"Batman Returns" and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" are this week's recommendations.
Why are so many movies set at Christmastime?
Not Christmas movies, but movies set around the holiday, like the ones we are covering in 'Nog Blog. I have been doing research for upcoming issues and have discovered there are way more of these movies than I anticipated or remembered. Are other holidays like this too? Are there movies set during Valentine's Day that aren't romantic movies? I don't think there are, or at least, there are not many.
Why are the December holidays so popular? Maybe it is that snow is pretty. Maybe that the feeling of cold is a nice analog to loneliness, so when writing about a lonely or sad character, December makes sense. Ultimately, I think the answer is that the holiday season is when a lot of people see movies with their families, so dropping a themed movie in that time span is a way to generate tons of cash. There's nothing movie studios love more than that, unfortunately.
That said, this is a plea to spread the love to more holidays. Make the next Avengers movie randomly take place on Labor Day. (I can picture it now: There's an alien invasion, but Thor refuses to help because "it's his day off.") Make a wacky family road trip movie where the Johnsons or whoever have to get to their destination before long-lost family member's Halloween party. Make a rom-com that's also about about climate change that ends on Arbor Day. I don't know. Just add more holidays! It's fun. People should do more things that are fun, in my opinion.
“Batman Returns” (1992)
FUBO/Sling, rated PG-13, 126 minutes
This is a movie directed by Tim Burton, and it shows, turning Gotham into a Vaudevillian nightmare.
This is a movie where Danny DeVito plays The Penguin with such vile body movements and cursed line readings that it makes me ill to look at him for too long. This is a movie where that same character dies by falling on his face, getting knocked out cold then having a literal army of penguins — which appear to be the worst-made puppets of all time — push him into a river, as some sort of ritual send-off.
This is a movie where Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) survives: getting pushed out of a tall building, getting in a drag-out fight with Batman, getting shot multiple times in the chest, getting severely electrocuted and being in the blast range of an explosion. Now, I get what’s happening here — cats have nine lives, ha ha, very funny — but it’s still insane.
This movie is, both because of and in spite of those things, a ton of fun. Every line and line delivery is purposefully over the top, except for Michael Keaton’s Batman, who has more in common with Michael Myers than he does other versions of the Caped Crusader. (His Bruce Wayne, however, is right in line with the movie’s camp.) Pfeiffer appears to be having the most fun a human being can have playing a truly deranged version of Batman’s feline frenemy. Christopher Walken is also in the movie for some reason, though I don’t know why. He’s fine as madman millionaire Max Shreck, but I would rather spend his screen time on Pfeiffer and DeVito and his character’s importance to the plot could have easily been rewritten for someone else.
What makes this movie ripe for ‘Nog Blog inclusion, outside of the winter setting, is how much it is an antithesis of current-day superhero films. Even though I like a lot of those movies (and recommended one last week), I also tire of their sameness. They are either overly “gritty” and realistic, which is usually just code for filled-to-the-brim old school masculinity and people who need to go to therapy, or they purport themselves to be doing the opposite of that, which is just code for making meta jokes and quirky quips that don’t actually have punchlines, but, ya’ know, they're quirky, so you should laugh, I guess? There’s nothing wrong with that in a vacuum; “Thor: Ragnarok” is one of my favorite superhero films. But there’s an irony in all the films being “different” in the exact same way.
“Batman Returns,” and Burton’s previous Batman film, simply called “Batman,” are actually different. They take risks. They care about mood and character traits more than complex plotting. Most importantly, they never give a knowing wink to the audience, a sign of smugness. The films are secure in what they are trying to do and let the audience either get on their wavelengths or not. There is no hand-holding. This is Burton’s theatrical vision of Batman come to life, for better and for worse. That makes it worth watching. It is remarkable the film’s big swings hit as often as they do.
Also, Pfeiffer and Keaton share a mistletoe kiss, and that’s nice.
“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005)
Amazon, rated R, 103 minutes
Robert Downey Jr. gives his best performance as a narcissistic crook-turned-actor who gets in too deep in a twisty (maybe) murder plot. Val Kilmer gives his best performance as the ass-kicking private investigator who strings the actor along for the ride.
What more could you want?
“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” became something of a cult classic after its initial release, and it is easy to understand why. The film is funny, above all else, and at the time it broke stereotypes, with Kilmer’s Perry van Shrike being one of the first macho muscle men on screen to also be openly gay. Kilmer and Downey Jr. have excellent chemistry, with RDJ excelling at playing a prick who talks a big game but is secretly a coward.
The plot is so loopy that I don’t have time to get into it, but if you like noir-ish mysteries (and rom-coms?), you’ll like this one. A lot. Shane Black’s writing style is perfect for the genre. The guy just knows how to spin a yarn. There are elements of the script that are dated — I don’t know if every aspect of the “Gay Perry” shtick would fly in 2019, though I’m also not a great person to ask — but overall, the film holds up rather well. It’s perfect Friday night escapist entertainment.
Quote of the Week:
Perry (Kilmer) talking to Harry (Downey Jr.) in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang":
Perry: "Look up the word 'idiot' in the dictionary. You know what you'll find?"
Harry: "A picture of me?"
Perry: "No. The definition of the word 'idiot,' which you fucking are!"