Critics’ Picks: July 29 - Aug 4, 2016
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, a classic, ground-breaking movie celebrates its 50th anniversary, and British baking is featured in Television.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Rarely revived and not often remembered, 1966’s “The Group” was a big deal in its day, a prestige Hollywood picture directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring something that was as unusual then as it is now: a film that centered on the lives of women. Taken from a bestselling novel by Mary McCarthy and inspired by the lives of friends she made at Vassar, “The Group” starred, among others, Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman and Shirley Knight. In honor of the film’s 50th anniversary, it will screen on at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Laemmle Royal in West Los Angeles. Two of the film’s stars, Knight and Hal Holbrook, will appear in person for a post-screening Q&A moderated by critic Stephen Farber. Read more
‘Our Little Sister’
A delicate, unforced meditation on the joy and wonder of ordinary life, this film’s ability to move audiences without apparent effort must be experienced to be fully appreciated and understood. Read more
'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'
This wonderful New Zealand film has a gently absurdist quality, a simultaneously sweet and subversive sensibility all its own, mixing warmth, adventure and comedy in ways that consistently surprise. Don’t miss it. Read more
Anne Fontaine's post-World War II drama involving a Polish convent and a French female doctor proves yet again that though moral and spiritual questions may not sound spellbinding, they often provide the most absorbing movie experiences. Read more
'The Jungle Book'
By turns sweetly amusing and scarily unnerving, crammed with story, song and computer-generated visual splendors, this revisiting of the old Rudyard Kipling tales aims to be a model of modern crowd-pleasing entertainment. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
A remarkable documentary about how Disney animated features changed the life of a young autistic boy in a deep and profound way. Read more
Yorgos Lanthimos' hypnotically strange and suggestive new movie is very much its own brand of horror movie as well as a deranged thought experiment, a stealth love story, and a witty dismantling of the usual barriers separating man from beast. (Justin Chang) Read more
'The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble'
It was a given that this Morgan Neville documentary would feature fine music, but it’s as concerned with emotion as it is with performance, investigating how so much joyous music was able to come out of exploration, disturbance, even pain. Read more
'The Neon Demon'
A Helmut Newton fever dream by way of a Dario Argento splatter flick, Nicolas Winding Refn's hypnotically beautiful thriller stars Elle Fanning as a young woman trapped in a murderously deranged corner of the Los Angeles fashion industry. Read more
‘The Great British Baking Show’ 2016 Season
Things have been so crazy lately that it was only yesterday that I learned we are in the middle of PBS’ broadcast of the current season of “The Great British Baking Show,” the loveliest of all cooking competitions. What hours of pleasure I have missed from this ignorance! They shoot this thing in an open-air pavilion on the lawn of a country house. There are insects and animals about. I have yet to catch up with the current season, which runs through Aug. 12, and so can offer no insights let alone descriptions as to the current crop of competitors. But if history is to judge, they are a charming collection of mutually supportive amateurs of many ages and cultures who bring individual visions and abilities to the crafting of sweet and savory things made with dough. Friday, PBS Read more
Binge watching options
Life in the digital age means it’s never too late to catch up on all those shows you’ve been hearing so much about, and there’s no better time than summer. To aid in this endeavor, I have compiled a shortlist, which is (a) completely, and even randomly, subjective, and (b) specific to the notion of the beach-binge, i.e., at least two seasons are or soon will be available. As often as possible, I have chosen series that transport American viewers to another place and/or time. So in no particular order, a list that is limited, subjective, specific and not to be confused with a list of the best TV shows of all time. Just the ones you might want to consider hanging out with this summer. Read more
'The Chris Gethard Show'
Both seasons of "The Chris Gethard Show" are now online, along with episodes of his cable access series, and they're worth looking up; they are ambitious in a way all their own. As in "Beautiful/Anonymous," Gethard is out to change the world of whoever's tuned in. With his Ed Grimley hair and Clark Kent glasses, Gethard is a talk show host in the way that Scott Pilgrim is a superhero, a Mister Rogers for millennials, pitched to outsiders, underdogs and weirdos. At 36, which puts him just out of, or barely inside of, that demographic, he considers himself the old guy in the room. The series — which includes, along with co-host Shannon O'Neill and communications facilitator Bethany Hall, characters including the Human Fish and Gethard's nemesis Vacation Jason — is a mix of skits and bits of the sketched out and the unforeseeable. It has a sweet party vibe — the audience surrounds the action — and a dark, good heart. Fusion, YouTube. Read more
A miniseries adapted by Peter Bowker ("Blackpool," "The A Word") from John Lanchester's 2012 novel, "Capital" is set on a street in a South London district to which change has been and will be coming. The title, I suppose, refers both to its geographical setting and to wealth — specifically to the rapidly rising property values, shown in cartoon inserts that also mark the passing months, and make an old neighborhood attractive to new residents with money as well as a tenuous foothold for longtime ones with less. In addition to novel-writing, Lanchester is a journalist with a specialty in finance. One is reminded fleetingly of such nobly intentioned race-and-class films as Lawrence Kasdan's "Grand Canyon" and Paul Haggis' "Crash" (also a TV series). Living or working on Pepys Road: a white British banker (Toby Jones), his spendthrift wife (Rachael Stirling) and their children, representing the well-heeled new guard; Gemma Jones, representing the getting-by old; a Zimbabwean traffic warden seeking political asylum (Wunmi Mosaku); a Pakistani family living over the corner shop they run (Adheel Akhtar as Ahmed is the father whose mother knows best); Polish construction workers (Radoslaw Kaim as Bogdan, who likes the ladies, and Krystian Godlewski, who disapproves); and a Hungarian nanny (Zrinka Cvitesic). But if the diversity is perhaps a little too clearly signposted and the themes stapled right to the dialogue at times like fliers on a telephone pole, real characters overcome whatever is didactic or obvious in the storytelling. And though their lives intersect, their stories run as neighboring narratives rather than as strands tied into a single big one. (Pivot, Monday through Thursday) Read more
If you watch much television at all you have probably seen Brett Gelman; he gets around. From fairly conventional network sitcoms to small-batch cable weirdness, as a series regular ("Go On," "Married," "Eagleheart"), recurring character ("Love," “Another Period,” “Blunt Talk"), utility player ("Drunk History," "Comedy Bang! Bang!"), to just-passing-through guest shot ("The Odd Couple," "Fresh Off the Boat," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Mad Men"), the list goes on and on. (Possibly you recall his appearance as "Annoying Hipster" on "Californication.") With director and co-writer Jason Woliner ("Human Giant," "Eagleheart), he has created his own series of tragicomic specials for Adult Swim, that circus of humorous oddities: "Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends" (2014), "Dinner with Family with Brett Gelman and Brett Gelman's Family" (2015) and now "Dinner in America," which purports to be an investigation into race. But nothing here is exactly what it purports to be. "Brett Gelman's Dinner in America" (Adult Swim, Friday); "Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends," "Dinner with Family with Brett Gelman and Brett Gelman's Family" (AdultSwim.com). Read more
‘Ajax in Iraq’
Ellen McLaughlin’s potent assault on sexual abuse in the military by way of the legendary Greek warrior scores a dead-on triumph — raw, provocative, poetic and indelible. Director John Farmanesh-Bocca rallies his stalwart Not Man Apart forces into breathtaking kinetic cohesion, the sparely resourceful design scheme and utterly fearless ensemble conjoining to illuminate the text and land its vital topical discourse into our brainpans. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 14) Read more
'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
'The Boy From Oz'
Celebration Theatre lands a significant coup with this West Coast premiere of the 2004 Tony winner about legendary singer-songwriter Peter Allen, and what a festive party it is. Director Michael A. Shepperd, a crackerjack creative team and a triple-threat cast surrounding Andrew Bongiorno’s stellar turn as Allen give us first-rate theater from top to bottom. It’s a joyous, sensitive, electrifying company benchmark. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 21) Read more
‘A Chorus Line’
This game-changing musical about Broadway dancers stirred the sort of frenzy for tickets in 1975 that we’re seeing today for “Hamilton.” Still revelatory after all these years, the show is at the Chance Theater in a staging by director Oanh Nguyen and choreographer Hazel Clarke that evokes enough of the Michael Bennett original to satisfy those longing to reconnect with an old friend and enough new ideas to tantalize those looking to be surprised. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sunday, Aug. 7) Read more
‘The Eccentricities of a Nightingale’
Tennessee Williams preferred his 1951 revision of “Summer and Smoke” to its predecessor, and the delicate amalgam of pathos and poetry mined by director Dana Jackson and her proficient cast raises a persuasive argument for Williams’ viewpoint, with the transcendent Ginna Carter beyond praise as spinster Alma Winemiller. A richly atmospheric, emotionally rewarding revival. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Saturday, Oct. 29) Read more
‘The Engine of Our Ruin’
One wouldn’t expect a play about the clash between Western and Middle Eastern cultures to yield consistent belly laughs, but Jason Wells’ sophisticated new comedy about the miscommunications that result during an American diplomatic mission to a totalitarian Middle Eastern regime is consistently hilarious. Director Maria Gobetti helms a superlative cast in a perfectly paced production that is as intellectually provocative as it is side-splitting. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Friday, Aug. 26) Read more
The Best Pop Music of 2016 (so far)
So much about the first few months of pop in 2016 has been about mourning. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, George Martin, Prince, Scotty Moore, Maurice White, Bernie Worrell and the just-starting-out Christina Grimmie are among those who have left us. But while the music community has been dealt serious blows, the first six months of 2016 have also given us much to celebrate. What follows is a look at some of the most notable albums and singles of 2016, as picked by the pop staff of the Times. Happy listening. Read more
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Staff
Album: ‘Stranger to Stranger’
“Sound is the theme of this album,” Paul Simon writes in the press notes accompanying this new album, “as much as it’s about the subjects of the individual songs. If people get that, I’ll be pleased.” True to his word, the visceral sonic qualities of the 11 tracks on the collection are as commanding as his ever-literate lyrics and consistently inviting melodies. Yet this is nothing new for one of the premiere singers and songwriters of the rock era. At 74, Simon reaches ever further for new textures, musically and sonically, to help him say what he wants to say, making “Stranger to Stranger” a distinguished and captivating extension of, rather than a dramatic departure from, his rich body of work. It’s a work reflective of an artist still hungry for exploration. Read more
Album: ‘Take Me to the Alley’
Last year Gregory Porter told me that “Holding On,” his sleek, skittering collaboration with the British dance duo Disclosure, started out as a bare-bones piano ballad. Given how much I’d thought of Porter’s fine 2013 album, “Liquid Spirit,” this was something I had to hear. Now I can: A handsome, slow-and-low rendition of “Holding On” — not merely unplugged, but with different chords that alter the vibe of the song — opens Porter’s new record, “Take Me to the Alley,” due Friday. The tune’s placement on the album speaks to the importance of “Holding On” in Porter’s career, the way it put this Southern California native in front of unfamiliar listeners after years of hard work in jazz clubs and on Broadway. Read more
Pop Music Writer
Album: 'Everything You've Come to Expect'
In the music video for "Aviation," the first song on their new album as the Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner and Miles Kane play two men forced to dig what look like their own graves by a suave but sadistic crime-boss type. There's a woman too, weeping in the back seat of a vintage Rolls-Royce, and we seem meant to understand that she's been caught carrying on with one of these guys; now her wicked husband is punishing the whole lot. Whatever the specifics, Turner and Kane — both Jason Statham-soulful in their grimy undershirts — are clearly identified as the noble victims in this little drama. Yet that's rarely what they look like on "Everything You've Come to Expect," the second full-length from this British orchestral-pop duo. Due Friday, the album comes nearly a decade after the Last Shadow Puppets' swooning 2008 debut, "The Age of the Understatement." Read more
Album: 'Mind of Mine'
A year after Zayn Malik quit One Direction (which likely led to the remaining four band members hitting pause), this 23-year-old singer has become the first of the bunch to release a solo record. And listening to "Mind of Mine," due Friday, it seems clear that Zayn left not because he couldn't handle the pressure of global stardom, as he intimated at the time, but because he wanted to get serious — really serious — about music. Read more
Album: 'This Is What the Truth Feels Like'
Sixteen years ago, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt sang about wanting "a simple kind of life." That's not how things turned out. Sure, No Doubt — the Anaheim ska-pop band that blasted off in 1995 with the zillion-selling album "Tragic Kingdom" — continued its straightforward ascent for a few more years, racking up hit songs with impressive efficiency through the mid-2000s. But then Stefani launched a solo career that added new wrinkles to her sound and persona. She went into fashion and starting having children, which she's said made a mess of her schedule. Following two huge solo records, she returned to No Doubt for a reunion album, 2012's "Push and Shove," which quickly fizzled, disrupting a narrative neatly defined to that point by success. Then last year, her life got really screwy: Stefani's marriage to Gavin Rossdale, frontman of the band Bush, fell apart (reportedly because of his affair with the couple's nanny), and she began dating Blake Shelton, the country star with whom she recently appeared on NBC's "The Voice." "Never thought this would happen ... Don't know what I'm feeling," she sings in "Used to Love You," a moody, down-tempo single released only months after she filed for divorce. Stefani dives deeply into those complications on her first solo album in a decade. Due Friday, "This Is What the Truth Feels Like" has songs about betrayal and disappointment, and songs about moving on from a broken relationship and falling in love again. Read more
You can't name your album "Anti" without inviting your audience to think about what you oppose. So what is Rihanna standing against on her eighth studio record? A smoothly choreographed product rollout, for one. After repeated delays, "Anti" finally appeared online Wednesday night, first in an apparently unauthorized leak, then as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal; Samsung also gave away a limited number of free downloads through a complicated promotion. By Friday, the album was available for sale through iTunes (where it quickly topped the chart) and Tidal, though it hasn't yet shown up on other streaming services such as Spotify, and a physical release date has yet to be announced. (Mikael Wood) Read more
There's something delightfully perverse that David Bowie waited until he was 69 to release what's being described as his first jazz album. It was at that age too when veteran rock stars who include Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney took up with big bands or reached for the Great American Songbook to demonstrate their taste and hard-won stature. Even Bob Dylan got in on the act last year with "Shadows in the Night," his lovely (if desolate) tribute to Frank Sinatra. So when you hear that Bowie hooked up with a New York saxophonist and his crew for “Blackstar,” out Friday (just two days before his death from cancer), you think perhaps that Bowie has joined the club — that after cycling through countless styles and personas over his half-century career, he’s finally become a finger-snapping crooner with Count Basie on his mind. Ah, no. (Mikael Wood) 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
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
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
Favorite Asian fried chicken joints
Does Los Angeles live by Nashville hot chicken alone? No — not as long as there’s a universe of Asian fried chicken too. Read more
It is cold in Los Angeles. Rain is in the air. What you want to be eating is dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew, flavored with turmeric and dried lime — a popular street food dish from Tehran that seems to have a tonic effect against the chill. And for dizi, you should probably be at Nersses Vanak, a slightly faded restaurant in an industrial district of Glendale, where dizi, served with long-pickled garlic, platters of fresh herbs, and hot slabs of flatbread snatched smoking from the grill, is always the thing. Read more
Is it possible to become converted in a single bite? Because with a single fried chicken wing at the original Portland Pok Pok in 2007, I dropped my prejudices about non-European cooking in Oregon, the crossover potential of extreme Asian funk, and the ability of a non-Thai to prepare anything like upcountry Thai food. So eight years, many affiliated restaurants, a James Beard award, a Michelin star and a Chinatown noodle stand later, here we are at Pok Pok Los Angeles, an enormous restaurant in the old Fu Ling space in the Mandarin Plaza at the relatively deserted north end of Chinatown. Chef Andy Ricker's gift is the ability to make Thai food seem new again, to take it out of that comfortable place in the suburban strip mall, where it has become the default takeout comfort food for a huge chunk of Los Angeles, and put it back into the roadside stands and rural villages of Northern Thailand. 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
Federico Solmi: The Brotherhood
Eight LED monitors and a room-size installation for a suite of five more monitors transform paintings into disturbing video-pageants. The artist frames the moving imagery with piles of debris painted on the screens, heavy on the logos of consumer trash. What is on the televisions is rubbish made remarkable. Ends Sat., July 30. Read more
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium
Without classic 1960s Pop art, especially Andy Warhol’s, there would be no Robert Mapplethorpe photographs as we know them from the 1970s and 1980s. That’s the big takeaway from a visit to this impressive two-museum exhibition (The Getty Center and Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Ends Sun., July 31. Read more
Ken Price Drawings
The exhibition paints a picture of an artist who had no interest in the god-like control some artists pretend to. Instead, he found transcendence in the most incidental of details. That is what he gives visitors, repaying, in spades, our attentiveness to life's mundane wonders. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday Sept. 10) Read more
Bob Law: 1959-2001
The six paintings and 12 drawings in the exhibition take visitors to the simplest of times and the most basic of places: right here and right now. That's the beauty of the British minimalist's works. The art bets everything on your capacity to understand the rudimentary moves that Law (1934-2004) made when he created them. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, Sept. 10) Read more
Deeply influenced by process-driven art of the '60s and feminist-centered work of the '70s, Hugentober creates richly textural meditations on the female body as it exists in time. Delicacy and tenacity come together in the work the way her identities as mother, daughter and maker fuse into a single self — more through simultaneity and multiplicity than balance (Leah Ollman) (Through Aug. 13) Read more
Want to clear your mind? Get a pickup truck, then spend a couple years driving across and around the continent — alone. That's the first lesson of this lovely retrospective of abstract paintings. The show is divided in two, early work and late work, and the separation between them was launched by her decision to make an extended cross-country sojourn. In stripped-down canvases, Martin created an entirely distinct, largely unprecedented artistic vocabulary for spiritual consciousness. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Sept. 12) Read more
'Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women'
Sometimes the seemingly simple act of occupying space can be a radical, profoundly political act. Space invasion is the savvy artistic subject of the fine inaugural exhibition at the sixth outpost for the Zurich-based Hauser & Wirth, which also has powerhouse galleries in London and New York. (Ends Sun. Sept. 4. Read more
'Roman Mosaics Across the Empire'
Combat. Conflict. Life or death skirmishes. Brawling. Judging from the admittedly small sample of nearly a dozen fragments of floor mosaics, several quite large, in a new exhibition at the Getty Villa, ancient Romans across the sprawling empire were pretty obsessed with the bloody violence necessary to sustaining their imperial position around the vast expanse of the Mediterranean. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, Sept. 12) Read more
State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda
The show is almost entirely text printed on pallid photo-reproductions of posters, newspapers and cartoons. But nothing compares to coming upon an actual Nazi banner under glass, its black swastika screen-printed on a white cloth circle neatly stitched to a blood-red field. The banner’s astute graphic punch startles. And that is what one wants from a show on this critically important topic. Actual artifacts pull the past into the present in ways no reproduction can. (Christopher Knight) (Through Aug. 21) Read more
‘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
‘Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’
Imagine if the world were filtered through the home screen of a smartphone. Picture opening your eyes to an image overloaded with headlines and messages. Notifications no longer buzz, they flash before you. “Warning,” the display blinks in the lower right, “your bank balance is low.” This is the view of Faith, early in “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.” Having just been released from prison, Faith may not be happy with her financial prospects, but she definitely isn’t too keen with the sensory overload of this futuristic, uncomfortably modern society. “Is this what the employees see all the time?” she wonders. In the world of “Mirror’s Edge Catalyst,” there aren’t citizens so much as employees — workers for one of a handful of conglomerates that controls the world. You are identified not by your ethnicity or your interests but your job. Read more
Video game critic
‘The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds’
Another long-standing Nintendo franchise gets spruced up. Like “Mario 3D,” the look and controls are familiar, the tone is entirely new, as this action-adventure emphasizes smarts and exploration over tedious dungeon crawling. Read more
Video game critic
Early in the game "Severed," one of the more striking images you'll see this year in a video game appears. A woman of mixed-race descent stands before a mirror, her yellow dress bloody, her arm a stub and her eyes wide in shock. The world is bright and blocky — a handcrafted-looking universe that seems constructed of paper, but immediately the tone drifts toward melancholic. The art almost appears lifted from a Día de los Muertos display, and though this is the beginning of the journey for young Sasha, it also feels like the beginning of an end. Read more
Early in the film "Late Shift," Matt, a student on his way to a night job, faces an easily relatable dilemma: help a lost tourist with directions and risk being late to work or ignore the man and hop on a waiting subway train. Here is where you would expect director Tobias Weber to show the audience the outcome of Matt's decision as the story unfolds. Matt's choice, however, is up to you, the viewer. In fact, you control every major plot turn in the film. "Late Shift," created by CtrlMovie, a small studio in Switzerland, and written by Weber and Michael Robert Johnson, best known for Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," may be the world's first fully realized choose-your-own-adventure film. Read more
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood
The opening of Universal Studios' new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood brings to the West Coast what many consider the grandest theme park attraction in North America. A mix of fully realized sets — including a steamy, fire-breathing dragon — as well as screens interspersed with actors from the "Harry Potter" films, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a highly kinetic motion simulator that aims to re-create the sense of flying. Guests sit on what appears to be a bench, pull down an over-the-shoulder harness and are soon whisked into the air, gliding in and out of filmed moments and elaborately constructed scenes. Read more
A Few New Mobile Video Games
There are a lot of mobile games out there — last year more than 100,000 iOS games were released in North America. Here are a few recent mobile games worthy of exploration: "Love You to Bits" (Alike/Pati). Breakups stink. They're worse when your girlfriend is scattered around the galaxy. In this iOS game a young boy tries to put back together his first love, a female robot, and learns to live on his own along the way. "Story Warriors: Fairy Tales" (Below the Game). Tales such as "Snow White," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella" and more get remixed in this text-driven puzzler about a young woman who gets trapped in folklore. Tap on words to bring them to life, and piece together nouns and adjectives as if they're math problems, the right solution inspiring a cutesy animated sequence. "SPL-T" (Simogo). Swedish studio Simogo is one of the most adventurous companies out there, specializing in head-scratching, text-heavy games such as "Device 6" and "The Sailor's Dream." "SPL-T" is a back-to-basics puzzle game. In the black and white game, players place a horizontal line and then a vertical one, trying to create as many splits as possible. "Super Phantom Cat" (Veewo). Cats! Robots! "Super Phantom Cat" takes the weirdness of "Super Mario Bros.," gives it a zany feline-meets-sci-fi makeover, and uses slick touch controls to create a freshly retro experience. It's all delivered with a gooey feel-good message and some rainbow-hued prettiness. "The Swords." (Sunhead Games). Imagine a scene in an action movie, one in which one swordsman is surrounded by an army on all sides. Now imagine all the action is presented in a minimal ink wash art style. By zeroing in on the blades, "The Swords" emphasizes the chaos of battle. Swipe fast, and do so with precision. Read more
Dave Hagewood didn't set out to create the next big thing in electronic sports. Ten years ago he simply envisioned a game in which cars did crazy things. Cars with rockets on them. The result was the breakout independent game of 2015, "Rocket League." The key to its success was one simple addition to Hagewood's original vision: a giant, bouncy soccer ball. Thus, a zany game in which cars crashed into one another became something else entirely, a madcap sport. "Rocket League" has now reached more than 12 million players, with revenue topping $70 million. In late February, the game — already a hit on Sony's PlayStation 4 and computing platform Steam — arrived on Microsoft's Xbox One, where in less than a month it attracted more than 1 million players. Read more
'Fire Emblem Fates'
In my first 25 hours with Nintendo 3DS' "Fire Emblem Fates," families argued, attempts at flirting were rebuffed and relatives threw a fit over poorly cooked meals. Were it not for the swords and the spells and the half-fox/half-human, the game wouldn't be all that different from the last month or so of my life. Though there is sword and sorcery here, including a main character who has the ability to turn into a dragon, "Fire Emblem Fates" is really about family drama. In this case, it's about the pull of one's blood family versus the connection with an adopted one. Do you help the stepbrothers and stepsisters who always supported you, or the brothers and sisters you've only just met? The player's avatar, which can be male or female, was kidnapped at a young age and raised as a warrior prince/princess. Her (I chose a female avatar and named her Kes) adopted-but-criminal family took good care of her, and it's clear she's tight with her siblings. But her father — a.k.a. the king — is a monster. Read more
"Firewatch," set in the quiet Wyoming wilderness, is a game in which its main character does little more than walk. Yet at its heart this is a game about running. It's about running from our pasts, running from our emotional trials and running from the unknown. It's about how avoidance often makes things worse and how the road to conquering our fears can be downright frightening. And things get pretty bad in "Firewatch." Read more
'Leo's Red Carpet Rampage'
Winning an Academy Award, it proves, can be nearly an impossible task, at least according to the lighthearted Web game "Leo's Red Carpet Rampage." The game puts players in control of a mini, vintage-style Leonardo DiCaprio in a quest for an Oscar. And while the game is pure goofiness when it starts — simply mash a couple of buttons to run the red carpet and dodge photographers — it goes dark, and quickly. 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
'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
'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