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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

CinemaCon 2018, Day 2: Warner Bros. presents The Big Picture

Film Flam Flummox


(photo by Michael Dequina)

As mentioned in my Day 1 Sony Pictures report, some studios have distinctive and identifiable approaches to their CinemaCon presentations, and Warner Bros. is the one that takes the branding idea to its most literal, actually adopting an official name for its annual preview of the year to come, "The Big Picture." Beyond the naming, though, WB is also the studio to pull out the biggest guns as far as celebrity appearances, often trotting out close to complete casts of upcoming releases on the Colosseum at Caesars Palace stage. This year, they even one-upped themselves in that regard by having Will Arnett, one of the voice cast in and executive producer of this summer's upcoming animated feature Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, serve as the show's--or, shall I say, "The Big Picture"'s--master of ceremonies.

But before the feature presentation, so to speak, a few members of the WB executive suite took to the stage. Chairman of the Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group Toby Emmerich, who was promoted to the title just this January after a few years as the studio's President and Chief Content Officer, made his first ever appearance on the CinemaCon stage, and the most notable part of his remarks was an omission: the non-mention of once-frequent collaborator RatPac-Dune in the standard shoutout to all of the studio's production partners. Emmerich was followed by Ron Sanders, President of Worldwide Distribution and Home Entertainment; and then Jeff Goldstein, President of Domestic Distribution, the latter's comment about aiming to deliver hits throughout the entire calendar year serving as a nice set-up for the 90 minutes that followed.

Aquaman (December 21) / Shazam! (April 19, 2019) / Wonder Woman sequel (November 1, 2019): After some typically cheeky scripted patter by Arnett, WB hit the ground running with a sizzle reel touting the next installments in their DC Extended Universe superhero franchise, which took one major step forward in 2017 with the critical and popular success Wonder Woman and then another step back mere months later with the underachieving, heavily retooled Justice League. After the triumph of a solo tale and the tepid response to a (forced and rushed) team-up that what was supposed to be a culminating mega-event, despite someone saying in the featurette that they are creating a "modern DC cinematic universe," it appears the immediate focus with these next films is less the universe and instead what should have been done in the first place: concentrating on establishing characters as viable standalone entities. Of the three showcased films, the as yet-untitled Wonder Woman follow-up has not begun shooting, and so it was represented in the reel by snippets from the first film and Justice League, with talking head interview bites from returning director Patty Jenkins revealing little more than the fact that the film will be set in the 1980s. Despite being well into production, the Zachary Levi-starring Shazam!, in which he plays the title adult superhero alter ego of a young boy, got a similar treatment, with brief comments from Levi and director David F. Sandberg, the briefest clips of actual video footage, and only stills of Levi in costume.

Aquaman was also included in the reel, with comments from director James Wan and a glimpse of some concept art, but after it finished, Wan and stars Jason Momoa, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Amber Heard, and Patrick Wilson joined Arnett live on stage to further build the hype and trade quips before unveiling the very first, albeit unfinished, footage to ever screen from the film. While the character has been an easy punching bag for years, what was shown looks to right that reputation, showing Momoa's Arthur Curry picking up where he left off in Justice League as a believably badass hero. What makes this the right film to release right now for the DCEU, however, is not so much the character than the world he inhabits, for even in rougher, unfinished FX form, the underwater Atlantis settings and designs are striking and distinctive from other recent comic book films, whether from DC or any other company. Heard's Mera, who was briefly seen in Justice League; Willem Dafoe's mentor character Vulko; and Mateen and Wilson's villainous Black Manta and Ocean Master, respectively, are briefly seen and some have a line or two in the footage, but the emphasis was clearly on selling its star, his character, and the world, and that this introductory glimpse definitely succeeded in doing.

Life of the Party (May 11): Gears then shifted to more immediate and modest releases, with Melissa McCarthy and husband/co-writer/director Ben Falcone joining Arnett to introduce a complete scene and extended trailer for their third feature film collaboration. The scene, in which McCarthy's character is in a divorce mediation, was completely stolen by ever reliable co-star Maya Rudolph playing her best friend, but the star was put into clearer and more prominent focus in what followed, tracing the character's wacky but life-reinvigorating journey when she decides to pursue her college degree--alongside her daughter--after her divorce. Like their previous homegrown efforts Tammy and The Boss, McCarthy and Falcone seem to be going for the warm fuzzies as much as they do laughs, but if the balance ends up leaning more in favor to the latter, this could be an early summer sleeper.

Ocean's 8 (June 8): The major in-person starpower that "The Big Picture" is known for was kicked-up a notch with the Ocean's Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen series spinoff, for which six of the titular octet was present: Sandra Bullock, who plays the similarly scheming sister of George Clooney's protagonist of the previous trilogy; and partners in crime Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, and Awkwafina. Even missing the other two, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter, the chemistry and camaraderie between the ladies was apparent on stage, and Hathaway was an inadvertent, hilarious scene stealer struggling with some less than comfortable high heel shoes as Arnett and the others chatted and carried on unaware. As for the film itself, a full scene and extended trailer was shown, and director/co-writer Gary Ross looks to have maintained the stylish, slick, and cool template Steven Soderbergh set with the preceding films as Bullock and crew stage a heist at the Met Gala, with this ensemble's fierce feminine energy, distinctive personae, and the Big Apple setting carving out a personality that stands on its own.

(photo by Michael Dequina)

Stay tuned here and on my Twitter and Instagram all week for ongoing coverage of all the goings-on at CinemaCon 2018!

(Special thanks to Warner Bros., and very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Corey Barger, and the entire team at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention, as well as Mitch Neuhauser and the CinemaCon crew)

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