Critics’ Picks: Feb 20 - Feb 26, 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.
At the movies you can go behind the scenes at the New York City Ballet, or get a shocking and disturbing view of one aspect of life in Israel. On stage Paul Vincent O’Conner is the gruff lead in “Night Alive” at the Geffen. And how about some Phat Thai carry-out in Chinatown?
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem’
Disturbing and shocking, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is a fiction about an unimaginable fact of life in present-day Israel. The divorce-centered drama is so provocative it’s become a lightning rod for debate inside the country. Even watching from a distance is unnerving. For all intents and purposes, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz), a wife and mother, is chattel. No rights to speak of, no voice or choice in her desire to end her long-dead marriage. Her only hope rests in the hands of rigid rabbis and a resistant husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), neither inclined to grant her request. As we learn through the course of the trial in which she presses the rabbinical court to overrule her husband and grant her a divorce, there is no other avenue open to her, no civil court procedure to end a marriage. As it is, her decision to live separately from her husband has branded her as surely as that scarlet letter did Hester Prynne. For Viviane, though, there have been no indiscretions. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Director Jody Lee Lipes follows young New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck like a second skin as he creates, providing a window into how ballets are made and letting us eavesdrop on all the work and thought that makes what unfolds on stage look effortless and beautiful. Read more
Silent Film DVDs
Silent films are always a pleasure to experience, and two new DVD releases — one of an acknowledged classic, the other of a film that is not as well known as it should be — are especially worth savoring. The classic, now in an authoritative restoration released by Kino Lorber, is 1920’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” directed by Robert Wiene, a disconcerting look into a nightmare world that retains its power to disturb. Less celebrated but equally memorable is “In the Land of the Head Hunters,” directed in 1914 by the great photographer Edward S. Curtis, released by Milestone Films and looking with great beauty at the personal and cultural affairs of the Kwakiutl tribe of the northern Pacific coast. Read more
Biopics about American war heroes are a Hollywood tradition going all the way back to Gary Cooper starring as the legendary World War I sharpshooter "Sergeant York" and World War II's highly decorated Audie Murphy playing himself in "To Hell and Back." "American Sniper" is squarely in that mold, but because it's directed by Clint Eastwood, something else is going on as well. Taken from the autobiography of the same name, "American Sniper" stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL whose 160 confirmed kills over four tours of duty in Iraq made him the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
In “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” Michael Keaton is something of a cross between an aging Icarus and the emperor with no clothes — metaphorical until the tighty-whitey Times Square streak. As a latter-day celluloid superhero come to Broadway's proving ground for a rebirth, the Burning Man histrionics are hysterically on point. Irony lurks in every shadow. Fittingly the film begins with a fiery object streaking toward Manhattan where the highly agitated life of the actor Riggan (Keaton) plays out. The city is the perfect spot for filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu to build his pyre. Exactly whose death is being celebrated or mourned — Hollywood? Theater? Society? A single shooting star? — well, that is the question. And oh, the flames that follow. Delicious. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
An advocacy documentary with a compelling You Are There quality. Director Laura Poitras puts us in the room when NSA leaker Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald conferred over eight days as they made decisions about what was to be published and why. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'The Imitation Game'
If you care about involving cinema, the career of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, or both, a holiday visit to the smartly entertaining "The Imitation Game" and its look at the life of Alan Turing is inevitable. Turing was a brilliant man whose top-secret work as a code breaker of genius shortened World War II, saved millions of lives and was so central to the Allied victory that it was said the war could not have been won without it. But Turing was also gay at a time when that was a crime in Britain, and he paid an awful price for that after the war. Giving Turing's wartime exploits as well as the entire film, the unexpected pacing of a thriller is the work of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, whose crackling "Headhunters," adapted from the novel by Jo Nesbo, became the highest-grossing film in that country's history. And as good as Cumberbatch has been, the richness and complexity of Turing's character make this portrayal of an arrogant, difficult, sure-of-himself individual the role of the actor's career. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘A Most Violent Year’
“A Most Violent Year" is the most welcome kind of throwback. It brings to mind the fierce New York-based productions of Sidney Lumet in particular but also the whole notion of character-driven, the-clock-is-ticking melodramas in general. A vibrant crime story filled to overflowing with crackling situations, taut dialogue and a heightened, even operatic sense of reality, "A Most Violent Year" captures us and doesn't let go. Writer-director J.C. Chandor has now made a trio of gripping films (including "Margin Call" and "All Is Lost") each dealing in its own way with people trying to hold their own as a world they thought they knew closes in and threatens to snuff them out. These pictures all have one foot in classic Hollywood, in the unapologetic movieness of films such as Lumet's "Serpico" and "Prince of the City," but they never feel less than completely modern. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Anchored in the rock of Timothy Spall's astonishing Cannes prize-winning performance as British painter J.M.W. Turner, this Mike Leigh film pushes hard against the strictures of conventional narrative and ends up pulling us into its world and capturing us completely. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Song of the Sea' at UCLA 'Family Flicks' series
When it comes to films that demand to be experienced on the big screen, Irish director Tomm Moore’s 2014 “Song of the Sea” is high on the list, and this weekend provides an opportunity to see it both bigger than life and for free. Playing admission-free at the Hammer Museum in Westwood’s Billy Wilder Theater at 11 a.m. Sunday as part of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s “Family Flicks” series, “Song of the Sea” is a wonder to behold. It’s a stunning example of hand-drawn animation, and its story of a brother and sister on an adventure is steeped in Irish myth, folklore and legend. Its gorgeous watercolor backgrounds so adroitly mix the magical and the everyday that to watch it is to be wholly immersed in an enchanted world, with a great soundtrack that employs the Irish band Kila adding to the mood of wonder. Read more
UCLA Film & Television Archive, Billy Wilder Theater, Theatre, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
'The Theory of Everything'
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are beautifully compatible as physicist Stephen Hawking and his then-wife Jane as they navigate the ebb and flow of 25 years of their relationship. A film that posits that the complexities of the universe are as nothing compared to the intricacies of the human heart. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Islamic extremists are the butt of the bone-dry joke in the new drama "Timbuktu," with director Abderrahmane Sissako taking a satiric swipe at the armed fundamentalists who've overtaken the northwestern African desert outpost. The film, one of five vying for a foreign-language Oscar, will be at the Laemmle Royal Theatre for another week, and I would encourage you to make time for this smartly courageous film. It uses the common sense and honor of a local cattle herder to plead the case for rational thought in a world gone mad. In contrast, the armed intruders are idiotic, implementing rules that make no sense — a day spent hunting for the source of a song, when music's been banned, a fishmonger facing arrest if she refuses to wear cloth gloves. But the enforcers ignore the dictates that inconvenience them — the ban on smoking, for one. For all of "Timbuktu's" the-emperor-has-no-clothes attitude, the undercurrent remains serious. Sissako never discounts the cost of a repressive regime, but he also exposes it for what it is — absurd. (Betsy Sharkey) (In Arabic, Bambara, French, English, Songhay and Tamasheq, with English subtitles) Read more
'Two Days, One Night'
It's strange to think of this new drama from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne as a thriller, but that's exactly what they've created. The clock is ticking on a factory worker (Marion Cotillard) who has two days and one night to try to persuade co-workers to give up a precious bonus so that she can return to a job eliminated while she was on medical leave. For all the excellent work Cotillard has done, this performance stands among her best. She absorbs a young wife and mother's indecision, insecurity, depression and weariness down to the bone. (Betsy Sharkey) (In French with English subtitles.) Read more
With an amazing Miles Teller on drums and a terrifying J.K. Simmons setting the tempo, "Whiplash" is a movie you feel as much as you see, and what you see is both exquisite and excruciating. Writer-director Damien Chazelle draws on his nightmare memories of high school, an intense time when the aspiring jazz drummer was driven to excel by a merciless teacher who favored verbal torture and humiliation to mold young minds. The question Chazelle poses is whether psychological pain is the price of greatness. These sorts of stand-offs and power games have given us some truly great films — Duvall in "The Great Santini," De Niro in "This Boy's Life" come to mind. Now "Whiplash" will too. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
"Wild" opens high atop the Pacific Crest Trail with the sweeping beauty of a rugged land, unmarred and untamed. The scene is breathtaking, serene, until broken by pain and pierced by a scream. Pain the result of Cheryl Strayed, portrayed by a wonderfully worn down and unwashed Reese Witherspoon, hiking too many miles in boots that don't fit. The scream, full of defiance and frustration, forged by a life that doesn't fit either. It is in moments like these that director Jean-Marc Vallee's compassion for the human condition, Nick Hornby's soul-baring adaptation of Strayed's memoir, and Witherspoon's pure emotional nakedness merge, piercing like that scream. Though there are occasional stumbles along the 1,100-mile hike, the peaks in "Wild" make the journey more than worth it. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
‘Parks and Recreation’ finale
One of the best comedies in recent memory ends Tuesday, Feb. 24, tragically preceded by the death of Harris Wittels, one of its producers. The story of small-town Indiana bureaucrat and eternal optimist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), “Parks and Rec” too was the little show with a great big heart, giving audiences more and better than many shows with far higher ratings (see my tear-stained review as the finale draws nearer). Given an amped-up half-season to come to the conclusion, the “Parks and Recreation” staff have split up the team that ran the department of the title, sending them on many diverging roads, though each appears to be heading toward a happy ending. Leslie will be dividing time between Pawnee and D.C., while Ben (Adam Scott) runs for Congress. April (Aubrey Plaza) has found her dream job at a D.C. nonprofit, where, presumably, Andy (Chris Pratt) can do his cool ninja TV character on public television. Ron (Nick Offerman) is running his own construction company with a wide and wild assortment of Swanson brothers, Donna (Retta) is a newlywed, Tom (Aziz Ansari) is a successful restaurateur in love, and Garry (Jim O’Heir) finally gets his own name and his dream job. Tuesday, NBC. Read more
‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’ on DVD
One of television’s great comedies, collected completely: 20 discs, 147 episodes, immaculately transferred, compactly packaged. I mean to get around to speaking of its virtues at length in some future piece, but briefly: For all that we are living in a so-called Platinum Age of Television — somebody said that once, and it seems to have stuck — when personal expression is the order of the day, TV has 1) always been a writer’s medium, expressive of individual vision, and 2) never lacked for talent. They may have had narrower lines and stricter rules to deal with in the olden Golden days, the envelopes may have not been the sort you could push very far — as if that in itself were good — but works of pop genius, even crazy pop genius, are not exclusive to the post-“Sopranos” TV era. “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” the 1959-1963 CBS series in which Max Shulman adapted his short story collection of the same name — a movie version, the 1953 “The Affairs of Dobie Gillis,” with Bobby Van is less well remembered — starred Dwayne Hickman as a perennially lovestruck high school (then a junior college) student. Shout Factory DVD. Read more
'The 87th Academy Awards'
Is it just me or do you feel like all the Oscar prognostication has completely killed what little fun was left in the old dude? When stories start referencing the oddsmakers' favorites in set design, I think we have reached the obvious limit of too many freaking stories about the Oscars. Still, there's always a chance that everyone will be wrong and that Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley and "The Imitation Game" will clean up because, well, one should never underestimate the power of the 'batch and old Hollywood's love for historical bios and Kiera Knightley. More important, Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, which seems as if he's done before but hasn't — he's just hosted Everything Else short of the Nobel Prize ceremony, which may not even have a host. So, if ever an awards telecast completely and totally rested on the host and its writers, this would be that show. So no pressure, Neil. I'm sure you'll do great. (Mary McNamara) (CBS, Sunday) Read more
For those who want yet another side of "Fifty Shades of Grey" star Jamie Dornan (who does much better work as a serial killer in "The Fall," which is available on Netflix), the streaming service Acorn TV is now offering him up as a 1680s British renegade. Set in England, and America, during the Restoration, "New Worlds" attempts to tell the story of England's fight for something approximating democracy in the years following the three-tiered Civil War. Charles II is on the throne and just as horrible as he could be while the remaining followers of Oliver Cromwell, here portrayed as a freedom fighter, which should make anyone of Irish descent want to tear their hair out, mutter and plot to somehow rid the country of tyrants and put it in the hands of Parliament. (Mary McNamara) (Acorn TV, anytime) Read more
Whitney Rice shows you how to get that Golden Globes red carpet look in this 2014 YouTube video. (I amusedly reproduce this description from Keek chief marketing officer Lin Dai: "Our goal is to cast a spotlight on new social media talent and deliver and schedule the content across digital, social and mobile platforms in a manner that fits the lifestyle of today's digital audience." So there you go.) Do not let this distress you, pre-millennial viewer. Do not fear. I am old myself and have watched this thing with much enjoyment and not a little admiration. (Not all the jokes work, but that is quite in the tradition of late-night TV.) You might not recognize the Vine comics and Keek sensations, but you may well know Jacobs, from "Community," and Tony Hale, from "Veep," and recognize Jon Heder, who was Napoleon Dynamite. And the Net doesn't know how old you are — well, actually, it does know how old you are, but it can't stop you from watching things not made with you in mind. Yet.(YouTube, Anytime)(Robert Lloyd) Read more
‘The Night Alive’
The protagonist of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s enigmatically fascinating play is a middle-aged man (played with cavernous depths of gruff emotion by Paul Vincent O’Connor) who has by all appearances accepted defeat. But after rescuing a battered woman, he tentatively begins to imagine a new life for himself in this fable-like drama that mixes mystery and menace with touching comedy. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday, March 15) Read more
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood
'Billy Elliot: The Musical'
Although this surefire production of Elton John and Lee Hall's Tony-winning adaptation of the beloved Stephen Daldry film doesn't entirely disguise certain pro-forma aspects in the property, audiences are unlikely to let that prohibit their absolute enjoyment. Director Brian Kite oversees a sleeker, sparer physical realization than London and New York witnessed, which actually serves the storytelling beautifully, and the fervent cast ranges from wholly proficient to truly inspired, led by the astonishing Mitchell Tobin, whose dance-besotted title character reveals a remarkable young talent destined for great things ahead. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Feb. 22) Read more
'The Darrell Hammond Project'
The "Saturday Night Live" veteran's unexpectedly enthralling solo show, based on his recovery memoir, is structured as a kind of detective story into the origins of his mental illness and addiction. But the piece, which includes snatches of his hilarious impressions, is at its most compelling as a raw encounter with the dark side of a brilliant comic's temperament. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday, March 8) Read more
Zayd Dohrn's creepy, funny, emotionally ravaging comedy-drama concerns a young craftswoman of "reborn" babies whose latest customer wants nothing less than to re-create her own dead infant in plastic. In director Simon Levy's meticulously well-realized production, Joanna Strapp stands out as the young dollmaker, gruesomely abandoned in infancy, whose latest "custom order" brings her to the brink of madness. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, March 15) Read more
'Smoke and Mirrors'
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, March 15) Read more
'Sons of the Prophet'
Stephen Karam's acclaimed 2011 comedy-drama, about two gay Lebanese-American brothers in Pennsylvania dealing with spiritual, economic and medical challenges in the wake of their father's death, was a Pulitzer finalist, and it's easy to see why. By couching the unfolding series of calamities and reversals in farcical terms that verge on absurdist at times, author Karam ensures that the deeper issues at play sneak into our brainpans, realized to the hilt by director Michael Matthews, a fine design team and a wonderful ensemble. Ends Sunday, May 17. Read more
The Blank's 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
'Tristan & Yseult'
The delightful British theater troupe Kneehigh keeps finding ways of demonstrating that whimsicality on stage is perfectly compatible with emotional grace. Following the company's success with "Brief Encounter" is this mythic romantic tale that famously enraptured Wagner. Blending quirky humor with hypnotic lyricism, the production, directed and adapted by Emma Rice, is a present for theatergoers who are at once too shrewd not to laugh at love and too wise to treat it as a joke. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday, Feb. 22) Read more
South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
‘The Ghosts of Versailles’
When the Metropolitan Opera gave the world premiere in 1991 of John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” — which Los Angeles Opera brings to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night, the first of six performances running through March 1 — there was disbelief at Lincoln Center. No one at the Met had seen anything like it. Not only was this the first new opera the company had mounted in a quarter of a century, it was the first successful new Met opera in three-quarters of a century. The composer and librettist William Hoffmann got a rousing standing ovation. Members of the audience threw flowers onto the stage. “Ghosts” has been mounted only occasionally since. The premiere was broadcast on PBS, and Deutsche Grammophon released it on video (VHS and laserdisc in those days) but not on CD, in essence implying that the opera was great theater but maybe the music wasn’t so hot on its own. That video didn’t come out on DVD until 2010, when the Met included it as part of a large and expensive set celebrating Levine’s 40th anniversary with the company. L.A. Opera’s new production of “Ghosts” will thus be a test as to whether this is a genuinely unjustly neglected opera, not simply a work with a unique place in operatic history. Making a case for the score, the company will also record it for the first time for CD. Ends Sun., March 1. Read more
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles
Album: ‘Shadows in the Night’
Call them standards if you must — imagine dusty old classics of the so-called Great American Songbook. But as interpreted by Bob Dylan, more accurate is to consider the entirety of “Shadows in the Night” as a gathering of meditations, or a booklet of hymns, or a selection of reveries. Ten songs, 34 minutes, a soaring lifetime’s worth of emotion conveyed with the fearlessness of a cliff diver spinning flips and risking belly flops in the open air — that’s Dylan and his band on the graceful, often-breathtaking “Shadows.” The record comes out Feb. 3. Strikingly unadorned and as emotionally raw as anything in the artist’s canon, Dylan’s new studio album is rich with moaning pedal steel lines and tonal whispers that drift in and out of measures. Guided by bassist Tony Garnier’s liquid lines, “Shadows” is an exercise in precision, each syllable essential, each measure evenly weighted. Absent are piano, overdubs, all but the most minimal percussion or any lyric written by Dylan himself. And it’s as slow as molasses. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Best known as an original member of Danity Kane, R&B singer Dawn Richard left the group last year (again) after a public kerfuffle revealed deep divisions among the crew. No disrespect to the others, but Richard is thriving without them. Over the last few years she's issued a series of works that hinted at a wildly visionary approach to soul sonics, and she's gone even further on "Blackheart." A collaboration with the Los Angeles producer Noisecastle III, Richards' second studio album is thick with synth-based polyrhythms and layers of Richard's fine voice. When delivered straight, it's solid and pitch perfect. More often, though, she and Noisecastle run her words through strange filters, electronically manipulating it to move from male bass to female soprano and beyond. She merges her words with Vocoders like she's rolling onto Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," hums with Giorgio Moroder-like synth throbs. The result is magnetic future funk, rife with Roland 909 tones, British drum and bass accents and much left-field surprise. (Randall Roberts) Read more
In the opening measures of Björk's new album, "Vulnicura," the Icelandic artist offers a direct statement of purpose, one involving personal upheaval she describes as "a juxtapositioning fate." Mentioning "moments of clarity as so rare, I better document this," Björk directs her gaze in that first song, "Stonemilker," on the dissolution of a relationship. As she does so, what can be described only as Björkian strings and beats swirl around her. These drifting arrangements soar through tracks like birds spinning circles in prairie skies, even as the experimental pop singer, 49, lyrically crawls through the brush below in utter confusion. At times devastated, others baffled, still others strong and determined, the artist on "Vulnicura" offers nine songs, six of which move in chronological order through that juxtapositional end and beyond. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Black Messiah'
In a brief foreword in the liner notes for "Black Messiah," the great new album from the soul artist known simply as D'Angelo, the creator declares his intentions with a dose of humility. "'Black Messiah' is a hell of a name for an album," he writes, explaining that the title of his first long-player in 14 years, and only his third in 19 years, might be misconstrued as being about religion or paint the artist as some sort of egomaniac. But, writes D'Angelo, to him the title is "about the world. It's about an idea we can all aspire to. We should all aspire to be a Black Messiah. It's about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen." (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Pinkprint'
Those who have followed Nicki Minaj's often-thrilling ascent to hip-hop superstardom have been hoping for another straight-up rap album for years. After annihilating virtually all takers on mixtapes and guest verses starting in 2007, the 32-year-old began gunning for the pop charts, pouring forth two albums, "Pink Friday" (2010) and "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded" (2012). Both often paired her charismatic wit and style with of-the-moment dance floor bangers and big-umbrella commercial sounds, along with a teasing dose of hard-edged hip-hop. She's earned those hits, to the chagrin of some of her most devoted defenders — those who understand that when Minaj flips that switch and devotes herself to the art of the well-crafted hip-hop verse, uninterrupted electricity flows through her. When she's on, her phrasing, her myriad personas, her playfully percussive vocal flow and the overall presentation combine to create as striking a presence as anyone who's ever rhymed along to beats. "The Pinkprint," released Monday, won't fully placate the hard-core rap heads, but it's got the bangs and the thrills many of us have hoped for, even if it's a slow build kind of power and slacks at times. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels is the team of two indie titans, El-P and Killer Mike, who have upended convention by remaining idealistically true, artistically adventurous and creatively emboldened well into their second decade as rapper-producers. The pair's second album, released as a free download, proves it 11 times over. As smart as it is sonically imaginative and unpredictable, "Run the Jewels 2" proves the team's debut was less a fluke than a portent. Headphone rap of the highest order, tracks on this sequel hum and groove, laced with texture and hidden sonic accents. Psychedelic jams — but not in the hippie sense — including "Close Your Eyes (And Count to …)" and "Lie, Cheat, Steal" are both trippy and menacing, the product of two rappers whose understanding of cadence, phrasing and language as syllabic percussion is often awe-inspiring. (Randall Roberts) Read more
CD Set: 'The Basement Tapes Complete'
It's the most famous room in the annals of pop music, its history equal parts legend and truth. In the decades since its use as a rehearsal space, this subterranean refuge has become known as the birthplace of some of America's most examined (non-Paris-Hilton-sex, non-Watergate) tapes. The Basement Tapes. Many of a certain generation know the basics: In and around Woodstock, N.Y., Bob Dylan and his then-backing band, the Hawks, converged to create stripped-down, defiantly un-psychedelic artistic magic. As the story goes, while recuperating from a motorcycle crash and starting his life as a husband and father of two, Dylan and his compadres, who soon rechristened themselves the Band, crafted a mysterious vessel on more than 40 reels of tape that have since become sacred texts of sorts. The most famous of these works are well known: "This Wheel's on Fire," "I Shall Be Released," "Tears of Rage," "Sign on the Cross," "I'm Not There," "Lo and Behold." Many were traded on the underground circuit through the decades: as whispers on poorly mastered bootleg albums starting with the "Great White Wonder" from 1969, on hissy cassettes, duped CDs and voluminous megabytes. But until this week, the full set has never been officially issued. Nearly 50 years after Band keyboardist Garth Hudson started setting up recording gear, Columbia/Legacy's new six-CD set "The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11" gathers everything the team recorded from February through December 1967, more than 100 songs or fragments. A two-CD volume collects highlights. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Too Bright'
Wearing a loose-knotted black sweater that revealed his carved torso beneath, the pianist, singer and songwriter known as Perfume Genius sat before a whisper-quiet sold-out crowd at the Roxy in West Hollywood and tried to explain the raw, full-throated wail he'd just unleashed. Dubbing it his "general horror movie scream," the artist born Mike Hadreas had just poured forth during "Grid," a highlight from his new album, "Too Bright," and devastating as performed live in a room with so much history. It was a harrowing cry amid a remarkable set, delivered from the thin membrane that separates singing and raging, a place expertly inhabited by artists including Jeff Buckley and his father, Tim, Fiona Apple and the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. A realm that straddles an egoless display of creative emotion and uncontrollable onstage breakdown. (Randall Roberts) Read more
John Cage CDs
Classical music has a habit of burning out on birthdays. Two years ago, John Cage's music was everywhere, what with Los Angeles and the world celebrating the centennial of his birth on Sept. 5 at Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown L.A. The party lingered. Last September, Gustavo Dudamel opened the Los Angeles Philharmonic season with a performance of Cage's famous so-called silent piece, "4'33"." This year, though, the pickings are slim for Cage's 102nd birthday. But three excellent ongoing Cage CD series have new releases to frost the Cage birthday cake. (Mark Swed) Read more
Album: 'Manipulator' Ty Segall
By the time that Ty Segall hit age 26, he had already recorded and released six solo albums, appeared or collaborated on a dozen or so other albums of frantic guitar rock, issued 20 singles or extended-plays through various record labels, appeared on dozens of compilations and composed a few hundred songs. In that burst of inspiration, the Laguna Beach-born guitarist, singer, surfer, skater and songwriter toured nonstop, gigging hundreds of shows across the country. He produced similarly minded bands, played punk and indie festivals and tore through many wickedly searing guitar solos. The Memphis garage rock label Goner had already released the first Segall singles collection by the time he was 24. His titles for these records included "Sleeper," "Gemini," "Horn the Unicorn," "Lemons," "Melted," "Reverse Shark Attack," "Twins" and "Goodbye Bread." Each recorded with immediacy and on the cheap, they captured the uncontainable energy of a muse so busy both consuming and producing music that few but the most devoted could keep up. Before starting work on his new album, "Manipulator," Segall (pronounced like the bird) had accumulated a bulldozer's worth of distorted rock 'n' roll riffs, amassing ideas while sweating the proverbial 10,000 hours required of an expert craftsman. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint'
When trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire released his Blue Note debut three years ago, “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” it felt as if his talents could take him anywhere. So it makes sense that in crafting his follow-up, Akinmusire nearly goes everywhere. Engrossing, elusive and packed to its literal limits with ideas at 79 minutes, “The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint” beautifully takes Akinmusire’s distinctive tone to new realms, including slow-burning orchestral swells and convention-defying vocal collaborations that attempt to translate his vision into words. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album: 'Blank Project'
"Good things come to those who wait," Neneh Cherry sings over stormy electronics and a skittering rhythm on her first solo album in 16 years. If there's a lingering take-away from "Blank Project," that's it. Cherry, whose breakout hit "Buffalo Stance" was practically inescapable in the late '80s, left music for years before reemerging with "The Cherry Thing" in 2012. A brash stab of skronky jazz-punk that paired Cherry's soulful vocals with a blustery Scandinavian saxophone trio, the record was one of the year's best. Here Cherry proves that comeback was no fluke. (Chris Barton) Read more
Pok Pok Phat Thai
Pok Pok Phat Thai is the first Los Angeles outpost of Andy Ricker, the American-born chef who has built a small Thai food empire in Portland, Ore., and New York. It is a small counter built into the Chinatown mall storefront where the chicken pho dive Hoan Kiem used to be, right down from Chego, and even in its earliest weeks a line curled out its door. Ricker is adept at adapting the strong, herbal flavors of northern Thai drinking food — his original Pok Pok in Portland is marvelous — in a manner fairly similar to what Kris Yenbamroong is doing here at Night + Market. He plans to open a larger, more ambitious restaurant up the street in a few months, but Pok Pok Phat Thai serves just noodles for takeout or to eat at one of the oilcloth-covered picnic tables set outside in the mall. Read more
Pok Pok Phat Thai, 727 N Broadway #130, Los Angeles
Water-boiled fish is one of the most impressive dishes in the Sichuan repertoire: an enormous bowl of vegetables and broth bloodied with a half-inch of vivid chile oil. At Fang's Kitchen, the sleek new Chengdu-style Sichuan restaurant in Monterey Park, the fish, called here Bashu fish fillet, lies atop what must be a triple handful of bean sprouts, which I've never actually seen anybody eat but which keep the pale fillets right at the surface. Fang's, all red walls and shiny glass, is sharp-looking, almost sophisticated in its corner space, long home to the Shanghainese restaurant Giangnan, a few storefronts down from the dumpling specialist Dean Sin World in a faded mini-mall south of the 10 Freeway. It seems to be more popular with groups of young couples than with families, although it serves nothing stronger than pitchers of smoky plum juice, and there is only one table that could conceivably seat a party larger than six. Almost every time I've been in, a waitress has told the group that if we promised to write up the restaurant on the Chinese-language message board Weibo, we'd get a free dessert. I neither read nor write a word of Chinese, but the lure of the crisply toasted rice cakes, sprinkled with powdered mung bean and drizzled with liquid black sugar, is pretty strong. I confess: I have lied for dessert. Read more
Fang's Kitchen, 306 N. Garfield Ave., Suite A12, Monterey Park
If you've traveled much in Italy, you probably have an idea of what an Italian steak meal might be like: a small antipasto or two, an unchallenging pasta and then a honking piece of meat, charred salty black in the fireplace but warm and bloody within, portioned out among everybody at the table. If there is a sauce, it is a few drops of harsh, green olive oil. If there is a side dish, it is a handful of potatoes or some beans. You will drink cheap, rough wine. You will still spend more than you expect, but you will be unreasonably happy. Pistola, the new restaurant from Gusto's Vic Casanova, is another kind of Italian steakhouse, halfway between a pasta house and a luxury steakhouse like Boa or Mastro's. Read more
The arts district, flanking the Los Angeles River downtown, is approaching peak restaurant density. We're seeing new concentrations of restaurants in Highland Park, Manhattan Beach, Silver Lake, Venice and Boyle Heights that are strong enough to excite anti-gentrification activists who are frightened that craft beer and avocado toast might attract the wrong sort of neighbors. But if you had to choose the next neighborhood to attract long lines, innovative kitchens and blurbs in national magazines, you would do well to put your money on Chinatown. If you grew up in Los Angeles, your fondest memories of Chinatown may involve live crabs at Mon Kee, pan-fried dumplings at Mandarin Deli or punk-rock shows at the Hong Kong Cafe; dim sum at Miriwa, char-edged chow fun at Home Cafe, or 2 a.m. oyster-pork hot pots at Happy Valley — institutions now as lost to history as the memory that the district was once an Italian neighborhood. But today's Chinatown, sparked into life by cheap rents and the gallery boom, is in the process of becoming an entirely new place. Read more
Perhaps you are in Little Tokyo, as one often is, and you are in the mood for noodles, and you fear that you may perish from hunger, pure hunger, if you are forced to endure the wait at either Daikokuya or Shin-Sen-Gumi. So you settle in at Marugame Monzo, where the line is only half as long, and you console yourself with what is probably the best udon in Los Angeles. Really, even if you’d never heard of udon, you could probably guess that this was the place to get it because 1) literally everybody else in the restaurant has a bowl of it on his or her table, and 2) in the back of the restaurant, clearly visible in an enclosed glass booth, a highly trained man is whomping away at huge gobs of dough with what looks like an industrial paper cutter. Read more
The old Pete's was a place you stopped into for a plate of blue cheese fries after the bars closed. As rejiggered by Josef Centeno, the restaurant, renamed Ledlow, is a neighborhood restaurant for a different kind of neighborhood, a place where the chalkboard menu listed things like beef tongue salad and caramelized sunchoke remoulade, the crudités come straight from the farmers market, and both the chicken and the shrimp salad come straight from the pages of James Beard. Centeno, a master of genre cooking, is making a bold statement about serious American cuisine. Read more
Porridge and Puffs
We all have particular ideas of what a porridge restaurant might look like, whether a Hong Kong-style congee shop like Delicious Corner in Monterey Park or a Taiwanese porridge hall like Lu's Garden in San Gabriel, Atlacatl and its list of Salvadoran atoles, the Koreatown pumpkin-porridge specialist Bon Juk or Veronica's Kitchen in Inglewood, with its Nigerian fufu menu. I consider myself open-minded when it comes to porridge. But I never expected a spot like Porridge and Puffs, the semi-elegant restaurant that takes over the lunch counter Field Trip a few nights a week. The porridge is prepared with the obsessive care that the hairy-chested kitchens devote to charcuterie and is served in flights as if rare vintages of Montrachet. It is easy to laugh at the idea of a porridge-intensive restaurant until you taste a spoonful of the rice porridge with pickles and jam: an arrangement of herbs, fermented mustard greens and a spoonful of a sharp, lemongrass-infused chile condiment as dazzling in its complexity as anything coming out of the most famous kitchens in town. Read more
Scopa Italian Roots
Scopa is a second collaboration between Antonia Lofaso, also chef of Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City, and the team of Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix, who have been involved with half of the stylish bars in Los Angeles, including Black Market, La Descarga, Pour Vous and Harvard & Stone. Lofaso, a protégée of Spago's Lee Hefter, is on television a lot — she was a star of "Top Chef's" fourth season and is on "Cutthroat Kitchen." She also wrote the 2012 "Busy Mom's Cookbook," which is actually kind of good to have around if you need an easy recipe for braised brisket or blueberry muffins. In the book she confesses that her restaurant jobs have also included stints waiting tables at Chin Chin and Puff Daddy's soul food restaurant Justine's. Her heritage is Italian American, but her experience is fairly eclectic. A traditional Italian American meal? Almost, but not quite. Read more
Barrel & Ashes
Los Angeles, in the last several years, has become something of a paradise for what I've taken to calling Chefs Without Portfolio, highly skilled young cooks, killing time between major projects, who have done things like reinvent gastropubs, run oversubscribed pop-ups, or open taquerias that honor the precepts of modernist cuisine. CWPs — Ludo Lefebvre, Walter Manzke and Jeremy Fox were among their ranks — are presumably OK with underachieving, because they know that stardom waits in the wings. Timothy Hollingsworth is among the most prominent CWP bouncing around Los Angeles at the moment. He was not so long ago chef de cuisine at the French Laundry, and the designated U.S. competitor in the Bocuse d'Or culinary championships. This spring, he will be chef of the restaurant in the upcoming Broad Museum. He is a highbrow in the kitchen, legendary for his French technique. So although he was born in Texas, and his name sounds as if it could belong to a white-hat country music singer, the last place you might expect to find him is running a barbecue pit in the San Fernando Valley. But there he is, behind the stoves at the new Barrel & Ashes in Studio City, supervising long-smoked brisket, spareribs and pulled pork, all of it properly free range or certified Angus beef. Read more
Your opinion of Saint Martha, a cramped new bistro in a Koreatown mini-mall, will probably correlate pretty closely with your view on steak and oyster tartare, the default signature dish. The tartare appears on the short menu under the heading Rawesome. It comes to the table flanked by two scorching-hot empanadas stuffed with molten bone marrow. A pair of sauces, tart sabayons, are presented one inside the other and look like a fried egg. And while you may have tasted the combination of raw meat and raw seafood before — a raw beef-octopus dish is popular in the South Korean city of Gwangju — Saint Martha's surf 'n' turf is a little odd, the bits of oyster discernible mostly as a briny note almost lost among the bloody tang of the chopped steak and the crunch of minced pickles. The scarlet mound is almost a self-saucing mechanism, designed to maximize umami. I think I like it, but I change my mind every time I taste it. The dish is a shotgun marriage of opposites. Read more
Santa Rita, Jalisco
This taco truck, parked permanently deep in the Eastside, is famous for pescuezos, delicious deep-fried chicken necks The skin is pushed up the shaft of the neck before frying, which gives the effect of a tanned, meaty cylinder surmounted by an Elizabethan collar of pure crunch; hidden bits of chewy meat and a corona of pure, fatty pleasure. Because the truck has colonized a largish brick-and-mortar taqueria, there are plenty of tables to sit around, and you can always find parking. If pescuezos aren't your thing, the pork al pastor, sliced from its spit to order is decent. But really, you should try the necks. Tear off a bit of meat, and wrap it in a warm tortilla with a splash of peppery tomato salsa. At $2.25 for an order of four necks, it's about the cheapest happiness in town. And on weekends, Santa Rita is open until 3 a.m. Read more
Anybody can make a pork chop taste good. It takes dedication to cook a memorable carrot. Roy Choi is the Los Angeles chef who became famous selling Korean tacos from his Kogi truck. His takes on student rice bowls, Hawaiian beach food and Jamaican party eats at Chego, A-Frame and Sunny Spot are both intelligent and easy to eat. If he listened to venture capitalists, there would probably be Kogi stands in half the food courts in America. But as steeped as he is in L.A.'s working-class cuisine, Choi is part of world chef culture now — jetting off to conferences in New York, Copenhagen and Melbourne, where his ideas on food and community are taken seriously. He has a bestselling memoir and a show on CNN. He plans to collaborate on a chain of healthy fast-food restaurants with Patterson, who is perhaps the most cerebral chef working in the U.S. When Choi hinted that Commissary, his new restaurant in the Line Hotel in Koreatown, would be vegetable-focused, it made sense. Highbrow chefs concentrate on vegetables now. It is a given. Read more
Alimento, a new Italian restaurant from Zach Pollack, has, in just a few months, established itself as one of the better small Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, a place so fantastically popular that the valet station occasionally backs up Silver Lake Boulevard and even TV stars content themselves with sitting at the bar. You may know Pollack from Sotto, where he has been cooking Southern Italian food with Steve Samson for the last few years, or from South Coast Plaza's Pizzeria Ortica before that. This is an era of solo acts, young chefs breaking away from the strictures imposed by serial restaurateurs and their pocketbooks, and Silver Lake may be an appropriate place for chefs as well as musicians to go indie. And Pollack is turning things upside down. Read more
Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings
At the UCLA Hammer Museum, “Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings From 1860 to Now” is billed as the first museum survey of the genre, in which a sheet of paper is laid over a textured surface and rubbed with pencil or pastel. Ninety-two works by 48 artists were selected. Two-thirds were made since 1960, including provocative examples by Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois. There could have — and probably should have — been even more. The show’s most vexing question can be posed in two words: Why now? (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, May 31) Read more
UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles
Simon Norfolk: Stratographs
Norfolk walked the former boundaries of a receding glacier on Mt. Kenya in the middle of the night, holding a flaming torch, to make these photographs. They drive home an environmental point about climate change more persuasively, and far more viscerally, than a ream of statistical data. (Leah Ollman) (Through March 2) Read more
The traveling 20-year retrospective of the French Conceptual artist turns LACMA into a mammoth vivarium — a carefully orchestrated, walk-in terrarium-cum-aquarium. The exhibition creates a self-contained ecosystem of plants, sculptures, video projections and installation works, plus a variety of animals (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday) Read more
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
'Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork'
Unless one is Native American, getting a grasp of complex Native American spiritual cosmologies is not easy. And that distinction, which might be called a quality of profound otherness, is in essence what drives a fascinating show recently opened at the Autry National Center of the American West in Griffith Park. It's a story of survival, of a will to endure in the face of crushing opposition. And it is a story told through beads. (Christopher Knight) (Through April 26) Read more
Autry National Center of the American West, 700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles
Group Show: 'Image Search'
This is a smart little show that turns the work search engines do — with the touch of a key — into an existential question about the relationship between appearances and reality and the roles people play in sorting fact from fiction, truth from lies (David Pagel) (Ends Sat., Feb. 28) Read more
Rembrandt at the Getty
When is a portrait not a portrait? (Or, to be more precise, not exactly a portrait?) The answer: When it's a tronie, the theatrical 17th century Dutch invention in which artists weren't after a specific person's likeness but, instead, examined facial expressions as characteristic types of human emotion. Rembrandt van Rijn was good at it. When he was young and starting out, he looked into a mirror and used his own face to produce a tronie of laughter — and the result is now on view in the Getty's permanent collection galleries as the museum's newest acquisition. (Christopher Knight) Read more
Josef Koudelka retrospective
Given subjects that repeatedly focus on human barbarism, whether between people or by people against the natural environment, you won't find yourself smiling much in the large Josef Koudelka retrospective at the J. Paul Getty Museum. But again and again, you won't be able to avert your eyes. Bleak and powerful, the best images by the Czech-born French photographer merge incisive reportage with a keen sense of graphic design. A great Koudelka photograph creates an almost subliminal perspective, which burrows into your slowly awakening consciousness. (Christoper Knight) (Ends Sunday, March 22) Read more
Brian Weil is best remembered for having been instrumental in founding New York City's first needle-exchange program for intravenous drug users in the late 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was exploding. He was also an artist of some note, and his archive is now at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. "Brian Weil, 1979-95: Being in the World," a traveling retrospective organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, is now at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Saturday, April 18) Read more
Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station Arts Center, Building G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica
Here’s a beautiful curio: Frontier, a quarterly series from San Francisco indie comics publisher Youth in Decline. Each issue features a stand-alone work by a single artist. The most recent is “Ann by the Bed,” a 32-page comic by Emily Carroll, and it’s a powerhouse — a gothic horror story in which a child’s what-if scenario becomes a portal to a terror that is all too real. The set-up is simple: “In the early morning of October 12th, 1934,” Carroll tells us, “someone took a hatchet to Ann Herron’s room and woke her up with a blow to the head.” The killer followed her throughout the house before finishing her off “in the parlour of her family home.” But there are complications: Ann’s parents, and her brother, George, have also died in a series of strange accidents. Her sister, Jennie, who survived, may or may not have been engaged in witchcraft. This is the best thing about “Ann by the Bed,” which is named for a game kids play to scare themselves — that it raises questions without having, or even trying, to answer them; the whole point is the mystery. Read more
'Guys Like Me'
“There are no second acts,” Dominique Fabre writes in his new novel “Guys Like Me” (New Vessel Press: 144 pp., $15.99 paper). It’s a nod to Fitzgerald, sure, but it is also an existential statement, made by an unnamed Parisian who, as he drifts through his 50s, finds himself increasingly unmoored. Divorced, the father of an adult son, he works in an office, although we never find out much about what he does. Rather, the novel revolves around small interactions, particularly with two old friends and with a woman he meets on a dating site. “Sometimes,” he tells us, “you’re so alone you think you’re talking aloud even when you haven’t said a word.” Fabre is a genius of these nuanced, interior moments; his 2008 novel, “The Waitress Was New,” offered a similar glimpse of quiet lives. Read more
'John Lennon: The Collected Artwork'
I’ve long had a thing for John Lennon’s drawings: the loopy sketches (loose, impressionistic) he made throughout his life. Quick takes, they are akin to diary entries or visual haiku. One hangs on my living room wall, a 1969 portrait of John and Yoko, beneath a banner declaring “Peace.” It’s a prized possession, familiar and yet at the same time vivid, a reminder that the moment is all we really have. That image appears, as it should, in “John Lennon: The Collected Artwork” (Insight Editions: 204 pp., $50), edited by Scott Gutterman, which claims to be a comprehensive collection of Lennon’s visual work. I don’t know about that, but the 200 or so pieces here span his life as a creative figure, from childhood images (recognizable from the cover of his 1974 album “Walls and Bridges”) to those created just before he died. Read more
'How to Be Both'
Ali Smith's sixth novel, "How to Be Both," is a book of doubles, featuring twin narratives paired back to back and published in separate editions. In one, the first part evokes the 15th century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa and the second the contemporary saga of a British teenager named Georgia; in the other, these two stories are reversed. That this is a gimmick goes without saying, and yet it is a gimmick that resonates. "[T]he first thing we see," Smith writes late (or early) in the novel, "S and most times the only thing we see, is the one on the surface. So does that mean it comes first after all? And does that mean the other picture, if we don't know about it, may as well not exist?" What she's describing is the art of the fresco, which was Del Cossa's, and involves a certain tension between what are called "underdrawings" — think of them as basic sketches — and the finished work. The same could be said about this book. Read more
When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature in October, a lot of readers (myself included) were taken by surprise. Until now, he has been relatively unknown in the U.S., although he is a bestseller in his native France and winner of the Prix Goncourt who has published steadily since his first novel, "La Place de l'Étoile," appeared in 1968, and co-wrote the screenplay for Louis Malle's 1974 movie "Lacombe Lucien." Like that film, much of Modiano's fiction has roots in the paradoxes of the Vichy era, which remains, for him, a matter of both personal and collective history. Read more
'Family Furnishings: Selected Stories'
The most astonishing aspect of Alice Munro's "Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014" may be its chronology. The two dozen efforts here come from late in her career, after she had established herself as (perhaps) the preeminent short-fiction writer of her time. Munro's first book came out in 1968; she had already received pretty much every award possible before winning the Nobel Prize in literature in 2013. Yet rather than fall into any sort of expected pattern, she has, as Jane Smiley notes in her introduction to this deep and constantly surprising collection, "in the last six volumes, written since 1996 ... gotten more experimental rather than less." This is especially true of the "not quite stories" Munro has written over the past decade, pastiches the author calls "autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact." Three of them ("Working for a Living," "Home" and "Dear Life") appear in "Family Furnishings," and they bring a certain resonance to the enterprise. Why? Because they remind us that fiction, at its most profound and moving, is about human endurance, which makes it very much a reflection of reality. Read more
'The Laughing Monsters'
Denis Johnson tends to let his work speak for itself. Since the publication of his debut novel, "Angels," in 1983 he's written some of the most essential books in contemporary American literature, but he doesn't often talk about them. "My general policy," he tells me in an email, "is to duck every such opportunity to make a fool of myself." And yet to mark the publication of his 10th novel, "The Laughing Monsters" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 228 pp., $25), Johnson has agreed to what he calls "an electronic back-and-forth" an email correspondence about the new novel, a political thriller set in Sierra Leone, Uganda and the Congo (a region he has covered as a journalist for Harper's, among other publications), writing in general and the breadth of his career. Read more
'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate'
Naomi Klein has made a career critiquing the effects of global capital and consumerism. Her 2000 book "No Logo" looked at the exploitation of workers by large multinationals, including Nike; her follow-up, "The Shock Doctrine" (2007), examined the ways in which corporations benefit from disasters, wars and other upheavals, often with the assistance of policy initiatives. These books have led to the Canadian-born Klein being called "the most visible and influential figure on the American left." For Klein, the tensions between individual freedom, individual rights and the primacy of the political-corporate complex exist in something of a crisis state. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to climate change, the subject of her new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate," which argues, in the starkest terms imaginable, that we as a culture have reached a tipping point. Read more
First, a few facts: Edward Hirsch's son, Gabriel, died on Aug. 27, 2011, at age 22. Hurricane Irene was making landfall in New York. The previous evening, he went to a party in New Jersey, where he took GHB (known in the vernacular as Grievous Bodily Harm). He had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest. It took Hirsch and his ex-wife four days to find out what had happened to their son. That is the back story, the bare-bones context for Hirsch's book-length poem "Gabriel," which is as raw, as relentless in its inconsolability, as anything I've read. But the real point here is that facts, that context, offer no comfort. What we most want — for things to work out differently — is what we cannot have. "I wish I could believe in the otherworld," Hirsch writes. "I wish I could believe in a place / Of reunions outside of memory." Read more
'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage'
Haruki Murakami's "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" begins with a simple premise: A Tokyo railroad engineer, the Tsukuru Tazaki of the novel's title, finds himself borne back ceaselessly to the summer of his sophomore year in college, when, for no reason he can determine, he was cut off by his close-knit group of high school friends. The betrayal sent Tsukuru into a spiral. "It was as if," Murakami writes, "he were sleepwalking through life, as if he had already died but not yet noticed it." It's a condition that lingers into adulthood. There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to this situation, a sense that the surface of the world is thin. This is true even after Tsukuru reaches back across the years to make contact with his former friends. How do we connect, or reconnect, Murakami wants us to consider, not only to those around us, but also to the very essence of ourselves? Read more
'The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle'
Francisco Goldman's "The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle" is so sneakily brilliant, it's hard to put into words. Part travelogue, part memoir, part reportage on Mexican politics and the scourge of narcoterrorism, it is also, in the finest sense, a book that creates its own form. "I could use words as my compass to map the route I'd taken," Goldman tells us late in the first part of this journal-like accounting, "and give it a narrative order, a sequence of incident and meaning, and rescue it from being something other than just circumstantial and ephemeral. The stories one tells about oneself aren’t necessarily true, of course, but I wanted this one to be as true as I could make it. This didn’t mean that it all had to be factually true, but I decided that this story needed to be factually true too." Read more
'Ecstatic Cahoots' and 'Paper Lantern'
Stuart Dybek's stories occupy a territory somewhere between Vladimir Nabokov and Nelson Algren — beguiled by the play of language, but also gritty and specific, fundamentally urban at their core. And yet, to read him is to be reminded of the resonance of small moments, the connections that arise and dissipate with the passing power of a thought. "[T]he story might at first be no more than a scent," Dybek observes in "Fiction": "a measure of the time spent folded in a cedar drawer that's detectable on a silk camisole." What he's getting at is the power of inference, the longing implied, and inspired, by a gesture or a phrase. "Fiction" comes late in "Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories." It's a superlative collection and its appearance would be notable even if it weren't accompanied by a companion volume, "Paper Lantern: Love Stories," which has been published simultaneously. Read more
Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” is the buzz book of the moment — or more accurately a certain kind of buzz book, for a certain kind of audience. It is also a provocation, sharing its title with one of the most notorious works of the 20th century (Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”) while seeking to break down everything we thought we knew about personal narrative. And yet, deep in the second book of this six-volume, 3,600-page autobiographical project, Knausgaard offers us an unexpected key. “A life is simple to understand,” he explains, “the elements that determine it are few. In mine there were two. My father and the fact that I had never belonged anywhere.” There you have it, “My Struggle” in a nutshell ... although how to get at this simplicity is something else again. Self-absorbed, expansive, constantly doubling back on itself, “My Struggle” is an attempt to make an epic of the banal facts of the author’s existence. This is what makes “My Struggle” so brilliant: the understanding that, in recalling, or re-creating, our history, we give it a meaning it would not otherwise possess. Read more
The hero at the core of the independent game “Gravity Ghost” is, in fact, an adolescent: 12-year-old Iona. Even more unusual, she’s dead — an apparition who haunts the solar system, looking for lost souls to save. Far from a ghost story, this title created by Erin Robinson takes a fanciful eye to the afterlife, turning the high-flying spirit into something of an outer space superhero. She treats the cosmos as a giant intergalactic plaything, toying with planets as if they were bouncy balls and turning globes into gelatinous, fish-tank-like orbs. Underlying it all is the sadness that comes with knowing a young life was lost. How Iona died and why she’s on an intergalactic quest becomes the title’s central mystery, lending an air of emotional complexity to a game that explores the wonders of a girl in flight, complete with rainbow-colored stardust contrails. It’s heartache, but one with a charm offensive. Read more
Video game critic
'Elegy for a Dead World'
You can battle an Orc king. You can steal a car or maybe a boat. You can even rescue the princess in your plumber overalls. Actions and story arcs are plentiful in most games, but the underlying narrative, malleable it may be, is almost always pre-written. "Elegy for a Dead World" puts forth a different theory. Maybe you, the player, can write the story. Maybe a blank page can be turned into a game. Part writing exercise, part teaching tool and part sci-fi story generator, "Elegy for a Dead World" aims to turn players into budding Arthur C. Clarkes — or at least amateur poets. It's a high-minded goal, one reflective of the game's haughty title, and meeting it can be more daunting than facing off against a barrel-throwing ape. Here, the only enemy is a blinking cursor, or a case of writer's block. Read more
Confession: I like cats more than I like video games. The upcoming “Night in the Woods” combines these passions, and a recently released mini-game from its developers asks the unanswerable questions every cat herder has pondered: What do cats think of when they daydream? Answer: It’s certainly not mice or canned tuna. Infinite Fall and Finji’s “Lost Constellation” doesn’t shy away from big topics; it tackles religion, the loss of a loved one and tricks of the mind with deft touches of humor and light flourishes of mysticism. Here domesticated animals grapple with the same existential issues that keep us up at night. Read more
'Super Smash Bros.'
My relationship with Nintendo is maybe not as healthy as it should be. This realization comes to me as the year draws to a close, when one is pressed to discuss the most innovative or thoughtful interactive experiences of the year. Games such as the haunting "The Vanishing of Ethan Carter" or the whimsically lonely "Broken Age: Act 1" are some that immediately spring to mind. These are titles that made the same sort of lasting impression as a TV season of "Orphan Black" or a movie screening of "Big Hero 6," which was full of unexpected considerations on loss. Like the getting-by struggles at the heart of hip-hop act Run the Jewels, these are all examples of pop culture with layers, where revisiting is encouraged. Yet there is one Wii U game in heavy rotation that I didn't expect to be there. That game is "Super Smash Bros.," a button-smashing, jump-and-sock 'em extravaganza of punching, kicking and crazy moves with nonsense titles such as the "Peach blossom" and "konga beat." There are fights at haunted mansions, fights in suburban streets and fights around space lava. Read more
Alan Gershenfeld was already skeptical that this January 2012 trip to Alaska would yield a video game. The blizzard wasn't helping. But his business partner, Michael Angst, was insistent. "[He] said, 'We have to go! I've been to 49 states but not Alaska.'" For the Alaskans awaiting Gershenfeld's arrival, this two-day business adventure carried much more weight than whether a video game executive completed a travel bucket list. The Cook Inlet Tribal Council, an Anchorage-based nonprofit supporting eight tribes in the region, wanted to launch a for-profit arm. The goal? Make money and be less dependent upon government assistance. The big plan? At one point it was funeral homes. This month it was a video game. Read more
'That Dragon, Cancer'
One of the first things you hear in Ryan Green's video game is a voice mail. Though it's not a horror game, the sound isn't just frightening; it's borderline bone-chilling. A woman leaving a message for her husband sounds exasperated. She's leaving the doctor's office and coming home without any answers. The couple's baby boy is vomiting. Maybe it's this? Maybe it's that? There is no diagnosis. And why is the child's head always cocked to one side? Everyone is thinking the worst, but no one is saying it. Read more
The long-standing Mad magazine comic strip "Spy vs. Spy" is occasionally like a puzzle — a short back-and-forth that asks the reader to piece together images to see which spy has the upper hand. If it were a film, the cuts would be fast and the swapping of one frame for another would change the entire outcome. Now imagine dragging the frames around the page. Instead of resulting in one's demise, the larger-than-life hammer or roped-together dynamite could set off a brief tale of revenge. Or we could call a truce. Perhaps we could rewrite the end of the narrative to reveal a twist. Maybe the two spies had been played as pawns in a larger scheme all along. If you get rid of the Looney Tunes-like imagery and turn all that into a game, the result would feel something like "Framed." Read more
'A Bird Story'
There are first loves, which are important, yes, and then there are first pets. "A Bird Story" documents the mysterious emotional grip of the latter, tracing the connection between a humble winged critter and the little boy who dreams of joining his pal in flight. The power of imagination as well as a little ingenuity when it comes to crafting the perfect larger-than-life paper airplane goes a long way toward forging the relationship in this heartwarming tale, one that just so happens to be completely wordless and textless. Read more
'The Vanishing of Ethan Carter'
“The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” is a ghost story. Or maybe it’s a game about the mind’s powerful ability to fool itself. In both execution and play, however, it’s a tale about what’s missing. It’s a search for a boy, one whose family appears to have a mysterious and murderous history, and it unravels with a patience and exploratory nature that will challenge players and test the narrative conventions of gaming. With traces of pulpish sci-fi and hints of hard-boiled noir, “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” makes clever use of the interactive medium. There is no designated order to the game; its puzzles are random and need to be stumbled upon. Players are set free, dropped in a gorgeous, photorealistic world and told essentially nothing. Read more
The ridiculousness in “Sunset Overdrive” borders on anarchic. There are rules, like any game, but long before players discover a gun that fires a stuffed kitten — a plushy that’s used to send a robotic dog on a killing spree — “Sunset Overdrive” manages to excitedly toy with many of them. None of it should work. The look is cartoonishly crass (imagine a mash-up of every West Coast city, remade in the blunt architecture style of a rock festival), the music out of date (see the Warped Tour, circa 1995), the plot simple (humans consume too many energy drinks and turn into giant monsters) and the sociopolitical targets obvious (as for those sugary drink peddlers, yes, they’re probably insidious, but we learned that from Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy”). There are also guns. Lots and lots of guns. Read more
'Fantasia: Music Evolved'
Walt Disney's 1940 film "Fantasia" opens with a series of bold, inventive proclamations. Audiences are welcomed to a "new form of entertainment," one in which the animation isn't afraid to veer toward the abstract and the music isn't concerned with what's on the charts. But as the British narrator early in the new "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved" says, "Let's see how you handle something a little more contemporary." Words that sent a shiver down the spine of this stubborn "Fantasia" loyalist. Indeed, the first voice we hear in "Fantasia: Music Evolved," a just-released interactive interpretation of the experimental but venerable brand, is that of Lady Gaga. This is dangerous territory. Beethoven is timeless, but "Applause" is already dated, its glittery melodic tendrils firmly gripping 2013. Of course, those who own the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One are the target market here, not the millions of Americans priced out of symphony halls. Read more
Though she's long considered one of the great cinematic heroes, Ellen Ripley has generally been a forgettable one when it comes to video games. Steely in her beliefs yet unafraid to show emotion and a friend to felines, the character made famous by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" films possesses as much thoughtfulness as action-star bullheadedness. It's a combustible cocktail of very human emotional traits that until recently were not easily translated into action video games. But is it any wonder the video game industry has struggled to turn "Alien," especially the 1979 sci-fi horror film of the same name from Ridley Scott, into a notable game? After all, it's a story in which firing a gun at the enemy, one that bleeds corrosive acid, is essentially suicide. So guns, the favored weapon for nearly all interactive heroes, are largely useless. "Alien: Isolation" is an attempt to strip things back, the video game equivalent of a venerable band returning to the basics. Read more
'Smarter Than You'
The very name of the game is like a glove slapped across the face. "Smarter Than You," released this week for Apple's mobile devices, is a taunt and a challenge. Bold words for a game that, on the surface, is essentially a virtual match of rock-paper-scissors. And yet "Smarter Than You," a free game with a minimalistic presentation that asks little of its players, manages to carve its way into a rather complex psychological head space. That's because it's partly a game about the little ways in which we casually lie — to strangers, friends and loved ones. So maybe, depending on your level of cynicism, "Smarter Than You" is also a game about the ways in which we communicate. "You don't have to tell the truth," the game tells us in its opening tutorial, spelling out what is already tacitly understood in any engagement of one-upsmanship. For what it's worth, "lie" may be too harsh a word. "Smarter Than You" is a game of bluffing, of tentatively revealing half-truths or nonsense to stay one step ahead of our sparring partners. Note: The ultra-competitive may need to be warned before playing with friends. Read more
Straight from the fashion capital of the world to the entertainment capital of the world, Louis Vuitton has brought its spring 2015 runway show from Paris to L.A. as a pop culture experience for all. There is no product for sale at the gallery-like space on North Highland Avenue, just a free, immersive exhibition intended to give visitors a glimpse into the time-traveling vision of designer and self-described sci-fi enthusiast Nicolas Ghesquière, who became artistic director of Vuitton’s women’s collections in November 2013. The exhibition, titled “Series 2,” features seven rooms with displays that shed light on the process behind Ghesquière’s luxe-meets-lava-lamp women’s spring ready-to-wear collection, which originally debuted on the runway inside the silvery, new Frank Gehry-designed Foundation Louis Vuitton museum during Paris Fashion Week in October 2014 and just hit the racks at the newly renovated Louis Vuitton boutique on Rodeo Drive last week. Ends Sunday, Feb. 22 Read more
1135 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles
Hometown hero Jeremy Scott has opened the first Moschino store in Los Angeles, with all the playful “Drink Moschino” cola can window displays, Barbie-pink shrunken biker jackets and chain-link-trimmed baseball caps you’d expect from fashion’s reigning king of pop. The designer, who took over as creative director of Italian fashion brand Moschino in October 2013 and now splits his time between his L.A. base and Milan, arrived stateside on Sunday to open the 3,500-square-foot boutique, located in a former gallery space on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. Read more
Burberry in Beverly Hills
Burberry has taken Beverly Hills by storm, just in time for the holidays. In quick order, the label opened its first Rodeo Drive flagship, accepted a Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award and launched an L.A. version of its Art of the Trench campaign. It's all part of the vision of Christopher Bailey, who joined the brand in 2001, became creative director in 2004 and raised eyebrows when CEO was added to his title this year. Under Bailey, the nearly 160-year-old British heritage outfit known for trusty trench coats has been reinvigorated as a 21st century trendsetter and innovator. And the distinctive beige Burberry check, which fell out of favor in the early 2000s after it was overexposed and counterfeited, has been rediscovered by a new generation of celebs — Harry Styles, Olivia Palermo and Sarah Jessica Parker among them — who are bundling up this winter in monogrammed check scarves and blanket ponchos. The four-story Rodeo Drive boutique features the full range of the label's products for men and women, including its Prorsum, London and Brit collections, handbags and accessories, as well as a dedicated alcove for Burberry Beauty. There's a VIP floor to cater to celebs, with a wraparound rooftop terrace that has views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park. Read more
London designer darling Simone Rocha is following her New Establishment British Fashion Award win this week with a denim capsule for J Brand now available online. Rocha is the daughter of the well-established, Dublin, Ireland-based designer John Rocha, who was until recently a mainstay on the runways in London. She launched her namesake collection at London Fashion Week in 2011, after graduating from fashion school Central Saint Martins. Since then, she's been racking up young designer awards across the globe and gaining a steady following for her darkly feminine, goofy-glam, ruffled and sparkly designs, which sell at Colette, Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter, among other places. Read more
'Tory Burch: In Color'
Tory Burch has created an American brand that's both aspirational and attainable, and she's become a billionaire in the process. In the 10 years since she started her business, she's opened stores around the world, most recently in Shanghai, launched a fragrance, dressed tastemakers in the White House, in Hollywood and beyond and formed the Tory Burch Foundation to support female entrepreneurship. And she's done it all by telling a story through color. A new book, "Tory Burch: In Color" (Abrams), brings readers into her world through 11 color-themed sections. Read more
Gucci's, Beverly Hills
On a recent afternoon at Gucci's newly remodeled Rodeo Drive flagship, creative director Frida Giannini is looking very at home in L.A. She's wearing a colorful patchwork print silk blouse from the label's forthcoming spring collection, a pair of perfectly faded Gucci boyfriend jeans and metallic platform sandals that hint at her love of all things David Bowie and 1970s. This is the look of Giannini's Gucci now: everyday luxe. "Evening gowns are an incredible market for us," she says in the store's lush new third-floor VIP suite, built for celebrity dressing, with crystal-embroidered gala gowns hanging nearby. "But for me, it's important to have special items in each collection that you can keep in your closet for years. I call them essentials, but they are still objects of desire." Under construction for two years, the remodeled boutique at 347 Rodeo Drive announces itself in gold and crystal, with a sparkling façade. Read more
Barneys New York in Beverly Hills
Just in time for its 20th anniversary, celebrated on Oct. 15, Barneys New York in Beverly Hills has had a face-lift. The main floor, cosmetics floor and men's fifth floor have all been redesigned, and the store includes the first Freds restaurant on the West Coast, creating a new see-and-be-seen scene in Beverly Hills, complete with terrace tables with views of the Hollywood sign. Shoppers will notice the changes immediately. The store's curving Regency-style staircase remains the centerpiece, except now that curving motif is being carried throughout the design of the store and its fixtures, which have a soft but modern style that might be described as organic minimalism. Read more
The new "Hollywood Costume" exhibition at the May Co. building — future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, opening in 2017 — is on view through March 2 and features more than 150 costumes from the golden era to the present, including pieces from "American Hustle," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Great Gatsby," and the most famous shoes of all time, Dorothy's ruby-red slippers. The expansive show includes a soaring soundtrack composed especially for it by Julian Scott, and multimedia displays highlighting how costume designers work with directors and actors. Read more
The Wilshire May Company Building, 6067 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Elyse Walker's Online Boutique
For 15 years, Elyse Walker's Pacific Palisades boutique has been the destination for high-end designer fashion in a neighborhood where residents would rather cross the Gobi Desert than the 405. But it's what Walker has been doing outside the store, using technology to create an omni-channel experience, that's taking the tradition of the plugged-in L.A. retailer-to-the-stars into the future. Walker can sell a pair of $2,300 Saint Laurent boots without ever having to put them on the floor, just by sending a text message to a well-heeled client. She can blow out $4,600 Stella McCartney lace jumpsuits before they've even been unpacked from the box by posting a runway photo to her Instagram account with the hashtag #Everydayisarunway. Launched two years ago, her e-commerce site, ForwardByElyseWalker.com, is poised to hit $100 million in sales this year. Read more
New York Fashion Week: Michael Kors
If there is one phrase that sums up the spring season at New York Fashion Week, Michael Kors has it: optimistic chic. His collection brought many of the week's trends together, including 1950s-inspired circle skirts and crop tops: garden florals and embroideries; natural hues; gingham checks; spare, simple accessories and shoes made for walking. Read more
The Emmys: The Best of the Red Carpet Looks
The Emmys' red carpet was one of the best displays of fashion and style in recent Hollywood history. The looks were modern and not overwhelming. These women wore the clothes; the clothes didn't wear them. Red was the hot color and the best red dresses had unusual details -- whimsical red crystal butterflies at the neckline of Claire Danes' Givenchy stunner, for example, and sexy burgundy patent leather strap details on Julia Louis-Dreyfus' raspberry red Carolina Herrera gown. Read more
Accessories designer Kendall Conrad's face brightens on a recent morning in her sun-filled Abbot Kinney boutique as she flips through pages of playful owl sketches, images of black-and-white ceramic vessels with Minotaur faces and the color blue, Picasso blue. She's turned to the books "Picasso: The Mediterranean Years" and "Picasso and Francoise Gilot: Paris-Vallauris, 1943-1953" to explain the arty inspiration for her spring Vallauris collection, which may be her best yet. Read more
This summer, the Abbot Kinney shopping scene is becoming even more boho-chic. Figue, the New York-based gypset-lifestyle collection founded in 2012 by fashion vet Stephanie von Watzdorf, has opened a pop-up shop on the famed retail stretch in Venice. The store features the spring/summer collection, including folkloric beaded tuxedo shirts, ikat-print tunic dresses and fringed bags, as well as limited-edition accessories sourced from the designer's travels, such as hand-embroidered kaftans and one-of-a-kind, hand-embellished military jackets. Von Watzdorf designed the 1,300-square-foot space herself, with Moorish arches, filigree lanterns, a hammock and Berber blankets that make you want to stay a while. Read more