From my perspective, truly the most exciting and personally anticipated piece of footage of upcoming films touted at tonight’s kick-off Sony Pictures CinemaCon presentation was for a movie for which not one foot of film has yet to be shot.
Picking up the pieces after the Harvey Weinstein debacle, Sony and movie savvy chairman Tom Rothman nabbed a big one when they got the rights to Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming L.A.-set 1969 fantasia, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (formerly set at The Weinstein Co) which is set for release on August 9th 2019 and shooting all over L.A. this summer. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star.
In a surprise appearance with Di Caprio, Tarantino described the leading man tandem as being on par with Newman and Redford. The pair, brought on to big applause by Rothman, were careful not to spill the beans. But, as hinted by Tarantino, the movie is going to live on the precipice of a vastly changing film industry, the hippie movement and other bookmarks of the era. There was no mention of the Manson murders which earlier stories about the project have included, so who knows? Di Caprio said he had read the script and thinks it is one of two-time Oscar winning writer Tarantino’s best. Rothman went one further and proclaimed it was the best screenplay he had read in 30+ years in the biz.
On that matter, I once served on a three person jury with Rothman judging the Samuel Goldwyn Screenwriting Awards and, as it turned out, we both agreed down the line the exact order of finish of the five scripts we read. So I tend to trust his judgment on this. Can’t wait.
Tarantino dominated the conversation on stage and took honors for the most lively, enthusiastic and effective salesman of all the stars and filmmakers Sony trotted out on to the huge Colosseum stage at Caesars Palace tonight. It never fails to amaze me how unprepared some of these stars and directors are when appearing in front of about 5000 exhibitors who hold the future of their film in their hands. Some of them couldn’t compete a sentence. Tarantino gets the showman angle of it all and instantly won over the crowd when he proclaimed he was one of them, owning the New Beverly revival cinema in L.A. By the way that theater has been undergoing remodeling since the beginning of the year and I am getting antsy wondering when it is going to re-open. Tarantino, film fanatic that he is, threw out the digital projectors and only allows film prints (remember them?) to be shown there.
As for the rest of Sony’s typically slick and all-pro presentation, I was struck, as were many I spoke to afterwards, about how dark and violent so many of the film snippets shown were. Perhaps it is just a reflection of the forboding Trump era in which we live, but it seemed Sony is leaning heavily on this kind of material with movies promised like Superfly, Miss Bala, Sicario: Day Of The Soldado, The Equalizer 2, Venom, The Girl In The Spider’s Web and so on. All of these titles are sequels or remakes in one way or another, which if you add other films promised like Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the promising Phil Lord and Chris Miller animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse, another Men In Black, another Jumanji for Xmas 2019, another Tom Holland Spider-Man, and another Goosebumps, it is a slate that trades on the familiar, not an uncommon trend among the dwindling ranks of the major studios. Only Tarantino’s film, and a Matthew McConaughey drama White Boy Rick (which looked great, but also very dark) are truly originals, along with yet another teaming of Will Ferrell (who opened the presentation mocking Celine Dion singing the Titanic song) and John C. Reilly in the only live-action comedy on display called Holmes And Watson.
As effective as the footage generally was, it points out the problem of getting anything into a studio these days that really starts from scratch. The one movie I am also really looking forward to based on the footage shown also has precedent in that it comes from the author of A Dog’s Purpose. It once again centers around a pooch and is called A Dog’s Way Home. As Rothman said, it is probably impossible not to weep at that dog and his journey to get back to his “human.” I will be first in line. It’s a certain hit. Actually Sony, on top the roaring success with Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle , the rebooted younger-skewing Spider-Man and the hit Peter Rabbit , has been finding a real and impressive family niche while Disney seems to be preoccupied with all their Marvel and Star Wars franchises.
One other note in tonight’s CinemaCon kickoff presentation, I was really impressed by Cinema Concepts’ terrific Great Endings piece which compiled some of the best movie endings of all time from Gone With The Wind to Jaws to Chinatown. It was the ultimate spoiler alert reel of all time but splendidly put together and conceived. Disney, STX, Universal, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Warner Bros, Amazon, Entertainment Studios and Focus Features will all be strutting their stuff this week and hopefully we may even see some Oscar worthy movies that sneak in amongst all the explosions and chases this crowd of exhibitors seem to eat up.