What to do this weekend in L.A. Critics Picks: Aug 4 - 10, 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.
This week there’s a handful of unique summer films.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Heartening and unashamedly emotional, this certified crowd pleasing documentary tells the story of the hard-knock lives and expansive dreams of members of the step dance squad at a Baltimore charter school. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Kyle Mooney gives a terrific performance as a young man obsessed with an educational TV show in director Dave McCary’s sweetly disarming comedy, which expands into a winning tribute to the joys of amateur filmmaking and the therapeutic power of art. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
As repertory houses dwindle in number, the art of creating unexpected double bills, of doing things like pairing Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” with Robert Aldrich’s “The Big Knife,” is also in decline. Which is why it is such a treat to see the inventive pairings that the New Beverly, at 7165 Beverly Blvd., has come up with to showcase its exclusive 35mm showings of Cannes favorite “Okja.” Playing on Aug. 6 and 7 with Bong Joon Ho’s inventive story of a massive porcine creature is George Miller’s always-welcome “Babe: Pig in the City.” Other pairings include “Free Willy” on Aug. 9 and 10 and even “King Kong” on Aug. 11 and 12. Repertory madness lives! Read more
John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson play two strangers who go on a walking-and-talking tour of the modernist architecture in Columbus, Ind., in this serenely intelligent, gorgeously contemplative first feature from writer-director Kogonada. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in the most accomplished violent thriller in recent memory, a tense tale of murder on a Native American reservation made with authenticity, plausibility and wall-to-wall filmmaking skill by writer-director Taylor Sheridan. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
In re-creating one of the most horrific episodes from the 1967 Detroit race riot, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have made a tense, excruciating and entirely necessary portrait of individual and systemic racism that reverberates all too powerfully in the present. (Justin Chang) Read more
Edgar Wright's exuberant, one-of-a-kind vehicular-action-thriller-musical-romance stars Ansel Elgort as a tinnitus-afflicted, music-loving getaway driver alongside a superb supporting cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez. (Justin Chang) Read more
Superbly acted by an ensemble that includes Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, Sofia Coppola's Southern gothic chamber piece brings artful precision and a deft, distinctive feminist reading to a Civil War-era story previously adapted in 1971 by Don Siegel. (Justin Chang) Read more
'The Big Sick'
“The Big Sick” begins with a meet-cute, proceeds confidently through flirtation, sex and full-fledged romance, then skids to a halt with a nasty breakup, followed by the kind of dire medical emergency that seems fated to end in reconciliation or grief. It sounds like the stuff of a conventional romantic dramedy, and on some level it is. Certainly you can sense the imprint of Judd Apatow, one of the movie's producers, in both its emotional density and its precision-tooled stream of laughs and tears. (Justin Chang) Read more
'Dawson City: Frozen Time'
The one-of-a-kind documentary “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is an aesthetic knockout that's crammed with wild tales, amazing facts and unconventional personalities; a doc that's also a detective story, a history of a particular place that turns into an examination of an art form as well as a gloss on the political history of the 20th century; this Bill Morrison-directed epic uses stunning images from a celebrated cache of silent films to tell the story of the Klondike gold rush town in the most entrancing way. See it now on the big screen or forever regret it. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Both intimate and epic, as emotional as it is tension-filled, Christopher Nolan’s immersive World War II drama is being ballyhooed as a departure for the bravura filmmaker, but in truth the reason it succeeds so masterfully is that it is anything but. (Kenneth Truan) Read more
'A Ghost Story'
Casey Affleck dons a bedsheet and stars opposite Rooney Mara in writer-director David Lowery's quietly compelling low-budget experiment, a simple story of love and loss that gradually pries open a window onto eternity. (Justin Chang) Read more
Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and a revelatory Tiffany Haddish play women renewing the bonds of friendship on a New Orleans weekend getaway in this hilariously raunchy and sensationally assured new comedy from director Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man”). (Justin Chang) Read more
'War for the Planet of the Apes'
An eerie quiet descends over this grim and masterful third “Planet of the Apes” prequel, directed with bleak beauty by Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and crowned by another superb performance-capture turn from Andy Serkis as the soulful chimpanzee Caesar. (Justin Chang) Read more
With forthright emotion, spirited humor and a surprisingly purposeful sense of spectacle, director Patty Jenkins and her superb star, Gal Gadot, have made a thrilling new superhero saga that might just save the typically nonthrilling DC Extended Universe. (Justin Chang) Read more
‘Beatriz at Dinner’
Salma Hayek gives perhaps the best performance of her career as an empathetic holistic healer who comes face-to-face with a rotten billionaire real-estate mogul (a marvelous John Lithgow) in this queasily funny and suspenseful dark comedy from director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White. (Justin Chang) Read more
In the lovely, lively Netflix comedy “GLOW,” Alison Brie plays Ruth, a never-hired actress in 1985 Hollywood who finds herself in a gym among actresses of all shapes, colors and dispositions, most of them outsiders in one way or another. Facing them is Sam (Marc Maron), a director of low-budget horror fare, who has been hired to make the world’s first women’s wrestling TV show. (Robert Lloyd) (Netflix, Anytime) Read more
'I'm Dying Up Here'
Showtime's amiably dark new drama about comedy takes its name and material, though not exactly its characters, from William Knoedelseder's book of the same name. That volume's focus was Mitzi Shore, her Comedy Store and the comics who played there in the 1970s, including Richard Lewis, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Elayne Boosler, Jay Leno, Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen, along with many lost to time; his narrative arc put them on a collision course, culminating in a 1979 strike against the club that sundered some relationships forever more. Ari Graynor is the series’ warm heart and (intentionally or not) its center of attention. (Robert Lloyd) Read more
It’s not unusual for a television show to return from the dead to finish old business and propose new, in the form of a TV movie (“Gilligan’s Island,” “Mary and Rhoda”) or new series (“Still the Beaver,” “Fuller House”), or a series of TV movies (“Perry Mason,” “The Rockford Files”), or a fold into another series altogether (the “Seinfeld” stealth return, folded into a season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), or the very same series, just after a long break (“Doctor Who”). So it is with “Twin Peaks,” a Pacific Northwest hallucinatory soap opera that lived for two seasons on ABC from 1990-91, and has come back to life on Showtime. It is a splendid, focused and wholly assured resurrection whose coming had oddly been predicted at the end of the second season, when Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), or rather her posthumous “doppelganger,” told FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) that they would meet again after 25 years. That conversation is replayed at the opening of the long-belated, long-awaited new season. (Robert Lloyd) Read more
The Netflix seven-part documentary series “The Keepers” looks at one of Baltimore’s most vexing cold cases through the eyes of the women who continue to push for justice for Sister Cathy: Her former students at Archbishop Keough High School. Now in their 60s, Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub have spent decades trying to get to the bottom of the murder of their beloved teacher Sister Cathy, who was 26 at the time of her death. But as “The Keepers” shows, the unsolved case has wider implications than your average whodunit. The school has since become the focus of dozens of allegations of repeated sexual abuse in the ‘60s and ‘70s by its chaplain, the Rev. Joseph Maskell, and other members of the clergy. Days before her death, Sister Cathy vowed she was going to fix the problem. Did she pay the ultimate price for trying to protect the girls? (Lorraine Ali) Read more
'The Handmaid's Tale'
Margaret Atwood published "The Handmaid's Tale," her novel about a near-future, totalitarian patriarchal theocracy, in 1985. It was right in the middle of the Reagan years, and as a Canadian she was looking south across the border at a resurgent American Puritanism, exemplified by the so-called Moral Majority and a flogging of "traditional values" in the face of various liberation movements. American fascism, she reckoned, would wear a holy face. The book has been adapted a number of times — as a 1990 film directed by Volker Schlöndorff with a screenplay by Harold Pinter — but also for the stage, for radio, as an opera and as a ballet. Now, as all things must, it has come to television, worked by Bruce Miller ("The 100," "Eureka") into a studiously handsome, generally impressive 10-part series. (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
Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel about growing up as a lesbian with a closeted gay father, this deeply moving musical drama combines textured character psychology and nuanced storytelling with the enchantment of a score that can go from melancholy to zany in a heartbeat. Fun but never frivolous, this Tony-winning show by composer Jeanine Tesori and playwright Lisa Kron shimmers with a Proustian glow. Ends Aug. 6. Read more
With darkly hilarious urgency, this superbly staged and disconcertingly timely revival illuminates playwright Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist warning about the seductively corrosive lure of herd mentality, and the fragility of civilized norms we take for granted. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sun., Nov. 19) Read more
A man's religion and origin mark him for scapegoating when the public needs an outlet for its collective frustration. Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown base this stunner of a musical on the 1913 trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish Northerner indicted for the murder of a 13-year-old girl at the factory he supervised in Atlanta. Director Kari Hayter and a committed cast deliver a fluid, coiled production that shakes the audience to its core. Ends Sun., Aug. 13. Read more
With understanding, respect and compassion for opposing points of view, “This is Us” writer/co-producer Bekah Brunstetter’s impeccably staged new dramedy explores the human repercussions when that quintessential symbol of union and hope — the wedding cake — becomes a flashpoint in the culture war over marriage equality. Ends Sun., Aug. 13. Read more
Album: ‘Gone Now’
Five years ago, Jack Antonoff reached an audience of millions thanks to “We Are Young,” the Grammy-winning No. 1 single by his band Fun. And this week he’s likely to do it again with Friday’s release of “Melodrama,” the highly anticipated Lorde album that he co-produced with that young New Zealand pop star. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: ‘Joan Shelley’
Amid today’s onslaught of breaking news notifications, it’s comforting to know that this Louisville singer and songwriter’s brand of pastoral beauty is out there. Shelley’s new self-titled album continues her focus on earthen themes that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago when another Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe, was romanticizing them: love and desire, dawning and fading light, natural beauty and the delicacy of emotion. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: ‘You Don’t Own Me Anymore’
The third album from Muscle Shoals, Ala.-reared sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers (the Secret Sisters) shows no hint of anyone going Hollywood. Here, they’ve turned to Brandi Carlisle to co-produce with brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth after being guided on their previous two efforts by their mentor, T Bone Burnett. If anything, they’ve stripped things down further with hauntingly spare arrangements of songs that revel in Southern Gothic themes, which soar through their exquisite sibling harmonies. (Randy Lewis) 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
Single: 'Sign of the Times'
Heeeeeere’s Harry! Months after his bandmates in One Direction launched their inevitable solo careers, Harry Styles finally released his debut single under his own name Friday. It’s a sweeping power ballad called “Sign of the Times” that strongly recalls music from the early 1970s, such as David Bowie’s album “Hunky Dory” and “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (which Bowie helped create). (Mikael Wood) Read more
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
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
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
Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant
Have you stopped by Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant? Because it’s kind of wild on a Sunday afternoon, a world of head scarves and bright dresses, skinny suits and skullcaps, and children dumbstruck at the massive piles of sizzling black-pepper beef. The green-onion flatbreads — every table has one! — are as big as birthday cakes, and when you pick up a wedge you can see dozens of strata. Crisp shards of beef short ribs, cut laterally and thin in what Korean restaurants call “L.A. style,” are stacked 6 inches high. The air is heady with garlic and cumin, burnt chiles and charred meat. The tables are set with forks — you have to ask for chopsticks. Jamillah Mas’ cooking is hearty and full flavored, spicy except when it isn’t, and unafraid of excess. 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
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
Analia Saban: Folds and Faults
Saban has made it her cunning practice to reconstitute painting and sculpture, to fiddle with foundations, essences and definitions, to take nothing for granted. She is consistently inventive with materials (folding concrete like paper, weaving dried paint as if thread), and at her best, the work is witty, chewy, subversive. (Leah Ollman) (Through Aug. 19) Read more
Theodora Allen: Vigil
In her entrancing second show here, the Los Angeles painter continues to visualize the space of dreams and visions. Her two new bodies of work evoke a state of altered consciousness: physical reality feels muted, spiritual awareness elevated. (Leah Ollman) (Through Aug. 19) Read more Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles
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
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
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
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