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Friday, April 27, 2012

Restless City opens today, Friday, April 27

Film Flam Flummox

Andrew Dosunmu's gorgeously picturesque and atmospheric drama Restless City makes its official theatrical debut in cinemas this Friday, April 27 through the AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. The film will initially release in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta on April 27; then expand to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, DC the following Friday, May 4; and then will roll out to other markets in the weeks thereafter. My review of the film from last November's AFI Fest is here.

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 4: Big Screen Achievement Awards & Closing Night Events

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Per long-running tradition, the 2012 edition of the National Association of Theatre Owners' annual convention came to a star-studded close with the Big Screen Achievement Awards gala, honoring noteworthy film talent in front of and behind the camera. Earning top honors on the acting end were Male Star of the Year Jeremy Renner, fresh off of the success of the Christmas season hit Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol and star of two blockbusters-in-waiting this summer, The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy; and Female Star of the Year Jennifer Garner, soon to be appearing in the family fantasy The Odd Life of Timothy Green and the dark comedy Butter. Anna Faris, co-star of The Dictator, was honored as Comedy Star of the Year; and a behind-the-scenes figure in comedy, Judd Apatow, producer of last summer's comedy sleeper Bridesmaids and writer/director of this December's This Is 40, was awarded the Award in Excellence in Filmmaking. As usual, NATO also saluted emerging talent, with Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship) being named Male Star of Tomorrow, and Chloë Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows, Hick) earning Female Star of Tomorrow honors; The Hunger Games and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island star Josh Hutcherson was named Breakthrough Performer of the Year, and Rock of Ages newcomer Diego Boneta was declared Rising Star of 2012. Veteran stars were given due for their lasting bodies of work with a trio of awards: Distinguished Decade of Achievement went to Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman star Charlize Theron; Dark Shadows and People Like Us co-star Michelle Pfeiffer was named Cinema Icon; and The Expendables 2 writer/star Sylvester Stallone earned the Career Achievement Award. The late summer sleeper and Oscar-winning The Help won Fandango Fan Choice Award For Favorite Movie of 2011.

Due to my lack of a CinemaCon Passport booklet, I was unable to attend and thus cover the actual awards show itself, hosted by Access Hollywood's Billy Bush, as I have in previous NATO convention years.

Comedy Star of the Year Anna Faris

Male Star of the Year Jeremy Renner

Male Star of Tomorrow Taylor Kitsch

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 4: Universal

Film Flam Flummox

The final major studio presentation of CinemaCon week proved to be not only the most exhaustive as far as previewing upcoming releases but the one to actually qualify as an actual show, something that would not be so readily apparent when Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson took  his first steps onto the Caesars Palace Colosseum stage.  But when the first words out of his mouth were something to the effect of how everyone in the audience must be so excited to see another studio executive entertain them, it was clear that, in contrast to the professional, polished, and more than a little safe approaches his contemporaries took earlier in the week, Fogelson was going to have a little fun with the floor--and that approach rubbed off on all the celebrity special guests that would join him across the two hours, not to mention made the product presentation for the studio's centennial anniversary that much more memorable.

Battleship (May 18 in the United States): The preview for the much-ridiculed sci-fi actioner based on Hasbro's timeless boardgame set up the more irreverent than the norm tone for the presentation.  Beginning with quotes from numerous mocking media reports dating back to when Peter Berg's film was first announced, it then countered with blockbuster boxoffice stats from many overseas markets, where the film has already opened a few weeks ago.  It was a most amusing (and, frankly, rather justified) "FUCK YOU!" to the knee-jerk haters, but the footage of aliens, battleships, and explosions that was mixed into the reel didn't do a whole lot to make this appear to be much more than Nondescript Summer Action Programmer #3154--and did make one wonder if attaching the "Battleship" name really gave it that much more cache.  Appearing on stage after the reel to talk about the project and their roles in it were stars Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker.

Snow White & the Huntsman (June 1): The extended look at the year's second cinematic take on the classic fairy tale reveals any comparison to Tarsem's Mirror Mirror to be completely pointless, for their aims are so obviously divergent.  Based on the extravagantly visual, quasi-Gothic vibe director Rupert Sanders is going for something more akin to the horribly undervalued Snow White: A Tale of Terror--though not quite that dark.  Joining Sanders in person in support of the film were producer Joe Roth and stars Charlize Theron (who plays the wicked queen), Kristen Stewart (Snow White), and Chris Hemsworth (the huntsman).

Savages (July 6):  This gritty drama in which a couple of small-time drug dealers (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) and their shared (!) girlfriend (Blake Lively) who run afoul of much bigger time underworld figures (Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro) as well as a shady DEA agent (John Travolta) looks on paper to be an odd project to drop in the middle of cutthroat summer season--especially considering no less than Oliver Stone is in the director's chair--but the action-driven, highly stylized reel of footage suggests a more (for lack of a better term) mature and more dramatically solid vehicle to deliver the popcorn goods.  Kitsch returned to the stage with Stone and co-stars Travolta and Hayek, the latter relating an amusing story about how she convinced the director to cast her in such an evil role.  The answer?  She simply played herself.

Ted (July 13):  Perhaps the highlight of the onstage goings-on were the wild, freewheeling minutes Fogelson was joined on by Seth MacFarlane and Mila Kunis, director/co-star and co-star, respectively, of this raucous comedy about the friendship between a grown man (Mark Wahlberg) and the foul-mouthed, crude teddy bear (voiced and performance captured by MacFarlane) with whom he grew up--and now threatens to come between him and his girlfriend (Kunis).  The rather hilarious extended preview, which included an introductory scene (complete with ironically earnest voiceover) of the younger incarnation of Wahlberg's character and, later, a big throwdown fight scene between Wahlberg and the bear, actually ended up paling in comparison to the verbal byplay between Fogelson and MacFarlane.  The latter got more than he bargained for when Fogelson not only proved to be a good sport with MacFarlane's ribbing but often dishing the barbs right back at him, such as asking the creator of Fox network mainstay Family Guy if he made the film simply to say as many "fuck"s as he wanted.  But the quips were all in good fun, in a way reinforcing a point MacFarlane and Kunis made about the film proper about it having real heart behind all the four-letter words and raunch.  We shall see.

The Bourne Legacy (August 3): One of the bigger question marks of the slate is the fourth installment of the highly regarded Bourne spy thriller series based on the Robert Ludlum novels, for it is not only not  headlined by franchise star Matt Damon, instead of doing a reboot and/or recast, it follows an entirely new character completely original to the film series: an elite operative, also on the run from deadly pursuers, played by Jeremy Renner.  The teaser trailer showed that such "universe building" may well work, with series screenwriter Tony Gilroy (also taking up the directing reins this time) serving up all the explosions and fights with various espionage intrigues involving fellow series newcomers Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton.  Renner took to the stage praising Gilroy's script and appreciating the opportunity to do his own stunt work.

The on-stage antics then died down a bit as Fogelson took a look further into the future, and while none of these films had any talent represent in person, the footage alone was enough to more than intrigue and entice.

Les Misérables (December): Call me a huge sap, but this along with Tuesday's The Great Gatsby footage were easily the most memorable preview of the convention. Coming into the presentation, however, so many question marks surrounded this long-gestating film adaptation of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's long-running stage musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, chief among them director Tom Hooper's rather ballsy decision to have all his actors sing live on set as opposed to lipsynching to a polished, studio-recorded vocal. If this very preliminary taste is any indication, the final product could be rather astonishing. More striking than the admittedly intriguing collage of context-free images (Hugh Jackman as hero Jean Valjean; Amanda Seyfried as adoptive daughter Cosette; Russell Crowe as Valjean's obsessed pursuer Inspector Javert; shots of student revolutionaries and the military facing off) was the song it was cut to, Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Thanks to being overplayed and overperformed, especially in the wake of Susan Boyle, the song has just about lost its freshness and impact, to say nothing of its true context (Fantine, in the film played by Hathaway, lamenting her dashed hopes for a better life). But Hathaway's take is so different than previous interpretations, getting more progressively teary and broken as opposed to more belty and bitter as it goes along, as has become the 25-year-plus standard. It's an interesting, inspired, and downright haunting choice by her and Tom Hooper, clearly a byproduct of having the actors sing live on set. While I look forward to seeing more, I'm now even more interested in hearing more.

This Is 40 (December): Writer-director Judd Apatow's "sort-of sequel to Knocked Up" follows that film's bickering marrieds played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as they further deal with parenthood; keeping their relationship, much less the spark in it, alive. What appears to be alive for certain are the stars' crackling comic chemistry and Apatow's ease with blending more outrageous laughs with genuine heart.

47 Ronin (February 2013): Keanu Reeves stars in this 3D period fantasy action-adventure described by Fogelson as blending together 300, The Last Samurai, and The Matrix. One does get that idea from the rough dailies and concept sketches shown, but of course one won't really get a true idea of how close it comes to being that until all the extensive post-production work and such are completed.

Oblivion (April 2013): Filming began literally just days ago on Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski's latest sci-fi adventure, starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, but that didn't stop Fogelson from sharing some rough, context-free footage of Cruise landing a spaceship and exploring ruins. If nothing else, one can see, even without effects yet added in, that Kosinski's visual style remains very much in evidence.

R.I.P.D. (June 2013): Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds team up for this buddy action/horror comedy in which the pair play apparently undead agents responsible for driving spirits out of the mortal world. In a smart move, Reynolds looks to be playing straight man to Bridges, who looks and sounds in full Big Lebowski form here--definitely not a bad thing, if you ask me.

The reel and entire program wrapped with a teaser, cobbled together from footage of the previous films, for the sixth Fast and the Furious installment (summer 2013); and a brief, expressly made-for-CinemaCon teaser for Despicable Me 2 (July 3, 2013), featuring all-new animation and voice work from star Steve Carell as the "despicable" one of the title, Gru.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan, as well as CinemaCon Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CinemaCon 2012, Day 4: Sprite Films

Film Flam Flummox

While no longer going by its long-running moniker of the Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker's Award, the Sprite Films program continues the same tradition of giving up-and-coming filmmakers from colleges and universities across the country the opportunity of showcasing their talents on a nationwide stage--namely via a short film that would run as part of the pre-feature programming at cinemas all over the United States. Unlike the Coca-Cola award of the ShoWest era, where the winning filmmaker and film were announced/unveiled as part of the Final Night Awards program, CinemaCon only marks the beginning of the Sprint Films program/contest. The eight filmmakers whose short film scripts were selected to take part in the program--Jay (Jerry) Light of Elon University; Sean Tien and John Wikstrom, both of Florida State University; Qayoe Jones of Savannah College of Art and Design; and the teams of Steven Huffaker and Simon Savelyev, and Standy Stenzel and Josephine Green, both of UCLA--were treated to filmmaking workshops sponsored by Universal Pictures as well as one-on-one (or, in the case of the duos, two-on-one) face-to-face discussion sessions with actor Tyrese Gibson, who offered his guidance on and insights into the motion picture industry to the young talent.

After the convention, the filmmaker contestants will go on to make their short films, which will then compete against one another in a contest that will run from August 1-31 on Sprite's website, where consumers/visitors can vote for their favorite film (and enter a sweepstakes for a Universal Orlando vacation). The winning film will then play on movie theatre screens across the country beginning later this year.

(very special thanks to Tyrese Gibson, Tara Moore of Rogers & Cowan on behalf of Sprite, plus Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan, as well as CinemaCon Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 4: 20th Century Fox

Film Flam Flummox

After NATO president John Fithian presented Fox's outgoing president of distribution Bruce Snyder, retiring after 39 years with the company, an award of recognition, the studio's co-chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopoulos didn't waste any time presenting a reel of highlights--mostly trailers, sometimes longer--of the rest of their 2012 slate, culminating in one extended presentation with a special guest.

Prometheus (June 8): An entire sequence of Ridley Scott's Alien sort-of prequel opened Fox's presentation, and thankfully it was clearly from early on in the film and thus spoiler-free. That said, the scene of the titular ship being landed on an alien planet by its captain (played by Idris Elba) and some other footage of ship crew members exploring the planet on foot, while not giving away anything new about the still-shrouded-in-secrecy plot, enticed all the more between the top-flight cast (in addition to Elba, the ensemble also includes Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Michael Fassbender) and the spectacular visual effects, which indeed looked quite impressive in 3D.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 22): The title sounds like the punchline to a bad joke, and while the slighly extended glimpse of the action-horror reimagining of the legendary President (Benjamin Walker) as a badass bloodsucker slayer still did nothing to stifle any giggles once the title came up, the rather visually striking preview at the very least left one with respect for how director Timur Bekmambetov, adapting Seth Grahame-Smith's novel, and all involved completely own the ridiculous premise and run with it, with nary an an ironic wink nor apology.

Ice Age: Continental Drift (July 13): If the extended excerpt from the fourth installment of the ever-popular prehistoric animated franchise is any indication, then Fox and Blue Sky have wisely, from a commercial perspective (if not exactly so from an artistic one) deviated much at all from the formula of a mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), sloth (John Leguizamo), and sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) getting into all manner of hijinks as the world around them quickly changes. In the featured sequence, the trio ride rough waters on an iceberg--and, yes, hijinks ensue. If it ain't broke--especially in the financial sense--don't fix it, no?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (August 3): The third installment of the quietly successful family comedy series based on Jeff Kinney's popular youth-targeted book series looks to wisely retreat from the direction taken by the last film, Rodrick Rules, and refocus from the obnoxious older brother and back onto the "wimpy kid" of the title, Greg, again played by the likable Zachary Gordon. While the summer season release date makes sense given this film's summer vacation setting, one wonders if, though it again appears to be economically made, if a modest entertainer such as this will be able to not be instantly swallowed whole by bigger blockbuster fare.

Won't Back Down (September 28): Awards campaign season looks to start fairly early for Fox with this drama, in which Oscar nominees Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis play concerned parents who fight the school system to improve their childrens' education. Looks like a potentially powerful film, especially with these two actresses leading the charge, but the preview's closing use of Kelly Clarkson's (admittedly rousing, but in a completely different context) hit "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" makes a film that earnestly addresses a very real issue feel trite.

Of Men and Mavericks (October 26): Only a very brief glimpse was offered of this fact-based surfing drama with a shaggy-haired Gerard Butler playing a veteran wave-rider mentoring a young upstart. While hard to get much of a read on the whole film based on this brief taste, the surfing footage looks to be rather spectacular.

Taken 2 (October 5): Ex-CIA operative Liam Neeson once again gives his special skills a workout in this sequel to the early 2009 surprise smash. With the teaser trailer showing a lot of chases, explosions, and old-fashioned down-and-dirty ass-kicking, writer-producer Luc Besson clearly has not deviated from the original's proven formula though Neeson's daughter (again Maggie Grace) looks to be far out of distress and a bit more proactive this time around--perhaps a Nikita / Professional -esque turn is in store?

Parental Guidance (December 25): Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are charged with taking care of their grandchildren while their daughter (Marisa Tomei) is away. If any release date would be friendly to this decidedly formula-looking, mid-'90s-relic appearing family comedy, it would be the holiday season, when there is always a demand for all-ages-safe entertainment.

Life of Pi (December 21): Fox saved the most impressive for last: Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee's 3D adaptation of Yann Martel's bestseller, long thought to be unfilmable, what with its largely middle-of-the-ocean setting and--perhaps more importantly--its co-lead character is a bengal tiger.  Lee appeared in person to introduce what he continually stressed was unfinished footage, but whatever stage of (in)completion, it made clear that all it took to bring this story of a boy (newcomer Suraj Sharma) adrift in the ocean on a small  boat with a tiger was a filmmaker of great skill and even deeper imagination.  A scene depicting the harrowing shipwreck that sends young Pi onto the open ocean waters highlighted the former, while a spectacular sequence in which Pi and the (incredibly life-like computer-generated) tiger's boat is besieged by schools of flying fish underscored the latter--and, like the footage of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby earlier in the week, showed that 3D does has its proper applications for a dramatic piece.

(very special thanks to Carol Cundiff and Samara Malkis at Fox; plus Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan; as well as CinemaCon Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: The Oogieloves

Film Flam Flummox

If there's one single film that seems be omnipresent throughout CinemaCon, it's not any of the big studio blockbusters but something far more unlikely and obscure: The Ooogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, a family-targeted fantasy adventure from Kenn Viselman, the man responsible for a (similar) family phenomenon on the small screen, the Teletubbies. While Viselman and his distribution partner, Freestyle Releasing, do have banners and posters promoting the film plastered in the convention hallways along with all the other films, they have also gone the extra mile and then some, booking a booth on the trade show floor, where they held a drawing this afternoon for no less than a brand new 2012 Fiat Pop.

Viselman's promotional showmanship reached its climax tonight with a big independently held "After Event" at the Caesars Palace Forum Tower Emperor's Suite, which also doubled as Viselman's 51st birthday party. While some posters featuring the brightly colored soft foam-costume characters were displayed throughout the room, most guests appeared to be mostly and rather understandably concentrated on the most elaborate and expensive food spread (read: sushi- and generally seafood-heavy) I've thus far seen at any convention-related event this year. If Viselman goes to a similar expense for the promotional push leading up to the Ooogieloves' big coming out party in cinemas on "Oogust" 29, he could very well have a big screen family phenom to go with the one he established on the tube.

(very special thanks to PMK/BNC for Kenn Viselman, plus Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: Pioneer of the Year

Film Flam Flummox

One of the most prominent and enduring figures in Hollywood, Jeffrey Katzenberg, made his second convention appearance of the week at the Caesars Palace Octavius Ballroom to receive the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation's 71st annual Pioneer of the Year Award. While the award recognizes Katzenberg's numerous philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors, with ample video footage and testimony of his long-running efforts, the lively and lighthearted, sometimes roast-like dinner ceremony was spiced up by appearances from notable collaborators at his day job as head of DreamWorks Animation: Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, and Jack Black, the last of whom served as master of ceremonies.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: Sony Pictures

Film Flam Flummox

While its major studio contemporaries have thus far busted out the big star wattage for in-person promotion of their upcoming release slates, Sony Pictures kept it nice-'n-simple for its presentation, an approach foreshadowed by the digital slideshow of images from recent and upcoming Columbia, TriStar, and Screen Gems releases--Think Like a Man, Men in Black 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, Resident Evil: Retribution, That's My Boy, Hotel Transylvania, Hope Springs, Here Comes the Boom, Total Recall, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Premium Rush, Skyfall, Sparkle, and Looper--projected onto the Caesars Palace Colosseum big screen as the crowd of exhibitor delegates filed into the auditorium. The only substantial in-person stage time was given to Sony's President of Worldwide Distribution Rory Bruer, who somewhat awkwardly (maybe a sip or two too many at the pre-event cocktail reception in the lobby?) name dropped some more far-off titles--a sequel to The Smurfs; Will Smith and Jaden Smith in M. Night Shyamalan's After Earth; Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp; an untitled Tom Hanks drama; Adam Sandler sequel Grown Ups 2; long-threatened remakes of Evil Dead and RoboCop; and self-explanatory actioner White House Down--before letting the roughly 45-minute-long product reel highlighting the rest of their 2012 calendar year speak for itself. Thus, I adopt that same tack here in going over what was shown.

Total Recall (August 3): The first bit shown from Len Wiseman's remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger-Paul Verhoeven classic was, indeed, the film's recreation of the (in)famous three-breasted hooker scene--which seemed to sum up the apparent mission statement of this extended look, the longest for any of the films featured: it may be new and bear a PG-13 rating, but the spirit of the original remains intact. And so many of the original plot points were covered closely in shiny, CG'ed new packaging, with some admittedly inspired deviations: Kate Beckinsale steps in for Sharon Stone as Douglas Quaid's (here, Colin Farrell) duplicitous wife, but the character now seems to have been combined with Michael Ironside's badass enforcer in the original, thus making for a new super-villainess. The project's big question mark, the soft Jessica Biel taking on the role of tough chick revolutionary Melina, was nowhere to be seen in the footage shown here, but Wiseman's sure hand with action looks to serve this property well, even if this version rather blasphemously does not take place on Mars.

That's My Boy (June 15): Not being an especially big fan of Adam Sandler, it would be easy for me to instantly write off his films, most especially those he produces in-house through his Happy Madison banner. That said, I admit to be curious than usual about his next, for the preview footage of this story of a boorish overgrown man-child (Sandler, natch) and his deeply embarrassed son (Andy Samberg) reveals this to be the first Sandler-starring home production to be most decidedly hard-R in content. While the standard sophomoric silliness abounds (would the sizable Sandler fan base have it any other way?), the promise of Sandler not kowtowing to the shackles of PG-13 and finally for once being completely unleashed (that is, until the inevitable unrated DVD/Blu-ray) makes me oddly more interested than I generally otherwise would be.

Premium Rush (August 24): Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a bike messenger caught up in a dastardly scheme run by Michael Shannon in this action thriller from writer/director David Koepp. This film has been kicked across the release schedule for a while now, and the brief teaser footage still made it hard to get a clear read on the film; that said, Gordon-Levitt and Shannon are always interesting to watch, even in this small taste.

Hope Springs (August 10): Meryl Streep reunites with her The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel for this romantic dramedy in which she and husband Tommy Lee Jones seek to rekindle the lost spark in their long marriage with the help of counselor Steve Carell. This looks like about as sure a bet as you can get in the category of late-blockbuster-season counterprogramming aimed at the long-neglected audience segment of women and older adults.

Looper (September 28): More Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this time reuniting with Brick director Rian Johnson for a time-travel action thriller in which he plays an assassin assigned to kill his older self (Bruce Willis), who traveled back from the future. This change of pace for Johnson has the potential to break him out commercially while lending some uncommon smarts and creativity to genre fare, even if Gordon-Levitt's make-up/digital facial alteration to make him more closely resemble Willis is initially jarring.

Sparkle (August 17): Allow me to get onto my soap box here--never has the cultural divide between the motion picture exhibition powers that be and so-labeled (or "-dismissed"?) urban audiences been so clear to me than in the reaction to the preview of Salim Akil's remake of the 1976 classic, with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks stepping in for Irene Cara in the title role and featuring the late Whitney Houston in her final role as mother to Sparkle and her two older sisters (Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter), who form a girl group in the Motown era. Granted, the preview was not a formal trailer nor even teaser, but a montage of cast and scenes set to a ballad sung by Sparks on the piano--and all of it is beautiful and striking, from the vocals and song to the polished period details. Everything about it this trailer screams out polish and class, yet it was met with noticeably muted and dare I say perplexed golf claps from the audience, unlike the uniformly enthusiastic ovations that met all the other featured titles. That said, as with all so-labeled "urban" films, it will probably do solid business, leaving underestimating box office prognosticators crying "shock."

Here Comes the Boom (October 12): Teacher Kevin James finds out that arts funding is set to be cut from his high school's budget, so he does what anyone would do--attempt to raise the money to save the program by taking up... competitive mixed martial arts. It looks as silly as it sounds, but James is a genuinely likable screen presence to sell what looks to be a bit of a sentimental streak in this film to go with the pratfalls, and he and ever-fetching co-star Salma Hayek should go a long way toward making all of the antics watchable.

Skyfall (November 9): Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated title in the Sony product reel was the first look at the teaser for Daniel Craig's long-delayed third go-round as James Bond, and did it ever live up to the "teaser" term, with various tantalizing scenes and images--a train crash, coffins, 007 being visibly upset by the title word (oh, what could it possibly mean?!) during an interrogation--but no real clear idea as far as the plot of Sam Mendes's film. But then that's exactly what a teaser should do, and this little sample of the film certainly amped up the excitement for the film further.

Men in Black 3 (May 25): Will Smith's return to the big screen after an extended hiatus was further confirmed to be a sure box office bet with the footage shown, which features his Agent J doing battle with all manner of alien creatures as can be expected (and peppered this time, of course, with some blatant 3D gags), but also shed more light into the time travel hook, in which J travels back to the '60s and encounters the younger incarnation (Josh Brolin) of his grizzled old modern day partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). The change in time period and the new energy provided by Brolin (who does a killer Jones impression) looks, in turn, to give this long-dormant series a renewed wind as well.

Resident Evil: Retribution (September 14): Only a brief teaser was shown for the fifth film in the action franchise based on the video game series, but long or short, 2D or 3D, it can be summed up as such: Milla Jovovich, zombies, fighting, gunplay, often in slow motion. Lather, rinse, repeat--even if this time there appears to be a brief flashback to her character's pre-butt-kicking days.

Hotel Transylvania (September 28): Adam Sandler may produce and be one of the starring voices in this 3D animated feature, but this looks to be harmless, even somewhat clever fun, as the titular resort, which serves as a secret, secluded getaway for Dracula, Mummy, and various other ghouls and spooks has their peace upended when a human arrives to check in. The late September release date looks incredibly smart, giving it a full month of pre-Halloween play, not to mention getting a jump before Disney's Frankenweenie.

The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3): The presentation came to a big close with an extended look at the big Marvel comics reboot, and more striking to me than the more action- and effects-heavy footage, such as a huge set piece with the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) attacking a bridge and Spidey (Andrew Garfield) attempting to save cars and their occupants with his web-slinging, was how Garfield nails the double-edged Peter Parker persona: first out of costume in a cutesily awkward high school hallway exchange with love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone); and second in costume, all wisecracking, more than a little assy bravado as he screws around with a car thief. That, more than any CG effect or the now-mechanical web shooters, has me all the more interested in what director Marc Webb has in store in the finished film.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: Martin Scorsese & Ang Lee, Frankly Speaking

Film Flam Flummox

Filmmaking masters Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee on stage together for a candid hour-long lunchtime chat sounds fascinating and more than a little exciting on paper, and while I have no doubt there a discussion to take place between the pair could live up to any film geek's anticipation and excitement, but the one that took place this afternoon at the Caesars Palace Octavius Ballroom was most decidedly not it. The fact that RealD was the sponsor for both the presentation and accompanying meal should have been a tip off, but it was still no less disappointing that moderator Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter kept Scorsese and Lee narrowly focused on the designated topic, "The Ever-Changing World of Filmmaking Today, Tomorrow and Beyond"--namely, shooting with digital cameras and even more specifically, 3D digital cameras. The two both having recently had experience working with digital 3D technology, Scorsese with Paramount's Oscar-winning Hugo and Lee with Fox's upcoming Oscar hopeful Life of Pi, they did have some interesting insights and observations to offer on that and other emerging cinema technologies (Scorsese, instance, expressed an interest in trying high frame rate out, my gut reaction to which was a Darth Vader-in- Episode III-esque cry of "NO!"--at least not yet, while it clearly still has a long way to go before being refined and perfected), but the strictly tech-based focused made for a somewhat dry discussion that made a substantial portion of the crowd leave once they finished dessert. But given that I had decided this day to be my decidedly tech-centered one for the convention week, it was all too fitting that this program turned out the way it did.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: Dolby

Film Flam Flummox

Part two of my designated CinemaCon tech day went far more smoothly, with a two-part off-campus presentation by Dolby at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms resort down the street from Caesars Palace.  Their main feature attraction at the convention is the freshly unveiled Atmos system, whose slogan "Hear the Whole Picture" actually offers a good idea of what it entails, for it envelops audiences in audio like never before via a system of up to 64 speakers, including many more overhead ones, and thus offers pinpoint precision for a film's sound design.  The big question with any new technology is its compatibility with existing theatre systems, and Atmos is fully backward compatible.  The number of speakers and audio channels may seem like a bit of overkill, but upon seeing/hearing a comparison demo reel of standard 5.1 mixes versus an Atmos mix, featuring freshly Atmos-remixed clips from The Viral Factor, The Woman in Black, The Incredibles, and Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol , two conclusions could be made: (1) Brad Bird films have incredible (bad pun sort of intended) sound design; and (2) Atmos really does make the cinema experience that much more immersive, and in a wholly organic--to both the film narrative and moviegoing experience--and non-gimmicky way.  Dolby Worldwide Technical Marketing Manager Stuart Bowling, the host of the demo, was quick to stress that Atmos is not yet being offered as a product for sale just yet (while 12 to 15 development systems will be installed this summer at some key locations, the target date for official solicitation is the beginning of 2013), and that this CinemaCon launch presentation/demonstration is just that, the unveiling of an exciting, downright revolutionary innovation that will soon be widely available.

At an auditorium down the hall, Dolby offered a look at their visual cinema technologies, namely 4K digital projection and the big lightning rod at this year's convention, high frame rate.  The program consisted of four short clips: (1) young people at a carnival riding a carousel, shown in 24 frames per second, then 48fps, then 60fps; (2) a somewhat offensively stereotyped clip called "Low Rider" (the less said about the better), shown in 60fps; (3) the trailer for the documentary Mystic India, shown in 4K digital; (4) the trailer for the documentary The Last Reef, also shown in 4K digital.  After seeing more of high frame rate, and in a bit of a more "reality-based" context, I have now come to this conclusion: I do think it has its appropriate applications, most especially for documentary-type filmmaking.  It's in a narrative, or more specifically fantasy narrative, context where using such a technology remains highly debatable.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

My Wish List

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