Sony kicked off its CinemaCon presentation with a 'silent sizzle reel' as technical 'difficulties' stole a bit of their thunder in the early moments of this epic event. Chairman Tom Rothman took the stage quickly after and quipped comfortably to reclaim his control of the audience, setting the pace for Sony's preview night. Among his one-liners was that he wished the 'voice of God' had told him not to make Speed 2: Cruise Control! Indeed! After this rather 'bumpy' start, Sony execs unveiled what could probably be described as the most diverse slate of any of the major studios, spanning remakes and re-toolings as well as new and unique fare in both live action and animation.
Rothman started with Ang Lee's new film, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, which he compared (to a degree) with Life of Pi, Lee's last movie (and Academy favorite). Rothman described the movie as "powerful" and "emotional". "In the tradition of Lone Survivor and American Sniper", Rothman described the new technique of projecting different frame rates within a film, allowing the audience to feel the intensity of war in contrast to life, as the soldiers, themselves, do. Despite the use of this new technology, this is a strong, story-driven piece. The crowd seemed impressed, if left somewhat in awe, by the as yet unfinished footage. It is definitely not what you might infer from its somewhat mouth-filling title, but the cast that features Steve Martin, Kristen Stewart and Vin Diesel alongside newcomer Joe Alwyn truly electrified the audience.
"It's weird being honored for the worst day of your life," Says the title character, Billy. He has been selected to make a wrenching appearance at the Super Bowl halftime show. As he makes his walk onto the field, you can understand from the trailer that the film juxtaposes his appearance at this larger-than-life sporting event with the brutal horrors of war and the experiences this young man has faced in the recent past. The teaser plays to a version of Bowie's "Heroes (We Could Be)" and definitely leaves you feeling that this one could be BIG when it opens on November 11.
Next up, Rothman featured Passengers, calling Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt to the stage for an introduction. Rothman not only introduced the actors, but called them 'bright', 'sexy' and 'immensely talented'. He also described their chemistry as "sexy as hell". The pair jumped on the stage and riffed to the delight of the capacity crowd at Caesar's Colosseum while describing the film and their respective characters. Pratt told the crowd of cinema operators to order tons of popcorn and soda because they would sell all of it...He then dropped the mic in proper Kanye style...Right on Lawrence's foot. Smooth, he is not. The pair shouted their intro to the film as the (also as yet unfinished) teaser flooded the screen. The film seems part Gravity part The Martian as it examines the lives of two space travelers, part of just over 5,000 selected to take a 120 year journey to a remote colony. These travelers awaken only 30 years into the 120 year journey. With 90 years left on "the clock", they face the harsh reality effectively being the only two beings on this ship as it hurtles through space. As the teaser plays out, the pair face an array of crises and battle for their very survival. It's easy to see that this is a big screen spectacular that is both story and action driven.
Rothman then introduced Rory Bruer to carry the bulk of the presentation across a wide variety of Sony's various brands (or 'labels') to program a slate of picture that offers something for 'everyone' across a wide variety of audiences. Tri-Star, the first label covered, is making big films with big talent and delivering a variety of major franchise extensions, genre pictures and more. Some of these films include Trainspotting 2, Money Monster and Baby Driver. Up first in the Tri-Star teaser was Baby Driver, with a fast-paced, pulse pounding clip that was thin on real film footage and long on promise. Trainspotting 2 jumps in next with a heavy play on the original, its cast and aesthetic. Money Monster swept the last spot showing a George Clooney and Julia Roberts driven clip that plays on the Jim Cramer (Mad Money) caricature. When our fictional host is taken hostage and strapped to a bomb vest by a gunman claiming that the financial acrobatics that cost him and his girlfriend to lose everything needed to find justice. By the end of the fast paced clip, the hostage is helping to uncover the fraud that the gunman sought to bring to light.
Bruer next highlighted the Affirm Films label that brings titles like Miracles from Heaven and Heaven Is for Real, and discussed the various projects that not only find a home in Affirm Films, but also reach into the other Sony labels.
Bruer then introduced Kristine Belson (President of Sony Pictures Animation), a woman he 'wants to share a bottle of tequila with'. Belson didn't show any new footage, but covered all the various projects in their pipeline, like Smurfs: The Lost Village (April '17), a fully animated Smurf adventure that changes the direction from the two prior live-action/animation hybrids. Demi Levato headlines the film.
Emoji (August '17) plays on the HUGE emoji usage by the global smart phone market to enter the world of the phone through the text app into Emoji Valley, where lots of comedy and magic is found. Our emoji heroes must leave the comfort of their environment to travel to the land of the wallpaper, where each app is represented by a massive cube that each contains a separate unique 'world'. Sony has partnered with a variety of the hottest smartphone apps today (to, no doubt, attempt to create a massive marketing juggernaut). In December 2017, Sony's untitled Nativity movie, told from the animal's point of view, makes its opening. September 2018 brings Hotel Transylvania 3, which, as Belson puts it, will "blow the roof off" and take the characters on bigger adventures. Finally, for Holiday 2018, Sony will release the Spider-Man Animated Movie, developed by the same team who brought us The Lego Movie. Belson claims this film will break new ground...But she can't tell us more, as they have to keep it under wraps 'for now'.
Bruer returned to speak about the genre fare in development and pending release at Screen Gems. This division is pushing out the last installment of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the pic that led off its sizzle real, with an almost campy ad from Umbrella Corporation and Alice heading out to attack the hive in an effort to get the airborne anti-virus. The sheer volume of zombies and explosions baffled, but this will no-doubt be a must-see for fans of the series. Blood then drips down the screen, covering a message appearing on about the fine line between reality and entertainment, asking the audience if they will Keep Watching (the title of the film). The film's characters are unceremoniously slaughtered in a house as you, in the audience, are implored to #KEEPWATCHING. Next up is another 'seductive thriller' from the team that brought The Perfect Man, among other similar titles. When the Bough Breaks features Morris Chestnut as a husband who, along with his wife, hires a surrogate to bear their child. As the couple takes-in the young surrogate, she becomes infatuated and clearly wants to move-in, Fatal Attraction style on the hapless father-to-be. It's a taught, edge-of-the-seat emo-thriller that looks, perhaps, more polished than its predecessors. Next up, the popular Underworld franchise drops its next installment, Underworld Blood Wars. A rapid-fire teaser shows familiar characters and unfolds the new war. Finally, a film about three teens that decide to rob a blind man who is, shall we say, not at all helpless or an 'easy mark'. One of our teens is quickly killed by their intended victim. The other two think they can escape, but their plight quickly turns into a hopeless battle, in a dark and terrifying house, against this very capable and violent 'cripple'. Don't Breathe will surely have audiences holding their breath.
Bruer returned to the stage to set up some of the little reveals (like the MIB 23 cross-over of Men In Black with the 21 Jump Street pictures) and mention Ghostbusters, before he formally tees-off the Columbia slate. The Shallows is a new take on the Jaws thriller storyline, with a young surfer trapped by an absolutely immense killer shark. The clip played as a tightly wound thriller that, despite its seemingly limited set real estate, played as a fast-paced survival tale.
Inferno brings back Tom Hanks to the third in the Dan Brown series, trying yet again to unfold an epic riddle to save the unsuspecting masses of mankind from near destruction. Finally, The Angry Birds Movie shows up to try to help us understand, with a little help from the little green pigs, why so much anger? Birds that can't fly certainly have cause to be angry, but when the pigs show up to take over, the birds just can't take it and 'Red' rallies the rest of his compatriots to wage war on the newcomers.
Bruer walks back on the stage as the entire Colosseum is apparently overtaken by some strange phenomenon. It's then that the Ghostbusters music starts and our new team appears briefly on screen before showing up, live and in-person, on stage to inject some lighthearted comedic banter and discuss the film with the director, Paul Feig before they introduce the clip. The short reveal plays very much like the original Ghostbusters, with various cuts that will seem almost uncomfortably familiar to fans of the original. Even the characters seem a direct 'update' to the original team. The clip leaves the audience unsure whether this will mean this new Ghostbusters will be 'better' or just 'different'.
The next picture on the screen is the R-rated animated outing, Sausage Party which, as its name implies is filmed with suggestive animated images, not so veiled double entendre and outright adult-leaning language and situations. This is not a cartoon for your kids, to be certain. The trailer is funny and irreverent, definitely red-band, which seems almost strange and uncomfortable as you watch a cartoon.
Next up is Antoine Fuqua's retelling of The Magnificent Seven, for which Chris Pratt and Fuqua join Bruer on-stage. This discussion is brief, with Chris Pratt extolling the virtues of this great cast and powerful director, which led him to sign-up for the posse. Fuqua seems almost a bit arrogant and less excited to attend than Pratt, who is making his 2nd appearance on the stage tonight. The clip launches as we see Denzel Washington on screen gunning down a man claiming that "When a man carries a gun, he intends to use it". He shoots the bartender where Pratt is seated, a bit incensed that he won't be getting the drink he'd just ordered. Washington recruits Pratt and sets out to recruit others to help a widow who recently lost her husband to the murderous villains in the film, leading an 'army' to unseat landowners through any means necessary. In addition to Washington, the gunslinger, and Pratt, the gambler, they recruit a tracker, an indian warrior and a sharpshooter, among others, to help the widow, banding together to fight for a cause that this unlikely band of thugs might seem out of place standing for.
A final sizzle reel hits to unveil Stephen King's The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Other known titles including Bad Boys 3, MIB 23, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Nightingale, Zombieland 2, Insidious: The Next Chapter, Robotech, Jumanji AND the Untitled Blade Runner Project, are all featured, if only VERY briefly with title treatments and and quick cuts.
Bruer ceded the stage, once again, to Rothman who, with a somewhat longing nod to the late Steve Jobs, attempted the late Jobs' great showman trick of leaving the best for last, claiming that there was just "one last thing". It was at this time that he feigned a 'live' connection to Tom Holland, the new Spider-Man, live from the Captain America premier in Hollywood. While Rothman tried to get Holland to respond via Skype, Holland walks on to the stage and introduces himself as "your new Spider-Man". The pair then announced the new title,Spider-Man: Homecoming, which alludes to returning to the origin story, the introspective look at Parker and, of course, the character's return "home" to Marvel. Holland introduces a clip that finds Parker returning home (there's that theme again) to find Aunt May on the couch with Tony Stark. Peter is surprised to see the billionaire super-hero on his couch. Stark tells Parker that he's come to discuss the grant that Peter wanted. Peter asks if this grant involves money, to which Stark replies "It is well funded, but yeah, look who you're talking to." The crowd is pleased by the lightheartedness and humor in the clip which, perhaps, shows why the Marvel universe may appeal to a broader audience than much of the DC fare. And with that, Sony calls it a close. So, what do you think?