Critics’ Picks: Sept 4 - Sept 10, 2015
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.
A new documentary profiles Steve Jobs, ‘Under the Dome’ ends its run and Stephen Colbert starts up his new show. There’s also captivating restaurant in Marina Del Rey, and two video games take fresh approaches with old favorites.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine’
Alex Gibney uses his trademark mixture of talking heads, archival footage and investigative zeal to provide an engrossing, at times unflattering look at one of technology’s most influential figures. Read more
Julius Rosenwald was a philanthropist on a colossal scale, giving away what has been estimated as close to a billion dollars in today's money. But as revealed in this vivid documentary, it's not just the amount of money he donated that makes Rosenwald special, it's the specifics of who he gave it to and how and why he did it that sets him apart. Read more
'We Come as Friends'
Documentarian Hubert Sauper goes where other people don't go, sees what the crowd doesn't see, and creates unsettling, provocative political documentaries that are unlike anyone else's. His latest trip to Africa (after the Oscar-nominated "Darwin's Nightmare") is so audacious that Sundance created a World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize for Cinematic Bravery just for him. Read more
This film will open your eyes, and more than once. Not just visually, as you might expect from a documentary on the obsessive quest to be the first to climb the most impossible peak in the Himalayas, but psychologically as well. Read more
'Shaun the Sheep'
More endearing nonsense from the folks at Aardman Animation: A sheep is tasked with leaving the farm and taking part in a search-and-rescue mission in the big city. This may sound like a story for small children, but cleverness-starved adults may end up its biggest fans. Read more
There's no need for psychiatric intervention just quite yet, but the mighty Marvel movie empire is showing definite signs of having a split personality. On the one hand, you have those big clanking machines like "The Avengers" and "Captain America," stuffed to bursting with superhero braggadocio. Then there are the loose, anarchic films, more offbeat items that seem to come from another universe entirely. Films like "Guardians of the Galaxy." Films like "Ant-Man." Playful in unexpected ways and graced with a genuinely off-center sense of humor, "Ant-Man" (engagingly directed by Peyton Reed) is light on its feet the way the standard-issue Marvel behemoths never are. Read more
German director Christian Petzold and star Nina Hoss collaborate in an intoxicating post-Holocaust witches' brew, equal parts melodrama and moral parable, that audaciously mixes diverse elements to compelling, disturbing effect. In German with English subtitles. Read more
'Listen to Me Marlon'
A revelatory, strikingly emotional look at a complex, troubled, enormously gifted man, this laceratingly candid documentary about Marlon Brando makes excellent use of hundreds of hours of previously unheard audio tapes the actor made to record his fascinating ruminations. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’
Although it’s very risky these days to tout anything as an “important television event,” mainly because everything is touted as an “important television event,” the debut of Stephen Colbert as the new host of “The Late Show” actually is an important television event. Whether you loved it or loathed it, “The Colbert Report” was an astonishing work of sustained satire. Whether it, along with “The Daily Show” from which it was spawned and which also recently ended, changed the nature of newsgathering or politics in America is open for debate, but it certainly took the stuffiness out of the term “news junkie,” presenting political news and analysis through a prism of popular culture, which is exactly how many Americans see it. CBS, weeknights, starting Tue., Sept. 8. Read more
'Arthur & George'
The collected works of Arthur Conan Doyle are a gift that keeps on giving. Especially to television, where "Elementary" (CBS) and "Sherlock" (BBC America) currently deliver two very different iterations of the world's first, and most famous, consulting detective. As it turns out, Doyle didn't just set the gold standard for fictional sleuths; he also provided the first detective-writer-as-actual-detective story line. Long before characters like Ellery Queen, Jessica Fletcher or Richard Castle were mere notes on a page, Doyle used the powers of observation and deduction he had granted Sherlock Holmes to solve an actual crime and change the British judicial system. (PBS, Sundays) Read more
'Under the Dome' Series Finale
Fans of the show know what's under the dome: chaos and dwindling ratings. Now that CBS has pulled the plug on the Stephen King television-event-turned-series, we'll finally find out what it is, whose it is and, more important, whether the answers are the same as in the book. (Mary McNamara) (CBS, Thursday) Read more
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’
Claudia Rankine’s series of prose poems on the manifold ways racism manifests itself in contemporary society and burrows into black consciousness, glides down its own lyrical path with beguiling confidence. Staging the book, as the Fountain Theatre has done (in this remount of their 2015 production), seems a completely natural thing to do. Ends Sunday, May 7. Read more
The late August Wilson's award-winning 1987 study of a former Negro League player-turned-garbage collector battling prejudice, regrets and mortality receives a pertinent, gripping revival. Director Gregg T. Daniel pitches toward humor early on, so the eventual fireworks land with devastating force, and the cast, led by Michael A. Shepperd in the performance of his career and the superb Karole Foreman, scores a grand slam. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sun., Sept. 13) Read more
'El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola'
Ron House's follow-up to his, John Neville-Andrews, Alan Shearman and Diz White's 1973 international phenomenon is a knee-slapping festival of broad hilaridad, an un-PC fiesta that is simultaneously a throwback to the Golden Age of live television, a current-day-minded sequel and its own muy histérico entertainment. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sun., Dec. 13) Read more
'As You Like It'
As part of Theatricum Botanicum's Americana-themed summer repertory season, Shakespeare's pastoral comedy is reset in the post-Civil War Deep South, an overlay that shrewdly amplifies themes of land and loyalties divided; the outdoor Topanga Canyon backdrop is an ideal fit — you can't improve on scenic design by Nature itself. (Philip Brandes) (Through Sept. 26) Read more
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos and his superb cast nail the arcane subtexts in Harold Pinter's creepily brilliant play about a womanless tribe whose atavistic longing — and loathing — for a female newcomer to their midst trumps all familial considerations. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Through Oct. 4) Read more
'A Permanent Image'
Rogue Machine Theatre's deftly crafted production of this early play by Samuel D. Hunter boasts wonderful performances by Anne Gee Byrd, Tracie Lockwood, Ned Mochel and Mark L. Taylor. The play itself, in which an adult brother and sister return to their childhood home for their father's funeral, is a fairly typical dysfunctional-family drama: too much liquor triggers face-offs and revelations. But the pleasure of watching the fine cast sends this technically exceptional production into another stratosphere. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Mon., Sept. 7) Read more
Album: ‘Hall of Records’
Lionel Williams, who makes music and visual art as Vinyl Williams, crafts sparkly electronic beat music that exists in its own curious realm. “Hall of Records” is one of 14 tracks on his new album, “Into,” and makes for a good portal. Tinted with the sonic tone of an overused Maxell cassette, rich with humming frequencies that recall German Krautrock and dense with muffle-tone beats suggestive of 1990s label Too Pure, the track swirls with synthesizers and waves of untethered noise. Williams is less skilled as a vocalist, though. He quivers in pitchy falsetto throughout “Into.” It hardly matters, though. The stuff is mesmerizing. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: 'Heaven's Room'
Guitarist Matt Mondanile is perhaps best known for his work with New Jersey guitar pop band Real Estate, but his solo project Ducktails has generated equally sublime tracks across four albums. The fifth, "St. Catherine," is filled with many languid, jangled guitar lines. Among the best is "Heaven's Room," which features Los Angeles musician Julia Holter. Mondanile, who relocated to Los Angeles, is a master of smooth, shimmering guitar tones, but "Heaven's Room" blossoms through masterful arrangements and a sonic depth courtesy of producer Rob Schnapf. (Randall Roberts) Read more
While most other superstar artists are either on vacation, on tour or otherwise removed from the conversation, Prince is spending the summer focused on protest and injustice. The artist just released the lyric video for "Baltimore," his invective against police brutality that draws attention to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and others. The track, released earlier this year, is one of the most searing protest songs the Minneapolis artist has recorded, and the video is just as pointed. It documents the protests that followed Gray's death in the back of a Baltimore police van, matching shots of frustrated citizens with the artist's lyrical questions. "Are we going to see another bloody day? We're tired of crying and people dying — let's take all the guns away." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Longest River'
On its surface, the debut album from the British folk singer Olivia Chaney, released in April, is a simple affair. Featuring her graceful hand-picked acoustic guitar and piano work and a small backing band of strings and bass, "The Longest River" highlights an artist with a voice in harmony with rich traditions and eager to add her own pure-toned phrased accents. Below the surface, though, lay grim complications. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Essential albums of 2015
Embarking on a mid-year rundown of 2015's best pop albums so far is as much an exercise in mix-and-match diplomacy as it is a definitive truth. Within the various portals of "popular music" in 2015 are so many sounds, approaches, accents, instrumental varieties and ear-popping engineering feats that one tilt of the kaleidoscope yields wildly divergent patterns. I've constrained myself to focus on voices pushing at the edges of so-called popular music. (Randall Roberts) Read more
The San Francisco-based Holly Herndon is a singular artist whose productions blend layers of electronically manipulated voice with beats, noise, sibilant textures and filtered sound to create eardrum-tickling joy. On her second album she manages to sound both futuristic and steeped in history. In her work on "Platform" are echoes of voice-and-sample experimenters from decades past, including Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Nobukazu Takemura and Bjork. But Herndon explores elsewhere. (Randall Roberts) Read more
It's easy to imagine masses in sold-out arenas bellowing all the words to "Fire Away," the crawling country blues track that's one of many highlights of this debut album from Chris Stapleton. Or, for that matter, most of the album. A sturdy, no-nonsense collection of 14 electrified country songs about empty whiskey bottles, broken hearts, lapses of faith and getting stoned because the whiskey bottle is empty, the record is a straight-talking, unflinching look at trouble and its occasional resolution. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'California Nights'
Of all the cultural archetypes that Southern California has produced, the loosely defined genre known as "beach music" is one of its most enduring. That sunny, harmony-rich, melodically spirited permutation is the rope connecting artists as varied as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, the Go-Gos, Snoop Dogg, Mazzy Star and No Doubt. Over the last few years that sound has ridden a wave into the present through the work of Best Coast. The duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno move further toward mastering the vibe on their third studio album, "California Nights." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Carrie & Lowell'
Over his decade-plus as a working musician, Sufjan Stevens has tackled a range of impressively big-ticket projects, including a series of album-length odes to states in the Union, a giddy, joyous dance-rock record called "The Age of Adz" and multimedia art projects. His roots, though, are as a guitar-based songwriter, the kind searching for beauty amid strummed chords and counterpoint arrangements. "Carrie & Lowell" are the real-life names of Stevens' late mother and stepfather, so these 11 songs have an autobiographical tint to them, even if Stevens has long played with fact and fiction (see his mysterious "Concerning the U.F.O. Sighting Near Highland, Illinois") and avowedly does so throughout. (Randall Roberts) Read more
To describe this Australian artist's new release, "The Double EP: A Split of Peas," as the product of a "singer and songwriter" is to suggest something less menacing than she is. Barnett's got a great way with lyrics and hooks, packing a lot of information, for example, into "Canned Tomatoes (Whole)," about a former neighbor/lover. "David" takes a basic blues pattern and turns it into a bouncy, insistent piece on the many reasons why the titular ex-boyfriend is getting the boot. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album 'Rebel Heart'
Madonna named her 13th studio album "Rebel Heart." The title fits the Madge mold of past titles: adjectives, a noun or two, perhaps a preposition, combined to suggest a loose theme. "Like a Virgin," "Ray of Light," "Hard Candy," "Bedtime Stories" and her relatively epic "Confessions on a Dance Floor" confirm her long-player branding technique, each connecting a concrete idea with the themes conveyed through the songs, more or less. The outlier, her forgettable last album, "MDNA," was a coy reference to the drug MDMA (a.k.a. molly or ecstasy). It sounded as spent as the Monday following an epic Saturday binge. "Rebel Heart" is a far better album than "MDNA" — cleaner, crisper, more sober, less a flimsy attempt at drawing fickle youth ears and more a sturdy rhythmic platform to showcase some of the most striking tracks she's made in 15 years (specifically, since "Music," her last great album). Featuring production by artists including Avicii, Diplo, Kanye West and Sophie and guests including Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj and (in spoken form) Mike Tyson, it has completeness to it rather than the mishmash of could-be stabs at relevance that dots her lesser work. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Shadows in the Night'
Call them standards if you must — imagine dusty old classics of the so-called Great American Songbook. But as interpreted by Bob Dylan, more accurate is to consider the entirety of "Shadows in the Night" as a gathering of meditations, or a booklet of hymns, or a selection of reveries. Ten songs, 34 minutes, a soaring lifetime's worth of emotion conveyed with the fearlessness of a cliff diver spinning flips and risking belly flops in the open air — that's Dylan and his band on the graceful, often-breathtaking "Shadows." The record comes out Feb. 3. Strikingly unadorned and as emotionally raw as anything in the artist's canon, Dylan's new studio album is rich with moaning pedal steel lines and tonal whispers that drift in and out of measures. Guided by bassist Tony Garnier's liquid lines, "Shadows" is an exercise in precision, each syllable essential, each measure evenly weighted. Absent are piano, overdubs, all but the most minimal percussion or any lyric written by Dylan himself. And it's as slow as molasses. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Best known as an original member of Danity Kane, R&B singer Dawn Richard left the group last year (again) after a public kerfuffle revealed deep divisions among the crew. No disrespect to the others, but Richard is thriving without them. Over the last few years she's issued a series of works that hinted at a wildly visionary approach to soul sonics, and she's gone even further on "Blackheart." A collaboration with the Los Angeles producer Noisecastle III, Richards' second studio album is thick with synth-based polyrhythms and layers of Richard's fine voice. When delivered straight, it's solid and pitch perfect. More often, though, she and Noisecastle run her words through strange filters, electronically manipulating it to move from male bass to female soprano and beyond. She merges her words with Vocoders like she's rolling onto Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," hums with Giorgio Moroder-like synth throbs. The result is magnetic future funk, rife with Roland 909 tones, British drum and bass accents and much left-field surprise. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Catch & Release
Catch & Release, a big new East Coast-style seafood restaurant in the old Paiche space in Marina del Rey, feels perhaps more like a Sprout-group restaurant than like the natural result of culinary ambition. I do not mean to slight Jason Neroni, a fine chef who has been working in the Los Angeles area for many years. Sprout’s formula, honed by its founder, Bill Chait, practically mandates a prominent chef — restaurants in the portfolio include Redbird, Bestia and Republique — as well as decent cocktails, an impeccably schooled staff and a high decibel reading. We’ve seen mostly Italian cooking from Neroni, at Osteria la Buca and Superba Snack Bar, but he may well have dreamed of opening a New England lobster shack. It’s hard to know. The Marina has always been a tough area. You find a seat at the seafood counter, a table in the dining room or a niche in the narrow open-air patio from which you can look out on the chain restaurants in the mall across the street. You settle in with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris and a peel-and-eat shrimp cocktail, half a dozen oysters or a $150 cold seafood platter actually called the Baller if you’re in the mood. And you contemplate digging in. Read more
Your ideas about porchetta may have been formed in the hills east of Rome or at a truck parked in Umbria or perhaps with the fennel-scented suckling pig they sometimes serve at Sotto, the stuffed roasts in the case at McCall's Meat & Fish Co. or the sandwiches from Mozza2Go. You can find a lot of decent porchetta in Los Angeles now. But I am guessing you have never tried anything like the vindaloo at the new Sambar in Culver City — a shoulder rolled around fiery Indian spices instead of rosemary and fennel, plunked into a hot oven and roasted until the meat becomes tender enough to slice with a pinkie nail and the skin hardens to a crunch that could shatter your teeth. Read more
Pot-au-feu is at the heart of the French kitchen; more than a beef soup, it is the enduring symbol of hearth and home, an emblem of a life well lived. The revolutionary Mirabeau called pot-au-feu the foundation of empires. Anthony Bourdain calls pot-au-feu soul food for socialists. In "Lolita," Humbert compares his ex-wife to a glorified pot-au-feu. There have been extended treatises on the ideology of pot-au-feu. As every classically trained chef knows, Michel Guérard, the standard-bearer for nouvelle cuisine and still one of the best chefs in France, first came of notice with his version at the namesake Le Pot-au-Feu in the 1960s — an elevation of the humble family dish into something worthy of Michelin stars. A good pot-au-feu — clear, nourishing broth, tender meats and vegetables each cooked to its turn — requires a remarkable attention to detail and a good deal of time. So if you were going to tease out the ambitions of Cassia, Bryant Ng's sprawling Santa Monica restaurant, you should probably take a look at his Vietnamese pot-au-feu, which is a statement of purpose written in carrots, broth and beef. Read more
Kinjiro, the most elegant izakaya in Little Tokyo, is in the Honda Plaza at the far end of the neighborhood, in the space most recently inhabited by the offal-intensive izakaya b.o.s., which closed last fall, and to a casual observer it may seem basically unchanged. Owner Jun Isogai still prowls the front of the house, controlling reservations and engaging his customers in long conversations on the provenance of the sake. Yoshizaku Kondo, the sous-chef at b.o.s., is behind the stove. The lines are nowhere near as long as they can be at Sushi Gen or the excellent shabu-shabu parlor Kagaya, also in the plaza, but they don't have to be. If you don't have a reservation, you will most likely not be allowed past the door. Kinjiro may be relatively democratic, but it is also quite small. You are not the only one with wasabi-flavored potato salad on his mind. Read more
Burritos La Palma
We are all familiar with the celebrity chef. What may be more elusive is the concept of the celebrity taco -- a taco so well known that it has managed to work its way into the general consciousness even of people who may have no idea of its form, provenance or location. The galbi taco is one of those -- it managed to bubble its way up into the culture long before most of us had ever seen a Kogi truck -- and so is the crunchy shrimp taco at Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. Guisados’ tacos toreados probably fall into that camp, as does the B.S. Taqueria taco with lardo and clams. But the celebrity taco of the moment may not even be a taco at all -- it is the burrito de birria at Burritos La Palma in El Monte, a small burrito that is for all intents and purposes a taco. Read more
Have you heard about the taco with lardo and clams? In some circles it seems as if all anybody talks about is the taco with lardo and clams, which is the improbable specialty of B.S. Taqueria, a cocktail-oriented restaurant implanted into the carapace of the former Mo-Chica in downtown L.A. Because from the moment you spot the clam-and-lardo tacos, which at some point will be decorating the table of nearly everyone in the dining room, you know they are unlike anything else in even this taco-obsessed town. (Jonathan Gold) Read more
When you stroll south down Cahuenga from Hollywood Boulevard, you run into tattoo parlors, neat mobs of people gathered outside anonymous velvet ropes, and bad-decision bars not quite decadent enough to make it into Thrillist listicles. A DJ spins dated electrofunk records outside the Jamaican taco truck adjacent to the occult supplies store. Tourists suddenly realize they're not on Vine. It's not a bad block if what you're after happens to be espresso or 24-hour pancakes, but it also may be the last place you might expect to find a sleek new restaurant from a chef with Mélisse on his résumé and a knack for foie gras, a bottle of Alsatian Riesling or a plate of grilled corn with mascarpone and summer truffles. Yet there you'll find Birch: matte gray exterior, blond wood tables and monkfish tikka masala hiding under airy slabs of pappadum. Read more
Tumanyan Khinkali Factory
Meet khinkali, your latest obsession. Khinkali are soup dumplings from the mountains north of Tbilisi, Georgia. When you check Google Maps for the mountain village in which they may have been born, khinkali is the only word you will be able to read on the screen — the location, apparently, of a restaurant. Pasanauri was a center of dumpling tourism in the Soviet era, although it has fallen on hard times. Dumpling tourism is not what it used to be. A proper khinkali is about the size and heft of a lemon, a lump of oniony meat encased in a sturdy pleated wrapper gathered at the top in a thick, doughy knob. If you poke around in old cookbooks, you see khinkali after khinkali lined up on big platters, resembling nothing so much as Eastern European folk-art heads of garlic. Tumanyan Khinkali Factory is a new khinkali specialist hidden in a Glendale shopping complex courtyard, a branch of the most famous khinkali restaurant in Armenia's capital, Yerevan. Its dumplings more closely resemble old-fashioned hot water bottles, or, really, like Claes Oldenburg's Pop art sculpture of a hot water bottle that used to grace the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's courtyard. Read more
Odys + Penelope
Odys + Penelope, the modern-primitive grill from Quinn and Karen Hatfield, feels as if it has been around for decades, all stripped brick, raw wooden rafters, and an open kitchen that dominates the far end of the restaurant like a proscenium stage. The restaurant smells good, like herbs and campfires, meat and liquor. The most emblematic dish here is the well-aged sirloin cap, that star of the Brazilian churrasceria menu; the most unexpected dish, probably the gigantic applewood-smoked short rib, is a close cousin to the beef ribs in the best central Texas barbecue pits. The Hubble telescope studies mysteries less profound than crisp yet friable perfection of the rye crust on Karen Hatfield's chocolate pie. Read more
If you want to understand Asanebo, the sleek Japanese restaurant at the heart of Studio City's sushi bar strip, you could do worse than to look at the tiny dish of chawanmushi there, the inevitable beginning to one of the long, multi-course omakase meals that are the restaurant's reason for being. You will find a curl of ruddy sea urchin roe, the sweetly austere stuff shipped in from Hokkaido instead of the lusher Santa Barbara uni, and some briny, lightly chewy bits of stewed abalone atop a shiny glaze of chilled reduced dashi made with deeply smoky katsuoboshi — dried bonito. Microscopic cubes of minced wasabi are strewn over the seafood, almost as much for their crunch as for their bright heat, and the chawanmushi itself, half an inch of egg custard, is crème brûlée-rich, impossibly smooth, steamed just to the point when it is maximally luscious but has not yet released its liquid. You will eat this in two bites without pausing to reflect on the thousands of air miles, centuries of technique and microseconds of timing that have come together in these few grams of food set in front of you at your table. And you are not meant to reflect — I don't think. Read more
The Chipotlization of the world seems inevitable at this point. A quick glance at Google turns up the Chipotle of South East Asian food, the Chipotle of Mediterranean food, the Chipotle of Japanese food, the Chipotle of mac 'n' cheese and more Chipotles of pizza than you can shake a pepperoni at. So it will not be a surprise when you wander down a side street in Old Town Pasadena and run into California Chutney, a gleaming new restaurant that clearly would like to be the Chipotle of Indian food — quick, handmade and almost infinitely customizable. Instead of a tortilla, there is hot naan plucked out of a tandoor; instead of carnitas, there is chicken tikka, tandoori shrimp, chickpeas or the fresh cheese called paneer, all served out of colorful enameled iron pots; instead of salsas there is a choice of chutneys — the one made with pureed cilantro isn't bad — and instead of sliced bell peppers there are shallot pickles or red chile oil. Read more
Empress Pavilion is the biggest restaurant in Chinatown, a glittery, hangar-size seafood palace built at the height of the late 1980s boom. In its early years, you would typically wait an hour or more for a table on dim sum Sunday mornings, and in the evenings, the vast hall would be subdivided for wedding banquets and business dinners that featured the best class of bird's nest soup and such oddities as Dragon and Phoenix platters that occasionally included real snake. Even as the focus of the Chinese community moved 10 miles east and the food malls that lined Broadway were eclipsed by the shinier complexes in the new Chinatowns of San Gabriel and Monterey Park, Empress' live scallop dishes and sun-dried abalone held their own against the other Hong Kong-style competitors Harbour Village and Ocean Star. Read more
Redbird may be the most anticipated Los Angeles restaurant of the current decade, a venture involving the city's highest-profile food entrepreneur at the moment, an actual deconsecrated cathedral and a chef for whom greatness has lain just out of reach for more than a decade. No local restaurant has ever taken quite so long to open; no spit-grilled lamb belly with kumquats and Aleppo pepper has ever taken quite so long to reach the plate. But here we are, walking up the steps to the former rectory, passing through a softly glowing cocktail lounge and into a former patio, newly crowned with a retractable roof. From some angles, you can see bits of the former cathedral interior through the big glass windows — at night, the changing colored lights give the nave the look of a James Turrell installation. A locomotive-size grill chugs at one end of the dining room. The former apartments of the rectory, recently converted into private dining areas, soar overhead. And more than at any Los Angeles restaurant since Rex or the first decade of Campanile, you feel as if you are part of something bigger than yourself, a hungry, chattering component of a grand pleasure machine — even before the 32-ounce porterhouse shows up. Read more
‘Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition’
Today, when a YouTube video or a tweet can go viral, mass media merges with personal media. In “Perfect Likeness,” an engaging photography exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum, a wide variety of artists have found ways to jam a metaphorical stick into the furiously spinning spokes of the hybrid photo wheel. Viewers get snared by pictorially subversive means, all designed to stop them in their tracks. Ends Sun., Sept. 13. Read more
One month without filming: João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva
If you are old enough and fortunate enough to have grown up watching home movies on film, as I did, Portuguese artists Gusmão and Paiva's installation of 10 16-millimeter films will strike a chord of nostalgia (Sharon Mizota) (Ends Sun., Sept. 20) Read more
A site-specific mural, a video installation and 12 new paintings comprise Mark Bradford’s ruminative exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum, organized by curator Connie Butler. Together they form a kind of thumbnail sketch of the artist’s varied artistic approaches since he began showing regularly in 2002, launched at the former Patricia Faure Gallery. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 27) Read more
Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography
This is an illuminating and exciting exhibition, rare in its thoughtful balance of articulated theme, historical context and respect for the integrity of the individual artists. The work splays in diverse directions but stems from common impulses. Each artist honors the history of the medium by inventively subverting it. Reverent and irreverent in equal measure, they are redefining photography and ensuring its continual efflorescence (Leah Ollman) (Through Sept. 6) Read more
Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
Smart museums fulfill the fundamental mission to investigate and illuminate their permanent collections by building exhibitions around significant works of art they possess. The Getty is a smart museum. It has long done such shows with its paintings, photographs, manuscripts and more. Never did I expect it would be possible to do so around the Getty Bronze, given the rarity of related material and the complexities (and expense) of shipping full-size ancient sculpture. But here it is: The first-ever American museum survey of Hellenistic bronze sculpture, complete with a cogent, briskly articulated array of thematic groupings and a superlative, richly illustrated, very readable catalog. Miss it at your peril. Nothing like this will come around again for a very long time. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., Nov. 1) Read more
Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada
In the aftermath of the Watts rebellion, which tore up South Los Angeles in August 1965, sending shock waves across the country, Noah Purifoy made an extensive series of assemblage sculptures that signaled a powerful, wholly unexpected cultural shift. Working with a small circle of colleagues, he was instrumental in redefining — enlarging — an idea of black consciousness that had been established in 1920s New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Ten of those early assemblages are at the start of "Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada," the much-anticipated retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Sept. 27) Read more
'Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent’
The show effectively lays out how Sister Corita, the activist nun and artist, used commercial media imagery in the 1960s to advertise an enlightened liberal humanism, which grew from her religious faith. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., Nov. 1) Read more
Michelle Stuart: Topographies
This show spans nearly 50 years of drawings, rubbings and photographic installations. For all of its breadth, the selection is tight and consistently absorbing, vital and relevant. Since the '60s, Stuart has made art as a citizen of the world, traveling widely and connecting deeply with whatever earth is beneath her feet. (Leah Ollman) (Through Sept. 5) Read more
Jonathan Franzen’s career offers a cautionary narrative — for us as much as him. As far back as 1996, with “Perchance to Dream,” his long essay published in Harper’s on the state of contemporary fiction, he has filled the role of both avatar and scapegoat, an ambitious writer who can’t (or won’t) steer clear of controversy. Such a process began in earnest with “The Corrections,” his masterful 2001 portrait of a Midwestern family, that led to an infamous tiff with Oprah Winfrey after he objected to her book club logo on the cover. More than a decade later, “Freedom,” a moving meditation on marriage and friendship, provoked a campaign on Twitter, under the hashtag “franzenfreude,” protesting the attention Franzen had received. By now, Franzen is often regarded less as writer than as cultural signifier, emblem of white male hegemony. That this has little if anything to do with the substance of his novels is (perhaps) the point and the tragedy; when it comes to Franzen, the writing is where we go last. Just consider the recent uproar over his remarks about wanting to adopt an Iraqi war orphan — tone-deaf, yes, but irrelevant to the success or failure of his work. This is the culture into which Franzen is releasing his fifth novel, “Purity,” with its admonition that one “could either ignore the haters and suffer the consequences, or he could accept the premises of the system, however sophomoric he found them, and increase its power and pervasiveness by participating in it.” Such a line captures almost perfectly the key conundrum of the Digital Age, with its easy (and dangerous) sanctimony. Read more
'Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii'
"The task of understanding the past is never-ending," Susanna Moore observes late in "Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii," her fascinating account of the "short 120 years from the arrival of Captain Cook in 1777 to the annexation of the Islands in 1898 by the United States." Such a point of view — imbued as it is with a sense of story as malleable, dependent on teller as much as character — belongs as much to the novelist as to the historian. That, of course, is as it should be, for Moore is best known for her fiction. Author of seven novels, including "In the Cut" and "The Whiteness of Bones," she has staked out a territory in which women must find a place for themselves in a world where history conspires against them and identity is a shifting sea of codes. Small wonder, then, that she would bring an equivalent perspective to Hawaii, where she grew up and about which she has written two earlier nonfiction books, "I Myself Have Seen It" and "Light Years." For Moore, Hawaii is where it all begins (it permeates her fiction too), a template of fantasy and hard truths, opportunities lost and found. As she writes, "It will be the obvious view of most readers that the Hawaiians should have been left to work out their own history." Read more
'Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story'
On Nov. 8, 2000, David Payne's younger brother, George A., died in a car wreck north of Roanoke, Va. Payne, the lead driver in an impromptu two-vehicle caravan, watched the whole thing unfold in his rearview mirror. His brother was helping him transport belongings from Vermont to North Carolina as part of a move. This is the impetus for "Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story," Payne's first book of nonfiction after five novels, including "Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street." To say "Barefoot to Avalon" is about the accident, however, is to underestimate what Payne has achieved. George A., who was 42 when he died, suffered from bipolar I disorder and had been through multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations; he had lost his job, his marriage, his self-sufficiency, living with his mother for the last nine years of his life. Payne, for his part, had "failed to see what had happened to George A. and had let things shutter down till there was almost no light left between us." The brothers' trip together, then, was meant to be a reclamation project, a way of bringing them back into proximity again. That it ended as it did is just one of the many tragedies that permeate this piercing book. Read more
'Poetry Is Useless'
Anders Nilsen is called a comics artist, but that's not exactly what he does. Yes, his books are visual, but Nilsen seems at times to be about the deconstruction of form itself in favor of a purer style of storytelling, gathering evidence: images, correspondence, notes from the author to himself.... It's a vivid approach to narrative, immediate and unexpected, and it encourages — no, requires — us to engage. On the one hand, a stunning, apparently unfiltered humanity, and on the other, a sense of form as malleable, as less straitjacket than structure, a way of piercing the surfaces to get at all the uncontrolled or uncontrollable material underneath. And yet, filtering is what an artist does — the shaping of perception, of experience — and this creates the tension at the heart of Nilsen's work. How to make order out of chaos and still give the chaos its due? The question echoes through Nilsen's new book, "Poetry Is Useless," which reproduces seven years of his sketchbooks; much of the work here originally appeared on his blog "The Monologuist." Read more
'The Meursault Investigation'
Give Kamel Daoud credit for audacity. In his debut novel, "The Meursault Investigation," the Algerian journalist goes head-to-head with a pillar of 20th century literature: Albert Camus' existential masterpiece "The Stranger." First published in France in 1942, Camus' novel tells the story of Meursault — like the author, a French Algerian, or pied-noir — who under the influence of heat or fate kills an Arab on the beach at the peak of a summer afternoon. "I shook off the sweat and sun," Meursault informs us. "… Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness." "The Meursault Investigation" takes place on the other side of that door, offering a glimpse of the fallout from Meursault's futile violence. Read more
'Maintenance of Headway'
Partway through Magnus Mills' "The Maintenance of Headway," the narrator, a bus driver in a city that must be London, is stuck on a crowded road behind a truck with a warning reading, "If you can't see my mirrors I can't see you." Bored and frustrated, the driver starts to frame a song. "If you can't see my mirrors," he sings to himself, "I can't see you anymore / I can't see you … anymore." The logic is inescapable: "Sitting in a bus composing songs might seem pointless, but there was nothing else to do." The same might be said of this strange and lovely novel, published in the U.K. in 2009 and now available in the United States for the first time. Read more
'A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me'
I'll be honest: I wasn't sure we'd see another book of fiction by David Gates. It's been 16 years since his last, the collection "The Wonders of the Invisible World," and even longer since his novels, "Jernigan," a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the magnificent "Preston Falls." In these works, Gates staked out a territory, the anxieties of a particular corner of the middle class: artsy, at one time hip or (even slightly) radical, aspirational less in the financial sense than that of creativity or spirit. That these aspirations have crumbled is part of the point, as his characters reckon with the compromises, physical and emotional, that living brings. Read more
'The Odd Woman and the City'
Vivian Gornick's "The Odd Woman and the City" is a book of ghosts. Ghosts of the past; ghosts of New York, which is for her both home and character; ghosts of a lifetime of reading, intentional and covert. These ghosts emerge when Gornick least expects it or are invoked directly in the text. "It's an evening in June," she writes, "and I am taking a turn through Washington Square. As I stroll, I see in the air before me, like an image behind a scrim, the square as it looked when I was young, standing right behind the square that I'm actually looking at. That was a good fifty years ago, when my friends and I used to come down from the Bronx and in from Brooklyn on summer evenings and we'd walk around looking at a piece of world so different from that of our own neighborhoods, we might as well have been in Europe."This is not to say "The Odd Woman and the City" is nostalgic. As she has throughout her career, Gornick stands against nostalgia, which does not mean she stands against history. For her, however, history is a source of context, a way of tracing what has changed and what remains. Read more
'The Library of Babel'
Almost three-quarters of a century after it was published, Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” continues to resonate. A year and a half ago, the online magazine Places Journal published a set of architectural drawings representing the story’s setting — a library, “composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries,” in which is collected not only every book ever written but also every book never written, possibility and perplexity blurring into one another in unexpected ways. Now, a Brooklyn writer named Jonathan Basile has begun to re-create the library in more concrete form, on a website — called, appropriately enough, “The Library of Babel ” — that, if ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lowercase letters, space, comma, and period.” That this is impossible is part of the point, as it was of the original story. Read more
'Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond'
I got to know Los Angeles through its poetry. Even before I lived here, I experienced a different, human, side of the city through the works of Wanda Coleman, Michelle T. Clinton, Amy Gerstler, David Trinidad. It's no coincidence that all of them were, at one time or another, affiliated with Beyond Baroque. The Venice-based literary center, founded in 1968 by George Drury Smith, was created as a place for poetry, particularly the poetry of Los Angeles. Over the decades, scores of local and national writers — including Allen Ginsberg, Raymond Carver, Patti Smith and Amiri Baraka — have appeared there; John Doe and Exene Cervenka, of the band X, famously met at the long-running Wednesday Night Poetry Workshop. Read through such a filter, Suzanne Lummis' new anthology "Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond" feels like a bit of a homecoming, although it is not a backward-looking book. Gathering more than 100 poets (Coleman, Douglas Kearney, and L.A. laureates Eloise Klein Healy and Luis J. Rodriguez among them), it is a celebration of what let's call a Los Angeles aesthetic, an exploration of poetry and place. Read more
"I think I get away with a lot of political stuff," says Attica Locke, "because of the presence of a dead body. If you have familiar signposts along the way — this is when the cops get called, this is when we tell the girl's parents — readers get comfortable, and then you can slide in all this other material." It's noon on a Friday, and Locke is in the lounge of the Langham Huntington in Pasadena. A pianist plays softly around the corner as the author discusses the role of social issues in her novels, which position themselves as thrillers, then open up into a larger world. Her first, "Black Water Rising," which came out in 2009 and was nominated for both an Edgar and the Orange Prize, revolves around Jay Porter, a veteran of the civil rights movement turned small-time attorney, 30, with a pregnant wife and a past as an activist once tried for attempted murder. Her second, 2012's "The Cutting Season," takes on a murder with historical implications at a Louisiana plantation turned high-end event space. For the last year, Locke has also been a writer and producer on the Fox drama "Empire," which addresses, in its own way, a related set of themes. Now, she has returned to Jay Porter with her third novel, "Pleasantville," which picks up 15 years after "Black Water Rising," as the lawyer finds himself suddenly and against his will enmeshed in the political and legal drama surrounding a 1996 Houston mayoral campaign. Read more
'The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy'
Masha Gessen does something unexpected with "The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy." In a book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, she barely describes the crime. Here it is, her account, which comes almost exactly at the halfway point: "Patriots' Day 2013 fell on April 15, tax day — an ironic coincidence for a big American holiday. At 2:49 p.m. that day, a couple of hours after the winner completed the Boston Marathon, when runners were crossing the finish line in a steady stream, two bombs went off near the end of the route, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others, including sixteen who lost limbs." Read more
Online Magazine: 'The Offing'
Next week, a new literary magazine, the Offing, will premiere online. Based (for the most part) in Los Angeles, where it is affiliated with the Los Angeles Review of Books Channels project, it is really a national, or even international, effort, which aspires to break down boundaries, to level the playing field. Editor in chief Darcy Cosper (who is also an editor at LARB, although the Offing is editorially and financially independent) and executive editors Airea D. Matthews and Michael D. Snediker head up an editorial team that also includes Danez Smith, Leslie Parry and Margaret Wappler; the magazine, its website tells us, "is a place for new and emerging artists to test their voices, and for established artists to test their limits." Among these limits are those of diversity, which is a key part of the Offing's focus, to break down barriers, to blur — or even more, to eclipse — the lines that keep certain writers, certain communities, on the edges of the conversation, to redefine the mainstream by willfully stepping outside the bounds. Read more
Have you ever camped out overnight to buy a pair of kicks — or wondered why the heck anyone would? Then the new documentary “Sneakerheadz” is for you. Directed by David T. Friendly (Academy Award-nominated producer of “Little Miss Sunshine”), the film — which opens in limited release Friday — looks into sneaker collecting from the Fairfax corridor in Los Angeles to the Ginza district in Tokyo. And it comes at a time when sneakers seem to be everywhere: on Paris fashion runways, Hollywood red carpets and at New York City’s Brooklyn Museum, where an exhibition on “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” is scheduled to run through Oct. 4. Read more
The Aussie fashion footprint in L.A. just got a whole lot bigger with the opening of the 3,000-square-foot Zimmermann flagship on tony Melrose Place. Australian model Miranda Kerr, model-actress Chanel Iman, and actresses January Jones and Minka Kelly were among those who turned out for cocktails Wednesday night to fete the brand and its fun-loving cofounders, sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmermann. The boutique is airy and open with racks full of Zimmermann's boho-romantic printed sun dresses and jumpsuits with lattice stitching or sexy cutouts, lace peasant tops and skirts, and sculpted swimwear. Prices range from $150 to $600 for swimwear and $350 to $2,000 for ready-to-wear. Read more
Long before Jay Z was rapping about fashion designer Tom Ford, Pharrell Williams was pitching for Chanel or Kanye West was a front-row fixture at Givenchy, kids were customizing jean jackets with spray paint and accessorizing shell-toed Adidas shoes with starched laces. Hip-hop fashion, born from the music scene, has evolved into a global business and pop culture phenomenon that is explored in "Fresh Dressed," a new film by Sacha Jenkins. Read more
Lizzie Garrett Mettler
L.A.-based blogger and “Tomboy Style” author Lizzie Garrett Mettler has entered the world of retail. She’s launched The-Reed.com, an online destination that is part travel guide, part shop featuring clothing and accessories for traveling well. “I didn’t feel like there was a store for me that could provide items to go car camping two hours away from home or to wear while sightseeing during the day and to dress up at night,” Mettler says. “Travel items are either really masculine or if they’re for women are really jet-setter feminine. I wanted to bring some balance to the space.” Mettler launched her Tomboy Style blog in 2010 (it’s had 6.8 million views since its inception), which inspired a book by the same name published by Rizzoli in 2012, covering 80 years of women who mix masculine and feminine elements in their wardrobe. Read more
One Day Without Shoes
This week, L.A.-based Toms Shoes kicked off its eighth annual One Day Without Shoes campaign with a new social media twist. Through May 21, if you Instagram a pair of bare feet and tag the photo with the hashtag #withoutshoes, Toms will donate a new pair of shoes to a child in need — no purchase necessary. The social media campaign is good for up to 1 million posts, with a limit of one post per person. But considering Toms has given away 35 million pairs of shoes since the company started, it's a significant gesture. Toms was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. A former contestant on the reality show "The Amazing Race," he discovered the comfy canvas, espadrille-like alpargatas shoes when he traveled to Argentina after the show wrapped up, to play polo, relax and volunteer. Read more
The Apple Watch
The Apple Watch has landed in stores for "try-on visits" and pre-orders ahead of the April 24 ship date. It's a pretty genius retail tactic akin to a fashion trunk show — a tease to create demand for the tech giant's first foray into wearable technology. And it seems to have worked; many models of the watches are already back-ordered. I wasn't sure what to wear to my "try-on visit." Jeans, a skirt, long sleeves or short? I went with short sleeves, a skirt and heels because I wanted to see if the watch felt right with a somewhat formal, "on-duty" outfit. It turns out it didn't much matter what I wore, because no mirrors have been installed in Apple stores for the rollout. No mirrors for a product that is supposed to be a personal style statement — are you kidding me? It was a big fashion fail, but one that I got around by taking pictures of myself on, what else, my iPhone! Read more
'Mad Men' Fashions
With the seven final episodes of "Mad Men," the most fashion-influential TV show since "Sex and the City," is coming to an end. AMC's 1960s period drama about slick ad men and curvy women has been an aesthetic gold mine, influencing the slim silhouette of men's suits, the beauty ideal for women's bodies and more, particularly during the first five years of the show's 2007 to 2015 run. It brought the worlds of fashion and costume design ever closer in the process. From the first season, I — like most viewers — was seduced by the show's post-1950s innocence. I dreamed about living in an era before surgeon general warnings, when cigarettes and booze were a given at lunchtime and the polished glamour and propriety of opera gloves and pillbox hats were the norm. "I don't think you would have liked it," said my baby boomer mother, shattering the spell. "It wasn't much of a place for women." Of course she was right, as we've seen in episodes since, but they did dress fine. Read more
When Tory Burch wants centerpieces for a rooftop dinner at her Rodeo Drive boutique, Louis Vuitton executives need gifts for VIPs or Tom Ford wants to say "thank you," they call Eric Buterbaugh. For 17 years, Buterbaugh has been the go-to floral designer for L.A.'s stylish set. And after he dresses up the tables for dinners hosted by Jessica Alba, jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer or super-stylist Rachel Zoe, Buterbaugh joins the party as one of the most-sought-after guests in town. Now he's bottling the essence of what he does into his first fragrance collection, Eric Buterbaugh Florals. Read more
Clare Vivier has turned her love of French chic and American prep — and a search for the perfect, non-corporate-looking work bag — into a made-in-L.A. success story. Her collection launched eight years ago with a single vegetable-tanned leather tote called La Tropezienne, manufactured in Los Angeles. Buoyed by the early support of social media, it has grown to include small accessories, gifts, stationery and French-phrase T-shirts. Available at 300 outlets worldwide, it is on the way to becoming an American lifestyle brand — maybe even the next Kate Spade. "I have a lot of admiration for what Kate and Andy built," says Vivier, 44. "I also like what Vanessa Bruno did, starting with bags and then doing clothing." This month, Vivier is scheduled to open her fourth Clare V. store, her biggest yet, in L.A.'s Melrose Avenue shopping district. She is also dipping her toes into shoe design. Read more
Hometown hero Jeremy Scott has opened the first Moschino store in Los Angeles, with all the playful “Drink Moschino” cola can window displays, Barbie-pink shrunken biker jackets and chain-link-trimmed baseball caps you’d expect from fashion’s reigning king of pop. The designer, who took over as creative director of Italian fashion brand Moschino in October 2013 and now splits his time between his L.A. base and Milan, arrived stateside on Sunday to open the 3,500-square-foot boutique, located in a former gallery space on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. Read more
London designer darling Simone Rocha is following her New Establishment British Fashion Award win this week with a denim capsule for J Brand now available online. Rocha is the daughter of the well-established, Dublin, Ireland-based designer John Rocha, who was until recently a mainstay on the runways in London. She launched her namesake collection at London Fashion Week in 2011, after graduating from fashion school Central Saint Martins. Since then, she's been racking up young designer awards across the globe and gaining a steady following for her darkly feminine, goofy-glam, ruffled and sparkly designs, which sell at Colette, Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter, among other places. Read more
“Until Dawn” appears to be the horror genre at its most recognizable. There’s a cabin in the woods, of course, and a cast of good-looking actors playing a type rather than a character — the jock, the blond, the class goof. Most of them are really quite horrible people, in fact. There are scary movie tropes aplenty. Yes, there’s a clown mask, and there’s even a scene involving a Ouija board. One extended sequence has actress Hayden Panettiere in a towel. Open a cabinet, and out will come a rat, launching directly at you as if a spring board were built under the bathroom sink. Yet amid all these cliched ideas are rather ambitious ones. This silly B-movie of a video game may hint at the future interactive entertainment. Read more
Video game critic
'Lara Croft Go'
When "Tomb Raider" was rebooted in 2013, the game ushered in a number of changes for its main character, Lara Croft. Gone were the short-shorts and oversized chest, and in their place was a young, attractive archaeologist who actually looked like a young, attractive archaeologist. What's more, Croft talked and acted like a real human — curious when it came to adventuring, trepidatious, at least at first, when it came to weaponry. While "Lara Croft Go" brings back the shorts, the new mobile game from Square Enix one-ups the re-imagined "Tomb Raider" on at least one level: It requires the constant use of your brain. Read more
Here's a premise for a plot that's sure to bring out the tears: A blind girl can't find her best friend, a neighboring cat. If "Beyond Eyes" were a movie, it would come with a giant red warning light: Here be sadness. Thankfully, it's a video game. That's not to say "Beyond Eyes" doesn't tug on the heartstrings — it absolutely does — but the uniqueness of the interactive medium allows for a potentially sad experience to turn into a journey of discovery. That's because the relationship between player and controller can temper the heightened emotions of losing a pet. The act of moving a joystick, even in a nondemanding game such as "Beyond Eyes," immediately gives the player a task that must be completed. The cat must be found. Read more
Take the myth of Robin Hood, add a cyber-punk look and mix in some hacker sensibility. Welcome to "Volume," which just so happens to be one of the most subversive video games released this year. On the surface, "Volume" is a game of stealth and thieving. Yet these are clandestine operations that reflect a YouTube generation and an economically depressed climate. "Things are brilliant," says our hero, Rob, "if you're born into the right role." Available now for Sony's PlayStation 4, "Volume" imagines a world where hackers are less interested in exposing adultery and movie studio secrets than they are class parity. That may not sound as sexy as attacking Ashley Madison, the married people's online dating site, but "Volume" makes it all feel pretty slick. Neon-hued corridors and luminescent walls create a future-set world in which our working-class hero is to sneak around undetected. Read more
Some of the best games — and some of the most difficult — create their own language. It's a dialect born out of patterns, of habits and of good ol' fashioned trial and error. They speak in code. Their digital renderings are passed from generation to generation — interactive signifiers of where to go, what to avoid and how to slay. Staying out of space lava may be the obvious thing to do, but what about those gelatinous bubbles that slurp out of the rocks? Maybe those are good? Maybe they're healing? After all, they make a goopy sound that's slightly comforting when my spaceship passes through them, so they must be good, right? No, turns out they're not healing. But at least another piece of "Galak-Z's" speech patterns was unraveled. "Galak-Z" is certainly difficult, and it's also quite good. Its dialect reveals itself patiently and often contradicts itself. Read more
'Decisions That Matter'
"Decisions That Matter" is a video game that comes with a "trigger button." No, not the gun kind. It's more of an instant-quit button, providing players with a safe way to exit the game in case it starts to hit a little too close to home. And "Decisions That Matter" can get uncomfortable quick. The game tackles sexual assault, and it asks players to witness disturbing situations that test their moral fortitude. Read more
Not too long ago Joel McDonald was working on video games in which players could pummel bullets into trees. Today, he's crafted a puzzle game in which players nurture trees. The result? This former "Call of Duty" designer has one of the hottest games on the market. His mobile game "Prune" was near the top of Apple's paid App Store charts for much of last week. Not bad for a game in which the goal is to watch a tree sprout flowers. With swipes of the hand, players in "Prune" trim or guide a tree around barren, light-starved atmospheres. The more precise the direction, the more flowers the trees will grow. Described as a "love letter" to nature, the $3.99 game brings with it an abstract look and a meditative sound to plant life. Read more
Too much thinking, argues a blacksmith in the new "King's Quest," leads to inaction. She says this as if thought was a lamentable trait. Let's be thankful she's a fictional blacksmith and not a video game publisher. Conventional game design wisdom often puts forth the theory that the new, the technologically advanced and the action-packed are greater than something with a lived-in feel and many a conversation. Conventional game design wisdom is sometimes wrong. It's the difference between, say, the personal and the mechanically sound — a watch with slick, up-to-the-minute tech versus the clock with old-time appeal. With history come stories to tell, and occasionally some bad puns. This brings us to "King's Quest." Read more
About a decade ago, Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard released "N" as a reaction to all that was excessive in video games. They swapped out flashy color for essentially various shades of gray, there was no musical score and if it was story you were looking for, forget it. The main character was a tiny stick figure ninja that could jump high and run fast as robots targeted it around a minefield of explosive objects. The end. Now, on the verge of the release of "N++," the second proper sequel in what has proved to be a rather venerable indie franchise, Burns and Sheppard aren't quite as minimalistic in their gaming views. They have an audience, and the two wouldn't mind expanding it. The latest edition of their game will be coming to the PlayStation 4 as a downloadable title on July 28. It follows the 2008 release of "N+," an edition that Sheppard estimates sold more than 400,000 downloads. That's been enough to allow the duo to make "N" games full time, as well as wonder why their title hasn't reached even more players. "It's never gotten the recognition that we at least feel it deserves," says Sheppard. "We thought that part of that was because it's a little bit unapproachable. We wanted to give it one last shot and make it a bit more friendly." Read more
Take a little bit of "Dora the Explorer" and maybe a dash of David Lynch, and the resulting mix should be weird, whimsical, mysterious and, in theory, still kid-friendly. That's the hope, at least, of Joe Russ, whose "Jenny LeClue" is in development for home computers and mobile devices. "We've been calling it a dark whimsy," he says. In a free playable teaser of the game, available now, little Jenny LeClue is a young detective who's about to discover the world is far more dangerous than she ever could have imagined. There are ghost ships, for one, and even more imposing is the realization that her entire town, including her life, is under surveillance by a mysterious figure. Read more
Players in "Sunset" commit what would be considered acts of war by aiding a rebellion in a fictional South American city. They do this not by fighting but by housekeeping. "Sunset" is the rarest of war stories, one that touches upon those on the sidelines rather than the frontlines. "This is not like most video games where you're the actual hero and you go out and save everyone," says Auriea Harvey, one half of the two-person Belgium studio Tale of Tales. The latest game from the independent and experimental studio, "Sunset" illustrates the emotional turmoil war plays on everyday citizens, in this case an overqualified housekeeper who immigrated to South America from the United States. Read more
Ten games that made a lasting impression at E3 2015
The Electronic Entertainment Expo landed in Los Angeles last week with a thunder of hype. Upcoming games, such as "Fallout 4," "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End," "Halo 5: Guardians" and "Star Wars: Battlefront" tried to dazzle more than 50,000 members of the press and the industry — as well as a few fans. But now that the circus has left town, it's time to ask the most important question: What's worth playing? What follows is a look at 10 titles that left a lasting impression. There were others that Hero Complex is excited to keep an eye on, including "The Last Guardian," "Uncharted" and "Rise of the Tomb Raider," but the games listed here are ones we were allowed ample time to play. Read more
The enemy is around the corner. The floor is stained with the bright orange scars of battle. I can see my rival — she's wearing a baseball cap backward, high-tops and is firing blindly. This can only mean one thing: It's time to turn into a squid. "Boo-yah!" my character screams, and out come the tentacles. I dive into a pool of neon orange paint with a gooey splat of my squid limbs, never seeing the giant paint roller coming to steamroll me from behind. So much for my surprise attack. This is "Splatoon," one of the most senselessly entertaining video game shooters of this — or any — year. The shock is that it comes from Nintendo, entering an arena it long ago ceded to its competitors: the online multiplayer shoot-'em-up. Nintendo may be late to the game, but with "Splatoon," the company seems to out-weird its competitors. Read more