Stranger Things (2016)

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes: 8

I didn’t give a lot of thought before I began watching the show. Usually I do an extensive research on the show I am going to watch, to understand if the show is of my type, and mainly if I would make it to the end. Stranger Things had a huge hype going around already and after reading my friend’s review of the show, I decided to watch it without any background check.

Stranger Things promote itself as a tribute to the 80s kids. But as a 90s kid, I absolutely loved it. It had a strong nostalgic factor which made me crave to get back to the 90s and experience all those lovely TV shows we had back then, all those fantastic time we spent with our friends on the streets, in each other’s houses, playing board games and role-plays. This show has adventure, horror, supernatural element, actually everything needed for it to be a great entertainer. Even though I am not a sci-fi fan, the entire atmosphere created in the show gripped me instantly.

The show has many parallel lines which come together at the end. Four little boys, bound by strong friendship, see one of them (Will) suddenly going missing. The rest of the three vow to find their friend and bring him back. They set out on a risky adventure, on their cycles, befriend a young girl- Eleven, realise Eleven isn’t a normal girl but someone with superpowers, someone who could help them find Will. Their loyalty and friendship is tested which they pass in flying colours. Every emotion sends out such a positive feeling. Simultaneously, we have Will’s mother who is determined that her son is alive, contrary to other’s opinion, and fights the strange happenings in her house, on her own, with mighty courage and grit. Will’s brother takes his own route to find out the mystery behind the sudden disappearances. The Sheriff of the town follows his own investigation while battling his personal demons. Amongst all this, we have a dreadful monster sticking out of the walls, lights used as a means of communication (The scene where Will speaks with his mother using lights is awesome!), government secrets and projects and loads of other complex theories to blow our mind.

I won’t delve more into the characters and the story lines. No heads-up. This 8-part series has such chilling moments which have become a rare sight in today’s horror show. All the relationships portrayed have beautiful innocence filled in them. There is no cunningness or backstabbing or betrayal. The show includes almost everything a 80s/90s kid would relate to.

Having appreciated well enough, there are some disappointing factors as well. I never really understood the back story of Eleven and her father. What was the project? What was that ghastly, sticky, foggy place? Was that inside the government building? Also- what was that monster and from where did it rise from? Was these questions deliberately left unanswered so that they could continue with the next season? I also wished, the teacher of the kids had more involvement in the story.

All the actors played their part well. All the kids did a tremendous job. The background music is one of the heroes of the show. It was timed perfectly in horror-moments. Light being used as a conversing medium was a brilliant idea.

Stranger Things is definitely a must-watch show. It has something for everyone to enjoy.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Rating: 3/5

No surprise, I was on cloud nine when I got to know JK Rowling (et al) was coming up with a new book. It didn’t matter if it was a novel or a play or just a short story. Being a Harry Potter fanatic, anything related to this magnificent series could get me jumping in joy. It would sound so silly and foolish, but the moment I held this beautiful hard cover book, I felt such endearing warmth. I guess only a fellow Harry Potter addict would understand this emotion.

From the time of the announcement, it was very clear that the book was a play and not a novel. The story resumes from where it left in the epilogue of the 7th book. It was quite a different experience to read Harry Potter as a play. There are no deep descriptions of the magical world as the entire narration is written as it would happen on stage. The entry and exit of characters, how the actors/characters give their expressions, the pauses, the beats- it definitely took me time to adjust to the transition. We don’t get an in-depth insight into any of the characters. May be on stage the emotions would be conveyed by the actors better, but as a book, you miss the emotional connect to the characters. It’s just a disappointment that this book could have scored better if it had been a novel than a play. I wish a novel version is released for the same story.

The play focuses on Albus Severus Potter and Scorpious Malfoy predominantly. They share an unbreakable friendship, quite opposite to what their fathers had when they were at school. Harry and Albus have a very strained relationship. Albus struggles being a Potter, the son of The Boy Who Lived. He is constantly bullied at school. Scorpious, on the other hand, is nothing like his father Draco. He is innocent and funny, and loyal. Both of them team up for an adventure, which goes horribly wrong, and therefore their parents have to step in to right their wrong. Vague enough? I didn’t want to divulge anything about the story.

The play has everything a Harry Potter fan would need, but everything caters to the stage. Hence, this limits the fantasising and visualizing element of the reader. We don’t get to see and feel Hogwarts like the way we did while reading the series. The spells and the other magic are hard to visualize, probably because the language used is for a script. The pace of the play is also on top speed, years pass in a matter of two pages. We don’t get to read THE Harry-Ron-Hermoine conversations. Ron, for one, is written as a completely funny character, forcefully funny, that it doesn’t seem like Ron at all. The older version of the trio isn’t as entertaining as I expected. When the trio get to Hogwarts, they address their once Professors by their first name or last name, which is kind of very hard to digest. I mean, Harry called Dumbledore as Dumbledore is, I don’t know, kind of shocked me. This magical world, after 19-20 years isn’t something I would want to be in. I am happy to be stuck in the past, in the old Hogwarts than the current one. In the entire 7 book series, the one thing which I found really hard to comprehend was the concept of the Time-turner (Book 3). This entire play is based on that and hence the read was pretty difficult for me.

The friendship of Albus and Scorpious is very endearing. To see a Potter and a Malfoy bond is truly magical. Harry has turned very boring. Ron and Hermoine are dull too. The play lacks the dry wit. I wish they had brought Dumbledore back in some way and given him a heroic scene of some sort. It’s still hard to get over his death in Book 6. I loved, loved, loved Severus Snape in this play. He was fantastic. Even if it was for just a few pages, he leaves a strong mark. That’s when I realised, Harry Potter (series) couldn’t have been a cult, a classic, if not for all the supporting characters- Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Longbottom, Weasleys- they all brought in such beautiful charm to the series. With their presence very meagre in this play, I didn’t feel belonged in this Harry Potter world.

Yet-Yet-Yet. It would be unfair to compare this play with the series. The writers had made it very clear from the beginning that this was a play. Hence it would be wrong to expect it to be like a novel, written like a novel. The look and feel of the book is very good. It’s definitely a page turner. I haven’t read many plays and hence I couldn’t judge how effectively this one is written as a play. But as a story, it has a very interesting plot and manages to keep the readers interested till the end; though I am sure every reader will feel a void while reading.

Read it to feel nostalgic.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time

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Rating: 3/5

Now that’s a title you can’t miss. It’s very evident from the title itself that the story isn’t going to be a very intense one; the best choice to take a break from my previous read. From the summary at the back cover, I got an Enid Blyton feel. But, honestly, the book was nowhere near any of the Enid Blyton’s works. It was completely different from what I had expected.

The story is about a 15 years old Christopher who is suffering from Asperger Syndrome (AS). He finds his neighbour’s dog dead struck by a garden fork and vows to find who murdered the dog much to the dislike of his father. The book follows the thoughts and feelings of Christopher and how different it is from a normal person. In a subtle way the author, Mark Haddon, brings out how meticulous and detailed the child’s thoughts are and that the only distinction is they have a slightly different set of behavioural skills. The way Christopher analyses the situation, prioritises the suspects and goes about his sleuthing work is so much fun to read. His innocent thoughts are so true that it ends up as mild sarcasm. He puts Sherlock Holmes as his role model detective but doesn’t like Arthur Conan Doyle. Each and every action of his has a reason behind which I don’t think a normal person has. He slowly closes in on who could have killed the dog and that’s where the author takes a U-turn with the story.

The incident of the dog murder is over by half-time and the story completely takes a different shift. The murderer is revealed and the story travels into the life of Christopher and his equation with his parents. As much as it is interesting at the beginning, the narrative becomes repetitive and boring. No offence to the people affected by the syndrome here, my only complaint is against the author’s story telling. He focuses more on how Christopher fights his fears and does things which he had practically never dreamt of. But the writing lacks the sarcasm and fun factor which proved to be the hero of the first half. The author shows how a child with AS requires constant attention. Christopher’s father takes care of him completely but one mistake- his son completely loses trust on him. A trust once broken is hard to regain. I guess from this above gist, you would have guessed that the book slowly becomes a family drama at the end. I had mixed feelings about the second part of the story.

I loved how the author projected the thoughts of a child with Asperger’s. It was actually fun to read the long sentences which explained Christopher’s long thoughts. Christopher gives so much attention to detail and the author has excellently captured that. The way Christopher uses Maths and Logic is fantastic. The author scores really high in the first half; not as much in the next.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a light and pleasant read. It could have been a much better work, nevertheless it’s completely different and the hard work of the author in portraying the mind of an Asperger’s child is very evident. Read if you don’t have anything interesting in your TBR list.

The Five (2016)

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes: 10

Cast: Tom Cullen, O.T. Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby, Sarah Solemani

The Five is a British crime drama created by renowned author Harlan Coben. With a very intriguing plot and well written characters, this gripping drama is the perfect recipe for a crime thriller. I don’t know if it’s because the creator Harlan Coben is a writer, the characters have so much depth with each one having distinctive shades.

The story begins in 1995 when the lives of four young friends- Mark, Danny, Slade and Pru change with the disappearance of Mark’s five year old brother, Jesse, in a forest. All the four friends have something to hide about the disappearance which they don’t reveal. All the four reek with guilt. Each one is traumatized by that incident. A serial killer, Jacob, admits to have found Jesse roaming in the forest and subsequently killing him. Distraught, everyone moves on with their lives.

After 20 years, Danny- now a cop comes across a case where a DNA matching to Jesse is found in a murder scene. Does this mean Jesse is alive? Has he turned into a murderer? Why didn’t he come back to his family when he is alive? Danny informs his findings to the rest of his friends and the fact that there is a possibility that Jesse might be alive. This news excites them and they decide to get to the bottom of it. What comes after is a thrilling journey with more murders, more evidences suggesting Jesse is alive, several secrets divulged straining the long years of friendship, and numerous twists and turns drastically changing the course of the cases.

The best part of this show was it kept me glued to every scene, forced me to travel along with every character and feel every emotion of theirs. Every character has its own parallel tracks too. My favorite was Danny and his father’s story where Danny struggles to handle his father who suffers from severe Alzheimer. Slade, who runs a shelter, has a very dark shade to him which made me suspect him throughout of some wrongdoing. Out of the four, I felt Mark’s character, a lawyer, to be the weakest. He is Jesse’s brother and hence holds more prominence than the other characters. But somewhere in order to make him look the strong but desperate brother, he ended up being very irritating at the end. The narration is topped with several clues, some of which prove Jesse is alive, and some of which prove otherwise. In addition, we get flashes from the four friends’ childhood making us weave our own theory, suspecting one of the four to have had a hand in Jesse’s disappearance/death. As a viewer I struggled to decide if I should get my hopes high or not, to believe if Jesse was alive or not, which in itself got me going till the last episode without losing even a tiny bit of interest. The climax is one of the most satisfying ends I have seen in recent times.

The background music and certain songs played in between were excellent. They went with the mood of the scenes so effectively. Another thing which I loved was, every episode ended with a cliff-hanger compelling me to run to the next episode immediately. The performances were good but nothing extraordinary. No one stood out but all were equally good.

The Five is a must watch for someone who loves slow crime thrillers; it’s just like reading a book. The plot is set in the first two episodes, then action for the next few episodes, followed by the story steering towards the end. This show has definitely kindled my interest in reading Harlan Coben’s books. I really hope he writes more for TV too.


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Genre: Crime Thriller?

Rating: 1.5/5

Falling by debutant Emma Kavanagh is one of those books which has a very interesting plot at the back cover of the book but fails to stand up to it.  The narration is unimpressive and the characters are dull. There aren’t any tense moments or shocking revelations which could have given some respite to the otherwise wearisome thriller.

“Four people with something to hide.” “A town in mourning. A murder in waiting.” These phrases sent me a chill when I first picked up the book. The story begins with an airplane crash and subsequently follows the lives of four members- Freya, Tom, Jim and Cecilia and how that one drastic event changes their lives.

Freya’s father is the pilot of the crashed plane. She feels restless mainly because she isn’t devastated by her father’s death. Cecilia is the airhostess who survives the crash, something she wishes she hadn’t. Tom is Cecilia’s husband and a policeman who is given charge of solving a gruesome murder. He knows his marriage with Cecilia wasn’t working out and is struggling to find the right solution which wouldn’t affect their little son. Jim is the father of the murdered girl. He is determined to find out who hurt his beloved daughter. Apart from the plane crash, all these four people are connected but how? All these four people have something to hide but what? Who is responsible for the crash? Was it definitely an accident or was it deliberate? Who murdered Jim’s daughter? All these questions are answered in the rest of the book.

Every chapter follows the life of one central character. Freya’s, Tom’s and Jim’s chapters are quite interesting but Cecilia is a very tedious character. Her chapters really bored me and I had no qualms in skipping her portions. Her character plays a victim boarded with self pity and self loathing. I felt sympathetic at the beginning but it kind of became irritating after a point. The story is taken forward primarily with the character’s thoughts- what they feel, how they feel, what they want to do, etc and it becomes too repetitive. That’s when I missed some action. And that’s when I wondered if this book was actually even crime thriller?! Just because it had murder written on the cover, did I presume it was a crime thriller? The story does have some investigation which goes on in the background, but the primary focus is on building the connection between these four characters. The author succeeds in hitting the connection, but the plot turns very pale instead. The connection is too obvious. It’s always better to reveal the secret to both the reader and the character at the same time. The only respite is the suspense behind who murdered Jim’s daughter. But that just comes at the end for about two chapters. Description and thought process of the characters hindered the pace of the narration throughout. Just when some action begins to happen, it fizzles out with Cecilia’s character coming in.

What could have been a very interesting story ends up with just an interesting plot with nothing new to offer.

The A Word (2016)

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Channel: BBC

Cast: Max Vento, Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Christopher Eccleston

Number of episodes: 6

Rating: 3.5/5

Autism! Such a relevant issue in todays times, also an issue which is widely used to grab attention of the viewers on TV. The A word strikes with its title. This show revolves around the dysfunctional Hughes family and how they struggle to come to terms with the fact that their little boy is autistic. Mind you, the show isn’t about autism or even about the autistic child. It’s about the kind of difference a special child brings into a family.

Joe is 5 years old. He lives in his own world of music, is loved by every member of the family, is autistic. He doesn’t communicate with anyone, and the most he does is repeat what is said to him. Paul Hughes (Ingleby), is a dotted father, a loving husband, who works very hard to build his own restaurant. Alison Hughes (Christie) is a strong woman, a passionate mother, who runs her own diner. Her world is Joe. Rebecca is Alison’s daughter from her first marriage, a high school student. We also have Maurice (Eccleston), who is Alison’s father. He owns a brewery which he lets his son, Eddie to run. As usual, the father and the son don’t get along very well with each having their own business opinion. Eddie lives with his wife Nicola, who works as a nurse. She is known for her radical honesty which isn’t liked very much by Alison. She is the first one to notice that Joe isn’t normal. Numerous arguments take place among the family members amidst which Joe lives, unperturbed.

The parents, in spite of knowing that their little boy isn’t like the other children, shy away from accepting it. We can see that they know at the back of their minds that their child is autistic, but they just don’t want to confirm it. They delay meeting doctors; they refuse any sort of help, especially Alison. Sometimes, Alison’s reactions are very irritating. She is blunt with her replies.  She is very stubborn with her decisions. She is always in search of even the smallest of the things to reassure herself and the others that Joe is normal. She bans everyone to call her son autistic (hence the title of the show) as that would mean they are accepting that he is one. In spite of everything above, it’s very clear that every act of hers is just a mother who doesn’t want to label her child as special. On the other hand, Paul accepts the reality quicker than his wife and is ready to take the needed steps to help Joe in his day to day life. He visits a special school and believes it will better Joe at least a little. Several arguments happen between Paul and Alison which bring out their inner stress and emotional turmoil. Yet, the way they cope and stand together in handling Joe is very good to see.

There are many things which are shown nicely in the show, which touch upon very realistic issues. One is Rebecca and her life. She is in high school. She has a boyfriend and that makes her feel good. She loves Joe, her step brother, a lot and sometimes understands him better than their parents. When Paul and Alison get very busy in finding Joe the right remedy for his condition, they unintentionally begin neglecting Rebecca citing she is a big girl now. Whatever the age is, kids need someone to talk to and Rebecca feels the absence of her parents, especially when she breaks up with her boyfriend. She takes solace in talking to her uncle and aunt instead. Alison again comes across as a very poor mother who isn’t able to give equal attention to both her kids, and yet again, that’s the realistic mother. No mother can be perfect and for Alison, she fears Joe’s future and that’s her first priority. A big applause to the writer for giving a character like Alison, an imperfect mother, who loves her children unconditionally.

Joe! Joe! Joe! How can we not love him? Such a cute little boy and his antics are so endearing to see. His life is his music and he even sleeps with his headphones on. He sings along with every song, and at the end says the name of the album and even the year of release. He has several habits like he always closes the door once or twice before he enters. Even if the door is closed, he opens it, closes it, and then enters. He becomes restless if music is taken away from him. The speech therapist who comes to gauge him explains beautifully how Joe resolves to music when he wants to escape from a social situation. Her theory is Joe doesn’t like all the arguments and jabs taken at each other. He closes himself out through music.

The show takes a very interesting turn with the entry of the speech therapist, Maggie, as it moves the story forward. A school friend of Alison’s, who was once bullied by her, she puts across the hard reality in front of the family so quickly. For example, when Paul asks Joe to fix a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, Joe stands silently. Paul moves Joe’s hand and fixes the piece in the right place and claps and applauds Joe as an encouragement. Maggie says that’s now what Joe wants, encouragement. He wants to know what’s right and wrong. He wants to know how to communicate and communication has to be two-way and not one way. When Alison tries to force Maggie to become a full time therapist for Joe, she directly points out how it’s all about Alison all the time, what she wants and what she wishes. She says, Alison isn’t ashamed of Joe, but she is ashamed of herself. It made me think, how much ever you try to accept the truth, shame just walks with you in some form.

What really bring the show down are the tracks of the other characters. Maurice and his music teacher.  Eddie and Nicola’s strained married life. Both these tracks have no bearing on Joe and hence the entire theme of the show. It would have been better if those characters had something to do with the main plot of the show. Also, every episode begins with Joe walking alone in the mountain road with his headphones on. Is that safe?

The performance of the cast is amazing. Max, Lee and Morven give an extraordinary performance. The supporting cast is equally good and they pull the viewers into the show very quickly.

The A Word is a great show for portraying autism in a very different way. If you think the show is about autism, it is not. It is more about family and relationships, and the compromises and adjustments the family has to make to give a comfortable life to an autistic child.  Sooner they accept their child is autistic, better it is for the child.

The Night Manager (2016)

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Channel: BBC

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivia Colman

Number of episodes: 6

Rating: 1.5/5

The Night Manager is a British spy thriller series based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name. Beaming with an exceptional stellar cast, it’s impossible to give this series a miss. I was highly excited when I started my binge watching of this series, especially it coming under the radar of my favourite genre, but at the end I ended up with a mixed feeling.

Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) works as a night manager in a very posh hotel in Cairo where bombings and killings aren’t experienced with a shock. He comes across information regarding an arms dealing which he sincerely informs MI6, but the consequences results in the murder of his brand new girlfriend. Riding with guilt and raging for revenge, after several years, he meets the guy, Roper (Laurie), who was primarily responsible for his girlfriend’s death. With the help of the MI6 officer, Angela (Olivia), who is obsessed with bringing Roper down, he penetrates Roper’s gang and earns his trust. Will Pine succeed in taking his revenge? Will Roper find out about Pine’s real identity? Will Angela finally bring down this powerful man?

Firstly, the story unravels in a very complicated manner with very intricate details. Arms deal and subsequent meetings went above my head. The strategies and plans are plotted very seriously, but the plan itself is too easy. Roper sees through everyone but Pine? Come on! The world’s mightiest villain, someone who is feared by everyone, just fails when it comes to the hero- who has no experience whatsoever of being a spy? Boring! At one moment, Roper falls for something told against his long time confidant and he immediately takes him off his dealings just like that? Too predictable and utterly normal.

Hugh Laurie is great in playing Roper, the rich businessman with powerful underground dealings, not to forget the mighty sarcasm. Elizabeth plays Roper’s wife with terrific confidence. Olivia is very good as the desperate but strong (and pregnant) MI6 officer. But Tom Hiddleston? Don’t think I am going to say he was amazing or spectacular. I felt he was completely flat and boring playing Jonathan Pine. I felt he could have brought in more to make Pine at least a little interesting. Jonathan Pine is someone whom the viewers should sympathise for his loss initially and then should want him to succeed in the most powerful and clever ways, which doesn’t happen at all. With Pine itself faltering, I felt the show had no chance of calling itself a great thriller.

I wonder if all the hype created around a series, it getting nominated for big awards and our own high expectations influence our thoughts when we watch a show. When I think about The Night Manager, I feel there was everything, and yet there was nothing. I know I am not making any sense here. The story of this show is very interesting, it has a very well written plot, brilliant acting as well, yet I felt there was a complete lack of WOW moments- moments which make you sit straight or even force you to let out a whistle. I waited and waited for moments as such. There were instances where the scenes were built up for a great experience, which never came. Mind games were averagely played, and there was no action at all, or at least when it was actually needed. It was like wrestlers debating and not wrestling. The last episode did manage to garner some kind of thrilling moments, but it wasn’t enough. Lot of time was spent on Pine earning Roper’s trust and Angela’s fight with the political system. Out of the 6 episodes, 5 episodes were taken just for the build up, while the 6th episode just raced through. What could have been a great spy thriller, ended up just average. All the hoo-hoos and great ratings are just for the cast, I guess.

On the whole, The Night Manager isn’t a bad show. But it isn’t extraordinary. It has a great cast and few very good moments sprinkled over the 6 episodes. It’s not a must watch show, so you needn’t force yourself to watch it just because it is popularly talked about.