Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence head a big star roster at CinemaCon

ScreenerBlog

This year’s CinemaCon show in Las Vegas is hosting a record nine presentations by film distributors: the six major studios, returning Lionsgate, and debutantes STX Entertainment and Amazon Studios. And so today’s schedule was jam-packed with three product previews, all of which added up to some real promise for the months ahead.

STX Entertainment got prime positioning in the Tuesday morning “State of the Industry” session, with Motion Picture Group chairman Adam Fogelson adroitly making the case for his 18-month-old studio’s business plan as a home for “moderately and appropriately priced films for adults.”

STX has already had a hit with last summer’s The Gift and a modest success with the chiller The Boy, and it appears to have an award season contender with Free State of Jones, a drama based on the true story of Newton Knight, the righteous leader of a group of Confederate deserters during the Civil War. Stars Matthew McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw and director Gary Ross were there to promote the film about a little-known chapter of American history, which Ross said he researched for two years, and the sequence and trailer shown were compelling. It opens on June 24.

Judging by the footage screened, STX seems to have two potential comedy hits in its roster: The Edge of Seventeen, starring Hailee Steinfeld as a teenager who despairs of ever fitting in, which Fogelson likened to the classic 1980s youth comedies of John Hughes, and Bad Moms, an R-rated romp from the writers of The Hangover, with Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn as women who abandon their assigned roles as perfect mothers—with a vengeance.

STX is also aligning itself with some veteran action stars: Sylvester Stallone appeared onstage promising an exciting new project but offering no details, and the studio has fashioned a rare dramatic role for Jackie Chan as a man seeking vengeance for the death of his young daughter. The tentatively titled The Foreigner also features Pierce Brosnan as his adversary.

STX displayed some in-person star power with Stallone, McConaughey, Kunis and Bell, but Warner Bros. truly brought out its big guns for its annual “Big Picture” product preview. The new Batman, Ben Affleck, and co-star Amy Adams helped introduce Warner’s survey of its upcoming DC Comics slate, and director David Ayer and a large star contingent from Suicide Squad (including Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Joel Kinnaman) celebrated their anti-hero epic. A surprisingly amusing Russell Crowe confessed that absent co-star Ryan Gosling “made me corpse (break up laughing) every day” on the set of their buddy action comedy The Nice Guys, and praised director Shane Black for his dense narrative that imagines “a time when America might have corrupted its own future”—food for thought this election year, he added. The hilarious extended trailer did its job—I can’t wait to see this one.

Robbie was back with co-stars Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz to promote the elaborate CGI of The Legend of Tarzan, and Dwayne Johnson recorded a sales pitch for his comedy Central Intelligence. Co-star Kevin Hart was there in person, joking that The Rock had let himself go physically, then nervously asking, “He isn’t here?”

More star power arrived in the form of Bradley Cooper, a producer of the new Todd Phillips comedy War Dogs, who reminisced about wrangling with a naked Ken Jeong not far from Caesars Palace for The Hangover eight years ago. Phillips whipped up the exhibition crowd by asking, “Why are we in in such a rush to take the thing that separates us from everyone else—the physical shared experience of movie theaters—and do away with it?” That was a reference, of course, to Sean Parker’s The Screening Room and its scheme to make films available in the home simultaneously with their theatrical release.

LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller dominated the look at the roster of the newly established Warner Animation Group (WAG), which includes a comedy called Storks, a yeti tale named Small Foot, a reconceived Scooby-Doo cartoon and, of course, The Lego Batman Movie (which unveiled a fun clip).

The Warner session concluded with appearances by Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell and a glimpse of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s new creation, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The Vegas audience seemed happy to be back in her fantasy world.

The final studio presentation of the day came from Sony, with Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman touting two end-of-year releases of which he seems especially proud. As head of Fox, Rothman reminded the crowd that “in a different uniform” he had introduced them to the world of Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Life of Pi. And now here he was previewing Lee’s latest, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which looks like Oscar bait with its story of a traumatized Iraq war hero. Rothman likened it to American Sniper and Lone Survivor but with a younger protagonist, and noted that Lee has broken technological ground yet again, filming the battle scenes in a higher frame rate to achieve a greater intensity.

Rothman was also very high on Passengers, the space drama teaming for the first time two of today’s hottest stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It’s essentially a two-character piece in which a malfunction causes these adventurers to wake up from hibernation much too early during a decades-long space voyage. Directed by Imitation Game Oscar nominee Morten Tyldum, the footage looked spectacular and intriguing. And Lawrence and Pratt were there in person to promote the film, awkwardly and adorably.

As a final flourish, Sony brought to the stage its four femme Ghostbusters—Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones—and introduced its very young and poised new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, who revealed the official title of his reboot: Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Vegas crowd also got a sneak peak at Holland in rival studio Disney’s Captain America: Civil War, as Peter Parker meets Robert Downey’s Tony Stark. It was the icing on the cake after a star-studded CinemaCon Tuesday.