Tag Archives: Dev Patel

One Small Ember

Monkey Man

by George Wolf

A new hero has arrived. And with him, an exciting new filmmaker.

After directing just two short films, Dev Patel moves to features with Monkey Man, an assured and thrillingly violent story of heritage and revenge.

Patel (who also gets a story credit) is charismatic and commanding as “Bobby,” an underground fighter in India who takes dives for “Tiger” (Sharlto Copley) and cons his way into a job washing dishes at an exclusive club run by Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar).

But Bobby has a plan to get promoted to serving in the VIP room. Once in, he’ll get close enough to police chief Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) to make him pay for crimes committed against Bobby’s mother (Adithi Kalkunte) years before.

Complications arise, leaving Bobby a very wounded and hunted man, until some mystical assistance from Alpha (Vipin Sharma) turns Bobby into a lethal leader for the common people.

Patel doesn’t run from his inspirations, even name-dropping John Wick early in the film. You’ll also see shades of martial arts masters, Winding Refn, Tarantino and more, but Patel is always ready to put his own stamp on a familiar march to a showdown. He favors quick cuts and close ups with scattershot POV shots to enhance the impressive fight choreography and striking color palettes at work.

Similarly, Patel teams with screenwriters John Colle and Paul Angunawela—plus producer Jordan Peele—to take some well known themes and move them progressively forward. Rebelling against the totalitarian tactics of Baba Shakti (Makrand Deshpandi) and the Sovereign Party, a forgotten and oppressed population turns to the Monkey Man for deliverance.

And as much as this feels like an origin story, it is a dark one. Patel has indeed delivered a statement, as much about his filmmaking prowess as it is about his worldview. But the statement is grim and bloody, so leave the little ones at home and strap in for the thrilling, visceral rise of Patel and the Monkey Man.

What’s In a Name?

The Personal History of David Copperfield

by Hope Madden

Will he turn out to be the hero in his own life?

The Personal History of David Copperfield reunites the writing/directing team of Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci, whose Death of Stalin, In the Loop and the series Veep represent high water marks in political satire.

How are they with whimsy?

Not too bad. While the material is a far different style of cynical minefield for the filmmakers, Dickens offers a couple of opportunities Iannucci and Blackwell can appreciate: a big cast and wordplay.

Dev Patel is a perfectly amiable, easy to root for David Trottwood Daisy Dodi Murdstone Davidson Copperfield. (Ranveer Jaiswal is the even easier to root for, ludicrously adorable youngster version.) As we see their tale spun and re-spun, it is, of course, the characters that come and go that make the biggest impression.

Who? Tilda Swinton (with the year’s best onscreen entrance), Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Benedict Wong and Peter Capaldi, among many others. The multiracial cast emphasizes the fanciful fiction, the desire of a writer to create a story better than their own reality. Here, each actor takes character to caricature, but the brashness suits Iannucci’s busy, bursting, briskly paced narrative.

Iannucci hopscotches about the story and timeline in an episodic manner that fits the source material. What results is a charmingly animated rumination on those characters in life who shape our stories, experiences and maybe our character.

We can all get behind an underdog story, although like most of Dickens’s work, David Copperfield isn’t one. It’s the would-be tragedy of a person of good breeding who falls into a life that’s beneath him only to have his proper station returned to him via a happy ending.

Not to poo-poo Dickens, but it’s in the cheery resolution that the material seems a misfit for the raging if delightful cynicism of the filmmakers. When Uriah Heap accuses, “You and yours have always hated me and mine,” the boisterous nature of Iannucci’s film feels ill at ease because of the line’s pointed honesty. Let’s just right these cosmic wrongs and give the money back to the people who had it in the first place, shall we?

Still, this David Copperfield has its own lunatic charm to burn. Gone are the laugh out loud moments as well as the bitter aftertaste of Iannucci’s best work, but in their place is a lovely time.

Lost & Found


by Hope Madden

Inspirational, true-life tales – however tailor-made they seem to be for a big screen presentation – can be tough to deliver with integrity. In fact, the more tailor-made they seem, the tougher it can be.

Director Garth Davis manages to hit most of the right notes with his cinematic telling of Saroo Brierley’s amazing journey in Lion.

At 5-years-old, Saroo (played as a child by the impossibly cute and talented Sunny Pawar) follows his older brother to the train station where they’ll scrounge what they can from between seats and on the ground. But Saroo wanders off, falls asleep in a train car, and by the time he gets off, he’s thousands of miles from home – alone in a train station in Calcutta.

What follows – told with surprising restraint and solid focus – are the details of his struggle to survive and, decades later, to find his mother.

The adventure is harrowing. Davis chooses wisely between the events to explore deeply and those to leave ambiguous. We glimpse things that are clearly menacing but not fully explained because we’re seeing them through the eyes of a bewildered child. The result is a dark sense of all that could have occurred, not a sledge-hammer about the lurid details Saroo couldn’t possibly have articulated.

Once the film moves to Australia, where the boy relocates with an adoptive family, Davis again shares enough details to give the film a memorable sense of authenticity. The now grown and well-cared-for Saroo (Dev Patel) struggles with longing, guilt and a crippling concern for the pain his birth-family must bear because of his absence.

Patel deserves credit for a performance unlike the work we’ve seen from him in previous efforts. As a performer, he has tended toward painfully earnest representations, an over-actor who relies heavily on hyperbolic reactions.

Here, though, is a far more nuanced turn – one that benefits immeasurably by the chemistry he shares with Nicole Kidman, playing his adoptive mother Sue Brierley.

Dependable as ever to explore the depths of grief, Kidman conveys the conflicting emotions that, in their way, inform Saroo’s struggle. She’s surrounded by solid performances from a strong ensemble.

The film does make its missteps. The talented Rooney Mara is both underused and overused. Her flatly written character contributes little to the overall narrative, and yet the romance crowds a story that has more interesting things to say.

Faults aside, Lion dives into grief, guilt and love with refreshing honesty to tell the most unbelievable story in a way that echoes with a human connection we can all appreciate.


To Infinity, Not Beyond

The Man Who Knew Infinity

by Hope Madden

If you think a movie about math can’t be thrilling, well, The Man Who Knew Infinity won’t prove you wrong.

Writer/director Matt Brown’s painfully earnest biopic of Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) seeks to tackle divine inspiration, institutional racism, culture clash, colonialism, and mathematical proof against the backdrop of WWI Britain. Unfortunately, the film feels far more hemmed in by cinematic tradition than inspired by historical events.

Brown’s approach is certainly by-the-numbers, and a stifling respect for the subject hamstrings the effort. Ramanujan is never more than an utterly wholesome, godlike presence. A lead turn by Patel does nothing to burst through the clichés. As has been the case in each of his films, Patel’s performance is broadly drawn and lacking depth.

He isn’t given much to work with, truth be told. Brown’s screenplay offers little more than saintly suffering. Look how nobly he endures taunts, cultural misunderstandings, loneliness, illness!

The scenes at home in India are even more appallingly respectful, everything quaintly simple and yet admirable. It’s as if Brown distrusts the audience with any complexity or information on Ramanujan they might deem offensive. (Like, for instance, that his wife was a 10-year-old when they married.)

As Ramanujan’s Cambridge mentor G.H. Hardy, Jeremy Irons, of course, shines. A veteran of the melancholy Englishman role, Irons inhabits this academic with emotional rigor mortis, occasionally lapsing into the most charming flashes of vulnerability and ardor. The subtlety and sly tenderness of his performance suggests a longing that nearly revives the film from its terminal anemia.

A handful of supporting turns – Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam – almost add layers, but Brown’s screenplay relies so heavily on the rote of Traditional British Cinema that the film never gets the chance to breathe.

I’m willing to bet that Srinivasa Ramanujan was a flawed and fascinating person – geniuses so often are. Too bad Brown is content to see him as a romantic mystery.


RoboCop Meets Short Circuit


by Hope Madden

In what amounts to RoboCop meets Short Circuit, Neill Blomkamp’s latest, Chappie, celebrates the outsider.

Chappie is the first sentient robot, his consciousness a program crafted by the engineer behind Johannesburg’s “scout” police force. The scout robots – a simple form of artificial intelligence assisting the Jo’burg po po – have all but eliminated urban crime.

Two problems. 1) A handful of the city’s remaining thugs want one to help them pull a heist, and 2) a weirdly coiffured rival engineer (Hugh Jackman) believes AI is an abomination and thinks his own robot – controlled by a human brain – is superior.

Imagine how pissed he gets when he finds that his rival Deon (Dev Patel – everywhere this weekend) has taken the body for one of his scouts and given it life.

Blomkamp’s third film proves that he is kind of entrenched in a single story: the corrupt wealthy versus the damaged poor with an innocent outsider hero to bring it all together. But in Blomkamp’s hands, the story always feels wildly, deeply his own. The fact that he tells it through richly imagined characters doesn’t hurt.

Chappie tells this tale with more heart and enthusiasm than the director’s last effort, the middling Elysium, but it lacks the originality (obviously) and much of the tension of his impressive debut effort, District 9.

His film suffers from an abundance of sentimentality and attention-seeking. Jackman’s over-the-top aggression and bizarre costuming are almost overshadowed by the often fascinating (though sometimes cloying) oddity that is the duo of Nija and Yo-Landi Visser (South African rappers cast as Chappi’s thug-life parents).

Blomkamp favorite Sharlto Copley performs admirably as the maturing robot-child Chappie, though you can’t help but feel abused by the manipulative child-mind/adult-world theme.

Blomkamp, who also wrote the screenplay with District 9 collaborator (and wife) Terri Tatchell, finds fertile ground in the images of Johannesburg’s criminal population, and when he can keep the sentimentality in check he does a nice job of balancing drama, comedy and action.

His real aim – as is usually the case with decent SciFi – is social commentary. The consequences he leaves unexplored in his film are so big and complex they are often the entire storyline of other films, but Blomkamp has his muse to follow. Chappie is true to his creator’s intention, and though it’s certainly a flawed and limited image, the experiment is not a complete failure.





Love…Exciting and (Not So) New

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

by George Wolf

The efforts of a talented, veteran cast, coupled with a refreshing attitude toward the love lives of senior citizens, enabled The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to rise above a tendency for silly contrivance.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel can’t quite measure up.

Director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker return, along with most of the original cast, for a trip back to India where things are busy at the eccentric hotel which caters to “the elderly and beautiful.”

Hotel proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel) and girlfriend Sunaina (Tina Desai) are planning their wedding, but Sunny is distracted by business. He wants to expand, and has reached out to a U.S. firm for financial backing. When American “writer” Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) checks in to the hotel, Sonny is convinced he’s actually a spy sent by the prospective business partners.

Guy has barely gotten his room key before Madge (Celia Imrie) has the hots for him, he has his eye on Sonny’s mom (Lillette Dubey), Sonny is jealous of Sunaina’s childhood friend “Kush” (Shazad Latif), and Norman (Ronald Pickup) is afraid he accidentally took out a hit on his girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle). Plus, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (Judi Dench) still haven’t gotten together!

Maybe Captain Stubing can talk some sense into everyone!

It doesn’t take long to realize how much this installment misses the dear departed Graham, as played by Tom Wilkinson. Beyond Wilkinson’s immeasurable talent, Graham’s thoughtful storyline grounded part one in a graceful humanity that the sequel sorely needs. Gere is a fine addition for sheer star power, but his character only serves as a means to add more empty conflict to all the sit-comery.

It’s too bad, because even with Wilkinson gone, this cast features a vast wealth of talent that can instantly improve most any flailing script. The odd man out again is Patel, whose exaggerated histrionics serve as an annoying distraction from his sublime co-stars.

Despite a few charming moments, this sequel is overlong, overdone, and easily Second Best.