“We have been through as challenging a time as any company can face,” Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman said toward the end of the studio’s CinemaCon presentation Wednesday evening. “And we have not only survived, we have thrived.”
The words North Korea, hack, or “terabytes of embarrassing emails” were never specifically uttered here at Las Vegas’ annual convention, where Hollywood tantalizes movie-theater owners and exhibitors with preview footage of its impending blockbusters. But then, those issues were never entirely out of mind either for studio executives who ran through a diverse slate of upcoming Sony movies including the 24th James Bond installment Spectre, the George Clooney-Julia Roberts vehicle Money Monster, Lego Movie co-directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s freshly announced animated Spider-Man project, Will Smith’s Concussion, director Robert Zemeckis’ biopic The Walk, and an as-yet untitled Christmas movie starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anthony Mackie.
Rothman could barely conceal his excitement over Lord and Miller’s Spider-Man film—a production that will “coexist” with the studio’s planned live-action Spider-Man movies made as part of a merger with the Marvel Cinematic Universe—that’s set to hit theaters Jul. 20, 2018. “The highly technical term for it is: It’s f-cking awesome!” Rothman said.
Director Chris Columbus was on hand to stump for his action-comedy Pixels (Jul. 23) which stars Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, and a resplendently be-mullet-ed Peter Dinklage as (respectively) the Pac Man world champion, the guy with the highest score on Centipede and the king of Donkey Kong—‘80s video game players who are enlisted to save the world when an armada of super-sized ‘80s video game characters descend from space to destroy mankind.
Columbus explained the movie actually features two casts: the human actors, plus a murderer’s row of cherished 8-bit arcade game all-stars including Q-Bert, Galaga and Pac Man. “It’s a big summer movie that’s not a sequel, doesn’t have anybody in Spandex and isn’t a board game,” Columbus said from the stage.
In a videotaped message, director Ang Lee explained his technologically ground-breaking approach to filming the military drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Shooting now in Georgia, the Oscar winner said the production is filming exclusively in native 3-D on ultra-high speed cameras that shoot 120 frames per second (the industry standard has long been 24 frames per second). Lee explained that since using 3-D techniques to make his Academy Award-winning literary adaptation Life of Pi, he realized the medium’s dramatic potential outside its usual application for popcorn movie razzle-dazzle.
“The experience is not just spectacle. The experience is much more personal,” Lee said. “This will be a new theatrical experience, a new way of dreaming.”
The crowd inside Caesar’s Palace Coliseum responded to hilarious footage from an as-yet untitled Christmas project (set for release in November) from writer-director Jonathan Levine and Rogen, a.k.a. “the guys who almost brought you The Interview” a title card informed the crowd. The new movie follows a trio of “ride or die homies” who make a yearly tradition of celebrating Christmas together by partying super hard. Among the highlights: Rogen, Levitt and Mackie’s ad hoc performance of Kanye West’s “Runaway” on New York toy superstore FAO Schwarz’s iconic floor piano and scenes of Rogen turning into a chemically addled mess after imbibing a cocktail of cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms and champagne (while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater emblazoned with the Star of David) on the holiest of nights.
The Sony presentation also included the new footage of Meryl Streep as an aging rock musician in the family drama Ricki and the Flash (Jun. 26). Dressed in a racy turquoise lace top and with her hair intricately braided on one side of her head, she performs a pretty decent version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
A short clip of Will Smith’s drama Concussion, a dramatic biopic about the debilitating after-effects of traumatic brain injuries suffered by NFL players, meanwhile, features the star looking grave and grey and speaking with what sounds like an African accent; it left many festival attendees more confused than compelled.
And an extended sequence from director Jodie Foster’s Money Monster lays out the dramatic thriller’s stakes: Clooney portrays a bombastic TV financial guru reminiscent of Mad Money host Jim Cramer, who is taken hostage by an armed gunman—an investor who lost everything by following his advice (Unbroken star Jack O’Connell). Julia Roberts portrays Clooney’s character’s long-suffering producer who seems to hold some key to his freedom. The material played well.
The studio saved its most anticipated 2015 movie—Spectre, due out Nov. 6—for last. Both Rothman and the film’s director Sam Mendes (speaking via video segment) respectfully requested presentation attendees refrain from broadcasting any “spoilers” included in the footage show at CinemaCon. But suffice to say, the majority of the clip focused around a tense exchange between Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Naomie Harris’ Eve Moneypenny in which she questions his rash behavior and surmises that he’s “finished” as an agent before he surprises her with super-secret information.
There was also a scene where Bond seems close to seducing a sultry character played by Italian actress Monica Bellucci, then a flash cut of car chases and slam-bang action in such locations as Rome and the Austrian alps.
I could tell you more but, as they say, I’d have to kill you.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece stated that Michael B. Jordan was in Seth Rogen’s Christmas movie.