This Friday, being Christmas, a lot of places (other than many restaurants) are closed. We can think of few things better to do than embracing another tradition — that of going to the movies on Christmas Day. Of course, there are several to choose from, but this year we've got the biggest blockbuster in the galaxy on several screens. Here's an excerpt of the review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by our movie critic Pete Vonder Haar:
"Thirty years after the fall of the Galactic Empire, a new menace to peace and justice in the galaxy has arisen in the form of the First Order. Led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), they're scouring the galaxy for clues to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, now a near-mythic figure. Luke is also being sought by their enemies, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Thrust into all of this are Finn (John Boyega), a former First Order stormtrooper, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger from the planet Jakku, who are soon caught up in both the search for Skywalker and a race against time to destroy the First Order's devastating new weapon.
" 'Critical' Analysis: The one constant criticism leveled at J.J. Abrams for his Star Trek movies was always that they weren't in keeping with the spirit of the original TV series (or The Next Generation, for that matter). Instead of a "Wagon Train to the stars," 2009's Star Trek and 2013's Into Darkness embraced widescreen space battles and melee combat that would've left Shatner sucking wind inside of a minute.
"In short, they were too much like Star Wars movies.
"The good news is, if we look at those films as Abrams's audition for directing the newest entry in the most beloved space opera franchise of all time (they were just a few prequels, it's still good! It's still good!), you have to say he passed with flying colors. Star Wars: The Force Awakens reinvigorates the series with a great blend of action, humor and emotion and comes the closest to the spirit of that galaxy far, far away since 1983.
"That said, with the exception of the "Where in the Galaxy is Carmen Skywalker" subplot, The Force Awakens is — when you get right down to it — A New Hope on growth hormone with a better script and Big Mouse's bank accounts at its disposal.
"The movie starts out with an exchange that strongly evokes the beginning of ANH (only with Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron assuming the Leia role), raising more questions than it answers even as First Order troops arrive to blast everybody. Once again, we've got yet another astromech droid with yet another secret payload on yet another desert planet. The Star Wars movies have never been shy about callbacks to previous installments, but Abrams at times threatens to go overboard with familiar phrases, locations and character analogs (though not necessarily the ones you might suspect).
"There's even another cantina scene. Because this *is* the merchandising you're looking for."
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters today. See it in your favorite hive of scum and villainy.
Another pick for Friday for the more athletically inclined: The ICE at Discovery Green. The park's Kinder Lake provides the water for the 7,716-square-foot skating rink (the largest in the Southwest). The park, with the ice rink and other special holiday events, is as much an attraction during the winter as it is during the summer.
According to Barry Mandel, president of Discovery Green, Houston families have made a tradition of visiting the ICE. Even on Christmas Day, there might be a bit of a crowd. Be smart and buy your tickets online before you head out to the park. 1 to 11 p.m. December 25. Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney.
For information, call 713-434-7465 or visit discoverygreen.com $14 to $30.
For Saturday we turn your attention to Comedian Nick Guerra. He just won the 11th annual StandUp NBC comedy showcase, and snagged a part in next year’s Judd Apatow production, Conner4Real, starring Sarah Silverman and Andy Samberg. In spite of his Hollywood connections, he remains a Texas boy at heart, having grown up in the Valley. He’ll be in Houston to do three shows at the Houston Improv, but not before stopping in MacAllen first for some Christmas tamales.
His humor touches on relationships, culture, everyday life and his appearance. He’ll never be a basketball player, and sports “long, silky hair,” which often causes him to be “mistaken for the girl from Juno” or other celebrities, like Blanket Jackson. He also gets hit on by a lot of lesbians.
“I cut [my hair] two weeks ago; it’s still long. That still happens; it happens at so many places,” says Guerra. “If I go out to eat with a girl, it’s, ‘Do you ladies want anything?’”
He covers topics like a guy’s first pregnancy scare, or how disgusting men can be: smelling foot cheese, pulling nose hairs or scratching their butt cracks. He’s a keen observer of women, too, noticing that they run in packs and there’s always one alpha bitch and one slut friend, “usually the quietest one in the group.” He’s got some new material, too.
“There also will be more parts about moving in with somebody, trying to find your soul mate,” says Guerra. “I like to have married couples coming up to me, ‘Do you have a camera in my house?’” He’s putting the finishing touches on a new comedy album, due out soon, titled Love the Nick’s Tape.
7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit improvhouston.com. $15 to $25.
Our pick for Sunday is a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. As Houston Press visual arts critic Randy Tibbits put it in a recent review:
"Listen. It’s the bounce of a jazz beat through the shimmer of a 1925 night — not the meandering, languorous stuff from later on, but jazz with verve and rhythm. Jazz that demands you dance and drink champagne till dawn. Le jazz hot. So cool. You can almost hear it as you walk into 'Deco Nights: Evenings in the Jazz Age' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, but not quite — MFAH doesn’t do sound effects for its exhibitions yet.
"This time maybe it should. It would add one more facet to this glittering little show intended to give us a sense of what it was like — the look and the feel — in those wild, romantic days of flappers and bobs and headlong living. Le show hot. So cool. 'Deco Nights' is not by any means what you’d call a major exhibition — not a diamond as big as the Ritz, to steal a phrase in tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the very one who gave The Jazz Age its name. MFAH curators Cindi Strauss, curator for modern and contemporary decorative arts and design, and Christine Gervais, associate curator for decorative arts and Rienzi, don’t overwhelm us with a thousand things, showcasing only 20 or 30 beautiful objects made in Europe and the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.
"The show breaks no new ground in our understanding of the Art Deco movement. It is, in fact, something of a prelude to another, splashier show that will open at MFAH in February, 'Sculpted in Steel: Art Deco Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1929-1940,' which sounds like a real doozy. But 'Deco Nights' sparkles nonetheless. I think it’s the dresses, by haute couture legends Jean Patou, Paul Poiret, Lanvin, Fortuny and others, that are best. Or is it the perfume bottles, tiny sculpted follies of elegance and vanity with names like Fête de Nuit, Ce Soir ou Jamais, Les Ailes de Paris (Festival of Night, Tonight or Never, Wings of Paris)? Or maybe the photographs by Brassaï, Aaron Siskind and André Kertész, whose “Satiric Dancer” is an angled, upended marvel? No, definitely the dresses. But no need to choose. They’re all here and more.
"Of such things I’d like to see much, much more — though the little sort of off-in-the-corner space in the Law Building that’s now devoted to decorative arts could hardly accommodate too much more. I remember a time when this space was the meager museum cafe, back before museum restaurants became almost as important as the art: pretty fab sitting outside on beautiful days in the wisteria-ceilinged garden that’s now accessible only through the Hirsch Library, and hardly used by anyone. (This time the curtains are drawn, to protect fabrics and paper, so you can’t even see it.) Maybe the new building will make room for more extensive gallery space for decorative arts. One of the best ways to prepare for going to the show, or to keep the party rolling after you’ve been, is to have another look at Fitzgerald’s classic novels and stories from the period, most important, of course, The Great Gatsby, with its parties that last till dawn. A reread of Gatsby, which hinges on cars, will get you ready for 'Sculpted in Steel,' too. 'Deco Nights' is also an excuse to re-watch Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Much of the action of the Jazz Age, even the romantic American part epitomized by Fitzgerald and his irrepressible wife, Zelda, happened in that city."
“Deco Nights: Evenings in the Jazz Age” Through June 5, 2016. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org.
Another Sunday excursion we can recommend is the opening night for Bullets Over Broadway at the Hobby Center.
Olive is not particularly smart, at least not in the academic way. But according to Jemma Jane, who plays her in the upcoming Bullets Over Broadway musical adapted from Woody Allen's 1994 movie: “Basically she is seen as kind of a bimbo. She didn't grow up with much. She was out on the streets until she managed to manipulate the world into getting her what she wanted,” Jane says.
Now she's living in an expensive apartment paid for by her gangster boyfriend, Jane says. That boyfriend is underwriting a Broadway production and he demands that Olive be cast in a role. The playwright, desperate to see his work performed, agrees. “She should not be on Broadway, no,” Jane says. “Most of her experience has come from gentlemen's clubs. She dances, but it's not necessarily technical, and she sings, but it's not necessarily trained. She has all of the drive and all of the passion for it, but she does not have the skill. She does not let that stop her, though.”
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Despite Olive's shortcomings, Jane, who just graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, says she admires her because she's “so fierce and strong and independent,” which she found especially striking for the pre-'60s time frame. Olive's other distinctive characteristics are a tendency to dress in loud, bold colors (“She's something of a peacock”) and to speak in a very irritating, penetrating nasal voice. Jane says she didn't have any difficulty developing the voice, although as someone who grew up in England and Australia, she thinks it ironic that a Brit has taken on the singularly American role (complete with Jersey accent) in this production.
The musical (brought here by Broadway at the Hobby) employs songs from the end of World War I to the 1930s and includes “Let's Misbehave,” “Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do” and “Up a Lazy River,” among others. Jane describes the show as “funny slapstick” along with the intelligent, sometimes dark humor of Allen, which makes it fun for a variety of tastes.
2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Through January 2, 2016. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 800-982-2787 or visit broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $25 to $100.
Olivia Flores Alvarez, Randy Tibbits, Susie Tommaney and Pete Vonder Haar contributed to this post.