Last year Twentieth Century Fox used its CinemaCon presentation to wow exhibitors with glorious footage from Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” and instantly established the 3-D epic as a major Oscar contender. This year, solo chairman Jim Gianopulos, no longer paired with now-departed Tom Rothman, introduced his upcoming slate with impressive footage from Ben Stiller’s ambitious cinematic retelling of the classic James Thurber New Yorker short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
What’s great about this updated story of a daydreamer (played by Stiller) is that the movie allows full rein (like “Slumdog Millionaire”) to cut anywhere, anytime, into full-blown fantasies. Where this one seems to depart from the original (and the 1947 Danny Kaye movie) is that it allows our hero to act out his dreams and become a man.
At least, that’s what I got from the footage! The movie co-stars the always-welcome Kristen Wiig, as plodding Life Magazine photo librarian Mitty’s winsome love interest and co-worker, and Shirley MacLaine as his mom, who points out that the travel diary given to him by his father remains empty. This two-year journey “is the most challenging and exciting and creative experience I’ve had making movie,” said Stiller, commending the script by “soulful writer” Steve Conrad (“The Weather Man,” “The Pursuit of Happyness”).”It’s about the aspirations and dreams everyone has,” and “speaks to that yearning like nothing I’ve ever read. It’s entertaining, funny and real.” The movie is realistic and a fairy tale at the same time, he said. “It’s the kind of movie I love going to the movies for, that you can’t categorize. It will make you feel something, maybe feel better. It’s about the possibilities that are out there.” When Sean Penn carried equipment off a glacier in Iceland–where there was a three-day windstorm–“then I had to do it too,” Stiller said.
And clearly, Gianopulos plans a no-holds-barred year-end Oscar campaign.
Fox’s other ace-in-the-hole is the hilarious yin and yang teaming of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as mismatched cops in the buddy comedy “The Heat,” Paul Feig’s follow-up to “Bridesmaids” (June 28), which played well in its entirety at CinemaCon. “The Heat” will be a huge summer hit; it’s the perfect antidote to the dumb male “Pain & Gain.” Women will flock to see Bullock as an ambitious, uptight and trim FBI agent who is forced to team with McCarthy’s sloppy, overweight, profane, maverick Boston cop in order to nab a nasty drug lord. It works perfectly, as McCarthy’s anarchic improv loosens up Bullock’s controlled comic timing. I would go back to see this again. It’s better than “Bridesmaids.”
I’m also looking forward to a possible return to form for Ridley Scott, who has assembled a top notch cast for “The Counselor” (November 15), written by Cormac McCarthy, starring Michael Fassbender as a lawyer who loses his way amid a nasty batch of clients, including Brad Pitt in gangster mode, Cameron Diaz, who comes onto to Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem with yet another crazy hairdo.
The Fox dog-and-pony show started off with a long series of animated trailers–showing how important the studio considers this part of its business to be–“animation is front and center,” stated Gianopulos– from Blue Sky’s luscious 3-D “Epic” (May 24), voiced by Colin Farrell and Amanda Seyfried, which reminds us of Pandora with fairies, young romance, and enchanted forests, to “Rio 2” (April 2014) and the just-started feature version of Charles Schultz’s classic “Peanuts” (2015).
Then there’s all the 3-D output from Jeffrey Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation, which Fox now distributes. There’s current release”The Croods,” “Turbo,” about a small snail with the need for speed (July 19), “Peabody & Sherman” (March 7, 2014), “the genius returns,” from the director of “The Lion King,” and the inevitable sequel to “How to Train Your Dragon” (June 20, 2014).
The rest of the line-up is less super-charged and could slide into any other studio grid: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s “The Internship” (June 7) looks funny if familiar (see Pixar’s “Monsters U,” Sony’s “Battle of the Year”), as the duo lead a team of younger intern losers to compete for a Google championship (from “Night of the Museum” director Shawn Levy). The requisite Marvel spin-off “The Wolverine” (July 26) stars Hugh Jackman’s fugitive warrior survivor and his rakish talons in 3-D, natch. The good news: it’s directed by James Mangold. This one features yet another train-top action sequence (see “Skyfall,” “Lone Ranger’). Sister film “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” marking the return of series creator Bryan Singer, is due in 2014.
There’s the requisite youth-lit fantasy sequel “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” in 3-D (August)–see Sony’s “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” or any “X-Men” movie. Thriller “Runner Runner” (September 27) looks promising, casting Ben Affleck as a ruthless businessman running an off-shore gambling empire who runs afoul of new employee Justin Timberlake, who may have some ethics after all. Holiday release “Walking with Dinosaurs” is an all-dinosaur “walk on the wild side” in photoreal performance capture 3-D.
One film I am looking forward to is “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (May 23, 2014), which started filming last week under the smart direction of Matt Reeves (“Let Me In”), starring Andy Serkis as Caesar and a new cast led by Gary Oldman and Judy Geer. It’s 15 years later and a group of scientists is struggling to survive after most of the world has been destroyed by an ape-born flu. (See dystopian thrillers “Oblivion,” “After Earth,” “Elysium,” “Wall-E”). Trailers below.