Tuesday, April 12, 2016

First reactions to 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' at Cinema Con - 12 April 2016

The Wrap

Sony Motion Picture Chairman Tom Rothman unveils powerful glimpse at Ang Lee‘s next film

Sony Pictures offered up a first look at Ang Lee‘s anticipated “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” on Tuesday night, on the convention floor of CinemaCon 2016.

The annual gathering of movie exhibitors were treated to an incomplete teaser trailer that tells the emotional story of Iraq hero Billy Lynn  — an awfully young veteran who becomes a prime public relations coop for the military still grappling with the horrors of war.

“It’s weird being honored for the worst day of your life,” says male lead and newcomer Joe Alwyn. His character is selected to make a nerve-wrecking appearance at the annual Super Bowl — and the style and surreal excitement of the holy American event is juxtaposed with his horrific, blood-spattered days in the Middle East.

The teaser is set to a chill-inducing choir version of Alesso’s club hit “Heroes (we can be).” The experimental use of frame speeds strikes a deep emotional cord, as sparks of fireworks over a sports arena melt into the dust clouds of IEDs in Baghdad.

Alwyn is fantastic — subtle, strong and heartbreaking. Kristen Stewart makes a poignant appearance as Billy’s sister, asking through tear-filled eyes, “What really happened over there?”

Steve Martin pops up as an opportunistic Army executive who tells Billy, “Your story no longer belongs to you. It’s America’s story now.”

Vin Diesel also shows  up, but the sum of the teaser makes it clear who the show belongs to — director Lee.


Now, Rothman is introducing the teaser for Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. This time around, Lee is employing an ultra high frame rate that will allow the audience to feel the contrast of intensity of war and the rest of life. The film, based on Ben Fountain’s novel, follows an infantryman’s final hours before he returns to Iraq with his fellow soldiers. This is a TriStar release.


"Technology is always second to story, and Billy Lynn's story is an American story," said Sony chair Tom Rothman of the technically bold film.

A short teaser for Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk received enthusiastic applause as Sony Pictures kicked off its presentation Tuesday night at the CinemaCon exhibitors convention in Las Vegas. The newest movie from the Oscar-winning director of Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi has generated lots of anticipation in the production and entertainment communities since it was announced that the movie is being filmed in 4K (four times the resolution of today's commonly used 2K), in 3D and at a high frame rate of 120 frames per second, per eye — normally, movies are shot and presented at 24fps. The movie's specs, unprecedented for a feature-length Hollywood release, promise to offer a very natural look.

Sony Pictures motion picture group chairman Tom Rothman introduced the film by emphasizing Lee's visionary, inventive nature, and saying that the director used what Rothamn called "ultra high frame rates" for "blending" the intensity of war and the rest of life — seeming to indicate that the frame rates might vary in the production to suit the filmmaker's reative intent. "But technology is always second to story, and Billy Lynn's story is an American story."

Made with Jeff Robinov's Studio 8, Billy Lynn is an adaptation of Ben Fountain's novel about 19-year-old private (newcomer Joe Alwyn), who survives a battle in Iraq that was captured by news cameras. He and his company of soldiers return to the States for a promotional tour culminating in a Thanksgiving Day football game’s halftime show.

The clip (which included unfinished visual effects} included sequences during the war, when Billy returns home, and colorful shots of the fireworks and lights in the halftime show.

At CinemaCon, the teaser was not shown in the 4K, 3D, 120fps fortmat. On April 16, at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, Lee will present a clip from his film in its intended format for the first time. No single digital cinema projector is currently capable of playing back that format, and so at NAB, it will be shown using two 4K laser projectors from manufacturer Christie.

Sony hasn't announced its plans for the release, and it's unclear how many theaters will be equipped to show the film in Lee's preferred format; it’s expected to be a very small number due to the complexity and experimental nature of the effort.


LAS VEGAS — Since coming to the studio in 2013, Sony Pictures chairman (formerly TriStar Productions chairman) Tom Rothman hasn’t landed a film in the sweet spot of awards season yet. “The Walk” was a box office failure that couldn’t make it to the dance last year, while Will Smith starrer “Concussion” (inherited from former chair Amy Pascal’s tenure) couldn’t perform during the holiday season or secure notice from the Academy.

That could change with “Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk,” Ang Lee’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning 2012 drama “Life of Pi.” Notably, Rothman stood on the Colosseum stage at Caesar’s Palace here four years ago to debut footage from “Life of Pi” when he was still serving as chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Back again in a “different uniform,” as he put it, he kicked off this year’s presentation of Sony’s robust slate with a look at Lee’s latest.

The film is based on Ben Fountain’s celebrated 2012 novel, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction that year. It tells the story of an Iraq veteran wrangling with disenchantment while being hailed a war hero. Rothman called it “familiar, but powerful,” not unlike “Life of Pi,” he said.

Situating it in the tradition of “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” (both of which performed exceptionally well at the box office), Rothman said Lee’s film was in the middle of a “very complicated post[-production],” and he played up Lee’s innovative use of ultra high frame rate filmmaking for the military sequences. The use of that technique was first announced at last year’s convention, and Rothman noted Tuesday that it allows the viewer to “feel the contrast between the intensity of war and the rest of life, exactly as the young soldiers do.”

A somber trailer was presented to the audience of theater owners and NATO delegates, set to a melancholy rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” A few choice lines of dialogue jumped out from the assemblage, shedding light on the war drama’s themes. “It is so weird, being honored for the worst day in your life,” newcomer Joe Alwyn, as the eponymous Lynn, says in voiceover. “Your story no longer belongs to you. It’s America’s story now,” Steve Martin — as a fictionalized National Football League team owner — says to Flynn at one point.

Kristen Stewart also stars as Lynn’s sister, desperate to know what the war did to him. Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund and Chris Tucker fill out the principal cast.

Lee took home the best director Oscar for “Life of Pi,” his second to date. Unfortunately, themes of war continue to be evergreen in their relevance, so watch for this one to land an emotional blow when it enters the marketplace on Veterans Day this November.

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