Paramount is back! At least that was the message studio chief Brad Grey tried to convey Thursday night at a slate preview for members of the media at Viacom’s corporate headquarters in New York. It was a night that boasted sneak peeks at upcoming releases such as Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” and Robert Zemeckis’ “Allied” — films that are likely to factor into this year’s Oscar race.
The presentation came after a punishing period for the film studio. Not only has Paramount suffered through a string of flops such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Zoolander 2,” and “Ben-Hur,” but it has also become entangled in a bitter feud for control of its parent company, Viacom. That fight, between the Redstone family and former Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman, may have unfolded in a series of legal battles, but it sent shockwaves across the company’s various divisions. It ended last month with Dauman’s ouster. Now, the Redstones and the Viacom board are moving forward with a plan to merge the company with CBS, another media company that the family controls.
“I know our company has been in the news quite a bit recently and not for the movies,” Grey said, shortly before the footage rolled. “But I am excited for the changes being made here at Viacom, and I am really excited for what they mean for the next chapter of Paramount.”
It may be too early to declare a revival underway at Paramount. The problems the studio faces are deep and the competition in the movie space is fierce. However, the upcoming releases did look promising. “Allied,” a World War II spy thriller with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, had a glossy, erotic glow. The presentation included a scene between Pitt and Cotillard, who play husband and wife spies who may be double-crossing each other, that crackled with tension.
In his opening remarks, Grey said “Silence,” a look at monks in feudal Japan, was “seminal Scorsese.” The director is still toiling away in the editing room, but the footage screened on Thursday had a hallucinatory quality. There were shots of a gaunt Liam Neeson dropping to his knees in prayer, images of Japanese men being hung on crosses, and cloud-flecked vistas of stunning mountainous countryside. It’s a film, Grey said, that Scorsese has been trying to make for 28 years.
“Fences” included a powerful monologue delivered by a drunk Washington, in which he relays a fight with his father that caused him to strike out on his own. The picture is expected to compete in several Oscar categories, including for Washington’s acting and directing, as well as Viola Davis’ supporting turn as his long-suffering wife.
But the evening wasn’t just about Oscar bait. There was also a first-ever look at “The Ghost in the Shell,” an anime adaptation featuring Scarlett Johansson as a cyborg policewoman, who shoots up criminal gatherings while wearing a skintight jumpsuit. The footage featured kinetic action sequences with Johansson in full-“Lucy” mode, mowing down armies of bad guys.
There was also a look at “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” complete with Vin Diesel skating on the side of a bus.
The Paramount presentation closed with a rapid series of clips of upcoming titles such as Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” with Jennifer Lawrence, Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” with Matt Damon, and George Clooney’s “Suburbicon.” Paramount, it seems, is betting on filmmakers to push it out of its recent doldrums.