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ShoWest: Strong Sony Summer Preview

ShoWest: Strong Sony Summer Preview

I flew into Vegas Wednesday morning to catch day three of the annual ShoWest exhibitors’ confab. I was spoiled by my last plane trip: American Airlines boasted wifi (I couldn’t blog on Typepad, though) on both coastal flights for $12.95 each way. No such luck on Southwest today.

And there’s no wifi at Bally’s or the Paris, and I’m locked out of my room until 4 PM, so I’m paying through the nose to blog in the business center. ShoWest confiscated everyone’s phones and BlackBerries before the Sony presentation, so no Twittering either. I missed the annual address from NATO spokesman John Fithian and MPAA president Dan Glickman, which this year boasted no real numbers about production and marketing costs. I picked up the transcripts, and both men praised the skies for how much the movie business had to be grateful for: $9.8 billion in b.o. receipts for 2008, with a tiny decline in admissions, which are actually up for 2009, which boasts the first $1 billion January in history and a record February as well, Fithian said.

The really good news for exhibs, who make more money the longer a movie stays in theaters: five 2009 releases have shown second weekend drops of 30 % or less, when last year there were none in that category. Fithian finally admitted that less studio product is a good thing for business, with more room on less crowded weekends.

Of course the big story this year is 3-D. In 2008 the buzz was about Hannah Montana and Beowulf. Now a spate of 3-D pictures are in the offing. Promoed Tuesday were Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton, Bob Zemeckis’s motion capture A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey in multiple roles, Sony Animation’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Disney/Pixar’s Up. The breaking news story: some studios including Fox want theater owners to pay for their own 3-D glasses. Stop the presses!

Warner Bros. got some strong reaction to their footage from Terminator Salvation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey, Jr. himself in attendance, promising real live stunts from him and Jude Law. Speaking of Downey, Paramount’s screening of The Soloist confirms that the studio was right not to open it during the holiday season; while it played better to women than men, the response was mixed. “Slow,” was the word one midwest exhibitor used. He also wondered why LA Times columnist Steve Lopez didn’t show. Another movie site CEO fell asleep. One industry insider (neither exhibitor nor press) said that Brit Joe Wright (Atonement) may not have been the right director for this one. I still need to see this.

Sony’s summer looks strong indeed. Angels & Demons features something you may not want to see: Tom Hanks in a bathing suit. From what I could glimpse he looked fine–and the hair is definitely improved. It seems a waste to cast Ewan McGregor as an earnest, clear-eyed high-ranking Vatican priest who brings in academic sleuth Robert Langdon to help the Catholic Church fight off an assault from the angry Illuminati. As director Ron Howard told me, this one is a more humorous and fun high-stakes adrenaline race against time. If the ultra-serious Da Vinci Code raked in global money, so will this.

Earning enthusiastic applause, the anti-romantic comedy The Ugly Truth, directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde), stars Katherine Heigl as an uptight woman who agrees to follow aggressively male Gerard Butler’s advice on how to get a man. Needless to say things go differently than they had planned. The highlight of the clips: Butler gives her vibrating panties that are turned on by accident during a business dinner. Heigl does Meg Ryan one better in the public orgasm department.

“Never apologize,” says Meryl Streep as famed chef Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia, which parallels the true stories of Child and a contemporary food blogger (Amy Adams) who decides to cook all of Child’s 524 recipes in one year (to the delight of her husband). Also well-received was John Travolta vs. Denzel Washington in Tony Scott’s action-packed remake of the New York subway action thriller The Taking of Pelham 123.

The jury’s out on Year One, a slapstick comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as hapless cavemen who are expelled from their tribe and embark on “the very first road trip.” I was also not impressed by the work-in-progress from producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp, District 9, which puts an alien race under quarantine in South Africa…a biological horror movie? It looked unpleasant but I’m presumably not the target audience. I suppose it might play to the Resident Evil/28 Days Later crowd.

Promised for 2011: the next installments of Spider-Man, Men in Black, and Ghostbusters.

[MPAA president Dan Glickman]

Here’s the Angels & Demons trailer.

And The Ugly Truth:

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