Fox and Universal host ample previews at CinemaCon


Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Pictures each highlighted eleven of their upcoming movies in their product presentations on the final day of CinemaCon 2015 in Las Vegas. Fox, which opened their session with an acrobatic group of dancers performing to a hip-hop remix of the “Peanuts” theme, mainly stuck with trailers and footage introduced by chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos and co-chairman Stacey Snider; the only actors to appear were Spy co-stars Rose Byrne, Jason Statham and Jude Law, plus 50 Cent pretending to be Melissa McCarthy, who joined in via a prerecorded video. Universal, meanwhile, offered a cavalcade of talent in a very full two-hour program, including Vin Diesel, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Seth MacFarlane, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, horror producer Jason Blum, Illumination Entertainment head Chris Meledandri, and directors Guillermo del Toro, M. Night Shyamalan, Balthasar Kormákur, F. Gary Gray, Colin Trevorrow and Jason Moore.

That’s a lot of films, so I’ll mainly focus on the ones that looked the most promising. Fox continues to be in the Ridley Scott business, and they would seem to have a winner with The Martian, a drama in which astronaut Matt Damon is left stranded on Mars, presumed dead after his fellow crew members witness him being struck by debris during an emergency evacuation. But Damon awakens and manages to keep himself alive and succeeds in communicating with Earth, prompting a renegade mission to rescue him. Damon appeared via prerecorded video, calling The Martian “one of the best projects I’ve worked on in years.” The footage shown augured a first-class production, with a great supporting cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover and Michael Peña.

Hot off his Oscar for Birdman, director Alejandro González Iñárritu is hard at work in British Columbia on the 1820s revenge drama The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Fox unveiled some gorgeous footage shot in natural light by Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Luzbecki; this one is intriguing.

I still remember how terrifying the original 1982 Poltergeist was. Joining the parade of ’80s remakes is Fox and MGM’s 2015 update, and my skepticism was banished by a very effective and creepy trailer. The parents with the bad luck to move into a house full of angry spirits are the talented Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, and the medium they call on is the reliably good Jared Harris. I’m sold.

Blue Sky Studios’ new big-screen outing for Charles M. Schultz’s beloved “Peanuts” gang seems to have found a satisfying visual style preserving some of the 2D qualities of the comic strip, even though the film is being released in 3D. Curiously, the trailer is scored to The Who’s propulsive rock classic “Baba O’Reilly”—not exactly the jazzy piano stylings of Vince Guaraldi.

A teaser for the next David O. Russell film, Joy, reuniting him with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, was as elliptical as one of those infamous “Mad Men” previews. You’d never know from the footage that it’s about the inventor of the Miracle Mop.

Now on to Universal. Jeff Shell, the relatively new Filmed Entertainment chairman who has a TV background, assured the crowd of movie exhibitors that “movies are the Rolls-Royce of content around the world” and that their impact “can’t be overstated.”

Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley, who took over the rest of the session, made news by announcing the dates of the Fifty Shades sequels: Fifty Shades Darker on Feb. 10, 2017, and Fifty Shades Freed on Feb. 9, 2018. But she left it up to Vin Diesel to announce the date for Furious 8, the sequel to what has become Universal’s biggest movie of all time, with $1 billion worldwide and still going strong. The eighth edition in the monster franchise will appear on April 14, 2017. Diesel moved the audience with his emotional tribute to his “brother Pablo,” the late Paul Walker, and recalled how “giddy and excited” he and Walker were when they got such an enthusiastic response at their last CinemaCon appearance together. “You all gave me so much confidence. You made me feel like we could make history,” he declared.

There were many crowd-pleasing moments at the Universal session. Comedy Central star Amy Schumer was amusingly self-deprecating about her first movie starring role as a sexually voracious woman in Trainwreck, which she also wrote. Seth MacFarlane told the group that Ted 2 is a movie “you can take the whole family to, if your whole family is over 18 and addicted to drugs.” Promising that it’s not a retread of the first hit, he touted the movie’s stoner appeal and its potential for bigger popcorn sales. “If someone wants to toke up in the restroom, don’t be such a dick about it,” he advised.

M. Night Shyamalan, teaming for the first time with Purge producer Jason Blum, reminded the crowd that he’s always been a vociferous champion of movie theatres. “I tell a story to 200, 300, 500 strangers in a room and they become one entity,” he observed. The trailer for his latest, The Visit, about two kids left with their shockingly eerie grandparents, actually looks like fun. Could this be a Shyamalan comeback?

Another star director, Guillermo del Toro, offered a short history of the gothic romance and why it’s such a rich genre deserving of a big-scale production, adding that its “sick and twisted” elements have special appeal to him. His Crimson Peak, starring Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam, certainly looks twisted, surreal, stylish and scary.

Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray brought out two of the real-life subjects of his NWA biopic, pioneering rappers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, who praised the “balls” of Universal (and even Langley) for having the courage to make such a hard-edged story.

Universal saved its surefire summer blockbusters for last. Chris Meledandri previewed the Despicable Me spinoff Minions, swearing those adorable yellow creatures “demanded” their own prequel (which goes from the dawn of time to the 1960s and features Sandra Bullock as the arch-villain they dote on). He also previewed an irresistible July 2016 Illumination animated release called The Secret Life of Pets.

Last on the menu was Jurassic World, with a knockout extended trailer that looks every bit as potent and frightening (if not more so) as executive producer Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster original. And leave it to star Chris Pratt to prove that he can be utterly charming even when he’s being very, very dirty.