One of the fun things about CinemaCon is being able to see the footage on the big screen.
While everyone pays lip service to the extraordinary way that “American Sniper” scored at the global box office ($532 million worldwide), playing to every possible demo, and Clint Eastwood’s highest-grossing film to date, the truth is that Hollywood will only step up to making that kind of movie when all the right elements line up.
Bless Eastwood, who was tributed here, for going against the grain. He gets away with it. “I read comic books when I was a kid, I don’t read them now,” said Eastwood, who prefers his films rated PG 13 or R.
But mostly every studio is doubling down –as are the theater owners — on making moviegoing an event experience. That means BIG. Huge spectacles, more luxurious theaters, more IMAX screens, better 3D, faster frame rates, better sound via immersive 3D Dolby Atmos (which is now installed on 1000 screens) and there’s now Dolby Vision and AMC has pacted to build state-of-the-art Dolby Cinemas.
Disney screened the latest Pixar movie “Inside Out” with Dolby Vision, which boasts enhanced colors and contrast for darker blacks, and Dolby Atmos, which leaves the old 7.0 Surround in the dust. Precision sound is above, below, and all around. (The Disney slate is anchored by Brad Bird’s “Tomorrowland,” Pixar, Marvel (“The Avengers: Age of Ultron”), Lucasfilm (the relaunch of the “Star Wars” franchise) and DreamWorks (Spielberg’s fall spy thriller “Bridge of Spies”).
But what makes “Inside Out” play is the story–personal, original, imaginative, something you’ve never seen before. “Up” director Pete Docter asked what happened to his daughter when she turned 11? What was going on in her head? The movie answers that question. And it played great at the Colosseum to noticeable sniffles, this viewer included. (Reviews are being held until it debuts in Cannes. Suffice it to say it was worth waiting for.)
Well, “American Sniper” did it without any bells and whistles. Telling a good story helps. That’s what gets people off their mobiles and away from their enhanced home viewing alternatives. Paul Feig’s “Spy” will be a huge hit for Twentieth Century Fox, even bigger than “The Heat,” which also scored with the CinemaCon crowd, because the director knows how to play against embedded cultural sexual stereotypes and take best advantage of his bigger-than-life star Melissa McCarthy, who has never been better as a smart, capable CIA agent who lets a handsome entitled spy (Jude Law) have all the fun while she supports him via earpiece behind the scenes, while nurturing a crush. Well, she comes into her own as she battles a witty and wily adversary (Rose Byrne). And then some, satisfyingly and hilariously.
This week the Warner Bros. studio unveiled its 2015 slate. Clearly, they’ve been working overtime, as they are committed to delivering more movies than the other studios, who have been contracting in scale. “A great drama can be as great a draw as a tentpole film,” said distribution chief Dan Fellman, referring to “Sniper.” What Warners showed was a great range of titles.
“Hot Pursuit” (“The Proposal”‘s Anne Fletcher) is a female buddy action comedy, starring a mis-matched Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara on the run on the road. It looks like “The Defiant Ones” meets a sexier “The Heat.” (May 8)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller) shows what a master can do with 3D–the awesome depth of these hellish Australian desert vistas with swinging action in the foreground is not to be believed. And this was just a trailer. (I loved the way a tattooed, bald and bearded Tom Hardy was too cool to do the CinemaCon promo duties carried by Charlize Theron and Nic Hoult. Hardy held out for his dignity, saying, “check out this clip and trailer.”) The clip showed Theron (with a prosthetic arm), Hardy and gang driving into a narrow canyon and being set upon by a gang. Wild stuff. My number one must-see at Cannes. (May 15)
“San Andreas” (Brad Peyton) stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Carla Gugino as parents trying to keep their family intact in the mother of all 3D earthquake disaster movies. In this one the entire fault breaks up California in a 9.0 –and it looks terrifying. One scene is accompanied by “California Dreamin'” And yes there’s an underwater tsunami flood that owes much to “The Impossible.” “This is one for the big theater,” understated Johnson. (May 29)
“Entourage” (Doug Ellin) reunites the gang from the HBO series and continues the Hollywood showbiz saga they started telling 13 years ago: Vincent Chase (Adrien Grenier) is a big movie star, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) is running a studio and needs therapy, and Turtle has struck it rich in the Tequila business. Celeb sightings include producer Mark Wahlberg, Pharrell, Liam Neeson and Gary Busey. “It’s bigger and better,” said Ellin. That’s what they all say. (June 5)
“Max” (Boaz Yakin), is about a military dog with PTSD who is taken in by the family of his dead master. (June 26)
“We Are Your Friends” (Working Title, Canal) stars Zac Ephron as a young DJ and Wes Bentley as his mentor.
“Magic Mike XXL” (Gregory Jacobs) is the sequel; to the Soderbergh male stripper comedy; muscled exhibitionists Channing Tatum, Mark Bomer & Co. did not take off their clothes for the CinemaCon crew. Jada Pinkett and Elizabeth Banks costar. (July 1)
“The Gallows” looks like a standard issue horror entry. (July 10)
“Vacation” (rookie writer-directors Jonathan M. Goldstein & John Francis Daley) continues the Wallyworld adventures of the vacationing Griswold family of National Lampoon fame. The grandparents (Beverly D’Angelo and Chevy Chase) have grown up children like Rusty (Ed Helms) with kids of their own. Chris Hemsworth sends himself up memorably. (July 31)
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (Guy Ritchie) stars Brit Henry Cavill (who seems humorless) as American CIA agent Napoleon Solo and American Army Hammer in the seemingly plummier part as womanizing Russian-accented KGB man Ilya Kuryakin. Brit Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) is in the Leo G. Carroll role and Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) is the girl. Ritchie goes all out with the 60s period vibe and is spending serious bucks on the soundtrack. (August 14)
“Black Mass” (Scott Cooper) presents Johnny Depp in elaborate makeup as usual, as Boston criminal Whitey Bulger, from the 70s through the 90s. He is supposed to be scary in a “Goodfellas” Joe Pesci kind of way. Joel Edgerton, Molly Parker, Peter Sarsgard and Benedict Cumberbatch also star. Clearly a festival title. (September 18)
“The Intern” (Nancy Meyer) stars Anne Hathaway as the head of a startup who becomes friends with an unexpected senior intern (Robert De Niro). It looks witty and moving. (September 25)
“Pan” (Joe Wright) has stunning 3D visuals as you would expect but the origin story starring Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily and Levi Miller as Peter Pan has become a fall release, suggesting concerns about its commerciality. (October 9)
“Creed” (“Fruitvale”‘s Ryan Coogler) takes the original Apollo Creed/Rocky Balboa story and follows the son of Creed ( a ripped Michael B. Jordan) trying to make his way in Philly and turning to Balboa for help. It looks terrific. “It’s not ‘Rocky 7′” said Stallone. The movie is in the editing room. Another possible awards contender. (November 25)
“In the Heart of the Sea” (Ron Howard) puts Chris Hemsworth on the ocean in the mast-breaking VFX-heavy origin tale behind the Moby Dick myth, man vs. giant whale. Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw costar. This has potential but looks grim. (December 11)
The “Point Break” remake (“Fast and Furious” cinematographer Ericson Core) stars Aussie Luke Gracey as an extreme athlete and deploys real athletes in the pursuit not just of giant waves (Laird Hamilton is back as an advisor) but winter sports and web-flying in formation through narrow canyons in the Swiss alps. I don’t know how good the movie is but the footage they showed is stunning. (December 25)
“Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (Zack Snyder) showed a mostly silent trailer that is more teaser, as Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight and Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel meet up to save the world. It looks good. But are they in Metropolis or Gotham? I remain skeptical. (3D, March 15 2016)