What to do this weekend in L.A. Critics Picks: Sept 29 - Oct 5, 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.
Harry Dean Stanton’s last film and a documentary profiling director Stephen Spielberg.
Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.
‘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
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
‘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
Edgar Wright's exuberant, one-of-a-kind vehicular-action-thriller-musical-romance stars Ansel Elgort as a tinnitus-afflicted, music-loving getaway driver alongside a superb supporting cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez. (Justin Chang) Read more
'The Big Sick'
“The Big Sick” begins with a meet-cute, proceeds confidently through flirtation, sex and full-fledged romance, then skids to a halt with a nasty breakup, followed by the kind of dire medical emergency that seems fated to end in reconciliation or grief. It sounds like the stuff of a conventional romantic dramedy, and on some level it is. Certainly you can sense the imprint of Judd Apatow, one of the movie's producers, in both its emotional density and its precision-tooled stream of laughs and tears. (Justin Chang) Read more
Mike White’s smart, empathetic new comedy of despair follows a middle-age man (Ben Stiller, giving one of his best performances) who can’t resist the urge to compare himself with his more successful friends. (Justin Chang) Read more
John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson play strangers who go on a walking-and-talking tour of the modernist architecture in Columbus, Ind., in this serenely intelligent, gorgeously contemplative first feature from writer-director Kogonada. (Justin Chang) Read more
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
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
Robert Pattinson gives a revelatory performance as a scuzzy small-time crook going nowhere fast in this moody, relentless and impeccably observed New York thriller directed by Josh and Benny Safdie. (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)
The story of a year in the life of an Irish boarding school and two of its veteran teachers is as charming, intimate and warmhearted an observational documentary as you’d ever want to see. (Kenneth Turan) Read more
'War for the Planet of the Apes'
An eerie quiet descends over this grim and masterful third “Planet of the Apes” prequel, directed with bleak beauty by Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and crowned by another superb performance-capture turn from Andy Serkis as the soulful chimpanzee Caesar. (Justin Chang) Read more
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in the most accomplished violent thriller in recent memory, a tense tale of murder on a Native American reservation made with authenticity, plausibility and wall-to-wall filmmaking skill by writer-director Taylor Sheridan. (Justin Chang) Read more
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
‘The Vietnam War’
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who a decade ago co-directed “The War,” about World War II, have now made “The Vietnam War.” Written — like that series and other Burns projects running back to “The Civil War” — by Geoffrey C. Ward, it begins Sunday on PBS, with 10 episodes running some 18 hours. The series is both long, and somehow not long enough. Vietnam, a conflict kept alight by official lies, naive idealism and a shark-like inability to go any way but forward, was as deep a well as the country has ever gone down; half a century later, we have still not climbed out. There are many good reasons to watch “The Vietnam War.” Unless you are very well informed, it will teach you things you do not know and correct things you thought you knew. 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
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
‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’
With this tricky balance of sharp-edged social satire and utopian fantasy, master stylist Stephanie Shroyer’s direction shows why Jean Giraudoux’s classic fable resonates most vividly in times of beleaguered idealism. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sat., Nov. 11) Read more
When Thomas “Fats” Waller played, life was a party. The revue built of his jumping jazz returns in a terrific staging by original cast member Ken Page for McCoy Rigby Entertainment. The five fantastic singers include Frenchie Davis, whom you might recognize from “American Idol” or “The Voice.” Mostly, the music bubbles with high spirits, but when it turns serious it resonates anew as the all-black company sings about being “Black and Blue.” (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sun., Oct. 8) Read more
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
Exploring the connections between neurophysiology and the mysteries of human identity — in particular, genius, memory and imagination — fast-rising British playwright Nick Payne’s rigorously cerebral play rewards the strict attention it demands. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sun., Oct. 1) Read more
'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
The stage version of the 2007 movie makes the transition from national tour to regional life in a production that looks, sounds and feels very much like Broadway’s yet resonates with an emotional truth all its own. As the Dublin busker and Czech immigrant who meet and transform each other through music, Rustin Cole Sailors and Amanda Leigh Jerry are soulful partners. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Sat., Sept. 30) 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
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
Pop Music Writer
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
Pop music critic
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
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
If you were looking for the oddest dish being served in an American restaurant right now, you should probably start with the fish course at Jordan Kahn’s new Vespertine, a dish that nudges the idea of culinary abstraction dangerously close to the singularity. It doesn’t look like fish, for one thing — it looks rather like an empty bowl, coarse and pebbly inside and out, of a blackness deep enough to suck up all light, your dreams and your soul. If this were Coi or Alinea, to name two modernist temples, your server would instruct you on how to eat the dish or at least on where you might direct your spoon. At Vespertine, the server, wearing a severe frock like something out of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” does not. If you prompt her, she may whisper the word “hirame,” which in a sushi bar can mean either flounder or halibut. She will leave before you discover that the flounder has been pounded thin, crusted with charred-onion powder, and pressed into the bowl over a kind of porridge studded with minced shallot, perfumy bits of pickled Japanese plum, and bright, crunchy bursts of acid that could either be finger-lime vesicles or chopped stems of the wildflower oxalis. You are not sure exactly what you are eating. You are not meant to know. You have traveled from darkness into light, and that is enough. Read more
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
Favorite dishes from Food Bowl 2017
I’m not sure what you’ve been doing this month. I’ve been spending most of my evenings at the first edition of Food Bowl, The Times’ month of food events that’s been a welter of special dinners, film screenings, art displays, farmers market events, visiting chefs from some of the best restaurants in the world, panel discussions on everything from Filipino cooking to sustainable seafood to the problem of food waste, and a vast night market in the glow of City Hall. I’ve mourned dozens of dinners and events I was unable to attend. And I’ve eaten really well. 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
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
Here’s Looking at You
Here’s Looking at You is a corner bistro from Jonathan Whitener and Lien Ta on the site of a former cheesesteak shop, all Edison bulbs, neo-midcentury cabinetry and a blend of post-punk and old-school hip-hop that has become to this kind of restaurant what Sade and David Byrne’s Brazilian compilations were to the last generation. Whitener comes to Here’s Looking at You from a stretch as chef de cuisine at Animal, the meaty, eclectic restaurant that redefined Los Angeles cuisine. And it is easy to see traces of Animal in Whitener’s cooking. Read more
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
'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