CinemaCon: The Universal Pictures Presentation

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The final studio presentation for CinemaCon 2015 was Universal Pictures, who had been celebrating all week that their latest release Furious 7 had set a new box office record for the company as well as becoming the fastest movie to a billion worldwide.

This meant that their presentation would start with a good deal of backpatting and a number of long-winded speeches by the executives, but it was well worth it, since it was followed by a star-studded event that showcased some of Universal’s potential hit movies for the rest of the year as well as sneak-previewing a couple of things for next year.

Real D’s President of WorldWide Cinema Anthony Marcoli introduced Nick Carpou, Universal’s President of Domestic Distribution, who in turn introduced Universal’s new Chairman of Filmed Entertainment Jeff Shell formerly from Comcast who took a little time introducing himself to the exhibitors in attendance, talking about the difficulties of the movie business but also the impact that movies have on the world.

He then introduced Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley, who would receive the most shout-outs and thanks over the next coupleof  hours from the filmmakers and stars in attendance. Before getting to the rest of 2015, she noted that their 2016 slate will include a new Jason Bourne movie teaming Matt Damon with Paul Greengrass, the prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, two new movies from Illumination Entertainment, the animation house behind Despicable Me and The Lorax (one to be previewed later in the presentation), a new movie starring Mellissa McCarthy (Michelle Darnell) and another one from Judd Apatow (which hasn’t been announced yet?), and a new Coen Brothers movie (Hail Caesar!) as well.

Langley then showed footage showcasing their earlier in the year hit 50 Shades of Grey and announced the dates for the sequels, and introduced Neal Moritz, who thanked exhibitors before bringing out Vin Diesel, who reflected on being on the CinemaCon stage with Paul Walker when they announced Furious 7 a few years back. He then shared some heartfelt words about the movie and was very emotional, almost in tears, as he told distributors, “You help us make this magic.” He announced that they were indeed going to make Furious 8 and announced the release date for it on April 14, 2017.

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Langley came back out to introduce director Elizabeth Banks to talk and show footage from Pitch Perfect 2, which had premiered earlier in the week. Banks stated how hard it was “following the billion dollar movie and the movie with the whips” but that she hoped that critics who called the first movie “Pitch perfect” would call the sequel “pitch perfect, too” and when that got a groan, she said, “That joke was written by Chris Pratt… it bombed Pratt!” Since we’re under embargo from reviews, there’s probably not much more to say about the footage which was basically stuff from the trailer and a little more including showing  a lot of the final musical number, which would be a spoiler.

Next up was Jason Blum, who was there to present M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, which comes out on September 11. M. Night spoke about how he connected with Jason Blum and how he’s happy to be at Universal, telling the audience how he brought the entire staff of the company to a movie theater to see his movie for the first time before they picked it up. Since the presentation, that trailer has debuted online, so you can watch it here. It’s pretty creepy.

The presentation really jumped around a lot rather than covering Universal’s line-up in any sort of chronological order, so it went from there to the September 18 release Everest from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, who came out to tell the audience how he wanted to do a big scale adventure movie with the spirit of an indie but something that has to be seen in theaters.

He then ran the first domestic trailer that opens with sweeping shots of Everest and men climbing the mountain with a voice-over by Josh Brolin saying that some mountains aren’t meant to be climbed by humans. We’re introduced to some of the characters, including the one played by Jason Clarke, and we see Brolin climbing across a precariously-placed ladder between two precipices when an avalanche hits below him. Apparently they’re able to get to the top, but then a giant storm hits and batters them around and the movie is about the men trying to survive. It’s a great trailer that announced that the movie will be released in IMAX 3D and regular 3D to help enhance the experience.

Crimson Peak Trailer

The next filmmaker out was Guillermo del Toro to present the newest extended trailer for his October 16 release Crimson Peak, starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam. The four actors were displayed behind Guillermo with images of butterflies, moths, skulls and such over them. The filmmaker introduced the trailer by talking about how much he loves gothic romance literature and that he wrote this eight years ago, hoping to create a “theatrical operatic spectacle” and a big scope. They spent 7 to 8 months designing and ending up building an entire four-story gothic mansion on the sound stages, trying to do as much practically as possible.

The footage was incredibly scary and pretty horrific as it showed more of the story of how Tom Hiddleston’s character woos Wasikowska into marrying him, even though his sister (Chastain) doesn’t approve, but the three of them go back to their spooky family mansion, called Adderly Hall. The footage started with a spooky shot of the house from outside as the wind blew and Mia’s character doing the voiceover about ghosts being real and that she’s seen them all her life. The camera goes in through the door of the house and we see Hiddleston and Wasikowska dancing before he introduces her to his sister and they go back to the hall. There are lots of creepy images including a wallpaper that looks to be turning into butterflies and we hear Hiddleston’s narration about a house being a living thing that holds onto things. We see a few shots of Wasikowska walking around the house holding a candelabra and even more horrifying images including one of the house with snow outside covered in blood. There’s also a giant vat that looks to be full of blood and gore and dead bodies, and Wasikowska’s character is freaking out saying that she has to leave but Chastain tells her that she has nowhere else to go. I don’t creep out that easily, but this footage really put me on edge because it was so disturbing and it could be one of the scariest things del Toro has ever done, and that includes The Devil’s Backbone, which is horrifying and uneasy.

Seth MacFarlane came out next to present his upcoming comedy sequel Ted 2, out on June 26, the follow-up to a movie that absolutely killed at CinemaCon when they debuted footage there. After making a joke about being in Vegas and saying to “always bet on Blart”–that went over well–he talked briefly about the plot, which involves Ted wanting to get married and have kids while still partying and he joked that the movie will bring in stoners who will buy more popcorn so the theater owners shouldn’t get mad if someone wants to “toke up in the bathroom.”

He then showed a new extended trailer that opens with Ted and Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny getting high and watching “Law & Order” as Ted sings his own lyrics to the them. He tells Johnny that he and Tammy Lynn want to have a baby and they’ll need a sperm donor. They first decide to sneak into quarterback Tom Brady’s house and get his sperm, but they’re discovered (this is the scene from the Super Bowl trailer and apparently is really in the movie, not just something done as a tie-in). Brady throws them both out, and then we get the general story that Ted has to prove that he’s a person so he can get married and he decides to sue the government. The two of them go to a lawyer played by Amanda Seyfried, but when Ted sees her, he asks how old she is “because he doesn’t want her singing Frozen songs during trial.” When she sits down and pulls out a bong, they know they’ve found the right lawyer. We see a little bit of Morgan Freeman, who seems to play another government type, and it ends with Ted going over to Johnny’s laptop and making a comment about how much porn is on there, noting that there are no “chicks with dicks”.. only “guys with tits.”

Trainwreck

Amy Schumer came out next to present her upcoming movie Trainwreck (July 17), making it clear that this was the comedy block of the presentation. She joked, “How about one more time for Seth’s Paul Blart joke?” before giving a really funny intro in which she randomly thanked people, some real, some not. She then talked about how Judd Apatow got involved after reading her script and persuaded her to star in it, proud that “maybe she really is pretty… but then my stunt double was a guy.” She concluded her introduction by saying that it was a really personal story, so much so that those who watch it will know everything that’s been inside her body. “Speaking of coke…” she added, asking if anyone in the audience had any. Unfortunately, they basically showed the extended Red Bad trailer with nothing really new in there, which is surprising since they did show a work-in-progress cut of the movie at SXSW a month back.

The next comedy up was the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Sisters, which comes out on December 18, opposite Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Director Jason Moore came out to introduce the first footage for the movie based on “Saturday Night Live” alum Paula Pell’s very first screenplay. 

This footage looked as funny as anything else we’ve seen at CinemaCon as one might expect from the pairing of Fey and Poehler. It opened with the two of them trying to flirt with Ike Barinholtz (from “The Mindy Project” and Neighbors) and it going way too far.  We learn that both sisters are single, Poehler’s having been divorced for two years and her sister thinking it’s time for her to find a man. The general plot of the movie is that the two sisters have to return to their Florida home, which their parents just sold, to retrieve all of their old things.  We see the two of them going through their old stuff, reading their diaries, and they decide to have one last party at the house before it’s sold. They go to the store to buy supplies where they run into an old classmate, played by Maya Rudolph, and Fey convinces Poehler to invite Barinholtz. They also invite the Korean woman from the beauty parlor, and we see them trying to buy drugs from John Cena, who looks hilarious all covered in tattoos, accompanied by John Leguizamo. Poehler convinces her sister to be the “Party Mom” where she won’t get too drunk or wasted to keep an eye on her, and we then see a lot of the craziness that takes place at the party. We then see a lot of funny sequences including one where Fey is doing the “Dirty Dancing” lift with Cena, and another where Poehler has awkward sex with Barinholtz, who ends up sitting on her ballerina music box and it ending up in a bad place. There are also two funny police arrivals, the first from my favorite character actor Adrian Martinez, who asks the sisters for ID. Poehler is flattered and he says she doesn’t look over 25 but then shines his flashlight on her and changes it to 35.  The second police officer gets told off by Poehler, telling him to “go save a kitten from a tree because these p*ssies are doing fine.”

Needless to say, the footage killed and hopefully Universal will release more of the dirtier stuff online soon, because it’s way more filthy than one might imagine from the TV spot that was previously released.

Straight Outta Compton Red Band trailer

The next movie couldn’t be any more different and that was the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, and F. Gary Gray came out as images of the five actors playing NWA appeared on a screen above him. He also stated how that movie was very personal for him and that it was just as much his story, having grown up in South Central, because the movie showed how Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E used their music to get out of their bad neighborhood. He then introduced the real Ice Cube and Dr. Dre who came out with Cube doing most of the talking. “I never thought a company would have the balls to make a movie like Straight Outta Compton” he said but cited Scarface as one of Universal’s daring movies. He talked about all the themes that were covered in the movie and Dre said a few words before they showed a Red Band trailer which began with black and white footage of the real Dre and Cube visiting their old Compton neighborhood.

The rest of the footage looked fantastic, showing how they start making music and how they’re oppressed by the police for being black despite the protests of their manager (played by Paul Giamatti). It also showed how the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. riots affected the group as the government eventually comes after them for being so outspoken, earning them the reputation as “The world’s most dangerous group.” Although I’m not an NWA fan myself, I’m really interested to see how this film turned out and whether it’s on par with Eminem’s 8 Mile or 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, both of those artists having been hugely influenced by NWA.

From there, it was a complete about face as Universal got into their family animated movies with Illumination Entertainment CEO and Founder Chris Meledandri coming out to talk about their summer movie, the spin-off comedy Minions, as well as give the first sneak peek at next summers, The Secret Life of Pets.

There’s already been a trailer of Minions which shows where the lovable henchmen come from and this footage was filled from some of that, but it also spent a little more time on Sandra Bullock’s Scarlet Overkill character, the world’s first female super villain who the three main Minions–Kevin, Stuart and Bob–meet while they’re traveling to “Villain Con,” where she has many fans. They get involved with her plan to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown but when she thinks they’ve turned on her, she sends them to her dungeons where they have fun playing on a gallows down there.

Minions

Next up was some surprise footage from The Secret Life of Pets, which was just moved to the summer of 2016 in the lucky weekend for Universal and Illumination, July 8. 

Meledandri announced the voice cast and showed pictures of their characters that includes Louis CK as Max and Eric Stonestreet as Duke, both dogs, as well as the white rabbit Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who has anger issues. Other characters include the dogs Gidget, Mel and Buddy, voiced by Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan and Hannibal Burress and Lake Bell’s Chloe the Cat. Albert Brooks voices a hawk named Tiberius.

Since the movie basically shows what pets get up to when their masters are at work and school, that’s pretty much what the footage focused on as we watch a few of them interacting, notably Gidget and Max, who just wants to wait for his masters to get home. Sweetpea, a bird, gets out of its cage and turns on the fan so it can fly along with airplanes on the television. Chloe, a heavy-set cat, meanwhile, gets into the refrigerator and looks frustratingly at an entire turkey sitting on the second shelf and tries vainly to get at it.  A dachsund climbs on the counter and uses a blender to give itself a massage and another dog waits for its master to leave before switching the radio from classical music to heavy metal.  We then cut back to the cat who has gotten onto the shelf and eaten the whole turkey and it falls onto the floor before it looks up and sees a cake on the lower shelf. This was a really funny tease for the movie and knowing how many people are absolutely crazy about their pets, this should be another absolutely enormous hit for Universal and Illumination next summer. 

Last and definitely not least was the movie that everyone had been waiting for, Jurassic World! (out on June 12) Colin Treverrow came out to talk about the influence Steven Spielberg had on him as a kid and that he made a movie that’s scary as hell and that the trauma should be shared by a large group of people. He then introduced the film’s star Chris Pratt, who ran out across the stage and pumped the audience up by shouting, ‘Showtime, motherf*ckers!” and saying that the sizzle reel they’re going to show is “just the tip” and that’ll have to pay to see the rest.

Essentially, they showed the most recent trailer with a couple of the scenes extended. For instance, it opens with a pig running through the brush being chased by velociraptors, but when a handler tries to grab the pig with a net, he falls into the cage and is about to be attacked before Chris Pratt jumps out and holds them back. Also, when Pratt slides underneath the jeep it’s because he’s being chased by the Indominus Rex and there’s a shot of the Indominus Rex putting its head down right next to him with its jaws open, an homage to the T. Rex eye from Jurassic Park. There’s also a funny moment when Bryce Dallas Howard says they have to do something so that no one else gets… and one of her co-workers adds “eaten?” We also saw a lot more soldiers being eaten by the Indominus and more of the scene with the boys in the gyroscope as they’re watching four dinosaurs and arguing over how many of them there are before the Indominus claw crashes into the vehicle. There was also a little more shown from the final sequence showing that the Pterodactyl drops the woman it picks up into the tank before the Mosasaurus leaps out at it. Either way, the movie looks fantastic and like Minions, it’s likely to be one of the bigger movies of the summer.

Overall, it looked like a fantastic 2015 line-up for Universal that should continue to give them a strong year following the hits they’ve had already. Their presentation was one of the more impressive ones in terms of the amount of new footage and strong films they have in different genres even after the summer is over.

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Weekend: Nov. 15, 2018, Nov. 18, 2018

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