The Family Man – Season 1 review (2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Rating: 4/5

Time: 10 episodes of 45-50 minutes each

Cast: Manoj Bajpayi, Priyamani, Sharib Hashmi, Gul Panag, Dalip Tahil

Our very own Indian spy with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is fighting terrorists across the border, conducting online surveillance, and getting into gun fights on the streets of Mumbai. But at the end of the day he has to get back to his mundane middle-class home, a wife and two children, and his middle-class car. The Family Man is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that has enough plot twists and turns to keep you hooked till the tenth episode. There are plenty of laughs too as our protagonist lives out his double life – spy in the office and husband and father at home.  

Srikant Tiwari’s (played by Manoj Bajpai) wife and two children are blissfully unaware of the actual nature of their father’s job. His wife Suchitra (played by Priyamani) attempts to chart her own career and work through workplace relationships, while managing home and children. All the while, she genuinely believes that all her husband does at his desk job is pushing files.

The Family Man manages to touch on a wide variety of socio-political events of the day, including jihadi terrorism, Hindu nationalism, mob lynchings, student politics, and mass surveillance tactics by intelligence agencies. All of these issues provide enough action and drama to propel the series forward through 10 episodes.

Friends Reunion: a remarkable and nostalgic journey

Streaming on ZEE5

Friends Reunion streaming on ZEE5

It has been 17 years and its like they never left us….full of emotion and nostalgia, the Friends Reunion was an emotional roller coaster down memory lane.

All of the cast members have only met once in the past 17 years. Busy careers meant that they were only able to meet 2 or 3 people at a time. So, for Courtney Cox, Jennifer Anniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Mathew Perry and David Schwimmer, it was a special reunion. Not a single cast member had a dry eye! It was also special for fans who got to relive the fun, laughter and tears.

Hosted by James Corden, the Reunion episode was unscripted and shot in front of a live audience. The iconic fountain in the opening credits of the show served as the background and the cast members sat on the famous orange couch.

James Corden with Friends cast members

We were also introduced to the producers of the show – Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin Bright who were in the audience. All three of them were friends before they made the show and in many ways, it was a reflection of their own time living in New York City as friends.

The Reunion episode showcased fans from all over the world – from India, Ghana, Germany and Slovakia who spoke about how the show impacted their lives. This is what set Friends apart from other shows – it appealed to a wide range of people from different cultures. It was genuinely funny and the go-to place for anyone in a dark place in their lives.

Celebrities make special appearances on the Reunion show

Cara Delevingne, English model and actress, walked the ramp in Rachel Green’s iconic pink bridesmaid’s dress, complete with the wardrobe malfunction! This was the episode where Rachel goes to her ex, Barry’s, wedding.

Justin Bieber walked the ramp in Ross’ famous ‘Spudnik’ costume.

David Beckham said Friends made him smile and he thought he was most like Monica because he is a neat freak himself. K-pop band, BTS, said that Friends taught them to speak in English. Lady Gaga made a special appearance along with Lisa Kudrow to sing ‘Smelly Cats’.

Malala Yusufzai made a special appearance with her best friend and said they enjoyed watching the show together.

The one where everybody agreed Ross and Rachel were on a break

This was a recurring theme on multiple seasons of the show. Ross and Rachel disagreed they were on a break and that they could start dating other people. The other cast members had to take sides. In the Reunion episode, everyone is in agreement that the two were on a break.

The Friends cast were paid $3-4 million each for the Reunion episode, according to reports in various news media. Back in 2004, for Season 10, each cast member got $1 million per episode.

Where can I watch Friends?

All 10 seasons of Friends (1994-2004) are available on Netflix. This iconic show may have been created in the 1990s but its popularity continues till date. In case you are interested in the Friends spinoff show, Joey, then the first season is available on Amazon Prime. The spinoff show follows the adventures of Joey as he furthers his acting career in Hollywood.

The Kingdom movie review (2007)

Streaming on Netflix

Rating: 3/5

Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom

Made in the years after 9/11 and before Osama bin Laden was killed by the US, The Kingdom focuses on America’s fight against jihadis in Saudi Arabia. The movie’s opening credits help to concisely explain the current situation in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The opening credits are a mini history lesson in itself, explaining the founding of the kingdom, discovery of oil by Americans and the joint formation of the Arabian-American Oil Company (today called Saudi Aramco). This led to the establishment of American housing compounds in Saudi Arabia where American workers of Aramco lived with their families.

The Kingdom opens with scenes from a company picnic and a baseball match that is in progress. This peaceful and happy atmosphere is soon shaken by gun shots and a suicide bomber as trigger-happy jihadists in Saudi Army uniforms reign bullets and terror on the American families inside their compound.

Several hundred miles away, FBI special agent, Ronald Fleury (played by Jamie Foxx) is tasked with investigating the terrorist incident. This is an uphill task because the Saudis are not very cooperative. As special agent, Janet Mayes (played by Jennifer Garner) explains – “The Saudi Royal Family cannot appear as if they’re losing control. If they lose control of their country, lose control of the people, they risk losing control of the oil. And that’s not going to happen.

Fleury and the rest of his team (Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman) fly to Saudi Arabia and they finally find a kindred soul in Colonel Faris al Ghazi (played by Ashraf Barhom) who is just as keen to find the terrorists.

Never a dull moment, The Kingdom has some great action sequences and car chases.

Where to watch Friends Reunion in India?

Almost 17 years after the last episode of Friends was aired, the fabulous six are getting back together again. This time they will be joined by a galaxy of celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, David Beckham, BTS, James Corden, Cindy Crawford, Cara Delevingne, Mindy Kaling, and Malala Yusufzai. Some regulars on the Friends show will also be making an appearance, including Tom Selleck who played Monica’s boyfriend and Maggie Wheeler who played Janice, Chandler Bing’s girlfriend. Reese Witherspoon, who played Rachel’s sister in one episode will also make a special appearance.

Friends was a much-loved companion for those of us growing up in the nineties and even later. It continued to be a popular sitcom well into the 2000’s and 2010’s as reruns of the show continued to air on TV and later on OTT platforms. It is, by far, the most popular TV show in history.

The much-awaited Friends Reunion is being live-streamed by HBO Max but in India, you can watch it exclusively on ZEE5. And while you countdown to 12:32 pm on May 27th, you can watch all 10 seasons of the iconic series on Netflix.

The Last Castle movie review (2001)

Streaming on Netflix

Rating: 3/5

Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes

Cast: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo

The Last Castle is a prison flick with one very important difference – none of the prisoners are trying to escape. Instead they revolt against their sadistic jailer, Colonel Winter (played by James Gandolfini) using whatever tools are at hand. They are led by Lt. General Eugene Irwin (played by Robert Redford) a legend in his own right.

General Irwin, a much-decorated officer, is sentenced to prison for disobeying the direct orders of his superior, leading to the death of American soldiers. As he tells his jailer, he is just looking to complete his time and go home to his daughter and grandson. However, he and Winter get off on the wrong foot. General Irwin is unable to look the other way when Colonel Winter persists in his tyrannical ways of operating the prison, resulting in the death and injury of several prisoners. Things come to a head when Irwin leads the men into an open, violent revolt against Winter.

The members of the cast of The Last Castle give a memorable performance, providing their respective characters a lot of depth. There are no dull moments in the movie as the plot moves at a fast pace and you will marvel at the sheer ingenuity of Irwin’s plans to topple Winter from power.

However, some points highlighted in the movie are simply not realistic. For example, a jailer known for getting his prison inmates killed is not going to last as long as Winter did. This would be a much bigger political issue than is made out in the movie. It may have happened in prisons a century or two ago but not in current times. Also, some props used by the prisoners in their revolt seem very hard to devise in a jail. Nevertheless, The Last Castle will keep you interested till the end.

Nayattu movie review (2021)

Streaming on Netflix

Rating: 4/5

Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Joju George, Nimisha Sajayan, Jaffer Idukki

The hunters become the hunted in Nayattu (meaning ‘The Hunt’ in Malayalam). Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, two policemen and one policewoman are on the run after being accused of murdering a Dalit political operative. Caste politics are often complex in India but more so during election time. Rather than investigate what really transpired, the political party in power gives the order to arrest the police officials to pacify its vote bank. It also does not matter that two of the police officials are Dalits themselves.

Nayattu holds a mirror to the workings of the dangerous politician-police nexus. From being perpetrators of corrupt practices at the bidding of powerful political brokers, the three hapless police officials find themselves pawns in the political game. As Maniyan (played by Joju George) wryly remarks “Even goons have the freedom to accept or reject such jobs.”

Nayattu’s story and script is written by an actual policeman, Shahi Kabir, which brings a refreshing authenticity to the movie. The cinematography by Shyju Khalid is superb as he brings the beauty of Munnar to the screen. His night shots of the three protagonists on the run make for stunning visual impact. Overall, Martin Prakkat’s Nayattu is a thrilling watch that will keep you glued to the screen till the end.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series review (2018-2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Rating: 4/5

Time: 2 seasons, 16 episodes

Cast: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, Abbie Cornish, Noomi Rapace, Dina Shihabi

Bestselling novelist Tom Clancy’s spy character, Jack Ryan’s adventures have been dramatised on Amazon Prime’s series of the same name. 

In the first season, Jack Ryan transitions from a desk job as a CIA analyst to the field as he pursues a digital trail of suspicious bank transfers leading to the dreaded Islamic terrorist, Suleiman. In the second season, the story shifts to Venezuela where the threat is Russia supplying nuclear weapons to an unstable South American regime. 

Never a dull moment, the storylines in both seasons are absorbing with sufficient twists and turns to keep you engaged till the end of the series.

Mom (2013-2021)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Time: 8 seasons; 170 episodes of 21 minutes each

Cast: Anna Faris, Allison Janney, Jaime Pressly, Mimi Kennedy, William Fichtner

The greatest strength of this comedic show is that it takes two deeply flawed characters and the extremely serious issue of alcoholism and makes it very, very funny! Christie is a recovering alcoholic with two children and a deep resentment for her mother, Bonnie, who is also a recovering alcoholic. The two are trying to turn around their lives, made complicated by the fact that they are broke, with low-paying jobs, and two small children to look after.

Mom is produced by Chuck Lorre, who has created several comedy shows, including The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. The show’s writers should get credit for finding the humour in seemingly hopeless life situations. The main characters on the show – Bonnie and Christie, are ably played by the Oscar winner, Allison Janney, and Anna Faris. Both women, along with a talented support cast, have great comedic timing. Overall, an entertaining and humorous show.

Mary Magdalene movie review (2019)

Streaming on Netflix

Rating: 3/5

Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Cast: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor

For almost 2,000 years it was believed (erroneously) that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. It is only in recent times, that the Vatican has set the record straight and declared her the apostle to the apostles – the first one to whom Jesus Christ appeared after His resurrection. 

Garth Davis’ film portrays her as an equal of the more famous 12 apostles and a true follower of Jesus Christ (played by Joaquin Pheonix). While the apostles were waiting for a revolution and for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, Mary Magdalene (played by Rooney Mara) kept an open mind and truly believed in Him. She was faithfully by his side through his death on the cross and his burial.   

In the early part of the movie, we find that Mary from the village of Magdala runs away from home to follow Jesus because she felt only He could fill the vacuum she felt in her soul. She did not want to conform to the Jewish ideal of marriage and children. Her family, unable to understand, get exorcists to try and ‘cure’ her of the demons that surely torment her…..because which woman in her right mind would not want to marry and raise children? Mary Magdalene was already far ahead of her times. 

Mary Magdalene makes full use of the creative license to tell stories that are not mentioned in the Bible. An example is the story of Jesus sending her and Peter (played by Chiwetel Eijofor) to Samaria to preach to the people. On the way, they come across a village decimated by the Romans. Some people are still alive but barely so, holding on to the last moments of life. Mary Magdalene, overcome with compassion, runs to fetch water for them and comfort them in death. Peter decides it is better to leave since very little hope is left for them. In this depiction we see Mary Magdalene truly embodying the love that Jesus taught.
At times the movie moves slowly and drags on a bit and it will take more than an ounce of patience to get through it. However, Mary Magdalene makes the case for women’s important role in the church and just for that, it is a recommended watch.

Palmer movie review (2021)

Streaming on Apple TV+

Rating: 4/5

Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Cast: Justing Timberlake, Juno Temple, Alisha Wainwright, Ryder Allen, June Squibb

Palmer will tug at your heartstrings. It is a beautiful story about redemption, second chances, and acceptance of oneself. Incarcerated for 12 years, Eddie Palmer (played superbly by Justin Timberlake) returns home, hopeful about turning his life around. This is not easy as the community has not forgotten his misdeeds and they make sure that he doesn’t either. He finds it hard to land a job with a prison record. He stays with his no-nonsense grandmother Vivian (played by June Squibb) and occasional guest, Sam (Ryder Allen).

Sam lives next door with his drug addict mother Shelly (played by Juno Temple) Whenever his mother disappears for a few days, the six-year-old comes to live with Vivian and Palmer. Comfortable in his own skin, Sam pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a boy. He loves his Barbies and when Palmer tells him, “You know you’re a boy, right? Boys don’t play with dolls”, Sam’s matter-of-fact response is “Well I’m a boy and I do.”

When Vivian passes away, Palmer finds he has to look after Sam – get him to school, feed him and everything else a parent is supposed to do. An unlikely bond forms between them and Palmer finds what he has been looking for all his life – a purpose.