Critics’ Picks: Dec 18 - Dec 24, 2015
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
This week, Idris Elba is back on the tube in a special episode of “Luther,” and a powerful new drama about the Holocaust screens at the Nuart in West L.A. Also, Prince lays down a funky followup to an album he released back in September.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Son of Saul’
This drama set in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 is an immersive experience of the most disturbing kind, an unwavering vision of a particular kind of hell. No matter how many Holocaust films you’ve seen, you’ve not seen one like this. Read more
Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.
Best Films of 2015
Finding 10 films for a 10-best list can be a challenge and a chore. 2015, however, presented the opposite problem. In fact, the surfeit of worthy candidates encouraged me to throw caution to the winds and extend the list to 14. “Don’t be stingy, baby,” Greta Garbo once famously advised, and I’ve taken her words to heart. This wealth of quality cinema made choosing my No. 1 even more difficult. As it turned out, one of the first films I saw in 2015 stayed with me longest and made the most powerful impression. That would be “Brooklyn,” adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel by Nick Hornby, directed by John Crowley and starring Saoirse Ronan. A feast of rich emotions presented with wit, grace and not a trace of sentimentality, this is the kind of film I’m always looking for but rarely find. The rest of my list, presented alphabetically as per usual, is as follows… Read more
'The Big Short'
Adam McKay, with the help of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, has made a very funny film about a very serious situation, 2008’s global financial collapse. Read more
'Bridge of Spies'
Steven Spielberg’s superior directing skills and fine acting from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance do the trick in this espionage thriller about a successful insurance lawyer who has to defend a Soviet spy and then attempt to trade him to the Russians for one of ours. Read more
Impeccably directed by John Crowley, feelingly adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín's fine novel and blessed with heartstopping work from star Saiorse Ronan and the rest of the cast, "Brooklyn" is about love and heartache, loneliness and intimacy, what home means and how we achieve it. Read more
Impeccably acted by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women in love, with an exquisite look captured by cinematographer Ed Lachman, “Carol” has been made under the complete and total control of Todd Haynes, a gifted director who always knows what he’s doing. Read more
In the hands of director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, what is nominally a spinoff of the celebrated “Rocky” series plays like a spiritual remake of the 1976 film that retells the original story in the kind of involving way one would not have thought possible. Read more
'The Good Dinosaur'
The latest Pixar event is antic and unexpected as well as homiletic, rife with subversive elements, wacky critters, and some of the most beautiful landscapes ever seen in a computer animated feature. Read more
Smart, thoughtful and elegantly done, this fine documentary is more than an authoritative look at the careers and interpersonal dynamics of directors Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut, it’s also a love letter to film itself, to the value and lure of the cinematic experience. Read more
A surprisingly intimate documentary that’s a completely involving look inside the life of a gifted and complex woman who was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Read more
Turning the plight of astronaut Mark Watney, inadvertently abandoned on the planet Mars, into the most polished of crowd-pleasers was the work of many hands, most especially star Matt Damon and experienced director Ridley Scott. Read more
Brie Larson excels in a film able to give full weight to both sides of the emotional equation as it tells the story of a young woman imprisoned for years in a single room in a tiny shed and the young son who was born to her there and knows no other world. Read more
The saga of how the Boston Globe won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for uncovering sexual abuse by Catholic priests, "Spotlight" is mightily impressive not only because of the importance of the story it tells but also because of how much effort and skill went into bringing it to the screen in the best possible way. Read more
Quixotic, idiosyncratic, effortlessly moving, this meditation on the wonders and complications of life unites top Italian director Paolo Sorrentino with stars Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda. Read more
We must wait until the feast proper for the “Doctor Who” Christmas Special and all the way to New Year’s for the next installment of “Sherlock,” but the BBC is handing out at least one sugarplum early this year: The return of Idris Elba as the deeply troubled and equally dedicated tracker of super-crazed serial killers, DCI John Luther. Oh, and in case you did not previously believe in Christmas miracles, the coat’s back too. BBC America, Thursday, Dec. 17, 9 p.m. Read more
2015’s Best TV Shows
It was a disappointing fall TV season, but that doesn’t matter much anymore. Great TV now premieres throughout the year, and with so many terrific series just hitting their stride on platforms new and old, television remains a literally movable feast. So much so that any list of 10, 20 or even 30 of the top shows is far more reflective of the list-maker’s personal taste than quantifiable superiority. Still, it is that time of year, so here is my list of some of the best things to happen on the flat screen this year, to be read with the understanding that there are just as many fine and artful works left off as included. Read more
'Making a Murderer'
Netflix’s new 10-part true-crime documentary is as unnerving as it is addictive, in part because it is so addictive. Over 10 hours, writers-directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos tell the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who served 18 years for a sexual assault he did not commit before being exonerated by DNA evidence. (Mary McNamara) (Netflix, any time) Read more
'Doctor Who' Christmas specials
No one does Christmas better than the Doctor; the “Doctor Who Christmas Special” is as big a tradition in Britain as mince pies. Now, in preparation for this year’s extravaganza, you can binge watch all of the Christmas specials on BBC America's website. May I recommend “The Runaway Bride,” “The Next Doctor,” “A Christmas Carol” and “The Snowmen”? But honestly, all of them are terrific. (Mary McNamara) (BBCAmerica.com, any time) Read more
'Call the Midwife' on Netflix
This PBS drama, following midwives in 1950s East London, has been chronically overshadowed by its showier cousin “Downton Abbey,” but it’s just as fine a production with just as splendid a cast and far more narratively ambitious. It too has a Christmas special, premiering on Christmas Day, which gives everyone just enough time to catch up, with the most recent season, four, or the whole thing. (Mary McNamara) (Netflix, any time) Read more
Don’t bother to look up the definition of the outrageous title of Robert O’Hara’s wild comedy about growing up black and gay. Some words only life itself can explain, as Sutter, the young gay protagonist who grows up to be a playwright, discovers. This Celebration Theatre production, directed by Michael Matthews and featuring the flamboyant drag comedy of Michael A. Shepperd, may seem at times like a reboot of the TV show “In Living Color.” But the play ultimately addresses serious concerns about the intersection of marginalized identities and the challenge of fairly representing such experience. Ends Sunday, Dec. 20. Read more
Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood
'Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities'
Pass through the tent flaps and you'll enter a steampunk world where machines gleam, robots putter and humankind seems capable of most anything. The retro-futuristic trappings amplify Cirque du Soleil's brand of astonishment, and this time, even the familiar seems new. Who'll be your favorites? The contortionists? The aerialist dangling from a suspended bike? Tip: During the balanced-chairs act, look up. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sun., Feb. 7) Read more
'Santa Claus Is Comin' to Motown'
In this reprise of its 2004 production, which blends the 1970 Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special with Motown hits, the Troubadour Theater Company once again delivers with its signature fusion of commedia, improv, driving rock music and generalized nuttiness. Helmed by director Matt Walker and featuring a bevy of Troubie regulars, including the predictably delightful Rick Batalla and Beth Kennedy, the production is guaranteed to delight. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sun., Jan. 17) Read more
‘A Christmas Carol’ (A Noise Within)
Amid many worthy area stagings of Charles Dickens' immortal classic, this deftly performed, meta-theatrical edition stands out for fidelity to text, witty stagecraft and heartfelt embrace of message. There are fleeting oddities, but only a die-hard humbug could remain unmoved by so charming a Yuletide treat. God bless us everyone. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sat., Dec. 23) Read more
‘Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol’ (Rubicon Theatre)
Even the most jaded of “Christmas Carol”-inundated audiences may well find themselves pleasurably surprised by the Rubicon Theatre's literate new version, owing to both the scrupulous textual fidelity to the source novella, as well as the allocation of narrative and dialogue among the cast to better illuminate their characters' back stories, perspectives and interior mental states. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sat., Dec. 23) Read more
‘Guys and Dolls’
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's trim, delightful staging of this classic musical wraps its run at the Wallis. (Margaret Gray) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 20) Read more
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Bram Goldsmith Theater, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
'Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin'
That indefatigable purveyor of composers Hershey Felder applies his singular blend of musical biography, character study and piano virtuosity toward the iconic American songwriter. Although the richly entertaining, ultimately touching result could stand a few trims and affords less concert fireworks than previous excursions, the empathy, showmanship and craft on tap may just be the best match of historical figure and performing artist yet in this franchise, wholly attuned to a gratefully participating audience. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 7) Read more
'Bob's Holiday Office Party'
Sporting its original creators and longtime cast members, this long-running yuletide parody of small-town eccentricity thrives on the qualities that made it a staple of the L.A. theater scene 22 years ago – it’s irreverent, crude and devastatingly funny. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sun., Dec. 17) Read more
Jake Broder's mash-up of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Hermann Hesse's “Gertrude” has some post-larval quirks, but a compelling undertow propels its jazz-centric romantic triangle, which the intrepid Broder, a revelatory Will Bradley and the wonderful Devereau Chumrau play to the hilt. Highly specialized, still needing tweaks, this singular, bluesy chamber work nonetheless scores in haunting intensity. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Saturday, Dec. 19) Read more
Although Cris Franco's account of growing up Mexican American in the Valley breaks no new ground, it's a refreshingly unsentimental, hilarious trek, and Culture Clash's Ric Salinas has a field day as all the characters. It's a surefire bet for 47.5% of the city, yet anyone who ever felt at odds with their parents and milieu may well identify with this freewheeling memoir. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 20) Read more
'Need to Know'
An attractive if unfailingly sarcastic young couple appear to have made an enemy of their new neighbor. Is Jonathan Caren's new play a situation comedy or a Hitchcockian thriller? Tautly directed by Bart DeLorenzo, its surprises keep unfolding until the very end. The cast and design are impeccable. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sun., Jan. 24) Read more
'Smoke and Mirrors' at the Odyssey
As actor and Magic Castle illusionist Albie Selznick's superb theatrical magic show explores the connections between his life and art, perhaps his greatest feat is making any trace of boredom completely disappear. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 20) Read more
Album: ‘HitNRun Phase Two’
Is this becoming a habit? That’s the question Prince raised Saturday morning when without warning he released a new album, “HitNRun Phase Two,” on the streaming-music service Tidal. As its title suggests, the 12-track set follows an earlier album, “HitNRun Phase One,” which Prince had made available in similar fashion in September — proof, it would seem, that this legendary control freak has shed his once-famous disdain for the unruly Internet. Maybe this double-shot system is how Prince, as prolific as he’s ever been, intends to roll from here on out. Works for me. A proudly organic companion to the EDM-inflected “Phase One,” Prince’s latest album shows that he hasn’t lost his interest in (or his knack for) the creeping funk and lush R&B balladry he was making in the early 1990s on records like the great “Diamonds and Pearls.” Read more
Pop Music Writer
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
Pop Music Writer
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
Album: 'Crosseyed Heart'
On Keith Richards' first solo album in more than 20 years the Rolling Stones co-founder crafts songs using the same tools and templates he's employed throughout his creative life: blues, early rock 'n' roll, classic country & western and a pinch of reggae. You will not find a Diplo production credit or guest verse from Chance the Rapper anywhere on this album. But as Richards' reflexes suggest, the guitarist still possesses the skills to whittle a stick into a rock song if so inclined. That's a diplomatic way of saying that our hero is a creature of habit who knows what he does and doesn't like. Recent interviews suggest he's as dismissive of contemporary music as Frank Sinatra was to the sound of the Stones. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Hall of Records'
Lionel Williams, who makes music and visual art as Vinyl Williams, crafts sparkly electronic beat music that exists in its own curious realm. "Hall of Records" is one of 14 tracks on his new album, "Into," and makes for a good portal. Tinted with the sonic tone of an overused Maxell cassette, rich with humming frequencies that recall German Krautrock and dense with muffle-tone beats suggestive of 1990s label Too Pure, the track swirls with synthesizers and waves of untethered noise. Williams is less skilled as a vocalist, though. He quivers in pitchy falsetto throughout "Into." It hardly matters, though. The stuff is mesmerizing. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Heaven's Room'
Guitarist Matt Mondanile is perhaps best known for his work with New Jersey guitar pop band Real Estate, but his solo project Ducktails has generated equally sublime tracks across four albums. The fifth, "St. Catherine," is filled with many languid, jangled guitar lines. Among the best is "Heaven's Room," which features Los Angeles musician Julia Holter. Mondanile, who relocated to Los Angeles, is a master of smooth, shimmering guitar tones, but "Heaven's Room" blossoms through masterful arrangements and a sonic depth courtesy of producer Rob Schnapf. (Randall Roberts) Read more
While most other superstar artists are either on vacation, on tour or otherwise removed from the conversation, Prince is spending the summer focused on protest and injustice. The artist just released the lyric video for "Baltimore," his invective against police brutality that draws attention to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and others. The track, released earlier this year, is one of the most searing protest songs the Minneapolis artist has recorded, and the video is just as pointed. It documents the protests that followed Gray's death in the back of a Baltimore police van, matching shots of frustrated citizens with the artist's lyrical questions. "Are we going to see another bloody day? We're tired of crying and people dying — let's take all the guns away." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Longest River'
On its surface, the debut album from the British folk singer Olivia Chaney, released in April, is a simple affair. Featuring her graceful hand-picked acoustic guitar and piano work and a small backing band of strings and bass, "The Longest River" highlights an artist with a voice in harmony with rich traditions and eager to add her own pure-toned phrased accents. Below the surface, though, lay grim complications. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Essential albums of 2015
Embarking on a mid-year rundown of 2015's best pop albums so far is as much an exercise in mix-and-match diplomacy as it is a definitive truth. Within the various portals of "popular music" in 2015 are so many sounds, approaches, accents, instrumental varieties and ear-popping engineering feats that one tilt of the kaleidoscope yields wildly divergent patterns. I've constrained myself to focus on voices pushing at the edges of so-called popular music. (Randall Roberts) Read more
The San Francisco-based Holly Herndon is a singular artist whose productions blend layers of electronically manipulated voice with beats, noise, sibilant textures and filtered sound to create eardrum-tickling joy. On her second album she manages to sound both futuristic and steeped in history. In her work on "Platform" are echoes of voice-and-sample experimenters from decades past, including Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Nobukazu Takemura and Bjork. But Herndon explores elsewhere. (Randall Roberts) Read more
It's easy to imagine masses in sold-out arenas bellowing all the words to "Fire Away," the crawling country blues track that's one of many highlights of this debut album from Chris Stapleton. Or, for that matter, most of the album. A sturdy, no-nonsense collection of 14 electrified country songs about empty whiskey bottles, broken hearts, lapses of faith and getting stoned because the whiskey bottle is empty, the record is a straight-talking, unflinching look at trouble and its occasional resolution. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'California Nights'
Of all the cultural archetypes that Southern California has produced, the loosely defined genre known as "beach music" is one of its most enduring. That sunny, harmony-rich, melodically spirited permutation is the rope connecting artists as varied as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, the Go-Gos, Snoop Dogg, Mazzy Star and No Doubt. Over the last few years that sound has ridden a wave into the present through the work of Best Coast. The duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno move further toward mastering the vibe on their third studio album, "California Nights." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Carrie & Lowell'
Over his decade-plus as a working musician, Sufjan Stevens has tackled a range of impressively big-ticket projects, including a series of album-length odes to states in the Union, a giddy, joyous dance-rock record called "The Age of Adz" and multimedia art projects. His roots, though, are as a guitar-based songwriter, the kind searching for beauty amid strummed chords and counterpoint arrangements. "Carrie & Lowell" are the real-life names of Stevens' late mother and stepfather, so these 11 songs have an autobiographical tint to them, even if Stevens has long played with fact and fiction (see his mysterious "Concerning the U.F.O. Sighting Near Highland, Illinois") and avowedly does so throughout. (Randall Roberts) Read more
To describe this Australian artist's new release, "The Double EP: A Split of Peas," as the product of a "singer and songwriter" is to suggest something less menacing than she is. Barnett's got a great way with lyrics and hooks, packing a lot of information, for example, into "Canned Tomatoes (Whole)," about a former neighbor/lover. "David" takes a basic blues pattern and turns it into a bouncy, insistent piece on the many reasons why the titular ex-boyfriend is getting the boot. (Randall Roberts) Read more
10 best dishes of 2015
A decade or two from now, when line-caught sea bass will seem as rare and unobtainable as sturgeon caviar is now, drive-through windows sell more lentil bowls than cheeseburgers and we have gotten used to the idea of Taylor Swift as the governor of Pennsylvania, 2015 may well seem in retrospect a fairly important year in Los Angeles restaurants. Menus just seemed to be mostly vegetarian without anybody talking about it much, and even French chefs began to talk among themselves about the primacy of Mexican cooking. The differences between high and low cuisine, which had started to crumble as far back as the 1980s, were utterly annihilated. Exotic fermentation techniques began to creep out of the lab. The idea of abolishing the practice of tipping took hold. And as always, there were 10 dishes that attempted to encapsulate it all. Read more
Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants, 2015
Your next great meal in Southern California is as likely to come from that tiny storefront next to the 7-Eleven as it is from a Beverly Hills gastronomic palace. Los Angeles, which is both where American ideas about food tend to be formulated and where they come back eventually to die, can be a spectacular place to eat. Read more
Five of the tastiest Chinese restaurants in the SGV with the name 'Tasty'
In last week's column, I alluded to the flood of San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants with the word "Tasty'" tucked somewhere into their English-language names. Depending on whether you count doughnut shops, burger stands or branches of the same restaurant as Tasty, Not-Tasty or Tasty in their own right – well, there are a lot of them. Here are five of the tastiest. Read more
We have visited Seafood Palace before, back when it was called Seafood Village, on the occasion of the visit from a group of Michelin-starred chefs from Hong Kong. The chefs adored the Monterey Park seafood specialist enough to return the very next evening. And why wouldn't they? There are hollowed-out jalapeno peppers stir-fried with salty crumbles of pork, flat omelets stuffed with shreds of preserved turnip, Chiu Chow-style duck, braised in a thick, brown gravy with sheets of dried tofu, and baked oysters with ginger and scallions. But really, the reason to visit Seafood Palace is for the house special crab, dipped in a gauzy batter, deep-fried and showered with sliced chiles, chopped scallions and crunchy handfuls of golden fried garlic. I can attest: It is remarkable crab. Read more (And another location, 9669 Las Tunas Ave., Temple City)
The Los Angeles ramen aficionado has in recent years learned to differentiate shio ramen from tonkotsu ramen, miso-tinged Sapporo ramen from tangy Kitakata ramen, and fishy Tokyo-style ramen from pork-intensive Tokushima-style ramen. Now comes Anzutei, the first local shop to serve the ramen characteristic of the industrial city Nagoya — in a light, soy-kissed pork-chicken broth, topped with a salty handful of sautéed pork crumbles, and garnished with a few strands of crimson corn silk, some bean sprouts and a symmetrical halo of chopped Chinese chives. The Nagoya-style ramen is usually called Taiwan ramen in Japan, in honor of the Taiwanese-born chef who invented it in Nagoya back in the 1970s, although on the menu at Anzutei it is identified as spicy shoyu ramen. And it is extremely, three-napkin spicy, to the point that you may fail to notice for a bit the tautly balanced umami of the broth. Read more
Imagine your favorite Mexican restaurant transplanted into a mall. And I don't mean a boutique mall, where it is tucked away between the Gucci and the Prada, or an artfully weathered hipster mall of the sort you see in Santa Ana and Brooklyn, but a mall-mall, with a Forever 21 and a Lady Foot Locker, a Panda Express in the food court and a prime restaurant space hard by the Macy's and a quick hop from the multiplex. Some parts of the experience are easy enough to picture: the double-height ceilings, the Day of the Dead tchotchkes set off in museum-like displays and the somewhat over-folkloric nature of the music. The patterned tile floor is exquisite, exactly the kind of effect you imagine the proprietors would have loved to install in their original, somewhat funkier restaurant. The margaritas — excellent margaritas, this is your favorite place after all — are served in heavy glass basins the size of cereal bowls, and the waiters upsell the guacamole (it's really good guacamole) almost the second you sit down. Everything is slightly exaggerated — the colors, the volume, the flavors, the golden light — and you may notice that almost every picture you snap on your smartphone looks as if it were taken in an expensive Cabo resort. Read more
Mexicano, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 3650 Martin Luther King Blvd., Los Angeles
Before you read any further, you should probably know that the restaurant I'm about to describe has as its specialty a pink, creamy plate of mold. I still think you should check it out. The mold in question is Aspergillus oryzae, which has been used to kick off fermentations in Asia for centuries. The Japanese call their version koji and use it to make miso, natto, soy sauce and sake, among other things. The transformative properties of aspergillus are inescapable in Japanese cuisine. Koreans call the mold noorook, as does Baroo, the restaurant we're talking about here. Noorook is used for many things, especially in making the home-brew rice wine makgeolli. Aspergillus seems to have an almost magical ability to wrestle not just alcohol but the flavor known as umami out of grains. This mold is civilization itself. Read more
Best Burritos in Los Angeles
Some small part of me was pleased when the website Daily Meal recently pronounced Tito’s burritos as the best in America – at least the award didn’t go to one of those San Francisco places that wrap vast expanses of dry rice and indifferently grilled chicken into what amount to oversteamed pillowcases. But I believe that I in no way am showing insufficient respect to Tito’s when I say that their burritos, while certainly edible, belong nowhere near any discussion of the best burritos in Los Angeles . . . or of the best burritos in the United States, which I would submit is the same thing. For the best burrito in Los Angeles, you need to try one of these… Read more
Green Zone, visitors to the San Gabriel Valley know, is a pan-Asian restaurant in the sweet spot of Valley Boulevard, known for its light, almost greaseless takes on what I suppose you could call fusion cooking, and an insistence, rare in that part of town, on organic ingredients. Even among people who tend to wind up elsewhere for Cantonese wonton soup or salady Vietnamese-style dishes, Green Zone is generally in the conversation when it came to Hainan chicken rice. Now there is a second Green Zone in Pasadena's Old Town, just down from the Donkey Kong machines at the Neon Retro arcade. The walls are matcha green, almost aggressively so, and the music seems to alternate between Janet Jackson and her brother Michael. People are nice. You can get all kinds of little triangles, a bit like samosas, made from spring roll wrappers folded around salmon or tofu; cigarette-size egg rolls stuffed with a few grams of shrimp; or cold tofu with ponzu sauce and minced scallions like you get at the homier izakaya. Read more
Garlic & Chives by Kristin
Here we are at the Mall of Fortune, the vast strip mall that many people consider the heart of Vietnamese Garden Grove. There are sprawling noodle complexes, a crowded bakery and a seven-courses-of-beef restaurant that seems as large as a soccer field. Interested in bun cha Hanoi (charcoal-grilled pork patties with noodles)? You have your choice. Hidden in the back is Brodard, a nem nuong specialist where waits stretch to hours on weekends. And smack in the middle, marked by a flotilla of shade umbrellas, is Garlic & Chives by Kristin, a recently opened restaurant that is already one of the best dining rooms in Little Saigon. You put your name down on the waiting list. You dart next door for a sea salt coffee from the bakery 85°C — you definitely have time. And when you are finally seated, maybe under the truck-tire-size garlic wreath or perhaps under a chandelier that looks as if it had been harvested from Siegfried and Roy's stage costumes, you will be confronted with a menu that will bewilder you no matter how many times you have dined in Little Saigon: lavishly illustrated and well translated but with the familiar-seeming dishes reconfigured in startling new ways. Read more
Garlic & Chives, 9892 Westminster Blvd. No. 311, Garden Grove
Catch & Release
Catch & Release, a big new East Coast-style seafood restaurant in the old Paiche space in Marina del Rey, feels perhaps more like a Sprout-group restaurant than like the natural result of culinary ambition. I do not mean to slight Jason Neroni, a fine chef who has been working in the Los Angeles area for many years. Sprout's formula, honed by its founder, Bill Chait, practically mandates a prominent chef — restaurants in the portfolio include Redbird, Bestia and Republique — as well as decent cocktails, an impeccably schooled staff and a high decibel reading. We've seen mostly Italian cooking from Neroni, at Osteria la Buca and Superba Snack Bar, but he may well have dreamed of opening a New England lobster shack. It's hard to know. The Marina has always been a tough area. You find a seat at the seafood counter, a table in the dining room or a niche in the narrow open-air patio from which you can look out on the chain restaurants in the mall across the street. You settle in with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris and a peel-and-eat shrimp cocktail, half a dozen oysters or a $150 cold seafood platter actually called the Baller if you're in the mood. And you contemplate digging in. Read more
Your ideas about porchetta may have been formed in the hills east of Rome or at a truck parked in Umbria or perhaps with the fennel-scented suckling pig they sometimes serve at Sotto, the stuffed roasts in the case at McCall's Meat & Fish Co. or the sandwiches from Mozza2Go. You can find a lot of decent porchetta in Los Angeles now. But I am guessing you have never tried anything like the vindaloo at the new Sambar in Culver City — a shoulder rolled around fiery Indian spices instead of rosemary and fennel, plunked into a hot oven and roasted until the meat becomes tender enough to slice with a pinkie nail and the skin hardens to a crunch that could shatter your teeth. Read more
Pot-au-feu is at the heart of the French kitchen; more than a beef soup, it is the enduring symbol of hearth and home, an emblem of a life well lived. The revolutionary Mirabeau called pot-au-feu the foundation of empires. Anthony Bourdain calls pot-au-feu soul food for socialists. In "Lolita," Humbert compares his ex-wife to a glorified pot-au-feu. There have been extended treatises on the ideology of pot-au-feu. As every classically trained chef knows, Michel Guérard, the standard-bearer for nouvelle cuisine and still one of the best chefs in France, first came of notice with his version at the namesake Le Pot-au-Feu in the 1960s — an elevation of the humble family dish into something worthy of Michelin stars. A good pot-au-feu — clear, nourishing broth, tender meats and vegetables each cooked to its turn — requires a remarkable attention to detail and a good deal of time. So if you were going to tease out the ambitions of Cassia, Bryant Ng's sprawling Santa Monica restaurant, you should probably take a look at his Vietnamese pot-au-feu, which is a statement of purpose written in carrots, broth and beef. Read more
Cassia, 1314 7th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com
Kinjiro, the most elegant izakaya in Little Tokyo, is in the Honda Plaza at the far end of the neighborhood, in the space most recently inhabited by the offal-intensive izakaya b.o.s., which closed last fall, and to a casual observer it may seem basically unchanged. Owner Jun Isogai still prowls the front of the house, controlling reservations and engaging his customers in long conversations on the provenance of the sake. Yoshizaku Kondo, the sous-chef at b.o.s., is behind the stove. The lines are nowhere near as long as they can be at Sushi Gen or the excellent shabu-shabu parlor Kagaya, also in the plaza, but they don't have to be. If you don't have a reservation, you will most likely not be allowed past the door. Kinjiro may be relatively democratic, but it is also quite small. You are not the only one with wasabi-flavored potato salad on his mind. Read more
UH-OH: Frances Stark, 1991-2015
The artist’s enthralling midcareer survey at the Hammer is unthinkable without the virtual experience that characterizes life today. Stark deftly navigates a notoriously unstable new environment. In fraught matters of human interaction, the work is a marvel of clear-eyed equilibrium. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sun., Jan. 24) Read more
Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood
The Frank Gehry exhibition at LACMA
Has Stephanie Barron pulled off a curatorial miracle? Not quite. In reshaping the Pompidou Center’s major Frank Gehry retrospective for a run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she is senior curator, Barron hasn’t managed to magically solve all the show’s problems. Her version of the exhibition, like the one that appeared in Paris last year, barely scratches the surface of Gehry’s unorthodox working method, which has evolved over the years to combine his intuitive design technique with an increasingly sophisticated use of digital technology. At the same time, the exhibition has shed a good deal of the starched, carefully sealed conservatism that held it in check in Paris. Ends Sun., March 20. Read more
Walls dissolve in Diana Thater’s beautiful, affecting retrospective. For 25 years, the Los Angeles artist has been creating immersive video installations that appear to breach the contours of the gallery, transporting viewers into other realities: swimming with dolphins, interacting with wolves or exploring the contaminated ruins of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. (Sharon Mizota) (Ends Sun., Feb. 21) Read more
John Bock: Three Sisters
The artist uses movies as most directors use sets: as essential ingredients of larger undertakings. That's something we don't often see in Los Angeles, where movies rule and other art forms play second fiddle to the silver screen. Bock's fourth solo show in Los Angeles turns that hierarchy inside out (David Pagel) (Ends Sat., Dec. 19) Read more
Kathy Butterly: The Weight of Color
Butterly's rapturous little clay sculptures are smart, seductive, silly, sexy, shy, shameless. The walls of each vessel buckle and collapse in on themselves. The skins are ornamented and glazed with meticulous abandon. Every piece in this tremendous show resounds with humor and pathos (Leah Ollman) (Ends Thu., Dec. 24) Read more
Jeff Colson: Stacks
Colson is a wizard at trompe l'oeil illusion, and he folds back the curtain in places to reveal his own wizardry. The centerpiece of his small but mighty show is an installation that looks like an old kitchen table and file cabinet piled high with paper, but all is actually crafted in wood, resin, paint and urethane. This absurdist ode to paper contains none at all and is all the more resonant for the canny subversion (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sat., Dec. 19) Read more
Jennifer Moon: Phoenix Rising
The exhibition takes visitors back to first-gen Conceptualism. Conceptual art had not yet become the behemoth it is today: a humorless exercise favored by people who believe that feelings have no place in art, which is really meant to be criticism. Feelings take center stage in Moon's loony show. The Los Angeles artist leaves plenty of room for goofiness. (David Pagel) (Ends Sat., Dec. 19) Read more
Commonwealth & Council, 3006 W. 7th St., Suite 220, Los Angeles
Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows and the New Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography
The first major show in the U.S. for Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako is a deeply affecting event. It begins with her grainy, unsettling images from the '70s of Yokosuka, a port city with a major American naval base, where Ishiuchi moved when she was 6. The show ends with her recent series on artifacts from Hiroshima, clothing worn by women on the day of the blast. For Ishiuchi, every subject is a scar of sorts, a story of damage and its visible residue. Ishiuchi's show is thoughtfully paired with an engaging exhibition of five younger Japanese photographers, women who owe much to Ishiuchi for their place in a field she greatly expanded. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sun., Feb. 21) Read more
New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic
"New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933" is a powerful show.The movement has always been difficult to describe, perhaps because it is not a pictorial style. Rather, it is an attitude toward art and its relationship to the world. You will clench your jaw as the 14 chaotic years between the cruel aftermath of World War I and Adolf Hitler's appointment as German chancellor unfolds. After you see it, you may need a stiff drink and a soft chair. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Mon., Jan. 18, 2016) Read more
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Devin Troy Strother
To an oeuvre that includes paintings, sculptures and collages, Strother adds custom-made carpeting, custom wallpaper, neon signs and three new bodies of work. The double-barreled extravaganza is a throbbing, rollicking party that, like all great art, you have to experience for yourself (David Pagel) (Ends Sat., Dec. 19) Read more
Richard Heller Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica
‘Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War’
“I perceive the world through the medium of human voices,” Svetlana Alexievich declares near the end of “Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From the Afghanistan War,” explaining both her method and her point of view. For Alexievich — who in October became just the third nonfiction writer and 14th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature — testimony may be as close as one can get to faith. “We’ve worshipped many gods,” she writes in this slender but vivid account, told in the voices of survivors of the Soviet Afghan war. “Some have been consigned to the scrapheap, others to museums. Let us make Truth into a god! A god before whom each of us shall answer according to his own conscience, and not as a class, or a university year, or a collective, or a people….” Read more
‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’
Stephen King, I’ve come to think, is at his most adept when writing in the midlength range. His big novels — “The Stand,” “It,” “11/22/63” — have always felt a little baggy to me, while his shortest work (he has published more than 200 stories, gathered in a number of collections) can feel sketchy, more idea than nuanced narrative. That middle zone, however: His finest efforts emerge from this territory, shorter novels “Misery,” “Joyland” and “The Shining,” novellas such as “The Body” or the chilling “A Good Marriage.” In this material, King has the breadth to do what he does best, which is to evoke the very human underpinnings of terror, while also remaining constrained by certain limitations of space. As he explains in “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” which gathers 20 pieces of fiction, along with brief reflections on their composition, “Only through fiction can we think about the unthinkable, and perhaps obtain some sort of closure.” The key word there is not the unthinkable in which King traffics but “closure,” the closure of the midrange form. Read more
'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink'
New wave rocker, country crooner, balladeer, collaborator and showman: Elvis Costello has been all of these and more in the course of what is now a 40-year run. Of all the first-generation punkers, he remains (with Patti Smith and possibly David Byrne) among the few who can claim the longevity and diversity of, say, Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, both of whom appear in this book. Like minds, perhaps, or water seeking its level. Either way, this is the company to which Costello belongs. And yet, if "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink" has anything to tell us, it is that its author remains a fan. Here he is, for instance, on his first experience singing with Paul McCartney, a rehearsal duet on "All My Loving": "I locked on to the vocal harmony the second time around, as I'd done a thousand times before while singing along to the record. It never really occurred to me that learning to sing either vocal part on a Beatles record was any kind of musical education. I was just a kid singing along with the radio in our front room." Or this, recalling a good-natured cutting contest, trading lyrics with Bob Dylan: "It was just fun to be in the ring with the champ for a minute or two." Read more
'City on Fire'
A long book represents an act of faith. On the writer's part, to be sure: The faith that he or she has something to say that's worth all the hours it will take for us to hear it, that it won't dissolve in ephemera and flash. But on the reader's part, also: The faith that we can trust the writer, that there will be a payoff, that it will add up. Certainly, this is the challenge faced by Garth Risk Hallberg's first novel, "City on Fire," which, clocking in at more than 900 pages, seeks to re-create, in panoramic fashion, the New York City of the late 1970s. Hallberg's book, of course, is much anticipated, for its length, its scope and its deal (he sold the book for $2 million) — but all of that is beside the point. The only criteria worth considering is whether, or how, the narrative works, the extent to which it draws us in. Read more
First, let's clear up a misconception: Patti Smith's "M Train" is not a sequel to her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids." In fact, "M Train" is not a memoir at all, except in the loosest sense — a book of days, a year in the life, a series of reflections, more vignettes than sustained narrative. By saying that, I don't mean to be critical, for vignettes are what Smith does best. Read more
'So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood'
Patrick Modiano opens his most recent novel, "So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood," with an epigraph from Stendhal: "I cannot provide the reality of events, I can only convey their shadow." It's an almost perfect evocation of the book, not to mention Modiano's career. The French writer, who won the Nobel Prize last year for a body of work as deft and beautiful as any in postwar European literature, is an excavator of memory — not only his own or those of his characters (many of whom bear, as J.D. Salinger once observed of his fictional alter ego Seymour Glass, "a striking resemblance to — alley oop, I'm afraid — myself"), but also that of Paris. That's why his fiction resonates so deeply; it occupies an elusive middle ground between place and personality. Read more
Among my favorite aspects of Clancy Martin's second novel, "Bad Sex," is that it is not about bad sex; in fact, the sex is relentless, passionate. Rather, it is about all the bad stuff sex — or sexual obsession — can make us do. Narrated by Brett, a recovering alcoholic who betrays her sobriety, and her marriage, for a yearlong affair with her husband's banker Eduard, the book records the spiral, the ripple effect, of transgressive behavior, the way that once we slip the bounds of propriety, it can be ever more difficult to find a passage back. Read more
On the acknowledgments page of his third novel, "Undermajordomo Minor," Patrick deWitt cites as inspiration a variety of writers, including Thomas Bernhard, Italo Calvino, Roald Dahl, Shirley Jackson and Jean Rhys. This tells us something important about his intent. Like DeWitt's last book, "The Sisters Brothers," which was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, "Undermajordomo Minor" is a work of fiction with its roots in literature, a response to other books more than to any interaction with the world. That's not a criticism, just an observation; DeWitt is not interested in straight naturalism so much as in the mechanics of a particular kind of story, narrative as fairy tale. In "The Sisters Brothers," it was the western, which he deconstructed as neatly as Charles Portis and E.L. Doctorow did. This time, it's the fable, as DeWitt tells the story of a young man, Lucien — also known as Lucy — Minor, who travels from his home village of Bury to become the Undermajordomo (or assistant to the assistant) "of one Baron Von Aux's estate in the remote wilderness of the eastern mountain range." Read more
Jonathan Franzen's career offers a cautionary narrative — for us as much as him. As far back as 1996, with "Perchance to Dream," his long essay published in Harper's on the state of contemporary fiction, he has filled the role of both avatar and scapegoat, an ambitious writer who can't (or won't) steer clear of controversy. Such a process began in earnest with "The Corrections," his masterful 2001 portrait of a Midwestern family, that led to an infamous tiff with Oprah Winfrey after he objected to her book club logo on the cover. More than a decade later, "Freedom," a moving meditation on marriage and friendship, provoked a campaign on Twitter, under the hashtag "franzenfreude," protesting the attention Franzen had received. By now, Franzen is often regarded less as writer than as cultural signifier, emblem of white male hegemony. That this has little if anything to do with the substance of his novels is (perhaps) the point and the tragedy; when it comes to Franzen, the writing is where we go last. Just consider the recent uproar over his remarks about wanting to adopt an Iraqi war orphan — tone-deaf, yes, but irrelevant to the success or failure of his work. This is the culture into which Franzen is releasing his fifth novel, "Purity," with its admonition that one "could either ignore the haters and suffer the consequences, or he could accept the premises of the system, however sophomoric he found them, and increase its power and pervasiveness by participating in it." Such a line captures almost perfectly the key conundrum of the Digital Age, with its easy (and dangerous) sanctimony. Read more
'Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii'
"The task of understanding the past is never-ending," Susanna Moore observes late in "Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii," her fascinating account of the "short 120 years from the arrival of Captain Cook in 1777 to the annexation of the Islands in 1898 by the United States." Such a point of view — imbued as it is with a sense of story as malleable, dependent on teller as much as character — belongs as much to the novelist as to the historian. That, of course, is as it should be, for Moore is best known for her fiction. Author of seven novels, including "In the Cut" and "The Whiteness of Bones," she has staked out a territory in which women must find a place for themselves in a world where history conspires against them and identity is a shifting sea of codes. Small wonder, then, that she would bring an equivalent perspective to Hawaii, where she grew up and about which she has written two earlier nonfiction books, "I Myself Have Seen It" and "Light Years." For Moore, Hawaii is where it all begins (it permeates her fiction too), a template of fantasy and hard truths, opportunities lost and found. As she writes, "It will be the obvious view of most readers that the Hawaiians should have been left to work out their own history." Read more
'Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story'
On Nov. 8, 2000, David Payne's younger brother, George A., died in a car wreck north of Roanoke, Va. Payne, the lead driver in an impromptu two-vehicle caravan, watched the whole thing unfold in his rearview mirror. His brother was helping him transport belongings from Vermont to North Carolina as part of a move. This is the impetus for "Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story," Payne's first book of nonfiction after five novels, including "Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street." To say "Barefoot to Avalon" is about the accident, however, is to underestimate what Payne has achieved. George A., who was 42 when he died, suffered from bipolar I disorder and had been through multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations; he had lost his job, his marriage, his self-sufficiency, living with his mother for the last nine years of his life. Payne, for his part, had "failed to see what had happened to George A. and had let things shutter down till there was almost no light left between us." The brothers' trip together, then, was meant to be a reclamation project, a way of bringing them back into proximity again. That it ended as it did is just one of the many tragedies that permeate this piercing book. Read more
'Poetry Is Useless'
Anders Nilsen is called a comics artist, but that's not exactly what he does. Yes, his books are visual, but Nilsen seems at times to be about the deconstruction of form itself in favor of a purer style of storytelling, gathering evidence: images, correspondence, notes from the author to himself.... It's a vivid approach to narrative, immediate and unexpected, and it encourages — no, requires — us to engage. On the one hand, a stunning, apparently unfiltered humanity, and on the other, a sense of form as malleable, as less straitjacket than structure, a way of piercing the surfaces to get at all the uncontrolled or uncontrollable material underneath. And yet, filtering is what an artist does — the shaping of perception, of experience — and this creates the tension at the heart of Nilsen's work. How to make order out of chaos and still give the chaos its due? The question echoes through Nilsen's new book, "Poetry Is Useless," which reproduces seven years of his sketchbooks; much of the work here originally appeared on his blog "The Monologuist." Read more
'The Meursault Investigation'
Give Kamel Daoud credit for audacity. In his debut novel, "The Meursault Investigation," the Algerian journalist goes head-to-head with a pillar of 20th century literature: Albert Camus' existential masterpiece "The Stranger." First published in France in 1942, Camus' novel tells the story of Meursault — like the author, a French Algerian, or pied-noir — who under the influence of heat or fate kills an Arab on the beach at the peak of a summer afternoon. "I shook off the sweat and sun," Meursault informs us. "… Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness." "The Meursault Investigation" takes place on the other side of that door, offering a glimpse of the fallout from Meursault's futile violence. Read more
'Maintenance of Headway'
Partway through Magnus Mills' "The Maintenance of Headway," the narrator, a bus driver in a city that must be London, is stuck on a crowded road behind a truck with a warning reading, "If you can't see my mirrors I can't see you." Bored and frustrated, the driver starts to frame a song. "If you can't see my mirrors," he sings to himself, "I can't see you anymore / I can't see you … anymore." The logic is inescapable: "Sitting in a bus composing songs might seem pointless, but there was nothing else to do." The same might be said of this strange and lovely novel, published in the U.K. in 2009 and now available in the United States for the first time. Read more
The Top 10 Video Games of 2015
The top 10 video games of 2015, ranked below, include both the extremely personal and the return of a household name, Lara Croft. The bulk of my favorite games of the year allowed me to explore the world from unexpected points of view — a teenager with unexplainable powers, a dying tree struggling to come to life or a woman losing her virginity. Today, there’s more diversity than ever in interactive entertainment, not just in characters but in experiences, as the games that made a lasting impression range from big-budget console endeavors to experimental mobile titles. Read more
Video game critic
'Star Wars Battlefront'
In "Star Wars Battlefront" players can rewrite "Star Wars" history. The arcade-like action allows for the narratives of battle to change at a moment's notice. Play as Luke, Leia, Han or maybe Boba Fett and be prepared to play with others. This is a multiplayer-focused game that skimps on single-player content. The Electronic Arts-published game is the first major "Star Wars" title to be released since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and it's coming at a time when "Star Wars" mania, the 2015 edition, is at a high point. The release of "Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens" is weeks away and plenty of opening-weekend screenings around the country are sold out. Read more
'Rise of the Tomb Raider'
The Lara Croft of "Rise of the Tomb Raider" may believe in fairy tales, but that doesn't mean she's willing to put up with nonsense. Early on a man who, like most men in this retooled take on the classic adventuring archaeologist, is viewed with general distrust, tells Croft that she isn't likely to survive the vast ancient ruins of the game sans his help. "You won't get far without me," he says. Croft doesn't miss a beat. "You don't know how far I've come," she says, proving as adept with a put-down as she is with an arrow and a bullet. One of gaming's great surprises in recent years is indeed just how far Lara Croft has come, shedding her late-'90s image as eye candy in a catacomb to the fully realized character she is today. Once a symbol for how gaming accentuated a woman's features for a male audience, the Croft of 2015 is as worthy a hero as Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road." The Croft of "Rise of the Tomb Raider" is intelligent, stubborn, complicated, empathetic and a heck of a good shot. She's as consumed with rare artifacts as she is her own demons, a character with supreme intellect and superpower-like abilities who still manages to feel human. Read more
'Call of Duty: Black Ops 3'
The "Call of Duty" franchise has had players (as soldiers) do battle underwater, shoot in outer space, wear jet packs and even attack zombies. But for all the series' fantasy warfare over the past dozen or so years, the game never imagined women as equal players on the battlefield. "Call of Duty," instead, has long been considered a game for dudes who love their digital guns. But that may be changing. The release this week of "Call of Duty: Black Ops 3" marks a gender milestone for the Activision-published blockbuster series, one of the video game industry's few household names. A female character is, for the first time, playable in the game's core story. Read more
Michael Frith spent the bulk of his career working with the Muppets. Today, the latest project from the semiretired artist has him reimagining history and bringing his flair for expressive, handcrafted characters to the mobile game space. "Leonardo's Cat" is the master of puppetry's first venture into the game space. But he downplays the shift to the digital world. You see, Frith has always been tinkering with technology. "One of the things that's always driven the work that we do is experimentation, trying to see what we can do in and with media we had not worked with before," Frith says. "With 'The Muppets,' we pioneered things like motion capture." Whether he is working with games or puppets, the questions Frith asks himself are the same: "How do you take the place that you are in, the tools that you are given, and find new and interesting and exciting and hopefully beneficial ways to use those tools?" "Leonardo's Cat," scheduled for release Thursday to Apple's app store, is a child-friendly game with an educational bent and grownup-worthy brainteasers. It imagines an alternate history, one where Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were thieving rivals and a cat was a muse. Read more
'Minecraft: Story Mode'
"Minecraft," the video game that can essentially be anything you want it to be, is everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except in my home. Even though it's the world's most popular game, with global sales that long ago rocketed past the 50-million mark (more than 21 million people have bought the game for home computers alone), I was reluctant to buy in because there was one terrain the Mojang-created "Minecraft" had yet to conquer: the narrative space. The Bay Area's Telltale Games wants to change that. The company this past week released "Minecraft: Story Mode," available now for most major platforms, and it attempts to do the very thing "Minecraft" was created to avoid: construct a linear plot. It's a "Minecraft" for the rest of us, or at least those of us who prefer our games to feel a little more defined from the start. Read more
'The Beginner's Guide'
"The Beginner's Guide" is a video game that opens with an existential question rather than an objective: Is it possible to get to know someone by analyzing his art? Play the game, and over the course of its two or so hours a number of even more compelling inquires arise, all of them relating to the difficulty of maintaining friendships, fostering intimacy and recognizing selfishness. It's an odd, thoughtful and beautifully surreal game, and its images — a door floating in space, a wormhole that opens during a self-help talk and a country café that turns into a prison — linger long after it comes to a conclusion. Read more
'Slam City Oracles' and 'Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime'
Video games can get dark quick, what with all the guns, military ops and monster-like creatures in space. The big games of fall and winter are no exception. Franchises such as "Metal Gear," "Halo," "Destiny" and "Call of Duty" provide plenty of wars to be waged on consoles and home computers. So where's the love? Two newer games put forth the theory that interactive entertainment can be a little bright and cuddly, and do so without losing their edge. "Slam City Oracles," in fact, turns to punk rock's riot grrl movement of the 1990s for inspiration, while "Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime" laces its high-intensity action with themes of adoration. "At least in games, it's so much more acceptable to be gray and serious and dark, so I really feel like it's rebellious to be happy and exuberant and cheerful," says Jane Friedhoff, creator of "Slam City Oracles." "Those are somewhat more vulnerable emotions than anger, or whatever emotion you'd want to call shooting." Both games necessitate cooperation yet take a different tack in their quests to be nice. Read more
"Until Dawn" appears to be the horror genre at its most recognizable. There's a cabin in the woods, of course, and a cast of good-looking actors playing a type rather than a character — the jock, the blond, the class goof. Most of them are really quite horrible people, in fact. There are scary movie tropes aplenty. Yes, there's a clown mask, and there's even a scene involving a Ouija board. One extended sequence has actress Hayden Panettiere in a towel. Open a cabinet, and out will come a rat, launching directly at you as if a spring board were built under the bathroom sink. Yet amid all these cliched ideas are rather ambitious ones. This silly B-movie of a video game may hint at the future interactive entertainment. Read more
'Lara Croft Go'
When "Tomb Raider" was rebooted in 2013, the game ushered in a number of changes for its main character, Lara Croft. Gone were the short-shorts and oversized chest, and in their place was a young, attractive archaeologist who actually looked like a young, attractive archaeologist. What's more, Croft talked and acted like a real human — curious when it came to adventuring, trepidatious, at least at first, when it came to weaponry. While "Lara Croft Go" brings back the shorts, the new mobile game from Square Enix one-ups the re-imagined "Tomb Raider" on at least one level: It requires the constant use of your brain. Read more
Here's a premise for a plot that's sure to bring out the tears: A blind girl can't find her best friend, a neighboring cat. If "Beyond Eyes" were a movie, it would come with a giant red warning light: Here be sadness. Thankfully, it's a video game. That's not to say "Beyond Eyes" doesn't tug on the heartstrings — it absolutely does — but the uniqueness of the interactive medium allows for a potentially sad experience to turn into a journey of discovery. That's because the relationship between player and controller can temper the heightened emotions of losing a pet. The act of moving a joystick, even in a nondemanding game such as "Beyond Eyes," immediately gives the player a task that must be completed. The cat must be found. Read more
Take the myth of Robin Hood, add a cyber-punk look and mix in some hacker sensibility. Welcome to "Volume," which just so happens to be one of the most subversive video games released this year. On the surface, "Volume" is a game of stealth and thieving. Yet these are clandestine operations that reflect a YouTube generation and an economically depressed climate. "Things are brilliant," says our hero, Rob, "if you're born into the right role." Available now for Sony's PlayStation 4, "Volume" imagines a world where hackers are less interested in exposing adultery and movie studio secrets than they are class parity. That may not sound as sexy as attacking Ashley Madison, the married people's online dating site, but "Volume" makes it all feel pretty slick. Neon-hued corridors and luminescent walls create a future-set world in which our working-class hero is to sneak around undetected. Read more
Some of the best games — and some of the most difficult — create their own language. It's a dialect born out of patterns, of habits and of good ol' fashioned trial and error. They speak in code. Their digital renderings are passed from generation to generation — interactive signifiers of where to go, what to avoid and how to slay. Staying out of space lava may be the obvious thing to do, but what about those gelatinous bubbles that slurp out of the rocks? Maybe those are good? Maybe they're healing? After all, they make a goopy sound that's slightly comforting when my spaceship passes through them, so they must be good, right? No, turns out they're not healing. But at least another piece of "Galak-Z's" speech patterns was unraveled. "Galak-Z" is certainly difficult, and it's also quite good. Its dialect reveals itself patiently and often contradicts itself. Read more
Just in time for the holiday shopping season, a new boutique has opened on Robertson Boulevard marrying East and West Coast style. Reservoir is the concept of New York City transplants Aliza Neidich and Alissa Jacob and features a well-edited mix of clothing, accessories and home goods with an easy sophistication made for L.A., including Ryan Roche hand-knit sweaters, Denis Colomb ponchos, Ellery sleek crepe dresses and tops, Solid and Striped denim jumpsuits, Madeworn tees, Newbark shearling slides, Dosa patchwork totes and Wendy Nichol fringed leather bucket bags. Read more
Reservoir, 154 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles
'Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897'
With famed film mogul Sam Goldwyn as her grandfather, Liz Goldwyn's family name is practically synonymous with old-school Hollywood glamour. But it's Los Angeles before it became the capital of the motion picture industry that's the subject of the style maven's new book, "Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897" (Regan Arts). The work of historical fiction looks back on the city's seedier past, with loosely connected stories about the madams, prostitutes, orphans, hustlers and tramps who roamed Alameda, Los Angeles and Spring streets. I chatted with Goldwyn about what drew her to this time period in L.A., her impressions of the book's rough characters, and what role women had in a culture where prostitution was tolerated. Read more
Apartment by the Line
Vanessa Traina Snow, designer muse and stylish daughter of novelist Danielle Steel, has brought her home-as-store concept Apartment by the Line to Los Angeles, two years after opening in New York City's Soho. Now open on Melrose Place, the second-floor store takes the retail trend of curation to a new level. Airy and light-filled, it's set up like a residential space except that absolutely everything is for sale, from the $50,500 Helmut Newton photograph hanging on the wall, to the $895 pair of exclusive alligator Alexandra Knight Birkenstocks in the walk-in closet, to the $8 Morihata charcoal toothbrush on the sink in the bathroom. The concept stores are the bricks-and-mortar incarnation of Snow's e-commerce site, The Line. Read more
Apartment by the Line, 8463 Melrose Place, second floor, Los Angeles
'Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe'
Ladies, the next time you are teetering on high heels, you can blame men. But not for the reason you think. In Western fashion, high heels were popularized by men, starting in the court of Louis XIV where a talon rouge (red heel), identified a member of the privileged class centuries before Christian Louboutin made red soles the calling card of his luxury shoe brand. That's just one of the tasty tidbits in "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe," an exhibition scheduled to run through Dec. 13 at the Palm Springs Art Museum that examines the fashion accessory we all love to hate, including its history, its relation to gender identity, sex appeal and power. Read more
The thinking man's sex symbol. That's the woman Los Angeles designer Maria Korovilas is catering to with her label, Korovilas, launched through the Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion show in 2012. Korovilas and her business partner, Katie Bernhisel, who met at USC, have developed a growing business out of their downtown Los Angeles studio, selling their lace-and-beaded dresses to Neiman Marcus online, Nordstrom Via C, Anthropologie and Satine at prices ranging from $395 to $1,800. And the label's collections, inspired by chalky marble, Romanian peasant dresses, Edwardian laces, Deco jewelry, rustic vistas, 1990s granny boots and more, have caught the attention of Blake Lively and Sophia Bush. The designer decided to show her spring 2016 collection during Los Angeles Fashion Week but away from the fray, hosting a cocktail party poolside at the Mondrian Hotel with models posed against the glittering skyline. The collection took inspiration from "La Nouvelle Vague," or French New Wave cinema, in particular, Jean-Luc Godard's lesser known film "Pierrot le Fou" (1965). "It's the one no one ever knows," Korovilas joked, adding that the pastel color palette and dilapidated grandeur of France portrayed in Godard's films were what intrigued her. Read more
From Fred Cole to Rose Marie Reid and beyond, Los Angeles has a long history of producing fashionable swim and resort wear with a celebrity angle that sells it to the wider world. And today, Hale Bob is one of the L.A. labels carrying on the tradition. Founded 14 years ago by Paris transplant Daniel Bohbot, the brand's name is plastered on several billboards around town, including one currently on Sunset Boulevard about a mile from the Beverly Hills manse Bohbot moved into six weeks ago. Cindy Crawford, Sofia Vergara and Amal Alamuddin are just a few of the Hollywood celebs who have worn the swim cover-ups at the beach, where the paparazzi capture them in high style. It's been a winning formula that has propelled sales to the $40-million mark, Bohbot says. For Bohbot's Los Angeles Fashion Week debut Thursday, he chose to show his spring 2016 collection poolside at his new digs, to hit home the L.A. lifestyle element of his print-tastic caftans, bikinis, flip-flops and beach towels. Read more
From Chanel's couture sneakers in 2014 to track pants on Chloe's Paris runway earlier this month, sports attire is permeating high fashion in a major way. And so-called athleisure, as offered by Lululemon, Rebecca Minkoff and countless others, is one of the fastest-growing categories in clothing sales. Tory Burch has introduced her own take on the look: Tory Sport, the first standalone apparel collection created by the designer since she launched her namesake brand in 2004. Tory Sport offers a mix of performance and "coming and going" wear to take you from the court to the club, with offerings that include moisture-wicking leggings and jog bras in her signature peppy prints; ribbed-knit polo sweaters; drapey, wide-legged track pants and pearl-encrusted, slip-on sneakers. Available online at www.torysport.com and in New York. Read more
New York Fashion Week
Designers put the "show" in fashion show at New York Fashion Week this season. The unveiling of the Spring 2016 collections wrapped up Thursday night, with Marc Jacobs' staging his presentation as a premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater, beginning with the models walking the red carpet outside, in front of passersby who held their camera phones high to catch the edgy, Americana-inspired looks. Inside, guests watched the first few arrivals on a movie screen. And after the models wound their way up the escalators and into the theater, they walked the runway to the sounds of a rootin', tootin' live orchestra. It was a reminder not only of the power of the red carpet but of how closely fashion has become tied to entertainment and performance. This fashion week, the public was drawn into the action like never before, with ticket lotteries for some show seats, glimpses of the runways at outdoor venues and via screens broadcasting some of the action. Read more
Have you ever camped out overnight to buy a pair of kicks — or wondered why the heck anyone would? Then the new documentary “Sneakerheadz” is for you. Directed by David T. Friendly (Academy Award-nominated producer of “Little Miss Sunshine”), the film — which opens in limited release Friday — looks into sneaker collecting from the Fairfax corridor in Los Angeles to the Ginza district in Tokyo. And it comes at a time when sneakers seem to be everywhere: on Paris fashion runways, Hollywood red carpets and at New York City’s Brooklyn Museum, where an exhibition on “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” is scheduled to run through Oct. 4. Read more
The Aussie fashion footprint in L.A. just got a whole lot bigger with the opening of the 3,000-square-foot Zimmermann flagship on tony Melrose Place. Australian model Miranda Kerr, model-actress Chanel Iman, and actresses January Jones and Minka Kelly were among those who turned out for cocktails Wednesday night to fete the brand and its fun-loving cofounders, sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmermann. The boutique is airy and open with racks full of Zimmermann's boho-romantic printed sun dresses and jumpsuits with lattice stitching or sexy cutouts, lace peasant tops and skirts, and sculpted swimwear. Prices range from $150 to $600 for swimwear and $350 to $2,000 for ready-to-wear. Read more
Long before Jay Z was rapping about fashion designer Tom Ford, Pharrell Williams was pitching for Chanel or Kanye West was a front-row fixture at Givenchy, kids were customizing jean jackets with spray paint and accessorizing shell-toed Adidas shoes with starched laces. Hip-hop fashion, born from the music scene, has evolved into a global business and pop culture phenomenon that is explored in "Fresh Dressed," a new film by Sacha Jenkins. Read more
Lizzie Garrett Mettler
L.A.-based blogger and “Tomboy Style” author Lizzie Garrett Mettler has entered the world of retail. She’s launched The-Reed.com, an online destination that is part travel guide, part shop featuring clothing and accessories for traveling well. “I didn’t feel like there was a store for me that could provide items to go car camping two hours away from home or to wear while sightseeing during the day and to dress up at night,” Mettler says. “Travel items are either really masculine or if they’re for women are really jet-setter feminine. I wanted to bring some balance to the space.” Mettler launched her Tomboy Style blog in 2010 (it’s had 6.8 million views since its inception), which inspired a book by the same name published by Rizzoli in 2012, covering 80 years of women who mix masculine and feminine elements in their wardrobe. Read more
One Day Without Shoes
This week, L.A.-based Toms Shoes kicked off its eighth annual One Day Without Shoes campaign with a new social media twist. Through May 21, if you Instagram a pair of bare feet and tag the photo with the hashtag #withoutshoes, Toms will donate a new pair of shoes to a child in need — no purchase necessary. The social media campaign is good for up to 1 million posts, with a limit of one post per person. But considering Toms has given away 35 million pairs of shoes since the company started, it's a significant gesture. Toms was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. A former contestant on the reality show "The Amazing Race," he discovered the comfy canvas, espadrille-like alpargatas shoes when he traveled to Argentina after the show wrapped up, to play polo, relax and volunteer. Read more