CinemaCon 2018 brings out the stars

ScreenerBlog

One of CinemaCon’s main tasks is to get movie exhibitors excited about the studios’ upcoming slates, and judging by the response of attendees at the presentations by Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Focus Features, that mission has been accomplished.

As usual, Warner Bros. set the bar in terms of the sheer number of stars they brought in for their Tuesday afternoon event—so many, in fact, that they invited them all back onstage at the end for a rare photo op. The roll call: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and Awkwafina from Ocean’s 8; Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb and Annabelle Wallis from Tag; Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol and Callum Turner from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Rhys, Rohan Chand and a returning Blanchett from Mowgli; Jason Momoa, Amber Heard and Patrick Wilson from Aquaman; Channing Tatum, Zendaya and Common from the animated Smallfoot; Melissa McCarthy and her Life of the Party director husband Ben Falcone; horror master James Wan presenting The Nun; Constance Wu, director Jon M. Chu and the cast of Crazy Rich Asians; and Bradley Cooper, director and star of A Star Is Born. The emcee was Will Arnett, promoting his own Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, and it was fun hearing manly Jason Momoa giggle at Arnett’s good-natured jibes and touching to see the heartfelt support Arnett gave to former roommate Cooper on his feature directing debut.

On Wednesday afternoon, Paramount Pictures had its own starry gathering, assembled by chairman Jim Gianopulos, who offered convincing evidence that the studio has been revitalized after a rocky couple of years. (The critical and popular success of A Quiet Place is the first very clear sign.) Representing Paramount were John Cena, Hailee Steinfeld and director Travis Knight (BumbleBee); the formidable Book Club quartet (pictured) of Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen (Bergen took exception to the implication of the word “living” when they were described as “living legends”); Girls Trip breakout Tiffany Haddish bringing down the house as she marveled at the super-fast shoot of her untitled comedy for Tyler Perry, who has a new deal with Paramount; Taraji P. Henson promoting the gender-reversed remake What Men Want; Johnny Knoxvillle providing visual evidence of his broken bones while filming Action Point; and Tom Cruise and director Chris McQuarrie giving a detailed breakdown of an outrageous sky-diving stunt in the new Mission: Impossible—Fallout and introducing co-stars Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg and Angela Bassett.

Sony’s big celeb turnout included Will Ferrell crooning Caesars Palace diva Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” to promote his comical Holmes & Watson; Matthew McConaughey praising his true-life crime drama White Boy Rick; Gina Rodriguez and director Catherine Hardwicke for the remake of the Mexican thriller Miss Bala; CinemaCon Male Star of the Year Benicio del Toro introducing an action-packed scene from Sicario: Day of the Soldado; Claire Foy (in a startling change from her Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown”) and director Fede Alvarez for the series reboot The Girl in the Spider’s Web; Tom Hardy, Michelle Willams, Riz Ahmed and director Ruben Fleischer touting the very dark comic-book adaptation Venom; and Quentin Tarantino loudly proclaiming his devotion to the cinema experience alongside Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured, top left), star of his late-’60s-set Once Upon a Time in Los Angeles, which he called a return to the sensibility of his classic Pulp Fiction.

Universal opened its session with the dynamic comic duo of Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, soon to be seen together in Night School. Universal’s parade included Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle presenting their Neil Armstrong saga First Man; Cate Blanchett, Jack Black and director Eli Roth touting horror maven Roth’s change-of-pace fantasy tale The House with a Clock in Its Walls; Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson and director M. Night Shyamalan on the Unbreakable/Split crossover pic Glass (“It’s about time I got the title role in my own fucking movie!” Jackson proclaimed); hit horror producer Jason Blum and director Gerard McMurray giving a glimpse of the prequel The First Purge; new father Dwayne Johnson recorded at his home gym talking up his Die Hard-like thriller Skyscraper and once again declaring his love of the theatre experience; and Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard introducing the suspenseful opening scene of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Jamie Lee Curtis brought lots of energy to the room, beaming with pride over playing the same role 40 years later in the revitalized Halloween—"It's hella scary," she promised. For the finale, Amanda Seyfried of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again unveiled one of CinemaCon’s grandest surprises: Vegas icon Cher (preceded by dancers streaming down the aisles) performing ABBA’s “Fernando.”

Focus Features, rightfully celebrating its two 2017 Best Picture nominees, unveiled an equally promising 2018 slate at their Wednesday afternoon luncheon. Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan charmed onstage and looked formidable onscreen as Mary, Queen of Scots, accompanied by director Josie Rourke. On the Basis of Sex director Mimi Leder called her film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg “a real-life superhero origin story,” while star Felicity Jones said Ginsberg reminded her of Rocky in her uphill battle against sexism. Lucas Hedges talked about how Nicole Kidman instantly eased his nervousness about playing her son in Boy Erased, even though Mom pressures his character to undergo gay-conversion therapy. (Russell Crowe is the intolerant dad.) Director Joel Edgerton expressed his hope that his film will trigger a conversation to help dismantle this still-thriving practice. And Get Out producer Jason Blum was there to promote his latest movie about the racial divide, Spike Lee’s Black Klansman, with star John David Washington (son of Denzel) also there to talk about this wild true story of a black cop who infiltrates the KKK.

Walt Disney Pictures’ approach at CinemaCon is to forego the celebrity appearances; instead, they focus on what’s coming up from their gold-standard brands: Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation and Walt Disney Pictures. It was the farewell appearance of Dave Hollis, the studio’s urbane distribution head, who’s leaving Disney to become CEO of his wife Rachel’s company, Chic Media, and the debut of new executive VP of theatrical distribution Cathleen Taff. Who needs stars when you have exclusive footage from the likes of The Incredibles 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mary Poppins Returns, Christopher Robin, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and the live-action versions of Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King? Oh, and if the hilarious Disney princesses sequence from Ralph Breaks the Internet is any indication, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph should be a smash.

With the deadline for our June issue looming this weekend, I had to leave CinemaCon early and could not report on the Thursday presentations from 20th Century Fox, Amazon Studios and Lionsgate. (I also missed the STX Films event.) But even three days of CinemaCon was as star-packed as this show has ever been.