"Celebrity Thursday," as longtime ShoWest reporters call it, got to a start with Warner Bros.' "Meet the Stars of Driven" brunch in the Chablis Room at the Paris. A cozy little affair in which director Renny Harlin, screenwriter-star Sylvester Stallone, and co-stars Kip Pardue, Til Schweiger, Estella Warren, and Cristian de la Fuente mingled with press in very tight quarters, the event turned out to be less noteworthy for celebrity interaction than the excellent food offered: open-faced sushi sandwiches, ham and cheese croissants, and large personal quiches for a start.
All in all, though, this was an event that never quite lived up to its promise. Given how the outside guests outnumbered the talent from the race car driving film, it was pretty difficult to get a moment with everyone, a situation made worse by some overzealous press who would hog time. I spent most of the event standing near Stallone and marvelling at how old the guy looks up close.
Once upon a time, ShoWest was known for sit-down meals sponsored by the major studios, who in turn were given a captive audience for their lengthy product reels and abundant in-person celebrity appearances. Flash to the year 2001, and the only animal of its kind still standing is Warner Bros.' final day luncheon--which could very well be put down after this year's edition. Again, longtime ShoWesters complained the event was a shadow of past glories, but to these newbie eyes it was still one of the more interesting events to take place all week.
At the Paris Ballroom, a number of stars behind-the-camera talent associated various 2001 WB releases were brought out and seated on risers on a stage, making for a sight that resembled an unlikely game show panel of mostly A-list stars. On hand along with apparent ringleader Clint Eastwood (who doesn't have a WB project due out this year) were Steven Seagal and producer Joel Silver, pushing Exit Wounds (though Silver has other projects on the WB slate); the aforementioned Driven contingent; John Travolta, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, and director Dominic Sena, representing Swordfish; Haley Joel Osment, Sam Robards, and producer Kathleen Kennedy, for A.I.; Chris Rock and co-director Bobby Farrelly, pushing Osmosis Jones; Affair of the Necklace star Hilary Swank and director Charles Shyer; the Training Day team of Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke; Collateral Damage collaborators Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Andrew Davis; and two more people (in addition to Supporting Actor of the Year Osment) who were to receive ShoWest Awards that night: Female Star of Tomorrow Shannon Elizabeth (who will appear in WB's 13 Ghosts), and Director of the Year Wolfgang Petersen, who doesn't have a film due this year.
Not surprisingly, WB unveiled the most extensive product reel of any studio, presenting some type of trailer for nearly all of its forthcoming releases. A rundown (excluding the already-in-theatres trailers for the western American Outlaws and the family-friendly features Cats & Dogs and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone):
A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Little more is shown here in this second teaser for Steven Spielberg's eagerly anticipated sci-fi drama than in the first, but there is a brief glimpse of Haley Joel Osment as the artificial intelligence in question, and this clip maintains the fascinatingly austere tone of that initial trailer. That said, this clip also sets the Spielberg schmaltz meter on alert, for the one key line of dialogue spoken--"I want to be a real boy"--suggests a futuristic Pinocchio.
Affair of the Necklace: Back in the days of The Next Karate Kid, would anyone have ever thought that the appearance of star Hilary Swank would be the mark of a "prestige" project? Well, years and an Oscar later, here she is in a period drama that has "serious drama wannabe" written all over it.
Angel Eyes: Jennifer Lopez and Jim Caviezel in one of those thrillers in which a woman takes on a mysterious new lover who may or may have sinister intentions. Innovation seems absent, but with those two toplining, I'm willing to take a chance.
City by the Sea: Robert DeNiro and Frances McDormand in an Oscar-season drama about a detective who must bring in his son, who is suspected of murder. Not enough footage was shown to really make a clear judgment, but the presence of the Franchise Pictures logo at the beginning doesn't set expectations soaring.
Collateral Damage: Apparently no "real" footage from Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest comeback vehicle was ready, for all the teaser gives is a brief voiceover summation of the premise--man avenges family's murder--and a shot of Ah-nuld raising his head.
Driven: The new trailer for the Renny Harlin-directed, Sylvester Stallone-starring-and-penned car racing drama emphasizes character (namely, that of real lead Kip Pardue) over race action. You do the math.
Heist: The title says pretty much all, and the "written and directed by David Mamet" credit says the rest. The ensemble cast of this promising crime drama includes Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, and Mamet regulars Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon.
The Majestic: Less a trailer or teaser than a simple placeholder, the brief clip trumpeting the Jim Carrey/Frank Darabont collaboration simply offered a plot synopsis set to images from the 1950s Hollywood blacklisting era.
Osmosis Jones: An animated war between a white blood cell (voiced by Chris Rock) and a deadly virus (voiced by Laurence Fishburne) wages within the body of a very live-action Bill Murray. With the Farrelly Brothers at the helm in the flesh-and-blood sequences, this could be something.
Rock Star: The promotional material bills this Mark Wahlberg-Jennifer Aniston starrer as a comedy, but the trailer takes on a more serious, almost epic tone tracing a small-time musician's (Wahlberg) rise to stardom in the '80s.
The Salton Sea: The real headscratcher of the lot was this promo for what appears to be a jokey crime thriller--I say "appears" because it was hard to make heads or tails of what exactly it's about or is trying to do. Val Kilmer stars.
Summer Catch: Continuing the mystery of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s screen stardom, and to add insult to injury, this film marks the third teaming of him and his She's All That and Wing Commander buddy, Matthew Lillard. Also along for the ride: slutty ex-7th Heaven star Jessica Biel.
Swordfish: OK, so it's from the director of Gone in Sixty Seconds and has John Travolta still appearing a bit too Terl-like for his own good. But the flick looks like it could hit the right summer action movie bases, delivering all the required gunplay and explosions. Not to mention it also stars Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, and X-Men fanboys should delight at the sight of Wolverine and Storm gettin' it on.
13 Ghosts: In the tradition of House on Haunted Hill comes another remake of a William Castle chiller that looks to have a decent late October open before taking a precipitous plunge. Shannon Elizabeth and F. Murray Abraham, an odd pair if there ever was one, star.
Training Day: It's hard to make even an early judgment about this Denzel Washington/Ethan Hawke cop thriller, since the trailer consisted of only one scene with Washington lecturing Hawke in a police car. All that could really be said about it is that Washington is his usual intense self.
Ocean's 11: "Please stay seated for our final number," blared an unseen announcer as the logo for Steven Soderbergh's highly anticipated heist drama assembled onscreen. Then the lights went up, revealing the "11" of the title--including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon--live and onstage. Clooney explained that there was no footage ready, and that everyone dropped by on their lunch break from filming. He then called on one of the film's unknown cast members to give a plot synopsis. That he did, albeit in Chinese.
After the close of the WB luncheon, nearly everyone left the official ShoWest venues of Bally's and Paris and made a beeline to the Bellagio's "O" Theatre across the street for a mystery presentation presented by the folks at Disney. Once everyone had received their free popcorn and beverage and taken their seats in the opulent showroom, a Mouse rep came out following some hijinks by O cast members and made the announcement, "We're not going to be showing you clips from movies. We're actually going to be showing you a whole movie--a big, widescreen epic, sure to be one of the biggest hits of the summer..." As the audience held its collective breath for the words "Pearl Harbor," he continued, "...Atlantis."
The film itself failed to put a lid on any disappointment, but Disney certainly wins the award for showmanship as the movie was immediately followed by an excerpt from the O show--which is a Cirque du Soleil production set in and around water. Needless to say, the feats of acrobatic athleticism and synchronized swimming earned a far more rapturous reception than the Mouse's tepid new animated feature.
This eye-popping taste of Vegas extravagance was no match, however, for the overwhelming emotional sweep that came with the surprise appearance of Atlantis star Michael J. Fox, who greeted the audience at the very end of the presentation. Now, it's one thing to see Fox on television and quite another to see him in front of you. I'm sure I speak for everyone in the audience when I say that I had no clue as to how severe his battle with Parkinson's Disease is until witnessing him there in person, walking across a stage. His cameo and the audience's heartfelt standing ovation made for ShoWest's most (and perhaps the only) profoundly moving moment.
All roads at ShoWest lead to the final night banquets and awards ceremony at the Paris Ballroom, and what one would think would be a fairly quick send-off to the festivities turned out to feel even longer than the week-long journey getting there. The program began briskly enough, with the presentation of the Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmakers Award to UCLA film student Peter Hunziker. Anyone who goes to a movie theatre fairly often knows that the winner of this award has his short film shown before the traditional reel of trailers that precede every feature presentation. Hunziker's film, "You Too Could Be a Winner," is typical of the Coca-Cola winners, telling a funny tale in a very brief span of time. What makes Hunziker's film something of a departure is that it features no shameless Coke plugs, unlike many other recent winners.
After a tasty dinner of fish and filet mignon, the stage was turned over to Martin Mull for the official awards program, hence beginning the evening's downward slide. Mull tried his best to keep the tone light, but this was one long, slow awards show that clamored for something as wrongheaded as a Debbie Allen-choreographed dance number to make things at least remotely interesting. Since all the recipients knew of their honors beforehand, this allowed for some indulgent, rambling speeches, not only by the winners but the people presenting the awards to them. Of the winners, though, the more obscure people were the ones most prone to giving dull speeches (notably, Cast Away scribe William Broyles Jr., the inexplicable winner of the Screenwriter of the Year award).
Making the proceedings even less smooth were other curious moves. First was the awards presentation order, which in now way resembled what was written in the master ShoWest program journal given out at the beginning of the convention. For example, major awards such as Male and Female Star of the Year came before decidedly less-prominent honors such as Achievement in Motion Picture Advertising and Comedy Star of the Year, the latter being the finale of the night (more on that later). Then there was the matter of the clip packages that were shown before each recipient appeared on stage; a number of these montages gave away endings to films. I guess it's assumed that this being an audience full of exhibitors, they would have seen all the films in question, but it's still irksome to see the out-of-nowhere climax of Pay It Forward appear in the Haley Joel Osment (Supporting Actor of the Year) tribute.
Despite the ceremony's ridiculous length--only slightly more than half the attendees remained by the close over four hours later--there were some memorable moments. Rupert Everett gave a classy speech for the absent Judi Dench, Supporting Actress of the Year. Female Star of Tomorrow Shannon Elizabeth was charming and moving as she emotionally accepted what she called "the first award she ever received." Female Star of Tomorrow Sandra Bullock got in a good joke at the expense of Clint Eastwood (who was in attendance to present Wolfgang Petersen with Director of the Year). Russell Crowe, who did show up amid much speculation that he wouldn't in light of the whole kidnap plot issue, amusingly accepted his Male Star of the Year trophy with a joke about about polar bears.
But the best moment indeed came at the end of the awards show and hence the entire convention when Chris Rock finally took the stage to accept his Comedy Star of the Year award. The first words out of his mouth? "Isn't this the longest fucking show you've ever seen? This shit is boring." It goes without saying that these comments were met with the heartiest applause of the entire evening--and perhaps even all of what was ShoWest 2001.