“There were a few stories written about Sony last year,” deadpanned Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of worldwide distribution, at the opening of the studio’s presentation Wednesday at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.
Neither Bruer nor his colleague Tom Rothman — the newly appointed studio chairman, who showed up as a “surprise” guest at the end of the presentation — shied away from referencing Sony’s very public troubles with hacking and leaks. “The story I’m going to tell today is about the studio I love and our incredible slate in the future,” Bruer promised before showcasing an array of upcoming films with the potential to banish the hacking scandal from moviegoers’ minds.
Unlike other studios, Sony didn’t rely on marquee stars for its presentation. Instead Bruer emphasized the studio’s relationships with filmmakers, bringing out directors and producers to talk about their movies.
First up was Robert Zemeckis, talking about his film “The Walk,” based on daredevil Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers (memorably depicted in the documentary “Man on Wire”). He assured the audience of theater owners that “The Walk” is “a huge theatrical spectacle” that “should be presented on the biggest screen possible.” The footage demonstrated the movie’s scope, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt sporting a French accent as Petit as he assembles a crew for his stunt in scenes that resemble a caper movie. And when it comes time to depict the stunt itself, the footage demonstrated Zemeckis still has a flair for spectacle.
Next came Chris Columbus, director of “Pixels,” an action-comedy in which aliens use ’80s video game characters — Pac-Man, Centipede and Q*bert among them — to attack Earth. Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage play former arcade champions recruited to save humanity. “It’s a big summer movie that’s not a sequel, doesn’t have anybody in Spandex, and it’s not a board game,” Columbus said, leading into a look at the movie that included plenty of pixelated destruction.
Director Ang Lee wasn’t in attendance to talk about his upcoming war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” but Bruer built up the feature, promising that Lee was “redefining what is possible in filmmaking.” Lee is shooting the movie in native 3D and at 120 frames per second, “a frame rate that the film community thought was impossible,” he explained. Lee appeared in a video message and was a little more subdued, with his main message being that 3D and high frame-rate technologies aren’t just for blockbusters. “The whole experience is about not just extravaganza, not just action, but drama as well,” he said. Because the movie is still in the early stages of production, there was no footage to share.
“Hotel Transylvania” director Genndy Tartakovsky was the next guest, introducing the sequel to his 2012 animated comedy set in a popular getaway for monsters. He spoke about his love of animated movies, and the wonder he felt as a child seeing “The Jungle Book” for the first time. “It took me 20 years slogging my way through TV to earn the right to make movies,” he said. The footage from “Hotel Transylvania 2” (including some unfinished animation) showed main character Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) adjusting to life as a grandfather and trying to teach his grandson to be a proper monster.
The final movie to receive a live introduction was “Goosebumps,” the adaptation of R.L. Stine’s popular series of horror novels for tweens, starring Jack Black as a fictionalized version of the author. Producer Neal Moritz said he envisioned the movie as the start of a franchise: “I hope to come back each year to introduce another one.”
Director Rob Letterman cited the ’80s movies of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment as a major inspiration. “They brought adults, kids and everyone in between together,” he said. “I stole a lot of those ideas and put them into ‘Goosebumps.'” The footage (including unfinished effects) depicted a range of monsters escaping from Stine’s books into the real world, including the abominable snowman, a werewolf, a giant praying mantis and some homicidal garden gnomes.
Bruer returned to introduce a reel of upcoming projects, promising a surprise at the end. The sneak peeks began with Cameron Crowe’s romantic dramedy “Aloha,” starring Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, followed by “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep as a former ’80s rocker.
There were some uncomfortable laughs for the footage from erotic thriller “The Perfect Guy,” starring Michael Ealy and Sanaa Lathan.
Footage from “The 5th Wave,” based on the young-adult sci-fi novel, showed Chloë Grace Moretz as a teenager fighting off an alien invasion while also falling in love (with a cute alien boy, of course).
A clip from the true-life drama “Concussion” featured Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, one of the first people to publicize the issues with traumatic brain injuries among NFL players. Smith, sporting a Nigerian accent as Omalu, gave a stirring speech to a crowd of mourners at a funeral for a player.
Switching gears, “Xmas” is a raunchy comedy “from the guys who almost brought you ‘The Interview’” that stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as friends who indulge in one last crazy night on the town (on Christmas Eve) before giving in to adult responsibilities. The drug-fueled antics looked a bit like a holiday version of “The Hangover.”
In “Money Monster,” George Clooney plays a Jim Cramer-like TV financial-advice host whose show is taken hostage by an angry viewer, and Julia Roberts plays his producer, in what looks like a thriller with significant social commentary.
The reel ended with a barrage of snippets, some of which were simply titles (including the announcement of “The Equalizer 2”), culminating in “Spider-Man” (with a brief clip of one of the Andrew Garfield movies). Bruer returned and once again teased his surprise, hinting at a James Bond-related guest, only to bring out Tom Rothman.
After some more self-deprecating Sony jokes, Rothman finally got around to the big announcement: In addition to the new live-action Spider-Man film produced in conjunction with Marvel Studios, Sony will release an animated Spider-Man feature on July 20, 2018, written and produced (and possibly directed) by “The LEGO Movie’s” Phil Lord and Chris Miller. They “are creating a new distinctive, fully animated Spider-Man movie which will explore the graphic roots of the character and yet will coexist with our live action entries,” Rothman said.
He had one more surprise up his sleeve before leaving, introducing an exclusive clip from the upcoming James Bond movie “Spectre.” It was an uncharacteristically quiet scene, featuring Daniel Craig’s Bond meeting in his apartment with Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), along with a cameo from a familiar character that Rothman begged the audience not to spoil. The action was relegated to a few quick flashes before the clip, and the presentation, ended.
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