Critics’ Picks: April 7 - April 13, 2017
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.
Jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan is profiled in a new documentary, and the UCLA Film & Televisions Archive has a timely new film series on refugees.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘I Called Him Morgan’
Artistic, obsessive and intoxicating, this documentary on the tragic story of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan has a creative soul, and that makes all the difference. Whether you care about jazz or not, the poetry of the filmmaking by Kasper Collin and the poignance of the story will win you over. Read more
In Transit: Refugees on Film
One hardly needs a reason to see “La Promesse” (1996), the superb immigration drama that first brought Belgium’s Dardenne brothers to international attention, or “Boat People” (1982), Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui’s harrowing look at life under communism in post-liberation Vietnam. But in light of the ongoing migrant crisis, “In Transit: Refugees on Film,” a monthlong series starting Friday at the Billy Wilder Theater, makes for particularly essential viewing. Curated by Jan-Christopher Horak of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the nine-film series includes “El Norte” (1983), Gregory Nava’s tale of two teenage runaways from Guatemala, and a beautiful restoration of “Black Girl” (1966), the late, great Ousmane Sembène’s stark first feature about a Senegalese woman who moves to France to work as a house servant. Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Beautifully shot in black-and-white with the occasional warm burst of color, French writer-director François Ozon’s intricately layered post-World War I drama puts a feminist spin on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war film, “Broken Lullaby.” Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
'After the Storm'
A sublimely simple family drama from the Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda, a filmmaker assured enough to hide his mastery in plain sight. Nothing is overemphasized, and nothing escapes his attention. (Justin Chang) Read more
'I Am Not Your Negro'
The best thing about February as a moviegoing month is that films that played for a week in December for Oscar consideration return for extended runs, including the superlative documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” which is in fact one of the five docs up for the big prize. As directed by Raoul Peck, this trenchant examination of the life and thought of James Baldwin uses the entire spectrum of film language, not only spoken words but also sound, music, editing and all manner of visuals. They’re all employed with a formidable cinematic intelligence to create a film essay that’s powerfully and painfully relevant today even though its subject died almost 30 years ago. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Kristen Stewart gives her most accomplished screen performance to date in Olivier Assayas’ shivery paranormal thriller — a haunted-house movie, a murder mystery and, in many ways, Assayas’ most surprising film yet about the anxieties of modern life. (Justin Chang) Read more
'The Women’s Balcony'
An Israeli box-office hit about a Jerusalem clash of religious cultures, this is an unapologetically warm-hearted comedic drama, a fine example of commercial filmmaking grounded in a persuasive knowledge of human behavior. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
When baritone baseball announcers such as Vin Scully or Bob Uecker weren’t at work, did they still speak in ball parkisms? Apparently actor, comedian and show creator Hank Azaria also pondered this question, and IFC’s “Brockmire” is the indirect result. With Azaria’s fictional character Jim Brockmire, the play-by-play monologue continues outside the stadium – be it at the bar, in the bedroom or within the confines of his own head. Brockmire and his banter, originally made for the Web series “Funny or Die,” are now at the center of a new comedy debuting Wednesday that follows a former Kansas City Royals game announcer after a very public fall from grace a decade earlier. (Lorraine Ali) (IFC, Wednesdays) Read more
In “Harlots,” an engaging new period melodrama on Hulu, two whorehouses, unalike in dignity, go to war in 1763 London, ancient grudge breaking to new mutiny. Samantha Morton plays Margaret Wells, a madam attempting to move up in her world, out of her low-rent Covent Garden digs into a new, bigger, brighter house in fashionable Soho. (Her circumstances are humble but proper: “This is a decent bawdy house,” she tells a visitor.) Her well-connected rival, Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), rules that higher world, and for reasons certain to emerge in later episodes — I’ve seen two of eight — the women are out, each in her own way to destroy the other. (Robert Lloyd) (Hulu, Anytime) Read more
‘13 Reasons Why’
“Mean Girls.” “Freaks and Greeks.” “Heathers.” Perhaps you’ve heard: High school is a treacherous place. Students are ruthless to one another. Hormones are bad-behavior accelerants. And adults? Utterly clueless. Now throw in social media-shaming, sexism and suicide, and you have the basic building blocks for the addictive mystery that is “13 Reasons Why.” Directed by Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), this Netflix original series is based on Jay Asher’s 2007 young-adult novel of the same name. A girl ends her own life, but why? The answer slowly unfolds over 13 episodes, each an hour long and all of which begin streaming Friday. Stock up on provisions because you won’t be leaving the couch for half a day. (Lorraine Ali) (Netflix, Anytime) Read more
‘Trial & Error’
In the new NBC comedy “Trial & Error,” the mockumentary sitcom as once practiced by “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” meets the true-crime legal procedural, as lately exemplified by “The Jinx” and the podcast “Serial.” It was bound to happen. John Lithgow plays Larry Henderson, a poetry professor whose wife has died after somehow crashing or being forced through a glass window. Did she fall? (Robert Lloyd) (NBC, Tuesday) Read more
‘Harlequino: On to Freedom’
Tim Robbins’ meta-theatrical Commedia dell’Arte mashup serves as an inventive and informative deep dive into a rich theatrical tradition while channeling the anarchic spirit of that tradition into an all-too-resonant contemporary social critique. Ends Saturday, May 20. Read more
‘Pie in the Sky’
Nothing much happens in Lawrence Thelen’s deceptively simple new play. Then again, everything happens. Simply put, an elderly mother and her daughter (K Callan and Laurie O’Brien, respectively) bake a pie from start to finish (courtesy of Evan Bartoletti’s fully functioning kitchen set) as the smell of apples and cinnamon fills the theater. Callan and O’Brien deliver modestly scaled performances that sneak up on you with the emotional equivalent of a sucker punch, while director Maria Gobetti keeps things resonantly truthful in this precisely rendered and memorably aromatic show. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, May 28) Read more
'Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass'
Imaginatively integrating video, animation and live performance, Bryan Davidson’s new adaptation set in Depression-era Appalachia links the fairy tale horrors of child abandonment with real-world dire poverty. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, May 21) Read more
A tender coming-of-age comedy sporting a well-adjusted family and a happy ending is the last thing one might expect from gloomy Gus playwright Eugene O’Neill, but this charming, impeccably staged revival stands in upbeat contrast to the nihilistic despair of his iconic tragedies. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Saturday, May 20) Read more
‘The Perfect American’
“The Perfect American” is the operatic portrait of an idealist American artist as a less-than-perfect old man, which is to say a blend of sunshine, supremacy and insecurity. In Philip Glass’ most recent portrait opera (a great lives series that has included Einstein, Gandhi, Akhnaten, Columbus, Galileo and Kepler), Walt Disney takes stock as he confronts a virulent lung cancer. (Mark Swed) Read more
What to listen to now: Ryan Adams, Fred Eaglesmith and Nikki Lane
This week’s picks include the latest from veteran singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, under-the-radar Americana artist Fred Eaglesmith and the outspoken country of Nikki Lane. Read more
Critics and staff writers
Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'
Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more
When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." (Mikael Wood) Read more
Single: 'A Living Human Girl'
Out of the gate, teen band the Regrettes aren't holding back. The group's first major single, "A Living Human Girl," takes aim at the patriarchy in one verse and societal expectations of beauty in another, with lead singer Lydia Night rattling off perceived faults as if they're cause for celebration. Pimples? Check. Stretch marks? Bring 'em on. "I can dress how I want, not looking for a show of hands," she snarls over a snappy, '60s-inspired groove. Although the 15-year-old says the song was inspired by her first few days of high school in downtown Los Angeles, the tune's worldview transcends adolescence. (Todd Martens) Read more
In Los Angeles, Holbox is the new Yucatán-style seafood restaurant from Gilberto Cetina Jr., whom you may know from Chichen Itza, which he founded with his father. (Gilberto Sr. is back in the Yucatán at the moment, building his own island dream house.) Like Chichen Itza, Holbox occupies a corner of the Mercado La Paloma complex near USC, sharing tables with a vegan Ethiopian restaurant and a Oaxacan juice bar. Read more
The morning after my last meal at Maestro, Danny Godinez’s new Mexican restaurant in Old Pasadena, I pulled the leftover barbacoa out of the refrigerator to see if I could salvage enough for a taco. There were still a few scraps of lamb left, but the container seemed half-filled with a mysterious goo. I was about to abandon the project – congealed lamb fat is no fun. I dipped in a spoon to see whether it might be worth reheating. And I was flabbergasted to discover that what I’d thought was grease was in fact beautifully jellied consommé, clear and as richly flavored as a demi-glace, without a speck of fat. This was Mexican food with a different point of view. And while I’m not sure I don’t prefer the magnificent hangover barbacoa from the beloved Aqui es Texcoco in Commerce or the dense, oily barbacoa from My Taco in Highland Park, Godinez’s version is very, very good — more delicate than its counterparts, slightly stringy, and without the insanely delicious pockets of fat that burst on your tongue, but still lovely and substantial. Read more
Where to dine in Southern California if you love tasting menus
You can call it a tasting menu. You can call it omakase. You can call it dégustation, a banquet menu or modern kaiseki. What it tends to be is a meal made up of dozens of small tastes, served in exquisite rhythm, where the courses, their order and their precise composition has been determined for you the second you walk in the door, so that your only choice is really whether you want to gut it out with a bottle of Lodi Verdelho or submit to a relentless wine pairing. The chef is the artist and your belly is her canvas. And when a tasting menu is done well, it can be the summit of cuisine. Read more
Have you, by chance, tasted tonkotsu ramen? Because the Kyushu-style noodles may be at their peak in Los Angeles at the moment: thin, straight noodles served in a pork broth of maximum intensity. Tonkotsu ramen is often layered with slices of soft braised pork, garnished with simmered bamboo shoots and served with a soft-boiled egg. It is invariably a gut bomb that will stay with you longer than a double chili-cheese from Tommy’s. A Tokyo-based friend claimed that he once dropped 20 pounds just by cutting tonkotsu ramen out of his diet, and I believe him. The king of tonkotsu ramen in Los Angeles is probably Tsujita, a branch of a well-regarded Tokyo noodle shop that has clotted traffic on Sawtelle Boulevard since it opened half a dozen years ago. And now there is the Tsujita in Glendale’s Americana at Brand mall, a severely modern restaurant that gleams like a Tokyo dessert parlor, a place of long banquettes, long tables and coffered ceilings; theatrical lighting and a waitstaff that seems slightly stunned by the crowds. Read more
6 Great Restaurants for Spicy Food
Spicy food is glorious stuff, particularly in times of duress or when the weather is unreasonably chilly or when you’ve misplaced that bottle of Double Chicken Brand Sriracha you still keep in your bag. So which restaurant to head for when the need for a dose of chiles calls? Here are a half-dozen places around town where what’s on the menu can blow both your mind and the Scoville scale. Read more
Here’s Looking at You
Here’s Looking at You is a corner bistro from Jonathan Whitener and Lien Ta on the site of a former cheesesteak shop, all Edison bulbs, neo-midcentury cabinetry and a blend of post-punk and old-school hip-hop that has become to this kind of restaurant what Sade and David Byrne’s Brazilian compilations were to the last generation. Whitener comes to Here’s Looking at You from a stretch as chef de cuisine at Animal, the meaty, eclectic restaurant that redefined Los Angeles cuisine. And it is easy to see traces of Animal in Whitener’s cooking. Read more
Everson Royce Bar
Everson Royce Bar isn’t really a restaurant. To be fair, it doesn’t even try to be a restaurant – the word Bar is in its name. When you glance at the menu, the food takes up slightly less real estate than its shortlist of shots, and if you are a drinker of a certain bent, your attention is likely to linger on the sherry-cask Japanese whiskey than it is on the shrimp roll and the chicken thighs. Beard Award-winning chef Matt Molina is more or less serving regular bar snacks here, but superbly well, like the kitchen equivalent of a band like Metallica doing a covers set just because it can: steamed buns with pork belly, smoked potato taquitos, shrimp rolls and flaky, extra-rich biscuits with maple butter that happen to be about the best things it is possible to eat with bourbon. Read more
Gus’s Fried Chicken
You’re probably going to want to try Gus’s Fried Chicken. Because it’s pretty remarkable stuff, even in chicken-obsessed Los Angeles: a burnished red-gold, pieces bigger than they are small, whose peppery heat at first seems mild, even nonexistent, until it starts creeping up a few bites in, a heat that makes you glad you have a pint of sweet iced tea by your side. You may be thinking of Nashville hot chicken, the kind you can stand in line for at Howlin’ Ray’s in Chinatown, but this isn’t that — you don’t worry whether you’ve renewed your life insurance after a wing or two, and the crunch, although considerable, is of a completely different sort. Classic Nashville chicken has a complex, multilayered crunch that maintains much of its integrity even after a day or two in the fridge. Gus’s chicken is more of a batter-fried phenomenon, with a thin, fragile crust that shatters under your teeth, releasing a flood of scalding juice. Read more
Favorite Asian fried chicken joints
Does Los Angeles live by Nashville hot chicken alone? No — not as long as there’s a universe of Asian fried chicken too. Read more
Kettle Black is a new Italian restaurant from Beau Laughlin and his team, who also own Sawyer and the juice bar Clover on the block. The chef is Sydney Hunter III, who has been cooking in Los Angeles for 15 years or so, many of them at the right hand of Ludovic Lefebvre. Hunter’s Italian cooking is sure but eccentric, hewing to no particular regional cuisine and slightly edgy in its way, favoring a sweet-sour flavor palette, lots of crunch, and chiles used as much for fragrance as they are for heat: pizza, good handmade pastas, and fat purple slices of Japanese eggplant passed through the fire just long enough to add a bit of smokiness. Read more
There has never been a tempura restaurant in Los Angeles quite like Tempura Endo, the first American branch of a Kyoto, Japan, institution that dates to 1910. The restaurant occupies a modest storefront next door to a Japanese knife shop and right by a rental car yard. The location, although it is in the Beverly Hills triangle, has never been noted for fine dining – I remember a sushi bar that seemed really to specialize in sukiyaki. Tempura Endo is the other kind of tempura bar – an exquisitely expensive place that exists to serve intricate omakase dinners, well-calibrated multi-course meals presented with the detail and attention to seasonality of kaiseki, the lightness and purity you might not associate with two hours of deep-fried food. Read more
It is cold in Los Angeles. Rain is in the air. What you want to be eating is dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew, flavored with turmeric and dried lime — a popular street food dish from Tehran that seems to have a tonic effect against the chill. And for dizi, you should probably be at Nersses Vanak, a slightly faded restaurant in an industrial district of Glendale, where dizi, served with long-pickled garlic, platters of fresh herbs, and hot slabs of flatbread snatched smoking from the grill, is always the thing. Read more
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: The Evanesced
Hinkle’s notebook-size contour drawings in black ink on paper are rendered with a line that ranges from tremulous to direct, elegantly sinuous to jabbed or smudged. The drawings are unframed and simply pinned to one wall in a grid. Like butterflies pinned to be examined or notices tacked to community billboards, they ask for quiet scrutiny. The grid, a staple of Minimalist art, lends formal gravity and stateliness to intimate images of loss. Through June 25. Read more
Mary Weatherford: likes the land loves the sea
Thirteen new Color Field paintings by Weatherford include several that are the largest she has made. Nuanced and self-assured, they show her working in top form. The artist looks like she’s having fun exploring the possibilities, which broke wide open in her work a few years ago. The pleasure is contagious. Through May 6. Read more
Kerry James Marshall: Mastry
The show, which includes 78 works, was organized by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOCA, under curators Dieter Roelstraete, Ian Alteveer and Helen Molesworth, respectively. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” is the first time in a long time that MOCA’s exhibition program has felt essential. Don’t miss it. Through July 3. Read more
Moholy-Nagy: Future Present
Curiosity, color, wry humor, excited trial and error, prolific innovation — the artist grabbed an avant-garde sensibility and never let it go. “Future Present” asserts that this world is the best possible world, and inevitable change should be courted, its possibilities maximized. Moholy-Nagy is often called a utopian, but optimist seems a better fit. Ends Sun., June 18. Read more
Architecture’s top 10 for 2016
This was a year in which Los Angeles shook off some ambivalence about its own status as a dense, tall, post-suburban city — and in which the profession of architecture continued to embrace, reassess and excavate its own history. It was also a year in which architecture critics, thankfully, saw enough completed high-profile buildings — after several years in which the aftereffects of the 2008 crisis kept that supply low — to consider putting more than one on their year-end lists. Read more
Kenny Scharf: BLOX and BAX
If you’ve always thought of Scharf as a Pop artist, you’re in for a big surprise when you visit his exhibition at Honor Fraser Gallery. The exhibition makes it clear that Scharf is a folk artist. (David Pagel) (Through April 22). Read more
Thomson & Craighead: Wake Me Up When It’s Over
Thomson & Craighead have myriad ways of getting under the skin and staying there. They draw material for their audio and video installations, sculptures and posters from Flickr, YouTube, websites, blogs and data streams, enacting shifts in context and structure to trigger a sense of instability. Much here will linger and haunt. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Saturday, April 15) Read more
John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction
McLaughlin’s painting retrospective is the most moving and viscerally beautiful exhibition to be installed in BCAM since the building opened eight years ago. This is the first time a major institution has mounted a proper, full-scale retrospective. That such an indispensable painter didn’t merit one until 40 years after his death tells you all you need to know about how passed over this brilliant artist has been. In fact, I’ve been waiting those same 40 years for it. Ends Sunday, April 16. (Christopher Knight) Read more
Ron Nagle: Ice Breaker
Risk and possibility are Nagle’s stock in trade. He serves them up in abundance at Matthew Marks Gallery, where 15 pint-size pieces are enshrined inside 15 glass cubes, each perched atop its own pedestal. Four more similarly scaled sculptures stand in four space-saving cubbyholes, each of which has been cut into the middle of each of the four walls. (David Pagel) (Through April 8) Read more
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
Video game critic
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
Video game critic
'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
There are peculiar stone structures in the shape of sharks throughout the game "Abzu." They exist not to be investigated or warn of foreboding territory ahead. Instead, these objects are built for meditating. Have a seat, they beckon, and take in marine life. Play voyeur to a whale, a jellyfish, a shark or any number of undersea inhabitants. While "Abzu" is far from a documentary or a simulation, perhaps no other video game has ever been so singularly focused on re-creating the vast, majestic and mysterious nature of an aquatic universe. It does this with no voice, no text and no conflict. Your character in "Abzu" cannot "die" in the traditional video-game sense. Instead, the game centers on postcard-worthy imagery — swarming, silver schools of fish or sparkling green leaves or warm, orange coral — and Austin Wintory's thoughtful, patient score. Read more
'Mirror's Edge Catalyst'
Imagine if the world were filtered through the home screen of a smartphone. Picture opening your eyes to an image overloaded with headlines and messages. Notifications no longer buzz, they flash before you. "Warning," the display blinks in the lower right, "your bank balance is low." This is the view of Faith, early in "Mirror's Edge Catalyst." Having just been released from prison, Faith may not be happy with her financial prospects, but she definitely isn't too keen with the sensory overload of this futuristic, uncomfortably modern society. "Is this what the employees see all the time?" she wonders. In the world of "Mirror's Edge Catalyst," there aren't citizens so much as employees — workers for one of a handful of conglomerates that controls the world. You are identified not by your ethnicity or your interests but your job. Read more