What to do this weekend in L.A. Critics Picks: Oct 13 - 19, 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.
The history of Hollywood is told in documentaries, and new releases of old recordings recall historic performances at the Troubadour. Our restaurant critic has found a new place to frequent at Grand Central Market.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
Hollywood History Documentaries on DVD
New films about old movies are a particular passion of mine, and two new documentaries on DVD are welcome additions to the genre. “The Champion: A Story of America’s First Film Town,” released by Milestone, tells the oldest of these stories, engagingly detailing how Fort Lee, N.J., of all places, became a pre-Hollywood center of moviemaking starting in 1910. Situated closer to home is “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille,” detailing a pair of fascinating and intertwined stories. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Battle of the Sexes’
This enjoyable and entertaining film, with the gifted and innately likable actors Emma Stone and Steve Carell as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, is most involving when it deals not with sports or society, but with the personal struggles both players, especially King, were going through in the run-up to their 1973 tennis match. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
As a small-town curmudgeon contemplating his own mortality, Harry Dean Stanton gives one of his final and greatest performances in this insistently low-key, dryly funny valentine to the actor’s life and career. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
‘Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton’
Even if surfing is not a major interest, Hamilton’s personal journey is extraordinary enough that we feel privileged to have such an intimate documentary glimpse into how it all went down. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his most restrained, affecting performances as 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in this straightforward but shrewd and perceptive recovery drama from director David Gordon Green. (Justin Chang) Read more
Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Both intimate and epic, as emotional as it is tension-filled, Christopher Nolan’s immersive World War II drama is being ballyhooed as a departure for the bravura filmmaker, but in truth the reason it succeeds so masterfully is that it is anything but. (Kenneth Truan) Read more
'A Ghost Story'
Casey Affleck dons a bedsheet and stars opposite Rooney Mara in writer-director David Lowery's quietly compelling low-budget experiment, a simple story of love and loss that gradually pries open a window onto eternity. (Justin Chang) Read more
Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and a revelatory Tiffany Haddish play women renewing the bonds of friendship on a New Orleans weekend getaway in this hilariously raunchy and sensationally assured new comedy from director Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man”). (Justin Chang) Read more
Jennifer Lawrence plays the young wife of a poet (Javier Bardem) besieged by a number of unexpected visitors in this darkly exhilarating house-of-horrors thriller written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Read more (Justin Chang)
A surprisingly intimate and thoughtful examination of the life and career of one of the most successful and influential of filmmakers, “Spielberg” pulls back the curtain on the former boy wonder as he turns 70. Veteran director Susan Lacy, creator of the PBS series “American Experience,” convinced Steven Spielberg to sit down for close to 30 hours of interviews and also spoke to his parents, siblings, fellow directors like George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. HBO. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
‘Jerry Before Seinfeld’
Seinfeld returns to the stage of the Comic Strip, the New York comedy club he worked for no money and many hamburgers while getting his act together in the 1970s. Much – most? – of the material he performs here predates the series that took his name and magnified it: “Seinfeld,” which translated a comic’s obsession with life’s illogical annoyances into a world-conquering situation comedy. (Robert Lloyd) Read more
Fandom has demonstrated repeatedly that a not completely serious superhero may be taken seriously; indeed, for some of us, it is the completely serious superhero that cannot be taken seriously. And so I greet with interest Amazon's new take on "The Tick," the story of a super-strong, addlepated big lug in a blue suit – such a nice change from all that black – and the nervous accountant he encourages into partnership. Like its insect namesake, “The Tick” is a tenacious beast — it dug its teeth, or pincers, or whatever it is ticks have, into the culture and held on. (Robert Lloyd) (Amazon Prime, anytime) Read more
Those who’ve raised, loved or cared for someone autistic will recognize their story in Netflix’s “Atypical,” a series that understands the minutiae and big picture of living on the spectrum. (Lorraine Ali) (Netflix, anytime) Read more
‘The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey’
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys human-centered stories, who can’t resist a detective yarn and who enjoys watching an actor impersonate a town full of kooky yet hilariously recognizable characters, James Lecesne’s off-Broadway sleeper about the disappearance of a teen whose fabulousness doesn’t conform to restrictive Jersey Shore gender expectations is what you’ve been waiting for. Ends Sunday, Oct 29. Read more
The Old Globe, San Diego, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego
Veteran playwright Nick Salamone once again treats his own Catholic upbringing as a primary theme in this loosely autobiographical, boldly nonlinear work about a regretful gay man confronting the tragically lost loves of his past life, all of whom he abandoned at critical junctures. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera, Salamone’s frequent collaborator, delivers a luminous staging, mooring his solidly capable performers, including Rachel Sorsa, Matt Pascua and Salamone himself, in a bracing naturalism that emphasizes the piece’s inherent mystery. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sun., Oct. 15) Read more
Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.
Set in 1986 Brooklyn, Oliver Cotton’s flawed but fascinating play about three Holocaust survivors dealing with the explosive legacy of the past receives an optimum staging from director Elina de Santos and her superlative cast. De Santos is a proven, protean director, and this production stands beside her best work, while George Wyner, Sharron Shayne and Richard Fancy are extraordinary performers at the peak of their craft who invest the play with a harrowing emotionalism that is unforgettable. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Oct. 30) Read more
Rogue Machine Theatre (in The Met), 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.
'La Razón Blindada'
Presented in Spanish with English supertitles, this sharply political play sheds light on Argentina’s infamous “Dirty War” as filtered through the deeply personal perspective of writer-director Aristídes Vargas, who experienced the madness first-hand. Vargas’ harrowing, surprisingly funny piece centers on two political prisoners who escape into the world of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” during their incarceration. Hallucinatory, trance-inducing and surreal, this deeply humanistic production hammers home man’s gross capacity for inhumanity — and his transcendent ability to endure. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Fri., Nov. 17). Read more
With darkly hilarious urgency, this superbly staged and disconcertingly timely revival illuminates playwright Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist warning about the seductively corrosive lure of herd mentality, and the fragility of civilized norms we take for granted. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sun., Nov. 19) Read more
Tim Buckley recordings
In early September 1969, the dynamic singer and songwriter Buckley played three nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. A tireless explorer influenced more by Nina Simone than Bob Dylan, he was accompanied during the gigs by himself and musicians playing a Fender Rhodes electric organ, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and congas. Reissue producers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas recently unearthed a bounty of tapes from those three nights in September, some of which already had been mined for an earlier concert recording, “Live at the Troubadour 1969.” The results of their effort can be found on “Greetings From West Hollywood” and “Venice Mating Call,” which come out Oct. 13. the two new releases, the former available on LP and the latter on compact disc, present wondrously remastered, previously un-issued versions from those Troubadour nights. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Song: ‘Soft Collar Fad’
The first song from the stellar L.A. punk band No Age’s first studio album in four years rips into its riffs like a pitbull into a rib-eye. Over the past decade the duo, Dean Spunt (drums) and Randy Randall (guitars), have helped redefine L.A. punk for a new century, adding its own distinctive washes of noise and melody into a mess of hardcore distortion. “Soft Collar Fad” is as unyielding and aggro as anything the two have done. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
Album: ‘The Long-Awaited Album’
During more than a half-century as an artist and entertainer, Steve Martin has consistently pushed and prodded at the boundaries of many an art form. And he’s doing it again with “The Long-Awaited Album,” his fifth collection of original music in the last eight years. (Randy Lewis) Read more
Box set: ‘Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981’
Bob Dylan’s so-called Christian period in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is the focal point for the next installment in the ongoing “Bootleg Series” of archival releases, with the deluxe box set featuring eight CDs and one DVD that bring to light a raft of live recordings from his tours of that era along with previously unreleased studio takes. “Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981,” due Nov. 3, explores in unprecedented depth the trio of albums he recorded after delving deeply into Christian theology: “Slow Train Coming” (from 1979), “Saved” (1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981), a trilogy that sparked as much debate over Dylan’s direction and relevance as his dramatic shift from acoustic folk music to electric rock ‘n’ roll a decade and a half earlier. (Randy Lewis) Read more
Album: 'Gone Now'
Five years ago, Jack Antonoff reached an audience of millions thanks to “We Are Young,” the Grammy-winning No. 1 single by his band Fun. And this week he’s likely to do it again with Friday’s release of “Melodrama,” the highly anticipated Lorde album that he co-produced with that young New Zealand pop star. (Mikael Wood) Read more
Album: 'Joan Shelley'
Amid today’s onslaught of breaking news notifications, it’s comforting to know that this Louisville singer and songwriter’s brand of pastoral beauty is out there. Shelley’s new self-titled album continues her focus on earthen themes that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago when another Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe, was romanticizing them: love and desire, dawning and fading light, natural beauty and the delicacy of emotion. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'You Don’t Own Me Anymore'
The third album from Muscle Shoals, Ala.-reared sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers (the Secret Sisters) shows no hint of anyone going Hollywood. Here, they’ve turned to Brandi Carlisle to co-produce with brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth after being guided on their previous two efforts by their mentor, T Bone Burnett. If anything, they’ve stripped things down further with hauntingly spare arrangements of songs that revel in Southern Gothic themes, which soar through their exquisite sibling harmonies. (Randy Lewis) Read more
'The Perfect American'
“The Perfect American” is the operatic portrait of an idealist American artist as a less-than-perfect old man, which is to say a blend of sunshine, supremacy and insecurity. In Philip Glass’ most recent portrait opera (a great lives series that has included Einstein, Gandhi, Akhnaten, Columbus, Galileo and Kepler), Walt Disney takes stock as he confronts a virulent lung cancer. (Mark Swed) Read more
Single: 'Sign of the Times'
Heeeeeere’s Harry! Months after his bandmates in One Direction launched their inevitable solo careers, Harry Styles finally released his debut single under his own name Friday. It’s a sweeping power ballad called “Sign of the Times” that strongly recalls music from the early 1970s, such as David Bowie’s album “Hunky Dory” and “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (which Bowie helped create). (Mikael Wood) Read more
Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'
Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more
When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." (Mikael Wood) Read more
Sari Sari Store
I have stopped by Sari Sari Store five times in three days, and I’m not sure if I should be admitting this to you or to a therapist. My colleagues and I have probably adored Sari Sari Store a little too much lately, partly because we’re as likely to become crushed out on a new restaurant as a 14-year-old is on the latest Zayn track, and partly because the idea of a Filipino-style lunch counter run by République’s Margarita and Walter Manzke is just too much, especially in downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market. Read more
Sari Sari Store, Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
If you gaze long into Nothingness, or at least into the San Gabriel Sichuan restaurant of that name, the Nothingness that stares back at you is likely to include steamed whole fish, braised lamb with jelly noodle, and pig feet with hot pepper. The steam rising from hot pots may suggest an infinite void, but only for that moment before the vivid red of the roiling broth becomes visible through the mist. Also, I imagine the empty world does not smell quite so strongly of garlic and toasted chiles. Why is there something rather than nothingness? Because the presumption of nonexistence does not allow for the possibility of live crawfish steamed in chile sauce, while Nothingness the restaurant does. Does existence precede essence? I haven’t read a lot of philosophy since college, but I maintain that the snap of the shell, the softness of the flesh, indicate that it probably does. Read more
288 Nothingness, San Gabriel Blvd., Suite 103/104, San Gabriel
A juane is an unusual dish in the Peruvian repertoire, a huge, overstuffed tamal from the headwaters of the Amazon, a kind of combo meal made in its area of origin as a convenient takeaway lunch for travelers. Juanes take their name from John the Baptist — the bulging roundness is said to resemble the severed head of the saint on a plate — and they are often served on his saint’s day. When wrapped in the traditional bijao leaf, the late chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi wrote, it looks a little like a hobo’s bundle on the end of a stick. You can stow almost anything in a juane before you boil it — rice and chicken, yuca root, plantains, hearts of palm, ground peanuts, sometimes boneless fish. At Rosaliné, the buzzy new Peruvian restaurant on Melrose, Ricardo Zarate makes his with chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs and pork shanks. Bijao is a little hard to find in California, so he steams everything in banana leaves. Read more
Rosalinén, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood
Pizza, as every New Yorker is fond of telling you, is the food of the people; cheap, tasty sustenance sold by the slice. But in Los Angeles, pizza has another dimension, as anyone who has ever considered dropping six grand on a custom pizza oven can attest — in certain circles a wood-burning Italian-made behemoth is as necessary as a fire pit or a screening room. Famous pizza virtuosi make regular stops at the homes of talk show hosts and sitcom auteurs, who know that a perfectly made Margherita is worth its weight in osetra caviar. Pizza is also the food of the rich. Daniele Uditi, chef of the chic Brentwood pizzeria Pizzana, earned his bones at his family’s bakery near Caserta, the buffalo mozzarella capital of Italy, and in Naples, home of modern pizza, before he moved to Los Angeles. He probably became well known when actor Chris O’Donnell rescued him from a dead-end restaurant job and hired him to cook for him and his friends. Uditi’s pizza was a poorly kept secret, even among a lot of people who don’t run in Hollywood circles — he was regularly touted as a celebrity chef in Italian newspapers. So it became almost inevitable that he end up with a Brentwood restaurant of his own, in partnership with O’Donnell, wife Caroline O’Donnell, and Candace and Charles Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes. People line up for hours outside Pizzana’s blue, tiled dining room. Read more
Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant
Have you stopped by Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant? Because it’s kind of wild on a Sunday afternoon, a world of head scarves and bright dresses, skinny suits and skullcaps, and children dumbstruck at the massive piles of sizzling black-pepper beef. The green-onion flatbreads — every table has one! — are as big as birthday cakes, and when you pick up a wedge you can see dozens of strata. Crisp shards of beef short ribs, cut laterally and thin in what Korean restaurants call “L.A. style,” are stacked 6 inches high. The air is heady with garlic and cumin, burnt chiles and charred meat. The tables are set with forks — you have to ask for chopsticks. Jamillah Mas’ cooking is hearty and full flavored, spicy except when it isn’t, and unafraid of excess. Read more
In Los Angeles, Holbox is the new Yucatán-style seafood restaurant from Gilberto Cetina Jr., whom you may know from Chichen Itza, which he founded with his father. (Gilberto Sr. is back in the Yucatán at the moment, building his own island dream house.) Like Chichen Itza, Holbox occupies a corner of the Mercado La Paloma complex near USC, sharing tables with a vegan Ethiopian restaurant and a Oaxacan juice bar. Read more
Holbox, 3655 S. Grand Ave. (inside the Mercado La Paloma complex), Los Angeles
The morning after my last meal at Maestro, Danny Godinez’s new Mexican restaurant in Old Pasadena, I pulled the leftover barbacoa out of the refrigerator to see if I could salvage enough for a taco. There were still a few scraps of lamb left, but the container seemed half-filled with a mysterious goo. I was about to abandon the project – congealed lamb fat is no fun. I dipped in a spoon to see whether it might be worth reheating. And I was flabbergasted to discover that what I’d thought was grease was in fact beautifully jellied consommé, clear and as richly flavored as a demi-glace, without a speck of fat. This was Mexican food with a different point of view. And while I’m not sure I don’t prefer the magnificent hangover barbacoa from the beloved Aqui es Texcoco in Commerce or the dense, oily barbacoa from My Taco in Highland Park, Godinez’s version is very, very good — more delicate than its counterparts, slightly stringy, and without the insanely delicious pockets of fat that burst on your tongue, but still lovely and substantial. Read more
Where to dine in Southern California if you love tasting menus
You can call it a tasting menu. You can call it omakase. You can call it dégustation, a banquet menu or modern kaiseki. What it tends to be is a meal made up of dozens of small tastes, served in exquisite rhythm, where the courses, their order and their precise composition has been determined for you the second you walk in the door, so that your only choice is really whether you want to gut it out with a bottle of Lodi Verdelho or submit to a relentless wine pairing. The chef is the artist and your belly is her canvas. And when a tasting menu is done well, it can be the summit of cuisine. Read more
Have you, by chance, tasted tonkotsu ramen? Because the Kyushu-style noodles may be at their peak in Los Angeles at the moment: thin, straight noodles served in a pork broth of maximum intensity. Tonkotsu ramen is often layered with slices of soft braised pork, garnished with simmered bamboo shoots and served with a soft-boiled egg. It is invariably a gut bomb that will stay with you longer than a double chili-cheese from Tommy’s. A Tokyo-based friend claimed that he once dropped 20 pounds just by cutting tonkotsu ramen out of his diet, and I believe him. The king of tonkotsu ramen in Los Angeles is probably Tsujita, a branch of a well-regarded Tokyo noodle shop that has clotted traffic on Sawtelle Boulevard since it opened half a dozen years ago. And now there is the Tsujita in Glendale’s Americana at Brand mall, a severely modern restaurant that gleams like a Tokyo dessert parlor, a place of long banquettes, long tables and coffered ceilings; theatrical lighting and a waitstaff that seems slightly stunned by the crowds. Read more
6 Great Restaurants for Spicy Food
Spicy food is glorious stuff, particularly in times of duress or when the weather is unreasonably chilly or when you’ve misplaced that bottle of Double Chicken Brand Sriracha you still keep in your bag. So which restaurant to head for when the need for a dose of chiles calls? Here are a half-dozen places around town where what’s on the menu can blow both your mind and the Scoville scale. Read more
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
Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell
This show, the Los Angeles artist’s first full survey, could serve as the Pacific Standard Time poster child, so vividly does it fulfill the Getty initiative’s mission to flesh out the plot and diversify the cast of characters in the art history of Latino Los Angeles As a Latina, lesbian and large-bodied woman, Aguilar personifies representational neglect. In more than 130 photographic works, mostly portraits and self-portraits, she stirringly examines identity and belonging, the friction of unworthiness and the peace of self-acceptance. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Sat., Feb. 10) Read more
Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park
'We the People: Serving Notice'
This brave, rousing show narrows the gap between making and making a difference. Dozens of artists were invited to weigh in on the tumult and divisiveness of this political, cultural moment — in clay. The responses: functional objects reflecting upon the nation’s present dysfunction; decorative pieces that deal with indecorous realities. (Leah Ollman) (Through Dec. 30) Read more
Some of the most popular modern fairy tales are played rather than told. Ustwo’s “Monument Valley” spun a story about a quiet princess — Ida — who worked, often alone, to restore a colorful, geometric habitat, one inspired equally by the meticulously designed illustrated architecture of M.C. Escher as well as the joy of optical illusions. Since its release in 2014, that experience has been downloaded more than 30 million times. Gray feels confident that “Monument Valley” succeeded in its mission statement. Now the design firm is back with a new game, one that once again wants to shift the mainstream awareness of what games can — and should — accomplish. On Monday, Ustwo unveiled “Monument Valley 2,” a sequel that aims to take the calm and abstract shapes and ruins of the first title and inject even more emotional depth. Read more
Video game critic
The Nintendo Switch
Not since the debut of its original Nintendo Entertainment System has the Japanese company released a home video game console with as much potential to shake up how we play as the Nintendo Switch, which is out Friday. Thirty years ago, Nintendo reinvented the video game medium. Not only did the NES lead to such genre-defining interactive entertainment as “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda,” but it also liberated games from the arcade and brought them to the American living room. Where they could increasingly be played for hours, days, weeks, months. Rather than intense, cliffhanger-like action that demanded the next 25 cents, home games had pace, tempo and rudimentary stories. They were also accessible — no obscenely pricey home computer or trip to a teenage-infested arcade needed. The Switch takes that livability to another level. It is a home video game console that’s connected to a television. But it’s also a hand-held device designed for ultimate mobility. And at least one of its games barely requires the use of a screen at all. Read more
Video game critic
I’m Batman. I’ve waited years — since the release of 1989’s “Batman” — to say those words and mean them. Considering that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life writing rather than building a superhero’s physique, it seemed unlikely, save for Halloween, that such a day would come. This year we saw the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, which makes it possible to put on a pair of goggles and disappear into a digital landscape — as long as you have a high-priced, top-of-the-line computer. Now with Sony’s PlayStation VR, an add-on to the PlayStation 4 so many of us already have hooked up to our TVs, virtual reality is coming to the masses. Read more
The opening screen of the new Variable States video feature "Virginia" welcomes players to a small town named Kingdom. It's laid before us as if it were a board game, with little trails leading to a cave or a gas station, a schoolyard or an observatory, all presented with the simple, cheery look of a brightly filled-in coloring book. Come in, stay awhile and bask in the beauty of small-town life, it seems to say. Press play, however, and things get twisted, and not with the typical things-are-not-what-they-seem subversion. Read more
'No Man's Sky'
Fourteen minutes and 54 seconds. I'm on a distant planet, and I need to get to my spaceship. Yet "No Man's Sky" is telling me that the vessel is a 14-minute, 54-second hike away. So I settle into the couch. But after three minutes of strolling through a salmon-colored rocky surface — and admiring some lavender plant life — I need a break, perhaps for good. This was the second time in one week I had quit "No Man's Sky." That's because there's another, more important number to mention when it comes to discussing "No Man's Sky": 18.4 quintillion. That is, there are more than 18.4 quintillion planets to discover in "No Man's Sky." You will not live long enough — here on Earth, that is — to collect them all. Read more
There are peculiar stone structures in the shape of sharks throughout the game "Abzu." They exist not to be investigated or warn of foreboding territory ahead. Instead, these objects are built for meditating. Have a seat, they beckon, and take in marine life. Play voyeur to a whale, a jellyfish, a shark or any number of undersea inhabitants. While "Abzu" is far from a documentary or a simulation, perhaps no other video game has ever been so singularly focused on re-creating the vast, majestic and mysterious nature of an aquatic universe. It does this with no voice, no text and no conflict. Your character in "Abzu" cannot "die" in the traditional video-game sense. Instead, the game centers on postcard-worthy imagery — swarming, silver schools of fish or sparkling green leaves or warm, orange coral — and Austin Wintory's thoughtful, patient score. Read more
'Mirror's Edge Catalyst'
Imagine if the world were filtered through the home screen of a smartphone. Picture opening your eyes to an image overloaded with headlines and messages. Notifications no longer buzz, they flash before you. "Warning," the display blinks in the lower right, "your bank balance is low." This is the view of Faith, early in "Mirror's Edge Catalyst." Having just been released from prison, Faith may not be happy with her financial prospects, but she definitely isn't too keen with the sensory overload of this futuristic, uncomfortably modern society. "Is this what the employees see all the time?" she wonders. In the world of "Mirror's Edge Catalyst," there aren't citizens so much as employees — workers for one of a handful of conglomerates that controls the world. You are identified not by your ethnicity or your interests but your job. Read more