Universal got the final day's proceedings of glitz and glamour off to a lively start with the presentation of their 2003 product reel at the Paris Théâtre des Arts and Bally's Jubilee Theatre. While some of the material was recycled from the United International Pictures presentation earlier in the week (namely, the trailer for Johnny English; the scene montage from Love Actually; and the behind-the-scenes featurette on Van Helsing, which was shown here in slightly elongated form), most of the footage was new to the audience and the convention.
Bruce Almighty (May 23): The second trailer for the film reveals more of the plot, answering a bit more of the "why" Jim Carrey's everyman becomes endowed with God's (Morgan Freeman) powers. Of course, plot has always been secondary in Carrey's collabrations with director Tom Shadyac, and after both enduring some unsuccessful stabs at "respectability" and awards, both seem back in their rightful element with this wacky comedy--and it appears certain that the box office returns will support that.
2 Fast 2 Furious (June 6): No new footage from the poorly-titled The Fast and the Furious follow-up was shown, only the already-in-theatres teaser, but even though it had already been running in movie houses since January, the high-octane trailer still elicited quite the positive response. So much for concerns about star Paul Walker returning without Vin Diesel--new F&F franchise co-star Tyrese Gibson, who receives quite a bit more emphasis in this trailer than Walker, seems to be more than able to fill the shoes of the departed star.
The Hulk (June 20): Like many, I was a bit underwhelmed by the Super Bowl teaser for Ang Lee's eagerly anticipated adaptation of the Marvel comic. The CGI incarnation of the mean, green machine looked like both a blessing and a curse; it remarkably resembled his comic look, but at the same time that meant a certain level of unreality. In the new, full trailer that was unveiled in the reel, certain issues with the CGI still remain--the Hulk looks better but still not as convincing as he should be--but any issues with the treatment of the material do not. The teaser's action-cliché rock score is replaced with an orchestral one more befitting the decidedly more dramatic feel. All of the Ang Lee traces that were curiously absent from that teaser are in this trailer full-force, as the heart of the film is revealed to be (as it should be) the Bruce Banner (Eric Bana)/Hulk dichotomy and Banner's relationship with Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly). That said, there's no shortage of kick-ass Hulk action, either. What once looked like a disappointment-in-the-making now looks to be a comic flick classic.
Seabiscuit (July 25): Doubts about the mid-summer release date sprang into mind while watching this very long (pushing five minutes--at least) preview for Gary Ross's fact-based horse racing drama. Not that the preview was bad--far from it, actually; it looks visually spectacular and rather emotionally resonant, and in this brief taste alone star Tobey Maguire (as a jockey) reminds that he's a dramatic actor to be reckoned with outside of spider tights. While the studio is obviously going for Road to Perdition-style prestige counterprogramming, that film had a time-proven box office superstar above its title, and Maguire, however heftly those Spider-Man grosses are, has yet to prove his commercial worth without the superhero baggage. Furthermore, the film appears to be full of award-potential performances (those by Maguire, Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges), and the release date will more than likely not help that campaign. That all said, the film, should it deliver on the promise of the preview, has all the earmarks of a sleeper word-of-mouth success. Stay tuned.
American Wedding (August 1): Screening in lieu of a formal trailer was what appeared to be the opening scene from the third film in the American Pie franchise, and it is raunchy as one would expect (there's no way this preview will run in theatres in its current state)--and, perhaps, funnier than one would expect. I was skeptical when a first sequel was made, but I ended up enjoying that film; I was even more skeptical when another was on the drawing board. Based on this preview, there may be more fuel left in the tank for one more go-round. The scene, in which Jim (Jason Biggs) attempts to pop the question to Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), highlights what is now a well-oiled, impeccably timed comic machine consisting of Hannigan's lack of inhibition, Biggs's ease with humiliation and Eugene Levy's (as Jim's dad) embarrassing cluelessness and unusual level of understanding.
Welcome to the Jungle (September 26): The Rock and Seann William Scott in a buddy action film (formerly titled Helldorado) set in--duh--the jungle. After making an auspicious feature directing debut with the insta-cult fave Very Bad Things, Peter Berg appears to be slumming (to say the least) for a hit, and other talented folk being dragged down with what looks to be an especially excruciating would-be thrill ride are Christopher Walken and Rosario Dawson. The rough video-projected trailer did nothing to dispel any bad thoughts.
Honey (Fall): Jessica Alba absolutely lights up any screen on which she appears, and big-time movie stardom seems to be an inevitability. However, I don't think it'll come with this Save the Last Dance-resembling drama in which she plays a choreographer/dancer who teaches kids as she continues her pursuit of fame and fortune. With stars as magnetic as Alba and Mekhi Phifer, I'm hoping the final result will at at least be watchable.
Intolerable Cruelty (October 10): If you ask me, this was the highlight of the entire reel. The disgustingly attractive pair of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones smolder from their first second of shared screen time in this trailer for the latest from the brothers Coen. Clooney's a divorce attorney; Zeta-Jones is a notoriously gold digging temptress; Billy Bob Thornton is her latest cuckold of a matrimonial mark. Looks and sounds like a deliciously dark time is to be had.
Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (November 21): Did we not learn anything from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Of course not, since that fiasco made a veritable mint at the box office during the 2000 holiday season. And so we get another classic from the Theodore Geisel oeuvre that isn't so much Seuss as it is a heavily-made-up vanity project for an A-list comedy star--in this case, Mike Myers, who's not so much playing the Cat from the beloved book than simply Mike Myers in cat drag. To be fair, the behind-the-scenes featurette that was shown did have one big laugh--but one that had nothing to do with what was shown of the film itself: producer Brian Grazer's declaration at a press conference that Mike Myers was the only choice to play the Cat. Excuse me, did we not remember the years of development with Tim Allen in the role? As far as the actual footage from the film is concerned, there's no denying that it literally looks fantastic; after all, first-time director Bo Welch initially made a name for himself for his amazing production design work for Tim Burton. The compliments begin and end there, though--based on these early scenes, at least.
Peter Pan (December 25): Peter Pan as kick-ass, swashbuckling action hero? That seems to be the angle being pursued by this new live-action take of the venerable character, right down to the almost-comical "letter 'P' with blade-like stem in a circle" icon logo. As ridiculous and overblown as this all sounds, from this early preview the film looks at least watchable, no doubt due to Jason Isaacs's presence as Captain Hook.
After the presentation, it was time to trek over to the Paris Ballroom for Universal's luncheon, co-sponsored by Pepsi. Unlike in the heyday of studio-sponsored luncheons of yesteryear, this was not one of those star-studded affairs at which Premiere magazine got a lot of photo fodder for many a multi-page feature over the years; not one single person directly involved with any of the studio's releases put in an appearance. The event was more along the lines of what Sony Pictures did last year, which is simply let various prop displays do the shilling.
But first, this was a luncheon, after all, and I'd say that foremost on most people's minds was the food. A variety of delicious dishes were presented in buffet-like, self-serve style in aisles between tables: New York strip steak, chicken breast, salmon medallions in crème beurre, various salad fixings, among other things. This being a Pepsi-sponsored event, the company certainly didn't let the obvious promotional opportunity go to waste, and all of the beverages to go with the food (aside from the coffee, that is) were Pepsi products: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew, Aquafina, SoBe, etc.
The beverage company took care of the formal "speaker at the podium" promotional presentations, as Pepsi representatives Brian Cornell (President, Foodservice Division, North America), Joe Juliano (Vice President, Entertainment Sales, North America) and Peter Leyh (Director, Entertainment Sales, North America) outlined Pepsi's tie-in campaigns with three Universal releases: The Hulk, The Cat in the Hat and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Or, rather, I should say, "outlined two of their three tie-in campaigns," as the last film went curiously unmentioned; a common phrase uttered was (paraphrasing) "tie-ins with three Universal releases including The Hulk and The Cat in the Hat." Say what you will about the Fast and the Furious sequel, but the second-class treatment could not help but leave a sour taste (particularly given its more ethnic dynamic). A trio of PepsiCo television spots (including a Hulk-themed one for Sierra Mist) were screened and a drawing was held for all-expenses paid trips to the premieres of the three films before patrons were free to roam around the exhibits.
Dr. Seuss' The Cat in that Hat: The inflatable hat-with-Cat-hand may have been the largest item on display in the room, but it was by far the least interesting. Understandably more popular with attendees was the Cat's car, which, when seen in real life, just confirmed that the film features some awesome production design. I still remain more than a little worried about the film as a whole, though.
The Hulk: Of the three displays, the one for the eagerly awaited Ang Lee comic adaptation was by the cheesiest. While the "life size" statue of the Hulk was impressive, and there were kiosks where one can play the tie-in video game, the "Hulk-o-Meter" where one could assess one's physical strength was a bit on the corny side, not to mention cheap.
2 Fast 2 Furious: Attracting the most attention, ironically enough, was the display for the film that Pepsi seemed to go out of its way not to mention. The four key cars from the film were made available for photo ops:
Brian O'Conner's (Paul Walker) silver Nissan Skyline
Of the four cars, Roman/Tyrese's Spyder was the clear crowd favorite, as it was undoubtedly the one car everyone seemed to want to take a picture in. Near the car displays was one featuring a large black SoBe Adenaline Rush bus, which will be touring the country as part of a tie-in campaign with the film. How all the more curious, then, that the film went unmentioned in the stage presentations, considering it was the only one that had an elaborate display devoted exclusively to its soft drink campaign.
There was a certain level of anticipation going to Warner Bros.' screening of Dreamcatcher. After all, it was the latest effort from director Lawrence Kasdan, starring a strong ensemble led by Morgan Freeman and based on a Stephen King bestseller. Word had it that Kasdan, at the very least, was going to be on hand to introduce the film, and, as it would during its theatrical run, the Animatrix animated short Final Flight of the Osiris would be screened prior to the feature presentation; in short, a par for the course ShoWest screening.
The red flags went up, however, when an anonymous WB representative appeared on stage to introduce the film, with no sign of Kasdan--or anyone else involved in the film, for that matter--in attendance. When the curtains parted and went straight into the feature presentation, with no trace of the Matrix short, more sirens went off. Within a half-hour, all of the signs made sense: the lack of Osiris was a ploy to get people to pay for a ticket for the film when the film opened in theatres; the lack of in-person talent appearances was a way for the people to save face, for the film is a most astounding train wreck.
At the official pre-awards ceremony press conference, the room was abuzz not with the impending celebrity arrivals but the lead balloon audience reaction to Dreamcatcher. Those who wisely skipped out on the screening (or could not, for some reason, get a ticket) intently listened in on tales of walkouts, groans, and downright astonishment at the mess others witnessed. The major question left asked by viewers and non-viewers alike was "Why did the studio bother to screen it here?"
Alas, there was not too much time to linger on such quandaries as there was a star-studded gala event to attend to. As was the case last year, in the hours prior to the show award winners were ushered into the Paris Champagne Ballroom for quick five-minute (at most) sessions with the assembled press, moderated by ever-affable KTNV/Channel 13 weathercaster Bob Jeswald. Perhaps I should rephrase that as "attempted to be moderated," for one reporter in particular--from an obscure outlet called Hollywood Connection--rather brazenly and annoyingly did whatever he could to subvert Jeswald's authority. The press was instructed to limit whatever questions for any given person to one, but this guy would attempt to get into conversation mode with the talent, even going so far as to stubbornly step over Jeswald's attempts to give others a chance. Jeswald is as friendly a guy as anyone could meet, so it speaks a lot of this nameless reporter (*cough*RobPochlebnik*cough*) that he managed to visibly irk him.
But not even this guy's rude selfishness could ruin the proceedings, which were otherwise relaxed and, on the whole, entertaining. As something of a prelude to main attractions, the press conference began with a session with Nancy Robey, global brand director of the Couture Jewellery Collection & Conference. For the second year, Couture provided the gift bag for the award winners, presenters and emcee, and the jewelry the impressive (and very expensive) pieces featured in the bags, along with their designers, were also on hand. Not long after this presentation, the proverbial ball got rolling with the appearances by award winners and other talent.
While overlap with the start of the actual dinner and awards ceremony prevented me from staying for the entire duration of the press conference, I was able to stay for nine sessions: those for Producer of the Year David Heyman, with presenter Gary Oldman, who had just begun work earlier that week on Heyman's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Female Star of Tomorrow Alison Lohman; Supporting Actor of the Year Christopher Walken; Actress of the Year Diane Lane; Lifetime Achievement Award winner Brian Grazer; Screenwriter of the Year Antwone Fisher, with presenter Todd Black, producer of Fisher's eponymous debut film; Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Award winner Jordan Ross, with presenter, LivePlanet co-head/Project Greenlight executive producer Chris Moore; and show host Jamie Kennedy. Given the brief amount of time with each celebrity, nearly all of the questions fielded were of the softball variety--save for those by one reporter who dutifully performed the rather dubious assignment of trying to wring comments about the Iraq situation from the celebrities, who were uniformly, understandably tight-lipped. The rather routine back-patting nature of the event did not prevent some highlights from emerging, namely an impromptu dance given by Walken as he exited the room; the mere sight of Lane, who is--believe it or not--more stunning in person; and (on a completely selfish level) a pair of completely unsolicited, on-stage personal shout-outs to me by Fisher and Kennedy.
Despite my premature exit from the press conference, I still somehow managed to miss what is the traditional pre-meal opener for the Final Night Banquet: the presentation of the Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Award, which goes to a film student for a Coke promotional short that will be played as part of the pre-show program on screens nationwide. This year's winner, as touched on above, was Jordan Ross, an NYU graduate student, for his film Mafia Movie Madness. As the title suggests, the short is about a movie theatre run by the mob, and while I was disappointed to miss it, I am certain I'll see the film so many times over the course of the year that I'll grow sick of it.
Speaking of courses (yes, this must be my lamest segue ever, which says a lot), the food for actual dinner was predictably top-notch, ending the week's culinary program on a high note. The menu, for those who have been keeping score with me: dinner rolls; an apple salad with walnut dressing; filet mignon; mashed potatoes; carrots; and, for dessert, a custard with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, chocolate and whipped cream. Perhaps I was getting a bit spoiled at this point, as more interesting than the food was meeting new people alongside whom I sat at assigned press dinner table, including USA Today's Andy Seiler, an avowed champion of online film writers; and Entertainment Weekly's Nicholas Fonseca, who became my partner-in-snarking throughout the evening.
And did the show ever provide its share of snark-worthy material, no more than whenever host Jamie Kennedy was front and center. A film montage featuring Kennedy as his TV series and Malibu's Most Wanted character Brad Gluckman set the unfunny tone for his hosting job. To his credit, he did seem acutely aware of when his weak patter material was not working, particularly when he was called on to stall by going through the contents of one of those snazzy talent gift bags provided by Couture. So, if nothing else, Kennedy was a good, self-effacing sport though I wouldn't wait for the Oscar hosting call if I were him.
When Kennedy announced the first presenter to be "the man who singlehandedly revived the movie musical," Nicholas and I turned to each other and said, "Baz Luhrmann?" However, the myth that Chicago was the first live-action musical to achieve any sort of success continued to be perpetuated, and the man in question was that film's director, Rob Marshall, giving the ShoWest Supporting Actress of the Year Award to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Prior to her taking the stage, there was a clip montage including footage from The Mask of Zorro, Entrapment, High Fidelity, Traffic, America's Sweethearts, the upcoming Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Intolerable Cruelty, and, of course, Chicago. (Where were the clips from The Phantom or The Haunting?) Looking stunning in a black pant suit, red top, and--rather impossibly, given her advanced pregnancy--red stiletto heels, the ever-glamorous Zeta-Jones joked during her acceptance speech that she wanted to use the clip package as a screensaver.
Director Barry Levinson next presented the Supporting Actor of the Year award to the co-star of his upcoming comedy Envy, Christopher Walken. Given Walken's lengthy career, there was no way for his clip montage to be comprehensive, so it was all the more interesting to see which works were deemed worthy to make the cut: Envy, of course, along with The Deer Hunter, True Romance, Annie Hall, Pulp Fiction, Batman Returns, At Close Range, Catch Me If You Can, his famous hoofing from Pennies from Heaven and Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" video, and... The Prophecy. The inclusion of the last film proved to be more amusing than Walken's gracious but routine acceptance speech, which he read off from notes.
The Director of the Year presentation proved to be a low point of the evening. The "G" in the DreamWorks lead triumvirate, David Geffen, was originally announced as the presenter of the award to Sam Mendes, but another exec at the SKG, former New Line head Mike DeLuca, instead turned up for the duties. The tribute montage gave equal time to both of Mendes's films, American Beauty and Road to Perdition, and clips from both were augmented by interviews--all seemingly culled from the films' respective electronic press kits--with Kevin Spacey, Jude Law, Steven Spielberg, Alan Ball, Thomas Newman, and the late Conrad Hall. With such a classy introduction, it was more than a little disappointing to find out that the honoree was also not in attendance due to the raging snowstorms on the East Coast. Suddenly it made sense why Geffen did not bother to show up.
The most curious award of the night was that of Male Star of Tomorrow, which strangely went to the long-established James Todd Smith, a.k.a. LL Cool J. The clip montage, introduced by Smith's S.W.A.T. producer Neal Moritz, just raised even more questions, as it featured clips from no less than six films--S.W.A.T., Rollerball, Kingdom Come, Deep Blue Sea, In Too Deep and Any Given Sunday--and still left a bit of ground uncovered (Krush Groove, Charlie's Angels, Deliver Us from Eva, etc.). A glance at Universal's congratulations ad for all the award recipients in the ShoWest program catalog proved to be revealing as it named the more appropriate pick of Colin Farrell as this year's Male Star of Tomorrow honoree--and suddenly it all fell into place: maybe everything was in place for Farrell before it was determined that he had prior commitments that prevented him from attending, and so organizers rushed to replace him with one of his co-stars from S.W.A.T. In any event, it was nice to see Smith get some due for his screen work (and kudos for the montage editors for including In Too Deep), and he gave perhaps the most gracious speech of the night, calling Moritz from the sidelines to give him proper thanks as well as having a good sense of humor about his acting name change and himself in general (he thanked his wife for "tolerating my breath in the morning").
The recipient of the Female Star of Tomorrow award was, indeed, given to a newcomer, Alison Lohman, coming off of her well-received but little-seen lead role in the otherwise all-star White Oleander. Given her few credits, the montage introduced by her Matchstick Men co-star Nicolas Cage (another star of the Ridley Scott summer release, Sam Rockwell, was scheduled to co-present, but he was another casualty of the blizzards) was fairly brief, incorporating scenes from Oleander and Matchstick as well as EPK-derived interview segments with Oleander collaborators Noah Wyle, Renée Zellweger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robin Wright Penn and director Peter Kosminsky. Lohman was obviously overwhelmed by her honor; she almost walked off the stage without taking her trophy.
Fox animation president Chris Meledandri presented the Animation Director of the Year trophy--which was not awarded at last year's event--to Ice Age's Chris Wedge. His montage reel was highlighted by early glimpses of scenes and sketch designs for his upcoming film, Robots, due out in 2005. Wedge temporarily broke the "I would like to thank the theatre owners" monotony of many of the acceptance speeches by attempting to say a sentence in French.
Gary Oldman, presenter of the Producer of the Year award, began his speech with a personal aside: he expressed his pleasure at meeting Male Star of the Year winner Adam Sandler and major praise to his unfortunately little-seen Punch-Drunk Love. Before long it was back to business at hand and a tribute to Harry Potter franchise producer David Heyman, whose montage consisted of footage from an Oprah appearance during which he discussed the casting of Harry star Daniel Radcliffe; scenes from the two Harry Potter films; and interviews and B-roll footage taken from the electronic press kit.
Perhaps I speak with shameless bias, but props go to Screenwriter of the Year winner Antwone Fisher for battling against the somber, almost comically self-important tone set by his montage, which incorporated various interviews and news clips along with scenes from the Denzel Washington-directed film bearing his name. The first words to come out of his mouth after accepting the trophy from presenter (and Antwone Fisher producer) Todd Black were, "I have a sense of humor, too!" Now there was the Fisher I had come to know--and, if the montage was good for anything, it was for the footage of him sitting at a computer wearing the thick black glasses he used to wear when I first met him.
Like Christopher Walken, Female Star of the Year winner Diane Lane has enjoyed a lengthy screen career, but the clip package introduced by Fox co-chairman Jim Gianopoulos was a little more extensive in its coverage of Lane's filmography: A Little Romance, Cattle Annie and Little Britches, Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, The Cotton Club, Streets of Fire, Chaplin, The Perfect Storm, A Walk on the Moon, Unfaithful, the TV projects Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All and Lonesome Dove, and the upcoming Under the Tuscan Sun. Even clips of Francis Ford Coppola's Robin Williams fiasco Jack were included, making me wonder why the montage didn't include any footage from Judge Dredd. Unlike those last two projects, Lane was the epitome of class, and after opening with a witty quip ("This is the first time I've ever won anything in Las Vegas") she gave the evening's most emotional speech, choking up while going through her long list of thanks.
Tears were followed by laughter when Kevin Nealon presented the Actor of the Year trophy to Adam Sandler. Nealon's hilarious and often good-naturedly teasing speech (he at one point said Sandler "made a lot of unwatchable crap") climaxed with a stretch of "subliminally" delivered (as he used to do in his Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" days) jabs which prompted the following response from Sandler once it was his turn onstage: "You big fuckin' asshole!" Sandler's acceptance speech and his clip montage (which included footage from Anger Management, Mr. Deeds, The Wedding Singer, Punch-Drunk Love, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, and Eight Crazy Nights--why no Little Nicky, I wonder?) made of an intriguing study in contrasts. Just like at the Anger Management screening earlier in the week, Sandler proves to be a far more funny, smart and electrifying performer when freed from the mind-numbing formula of most of his films. His lengthy, multi-page speech--a rambling and raunchy account of "a day in the life of the motherfuckin' Male Star of the Year" was far more hilarious than most of Sandler's screen oeuvre combined. The lesson learned about Sandler from the convention? He needs to be allowed to cut loose to reach his comic heights--or he is most effective in these small, strong doses.
Sandler's routine made the presentation of the night's final award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, an anticlimax. Universal chairman Ron Meyer presented the trophy to producer Brian Grazer after a back-patting clip piece narrated by his Imagine Entertainment partner Ron Howard. Even more tantalizing glimpses of the upcoming Coen Brothers comedy Intolerable Cruelty weren't enough to push this award presentation anywhere in the same sphere as the Sandler segment, and certainly not Grazer's polished but routine acceptance speech.
And with one final onstage appearance by Kennedy, so ended the show and another eventful ShoWest week in Vegas. 'Til 2004...