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KPBS Midday Edition

Midday Movies to get your adrenaline pumping

Dev Patel stars as "The Monkey Man," a film he also wrote and directed. (2024)
In this still, Dev Patel stars in "Monkey Man," a film he also wrote and directed. (2024)

Summer is not quite here but action films are already hitting cinemas. Here's the best of what is in cinemas, coming soon, and a few overlooked gems.

'Monkey Man'

Actor Dev Patel, whom people should recall from "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Lion," has said he wanted to make a revenge film about faith so he turned to the legend of Hanuman for inspiration. Hanuman is a Hindu god that appears as half-human, half-monkey and is known for his strength, devotion and cleverness. Patel, who also wrote and directed "Monkey Man," is also obviously inspired by "John Wick" as Patel's character sets out to avenge his mother's death.


The film is a blast and Patel gives 110%. My only complaint is that after putting so much work into the action, Patel films it with excessive shaky-cam and then fast cuts all the fights. Patel seems to have worked out and to be able to handle the action but his visual style is what filmmakers resort to when actors can’t do the action. There’s a point where I thought the visual style was going to change to match the character’s increased skill level but alas no.

Moviewallas' Yazdi Pithavala also loved the film and its myth building. He suggested checking out the following Indian action films as companion viewing: "RRR," "Dhoom," and "Parinda."

In addition to "RRR" I would add S.S. Rajamouli's "Baahubali" and "Eega" (which includes a man reincarnated as a fly and musical numbers with the fly). Or if you want something grittier go for the Mumbai noir of Ram Gopal Varma and choose from his gangster collection of "Shiva," "Satya," and "Company."

Silent comedian and trailblazing stunt man Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last." (1923)
Silent comedian and trailblazing stunt man Harold Lloyd is seen in a film still from "Safety Last." (1923)

The original stuntmen


"John Wick" marks a pinnacle of modern American action films. (For the moment I am putting aside Asian action films for another discussion.)

But when I interviewed director Chad Stahelski he noted that a key inspiration came from silent films and the silent clowns of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Stahelski pays tribute to them in the opening of "John Wick 2" by having a frantic silent film chase projected against a New York building just before Wick comes speeding down the street. Keaton and Lloyd were essentially the first stuntmen.

What Stahelski takes from them is a visual style of long, wide takes with few cuts in order to really highlight the action and the skill of those involved. In the 1980s, Jackie Chan drew inspiration from these silent clowns as well as from dancer Gene Kelley and MGM musicals.

Pithavala and I highly recommend checking out the action of Buster Keaton in "The General" and Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last!" 

Henry Cavill stars in Guy Ritchie's "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." (2024)
In this film still, Henry Cavill stars in Guy Ritchie's "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." (2024)

Also in cinemas and coming soon

Since we are talking about stunt men, "The Fall Guy" is coming up and looks fun. It is directed by former stunt man David Leitch, who co-directed "John Wick" and directed "Atomic Blonde." Although inspired by the old TV show of the same name starring Lee Majors, the film appears to diverge entirely from the series. All that remains is that it is about a stunt man who gets embroiled in things outside of just his Hollywood job. Expect for the action to be over the top.

Also currently in theaters is Guy Ritchie’s very jaunty and very British World War II actioner, "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare."

It claims to be inspired by real events but it feels more like a lightweight James Bond adventure, which makes sense since one of the characters does happen to be Bond author Ian Fleming. It appears the events are true but the way they are depicted in the film are likely far more cinematic.

The plot involves a covert team of "bad" guys working for Churchill and sent on a mission to take the German U-boats out of the war. The group got the nickname "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare" because it dismissed the old ideas about rules of engagement in order to confront the realities of modern warfare. The film has such a jolly good British vibe that I half expected everyone to take a tea break in the middle of battle with bullets zipping by.

Although the tone is decidedly humorous, the Nazis get mowed down with brutal ferocity. But then Nazis seem to be the last villain that you can kill without remorse.

Pithavala highlighted "Furiosa," which is billed as a "Mad Max" story, as his pick for what to look forward to. And no better way to prepare for it that to watch "Mad Max: Fury Road."

David Belle displays his parkour or free running skills in "District B13." (2004)
Magnolia Pictures
In this film still, David Belle displays his parkour or free running skills in "District B13." (2004)

Overlooked gems

And I want to highlight a few films that deserve more attention and love. "District B-13" for introducing audiences to some jaw dropping parkour; "Hardcore Henry" for how to do shaky-cam right; and "Shoot 'Em Up" for Looney Toons action silliness.

Pithavala's picks are "Hanna," about a young girl trained to be an assassin, and "The Accountant," with Ben Affleck in the title role facing off against the U.S. Treasury.

I hope this action-packed list inspires you to run out to a cinema or seek out some titles online. As always though, there are so many more films we could have mentioned if we had more time.