Critics’ Picks: March 17 - March 23, 2017
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
Kristen Stewart delivers one of her best performances in “Personal Shopper,” and John Lithgow returns to TV comedy in “Trial & Error.” Also, the L.A. Philharmonic begins a new collaboration with an accomplished young director.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Kristen Stewart gives her most accomplished screen performance to date in Olivier Assayas’ shivery paranormal thriller — a haunted-house movie, a murder mystery and, in many ways, Assayas’ most surprising film yet about the anxieties of modern life. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Superb filmmaking and an exceptional level of emotional honesty universalize a very specific coming-of-age experience, that of a gay black man growing from child to adult starting in 1980s Miami’s crack cocaine epidemic years. Read more
‘La La Land’
Starring a well-paired Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s tuneful tribute to classic movie musicals is often stronger in concept than execution, but it’s lovely and transporting all the same. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
A gross-out that goes down like a delicacy, Julia Ducournau’s exquisitely grisly writing-directing debut finds a ripe pubescent metaphor in the tale of a French teenager who develops an unexpected taste for human flesh. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Amy Adams stars in this elegant, involving science fiction drama that is simultaneously old and new, revisiting many alien invasion conventions but with unexpected intelligence, visual style and heart. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek give splendid performances as a high-strung businesswoman and her screw-loose dad in this magnificently unpredictable comedy from the German writer-director Maren Ade. (Justin Chang) Read more
Michael Keaton gives a performance of ratty, reptilian brilliance as Ray Kroc, the American salesman who turned a California burger stand into the global fast-food behemoth that is McDonald’s, in John Lee Hancock’s shrewd and satisfyingly fat-free biopic. (Justin Chang) Read more
'I Am Not Your Negro'
The best thing about February as a moviegoing month is that films that played for a week in December for Oscar consideration return for extended runs, including the superlative documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” which is in fact one of the five docs up for the big prize. As directed by Raoul Peck, this trenchant examination of the life and thought of James Baldwin uses the entire spectrum of film language, not only spoken words but also sound, music, editing and all manner of visuals. They’re all employed with a formidable cinematic intelligence to create a film essay that’s powerfully and painfully relevant today even though its subject died almost 30 years ago. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Land of Mine'
Explosive devices that can detonate at any moment are intrinsically dramatic, and this Danish World War II film makes good use of that plot mechanism, but it has a whole lot more going for it as well. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'Manchester by the Sea'
Powerful, emotional filmmaking that leaves a scar, Kenneth Lonergan's drama starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams is both heartbreaking and heartening, a film that just wallops you with its honesty, its authenticity, and its access to despair. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'The Women’s Balcony'
An Israeli box-office hit about a Jerusalem clash of religious cultures, this is an unapologetically warm-hearted comedic drama, a fine example of commercial filmmaking grounded in a persuasive knowledge of human behavior. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Trial & Error’
In the new NBC comedy “Trial & Error,” the mockumentary sitcom as once practiced by “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” meets the true-crime legal procedural, as lately exemplified by “The Jinx” and the podcast “Serial.” It was bound to happen. John Lithgow plays Larry Henderson, a poetry professor whose wife has died after somehow crashing or being forced through a glass window. Did she fall? (Robert Lloyd) (NBC, Tuesday) Read more
'QB1: Beyond the Lights'
Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) is the executive producer of this oddly sweet, casually poignant fly-on-the-wall documentary series, produced by Complex Networks for the mobile platform Go90, about three talented high school quarterbacks in their senior year. As a person with no interest in football — if anything, some negative feelings toward it — I am not its likely audience, but I am interested in people, the places they live and the things they do, not distorted by the sensational demands and judgments of garden-variety reality television. The quarterbacks in Berg’s lens are extraordinary talents who have their collegiate near futures set and bear the unusual weight of their position and talent — they’re local stars, interviewed and photographed. But they’re also still-evolving teenagers stumbling into adulthood, with parents who support and worry over them. (Go90, Anytime) Read more
'Becoming Warren Buffett'
Peter Kunhardts’ intimate, cheery, cheering, charming biographical documentary on the ukulele-playing Omaha billionaire reminds us that not all moguls are cut from the same cloth. We find Buffett active and alert in his late 80s, cheerleading his company’s festive stockholder meetings, driving through a McDonald’s on the way to work to pick up one of three habitual breakfasts, depending on how prosperous he’s feeling: “$3.17 is a bacon and cheese biscuit, but the market’s down this morning, so I think I’ll pass up the $3.17 and go with the $2.95.” (HBO) Read more
'The Witness for the Prosecution'
Streaming from the Anglo-centric subscription service Acorn TV, this new BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s short story and play stars Toby Jones (“Detectorists”) as a subsistence-level London barrister defending a young man (Billy Howle) from a charge of murdering the rich woman who kept him (Kim Cattrall, putting on an accent). Complicating matters, emotionally and practically, is the accused’s wife (Andrea Riseborough), a destabilizing Soho showgirl. (Acorn TV) Read more
Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel about growing up as a lesbian with a closeted gay father, this deeply moving musical drama combines textured character psychology and nuanced storytelling with the enchantment of a score that can go from melancholy to zany in a heartbeat. Fun but never frivolous, this Tony-winning show by composer Jeanine Tesori and playwright Lisa Kron shimmers with a Proustian glow. Ends Aug. 6. Read more
The landmark 1978 play by Luis Valdez that put the struggles of Mexican Americans front and center is back where it originated at the Mark Taper Forum in an exhilarating revival that couldn’t have come at a more politically opportune time. If the play (centered on racially charged events that followed what the tabloids dubbed the “Sleepy Lagoon murder” of Aug. 2, 1942) occasionally stalls, the kinetic production (bursting with music and the camaraderie of a cast led by Demian Bichir) never loses momentum. Ends Sunday, April 2. Read more
A tender coming-of-age comedy sporting a well-adjusted family and a happy ending is the last thing one might expect from gloomy Gus playwright Eugene O’Neill, but this charming, impeccably staged revival stands in upbeat contrast to the nihilistic despair of his iconic tragedies. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Saturday, May 20) Read more
'The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith'
The outsized vocal talents — and personality — of “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith are vividly channeled through Miche Braden’s powerhouse performance in the West Coast premiere of this soul-baring biographical musical. (Philip Brandes) (Ends March 17) Read more
Brimming with intellectual heft and an equal amount of heart, Moisès Kaufman’s Tony-nominated drama vaults back and forth in time as it treats Beethoven’s years-long obsession composing the Diabelli Variations and a present-day academic’s struggle to complete her monograph on the Variations before she dies of a wasting disease. In an intimate reassessment of the play, director Thomas James O’Leary and his superb cast, buoyed by a dream design team, capture the fulminations of genius. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, March 26) Read more
'Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass'
Imaginatively integrating video, animation and live performance, Bryan Davidson’s new adaptation set in Depression-era Appalachia links the fairy tale horrors of child abandonment with real-world dire poverty. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, May 21) Read more
‘Night and Dreams’
In the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella concert, the orchestra’s new artist collaborator, the hot young director Yuval Sharon of The Industry, stages short dramatic works by Samuel Beckett intercut by songs of Beckett’s favorite composer, Schubert. Read more
‘The Perfect American’
“The Perfect American” is the operatic portrait of an idealist American artist as a less-than-perfect old man, which is to say a blend of sunshine, supremacy and insecurity. In Philip Glass’ most recent portrait opera (a great lives series that has included Einstein, Gandhi, Akhnaten, Columbus, Galileo and Kepler), Walt Disney takes stock as he confronts a virulent lung cancer. (Mark Swed) Read more
What to listen to now: Ryan Adams, Fred Eaglesmith and Nikki Lane
This week’s picks include the latest from veteran singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, under-the-radar Americana artist Fred Eaglesmith and the outspoken country of Nikki Lane. Read more
Critics and staff writers
The best classical music performances of 2016
Yuja, Mirga, Mahler, Lenny, Louis, Luis and more. A year of the naked, the dead and the saved. The young and old and forgotten. A year in which 10 won’t do… Read more
Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'
Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more
When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." (Mikael Wood) Read more
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
Single: 'A Living Human Girl'
Out of the gate, teen band the Regrettes aren't holding back. The group's first major single, "A Living Human Girl," takes aim at the patriarchy in one verse and societal expectations of beauty in another, with lead singer Lydia Night rattling off perceived faults as if they're cause for celebration. Pimples? Check. Stretch marks? Bring 'em on. "I can dress how I want, not looking for a show of hands," she snarls over a snappy, '60s-inspired groove. Although the 15-year-old says the song was inspired by her first few days of high school in downtown Los Angeles, the tune's worldview transcends adolescence. (Todd Martens) Read more
Where to dine in Southern California if you love tasting menus
You can call it a tasting menu. You can call it omakase. You can call it dégustation, a banquet menu or modern kaiseki. What it tends to be is a meal made up of dozens of small tastes, served in exquisite rhythm, where the courses, their order and their precise composition has been determined for you the second you walk in the door, so that your only choice is really whether you want to gut it out with a bottle of Lodi Verdelho or submit to a relentless wine pairing. The chef is the artist and your belly is her canvas. And when a tasting menu is done well, it can be the summit of cuisine. Read more
Have you, by chance, tasted tonkotsu ramen? Because the Kyushu-style noodles may be at their peak in Los Angeles at the moment: thin, straight noodles served in a pork broth of maximum intensity. Tonkotsu ramen is often layered with slices of soft braised pork, garnished with simmered bamboo shoots and served with a soft-boiled egg. It is invariably a gut bomb that will stay with you longer than a double chili-cheese from Tommy’s. A Tokyo-based friend claimed that he once dropped 20 pounds just by cutting tonkotsu ramen out of his diet, and I believe him. The king of tonkotsu ramen in Los Angeles is probably Tsujita, a branch of a well-regarded Tokyo noodle shop that has clotted traffic on Sawtelle Boulevard since it opened half a dozen years ago. And now there is the Tsujita in Glendale’s Americana at Brand mall, a severely modern restaurant that gleams like a Tokyo dessert parlor, a place of long banquettes, long tables and coffered ceilings; theatrical lighting and a waitstaff that seems slightly stunned by the crowds. Read more
6 Great Restaurants for Spicy Food
Spicy food is glorious stuff, particularly in times of duress or when the weather is unreasonably chilly or when you’ve misplaced that bottle of Double Chicken Brand Sriracha you still keep in your bag. So which restaurant to head for when the need for a dose of chiles calls? Here are a half-dozen places around town where what’s on the menu can blow both your mind and the Scoville scale. Read more
Here’s Looking at You
Here’s Looking at You is a corner bistro from Jonathan Whitener and Lien Ta on the site of a former cheesesteak shop, all Edison bulbs, neo-midcentury cabinetry and a blend of post-punk and old-school hip-hop that has become to this kind of restaurant what Sade and David Byrne’s Brazilian compilations were to the last generation. Whitener comes to Here’s Looking at You from a stretch as chef de cuisine at Animal, the meaty, eclectic restaurant that redefined Los Angeles cuisine. And it is easy to see traces of Animal in Whitener’s cooking. Read more
Everson Royce Bar
Everson Royce Bar isn’t really a restaurant. To be fair, it doesn’t even try to be a restaurant – the word Bar is in its name. When you glance at the menu, the food takes up slightly less real estate than its shortlist of shots, and if you are a drinker of a certain bent, your attention is likely to linger on the sherry-cask Japanese whiskey than it is on the shrimp roll and the chicken thighs. Beard Award-winning chef Matt Molina is more or less serving regular bar snacks here, but superbly well, like the kitchen equivalent of a band like Metallica doing a covers set just because it can: steamed buns with pork belly, smoked potato taquitos, shrimp rolls and flaky, extra-rich biscuits with maple butter that happen to be about the best things it is possible to eat with bourbon. Read more
Gus’s Fried Chicken
You’re probably going to want to try Gus’s Fried Chicken. Because it’s pretty remarkable stuff, even in chicken-obsessed Los Angeles: a burnished red-gold, pieces bigger than they are small, whose peppery heat at first seems mild, even nonexistent, until it starts creeping up a few bites in, a heat that makes you glad you have a pint of sweet iced tea by your side. You may be thinking of Nashville hot chicken, the kind you can stand in line for at Howlin’ Ray’s in Chinatown, but this isn’t that — you don’t worry whether you’ve renewed your life insurance after a wing or two, and the crunch, although considerable, is of a completely different sort. Classic Nashville chicken has a complex, multilayered crunch that maintains much of its integrity even after a day or two in the fridge. Gus’s chicken is more of a batter-fried phenomenon, with a thin, fragile crust that shatters under your teeth, releasing a flood of scalding juice. Read more
Favorite Asian fried chicken joints
Does Los Angeles live by Nashville hot chicken alone? No — not as long as there’s a universe of Asian fried chicken too. Read more
Kettle Black is a new Italian restaurant from Beau Laughlin and his team, who also own Sawyer and the juice bar Clover on the block. The chef is Sydney Hunter III, who has been cooking in Los Angeles for 15 years or so, many of them at the right hand of Ludovic Lefebvre. Hunter’s Italian cooking is sure but eccentric, hewing to no particular regional cuisine and slightly edgy in its way, favoring a sweet-sour flavor palette, lots of crunch, and chiles used as much for fragrance as they are for heat: pizza, good handmade pastas, and fat purple slices of Japanese eggplant passed through the fire just long enough to add a bit of smokiness. Read more
There has never been a tempura restaurant in Los Angeles quite like Tempura Endo, the first American branch of a Kyoto, Japan, institution that dates to 1910. The restaurant occupies a modest storefront next door to a Japanese knife shop and right by a rental car yard. The location, although it is in the Beverly Hills triangle, has never been noted for fine dining – I remember a sushi bar that seemed really to specialize in sukiyaki. Tempura Endo is the other kind of tempura bar – an exquisitely expensive place that exists to serve intricate omakase dinners, well-calibrated multi-course meals presented with the detail and attention to seasonality of kaiseki, the lightness and purity you might not associate with two hours of deep-fried food. Read more
It is cold in Los Angeles. Rain is in the air. What you want to be eating is dizi, an Iranian lamb and chickpea stew, flavored with turmeric and dried lime — a popular street food dish from Tehran that seems to have a tonic effect against the chill. And for dizi, you should probably be at Nersses Vanak, a slightly faded restaurant in an industrial district of Glendale, where dizi, served with long-pickled garlic, platters of fresh herbs, and hot slabs of flatbread snatched smoking from the grill, is always the thing. Read more
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
New sculptures by the artist look like the crates that the sculptures might have been shipped in, albeit here given free rein to perform like circus acrobats. The offbeat mix is typical for Isermann, whose distinctive fusion of high art, handicraft and commercial design has fueled an exceptional body of work over three decades. Ends Saturday, March 25. Read more
Architecture’s top 10 for 2016
This was a year in which Los Angeles shook off some ambivalence about its own status as a dense, tall, post-suburban city — and in which the profession of architecture continued to embrace, reassess and excavate its own history. It was also a year in which architecture critics, thankfully, saw enough completed high-profile buildings — after several years in which the aftereffects of the 2008 crisis kept that supply low — to consider putting more than one on their year-end lists. Read more
Moholy-Nagy: Future Present
Curiosity, color, wry humor, excited trial and error, prolific innovation — the artist grabbed an avant-garde sensibility and never let it go. “Future Present” asserts that this world is the best possible world, and inevitable change should be courted, its possibilities maximized. Moholy-Nagy is often called a utopian, but optimist seems a better fit. Ends Sun., June 18. Read more
U.S. Courthouse Downtown
The $350-million, 633,000-square-foot federal courthouse, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, between Hill Street and Broadway, across the street from The Times, is an unusually polished work of civic architecture — especially by the standards of Los Angeles, where well-wrought public buildings have been comparatively rare in recent decades. Ten stories high, with broad shoulders and careful posture, it takes the form of a cube sheathed in walls of glass. Read more
‘Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach’
LACMA’s show does an excellent job of translating 16th century German culture into a revealing 21st century exhibition. The museum has a reputation for organizing important shows of German art, mostly from the modern era, and “Renaissance and Reformation” impressively extends the range. Ends Saturday, March 26. Read more
Thomson & Craighead: Wake Me Up When It’s Over
Thomson & Craighead have myriad ways of getting under the skin and staying there. They draw material for their audio and video installations, sculptures and posters from Flickr, YouTube, websites, blogs and data streams, enacting shifts in context and structure to trigger a sense of instability. Much here will linger and haunt. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Saturday, April 15) Read more
Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment
His work nudged the visually delightful excesses of Rococo art toward the more sober gravity of Neo-Classicism.The only fragment of the artist’s extravagant monument to Louis XV that remains intact is the last object at the end of this enlightening exhibition. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, April 2) Read more
Michelle Fierro: New Paintings
Step into this exhibition and it’s clear that the Los Angeles artist is a first-rate noodler. Each of her 17 paintings at c.nichols project in Mar Vista comes off as casual, comfortable in its own skin and blissfully unburdened by the idea that art’s job is to keep up appearances. (David Pagel) (Ends Saturday, March 25) Read more
Charles Garabedian and His Contemporaries
This five-room, 18-artist exhibition pays homage to Garabedian, who died last year at 93 after a 60-year career as a painter of profoundly original imagery. A dozen pieces the artist made from 1964 to 2015 form the heart of the exhibition, which ranks among the most inspiring in years. (David Pagel) (End Saturday, April 1) Read more
Long before “sustainability” became a buzzword, Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison were delving into the human motivations and actions that run counter to the best interests of the planet. This fine mini-survey includes photo-text and installation work from 1971 to the present. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sat., March 18) Read more
Nothing rests easily in Khedoori's work, its drama typically tamped down — even in a romantic, wall-size painting of billowing black clouds. They hang in the air, a pregnant pause, quietly setting a stage for something momentous to happen. Khedoori starts with a primary paradox of art, in which an image is also an object. Playing with contradictions intrinsic to Modernist painting, she comes up with enchanting, unexpected hybrids. (Christopher Knight) (Through March 19) Read more
John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction
McLaughlin’s painting retrospective is the most moving and viscerally beautiful exhibition to be installed in BCAM since the building opened eight years ago. This is the first time a major institution has mounted a proper, full-scale retrospective. That such an indispensable painter didn’t merit one until 40 years after his death tells you all you need to know about how passed over this brilliant artist has been. In fact, I’ve been waiting those same 40 years for it. Ends Sunday, April 16. (Christopher Knight) Read more
Ron Nagle: Ice Breaker
Risk and possibility are Nagle’s stock in trade. He serves them up in abundance at Matthew Marks Gallery, where 15 pint-size pieces are enshrined inside 15 glass cubes, each perched atop its own pedestal. Four more similarly scaled sculptures stand in four space-saving cubbyholes, each of which has been cut into the middle of each of the four walls. (David Pagel) (Through April 8) Read more
The small exhibition is an elegiac tone poem, spoken in visual shades of black. With just 10 works by eight artists, it presents no defined thesis but resonates beyond its modest scale. (Christopher Knight) (Through March 31, 2017) Read more
The Nintendo Switch
Not since the debut of its original Nintendo Entertainment System has the Japanese company released a home video game console with as much potential to shake up how we play as the Nintendo Switch, which is out Friday. Thirty years ago, Nintendo reinvented the video game medium. Not only did the NES lead to such genre-defining interactive entertainment as “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda,” but it also liberated games from the arcade and brought them to the American living room. Where they could increasingly be played for hours, days, weeks, months. Rather than intense, cliffhanger-like action that demanded the next 25 cents, home games had pace, tempo and rudimentary stories. They were also accessible — no obscenely pricey home computer or trip to a teenage-infested arcade needed. The Switch takes that livability to another level. It is a home video game console that’s connected to a television. But it’s also a hand-held device designed for ultimate mobility. And at least one of its games barely requires the use of a screen at all. Read more
Video game critic
I’m Batman. I’ve waited years — since the release of 1989’s “Batman” — to say those words and mean them. Considering that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life writing rather than building a superhero’s physique, it seemed unlikely, save for Halloween, that such a day would come. This year we saw the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, which makes it possible to put on a pair of goggles and disappear into a digital landscape — as long as you have a high-priced, top-of-the-line computer. Now with Sony’s PlayStation VR, an add-on to the PlayStation 4 so many of us already have hooked up to our TVs, virtual reality is coming to the masses. Read more
Video game critic
The opening screen of the new Variable States video feature “Virginia” welcomes players to a small town named Kingdom. It’s laid before us as if it were a board game, with little trails leading to a cave or a gas station, a schoolyard or an observatory, all presented with the simple, cheery look of a brightly filled-in coloring book. Come in, stay awhile and bask in the beauty of small-town life, it seems to say. Press play, however, and things get twisted, and not with the typical things-are-not-what-they-seem subversion. Read more
Video game critic
'No Man's Sky'
Fourteen minutes and 54 seconds. I'm on a distant planet, and I need to get to my spaceship. Yet "No Man's Sky" is telling me that the vessel is a 14-minute, 54-second hike away. So I settle into the couch. But after three minutes of strolling through a salmon-colored rocky surface — and admiring some lavender plant life — I need a break, perhaps for good. This was the second time in one week I had quit "No Man's Sky." That's because there's another, more important number to mention when it comes to discussing "No Man's Sky": 18.4 quintillion. That is, there are more than 18.4 quintillion planets to discover in "No Man's Sky." You will not live long enough — here on Earth, that is — to collect them all. Read more
There are peculiar stone structures in the shape of sharks throughout the game "Abzu." They exist not to be investigated or warn of foreboding territory ahead. Instead, these objects are built for meditating. Have a seat, they beckon, and take in marine life. Play voyeur to a whale, a jellyfish, a shark or any number of undersea inhabitants. While "Abzu" is far from a documentary or a simulation, perhaps no other video game has ever been so singularly focused on re-creating the vast, majestic and mysterious nature of an aquatic universe. It does this with no voice, no text and no conflict. Your character in "Abzu" cannot "die" in the traditional video-game sense. Instead, the game centers on postcard-worthy imagery — swarming, silver schools of fish or sparkling green leaves or warm, orange coral — and Austin Wintory's thoughtful, patient score. Read more
'Mirror's Edge Catalyst'
Imagine if the world were filtered through the home screen of a smartphone. Picture opening your eyes to an image overloaded with headlines and messages. Notifications no longer buzz, they flash before you. "Warning," the display blinks in the lower right, "your bank balance is low." This is the view of Faith, early in "Mirror's Edge Catalyst." Having just been released from prison, Faith may not be happy with her financial prospects, but she definitely isn't too keen with the sensory overload of this futuristic, uncomfortably modern society. "Is this what the employees see all the time?" she wonders. In the world of "Mirror's Edge Catalyst," there aren't citizens so much as employees — workers for one of a handful of conglomerates that controls the world. You are identified not by your ethnicity or your interests but your job. Read more