Drive-ins are cultural relics from a bygone era. Many conjure memories of 1950s America when they think of drive-ins, from the old-school snack bar promos to the singular experience of witnessing a movie under the luminous stars. Most have since vanished as projection systems changed drastically over the years. Thankfully for New Englanders, drive-ins are still in our neck of the woods. I made countless trips as a child, stuffing my stomach with countless snacks while being enthralled by whatever double feature was on display.

This past weekend, I returned to the Mansfield Drive-In in Mansfield, Connecticut, for their season’s second weekend. Patrons driving into the scenic site are greeted by three mammoth screens in opposing directions. I love that they provide three double features simultaneously for visitors to choose from, and the drive-in management does a great job of mixing modern amenities with old-school aesthetics throughout the establishment.

The Mansfield Drive-In is a perfect subject for this column, offering a unique combination of dining and a show. As a food enthusiast, I arrived with an appetite, ready to explore the diverse buffet of food options available. Here was my order:

  • Popcorn — What’s a movie without popcorn? Perfectly salted and well-complimented by a heavy dosage of butter, the popcorn at Mansfield makes for an ideal snack to mindlessly much on during the moviegoing experience.
  • Bacon Cheeseburger — This burger captures the sinful flavors one craves when searching for a down-to-earth cheat meal. Crispy bacon, ooey gooey cheese and a well-cooked patty mesh into a satisfying meal experience.
  • Pretzel — I order pretzels at just about every event I attend that offers them. Thankfully, Mansfield’s ranks favorably among the pretzel pack. The soothing sensation of doughy pretzel partnered with salt and butter is a pleasure to dive into, so much so that I ended up getting seconds.
  • Fried Oreos — A long-time fair favorite, fried oreos can sometimes be a dicey proposition. They are often overly fried and greasy, leaving my stomach churning rather than awaiting the next bite. The fried oreos at the Mansfield Drive-In are some of the best I’ve had. There is a certain homemade quality that is very alluring to them. The cakey but not overwhelming batter is an ideal vessel for the scorching hot oreo filling to melt in your mouth.
  • Hosmer Moutain Soda — Rarely is the soda a highlight when eating somewhere. That all changed for me when sampling the various Hosmer Moutain Soda flavors offered at the drive-in. They are flavorful and aromatic without leaving behind an artificial aftertaste. I think I would insert an IV of their lemon lime soda into my veins if it was feasible.

Now Playing: “Kung Fu Panda 4”

My experience with the “Kung Fu Panda” brand is minimal; I remember enjoying the 2008 original and its 2011 sequel before falling off the franchise from there. That said, I’ve become reinvigorated by Dreamworks Animations’ new-age renaissance, with recent entries like “The Bad Guys” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” taping into newfound creative vitality.

In sharp contrast, “Kung Fu Panda 4” jostles between tedious and mildly amusing frames. This sequel shows some significant wear and tear for the martial arts franchise. The narrative is entirely thankless in its conception, following a cookie-cutter blueprint devoid of nuance or interesting new wrinkles. “Kung Fu Panda 4” also lacks the artistic verve featured in recent Dreamworks entries. The omission of 2D animation flourishes robs the lush visuals of their dynamism.

Despite its shortcomings, “Kung Fu Panda 4” still packs infectious energy. An all-star voice cast, led by Jack Black, Viola Davis and Awkwafina, are well-tuned to the material’s playful sensibilities and enrich their roles through sheer prescience. I was honestly caught off guard by how many chuckles are packed within the material. The film walks a finite tightrope of providing gags that can appease both an older and younger demographic, even executing a few clever fart jokes along the way. In addition, while director Mike Mitchell and his animation team play it safe in their animation style, they do conceive some remarkable fight sequences that pay tribute to the film’s martial arts ancestors.

“Kung Fu Panda 4” feels inconsequential throughout, but the film is affable enough to kung-fu kick past its misgivings. Let’s maybe call it quits from here, though.

Also Playing: “Monkey Man”

Stuck in India’s impoverished dredges, a man known as Kid devises a scheme to exact revenge on the callous social elites who destroyed his village in “Monkey Man.”
What may resonate as a traditional actioner at first glance reaches grander heights under Dev Patel’s command as writer, director, and star. The Oscar-nominated actor leaves a lasting imprint on his writing/directorial debut, crafting a refined and relentless crowdpleaser that punches far ahead of its genre peers.

Patel is simply a natural behind the camera. He conjures an intoxicating aesthetic compromised of dynamic close-ups, kinetic edits and freewheeling camera movements. These elements can often be jarring or borderline disorienting in the wrong hands; I know many modern action films simply overplay their hand in busy yet overindulgent attempts at style. Here, Patel’s choices blend beautifully to create a propulsive energy that jolts one scene to the next. I was enraptured by the vibrancy that Patel captures India with. The atmospheric nightclubs, bustling street markets and the seedy underground nightlife help define a lived-in India rarely depicted in stateside films.

“Monkey Man’s” action conveys genuine gravitas. Each whopping punch and powerhouse kick lands with impact, exuding a palpable realism that enhances the tension of each battle. The steaks feel genuine, whereas most actioners feel weightless by comparison. It also helps to have Patel’s captivating presence as Kid. His undeniable charisma and eye for humanistic moments continue to make the actor a bona fide movie star.

I appreciate “Monkey Man” for taking an ambitious swing, even if it does not always connect. Patel utilizes his setting to reflect on how class warfare and discrimination perpetrate a generational impact on the disenfranchised. I credit the writer/director for weaving a delicate thread of capturing these dynamics from an Indian lens while maintaining their universal resonance. The film never expounds any particularly revelatory statements, and its weaker moments can feel too didactic for their own good. These slips are ultimately admirable misgivings within the context of material that unleashes its themes with raw impact.

I found myself really taken by “Monkey Man,” an accomplished, non-stop thrill ride that equals in brains and brawn. Audiences should give this a chance over most big-budget sludge currently in theaters.

So that’s a taste of my Mansfield Drive-In experience. I can say that I am already looking forward to my next trip back. To read more about the drive-inn and see what’s playing next, visit: mansfielddrivein.com.

Matt Conway
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