Summer has finally arrived and with it the studio blockbusters that will offer entertainment and respite from the sweltering Tokyo heat.
By Christopher O’Keeffe
Hotter than even Japan’s summer days is the apocalyptic wasteland seen in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” whose gas-soaked, high-intensity action looks all set to propel it into one becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. Elsewhere Disney offer up an all-new, rollercoaster ride of a movie to keep kids and adults alike entertained while some powerfully moving dramas tackle both historical events and very modern issues.
Mad Max: Fury Road (June 20)
Despite its B movie beginnings, the original “Mad Max” grew to be a cultural phenomenon on its release in 1979. The film introduced the world to a then-unknown antipodean actor by the name of Mel Gibson, who starred as a lone, leather-clad rider out for revenge against savage gangs in a grim dystopian world. Director George Miller beefed up his vision considerably for the hit 1981 sequel, while 1985’s third film, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” was solidly entertaining but suffered a little too much from its 80s sensibilities. Now, it’s exactly thirty years later and the Road Warrior Max Rockatansky has returned in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” While Hollywood loves to cash in on a name brand, Fury Road sees the series’s visionary creator Miller back in the director’s seat to ensure a faithful return to the action. Controversial star Gibson has been jettisoned and the lead role put into the capable hands of Tom Hardy, an actor who has balanced solid dramatic roles along with a bruising physical presence in the likes of Bronson, The Fighter and as arch-villain Bane in the “Dark Knight Rises.” Returning to the familiar post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where gangs fight over precious gasoline Max is now joined by Charlize Theron as robot-armed warrior Imperator Furiosa as they take on the forces of tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe. Hype has been building for this one since the release of some visually stunning trailers and it has been scoring incredibly well with critics and audiences alike since its release last month. Mad Max’s triumphant return could well be the hit of the summer.
Tomorrowland (June 6)
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, spanning four films and with a fifth currently in production, is one of the highest grossing film series of all time. It also saw the creation of one of the most enduring movie characters of recent times in Johnny Depp’s swaggering swashbuckler Jack Sparrow—not bad for a bunch of films based on a theme-park attraction designed in 1967. The men and women behind The Mouse are known to be pretty savvy themselves, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve turned to another Disneyland ride in their quest for movie gold. “Tomorrowland” is the futuristic section of the hugely popular theme parks: home of rocket ships and space travel it’s a sensible place to look for inspiration. However, if the theme-park premise turns you off, then the talent of the cast and crew should get you back on board. Brad Bird, the man who made his name with beloved cult animation “The Iron Giant” before going on to win Academy Award gold with Pixar hits “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” directs the film. It’s also a good sign that George Clooney is in the cast. An actor who most frequently takes on smart political thrillers, it’s been a long time since he’s picked a dud. Clooney stars alongside Britt Robertson as the pair play a jaded former boy-genius and an inquisitive young teenager who embark on a mission full of rocket ships and robots to discover the secrets of the mysterious world-of-the-future, Tomorrowland. Full of fantasy and adventure in the traditional Disney mold, “Tomorrowland” is a ride as thrilling as any fairground attraction.
Selma (June 19)
Fifty years ago an epic march took place from the Alabama city of Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., the march led to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Selma tells the story of the tumultuous three-month period leading up to that historic march. British actor David Oyelowo gives a powerhouse performance as the legendary Baptist minister and leader of the Civil Rights movement, finding the voice of the man and bringing his soul-stirring orations to life. The film co-stars Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding Jr. as civil rights activists Annie Lee Cooper and Fred Gray, Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson and Tim Roth as Alabama Governor George Wallace, who opposed the movement. Rapper and actor Common also appears in the film as activist James Bevel—he also wrote and performed the Oscar-winning Best Original Song, “Glory,” with John Legend. This powerfully moving film could not have been released at any better time than on this momentous anniversary year. Selma’s stellar cast and confident direction do justice in dramatizing a story that has demanded telling for many, many years.
Mr. Turner (June 20)
There could be no one better suited to bring the life of esteemed British painter J.M.W. Turner’s storied life to the screen than Britain’s most consistently brilliant filmmaker, Mike Leigh. Turner is famed as one of the greatest landscape painters of all time while Leigh has earned plaudits of his own for social realist works “Naked,” “Secrets and Lies,” and “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Mr. Turner explores the relationships, dramas, and the developments in style and content towards the end of the life of the noted “painter of light.” He was an artistic genius, so it may not come as a huge surprise that Turner was not the easiest man to get along with. After the death of his beloved father, the artist’s eccentricities and stubborn nature become heightened. Over the course of the film we follow Turner’s unconventional relationships, with a housekeeper and a seaside landlady as the man is both revered and reviled by society. Leigh regular Timothy Spall (“Secrets & Lies,” the Harry Potter series) stars in this critically lauded biographical drama.
The Ninja War of Torakage (June 20)
Anyone who’s seen cult favorites “Tokyo Gore Police” and “Helldriver” will find it hard to forget the work of director and special-effects man, Yoshihiro Nishimura. Bizarre visions of future Japan populated by deranged mutants, sword-wielding police, grotesque freaks and everything in between populate the director’s work, but always with a touch of social satire thrown in amidst the blood-soaked chaos. Yoshimura’s latest, “The Ninja War of Torakage,” finds room to add a little heart without sacrificing on the wild creature designs and non-stop action he’s known for. Torakage is a legendary ninja who has found peace and retired to the countryside to live with his wife and young son. That peace is shattered when a villainous figure from the past takes the boy hostage and forces the husband and wife team to embark on a dangerous mission to retrieve a sacred scroll in order to win their son’s freedom. The title role is taken by popular television actor Takumi Saito, who squares off against Nishimura regular, and the terrifying star of cult classic “Audition,” Eihi Shiina. While the action is as in-your-face as ever and the blood certainly flies as limbs are severed in a ballet of ninja fighting, “Torakage” is less gross-out and more structured than the director’s previous work and is all the better for it.
Still Alice (June 27)
Julianne Moore is one of the finest actresses around today, consistently delivering compelling performances in every role she undertakes. The star of “The Kids Are All Right,” “Maps to the Stars” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” finally received the ultimate industry accolade for her latest role: an Academy Award for Best Actress. In “Still Alice,” Moore plays Dr. Alice Howland in a moving drama based on Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel of the same name. Dr. Howland is a happy and successful linguistics professor who, soon after her fiftieth birthday, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As the illness progresses, Alice struggles to stay connected to herself and she finds the relationships within her family severely tested. “Still Alice” co-stars Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband, with Kate Bosworth and Kristin Stewart as her daughters. The film was co-directed by frequent collaborators Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.
Best of the Rest
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck—Looking into the life of iconic and ever popular Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, this is the first documentary made with the full cooperation of his family, offering unparalleled insight into its subject. (June 27)
Love and Peace—A fantastical kaiju (monster) comedy movie from the director of last year’s rap battle hit Tokyo Tribe. (June 27)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1—The penultimate film of the hugely successful series sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennfier Laurence) struggling under the weight of her role as symbol for the revolution. Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman add some heavyweight acting talent to proceedings. (June 5)
Locke—Tom Hardy’s second starring role this month sees the actor in a critically lauded role as a man whose diligently crafted life comes under threat over the course of a single night by a turn of unexpected events. (June 27)