ZOO series review (2017- 2019)

Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

Zoo series trailer

Rating: 3/5

Time: 3 seasons, 39 episodes of 40 minutes each

Zoo series cast: Kristen Connolly, James Wolk, Billy Burke, Nonso Anozie, Nora Arnezeder

“The world was becoming a zoo, without cages.” James Patterson, author of Zoo

The James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge novel of the same name is the inspiration behind the Zoo series, streaming on Netflix. The show is based on an interesting premise – what if after generations of subjugation, hunting and killing by humans, the animals and birds of Earth were to rise up in unison against humans?

This rebellion takes place in multiple locations across the world. In Botswana, Africa, lions unify as one team to hunt and kill tourists. In Japan and Rio de Janeiro, swarms of bats come out of their hiding places to wreak havoc in broad daylight. In Slovenia, domestic and street dogs form packs to kill people.

In order to make sense of this dystopian nightmare, a motley group of investigators is put in place. We have Dr Jackson Oz (played by James Wolk), a zoologist based in Africa who has a day job as a safari guide. His father’s thesis on animal behaviour may shed light on the bizarre behaviour of the animal kingdom. He’s joined by his assistant and good friend, the ever-dependable Abe (played by Nonso Anozie). We have the veterinary pathologist, Mitch (played by Billy Burke) and pushy journalist, Jaime (played by Kristen Connolly) who is convinced that the chemicals dispensed by a big, bad global corporation is responsible for the animal attacks. Finally, we have Chloe Tousignant, a French spy agent who is the leader of this disparate group.

Heroes of Zoo

Season 1 of Zoo is eminently binge-worthy. You will want to know what happens next….will the investigators find out how this happened? Can they find a “cure” for the animals’ erratic behaviour? However, the fast-paced sci-fi thriller runs out of James Patterson’s original novel in the first season. By the second and third seasons, Zoo begins to take on new and bizarre twists and turns, which even for the sci-fi genre is hard to believe. We’ve given a 3/5 rating for Season 1. Seasons 2 and 3 can be given a miss.

Has Zoo been renewed for Season 4?

The Zoo tv series was cancelled by CBS after Season 3 due to dwindling popularity. The show could get only a 0.51 rating in the 18-41 demographic and just 2.56 million viewers.

Monster movie review (2021)

Streaming on Netflix

Trailer of Monster

Rating: 3/5

Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Ehle, John David Washington

Monster assumes relevance in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement. Getting picked up by the police is a common occurrence for young, black men in the US. There are countless cases of innocent, black men serving long prison sentences for relatively minor crimes. Our protagonist, Steve Harmon (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr) is just 17 years old, happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets arrested for a convenience store robbery gone wrong when the owner is shot dead by the robbers.

The director, Anthony Mandler, weaves the story back and forth from Steve’s trial to the days leading up to the crime. We see vignettes of Steve Harmon’s life as a school student, his obsession with recording his daily life on phone, and his aspirations to be a filmmaker. We get to see the school activities and passions of a regular teenager. In fact, right up till the movie’s climax, we are left guessing about the extent of Steve’s involvement in the crime.

In a society where the jury tends to prejudge a black man, does Steve Harmon stand a chance? Or will he be viewed as the monster that he is not? Monster is a slow-burn movie that slowly peels back layers of the story and takes time to build up to the climax. Every actor has delivered a memorable performance but it is clearly Kelvin Harrison Jr as Steve who carries the movie.

Rose Island movie review (2020)

Streaming on Netflix

Rose Island trailer

Rating: 3/5

Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Cast: Elio Germano, Matilda De Angelis, Leonardo Lidi, Tom Waschiha, Alberto Astorri

Based on a true story, the Italian comedy, Rose Island, is as light-hearted and irreverent as the times it is set in – the swinging sixties. Sixties was when youth defied the establishment to live life on their own terms. It was a time of cultural revolution that changed music, lifestyle, fashion and much else. In Italy, there were student protests against the political and religious establishment of the time.

Against this background, steps in our hero – Giorgio Rosa (played by Elio Germano) who is an idealist and talented engineer. He has built his own car with some metal and his grandmother’s sofa and now he wants to build his own country! With enthusiastic support from his rich friend, Maurizio (played by Leonardo Lidi), Giorgio builds an island off the coast of Italy, outside its territorial waters. Not more than an oil rig, Rose Island starts attracting wannabe citizens from all over Italy, Europe, and the US. There are wild parties daily on the island and the media hype starts attracting unwanted attention from the Italian government. How long can Giorgio hold out against the powerful establishment?

Elio Germano seems miscast as Giorgio – he looks less like a newly graduated engineer and more like a middle-aged father of two. At times, the story does not flow seamlessly. For example, after repeatedly telling him that his ideas are too grandiose, Giorgio’s ex-girlfriend, Gabriella (played by Matilda de Angelis) has a change of heart. What convinced her to go back to him? That part is not very clear in the movie nor is it explored thoroughly.

However, Rose Island is a funny and entertaining watch. It highlights a forgotten story from history and the movie tries to provide as much historical detail as possible. For example, in a shot of the United Nations HQ in New York, we see from the windows of the Secretary General’s office the construction of the Twin Towers that were eventually inaugurated in the early 1970s. Such attention to detail can be seen in the movie’s costumes and delightful, tiny Italian cars of the sixties.

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.

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.

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.

The Extraction movie review (2020)

Streaming on Netflix

Rating: 2 / 5

Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda

Chris Hemsworth – starrers are usually high on action. The Extraction is no exception. The action thriller has some good fight sequences, including a 12-minute action sequence that was shot continuously.

However, the rest of the movie disappoints with a predictable story line.

Set in India and Bangladesh, the movie features an Indian cast. The story unfolds with the kidnapping of the son of a Mumbai-based crime lord by a rival drug lord based in Dhaka. The boy, Ovi, is subsequently taken to Bangladesh from where a mercenary, Tyler (Chris Hemsworth), has been hired to extract him.

Things go wrong (as they usually do in a movie, otherwise where is the drama?) and carefully laid plans go waste. Tyler must improvise but there are complications as our hero carries a death wish, haunted by the death of his own son a few years ago. Will Ovi be saved? Will both Tyler and Ovi survive the extraction?

There is one particularly stomach-churning scene when Tyler and Ovi jump into a Dhaka sewage drain to escape the bad guys. With creepy crawlies on the walls and rats swimming in the drain, it was scarier than when our heroes were under fire.

In other news, the producers were in the process of making a sequel for The Extraction but the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have delayed it considerably.