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Thursday, April 26, 2012

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.

(photo by Michael Dequina)

(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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