CinemaCon came into full swing Tuesday with presentations from STX in the morning, Paramount in the afternoon, and Disney (including a screening of Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) in the evening followed by an elaborate pirate-themed party. In between, STX again threw a lunch at Mr. Chow’s for exhibitors that had them lining up to take selfies with a very patient and cooperative Jessica Chastain, who is here in Las Vegas not only talking up Molly’s Game, her fall release from STX that marks writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, but also to receive the Female Star Of The Year award on Thursday night.
Chastain was definitely the belle of STX’s Mr. Chow ball, and also revealed during their presentation (where she appeared onstage with Sorkin) that this was her first time at this very big — and smoky — convention.
Deadline exhaustively covered that presentation (as we did for Paramount and Disney), the second year in a row for STX to get such a prime spot. But from my perspective, the impressive lineup they have put together is highlighted by Molly’s Game, the true story of Molly Bloom, the so-called controversial “poker madam” who presided over games with some very famous and infamous people and lived to tell the tale.
Last fall, during an interview I was doing with him for Hidden Figures, co-star Kevin Costner told me he was shooting Molly’s Game and that it was one of the best scripts he had ever read. He plays Molly’s dad, and at the Mr. Chow lunch Chastain told me she had an amazing scene with him toward the end of the film. She also raved about Sorkin when I asked what he was like as a first-time feature director. “You wouldn’t know it. He has been on sets forever and knows exactly what he’s doing,” she said. For his part, Sorkin couldn’t praise his lead actress enough, even though he noted the footage shown this morning is still in the early stages of post-production. Looking out over the Caesars Palace pool, he also told me he was enormously impressed by Costner who, also being an Oscar-winning director, could not have been more encouraging during the shoot. “He has had to deal with herds of buffalo in his movies so I really can’t begin to compare myself to him, but he’s great and even called me this morning to see how post-production is going.” He added that he hopes Costner decides to direct again, and agreed with me that the actor is on a roll in terms of performances lately.
But what about Sorkin? After this experience does he want to take the reins on set again? “There are still many great directors I want to work with for my screenplays, but yes I might want to do this again,” he said, noting the film is still undated but is definitely a fall release. He emphasized that the experience with STX has been great so far.
STX chairman Adam Fogelson, who hosted the Tuesday morning presentation, said onstage, and repeated to me at lunch, that he is proud of what the company has been able to do in just 19 months, including already having a $100M grosser in Bad Moms (the Christmas-themed sequel starts shooting in Atlanta in two weeks). Even though their terrific film The Edge Of Seventeen from producer James L. Brooks and director-writer Kelly Fremon Craig was a box office disappointment when it was released in November, I was happy to see Fogelson mention its critical success as a point of pride for the company. Most of the time studios only talk about the box office biggies at these events, but Fogelson showed class in praising Edge Of Seventeen which hopefully is finding its deserved audience in the ancillary afterlife. It’s a great movie that landed on my top 10 list for 2016.
Recently when I asked Shirley MacLaine what her favorite recent films were, she mentioned that one first, and pointed to the performance of its star Hailee Steinfeld as a big reason why. Also of note was an encouraging statistic that includes Edge Of Seventeen: Five of STX’s first 10 movies have been directed by women, and many of them have starred women in the key role, such as Chastain’s Molly’s Game which was something that drew her to the part. “It explores female power and what it means in society,” she told the convention.
It is too early to say, but the Molly’s Game plannedfFall release date along with the creative names involved will inevitably lead to awards talk, so count its CinemaCon footage debut as also the first step in that direction. One person associated with the company told me he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself in that regard — bad luck.
Over at Tuesday afternoon’s Paramount presentation, the studio showed off several films that also seem to be dipping their toe into the potential 2017 Oscar conversation, most notably Alexander Payne’s Downsizing — a movie that has been also in our Cannes speculation but may not be ready in time due to some tricky special effects work in which star Matt Damon is miniaturized. Payne and Damon appeared in person to introduce it, and the response to the uniquely original film was evident throughout the 10-minute clip Paramount showed.
The film, about a couple (Damon and Kristen Wiig) who decide to — literally — downsize so as to live a good life they could not afford unless miniaturized, is brilliantly absurd and right in line with the times, at least based on what I saw. The studio announced a December 22 release date so they clearly have awards season in mind. If Payne, who said he was “deep into editing,” can get it ready in time this would be the ideal American entry at Cannes this year. However, that seven-month gap between Cannes and its commercial release date might be problematic.
Paramount also showed off another obvious Cannes possibility in the dark comedy Suburbicon , a nearly two-decade-old Coen brothers script that has finally come to fruition under the guidance of director George Clooney. He was there to introduce the preview along with star Damon and Julianne Moore. It was just given a November 3 release date so that would indicate the studio may have an Oscar campaign in mind for this as well.
And based on the compelling footage shown of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina followup Annihilation , they could have another contender in this intriguing thriller starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac. Finally among all the usual tentpole stuff like the new Transformers: The Last Knight and the high jinks of (I’ll admit it) hilarious-looking Baywatch, former Vice President Al Gore showed up to introduce the enormously effective trailer for the sequel to the Oscar winning docu An Inconvenient Truth, called An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power which opens in July. Considering this was on the same day President Donald Trump rolled back several Obama environmental regulations, Gore was remarkably upbeat and non-partisan.
The Paramount presentation came on the heels of the announcement that Jim Gianopulos is the new Chairman and CEO, and president of worldwide marketing and distribution Megan Colligan made note of the excitement the studio feels about being in his hands. When I congratulated her and president of production Marc Evans later Tuesday night on their expert presentation she confirmed that the new chairman starts his job Monday. Also helping out in Par’s slate unveiling was president of distribution Kyle Davies who did a nice job interviewing the Transformers gang.
After two major bells-and-whistles shows, Disney kept it low-key with an all-pro account of its phenomenal success and future schedule by a very happy (and why shouldn’t he be?) distribution president Dave Hollis before he introduced the first showing (it’s not even quite finished) of its Memorial Day attraction Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The review embargo is in place until May so I can’t go into detail, but suffice to say the exhibitors exiting the Colosseum Theatre at Caesars Palace pn Tuesday night seemed very happy with what they just saw.
Oh, and the monkey nearly steals the show.