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CinemaCon: Universal Posts Strong 2015 Slate

CinemaCon: Universal Posts Strong 2015 Slate

It was good to see two chairwomen announcing their slates at CinemaCon: Fox’s Stacey Snider and Universal’s Donna Langley. She was grinning with confidence as she celebrated the global box office of “Furious 7”–the fastest to get to $1 billion and the highest-grossing film in Universal’s history– and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which she pushed hard to bring to the studio. She confirmed that the next two titles, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” will open on successive Valentine’s Day weekends in 2017 and 2018.

Vin Diesel choked up over the loss of Paul Walker and announced that yes, the eighth “Fast & Furious” installment will open on Friday, April 14, 2017. “You guys helped us to make this magic,” he said earnestly. “I swear to you and my brother upstairs that we’ll make this the best movie you have ever seen. We make your audiences feel like they’re part of our family.”

Langley also pointed out that 2014 was a record $1 billion year for the studio–17 films grossed over $100 million in a diverse, spread-out slate devoid of franchise titles with no movie costing more than $80 million: an accomplishment indeed. Of course they are chasing franchises, from “Snow White and the Huntsman” starring Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth to sequels to hits “Jurassic Park” (Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World,” June 12), “Despicable Me” (“Minions” origin myth will be huge when it opens July 10), musical “Pitch Perfect” (May 15), which played well opening night at CinemaCon, “Neighbors” (2016), “Ride Along” (2016) and “Ted” (June 26). Writer-director and voice star Seth MacFarlane told the exhibitors to stop discouraging pot-smoking in their theaters because “it means more popcorn sales.” 

“Jurassic World” is “funny, full of romance and adventure and it’s scary as hell and that trauma should be shared by masses of people,” promised Trevorrow. Chris Pratt introduced the sizzle reel, in which he stars as a dinosaur wrangler at Jurassic World who tries to contain the disaster that ensues when a genetically modified too-smart giant dinosaur runs amuck. Is it more of same or “bigger and better,” as so many studios keep promising? Stay tuned. 

But there were originals too. 

Top of the line is Baltasar Kormakur’s true story action adventure “Everest” (Working Title), which boasts an all-star cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Robin Wright, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and Emily Watson. They shot in horrific below zero conditions at 12,000 feet where donkeys had to carry the equipment, Kormakur said, joking that as a native of Iceland he was probably the only director foolish enough to take on the job. He wanted to keep the mountain-scaling drama authentic and intimate, he said. (September 18)

With “Crimson Peak” Guillermo del Toro wants to bring back the “Rebecca” style gothic romance–with “sick and twisted elements and chills, spectacle and scope,” he promised. He wrote this “operatic fairy tale” eight years ago. Mia Wasikowska plays a young naif who marries dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who brings her home to his four-story gothic mansion and Mrs. Danvers-like sister (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain). All is not right–and of course she descends where she’s forbidden, into the basement. It looks visually sumptuous–and terrifying. Del Toro build the sets and prefers practical effects when possible. (October 16)

In a similar vein but on a much smaller scale is indie thriller “The Visit,” which preys on our fears of old people, in this case some grandparents from hell who warn their grandkids not to leave their rooms after 9:30 PM, when many noisy creepy things start to occur. Surprisingly, the studio brought in Philly’s own M. Night Shyamalan (“After Earth”), who has been box office poison of late, to talk up this low-budget effort which was shopped around and eventually picked up by horror-producer Jason Blum (“Paranormal Activity”). Blum and Shyamalan persuaded Universal to come out to a multiplex preview screening where they could see for themselves how it played. And then they bought it. What better way for Shyamalan to be redeemed? (September) 

Amy Schumer rocked the Colosseum with her story of being elevated by Judd Apatow from mere writer to star of her very personal story, “Trainwreck.” “Maybe I’m really pretty,” she said. “But my stunt double was a guy.” Bill Hader plays her romantic interest. (July 17) 

Less promising was Jason Moore’s more routine female buddy comedy “Sisters,” starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. (December 18) 

Ice Cube effusively thanked Langley for having the balls to release “Straight Outta Compton,” an F. Gary Gray biopic produced by Dr. Dre about the rise of 80s rap group NWA, the “real heroes of the summer,” said Ice Cube. “We gave other artists the courage to be themselves. We just wanted to be real. In this movie there’s gang-banging, drugs, hip hop, freedom of speech. “Thank you for having the courage of showing the movie in your theaters.” In the movie he’s played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Keith Stanfield plays Snoop Dogg.  (August 14)

Illumination’s first look at “The Secret Life of Pets” (Chris Renaud) looked promising, as comedy voice actors Louis CK, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Dana Carvey, Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks show us what pets do when their masters close the door every morning. One loyal mastiff waits by the door. A bird opens up its cage and flies free. A very fat cat tries to resist the temptation to raid the refrigerator–and fails. A bulldog repeatedly barks and throws itself at the window as a squirrel flits outside. A cat changes the music from classical to punk. The movie has moved from February 2016 to July 2016. 

Universal did not show footage from new partner Legendary’s “Warcraft,” which will be released in 3D not on the originally-scheduled March 11, 2016, but on Friday, June 10, 2016. Legendary’s 3D “Pacific Rim 2” will move from April 7, 2017, to Friday, August 4, 2017. “Mena” will be released on Friday, January 6, 2017. “The Mummy” will move from June 24, 2016, to Friday, March 24, 2017.


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