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Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Batman, Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, and Oddball Pre-Codes

March 8th, 2022 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

The Batman (Film, US, Matt Reeves, 2022) When the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins killing Gotham’s leading citizens, the revelations he unleashes get uncomfortably close to Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) family. Smeary neo-noir borrows not just from Burton and Nolan but from Se7en and Saw, though blunting their horror. Slightly over-long and lugubrious, but not cripplingly so: Zoë Kravitz’ Catwoman plays a big role in keeping the film’s energy up, as does Michael Giacchino’s score. –KH

Belfast (Film, UK, Kenneth Branagh, 2021) Nine-year-old “Buddy” (Jude Hill) sees his Belfast neighborhood and his family battered by the Troubles, while voraciously consuming media that will shape him as Britain’s Greatest Film Artist™. It’s a tribute to Branagh’s eye for shots that a movie this artificial works so well: it’s not honest childhood reactions (unlike Boorman’s Pinnacle Hope and Glory, one of the many films Branagh homages/rips off here) but what Branagh wants to believe (or wants us to believe) his childhood was like. But the artifice is, of course, much of the point, which is why I don’t ding Branagh points here any more than I would Baz Luhrmann. –KH

Drive My Car (Film, Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2021) For liability reasons, bereaved stage actor-director Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) must allow taciturn Misaki (Tôko Miura) to drive his beloved Saab while he directs and produces Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. After an hour of prologue, this unlikely setup produces a magnificent festival of repressed emotion that sadly ends a little too patly. But man, the long drive in between is great, especially the wonderfully multi-layered, multi-lingual dinner scene anchoring the middle turn. –KH

Licorice Pizza (Film, US, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021) In 1973 Encino, a precociously entrepreneurial teen actor (Cooper Hoffman) and a combative, directionless 25 year old (Alana Haim) fall for each other, despite a line their age difference stops them from crossing. I’d call this evanescent hangout romance Anderson’s Amarcord, but for the fact that he was 3 in 1973 and the script is based on the life and anecdotes of film producer Gary Goetzman.—RDL

Schmigadoon Season 1 (Television, US, Apple+, Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio; Barry Sonnenfeld, 2021) Hoping to rekindle their flagging commitment, a romantic obstetrician (Cecily Strong) and an emotionally blocked surgeon (Keegan-Michael Key) go on a hiking trip, only to wind up in a bizarre pocket dimension that follows the rules of 1950s American musicals. A cast of Broadway stars and SNL alums powers a fun, knowing show with the emotional resonance to transcend its sketch comedy premise.—RDL

West Side Story (Film, US, Steven Spielberg, 2021) Warfare between Puerto Rican immigrants and impoverished whites in a 50s neighborhood facing the wrecking ball threatens the young love of a sweet-natured cleaner (Rachel Zegler) and a remorseful ex-con (Ansel Elgort.)  Update of the classic stage musical to 2021 frankness and mores is almost oppressively perfect, with every scene a set-piece and every shot a rich composition dense with visual meaning.—RDL

Good

Murders in the Zoo (Film, A. Edward Sutherland, 1933) Fear of his wife’s infidelity prompts a psychopathic explorer (Lionel Atwill) to commit a string of murders at the zoo he supplies animals to. Comic relief Charlie Ruggles gets top billing in this oddball mix of laughs and lurid Grand Guignol horror.—RDL

Okay

Kiss and Make-Up (Film, Harlan Thompson, 1934) Suave celebrity plastic surgeon (Cary Grant) overlooks the affections of his loyal secretary (Helen Mack) as he falls into the romantic clutches of a domineering married patient (Genevieve Tobin). PreCode curio features jaw-dropping Art Deco sets, Grant almost carrying off a musical number, and Mack joining Edward Everett Horton in a touching duet extolling the virtues of corned beef and cabbage. CW: racist jokes.—RDL

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