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CinemaCon 2019

I didn’t think CinemaCon would be as enjoyable and interesting as it was this year. Perhaps I just felt that way because during the five hour drive to Las Vegas, it started with traffic not moving from all the folks that needed to slow down on the freeway to look at all of the wildflowers. One person didn’t get the memo on stopping, and hit the back of my wife’s Mustang. Yet we finally made it to Caesar’s Palace in one piece, despite a damaged bumper.

As someone that’s always loved watching movie trailers (except when they give too much away), I had a blast every time we went to the Colosseum inside Caesar’s to watch the trailers. What makes them a bit more fun here, is that often the stars or directors come out to talk about the movie before the trailer is shown.

The talk of CinemaCon was when Helen Mirren came out to talk about her latest picture, The Good Liar. Since this is a convention for movie theatre owners, there’s often talk about the direction of the industry. Mirren said, “I love Netflix, but f**k Netflix!”

The crowd erupted in applause and cheers, as the backlash to Netflix was talked about a lot this week. She continued, “There’s nothing like sitting in the cinema and the lights go down. I would like to thank you guys for making that environment possible.”

Director Todd Phillips talked about being back, saying that he literally lived in Caesar’s for three months while filming The Hangover and even had his mail delivered there. He showed some clips from The Joker. It impressed the crowd. I’m just tired of all the different Jokers. I liked Nicholson in the first, and of course, Heath Ledger won the Oscar for his brilliant version of the psycho villain. We all agree that Jared Leto and Suicide Squad was a mess, but now it’s Joaquin Phoenix. It was the only trailer I found underwhelming.

I’ve gotten my studios and panels confused, but at one of them, Aisha Tyler was hosting. She always brings enthusiasm and fun to an event.

When studio big-wigs would come out, you’d get the figures on how much their movies made. The guy from Warner Brothers Pictures said they made $5.6 billion worldwide. Yeah, I don’t think Netflix is hurting the film business.

Disney made $29.8 billion, and their global box office rose 4% each year from the last 10 years. Black Panther made them $1 billion all by itself.

I found out Venom made $642 million worldwide and Aquaman made even more. It’s interesting to hear such high numbers, on two movies I gave bad reviews to. It just shows audiences love their superheroes, and you could see that enthusiasm from the theatre owners, too. When the two Russo brothers that directed Avengers: End Game came out and showed some clips, it was like The Beatles took the stage.

John Fithian, the president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, was quoted as saying, “The more people stream at home, the more they go to the cinema.”

I love that logic, with all this tension between theatrical business and streaming. It reminded me of being a kid in the ‘70s, and there was always talk from the music industry about how selling blank cassette tapes would ruin the industry, because one person would buy an album and everyone else could make a recording of it for free. They didn’t count on people making mix tapes or just wanting to hear that album in their car and not on a turntable. When used CDs were being sold at stores, the musicians were upset that people could buy the record used and they don’t make money off that. Yet studies showed that the fans of the band bought the CD when it came out, and it was people that weren’t big fans that merely liked one or two songs who would buy the cheaper, used CD. Often times, those people were won over by the other songs and became fans, so it ended up helping the music industry. Although we can say now, that downloading music has really hurt the music business, so…there’s really no telling how streaming services will affect box office numbers in the future. And obviously, theatre owners have a vested interest in people coming to the theatres and enjoying that communal experience (with a delicious box of Red Vines; if you prefer Twizzlers you’re a sick person and I don’t want to know you).

One day there was a lunch sponsored by Dolby laboratories. It was odd to hear somebody speaking about the latest technology, and all I’m hearing are hundreds of forks from people enjoying the delicious chicken salad.

The Oscar-winning producer of Bohemian Rhapsody came out to get an award for International Filmmaker of the Year. And at this Con, there were a lot of musicals promoted. The Elton John picture Rocketman brought out their star and director.

The star of a Beatles-themed story called Yesterday was there, and performed. We were sitting in the second row when Christian singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp came out, and had the audience in tears talking about his wife dying of cancer. He played the song he wrote about the experience, which is now being turned into a movie of the same name — I Still Believe.

Mitch Neuhauser, one of the head guys of NATO, came out in one of the red jumpsuits from the horror film Us, with a big pair of gold scissors in his hand, while the song “I Got 5 on It” played. It was hysterical, and aside from his jokes, it was a touching moment when he brought up a story about a small drive-in theatre in Canada and the couple that owns it and the difficulty involved in running it.

At one point, Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone came out in crazy costumes with Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” blasting. She was screaming things, and then somebody told her it wasn’t ComicCon it was CinemaCon. It was a hysterical bit.

The trade shows are always interesting. I remember a few years ago, my wife trying an Icee that was coffee flavored, and being grossed out. I noticed this year, they had a Jack & Coke and frozen Moscow Mule-flavored ones for adults. My wife liked the Moscow Mule and claimed to have been getting buzzed from it. I didn’t try it. I was busy devouring one of the best cookie sandwiches I ever had — an M&M cookie sandwich made with chocolate ice cream and chocolate chocolate chip cookies. After I finished this, I proclaimed that Chipwiches can go to hell.

The Texas Chili Company served me a black angus chili dog that was the best hotdog I’ve ever had. My wife had the brisket hot dog and loved it. The two problems with having these was that I was then trying the various theatre seats on display, some of which moved around and shook violently, which are designed to enhance an action movie experience. Yet after a chili dog, it probably wasn’t my best decision. I also forgot about the lunch CinemaCon was serving 20 minutes later.

This is the first CinemaCon where I didn’t try any of the varieties of popcorn. My wife tried the Cheetos popcorn and liked it. I thought it sounded disgusting. A guy in front of us opted for the flaming hot popcorn, and immediately ran over to the Coca-Cola display and downed a cold beverage.

One company called “Fuze Viewer” had popcorn buckets with movie images on them. You could scan them and the characters move around and come to life; you could also watch the trailers for the films.

RoboLabs had this cool machine making “flying cotton candy.” It would shoot out a long thing of cotton candy in the air about 20 feet. The guy would scoop and twirl it onto a holder and hand it to someone. It looked like an item that would turn heads at a movie theatre. My wife said, “They better hope that doesn’t get into my hair!”

I glanced through the RoboLabs catalogue and saw they had all kinds of things for food a theatre might serve. Seeing how they could make fries, burgers, steak, and pizza…it hit me that many folks must go to the theatres and also eat dinner. I’m just a popcorn and cherry Coke guy (And a package of Red Vines I smuggle in because they fit perfectly into my back pocket. That’s something I have to hope these theatre owners don’t find out about. But I digest).

My wife was more impressed with the “Chalice cup.” It was a combination popcorn holder with a drink underneath it — all in one easy to carry item. My wife said, “This is brilliant! Maybe if people start using it, they’ll stop spilling popcorn on me as they walk to their seats.”

This was also the first year I didn’t have any White Castle burgers. That’s because my wife pointed out, right before I was about to reach for one, that they were veggie sliders. She told them, “Harold and Kumar are not going to White Castle for veggie sliders.”

One of the marketing guys said, “They might.”

When we walked by the Tootsie Roll Industries booth, we grabbed a few boxes of Junior Mints. I brought up the Seinfeld episode with the guy and he said it was voted one of the Top 10 episodes of all time. As I looked at the candies they had on display, I thought one of the cups had bubble gum. I asked if it was gum and he said, “We make Dubble-Bubble gum, but we didn’t bring any. Gum and movie theatres don’t mix.”

It was a great point.

It wasn’t just the concession stand goodies I was there to check out. I wanted to see the latest in technology coming to the theatres. International Electrical Cable, Inc had a pen that was also a flashlight, highlighter, and stylist. You could use it to write in the dark, which I thought might help with me taking notes during a movie. Not sure if the critic sitting next to me would like it.

RU Theatre had a cool item. It was a pizza cutter that had a bottle opener on the end of it.

California Seating was showing theatres how instead of buying new seats, you could just reupholster them for as low as $9 bucks each. I’m guessing with a lot of theatres moving to reclining seats, this might be a tough sell.

One of the nights we went to a party the studio behind Wild Rose put on. It was country themed, with a live band called The Ruckus. It was nice that with all the country tunes, we heard a few songs we recognized — X’s and O’s, Folsom Prison Blues, and a song I could do without ever hearing again — Footloose.

There was a mechanical bull that people were riding. The few minutes I watched, there was a nerdy guy handed his glasses to his wife before hopping on it. He lasted about 2 seconds. I thought about how I tried those shaking chairs after eating, and wondered if the folks eating all this great food, would regret that after getting on the bull.

There was BBQ, pulled pork, and fried chicken. I was munching on tater tots, onion rings, and a pot pie. I’ve got the taste buds of a 10-year-old.

Another night, Variety — The Children’s Charity had a great party at the Omnia nightclub inside Caesars. They brought out a 17-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and they gave her a special bicycle, since she’s never been able to ride a regular one. She used a machine to speak, and thanked them, as well as the crowd. It was an emotional moment. They had it set up where if you donated money, they could find your zipcode from the text, and the money would go directly to a charity in your area.

Whenever I’m at CinemaCon, I do my part by bidding on many of the items they have up for auction. I usually end up with a lot of stuff, and have to make excuses to the wife. This year I dropped $500 on a couple items (one being a movie poster signed by the cast of Game Night, one of the best comedies of last year).

One of the parties we went to had a Beatles tribute band called Beatleshow. An Ed Sullivan impersonator came out to introduce them, and I almost spit my Whiskey Sour out when the wife leaned in and said, “There’s a fine line between an Ed Sullivan impersonation, and a Richard Nixon.”

The only frustrating thing at CinemaCon was finding out they were screening Blinded by the Light, and the press weren’t invited. It was strange, because we got to see Long Shot (and Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron came out to talk about the film before it screened). My wife, who is from New Jersey and it’s required that Jersey girls love the Boss, really wanted to see a movie that’s based on a Pakistan writer in the UK who was highly influenced by the songs of Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen had read the script and gave the filmmakers permission to use any song they wanted. The cast came out and talked about the movie, as did the writer and director. During the event, I told my wife I’d go out and find somebody from Warner Brothers and get us into the movie. She stayed inside and watch stars like Bill Hader there to promote the next IT movie, with James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. Ansel Elgart was there to promote The Goldfinch and a few others. I walked all around Caesars, and I found the area where the stars were going in and out. A crowd of fans were getting autographs from the celebs. The girls were screaming for Ellgart like he was a Beatle and it was 1965. I asked a few people about seeing the movie, and it was no dice (the perfect phrase to use while in Vegas). And as I was walking back in, I saw the couple that were the stars of Blinded by the Light. The lead, Aaron Phagura, was around the corner smoking a cigarette. Nell Williams (Game of Thrones), who played his girlfriend, was standing next to him. I told them of my plight, and they were laughing. He said, “I’d totally help you out, but we’re not even seeing the movie tonight. We’re leaving at 6:30.”

We started talking about Springsteen, and I asked them both their favorite song. Williams said, “Born to Run.” Now, having heard from them onstage that they did a scene locked in a room, with that song playing, I said “Is that why you like the song?” She smiled and said it was, and that she loved filming that scene.

He said his favorite song was “I’m on Fire” (which was played in a hilarious way in Long Shot). I said, “Yeah, I love that song too, but my wife doesn’t like it, because of one line.”

He interrupted, saying “I know exactly the line! The one where he says ‘hey little girl is your daddy home/did he go and leave you all alone’. It’s like…what is this, about a pedophile or something. It sounds so creepy.”

They asked my favorite songs and I said, “Well, I’m from San Diego. We have to love Rosalita since he mentions San Diego in it. I also love Thunder Road and 10th Avenue Freeze Out.”

I brought up the title of the movie, and how I like the version of Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann better than Bruce. He said, “That song is played all the time in England. I’ve never even heard Springsteen’s version.”

I told him he’d be disappointed when he does hear it. And, I told him about the other Springsteen songs Manfred Mann covers, even singing part of one. I felt like I was the PR manager for Manfred Mann.

I didn’t want to bug this cute couple as they were hanging out, so I told them I was going to go back inside and hopefully find a way to sneak into the movie; that’s something I haven’t done since seeing the R-rated Fast Times at Ridgemont High when I was in 8th grade.

As I walked away he said, “Good luck getting in! You’ll love the movie.” I said, “How do you know?” He laughed and said, “Because I’m in it!”

My wife seemed impressed by the attempts I made to get us into the movie. She then went up to the head of the studio as he was getting into his limo and asked him. He said, “No, we aren’t letting press in for this.”

We decided if we couldn’t get Springsteen that night, we’d settle with the Beatles, and went to see LOVE at the casino nextdoor.

The next day, we went to see more trailers and stars coming out to talk about them. Director Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi, Looper, and his best movie — Brick) came out with Jamie Lee Curtis to talk about their whodunit Knives Out. Curtis was funny, and Johnson told a great story about how he posted online something about not being able to find Curtis’ movie True Lies on home video. The next day a package showed up on his doorstep. Curtis had sent him a DVD. He laughed and said, “Does she just have a bunch of these at her house?”

Young actress Ana de Armas was there, and Curtis was so sweet to really talk her up. She’s always so great at promoting other people. There might not be a nicer person in Hollywood. At one point, Johnson started taking pictures of the two of them together as they spoke to the crowd.

At lunch, there was a roundtable with the director of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Russo brothers that directed Avenger’s: End Game (they quickly apologized for breaking the internet with all the ticket sales), Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Dexter Fletcher (Rocketman).

Film critic and writer Elvis Mitchell was the moderator, and he always does an excellent job with these things.

When Elvis asked them the first movie they saw in theatres, he gave one of the Russo’s crap for mentioning Krull. Russo said, “Hey…I was 10-years-old.” He also mentioned seeing movies a lot with his uncle, who liked a lot of genre stuff and Star Wars was something he saw at a young age.

Olivia Wilde said, “The first movie I ever saw on a date was White Men Can’t Jump. I had so much fun and I thought…I want to do a lot of this.” As the crowd laughed she said, “Not dating, but seeing movies. Well, okay…dating too.”

Dexter said, “I was so young, I think the first movie was Convoy.”

Mitchell laughed and said “Krull…and now Convoy.”

Dexter added, “I did see a great double feature with The Jerk and Animal House. It was at this dingy theatre, but it was great.”

Elizabeth Banks said she remembered being a kid and going to drive-ins with her family in her PJs. She said, “The first movie I saw that wasn’t in a drive-in was Flashdance. And I still sing Irene Cara when I do karaoke.”

Mitchell talked about Wilde’s movie Booksmart reminding him of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Wilde said, “Yeah, that was a big influence. I love Amy Heckling. I showed the cast that movie before we started filming. That movie had a lot of great songs, and we also have a lot of needle drops.”

It was great hearing her talk about all the directors that have influenced her. Sometimes you wonder about actors that end up directing a movie or two, but when someone like her clearly has a love of film, and the great directors before her, that’s refreshing.

She was so enthusiastic talking about her movie, the editing, nailing a scene, and the energy from an ensemble cast. It made the whole crowd excited to see it.

One of the things about these lunch roundtables is, I sometimes miss things because of the food I’m stuffing in my face. So, I wasn’t sure what was asked at one point, but I  heard Banks say, “90% of it is casting. Well, I’m an actress, of course I would say that.”

She went on to talk about some quotes from the documentary Free Solo that helped prepare her for some of the editing process. At one point she said, “You can convince yourself the shot you got was perfect and you get in the editing room and say to yourself…oh no, that shot does not work at all. I can’t use it in the movie.”

After the lunch I went for a cigar in the Montecristo cigar bar, before heading back in to watch more stars promoting their movies.

We ended up in the second row, and I have to say…when Halle Berry came out to promote the latest John Wick…it wasn’t bad sitting a mere 20 feet from her. She joked about how much she loved the movies, and that in the third movie, they won’t hurt any dogs.

Director Chad Stahelski said that he was a stunt double for Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, and now he’s directing him as John Wick. Berry said she found out there was going to be a female character in this movie and contacted him about being in it. He said there wasn’t even a script he could show her, but she insisted on being in it. He then told her the training would be tough. She said it was five months of martial arts and the hardest training she’s ever done. She said, “But at least it got me in shape, and…I learned some martial arts that could really f**k somebody up.”

David Harbour (Stranger Things) came out to promote his movie Hellboy. He said, “It’s nice when your day job is working for Netflix, to be invited to this.”

The crowd of theatre owners laughed at that.

Before the awards CInemaCon was giving out, I heard a reporter ask Harbour what it was like working with Guillermo del Toro [he directed the first Hellboy, not this latest one]. Harbour got a slight smile on his face before replying, “I don’t know. I’ve never worked with him.”

That reporter probably felt embarrassed, even more so when Harbour decided to keep going, adding “Yeah, I was in The Shape of Water. I was a chair.”

The award for the breakout star of the year was going to Henry Golding, who my wife has been talking about ever since he lit up the screen in Crazy Rich Asians. Before the show, he was talking about the success of that movie and what it did for the Asian community. I told him that I felt his casting in A Simple Favor was also a nice thing for the Asian community. I said, “It’s great that you were cast as Blake Lively’s husband. It’s not like the filmmakers felt like they needed to cast a blonde actor.”

Golding then said, “Well, Paul [Feig, the director] doesn’t worry about what color someone is. He’s not worried about that. He wants the best people for the parts. I still had to go through all the hoops everyone else did. I had to screen test, and do the chemistry test, all of that.”

He also talked about John Cho in Searching, which is great, because I said the same thing in my review of that movie. It was nice that the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to make that movie about a white family that had their blonde, teenage cheerleader just disappear.

After talking to Golding, I didn’t even realize Feig was standing a few feet away. Perhaps I was just blinded by the all red suit he was wearing (which was perhaps the only thing my wife didn’t like about him). Later when he was onstage, he said, “Hey…this is a Coca-Cola themed event, so I went with the red suit.”

I sat down in a booth to find my tickets for the awards show, and noticed Jamie Lee Curtis sat down next to me. I took out my notebook and wrote “A Fish Called Wanda is one of the best comedies ever made.” I folded it up, and passed it to her. She read it, looked over, and smiled. A little bit later, I saw a reporter talking to her about the latest Halloween movie. Another reporter asked her if she had any childhood memories of Las Vegas. It was sad to hear her say, “I don’t really have any childhood memories. I do remember coming here with my husband and John Stamos. We flew out, had diner, and went to see Don Rickles. That was a fantastic evening.”

Someone asked her about what characters she’d like to play again. She responded, “I don’t sit around thinking about that. I’m at home making dinner, not thinking ‘Hmmmm…who can I play again?”

I went over and said, “I told you earlier how much I loved A Fish Called Wanda.” She smiled and said, “Oh yes, you passed me that love letter in class. I remember.”

I said, “That was a great comedy, but instead of asking about your movies, I want to know which of your husband’s (Christopher Guest) is your favorite.”

Without missing a beat she said, “Waiting for Guffman.”

Now, I love that movie, but I responded with shock.

“What?! You liked that better than Best in Show or Spinal Tap?”

She added, “Yeah. It deals with people and all of their dreams. Each of them wants this success.”

Although you could argue that same point with both Spinal Tap and Best in Show.

Curtis went into more detail about the movie, and I said, “I think you like it more because you’re an actress, and you can relate to some of those elements.”

She thought about that and said, “Perhaps that’s part of it.”

When I saw Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron come over, I was going to talk to them. My wife mentioned that it looked and sounded like Theron was sick. She was coughing a bit. I figured I wouldn’t bug them. A reporter thanked Rogen for all the pot movies he does. Rogen gave a rather serious response when he said that he probably wouldn’t be doing a lot of those movies in the future. Sensing the guy’s disappointment, he added, “Now that it’s legal to smoke it, it’s just not as funny.”

That night at the awards, Kevin Hart got the International Star of the Year. He was rather serious in his acceptance speech.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein gave a funny and moving speech, after they were given the rising star award. Feldstein talked about seeing Austin Powers when she was 3-years-old and when she was older and saw Bridesmaids, loving it. She thanked her mom for taking her to countless auditions, and the joy she had singing “I Got You Babe” on the way to them. She added, “You’ll always be the Cher to my Sonny.”

When Harbour came out to get the Action Star award, he talked about Raiders of the Lost Arc being the first movie he ever saw, saying that he often went to the movies with his grandmother, and he made her take him to see Raiders 14 times. He said, “She didn’t mind, because she liked the air conditioning.”

He said he was surprised by the career he’s had because he started out playing villains, and he thought he’d always stay a villain.

It was such a touching moment to see Octavia Spencer get onstage. Earlier in the day, I ran into Scott Mantz (Access Hollywood) and we were talking movies (I was glad to hear he liked Green Book). And when I talked to Elvis Mitchell, I found out he liked Green Book, too. I told him I couldn’t figure out why there was such a backlash and he said, “A lot of it was from people that didn’t even see the movie. It’s kind of like the protests over The Passion of the Christ. They were protesting that before the movie ever came out.”

It didn’t occur to me that that probably wasn’t the best movie to bring up, as Viggo had his little incident while Mitchell was moderating a panel with the cast.

Octavia Spencer was instrumental in getting Green Book made, and she was so emotional while trying to address the crowd. She said, “We were poor, so going to the movies was a luxury for us. It wasn’t until I got a job at a fast food place that I could go once a week, to escape.”

Another emotional moment was seeing Steve Buscemi get the Icon Award. His wife of over 30 years ago had passed away just three months ago. He said, “Icon award…did I con somebody to get this?”

He talked about his age, saying “The first movie I ever saw in the theatre was Bye Bye Birdie. How many people in this room saw that in the theatres?” He added, “All I ever wanted was to be a working actor, and I am. I’m so lucky.”

He talked about how supportive his wife was of his career, and I had to reach for a tissue.

When Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron came out, Rogen gave the Coca-Cola rep a hard time for going on and on about Coke before the awards show started. He said, “We all know about Coke. We all drink it. And those people that don’t drink it, aren’t going to start now. We didn’t need to hear you go on for an hour about it.” The crowd couldn’t stop laughing.

Theron talked about how this was the biggest honor and Rogen interrupted to say, “No. You won an actual Academy Award. These awards, I think they’re going to make us give them back; like when you’re leaving a 3D movie and you have to put the glasses back in the recycle bin.”

As we drove home, I thought about how it was odd that Sony wasn’t in attendance this year. I also wondered if I should cover the merger between Disney and Fox. Then I wondered — would people rather hear about the great desserts and how hot Halle Berry looked, or facts and figures about the money the film industry pulled in?

I also wondered if the bumper was going to make it all the way back to San Diego.

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