It is that time of the year when the spring season approaches; the weather grows warmer and the flowers blossom. I could go on and on about Mother Nature and how it is affected by the changing seasons, but the fact of the matter is I write for MovieWeb. Therefore, I see the seasons unfold based on movie-related activities. Not only do the flowers bloom, but so do the movies. Studios have finally gotten past the frigid winter of January dumping grounds and begun focusing on the promising spring releases, the summer blockbusters, and the year-end award hopefuls. And there is not a better time than March to hold the annual ShoWest convention. What was started by NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) as a place for exhibitors to come eye-to-eye with distributors has been ranked right up there with Comic Con as one of the largest film conventions in the United States. This year, ShoWest set up camp in the Paris and Bally's hotels in Las Vegas. Being that I live down the street in Las Vegas, I decided to take a day from work on Thursday March 13 and see what the buzz was about at ShoWest 2008.
11:00 AM - Universal Pictures
When I heard that Universal Pictures was unveiling their slate of prospective 2008 films, I decided this could not be missed. As ShoWest was surprising audiences this week with surprise celebrity appearances, I could only imagine who would stop in. Unfortunately, the presentation was short and sweet in just under an hour with no one but a representative from Universal Pictures presenting the lineup. So without further ado, the line-up goes something like this:
Many of us are aware that a funny trailer for this Judd Apatow-produced comedy has been floating around in theaters and the Internet for a few weeks now. To give the crowd something they haven't seen, the red band trailer was debuted. There is nothing radically different from the original trailer. We get shots of star Jason Segal's ass along with Heroes hottie Kristen Bell taking part in some hardcore, yet fully clothed, sex. The funniest addition has to be the reliable Paul Rudd making comment about a woman's pubes matching hotel carpet.
The trailer for this Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy has also been out there for a while. For something new, an actual clip from the film was presented. The scenario follows Tina Fey's character becoming annoyed with Amy Poehler's annoying surrogate who is crashing at neat-freak Fey's apartment for the duration of the pregnancy. This results in a therapy session with Sigourney Weaver where the duo vents their frustrations alongside another couple who have hired a creepy Wiccan woman to carry their child. The clip actually comes through and shows great promise for the upcoming comedy.
I am sure many readers are aware that the trailer for The Incredible Hulk debuted on the net recently. The audience was shown this new full-length trailer which can be viewed here. The dynamite cast and darker tone does look more promising than Ang Lee's prior failed effort at bringing the surly, green giant to the big screen.
The recent second trailer was shown, but that was not the highlight. As a special bonus, a clip from the film was revealed for the first time. The spokesperson was apologetic for the special effects not being rendered properly, but I must say I was blown away. An awkward James McAvoy is saved in a convenience store by a sultry and kick-ass Angelina Jolie as she uses a variety of massive hand canons to unload bullets on a sinister assassin. McAvoy and Jolie then relocate to a speeding sports car where the chase continues with the bad guy in pursuit driving an oversized snack truck. The chase culminates in Jolie laying across the hood of the speeding car on her back in a pose that screams "sex appeal" as she fires at the bad guy. The vehicle then tumbles in mid-air over a police blockade and lands the heroes safely. There is only one way to describe this sample and that is absurdly cool. This scene is insanely ridiculous but undeniably fun, and I hope the full film brings more of these popcorn-munching thrills.
The new trailer for Guillermo Del Toro's sequel debuted at ShoWest with more plot details and footage. It is clear from this trailer that villain Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is out to recruit an army of anyone from hell to take over the world. He is even interested in recruiting "Big Red" himself, Hellboy. The action is aplenty and Ron Pearlman delivers his expected tough-guy one-liners. There also appears to be an abundance of wildly imaginative creatures here. I have high hopes that this second installment will outshine its predecessor.
The full-length trailer for the ABBA musical also made its debut here. There is not a huge difference from the original teaser except for a little more footage of Meryl Streep dancing in flamboyant costumes and more ABBA songs. Along with the title song, we also get a dose of the infamous "Dancing Queen". What we do not get are the characters themselves breaking into song. While not a fan of ABBA, I think the talent here could evoke this summer's Hairspray.
Yes, it has been decided that even The Mummy franchise needs a threequel. The studio unveiled a preliminary trailer for the film which stars Brenden Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh. When an army is unearthed by archeologists in China, Fraser and family travel East to take down the undead once more. This appears to be a cross of the adventurous slapstick from the first two films with a little wire-fu and martial arts. I am not trying to jump to conclusions, but does anyone still care about this franchise? Based on the box office take of The Mummy Returns, perhaps they do.
I decided to grab a sandwich along the boulevard of shops and eateries at the Paris hotel. While stuffing my face with a ham and cheese croissant, I spotted America Ferrera walking along with a group of pals. I cannot make it clear enough how not ugly Ugly Betty really is.
As a means of killing time, I decided to check out the actual ShoWest exhibits that movie theater owners actually come to see at this convention in the first place. After receiving a complimentary goodie bag from Sony that included various movie tie-in clothing and a You Don't Mess With the Zohan hairdryer (natch!), I scoped out the various booths. Nowhere else can you see so many sales representatives attempting to entice exhibitors with the next line of film projectors, light bulbs, comfortable theater seats, and concession stand touch-screen menus.
As I am not a theater owner, I did not stop to determine which of these products would be best for improving movie-going quality. However, I did stop to realize that various food and drink providers were present to pass out the latest in snack stand goodies. I suddenly heard the songs of angels and had an epiphany: the years of investing ridiculous amounts of money on over-priced sweets have finally paid off. My artillery of swag soon included Milk Duds, Skittles, almond clusters, and M & M's among other things. Even the fine folks at Dippin Dots were passing out their pellets of dairy delight. As I left the convention room, I could only smile with satisfaction that there is a place on par with Wonka's chocolate factory. I can only assume that next year they will install the chocolate waterfall.
2:45 PM - Warner Brothers
It was at this time that Warner Brothers launched their 2008 summer movie kickoff. After a few words from their distribution presidents, CEO Alan Horn stepped up to the podium to unveil the films. The presentations went down like so:
Producer Joel Silver was called to the stage to explain how he and the Wachowski Brothers decided upon this live-action remake of a beloved cartoon as their next project. The very R-rated trio decided that they wanted to dabble in something PG-rated that the whole family can enjoy. He also mentioned that the Wachowski Brothers wanted to emphasize depth and ensure that background and foreground would be equally in focus the entire film.
What followed was a 4-minute promo trailer with extended footage of the film. The best way to describe it is a Tron for the new generation of filmgoers. We get more footage of Matthew Fox as a cocky badass and more footage of CGI cars flying through midair on tracks that look like something out of Super Mario Kart. With its vivid colors and non-stop action, this could offer something for the whole family. I am definitely on board for forking over admission if the Wachowski Brothers are behind it. On hand to discuss the clip afterwards were stars Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, and Emile Hirsch. Ricci and Fox had very little to say, but Emile Hirsch certainly took the time to voice his enthusiasm and excitement for the project.
Director Peter Segal and stars Steve Carell and Anne Hathway were on hand to introduce a clip from the upcoming television remake. CEO Alan Horn stressed that they needed a director who understood comedy. I couldn't help but snicker with sarcasm when he stated that the man behind The Nutty Professor 2 and 50 First Dates was the man for the job. However, Peter Segal proved to be a cut-up once he took over the microphone. He especially scored points when referring to Get Smart co-star Ken Davitian as Ken "Please Get Your Balls Out of My Face" Davitian in reference to the actor's naked battle with Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat. Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway also seemed upbeat about the film and claimed it to be a real audience-pleaser if people have as much fun seeing it as they did making it.
The clip from the film was somewhat hilarious as it follows a handcuffed Steve Carell attempting to escape his constraints in an airplane lavatory. He does so using a high-tech Swiss army knife that is equipped with a mini-cross bow that fires small harpoons into every part of his body except for the handcuff chain. Carell and Hathway end up skydiving from the plane with an assassin in pursuit. The three of them comically fight one another until the protagonists finally wrestle the remaining parachute from the villain and touch ground safely.
This has to be not only the part I was looking forward to the most, but the highlight of the Warner Brothers presentation. Director Christopher Nolan introduced the film by explaining his desire to move from independent from big budget. He stressed his aspiration to not only create unique and independent films, but to also create traditional and grandiose films that are intended to be enjoyed in theaters. Stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale then stepped up to the microphone to say brief hellos before rolling the clip.
The clip was the opening sequence of the film that follows clown-masked thieves robbing a bank. They all mention being ordered to do the job by a mysterious Joker who has planned the entire heist. As they carry through with their robbery, each member begins to secretly kill another member of the team stating that he was ordered to do so by The Joker so that each member takes home a larger cut. Meanwhile, a hard-edged bank manager played by William Fichtner opens fire on the masked goons with a pump shotgun. Before long, only one masked thief is standing and that person is Heath Ledger as The Joker. He intentionally planned the robbery so that his entire team would be dead and he would walk away from the scene with the entire share. The scene is followed by a montage of footage including Aaron Eckhart seen for the first time as Harvey Dent. The introduction of the clip combined with Nolan's fitting introduction made me highly excited and appreciative that the Batman franchise is headed in the proper direction.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Director Sanna Hamri along with co-stars America Ferrara and Alexis Bledel briefly introduced the film and stressed their enthusiasm for working together once more. They stated that the sisterhood includes the moviegoers who have made the sequel possible. The introduction was followed by a compilation of clips and cast interviews that set up the sequel. It is after the girls' first year in college, and it revisits them after they have grown into the positions as ambitious career-seekers and mature women. The film does indeed look as touching and lightly humorous as the first installment, it just didn't hold a candle to the artillery of box office bullets that were being fired into my brain all afternoon.
George Lucas himself came onto the stage with costumed soldiers to introduce his latest Lucas Film effort, Clone Wars. What was originally supposed to be an animated television series has now been changed to a feature length CGI project that explores aspects of the Clone War that were not covered in his latest prequel installments. What followed was a compilation of footage from the film that shows Anakin taking in a young girl as his apprentice. The footage reveals various battles involving light sabers and lasers, and I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by all of this. It seems clear that George Lucas would much rather work with animation than he would with actors, being that his prequels were dominated by CGI characters, and he has decided to follow his films with this. I actually couldn't believe that this film is making it to theater screens. It reminded me more of a video game than it did a cinematic experience intended to engage its passive audience. This is probably the only film I previewed at ShoWest that I plan on not pursuing in the summer season.
The day has come to a close, and I stand in front of the Paris Hotel ready to make my exit. As I stand in front of the lobby reflecting on the freebies and excitement of summer blockbusters, I noticed a familiar person stepping out from a vehicle. It was Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. going into the hotel with luggage in hand. As I watched one of the greatest actors working today walk past me, I realized that the ShoWest convention is an experience that reminded me just how much I truly love the movies.