Hollywood celebrities

[Only IN Hollywood] Surviving Vegas with Keanu Reeves, Robert De Niro…and Jo Koy

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Surviving Vegas with Keanu Reeves, Robert De Niro…and Jo Koy
Jo Koy shares that no less than Steven Spielberg saw his 'Comin’ in Hot special' and encouraged him to pitch his story. And that’s how the film 'Easter Sunday' came about.

LOS ANGELES, USA – Keanu Reeves was there. And so were Robert De Niro, Helen Mirren, Dwayne Johnson, and Viola Davis. But who brought the house down? Jo Koy.

The Filipino-American comedian, promoting his film Easter Sunday, broke the seeming homogeneity at the recent CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Nevada. CinemaCon is an annual movie theater industry trade convention where Hollywood studios trot out their coming films – and stars – in front of theater owners, film distributors, and media folks.

CINEMACON. For four days, columnist Ruben V. Nepales stayed in the Colosseum of Caesars Palace, CinemaCon’s usual venue, subsisting on popcorn and bottled water, and sat through screenings. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

For four days, we stayed in the Colosseum of Caesars Palace, CinemaCon’s usual venue, subsisting on popcorn and bottled water, and sat through screenings, many of them “first look” footage of movies, usually introduced by the stars, and listened to studio executives proclaiming that, after the pandemic which shuttered cineplexes, “we are back!”

The execs also hammered about “the magic of movies.” The best quip about this repetition came from an exec herself – Universal’s big boss – Donna Langley, who dished, “I’m sure there’s a drinking game tied to when a studio executive gets onstage and says, ‘The magic of movies.’”

Dead on. If the bottles of water we picked up morning and afternoon at the lobby on the way inside the Colosseum contained whiskey instead, we would have all been drunk from constantly toasting “the magic of movies.”

Into this parade of Hollywood folks reading their spiels from a teleprompter walked Jo Koy, and right away, he got the huge audience’s attention and made them roar with laughter. I certainly perked up, sat straight, and laughed.

Wearing pants that appeared too short for him, the Fil-Am, 50, cracked that they belonged to his son, 18, because he wanted to look hip. “But I don’t have my son’s balls. I have 50-year-old balls.”

In between wisecracks in his short time on stage, Jo Koy shared that no less than Steven Spielberg saw his Comin’ in Hot special and encouraged him to pitch his story. And that’s how Easter Sunday came about.

JO KOY. On display at CinemaCon, the poster of Jo Koy’s “Easter Sunday,” which DreamWorks described as a “love letter to his Filipino-American community.” Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

If you have been living under a rock and somehow haven’t seen Jo Koy in his live shows or TV specials, the dude is funny, especially when he recounts growing up with his Filipina mom, who calls him “Josep.”

The crowd of movie theater owners, managers and staff, Hollywood execs, and journalists in the Colosseum lapped up his jokes.

Then Jo Koy showed the trailer of Easter Sunday, which DreamWorks described in its synopsis as a “love letter to his Filipino-American community.” But before he exited the stage, Jo Koy made sure to stress that a film about a “riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family” is universal.

When the lights dimmed, it certainly felt good to see the Colosseum’s big screen populated by familiar, friendly faces, for a change – Rodney To (delivering a line in a Filipino accent), Melody Butiu, and Tia Carrere.

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and written by Ken Cheng, Easter Sunday also stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Eva Noblezada, Eugene Cordero, Lydia Gaston, Tiffany Haddish, Brandon Wardell, Carly Pope, Elena Juatco, Joey Guila, Jimmy O. Yang, Michael Weaver, and Enid-Raye Adams.

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Fortunately, it wasn’t all trailers, extended first looks, or the first 30 minutes of coming movies. We were actually treated to two movies.

Finally, after a two-year delay due to the pandemic, Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick was screened for the first time ever to the CinemaCon audience. I’ve blabbered enough on social media about what an entertaining, perfect summer movie Maverick is.

Director Joseph Kosinski drew engaging performances from Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly. These two leads are aging gracefully, crow’s feet and lines so becoming on their faces. I hope they don’t ever resort to cosmetic surgery.

I am also happy that the gifted Miles Teller is back in a big way in this film. And Val Kilmer, who battled throat cancer, has an unforgettable cameo scene with Tom.

My only quibble with Maverick? Going inside the Colosseum one early morning, I was extra excited because the very talented Fil-Am actor Manny Jacinto (he was good in The Good Place) is listed in the top cast. Sadly, Manny can only be seen in the background and does not have a single line.

Surely, he must have had speaking lines, but did those scenes end up on the cutting room floor, in the interest of tightening the film? Anyway, I have high hopes for Manny in his next film, Nicole Dorsey’s thriller, Balestra.

The other movie was from the new master of horror, producer Jason Blum, who presented director Scott Derrickson’s gripping The Black Phone. Ethan Hawke and Mason Thames star in the thrilling tale about a boy, abducted by a killer and trapped in a basement, who discovers a disconnected phone through which he can hear the voices of previous victims.

The following are the highlights (for me, at least) from the studio presentations:

Sony Pictures

Nothing excited the film geek in me more than the first 15 minutes of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the first of the two-part sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I loved. While it was still a very rough, unfinished footage, the first look promised a very interesting storyline, with a returning voice cast led by Shameik Moore (Miles Morales), Fil-Am Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen), and Oscar Isaac (Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099).

The screenwriters Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were playful throughout their presentation, announced that they were also already at work on the other sequel, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.

The duo also revealed that they have increased the number of people working on the sequels from 800 in the original to 1,000, and they have raised the number of characters from 40 to 240.

Plus, the sequels now happen in six universes, “so far.” The pair, referring to how much this may increase the films’ production budget for Sony, jokingly mentioned the studio’s boss several times in their presentation, “Don’t tell Tom Rothman.”

Another exciting presentation was the showing of 10 minutes of David Leitch’s Bullet Train, a screen adaptation of Kotaro Isaka’s novel, originally titled Maria Beetle. Based on the footage, this train speeding from Tokyo to Kyoto is crawling with assassins – American, British, Japanese, Mexican – led by Brad Pitt.

Bad Bunny, introduced in this film, was announced as El Muerto, the first Latino actor to top bill a Marvel live-action movie.

Viola Davis, who received the inaugural Trailblazer Award, whetted the audience’s appetite for her The Woman King, described by Sony exec Nicole Brown as “a real-world Black Panther,” pitched by the actress to her as the true story of “all-female badass warriors.”

Neon

“I don’t like what’s happening with my body so I keep cutting it up.” That line, spoken by Viggo Mortensen in the trailer of Crimes of the Future that was shown to us, is enough to give you an idea of David Cronenberg’s drama/horror/sci-fi.

Set in the future when synthetic rules, Crimes of the Future also stars Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux. David, appearing in person (he was in Vegas for the first time), wittily deadpanned that Caesar’s Palace “seems an appropriate place to launch our attack on the world with Crimes of the Future.”

Neon also made a big hoopla of Brett Morgen’s Moonage Daydream by showing exclusive footage from the documentary, which is the first film authorized by the David Bowie estate. Rarely seen concert and performance reels of the late rock star made me hum Bowie’s “Heroes” in my mind.

Warner Bros.

A bit of real-life drama unfolded when actress-director Olivia Wilde was presenting her second feature directing work, Don’t Worry Darling. Suddenly, a manila envelope was slipped on the edge of the stage to Olivia by an unidentified woman.

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Wilde picked up the envelope and asked, “Is this for me?” After commenting on how “very mysterious” it was, she added, “I am going to open it now because it feels timely. Is this a script?”

She opened the envelope, briefly read the top page and said, “Thank you.”

At first, I also thought it was a script. Actors and directors are often handed unsolicited scripts by aspiring screenwriters. Mark Wahlberg reportedly got handed a script while exchanging “Peace be with you” during a mass.

The following day, I read that those were custody papers from Olivia’s ex-boyfriend, actor Jason Sudeikis, with whom she has two children. It was bizarre and certainly shameful on his legal team’s part to serve custody documents while she was onstage.

To Olivia’s credit, she kept her composure and continued her presentation in her usual articulate manner. Guess who clapped loudest when Olivia mentioned her cinematographer, Fil-Am Matthew “Matty” Libatique? She and Matty have become friends and were photographed in Vogue’s feature on her.

Olivia, who earned praise in her feature directing debut, Booksmart, showed the trailer of Don’t Worry Darling, a thriller that stars her, Harry Styles (her current beau), Florence Pugh, Gemma Chan and Chris Pine.

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Other highlights from WB’s afternoon: Baz Luhrmann and his Elvis star, Austin Butler, were on hand to present their biopic of the music icon, which looks visually sumptuous, in the lush style of the Australian filmmaker. Tom Hanks (Colonel Tom Parker) and Olivia DeJonge (Priscilla Presley) co-star.

Timothee Chalamet looks winsome in the titular Wonka role in exclusive first look footage. Ezra Miller, in the headlines lately for being arrested twice for charges of assault, disorderly conduct, and harassment in Hawaii, appeared onscreen as The Flash, but it was the sight of Michael Keaton as Batman that drew cheers from the audience.

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At first, Dwayne Johnson appeared on the screen, a beach in the background, expressing regrets that he could not come because he was on a vacay in Hawaii with family. Then, saying “F*** this,” The Rock emerged in person in the Colosseum.

Ever the tireless promoter, in this case of two movies, Black Adam and the animated DC League of Super Pets, he worked the crowd on his way to the stage, shaking the hands of the CinemaCon delegates.

James Wan came onstage to present two films, as the director of Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom (his star, Jason Momoa, appeared sans shirt via video) and as the producer of the horror flick, Salem’s Lot.

And, oh yes, The Batman 2 is happening with Robert Pattinson and director Matt Reeves back on board.

Disney

We all donned 3D glasses to watch the stunning first trailer of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, which will show on December 16. James appeared via video because he was in New Zealand, working on The Way of Water and the three other announced Avatar sequels.

Watching the first 30 minutes of Pixar’s Lightyear made me want to see the rest of the film, which will not be in theaters until June 17. Chris Evans is the voice of Lightyear in the origin story of the toy. This early, I predict that one of the hottest toys in Christmas this year will be a robot cat in the film named Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn).

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David O. Russell’s Amsterdam has the look and pedigree of an award season contender with Christian Bale (looking like he lost weight again for this role), Margot Robbie, and John David Washington.

Universal

The aforementioned Easter Sunday was among Universal’s offerings in its afternoon presentation. The studio’s line-up included Jordan Peele’s Nope; the final installment of Halloween after “44 f***ing years,” in the words of the franchise’s star, Jamie Lee Curtis; Minions: The Rise of Gru, with those yellow characters speaking again in what sounded to be some Tagalog words; Jurassic World: Dominion; and George Clooney and Julia Roberts’ Ticket to Paradise.

Paramount

Leave it to Tom Cruise to make an impression even though he was not physically present at this year’s CinemaCon. In a spectacular stunt, the star appeared in a video, standing up from his seat in a red biplane flying above South Africa where he was filming Mission: Impossible 7.

On cue, a yellow biplane flew close by, with director Christopher McQuarrie telling his star that it was time to go and shoot their next scene for the Mission sequel. Then the trailer of the latest Mission installment was shown.

But what also looked spectacular was footage of Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, a drama set in old Hollywood, specifically when it was shifting from the silents to the talkies. Brad Pitt, Olivia Wilde, Margot Robbie, and Tobey Maguire star.

Lionsgate

The studio presentations ended on a high note with Keanu Reeves, in his trademark all-black ensemble, walking in to push John Wick: Chapter Four.

Even Helen Mirren showed up to tout two disparate projects, White Bird: A Wonder Story and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (the latter is for WB).

Lionsgate also unveiled The Hunger Games prequel, titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, set to open in November next year.

Sebastian Maniscalco introduced his movie, About My Father, loosely inspired by his life, where no less than Robert De Niro plays his Italian immigrant dad.

The comedian quipped, “I cannot believe that Robert De Niro is playing my father in this movie. It kind of hurt my feelings when my dad suggested that Leonardo DiCaprio play me, but it’s my movie so he’s going to have to deal with it.”

We got a break from the Colosseum when Paramount hosted a luncheon featuring a panel discussion, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s senior editor, Rebecca Keegan, with several Top Gun: Maverick key figures: actor Glen Powell, director Joseph Kosinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and Brian Robbins, Paramount’s CEO.

Jerry talked about how Tom Cruise insisted on bringing back Val Kilmer, who lost his voice when he struggled with throat cancer, as Iceman in the movie. Val’s cameo scene with Cruise is a poignant moment.

“That was always the design, storytelling-wise,” Jerry said. “It’s the story that Tom wanted to tell. Val felt comfortable doing it. It was very emotional filming it. We knew Val from the very beginning. He was a very young actor.”

“And to see him today and see that he is still working at acting, he’s got this great spirit, and is so helpful, and was just terrific during filming. Obviously, he’s compromised but he’s still an amazing actor and individual.”

“Tom was so thrilled to bring him back. Tom actually said, ‘I’m not making this movie unless Val’s in it.’ So that was really gracious of Tom.”

On CinemaCon’s last night, we trudged back to the Colosseum one last time for the 2022 Big Screen Achievement Awards. Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier hosted the show, which handed the inaugural Cinema Verité award to De Niro.

DE NIRO. Cinema Verité awardee Robert De Niro:  “I wish Cinema Verité was also having a renaissance but this is a tough time for verité, the truth.” Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

The legendary actor began his acceptance speech by joking in front of the movie distributors and theater owners: “I’m not so sure we need movie theaters anymore. I mean, really, who cares about big screens? I’m just f***ng with you.”

“But the older I get, the better I look on screens the size of a postage stamp. It takes years off my life. So, I’m happy about that. Unfortunately, it also diminishes the drama, weakens the comedy, and ruins the experience. Okay. It’s a bad idea.”

Turning serious, Robert said, “For me, the joy of movies is tied to the big screen and the communal experience. I remember so many outings to these grand movie theaters, all over New York City – Loew’s, Capitol, Roxy, Radio City Music Hall, often for a double feature.”

“I’m very grateful for the Cinema Verité award. New films are coming out. Popcorn is popping and audiences are returning to your theaters in droves. I wish Cinema Verité was also having a renaissance but this is a tough time for verité, the truth.”

“We’re living in a time of big untruths. Like Ukraine doesn’t exist except as a part of Russia. Like Trump won the 2020 election. And these big lies animate hundreds of thousands of smaller lies.”

Male Star of Tomorrow awardee Glen Powell quipped, “This is very cool. It’s even cooler because they were going to give me this award two years ago, and then there was a pandemic.”

“And then I asked, ‘Can I at least have the statue?’ They said, ‘No.’ So technically, I was the Male Star of Tomorrow two years ago which makes me the Male Star of Yesterday. But today I’m tomorrow again.”

GLEN. Male Star of Tomorrow awardee Glen Powell: “Technically, I was the Male Star of Tomorrow two years ago, which makes me the Male Star of Yesterday.” Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Cinema Star of the Year awardee Zoe Saldana recounted her childhood spent with her family inside moviehouses: “Sometimes we were only able to save enough money for our movie tickets, unfortunately. There would be no popcorn on those days. So, my mother would pack us lunch and dinner in each of our backpacks for when we got hungry.”

ZOE. Cinema Star of the Year awardee Zoe Saldana told the audience about her childhood spent with her family inside moviehouses. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

“Because she knew that every time you went to the movie theater, it was an all-day thing. We were like those folks sitting in the movie, opening Tupperware quietly so as not to disturb anybody.”

“I swear to God, we were the kids that always smelled like sofrito in the movie theater. I discovered my passion for storytelling because of those memories of us going to the movies.”

CinemaCon Vanguard awardee Rachel McAdams said, “When I was a little girl in a small town in Canada, there was absolutely nothing fancier and nothing better, nothing that made me happier, than going to the cinema.”

RACHEL. CinemaCon Vanguard awardee Rachel McAdams: “How much have I missed going to the movies these last couple of years?” Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

“And holy shitballs, how much have I missed going to the movies these last couple of years? I had no idea until I finally went again last weekend for the first time in a very long time to see a Nicolas Cage movie (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent) in a suburban strip mall in the middle of nowhere, Georgia.”

“And maybe it wasn’t fancy pants but by God, it was cinema. Nick Cage knows what I’m talking about, wherever he is.”

Rising Star of 2022 Abby Ryder Fortson echoed the sentiments about filmgoing: “I am so thankful that theaters are able to reopen as they are such an integral part of cinema. Movies have been such an important part of my life so far. Growing up with Friday movie night and going to the theaters all around LA.”

BILLY. Comedy Star of the Year awardee Billy Eichner on how long the event was: “This was long. I was straight when CinemaCon started.” Photo by Ruben V. Nepales.

Comedy Star of the Year awardee Billy Eichner, who is openly gay, had the best parting shot when he thanked the audience for staying till the end and surviving four days inside the Colosseum: “This was long. I was straight when CinemaCon started.” – Rappler.com

Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.