What to do this weekend in L.A. Critics Picks: March 9 - 15, 2018
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.
Shows about Rap artists and a superhero return for new seasons on TV and scientists explore an environmental disaster zone at the movies.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Natalie Portman plays a biologist who joins an all-female expedition into the heart of an environmental disaster zone in this eerily beautiful and hypnotically unsettling mind-bender from “Ex Machina” writer-director Alex Garland. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
A story about a broken marriage and a missing child becomes a withering snapshot of Russian social malaise in this bleak and beautifully shot drama from the gifted Andrey Zvyagintsev (“Leviathan”). Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
A superhero movie whose characters have integrity and dramatic heft, filled with engaging exploits and credible crises grounded in a vibrant and convincing reality, laced with socially conscious commentary as well as wicked laughs, this is the model of what an involving popular entertainment should be. And even something more. Read more
Though the foreign language committee members who didn’t include “Foxtrot” in the final five vying for this year’s Oscar should frankly be ashamed at the omission. Director Samuel Maoz’s “Foxtrot” is ambitious and daring in the way it combines intense emotional drama, surrounding a death in the Israeli Army, with visual pizzazz and bursts of unexpected surrealism. An intricate, dazzling cinematic dance starring top Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, “Foxtrot” is profound and moving and wild and crazy at the same time, telling a specific story and offering an emotional snapshot of the toll constant war can take on a nation’s psyche. There are no answers here — there couldn’t be — but “Foxtrot” understands the importance of asking the questions. Read more
Four-time Oscar-winning director Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit, is back with a droll romp through prehistoric times that will put a smile on your face. Read more
A Parisian woman (Marine Vacth) begins seeing identical twin psychiatrists (Jèrèmie Renier) in François Ozon’s delirious cracked mirror of an erotic thriller, which plays like the kinky love-child of David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma. (Justin Chang) Read more
'Call Me By Your Name'
Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer give superb performances as two young men falling in love in the northern Italian countryside in this rapturously beautiful collaboration between director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory. (Justin Chang) Read more
'A Fantastic Woman'
Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio's follow-up to “Gloria” is a compassionate and captivating portrait of a young transgender woman (a superb Daniela Vega) dealing with hostility and intolerance in the wake of her lover's death. (Justin Chang) Read more
As warm as it is smart, and it is very smart, this portrait of a high school senior year marks actor-screenwriter Greta Gerwig's superb debut as a solo director and yet another astonishing performance by star Saoirse Ronan. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Everyone’s favorite Peruvian-born, London-based bear is back, this time facing off against a nefarious stage actor (Hugh Grant) in this beautifully structured and executed comedy from director/co-writer Paul King. (Justin Chang) Read more
"The Post" goes against the contemporary Hollywood grain. Propulsive major studio cinema made with a real-world purpose in mind, it's a risky venture that succeeds across the board. Prodded into existence by Steven Spielberg, one of the few filmmakers capable of making the studio system do his bidding and of persuading major players like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to go along with him, "The Post" takes on a particularly counterintuitive subject. That would be the Washington Post's 1971 role in publishing what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret 47-volume, 7,000-page Department of Defense study of the war in Vietnam that exposed all manner of official prevarications and outright lies extending over the terms of four presidents. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'The Shape of Water'
Magical, thrilling and romantic to the core, a sensual and fantastical "Beauty and the Beast" tale with moral overtones, Guillermo del Toro's film plays by all the rules and none of them, going its own way with fierce abandon.(Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'
Uncommon writer-director Martin McDonagh and a splendid cast toplined by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell present a savage film, even a dangerous one, the blackest take-no-prisoners farce in quite some time. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Marvel’s Jessica Jones’ Second season
Arguably the most popular character of Netflix-Marvel’s superhero franchise, Jessica Jones finds the fiercest battle is internal when she returns for a second season of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones.” The superhuman strength she once hid is now public knowledge after her epic battle in Season 1 with mind-controlling madman Kilgrave (David Tennant). Jones (Krysten Ritter) fell under his spell, and he used her formidable force as a weapon, threatening New York and humanity, until she ultimately defeated him. Now the press, law enforcement and the public can’t decide what to think of Jones, the hard-drinking PI whose superhero “costume” is often the same rumpled jeans and T-shirt she slept in the night before. (Lorraine Ali) Read more
FX’s returning half-hour dramedy, which won top Emmy and Golden Globe honors for its first season, follows three young-ish men trying to make it in an age of depleted music revenues and free streaming. The gold of hip-hop’s golden era has been melted down and pawned, essentially. Their half-realized aspirations and desperation make this second visit to “Atlanta” a painfully funny follow-up to a debut season that seemed hard to top. (Lorraine Ali) Read more
‘Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.’
USA Network’s scripted, true crime series is set around hip-hop’s golden age, the 1990s and early 2000s, when artists such as Lauryn Hill, Nas, and Jay-Z broke music and color barriers with game-changing albums. It looks at the demise of the genre’s top talent, young men both cut down before age 26. It’s a compelling and fresh look at two of the most famous cold cases in entertainment history. (Lorraine Ali) Read more
Veena Sud, who developed AMC’s “The Killing,” has a new series, “Seven Seconds,” 10 episodes to binge on Netflix starting Friday. That is easy to do, graced as it is with well-wrought characters, wonderful performances, a keen sense of place and weather, and the old familiar questions of who gets justice, if anyone gets justice, and who receives their comeuppance. Sud teases your desire for answers, even as answers are not really her point. Viewers familiar with her previous show will find thematic and structural elements repeated, and many of its pleasures — to use that word advisedly, but not ironically. Once again, a crime is the occasion for character study. At its center is the now-wary, now-warmer relationship of two partnered investigators, although their peculiar traits have been differently apportioned between assistant prosecutor KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and Det. Joe “Fish” Rinaldi (Michael Mosley). (Robert Lloyd) (Netflix, any time) Read more
A few good shows
Though some critics seem to specialize in raking bad shows over the coals, what makes the job worthwhile for me is the chance to lift up the deserving underdog, both for the sake of a show that might last a little longer with promotion, but also for the sake of the world the show might make a little better. Some series dear to me have recently returned. They fly at least a little under the radar, although each has managed multiple seasons and been among the best shows on all the platforms that can conceivably be called television. Here are four that merit your attention. (Robert Lloyd) Read more
“This Close” makes a bit of history as the first television series created, written by and starring deaf artists. (Each one of those things may be historic on its own.) Not surprisingly, the show, from and featuring Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, first called “Fridays,” was born on the web, the place you go when, because you want something done, you have to do it yourself. A second version, titled “The Chances,” was produced under the aegis of the youth-oriented entertainment house SuperDeluxe; it was featured at Sundance in 2017, as part of the festival’s short-form episodic showcase. And a year later, here we are. It was a long road, but it was worth it. Stern and Feldman play best friends Kate and Michael. Kate works for a PR firm; she speaks, read lips and can hear a little (when her hearing aids work — we get an audio impression of what it’s like when they don’t). Michael, who doesn’t speak, is a graphic novelist with an award-winning book under his belt. (Robert Lloyd) (Anytime, Sundance Now) Read more
'Here and Now'
"Here and Now" is a 10-episode series from Alan Ball, whose previous shows for the network were "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood" and whose "American Beauty" screenplay won him an Oscar before that. Once again, we are in a world of glamorous depression and soft-edged epiphany, encompassed now in the photogenic city of Portland, Ore. with its rivers and bridges and soft, gray, depressive and flattering light. (Pot is also legal there, and it is a device in more than one plotline.) People unacquainted with Portland might believe that real estate prices are such that these characters could afford to live in the places we see them live, but this is in line with the series' — and, let's face it, television's — inauthentic way with reality. Holly Hunter, swallowing her Southern accent, plays Audrey Bayer, a former therapist now operating a one-woman something-or-other called the Empathy Initiative. "Not a lot escapes me," she says, though things do. Husband Greg Boatwright (Tim Robbins), whom she met on the Berkeley front lines back in the day, is a philosophy professor who in the distant past wrote a crossover million-seller, "The Layman's Guide to the Here and Now." (Robert Lloyd) (Sundays, HBO) Read more
“Altered Carbon” adapts Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 novel into a 10-episode television series starring Joel Kinnaman as space-warrior turned detective Takeshi Kovacs. Its strategy, not unique among science fiction stories, is to adapt the tone and tropes of hard-boiled detective fiction to futuristic sci-fi, which is why its rainy, neon-noir vision of San Francisco some centuries hence (now called Bay City) may remind you strongly of “Blade Runner.” In the crazy future Morgan envisions, brought to colorful life by series creator Laeta Kalogridis (“Terminator Genisys”), human consciousness is downloaded into a “stack,” a gizmo slid into every person’s cervical vertebrae at age 1. These stacks can be swapped into new bodies — or “sleeves” — when the old ones break. Additionally, the information they contain can also be “needlecast” across great distances into waiting empty vessels, allowing instant travel not merely between Atchison and Topeka, but Earth and distant planets, where there is a sort of Imperial Stormtroopers versus Rebel Alliance thing going on. (Robert Lloyd) Read more
The latest old show to be resurrected for a new generation is Bravo's Emmy-winning "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," later, and presently, just "Queer Eye." The series took off from the premise that (some) gay men might have something to teach (certain) straight people about self-presentation and self-understanding, and that the world would be better for watching this happen. As a fan of the Bravo series, I approached the reboot with trepidation. The original cast — Carson Kressley, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Jai Rodriguez and Ted Allen, who have stayed more and/or less in the public eye since the show went off the air in 2007 — had a special combination of personalities and talents that added up to a greater whole. The new crew is, on the whole, not as droll as the original — the hair-flipping Van Ness is the designated Kressley, the chatterbox joker — but they are full of life and ideas, of fun and feelings, which they are ready to discuss. Indeed, the Netflix "Queer Eye" has been arranged to provide moments of revelation and education for the Fab Five as well; their own feelings and back stories have been stirred into the mix. As before, some of the best scenes take place in transit, as the week's subject and one or two of the team just talk, as they travel to or return from checking out clothes, buying a mattress, trimming a beard. (Robert Lloyd) (Netflix, Anytime) Read more
In the excellent, intriguing and occasionally action-packed “Counterpart,” a contemporary Cold War thriller has been erected on a science-fiction foundation: An experiment 30 years ago accidentally split reality into two, as lightning might split a tree. These separately evolving planes have remained connected by a passage — in Berlin, appropriately enough — a supernatural Checkpoint Charlie kept secret from almost everyone in either world. An apparatus has grown up around maintaining this portal. At the bottom of this bureaucracy are clueless “interface” men, who speak codes they don’t understand to men who don’t understand them. Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) is one of these. One day, he is called upstairs by his young, somewhat callow boss (the excellent Harry Lloyd) and introduced to his “other,” an outwardly identical Howard from the other world who is at once his twin and himself. Mind blown! (Robert Lloyd) (Sunday, Starz) Read more
Part "Gangs of New York," part "The Knick" and part "Mindhunter," TNT's "The Alienist" pairs gruesome, serial killer carnage with horse-and-carriage charm for this psychological thriller set in 19th century Manhattan. The 10-episode limited series, which premieres Monday, is as much about a murder investigation as it is about the roots of our present-day ideas on gender, mental illness and socio-economics. Adapted from Caleb Carr's bestselling 1994 novel, "The Alienist" takes viewers through the filthy tenements and opulent parlors of 1896 New York, exploring the baby stages of forensic science, modern psychology and feminism along the way. (Lorraine Ali) Read more
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
Michael Michetti’s revitalizing production shakes out the cobwebs of this Tennessee Williams classic. Before the play even begins, it’s clear that this is not the New Orleans of yore but an updated version that’s more diverse and technologically with it. The drama, of course, lives or dies by the quality of the acting, and Jaimi Paige’s Blanche, Maya Lynne Robinson’s Stella and Desean Kevin Terry’s Stanley are all extraordinary. Ends Sun., April 1. Read more
Through the persona of a deceased disfigured woman, Pat Kinevane’s riveting solo performance employs the Irish gifts of gab and storytelling to explore norms and realities surrounding the beauty, exclusion and mortality that lie below surface appearances. (Philip Brandes) (Through March 30) Read more
After two decades of writing a play a year, Justin Tanner dropped from sight six years ago. He’s returned, thank goodness, with another laugh-out-loud tale of dysfunction. This one, presented by Rogue Machine, involves the sniping reception that a down-on-her-luck writer receives when she tries to set up camp on her parents’ couch. Director Lisa James and a cast of Tanner regulars know precisely how to mine the humor. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sunday, April 22) Read more
'The King and I'
This tour of the Tony-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical, which recapitulates Bartlett Sher’s stunning original staging, features Laura Michelle Kelly as the elegant but scrappy Anna, Jose Llana as the comically poignant King of Siam, and a mother lode of classic tunes, rendered with brio by an exceptional cast. If you’re at all a fan of classic American musicals, this particular production is a joy – a real gift that proves a bracing pick-me-up in trouble times. (F.Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, March 11) Read more
'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' (2013)
The eponymous vehicle for fabulously dressed, bantering drag queens has pulled up at the Pantages at last. The heart of this jukebox musical lies, not surprisingly, in the jukebox, featuring eye-popping, drag-inflected renditions of dance-club anthems such as "It's Raining Men," "MacArthur Park" and "I Will Survive." (Margaret Gray) (Ends May 6) Read more
Co-directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliot and Geoff Elliott play fast and loose with the Bard in their breathlessly truncated production, which features an authoritative Rafael Goldstein in the title role. Intrepid vandals in the high church of Shakespeare, they may spray paint out a passage or two but keep the meaning intact in a richly articulate staging that never flags in energy and style. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Fri., April 6) Read more
Orson Bean and Alley Mills, one of L.A. theater’s most visible couples, thank the heavens for their later-life marriage in a feel-good show about love and gratitude. They share stories from their at-times rocky upbringings to set the scene for the miracle of their meeting, making each other laugh and shedding grateful tears. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sun., April 15) Read more
Learning to see past differences and getting to know the person underneath is a lesson for all time in Chaim Potok’s 1940s-set novel, adapted by Potok and Aaron Posner. The tale of an unexpected friendship between Brooklyn teens from different strains of Judaism is given a poignant staging, with particularly fine performances by Sam Mandel as the youthful narrator and, unforgettably, Alan Blumenfeld as a charismatic rabbi. Ends Sunday, June 10 Read more
'A Delicate Ship'
Anna Ziegler peels away the layers of her characters to their pulsing human core in this practically perfect memory play, a fateful romantic triangle that commences in the simplest situation and escalates to the dire. Under Andre Barron’s appropriately delicate direction, the cast, which includes Paris Perrault and Philip Orazio, is superb, but it is Josh Zuckerman who dazzles in a tour-de-force turn as a wayward yearner whose cheekiness covers hidden depths of anguish. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sat., March 24) Read more
‘I Am Not a Comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce’
In this meticulously researched solo biography tracing the life and prosecution of the groundbreaking early 1960s comic provocateur, actor Ronnie Marmo and director Joe Mantegna offer subsequent generations not only a sense of who Bruce was but more importantly why he mattered. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, May 13) Read more
‘Black Panther’ soundtrack
There’s a scene in “Black Panther” — director Ryan Coogler’s breathlessly awaited Marvel Comics adaptation that promises to smash box-office records when it opens Thursday night — in which a bad guy busy raining fire from the passenger seat of a getaway car commands his driver to turn on some music. “It’s not a funeral,” the bad guy sneers, and suddenly we’re being pummeled by “Opps,” a throbbing, darkly futuristic hip-hop tune by a trio of rappers led by Compton’s Kendrick Lamar, who put together the movie’s all-star soundtrack and appears on each of its 14 songs. The villain’s line is a bleak joke of course, but he’s dead-on about his surroundings: “Black Panther” is most definitely not a funeral — and its wildly creative music accounts for much of its vital life force. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: ‘Soul of a Woman’
Sharon Jones struggled as a singer for too long to let anything interfere with her success when it finally arrived. That’s the impression you get from “Soul of a Woman,” the final album this tough, leather-lunged R&B belter made before she died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. Due Friday, nearly a year to the date after her death, the 11-track set was recorded in the wake of some serious professional accomplishments, including Jones’ first Grammy nomination and an acclaimed documentary that examined her unlikely breakthrough at age 40 following years of unnoticed labor in gospel choirs and wedding bands around New York. At the same time, Jones’ body was slowly failing her. Bosco Mann, who produced “Soul of a Woman” and plays bass in the singer’s longtime backing band, the Dap-Kings, says they scheduled their studio sessions around her treatment plan. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Pop Music Writer
For Taylor Swift, love — or the idea of it — has always represented a refuge, an escape, a shelter in a storm. When she emerged, just over a decade ago, romance was a means of lifting herself out of the too-smallness of high school; later, its enduring promise cushioned her after any number of messy breakups. Swift's idealizing impulse resonated with fans, who were using her music the same way she was using her imagination, and she quickly became one of the biggest and most closely observed pop stars on the planet. Now, on her sixth studio album, "Reputation" love is an antidote to the celebrity she so doggedly cultivated (and then fumbled as soon as everyone was watching). (Mikael Wood) Read more
Album 'The Thrill of It All'
Who is Sam Smith kidding? “Every time you hurt me, the less that I cry,” he sings, vowing to guard his fragile heart, in “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the gospel-inspired opener from his new studio album, “The Thrill of It All.” But if there’s anything this young British soul star has made clear since he emerged five years ago, it’s that he’ll never, ever run out of tears. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Tim Buckley recordings
In early September 1969, the dynamic singer and songwriter Buckley played three nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. A tireless explorer influenced more by Nina Simone than Bob Dylan, he was accompanied during the gigs by himself and musicians playing a Fender Rhodes electric organ, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and congas. Reissue producers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas recently unearthed a bounty of tapes from those three nights in September, some of which already had been mined for an earlier concert recording, “Live at the Troubadour 1969.” The results of their effort can be found on “Greetings From West Hollywood” and “Venice Mating Call,” which come out Oct. 13. the two new releases, the former available on LP and the latter on compact disc, present wondrously remastered, previously un-issued versions from those Troubadour nights. (Randall Roberts) Read more
189 by Dominique Ansel
The new Cronut — could it be the “avocado toast” at the new Dominique Ansel bakery, a trompe l’oeil confection of avocado ice cream, frozen ricotta and shortbread that looks more like the real thing than the actual avocado toast on offer? The ice cream-stuffed marshmallow blow-torched to order so that it resembles a cross between a campfire s’more and a baked Alaska on a stick? Or even the milk bread at the restaurant 189 by Dominique Ansel upstairs — a construction of soft bread cubes dusted with cotija cheese and filled with puréed corn that somehow tastes like the best street corner elote in East L.A. If you glance at food magazines, you know about Dominique Ansel. He’s the guy who started the kouign-amann fad a few years ago, the one that obligated every ambitious pastry chef in America to learn how to make the intricately folded Breton pastry. Read more
The new Marché Moderne has all the accouterments of a grand modern restaurant, the vast open kitchen and the oversized flower arrangements; the enormous bowls of crushed ice holding Champagne; the heavy Laguiole steak knives and the vintage red Berkel, the ‘50s-era meat slicer that every chef knows is the most glamorous way to shave transparent curls of meat from a well-aged ham. Important courses are rushed to the table in gleaming copper saucepans, which most of the customers have probably priced out at Williams-Sonoma. Tablecloths are ironed and white. The high, beamed ceilings are of the sort you might expect in an Aspen ski chateau. Most of the customers valet park although there is free strip mall parking literally three steps away. Read more
Jonathan Gold’s 10 best dishes of 2017
I’m wondering whether there has ever been a dining year quite like 2017 here in Los Angeles. The most interesting new kitchens seemed to be either in fantastically expensive tasting menu restaurants or in food courts; they stock their wine lists with either dreary classics or puzzling natural wines; and fill their pantries with farmers market vegetables or the product of their own backyards. Some of the best food came from what marketing people call brand extensions, others from the world of haute cuisine. As always, inspiration came from nearly every part of the world. Can 2017 be summed up in 10 dishes — 10 dishes that don’t happen to include well-done steak, double ice cream and Big Macs inhaled in silence? We’ll try. Read more
Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants 2017
Let us address the spaceship in the docking port here — not everybody is going to be ecstatic that we are naming Vespertine the best restaurant in Los Angeles. The entire experience at Vespertine, from the lack of right angles in the dining room, to the throbbing four-note soundtrack, to the overwhelming abstraction of the food, to the stunning cost of dinner, is going to drive many of you insane. Yet looked at as an artwork, where the architect Eric Owen Moss, the ceramicist Ryota Aoki and the musicians in the post-rock band This Will Destroy You are as vital to the experience as the chef, Vespertine is in its way perfect. Read more
Sari Sari Store
I have stopped by Sari Sari Store five times in three days, and I’m not sure if I should be admitting this to you or to a therapist. My colleagues and I have probably adored Sari Sari Store a little too much lately, partly because we’re as likely to become crushed out on a new restaurant as a 14-year-old is on the latest Zayn track, and partly because the idea of a Filipino-style lunch counter run by République’s Margarita and Walter Manzke is just too much, especially in downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market. Read more
If you gaze long into Nothingness, or at least into the San Gabriel Sichuan restaurant of that name, the Nothingness that stares back at you is likely to include steamed whole fish, braised lamb with jelly noodle, and pig feet with hot pepper. The steam rising from hot pots may suggest an infinite void, but only for that moment before the vivid red of the roiling broth becomes visible through the mist. Also, I imagine the empty world does not smell quite so strongly of garlic and toasted chiles. Why is there something rather than nothingness? Because the presumption of nonexistence does not allow for the possibility of live crawfish steamed in chile sauce, while Nothingness the restaurant does. Does existence precede essence? I haven’t read a lot of philosophy since college, but I maintain that the snap of the shell, the softness of the flesh, indicate that it probably does. Read more
A juane is an unusual dish in the Peruvian repertoire, a huge, overstuffed tamal from the headwaters of the Amazon, a kind of combo meal made in its area of origin as a convenient takeaway lunch for travelers. Juanes take their name from John the Baptist — the bulging roundness is said to resemble the severed head of the saint on a plate — and they are often served on his saint’s day. When wrapped in the traditional bijao leaf, the late chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi wrote, it looks a little like a hobo’s bundle on the end of a stick. You can stow almost anything in a juane before you boil it — rice and chicken, yuca root, plantains, hearts of palm, ground peanuts, sometimes boneless fish. At Rosaliné, the buzzy new Peruvian restaurant on Melrose, Ricardo Zarate makes his with chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs and pork shanks. Bijao is a little hard to find in California, so he steams everything in banana leaves. Read more
Favorite dishes from Food Bowl 2017
I’m not sure what you’ve been doing this month. I’ve been spending most of my evenings at the first edition of Food Bowl, The Times’ month of food events that’s been a welter of special dinners, film screenings, art displays, farmers market events, visiting chefs from some of the best restaurants in the world, panel discussions on everything from Filipino cooking to sustainable seafood to the problem of food waste, and a vast night market in the glow of City Hall. I’ve mourned dozens of dinners and events I was unable to attend. And I’ve eaten really well. Read more
Pizza, as every New Yorker is fond of telling you, is the food of the people; cheap, tasty sustenance sold by the slice. But in Los Angeles, pizza has another dimension, as anyone who has ever considered dropping six grand on a custom pizza oven can attest — in certain circles a wood-burning Italian-made behemoth is as necessary as a fire pit or a screening room. Famous pizza virtuosi make regular stops at the homes of talk show hosts and sitcom auteurs, who know that a perfectly made Margherita is worth its weight in osetra caviar. Pizza is also the food of the rich. Daniele Uditi, chef of the chic Brentwood pizzeria Pizzana, earned his bones at his family’s bakery near Caserta, the buffalo mozzarella capital of Italy, and in Naples, home of modern pizza, before he moved to Los Angeles. He probably became well known when actor Chris O’Donnell rescued him from a dead-end restaurant job and hired him to cook for him and his friends. Uditi’s pizza was a poorly kept secret, even among a lot of people who don’t run in Hollywood circles — he was regularly touted as a celebrity chef in Italian newspapers. So it became almost inevitable that he end up with a Brentwood restaurant of his own, in partnership with O’Donnell, wife Caroline O’Donnell, and Candace and Charles Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes. People line up for hours outside Pizzana’s blue, tiled dining room. Read more
Best art in 2017: Our critic’s top 10 exhibitions, plus one very big worry
Good things of course continue to happen in museums — in L.A., most notably, the Getty-funded initiative to underwrite a slew of exhibitions of Latino and Latin American art, the emergence of the long-sleepy California African American Museum as a lively destination and the announcement that a museum will be built at UC Irvine specifically to trace the development of California art. Here, in chronological order of their openings, are the 10 best museum exhibitions I saw in Los Angeles this year. Read more
Best architecture in 2017: In a tough year, plenty of highlights
This was a year that saw building booms continue in several American cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, along with backlashes against those booms from homeowner groups and others. It was marked by a return to basic, even stoic architecture after a couple of decades of flamboyant form-making. It was a year — above all — in which crises like homelessness and climate change seemed to outpace any and all efforts to keep them in check or even, depressingly, to get a firm sense of their true scale. All the same there was no shortage of highlights. Despite the challenges and debacles of 2017 — and there were plenty — keeping this list to 10 seemed to me tougher than in years past. Read more
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
Just after donning our virtual reality headsets — and before pulling down the visors to completely surrender to a digital galaxy — four of us would-be rebels were given one major rule: no running. No running? No problem. As a skeptical admirer of virtual reality technology, I’m accustomed to the disorientation and even feelings of motion sickness that come from wearing any of the multiple headsets I have in my apartment. So while “Secrets of the Empire” promises excitement — namely a battle with Stormtroopers amid a space station built on a potentially unstable lava-filled planet — I was mainly worried that I’d eaten too much for lunch. A few minutes into the attraction, however, something unexpected happened. I started running. Read more
Video game critic
Video games often help define new entertainment frontiers, be they interactive, immersive or centered on virtual or augmented realities. Yet “Cuphead” resurrects a few nearly forgotten advances — namely the lost art of hand-drawn animation and the abandoned joy of big band jazz. Though the fast-paced and brutally difficult action game looks to bygone eras, its everything-old-is-new-again tone doesn’t exactly feel retro. By channeling the insanity of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Silly Symphonies” and the surreal but rough-around-the-edges work of Fleischer Studios, “Cuphead” possesses an anything-goes childlike weirdness with a sinisterly adult edge. Read more
Video game critic
Some of the most popular modern fairy tales are played rather than told. Ustwo’s “Monument Valley” spun a story about a quiet princess — Ida — who worked, often alone, to restore a colorful, geometric habitat, one inspired equally by the meticulously designed illustrated architecture of M.C. Escher as well as the joy of optical illusions. Since its release in 2014, that experience has been downloaded more than 30 million times. Gray feels confident that “Monument Valley” succeeded in its mission statement. Now the design firm is back with a new game, one that once again wants to shift the mainstream awareness of what games can — and should — accomplish. On Monday, Ustwo unveiled “Monument Valley 2,” a sequel that aims to take the calm and abstract shapes and ruins of the first title and inject even more emotional depth. Read more
Video game critic
The Nintendo Switch
Not since the debut of its original Nintendo Entertainment System has the Japanese company released a home video game console with as much potential to shake up how we play as the Nintendo Switch, which is out Friday. Thirty years ago, Nintendo reinvented the video game medium. Not only did the NES lead to such genre-defining interactive entertainment as “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda,” but it also liberated games from the arcade and brought them to the American living room. Where they could increasingly be played for hours, days, weeks, months. Rather than intense, cliffhanger-like action that demanded the next 25 cents, home games had pace, tempo and rudimentary stories. They were also accessible — no obscenely pricey home computer or trip to a teenage-infested arcade needed. The Switch takes that livability to another level. It is a home video game console that’s connected to a television. But it’s also a hand-held device designed for ultimate mobility. And at least one of its games barely requires the use of a screen at all. Read more
I’m Batman. I’ve waited years — since the release of 1989’s “Batman” — to say those words and mean them. Considering that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life writing rather than building a superhero’s physique, it seemed unlikely, save for Halloween, that such a day would come. This year we saw the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, which makes it possible to put on a pair of goggles and disappear into a digital landscape — as long as you have a high-priced, top-of-the-line computer. Now with Sony’s PlayStation VR, an add-on to the PlayStation 4 so many of us already have hooked up to our TVs, virtual reality is coming to the masses. Read more
The opening screen of the new Variable States video feature "Virginia" welcomes players to a small town named Kingdom. It's laid before us as if it were a board game, with little trails leading to a cave or a gas station, a schoolyard or an observatory, all presented with the simple, cheery look of a brightly filled-in coloring book. Come in, stay awhile and bask in the beauty of small-town life, it seems to say. Press play, however, and things get twisted, and not with the typical things-are-not-what-they-seem subversion. Read more
'No Man's Sky'
Fourteen minutes and 54 seconds. I'm on a distant planet, and I need to get to my spaceship. Yet "No Man's Sky" is telling me that the vessel is a 14-minute, 54-second hike away. So I settle into the couch. But after three minutes of strolling through a salmon-colored rocky surface — and admiring some lavender plant life — I need a break, perhaps for good. This was the second time in one week I had quit "No Man's Sky." That's because there's another, more important number to mention when it comes to discussing "No Man's Sky": 18.4 quintillion. That is, there are more than 18.4 quintillion planets to discover in "No Man's Sky." You will not live long enough — here on Earth, that is — to collect them all. Read more