Summer is upon us and as ever there’s nowhere better than the cinema to escape Tokyo’s oppressive humidity, and escapism seems to be the theme of the month with a barrage of films taking us from fantastical medieval pasts to the far reaches of space.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
As ever in the summer months there’s a glut of action with ‘300: Rise of an Empire’, a sequel to swords-and-sandals blood bath 300 marching onto screens, along with gravel-voiced hard man, Jason Statham doing what he does best in ‘Hummingbird’ and Kevin Costner, seeing Liam Neeson’s career rebirth in recent years as a grey haired action star and wanting his own piece of the pie with ‘3 Days to Kill’. Amongst this month’s Japanese releases ‘Round Table’, starring popular TV child star Mana Ashida (who made a brief appearance in ‘Pacific Rim’) stands out. Also out, ‘The Way Way Back’ is a good coming-age tale set during one summer in a seaside town where young Duncan (Liam James) deals with adolescence and relationships with the help of Sam Rockwell’s laid back pool attendant. Check out below for my picks for the month of June and in the words of Sergeant Apone in ‘Aliens’, “Stay frosty people”.
Pompeii—Out June 6
With the globe-conquering success of Lord of the Rings-for-adults TV mega-hit Game of Thrones (The first two series are available at Tsutaya, if you’re interested in watching via methods that won’t see you having to ‘take the black’ and be carted off to The Wall) it was only a matter of time before members of its fine cast started breaking away to film projects. Peter Dinkalge, who plays ‘The Imp’ Tyrion Lannister, appeared in last weeks X-men, Nickolaj Coster-Waldau, Jamie Lannister, was in Tom Cruise Sci-fi blockbuster ‘Oblivion’ and his sister Cersei, also known as Lena Headey, can be seen in this month’s fantasy sequel 300: Rise of an Empire. One of the youngest stars of the show is Kit Harrington who plays the sullen and moody Jon Snow, currently stationed on the ‘Wall’ trying to convince anyone who’ll listen of an invading army of 10,000 men, not to mention the zombified White Walker’s (If you have no idea what any of that means you’ve got a serious amount of catching up to do). Anyway, Kit is getting his feature film break, starring in ‘Pompei’, a Gladiator-meets-300 action adventure that sees a slave fighting against for the woman he loves (Emily Browning), all in the shadow of an exploding volcano. It’s silly action fun but Jon Snow fans will be happy.
Oldboy—Out June 28
The announcement of a Hollywood remake of a beloved film tends to send a collective groan from fans of the original, rightfully fearful of what the Hollywood machine will churn up and spew out after years of disappointments. Classic films often lose their edge after being polished and sanitized to appeal to the widest possible audience, but with an artist as bold and idiosyncratic as Spike Lee at the helm, there’s got to be some hope, right? Let’s hope so as the ‘Do the Right Thing’ director tackles Chan Wook-Park’s Korean tale of revenge, ‘Oldboy’. Josh Brolin steps into the role of Joe, a man mysteriously imprisoned one night and held for 20 years by an unknown captor and for no apparent reason. The original was a brilliantly tense, brutal and shocking thriller and if this manages to capture a fragment of the original’s flare, with some innovation from the talented Mr. Lee, it will be worth a watch. Viewers of a sensitive nature beware – the infamous hammer scene remains intact.
Noah—Out June 14
There was a time when Biblical epics were the biggest event pictures Hollywood had to offer, with the likes of The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur boasting the biggest budgets, the hottest stars, and the grandest visuals. Long having fallen out of fashion, films in this genre occasionally appear, often whipping up a storm of controversy in their wake, as was the case with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The story of Noah is less likely to cause much controversy, unless you take issue with just how true to scale the Ark should be. Russell Crowe takes up the role of the man tasked by God to make an ark to carry two animals of every kind and repopulate the earth after a great flood arrives to purify the land. Darren Aronofsky is the man behind the camera, the gifted director who first came to attention with grueling drug addiction drama Requiem for a Dream before courting Academy Awards success with The Wrestler and Black Swan. Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson fill out the cast of thesps helping and hindering Noah in his monumental task.
Her—Out June 28
The Academy Awards wrapped up back in March but it’s often a long wait for all the Oscar heavy-hitters to reach Japanese shores. June sees the last of the Best Picture nominees finally released with the arrival of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a lonely man unable to fully connect with the people around him. Theodore purchases a new artificially intelligent operating system with a female voice and personality with which he eventually starts a relationship. The film was directed, written and produced by Jonze, the maker of the brilliant ‘Being John Malkovich’, and co-stars Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, Theodore’s digital love interest.
Being unfamiliar with the work of surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is no reason to keep you away from this phenomenal documentary that covers the making of a film that was never made. Jodorowsky came to cult fame off the back of two extraordinary underground hits, the utterly unique and mind bending surrealist classics ‘El Topo’ and ‘The Holy Mountain’. Jodorowsky obtained the rights to author Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune (a version would later be disastrously made by David Lynch), and set about assembling a team of “warriors” to help him in his quest. These included such luminaries as ‘Alien’ scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon, French graphic artist Jean Giroud (aka Morpheus) and the late, great H.R. Giger, not to mention acting roles for Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. Jodorowsky is the heart of this film, he is warm and funny and talks with such an incredible passion that makes it heartbreakingly sad that his epic vision never came to fruition, it is some consolation that this wonderful documentary at least captures some of the spirit and vision of what this great artist was trying to do.
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Out June 6
Director Wes Anderson is one of the most idiosyncratic directors working today. For years he has been delivering his own brand of oddly touching cinema with a distinct visual style and a talent for bringing together large casts of top acting talent in quirky roles. From his debut Bottle Rocket to last year’s Moonrise Kingdom—his best received film to date—Anderson has developed a knack for creating wonderfully complex narratives that are funny, sad and endlessly imaginative. The Grand Budapest Hotel stars Ralph Fiennes as Gustave, the concierge of an opulent hotel in a fictional European country, who teams up with a lobby boy to prove his innocence after being framed for murder. The film has a huge cast featuring many Wes Anderson regulars including Bill Murray, Willem Defoe, Jason Schartzman, Tilda Swinton and Owen Wilson.