Saturday, January 31, 2015         

Features Stories

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.

Mark Wahlberg takes on his most ambitious acting job ever in "The Gambler," a gritty remake of a 1974 film that starred James Caan. And the new gambler doesn't embarrass himself.

"Do you believe in Santa Claus?" You might have an opinion after this year's "Doctor Who" Christmas special. Like all of Steven Moffat's best writing, it's a multilayered episode to be enjoyed by children and discussed between adults.

Too often, we only season roasted veggies before they go into the oven. While this certainly can produce delicious results, it can be limiting. That's where a vinaigrette comes in for this easy recipe that's perfect for festive holiday dinner tables.

Nobody is going to blame you if your holiday party spread includes a bowl of mixed nuts, some grapes and a wedge or two of cheese. But it is easier than you think to elevate your feast by bolstering those tired party snack cliches with a few more creative offerings.

Looking for a simple way to dress up your New Year's Eve bubbles? May we suggest spiking them with a spiced liqueur? It's fast, simple, delicious and flexible.

A Disney princess no longer needs a prince to experience true love. Sisterhood saves the day in "Frozen." Motherly love breaks an evil spell in "Maleficent." A little girl's love of her own life is a focus of Pixar's next film, "Inside Out."

Like many families, we buy a new ornament each year, and I often seek out something that represents my son's current interests, in hopes that he'll enjoy looking back as an adult and remembering the year he loved spaceships or Legos.

"Foxcatcher" is a brooding, particularly American horror story of seduction, rejection, betrayal and murder set in the world of Olympic wrestling. A despairing, intentionally disturbing film that draws us into a maelstrom of desperate emotions, it holds up a dark mirror to the American dream and does not like what it sees.

There's a mildly amusing Pompeii gag midway through "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb." It involves a scale model toy Roman soldier (Steve Coogan), his Old West cowboy pal (Owen Wilson) and a monkey in need of extinguishing a model volcano's fire.

"Wild" is the story of a very long walk, a trek of more than 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, from the Southern California desert to the lush forests of Oregon.

Someone should call child services over the way "Annie" has been so mistreated in the new, updated adaptation. This is an example of filmmaking abuse.

Dwayne Johnson says it was impossible not to take his work home with him while shooting his new TNT reality series, "Wake Up Call." "By the end of the very first day of shooting I'm driving in my truck back home," the wrestler-turned-actor said.

Peter Jackson's "Just Give the People What They Want," aka "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," sends this not-really-a-trilogy off in style. That means stuffing in everything the fans want out of these films made from the novel that came before "The Lord of the Rings."

It's a strange thing, the process of seducing an audience into accepting something. Just moments into "Exodus: Gods and Kings," we are confronted with the spectacle of John Turturro dressed as an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

With all the timely cultural commentary Chris Rock has been making about Ferguson, Staten Island, police chokeholds and the like while doing interviews ostensibly promoting his new film, it's actually a relief that "Top Five" is pretty good.

Here's my holiday conundrum, and I bet you can relate: I am in charge of this year's holiday meal, which will feature a big standing rib roast. Everyone in my family wants their meat rare, but I want the outside to be nicely seared. How to have both?

It was a strange confession to make, but I felt I had to fess up. A friend who once ran a large recipe-based website was recently explaining to me that slow-cooker recipes are wildly more popular online than conventional recipes.

Plenty of words might describe Mary Bee Cuddy, the Nebraska farmer played by Hilary Swank in "The Homesman." A paragon of pioneer self-sufficiency, she is capable and conscientious, industrious and morally upright.

It's awards season in Hollywood, and all the "good stuff" they've held back all year is suddenly flooding forth. Hence the glad-handing of the great unwashed (film journalists) by the beautiful people at cocktail receptions to keep the perfume of this great performance or that fresh in the nostrils.

Is Mark Landis the only art forger who puts his paintings into Walmart frames? That may be the least of his eccentricities, as we learn in "Art and Craft," a droll documentary that may remind you of Errol Morris' work.

Whatever you think you know about pelicans, "Pelican Dreams" will surprise you. I like that filmmaker Judy Irving names one of the stars Gigi, short for Golden Gate Bridge, which the injured bird shut down for a while back in 2008.

From across the room, they appear to be gold and silver bracelets that fit snugly on a wrist or necklaces that rest against the collarbone. But up close, you realize you're looking at optical illusions: The jewelry is actually a stack of temporary metallic tattoos, one of the biggest accessory trends of the year.

Color bleed be damned. There's a red lipstick for everybody nowadays. You know how celebrity beauty guru Ted Gibson found that out?

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser is looking for a few true unsung heroes. Help us shine a light on their good works. Heroes Next Door can be of any age, involved in any type of charitable project.

Holiday decorations in the U.S. are often symmetrical: two candles on either side of the mantel, a round wreath in the center of the door, a centerpiece with matching sprigs of holly and pine on each side.

Looking to keep the kids entertained during long car rides or holiday dinners? Wrap up a book. Among this year's selections: Maisy's Christmas Tree • Dinosaur vs. Santa • Pete the Cat Saves Christmas • The Animals' Santa • CC Claus: A Baseball Christmas Story • Star Bright: A Christmas Story • A Little Women Christmas

The hot summer months are behind us, signaling the season when movie studios turn serious. As we draw nearer December, the cinematic hotbed of silliness and sci-fi shrinks as likely Oscar nominees arrive.

There are two ways to look at "Citizenfour," Laura Poitras' documentary about Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose revelations of widespread surveillance launched a hundred op-ed columns a year ago.

Clark Griswold would be thrilled. Thanks to advances in lighting technology, suburban dads (and moms) across the country have a lot to choose from when it comes to creative ways to deck their halls for the holidays this year.

For those who love to decorate, there's no time like the holidays for adding fun, festive touches to our living spaces. This year there's something to match most tastes and styles. These are some trends you'll see at stores.

Whether you're preparing a hearty Thanksgiving meal or getting ready to shop till you drop on Black Friday, here are some top-notch tracks to get you in the mood.

Kids, help us get in the holiday spirit and trim our pages with your holiday creations. Design an ornament for our annual Keiki Kalikimaka contest and you'll have a chance at prizes of $100, $75 and $50 cash.

Pet owners looking to launch the next Internet sensation or just longing for a new view of their dog's dashing and digging won't have to shop for long to find the perfect holiday gift. Wrap up a dog harness that holds GoPro's durable cameras and watch Frisbee fetch, lazy lap naps and every memory in between come alive.

The holiday catalogs and gift guides are starting to pour in, full of wonderful stuff to wrap for friends and family. But what about those who don't really want more stuff?

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1," the first installment in the last chapter of the popular franchise, is all coil and no release. It's a taut, dark portrait of a universe upended by revolution.

The field that made scientist Stephen Hawking an international celebrity may be physics, but the reason "The Theory of Everything" is emotionally effective as an examination of his life and thought comes down to chemistry.

Not many people realize that before Black Friday comes Indecision Monday, Confusion Tuesday and Stumped Wednesday. It's all those the days before you head out shopping where you try to decide on the right gift for those on your shopping list.

A massive single-owner collection of vintage movie posters covering nearly the entire history of feature films — from 1907 to the present — is going on the auction block as one lot next month.

Artisanal or oozing with luxury, lip balms are having a moment. Joining cutesy offerings intended for kids and go-to standards around for years are newer lip scrubs, color tints and balms that ask buyers to put their money where their mouths are for good causes.

With more than enough horror stories coming out of Africa lately, you might have little appetite for revisiting a gruesome chapter of Liberian history from a quarter-century ago.

In his best-known films, such as "Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst" and "Oswald's Ghost," documentarian Robert Stone has focused on riveting bursts of violence in U.S. history.

Judging strictly from the title, it might seem safe to assume that "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the concluding installment in Peter Jackson's latest trilogy of films based on the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, would arrive as something of a war film, Middle-earth style.

"Beyond the Lights" is so well-written, -cast and -played that we lose ourselves in the comfort food familiarity of it all. This hip-hop era "Bodyguard" has heart and soul, thanks to stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Minnie Driver and Nate Parker.

Twenty years after they permanently lowered the bar on broad and dumb character comedies, Lloyd and Harry are back, "Dumb and Dumber" than ever in "Dumb and Dumber To."

"Awake: The Life of Yogananda" wants to do two things: introduce Paramahansa Yogananda, who imported yoga and meditation to the United States, to a wider audience. And provide us with a mystical experience of sorts.

The world worships excellence and runs on mediocrity. Most of us are fated to dwell in the fat middle of the bell curve, admiring and envying those who stake out territory in the higher realms of achievement.

In sports and other walks of life, they call it your "game face," that serious expression that shows you're serious, focused on the game or job at hand. Soldiers might call it "mission face." It's what Maggie Swann, an Army medic, wears into battle.

"Rosewater" is based on the prison memoir of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who got into trouble, not only for filming government murders on the streets of Tehran (which he did), but for something completely ridiculous.

Shot after shot, "Big Hero 6" is an intelligent and artful creation. There's a scene in which the filmmakers convey a funeral taking place with a medium shot of black umbrellas opening up. "Big Hero 6" makes full use of the animation medium.

Some people love their motorcycles. And people do crazy things when they're in love. "We're just a bunch of fools," says one speedway enthusiast, and it's tough to argue against that statement.

Ten years after senior prom, Megan (Keira Knightley) finds herself in limbo, no longer adolescent and not yet fully grown. It's a familiar place for the protagonist of a movie comedy to be and perhaps a further symptom of the shaky state of American adulthood.

Through her weekly "Ocean Watch" column, marine biologist Susan Scott has introduced Honolulu Star-Advertiser readers to all manner of undersea life, from nudibranchs to minke whales.

Since playing the lucky-unlucky lottery winner Hurley on "Lost," Jorge Garcia's career has moved along nicely from "Alcatraz" to "Hawaii Five-0" and upcoming big-screen movies.

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