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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

CinemaCon 2012, Day 1: Paramount + DreamWorks Animation

Film Flam Flummox


Per quirky NATO convention tradition, while CinemaCon's "official" kick-off, complete with welcoming addresses and the whole nine, doesn't take place until Tuesday morning, a lot of activity does occur on the Monday. While the bulk of the Monday programming is focused on international exhibition markets (which I did not get to cover this year as I have in previous years, due to sadly limited access this year (yes, the pesky discrimination against media not granted the vaunted "passport" booklet--now rebranded as an "Admit One"--has once again reared its ugly, frustrating head), the evening programming always did not bear such a distinction--it generally held another focus during the ShoWest days: independent film, as in screenings of upcoming releases from arthouse distributors or studio specialty divisions.

But owing to the convention's renewed wind under the CinemaCon name, the big studio bonanza began at the Caesars Palace Colosseum on this first night, with a presentation by the one of the two major Hollywood studios celebrating a centennial anniversary in 2012, Paramount Pictures. Rob Moore, president of worldwide marketing and distribution, introduced a very classy featurette touching upon the studio's many crowning cinematic achievements over the past century before highlighting a few select releases coming up this summer and one slated for the end of the year.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June 29) : A slick and efficient bit of multitasking marked the presentation for the sequel to 2009's hit adaptation of Hasbro's '80s toy line and animated series, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Director Jon M. Chu was on hand along with three of the major newcomers to the franchise (none of this film's returnees, such as Channing Tatum, Ray Park, and Byung-hun Lee, were around), Adrianne Palicki (Lady Jaye), D.J. Cotrona (Flint), and Dwayne Johnson (Roadblock)--the last of whom was presented with CinemaCon's Action Star of the Decade trophy. The ever-affable Johnson gave a lively and speech, using Chu's introductory comment labeling him "franchise Viagra" (in reference to how Johnson also jumped aboard--and jumpstarted--previously existing franchises with Fast Five and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as a springboard for much self-deprecating humor. All this, of course, served as an appetizer for some fresh footage from the film: a brief, light-hearted scene between Johnson and Tatum's Duke; plus the new theatrical trailer of the film. The first film, while a financial success, was a notable disappointment for longtime fans of the property's previous incarnations, and if the more elaborate slam-bang thrills in the new trailer--and an additional dose of franchise Viagra in the form of no less than Bruce Willis--are any indication, this new film looks to be more in line with the beloved cartoons and comics many, including myself, grew up on.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation and recipient of the Will Rogers Pioneer of the Year Award later in the week, took over emcee reins from Moore for the next two featured titles.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (June 8) : One of the wildly successful series' core cast members, Chris Rock, was brought on stage for some characteristically brash and hilarious remarks before presenting 25 minutes of the film: a long, raucous chase sequence in Paris that sets up this installment's dramatic change in locale; and a shorter musical circus routine set to Katy Perry's "Firework." Transplanting a series called Madagascar away from not only its title country but the entire continent may appear a radical change on paper, but the banter and byplay between the central animal quartet (voiced again by Ben Stiller, Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer) that made the first two films family favorites look to be very much intact--and once again make a mint at the box office.

Rise of the Guardians (November 21): If Madagascar 3 smelled more or less completely of familiar, then DreamWorks Animation's second release of the year bore the scent of the alien--unusually and intriguingly so. Based on William Joyce's The Guardians of Childhood book series, this Thanksgiving release boasts a hook that sounds straightforward and sellable enough on paper: a childhood hero super-team of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman, along with new recruit Jack Frost, assemble to fight a big bad. But these aren't exactly traditional interpretations of these mythical characters: for instance, Santa is a tattooed, heavily Russian-accented tough guy who goes by the name North; the Easter Bunny is equally badass and hails from Down Under. So kudos to Paramount and DreamWorks for putting a bit of extra effort into selling this unconventional take on such archetypal characters, having director Peter Ramsey take time to present a number of character and concept sketches along with a rough 15 minutes of footage. I suspect the cautiousness, however well meaning and understandable, will be a moot point come November, given how visually spectacular the screened footage was--even in an unfinished state--and the presence of an all-star voice cast that includes Alec Baldwin (North), Hugh Jackman (getting to speak in his natural Aussie accent for once as the Easter Bunny), Isla Fisher (the Tooth Fairy), and Chris Pine (Jack Frost), the last of whom gave a charmingly rambling speech about the magic of children's imagination and its power in relation to this project.

Moore then returned to the stage for the remainder of the Paramount program.

One Shot / Jack Reacher / Reacher (December): Tom Cruise offered a videotaped introduction to three rough scenes from his upcoming actioner based on Lee Child's best selling novels. Heretofore referred to as One Shot, one was left to wonder what exactly was the title of Christopher McQuarrie's film, for the One Shot title was not once uttered in either Cruise or Moore's introduction, simply referring to the name of Cruise's character, Jack Reacher or simply Reacher. Whatever the film ends up being called, the trio of scenes proves that Cruise's intro quip that he gets to "drive fast cars and kick the shit out people" was no glib exaggeration; in fact, more striking than the action beats (a big fight and car chase was included among the footage) was the character of Reacher himself, who based on this glimpse is, in addition to being a badass, is a bit of a comically caustic asshole. In what little was shown, Cruise mines the misanthropy with a vigorous verve, making one all the more curious to see how the rest of the product plays out.

The Dictator (May 16): For the big finale, the presentation was hijacked by Sacha Baron Cohen--or, rather, General Admiral Aladeen of the Republic of Wadiya, for in keeping with his films and virtually all of his public appearances, Baron Cohen was deep into character. The (rather hilarious) new trailer and excerpt screened, as well as an impromptu invitation to a screening of the finished film later in the night, seemed rather moot in comparison to Gen. Adm. Aladeen's speech, in which all political correctness and "good" taste fell to the wayside, freely knocking sacred cows in Hollywood (such as Katzenberg, who was a good sport about it all) and in the world and life in general that made his infamous Academy Awards red carpet encounter with Ryan Seacrest last month seem like preschool play. If the film, which reunites Baron Cohen with his regular director/partner-in-crime Larry Charles, is as gleefully, hilariously, envelope-shredding-ly hilarious as this live routine was, moviegoers are in for one hell of a wild ride to kick off the summer moviegoing season.

Baron Cohen, either in or out of character, would be a tough act for even the most seasoned performer to follow, so the presentation of the second award given out during the program, the CinemaCon Triumph Award to Paramount president of theatrical distribution Jim Tharp, was a bit of a comedown, however earnestly heartfelt. But in the evening's final words, CinemaCon Managing Director Mitch Neuhauser promised lots more excitement for the remainder of the week--and if this first studio presentation of the week is a reflection of what the others have planned, that may turn out to be an understatement.

Stay tuned here all week for ongoing coverage of all the goings-on at CinemaCon!

(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.)

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