Which of the six studio presentations at CinemaCon were represented by their chairmen? One could argue that the ones who most wanted to be identified with their slates, to OWN them if you will, were the ones who showed up in Las Vegas.
True, the head of distribution is often the face of the studio for exhibition, so it made sense for genial Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, and not "suit" Brad Grey, who doesn't usually come to NATO's theater convention in Las Vegas, to present the Paramount slate, including the potent DreamWorks Animation section hosted by CinemaCon perennial Jeffrey Katzenberg, who earned their Pioneer of the Year Award. And Disney had just lost its chairman, Rich Ross, so the hosting duties fell to uncomfortable young distribution exec Dave Hollis and production president Sean Bailey, who introduced the real Disney heavyweights: Pixar/animation czar John Lasseter, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Marvel's Kevin Feige (DreamWorks chiefs Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider were no-shows). Sony let its distribution chief Rory Bruer (not a masterful speaker) intro the studio's unscintillating play-it-safe slate (why not use well-known vice chairman Jeff Blake, who was there?).
So who did show up? Warner Bros. chairman Jeffrey Robinov, Fox co-chairmen Jim Gianapulos and Tom Rothman, and Universal chairman Adam Fogelson, who earned the exhibitors' ire last year with his attempt to move up the post-theatrical release window for "Tower Heist," which was resisted successfully by the major theater chains. It made a lot of sense for him to put on a friendly face at CinemaCon. And guess what? These three studios boasted the strongest slates.
Of course Sony execs can sleep at night knowing they have surefire tentpoles "Men in Black 3," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and James Bond 23, "Skyfall," on their release schedule. But nothing is ever written in the stars. One of the refrains I heard at this convention (including IMAX president Gary Foster on my "state of the industry" panel) was the worry that too many movies look over-familiar and the same. At least "MIB3" changes things up by going back in time with James Brolin as the young Tommy Lee Jones. But while "Spider-Man" looked likeable and slick, haven't we been there, done that? It looks recast more than rethought. There was no evidence of a new take or twist that would give moviegoers something fresh (Rhys Ifans will make a charming villain, one hopes). Nor was Sam Mendes' elegant footage from "Skyfall" wowing us with anything memorable.
Two intriguing modest-budget films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt popped out, TriStar/Film District's "Looper" and "Premium Rush," from Columbia, but neither looks like a huge hit. Adam Sandler plays a dad in "That's My Boy," but it looks like the same concept as "What To Expect When You're Expecting"'s childish Dad vs. adult son, only this time with Sandler and Andy Samberg. Also underwhelming were the Kevin James comedy "Here Comes the Boom," musical remake "Sparkle," which downplayed the role of the late Whitney Houston, and animated "Transylvania," which looked downright awful.
On the more promising side were Aardman Animation's "The Pirates!" (opening this weekend) and splendid footage from the "Total Recall" remake, which was much improved from the tepid scene Sony screened at Comic-Con last summer. Now it seems that worthy "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"-style adversaries are Kate Beckinsale and Colin Farrell. And for adults, Jones and Meryl Streep play an older couple trying to reignite their marriage with counsel from Steve Carell in "Hope Springs." I'm there.
Luckily for Sony, they have two divisions that specialize in zigging when everyone else is zagging: Screen Gems ("Think Like a Man" and "The Vow" were surprise number one hits this year, and the reliable "Underworld" and "Resident Evil" franchises keep on giving; next up is "Retribution" in 3-D) and Sony Pictures Classics, which delivers solid returns on low investment all year long.
Hosting a jam-packed Universal show-and-tell complete with star talent, from "Snow White and the Huntsman"'s Charlize Theron, playing a "balls-to-the-wall" queen inspired by Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" and Kristen Stewart, who turns Snow White into a plucky and stalwart fighter alongside hunky huntsman Chris Hemsworth (the movie opens June 1) to new "Bourne" franchise (August 3) star Jeremy Renner, who admits he does his own stunts for the sake of authenticity and couldn't wait to run off the stage. Fogelson tried to spin the international launch of $200-million game-to-movie "Battleship" (May 18 stateside) to a $150-million gross so far as a good thing; I suspect the film will wind up a colossal disappointment all around. While Liam Neeson and Taylor Kitsch appear to be in it, the film looks like a lot of big explosions, basically.
More promising is Oliver Stone's return to hard R thriller territory, "Savages" (July 6) which lines up a great cast: John Travolta as a corrupt FBI man, jaded ex-Navy SEAL Kitsch and laid-back agronomist Aaron Johnson as successful pot growers who run afoul of Mexican mafiosa Salma Hayek, whose nasty henchman Benecio del Toro kidnaps their babe girlfriend (it's a menage a trois) Blake Lively. "It's about the world right around us," said Stone. "It's contemporary, it's going on now."
TV "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane's movie comedy "Ted" (July 13) stole the Universal show. In a bit of wish-fulfillment magic, young Mark Wahlberg's teddy bear (MacFarlane) comes alive and grows up into a foul-mouthed buddy. When Wahberg gets serious about Mila Kunis, trouble ensues. ("The Muppets" movie had a similar trope.) Comedy powerhouse Judd Apatow's return to the director's chair in "This is 40" (December) starring "Knocked Up" couple Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, also played well with the crowd.
Also wowing the Colosseum was a first look at Tom Hooper's Christmas release "Les Miserables," starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, who showed off her live singing skills in a moving clip. The over-budget 3-D martial arts epic "47 Ronin," starring Keanu Reeves and a digital cast of thousands, has been pushed back to February 17 due to VFX completion issues and a need for more post-production time. In the studio pipeline are "TRON: Legacy" director Joseph Kosinski's Tom Cruise/Morgan Freeman actioner "Oblivion" (April 2013), the action comedy "RIPD," starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as a team of dead cops seeking to return errant stragglers to their rightful place in the afterlife (June 2013) and the inevitable latest iterations of the "Fast & Furious" (director Justin Lin returns) and "Despicable Me" franchises.