Sunday, March 29, 2015         

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Home" is an energetic, obvious animated comedy packed with the sort of low humor and silly laughs that drive very small children wild.

"Get Hard," the prepping-for-prison would-be comedy from Will Ferrell and comedian-of-the-moment Kevin Hart, is about as funny as life imprisonment without the possibility of parole — or laughter.

The nameless, shape-shifting horror that stalks the blond, 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) in David Robert Mitchell's cool, controlled horror film, "It Follows," might be described as the very incarnation of paranoia.

The zombie movie “Dead Rising: Watchtower” might hold rewards for people who have spent hours immersed in the video game series on which it’s based. Judged as a free-standing film, though, it’s a time waster devoid of the wit and depth of other walking-dead fare currently available — see, for instance, the new CW series “iZombie.”

As high-spirited as its title suggests, "Wild Tales" opens on a savage note and ends, well, that's for you to find out. In between its shocker start and equally startling windup, this Argentine anthology offers up a scabrous, often unsettlingly funny look at human behavior in extremis.

At one point in "The Gunman," the new Sean Penn geopolitical thriller, our star goes surfing. It's supposed to show he has a reckless side, since he's surfing in unsafe territory, but it seems to have a larger, much more obvious purpose: To show us that Penn, at 54, is ripped.

The intriguingly unorthodox, foreign-language Oscar nominee "Timbuktu" is a provocative, sometimes satiric drama about the sort of Islamic extremists who make life, especially in the outer reaches, so treacherous these days.

"Insurgent" doesn't seriously diverge from the "Divergent/Hunger Games/Maze Runner" formula until its final act. Up until then, this "Divergent" sequel is Young Adults Save the World generic.

Jack O'Connell seems to love playing guys who get the snot kicked out of them.

Generally, the purpose of a faith-based film is to reach out to those looking for spiritual guidance. "Do You Believe?," the latest movie from the company that produced "God Is Not Dead" last year, takes a different approach, targeting those whose faith is more an act of deceleration than dedication.

It's possible to tell a sci-fi story about the coming age of sentient machines without a "Chappie"-size budget, or turning "Chappie" insipid.

Run All Night” is a first-person shooter thriller for the Grecian Formula generation. Old men — cops and mobsters — sit in bars, drink their Scotch on the rocks and talk about the “old neighborhood,” their long history and the blood they’ve spilled.

In this age of revisionist, modernized Disney fairy tales, where we've learned that some of our favorite characters really aren't what they seemed, the striking thing about the studio's sumptuous new live-action "Cinderella" may not be what it is, but what it isn't.

Gabe Polsky, director of the documentary "Red Army," likes to say that his film is a hockey movie for people who don't care about hockey, and its reception has proved him right.

If you're going to do a movie sequel that doesn't quite measure up to the original and seems rather hurriedly cobbled together, well, OK. Many filmmakers have done the same.

"This is the not-so-true story of four vampires, picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped. Find out what happens when bloodsuckers stop being polite and start getting real. ‘The Real World'!"

In the years since he strutted onto the scene — lean, handsome, mouth running a mile a minute — in Doug Liman's "Swingers" (1996), Vince Vaughn has become one of the poster boys for the mainstream American comedy: from romantic ("The Break-Up") to bromantic ("Old School"), pretty good ("Wedding Crashers") to very bad ("Fred Claus") to frankly unnecessary ("Delivery Man").

Wrongheaded in conception, eye-rolling in execution, "Chappie" is a childish blend of the cute robot goofiness of "Short Circuit" and the bloody-minded mayhem of "RoboCop." It never finds its sweet spot and never, for one moment, works.

If the mark of a good con artist is that he or she makes you think you know exactly what's going on — when of course you haven't a clue — that's also the mark of a good con-artist movie, isn't it?

As its imposing title suggests, the Russian drama "Leviathan" is something of a monster movie. It turns on a modern-day Job who endures trials and tribulations in an Arctic town in northern Russia.

"The Lazarus Effect" is not the usual mindless thriller, but it's as flat as an open soda can from last week, with dull characters and virtually every scene taking place in a single location. It looks like it cost about twelve bucks to make — and somebody got robbed.

High collars replaced sexy cutouts, and Classic Hollywood in blacks and whites took hold of the Oscars red carpet Sunday night with help from a smoking Saint Laurent worn by Margot Robbie and a heavily pearled look for fashion It girl Lupita Nyong'o.

Much of the chatter going into the Oscars was about the lack of diversity in the Academy's choices, specifically the dearth of nominations for "Selma."

The Edmund Pettus Bridge stood center stage in both the performance and acceptance speeches by John Legend and Common for their Oscar-winning song "Glory" from the film "Selma".

The Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour" has won the Oscar for best documentary. Laura Poitras' film documents her initial meeting in Hong Kong with Snowden, as well as journalist Glenn Greenwald.

"Big Hero 6" has won the Academy Award for best animated feature. The Disney film — based on a Marvel comic about a team of superheroes — tells the story of a tech nerd named Hiro and a lovable roly-poly robot, Baymax.

Patricia Arquette advocated for wage equality after accepting the Oscar for best supporting actress in "Boyhood" during an emotional outburst at the end of her carefully scripted speech Sunday.

J.K. Simmons has won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for "Whiplash." Simmons plays a cruel jazz band instructor who berates and humiliates his students, including Miles Teller, who co-stars as an aspiring jazz drummer in Damien Chazelle's film.

The black-and-white Polish film "Ida" has won the Academy Award for best foreign language film. The win marks the first foreign language Oscar for Poland despite nine previous nominations and a rich history of filmmaking.

The princess laughs and floats in sumi-e-brush sketches of faint pastel, a lush landscape that animated film director Isao Takahata has painstakingly depicted to relay his gentle message of faith in this world.

John Cusack has been reduced to Z-grade action comedies, shot in Australia and co-starring Thomas Jane, at this stage of his career. And he STILL turned down the payday that "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" promised, which tells you all you need to know about this half-baked sequel.

Mae Whitman sasses, sashays and sparkles in "The DUFF," a snappy, sweet-spirited teen comedy about a smart girl who tries to fight high school labeling with wit and words. And the occasional punch.

"McFarland, USA" could so easily have been yet another mushy, feel-good, by-the-numbers sports underdog movie. And in beginning, it seems like it's heading there.

It was a year ago that Lupita Nyong'o, shortly before winning the Academy Award for best supporting actress in "12 Years a Slave," gave a speech about what she called "dark beauty."

Three days into New York Fashion Week, and it was starting to feel as if we had taken a wrong turn on the way to the catwalks and ended up on the basketball court at Madison Square Garden instead.

And so, the GoPro camera Abraham Williams set up to document the moment he proposed to Tulsi Gabbard had sputtered. Timing and GoPro glitch aside, Gabbard still described the occasion as "a perfect, magical moment."

Curious? The posters for "Fifty Shades of Grey" coyly ask. Whether or not you're one of the 100 million who bought, and presumably read, E L James' kinky book, the buzz surrounding this "Twilight"-fan-fiction-turned-international-pheno­­menon is enough to pique the interest of a rock.

A woman losing her mind is a terrible thing to watch, but the splendid acting in "Still Alice" makes it worth the pain. Scarier than any Elm Street nightmare, a horror film for the rest of us, it succeeds despite itself — not because of one strong performance but two.

The faith-based romance "Old Fashioned" is a slow, preachy romantic comedy opening Valentine's Day week opposite "Fifty Shades of Grey," counter-programming "love" that's kinky with love from Corinthians.

The opening of Metropolitan Opera's new production of Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta" — receiving its first performance at the house — and Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle," was delayed a few days due to a blizzard warning — it opened on Jan. 29.

Kingsman: The Secret Service" makes up its own rules as it goes along. It asks to be taken seriously, then turns ridiculous, then brings out the horn section to indicate the hope for triumph of good, then shows people's heads exploding in a CGI sequence intended to be funny.

Sam Smith's soulful sound and heartbreaking songs resonated with fans -- and his breakthrough was solidified when he took home three of the top four Grammy Awards on Sunday, though Beck earned a surprise win for album of the year.

Kanye West almost pulled another Kanye at the Grammy Awards. West briefly popped up on stage as Beck accepted the album of the year award on Sunday for "Morning Phase," beating out expected victor Beyonc?.

The woman who spoke movingly from the Grammy stage about her experiences with domestic violence says the segment was inspired by a visit to the White House by Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich.

Sam Smith's songs have brought fans to tears, but he was choked up when he earned his first Grammy Award for best new artist. "Oh my gosh. I have to try to stay something without crying," the singer said onstage.

Record of the Year: "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)," Sam Smith; Album of the Year: "Morning Phase," Beck; Song of the Year: James Napier, William Phillips and Sam Smith, "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)," Sam Smith; New Artist: Sam Smith

Are video games good for you? New research suggests the answer is yes • Designing a Tween bedroom is a balancing act

SpongeBob SquarePants goes where Homer Simpson and others have gone before, an animated character who steps out of his colorful 2-D world and into our 3-D one, in "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water."

There's a fine line between charm and cheese in fantasy epics, and movies as silly and overwrought as "Seventh Son" only help to illustrate just how hard it is to hit the right tone when balancing action, romance, (attempted) wit, and the creation of the world.

There's a painstaking perfectionism in the stunning landscapes of England's J.M.W. Turner, and in "Mr. Turner," England's greatest filmmaker in the field of grumpy eccentrics, Mike Leigh, gives us a portrait of the artist as a misanthropic genius.

The world of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — a zone of factories, housing projects and modest suburban developments in and around the industrial Belgian cities of Seraing and Liege — is no place for a movie star.

Within the warped wardrobe of the Wachowskis’ latest sci-fi extravaganza, “Jupiter Ascending,” there are some fantastical feasts of intergalactic ridiculousness. Channing Tatum as a combination elf and speedskater.

Dusk masked the approaching waves at Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu as they climbed to 15 feet before pounding the shallow, jagged reef below. Adrift in the rapid current and foamy sea was a photographer, exhausted from battling the relentless waves and fighting for his life.

Super plays keep kids in their zone • Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl • Hear Katy ‘Roar' • Shirtless ­fans? Bingo! • The icing on the football • Calling all cheerleaders and more

"Black or White" may be the title, but there are plenty of gray areas tackled in this good ol' fashioned family dramedy from standup comic turned filmmaker Mike Binder ("Reign Over Me," "The Upside of Anger").

What have we done to deserve another found-footage movie? The tired hand-held technique that seemed so fresh in 1999 with "The Blair Witch Project" long ago wore out its welcome.

While the transformation of Matthew McConaughey from rom-com joke to serious actor got lots of attention a few years ago, the ongoing transformation of Jude Law from highbrow eye candy to virtuoso character actor has largely escaped notice.

More brooding than brutal, "A Most Violent Year" finds Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), the upwardly mobile owner of a heating-oil business, in a time of difficulty.

The 2015 theatrical release of Oscar-nominated short films has some unusually strong offerings this year, at least in the live-action category. There's a tie, in my opinion, for the best of the category, and they are the first two movies listed below.

Every scene is magical, every image a work of art in "Song of the Sea," the latest Oscar-nominated feature from the folks who gave us "The Secret of Kells."

When I was growing up, beans and rice were an end-of-month staple. As money got tight, my mom would whip up a beans and rice casserole, a healthful, budget-friendly choice.

The new year is still young, so let's continue to welcome it — with some lucky bamboo. At this time of year, this plant appears in supermarkets and plant stores across the country. It may or may not be lucky, but bamboo it ain't.

Pilot program debuts new set of children's shows • Neighborhood diversity sways kids

Any film credited with its own "mustache wrangler" really should have been much more fun than Johnny Depp's latest misfiring action-comedy.

There are good things in the animated musical fantasy "Strange Magic": the ultra-detailed, photorealistic animation; the name-that-tune pleasures of a mashup-jukebox soundtrack; fine vocal performances from the cast's actor-singers; and a transcendent sequence featuring the 1975 title song.

Ah, to de-glam. It's one of the surest shortcuts to newfound artistic appreciation: a bedraggled deviation into dowdy drama by a beautiful star. Acclaim by way of sweatpants.

Jennifer Lopez's new movie, "The Boy Next Door," is cheesier than a Chicago double-topping, deep-dish pizza. From the profoundly absurd idea that anyone married to a woman who looks like Lopez would cheat on her to the teenage Lothario who looks older than Lopez, this movie is the culmination of a cluster of idiotic ideas.

The documentary "Manny" chronicles Manny Pacquiao's rise from a starving kid in the Philippines to a multimillionaire and internationally famous fighter, but it touches on everything without getting too deep into anything.

Homemade pizza tastes better than anything you can buy, and it takes much less time and effort than you would think. Making the dough takes just 10 minutes. Then, during the next hour, you have plenty of time to prepare whichever toppings you and your guests are hankering for.

Netflix taps voice actor's imitation prowess for its new 'Puss in Boots' • Cooking experiments make science fun for kids

The announcement of this season's Oscar nominations from Beverly Hills on Thursday offered its share of expected honorees ("Boyhood," "Birdman," "The Grand Budapest Hotel") and plenty of other unexpected ones. Who was "in" that observers thought would be "out," and vice versa? Here are a half-dozen of the most notable snubs and surprises.

Arriving in theaters just over 22 months after Chris Kyle's untimely death at a shooting range near Glen Rose, Texas, "American Sniper" often has a sorrowful immediacy.

I can see casting Chris Hemsworth as Thor. After all, he's 6 foot 3, and Hollywood's physique trainers have bulked him up to Marvel superhero quality. And he was acceptable as Formula 1 racer James Hunt in "Rush." His male-model looks explained Hunt's legion of lady fans.

"Please look after this bear, thank you." Those are the words on a label around the neck of a small ursine creature newly arrived in London and looking for a home. They also get at the heart of "Paddington," a highly enjoyable film adaptation of Michael Bond's children's book series first published in 1958.

"The Wedding Ringer" is "Wedding Crashers Redux," a "Hangover Lite" that softens manic funnyman Kevin Hart's persona into someone almost as funny, but more sentimental than abrasive. That helps "Ringer" work as a bromantic comedy that feels like a romantic comedy.

In Hawaii we're lucky to have clear skies and sunny days year-round — ideal conditions for hiking, surfing or relaxing on the beach. But as we're enjoying our favorite outdoor activity, it's easy to forget that without the proper protection, the sun's powerful UV rays can damage and age our skin.

As stars and filmmakers made a grand show of their support for free speech and the rights of all, a pair of personal films, "Boyhood" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," took the top movie prizes Sunday night at the 72nd Golden Globes.

The television series "Mad Men" begins airing its final seven episodes in April, and the show's notoriously secretive creator, Matthew Wei­ner, said he told only star actor Jon Hamm in advance how it will end.

They have been part of American horticulture — and culture — for nearly 150 years, yet Japanese gardens remain a mystery for many people.

Linda has written in with a question about her 5-month-old boxer puppy, "Alexa." It seems she's quite a jumper, and Linda has tried everything from scolding to spraying water to try to stop it, with little success.

Robots and game figures were really hot in 2014, and we're predicting that they'll be even hotter in 2015. Here are some of our favorites:

If you're one of those who fondly recalls spending the '60s luxuriating in a pleasantly disorienting haze, well, consider "Inherent Vice" a reunion of sorts. You'll fit right in.

On the afternoon of March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers and members of a Dallas County posse, armed with clubs, cattle prods and tear gas, attacked civil rights demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

"The Taking of Tiger Mountain," a protracted, oddly proportioned Chinese war picture from the action director Tsui Hark, begins in New York, as Jimmy (Han Geng), about to leave for a Silicon Valley job, attends a farewell celebration.

We pamper our gardens but then desert them to go on vacation. A little planning can soften the blow. Ideally, a neighbor or fellow gardener could handle watering and other tasks while you're away. But if that's not possible, here are some ways to keep your plants and flowers alive.

The first wide release of 2015 is a deathly dull affair, a pointless, passionless ghost story sequel that lacks the one big thing the original film's star provided — empathy.

Like it or not, it's wall-to-wall superheroes, sequels and reboots in 2015, and for years to come. Dramas, indies and foreign films will sneak into the mix, but if the theater nearest you is a multiplex, your best bet is to try to pick and choose wisely among whatever the major studios are selling.

For a four-year stretch at the turn of the 21st century, December was the most wonderful time of year to be a best picture Oscar contender. From 2002 to 2005, the film academy gave its best picture prize to movies debuting in December.

Fairy tales, fractured or intact, never seem to go out of style, and the evidence is right in front of us with the new film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and ABC's effectively ridiculous music spoof "Galavant."

Helen Bradley isn't one of those women who fantasized about her wedding as a girl, so when the time came to tie the knot on the 10th tee of a golf course, she wanted to be relaxed, comfortable and economical.

Just for fun, let's try to picture the year in pop culture, all in one image. We might begin with a singer oddly named Adele Dazeem, belting "Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen." Suddenly a friend would pour a bucket of ice water over her head.

"Pretty Hurts," Beyonce: Contemporary music's top singer and songwriter — Beyonce and Sia — join forces to create a song that is heavy, deeply felt, emotional — but most important, beautiful.

A dispute about e-book revenues between Amazon.com and Hachette Book Group led to Amazon's removing buy buttons, cutting discounts and reducing orders for works ranging from J.K. Rowling's latest detective thriller to J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories."

At this point, ignore all that "new golden age of TV" nonsense because the fact is, when you have so many shows being offered up to viewers on an ever-expanding number of content providers, you're always going to have all of the above.

This was a good year to stop taking notice of money. What's the point? Auction prices and the plausible value are a joke. And annual "records" are guaranteed (an $853 million Christie's night in November) because they're good advertising.

Worse than the realization that the "freshman 15" is not an urban myth (except it's more like the "freshman 3") and more cringe-inducing than seeing a roommate in their underwear, it's that first holiday break.

What a lot of excellent films made it to theaters this year. As a public service for readers from a guy who saw a couple hundred of them (and that was just at Sundance), here's a list of 2014 releases with more pros than cons.

There were a lot of movies this year and quite a few good ones. Here are 21, a 10-best list followed by runners-up, arranged alphabetically. It is, as always, a highly personal selection.

"Into the Woods" brings together the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel when a witch challenges a Baker and his wife to retrieve a number of objects: a red cape, blond hair, a white cow and a golden slipper.

'Tis clearly the season for Oscar-worthy performances by British actors playing mathematical geniuses facing daunting personal odds. Bene­dict Cumberbatch stars in "The Imitation Game" as Alan Turing, the man chiefly responsible for cracking the Enigma code used by WWII Germany.

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