Nine Perfect Strangers series review

Where to watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

Rating: 3/5

Time: 8 episodes of 45-50 minutes each

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Regina Hall, Asher Keddie, Tiffany Boone, Bobby Cannavale

Nine Perfect Strangers is a drama about guests at a health and wellness retreat run by Masha (played by Nicole Kidman). A mysterious Russian woman, Masha turned her life around after a near-death experience. Now she runs Tranquillium, a wellness resort that is promising to heal the mental and emotional scars of its guests. She is picky – not everyone who applies to attend Tranquillium is able to get in.

This time round, joining her and her team is a motley group of deeply scarred strangers. There is Frances (played by Melissa McCarthy) a failed writer betrayed in love. There is Tony (played by Bobby Cannavale) a depressed and failed football star unable to connect with his family. Then there are the Marconis – father, Napoleon (played by Michael Shannon), mother Heather (played by Asher Keddie) and daughter Zoe who are grappling with the suicide of Zoe’s twin brother. Luke Evans plays Lars, an investigative journalist, who is at Tranquillium to investigate its mysterious owner and her methods. But he has demons of his own to deal with. Carmel (played by Regina Hall) is grappling with a cheating husband and low self confidence. Ben and Jessica, a couple looking to rekindle their relationship, round up the disparate group.

Nine Perfect Strangers

Masha’s healing protocol is to micro dose her guests with psilocybin (aka magic mushroom) and other assorted psychedelics. The jury is still out on the use of psychedelic substances in treating anxiety and mental health issues. However, many people have reported being helped immensely by microdosing on these substances. Will Masha’s methods help these strangers regain the balance in their lives or will the relationship dynamics implode? While the limited series is well worth a watch, in certain parts, it tends to slow down instead of keeping up the pace.

Deutschland web series review

Where to watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

Deutschland 83 trailer

Rating: 4/5

Time: 19 episodes of 45-50 minutes each

Cast: Jonas Nay, Maria Schrader, Sylvester Groth, Carina Wiese, Sonja Gerhardt, Alexander Beyer

At the height of the Cold War, Europe was divided into two – Communists and Capitalists. The city of Berlin was literally split by the construction of a wall.

The Deutschland series (Deutschland 83, Deutschland 86 and Deutschland 89) covers the decade leading up to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism in Europe. It provides a front row seat to the Cold War by depicting the adventures of the East German spy, Martin Rauch (played by Jonas Nay). Rauch is a reluctant spy who is forcibly recruited by his aunt Lenora (played by Maria Schrader) – a spy herself. Planted as the assistant to a West German general in NATO, Rauch passes on secrets from the West to communist East Germany.

Deutschland 83 is the first season that was released in 2015. It is set in 1983 at the height of the Cold War. The second season, Deutschland 86, came out in 2018 and reveals how cash-strapped East Germany tries to make money by embracing not-so-socialist ideas. The third season, Deutschland 89, was released in 2020. It is set in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sadly, Amazon Prime only carries the first 2 seasons in India. However, it includes a documentary on East Germany, which is a great watch for history buffs.

Deutschland 83

While the characters in the Deutschland series are fictious, some of the key incidents are based on real-life events. This includes NATO’s Able Archer war exercise that the East Germans believed to be an actual attack. In the series, our hero, Rauch, is able to correct this misunderstanding and prevent the breakout of war in Europe. Rauch comes across as a street-smart character who consistently thinks on his feet to extricate himself from dangerous situations. Not quite James Bond, he displays the vulnerabilities of his young age and lack of experience. As he learns more of the world around him, Martin Rauch tries to maintain his moral compass.

Deutschland is an engrossing and binge-worthy show. It brings in a bit of 80s nostalgia with its music and fashion. It also touches on more serious issues such as the breakout of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. Fans of this series in India are missing closure, so let’s hope that Amazon Prime streams Deutschland 89 soon.

Sherni movie review (2021)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Sherni movie trailer

Rating: 4/5

Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes

Cast: Vidya Balan, Vijay Raaz, Neeraj Kabi, Ila Arun, Sharat Saxena, Brijendra Kala

Sherni is a realistic and sensitive portrayal of the forest officers who are responsible for guarding India’s forests, flora and fauna. It provides a peek into the workings of the forest department that is constrained by political interference and the constant clash between man and wild animal in the quest for survival.

Vidya Balan plays Vidya Vincent, a Divisional Forest Officer, in the movie. She is posted in a remote forest location in Madhya Pradesh, while her husband stays back in Mumbai where he works. Faced with loneliness and a stalled career with no growth prospects, she often wonders about resigning. Her posting is not easy. She is surrounded by male misogynists. At one point, someone tells her “When trouble comes, they send a lady officer.”

A man-eating tigress creates more trouble for her because fearful villagers create pressure on the forest department to capture the animal. The issue gets further complicated when two rival politicians manipulate the villagers in a bid to win the next elections. One of them gets a professional hunter, Ranjan Rajhans (played by Sharat Saxena) involved. Rajhans calls himself a conservationist but in reality he is just looking to make his next trophy kill.

Sherni provides a fascinating view of how tigers are tracked in the wild. Officers have to trek hundreds of kilometres to locate the animal’s pug marks and droppings. Camera traps are set up in various parts of the jungle to understand the animal’s movements. Sherni is based on the true events surrounding the 2018 killing of tigress, Avni, in the Yavatmal forests of Maharashtra. At that time, as in this movie, it had caused major national controversy.

The movie is a must-watch to increase our appreciation of Mother Nature. Another reason to see the movie – Vidya Balan’s understated and graceful performance as she quietly goes about fulfilling her official duties.

The Homecoming (2018, 2020)

Rating: 4 / 5

Time: Season 1 – 10 episodes; Season 2 – 7 episodes approx. 30 minutes each

The second season of Homecoming begins with a woman waking up in a canoe in the middle of a lake with no memory of who she is or how she got there. The rest of the series is the story of how she slowly uncovers her identity. Little by little, she follows clues to reveal what had happened to her in the days prior to being stranded in the middle of the lake. The series is fast-paced and to the point. It does not unnecessarily linger at any one point or divert attention from the main story.

Memory loss is the continuing theme of the second season of Homecoming. In the first season, Julia Roberts plays Heidi Bergman, a social worker turned waitress. She has no memory of her days spent at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center as a social worker helping US army veterans returning from war. Her journey to discover the missing years of her life makes for a suspenseful psychological thriller.

The Kitchen (2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Rating: 2 / 5

Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish

Three housewives turning into mafia bosses overnight is a difficult transformation and a tough story to tell. A good movie would have given it some thought, treated the characters with care, and given them the scenes, situations, and dialogues required to make this transformation.

Instead, The Kitchen fails to thoughtfully conceive the theme and narrate the story well. None of the characters have been fleshed out with the result that the end product is not very believable.

There seems to be a lot of potential in Elisabeth Moss’s abused wife character but we don’t get to see it. Her metamorphosis from a timid, mistreated wife to a murderous gang member seems incomplete. Tiffany Haddish in the role of Ruby seems like fish out of water – she’s clearly uncomfortable in the role and when the scene requires her to act – she tries too hard. Melissa McCarthy slips more comfortably into her role as the housewife of an Irish mafia man. But even she looks bewildered when thrust into the role of a mafia boss just a couple of scenes away.

The Kitchen had the potential of a good story idea but failed to realize it with a weak screenplay, bad direction, and forced acting.