MOVIE CLIPS: Previews of upcoming releases and special screenings

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Fantastic Four

Founded in 1939, Marvel Comics was once a subdivision of Atlas Publications. It battled unsuccessfully for market share against the better established, more popular DC Comics. The latter featured such stalwarts as Superman and Batman.

Then, in 1961, everything changed. Marvel Comics unveiled its first superhero team, the Fantastic Four. They were the collaborative creation of writer/editor, Stan Lee, and artist/co-plotter, Jack Kirby. Their brainchild launched the rise of Marvel Comics.

During a mission into outer space, the members of the Fantastic Four had been exposed to cosmic rays. As a result, each of them acquired a superpower.

Reed Richards had been a scientific genius to begin with. As his alter-ego, Mister Fantastic, he could stretch and contort his body is a wide permutation of dimensions and configurations. His girlfriend, and eventual wife, Sue Storm, could render herself undetectable to the human eye. Hence her sobriquet, Invisible Woman. In later issues, she developed the ability to generate force fields. That’s a nice little attribute to have in your skill set.  Sue’s younger brother, Johnny Storm (if your surname is “Storm,” it apparently obviates the need for a superhero nickname), can break into flames and become airborne.  Back in college, Ben Grimm/Thing had been a star football player and Rex Reed’s roommate. He subsequently became a skilled pilot. After the exposure to cosmic rays, his flesh-turned stone-like, which imbued him with superhuman strength.

In 2005, with Ioan Gruffield as Reed Richards, Jessica Alba as Sue, Chris Evans as Johnny, and Michael Chiklis as Ben, “Fantastic Four” was adapted for the screen. Despite scathing reviews, on an estimated production budget of $100 million, the film grossed over $154,000 domestically and an additional $175,000 overseas.

In 2007, the cast was reprised for the sequel, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Laurence Fishburne provided the voice of their new nemesis, the Silver Surfer. Again, the film was greeted with a hostile critical response. No matter-it made $132,000 domestically and $157,000 abroad.

In the interim, the “Avengers,” and their component characters, all of whom are Marvel Comic properties, became the subjects of a panoply of box office blockbusters. Could Hollywood producers resist a reboot of the “Fantastic Four” franchise? Obviously not.

This time around, Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) is cast as team leader, Reed Richards. Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) as Johnny Storm, and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”) as Ben Grimm, will fill out the cast.

Introducing an African American actor into the cast as Johnny Storm is certainly a welcome touch with obvious potential box office benefits. It will be interesting to see how the film addresses the fact that his screen sister is white. Will there be some sort of back story involving adoption or is this an example of color blind casting, where the audience is expected to overlook obvious racial incongruities?

Once thing seems certain. Regardless of the intrinsic quality of the film, its box office success seems virtually guaranteed.

Opens wide on Thursday night, August 6. PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, and language) 106 minutes. 20th Century Fox

The Gift

Perhaps, you are sick of seeing a litany of remakes, prequels, sequels, and reboots. If so, “The Gift” might provide a welcome alternative.

Drawn from an original screenplay, the psychological thriller stars Jason Bateman as Simon, a successful business executive, who grew up in Los Angeles. Now, after years of working in Chicago, he is headed back home with his wife, Robin (Rebecca Hall), in tow. They have moved into a beautiful mansion in the upscale neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills section of the city.

Simon is busily scaling the corporate ladder. However, Robin has recently suffered a miscarriage and is mired in a deep depression.

One day, while shopping in a store, Simon has a chance encounter with a seeming stranger. The man, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), contends that they had been classmates together back in their high school years. Simon appears to not recall Gordo at all.

Were the two really classmates or is this some sort of scam by Gordo? In the alternative, is Simon merely pretending to not remember Gordo? If so, what are his motivations for such a charade?

Despite some reservations, Simon invites Gordo over for a home-cooked dinner of pasta. Gordo reciprocates by sending over a bottle of wine. It seems like an altogether reasonable gesture.

However, Gordo then stocks the couple’s backyard pond with fish. He proceeds to foist a succession of other inappropriate gifts on the couple. As Gordo tries to insinuate himself into the life of the couple, they eventually try to terminate the relationship.

It’s just not so easy. Scorned, Gordo is transmuted from pathological gift giver to a man, consumed with resentment. Look out!

“The Gift” marks the feature film directorial debut of Joel Edgerton. In his native Australia, Edgerton was already familiar to the public from the television series, “The Secret Life of Us.” He first became known to American audiences from a series of screen roles. This includes one of the estranged sibling pugilists in “Warrior,” Daisy Miller’s  brutish husband, Tom Buchanan, in countryman Baz Luhrmann’s remake of “The Great Gatsby,” and most recently as Moses’ brother, Rameses II, in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Although Edgerton as no track record as a helmsman, he has been involved in the writing of several feature films. He was the co-screenwriter for “The Square,” which was directed by his brother, Nash Edgerton. Edgerton also received a story credit for “The Rover,” which starred Guy Pearce. Both films boasted well-crafted screenplays, replete with dark psychological nuances and plot twists aplenty.

If you saw either of these films, derived from Edgerton’s writing, you will likely share my eagerness to see “The Gift.”

Opens wide on Thursday night, August 6. R (for language) 108 minutes. STX Entertainment


Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.



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