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.

Greyhound movie review (2020)

Streaming on Apple TV+

Rating: 4/5

Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Cast: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue

Greyhound is a thrilling World War II movie set in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1942. The hero of our story is Captain Ernest Krause (played by Tom Hanks) who is tasked with the mission of leading an international convoy of 37 ships on a mission across the Atlantic Ocean to deliver supplies to the Allied Forces fighting Hitler’s army in Europe. The North Atlantic waters are treacherous with German U-boats on the prowl. But Captain Krause carries on the US Navy tradition of “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Inspired by true events, Greyhound is based on the Battle of the Atlantic – the longest military campaign in history lasting five years from 1939 to Germany’s defeat in 1945. The UK and other Allied Forces depended on the Americans for soldiers and supplies to survive the war. But these supplies from North America had to cross the Atlantic and were often targets of German warships and submarines.

Events in the movie unfold in rapid succession. Hardly has Captain Krause’s ship, the Greyhound, sunk a German U-boat, than another makes its appearance. The special effects are great with sweeping aerial shots of the ship convoy, as well as clearer shots of the choppy and turbulent waters and menacing U-boats circling the Allied convoy. Greyhound is well worth the watch, especially with Tom Hanks’ faultless acting.

Those Who Wish Me Dead movie review (2021)

Streaming on Apple TV; rent it on bookmyshow.com

Those Who Wish Me Dead movie trailer

Rating: 1/5

Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Finn Little, Jake Weber

Angelina Jolie-starrer Those Who Wish Me Dead starts out promising to be an engrossing action thriller. But somewhere along the way it loses its charm. Insipid dialogues, weak story and uninspiring performance by the lead actress makes the movie predictable.

In fact, the real heroine of Those Who Wish Me Dead seems to be Allison (played by Medina Senghore). Six months pregnant, she manages to seriously hurt two bad guys before riding off on a horse searching for her husband!

There are big holes in the movie’s story. It starts with the murder of the District Attorney and his family by two henchmen Patrick and Jack (played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen). On hearing the news the DA’s forensic accountant, Owen (played by Jake Weber), realises that he is probably next because of his investigation of a corruption case. We are never told the details of this case. Owen scribbles it down for his son, Connor (played by Finn Little). But we never get to know what was written. Without knowing why Patrick and Jack are out on a killing spree (they manage to track down and murder Owen and spend a major part of the movie looking for Connor), it is very hard for the viewer to empathise with the victims or the story unfolding on the screen.

Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie plays a smokejumper – a firefighter who parachutes into the site of a wildfire to fight it. Now, given this and Angelina Jolie’s background as action heroine, you would expect at least one scene where we get to see the actress perform a stunt or at least a couple of smokejumpers in action. You will be disappointed.

There is a mysterious storm brewing in the middle of the movie that seems to be developing into something major but by the next couple of scenes, the storm is nowhere to be seen.

The movie shares the same script writer as Without Remorse, so it is not surprising that the dialogues are uninspiring. (Read our review of Without Remorse). The dialogues are insipid and do nothing to add value to the characters or move the story forward. (sample – campfire scene with Hannah and Connor).

Those Who Wish Me Dead has a stellar cast and the potential of a good action movie but fails to deliver.

Mare of Easttown review (2021)

Streaming on Disney plus Hotstar

Mare of Easttown trailer

Rating: 4/5

Time: 7 episodes of 1 hour each

Cast: Kate Winslet, Jean Smart, Guy Pearce, Evan Peters, Julianne Nicholson, Sosie Bacon

Mare of Easttown marks Hollywood star, Kate Winslet’s entry to the OTT world. She carries the show on her able shoulders – the bright sun around whom all of the supporting cast revolve. In her deglamourised role, she has perfected the Delco accent spoken in Pennsylvania where Easttown is located. Her performance of a character duelling with multiple problems in life is believable and compelling.

Mare of Easttown is very similar to many crime thrillers we view today. The investigating detective’s own personal drama and story gets intertwined with the crime that has been committed. Gone are the days of Agatha Christie, when it was enough to describe the crime, the suspects, and the detective work undertaken by the investigator to create an absorbing crime story. Today’s crime thrillers not just describe all of the above but also include the detective’s own personal foibles and his/her life story which is usually full of tragedy and remorse (True Detective, Shetland).

Mare of Easttown is no different. There is plenty of drama in Mare Sheehan’s (played by Kate Winslet) life. She is divorced with an elder son who committed suicide not too long ago. He left behind a young boy whom Mare is looking after but the child’s mother (played by Sosie Bacon, Kevin Bacon’s daughter) who is a recovering addict is fighting a custody battle for the boy. Mare Sheehan’s ex-husband will get married soon and she is the last to find out. She is not in any steady relationship but lives with her mother (played by Jean Smart) and daughter, both of whom have difficult relationships with her. All of this would have been enough material for a season or two. However, we also have a murder and two missing girls, leading everyone in Easttown to wonder – is there a serial killer on the loose?

Mare of Easttown shines above most other crime series because of the presence of Hollywood star, Kate Winslet. She has ably portrayed the various layers of a complex character. The series also benefits from writer Brad Ingelsby’s engrossing script. All of the sub-plots in the web series will keep you glued to the screen, making the Mare of Easttown a binge-worthy show.

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.

The Family Man – Season 2 review (2021)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

The Family Man Season 2

Rating: 4/5

Time: 9 episodes of approximately 40 minutes each

Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Priyamani, Samantha Akkineni, Sharib Hashmi, Seema Biswas

Season 2 of The Family Man is similar to Season 1 in terms of taking real-life, socio-political issues to create plot twists and turns in the story. While season 1 focussed on the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism angle in Jammu & Kashmir, Season 2 focuses on the LTTE and Tamil issue in Sri Lanka. In fact, the web series takes it one step further – what if India’s enemies – Pakistani jihadi terrorists and Tamil rebels were to unite to cause disruption in India?

The Family Man in a new avatar

Manoj Bajpai ably reprises his role as Srikant Tiwari but in a whole new life situation. After having resigned from TASC team at the NIA, he joins a 9-to-5 corporate job that lifts him out of his middle-class status. He has a brand-new car, his son has new gizmos and gadgets to play with and the family has made the downpayment on a brand, new flat. And he is working on his fractured marital relationship with wife, Shuchi (played by Priyamani). But his heart is not in his job. Guess, once a spy…always a spy?

A hostage situation in Chennai gives Tiwari the opportunity to get back in the game. His trusted colleague JK (played by Sharib Hashmi) provides him with news and updates on the current case and Tiwari realises his role is not behind a desk, working for a “minimum guy” boss but out in the field, fighting terrorists, following leads and catching the bad guys.

Exceptional performance by Samantha Akkineni

Samantha Akkineni as the Tamil rebel, Raji, is phenomenal. The award-winning actress has brought great depth and emotion to the complex character she has played.

Never a dull moment, Season 2 lives up to expectations of being a bingeworthy show. Interesting subplots, humorous and witty dialogues and strong performances by the entire cast make The Family Man one of the best Indian shows. So, get the snacks out….and don’t get up till the bad guys get caught.

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 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.