Meryl Streep, Seth Rogen's 'XMas,' 'SPECTRE' top Sony Pictures CinemaCon sneak

Posted by · 12:40 am · April 24th, 2015

LAS VEGAS – It's not an understatement to suggest that since they last presented their wares to the world's theater owners Sony Pictures has had a pretty dramatic 12 months .  

December's North Korean hacking scandal made the release of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's “The Interview” a global news story where the studio and exhibitors blamed each other for not screening the film in mainstream theaters.  And, frankly, when POTUS gets involved there better be a lot of water under that bridge to put all that behind you.  Five months later Sony has a new Chairman (Tom Rothman) and, luckily, much better films to help heal some delicate wounds. The studio didn't have the star power to rival previous presenters Paramount and Warner Bros, but they did bring a lot of new footage and also made some news.

First, let's get to the news. Sony revealed that a new “Jump Street” movie is on the way (what number is anybody's guess), “The Equalizer 2” is in the works which is notable as it would be Denzel Washington's first franchise and, more shocking, Philip Lord and Chris Miller are working on an animated version of “Spider-Man” for 2018.  It was also notable that the studio never mentioned “The Sinister Six” which many wonder is still in the works now that Marvel Studios is going to reboot Spidey so he can live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Yes, sometimes ignoring a problem only creates more news.

Second, let's quickly look over what previews either didn't impress or have major question marks.

“The Walk”
Robert Zemeckis' chronicle of a key moment in aerialist Philippe Petit's life looks breathtaking visually, but the more we hear Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the daredevil the more concerned we become.  In this context it's just incredibly hard to take Gordon-Levitt's french accent seriously. Yikes.

The potential franchise based on R.L. Stine's popular book series will remind you of a “Night at the Museum” movie.  That observation will make stockholders happier than critics.

“Transylvania Hotel 2”
Granted, it was one sequence, but this sequel doesn't seem as funny as the original. Of course, we haven't heard Mel Brooks as Dracula's dad, but is that really a game changer? Well, maybe for five-year-olds.

“The Perfect Guy”
If this movie was just about Sanaa Lathan's character falling for Michael Early's character that might make for an interesting dramatic romance. The fact Early's character turns into a psychopath drew laughs from the audience.  

“The 5th Wave”
Aliens are coming and Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz) is just trying to survive long enough to be reunited with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, the spectacle looked weak (even for unfinished CG).  The footage reminded this pundit of 2009's “Knowing” with Nicolas Cage and, no, that's not a good thing.

Third, and most importantly, let's get to what perked our interest and might just make some noise during awards season.

“Ricki and the Flash”
Sony Pictures might not want to hear it, but there is no way Meryl Streep is not a Best Actress nominee contender for “Ricki.”  Certainly, not after the preview they showed at CinemaCon.  The drama finds Streep playing Ricki, a woman who has spent most of her on the road as a C or B level rock star.  She abandoned her family for her career and now returns home to help her daughter Julie (Streep's real life offspring Mamie Gummer) deal with the consequences of her husband leaving her.  The movie looks commercial, but not as commercial as say “It's Complicated,” “Mamma Mia,” “Hope Springs” or even “Julie and Julia” (which she was nominated for). And, truthfully, the trailer got a great reaction from the exhibitors on hand.

The preview drew laughs with the title card “From the people who tried to bring you The Interview.”  This dramedy finds Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as life long friends who made a pack to spend every Christmas together after the death of one of their parents (I believe it was Rogen's family).  After 14 years, however, it looks like the fun will be coming to an end.  Rogen's wife (Jillian Bell) is expecting and life seems to be drawing them in different directions.  Most of the preview, however, featured Rogen's character in very funny situations.  In one scene he's partied so much can't stop himself from throwing up during a Christmas Eve mass (worth noting his character is pointedly Jewish in the movie). As he tries to leave the main lobby he ends up throwing up in front of the entire congregation.  That might sound a tad too raunchy for some, but, overall, it felt like a winner.

“Money Monster”
Jodie Foster's thriller about a CNBC-esque pundit (George Clooney) who is held hostage by a disgruntled fan (Jack O'Connell) looks very, very good.  Sony does not want this movie to be perceived as an awards picture (one reason they keep sticking to the 2016 release date), but once you throw in Julia Roberts as Clooney's producer this looks like a borderline prestige play. Think “Inside Man” without the bank robbery and masked gunmen.

Sony did the unconventional play here. Instead of showing a major action scene such as Bond taking down the bad guy on a moving train in “Skyfall,” they went in an a completely dramatic direction.  We find our master spy (Daniel Craig) at his barely unpacked apartment. He's alone and deep in thought.  Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) shows up to deliver him a work package. She then starts to question his actions in Mexico (earlier in the film) in an attempt to find out what's exactly wrong with him (it appears everyone is worried about 007 back at MI6). What is he hiding?  Bond shows her a video which features a cameo from an old friend (no spoilers here).  It features a very specific message that, frankly, was slightly hard to understand in the context of the scene.  The preview then cuts to a shot of Bond pushing Monica Bellucci up against a wall. There's some clear erotic tension in their as he puts his face next to hers and delivers the classic “Bond, James Bond” line.  Like the publicly released teaser before it, Sam Mendes looks like he has another gorgeous 007 adventure on his hands.  Then again can Christoph Waltz live up to Javier Bardem's tour de force in “Skyfall”?  We'll soon find out.

Which Sony Pictures release are you most looking forward to? Share your thoughts below.

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