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Tuesday, July 29, 2014         

Features Stories

Like some demented combination of "Taken" and Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," "Lucy," the latest from Luc Besson, is a full-out action movie — and a sober rumination on the nature of existence. It is both things, effectively and sincerely.

You can sense a John le Carre spy novel adaptation, often before his name turns up in the credits. The hero's cynicism at war with his skepticism, the professionalism at war with personal demons — in the spy master's gloomy, overcast world they're all spies "Who Came in from the Cold."

Two old pros show the kids how chemistry works in the romantic comedy "And So It Goes," a love-the-last-time-around romp that'll give its target audience the warm fuzzies.

At Zazzle and Cafepress you can upload favorite images and decorate custom journals and notebooks with different fonts and colors. There are also fun backgrounds like chevrons, animal prints, sports themes and nature motifs that can be jazzed up with monograms or catchphrases. (www.zazzle.com, www.cafepress.com)

The clever conceit behind James DeMonaco's 2013 sleeper hit "The Purge" was not that American society had resolved its crime, inequality and population problems with an annual free-pass-for-murder "purge."

The unholy bond between religion and politics is the background for "Persecuted," a confused and confusing thriller about a TV preacher ruined by a sinister government plot.

Zach Braff's "Wish I Was Here" is a sweet and jokey feature film that is so at home in the punch line rhythms of TV sitcoms that you may think to yourself, "When's his best friend former 'Scrubs' co-star Donald Faison showing up?"

Small, remote town pulls every trick in the book to land itself a much-needed town doctor. The locals are always colorful and quirky; the new doc, a Big Medicine cynic.

Judd Apatow's landmark film rightfully ushered in a new era in comedy, but it has also inspired a now sizable cottage industry of thin movies ("The Hangover," "The Five-Year Engagement," "Bad Teacher," "Horrible Bosses," "The Other Woman") with concepts boasting good titles but shallow stories.

There's a cheerful simplicity about the animated "Planes: Fire & Rescue." Contrast it with the chaotic, clanging "Transformers" movie, made for a slightly older preteen audience.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is an action-packed epic, a moving sci-fi allegory rendered in broad, lush strokes by the latest state of the computer animator's art. Yes, you will believe a chimp can talk, ride a horse and fire a machine gun.

It's not just television — it's everything that's good on video, as far as the Emmys are concerned, a point driven home emphatically as the nominations for this year's awards were announced Thursday.

Sebastian Junger's "Korengal" is a kind of sequel to 2010's "Restrepo," but also stands on its own as an intense and affecting report on the experiences of U.S. troops in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

In Paul Haggis' film "Third Person," Liam Neeson plays Michael, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who has lost his creative mojo and is holed up in a Paris hotel, completing his latest opus.

He has been referred to as Korea's version of Quentin Tarantino, with Quentin Tarantino himself recently likening him to Steven Spielberg. Now, with "Snowpiercer," Bong Joon-ho makes his English-language debut.

It takes 90 minutes for Dinesh D'Souza's rambling, mistitled "America: Imagine the World Without Her" to get to its real point. There's D'Souza, arch-conservative Ivy League immigrant, creator of the popular anti-Obama screed "2016: Obama's America," in handcuffs.

Even though she sailed with the Polynesian Voyaging Society three times before, Heidi Kai Guth knew that earning a spot on the worldwide voyage of Hokule‘a and Hikianalia was not going to be easy.

There's only one thing anyone really needs to know about "Transformers: Age of Extinction," Michael Bay's fourth exercise in robot-on-robot violence and aggressive product placement: At nearly three hours, it's the longest "Transformers" movie yet.

"Ilo Ilo" is writer-director Anthony Chen's first film, but breathtaking intimacy in storytelling is already second nature to him. It quietly demonstrates that in the right hands even the familiar stuff of everyday life can move us deeply.

In a breezy and seemingly effortless way "Obvious Child" accomplishes something difficult. It's a comedy with abortion at its center that doesn't fall into about a dozen traps that might have swallowed it up.

The acting world's treating Spencer Boldman pretty good these days. Not only does he star in the new Disney Channel original movie "Zapped," but his Disney XD series "Lab Rats" has been ordered for a fourth season.

It's '90s teenage-show nostalgia week on Walt Disney Co. networks, where two new shows are built on memories of series that went off the air just as the current century was starting.

It's little wonder that the stage musical "Jersey Boys" has become one of the most successful shows in Broadway history on the strength of sublimely catchy tunes like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man."

Realism is too imprecise a term for Kelly Reichardt's filmmaking. She is more of a materialist, determined to capture how the world looks, how it feels and, at a granular level of detail, how it works.

Gia Coppola, 27, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola, debuts in "Palo Alto," an adaptation of James Franco's book of short stories about disaffected California youth.

Masterfully brought to life by Guy Pearce in a performance of pure controlled ferocity, Eric and his implacable, obsessive, stop-at-nothing quest to recover his stolen vehicle is the centerpiece of David Michtd's tense and remorseless "The Rover."

What happens in Vegas happens a lot in movies. "Think Like a Man Too" goes to the same casinos, strip clubs and pleasure pools with a fistful of jokers and an ace up its sleeve, the irrepressible Kevin Hart.

Boasting spectacular views of the city skyline and — on a clear day — snow-covered Mount Hood, Portland's International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park is a refuge from a hectic world.

The renovation of the master bathroom in my 83-year-old father's new house turned out beautifully, with a frameless glass shower and handmade ceramic tile accents.

Mike Myers spent 20 years trying to persuade his friend, talent manager Shep Gordon, to let him make a movie about Gordon's storied and star-studded life and career. Myers and Gordon met in 1991 during the filming of "Wayne's World."

THERE'S almost no dragon training in "How to Train Your Dragon 2." A more accurate title would have been "How to Keep Your Dragons from Getting Enslaved by a Tyrannical Despot." Or, to keep things simpler to fit the movie posters, "Game of Thrones for Kids."

You're pretty much going to have to see "22 Jump Street" twice — just to catch all the jokes the roars of laughter make you miss. This comedy produces the biggest, loudest laughs of any movie this summer.

"For No Good Reason," a well-intended biographical film about Ralph Steadman, famed for the outrageous, acidic caricatures he created to accompany the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, is best suited for Steadman fanatics

"Words and Pictures" is the cloying title of a cloying little comedy made by talented people who, not that long ago, deserved better than this, and knew it. It's a nearly two-hour-long "meet cute" academic romance from Fred Schepisi.

June should be officially designated "David Tennant Month" for the number of shows he's appearing in. Who is David Tennant? Clearly, you haven't watched the BBC's "Doctor Who" or "Broadchurch," in which he starred as a scruffy detective hunting a child murderer.

"The Signal" starts off as an alien version of "Blair Witch Project" and then drifts off into cold plotlessness. But for a while, a little while, it seems like it just might be interesting. Three young people are on a road trip through the Southwest.

As of 2012, 1 in 5 adults had a tattoo, up from 14 percent in 2008, a Harris Interactive Poll found. And when safety standards are followed, tattoos are usually trouble-free.

The time-shifting sci-fi thriller "Edge of Tomorrow" has perfectly encapsulated what it is to be a summertime moviegoer. We're dropped into a battlefield of digital effects with the fate of the world at stake.

If you're a fan of the wildly popular young-adult book by John Green and have already shed tears at its story of teenage cancer patients learning about life, love and sex as they fight to stay alive, then you'll be a fan of this movie.

"Blue Ruin" is a moody, stripped-down action thriller with the most unlikely vigilante one could imagine. Dwight (Macon Blair) is no buffed-up hero, but a soft and skittish loner who has no idea how to hold a gun, much less use it.

With school kids starting their summer break, more families may be hitting the beaches or having pool parties. Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The concrete countertops in Eleanor Zuckerman's San Francisco kitchen are handcrafted works of art.

Whatever your taste, the publishing world has an offering for you, whether it's sci-fi populated by talking bees (Laline Paull's "The Bees") or the would-be Proustian Norwegian literary event of the season, "My Struggle," by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

I’ve been on a slow boil for several years about why television, even when it’s great, isn’t always “fun.” It may be that great quality crowds “fun” off the screen — you react with passion, fascination, shock, awe, sadness and all kinds of other emotions to shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones,” but watching them isn’t “just” fun because it’s not meant to be.

Writer-director Seth MacFarlane gives you 10 jokes where other comedians give you one, so even if you don't like five of them, you will still come out way ahead with "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

Joe, a 400-pound Latino boy from Houston, weeps in fear and frustration. He's not alone. Maggie, a 212-pound 12-year-old from Oklahoma, joins him. Wesley, an overweight 13-year-old in Houston, is desperate.

Maybe it's too soon to say the tide has shifted definitively. But it's certainly been a unique time for fairy-tale villains. After hundreds of years of moral clarity, suddenly we're getting a new look at these evil creatures, who are actually turning out to be complex beings, and not that bad at all.

The summer Obon season is nearly here, honoring the Buddhist tradition of commemorating family ancestors, who are said to return to this world to visit relatives. Here is a list of festivities across the state.

It may be surprising that a Disney movie centered around two female characters, the sisters Elsa and Anna, could drive such staggering sales. But the real eye-opener is the strength and scope of the film's grip on children, girls and boys alike.

Food, glorious food! Whatever else it does or doesn't do, "Chef," Jon Favreau's good-natured culinary comedy, works as an appetite stimulant. And where there's delicious food, there's life.

There are many super­human feats on display in the latest installment in the "X-Men" saga, "Days of Future Past." Time travel. Saving the world from big, angry robots. A beautifully restored 1973 Buick Riviera.

James Gray's "The Immigrant" somberly gathers its majesty as a metaphor-rich story of passage and survival. It's an old tale told with rare precision, channeling grand themes into an intimate melodrama.

These days, Adam Sandler is a bottle of beer that's lost all its bubbles — cheap, mass produced domestic beer. So let's focus on what works in his latest, "Blended," because he sure doesn't.

"Belle" takes a real-life historical figure, Dido Elizabeth Belle, and shoehorns her story into the structure of a Jane Austen novel. Some of it fits, and the rest is fiction — including some of the most satisfying parts.

Even for those oblivious to fashion, it's hard to ignore that midriffs are suddenly in America's face — in a way not seen, perhaps, since a young Britney Spears was in regular gyration-rotation on VH1.

Disney's "Maleficent" may not be hitting the multiplex until May 30, but details about some of the merchandise (think fashionable goods for the bad girl) are starting to trickle out.

Considering TV's tradition of copying what works, then copying those copies, it says a lot that no show rips off "The Good Wife." Or dares to try. It manages to stay both mainstream and offbeat, a neat trick.

The "Godzilla" reboot perfectly illustrates the problem that has long haunted mediocre monster movies. When the big, scaly guys are on screen, it's a fun thrill ride. But when humans are at the center of the action, things get scary.

Whip-smart filmmaking by writer-director Steven Knight combined with Tom Hardy's mesmerizing acting make the micro-budgeted British independent "Locke" more minute-to-minute involving than this year's more costly extravaganzas.

Films about making the transition to adulthood have been a Hollywood staple for years. Some of today's biggest stars got their start as 20-somethings in mostly carefree coming-of-age movies.

We'll totally forgive you if, as "Fading Gigolo" begins, you're mistakenly convinced you're watching a Woody Allen movie. There are those familiar white-on-black titles, the classy jazz and Allen's unmistakable voice, too, setting the scene.

"Million Dollar Arm" is a baseball movie that pulls off a smooth triple play. The story focuses on immigrant players struggling with social disorientation and homesickness, an underreported aspect of the game.

The Grace Kelly melodrama "Grace of Monaco" kicked off the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday with classic French Riviera glamour, behind-the-scenes controversy and emphatic boos from critics.

Veteran meal maker Gary Yuen navigates not just recipes, but wind, weather and waves -- not to mention sliding cutting boards, rolling fruits and vegetables, and sloshing sauces.

Kaiulani Odom first got involved with the Hokule'a in 1995, when a crew headed for the Marquesas was presented with an experimental diet of exclusively traditional Hawaiian food.

"Neighbors" is funny for all 96 of its minutes, not counting the credits, and it contains the single best sight gag of the year so far. (We're talking laugh-out-loud funny and then laugh again later, just thinking about it.)

In the cinema, nothing is more legendary than a movie that never got made. We'll never know what Orson Welles' "Don Quixote" or "Dead Calm" would have been. We'll never see Stanley Kubrick's "Napoleon."

Sometimes awkward and melodramatic, "Walking With the Enemy," the debut film from director Mark Schmidt nevertheless derives strength from its little-known true-life story of Holocaust heroism.

With their finely chiseled clavicles and cheekbones, their nocturnal habits and exquisite taste, Adam and Eve (played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) are about the coolest couple you could imagine.

Faith-based films have become downright commonplace this year. But faith-based comedies? Comedies that work? That's still a very short historical list. "Moms' Night Out" doesn't join their ranks.

Not even the pain of a migraine headache keeps people from Twitter. (Just 67 characters.) Over the course of a week, students collected every tweet that mentioned the word migraine.

It's graduation time again and Pacific Buddhist Academy leads off the commencement season with its ceremony Friday. See this year's list of high school graduation times and dates.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" • "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" • "Neighbors" • "Godzilla" • "Million Dollar Arm" • "Blended" • "X-Men: Days of Future Past" • "Maleficent" • and more

More exotic creatures thrive in the shadows of summer blockbusters. Here are 10 of the most anticipated indie films due this summer, nary a caped superhero or city-crushing monster among them.

Like jumbo jets on the runway, Hollywood's summer movies are lined up, ready for takeoff. Will they hit any turbulence? If the movie business had a "fasten your seat belt" light, it was certainly flashing last summer.

Amazing? Hardly. The second film in Sony Pictures' second Spider-Man series is OK-ish. I guess the adjective specialist at the ad agency thought "The Adequate Spider-Man 2" didn't pack the wallop they were looking for.

"Particle Fever" is a movie so mind-bending you can almost feel your brain cells growing as you watch it. "Particle Fever" is about ideas so big — What are the origins of the universe? How did matter itself get created? — that they're hard to get your head around.

"You can't not love and hate the same person," Nick says to Meg, the woman he has loved for more than 30 years. They are on an anniversary trip to Paris, celebrating a complicated but enduring and affectionate union.

When you first see the title character of "Dom Hemingway," a violent British comedy about a gangster who talks the hard-boiled talk with verve and gutter lyricism, he's speaking and staring into the camera.

And thus, is a great comic duo born. "The Other Woman" is a female empowerment comedy and buddy picture, a PG-13 "Bridesmaids," as if that were even possible. But it is, because of Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann.

To the small but choice list of films that gracefully mix a passion for food with other potent emotions — think "Babette's Feast," "Eat Drink Man Woman," "Big Night," even "Ratatouille" — you can add one more: "The Lunchbox."

The late Paul Walker wasn't a great actor, but within a narrow corner of the action genre, he was the guy who got the job done. A vulnerable tough guy who could hold his own in stunt brawls and car chases, an actor who said "Bro" like he meant it, he will be missed.

What place is there nowadays for a solid, old-fashioned movie about war, remembrance and reconciliation? That question occurred to me while watching "The Railway Man," an unabashedly stodgy, high-minded film in the David Lean tradition.

Paying homage in style and theme to the vintage horror movies of the 1970s, "The Quiet Ones" is the latest stylish shocker from Hammer, the recently reactivated classic U.K. studio imprint.

A new study confirms what billions of people know: Rice goes a long way in a healthy diet. Americans who consume rice regularly tend to have healthier diets overall, according to research.

The directorial debut for ace cinematographer Wally Pfister is very watchable, but the narrative flaws and logical leaps sabotage sustained enjoyment. "Transcendence" looks and sounds like a Christopher Nolan film that got attacked by malware.

"Bears" is exactly the sort of nature documentary we've come to expect from Disneynature, the film division of the company that rolls out a new nature documentary every year at Earth Day.

Imagine a Venn diagram charting three qualities: silly, gross and dumb. At the point where they overlap you will find the fright film spoof "A Haunted House 2."

Scarlett Johansson as an extraterrestrial femme fatale cruising the streets of Glasgow in Jonathan Glazer's cerebral sci-fi horror fantasy "Under the Skin" is an indelible personification of predatory allure.

The current cultural directive to give the people what they want explains the existence of the "Veronica Mars" movie, a likable, unmemorable, feature-length footnote to the admired television series that was canceled in 2007.

LOS ANGELES » During its heyday in the 1940s, the Forbidden City in San Francisco billed itself as "the world's most famous Chinese nightclub."

AMC's "Mad Men" returns Sunday for the beginning of its swan song: The first seven episodes of season seven start airing this month (AMC calls it "The Beginning"), and the final seven episodes (aka "The End") will air in 2015.

When Ethan Coen finished watching the first episode of "Fargo," the TV version, he mumbled his initial reaction: Yeah, good. The Coens have every reason to be ecstatic.

A vivid and delightful animated spectacle, "Rio 2" is chock-full of colorful 3-D wonder and jubilant musical numbers set against a tale of family dynamics and environmental dilemmas.

The delicate and lovingly handmade "Ernest & Celestine" captures the whimsy and warmth of a dearly felt children's picture book like few movies before.

"Draft Day" is a "ticking-clock" thriller built around the NFL draft, a movie that counts down to the fateful decision that one embattled general manager (Kevin Costner) makes with his team's first-round pick.

Let's get right to the heart of the matter: "The Raid 2," the sequel to the 2011 international cult hit "The Raid," is the most violent nonhorror movie to hit theaters in a long time.

"Oculus" is about one adjustment away from being a superior thriller. The screenwriters spend most of the movie painting themselves into a corner, and the audience waits to see how they will get out … except they never do.

Donald Rumsfeld smiles, spins and passes the buck as he spars with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in "The Unknown Known." Rumsfeld has the certitude of a man who figures this film guy won't lay a glove on him.

Many people have a bonsai story: a first bonsai, a struggling bonsai. And many of these stories do not end happily, at least for the bonsai.


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