20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for action, violence and profanity
Fox Reboots Marvel Franchise With Character-Driven Origins Adventure
Marvel Comics first brought the Fantastic Four to the big screen a decade ago, and followed it up with a sequel a couple years later. Since neither generated much in the way of audience enthusiasm, 20th Century Fox has now seen fit to relaunch the flagging franchise rather than release a third installment.
The reboot was directed by Josh Trank, whose services were ostensibly retained on the strength of his impressive debut offering, the sci-fi thriller Chronicle. This picture stars Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara as siblings Johnny and Sue Storm, and Jamie Bell and Miles Teller as childhood friends Ben Grimm and Reed Richards, respectively.
Fantastic Four unfolds like a typical origins tale, developing a humanizing back story about each member of the tight-knit, title quartet and the freak accident which imbued them with superpowers, before the movie makes its inexorable march to an exciting finale featuring a special effects-driven battle royal. The point of departure is Oyster Bay, New York, in 2007, which is where we find precocious Reed informing his very skeptical, fifth grade teacher of his plans to teleport himself someday.
Not to worry. By the time he’s a senior in high school, Reed’s built a prototype with the help of his BFF Ben. And despite his Cymatic Matter Shuttle’s being disqualified from the science fair, the gifted egghead is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the director of the Baxter Foundation, a research institute for science and technology prodigies.
There, he’s befriended by Johnny and Sue. Along with Ben, the kids eventually attempt an unsanctioned trip to another dimension via the Quantum Gate, a contraption invented by Dr. Storm’s protégé, Victor (Toby Kebbell). However, something goes horribly wrong, and they inadvertently rip a hole in the fabric of the time/space continuum.
The calamity suddenly enables Reed (aka Mr. Fantastic) to stretch and contort his body, Johnny to fly and shoot fireballs, Sue to be invisible and create force fields, and badly disfigured Ben (aka The Thing) to exhibit invincibility and extraordinary strength. Meanwhile, Victor has developed telekinetic abilities and morphed into the diabolical Dr. Doom, a villain more powerful than any of the Fantastic Four individually, but not collectively.
That leaves them little choice but to join forces in defense of the planet. The anticlimactic showdown that takes forever to arrive proves to be riveting, although it’s almost an afterthought, since it basically serves as a perfunctory setup for the obligatory sequel.
A decent enough overhaul to recommend heartily as a pleasant escape from the hazy, hot, humid dog days of August.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 106 minutes
Reverential Biopic Chronicles Career Of Forgotten Jewish Philanthropist
Julius Rosenwald was born on August 12, 1862, in Springfield, Illinois, to a couple of German-Jewish immigrants who met each other in the U.S. His father was a traveling salesman who plied his trade by foot until he was able to save enough money to afford a horse.
Raised in a house located right across the street from the home of President Abraham Lincoln, Julius dropped out of high school and moved to New York City to learn the ins-and-outs of the garment industry. The aspiring clothier was befriended there by Henry Goldman, co-founder of Goldman Sachs.investment bank and a future financier of his business ventures.
Julius eventually moved to Chicago where he not only started a family with his wife Gussie but embarked on an enviable career as an entrepreneur. By 1906, he’d parlayed his success into a 50% stake in Sears Roebuck, and he subsequently orchestrated its expansion from a mail order catalog company into a mammoth department store chain. And, by the time he retired as CEO, he’d accumulated a fortune which, adjusted for inflation, would amount to over a billion in today’s dollars.
Believe it or not, that impressive accomplishment pales in comparison to Julius’ considerable cultural contributions as a philanthropist. For, as a devout Jew, he took to heart his faith’s solemn mandate to engage in compassionate charitable activities.
He was outraged by the disgraceful mistreatment of African-Americans in the South where most were denied access to decent public schools and libraries, based on the “separate but equal” rationale sanctioned by the Jim Crow system of segregation. After all, white supremacy was predicated on the belief that the education of minorities was a threat to be denied at all costs.
So, in 1912, Julius decided to join forces with Booker T. Washington in order to afford black Southerners a fair shot at the American Dream. Between then and his death in 1932, he would underwrite the construction of over 5,500 school buildings in poor, rural African-American communities. By the time he was done, a third of all black kids living in the South would be attending one of his institutions.
Of course, this development rankled inveterate racists, and many a Rosenwald school became the target of the Ku Klux Klan torch. Not one to be easily discouraged, however, Julius quickly resurrected any edifice burned to the ground, some on more than one occasion.
It is important to note that Julius did not restrict his philanthropic efforts to the South. For instance, he opened YMCAs for blacks in 25 cities where the organization’s facilities were designated “White Only,” including his hometown of Chicago. He also erected Rosenwald Courts, an upscale apartment complex in the Windy City which became home to Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Quincy Jones and other icons.
In addition, he sponsored substantial scholarships for promising African-American artists and academics, whether they were living in the U.S. or abroad. Among that program’s beneficiaries were Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Ralphe Bunche, Dr. Charles Drew and Marian Anderson, to name a few.
Directed by Aviva Kempner (The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg), Rosenwald is an inspirational and informative documentary which belatedly gives a little-known humanitarian his due. Paying homage, here, are a number of luminaries like Congressman John Lewis, director George C. Wolfe, Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson and the late poet laureate Maya Angelou, each of whom is a grateful alum of a Rosenwald school.
A touching bio about a selfless, self-made billionaire who’d probably prefer to be remembered as a tireless proponent of the notion that black lives matter.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 90 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening August 14, 2015
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (PG-13 for violence, suggestive material and partial nudity) Henry Cavill takes on the title role in this adaptation of the hit TV-series, set in the ’60s, revolving around a CIA Agent who joins forces with a KGB operative (Armie Hammer) to prevent a mysterious criminal syndicate from acquiring nuclear weapons. With Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Debicki.
Straight Outta Compton (R for violence, drug use, pervasive profanity, graphic sexuality and frontal nudity) Historical biopic revisiting the rise of the rap group N.W.A. in L.A. in 1987. Starring O’Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren and Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella. Support cast includes Keith Stanfield as Snoop Dogg, R. Marcus Taylor as Suge Knight and Marcc Rose as Tupac.
Underdogs (Unrated) Animated fantasy revolving around foosball game figurines who come to the assistance of a nerd (Matthew Morrison) who needs to win a match against the best soccer player in the world (Nicholas Hoult) in order to hold on to the woman of his dreams (Ariana Grande). Voice cast includes Taran Killam, John Leguizamo, Brian Doyle-Murray, Chazz Palminteri and Bobby Moynihan. (In Spanish and English with subtitles)
Air (PG-13 for violence, profanity and sexual references) Futuristic sci-fi about a couple of engineers (Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou) who represent the last hope for humanity after the planet runs out of oxygen. With Sandrine Holt, Paula Lindberg, Peter Benson and David Nykl.
Amnesiac (Unrated) Psychological thriller about an accident victim with memory loss (Wes Bentley) who wonders whether his wife (Kate Bosworth) might be lying about her true identity when he emerges from a coma. Featuring Richard Riehle, Patrick Bauchau, Shashawnee Hall and Olivia Rose Keegan.
Fort Tilden (R for profanity, sexuality, graphic nudity and brief drug use) A day-in-the-life comedy chronicling the frustrations encountered by a couple of BFFs (Bridey Elliot and Claire McNulty) bicycling to a beach in Brooklyn. With Griffin Newman, Nell Casey, Alysia Reiner and Reggie Watts.
The Lost Key (Unrated) Marital bliss is the theme of this documentary chronicling a middle-aged man’s search for sexual fulfillment with a new wife in the wake of a traumatic divorce from his first.
Mistress America (R for profanity and sexual references) Buddy comedy, set in New York City, about a lonely college freshman (Lola Kirke) shaken out of the doldrums by her relatively-adventurous, soon-to-be stepsister (Greta Gerwig). With Seth Barrish, Julie Brett and Andrea Chen.
Paulette (R for profanity and drug use) Bernadette Lafont plays the title role in this crime comedy, set in Paris, about a recently-widowed pastry chef who starts selling pot when she finds it impossible to survive on her meager pension after being forced to close their beloved bakery. Cast includes Carmen Maura, Dominique Lavanant and Francoise Bertin. (In French with subtitles)
People, Places, Things (R for profanity, sexual references and brief nudity) Romantic comedy revolving around a just-dumped teacher’s (Jemaine Clement) attempt to raise his twin five-year-olds (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) while dating the mother (Regina Hall) of a student (Jessica Williams). With Stephanie Allynne, Michael Chemus, Celia Au and Derrick Arthur.
Prince (Unrated) Romance drama about a troubled teen (Ayoub Elasri) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sigrid ten Napel) by committing violent crimes. Cast includes Oussama Addi, Elsie de Brauw and Freddy Tratlehner. (In Dutch with subtitles)
Return To Sender (Unrated) Revenge thriller about a small town nurse (Rosamund Pike) who is left traumatized after a blind date with a violent criminal (Shiloh Fernandez). With Nick Nolte, Rumer Willis and Camryn Manheim.
Tom At The Farm (Unrated) Out-of-the-closet drama about a grieving cosmopolitan’s (Xavier Dolan) announcing his late lover’s sexual preference to country bumpkin next of kin attending the funeral. With Lise Roy, Manuel Tadros and Evelyne Brochu. (In French with subtitles)
We Come As Friends (Unrated) Neo-colonialism is the theme of this road documentary chronicling a modern odyssey across Africa featuring everything from Chinese oil workers to UN peacekeepers to Sudanese warlords to American evangelists. (In Arabic, English and Chinese with subtitles)