CinemaCon: Warner Bros. Shows Off Strong Sci-Fi and Genre Slate

Batting clean-up on the final day of CinemaCon 2014 was Warner Bros.’ annual “The Big Picture” presentation, meant to showcase the studio’s plethora of A-list stars and the fact that they tend to release the most movies per year, something that probably contributed to them become the #1 studio globally in 2013.

Warners CEO Kevin Tsujihara introduced Dan Fellman and Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, Warner Bros. Presidents of Distribution Domestic and International, who then alternated to make introductions for the long list of movies and talent on hand to share it with exhibitors.

Transcendence (April 18)

Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister was on-hand along with actors Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman to present extended footage from the upcoming sci-fi thriller on which he makes his directorial debut. Their intro was somewhat chaotic as Depp didn’t really seem to know what he was supposed to be reading from the teleprompter, and his presence in the audience before the presentation had already created a frenzy among exhibitors with smartphones trying to get pictures.

In Pfister’s film, Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a genius scientist in the field of artificial intelligence whose theories are put to the test when his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany) successfully insert his mind into a computer. It was a very different trailer from the ones we’ve seen that begins with Caster and his wife at home, but Caster doesn’t have the charisma of when he’s talking on stage about his theories. He’s shot by anti-tech extremists causing his wife to take drastic measures to save his brain inside a computer, but this new version of Caster starts to get crazy for more power, much to the concern of his wife and friends. This builds throughout the footage to show what he’s capable of doing in his new form, which includes gaining acolytes by inserting them with his technology. This definitely seemed more action-packed than the previous trailers we’ve seen with scenes of menacing metallic tendrils running through the ground towards people and images reminiscent of Inception.

Godzilla (May 16)

The footage that made the biggest splash (pun intended) was the footage shown from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ first movie of the summer, which expanded upon footage that’s been shown in various places over the past few months. Director Gareth Edwards came out to give a rather modest but effective introduction to his revival of Toho Studios’ beloved movie monster before showing an extended trailer that begins with a scene of Bryan Cranston’s wife in a hazmat suit as some sort of accident causes a gas leak that presumably kills her as Cranston runs to try to save her, to no avail. Cranston’s speech from the most recent trailer has a bit more impact knowing that Godzilla’s surfacing might have been responsible for her death.

From there, we cut to a tropical holiday location, possibly Hawaii or Southeast Asia, where we see a little girl on the beach looking out into the ocean that begins to rise above the people as they flee frantically and a large tsunami wave crashes down upon them and through the streets. From a building above the flooding waters, someone shoots flares off a nearby roof that lights up Godzilla’s scaly skin towering above the rooftops. The rest of the footage seemed somewhat rejiggered from previous trailers while only giving us the briefest glimpses of Godzilla himself and adding plenty of tension. The footage went over quite well, especially since it’s clearly one of the summer’s movies that will really warrant being seen on the big screen.

Blended (May 23)

A very pregnant Drew Barrymore was joined by Adam Sandler and director Frank Coraci on stage to present a different trailer than the one that was released last December, one which didn’t receive the most positive feedback considering the duo’s previous collaborations The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates.

Coraci took point on the introductions, an animated and lively character that could very well have been the late Chris Farley in disguise, as they showed a trailer that toned down on the gross-out humor of the previous one while still setting up the premise of Sandler and Barrymore’s characters overcoming a very bad date only to be dragged back together with their respective kids in tow for a tour of Africa.

Other than the Barrymore hang-gliding gag, the trailer seemed to include completely new footage and possibly the funniest scenes involves Sandler’s teen daughter showing interest in Barrymore’s son but him not noticing her so she gets a make-over. As she walks in with her new look, we see the different reactions from the people at the table with different music, with one of the boys hearing “I’ll Make Love to You” in his head but then it cuts to Sandler to the tune of REM’s “It’s the End of the World,” which got a good laugh.

Obviously, this could possibly work as Memorial Day counter-programming to Fox’s juggernaut X-Men: Days of Future Past, but Sandler is coming off a lot of very bad movies, and they’ll have to do a good job convincing the women and couples who went to see the previous Barrymore and Sandler efforts (the last one being ten years ago) to check it out in a different timeframe than the plum Valentine’s Day release of their previous movies.

Edge of Tomorrow (June 6)

Again, Warner Bros. used the presentation to show the newest trailer which shares even more details about the complex time traveling premise behind this sci-fi action thriller directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. None of them who were on hand to add to the Warner presentation’s vast talent pool.

Essentially, Tom Cruise is a rookie soldier who keeps being killed and returning to the day he starts active duty but not before encountering Blunt’s more experienced soldier and watching her being killed as well. There’s an interesting dynamic between the two of them as they’re essentially trying to save each other, Blunt training Cruise to kill the aliens before they kill him but we also see her killing him in different ways when he fails to have him start over. It looks like a far more intriguing concept than Cruise’s last sci-fi movie Oblivion, that’s for sure.

Jersey Boys (June 20)

Second to Johnny Depp, the most excitement at the Colosseum came from the presence of living legend Clint Eastwood–he was sitting less than 10 feet from me, by the way–and when he came onstage to present his Frankie Valli musical, he received a standing ovation from the audience. This was the very first footage from the movie based on the popular musical that’s run on Broadway for the past nine years and in Las Vegas for the past six. Much of it seemed to be narrated in a way that breaks the fourth wall by Four Seasons bass player Nick Massi, played in the film by Michael Lomenda. The real standout of the footage has to be once John Lloyd Young shows up as Valli with some of the numbers performed by the group in the footage including “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.” While the pseudo-trailer wasn’t really long enough to make it clear, there’s definitely a story running through the music, involving $150,000 that one of the group members borrowed. We get a brief glimpse of Christopher Walken, who plays mob boss Gyp De Carlo and is literally the only known and recognizable actor in the entire movie.

Without having ever seen the musical but knowing the music, Jersey Boys seems very much like a cross between your typical musical biodrama and a gangster flick, something that might be clearer once we see the actor playing actor Joe Pesci, who actually had a hand in discovering the Four Seasons. It may be a strange decision to release the movie during the summer, less than three months away, since it’s been some time since Eastwood has had a summer movie, but maybe Warner Bros. is hoping it will offer effective counter-programming.

Tammy (July 2)

Warner Bros.’ only summer comedy, compared to other studios who have two or three, is from comedy star Melissa McCarthy and her husband, director and co-writer Ben Falcone, who came out for a funny and playful introduction before showing new footage.

Once again, this was a different trailer than the teaser we’ve already seen, which just shows McCarthy’s title character robbing a fast food joint. In fact, Tammy works at that fast food joint. It opens with her driving down a remote road when a deer jumps in front of her car and when she goes in front to see if it’s okay, it leaps at her flailing with its legs and runs off. She arrives at her job at that fast food joint late and is systematically fired by her boss (Falcone) but refuses to leave quietly, licking all the tops of the hamburger buns on her way out and causing all sorts of other mayhem. We then see her with her grandmother, played by Susan Sarandon, who frowns upon the number of men Tammy sleeps with, but the two of them head on a road trip where they encounter all different types of men, including one played by Mark Duplass. There isn’t a ton else to say about the footage except that it’s McCarthy doing what she does best by being completely off-the-wall with a character and maybe more will be revealed with a full trailer down the road.

Jupiter Ascending (July 18)

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis came out to introduce the recently-released trailer for the new sci-fi action thriller from Lana and Andy Wachowski, and you can already watch that here. Seriously, even with this new trailer, I have no idea what this movie is about.

Into the Storm (Aug. 8)

Following hot on the release of the first teaser trailer for this found-footage tornado flick, director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) and actors Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies came out to introduce footage from the movie that’s full of destruction, way more than what we see in the new teaser. This footage showed a lot more tornado destruction as they tore apart buildings and ran rampant through a used car lot throwing cars everywhere. If the movie is meant to revive the disaster films of Irwin Allen and more recently Roland Emmerich, it certainly looks effective, although it’s hard to tell if the found footage aspect will work and whether this works and isn’t another Twister will rely wholly on the characters, something we get no sense of at this point.

If I Stay (Aug. 22)

Possibly the only real dud from Warner Bros.’ presentation was this late summer drama based on the novel by Gayle Forman and directed by Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler. It stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a cellist named Mia who gets into a relationship with a musician named Adam, a romance that’s going well until her family gets into a car crash leaving her caught between life and death. The trailer shown did very little to excite or move us, and it was definitely inferior to the trailer for 20th Century Fox’s The Fault Under the Stars shown earlier in the day.

The Judge (Oct. 10)

We were given the very first look at this fall drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall with an extended trailer, but we were already quite intrigued having talked to Duvall a few weeks back. The trailer introduces Downey as Hank Palmer, a hotshot but highly unscrupulous defense lawyer, mostly in it for the money, who is called back home to Indiana for the funeral of his mother. Once he gets there, he learns that his father, who has been a judge for decades (Duvall), is the only suspect in his mother’s hit and run death and he has to make a tough decision whether to take the case despite being emotionally detached from his father for many years. Without jumping to conclusions but going by the October release, this seems like the type of heavy drama that Warner Bros. could bring to the early September festivals in hopes of getting buzz going for awards, particularly for Downey and Duvall. Definitely will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Horrible Bosses 2 (Nov. 26)

The comedy sequel was teased when we see Kevin Spacey on screen and the camera turns around to show that he’s being visited by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, the two guys who tried to kill him and the one who slept with his wife, although Sudeikis corrects him that he just had oral sex. This cuts to a bit where the three guys are doing the type of cocky slo-mo strut we see in so many movies like The Hangover but then someone walks by normally and ruining the attempt. The footage gave us a brief glimpse of Jamie Foxx, returning as Motherf**ker Jones, telling them to get into the car and lastly, we see Jennifer Aniston as horny dentist Dr. Julia Harris, this time hitting on Bateman, who tells her he has to run to the bathroom but she makes the innuendo that maybe he doesn’t have to leave to do that. He puts up two fingers to let her know it’s not what she thinks and she responds, “And?” There really wasn’t much idea given what the plot for the sequel was, nor was there a lot in terms of jokes, but clearly they’re saving whatever they can for sometime during the summer since the movie doesn’t open for eight more months.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again (Dec. 17)

Rather than outright showing new footage from the finale to Peter Jackson’s second J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, Warner Bros. ran a taped introduction from the New Zealand filmmaker and a sizzle reel that commemorated the conclusion to both of the trilogies that Jackson began nearly 16 years ago. After showing clips and behind-the-scenes footage from both trilogies, there were only a few brief bits from “There and Back Again,” nothing significant that warrants much said about them, essentially brief glimpses of the key characters and a few words, notably between Orlando Bloom’s Legolas and Luke Evans’ Bard, but nothing too groundbreaking.

No footage was shown from Reese Witherspoon’s The Good Lie (Sept. 10), and there were only a couple of brief clips from the star-studded ensemble drama This is Where I Leave You (Sept. 12), from director Shawn Levy and starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and Kathryn Hahn. Dolphin Tale 2 (Sept. 19) was also introduced with a few seconds of footage that didn’t say much about the sequel to the family hit.

For the most part, CinemaCon is over and done, but we’re going to go over our notes of what we’ve seen in the last few days and write one final wrap-up of what we thought were the highlights and lowlights of the convention and which studio movies won and lost by being brought there. Look for that soon.

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