Jasmine's" darkness, the movie is among the filmmaker's most emotionally affecting. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more

'The Grandmaster'

With director Wong Kar-wai applying his impeccable visual style to the mass-market martial arts genre, this is like a meal of all desserts. You'll feel decadent enjoying it, but it would be foolish to object. (Kenneth Turan) (In Mandarin, Chinese and Japanese, with English subtitles.) Read more

'In a World...'

Written, directed and starring Lake Bell, “In a World...” is a slight and exceedingly sly indie that is a very entertaining first crack at what one can only hope will be a long career behind the camera for Bell. As Carol, she takes us suddenly inside the cutthroat world of movie-trailer voice-overs. And the throat she might be cutting out of a coveted job could be Dad’s. The movie captures the natural — and unnatural — competition between parent and child both grubbing for the same morsel, particularly in Hollywood, where fame and fortune are on the line. The film is funny and endearing. Even with some rough edges, it's the most fun I've had at the movies this summer. I can’t wait to see what Bell does next. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more

'Short Term 12'

"Short Term 12" is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate. Named for the foster care group home for children under 18 where it's set, "Short Term 12" is anchored by the generous and persuasive acting of Brie Larson as a staff supervisor. Much to the credit of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose two years of post-college work in a similar facility is key to the film's verisimilitude, "Short Term 12" also took the audience award at both the L.A. Film Festival and South by Southwest. This is an accessible film that honestly earns every bit of its emotional impact. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'The Spectacular Now'

This culturally astute drama is spiked with enough comedy to make it splendidly intoxicating to watch. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, as high school seniors Sutter and Aimee, bring such an authentic face of confidence and questioning, indifference and need, pain and denial, friendship and first love, that it will take you back to that time if you're no longer there, and light a path if you are. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more

'The World's End'

Natural and supernatural forces go haywire in the male midlife hysteria of "The World's End," starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and others of the fab and fabled "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead" crews. The comic blast follows five 40-ish friends who reunite 20 years after they failed to make it to the World's End, the final pub on their hometown's infamous crawl. Directed by Edgar Wright and co-written with Pegg, the movie begins as a cheeky reflection on boys who grow up, and the ones who don't. Of course, it all spins completely out of control. The crawl soon morphs into existential arguments about technology, alien invasions, kids, cloning, whether doing shots counts as drinking, recycling, love, sex and possibly paintball. Contemplating "The World's End" is utterly and appropriately absurd, which makes it a perfect wrap for the summer of 2013. (Betsy Sharkey)

'You Will Be My Son'

The quietly terrifying presence of French actor Niels Arestrup makes this character-driven melodrama, concerned with the dynamics of family in general and father-son issues in particular, a success. (Kenneth Turan) (In French with English subtitles) Read more

James Spader in "The Blacklist." (David Giesbrecht / NBC)

The Blacklist’ - Premiere

James Spader stars as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a rogue spy who, after 20 years freelancing his services, turns himself in. In exchange for all sorts of groovy intel, he asks only for a luxurious hotel suite and the (strictly professional) attentions of recent Quantico grad/profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), with whom he forms a Hannibal Lecter-Clarice Starling bond, sans (thankfully) all the gross stuff. He has a list, you see, of international baddies, which he is happy to share, via Elizabeth, and only Elizabeth. It’s a heady blend of character study and high-octane procedural — each episode will, presumably, see Red helping Keen thwart another attack or capture another villain — but honestly, they had me at James Spader. NBC, Mondays. Read more

Mary McNamara

Television critic

David Morrissey in "Great Performances: The Hollow Crown - Richard II." (Nick Briggs / PBS)

The Hollow Crown’

Here is my man Shakespeare back again, and not a moment too soon — the best man, to steal a line from the writer himself, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.” This BBC import, arriving on our shore under the banner of PBS’ “Great Performances,” brings together four linked history plays: “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Parts One and Two” and “Henry V,” sometimes called “The Henriad.” (Henry Bolingbroke, who deposed Richard II to become Henry IV, is a character in the first play as well.) For the next month, there will be nothing on American television as good as this; just accept it, all you other programs not written by Shakespeare. You think “Breaking Bad” is heavy? It is nothing compared to the heaviness of the crown the uneasy-lying head wears, or of the “unkinged” Richard coming to terms with himself in his terminal dungeon, or the battle of Agincourt (and its prelude and aftermath), or the breaking heart of the rejected Falstaff. PBS, Fridays. Read more

Robert Lloyd

Television critic

Other recommendations:

'The Michael J. Fox Show' (Premiere)

And here is Michael J. Fox back again, on the same night that Robin Williams is back again (in "The Crazy Ones," on CBS), two 20th century sitcom stars who became movie stars, who might become TV stars. For my money, or my time, anyway, Fox's show, which mirrors his own retirement from and return to work — the necessity that mothered this invention being, of course, his Parkinson's disease — is the better investment. Here Fox plays not the beloved actor he is in life but a beloved New York City newsman (and family man, which he is in life). Although this is the star's first single-camera comedy — there are practical reasons for that, obviously — it is, down to the title and notwithstanding the Parkinson's, comfortably old-fashioned. (The envelope-pushing is built into the star's condition, as it were.) Fox is altered, but not diminished; the boy you fell for is still present in the man. A first-rate supporting cast includes Wendell Pierce ("Treme"), Katie Finneran ("Wonderfalls") and Betsy Brandt, who has been playing Marie Schrader on "Breaking Bad" since time immemorial and for whom this job must constitute a psychic relief. Twenty-two episodes have been ordered. (Robert Lloyd) (NBC, Thursdays) Read more

'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' (September)

I defy anyone to think of a more awkward and irritating title for a television show but I guess they couldn't officially call it "That Avengers Show," if only because there are no actual Avengers in it. (Television may be in its Golden Age, but Downey's salary alone would sink a series.) Instead, Joss Whedon has constructed something that is not so much a sequel to the last "Avengers" movie as it is a parallel track to that sequel. As the Avengers do whatever it is they do when not being summoned by Nick Fury, beloved second-in-command Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) has been miraculously resurrected for the purposes of running Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. (The name, which began as a running gag in "Iron Man," continues to provide joke fodder though seriously guys, if you can bring Coulson back from the dead, it is not too late to rethink the punctuation?) (Mary McNamara) (ABC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) Read more

'The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards'

It's the Emmys, back again. I have said, and will say again, that who wins or does not win one of these fancy statuettes (or any other such trophies, certificates, plaques or plates) is a thing of no consequence to me. (Which, I know, is itself a thing of no consequence to the winners and to Emmy fans everywhere.) Awards are always nice for those who get them, but statistically speaking, almost no one does; to stretch a point, such contests dishonor more good work than they honor, and I find it happier to know as little as I can about who's in, out, favored to win or mocked merely for being nominated. (Robert Lloyd) (CBS, Sunday) Read more

'The Crazy Ones' and 'The Michael J. Fox Show'

Robin Williams and Michael J. Fox return to their roots in shows that explore work and family from an off-kilter midlife point of view.  In ABC's "The Crazy Ones," Williams plays Simon Roberts, the zanily brilliant  brains behind a big-ticket ad agency run by his hyper-organized partner, and daughter, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Tensions run high and occasionally hilarious as Simon worries that he's lost his touch and Sydney frets that he's finally lost his mind. Over on NBC, Fox plays popular news anchor Mike Henry, who left his job when his Parkinson's disease (which Fox, of course, actually has) began to progress. After driving his teacher wife (Betsy Brandt) and their three children crazy playing Mr. Mom, Mike goes back to work, where he still manages to drive his family, and now his boss, crazy. Neither show has a killer pilot — "The Crazy Ones" is bogged down by a guest appearance by Kelly Clarkson and "The Michael J. Fox Show," even at an hour, simply has too much preliminary exposition, but both revolve around men who clearly know what they're doing in front of a camera and, more important, both have stellar supporting casts. (Mary McNamara) ("The Crazy Ones" ABC, Thursdays; "The Michael J. Fox Show" NBC, Thursdays) Read more

'Parks and Recreation'; 'Castle'; 'The Middle'

Back again this week, like favorite classmates after a summer break, are three series you might catch me watching. But I don't want to find you lurking beneath my window. The divine "Parks and Recreation," now the doyenne of NBC's Thursday night lineup — do they still call it "must-see"? — opens its sixth season, as "The Beverly Hillbillies" did its own sixth, with a trip to London. (Heidi Klum, of all people, is who they find.) We have long since, in our house, worked out the math at the heart of a "Castle" mystery (it's the person you meet in the first five minutes that you don't see again until the last 10, more or less), and the off-and-on of the love thing between Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) can get to feel a little manipulative — last season ended with her decamping to Washington, D.C., to join the FBI, and him proposing. Yet this is the bantering love-and-detection series all other love-and-detection series only dream of being. And Penny Johnson Jerald is in it. Patricia Heaton's "The Middle," moving into its fifth season, is to my mind the best family sitcom now living. Unlike nearly every other show on television, it is about people whose house is not full of fancy furniture and who struggle to get by, and who make bad decisions when they are tired, which is nearly all the time. (Robert Lloyd) ("Parks" NBC, Thursdays; Castle" ABC, Mondays; "The Middle" ABC, Wednesdays) Read more

Jim Ortlieb in "R II." (Brian Polak / Boston Court Performing Arts Center)

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

Charles McNulty

Theater critic

Other recommendations:

'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 sympathetic acknowledgment. The production, directed by Rogue Machine artistic director John Perrin Flynn, lays on the working class New England local color a bit thick, but the excellent cast movingly enacts this truthful psychological study of characters trying to figure out how to coexist with their grievances. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Monday, January 27) Read more

Rogue Machine at Theatre Theater, 5041 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

'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

'Funny Girl'

This solid revival of the classic musical triumphs in lead Nicole Parker, whose nuanced, platinum-voiced Fanny Brice withstands the Streisand Factor with breathtaking results, a memorable turn. Not everything about director Michael Matthews' staging is as transcendent, but it's largely effective, and the vintage Styne/Merrill score blazes under Gerald Sternbach's musical direction. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sept. 29) Read more

Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton

'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

'Prometheus Bound'

In Travis Preston's graceful staging of Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound" at the Getty Villa's beautiful outdoor theater, Prometheus is carted out on a wagon that, were he not a deathless god, might be mistaken for a bier. As played by Ron Cephas Jones, this champion of humanity, already limp with pain before being enchained to a giant 5-ton wheel, brings to mind images of Jesus at the crucifixion. This tragedy is rarely performed. An immobilized protagonist presents undeniable dramatic problems. But the text is so complexly woven and philosophically rich that it cries out for a director bold enough to meet its unorthodox demands. Preston, working with a new translation by Joel Agee that is smooth and clear without being reductive, negotiates an intelligent compromise between innovation and restraint. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sept. 28) Read more

The Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades

'Rapture, Blister, Burn'

To judge by appearances, Catherine is a roaring success. A celebrated New York academic who still fits into her skinny jeans, she's dubbed the "hot doomsday chick" when she appears on Bill Maher's program. Riding high in her career, this fortysomething feminist provocateur is a magnet for envy. She's smart, she's sexy, she's independent. So why is she suddenly having a middle-aged meltdown, agonizing over her life choices and feeling bereft because she doesn't have a husband and children? The age-old question about whether a woman can have it all is given a defiantly un-P.C. spin in Gina Gionfriddo's bright comedy. The production, which stars Amy Brenneman as the outwardly formidable, inwardly shaky Catherine, reassembles under Peter DuBois' direction the top-notch cast of the play's off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons. (Charles Mcnulty) (Ends Sept. 22) Read more

Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles

'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

'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'

Looking for a refreshing change from alfresco Shakespeare? Then you might want to consider a trip to San Diego's Old Globe for this metapharcical romp (to coin a genre) by Tom Stoppard, in which "Hamlet" is glimpsed through the oblique perspective of the prince's twin buddies, sent to spy on him by Gertrude and Claudius in that Elsinore castle of murder, adultery and occult intrigue. Thanks to Adrian Noble, the departing artistic director of the Old Globe's Shakespeare Festival, this madcap caper, which dresses Shakespeare in Beckettian clothing, is enjoying a sprightly revival. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sept. 26) Read more

The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego

'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) (Through Nov. 2) Read more

The Road Theatre Company, The Road on Magnolia, NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

'The Taming of the Shrew'

This rip-roaring take on William Shakespeare's romantic comedy opens the 40th anniversary season at Theatricum Botanicum with marvelous forward momentum. Shrewdly trimming text without losing clarity or hilarity, director Ellen Geer achieves a gratifyingly straightforward triumph, and the fearless players embrace some merry passion at every turn, starting with inspired leads Willow Geer and Aaron Hendry. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sept. 29) Read more

Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga

'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

The Calder Quartet. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Carlsbad Music Festival

With all the anniversaries upon us — the Los Angeles Master Chorale celebrates its 50th with a gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sept. 22 and the Los Angeles Philharmonic follows that next week with the start of a monthlong celebration of the venue’s 10th anniversary — it is too easy to forget about Carlsbad. The quaint seaside village in North San Diego County is best known for Legoland. It is also home to the quirky Museum of Making Music. But 10 years ago, a young composer at USC, Matt McBane, quietly (well, quite loudly, at times) started a modest music festival in his hometown with friends, such as the Calder Quartet. This festival’s 10th anniversary Sept. 20-22 is not modest at all. The Calders, now one of America’s great string quartets, will be collaborating with the composer and electric guitarist Steve Mackay. McBane, who has, along with many other ambitious composers of this generation, moved to Brooklyn, brings some of New York’s finest young new musickers back home with him, as well. Read more

Carlsbad Music Festival, 258 Beech Ave‎ Carlsbad

Mark Swed

Music critic

Elvis Costello. (Cindy Ord / Getty Images)

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

Randall Roberts

Pop music critic

Other recommendations:

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

'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

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

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: '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

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: '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

Album: 'World Boogie Is Coming'

Brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson were raised on Memphis blues, soul, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Their late father, Jim, is an unsung hero of rock ‘n’ roll who worked with, among others Big Star, the Rolling Stones and the Replacements. For nearly two decades his Grammy-winning sons have explored similar musical terrain while expanding the conversation — no small feat for a music born in these same woods nearly a century earlier. Teamed with longtime bassist Chris Chew, the brothers' eighth studio album as the North Mississippi Allstars gathers many styles of primal American music, including Southern boogie, rural blues and electrified foot-stomping guitar music. (Randal 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

Album: 'Big Sur'

Is there an artist as well-suited to record an album inspired by Big Sur as Bill Frisell? Having spent much of his long career working a fertile seam in the jazz world that shares ground with Americana and folk, Frisell and his often twang-dusted tone seems tailor-made for sweeping vistas and pastoral wonders. Stemming from a 2012 commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival, “Big Sur” is the result of Frisell holing himself up in a cabin at the 860-acre Glen Deven Ranch and writing music for wherever this natural muse took him. (Chris Barton) Read more

Album: 'Magnetic'

Although it's been almost four years since Terence Blanchard's last album, it's not as if the trumpeter hasn't kept busy. In addition to the Poncho Sanchez collaboration "Chano y Dizzy," he's remained a first-call film composer (with Spike Lee's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" and George Lucas' "Red Tails" among his latest), and in his spare time wrote an opera, which debuts in St. Louis next month. Though Blanchard has no shortage of outlets, he still sounds overflowing with inspiration. Again surrounded by top-tier young talent, Blanchard is equally at home with the unsettled atmospherics of "Hallucinations" as with the hard-swinging "Don't Run," which features stirring guest-turns from Ravi Coltrane on soprano saxophone and bassist Ron Carter. (Chris Barton) Read more

Chef Miles Thompson. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

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

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

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

Portrait of Father Junipero Serra by Father Jose Mosqueda. (The Huntington Library)

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

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Other recommendations:

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

J.D. Salinger. (Antony Di Gesu / San Diego Historical Society / Getty Images)

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

David Ulin

Book critic

Other recommendations:

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

'Little Green'

When last we saw Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins, he had just lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu. This was in the closing pages of the 11th (and seemingly final) Rawlins book, “Blonde Faith,” published in 2007. Yet six years later, Easy is back, narrating a new novel, “Little Green” that picks up where “Blonde Faith” left off. It's 1967, and Easy must navigate a Los Angeles he barely recognizes in the wake of both the Watts riots and the Summer of Love. Read more

Joel and Ellie in "The Last of Us." (Naughty Dog / SCEA)

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

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

‘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

Designer Cynthia Vincent (Photo from Cynthia Vincent)

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

Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Other recommendations:

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

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

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

'The Great Gatsby'

Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" is the fashion film of the year. The big-screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book features stellar costumes by Catherine Martin, who collaborated with Miuccia Prada on chandelier crystal cocktail dresses adapted from her runway archives, Tiffany & Co. on Art Deco-inspired jewelry and Brooks Bros. on striped regatta blazers and suits. It adds up to a dazzling slice of the high life in the Roaring Twenties, "a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today," Luhrmann told my colleague Adam Tschorn in his must-read story about the look of the film. Read more

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