Reel story

A slew of summer blockbusters is set to open. Matt Wilce gets the picture.

If the balmy days of a Tokyo summer make you want to lie down in a cool dark room, don' despair head to your nearest cinema and hole up under the air-con with some popcorn and a blockbuster.

Jude Law displays his Artificial Intelligence to Haley Joel Osmett
Warner Bros. & Dreamworks, LLC.

Secret sentients
Steven Spielberg's most secret project to date, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), is Pearl Harbor's biggest competitor for the top spot. Originally, industry insiders were tipping Pearl's double whammy of bombs and romance over the sci-fi epic, but as Asian-Americans voice concern over a possible backlash and spurious gossip flies, the media pundits are reversing their opinions.

Compared to the media blitz campaign waged by Pearl, A.I. has gone decidedly underground, nonetheless creating a significant buzz with its labyrinthine Internet campaign. Many eagle-eyed fans were alerted to the elaborate online puzzle after they spotted a credit for "Sentient Machine Therapist: Jeanine Salla" in the trailer for the movie. An Internet search for her name has led fans through a futuristic looking glass - spot the "Alice in Wonderland" references - into a cyber world of fictional sites such as the anti-robot organization and the Sentient Property Crime Bureau. With between 20 and 50 interrelated websites documenting the movie's back-story, sci-fi sleuths have plenty of ground to cover before the movie opens, and even after completing the whole trail, plenty of mystery remains.

Bringing Brian Aldiss' 1969 short story "Super Toys Last All Summer Long," upon which A.I. is based, to the screen was a problem that plagued cinematic genius Stanley Kubrick for more than three decades. After first trying to adapt the story in the early '70s, Kubrick abandoned the project when George Lucas' Star Wars hit cinemas, opting to make The Shining instead. Spielberg's E.T. inspired him to mull the project over for a second time in the early '80s, but again he put it on the back burner in order to film Full Metal Jacket. It took another Spielberg hit, Jurassic Park, to convince Kubrick that FX technology had advanced far enough to make the film, but again the project was stalled so that he could work on what turned out to be his last film, Eyes Wide Shut. After discussing the project with Kubrick over the years, the tech-savvy Spielberg stepped into the breach to helm the sci-fi extravaganza starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude law and William Hurt.
Release date: June 30

Monkeying around on the set of Planet of the Apes
20th Century Fox

Going ape
A few years ago, having Marky Mark play second fiddle to a bunch of apes could have been an in-joke at a casting agent's pool party. But reinvented as a serious thespian, ex-rapper Mark Wahlberg has bagged the lead in the much-anticipated remake of Planet of the Apes. Talk of a return to the simian planet has been bandied around the Hollywood hills and the Internet for years, and gossip that Oliver Stone would take on the project were eventually quashed when the dark lord of cinema, Tim Burton, signed on as director. Loosely based on the novel by Pierre Boulle - who also penned "Bridge Over the River Kwai" and the original "Ape" trilogy - Burton's reinterpretation of an ape-dominated earth is sure to be action-packed. And promises of a surprise ending to rival Charlton Heston's discovery of the Statue of Liberty at the 1968 hit's climax continue to circulate. Fansites have reported a latex ape mask slipped over Abe's head at the Lincoln Memorial may be the shocker, and Heston's cameo appearance in disguise has been confirmed in a recent interview.

Other behind-the-rubber roles are played by Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), while Wahlberg's human love interest is played by newcomer Estella Warren, whose previous appearance in Japan was in a JAL campaign.
Release date: July 28 

Ben Affleck runs for cover at Pearl Harbor

Pearl one
With the romance element getting greater emphasis than the attack in Japan - although the rumors that the movie was re-cut for its release here are denied by Buena Vista - it's difficult to predict just how big a hit this year's most expensive film will be. The star power of lead Ben Affleck should go some way to drawing in the Japanese hordes, although the lack of big names in the supporting roles - Josh Hartnett and Brit Kate Beckinsale costar - and the three-hour-plus length may dampen the box office slightly - something Mouse House execs have acknowledged. But even the savaging the movie received from a UK critic, who called it "war pornography" and a "crude travesty of actual events," failed to make much of a dent in its opening weekend haul in Blighty. With its high gloss "shampoo and testosterone fabrication," the movie yet again demonstrates Hollywood's ability to tweak historical fact to suit the box office, as it did in last summer's U-571. It seems only Tinseltown, and uber-action-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, could turn a humiliating military defeat into a mega money-maker.
Release date: July 14

Brendan Fraser wants his Mummy again

Tomb raider
One of the summer's first major hits to get unwrapped in Japan is a sequel to the '99 hit The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. The storyline picks up eight years later when the Egyptologists, with their kid son tagging along, manage to invoke the wrath of mummy Imhotep again (despite the fact they killed him in the last movie) - cue much CGI mayhem. Additional evilness is supplied by Dwayne Johnson (World Wrestling Federation's The Rock) as The Scorpion King, who already has a spin-off prequel to the sequel's prologue pic in production.

Stephen Sommers returns to direct and (over)write this blast from the past - it's very loosely based on the old '30s mummy movies - that's fast approaching $200 million at the box office in the States alone. While the critics haven't been kind, audiences seem to love the mix of state-of-the-art effects and old-fashioned swash-buckling, and the movie has racked up the second best three-day gross of all time behind The Lost World.
Release date: June 8

Crocodile Dundee returns after a 13-year break in the Outback

Man from Down Under
A kind of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" in reverse, this third installment in the Aussie/American comedy franchise comes 13 years after Crocodile Dundee's first sojourn Stateside. Costarring Paul Hogan's real-life wife, Linda Kozlowski, the independently financed movie had the relatively small budget of US$38.5 million - almost ten percent of the 1986 original's US$328 million worldwide take. No money for big-name costars, it seems, and the shooting schedule was tight.

Since Hogan last ventured out from the sticks, the real-life inspiration for the Mick Dundee character karked it. Rugged rancher Rodney Ansell's two-month battle to survive on a remote desert island - he killed sharks and sipped buffalo blood, as there was no drinkable water - in 1977 sparked Hogan's imagination. The real-life "Dundee" led to the first movie's conception, with much of the fish-out-of-water humor stemming from Ansell's book tour in Sydney. Unfortunately, in 1999 Ansell had a fatal brush with the law, and was gunned down by police after he began a random shooting spree.

Director Simon Wincer (Free Willy) oversees Dundee's journey into the 21st century, with the family in tow - it seems as if the addition of a pre-teen is part of the sequel formula these days. The trip to LA to investigate some dodgy movie dealings offers opportunity for plenty of in-jokes directed at distributor Paramount, and the usual culture-clash setups, but there's little innovation in this flat sequel.
Release date: end of June 

Sam Neil's about to be eaten by raptors... again

With Spielberg heading up A.I., the third installment of the dino vs anthropod franchise, Jurassic Park 3, has been left to director Joe Johnston. Star Sam Neill, like audiences, is enticed back to Site B for more limb-tearing and jungle chases along with Tea Leoni, William H. Macy and Laura Dern (who appeared in the original but skipped the first trip to The Lost World). Supposedly based on a story idea by Spielberg, sparked by Michael Crichton's two novels, JP3 is reportedly darker than the original two. New featured creatures are the pterodactyls, and everyone's favorite carnivores, the raptors, get an IQ boost which stretches the boundaries of science even further than the original premise.
Release date: August 11 

Sly Stallone and Kip Pardue live life in the fast lane in Driven

Driving Sly crazy
Scripted by Sly Stallone - who puts his ego aside and takes a supporting role - and directed by action specialist Renny Harlin (Long Kiss Goodnight, Cliffhanger), Driven purportedly regards Formula One as a "metaphor for the struggle of the human race." Five years in the making, the movie casts serious doubts on those claims that Sly has a genius-level IQ. Featuring an international cast that includes German actor/producer/director Til Schweiger, Chilean actor Cristian de la Fuente and Hollywood heartthrobs Kip Pardue (Remember the Titans) and Gina Gershon, the movie has plenty of gloss and glamour.

Benefiting from some spillover sales from The Mummy, execs at Warner Bros were pleased receipts for this high octane action flick weren't further damaged by the Egyptian One's release. With a relatively poor domestic US take of US$31 million after a month on release, Driven has a touch of Days of Thunder deja vu.
Release date: August 

Pierce Brosnan gets stitched up by Geoffrey Rush in The Tailor of Panama
Sony Pictures

Canal agent
Pierce Brosnan was tailor-made for espionage and covert action flicks, and his latest undercover incarnation is in the big screen adaptation of spy-master John Le Carre's The Tailor of Panama. Set during the American hand-over of the canal to the Panamanians, an all-star cast of Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis and Harold Pinter become embroiled in ever-deepening intrigue with Brosnan as an anti-Bond at the center. Director John Boorman (The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory), making his fourth movie in the tropics, steers Brosnan et al. through what promises to be the only truly adult movie of the summer. Garnering praise for its richly humorous take on post-cold war treachery, the Columbia Pictures release has been a bit of a sleeper at the US box office.
Release date: mid July
Tailor of Panama 

Eddie Murphy's Dr Dolittle has an interesting bathing companion

Kiddy corner
Definitely only for the prepubescent, Eddie Murphy's return as Dr Dolittle promises more of the same talking animal/bodily function humor that's a far cry from Hugh Lofting's original children's books. Raven-Symone - who started out as Olivia on "The Cosby Show" - and Lil' Zane (Finding Forrester) costar with a family-friendly Murphy and some vocal animals.

Other juvenile thrills are delivered by Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, a Latin romp voiced by Eartha Kitt and John Goodman. Taking a break from their recent fixation with epic dramas, the Mouse House returns to slapstick comedy for some light relief. Naturally it features an Academy Award-winning song by an aging British pop star: This time, Sting does the honors with "My Funny Friend and Me."
Release dates: Dr Dolittle 2 July 21; The Emperor's New Groove July
Emperors New Groove



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394: Sister act
Celeb sisters Kyoko and Mika Kano have taken Japan by storm, but can they win over the West? Chris Betros and Maki Nibayashi spend an evening with the divine duo.
393: Reel time
Matt Wilce gets a close-up of the Tokyo International Film Festival's hottest tickets.
392: Lap it up
Michael Schumacher is champion again, but the unpredictable Suzuka circuit is still set to offer up a surprise-packed Japan Grand Prix on October 14. Stuart Braun goes trackside.
391: Everything old is new
You might think Azabu Juban is all swanky dining and dancing 'till dawn.....
390: Cooking the books
Celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s in town with his new book in hand.....
389: Up from the underground
Japan's literary superstar Haruki Murakami is home for the duration
388: First wave
John McGee dives into Japan's art extravaganza
387: Water world
Matt Wilce explores Tokyo DisneySea
386: Open house
Many people are sleeping on the streets of Tokyo
385: A moveable feast
Some of the city's best yatai fare
384: Hair
A look at Tokyo's salon industry
383: Summer in the city
20 ways to make August a little more bearable
382: Tokyo Tomorrow
Stuart Braun tracks the future of the metropolis
381: From zero to hero
81-year-old Zero fighter Sadamu Komachi looks back
380: Island escapade
Journey to Odaiba
379: Open-air fare
Tokyo's alfresco dining spots
378: Reel story
Reel in the summer's hottest movies
377: Sonic relief
Gear up for the summer's hottest music festivals
376: All at sea
No shortage of fun in the sun on the beach
375: Your cup of tea
Tea time in Tokyo
374: No time to waste
Tokyo's mounting problems with garbage
373: Freetown
Tokyo's stylish suburb, Jiyugaoka
372: Broken record
Tokyo's ecclectic array of record stores
371: Bottoms up
Tokyo's finest martini bars
370: Admit one
Regulations for foreigners wanting to live and work on Japan
369: After a fashion
Spring trends from the catwalks to the streets
368: Bandwidth wagon
Japan's move towards DSL
367: Just for sports
How to play ball this summer
366: Life's a hitch
Helpful hints for hitch hiking in Japan
365: Altered state
Try Tokyo's tailors on for size
364: The Fringe Club
Shinjuku's infamous Golden Gai bar district
363: Take two Tomatos
Design gurus Michael Horsham and Steve Baker
362: Stage left
Innovative and intimate shogekijo (little theaters)
361: The lowdown on TC
Everything you ever wanted to know about TC, but were afraid to ask
360: A reversal of fortune
Tokyo's home of racing, Fuchu Racecourse
359: Funny Valentine
How to do Valentine's Day in Japan
358: Two-faced
Heartthrob Katsunori Takahashi
357: Read all about it comes to Japan
356: Daikanyama
Central Tokyo's hippest hood
355: Wash out
Heaven Sento
354: Means to an end
Some good ideas to inspire you
352/3: Last Laugh
TC's rosey re-cap of the year
Signs of the times
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351: It's a wrap
TC's holiday gift tips
350: Cable ready
Cable and satellite broadcasting renaissance