Salty Air

Patel goes Wick route, Colman gets letters, and devil pulls double duty — Play It Again, Tim

Jessie Buckley plays Rose Gooding in “Wicked Little Letters.” (Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)
Written by Tim Miller

What? No “Monkey Man” on the soundtrack of “Monkey Man”?

How can you have a movie with that title and not include the Rolling Stones rocker on the soundtrack? I’m a monkeeeeeey man! It should have been a must.

Ready for battle: Dev Patel stars in “Monkey Man.” (Universal Pictures)

Ready for battle: Dev Patel stars in “Monkey Man.” (Universal Pictures)

That arguably minor issue (though not to me) aside, “Monkey Man” the movie (R, 121 minutes, in theaters), set in Mumbai, works as a fun adrenaline-rush. Making his directorial debut, Dev Patel stars in it as Kid, who wears a gorilla mask while fighting (and getting his butt kicked) in underground boxing matches and later turns vigilante to take vengeance on those responsible for his mother’s murder when he was a young boy.

Patel, also one of three screenwriters credited, makes no effort to hide the obvious: “Monkey Man” is essentially “John Wick in India.” Kid looks like Keanu Reeve’s Wick, he fights like him, he kills like him, he likes dogs like him. There’s even a line about John Wick in the movie.

There are other influences, too, including the film that made Patel a star, “Slumdog Millionaire,” with its emphasis on poverty, corruption and crime in India. And there’s a touch of the underdog of all underdog movies, “Rocky.”

Still, “Monkey Man” doesn’t come across as merely a rehash of other movies. Part of it has to do with that cool gorilla mask – which lends a sinister mystery to the character and can be seen as representing the hidden volatile side of, perhaps, all of us. (Maybe we should all sport a gorilla mask from time to time.) Patel the actor also is a difference maker: As usual, he’s able to convey intense emotions, even while playing essentially an action-hero killing machine.

The film depicts discrimination, with a group of transgender people becoming the Kid’s allies; refers to Hindu beliefs, especially the deity Hanuman; and can be viewed as a commentary on current Indian politics.

First and foremost, though, is the action, which means violence. Wick fans, and there are many, should love it.

But where are the Stones? *** (out of four)

Cleverly crude

Jessie Buckley plays Rose Gooding in “Wicked Little Letters.” (Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

Jessie Buckley plays Rose Gooding in “Wicked Little Letters.” (Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman have a field day in “Wicked Little Letters” (R, 100 minutes, in theaters).

Based on a true story, the comedy is set in 1920s Littlehampton, a seaside town in England, where two neighbors clash over crude anonymous letters that get the community into an uproar.

Edith Swan (Colman), a pious spinster living with her overbearing father (Timothy Spall) and meek mother (Gemma Jones), is the initial target of these letters, which insult her in colorfully foul language. Her father drags her over to the police, accusing next-door neighbor Rose Gooding (Buckley) of being the poison-pen artist.

The police figure Rose is the logical suspect. A single mom devoted to her young daughter, she’s a brash, earthy, rough-talking party girl who has publicly stood up to Edith’s obnoxiously sexist father. She and Edith were initially friends until goody-two-shoes Edith’s condescending judgments drove a wedge between them.

Rose claims she’s innocent, but no one believes her except Officer Glady Moss (Anjana Vasan), whose colleagues ignore her opinions because, you know, she’s a woman. Despite heavy pressure to leave the case alone, Glady sets about trying to prove Rose’s innocence. Meanwhile, more and more people start getting similar letters.

“Wicked Little Letters” works as light entertainment for several reasons: the art direction, which provides a strong sense of place for this period piece; the funny letters, which are often read out loud and include suggestions on what people like to do with certain parts of their body; and Colman’s amusingly over-the-top work as the sanctimonious Edith. Best of all, though, is Buckley, whose rebellious Rose is just a joy to behold. (Buckley’s has had great success playing characters named Rose; she’s a must-see as the title character, a woman from Glasgow who aspires to becoming a Nashville country star, in 2018’s “Wild Rose.”)

Directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Jonny Sweet, the film bogs down a bit toward the end with plot contrivances, but overall it’s a good time. ***

Oh, baby

“The miracle of life can be a messy business.”

Nell Tiger Free, right, and Sonia Braga appear in “The First Omen.” (20th Century Studios)

Nell Tiger Free, right, and Sonia Braga appear in “The First Omen.” (20th Century Studios)

Bill Nighy, as a Roman Catholic cardinal, delivers that line in “The First Omen” (R, 120 minutes, in theaters), and he isn’t kidding.

Next thing you know, you’re seeing a giant, demonic claw emerge from an unfortunate young woman’s birth canal.

Um … ouch.

This is just one of the pleasantries to be found in “The First Omen,” which one wishes would be “The Last Omen,” but, probably, no such luck.

“The First Omen” serves as a prequel to the original “The Omen,” the genuinely terrifying 1976 horror classic starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as the parents of the Antichrist. The new film, directed by Arkasha Stevenson, takes pains to connect the two movies, but it also seems like a first cousin to the current, awful Sidney-Sweeney-as-a-nun schlocker, “Immaculate.”

Like that film, “The First Omen” involves a young American woman (Nell Tiger Free) who arrives at a convent in Rome to take her vows and falls victim to a bizarre birth conspiracy. (One difference: In “Immaculate,” the convent serves as a hospice for nuns; in “The First Omen,” it’s an orphanage.)

The presence of Nighy, and Sonia Braga as an elderly nun, gives “The First Omen” a certain cachet. Sure enough, it is superior to “Immaculate,” though that’s saying next to nothing. Despite a good lead performance by Free, it’s routine, too familiar and predictable. After all, this is the sixth “Omen” movie, which includes the original, three sequels, a remake and, now, this prequel. Given the ending of this one, we can anticipate even more.

The franchise lives on. Ho-hum. **

It ain’t Jimmy Kimmel

For smart, scary horror, check out “Late Night With the Devil” (R, 93 minutes, in theaters) instead.

David Dastmalchian appears with Ingrid Torelli, left, and Laura Gordon in “Late Night With the Devil.” (IFC Films/Shudder)

David Dastmalchian appears with Ingrid Torelli, left, and Laura Gordon in “Late Night With the Devil.” (IFC Films/Shudder)

Written and directed by Aussie brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes (“100 Bloody Acres”), “Late Night With the Devil” is one of those “found footage” chillers (think “The Blair Witch Project”) in which we’re seeing what appeared on TV during a terrifying Halloween episode of an old late-night talk show, along with off-air footage.

It’s Halloween night, 1977, and smarmy host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), once considered a rival to Johnny Carson, is concerned that his show, “Night Owls,” is going to be canceled due to fading ratings. This night, though, he has a spooky lineup of guests who could give his ratings a boost: a medium, a psychic debunker, a teen who had been brought up in a satanic cult and now is supposedly possessed by an evil spirit, and the teen’s psychiatrist, who has a new book out on the case.

The show begins and, predictably (for us, anyway), things do not go well.

Not knowing just how bad things are going to get, though, is what keeps us riveted, and the wait is rewarded.

Meanwhile, “Late Night With the Devil” also works as a funny, spoof of ’70s late-night talk shows. Something absolutely shocking will occur, and Delroy will stop to look at the TV audience to say the show will be back “after these few messages.” Classic stuff.

In a genre that produces so many variations of the same thing (see mini-review above), “Late Night With the Devil” offers a fresh approach. It has the low-budget production values of an old Roger Corman movie (“Bucket of Blood,” the original “Little Shop of Horrors”), and the Cairnes brothers use this to the film’s advantage. As insane as the goings on are in this movie, for anyone who was around to watch those talk shows in that era, “Late Night With the Devil” rings true.

It also rings true in showing how sometimes people will do anything to succeed.

And that is scary. ***½

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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