Review: Jon Favreau's 'Jungle Book' is a rich and rewarding family fable
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
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Review: Jon Favreau's 'Jungle Book' is a rich and rewarding family fable

Eye-popping effects and simple human charm make a winning combination

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book has been adapted to film numerous times over the years. The 1942 live-action film, which you can see via Hulu Plus if you have it, remains beautiful and mysterious even now, while the 1967 Disney animated version is one of their most iconic films. Years ago, when I was still new to Los Angeles, there was a stretch of about 18 months where my writing partner and I shared an apartment with a married couple named Dave and Laura. Laura was a preposterously sweet woman, and she had a keen affection for Disney animation. In particular, she loved Mowgli and his gangly, lanky frame, all elbows and angles. About halfway through last night’s press screening of the new Jon Favreau version, I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking about how much Laura’s going to love Neel Sethi, who stars as Mowgli, because he looks like he was plucked right off of some animator's drawing board.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Disney’s new push to turn all of their animated films into live-action movies. It’s another way of strip-mining their own library, and the results have been wildly uneven so far. Cinderella, for example, struck me as a solid retelling of the original story, but there was nothing about Kenneth Branagh’s film that felt like live-action was essential or that illuminated the earlier Disney version of the story. It was fine, which is way more than I can say about the disturbingly ugly Alice In Wonderland that Tim Burton directed. Walking into The Jungle Book, I was worried that it would either be paint-by-numbers or that it would be a big empty style exercise, and instead, I walked away from it with one word running through my head repeatedly…

Magic.

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This behind-the-scenes glimpse at 'Kong: Skull Island' is an intriguing tease
Credit: Warner Bros/MTV

This behind-the-scenes glimpse at 'Kong: Skull Island' is an intriguing tease

No giant monkey yet, but this does raise some interesting questions about the film

Rounding out the Warner Bros. trio of sneak peeks during the MTV Movie Awards tonight was a behind-the-scenes featurette from the set of Kong: Skull Island, which Warner plans to release next spring, and it’s by far the most we’ve learned yet about the film.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts is directing the film, which is a key part of yet another Warner ongoing tentpole franchise, although a little sneakier than either Suicide Squad or Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. By now, it’s clear that Legendary Entertainment would like to eventually figure out how to get King Kong and Godzilla into the same film. Thomas Tull said as much to me years ago, when he was still developing Godzilla in the first place. He’s a huge fan of giant monster movies, and those two are the undisputed icons of the genre. It is the same impulse that led to pairing Batman and Superman, when you get down to it. But they’re not really making these films as a series. Godzilla is off doing its own thing over in that franchise, and it’ll be interesting to see which other Toho creatures actually make it to the screen in the Godzilla sequel. In the meantime, Vogt-Roberts is making his stand-alone film, and now we know for sure that it’s set during the Vietnam era.

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The new 'Fantastic Beasts' trailer teases more of Rowling's growing world
Credit: Warner Bros.

The new 'Fantastic Beasts' trailer teases more of Rowling's growing world

Warner's next big gamble feels like a very safe bet

By turning tonight’s MTV Movie Awards into a sneak peek at all things Warner Bros., the studio’s invited everyone to weigh in on the biggest items they’ve got coming for the rest of the year, and while Suicide Squad is definitely important to them, it’s not as important as Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

I greatly admire JK Rowling as a writer, and not just for her work on Harry Potter. I think her Robert Galbraith novels have been terrific entertainment, and I really liked The Casual Vacancy, which I thought demonstrated a savage wit that has always been quietly present in her work but rarely unleashed to its full potential. Rowling is a ferociously smart writer from a business viewpoint, and this new venture into the “Wizarding World,” which seems to have become the catch-all description for the universe she’s building, is a very clever way of extending things without damaging any of the integrity of what she’s already done.

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Harley Quinn continues to dominate in new 'Suicide Squad' trailer
Credit: Warner Bros.

Harley Quinn continues to dominate in new 'Suicide Squad' trailer

Warner's playing it all right with these ads, but will the film deliver?

Unsurprisingly, much of the reporting around the Warner/DC situation continues to be driven by herd mentality and inaccurate.

For example, how many sites reprinted the story that the Suicide Squad reshoots were all about adding jokes to the movie because they used every joke in the movie in the last trailer? Sorry, but that’s just nonsense. There were some big reshoots, but it wasn’t just to add jokes, and they certainly didn’t use every single joke in the film in the last trailer. The reason everyone picks that up and runs with it is because they like how nice and neat it sounds. Reshoots. Add jokes. Fix movie. Never mind that people went crazy about my (accurate) reportage about how divisive early reactions were to Batman v Superman. People didn’t want to hear that story, so they attacked me and they attacked my reporting, determined to simply shout it down.

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Director Mike Flanagan believes 'Hush' is scarier when you see it at home
Credit: HitFix

Director Mike Flanagan believes 'Hush' is scarier when you see it at home

One of horror's rising stars discusses his latest lean and mean thriller

One of the things I’m hearing from you guys is that you’re concerned about the amount of video versus the amount of writing that appears here at HitFix these days, and I wanted to quickly address that concern. I am, first and foremost, a writer. The purest expression of what I do comes when it’s just me speaking directly to you guys via the written word. We work in a new media landscape, though, and video is an important part of not only keeping the site going, but building it, which is always our goal.

When we decided to stop attending junkets and doing those five minute sound bite videos, we started pushing to invite guests to our studios instead so we could sit down for a longer conversation. The results have been better across the board, and it’s because a longer conversation is always going to be a better way to get to know someone and a better showcase for their thoughts about the work they’ve done. And honestly, I feel like a video interview is better than a print one because of things like body language and nuances in tone. It's better to present the person as they are, instead of imposing an editorial voice on them.

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Exclusive: BOOM! Studios announces a 'Kong Of Skull Island' mini-series
Credit: Warner Home Video

Exclusive: BOOM! Studios announces a 'Kong Of Skull Island' mini-series

Here's your first look at the cover of the first issue

BOOM! Studios is at the Emerald City Comicon today to announce a new comic called Kong of Skull Island, which will serve as a prequel to the classic film.

At first, I thought we were looking at an adaptation or a tie-in to the new film from Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island, but this BOOM! Studios comic is a totally different thing. James Asmus (All-New Inhumans) is the writer for the limited series, while Carlos Magno is going to be the artist. The first issue will have a number of alternate covers from guys like Eric Powell, Ryan Sook, Paul Pope, Nick Robles, and Felipe Massafera, whose art you can see below.

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The new teaser poster for 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' drops a very big hint
Credit: 20th Century Fox/MARV Films

The new teaser poster for 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' drops a very big hint

If he is, I'll bet Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have a good explanation

Forget about Jon Snow; I want to know if Harry Hart is alive.

The primary challenge that Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman faced when trying to crack a sequel to their monster hit Kingsman: The Secret Service was what to do about Colin Firth. One of the true pleasures of the first film is seeing Firth burst through the walls of the box that people have put him in as an actor with so much fervor he was like the Kool-Aid Man. He was delightfully violent, and talking to him at Comic-Con the year before it came out, it was clear he was almost giddy about what he got to do in the movie.

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Review: Linklater nails another anthropological comedy with 'Everybody Wants Some!!'
Credit: Paramount Pictures
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Review: Linklater nails another anthropological comedy with 'Everybody Wants Some!!'

The Austin indie titan may be our best American behavioralist

If I had to estimate how many times I’ve seen Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused since it was released in 1993, I’d be willing to bet it’s over three dozen by now. I adore the film, and it’s one of those movies that has grown over time for me. The more I’ve gone back to it, the longer I’ve lived with it, the more I’ve found in it. That movie has a cast that was largely unknown at the time but that has gone on to look almost overstuffed with star power. It is a remarkable ensemble, and even the kids who didn’t go on to further work or bigger stardom did work that has aged beautifully.

I never got around to seeing a trailer for this one. In fact, it almost feels like Paramount’s sneaking it out. It just premiered at SXSW, and then I got invited to a press screening and read on the invite that the film was coming out the next day. Normally when films are treated like that by a distributor, it’s because they’re no good and the studio’s looking to minimize the damage, but that’s certainly not the case. Everybody Wants Some!! (I like the double exclamation points) is a direct mirror held up to Dazed & Confused, but with 23 years of experience under Richard Linklater’s belt.

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One Thing I Love Today: Spielberg's 'BFG' trailer promises some old-school magic
Credit: Disney/Amblin'

One Thing I Love Today: Spielberg's 'BFG' trailer promises some old-school magic

Roald Dahl's hard to get right on film, but this certainly feels like they're on the right track

One Thing I Love Today is a daily column dedicated to putting a spotlight on some pop culture item worth your attention. After all, there's enough snark out there. Why not start every day with one quick shotgun blast of positivity?

Roald Dahl’s work has made for some interesting big-screen adaptations over the years. By far the most beloved version of his work is the Gene Wilder iteration of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, due largely to the sheer charismatic supernova that is Gene Wilder in that film. I’ve had a real soft spot for The Witches since its early ‘90s release, and I think that Nic Roeg film gets the tone of Dahl’s work right in a big way.

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Warner Bros. set to vaguely irritate the easily irritated with 'Speedy Gonzales' film
Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

Warner Bros. set to vaguely irritate the easily irritated with 'Speedy Gonzales' film

It's a surprising choice from the studio in these sensitive times

I’d love to know the backstory behind the news today that Warner Bros. Animation Group is going to be making a Speedy Gonzales film.

Warner Bros. has been much better about embracing their animation legacy than Disney has because they’ve never hidden from their own past. One of the smartest things Warner has done when releasing collections of their older animation is including cartoons that have uncomfortable racial or sexual material, pointing out that they are the product of their time rather than pretending they never happened. It bothers me that Disney is willing to continually exploit the characters from Song Of The South at the Splash Mountain attraction and in merchandising, but they keep the film locked up in a way that only makes it seem more dangerous or offensive. Instead of putting together a release that would honor the work of James Baskett and the innovations of Harve Foster and Wilfred Jackson and the source material colllected by Joel Chandler Harris, Disney continues to treat the film like a stain on the studio’s legacy.

Even so, even with their more progressive attitude, it surprises me that Warner Bros. is developing a new film for Speedy Gonzales. I spent over a decade married to a South American woman whose maiden name was Gonzales, and early in our relationship, I noticed that she had several stuffed Speedys. “I thought Latin people hated Speedy Gonzales,” I told her.

I told her that Speedy had just been shelved by the Cartoon Network when they purchased all broadcast rights to the Warner cartoons in 1999. “Why?” she asked, genuinely baffled by the sentiment. I explained about negative stereotypes and the way Mexicans didn’t want to be portrayed as lazy or slow.  “But Speedy’s fast,” she argued, undeniably correct. She was delighted by the shared last name, and she’s always had a fondness for the character.

Speedy isn’t merchandised nearly enough for fans, and compared to most of the big marquee characters, he’s practically invisible. Since my wife worked in immigration law, she dealt with a number of people who had moved to America from other places, and a huge percentage of those people were Mexican. Over time, she told me that she’d asked plenty of other people about Speedy, and she’d never run into anyone who was offended by the character. I think she refused to believe that anyone actually thought the character was racist in any way, and I always found that interesting.

While there are plenty of characters and films and stories from earlier eras of entertainment that are difficult to watch now, it feels like there is a sort of pre-emptive offense that we should evolve past at some point. When you’re making new art, you don’t approach it the same way you should when you’re talking about archiving art history. It’s not clear from the story in the Hollywood Reporter if Eugenio Derbez will be writing and/or directing the film in addition to voicing Speedy, but it’s an interesting choice. Derbez is the writer/director/star of one of the largest-grossing Spanish language film in the United States, the under-the-radar phenomenon Instructions Not Included, and he’s got a big broad mainstream sensibility. I was talking to Nick Stoller today about Neighbors 2, and we spoke briefly about Storks, the animated film he’s making for Warner Bros. It sounds like their animation team has a lot of momentum right now, something that’s been a problem for Warner feature animation in the past. The Lego movies alone would keep them busy, but they’re making other films as well, and it sounds like they’re actually trying to make it filmmaker-driven. If that’s true, then I’m curious to see who is the primary voice on this one is, and what they do with Speedy as a character. At his best, he feels like an early example of the “snobs-against-the-slobs” archetype, happily sassing people trying to keep his fellow mice down. It’s hard to imagine a whole feature film of that, but maybe this is the perfect moment for it. If the filmmakers behind this one refuse to play into the narrative that there’s anything wrong with Speedy, they might be surprised by just how much people love him.

They tried to find a way to make a Speedy movie in 2010 with George Lopez involved, but after the initial announcement, there was never another peep about that attempt. I’m curious to see if they actually end up making this. It felt like a very thin announcement today, and I’m confused about just how much Derbez is involved. But is it an interesting possibility? Sure. I’m curious to see if this configuration of Warner Animation Group can turn these familiar properties into theatrical hits. They’ve got The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Storks, The Lego Batman Movie, an Adventure Time movie, the sequel to The Lego Movie, Ninjago and Bone all on the slate already. That’s a lot of seriously branded content, and Speedy Gonzales is arguably as recognizable as any title on that list.

Is recognition the same as affection? That appears to be the biggest question facing any studio these days.

Storks is in theaters September 23, 2016.
The Lego Batman Movie is in theaters February 10, 2017.

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