Day 3 of Cinemacon 2019 begins with a presentation by Universal Pictures. Last year’s slate of films provided an even amount of hits and misses. Notable blockbusters were Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Breaking In, Skyscraper, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, First Man, Halloween, Oscar winner Green Book, and The Grinch. Other divisions under the Universal umbrella include Illumination and Focus Features. Focus Features had remarkable standouts such as BlacKkKlansman, Boy Erased, Mary Queen of Scots, On the Basis of Sex, and the incredibly popular Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. They also partner with Blumhouse, Dreamworks, Legendary, and Amblin for production and/or distribution. There wasn’t a Fast and Furious film in 2018 to further boost their numbers, but that changes this year with the release of Hobbs & Shaw. The start of 2019 saw huge success with films such as Glass and How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Presented by the chairman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Donna Langley, here is a brief rundown of Universal’s 2019 lineup.

The Secret Life Of Pets 2

The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a sequel to the 2016 animated feature. Returning actor Kevin Hart appeared alongside newcomer Tiffany Haddish. They were accompanied by their animal counterparts. A real life rabbit, which Hart struggled to control, and a Shih Tzu, a dog that seemed at home on stage. After some funny banter, we were shown a longer trailer than what was shown in theaters for the last month or so. The original trailer focused mostly on Max and Duke visiting a farm and meeting a new dog voiced by Harrison Ford. This newest trailer showed scenes of Max, with the help of friends, trying to locate the boy who plays with him. The usual mayhem that transpires from all these animals, who engage in activities no normal pets would ever do, is paired with the more mundane habits we appreciate or tolerate about them. The Secret Life of Pets 2 arrives in theaters June 7th, 2019.

universal presentation cinemacon 2019

A Dog’s Journey

Continuing the tradition of canine dominance in cinema is A Dog’s Journey, starring Dennis Quaid and directed by Gail Mancuso. Dennis appeared on stage with a dog named Peaches, a boxer if I’m not mistaken, and had hoped he would perform a trick. As with any trained actor, sometimes it’s just not their day. He was also accompanied by Mancuso, who was thrilled to introduce the sequel to the A Dog’s Purpose franchise, based on the popular novels. A Dog’s Journey picks up after the first film with Bailey, voiced by Josh Gad, living on Ethan’s farm. Ethan’s granddaughter CJ befriends Bailey before eventually moving away. Time passes and Bailey is soon reincarnated as a new dog with all his old memories intact. It’s hinted that Ethan might be aware of this at some point. With each new life, Bailey is able to guide CJ through her triumphs and misfortunes. Allowing her to properly navigate the stresses and challenges of growing up. It’s a new tale of discovery with what I’m sure will be a tear-filled ending. A Dog’s Journey comes out May 17th, 2019.

universal presntation cinemacon 2019

MA

Jason Blum, CEO of Blumhouse Productions, was on hand to introduce a rather unorthodox project for Octavia Spencer. A horror film named Ma, directed by Tate Taylor. Both Spencer and Taylor were in attendance. Tate Taylor previously worked with Spencer on the Help and it was also mentioned that they were once roommates for seven years. Octavia Spencer stated that this movie is a message on the effects of bullying and where it can lead. Ma is the nickname of Spencer’s character, a woman who lives alone and minds her own business. When a group of teenagers persuade her to buy alcohol for them, she reluctantly agrees and even offers them a safe place to drink in her basement. She even lets them return whenever they like. What seems like an underage kid’s ideal scenario for getting wasted and avoiding consequences turns into a dark and twisted tale of paranoia concocted by a devious woman with ulterior motives. I for one cannot wait to see how this all unfolds. Ma finds her way into theaters May 31st, 2019.

universal presentation cinemacon 2019

LITTLE

Will Packer of Will Packer Productions was pleased to introduce the ladies of the film Little. Those women are Regina Hall, Marsai Martin, and Issa Rae. Marsai Martin is the youngest producer in Hollywood and pitched the idea for this film when she was ten years old. Directed by Tina Gordon, Little is a comedy about a ruthless, vicious, and unapologetic boss named Jordan Sanders, played by Regina Hall. When Jordan crosses paths with a young girl, that girl makes a wish for Jordan to know what it feels like to be small. Jordan wakes up in the body of a young lady(Marsai Martin). Only her assistant April(Issa Rae) knows the truth and until Jordan can sort this mess out, Issa has to keep the company running. Jordan on the other hand has to navigate the perils of life as a child. One of them being the reintroduction of school. It’s a movie that can get too silly right away, but there is noticeable charm in the trailer and it makes me think this one will resonate with a wide audience. Little is marching her way into theaters April 12th, 2019.

Yesterday

Danny Boyle was excited to announce his next project, which involves a fair amount of Beatles music. Yesterday tells the story of Jack, a down-on-his-luck musician in England who is hospitalized after a bus crash during a worldwide blackout. When he comes to, he discovers that no one remembers or has even heard of The Beatles. He is the only person on the planet who not only knows their songs by heart, but can also play them beautifully. Whether by a strange twist of fate or cruel cosmic joke, Jack is now tasked with the responsibility of reintroducing some of the most important music of our time to the masses. It leads to a meteoric rise in stardom and that obviously comes with its own perils and pitfalls. The trailer has a great mix of humor and emotion. It also stars Lily James and Kate McKinnon. Boyle said they the entire country for a man who could do the character Jack as well as the music justice and stumbled upon Himesh Patel. Following the trailer we were graciously rewarded with a live performance of the song Yesterday by Himesh himself. If his passion on stage is any indication, this will be a very special time at the movies. Yesterday looks as though it will be here to stay when it arrives in theaters June 28th, 2019.

universal presentation cinemacon 2019

Good Boys

Producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen were on hand to introduce this insanely hilarious film. Judging by the trailer they introduced, Good Boys is both offensive and brilliant. The three stars of the movie, Jacob Tremblay, Keith Williams, and Brady Noon, lamented on stage their inability to see the film in its entirety due to the content and R-rated subject matter. As a joke Seth Rogen even provided them with blindfolds and noise-cancelling headphones to protect their innocence before the trailer started. He was kidding that they had to wear them, but seriously this movie is not for kids. Unless you want your kids to learn about new sex toys. Good Boys is about three young, profane-laden kids who get caught up in one misadventure after another. Each scene is an example in how inept they are at navigating adult situations. Fortunately the humor lies in their confidence and flawed sense of ingenuity. With a strong supporting cast, this really feels like a successor to Superbad. Just with much younger kids. Directed by Gene Stupnitsky, Good Boys finds their way into theaters August 16th, 2019.

Abominable

Abominable is an animated film from Dreamworks. Written by Jill Culton and co-directed with Todd Wilderman, this story is about a girl named Yi who discovers a yeti living near her home. When she learns that his home is Mt. Everest, she sets out on a journey to get him there. Meanwhile a nefarious man with numerous resources is also interested in this elusive creature and will do what it takes to capture him, but this yeti has a few secrets that could help them evade their enemies and get them to Tibet safely. The directors were there to show their enthusiasm for the film. Before seeing the trailer, I wasn’t interested at all. Animated films can by design be targeted to a younger demographic than myself. Once I was able to see footage and get an idea of the story, I warmed up to the premise of a girl and her yeti. It’s a tried and true formula that appeals to me. I certainly feel families will have a ball with it. Abominable makes his debut in theaters September 27th, 2019.

Downton Abbey

What can be said about this widely acclaimed and popular tv show? Nothing apparently because the newest trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation offered no incite whatsoever. Which isn’t a slight on the quality of the film. Not at all. There was no personal introduction from anyone involved in the production so we were only left to ponder its merit based on the trailer alone. I saw a lot of familiar actors and actresses in beautiful clothes, such as Maggie Smith and Imelda Staunton. The house is called Downton Abbey and it is the fall of 1927. The abbey has been bestowed with the honor of hosting the King and Queen of England. The family and staff are simply beaming with excitement. A man I didn’t know was asked to return to Downton Abbey to assist in preparations. He seemed proud to be at their service. I was not impressed with the trailer, as it possessed no story, and I don’t think the trailer wanted me to be. It wants to excite the Downton Abbey fans who are already invested and going to watch this no matter what. An unfortunate choice in the marketing as this could have been my gateway towards watching the show. At any rate I hope loyal audiences are rewarded for their dedication. Downton Abbey is due to arrive in theaters September 20th, 2019.

Last Christmas

Director Paul Feig appeared with Henry Golding and Emma Thompson. Emma Thompson was tasked some years ago with writing a script based on the song Last Christmas. A song she admitted she hated. After contemplating the meaning of the lyrics, she produced a script that Paul Feig dropped everything for. Henry Golding mentioned in the STX presentation getting this part and shooting both it and Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen at the same time in London. A fun range of characters to sink his teeth into. Last Christmas is about a girl(Emilia Clarke) who works at a year-round Christmas shop in London. When she meets Henry Golding, a sudden relationship transpires. It doesn’t get much deeper than that, but I’m sure a story like this wouldn’t be that simple if it were directed by the guy who did A Simple Favor. Also Emma Thompson is as terrific a writer as she is an actress. Still I would choose her acting over anything else if it meant I get to see more of her brilliantly nuanced performances. Last Christmas will be a holiday treat when it arrives in theaters November 15th, 2019.

Queen & Slim

Writer Lena Waithe introduced Queen & Slim with the help of its title actors Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya. The trailer they provided showed a story about a couple that are pulled over by a police officer. An unexpected turn leads to a series of circumstances that takes them down a dangerous path. I didn’t quite get what happens to this couple, but I fully embraced their determination to see each other through it. Race is a part of life that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Not as long as intolerance perseveres. Lena Waithe has written a challenging script that will encourage conversation and hopefully convey the experience of being black in this society to a wide audience. Queen & Slim hits theaters November 27th, 2019.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Director David Leitch had all kinds of good things to say about his latest film, but the real draw for the audience was Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. The room exploded with applause and audible adulation. Dwayne was happy that his heritage is finally being represented in this spinoff film. Both him and Statham are electric together and that is no less evident than in the extended trailer they showed us. Idris Elba is the big baddie this time, with some form of superhuman ability. Luke Hobbs(Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw(Jason Statham) are tasked with working together in order to track down and capture Idris Elba’s character Brixton. They also get assistance from Hattie Shaw(Vanessa Kirby), Deckard’s sister, and many of Hobbs’ friends on the island where he was born and raised. The action sequences are heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing, and over-the-top for good measure. I don’t follow the Fast & Furious franchise as much as most do, but I thought the trailer looked fun and the chemistry between these two stars is genuinely strong on and off screen. Hobbs & Shaw will be wrecking shop in theaters on August 2nd, 2019.

The last two films that were briefly mentioned were 1917, a Sam Mendes picture set during World War I, and Cats, an adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical. The latter came with behind the scenes footage, showcasing the singing talent of Jennifer Hudson and giving us brief interviews with singer Taylor Swift and actors Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, and many others. We also got to see much of the set design; which is composed of mainly over-sized furniture, so as to emphasize the view from a cat’s perspective. I’ve never seen the musical, but I have heard the music and it is beautiful. It seemed only appropriate to end the Universal presentation with a live performance of Jennifer Hudson singing Memory by Andrew Lloyd Webber. She wore a striking white dress and was accompanied by a pianist. Hudson was phenomenal and brought everyone to their feet; and not just because we were all leaving anyway. I’m not eager to see this movie, but I am eager to hear her sing again when Cats strolls into theaters December 20th, 2019.