Critics’ Picks: Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2013
Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.
This week our critics spotlight a DVD filled with lost treasures from the silent era, and a timely new movie about the 2002 D.C. sniper shootings. A dance at REDCAT is a top pick in music, while on stage “Lost Girls” hits home. Plus, the new TV season is in full swing with some old favorites and a few new gems.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘Lost & Found: American Treasures From the New Zealand Film Archive’
If you care about lost films in general and silent films in particular and can’t wait till they arrive on DVD (no names, please), the moment is now. The National Film Preservation Foundation’s “Lost & Found: American Treasures From the New Zealand Film Archive” is newly on sale, showcasing highlights from one of the most exciting finds of the past decade. That would be the discovery in New Zealand of a trove of silent material that had been thought lost forever. The high point of the find is 1927’s “Upstream,” an early John Ford feature that is presented here along with a not-seen-before trailer to another lost Ford, 1929’s “Strong Boy.” Read more
It was both eerie and gripping to watch the smart new true-crime drama “Blue Caprice” just days after the shooting rampage at Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Loosely based on the 2002 Beltway shootings — 13 killed or injured by sniper fire — director Alexandre Moors’ stylish first feature unfolds like a procedural. Yellow crime tape and draped bodies to start, then a shift to dissect the criminal minds, rather than the crime. An alliance between 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo and angry ex-soldier John Allen Muhammad proved deadly. In examining the humans behind the horrific, the film is unsettling, but illuminating. The grainy texture of the imagery is darkly arresting. Isaiah Washington is charismatic and fearsome, channeling a toxic mix of compassion and rage. Tequan Richmond is haunting as the wounded psyche weathering it. But the filmmaker is the one to watch. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Like the kidnapping at the tortured heart of "Prisoners," once this chilling thriller about a parent's worst nightmare grabs you, it refuses to let go. The linchpins for the devastation wrought in the film are Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano. Exciting, terrifying, worrisome stuff saturates every second of "Prisoners," holding you captive, keeping you guessing until the bitter end. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Mother of George'
"Mother of George" is an unexpected gem about true love, infertility and a meddling mother-in-law. Adenike (Danai Gurira) and Ayodele (Isaach De Bankole) are a couple under duress in Brooklyn's close-knit Nigerian immigrant community. It's not a side of that borough we usually see. But it is the kind of distinctive, culture-driven drama from emerging filmmakers that I wish we saw more. Darci Picoult's screenplay is refreshingly spare and alive with energy in director Andrew Dosunmu's hands, and Gurira is exceptional. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
In "The Butler," director Lee Daniels sets the table with a great deal of care, especially because it unfolds during the volatile years of desegregation. It stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler privy by sheer proximity to a series of presidents during the contentious Civil Rights era. Wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) keeps the home fires burning, while the irony in her observations is stinging. The film tackles the big picture of changing race relations, a time awash in protests and flames. The smaller story, which is arguably more distinctive, examines an African American family's internal warfare. The battle is generational. Cecil, the son of Southern sharecroppers, holds his dreams in check. For his son, Louis (David Oyelowo), things can't move fast enough. Their fractious relationship is a candid window into a divide rarely examined by Hollywood. It is Daniels' best film yet. Serious and refined, entertaining and insightful, plenty of food for thought left on the table. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is her own person, and her work, once seen, reminds you of no one else's. Actors James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are the boldface names that will convince moviegoers to see her latest film, "Enough Said," but it is Holofcener's world they will be entering — and celebrating when they leave. In this, her fifth feature, Holofcener continues to make funny, melancholy, dead-on honest films about fallible people attempting not to make a complete mess of their lives. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
With director Wong Kar-wai applying his impeccable visual style to the mass-market martial arts genre, this is like a meal of all desserts. You'll feel decadent enjoying it, but it would be foolish to object. (Kenneth Turan) (In Mandarin, Chinese and Japanese, with English subtitles.) Read more
'In a World...'
Written, directed and starring Lake Bell, “In a World...” is a slight and exceedingly sly indie that is a very entertaining first crack at what one can only hope will be a long career behind the camera for Bell. As Carol, she takes us suddenly inside the cutthroat world of movie-trailer voice-overs. And the throat she might be cutting out of a coveted job could be Dad’s. The movie captures the natural — and unnatural — competition between parent and child both grubbing for the same morsel, particularly in Hollywood, where fame and fortune are on the line. The film is funny and endearing. Even with some rough edges, it's the most fun I've had at the movies this summer. I can’t wait to see what Bell does next. (Betsy Sharkey) Read more
'Short Term 12'
"Short Term 12" is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate. Named for the foster care group home for children under 18 where it's set, "Short Term 12" is anchored by the generous and persuasive acting of Brie Larson as a staff supervisor. Much to the credit of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose two years of post-college work in a similar facility is key to the film's verisimilitude, "Short Term 12" also took the audience award at both the L.A. Film Festival and South by Southwest. This is an accessible film that honestly earns every bit of its emotional impact. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'The World's End'
Natural and supernatural forces go haywire in the male midlife hysteria of "The World's End," starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and others of the fab and fabled "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead" crews. The comic blast follows five 40-ish friends who reunite 20 years after they failed to make it to the World's End, the final pub on their hometown's infamous crawl. Directed by Edgar Wright and co-written with Pegg, the movie begins as a cheeky reflection on boys who grow up, and the ones who don't. Of course, it all spins completely out of control. The crawl soon morphs into existential arguments about technology, alien invasions, kids, cloning, whether doing shots counts as drinking, recycling, love, sex and possibly paintball. Contemplating "The World's End" is utterly and appropriately absurd, which makes it a perfect wrap for the summer of 2013. (Betsy Sharkey)
'You Will Be My Son'
The quietly terrifying presence of French actor Niels Arestrup makes this character-driven melodrama, concerned with the dynamics of family in general and father-son issues in particular, a success. (Kenneth Turan) (In French with English subtitles) Read more
Things got a little crazy at the end of season two of Showtime’s intense spy thriller, what with Langley being blown to bits and Carrie (Claire Danes) helping Brody (Damian Lewis) escape. Not surprisingly, things stay a little crazy, albeit in a slightly calmer way, if that makes any sense, which it should to fans of “Homeland.” Instantly distancing themselves from the love story that dominated much of season two, the writers choose to go at least two full episodes without even a glimpse of Brody. Bad for Lewis fans, but good for the story, which seems to be settling into a tale of women on the edge: Carrie, of course, but also Brody’s wife and daughter. Months have passed, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is now firmly entrenched as head of the CIA, though the CIA itself is less entrenched; a Senate subcommittee is determined to get to the bottom of the bombing even if it means dissolving the agency. Showtime, Sundays. Read more
‘Breaking Bad’ Finale
After 10,000 episodes, the gold-encrusted body of “Breaking Bad” will be laid to rest Sunday night, with much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, after which we can officially begin toting up the damage and apply for federal relief. Inside sources tell me that the final installment is written entirely in anapestic heptameter and will be performed on a stage bare but for a wooden crate and a floor lamp. All the women’s parts will be played by men, as is traditional, and the men’s parts by sock puppets (an innovation). Sir Paul McCartney is said to have written a special song for Bryan Cranston to sing, and Aaron Paul will preview his new magic act (with poodles, apparently). An honor guard of 20,000 is expected to follow the procession across the Bridge of Tears to the Great Pyramid. Open Sundays and holidays. Discounted admission for California residents. Kids ride free. Lemonade 50 cents; real lemonade $1. AMC, Sunday. Read more
'The Good Wife' (April)
We hate it when scheduling conflicts bump this show. Fortunately, it's back, with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) taking on rape and the Internet. Unfortunately, there are only three episodes left of this season. (Mary McNamara) Sunday, 9 p.m. CBS. Read more
Stephen Merchant, that tall drink of water known to slosh about in the company of Richard Gervais, takes the lead in a show about finding love in the big city -- this one, in fact -- and how hard that can be when you have no sense of who you are, how you're perceived, what's really of value and what doors you're not getting through anyway? Merchant plays Stuart, a socially overeager Web designer; Christine Woods his tenant, a young aging actress (mostly self-employed -- she is making a Web series); Nate Torrence the sad friend he stands up whenever something better comes along. This is solidly in the School of Cringe that Merchant and Gervais helped make a thing with "The Office" and "Extras," with just enough clues that the star is a person to root for and even care about to keep you from jumping through the screen and punching him lightly on the nose -- if you can reach that high. (Robert Lloyd) (HBO, Sundays) Read more
'Elementary' Season Premiere
The smart, successful American version of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective returns, and promptly goes to London. During its first season, the writers beautifully balanced a story of Sherlock Holmes' (Jonny Lee Millier) recovery from drug addiction--in this version Watson (Lucy Liu) is originally hired as his sober companion — with a criminal procedural in which episodes were sometimes but not always based on Doyle's works. Add a terrific supporting cast, including Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill, and it's a fully realized show we're very glad is back. (Mary McNamara) (CBS, Thursdays) Read more
'Masters of Sex' (September)
Combine "Mad Men" with the film adaptation of "The Kinsey Report" and you have Showtime's new series in which Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as iconic sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Where Kinsey and his comrades studied the difference between attitudes and actions -- what Americans said they thought about sex was often at great odds with what they did -- Masters is more interested in the physiology of the thing. Against everyone's better judgment, he began to do research, first observing and interviewing prostitutes. A bit of a cold fish, especially given his work, Masters quickly realizes he needs a woman to help grow his study group; he hires Johnson, a single mother with modern views about sex, as a secretary but she quickly becomes his partner, in more than one way. There is a lot of sex, obviously, in "Masters of Sex," though much of it is research-oriented and a bit creepy, but that is not the point. As Masters keeps arguing with those who accuse him of pornography, knowledge is the point and slowly we see how biology can be destiny -- a growing understanding of sexuality fueled the sexual and women's liberation movements. Sheen is a chameleon, though the repressed scientist doesn't sit quite comfortably on him -- we keep waiting for the grin we know is lurking in their somewhere. Caplan, on the other hand, is a marvel, creating a dishy, dignified and a thoroughly modern woman who winds up helping millions to become something similar. (Mary McNamara) (Showtime, Sundays) Read more
'Eastbound & Down'
Walter White has gotten the reputation as the hardest hard-guy and baddest dad in television, but that distinction may really belong to Kenny Powers, a foul-mouthed, hell-raising, substance-abusing, socially unenlightened, egotistical minor-league ballplayer played with foul yet charming Southern dignity by Danny McBride in this ongoing HBO comedy. The series is in a way the inverse of "Breaking Bad": fate keeps pushing Kenny toward domesticity and domestication and a life of quiet and Kenny keeps pushing back. Season 3 ended with him quitting baseball and faking his own death — under the mistaken impression that it was somehow necessary to fake his own death to keep the press from hounding him — in order to be with the woman he loved and their child. As the unexpected (and reportedly finally final) fourth season begins, he is the self-controlled father of two, working at a car rental agency, with a missus (Katy Mixon), a successful real estate agent. This will not last. A chance meeting with a former fellow ballplayer turned TV star (Ken Marino) sets Kenny on a quest to redeem himself from redemption. Like Stephen Merchant's character in "Hello Ladies," Kenny has an imperfect idea of how the world sees him, what it owes or wants from him, and how many feet away it would like him to stand, and we feel for him at times. But he doesn't want our pity. He's Kenny Powers. (Robert Lloyd) (HBO, Sundays) Read more
'Masters of Sex'
The intertwined life and work of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who brought laboratory standards and a lot of queer gadgets to the physiological study of human sexuality — a thing they invented — is the subject of a new Showtime series starring Michael Sheen (he's played Hamlet, and Tony Blair thrice, and was also Wesley Snipes on "30 Rock") and Lizzie Caplan ("Party Down," "Mean Girls," "Freaks and Geeks"). Given the title, the subject and the premium-cableness of it all, there is sex, some of which is sexy sex and some of which is comically scientific sex. (Is there such a thing as scientifically comic sex? Note to self: fund study, with Kickstarter possibly.) Masters gets the titular pun, but Caplan's Johnson, a secretary who made herself a scientist, is the forward-looking, forward-living spirit of the piece, which this season takes us back to the sexual dark ages of 1956 — busier than your parents might have told you, or your grandparents, or I suppose your great-grandparents. Listen, how old are you, anyway? (Robert Lloyd) (Showtime, Sundays) Read more
Spydom's favorite bipolar secret agent Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) returns after an insanely busy, busily insane sophomore season — is this then the junior season? — that saw her getting domestic with nominal terrorist quarry Nick Brody (Damian Lewis), the vice-president of the United States killed by his own pacemaker and a big explosion at CIA headquarters that left a hole big enough for Mandy Patinkin to step into. Now Brody's a fugitive and Carrie's testifying before Congress, and the irony of it all is they're both (mostly) innocent. Meanwhile, there's trouble with the remaining Brodys, as there would have to be. Danes gives her usual all-in performance as a woman who knows that what makes her crazy is also part of what makes her good, but doesn't quite know what to do about it. Lewis is, for the moment, out of the picture. (Robert Lloyd) (Showtime, Sundays) Read more
"Sleepy Hollow" This modern version of Washington Irving's famous Headless Horseman tale brings an Revolutionary War soldier back to life and partners him with a modern female detective. Together, they must prevent the Apocalypse. Seriously. And seriously great. (Fox, Mondays) "The Blacklist" James Spader as a super-spy turned enemy of the state turned informant makes this still the most solid and satisfying new drama of the fall. (NBC, Mondays) 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Because it could turn out to be very cool, and then you will have been in since the beginning. (ABC, Tuesdays) (Mary McNamara) Read more
I have not seen this show, which opens the familiar MasterChef cook-off to kids 8 to 13, but from the premise and a smattering of clips I expect it will be the best thing ever. Until Gordon Ramsay makes one of them cry. (Robert Lloyd) (Fox, Fridays) Read more
John Pollono, author of the much-feted “Small Engine Repair,” has supplied Rogue Machine with the world premiere of another gritty New Hampshire drama. The play, about the reunion between a stressed-out retail clerk and her recovering alcoholic ex-husband after their teenage daughter goes missing, provides further theatrical evidence that the traumatic past doesn’t die but rather moves underground, waiting for justice yet grateful for even a flicker of sympathy. The production, directed with emotional sensitivity by Rogue Machine artistic director John Perrin Flynn, lays on the local color a bit thick in the opening moments. We’re in white working-class New England, and the accents (similar to the “Saturday Night Live” Boston teen sketches) and grim furnishings don’t let us forget it. Through November 4. Read more
Rogue Machine, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
This is a show about clowning, and I’m the straight man,” says actor Lorenzo Pisoni early on in “Humor Abuse,” currently sending Mark Taper Forum audiences skyward with the velocity of a helium balloon. He pauses, then adds, “Seriously.” Pisoni is only being honest, albeit self-effacing, and thus begins a rapturous 90 minutes that sail past like cascading juggling pins. By keeping its knee-slapping, gasp-inducing and heart-tugging elements in quietly accelerating balance, this Obie-winning solo piece about growing up with the Pickle Family Circus lands an uproarious, astounding and affecting tour de force. Co-created with ace writer-director Erica Schmidt, “Humor Abuse” follows a course as deceptively casual as the lights that designer Ben Stanton runs above our heads from upstage center, where the original Pickle curtain hangs behind a steamer trunk. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sunday) Read more
'El Grande de Coca-Cola'
Prolifically produced for almost 40 years, this lunatic revue, set in a seedy cabaret somewhere south of the border and delivered mostly in gibberish Spanish, has been directed by Alan Shearman and stars Ron House, both of whom have been with the show, as writers and performers, since its inception. Formerly two acts, the play has been judiciously pared to a breezy 75 minutes — and the comic momentum never flags. Wearing a hairpiece that looks like a small animal in distress, House is the lynchpin of a superlative, marvelously agile cast. If you don't like broad slapstick, give "El Grande" a very wide berth. But if you're in the mood to get goofy and giggle, this could be your ticket. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Saturday December 14) Read more
This solid revival of the classic musical triumphs in lead Nicole Parker, whose nuanced, platinum-voiced Fanny Brice withstands the Streisand Factor with breathtaking results, a memorable turn. Not everything about director Michael Matthews' staging is as transcendent, but it's largely effective, and the vintage Styne/Merrill score blazes under Gerald Sternbach's musical direction. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sept. 29) Read more
'The Old Settler'
A humanist work with a moving vision of endurance and connectedness, the best qualities in John Henry Redwood's romantic dramedy set in 1943 Harlem are admirably served by this fine staging featuring Ruby Hinds and Jolie Oliver. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday) Read more
In Travis Preston's graceful staging of Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound" at the Getty Villa's beautiful outdoor theater, Prometheus is carted out on a wagon that, were he not a deathless god, might be mistaken for a bier. As played by Ron Cephas Jones, this champion of humanity, already limp with pain before being enchained to a giant 5-ton wheel, brings to mind images of Jesus at the crucifixion. This tragedy is rarely performed. An immobilized protagonist presents undeniable dramatic problems. But the text is so complexly woven and philosophically rich that it cries out for a director bold enough to meet its unorthodox demands. Preston, working with a new translation by Joel Agee that is smooth and clear without being reductive, negotiates an intelligent compromise between innovation and restraint. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sept. 28) Read more
The Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades
"Richard II," Shakespeare's history play about the fate of a king who talks a better game than he delivers, is given an entrancing stripped-down production. Jessica Kubzansky, the theater's co-artistic director, has adapted and directed this deft distillation, which begins after Richard has been taken prisoner. Performed by an adroit cast of three, Kubzansky's version proceeds in flashbacks that are staged with laser-like precision, each scene offering another angle on this political object lesson. (Charles McNulty) (Ends Sunday) Read more
Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena
N. Richard Nash’s 1950s-era chestnut about a “spinster” swept up in romance by a dazzling con man can be laughably archaic. However, director Jack Heller crafts a striking, specific portrait of a bygone time. As for the pitch-perfect performances, they should all be distilled, bottled and preserved for posterity. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday, Dec. 22) Read more
'Smoke and Mirrors'
As actor and Magic Castle illusionist Albie Selznick’s superb theatrical magic show explores the connections between his life and art, perhaps his greatest feat is making any trace of boredom completely disappear. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sunday, March 15) Read more
'The Taming of the Shrew'
This rip-roaring take on William Shakespeare's romantic comedy opens the 40th anniversary season at Theatricum Botanicum with marvelous forward momentum. Shrewdly trimming text without losing clarity or hilarity, director Ellen Geer achieves a gratifyingly straightforward triumph, and the fearless players embrace some merry passion at every turn, starting with inspired leads Willow Geer and Aaron Hendry. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sept. 29) Read more
Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga
Dark, elliptical, and uncompromising in its intellectual rigor, this superbly performed revival of Joyce Carol Oates' 1990 one-act about ordinary parents being interviewed in the wake of a horrific crime proves eerily prescient in depicting the media's ever more voracious and invasive exploitation of tragedy. (Philip Brandes) (Through Oct. 12.) Read more
'A View From the Bridge'
Arthur Miller's durable drama about an Italian American longshoreman's incestuous obsession with his orphaned niece is helmed by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, whose wrenchingly truthful staging, while larger than life, never lapses into overstatement. As for the actors, from Vince Melocchi's towering Eddie, the ill-fated protagonist of the piece, right down to the non-speaking bystanders, you simply won't see any better. (F. Kathleen Foley) (Ends Sunday) Read more
The most startling – and stunning – moment in David Roussève’s latest dance-theater hybrid, “Stardust,” came an hour into the 80-minute intermissionless piece, which premiered Tuesday at REDCAT. The 53-year-old choreographer appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to perform a heartwrenching solo set to Johnny Mathis crooning the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” With his jerking, swooping arms and quasi-angelic face, Roussève, bathed in Christopher Kuhl’s amber light, and bending and dipping as if the world’s weight were on his shoulders, was spellbinding. Rooted to the floor, he made every gesture a plea, a struggle and a fervent quest for love and acceptance, as video projections – a series of unanswered text messages written by an unseen African American gay teen (“I try b gangsta,” “Plz help me”) – described a terrifying molestation. Read more
L.A. Phil and YOLA Concert
Gustavo Dudamel will do it again. He will begin his fifth season as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director like he did his first — offering a free concert with the Youth Orchestra LA, which he founded with the L.A. Phil, before going on to lead a very tony gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The big occasion for this year will be a celebration of Disney’s 10th anniversary. What will be different, though, is that the free concert at 4 p.m. Sept. 29 will, this time, be at Disney Hall, not the Hollywood Bowl. Since the tickets have already been distributed, the program will also be shown on a free live simulcast in Grand Park. Read more
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
Album: ‘Wise Up Ghost’
Few musical pleasures are as satisfying as an eloquent artist with a sharpened pen and bitter tongue delivering perfectly pitched poison — especially if the songwriter name-checks Disco-Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes and cites soldiers “playing their Doors records and pretending to be stoned.” It doesn’t hurt if the band propelling these darts is the Roots. Bitterness and Elvis Costello, how sweet the sound. On “Wise Up Ghost,” the musician’s powerful new collaboration with the hip-hop group (and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” backing band), the artist offers a dozen songs that tackle war, peace, dishonor, disappointment and strife. A record that pops with urgency, it’s a journey into the world of big-picture alienation, one that highlights the little lives trying to survive amid the chaos. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Pop music critic
It can be a delicate thing, honoring jazz history. On one hand, you might lose count when trying to tally the many tribute concerts and reissues dedicated to an artist like Miles Davis, but on the other, no other music carries such a vital link to its past like jazz. Take, for example, the continuation of jazz tradition that is "Tootie's Tempo," a gorgeous showcase for 78-year-old drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, who can be heard on recordings from one side of jazz tradition to the other with the likes of Lester Young, John Coltrane, Anthony Braxton and Herbie Hancock. Backed by a pair of talented artists from this generation in the Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson and in-demand bassist Ben Street, the record is a study honoring tradition even while maintaining a sharp focus on forward motion. (Chris Barton) Read more
Video: 'Lose Yourself to Dance'
Raise a Champagne flute to sparkly simplicity, for the notion that bliss can arrive from something so primitive as a groove, that sweat mopped up with Pharrell Williams' shirt may be only a dance move away. That's the central theme to Daft Punk's new video for "Lose Yourself to Dance," the shimmering ode to the health benefits and human-spirit lifting qualities of coming alive on the dance floor. A clip that feels like a lost outtake from "The Midnight Special" circa 1975, it's pretty straightforward: The helmeted French duo play keyboard and bass, guitarist and "Random Access Memories" collaborator Nile Rodgers strums a clean rhythm and a sunglassed Williams croons front and center. (Randall Roberts) Read more
That was fast. This summer was the first time portable music players finally went really high end, thanks to Astell&Kern, a South Korean audio outfit. The AK 100 and it’s big brother AK 120, which came out in time for a hi-def Fourth of July, make iPods and Android devices sound, in comparison, downright primitive -- like an AM car radio in a ’55 Chevy. The only problem has been price. Hold your breath: The two A&K models are, respectively, $699 and $1,299. Now for Labor Day, and from China (where Labor Day may not mean too much), there is the Fiio X3. It, too, will play HD downloads and it has the same digital-to-analog converter (which has a major influence on the quality of any files, even lowly mp3s) as the A&K players. It may not have A&K’s same sweet and open sound, but the price is $200.The means there really is a better alternative to the iPod, which will not play HD downloads. Yes, the X3 is thicker and clunkier than an iPod Touch and significantly more so than a Nano. (Mark Swed) Read more
Album: 'Psychic Temple'
As has been thoroughly documented, the past decade or so has not been easy for independent musicians, particularly for those with a taste for venturing outside typical bounds of rock and pop. Consider producer-musician Chris Schlarb, who at 36 years old has a wife, two kids and a full-time job as a short-haul truck driver that carries him around Southern California. “I’ve been working there off and on for about 10 years and what I’ve found is it ... allows me to think about music all day,” Schlarb said, speaking by phone while driving home in Long Beach. “Because I could -- and often do -- just turn the radio off and if a melody comes to me I can sing it into my phone. It allows me the freedom of thought, which is so important to me because my mind is always going.” In between job and family obligations, Schlarb also ran the indie label Sounds Are Active (which has released albums from local explorers Nels Cline and Anthony Shadduck), wrote the music for the Nintendo 3DS game “NightSky” and as well as recording on his own and as part of the experimental-jazz duo I Heart Lung. (Chris Barton) Read more
While working on her well-received 2012 album "Ekstasis," Los Angeles singer-composer Julia Holter crafted a song that was such a departure that she set it aside. The piece, "Maxim's II," was inspired by a famous scene in the 1958 movie musical "Gigi" and is one of the hubs of her striking new album, "Loud City Song." In the film, as the titular heroine very publicly moves through the fancy Parisian restaurant Maxim's with her scandalous beau, the entire room takes note. "Everyone's staring at her and gossiping about her when she walks in," said Holter while sitting on a park bench near Levitt Pavilion Pasadena. "I wanted to re-create this scene in a song." Five-plus minutes of swirling brass, strings, piano and Holter's cool, Chet Baker-suggestive vocal, "Maxim's II" variously suggests an avant-garde classical piece or Phil Spector's famous wall of sound being imploded. Cymbals crash, tenor and alto saxophones battle, and Holter ties it all together with a chaotic crescendo. The piece is a monumental construct and unlike any song you'll hear all year. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Dawn of Midi'
How, exactly, does one define Dawn of Midi? Composed of bassist Aakaash Israni, drummer Qasim Naqvi and pianist Amino Belyamani who have roots in Morocco, India, Pakistan and the fertile music program at CalArts, the group that is superficially a piano trio is far from anyone's definition of jazz with this album, which has a single, locked-groove composition that spirals through nine tracks and 47 engrossing minutes. The closest analogue may be the Necks, a category-defying Australian trio who built a following around long-form improvised sets. But where the Necks' sound features an in-the-moment ebb and flow, Dawn of Midi is dedicated to perpetual forward motion, a rigorously composed blend of minimalism and trance music. (Chris Barton) Read more
The Beatles a cappela recordings
Just when you thought it wasn't possible to experience the Beatles' work with fresh ears, there arrives a reminder of their power, focus and vocal skill. As the fantastic website Dangerous Minds pointed out, a trove of a cappela recordings are floating around YouTube, featuring the voices of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in perfect harmony. The best of them further reveal the untapped riches still to be discovered in the Beatles archives. A stumble on one of them can often lead into a YouTube wormhole in search of more gems, and sure enough, the bounty reveals music perfect for afternoon surprise. Whether the eerie Moog synthesizer that roams "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," Lennon's melancholy vocal for "A Day in the Life" or his blissful lead, and yawn, in "I'm Only Sleeping," exploring the crannies of the Beatles' work is worth the time. (Randall Roberts) Read more
Album: 'North Hero'
Never underestimate the power of the Midwest. Continuing a recent run of Minnesota-born jazz talent that includes guitarist Todd Clauser and the Bad Plus, bassist Chris Morrissey offers a snapshot of his inviting way with melody on the wryly titled “North Hero.” The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the album was also produced by Bad Plus drummer Dave King, a connection that stands to reason given Morrissey also performed with King’s limber Minneapolis-based project Happy Apple. With those kinds of connections you might expect Morrissey to have nimble chops, and he's also been heard backing the intricate indie rock of Andrew Bird along with fellow singer-songwriters Ben Kweller and Sara Bareilles. (Chris Barton) Read more
Album: 'World Boogie Is Coming'
Brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson were raised on Memphis blues, soul, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Their late father, Jim, is an unsung hero of rock ‘n’ roll who worked with, among others Big Star, the Rolling Stones and the Replacements. For nearly two decades his Grammy-winning sons have explored similar musical terrain while expanding the conversation — no small feat for a music born in these same woods nearly a century earlier. Teamed with longtime bassist Chris Chew, the brothers' eighth studio album as the North Mississippi Allstars gathers many styles of primal American music, including Southern boogie, rural blues and electrified foot-stomping guitar music. (Randal Roberts) Read more
Album: 'Big Sur'
Is there an artist as well-suited to record an album inspired by Big Sur as Bill Frisell? Having spent much of his long career working a fertile seam in the jazz world that shares ground with Americana and folk, Frisell and his often twang-dusted tone seems tailor-made for sweeping vistas and pastoral wonders. Stemming from a 2012 commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival, “Big Sur” is the result of Frisell holing himself up in a cabin at the 860-acre Glen Deven Ranch and writing music for wherever this natural muse took him. (Chris Barton) Read more
Although it's been almost four years since Terence Blanchard's last album, it's not as if the trumpeter hasn't kept busy. In addition to the Poncho Sanchez collaboration "Chano y Dizzy," he's remained a first-call film composer (with Spike Lee's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" and George Lucas' "Red Tails" among his latest), and in his spare time wrote an opera, which debuts in St. Louis next month. Though Blanchard has no shortage of outlets, he still sounds overflowing with inspiration. Again surrounded by top-tier young talent, Blanchard is equally at home with the unsettled atmospherics of "Hallucinations" as with the hard-swinging "Don't Run," which features stirring guest-turns from Ravi Coltrane on soprano saxophone and bassist Ron Carter. (Chris Barton) Read more
How do you know you’re in a serious restaurant at the moment — a place where the chef ferments his own turnips, keeps a copy of “Modernist Cuisine” by his bedside and dreams of visiting Spain’s Mugaritz restaurant? There will probably be a seaweed or two on any given plate, for the color, the crunch and the occasional spark of brininess, and bits of citrus zest will make it into places where you have never tasted citrus before. You will see at least one slow-poached egg, cooked to a perfect near-runniness at 63 degrees Celsius; top-shelf boutique greens that disappear long before you straggle into the farmers market on Wednesday morning; and a couple of flavors snagged from the bartender’s cache. The presentation will be modern French, but the dishes may well be inspired by Italy, China and especially Japan, because Japanese (and New Nordic) cooking are what young chefs are crushing out on these days. Read more
1320 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park
Los Angeles burgers
The eyes of the world were recently focused on what surely must be the most repulsive hamburger in the history of mankind: 10,000 bits of cloned cow stem-cell tissue formed into a patty, seared in foaming butter and served to three food scientists in front of a crowd of decidedly unhungry journalists. If you would rather eat a hamburger than grimace at what your great-grandchildren might be forced to consider lunch, you can do better. Read more
101 Best Restaurants
If you take into account Los Angeles’ superb produce, its breathtaking diversity and its imagination, it can be one of the most pleasurable places to eat on Earth. What follows is a ranking of the best restaurants. How many have you tried? Where would you like to go? Create a list and share it with your friends. Read more
14 great Mexican restaurants
No places matches the breadth and depth of Mexican restaurants we have in Southern California, except Mexico City itself – and maybe not even there. You can find the cooking of almost every region in the country here, crafted at street-corner taco trucks as well as cutting-edge places like the new Corazon y Miel and Bizarra Capital. Here are Los Angles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s choices for 14 of the most essential places to try. 1. Babita: One of the most serious Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. Read more
Corazon y Miel
"Corazón y miel," your waitress wants it to be known, is the signature dish of Corazón y Miel. Corazón y miel, hearts and honey, is a small bowl of warm, seared chicken hearts in a sweet, honeyed vinaigrette, tossed with a few slivers of onion, like a chicken heart escabeche. The grayish hearts look a little gnarly, organy, probably more than you want to be dealing with before your third margarita. The bowl travels around the table twice. Someone finally spears a heart. She chases it with a shot of tequila. She spears another. She corrals the bowl for herself. Like the restaurant, a dim tuck 'n' roll gastropub in the working-class suburb of Bell, the hearts are an unlikely source of deliciousness. The hearts have won again. Read more
If you are the kind of restaurant-goer who gets hung up on first impressions, M.A.K.E., Matthew Kenney’s raw-vegan restaurant in Santa Monica Place, may not be for you. But Kenney, who was a renowned New York chef well before he adopted the raw-food thing, is solidly a creature of the food world, and a lot of his techniques are also found in the famous modernist kitchens where dehydrators and Vege-Mixes are as commonly used as pots and pans. The spray of thinly sliced carrots erupting from a base of cumin-scented nut butter is a dish you might see in any modernist dining room. And if the lasagna, sushi rolls and kimchi dumplings are more raw-vegan riffs than the things themselves, it’s just the way the juice-cleanse generation wishes things to be. Read more
A former underground dining club from Julie Retzlaff and her husband, chef Whitney Flood, Muddy Leek is less an edgy pop-up than a comfortable place to drop in for a glass of grenache and a snack on a Tuesday night. There may be the occasional tiny rabbit kidney garnishing a plate of rabbit hash, a little dish of rillettes made with the shredded remnants of duck confit, or a smear of chicken liver mousse on toast, but you are not here to be challenged, you are here because you want to eat nicely composed small plates, and it is nice. Read more
Tamarind of London
Is it easy to mistake Tamarind’s careful spicing for blandness or the mild juiciness of its chicken tikka for timidity? Could it be a good thing that the parade of grilled-mushroom salads, coconut-scented vegetable korma, chickpea dal, smoky eggplant curry and hot nan stuffed with coconut and dates tends to complement the scent of a pretty Sonoma Chardonnay? Tamarind, the Newport Beach sibling of the first London Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, is Southern California’s most luxurious Indian restaurant. Read more
The new restaurant from Jason Travi, whose Mediterranean-style cooking you may have tried at the late Fraiche in Culver City, is a really good bar with high-concept eats – channeling a 1950s New England seafood joint crossed with grungy Montreal bistro, and almost inexpensive unless you let the cocktails, the maple syrup eggs and the crunchy oyster sliders add up. You would be surprised how quickly you can inhale a plate of chilled oysters, nostalgia-flavored fish sticks or even a half dozen clams casino, whose blanket of crisp, bacony bread crumbs in no way slows you down. And there are freshly fried apple-cider doughnuts for dessert. Read more
‘Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions’
“Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions” surveys the impact of the devout Franciscan friar who established nine of the state’s 21 missions, transforming the region. Serra also towed the colonial line for Spain, was fervent about his religion and saw no contradiction between Christian charity and a slave system that destroyed the Indians’ traditional way of life. The exhibition, which coincides with the 300th anniversary of Serra’s birth, looks at all sides of his mixed legacy. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Monday, January 6) Read more
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino
Throughout his career — Sam Francis died in Santa Monica in 1994 at 71 — the artist engaged philosophical conundrums in paint. He was an avid student of Jungian psychology and Japanese aesthetics. Watercolor was his most-common choice of painting medium, whether in the conventional form used on paper or its popular 1960s canvas-cousin, acrylic paint. Fluidity is key to all his most successful series, starting with luminous examples from the 1950s made with thinned oil paint. It applies to the early 1960s orbs of expanding color in the "Blue Balls" works; the mid-1960s edge paintings, which use lush color only along the framing edges of the canvas while leaving the central area a bright, somehow muscular and visually aggressive white; and, the incredibly complex 1970s grids, in which crisp linear structure melds with oozing liquidity. (Christopher Knight) (Ends Sunday, Jan. 5) Read more
Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 East Union Street, Pasadena
American landscapes at LACMA
The subject of a yearlong, one-room permanent collection installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is 19th century American landscape art. The west wall has a spare lineup of all five LACMA paintings that show the American West, hung to create a continuous horizon line. The east wall is entirely covered, floor to ceiling and corner to corner, by a salon-style installation of 25 of its East Coast views. The face-off is stark between Eastern profusion and Western scarcity, the East Coast as unfolding history and the West as an elusive border. On the south wall in between, six photographs show Eastern landscapes, while 24 depict the West — a nearly exact reversal of the numbers in the two walls of paintings. Old and new landscapes are identified with old and new technologies: Paintings are "back there," photographs are "out here." (Christopher Knight) (Through Dec. 31.) Read more
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
James Turrell: A Retrospective
Light, the essential ingredient for sight, is Turrell's principal medium. Spiritual perception is his art's aim. The ancient metaphor of light as the engine of enlightenment is conjured in a modern way. (Christopher Knight) (Through April 6) Read more
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
When news emerged three years ago that filmmaker Shane Salerno and writer David Shields were working on an oral biography (with accompanying documentary) about J.D. Salinger, I assumed it would be all smoke and no fire. Salinger, after all, had gone to ground after the publication of his novella “Hapworth 16, 1924” in June 1965; even in the wake of his death, in January 2010 at age 91, his estate had preserved the silence of his final 45 years. But if Salerno and Shields’ book “Salinger” is, at nearly 700 pages, a bit of a shaggy monster, what may be most astonishing about it is its (largely) even tone. The idea is to present a portrait of Salinger as both his own savior and something considerably darker, and for the most part, the co-authors get the goods. Read more
Optic Nerve 13
Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve is one of my favorite alternative comics: smart, understated and with a subtle yet pointed bite. Merging straight realism with an impressionistic sense of narrative, his stories often seem to be offhanded when, in fact, they are highly structured and defined. As an example, look at "Winter 2012," one of three pieces in the newly released Optic Nerve 13, a one-pager, told by way of 20 small panels, in which Tomine portrays himself as a Luddite, distressed by the indignities of the electronic age. Optic Nerve 13's other stories include a long central piece, "Go Owls," in which a woman meets an older man in a 12-step program and winds up in a relationship that becomes increasingly abusive and fraught, and the exquisite "Translated, From the Japanese," a love letter from a mother to her baby that is among the most beautiful things Tomine has ever done. Read more
'Never Built Los Angeles'
When, in the 1920s, the pioneering Southern California social critic Louis Adamic called Los Angeles "the enormous village," he didn't mean it as a compliment. Rather, he was referring to L.A.'s insularity, its status as what Richard Meltzer would later label "the biggest HICK Town (per se) in all the hick land," a city of small-town values and narrow vision that "grew up suddenly, planlessly." A similar sensibility underpins "Never Built Los Angeles," a compendium of more than 100 architectural projects — master plans, skyscrapers, transportation hubs, parks and river walks — that never made it off the ground. Edited by former Los Angeles magazine architecture critic Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, West Coast editor of the Architect's Newspaper, and accompanied by an exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum, it's a lavish counter-history of the city as it might have been: a literal L.A. of the mind. Read more
'The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey'
"He who makes a beast of himself," Samuel Johnson famously observed about inebriation, "gets rid of the pain of being a man." And yet, if Lawrence Osborne's new book, "The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey," has anything to tell us, it's that there is more to drinking than derangement, that it may lead to a transcendence more profound. "The Wet and the Dry" is a paean to drinking, but it is also a travelogue unfolding largely through the Islamic states of the Middle East and a memoir of sorts, in which Osborne's upbringing, in "a steadfast English suburb" during the 1970s, becomes a lens through which to read his life. "The drinker knows that life is not mental and not a matter of control and demarcation," he argues. "The teetotaler, on the other hand, knows full well how even a molecule of alcohol changes body and mind. The Muslim, the Protestant puritan, and the teetotaler are kin; they understand the world in a very similar way, despite all their enormous differences, while the drinkers know that the parameters that contain us are not all human, let alone divine." Read more
'Men in Miami Hotels'
Charlie Smith's terrific new novel, "Men in Miami Hotels," walks a line between genre and something considerably wilder, a fictional territory where a character might lose his or her soul. The story of a Miami hoodlum named Cotland Sims, on the run from a brutal mob boss, it is both existential thriller and a book of homecoming, as Cot returns to Key West, where he was born and raised, to confront the living ghosts of his past. These include his on-again-off-again girlfriend Marcella and her husband Ordell (the county prosecutor), as well as his mother and his oldest friend from high school, a drag queen named CJ. To this mix, Smith adds an army of hired killers out to wreak vengeance on Cot, although their violence, while pervasive, ends up seeming almost incidental. Read more
'Return to Oakpine'
Ron Carlson's new novel "Return to Oakpine" revolves around a group of high school friends 30 years after graduation, in the small Wyoming town where they were raised. The book begins with a simple errand: A man named Craig Ralston is called upon to refurbish a garage apartment for his old compatriot Jimmy Brand, who is coming home to die. The year is 1999 and Jimmy is nearing 50, a writer who left home after high school, in the wake of a family tragedy. And yet, Carlson wants us to understand, we never escape the past, not even a little bit of it. In a town such as Oakpine, that can't help but bleed into the present, reminding us of old hurts, old longings, of who we were and who we never will become. This is the tension that drives "Return to Oakpine," between what we want to do and what we need to do, between our dreams and our responsibilities. Or, as Carlson observes late in this elegant and moving novel, "There was a vague lump in his throat that he had thought was excitement but now felt like an urgent sadness; actually it felt like both." Read more
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s haunting graphic novel “Genius” revolves around a physicist named Ted who was once a prodigy, before his priorities became realigned. Ted has two kids, and a wife who may be dying; do we need to say that he feels trapped, that his pressures have become too much for him? Still, Ted has one saving grace, which is his love for Einstein, who holds a place in his life akin to God. “I mean, I’m an atheist —” Ted explains, “most thinking people are — But Einstein is the pinnacle of a thinking man.” As “Genius” progresses, this relationship becomes increasingly prominent, until Einstein himself is animated in these pages, discussing the nature of the universe, the nature of discovery, and the essential notion that our lives are always in constant evolution, just waiting for that one idea, that one revelation, for everything to “start anew.” Read more
'The Faraway Nearby'
Rebecca Solnit's latest book, "The Faraway Nearby," began with a delivery of 100 pounds of apricots to her San Francisco home. The apricots came from her brother, who had collected them from a tree in their mother's yard. At the time, the older woman was in the throes of Alzheimer's; she had been moved into an assisted care facility, making the fruit a metaphor, an allegory, for everything that she had lost. First and foremost, this meant stories, which are at the center of "The Faraway Nearby," a book about narrative and empathy that moves between a dizzying array of tales — including "Frankenstein," the Arabian Nights and that of Solnit's own breast cancer scare — to look at the way stories bind us, allowing us to inhabit each other's lives with unexpected depth. Read more
Joe Ollmann's graphic novel “Science Fiction” is a minutely observed account of a relationship in crisis, from which there is (or might be) no way out. The setup is simple: Mark, a high school science teacher, and his girlfriend Susan, who works in a convenience store, rent an alien abduction movie that triggers what Mark decides are repressed memories of his own abduction years before. If this is difficult for Mark, it’s even harder for Susan because she can’t believe what he is telling her. Here we see the central conflict of “Science Fiction”: What happens when a loved one goes through an experience that is, in every way that matters, life-changing, and yet, we can’t go along for the ride? Read more
What makes Stephen King resonate for me is the way he can get inside the most mundane of situations and animate it, revealing in the process something of how we live. His new novel, "Joyland," operates very much from this territory: It's a drama that unfolds in miniature. The story of a college student named Devin Jones who spends the summer and fall of 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park, "Joyland" is a thriller but it's also a homage to the disposable culture of the early 1970s, a time when "oil sold for eleven dollars a barrel." What King is getting at is what he's always getting at, that life is inexplicable, that joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, are all bound up and can assert themselves at any time. Read more
Richard Lange's third book, "Angel Baby," is a thriller that makes its own terms. Beautifully paced, deftly written, it's a novel of moral compromise, in which we have empathy for everyone (or almost everyone) and no one at once. The story of Luz, who runs away from her husband, a Mexican drug cartel leader, and heads for Los Angeles, "Angel Baby" takes us into uncomfortable territory -- only partly because of its brutality. Rather, Lange effectively upends our sympathies by drawing us close to not just Luz but also Jerónimo, the reluctant enforcer sent to find her, as well as Malone, a San Diego County burnout who makes his money ferrying illegals across the border, and Thacker, a corrupt border cop. Read more
'Appointment in Samarra'
Fran Lebowitz has called him “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Ernest Hemingway said he was “a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well.” But mention John O’Hara today — 43 years after his death — and you’re likely to draw a look as blank as an unwritten book. Why? In part, perhaps, it’s because he was, by all accounts, difficult to get along with, a social climber, a bully, a vicious drunk. And yet, he also wrote three of the finest novels of the 1930s — “Appointment in Samarra,” “BUtterfield 8” and “Hope of Heaven.” Now, the first of these books is back in print: a tale of social success and social failure observed in precise miniature. Originally published in 1934, it unfolds over two days during Christmas 1930 and involves a socialite named Julian English, who is caught in a death spiral of alcoholism and bad behavior, as he loses everything he has ever held dear. Read more
When last we saw Walter Mosley’s detective Easy Rawlins, he had just lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu. This was in the closing pages of the 11th (and seemingly final) Rawlins book, “Blonde Faith,” published in 2007. Yet six years later, Easy is back, narrating a new novel, “Little Green” that picks up where “Blonde Faith” left off. It's 1967, and Easy must navigate a Los Angeles he barely recognizes in the wake of both the Watts riots and the Summer of Love. Read more
‘The Last of Us’
“The Last of Us” is not your typical doomsday narrative. Zombie-like attacks aside, tension here comes from an underutilized game-play tactic: conversation. Dialogue is almost as plentiful as weapons in this patiently cinematic tale of a smuggler and the reluctant bond he forms with the 14-year-old girl he’s hired to protect. Developed by Sony-owned Naughty Dog, responsible for the hit “Indiana Jones”-inspired “Uncharted” series, “The Last of Us” acknowledges gaming clichés and then skillfully avoids them by keeping its focus on the relationship between Joel (the smuggler) and Ellie (the teen he watches over). It’s an action game, but one with characters worth fighting for. Read more
Video game critic
‘The Dark Sorcerer’
A short film and not a game, but one designed to show what next-gen console the PS4 may be capable of. Quanitic Dream, the Paris-based developer working on the patient narrative "Beyond Two Souls," concocted this fantasy-comedy as a way to illustrate that character depth and detail can be sustained over long scenes filled with gameplay. But forget the technical stuff — it's a cute little video about a film shoot gone wrong, with goblins. Though there are no plans to turn "The Dark Sorcerer" into a game, director David Cage said fan response may inspire him to change his mind. Read more
'Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move'
The minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don't stop and it's up to the player to control and tinker with the cubic paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. With 240 stages, there are a lot cubes. Read more
Games are wonderful at creating crazy, colorful universes full of whip-cracking vampire killers and interstellar space pirates, but they are less good at crafting ones inspired by more earth-bound cultural traditions. "Guacamelee!” is an exception. Perhaps not since LucasArts’ 1998 “Day of the Dead” noir title “Grim Fandango” has a game so lovingly draped itself in Mexican folklore. "Guacamelee!” is a colorfully humorous game centered almost entirely on the customs surrounding Day of the Dead. It’s a simple stylistic conceit that seems so obvious that it’s almost confusing it hasn’t been done with any regularity. Who needs zombies and vampires when there’s an entire holiday steeped in calavera imagery? Read more
“Bohemian isn’t a trend; it’s a lifestyle.” That’s the motto upon which L.A. designer Cynthia Vincent has staked her decade-old brand, Twelfth Street, named after the street she grew up on in La Verne. The brand is known for its tribal print maxi-dresses and rompers, serape-stripe cardigans, rugged short Western boots and gladiator wedge sandals, all with a multi-culti, beach-and-canyon vibe. In a city where designers can come and go in a few seasons, Vincent is a fashion success story. She attended L.A.’s Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, winning the Silver Thimble Award while she was there. In 1993, she started her first line, St. Vincent. She also opened a retail store, Aero & Co. in Los Feliz, to feature local independent designers. Read more
Designer Natalie Martin has mastered the art of gypset dressing, L.A.-style. In two years, the Aussie transplant has emerged as a go-to for boho-chic styles, including breezy kurtas, tunics, wrap skirts and maxi dresses, all priced under $300, and all crafted out of colorful, Balinese block print silks. Martin has a background in fashion marketing, putting in years at Italian leather goods brands Tod's and Hogan. Her namesake collection, which is sold at Barneys New York, Calypso St. Barth and other boutiques, as well and on her own website, brings a touch of Bali to L.A. Read more
Charlotte Olympia opens in Beverly Hills
London-based accessories designer extraordinaire Charlotte Dellal has opened her first L.A. Charlotte Olympia store, a glamorous, Art Deco-feeling boutique at the top of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The decor is an ode to Old Hollywood glamour from the moment you step inside the door, where Dellal (who has the curves and finger-wave blond hairstyle of a 1940s starlet herself) has her own pink marble Hollywood Walk of Fame star set into the ground, with "Charlotte Olympia" etched inside. "It's celebrating Los Angeles from an outsider's point of view," said Dellal, who launched her whimsical line in 2006. "I guess it's not all about Hollywood and film, but I'm a nostalgic person and I have always loved Old Hollywood." Read more
Malibu Barbie gets a makeover
With her beach blond hair, cheeky tan lines and chic shades, Malibu Barbie has been a style icon for many a young girl, including this one. Now, more than 40 years after she first hit the pop culture wave, Malibu Barbie is getting a makeover, from Los Angeles designer Trina Turk. The mythical Malibu icon is the perfect canvas for Turk’s cheerful 1960s and '70s-inspired SoCal aesthetic. Turk dresses the doll in a printed bandeau bikini and hexagon white lace cover-up and accessorizes her head-to-toe with a beach tote, pink shades, short-shorts, a peasant blouse, floppy sun hat and white wedge sandals. She’s even got a chunky cocktail ring, pink cuff bracelet and a bottle of sunscreen. To add to the fun, Turk’s June 2013 fashion collection, titled “Malibu Summer,” features the same items for women, so life-size Barbies can dress like their miniature muses. Read more
2013 marks 30 years that L.A.-based designer Tadashi Shoji has been making elegant formal wear for the rest of us. He got his start in the glitzy world of Hollywood, creating costumes for Stevie Wonder and Elton John, and more elaborate gowns for the red carpet for Florence Welch and Octavia Spencer. But the bulk of Shoji's $50-million namesake business is in department store sales of tasteful, figure-flattering and wallet-friendly cocktail dresses and evening gowns ranging in price from $198 to $508 for women who want to feel like celebrities in their own lives -- prom queens, mothers of the bride and the brides themselves. I recently sat down with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what's next.n with the designer to discuss his favorite career moments, his new focus on selling in Asia, and what’s next. Read more
In just seven years, Paige Mycoskie has turned a passion for 1970s nostalgia into the next California lifestyle brand. Walking into her Aviator Nation store on Abbot Kinney in Venice is like stumbling into a frat house with a feminine influence. Steely Dan, Doors and Grateful Dead album covers and vintage skate decks nailed to the walls, a record player spinning Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," a 720 Degrees arcade game in the corner, stacks and stacks of foam trucker hats, T-shirts and hoodies spreading good vibes like "Pray for Surf" and "California Is for Lovers."... It's such a sensory experience, you half expect your shoes to be sticking to the floor from last night's kegger. Read more
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has released its second Wear LACMA collection of fashion accessories created by local designers and inspired by the museum’s permanent collection. Custom perfumier Haley Alexander van Oosten of L’Oeil du Vert, accessories mavens Maryam and Marjan Malakpour of NewbarK and women’s clothing designer Juan Carlos Obando were tapped for the collection, which is for sale at the LACMA store and online, with all proceeds benefiting the museum. They had the run of the museum and could choose any piece as a starting point. What they came up with offers insight into who they are as designers and a chance to see a distinct part of their brand vision distilled. Read more
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Style icon Paloma Picasso has been creating jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980, famously reinterpreting Xs and O’s in bold silver and gold and celebrating the raw beauty of colorful stones in her modern-looking Sugar Stacks rings. Her newest collection for the jeweler, Olive Leaf, is more naturalistic than what has come before, with prices ranging from $150 for a thin silver ring band to $975 for a silver cuff to $100,000 for a diamond and white-gold bib. Picasso, 64, is married to French osteopathic doctor Eric Thevenet and splits her time between Lausanne, Switzerland, and Marrakech, Morocco. Read more
Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York and Paris, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a “boho goddess festival vibe,” opened just in time to dress customers for this month’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson’s favorite springtime excursions. Read more
The Rodeo Drive shopping scene heats up with the opening of the new boutique from Celine, the LVMH-owned brand that helped usher minimalism back into style under the direction of designer Phoebe Philo. What can you find inside? We'll start with Celine’s spring runway collection and tailored classics, must-have handbags, and the fur-lined, Birkenstock-like sandals and fur-covered high heels that have fashion followers buzzing. Read more