Wednesday, December 30, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for January 1-7

January 1–January 7


SOYLENT GREEN (January 1, 8:30 am): This is one of my "go-to" movies. I've watched it dozens of times and still love it. Charlton Heston plays tough New York City Police Detective Robert Thorn in the year 2022. Something awful, almost certainly man-made, has happened that has resulted in almost no fresh food or water (only the very wealthy and/or politically-connected are able to obtain some). There are serious problems with the death of most animals and plant-life, overpopulation, poverty, pollution and people surviving on wafers provided by the Soylent Corp., which has just come out with a new "high-energy plankton" called Soylent Green. As a cop, Thorn has some perks, primarily a tiny apartment that he shares with Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), an elderly scholar who remembers what life was like before the environmental disaster. Thorn is investigating the murder of a high-level Soylent executive (Joseph Cotten in a far too small role). Thorn immediately suspects a conspiracy is the cause of the murder. Eddie G.'s performance, sadly his last, is one of his finest. It's beautifully tragic. The scene with Eddie G. goes to a place called "Home," a government-assisted suicide facility that looks like Madison Square Garden, is one of the most touching I've seen. And the ending is one of cinema's most memorable with an injured and possibly dying Thorn screaming, "Soylent Green is people!"

THE CANDIDATE (January 2, 8:00 pm): This is a great political satire, and its message of having to sell your soul and give up your integrity to get elected is more relevant today than it was when The Candidate came out in 1972. Robert Redford is Bill McKay, a liberal attorney and son of a former California governor (played by the great Melvyn Douglas), recruited by Democratic political operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) for a long-shot challenge to popular Republican Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). At Lucas' recommendation, McKay softens his message, which isn't resonating with voters, and compromises his principles. It works. McKay and Jarmon essentially become one as both say the same thing. The difference is McKay is young and good-looking, and Jarmon is older and doesn't look like Robert Redford. After McKay wins, the panic-stricken senator-elect brings Lucas into a room and asks, "What do we do now?" as the film ends. The storyline is intelligent and compelling, giving viewers a fascinating inside look at the political process. 


THEM! (January 1, 12:00 pm): Not only is this the best of the “big bug” films that came out in the 1950’s, but it also has elements of a noir mystery. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of the best “Red Scare” films of the period. The cast is terrific: James Whitmore, pre-Gunsmoke James Arness, veteran supporting actor Onslow Stevens, promising actress Joan Weldon, a young Fess Parker, and the great Edmund Gwenn. And look sharp for a very young Leonard Nimoy in a small role. It’s proof that when a sci-fi film is made intelligently, it’s a legitimate classic.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (January 3, 8:00 pm): It was at least 10 years since the original Front Page, and by the Hollywood clock – time for a remake. But the genius of Howard Hawks was in the casting. Instead of going with another two males in the roles of editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson, Hawks thought to make reporter Hildy a woman, formerly married to Burns, and about to leave the paper to remarry. It was pure inspiration, and in my opinion, made the film even funnier. Decorated with all the touches Hawks was famous for, including the overlapping dialogue, it still holds up today and is funnier than ever. Part of the brilliance in the remake was the casting of Cary Grant, a superb comic actor, as Walter Burns. But it is in the part of Hildy Johnson that Hawks struck gold. Jean Arthur, Hawks’ first choice, turned down the role, as did Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Irene Dunne. Columbia's studio head managed to borrow Rosalind Russell. She wasn’t thrilled at being assigned to the film and Hawks wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to “settle” for her. But once they got rolling, she turned out to be Hawks’ best move, as she’s perfect in the part: gorgeous, intelligent, sassy, and one step ahead – or so she thinks – of her ex-husband, Burns. It’s not only a movie to watch, but also one for cinephiles to own.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BROADCAST NEWS (January 3, 9:45 pm)

ED: B. This Network wannabe written and directed by James L. Brooks, is actually much better than Network, boasting excellent performances from leads Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks. However, there is a good reason I gave it only a “B.” James L. Brooks is also famous as the creator and writer of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff, Lou Grant, both of which were concerned with journalism. In the case of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it was television journalism. And when we get right down to it, Broadcast News is nothing but a freer adaptation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but without the censorship from CBS. Holly Hunter is nothing more than Mary Richards with a better sex life and William Hurt is a more articulate Ted Baxter. A certain anchorman for New York's Channel 4 was later said to have been the basis for Hurt’s character. And whenever I see a Brooks performance, I know I’m in for a boatload of frustrated pathos. If I’m given the choice between Holly Hunter as Mary Richards and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, give me the original every time.

DAVID: A. James L. Brooks wrote, directed and produced Broadcast News, one of the funniest and most clever satires on journalism. And the casting is perfect. William Hurt plays Tom Grunick, a good-looking, smooth-talking TV network anchor who is able to fake sincerity about news he not only doesn't care about, but largely doesn't understand. He represents the move toward news as entertainment that's been prevalent for the past few decades, Albert Brooks is Aaron Altman, a reporter who likes his news hard and serious. He is essentially Brooks portraying the same intelligent over-thinker he's played wonderfully in many movies. You love him and yet you laugh as he sweats so much blowing his big chance to anchor because he's unable to overcome his self-doubt and insecurity. Holly Hunter is magnificent as TV producer Jane Craig, neurotic to the point she cries at her desk every morning and can't help herself when Tom becomes interested in her. To Aaron and Jane, work is everything, and it's just about everything to Tom only without the stress. It's easier for Aaron and Jane to bury themselves in their work, which they love, than to focus on their dysfunctional private lives. The 1987 film could have easily become depressing. Brooks gives us a taste of that depression, but keeps it light enough through satire and some brilliant and funny lines. Describing to Jane what the devil would be, Aaron says, "He will be attractive. He'll be nice and helpful. He'll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing. He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important; just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance; just a tiny little bit. And he'll talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women." As for Ed's contention that this film is "nothing but a freer adaption of The Mary Tyler Moore Show," I disagree though his "better sex life" and "more articulate Ted Baxter" lines are very funny. While much of the legendary TV show takes place at the WJM station, the show is more about a woman working in a mid-management position in a traditionally-male business. The show would essentially be the same if Mary worked as a junior partner in a law firm or as an executive for a Wall Street investment house. Television news is essential to the plot of Broadcast News. Without it, Broadcast News a completely different film in need of a different name.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea

Dinner and a Movie

Melville’s Mentor and Kimchi Overload

By Steve Herte

For the first time since I’ve been writing reviews, I went to dinner before the movie. It was a little difficult to time.

The reason for this change was that the movie was only playing later in the evening and it was opening night. (Some opening night – there were three other people in the theater besides myself.) Then, the restaurant had to have an early reservation time to give me time to dine comfortably and to walk to the theater. It worked out. But here's some advice: Never see a movie involving Herman Melville and then ride the New York subway home. I learned that it was his schedule for his horse-drawn coach/bus system in Staten Island that MTA uses to this day. You cannot count on it.

But I digress. I tried reading Moby Dick back in high school. Believe me I did. But I failed – too long, too boring. That's why I was glad this movie came out. Enjoy!

In the Heart of the Sea (WB, 2015) – Director: Ron Howard. Writers: Charles Leavitt (s/p & story), Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver (story), Nathaniel Philbrick (novel In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex). Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, Tom Holland, Paul Anderson, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawle, Edward Ashley, Sam Kelley, Osy Ikhile, Gary Beadle, & Jamie Sives. Color, Rated PG-13, 122 minutes.

Director Ron Howard’s first Warner Brothers film is visually stunning, beautifully photographed and technically perfect. The camera angles both above and below the waterline add to the excitement of the conflict between man and beast on the high seas. The special effects group went to great lengths to create a believable reason why a sperm whale could be mistaken to be “white” (callosities such as routinely exist on humpback whales) and the make-up and costume departments made the viewers believe that the actors were sunburned, starved, desperate men who have been stranded at sea for 90 days.

Then, there’s the small problem of casting and acting. Herman Melville (Wishaw), a writer who has not broken into the big time of notoriety that his idol, Nathaniel Hawthorne, already enjoys hopes that by visiting Thomas Nickerson (Holland) he will get enough material for a significant work of fiction. Melville’s a fairly small part in the story and played insignificantly enough to be forgettable. Nickerson, one of the survivors of the wreck of the Essex in 1820 is better acted as he begrudgingly relates the events leading up to and resulting from an enormous, seemingly vengeful, sperm whale destroying the ship and all but one of the lifeboats.

Owen Chase (Hemsworth) is the extremely good-looking seasoned seaman who wishes to be captain of his own whaling ship, but, since he is not wealthy or connected to the Pollard family, he doesn’t achieve this dream until the end. Disappointed, he still accepts the first mate’s assignment on board the Essex. Though he climbs rigging as agilely as a monkey and shouts commands with authority, Hemsworth is no Errol Flynn. He was much more convincing toward the end of the movie.

Captain George Pollard (Walker), who received his command by birthright rather than knowledge of navigation and hunting whales, was portrayed as merely incompetent and not quite as arrogant as a rich man’s son should be. Again, an almost forgettable character.

The youngest crewmember, Tom Nickerson (Gleeson), was perhaps the best characterization in the cast. He saw what was happening on board the Essex, the leadership tug-of-war between the captain and the first mate, the growing obsession with killing the huge whale, and the increasing desperation of the crew, but was helpless to do anything about it.

Aside from Thomas Nickerson’s occasional narration, In the Heart of The Sea would survive intact without dialogue and with only the musical soundtrack (which was excellent). When the first whale was harpooned, I said to myself, “Someone’s going to say, ‘Nantucket sleigh ride.’” Those very words were spoken a second later. It was gratifying that no one used the phrase “Thar’ she blows.” Instead, I heard, “White water off the port bow!” to indicate the presence of whales.

It was the computer-generated whale that gave the best performance. His single cameo as he eyed the men on the Essex, spoke volumes without a single word. The female lead, Mrs. Nickerson (Fairley), gave a good, solid performance. She performed her homely duties while occasionally injecting her concerns for her husband’s sanity and well-being. She knew it would be best for him to get his story out into the open, especially because Captain Pollard and Owen Chase nearly lied to the company owners of the Essex rather than admit defeat by an animal.

What makes this film interesting is the historic angle. It’s the fact that whale oil was an important commodity for fuel and lighting before the discovery of oil from the ground (mentioned at the end of the movie). And considering that a ship sails from Nantucket and continues down the coasts of North and South America, around Cape Horn and up into the Pacific just to get a hold full of whale oil, one realizes how valuable this item was back then. The “year long trip” seems more like an economic commitment than an adventure.

But this trip was indeed an adventure, one the crew of the Essex never could have predicted. Believability aside, salty language absent, it’s a great viewing for the whole family just, as I said from the technical point of view. The capper at the end is when the credits reveal that Moby Dick was published in 1850 and Hawthorne hailed it as the American Epic. It almost makes me want to try to reread it.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

77 Hudson St. (at Harrison StreetNew York

I can’t resist a challenge. When a restaurant bills itself improbably as a Japanese/American Pub and includes the boast “We do ramen right!” on their website, I’m compelled to take them up on it. Probably the last word in Japanese cuisine and certainly the last in alphabetical order on my database, Zutto occupies an impressive corner property complete with a wrought-iron railed sidewalk café and bright red awning. Now decorated with white twinkle lights for the holiday season, it’s an inviting site.

Inside, a small Captain’s Station is to the left, flanked by an equally small bar riotously bedecked with multi-colored twinkle lights. Under the black ceiling, bare-topped tables occupy most of the crescent-shaped dining area, wrapped around a state-of-the-art sushi bar culminating in a Christmas tree ablaze with more rainbow lights. The young lady tending the Captain’s Station led me to a table about midway on the far wall and facing the sushi bar. She presented me with the food and wine menu and a single well-worn card featuring the specialty drinks.

Being early in the evening, there were not too many customers beside myself and I had the experience of two servers vying for my attention. Araya arrived first and took my water preference and drink order. I told her that after the busy day I had I could use a Corpse Reviver Cocktail – gin, Cointreau, Lillet, absinthe, and lemon juice, garnished with a slice of lime. This mildly potent concoction adequately served its purpose.

The food menu was divided into two parts, equally interesting; 1. Kitchen: with Steamed Buns, Small Plates, Ramen, Ramen Toppings, Plates, and Sides, and 2. Sushi: with Appetizers, Sushi and Sashimi, Maki Zushi (special rolls), and Chef’s Selection Plates. Both Araya and a second server came to my table asking if I wished an appetizer. 

I told whoever was first that I wanted to try the Gangnam Style Buns – spicy pork, kimchi, scallions and spiced mayonnaise – not just because of the fad-dance tune name, but because of the fusion of ingredients. I love Chinese pork buns and Korean kimchi (spiced cabbage), and having the two together sounded too good to be true. But it was true. They were heavenly. The fluffy, soft, neutral flavored buns were wrapped around zesty, tender pork pieces and squares of medium-spiced kimchi and sprinkled with chopped scallions. Combined with the mayo sauce, it was a party for the taste buds. There were two in the serving but I could easily have eaten more.

Considering how much I love sushi, I decided that I would have a “small plate” before ordering two sushi rolls. I had the Zutto roll (crab stick, avocado, shiso, and cucumber with spicy crawfish on top) and the animal roll (short ribs, jalapeno and garlic with a soy glaze) destined to be my main course. Knowing this, I didn’t want to fill up on my next course.

I ordered the Zutto fried rice, made with chorizo, kimchi, and pastrami and topped with a fried egg. The four-inch square bowl, easily two inches deep arrived filled with small-grained fried rice and smelling wonderful, but… This is a small plate? I ordered a glass of Tres Palacios Chardonnay from Maipo Valley, Columbia, to go with it and paced myself. The combination of the strongly flavored chorizo and the kimchi was amazing, a savory, almost musky experience and an unusual mixture of spices. Fireworks were exploding in different parts of my mouth. Araya asked me how I liked it and I raved about the dish. She told me that kimchi is too spicy for her, but I assured her that this kimchi is nowhere near as spicy as you would get in a Korean restaurant.

The one glass of wine lasted halfway through this “small” dish and I decided to make the dinner a wine-tasting as well. I ordered a glass of the I Casali Pinot Grigio from Venezia, Italy, to act as both an accompaniment and palate cleanser. I was impressed that the two wines, so different in taste – the chardonnay was crisp and light and the pinot grigio golden and tannic – both were good with the dish.

When I had finished the fried rice, the second server arrived to ask if wanted any sweets. She must have seen other people fooled by the heftiness of this dish. But I told her I was not ready for dessert yet and was considering the sushi rolls. Still, my appetite was waning as a result of the filling rice and I had to demur on my original choice. Instead, I chose two of my favorite sushis, flying fish roe and uni (sea urchin). It was good to see the Sushi Chef brighten up. He was preparing his display meticulously until I finally ordered (only two people were at his bar, one designing a holiday flyer on her laptop and the other drinking).

Soon, a long, narrow white plate with an azure center was brought to me holding the four beautiful pieces of sushi, some shaved ginger and a small mound of wasabi. I used my chopstick to add a little wasabi to each and went to pick up the first. Surprise! The supporting structure was not the traditional rice wrapped in nori (seaweed), but a slice of cucumber! How novel. But is it still sushi? I guarantee you that it was all delicious and delicately flavored but I wondered about the nomenclature. I ordered a glass of Groth Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley California, which complimented it perfectly. Araya laughed because I kept switching wines.

Normally, I would not order anything chocolate in a Japanese restaurant, not to mention one that considers itself also a pub, but there was one intriguing dessert I had to try. The chocolate pots de crème (actually it should be singular) made with burnt sugar, maldon salt, and Grand Marnier and topped with whipped cream was a singular delight. It had wild contrasts of creaminess and graininess, sweetness and saltiness and the hint of orange, which made it a unique attraction on the menu.

Araya offered a mug of hot green tea on the house to go with it. It was exactly the right thing. Zutto has been operating for at least eight years and when I checked my database, I had dined there before. But it was not memorable. There was a major revival of the restaurant in 2013 with a new chef and new concepts (unknown to me) and I’m glad there were. I may go back there on a lunch break to try those two tempting rolls. And let’s not forget that ramen they brag about. Heck, I will definitely return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Gallagher’s Forum

By Jon Gallagher

Creed (WB, 2015) – Director: Ryan Coogler. Writers: Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington (s/p). Ryan Coogler (story) & Sylvester Stallone (characters). Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Graham McTavish, Malik Bazille, Ricardo McGill, Gabe Rosado, Wood Harris, Buddy Osborn, & Rupal Pujara. Color, Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.

I can’t believe that I’m about to type some of the words I’m about to type, at least in the order that I put them in.

Go see this movie.

In what amounts to the 7th installment of the Rocky franchise, nearly 39 years after the original Rocky took home the Oscar for Best Picture, Sylvester Stallone reprises his iconic character, this time in a supporting role as he helps train the son of his former rival turned best friend, Apollo Creed.

Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute. Apollo had a son? Didn’t Apollo die in the ring at the hands of some juiced up Russian robot back in the early days of the franchise? How did he have a son?

They do an okay job of explaining this rather complex situation. According to this movie, Apollo had an affair and this son, Adonis, is the result. Adonis was born after his father died (1985) which would put him around the age of 30. That’s going to be a sticking point with a few moviegoers, but I decided to accept the explanation they gave rather than to harp on it (like I tend to do sometimes).

Adonis (Jordan), or Donnie, uses the last name of his mother, “Johnson.” The boy is in and out of juvenile detention centers for most of his early life as his mother dies when he’s still a child.

Enter Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow (Rashad) who takes him in, lines up a job for him, and basically pampers him. She has obviously been careful with Apollo’s sizeable fortune.

Donnie, however, wants to fight. He goes to Tijuana to fight in unsanctioned bouts, and he’s very good. He’s 16-0, but he’s facing the equivalent of local tough guys rather than seasoned boxers. He gives up his “day job” with some financial advisers and decides to pursue a boxing career, much to the displeasure of his adopted mom.

Donnie heads for his father’s training facility in LA, but the head trainer won’t work with him since he’s older than most. In fact, Donnie is roughed up in the ring by the star pupil, who happens to be the No. 2 boxer in the world in that weight class.

Donnie leaves California and heads for Philadelphia where he meets up with Rocky. Rocky wants nothing to do with him at first, and tries to discourage him from getting in the ring.

Instead of getting Rocky for a trainer, Donnie goes to Mighty Mick’s gym, the place famous for training Rocky. He’s told he can work out there, but the head trainer is more interested in working with his own. He’s not told anyone that he’s Apollo Creed’s son because he’s determined to make it on his own.

Rocky shows up and starts working with Donnie. The head trainer wants to schedule a match between his boy and Donnie, hoping that Rocky’s name will help draw some big money. Right before the bout, the trainer finds out that Donnie is Apollo Creed’s son, but agrees to keep it a secret.

And he does. For a day or so. When the news hits the media that Creed’s kid is fighting, it gets the attention of the World Champion, Pretty Ricky Conlan (Bellew), who is not only undefeated in 29 fights, he’s never even been knocked down.

A fight is scheduled and the last part of the movie centers on the fight itself.

If you can overcome the obvious plot holes, mainly Donnie’s age and why no one knows Creed had a son, then this is an excellent movie, almost as good as the original Rocky.

And well it should be. This movie mirrors the original in so many ways that it’s impossible not to see them. Let’s take a look.

Both movies feature a professional champion who takes on an unknown underdog opponent. Both movies have the underdog being trained by an aging ex-fighter who is unorthodox in his training methods. Both underdogs develop a love interest with an unlikely female character during their training. And both movies have a challenger who spends most of the main event blocking punches with his face.

The plots of the other Rocky movies are just dissimilar enough to the original to make this sequel fresh again.

The fight scenes in the main event were totally reminiscent of the original Rocky with a surprised, somewhat unprepared champion underestimating his inexperienced opponent. One of the funniest moments of the movie comes with the expression on Conlan’s face after Creed (who has agreed to use his father’s name for this fight) hits him for the first time.

There is one spot in the main event that they use the original music from Rocky. When the sound system in the theater cranked out the opening bars of “Gonna Fly Now,” chills ran down my spine and I felt a big smile slowly growing on my face.

Another plot hole is the main event itself. There are a lot of punches exchanged during the fight, just like Apollo and Rocky. There’s no way that two men could stand up to that kind of punishment for more than a minute, let alone 12 rounds.

They’re excused for this. Most boxing matches are pretty mundane and boring with few punches connecting until need be. Had the director modeled the fight scene after a real fight, we’d have all been snoring by the end of the film. Instead, he mirrored the Apollo-Rocky match, and came up with a winner.

Here’s one of those sentences I never thought I’d type. Stallone is amazing in this movie. His performance has Oscar nomination written all over it. During the course of the movie, we find out that Rocky has non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a disease that he actually welcomes because he feels he’s been left alone in this world by friends and family who have passed on. All those blows to Rocky’s head in his previous movies must have straightened out his slurred speech and made him more wise. He dispenses invaluable advice without coming across as a bitter old man.

Michael B. Jordan does an admirable job in his role as Adonis Creed. He shows a brazen confidence combined with a touch of insecurity, mixing the two into a complex character who is both interesting and likeable.

Tessa Thompson is Bianca, Donnie’s love interest. An independent young nightclub singer, she’s quite the opposite of Rocky’s Adrian, but still manages to inspire and motivate the protagonist perfectly.

Go see this movie!

See it in a theater with a bunch of other people. If you get a good group to watch it with, you’ll hear plenty of cheering during the fight (which is really weird if you think about it – cheering for a fighter in a movie), which adds to the overall experience of the movie. This is one that I will watch again once it comes out on video, and one that I wouldn’t mind owning.

I came out of the theater smiling and feeling better than when I went in. That seemed to be a general consensus of those who attended the same showing.

I’ll give this one an A+ for giving me my money’s worth and then some. It far exceeded my expectations.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Dinner and a Movie

The Stars Above Sleepy Hollow

By Steve Herte

The furor brewing over the movie I chose made me wonder if I could handle the pressure of not only obtaining a coveted ticket, but of dealing with a large crowd of people. The last experience I had like that was when I attended the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. It's a nice thing to do once but not a second time. You literally cannot move until the show is over, the crowd is that thick. In this case, my concerns proved to be baseless and all went smoothly. I could have done without the latecomers at the theater, but for some reason I felt particularly tolerant that night. Enjoy!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Lucasfilm/Disney, 2015) – Director: J.J. Abrams. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, & Michael Arndt. George Lucas (characters). Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max Von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, & Joonas Suotamo. Color and in 3D, Rated PG-13, 135 minutes.

As Andy Rooney might have queried, “Why are people complaining that they can’t get a ticket to this movie?” A simple visit to and I had my ticket only two days in advance at a convenient theater. The only difference was the arrival time. With a long-awaited, popular film, crowds are understood and a half-hour early arrival is mandatory. I got a satisfactory seat in a packed theater and was settled in for an entertaining seventh episode.

Having seen episodes one through six in varying degrees of enjoyment – number five, The Empire Strikes Back, is still my favorite – I came with no expectations, just a few questions. Episode seven begins 30 years after the defeat of the Empire in the battle of Endor, remember, the forest planet full of little furry Ewoks? You might think there would be a lot of Jedi and peace throughout the galaxy far away.

But no, evil will not be denied its place and somewhere, somehow an intolerant organization dubbed the New Order arose to confront and oppose the Republic. Overseen by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis), who appears as an ugly, bald colossus, there is a new, more powerful threat to civilized planets. Remember the Death Star – a weapon the size of a small moon capable of blowing up an entire planet? The new weapon is the size of a planet and uses the nuclear reactions in stars to demolish several planets at once.

This movie pulls no punches about the comparison between the New Order and the Third Reich. A scene where General Hux (Gleeson), looking extremely Aryan, addresses (very much like a certain paper-hanger from Austria) acres of Stormtroopers and soldiers, backed by strangely familiar red and black banners, drives the point home.

So where are the Jedi? They may have “returned” in episode six, but there’s only one left now and that’s Luke Skywalker (Hamill). And he’s nowhere to be found. But there exists a star map with directions to the planet on which he’s established his hermitage. The New Order has most of the map but the remaining piece is on a device retained by Lor San Tekka (Von Sydow) on the desert planet of Jakku.

General Leia Organa (Fisher) – formerly Princess and Senator – sends her best resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) along with his trusty droid BB-8 to Jakku to retrieve it. But the new bad guy in black, the personification of the Dark Side of the Force, Kylo Ren (Driver) arrives with his Stormtroopers and captures Poe. Fortunately, Poe stows the device in the droid and tells him to run.

BB-8, looking like an orange soccer ball with an upturned cereal bowl for a head, rolls over the enormous dunes and eventually meets Rey (Ridley), a spunky scavenger, who sells parts of Imperial battleships just for food. Though at first she doesn’t want the droid’s company, when she’s offered 60 food portions for him, she realizes his worth and a friendship is established.

The massacre on Jakku focuses on a single Stormtrooper, FN-2187 (Boyega), who bends to help a fallen fellow soldier and receives three bloody finger streaks on his helmet. He wants no more of this, and a brief, wordless exchange between him and Kylo Ren implies that his master suspects as much. But he manages to free Poe, commandeer a Tie Fighter Ship and escape. While on the run, they exchange names and Poe finds FN-2187 too hard to remember, so he renames him Finn. The freedom is short lived and they are shot down on Jakku. Finn survives and cannot find Poe, assuming he died in the crash.

After a seemingly endless trudge through the desert, Finn happens on an oasis and competes with a large creature that could only be described as a rhinoceros with a pig’s head for the stagnant water in a trough. It’s then that he sees BB-8 and is attacked by Rey. An unstable threesome forms and their mission is to get to the home base of the Resistance. Once again, the Stormtroopers find them and blow up the escape ship Rey had planned to fly. Instead, they head for the junkyard and achieve light speed just in the nick of time in the Millennium Falcon.

Star Wars fans all know the quirky mechanics of the Corellian ship and it breaks down, stranding them on a forested planet (much to Rey’s amazement – she’s never seen so much green). While trying to make repairs they are boarded by the former owners, Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (played by both Mayhew and Suotamo). The repossession doesn’t last long when the ship is tractor-beamed onto another ship. Two gangs of thugs board the ship demanding what Solo owes them. In an attempt to isolate the gangs by closing hatches, Rey opens the pens holding Solo’s captive cargo: voracious beasts that are all teeth and tentacles, and they escape.

They fly to the planet Takodana to enlist the help of Maz Kanata (Nyong’o), a goggle-eyed orange version of Yoda who runs a wild, multi-species bar in her castle. If you look close you’ll see Warwick Davis (formerly an Ewok) as Wollivan in this scene. Here things get complex. Finn wants to flee on the next departing ship. Rey hears a strange sound and follows it, locating Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. But when she holds it, she experiences a frightening vision. Maz tries to explain it to her, but terrified she runs off into the forest and is captured by Kylo Ren.

Finn sees her abduction and changes his mind and he, Han and Chewbacca see the signs in the sky. The New Order’s mega-weapon powers up and destroys all the planets of the Republican Senate in the Hosnian system. With BB-8, our three heroes now travel to the resistance base on D’Qar, where we learn that Han and Leia had a son Ben who was under the tutelage of Luke, but who went over to the dark side. This precipitated Luke’s self-imposed exile and, R2-D2’s resulting shut-down mode.

A plan is made to disable the weapon and we get to see the remainder of the familiar characters, C-3PO (Daniels), Admiral Akbar (Tim Rose/Erik Bauersfeld) the squid-like leader of the Mon Calamari, Nien Nunb (Mike Quinn/Kipsang Rotich), the alien X-Wing fighter pilot, and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker was a consultant only in this case) himself. And the grand battle is enjoined.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is two hours and 15 minutes long and most of it is very familiar to fans. We’ve seen desert planets, forest planets, frozen planets and we see them all again here. The newest world is an ocean planet toward the end. We’ve seen the dog-fights between X-Wing and Tie fighters and there’s more of that as well. The comic relief formerly provided by C-3PO and R2-D2 was taken up mostly by the almost cowardly Finn. There are no spectacularly large monsters and several times, things happening in the background are more interesting than the focal point of the scene.

But the new character, Rey, adds relief to the almost humdrum familiar. She’s a Jedi who doesn’t know it and she’s forced to start developing her powers in this film. Daisy Ridley easily puts forth the best performance in the film. Harrison Ford is good, but it’s obviously a walk-through for him. Carrie Fisher, aging gracefully was marvelous, but a general? Nah! Mark Hamill’s talents were severely underused and I wanted more of Anthony Daniels.

Despite the body heat in the theater which negated any air-conditioning there may have been, I still enjoyed the film and wonder what the next episode will bring. And, if Lucas lasts that long, the one after that.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

201 Park Ave. South (17th Street), New York

Since March, the restaurant formerly known as Olives in the W Hotel has been transformed into Irvington. It was almost purely by happenstance that I chose this lovely place to be my 2,700th new dining experience. The website was malfunctioning and wouldn’t allow me to search for a table in the Union Square area. I switched to the Zagat website and found Irvington. The menu looked intriguing, as did the name and I made my reservation – which, by the way went through

The W Hotel in Union Square is undergoing renovations and the scaffolding prevented my seeing the full exterior view of the restaurant. But the sign suspended over the sidewalk was clear enough to indicate the entrance. Inside, all is beige and tan, framed in black, and bare-topped butcher-block tables flanked by simple wooden chairs. The lively crowd at the bar made it necessary to raise my voice to be heard by the young lady at the Captain’s Station. As she led me through the restaurant, she asked me what kind of table I would like. There were high-seated tables, bar stools, a special chef’s table at the back and regular tables. I chose a table for two near the chef’s table with a window to the kitchen. 

Above the window to the kitchen was a large cartoon artwork depicting the Headless Horseman returning to his wife’s bed chamber. She’s saying, “Of course I don’t think you’re inadequate! I love you!”

My question about the naming of this restaurant was answered immediately and I checked with my server, Edwin. He laughed when I suggested Washington Irving-ton, but confirmed my conclusion. He presented me with the single card menu (drinks on the reverse side) and took my water preference. When he returned and filled my water glass, he asked about a cocktail and I ordered my standard martini upon learning that the bar did stock Beefeaters gin. Edwin brought it promptly in an elegant stemmed glass, perfectly mixed. He read me the specials of the day and left me to choose my dishes.

The menu featured Starters, Flatbreads, Pastas, Rotisserie, Mains and Sides. My only question was on the size of the pasta dishes. Edwin advised me that only one of the three was dinner-sized and that the other two were smaller. I thanked him and made my order. 

Before he left to put in the order, I asked for the wine list. It was the most remarkable wine list I’ve ever seen. The wines, white on the left, red on the right were grouped according to price, and, except for the last group, all were quite affordable. The last group, though high priced, was still not prohibitive. I commented on this marvel to Edwin and ordered the 2012 Ca’ Marcanda “Promis,” a Tuscan varietal of Merlot and Shiraz. It was a delightful deep red, medium bodied and flavorful, but not overpowering for my dinner selections.

The first dish was one of the specials Edwin listed, a carrot soup – pureed carrots with parsley, mint and pignoli nuts. It was hot, not too carrot-y, not too sweet and the parsley and mint gave it a wonderful character. The pine nuts were a nice surprise. At this point, the young lady who led me to my table arrived to ask how I liked everything so far and how I pronounced my name. I told her and raved about the soup and wine list. She introduced herself as Zuly.

The next two dishes arrived together, but because of the portion sizes, it wasn’t a problem. The first was crispy baby artichokes – salsa verde and pecorino (I ordered it because the name of the dish sings so well to the tune of “Camptown Races”). They were an attractive rosy red and indeed crispy, but tender and flavorful, and topped with cress and shaved pecorino. A dish as pleasing to look at as to eat. The second was pappardelle with shaved zucchini, arugula walnut pesto and Marco Polo cheese. The pasta was obviously homemade, al dente and fresh and the unique pesto made without basil made it an adventure into new flavors, good ones.

Edwin and Zuly both checked up on me at this point and I gave them good reason to thank the chef. The next dish was the main course, short ribs with Brussels sprouts and celery root. I normally do not like the flavor of celery but in this case it accented the short ribs so that the resultant flavor was akin to the best beef Wellington and I told Edwin. The side dish sounds uninteresting but it was lovely. Wilted spinach was not as it suggests, deteriorated, but very tender and garlicky – delicious. With every dish finished it was dessert time.

The cheese platter consisted of “fresh curds” a mix of cheddar and gruyere aged 4 years, Hudson Valley Camembert (sheep and cow’s milk cheese), Grayson Meadow Creek washed rind five months aged raw cow cheese, and Blue Hills Bleu Wisconsin Roquefort-style sheep cheese. Served with crusty bread they were all marvelous and nicely ripe. All that was needed after this was a cup of hot dark coffee, which Edwin supplied.

From my table I could see a spiral staircase leading to a balcony overlooking the dining area and I asked Edwin if I could ascend it and take a picture. He said I could and I did. The view was charming. Irvington is a friendly, fun place with a great staff and delicious food and the perfect wine list. How could anybody go wrong here? When I asked for a business card upon leaving Zuly gave me one with her email address on it. Friendly, no?

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for December 23-31

December 23–December 31


2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (December 26, 2:15 pm): It's one of the most visually-stunning and fascinating films every made. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the story of man from pre-evolution to a trip to Jupiter, and how superior beings on that mysterious planet made it all possible. It's unfortunate that this spectacular 1968 film, brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick, can't be seen on the largest screen imaginable because watching it on your television – or even worse, on your phone – doesn't do it justice. I've seen the movie at least 50 times, including once in a theater when it was re-released. The storyline is fascinating and the ending is very much open to interpretation, which makes the film even more compelling. The interaction between astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the HAL 9000 computer that controls the spaceship and has a mind of its own reflects how mankind has experienced gains and losses through the use of advanced technology. The cinematography, special effects and music take this film to a special level. It is a masterpiece of cinema.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (December 30, 9:15 am): When he wanted, Frank Sinatra was an excellent actor. My favorite Sinatra films are The Manchurian CandidateSuddenly (one of my Best Bets from earlier this month) and this 1955 film. In The Man With the Golden Arm, directed by Otto Preminger, Sinatra's character, Frankie Machine, is a hardcore heroin (the drug is heavily implied, but never spoken) addict who just got out of jail. Through circumstances all too familiar to addicts, he gets hooked again, largely thanks to a drug dealer who wants Frankie to return to his profession as an expert card dealer in high-stakes illegal games. The movie is dark, authentic and gripping. This one pulls no punches leading it to not get a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because it violates the Hays Code. For a film that is 60 years old, it holds up remarkably well.


HORSE FEATHERS (December 31, 5:30 pm): It doesn’t get much better, or funnier than this, unless one counts Duck Soup. The only thing in the film funnier than Chico and Harpo passing themselves off as football players is Groucho as the president of the university. Add the drop-dead gorgeous Thelma Todd as the “college widow,” and we have a near perfect comedy. There are many great scenes in the picture: Groucho’s installment as college president, The Marxs in the speakeasy, where Groucho mistakenly recruits Chico and Harpo as “student-athletes,” the classroom scene, Groucho and Todd in the boat on the lake, and, of course, the football game. The only glitch in the film is that Zeppo has practically nothing to do but show up to remind us that there are four Marx Brothers. Just tune in and be prepared to laugh.

DUCK SOUP (December 31, 6:45 pm): There are very few comedic masterpieces in film history. This is one of the best and probably the best antiwar movie ever made. Imagine - Groucho becomes dictator of Fredonia at the whim of Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), to whom the government owes large sums of money. Chico and Harpo work as spies for Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighboring Sylvania, which has its eyes on Fredonia. Trentino hopes to marry Mrs. Teasdale and take over Fredonia, but Groucho stands in his way. Eventually their rivalry leads to war. And what a war! Every vestige of nationalism is lampooned, from Paul Revere’s ride to the draft. It has great dialogue and sight gags galore, each managing to top the previous one. Today it’s a classic of the genre. With the gorgeous Raquel Torres and the hysterical Edgar Kennedy, whose encounters with Chico and Harpo are truly side-splitting.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ANNIE (December 25, 8:00 pm)

ED: B. A pillar of American popular culture since its introduction as a comic strip drawn by Harold Gray in 1924, Little Orphan Annie had died down in the American pantheon until 1977, when it took the country by storm following its incarnation as a Broadway musical. Hollywood, desperate for anything that would seem profitable, adapted the play for the screen, with Albert Finney and Carol Burnett as the leads. (It could have been a lot worse, as Jack Nicholson and Bette Midler were originally offered the parts.) But then Ray Stark decided in his wisdom to offer the role of director to septuagenarian John Huston, hardly an obvious choice for a musical. Besides Aileen Quinn as Annie, the film has a marvelous supporting cast, including Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Geoffrey Holder, and Ann Reinking. In general, Annie is enjoyable, with lots of movement and lots of color, with the dancing and the music going well together. On the other side is Huston’s leaden direction (for which he received a well-deserved Golden Raspberry) and a formula script that seems churned out on an assembly line. However, there are two main factors for my grade: Finney and Burnett, who are sensational. Burnett, who is good in just about anything she does, brings life to the villain role of orphanage director Miss Hannigan. And Finney has the most thankless role in the film, that of portraying Daddy Warbucks as a self-centered wealthy man who has everything except love, and who learns to love through the example of young Annie. As Roger Ebert said: “This is the role actors kill over – to avoid playing.” As Annie, Aileen Quinn is satisfactory, she can dance and sing well enough, but must deal with the fact that the musical has been shamefully overexposed to the point of parody. Without the power of Finney and Burnett, though, Annie has about as much chance of entertaining than Leo Gorcey had of playing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespearian Company, especially with Huston holding the directorial reins.

DAVID: D. If you're looking for an example of Hollywood gone wrong, here you go. Annie really, really sucks. I can't decide what I hate more: the overacting, the overproduction, the silly plot or the annoying songs. The movie is a horrible time for the whole family. It's sickeningly sweet to the point of complete annoyance – and it's more than two hours long. It deserves an F, but I'm a softy for "It's the Hard Knock Life." There is nothing else positive to say about this lifeless 1982 movie. I strongly disagree with Ed on the casting. Carol Burnett, who I think is passable to terrible in everything she ever did, is a cartoon character here as the evil Miss Hannigan. She runs an orphanage with the girls used as slave labor. Aileen Quinn is the spunky Annie, and as Lou Grant told Mary Richards, "I hate spunk!" I can't tell if she was a lousy actress or the part was terrible. Oh, let's give (dis)credit for both. While it received critical acclaim on Broadway, Annie's thin plot and terrible songs are exposed on the big screen. It's impossible not to laugh at the ridiculous scenario that has Annie, Daddy Warbucks and the "mysterious" Punjab flying to the White House to hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt explain his welfare program (it takes place in 1933) and ask Annie to help him. She "rewards" the president by singing "Tomorrow." I'm a huge fan of John Huston, but this was a tremendous misfire on his part. I'm thankful this wasn't his last film as it would have been awful for him to go out like this. 

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Gallagher’s Forum

By Jon Gallagher

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Lucasfilm/Disney, 2015) – Director: J.J. Abrams. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, & Michael Arndt. George Lucas (characters). Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max Von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, & Joonas Suotamo. Color, Rated PG-13, 135 minutes.

There will be no spoilers in the first part of this review. That way, you can read through without having any of the surprises or plot twists revealed before you see the movie. I’ll clearly separate this review without spoilers from the review with spoilers so that those of you who have seen it can get an idea of what I was thinking during the movie.

The Prelude

A long time ago, in a city, not that far away, it began. Outside the local theater on June 17, 1980, a line started to form. Sleeping bags were unrolled on the sidewalk, out of the way of those who were showing up to see John Travolta in Urban Cowboy or Clint Eastwood in Bronco Billy. Those hardy souls braving the weather and the taunts of others, movie-goers or those just driving by, were in line so that they could be the first to see the long anticipated sequel to Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back.

Yes, those of us who were so enthralled by the original George Lucas movie, released three years prior, were going to be able to tell our grandkids that we were one of the first to see the sequel.

As for me, I waited till the crowds died down a little, then I went.

Cut to the present, and people were camped out in front of theaters across the country here in 2015, awaiting the release of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, the 7th movie in the franchise.

Thirty-five years later, we have a lot of things we didn’t have back in 1980. We have the Internet, which spewed forth the secret plots and characters that Lucas and director J. J. Abrams had protected like Fort Knox gold. We also have midnight showings, something that just didn’t happen 35 years ago, at least not in our neck of the woods. Also, people reviewed the movie, including some while watching it, on Twitter, Facebook or other blog type things that didn’t exist in the dark ages.

In fact, we now purchase our tickets in advance via the Internet, something else we weren’t able to do three and a half decades ago.

Locally, one theater decided to put advance tickets on sale for the new movie and it sold out in less than two minutes. They added a second show, but this time, they upped the price to $25 a ticket rather than the $8 they charged the first time. The $25 tickets went just as fast. In fact, you couldn’t buy a ticket to see Star Wars on opening night at that theater because all showings of it, on two screens, had sold out at $25 a pop.

A couple of enterprising young jerks bought up a bunch of tickets and listed them on CraigsList and eBay for $250 each. No word on whether some other insane idiot(s) agreed to part with that much money for the right to see it first.

The Film

However, it turns out that the Force was with me, for I saw it on opening day. I went to a multiplex in Peoria where it was playing in 3D on one screen and in two other smaller theaters down the hall. I attended the 2:00 pm showing, and to my surprise, had no problem getting a seat or standing in line. Only about 30 people were in attendance. The usher told me that they had screened it the previous night to a full house and that he expected that all the evening showings would also be sold out, but with school still in session and people working, I made a good choice if I didn’t want people beside of me.

Star Wars at this theater was just $4.50 for the matinee. It’s playing at two other theaters in Peoria and prices for the matinees range from $6 to $8, with evening prices going as high as $10 (more if in 3D or IMAX).

I would not have wanted to be Abrams. He was given the task of taking a beloved story that had already had six different movies in its franchise, and not only writing a script to cover the last 30 years, but also direct a combination of old stars and new.

Now combine that with having to please those who live and breathe Star Wars and who can answer absolutely any trivia question about any of the six movies.

Talk about a daunting task!

That’s why I figured I’d be trashing the movie once it came time to review it. There was no way it could live up to the hype it’d gotten. There was no way it could come close to fulfilling the expectations brought on by the years of anticipation (Lucas had originally promised us a movie every three years till he had nine total, so he’s about 20 years behind where he should be).

Somehow, though, Abrams pulls it off and produces a finished product that will no doubt garner just as many accolades as did the original film. It gets an A+ on my scale, and won’t be just one of those movies I have to own; it’s one I’m probably going to go see in the theater again. It was that good.

The original film (Episode IV) had a magic that is nearly impossible to capture in a film. The storyline was tremendous; the acting superb, and the action sequences were top notch. It had an “edge of your seat” excitement about it, especially in the final few scenes as the rebels tried to blow up the Death Star.

None of the other Star Wars movies were able to capture that magic. The next two sequels, although not bad, seemed more interested in trying to tie in merchandising by selling toys (Ewoks and the like) than in moving the storyline along. They even tried to blow up a second Death Star, presumably, because they ran out of ideas of how to make the Empire more evil.

We did get some surprises out of the second two movies. We found out that Luke and Leia were brother and sister and that their father was not just Anakin Skywalker, but Darth Vader himself. We also got to meet Yoda, the Jedi Master, who was probably seen by producers as nothing more than huge dollar signs.

Then came the prequels, introducing us to Obi Wan Kenobi and how Anakin was found, trained, and led astray by the Dark Side of the Force. Episode I, the Phantom Menace, was the hardest to sit through as Lucas tried to explain after the fact where all his characters had come from while staying true to his original work. In all fairness, that had to be a really tough job, evidenced by the fact that all three prequels fell short of expectations.

The Force Awakens seems to get away from the merchandising, although in the past six weeks it seems that every frickin’ thing in the world is tied to the movie from cars (?!?) to toothpaste to soup, and concentrate on the storyline.

If that’s what Abrams set out to do, then it’s an unqualified success.

Abrams gives us characters we care about, who we get to know right off the bat. He provides enough information in dialogue to give us an idea of what’s been happening over the past 30 years.

He also gives us plenty of action. There are lots of dogfights with the X-wing aircraft battling the Tie-Fighters from the original movie. The Millennium Falcon is also back, and no worse the wear.

He gives us plenty of light saber fights as well. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling it so we’ll just leave it at that.

Reprising their roles from the original trilogy are Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and the actors inside the Chewy, C-3PO, and R2D2 costumes (Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker respectively). Ford gets the lion’s share of screen time, which is a nice surprise. He does a superb job of combining his cockiness with the wisdom he’s gained over the last 30 years.

Newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver (Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren respectively) give us a new crew to cheer (or boo), and the “passing of the torch” to them is done nicely.

There is one new droid, BB-8, who takes the place, so to speak, of R2D2. If you’ve seen the previews, and who hasn’t, you’ll recognize him as the ball with the hat. He’s cute, speaks the same bee-bob language as his predecessor, and adds some comic relief.

The movie isn’t all action. There are some funny parts, mainly one-liners, mixed in too. There’s even a bar scene, reminiscent of the original film. ET may have finally found work after all these years as Maz Kanata, the owner of the bar. If so, he’s had a Bruce Jenner moment and his vocabulary has grown beyond the simple “Phone home.”

As I’ve said, there’s enough of a plot and enough fun and thrills to keep everyone interested. It’s two hours and 15 minutes, but I guarantee, you won’t be checking your watch.


This is the plot, without the spoilers.

Several things are borrowed from the original. The scene is set 30 years or so after Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker has gone missing of his own accord. We learn that he had been training young Jedi Knights until one turned on him. Luke went into exile, much the same way that Yoda and Obi Wan did before him.

The bad guy in the movie is Kylo Ren (Driver), a Darth Vader wannabe. He’s trying to find Luke, but the Resistance (Rebels in the first movie) doesn’t know where he is. Their best pilot, Poe (Isaac), gets a good lead on where Luke is, but Ren’s Stormtroopers find him. Ren hides the information in his droid and tries to send him back to the home base.

While ravaging the village where Ren found Poe, one of the Stormtroopers, Finn (Boyega), has a change of heart and tries to help him escape. While running from the bad guys, Finn meets a young woman, Rey (Ridley), who has found the droid. Rey steals a vehicle, which turns out to be the Millennium Falcon. She proves to be a formidable pilot, especially when Han and Chewy show up to reclaim their property.

Most of the movie is spent with everyone trying either to find Luke or blow up the planet where the resistance is based. The bad guys have built a “Starkiller” which dwarfs the two Death Stars and uses the harnessed power of a sun to annihilate not just planets, but entire star systems.

There are plenty of twists and turns, and the relationships of the new characters with the old are extremely interesting. Both Ren and Rey are learning to use the power of the Force, which culminates in an epic battle.

Of course, Abrams leaves the door wide open for additional movies. I’d honestly be surprised if part of the next movie hasn’t been shot already. It should be able to pick up right where this one leaves off.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a complete, stand-alone movie, because it is. But we all know that there will be more.


The following will contain some spoilers.

I guess it had to be done. Ren kills off one of the beloved original characters, but unfortunately, most everyone in the theater saw it coming.

Ren is the son of Han and Leia, grandson of Anakin/Vader. Although it’s never revealed, we’re led to believe that Rey is Luke’s daughter, based on the way she can use the Force and the way he reacts when he sees her.

Fans of Mark Hamill should look quick – he’s there for the last minute or so of the movie and he doesn’t have any lines. I kept expecting him to pop up and save the day, but that didn’t happen.

Ren and Rey have an epic light saber battle at the end of the movie with Rey getting the better of him. For a while, I thought I was watching a remake of the scene with the black knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rey kept scoring hits on Ren, but somehow, he kept fighting. She has no idea who her parents are/were, and she has no training with the Force or the light saber, yet she manages to hold her own against someone like Ren.

I left the theater completely satisfied with a smile on my face. That’s why I go to movies. This one met and surpassed all my expectations.