CinemaCon brings out the stars on day two

ScreenerBlog

CinemaCon in Las Vegas is the kind of event where you can see Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson and Tom Cruise all on the same day, with the casts of Entourage and Magic Mike XXL added for good measure. Oh, and Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara and Charlize Theron too.

Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. were first out of the gate with their product presentations at this year’s convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, with the other four major studios to follow in the next two days. Paramount’s show was paired with the annual “State of the Industry” morning session that always sees NATO president and CEO John Fithian and Motion Picture Association of American chairman and CEO Senator Chris Dodd summing up the past movie year and looking toward the future. Dodd focused on the bane of piracy (quoting the U.S. Constitution’s stance on intellectual-property rights), plugged the useful WhereToWatch.com website which lists legal outlets for movies and TV shows, and screened two MPAA short promotional films which highlight unsung movie occupations like “picture car coordinator” and “costume illustrator” with engaging real-life examples under the banner “I Make Movies.” Dodd offered the shorts free of charge to movie exhibitors, and they’re informative and entertaining enough that I hope a few circuits take him up on the offer.

Fithian confidently predicted that 2015 would be a record year at the box office, and then went on to elucidate the many reasons why, including strong releases scheduled for all 12 months, a diversity of product, and advancements in sight and sound technology. He also called 2015 “the year of the woman,” noting that Hollywood finally seems to have caught on that females are a highly dependable demographic and is readying a greater-than-usual number of films with female leads.

Schwarzenegger opened the Paramount program (wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket, of course) by giving his blessing to the new Terminator: Genisys, in which he has a featured role. (Is he really the former governor of California?) The 12-minute, action-packed extended trailer shown in Vegas borrows heavily from the 1987 original that made Arnold a star; the time-travel concept allows it to be both a remake and a reboot.

The CinemaCon audience got a first look at footage from Daddy’s Home, a comedy which pairs Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a stepdad and the super-dad who cast a big shadow over his new marriage. Who could have predicted back in the Boogie Nights era that Walhberg would become a comedy staple?

A highlight of the Paramount session was a video of Ben Stiller promoting the re-emergence of his obtuse male model Derek Zoolander—this was the Stiller we remembered from his Emmy-winning Fox sketch comedy series. Paramount would be smart to release the clip: Stiller’s shtick is consistently hilarious. (I loved his promise to exhibitors that they’ll sell so many Milk Duds, they’ll need to install a vomitorium.)

The final appearance was reserved for Tom Cruise, who appeared onstage alongside his Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation co-stars Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg. Cruise introduced two scenes: a torture/fight sequence showing off both Cruise’s and Ferguson’s combat skills, and a wild car chase in Morocco with Cruise actually at the wheel and Pegg in the passenger seat, looking terrified. (“I’m not acting,” Pegg testified.) The footage concluded with the already well-publicized scene of Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane as it takes off. Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore then quizzed the actor about the making of the sequence; he was attached to the plane by only a rope and had to wear special lenses to protect his eyes from the buffeting wind. But, yes, raw footage from the shoot proved that it was indeed daredevil Cruise clinging to that plane.

Not to be outdone, Warner Bros. staged a one hour and 45 minute preview of its slate for 2015 and beyond. To the delight of the movie theatre community, chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara said it was the studio’s “strategic decision to keep making more movies than our competitors.” That will include ten films from its DC Comics division between now and 2020, three more LEGO movies, and three films in J.K. Rowling’s new Fantastic Beasts series, including the Harry Potter author’s screenwriting debut.

The 2015 lineup alone is huge. George Mller’s return to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max looks awesome, represented onstage by stars Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and a taciturn Tom Hardy. San Andreas looks like the queasy disaster movie to end all disaster movies; star Dwayne Johnson took the stage with co-star Carla Gugino and somehow put over his lame jokes comparing the movie’s epic earthquake to the night he lost his virginity.

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate were in Vegas to promote the sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation with some shtick about her stardom long preceding his, and the outlandish trailer got raucous laughter from the Caesars Palace crowd.

There were no stars from the Johnny Depp-Benedict Cumberbatch film Black Mass, about infamous Boston criminal Whitey Bulger, but director Scott Cooper was there to state his case and marvel at Depp’s performance. With thinning hair and bad teeth, Depp was nearly unrecognizable in the sequence screened; could this be his road back to wunderkind status after so many recent missteps?

The 3D footage from Pan, director Joe Wright’s reimaging of the Peter Pan tale, looked sensational, as did the clips from Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea, the harrowing true story that inspired Moby Dick. Nancy Meyers’ The Intern, with Robert De Niro as a senior employee assigned to young entrepreneur Anne Hathaway, looked promising, and the extended 3D daredevil jump sequence from the studio’s remake of the Kathryn Bigelow cult film Point Break was something to behold.

Finally, in a most interesting meeting of movie generations, Sylvester Stallone mentors the son of Apollo Creed in Creed, the new project from the Fruitvale Station team of actor Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler. Coogler confided that his father raised him on the Rocky films, while Jordan expressed the hope that people of his young generation would be as inspired by his character as ’70s audiences were by Rocky. Modestly, Stallone cautioned the audience that this is not Rocky 7. “My story has been told.”