The 15:17 to Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the memoir The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos, is a film that brings three lifelong friends through trials and tribulations that culminate in a situation of chaos in which they must thwart a terrorist attack aboard a cross-country train through Europe.  Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos all portray themselves in the ordeal, and bring a sense of realism to the movie.
The film begins chronicling the relationship between the three main characters, all outcasts in a Catholic middle school who find solace with each other playing Airsoft in the woods of California and recreating battle strategy from major skirmishes during Word War 2.  After being forced to separate because of school choice and a change of parental custody, the three keep a bond through high school.  After Stone and Sadler join the military, the three decide to take a backpacking trip through Europe and hit as many sites as possible.  Splicing their pasts with their present, the film comes to a climax when they leave Amsterdam to get to Paris, France, their last stop on the route.
While aboard the train, the group happens to be in the midst of an attempted attack by an ISIS insurgent.  After the terrorist shoots a passenger who tries to stop him, the group begins to rally against him, using their own skills to prevent further injury.
The film is very well directed, and is intense throughout.  The main characters are likable and believable, and the viewer is rooting for them whether they are in a dance club in Amsterdam, a hostel in Italy, or especially protecting the people around them against a person who only wants to destroy any sense of security around people trying to enjoy a sightseeing trip.
Spencer Stone is the most prominently featured member of the group, and the film chronicles his transformation from a chubby adolescent war buff to a seasoned Air Force man.  Alek Skarlatos is the quiet muscle, nicknamed “The Robot,” who never falters and does not back down from any sort of altercation.  Anthony Sadler, who on a whim goes to visit his friends, becomes an irreplaceable part of the team.
The supporting cast of the film is also great.  Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, who play Stone’s and Skarlatos’ mothers respectively, although known for their comedy chops deliver great performances. Thomas Lennon as Principal Akers and Tony Hale as physical education teacher Coach Murray, also deliver in comedic yet defining roles in the main characters’ adolescence.  The children who portray the main characters at a young age, William Jennings as Spencer Stone, Bryce Gheisar as Alek Skarlatos, and Paul-Mikel Williams as Anthony Sadler, also deliver great performances. The fact that the protagonists portray themselves is something that is not often seen, and it is obvious that the three are not seasoned actors, which is understandable.  That vulnerability brings some uncomfortable scenes to the film, but it also makes for an interesting dynamic to a very recent historic event.
The film’s theme is that every person’s destiny is molded by the obstacles that they face.  It is an uplifting film that shows that it doesn’t matter what country a person is from or what they believe, if people band together, any hurdle can be overcome.  Although the film seems predictable throughout, it is factually accurate for the most part, and definitely worth the watch.

The film Winchester, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, is a haunted house movie that is inspired by the true story of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), who is the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which was left to her by her late husband, William Winchester.  After the death of her husband and child, Sarah believes that her house is haunted by the ghosts of the people who have been killed by her husband’s creation.

Set in 1906 San Diego, Sarah has built a house that she continues to build upon with no real rhyme or reason, except for appeasing spirits.  When the trustees of her late husband’s company question the validity of her claims, they attempt to have her sanity evaluated by a psychologist.  The psychologist that is chosen is a Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who at first is hesitant, but after being made an offer that was impossible to decline, he reluctantly accepts.  Clark is a person who has been battling his own demons, including addiction to opiates that he uses to deal with the death of his wife.

At the Winchester Mansion, the audience is introduced to Sarah’s family member Marian Mariott (Sarah Snook), who lives with her elderly matriarch with her son, Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey).  It is found that Henry has been acting strangely, and seems to be possessed by some sort of otherworldly entity.  While attempting to psychoanalyze Sarah, he begins to realize that she is also sizing him up.  As Dr. Price begins to see the ghosts, his assessment predispositions of Sarah begin to change.  As he finds out that Sarah has been adding the rooms due to a desire to give the ghosts closure after their brutal deaths from her namesake’s company, he begins to investigate the creepy goings on in the mansion.

The movie is a lazy attempt to capitalize on some of the recent ghost movies (which also claim to be based on true events) that have gotten relatively good reviews and have done well at the box office, including The Conjuring movies and Annabelle.  The film relies on jump scares through the beginning scenes, but then fails to really bring any sort of fear that the concept definitely could have used.  The acting is subpar, and none of the characters have any real likeability.  The true story of the Winchester Mystery House is fascinating, and many people believe that there is definitely supernatural activity in the house, but the film fails to capture any of the imagination that definitely could have improved the story.

All in all, this film is not worth the time of watching.  The scariest part of the movie if the fact that after a little more than an hour and half, there is no desire to watch another minute.

The film Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper, is a grizzly, throwback Western that brings some of the elements of early cowboy movies to the contemporary big screen.  The film centers around the transportation of an imprisoned, dying chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), along with his family,  by Union Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), who is accompanied by a handpicked battalion of soldiers, from Fort Berringer, New Mexico to Yellow Hawk’s homeland of Montana.  

The film captures many of the elements that make the cowboy movies of the past great, but also is an allegory that represents many issues that are at the forefront today.  

The film opens in a grisly way, setting the stage for external and internal struggles for both the Native Americans and the people who have settled on and continue to take their land.  When Blocker, who nearing retirement, is tasked with transporting the convoy of Cheyennes, whom he despises, on the long journey, he is extremely displeased.  As a soldier who has given everything for his country, he feels as though this is a backwards, if not futile, task that he should not have to endure.  When he is backed into a wall by his superior officer, he insists that he must take his most trusted men, including his friend Thomas Metz (Roy Cochrane), with whom he often reminisces about their time together in their early days of service, Rudy Kiddor (Jesse Plemons), a recruit fresh out of West Point who always plays by the rules but has limited military service, and Corporal Henry Woodson (Jonathan Majors), a former Buffalo Soldier and a trusted flank for Blocker who is reliable and extremely adept.  

While moving Yellow Hawk and his family, the group encounters Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), who is hiding from Comanche soldiers who have taken everything that she has.  When Blocker sees her situation, he brings her along in hopes of getting her to safety when arriving at another fort along the way.  

During the journey, Blocker begins to realize that his predispositions and experiences are not unlike those faced by many of the natives who have battled his people since the Europeans came to the continent.  With much mistrust and apprehension, the group must band together to achieve a common goal of reaching Montana, thus allowing Blocker to finally get to his retirement and for Yellow Hawk and his family to get back to their homeland to have the chief live the rest of his life.  

The journey is full of obstacles and skirmishes, with each character faced with their own strengths and weaknesses.  The slow burn intensity keeps the movie suspenseful throughout.  The characters have to look inside themselves and abandon preconceptions and realize that there are redeeming qualities to people whom they have hated for years before.  

The film tackles some issues that have been in the forefront of the news in recent years.  Post traumatic stress syndrome is something that plagues many characters throughout. Predispositions and prejudices about what is right and wrong are burdens on the majority of the characters for the duration.  

The acting in the movie is great.  Christian Bale, as always, does a masterful job of portraying Blocker.  Adam Beach as Black Hawk, Yellow Hawk’s son, is very good as a fearless warrior in the movie.  Majors, Plemons, and Cochrane also are very good characters.  Q’orianka Kilcher as Elk Woman, Black Hawk’s wife, and Xavier Horsechief as Little Bear, their son, also are very good, believable characters.  Each character brings their own element of importance to the film, and drives the plot along that never leaves the audience bored.  

Hostiles is a very good western movie, but it does have its flaws.  The film can be predictable at times, and the internal struggles of the characters never really drive any of the major plot points.  The movement of a group of people through the Wild West will always be something that is intriguing and exciting, but the film falls short in really making the audience empathize with any of the characters.  Hostiles is definitely worth seeing, but it doesn’t hold up with most of the best films of the genre.

Den of Thieves, directed by Christian Gudegast, is the first big heist movie of 2018.  Drawing influence from some of the biggest crime movies of the last few years, the movie brings a lot of intensity and buildup that can appear cliche throughout, but Gudegast seems to know this and stays true to the formula.  

The film starts out with a shootout at an armored truck robbery, and it is immediately evident that the robbers are professionals.  With a seemingly evident modus operandi of only shooting at men in uniform, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, led by Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler), undertake the investigation using some less than legal methods of obtaining the villains.  By trying to obtain information from a local bartender who moonlights as the gang’s driver, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who unwittingly becomes caught between the police and his militant gang of thieves.  

Most of the film’s buildup is the contrast between the hunting of the alpha male of the crew, Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who has already been incarcerated for pulling off some big heists in some major banks of Los Angeles, and the planning and execution of robbing the Federal Reserve building in L.A.  Using military tactics and strategy, the outlaws try to outwit Flanagan and his cronies by being one step ahead of them at all times.  

The robbers’ crew is much more interesting than the police officers, and there are many more recognizable faces.  Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, as Levi Enson, is the muscle of the crew, showing braun as well as a coolness under pressure throughout the movie.  Evan Jones (Cheddar Bob from 8 Mile),plays Bosco, a technician who can manipulate data and engineer blackouts throughout the city.  Cooper Andrews as Mack, a Samoan facilitator of robberies, also brings a lot of personality to the crew.  

Bulter, as Flanagan, an alcoholic police officer with seemingly nothing to lose, does a pretty good job of making the viewer feel some empathy towards his cause.  Butler still looks menacing, and his grizzled look gives his character a feel of the downtrodden sheriff of the Old West films.  

The most interesting character is Jackson’s Donnie, who has to play on both sides of the law.   Going from bartender to Chinese delivery man to getaway driver, his eminent cool, which obviously runs in his genes, is evident throughout.  From start to finish, Jackson is the best part of the movie.

Den of Thieves almost seems too familiar, with many elements borrowed from films like Ocean’s 11, The Town, and Training Day.  Many of the scenes of planning and execution are predictable and the viewer is expecting a twist throughout the film.  Although the movie is very well-cast, it almost seems like a recycled concept brought to fruition.  

The movie is fun to watch, and doesn’t require much thought.  It brings the concept of gunslingers and bank robbers into modern times.  During the season that most people will be catching up on all of the Oscar nominees, this is somewhat of a good curveball to divert attention.  Den of Thieves definitely will not win any awards, but if you are looking for mindless fun with a good cast, it is worth the watch.  

The film The Post, although taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is an extremely powerful commentary on the power and necessity of the First Amendment and freedom of the press.  With outstanding performances by Meryl Streep as Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the film highlights the importance of having transparency in government.  Following the lead of films such as All the President’s Men and Spotlight, The Post takes a nostalgic approach to looking at what basic rights make America the world’s most successful democracy.  

Opening up with a war scene in guerilla combat in the Vietnam War, the film flashes to Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a whistleblower from the New York Times who systematically smuggles the Pentagon Papers, which show the corruption and purposeful misleading of the public from Eisenhower’s administration up throughl Nixon’s, out of the Times building.  When the White House threatens to sue the Times for treason, it brings about a struggle for the press to determine what should and will be reported.  

Meryl Streep does a great job of portraying Katherine Graham, who is in charge of running the Washington Post after her husband commits suicide, has to deal with her close relationship with former Secretary of State Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who is explicitly implicated in the Papers, as well as the blatant misogyny of the time period.  Hanks’ Bradlee, as a former friend of John F. Kennedy, also has to wrestle with his duty to inform the public and balance his relationships with people of power.  

Bob Odenkirk steals the show as Ben Bagdikian, a reporter for the Post that is friends with Ellsberg and arranges the delivery of the Papers to the newspaper that is struggling to stay afloat.  Once this happens, every party involved is on the hot seat, including the President of the United States.  Through surveillance and limited access to the White House, both Graham and Bradlee are under the proverbial microscope of the American government.  

The movie has a Mad Men-esque feel to it, with an office setting with the main reporters working around the clock to give information to the people of the country.  The process of printing a newspaper during the time period is very interesting, and shows how much progress the industry has made in the last fifty years.  From the top reporters to the lowest interns, it is shown how important each is, and how much is at stake for not only the individual, but the First Amendment as a whole.  

The Post is very well made, and definitely gives the viewer the perspective of a reporter with an inherent duty to bring the public information that drives the machine thas the democratic republic in which we live. Rife with drama, comedy, and thoughtfulness, it flows extremely well and leaves the audience wanting more.  Although, in my opinion, it falls short of its predecessors that tackle the subject of the press trying to detail the morality of transparency of government, it is extremely watchable and worth the watch.  We can look forward to seeing The Post coming up a lot during awards season, and the message that it propagates is, today, as pertinent as ever.

Molly’s Game, directed by Aaron Sorkin, is a drama that centers around the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic skier, who eventually gets caught up in the underground world of high-stakes gambling. Based on Bloom’s memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, the film explores the dark reality of gambling, racketeering, addiction, and how deep people can get before everything comes crumbling down.

The beginning of the film spends time developing Bloom’s background as an Olympic-caliber skier with potential to be the best. She is often prodded by her father, Larry (Kevin Costner), an overbearing perfectionist who pushes Molly to the brink of breaking down. After a devastating fall ends her skiing career, she attempts to take some time off to wind down in California. While out west, she is assigned by her aggressively misogynistic boss, Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong) to run an underground poker game with many celebrities, including actors, athletes, and Hollywood bigwigs. When Molly decides to start running her own game, it leads her to getting involved with some people connected with both the Russian and Italian mobs.

When Molly is arrested for racketeering charges, she is forced to get a lawyer. Once determining that Molly’s interpretation of what occurred is credible by reading her memoir, Attorney Charlie Jaffrey (Idris Alba) takes on her case in order to try to get Molly the justice she deserves. Alba serves as the moral compass throughout the film, and his perspective is one which would resonate with laymen.

Aaron Sorkin’s direction of the movie gives the audience the feeling of being involved in the games that are played throughout. The film describes how hands win through visuals and explains what different poker terms mean which allows a person who does not understand poker to follow the film and understand the mindset of the players. The film is long, but never seems to drag because of the constant suspense and good dialogue from the characters.

Although Molly Bloom refused to name names of real celebrities, stand-ins and amalgamations of real people are fun to watch throughout the movie. Michael Cera plays “Player X,” a rich actor who also doubles as a virtually unbeatable poker player. His intentions and affect waver throughout the movie, and Cera does a great job of playing a character that is well outside of his usual well-to-do nerd. The other players in the games portray the downward spiral addiction can cause, whether it be gambling, drugs, alcohol, or all three. Chris O’Dowd’s Douglas Downy is a down and out gambler with an alcohol problem, but plays the part with a very likable air to him. Harlan Eustice (Bill Camp) is a compulsive gambler who does not know when to call it quits. All of these secondary characters bring many different dynamics to the film to give the audience a litmus test about what is right and wrong.

Molly’s interactions with different members of the Russian and Italian mafias give insight into the inherent danger that is involved in illegal gambling and racketeering. With some wince-inducing scenes of intimidation and violence, the audience is exposed to the dark side of what seems like an otherwise party-filled, frat house card game.

Sticking with a recent common theme of the advantages and disadvantages of American greed and hubris, the film is an extremely interesting insight into the life of a person who had everything going for her, but allowed it to slip away. The commentaries on the current state of American media and the TMZera that contemporary celebrities have to deal with is also very evident throughout. The movie is definitely worth seeing, and is entertaining and interesting throughout.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, directed by Jake Kasdan, is a new take on the classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji, and a pseudo-sequel to the 1995 film of the same name.  

Going away from the previous premise of bringing a board game to life, this film brings a group of high school students into a situation in which they are sucked into a video game, adopting their respective video game characters’ physical and scientific attributes while maintaining their own personalities.  

Unlike the original 1995 film, in which the game Jumanji brings the jungle to the characters, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — as the title states — brings the characters to the jungle.

Disappointingly enough, this new iteration of Jumanji doesn’t involve nearly as many jungle animals as the 1995 film and is dictated solely on the action of the characters instead of their jungle counterparts.

The film begins with a prologue that takes place in 1996 in Brantford, New Hampshire, the setting of the original film.   The audience is introduced to a college student named Alex, at  whose father finds the ominous board game on a beach and gives it to his son.  The game starts to play the ominous drum beats and turns into a video game cartridge that Alex decides to try.  Alex chooses his character and is sucked into the jungle nightmare of Jumanji.  

In a scene reminiscent of the popular 80s teen film Breakfast Club — a nerd, a jock, a popular girl, and a quiet, Ivy League bound girl find themselves in a Saturday detention and are tasked with cleaning an old storage closet.  Rather than removing staples from some books, the group stumbles upon the old cartridge and decide to give it a try.  When they choose their characters, they are also sucked into the game and fall into the land of Jumanji and are tasked with saving the jungle from a villain named Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) — an updated version of the villain from the 1995 film — who is attempting to control a jewel that is situated on a statue of a jaguar that allows him full control over the animal kingdom.  

The students at the beginning of the film do a good job of setting the stage for their blockbuster star counterparts to emulate their personalities.  Alex Wolff, who is most famous for his role as Dzhookhar Tsarnaev in 2016’s Patriots Day, plays the mild-mannered Spencer, who gets a giant body transformation into his avatar, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, who happens to have the physical attributes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  

Although still having the angst and anxiety of a person who is picked on in high school, he is the most powerful character in the game.  

The bigtime football player, Fridge, is played by Ser’Darius Blain, a hulking human whose physically imposing presence strikes fear into all of his peers.  When he comes back as the diminutive Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by Kevin Hart, he is upset to see that his physical ability and size has been taken away from him and he is an unathletic, quick witted sidekick to Johnson’s Bravestone.  

Morgan Turner is the driven student, Martha, who eventually becomes the bombshell Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and has a set of skills akin to Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.  The most drastic transformation comes from the character of Bethany (Madison Iseman), who becomes Professor Sheldon Oberon, played by Jack Black.  

The comedy in the film is very good, and for the most part there are nonstop laughs.  The cast of characters in the jungle are fun to watch, and the chemistry is great.   Dwayne Johnson, as always, steals the show and his charisma and comedic timing essentially drive the film.  Jack Black’s Sheldon/Bethany is at first seemingly annoying, but as the film moves forward, becomes one of the funniest parts of the movie.  Hart’s Finbar is pretty much Kevin Hart playing Kevin Hart in every movie that he is in, but does a good job being the opposite of what his “real life” alter-ego has the ability to do.  

Karen Gillan, who has a very large role in this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, also has some scenes (one of her strengths is dance fighting) that will keep the audience wanting more.  There is also a cameo from Nick Jonas as the adult Alex character from the beginning of the film that ties up some loose ends in the film.  

The big knock on the film is the fact that there is not much of a plot.  The film basically relies on the fact that the dynamic cast will carry the movie, on which they do a good job of following through.  The credits roll with the fact that the film is based on the book, but the movie is absolutely nothing like the original book, or the original film.  There are a few references that allude to the 1995 film, but nothing that is that important to the plot.  The villain, Van Pelt, does not bring anything close to the character from the original movie from which he is adapted.

Overall, the film is definitely fun to watch.  Most moviegoers who are looking for a popcorn flick will not be disappointed.  The movie is fun, funny, and action-packed, and as we said before, the cast couldn’t be better.  If you are looking for a movie that is going to get a buzz during Oscar season, this probably is not it.  However, if you want a movie that you don’t really have to follow or think about, but want a few laughs and action, you will not be disappointed.   

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the ninth installment of what may be the most popular franchise in movie history, starts off with a bang and continues to carry that bang through the duration of the film.

Beginning with the ever-recognizable “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” into the opening scroll, the film captures the excitement and anticipation that have turned George Lucas’ creations into a billion dollar cash cow that spans far beyond the big screen.

The film begins with the ominous Star Destroyer ships that are the usual openings to the films, and the audience is reintroduced to one of the heroes of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), as he orchestrates a brave, if not stupid, attack on the Empire’s fleet in order to escape into hyperspace, but loses some key members of the Rebel Alliance along the way.  

He is reprimanded by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) for not being tactful in the operation and is demoted from being a high-ranking officer to a regular member of the X-Wing crew.  When Leia is injured in a subsequent strike, it leads to Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) being in charge rather than Dameron, leading to a struggle of power within the Rebel force.  Meanwhile, the former Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel Finn (John Boyega) is paired with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a journey to find a codebreaker that may help get the Alliance back on track, as well as Finn’s desire to find Rey.  

In Ach-To,  Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has unwittingly been tracked down by the relentless Rey (Daisy Ridley), along with Star Wars staple heroes Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and droid R2-D2 aboard the recently demised the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s famous ship.

Upon finding Skywalker, the group sees a man that had every possible opportunity to fight against the Empire, but has abandoned his need to rise up and has accepted his fate as the last man who can carry the credo and presence of the Jedi order.  When the group, most convincingly R2, let Skywalker know about the death of Han Solo, the Jedi master agrees to give Rey some lessons about how to master the Force.  This part of the movie elicits the feel of a kung fu  film, with a new, stubborn student attempting to overcome an innate rage and find what it truly means to become a Jedi.  With Luke acknowledging a mistake of which he will never let go, it brings both he and Rey to a point that they both have to overcome their pasts.  

Adam Driver reprises his role as Kylo Ren, and does a great job of bringing a shade of grey to the character that, in The Force Awakens, was more of a spoiled brat than the heir apparent to Darth Vader.  He is under the beckon call of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who exemplifies the unshakable confidence of an omnipotent dictator.  The commanding general of the Empire’s fleet, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), is a good fit for his part as a scared underling to the Empire’s most feared duo, much akin to General Tarkin (Peter Cushing) in A New Hope.  All three of these characters tangibly make the audience understand why the Rebellion really is the only hope.  

The film is action-packed, and virtually never stops from beginning to end.  The space battles are extremely well done, with some great X-Wing/TIE Fighter battles of which George Lucas would have dreamed in 1977.  The epic battle scenes utilizing some of the machines of old combined with some new creations are great.  There are numerous lightsaber duels that will go down as some of the best in the franchise’s history, including one with Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker.    

The female cast in the movie steals the show.  In Carrie Fisher’s last performance, Leia continues to be a leader who always does what is best for the Rebel Alliance’s goal to overthrow the empire.  Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the perfect student to Hamill’s Skywalker, and her internal conflict of being the chosen one and her connection to Kylo Ren serve as a great storyline throughout.  Laura Dern as Holdo is a very strong presence throughout the movie, and does a great job of being a foil to Isaac’s Dameron.  

The Last Jedi is easily the best of the films made after the original trilogy.  As a fan, there are so many callbacks and direct references to the originals (including appearances by Yoda, Maz Kanata, Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Nunb), and the story parallels most of the original themes that the original trilogy exemplified, with the new cast paying homage to the originals while paving their own bright future. Go see The Last Jedi in theaters, the Force is strong with this one.  

The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco and based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, chronicles the production of what may possibly be the most notoriously bad film to ever see the light of day, The Room (2003).  The film follows the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and his friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) through their trials and tribulations in Hollywood that eventually lead to the production of a movie so bad that it is culturally revered.  

The film opens with real-life comedy greats and Hollywood bigshots (Kevin Smith, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, J.J. Abrams, and Kristen Bell to name a few)  giving praise to the original film, lauding its uncharacteristic and extremely comical, if not sad, rise to such a prominent level of cultural significance.  The film then flashes to San Francisco in 1998, where Greg Sestero is failing miserably on stage at an acting class.  After being critiqued and berated for his lack of passion and talent by his teacher (Melanie Griffith),  the enigmatic Wiseau approaches the stage for his turn to act.  After an extremely uncomfortable, unintelligible yet fearless rendition of the “Stella” scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, Sestero realizes that Wiseau has the precise reckless abandon that he himself needs to succeed.  When Sestero befriends Wiseau and they realize they both share a desire to be Hollywood stars, Wiseau insists that Sestero join him to live in his L.A. apartment and pursue the endeavor together, with little plan or system.  

With Sestero having mixed success getting an agent (Sharon Stone) and auditions as well as a girlfriend, Amber (Alison Brie), Wisteau grows more jealous and erratic in their interactions.  Channeling his anger into an “artistic” outlet, Tommy pens the screenplay for The Room.  After making Sestero read the entire screenplay in one sitting, he insists that Greg play the second lead in the film and that he would be entirely funding the project.  

Once the process of making the movie commences, the audience is introduced to the cast and crew of The Room, which is the best part of the movie.  The crewmembers are great, and include Seth Rogan as script supervisor Sandy, Paul Scheer as a Raphael, a disgruntled production assistant, and Hannibal Burress and Jason Mantzoukas (The League) as the owners of the lot on which the movie is filmed, and make the absurdity of the entire production more tangible.  The actors are also very believable and interesting, with an excellent performance by Zac Efron as Dan, an actor who plays the over-the-top intense “Chris R.”  

Franco’s Wiseau is a dead-on impersonation, and he is virtually unrecognizable in the role.  His undecipherable accent is accurate for his character, who has become famous for having an unknown background.  Franco emits the desire of Wiseau to succeed with an obviously less-than-ideal set of skills.  His charisma and drive throughout the movie make the character likeable and at times sympathetic, and he nails many of the iconic lines that Tommy delivers in the original film.  

The cinematography of the film is very well done, and gives a very nostalgic nod to the early 2000s with the music, scenery, and style.  While the portion of the movie in which they are filming The Room is almost documentary-style, it definitely helps to highlight the insanity of the production in a comedic way.  At the end of the film, the side-by-side reels from The Disaster Artist juxtaposed with the respective scenes from The Room are uncanny and extremely entertaining.  

The Disaster Artist is definitely an industry film, and gives many winks to Hollywood in general.  The celebrity cameos are almost constant, and they deliver a great punch to the movie.  The movie could be characterized as a biography, comedy, drama, buddy film, and a rise to success movie, and hits the nail on the head on every level.  This film about Tommy Wiseau will be a huge success, but this time because it is actually excellent.  

The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat Nalluri and based on the book of the same title by Les Sandiford, is a welcome holiday movie amidst many subpar recent releases in the last few weeks.  The film chronicles the creative process of Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) while he writes his quintessential holiday story, A Christmas Carol.  

The film begins in 1842, with Dickens coming off of his biggest success to date, Oliver Twist, and making a speaking tour through the United States to much fanfare.  It then flashes to October 1843, and Dickens has failed on his last three books and is desperate to earn money to support his upper class Victorian lifestyle.  It is shown that Dickens spends much of his time in his office trying to think of ideas with little success.  Although desperate for ideas, he and his friend John Forster (Justin Edwards) go to his publisher to pitch a new, unannounced book.  This sets the stage for Dickens’ restless attempts to develop characters and a story in a very tight timeframe.

The story really takes off when Dickens starts taking inspiration from the people around him, creating a world that will become his magnum opus.  As the characters develop, they follow him, much like the ghosts follow Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, giving him ideas and inspiration to get through the barriers faced in the writing process.

The imaginary characters from the book are great and elicit much of the ideals and characteristics of their counterparts from the original story.  The character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) is a great addition to show the struggle that Dickens faces while writing the story.  The imaginary character’s seemingly unwavering greed and misanthropy eventually bring Dickens to face his own past and reality.

The family and friends of Dickens also do a great job of driving the story along.  One of his housekeepers, Tara (Anna Murphy), serves as one of his major inspirations throughout the film.  Forster is a great character and voice of reason for Dickens for the duration of the movie.  Jonathan Pryce of Game of Thrones plays Charles’ father, John, and although being seemingly burdensome to Charles, brings a lot of the love and spirit that the original story emits.

Stevens’ Dickens takes over the picture from the beginning to the end.  The up and coming actor has great charisma, and takes an iconic name and creates a character to whom anyone can relate.  Charming and funny, but with a bit of an edge and a past that is constructed in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, he brings Dickens to life in a way that has never been attempted.

The film is very well done, and the music and cinematography give the film a cheery, Disney-esque feel.  The movie never feels like a true “Christmas movie” in the organic sense, but as the film progresses, there is the total sense of contentment that is expected of a holiday classic.  

The movie is definitely worth watching for anyone who appreciates the Christmas genre, but it’s probably more enjoyable to watch in a family living room than a movie theater.  The movie doesn’t reinvent the Christmas movie, but it is a feel good holiday movie that is good for the whole family.