Last Thursday (10.27) in New York Paramount screened footage from its upcoming slate (award-season prestige stuff plus CG action-fantasy fare) for press folk. Last night the same presentation, introduced by Paramount chairman and CEO Brad Grey with an upbeat message about resurgence and vitality, was screened on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. Attendees included myself, MCN’s David Poland, Deadline‘s Anthony D’Allessandro, ForbesScott Mendelson, et. al.

Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver (r.) in Martin Scorsese’s Silence (Paramount, 12.23). Names of Japanese actors unknown — sorry.

The highlight for me was a longish dialogue scene from Denzel Washington‘s Fences, which will screen in its entirety this Saturday in Westwood. It was about Denzel’s Troy Maxson sharing a tale of fatherly abuse to a couple of male friends as they sit in the shade of a Pittsburgh tenement. I like the way Denzel-the-director holds and holds and doesn’t cut. I could just sense that Fences will be formidable as fuck, and that Viola Davis has the Best Supporting Actress Oscar all but sewn up.

The footage from Martin Scorsese‘s Silence (12.23) lasted less than a minute, and there wasn’t a single line of dialogue. The images felt vital, robust — lush greens, outdoorsy moisture, ancient architecture and the gaunt features of Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, three Japanese guys hanging from crosses, etc. The historical Japan-based drama probably won’t be press-screened until just before Thanksgiving.

Clips from Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival (11.11) meant little as I’m not a huge fan, but I was taken with an extended dialogue scene from Robert ZemeckisAllied (11.23). The Wiki synopsis as well as a recent trailer convey the basic set-up — anti-Nazi assassins Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) married with a child in England. But then a pair of British intelligence officers (Simon McBurney, Jared Harris) explain to Vatan that they believe Marianne is a “sleeper” spy for the Germans, and that Vatan needs to help them confirm or disprove this.

I found it odd that McBurney’s character is not only indifferent to the shock that Vatan would naturally be feeling, but seems to be poking him with a stick. Anyone with a semblance of humanity would say to Vatan, “Look, we don’t like this situation any more than you do, Max, and we’ll be delighted if proved wrong, but we obviously have to clarify things one way or the other, and if our suspicion turns out to be true, there won’t be any choice about what will come next. It’s an awful situation, but this is war.”

Then comes a strange scene in which Vatan, making no attempt to conceal his suspicion of Marianne and in fact conveying currents of hostility, orders her to play “La Marseillaise” on the piano, the presumption apparently being that if she’s a German spy she wouldn’t know the French national anthem. (Really?) Wouldn’t Vatan make an attempt to conceal his agenda and try to gently persuade Marianne to play it, just to keep her sweet? If she’s a spy he’d obviously want to play his cards close and keep things low-key, but not in this film. I’m not feeling a lot of subtlety here.

There was also silent footage shown from Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing, which won’t be seen until the 2017 fall festivals roll around (Venice, Telluride, Toronto). It costars Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, etc. I love the Wiki synopsis: “A man and his wife who, deciding that their lives have gotten out of hand, decide to voluntarily have themselves shrunk down. Unfortunately for the man, his wife backs out at the last minute.”

My heart sank when footage of Paramount’s megaplex Joe Popcorn films hit the screen — Office Christmas Party (12/9/16 — may be funny here and there but it’s obviously aimed at gorilla sensibilities), xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (1.20.17 — awful), Rings (2.3.17), Ghost in the Shell (3.31.17 — instant HE dismissal due to the requisite bullshit shot of Scarlett Johansson‘s lead character, “the Major”, jumping off a skyscraper), Baywatch (5.19.17), World War Z 2 (6.9.17) and Transformers: The Last Knight (6.23.17).

With the possible exception of Office Christmas Party and World War Z 2, these didn’t seem like films but omens of the apocalypse — approved by zombie executives, made by zombie technicians, destined for approval by zombie audiences.