CINEMACON: Lionsgate Panel Focuses on Rian Johnson’s KNIVES OUT, JOHN WICK 3

I’m definitely jumping around here quite a bit, even though I have a lot more to share from this year’s CinemaCon, but the last presentation of the show was from Lionsgate, who also chose the captive audiences of exhibitors to show their new comedy Long Shot. It’s the first movie in the company’s partnership with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s production company Grey Point Entertainment. Lionsgate also showed a full scene from Chad Stahelski’s John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum and the first pseudo-trailer for Rian Johnson’s new original movie Knives Out.
But first, David Spitz, President Domestic Distribution, came out to give the usual introductions and the usual words of encouragement that the company is dedicated to the theatrical experience and also to releasing movies in different parts of the year, considering it a “52-week” business.  He then introduced Joe Drake, Chairman of the Motion Picture Group, who was quite optimistic about the future. “The sky is not falling in Hollywood,” He said. “And the feature film business is not dead. Audiences appetite for content in theaters is not diminishing – it’s actually flourishing.”
It seems like Lionsgate has been in the process of changing its path and reimagining its content strategy as a studio “where artists can thrive.” He ran through a few of the projects in development including Jay Roach’s next movie about Roger Alies, starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and written Charles Randolph (The Big Short). “All I can say about it is be prepared. It’s big and it’s going to be loud,” he said. He also mentioned Roland Emmerich war movie Midway, out Veteran’s Day, which stars Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart, Luke Evans, Mandy Moore, Nick Jonas, Dennis Quaid and Patrick Wilson as part of the cast. He also mentioned but remained secretive about Janelle Monae’s first leading role in a movie for Lionsgate and Sylvester Stallone’s finale chapter of the John Rambo series, Rambo: Last Blood.
He then spoke about being pitched the movie 20/20 by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ten years ago and going on to make other movies with them – This is the End, Blockers, Neighborsand yes, Long Shot.  Drake then announced that Lionsgate has just invested into Rogen and Goldberg’s Point Grey Entertainment as content partners, and he brought Rogen, Goldberg and their production partner James Weaver to talk about the relationship. They mostly made complimentary jokes about their long-time partner Joe Drake, and even though they were reading from a teleprompter, I’m pretty sure Rogen and Goldberg wrote all of their own jokes.

Lionsgate’s presentation glossed over next week’s Hellboy, basically having David Harbour come out to say a few words and to introduce Chad Stahelski for John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, who in turn brought out Halle Berry who thanked Lionsgate for releasing Monster’s Ball, the movie for which she won an Oscar.  She spoke about what got her interested in joining Keanu Reeves. “I was a big fan of John Wick 1and 2,” she said. “As a woman, I mean this most sincerely, it was an action movie that I felt, because of the dog, there was all this sentiment that hooked me in the beginning. It was a series that had a lot of heart for me. As I was watching, I saw some of the most amazing and bad-ass, real fight sequences, ones that I had never seen before. I then started reading what Keanu went through and all of the training, and the hours and hours of training. He was doing all of this himself. There were no stunt doubles, and then I had mad respect for Keanu. Then I learned about Chad, who was a stunt coordinator, a stunt man himself, and then he emerged into his amazing director who was behind creating this amazing series.”
“When 3 came along and my agent said ‘Chad is doing part three and there could be a part for you, maybe you should go have a conversation,” she continued, “I said, ‘Okay. I would love to meet Chad, who created John Wick.’” After getting the role, she learned how much she had to train with the 8711 crew and top martial artists to get involved in the fight sequences, a sample of which we would get to see almost right away.

The clip shown from John Wick Chapter 3  opens on a castle, which we discover later must be somewhere in the Middle East. We see Halle Berry’s character walking in to where Keanu is waiting with a dog, and John tells her, “We’re not going in like the old days. This is just a conversation,” and she responds, “Nothing is ever a conversation with you, John.” It then cut to a brief action sequence where Keanu and Halle are walking into a castle and shooting everyone in sight. A couple Dobermans follow them in and take out a few of the bad guys, and we see Wick fighting a man with a knife, and shoots him.  The dogs are pretty amazing to watch, especially the one that uses Halle’s back to leap up and reach a guy shooting at her from above. Keanu gets into a stand-off with another guy with a gun trained on him, and then a guy on the ground pulls out a gun and Wick quickly reloads and shoots him.
I’ve heard that this scene was a lot longer, almost 15 minutes of straight action with a lot of it in one take but to see that, we’ll have to see the whole movie when it comes out on May 17.
The next segment was about the new company Kingdom from Andrew & Joe Erwin and Kevin Downes, the makers of last year’s Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions hit I Can Only Imagine. There isn’t a ton to say about that other than them teasing their next movie I Still Believeabout Grammy-nominated singer Jeremy Camp, played by KJ Apa (Riverdale) with Gary Sinise playing his father, Tom Camp, before Jeremy Camp came out to sing the title song.
Camp then introduced Jamie Lee Curtis to talk about Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which might be one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I’ve been on the Rian Johnson train way back when he made Brick, and though I generally liked The Brothers Bloom and Looper better, I was excited to see him getting back to doing original work after making 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. There was still quite a bit of mystery surrounding what Knives Out is exactly, but that mystery would soon be cleared up.
But first, Jamie Lee Curtis came out wearing a striking white dress with matching white shoes and even white glasses.  “What’s up, CinemaCon? Mommy’s back!” she called out, as she had indeed been at CinemaCon a year earlier to show footage from her 2018 hit Halloween. She went through some of her biggest movie moments, including Trading Places, True Lies, A Fish Called Wanda, as well as her return to her roots in David Gordon Green’s Halloween, each movie which received applause.
She then began to talk about Knives Out, which she called a rare combination of “a script you can’t put down, written by a director and filmmaker who is at the top of his game with an international, multi-generational ensemble cast” and gave a quick tagline that it’s “a family gathering that turns bloody very quickly.” “These people put the dis in dysfunctional,” she added, suggesting that it should play well over the Thanksgiving weekend.

She then introduced Knives Out writer/director Rian Johnson and her co-star Ana de Armas, Johnson telling a story about how cool Curtis was. He had tweeted recently about how James Cameron’s True Lies wasn’t available on home entertainment, so Curtis sent him a vintage ‘90s-era DVD of it.
Johnson told the audience how he was a diehard Agatha Christie fan since he was a teenager due to her “sharply-drawn characters, suspense, twists and turns, humor.” “For me, a good whodunnit has all of those things. It’s a genre that I deeply, deeply love,” he continued. “Knives Out was my attempt to take everything I love about an Agatha Christie whodunnit, jam it into a movie with an all-star cast, give it like a Hitchcock thriller slight twist and set it in modern America. That’s kind of what the movie’s about.”
Cuban actress Ana de Armas, who some may remember from Todd Phillips’ War Dogs or Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, added, “From the first page of Rian’s script, I was totally blown away. It was really captivating, and I know it might sound like a cliché but [it] simply jumped off the page. It was really fresh and original, and I loved my character. It was really special to work with this great cast.”
Curtis gave a little more set-up for the footage, basically that it stars Daniel Craig as a detective investigating a murder and comes across a “rogue’s gallery of eccentrics,” a family played by Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer and Don Johnson, who plays Curtis’ husband with Chris Evans being their son. She called Ana the “moral compass of this cast of lunatics.” Johnson added that he had been working on the script for ten years until MRC and Lionsgate stepped up and came aboard. (He also teased that after finishing Knives Out, he will be returning to a galaxy far, far away… so that Star Wars trilogy of his seems to still be happening.)
The first-ever pseudo-trailer shown – and honestly, it could actually be the first trailer – is cut to Paul McCartney’s “Live or Let Die,” which ends up being perfect as those first piano chords come in. Daniel Craig seems to be using a Southern accent as he plays Lt. Detective Elliot, showing up at a mansion to investigate the death of a family’s patriarch with Lakeith Stanfield’s Wagner.  Apparently, the family had gathered to celebrate the man’s 85th birthday, and Elliot asks how it was. Curtis’ character answers, “The party? Pre my bad’s death? Oh, it was great.” We then meet a lot of the other characters, as he asks that everyone stay until the investigation is completed. Collette’s character asks, “Can we ask why? Has something changed?” and he responds, “No.” “No, it hasn’t changed or no, we can’t ask?” she retorts. Probably the funniest bit is Chris Evans basically telling everyone to “eat sh*t”… and yeah, that’s probably me in my family.
I’m not going to go beat by beat beyond that, because I was too busy marveling at the immediate way the trailer pulls you into what is clearly a comedic thriller in the vein of the comedy classic Clue (yes, the movie based on the board game), but also, plenty of Agatha Christie adaptations and even the late Peter Falk’s The Cheap Detective, written by Neil Simon.

After that, Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen came out to introduce the Long Shot screening. While I’m not quite allowed to review their romantic comedy directed by Jonathan Levine (20/20, The Night Before) just yet, Lionsgate obviously had a good reason to show the movie to exhibitors. While most of the presentations and footage shown and clips were meant to make each studio’s movies look absolutely amazing – even those movies that may not be – the people at Lionsgate knew they had something special, so they were smart to show the whole movie. It played just as well for the exhibitors as I assume it did at SXSW a few weeks back.
That seemed like a good way to end my CinemaCon, at least in terms of seeing stuff. There’s a lot more to come in terms of sharing what I saw.

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