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Josh Reviews Molly’s Game

Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the book Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom.  Molly trained to be a competitive skier, but when an injury ended her sports career, she found herself adrift.  A job as an assistant eventually led her to become responsible for setting up a high stakes poker game.  Molly became the manager of that weekly game, which developed into her managing her own business and multiple games frequented by movie stars and other extremely wealthy individuals.  But it all came crashing down when Molly was arrested and charged with money laundering and running an illegal sports gambling operation.

I first became a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s watching The West Wing, which still stands as one of the finest TV series ever made (at least the first four seasons which Mr. Sorkin masterminded).  I then went back and devoured Sports Night (which, if you’ve never seen, you need to run, don’t walk, and watch immediately), and I have been a faithful fan ever since, following Mr. Sorkin through his subsequent shows (all of which I have enjoyed, even though none have come close to The West Wing or Sports Night) and, of course, all of his fantastic movie work.  Mr. Sorkin has scripted some of my very favorite movies, including A Few Good Men (which I just recently rewatched for the umpteenth time, and it holds up SO WELL), An American President (say it with me, folks: “this is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.  My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I AM the President”), Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs.  (I love ALL of those films.)  Mr. Sorkin wrote Molly’s Game and the film is his directorial debut.

I really enjoyed this film.  I don’t know if any of what is depicted in the film is true to Molly Bloom’s real life and experiences.  But the Molly Bloom who is the main character in this film is a spectacular character, one who is very much of this particular moment.  This is the story of a strong woman who is surrounded by arrogant, domineering men, and who sets out to be her own woman and make her own way, as unorthodox as the path she chooses might be.  It’s an inspiring tale, frankly!  Is any of this true?  Is Molly Bloom actually this strong, principled woman, or is this mythologizing bullshit?  I don’t know, and the movie is so good that I don’t care.  Some based-on-real-life movies fall apart for me once I start questioning … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2017 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my list of my favorite movies of 2017, and click here for part two!  And now, onwards into my TOP TEN:

10. It 2017 brought two Stephen King adaptations that I was super-excited about.  Sadly, The Dark Tower was a dud, but It was even better than I had dared hope.  The film is very scary and filled with the sorts of nightmare-inducing imagery that you might expect.  But the reason the movie works as well as it does is that, just as the original novel did, it takes the time to develop every one of the seven kids who are involved in the story, so that by the end you know and care about every single one of them.  There isn’t a weak link in this remarkable assemblage of child actors.  I am almost sorry that the sequel will feature these characters as adults (the original novel tells two parallel stories, but this first film adaptation wisely chose to only tell the half of the story set when the kids were thirteen), because I’d love to see lots more movies with this cast!  Like all the best fantasy or sci-fi stories, the fantastical elements in It are an allegory.  It is a story about growing up, about that moment in which one leaves childhood behind and takes that first, tentative step into adulthood and the wider world beyond.  I was hooked into this film from the first frame until the last.  (Click here for my full review.)

9. Baby Driver  That Edgar Wright has not directed a film since his vastly-underrated 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a crime against humanity, a fact reinforced by how terrific his long-awaited return to cinemas, Baby Driver, is.  This is a fiercely entertaining rush of a film, with every instant of screen-time packed to the gills with great music, exciting action sequences, and witty dialogue.  The cast is spectacular (Jon Hamm is a stand-out), the dialogue is razor-sharp, and the film’s score is magnificent, a marvelous array of music that comes together to create a distinct world and vibe for the film.  The main character Baby’s identity is wrapped up in the music he listens to (particularly when working as a get-away driver for criminals) and the music he makes, and so too is Baby Driver the film completely of a piece with the music in its score.  And who knew Edgar Wright could direct action so well??  The car-chase action in the film is extraordinary, visceral and thrilling.  Baby Driver is pure cinematic joy from start to finish.  (Click here for my full review.)

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top Twenty Movies of 2015, listing numbers twenty through sixteen.  Now, on with my list!

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - July 16, 2014

15. Trainwreck A perfect vehicle for Amy Schumer (who wrote the film, in addition to starring in it) and a wonderful combination of her very specific comedic sensibilities with those of director Judd Apatow, it’s no surprise that Trainwreck was a breakout hit for Ms. Schumer.  That a raunchy comedy can have a woman as the lead shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is.  The film is hugely funny and elevated by a spectacular cast including Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, a who-knew-he-could-be-so-funnt LeBron James, and many more.  But the film is Ms. Schumer’s show and she crushes it from start to finish.  Trainwreck would be higher on my list if it didn’t fall into a few romantic-comedy cliches in the third act, but it’s hard to criticize a film that is so joyously funny and filthy.  (Click here for my original review.)

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14. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation I still can’t believe how much better this film wound up being that this year’s James Bond installment Spectre Both films are about our super-spy hero uncovering a super-secret criminal organization that, it turns out, is responsible for most of the acts of terror happening around the world.  Both are globe-hopping action-adventure stories, both feature our hero assisted by a small cadre of allies and meeting a woman who shares the adventure.  And yet Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation crushes Spectre in every way.  I just re-watched Rogue Nation last week, and I was again bowled over by what a fun, thrilling roller-coaster-ride it was.  Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has a perfect command of tone, creating a film that is a ridiculously entertaining romp that also has serious physical and emotional stakes for our heroes.  The film is gorgeous to look at and extremely well-edited.  The action sequences are spectacular.  That Tom Cruise hanging-off-an-airplane stunt that opens the film got everyone’s attention, and rightly so.  The sequence is magnificent.  (And once again an example of this Mission: Impossible film out-Bonding Bond, as this opening action sequence — a Bond-movie trademark — is far more memorable than anything in Spectre.)  But there are so many other amazing action sequences in the film, from the extraordinary opera fight, to the underwater break-in, to that last big shoot-out-and-chase through the streets of London, and don’t forget my favorite: the escalatingly crazy car-and-motorcycle chase in-and-around Morocco.  Making great use of the ensemble from the last two M:I films (including Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames) … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Steve Jobs

The film Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, is divided into three vignettes, each taking place in the moments before Steve Jobs will go on-stage to announce the launch of a new product.  The first vignette is in 1984, at the launch of the Macintosh computer.  The second is in 1988, after Jobs’ ouster from Apple (the company he had co-founded), at Jobs’ presentation of the NeXT computer.  The third and final vignette is in 1988.  Jobs is back at Apple and is about to present the iMac.

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Steve Jobs has a very theatrical feeling, with its three-act/three-vignette structure.  Though the film is an original screenplay, written by Aaron Sorkin based on Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Mr. Jobs, as well as on additional interviews conducted by Mr. Sorkin and the filmmaking team, it feels very much like an adaptation of a play.  The tone reminds me very much of some of the films that David Mamet wrote, adapting his own plays, both because of the very stylized dialogue and also because of the theatrical structure.  (This is on my mind as I just last week watched Mr. Mamet’s 1996 film American Buffalo for the first time, which is an adaptation of Mr. Mamet’s stage play of the same name.)

I sort of love this three-act structure here in Steve Jobs.  The challenge of biopics is that of condensing a subject’s entire life into a two-hour film.  Many biopics over-reach, trying to cram in every major life event of the subject, and wind up feeling bloated and, at the same time, very superficial.  I tend to prefer the approach taken by films like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln that focus in more narrowly on a specific period in the subject’s life.  Here in Steve Jobs, Mr. Sorkin has taken a different, and very clever, approach.  By dividing the film into three sequences at three different points in Mr. Jobs’ life, we are able to get a sense of the over-all ups and downs of his career, while also allowing the film to have a clear focus: on these three momentous events in Mr. Jobs’ life and career.

When watching biopics, or any films based on real-life people and/or events, I often find myself judging the film based on its accuracy to the real-life events.  I hate it when films twist the truth of real-life people or events in order to make what they think is a more palatable story for a movie.  A film like A Beautiful Mind was well-made and well-performed, but it seemed to so clearly gloss over some of the difficult realities of John Nash that I found I had little patience for it.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Newsroom Season Two

September 25th, 2013
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The two-hour finale of The Newsroom season two, “Election Night” Parts I & II, were in my opinion probably as good as the show has ever been in its two short seasons on HBO (ten episodes in season one, only nine in season two).  This is good news and bad, as on the one hand I quite enjoyed these two episodes, while on the other hand I think The Newsroom remains the weakest of all four of Aaron Sorkin’s TV shows.  (Yes, my feeling right now is that this show is weaker than the much-criticized Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, though I have never re-watched Studio 60′s single season, so I readily admit that perhaps absence has made my heart grow a tad fonder for that show without good reason.)

In The Newsroom season two, Aaron Sorkin took a different approach than he did in season one.  While the show continued to be set in and around the real history of  2011 and 2012, allowing the characters to be involved with actual news-stories and political events, this season Mr. Sorkin crafted a season-long story-arc that was focused on a completely fictional event: the news-team’s discovery of an operation called Genoa, in which US troops used illegal Sarin gas during an operation in Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, as was made immediately clear in a framing sequence right at the start of the season two premiere, the story that News Night (the fictional news show featured on The Newsroom) reported about Genoa wound up being completely false, a huge journalistic screw-up that threatened to end all of our characters’ careers.

This story-line was hit and miss for me.  On the one hand, I loved the idea of a season-long story-arc.  While I enjoyed the device in season one of having the fictional show take place in and around real-life events, by the end of that initial season I was tired of Mr. Sorkin’s approach to those events, because usually they were used to make his News Night characters appear smarter thany all of the real-life journalists who reported those events.  It seemed a little too much to me.  I am all for TV characters being idealized — and that certainly worked perfectly in Mr. Sorkin’s greatest TV triumph, The West Wing — but in this case it seemed like all of the characters on The Newsroom were just a little too good, a little too perfect, for the show to be at all realistic.  It’s easy to criticize the media, looking back two-to-three years late with 20-20 hindsight, and making his characters super-perfect robbed the show, in my opinion, of some of its story-telling strength.

So I was excited by the story-telling … [continued]

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This is an old clip (it’s from 2012), but I just saw it for the first time and loved it: a revival of “Who’s on First” with Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal, and Jerry Seinfeld!

This made me laugh a LOT.  Ladies and gentlemen:  Good Will Batman.

This is an interesting article on the production of season two of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, a show I find enjoyable though frustrating.  (I was fascinated to learn the reason that season two only ran nine episodes, rather than ten.)

Bill Hunt runs one of my very favorite web-sites out there, The Digital Bits.  He recently wrote a phenomenal editorial calling Paramount to task for their terrible treatment of the Star Trek films on DVD/blu-ray, specifically the disappointing blu-ray release of Into Darkness (in which Paramount created all sorts of special features for the movie but, instead of putting them all on the blu-ray, released individual featurettes to different vendors to be exclusive material just for them… making it impossible for Trek fans to get all of this material unless they wanted to go out and buy eight different copies of the blu-ray, each from a different vendor).  I agree 100% with everything Mr. Hunt wrote.  Well done.

Speaking of Star Trek Into Darkness, Devin Faraci at Badassdigest has written a brilliant evisceration of the film and a disturbing analysis of how co-screenwriter Bob Orci’s conspiracy “Truther” theories about 9/11 made it into the film’s story-line.  The idea that those sorts of nonsensical ideas about 9/11 made it into any big-budget blockbuster would be concerning, and the thought that these notions are a part of a Star Trek film — a series justly known for its progressive, liberal tackling of modern-day issues — is hugely upsetting to me.

This is a terrific interview with the show-runners of the new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.  This husband and wife pairing can be overshadowed by Jed’s more-famous brother Joss (who is executive-producing the show), but I have loved their work on Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Maurissa KILLS on the musical commentary track!), and even some terrific Terminator comic books they wrote for Dark Horse comics a year or two ago.  I have a lot of faith in their talents.  I hope all the ingredients come together for this to be a great TV show.

Can this be true?  The blu-ray release of Paul Feig’s The Heat (click here for my review) features a commentary track by the original MST3K guys??  Well, I am definitely buying that blu-ray now!!

So… the new Robocop is a Cylon??

So…R.I.P. Futurama… again.  In honor of the show’s recent cancellation … [continued]

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The Newsroom Returns For Season Two

Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom has returned for season two, and I have seen the first two episodes.  If you loved season one, I think you will love season two. And if you hated season one, I think you will hate season two.  Because not much has changed.

For me, I find myself caught in the middle.  There is quite a lot to appreciate about The Newsroom.  The production values of the show are tremendous — the series looks absolutely gorgeous — and each episode is replete with phenomenal Aaron Sorkin banter and bon mot that is so unique and so unlike any other dialogue you will find on TV.

At yet the show also remains frustrating, in that — shocking for an Aaron Sorkin TV show — I find myself staggeringly unattached to, and almost actively disinterested in, any of the main characters on screen.  After his wonderful dialogue, I have found one of Mr. Sorkin’s greatest skills to be the way he is able to combine the main topic of his show (politics, sports, television production, etc.) with screwball comedy and romantic story lines, in which many of his main characters find themselves caught longing to be with the person they are not with.  This has been a key aspect of audience engagement with Mr. Sorkin’s shows, I think, as we have rooted for Casey (Peter Krause) and Dana (Felicity Huffman) to get together, and for Josh & Donna and Charlie & Zoey and Sam Seaborn & Mallory and Toby & Andrea and C.J. & Danny and even for Matt (Matthew Perry) and Harriet (Sarah Paulson).

But I don’t particularly like or root for any of the characters on The Newsroom.  Well, that’s a little harsh.  I do quite enjoy the character of Will McAvoy.  I think Jeff Daniels is dynamite as the show’s lead.  He is able to make Will endearing even though the character often behaves like a prick (or, as MacKenzie colorfully describes him in episode two of season two, “a douchebag”).  But I am not all that taken with the low-boil romantic tension between Will and MacKenzie, and I am painfully bored by the Jim and Maggie (Allison Pill) storyline.

In the first episode of season two, when we see the two of them stealing longing looks at one another while seated at their desks across their crowded workspace, my wife turned to me and said “It’s just like The Office!”  Except that Jim Harper is no Jim Halpert.  And Maggie Jordan is definitely no Pam Beesly.  One of my favorite moments in episode two of season two was when Maggie’s former best friend Lisa absolutely eviscerates Maggie for her terrible behavior.  It’s a satisfying … [continued]

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Sneak Peek at Aaron Sorkin’s Return to TV!

April 3rd, 2012

Check out the first substantial trailer for Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO show, The Newsroom:

Yes, it looks just like Sports Night crossed with Studio 60 crossed with The West Wing. In other words, a little familiar.  But I don’t care, I am pumped.  Can’t wait.… [continued]

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The Top 10 Movies of 2010 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Top 10 Movies from 2010.  Here now are numbers 5-1!

5. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work — This documentary totally took me by surprise and completely changed the way I look at Joan Rivers.  As the cameras follow Ms. Rivers for a year of her life, we see the struggles of this aging comedienne who wants, above all else, to keep working, working, working.  The film gives one ample opportunities to analyze just why Ms. Rivers is so intent on remaining in the public eye, whether that be by doing stand-up in clubs, hawking merchandise on the Home Shopping Network, or appearing on Celebrity Apprentice. But whatever one’s conclusions, positive or negative, I found it impossible not to be astounded by this woman’s endurance and stamina.  The film is well-crafted, and presents what I felt was an extraordinarily well-rounded picture of this iconic and polarizing figure.  (Click here for my full review.)

4. Toy Story 3 — One of these days the folks at Pixar are going to make a bad movie (I’m afraid it might be Cars 2, but we’ll see…) but for now I can only relish in their unparalleled recent win-streak of amazing films: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, and now Toy Story 3. This movie is simply deliriously entertaining.  It’s incredibly funny and also extraordinarily poignant.  While the ending certainly isn’t tragic, I nevertheless found it to be devastatingly sad.  It’s a wonderfully emotional climax to the story of Woody, Buzz and the gang, and pretty much every note is exactly perfect.  The voice cast is stupendous, and the animation is absolutely beautiful (as are the 3-D effects).  Pixar, my hat is off to you.  (Click here for my full review.)

3. Black Swan — I’ve been an admirer of Darren Aronofsky’s work for a while now, but this film made me a fan for life.  I couldn’t believe I’d ever go see a film about wrestling, let alone love a film about wrestling as much as I did Mr. Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler (click here for my review). And I DOUBLY wouldn’t have believed I’d ever go see a film about ballet dancers, let alone have been as head-over-heels in love with one as I am with Black Swan. The film is magnificent.  Natalie Portman dazzles in the lead role of Nina Sayers, the young dancer cast in the lead role of Swan Lake, who just might be losing her mind as she struggles to take her dancing to the next level.  The film is viscerally intense, with an escalating what-is-going-to-happen-NEXT mania that builds to a … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Social Network

It’s hard for me to a recall another film that has so bravely allowed its lead character to come off as so completely unlikable.  In The Social Network‘s power-house of a first scene, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is clearly presented to us as a Grade-A, prime-cut jackass.  It’s a hell of a way to start a movie!

As you are all probably aware, this arrogant Harvard undergrad is the man who will go on to become the billionaire creator of Facebook.  Based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaire, The Social Network follows Mark from his days at Harvard through the world-wide explosion of Facebook and the eventual lawsuits brought against him by several former Harvard classmates, including the young man who had once been his closest friend.

There has been some questioning of the accuracy of The Social Network, but screenwriter Aaron Sorkin defends the film.  He told Entertainment Weekly: “If we know what brand of beer Mark was drinking on a Tuesday night in October seven years ago when there were only three other people in the room, it should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subject and to the events.”  Producer Scott Rudin makes similar statements: “You can’t make untrue statements about someone without running the risk of getting sued.  Look around and notice that nobody has sued us.”

While of course I myself have no idea about whether events truly unfolded the way they are depicted in The Social Network, I can say that the film FEELS real to me.  All of the characters in the film — including Mark Zuckerberg — are depicted in a three-dimensional way.  There aren’t easy heroes and villains in the film — most of the characters seem likable and unlikable at different points in the narrative, just as real human beings are.  (This, to me, is in contrast to a film like A Beautiful Mind, in which it seemed so clear to me as a viewer that the filmmakers had shaved away any unlikable aspects to John Nash in order to create a more heroic lead for the film.)

But knowing that the parties involved strongly dispute just what went down over the course of the creation of Facebook, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin cleverly decided to embrace that ambiguity with the film’s structure.  As we watch events unfold chronologically, the film regularly cuts forward in time to the depositions in the two lawsuits eventually brought against Zuckerberg.  In those scenes, we see the participants debate and argue about the moments that we, the viewers, just saw occur.  This is a really smart way to allow the film … [continued]

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From The DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews A Few Good Men (1992)

A Few Good Men is one of those movies that I saw countless times in the nineties, to the point that I knew the film so well that it bored me. But then I stopped watching it, and when I decided to pop the film into my DVD player earlier this month, it had been many years since I’d last seen it.

While there are a few moments that haven’t aged well, overall I found A Few Good Men to still be a powerhouse of a film – just phenomenally entertaining.

This film is part of Rob Reiner’s astounding run of films – This is Spinal Tap (1984), The Sure Thing (1985), Stand By Me (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), When Harry Met Sally (1989). Has any other director had such a run of such phenomenal films, one after another? And what’s really astounding is how different they all are from one another – different genres, different styles. It’s unbelievable how good all of those films are (and how well they all hold up to this day).

Take a director at the top of his game, and mix him with a screenplay by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (adapting his own play), and you have a recipe for an amazing film. As with much of the work of Mr. Reiner and Mr. Sorkin, the story has a strong dramatic core – but it is also filled with a lot of humor.

It’s fun to watch this movie now and to see just how young Tom Cruise and Demi Moore are in this film. Cruise is just great – you can see his star-power shining through, bright and strong, in his protrayal of hot-shot young lawyer Daniel Kaffee. Moore is a little flatter, but still does well in the role of the stiff Lt. Cdr. Joe Galloway. I think this is one of her best performances. I feel the same way about Kevin Bacon. I tend to think that he’s a much better actor than Demi Moore, and there are certainly plenty of other films in which I’ve really enjoyed his performance. But still, I would argue that his role in A Few Good Men is one of his very best. I love the way he plays his relationship with Cruise’s Kaffee. There’s deep friendship, but also some rivalry and antagonism, between the two young men. In the hands of less-skilled actors, the relationship could have so easily tipped over to one side or the other – but Cruise and Bacon walk that fine line perfectly. I find their characters’ interplay to be endlessly fascinating, and one of the secret treasures of this film.

The great Kevin Pollack is amazing, as he … [continued]

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So is Peter Jackson going to direct The Hobbit? Or will it be his protege Neill Bolmkamp, who directed District 9? Who knows — I just hope this mess with MGM gets sorted out soon.  I’m still getting over my enormous disappointment that MGM’s financial situation resulted in Guillermo del Toro’s departure from The Hobbit films.  But boy would it be great to see PJ take the helm once again…

Great new trailer is up for The Social Network, the new film about facebook directed by David Fincher and scripted by Aaron Sorkin.

So, we finally got out first glimpse at The Green Hornet and… I’m still not quite sure what to think.  This film is either going to be awesome or a total catastrophe…

This is a cool poster.

CHUD’s list of the Worst CGI in Film History continues, and it’s well worth your time.

Will we ever get another decent X-Men film?  I loved X-Men and X2, but X3 was a crushing disappointment and the less spoken of the abominable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better.  I hate prequels, as a rule, so when word came out last year that the next X-film would be a prequel entitled X-Men: First Class, I thought that was a big mis-step.  So what now gives me hope?  Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick Ass) and stars James McAvoy (Children of Dune, Atonement, Wanter) as Professor X and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as Magneto.  An ember of hope is fanned…

Are we about to finally get another decent Predator film?  The first Predator is awesome — one on my favorite movies ever.  But the second one (set in the future with Danny Glover as the lead) is weak, and the less spoken of the two Alien Vs. Predator films the better.  But Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal’s Predators is set for release in just a few short weeks, and damn if this new trailer isn’t pretty awesome.  An ember of hope is fanned…

It’s hard for me to believe that a new Planet of the Apes film is really happening.  And now I read that John Lithgow and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) have joined the cast?  Um, okay… An ember of hope is… well… we’ll see…… [continued]