Tag Archives: Dev Patel

Lion (2016)

I hopped on the Lion bandwagon long before I even saw the movie. I remember stumbling across a “Dev Patel movie” trailer on YouTube months ago and was immediately taken aback by how well he nailed the Aussie accent (yes, way better than Meryl Streep!). The true story premise was so intriguing that I just couldn’t wait to watch it, and the anticipation then went through the room when I found out it was one of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year.

And so I finally managed to watch Lion the other day, and it was just as beautiful and emotional as I imagined it would be. Perhaps not quite as good as I hoped it would be, especially considering its reputation as one of the best 9 films of the year, though I would still definitely recommend anyone with a heart to check it out.

Directed by Garth Davis in his feature debut, Lion tells the remarkable true story of an impoverished five-year-old boy named Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar)  from a small village in India who is accidentally transported on a train to more than a thousand miles from his home and is eventually adopted by an Australian couple (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). More than 20 years later, Saroo, now all grown up (and played by Dev Patel), begins to use Google Earth in an effort to find the home and family he had long lost and almost forgotten about.

As one would imagine, Lion is a gut-wrenching yet heartwarming tale full of sadness, longing, and ultimately inspiration. It’s one of those films that is just as powerful and impactful even when you know the ending. Expect to cry buckets of tears, especially if you are a parent who has ever feared losing a child, or in Nicole Kidman’s case, an adoptive parent in real life. That said, it’s not like director Garth Davis intentionally tries to milk tears out of his audience — it’s simply the effect of the story itself.

Of course, the film would not have worked as well without the amazing performances, starting with the little kid, Sunny Pawar, who comes across as believable as you could possibly get in a situation like that. Dev Patel shines in his best role since Slumdog Millionaire and is well-deserving of his Oscar nomination, though it’s a little bit of a shame that they chose to put in the Best Supporting Actor category as opposed to Best Actor in order to boost his odds. Nicole Kidman is also as good as she has ever been, and I’m admittedly not the greatest fan of her work.

Interestingly, Davis chose to tell the story essentially in two chronological parts — first telling the child’s story in its entirety before telling the adult’s version — as opposed to starting off as an adult and using flashbacks. I personally think it worked quite well this way, because the first half of the film is definitely the stronger half. That sense of fear and “oh no” from seeing a child’s life change forever before your eyes and the struggles he went through before getting adopted is some really heavy stuff, and using flashbacks to tell that part of the story wouldn’t have done it justice.

Conversely, it also meant the second half of the film wasn’t quite as impactful. My concerns on how they were going to depict the Google Earth search turned out to be unfounded as they did it in a way that was not boring at all, though even then, it felt as though there was no enough material to sustain half a movie. For me, the interesting part was Saroo’s inner torment from leaving his brother, mother and sister behind and his struggles with identity, but the film put too much attention on this love story with an American character played by Rooney Mara, which I thought wasn’t really necessary for the story at all. I would have rather the movie focus more on Saroo’s relationship with his father and troubled adoptive brother (Divian Ladwa), two areas that weren’t fully fleshed out. As a result, there were some scenes in the second half that I found plodding.

Flaws aside, Lion is still an incredibly uplifting and powerful film. The fact it is a true story amplifies everything even further. While it is not exactly subtle, the film deserves credit for finding the right balance between empathy and entertainment, drama and melodrama. I think it’s an even better film than Slumdog, certainly deeper on an emotional level and with greater resonance.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Chappie (2015)

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My experiences with South African director Neill Blomkamp have been quite different to most others. I thought his much-lauded debut smash, District 9, was good but a little overrated, while I thought his widely-panned sophomore effort, Elysium, was flawed but still pretty damn entertaining.

Blomkamp’s third film, Chappie, is also quite flawed and inconsistent, but it’s also very bold, clever, funny and exciting. When it’s all said and done, Chappie could very well be my favourite of the lot.

The film is an unspecified time in South Africa, where a tech arms company has begun supplying the police force with droids. Think Robocop, basically, except they are pure machines with no human controls or elements. The brainchild behind the revolution, British engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), is not satisfied with just AI droids and continues to work on a side project that purports to create consciousness. I’ll skip the details from here, but suffice it to say that the titular Chappie (voice and performance capture from long-time collaborator Sharlto Copley) ends up being the droid that brings this project to fruition, and naturally things go pear shaped when the droid ends up in the hands of criminals played by the duo from real-life rap-rave group Die Antwoord — Yolandi Visser and Ninja — who use the same names in the film.

It’s a high concept film with a lot of interesting ideas. First of all, from the moment of his “awakening”, Chappie is essentially a baby who cannot speak and is seeing the world for the very first time. His development, therefore, is completely dependent on what humans teach him, and the message at the heart of the film is about how we influence and shape our children into who they become. The way Blomkamp brings out this message is not exactly subtle, but it’s fascinating to watch as it unfolds and I was surprised that it had such an emotional impact on me.

I also liked how Chappie, the droid, is the central protagonist, rather than his creator or his “parents”. Copley is very good in convincing us that he is both a machine and a naive, impressionable child, and it’s also helped by the typically impressive photo-realistic special effects from Blomkamp in making Chappie look and feel as real as can be.

It’s also fun to see Hugh Jackman, the human everyone loves, play a baddie. Not just any baddie, but a jealous, conniving, douchey Australian baddie with a superb mullet. Sure, his character is completely one-dimensional, but it’s Hugh Jackman!

The ending of the film will polarise a lot of viewers as it takes the AI vs consciousness debate to the next level, but while I don’t exactly like where it headed I liked that Blomkamp was willing to take risks and take the film in a direction I doubt many people would have foreseen. It asks big questions without answering them compellingly, but at least it asks.

To be fair though, Chappie does have its fair share of problems. Whenever you talk about AI and super-intelligent robots you run into problems with logic and common sense. If Chappie is so clever then why would this happen? Why would he make these mistakes? And if he not as clever as we thought then why would he be able to do such intelligent things? My issues with problematic motivations extend beyond the robot to the human characters too. Sometimes what they do don’t make all that much sense, and it can be perplexing if you think about their thought processes too much.

Also, the film’s tone and pacing is a little all over the place. At times its dead serious, while other times its comical and even farcical, and sometimes the quick turns get confusing. The action comes and goes and can get super violent out of nowhere, and on top of that, Ninja and Yolandi are not the best actors in the world. They look their parts, but their characters feel more like caricatures than real people.

Having said all that, I still liked Chappie a lot. Notwithstanding all the rough edges, the film is always interesting, entertaining and unpredictable, and I think its heart is in the right place. And I haven’t even mentioned how hilarious it at times, even though the timing isn’t always impeccable. It’s not perfect by any means, and from certain angles — coherence, depth, visuals, etc — you might even say it’s Blomkamp’s weakest film, but there’s just something about this strange mix of AI: Artificial Intelligence, I Robot, Robocop and Short Circuit that struck a chord with me.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Last Airbender (2D) (2010)

The Last Airbender is not as bad as people make it out to be.  In fact, I quite enjoyed it.

That said, I did have lower than low expectations for the film (given it recorded an abysmal 6% at Rotten Tomatoes), and perhaps more importantly, I have never seen the popular cartoon series on which the film is based.  Keeping that in mind, I think writer and director M Night Shyamalan did a pretty decent job (and let’s face it, he had an extremely difficult job) in creating a ‘kids film’ that is, for the most part, entertaining and enjoyable.

The Last Airbender dropped the word ‘Avatar’ from its title because of that highest grossing film of all time.  It’s set in a fantasy land where people are born with the natural ability to ‘bend’ one of the four elements — earth, fire, wind and water.  Kind of like Captain Planet (he’s a hero, gonna take pollution down to zero).  However, there is only one person in the world that has the ability to bend all four elements, and that’s the Avatar.

Naturally, for a bunch of reasons, the tribes of the various elements are at war, largely thanks to the ambitious Fire Nation people.  Conveniently, the Avatar reappears, seeking to restore balance to the world with the aid of his friends from the Water tribes and a big flying animal that reminds me of The Neverending Story.

So yes, the idea and the story is actually pretty cool.  There’s an obvious Asian influence with all that martial arts and those taichi-like moves they do to ‘bend’ stuff.  The battle scenes are grand and reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings (or perhaps, more accurately, Narnia).  The special effects were genuinely excellent.  In terms of aesthetics, The Last Airbender is solid.

But of course, the film fails in a few other key departments.  It squeezes a ridiculous amount of stuff into 103 minutes, and as a result, the story jumps all over the place and is rarely coherent.  You just have to go for the ride and accept all the things that suddenly pop out of nowhere for the sake of progressing the story.

And the acting…poor Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire does all that he can to bring out the character of Zuko, and he’s by far the best of the youngsters despite some awkward lines.  Katara, played Nicola Peltz, received high praise from Shyamalan but didn’t feel like anything particularly special.  Her brother Sokka, played by Twilight‘s Jackson Rathbone, was, well, a bit on the stiff side, though to be fair he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with.  However, it is the strange kid with the constantly flaring nostrils, Noah Ringer, who plays the Avatar, that fails to deliver any semblance of real emotion whatsoever.  It’s his first acting role, so he deserves a break, but if he’s going to be in the sequels he’ll need to work on his performance.

Look, The Last Airbender was never going to be a great movie.  M Night Shyamalan has been absolutely caned over his last few movie-making attempts (in my opinion not all deserved) and he was always going to be on the back foot defending himself from critics.  The complex story required so much explaining that it was always going to be an uphill battle to begin with.  Taking all of that into account, I think things could have been a lot worse.  For all its flaws, it still has an interesting concept, great fight scenes and terrific special effects.  I certainly think it’s significant better than Dragonball: Evolution.

The film is actually only the first of three parts, and from what I understand, Shyamalan has already done a rough script of the second film.  If they make it, I’ll watch it.

3 stars out of 5

PS: So glad I watched the 2D version and not the 3D crap (which I hear added nothing).  We had a choice of a 2D and 3D session and went with 2D, even though that meant we had to sit in the fourth row.  And get this — we went on cheapo Tuesday which has $10.50 tickets (that’s supposed to be cheap?), but for 3D films there’s conveniently no discount.  And guess how much each ticket would have cost if we watched the 3D version?  $24.50!  That’s just insane, and another reason to hate 3D.