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Thursday, April 26, 2012

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.)

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