LAS VEGAS - Every year the major studios present their upcoming slate to the nation's theater owners at CinemaCon (formerly ShoWest). It's commonplace for a studio head to bring out a few famous faces to drive home the point that they should get behind a particular movie or two. Tuesday morning, Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures, had only one movie star waiting in the wings and it was a big one: Angelina Jolie.
LAS VEGAS - 2013 was the biggest year at the box office for Universal Pictures. They had surprise hits like "The Purge," the studio's highest grossing individual movie ever with "Despicable Me 2," and "Fast and Furious 6" opened to a staggering $97.3 million. The year also ended on a sad note, however, with the unexpected passing of "Fast and Furious" star Paul Walker during a production break from the seventh installment of the franchise.
LAS VEGAS - Universal Pictures ended its presentation to the world's theater owners at the 2014 CinemaCon convention Tuesday morning with an expected "surprise": the first footage from "50 Shades of Grey."
Fans of Veronica Roth's "Divergent" finally got to see their favorite novel come to life on the big screen this weekend as the Neil Burger movie opened to a massive $54.6 million at the box office. That's the second biggest opening of the year after "The Lego Movie" and the film's "A" Cinemascore grade proves that Summit Entertainment has a potent new franchise on their hands. Of course, while the HitFix crew enjoyed "Divergent" more than a majority of nation's critics, the movie has its pros and cons.
HOLLYWOOD - It may have been a PaleyFest for ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," but there was a ton of Captain America swag being worn in the Dolby Theater Sunday afternoon. That was actually quite appropriate considering how much the events in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," opening April 4, affect "MAoS." The television show has done its best to tie into the larger Marvel cinematic universe with one episode focusing on the repercussion of "Thor: The Dark World" in November, a very impressive guest appearance by Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) earlier this month and a cameo by none other than Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in October. Things will become even more interesting after what transpires in Marvel's latest big screen effort.
There have been rumors that 20th Century Fox and director Josh Trank might not be on the same page for the studio's new "Fantastic Four" flick, but it's clear someone will be helming the reboot. "Fantastic Four" is scheduled for release on June 15, 2015. Tonight, Fox dated "Fantastic Four 2" for July 14, 2017. So, yes, it's happening.
Dom Hemingway just got out of jail. Dom wants what he's owed. That may turn out to be a tall order.
Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, is back and, trust us, Scarlett Johansson isn't complaining about it. The 29-year-old ingenue is playing the super spy with a dark past for the third time and in the third different franchise in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Johansson actually has another movie opening on April 4 (although in limited release), Jonathan Glazer's acclaimed mini-masterpiece "Under the Skin" The two movies could no be more different from each other if you tried. "Winter Soldier" is a superhero thriller with political undertones to modern day concerns over the NSA. "Skin," on the other hand, is one of the most daring art films to challenge audiences this century.
Asked if she considers movies like "Skin" (and to a lesser extent "Her") a break from big studio productions, Johansson insists her work in the Marvel universe isn't that different from an art house indie.
"I have the good fortune of in this Marvel Universe of working with actors I've always admired and actors I've known for a along time," Johansson says. "Sam Jackson this is our fourth film together. Chris Evans this is also our fourth film together. I've known Chris for over 10 years. Rob Redford I worked together when I was 12 on 'The Horse Whisperer.' And it's funny, Sebastian and I were on Broadway at the same time. In some ways, these Marvel movies feel huge, it's not that different from making a smaller more intimate film."
"Skin" (which was no. 2 on my top 10 of 2013 following its Telluride Film Festival premiere) finds Johansson as an alien construct who starts to emotionally connect with the humans she's hunting and harvesting. The character is far from the now snarky Avenger The Black Widow (it's been a growing personality trait for Natasha). Instead, "Skin" finds the actress delivering an almost completely silent performance unlike anything she's ever even attempted before.
"That experience was absolutely out of this world and really wild and really unique," Johansson says of "Skin." "It will always be with me because it was also such as stretch for me. I pushed myself into all sorts of discomfort. But, [with the Black Widow] you want to up the ante with each one of these installments so you're not tired to watch and you're not just phoning it in and the character continues to be interesting and enigmatic."
In "Winter Soldier," Romanoff teams up with Steve Rogers, aka the Star-Spangled Super Soldier (Evans), to try and stop S.H.I.E.L.D [REDACTED] from launching a satellite system that will kill anyone it believes could be a threat based on a computer's analysis personal information. At one point in the story, Romanoff has to decide if she can live with fighting for the greater good even if it means details of her clandestine and killer past will be revealed in public. So, no, the only female Avenger (currently) doesn't get off easy. It goes without saying that Marvel has secret plans for many of its characters, but Johansson said the idea for Widow to star in the sequel to "Captain America: The First Avenger" didn't come about until she was doing promotion for "The Avengers" two years ago.
"[Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige and I] just talked a lot about it and what would bring these two characters together. They seem to be on opposite ends of the moral spectrum. We just don't want to bring these characters together [just] because we can," Johansson reveals. "What is their working relationship like? What do they bring out of one another? we realized they are kind of similar. Unexpectedly these two characters are a lot more like each other than the other Avengers, probably besides Hawkeye. Even though Hawkeye and Widow have this great past. They are similar are the surface, but different types of people. [On the other hand,] Cap and Widow are both really reluctant superheroes. They got in this game without a choice. They also ave this hunger to discover the truth. They may be part of the lie and Widow may be more willing to be part of that than Cap, but at the same time they don't want to be lied to."
Johansson ends with the intriguing thought that, "It's interesting to see these two characters that put up these walls. Once you start chipping away at them that they actually have something in common."
For more on Johansson's opinions of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Under the Skin" watch the embedded video at the top of this post.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opens nationwide and in IMAX on April 4. "Under the Skin" opens in limited release on April 4.
The Hollywood machine isn't the studio-based system that it was in the mid-20th Century. An almost conspiratorial corporate entity that would spend years cultivating and curating movie stars. But, to some extent, it still exists in 2014. Through publicists, agents and even studios, the industry still tries to "create" new stars. And, for better or worse (depending how you see it), it's mostly male actors that get this treatment today (although any leading lady in a Michael Bay film may qualify outside of Scarlett Johansson). Some happen almost by accident (Robert Pattinson), some have delayed debuts (Chris Hemsworth), many aren't worthy of the hype (Alex Pettyfer) and a few may take decades before they are deliver on their potential (Matthew McConaughey). Next weekend the big screen adaptation of "Divergent" is hitting theaters and, all of a sudden, people are going to start talking about Theo James.
Yes, Chris Evans has a full beard. No, super fans, it's not for "Avengers: Age of Ultron."