Perhaps you’ve heard that there’s a new “Star Wars” movie out.

We last visited this universe in George Lucas’ widely criticized prequel trilogy which failed spectacularly to recapture the spirit of the beloved original films. When news broke three years ago that Disney had acquired the franchise and would be producing a new trilogy of films, fan reaction was mixed: would a Disney-fied “Star Wars” be “Star Wars” at all?

The answer is emphatically yes. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a triumphant return to the jubilant sense of adventure that defined the 1977 classic. Action-packed but grounded in emotion, “The Force Awakens” restores wonder to that galaxy far, far away.

“The Force Awakens” picks up three decades after the defeat of the empire in “Return of the Jedi.” Much was made of the decision to exclude Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker from promotional materials; as it turns out, “where’s Luke” is a question being asked by everyone in the movie, too. Skywalker, the last Jedi, has vanished. When a map leading to his location is discovered it sets off a race to find him between the First Order, born from remnants of the Empire, and the Resistance, led by princess-turned-general Leia.

I don’t need to tell you much about the returning characters, you know them already. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo has gone grey and grown wiser, but is unmistakably still the cocky, scruffy-looking scoundrel who stole our collective heart. Carrie Fisher returns as Leia, headstrong and confident as ever. But “The Force Awakens” is nothing if not a passing of the baton. The future belongs to new faces, and the real surprise is how much we fall in love them.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega play Rey and Finn. Rey is a scavenger waiting for the family that abandoned her long ago. Not unlike Luke once did, she dreams of something greater. Finn is a stormtrooper who is shaken by the First Order’s cruelty and deserts his post. Joining them is Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, a brave Resistance pilot and his adorable droid BB-8, whose animated wobbling brightens every scene he rolls into. Pursing them is Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. Ren is a masked warrior whose powers with the dark side outmatch anything we’ve seen before. Emotionally volatile and unpredictable, he is obsessed with finding Skywalker and fulfilling Darth Vader’s perceived destiny.

The seamless way in which “The Force Awakens” blends past and future is one of its great accomplishments, firmly rooted in the stellar cast. These performances are better than almost anything seen in the series before. Crucially the chemistry between these actors transcends generational lines. We instantly connect with the characters as their stories unfold and intertwine. They leave impressions on each other and on us.

Of course, the strong script goes a long way. Director JJ Abrams co-wrote "The Force Awakens" with Lawrence Kasden, the man behind the scripts of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" and the depth and richness of character he brought to those films is present here. Rey is torn between the hope that her family will come back for her and her dream of a better future. She sits in the sand watching starships come and go. Kylo Ren is a genuinely interesting villain with complex motivations. Han and Leia's story continues in a way that is truthful and touching.

It isn't all serious - this is an adventure after all. "The Force Awakens" is frequently funny. Finn gets a lot of the laugh lines, but everyone makes you grin at least once. There's a burgeoning bromance between he and Poe that you can't help but smile at. And what can be said about BB-8? Here's hoping he gets a "Minions" style stand-alone film. There are nods to the original film weaved organically into the story; some are played for laughs, others will make you cheer. The first appearance of the Millennium Falcon almost made me fist pump.

Technically, “The Force Awakens” is beautifully shot and tightly edited, a far cry from the computer generated sets and too-long, action-for-actions-sake sequences of the prequel films. There are genuinely breathtaking moments in the first third, though it can’t hurt to benefit from some of the most iconic imagery in film history. There is purpose and weight to everything. The visuals are elevated by John Williams’ soaring score. In one scene, a deep ominous brass announces the sudden arrival of Kylo Ren’s ship to battle, impossible to ignore as it rattles in your chest.

This is not a perfect movie, but it's darn near close. The political situation of the post-Empire galaxy is explained in blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments, leading to some confusion about how the Republic, First Order, and Resistance relate. There's a single extended CG-heavy sequence that adds little and could have been cut down to make room for little more exposition. Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma is criminally underused. Supreme Leader Snoke looks more "The Hobbit" than "Star Wars." Ultimately though these are minor quibbles next to the magnitude of this movie's accomplishments.

Some critics have complained that “The Force Awakens” is a retread of ground covered by “A New Hope.” Indeed, peel back some of the paint and it’s clear that this is as much a continuation as it is a retelling of the story for the next generation. But there is magic at work here. “The Force Awakens” is at once nostalgic and new, both a tribute and a promise of good things yet to come. This is just the passing of the torch. Imagine what comes next.

Score: 4.5/5

A lot of outrageous things happen in “Sisters” but the most ridiculous by far has nothing to do with the ever escalating antics on screen. No, it is the sight of adults dancing at a house party. Talk about suspension of disbelief! Or maybe I don’t go to enough parties?

“Sisters” is a coming of age story wrapped in a house party movie starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as sisters Kate and Maura Ellis. Kate’s impulsiveness and irresponsibility have landed her jobless, homeless, and in a strained relationship with her daughter while Maura is hyper responsible and compulsively helpful. The two are horrified to learn their parents have sold their childhood home and, tasked with cleaning out their old bedrooms, decide to throw one last party to help them say goodbye. Hi-jinks ensue. Damage is done. Lessons are learned. You’ve seen this movie before.

The good news is “Sisters” doesn’t have to be original, it has to be funny. And boy is it funny. Sure, the laughs are slower during the set-up, but the party that makes up the bulk of the film keeps them coming fast - so fast that you might not notice when a joke doesn’t work. If you do notice, you might not care because the cast is just so fun to watch.

This is in no small part due to the raw talent of the leading ladies. Even when the script doesn’t quite hold up, the charm oozing from the screen saves the day. Fey and Poehler are, as always, delightful. Their natural chemistry translates into a believable on-screen sibling relationship and half the fun of this movie is just watching them react to things; their consistently perfect delivery and just-right timing left me in stitches.

Fey and Poehler’s supporting cast is great too. Dianne Wiest and James Brolin turn in hilarious performances as the pair’s parents whose dreams of a carefree retirement are perpetually frustrated by their children’s clinginess and general inability to live their own lives. Ike Barinholtz is irresistibly likable as kind-hearted neighbor James. Maya Rudolf plays Brinda, Kate’s childhood nemesis and persistent party crasher. Once the party gets into full swing, a small parade of SNL cast and alumni arrive. And can we talk about John Cena? I won’t spoil it, but following his side-splitting appearance in “Trainwreck,” the pro-wrestler has some of the best moments of the movie.

Speaking of “Trainwreck,” this movie isn’t that. Amy Schumer’s Golden Globe-nominated blockbuster deftly combined her intelligent-yet-vulgar comedy with a smart, genuinely heartfelt story. The movie moves you as much as it makes you laugh. One of my favorite scenes in “Sisters” is a sweet moment near the end of the film about a kitchen sink - you’ll know it when you see it. It’s a reminder that comedy is often elevated by sincere and truthful moments. “Sisters” misses an opportunity by flirting with, but never fully committing to, that sincerity.

All told, “Sisters” is a film with plenty of laughs and more than a few cringes that doesn’t take itself very seriously and doesn’t expect you to either. Sure, the plot is flimsy and the party seems to be dutifully checking off the requisite home damages that must occur before this kind of movie can end, but it’s all just so damn fun. “Sisters” revels in its ridiculousness and the cast is clearly having a blast. It’s contagious. I couldn’t help but laugh.

2015 shaped into a solid year for comedies owing largely to the strength of films fueled by girl power. Women on-screen, in the writers room, or in the director’s chair delivered some of the funniest movies of the year. “Sisters” is a respectable conclusion to a year that gave us “Spy,” “Trainwreck,” and “Pitch Perfect 2.” Boys, take some notes.

Score: 3.5/5

Hello! I'm Nick and I love movies. I'm on a mission to Watch Every Movie™. This blog is a chronicle of my progress on that mission and will hopefully be a place for us to have a conversation about the films we love (and hate). Some people may say, "Who care what some idiot thinks about movies on the internet?" To them I say, "My mother!"

I plan on posting regular reviews of current films as well as shorter reviettes on whatever DVDs or streaming films I catch. I'll also be writing articles on random film related topics, and sometimes posts that don't have anything to do with movies at all! The blog is called "A Gentleman's Guide to Love AND Movies" after all. 

I hope you enjoy my terrible content. I thought it might be helpful to start with a list of things you might want to know about me or the blog, so without further ado I present the "Top Ten Things to Know About Me and My Terrible Blog."

1. I'm a giant loser.

I'm a 29 year old turbo-nerd living in Houston, Texas. I love the performing arts, especially symphony and live theater. I enjoy going out to eat and visiting museums. I root for the Houston Texans so my life is in a constant state of disappointment. I taught history in South Carolina for a few years until the state's poor budgeting skills facilitated a career change for me. Now I'm a paper pusher in healthcare. This all reads like the worst online dating profile but I'm kinda okay with it.

2. I don't have any idea what I'm doing.

I am maybe the least qualified person to be doing a film blog, or really a blog of any kind. True story, my wife had to help me with this basic, easy to use template. What I do know is that I love movies and talking to others about movies. A blog is a good outlet for that, so here we are.

3. I probably haven't seen it.

What's your favorite movie? There's about a 90% chance I haven't seen it. I'm not sure how or why I ended up with such a limited viewing experience. I've always enjoyed films. Perhaps collegiate laziness is to blame. Now that I'm a responsible adult, I'm rectifying my cinematic sins with a mission to Watch Every Movie™!

4. I don't literally mean Every Movie.

That's impossible. It would be crazy to try! Speaking of crazy, let me tell you about my List. The List is a huge running list of any movie I'm interested in seeing. There are a little more than 1,400 films on this list. That may sound insane to you, but would a crazy person be self-aware enough to admit they were crazy? Anyway, the point is I want to see a whole lot of movies.

5. I try to stay stay current.

More movies come out every year than is financially feasible to watch for most people, including me. I plan on having at least one new review up each week, but will shoot for two whenever possible. How you ask? The magic of discount showings*! I'll also be posting short write-ups of random movies we watch from The List, along with articles on film and non-film topics.

*Cinemark locations often have a half-price night, and AMC offers deep discounts on tickets for first-showings on weekends. Tickets are as cheap as under $5, making theater-going a much more affordable past-time, especially if you skip concessions.

6. I can't pick a favorite.

Movies - especially really good ones - are unique rides that can have widely different intended audience experiences. Unless we're comparing films with similar experience, it's hard for me to narrow them down to one "favorite movie." I have the same problem with color; I can more easily choose a favorite shade within a color than choosing between colors overall.

7. Sometimes I cry at movies. 

Great movies earn emotional response and that's how I like it. Movies have a power to reflect both the best and worst of life and to connect with our own memories and experiences in a way that compels us to feel. In my humble opinion, one of the best parts of the movie-watching experience is feeling soaring uplift and crushing heartbreak, being gripped with fear uncontrollable laughter. Tepid films that don't inspire anything, even disdain, are wastes of time.

8. These are the best seats in a theater.


Sorry, seven ate nine.

10. My jokes are bad / this blog sucks.

Sad but true. Enjoy your stay! 

Next PostNewer Posts Home