New Series Trailers: Turn Up Charlie, Delhi Crime, & Ramy

Turn Up Charlie (Netflix) – This show is now streaming!

This show stars British actor Idris Elba; he worked as a DJ in London & NYC for years in his 20s & 30s.

Delhi Crime (Netflix): March 22nd

NYC-based writer/media critic Aseem Chhabra (who I’ve been following since 2005) posted re: this show on IG. He “loved the first two episodes,” which were directed by his Canadian friend (Richie Mehta). The cast includes Rasika Dugal (Bombay Talkies) and Shefali Shah (who some of you will recognize from her memorable co-starring role in Monsoon Wedding). The show focuses on the Nirbhaya rape case of Jyoti Singh. I’m guessing that most of the actors in this show are theater veterans.

Ramy (Hulu): April 19th

You may have seen Ramy Youssef’s stand-up before. In his 1st series, he plays a young man (NOT unlike himself) who is a first generation Egyptian-American exploring the challenges of being a Muslim in today’s world. His mother is played by internationally-acclaimed Israeli Arab actress, Hiam Abbass (The Visitor; Blade Runner 2049). Mo Amer (another stand-up comic) who is a Palestinian-American/refugee is part of the cast; he has a Netflix special (The Vagabond) that is funny and educational. Dave Merheje, a Canadian-Lebanese stand-up featured in Comedians of the World (Netflix), also has a role; he just won a Juno award this week. Indian-American actress Poorna Jagannathan (The Night Of; Gypsy) is also listed in IMDB for 3 eps; she is a friend of one of my writer friends (from my NYC days).

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Netflix Original Holiday Movies

Christmas Inheritance (2017)

This is that (rare) holiday movie that’s NOT totally unbelievable! A self-absorbed New Yorker, Ellen (Eliza Taylor), dubbed “the party heiress” (shades of a young Paris Hilton perhaps?) is sent by her CEO father, Jim (Neil Crone from Little Mosque on the Prairie), to deliver a letter in the small town where he (& his BFF) hatched their (now V successful business). Jake Lacy (who had a memorable role in Carol opposite Rooney Mara) is the innkeeper (also love interest); Andie MacDowell (lovely/sweet-voiced as ever) plays his aunt who owns/runs the local cafe. Ellen learns how to be frugal/practical, helps others less fortunate, and grows to admire the regular folks and their small town values. The actors have good chemistry together; some of the dialogue is cute and quirky. This is a low budget film (obviously), BUT NOT small on charm. 

A Christmas Prince (2017) & A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

An editor (who really wants to be a journo), Amber (Rose McIver) is sent to a (fictional) country to cover the coronation of a “bad boy” prince, Richard (Ben Lamb). The widowed queen is played by Alice Kriege (best known as The Borg Queen in the Star Trek: TNG universe). The unique element in these two films (shot in Romania) is the preteen princess, Emily (Honor Kneafsey), who is smart, spirited, yet has an incurable illness (which is handled quite well/doesn’t define her character). To get close to the story, Amber (a likable/optimistic gal) pretends to be the new American tutor for Emily.  The sequel is NOT as interesting as the first film; it deals w/ issues common to planning a wedding, as well as matters of state. I was expecting more from the set design, BUT the outfits and natural scenery were quite nice. There are a FEW twists here and there also. 

The Princess Switch (2018)

This film is one that my lil sis (a BIG fan of the rom com genre, unlike me) recommended when I visited her over Thanksgiving. In the lead is petite/adorable Vanessa Hudgens (a former teen star all grown up) who plays two roles- a baker from Chicago (Stacy) and a countess from a (fictional) European nation (Lady Margaret). Stacy runs into Margaret before an international baking contest; Margaret proposes that they switch places, so she can to live a FEW days as a “normal girl.” After that, Margaret will do her “duty” and marry Prince Edward (Sam Palladio), uniting their nations. Things get complicated when Stacy becomes interested in Edward and Margaret gets close to Stacy’s friend Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his 8 y.o. daughter, Olivia. This is a fun film (also shot in Romania) that will put a smile on your face; the (diverse) actors are pretty good and have a LOT of chemistry w/ each other. I was a LOT more impressed w/ the prince (acting-wise) here than in A Christmas Prince

The Holiday Calendar (2018) 

This movie has a mostly POC cast (a pleasant surprise, esp. in a Christmas movie)! A 20s photographer, Abby (Kat Graham), has a white mom and black dad, as well as a wise (black) grandpa she adores (Ron Cephas Jones from Luke Cage). Abby dreams of having her own studio/getting paid for her type of pics (NOT the boring portraits she takes at her day job). She is overjoyed when her BFF, Josh (Quincy Brown, son of P. Diddy and the recently deceased model- Kim Porter), returns to town after travel blogging all over the world. Gramps (recently widowed) gives Abby an old-fashioned Advent calendar that her grandmother wanted her to have; interesting/unexpected things start happening in Abby’s life. It’s NOT everyday (sadly) that you get to see a happy, successful, and supportive black family in the media. Abby and Josh looked and sounded like real people I’d gone to HS (& college) w/ back in my hometown (Tucson, AZ). Fans of classic films might be interested to see Ethan Peck (also a model); he’s the grandson of Gregory Peck who recently broke into acting. I hope he gets better/more interesting roles than Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, who seems to have fizzled out fast.  

House of Cards (Netflix): Season 6

DO NOT WATCH THIS SEASON… BUT if you already did (like me), you “wasted 6 hours of your life” (as my lil bro complained over Thanksgiving)! The writing is beyond bad, some plotlines go nowhere, and (new) characters are underdeveloped. Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill (Greg Kinnear) Shepherd are billionaire tycoon sibs hell bent on taking down Pres. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). As girls, Claire and Annette grew up together in rural Texas, so there is a natural rivalry; we also learn that Annette once had a fling w/ Frank. Some of you may wonder who could be the father of Annette’s 20-ish son? 

Spacey is out, so MUCH so that we don’t even hear his voice on recordings (which Doug Stamper discovered). Doug is back and in (potential) danger in the early eps from Claire; Michael Kelly (he liked one of my tweets- YAY!) does a fine job, as expected. I was esp. happy to see Janine (Constance Zimmer) back, BUT she doesn’t get much to do. Tom (Boris McGiver, now diminished in his job (formerly he was “The Hammer”) gets a few scenes; he laments the downfall and conglomeration of the news biz. Campbell Scott is back (he’s now VP) and so is Patricia Clarkson (an indie movie darling, BUT totally misplaced on this show). Claire wants the former spy around as a gal pal /confidante/roomie. A few characters return in brief scenes, incl. former VP Linda (Sakina Jaffrey). 

As for Robin Wright, she does what she can w/ the (bad) material. Of course, she looks incredibly fit and gorgeous (DUH!); this season her wardrobe is more militaristic in style and coloring. Claire projects coldness, resilience, cunning, and strength- even becoming more violent! But as I’ve noted before, strong actors (no matter how much they try), can’t save a series or movie that is poorly written and laughably implausible. 

Master of None (Netflix): Season 2

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the latest season of the streaming comedy series.

Back in my NYC days, I used to hang out often w/ Bangladeshi immigrants (mainly grad students) and Bangladeshi-Americans (singles and couples aged 20 to 40). One young woman my age (raised in a Queens middle-class family) told me that her younger sister was attending college in Japan. Now, this is quite unusual for a female from an immigrant/Muslim/South Asian background. She went to Japan at age 18; she was VERY familiar w/ Japanese culture and nealry fluent in the language, thanks mainly to her best friend/neighbor.

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Aziz Ansari with his younger brother (Aniz) and parents (Shoukath and Nisha).

As a comedian, I can talk about anything, as long as I make it funny. So it’s pretty cool if I can get people thinking about immigration or feminism or the food industry at my stand- up shows. -Aziz Ansari 

In the second season of Master of None, you’ll find influences from classic Italian cinema, which Aziz Ansari (now 32 y.o.) greatly admires. Some disappointed viewers asked: “Why doesn’t he show India?” or “Why doesn’t he discuss his Indian-ness more?” or something to that regard. The actor/writer/producer is of South Indian/Muslim heritage, BUT was raised in Columbia, South Carolina. I hate to break it to you detractors, BUT one individual can’t show you ALL the sides of being South Asian, Muslim, and/or millennial in the US. (FYI: I know SOME who prefer the term “brown,” BUT I’m not a big fan of that word.) I’m VERY glad (proud even) that Ansari has achieved such a high profile at such a young age; it’s not like he had (conventional) good looks, height, or connections to get him where he is now. Like MANY other desis, he trained (NYU; The Upright Citizens’ Brigade) for several years and worked hard for his success.   

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Dev (Aziz Ansari) rides a bike in Modena, Italy in Episode 1: The Thief.

[1] Master of None does not seize the easy way out which lies ahead when it comes to comic relief, cliché plot twists or predictable character development. No, it truly touched me with its ability to pay intense attention to detail. 

[2] The second season is one of the most creative pieces I have seen for a long time. The smooth conversational style and the imaginative expressions relating to daily lives makes it easy to watch. 

[3] I love shows with this kind of humor… It doesn’t try too hard to be funny, it just is. The characters are like my own funny, silly friends! It’s also so refreshing to see a show with a main character being a POC! 

[4] Full disclosure- I’m not only brown, but Tamil, just like Aziz/ Dev, and actually was born in Chennai, so I may be a TAD biased…

…I have never written an online review- ever- but I felt I had to because I have never seen anything like this. Master of None just unassumingly starts like any other modern comedy (with a nice bang!) , but before you know it you are smiling, laughing, and all warm and fuzzy, all the while watching the characters in the show discuss and experience seemingly serious issues like racism, sexism, and modern social life. I think the beautiful thing about this show is that it doesn’t hit you over the head with messages or even try that hard. It’s just funny. The characters are just funny. It’s just natural and real.

-Various IMDB comments (re: S2)

Food is central to this season; the story picks up w/ Dev (Ansari) in small-town Italy making pasta. In Modena, Dev trains with a family, incl. Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), w/ whom he has great chemistry, BUT Dev is  single and Francesca has a boyfriend, Pino. In E1, Dev meets a cute British woman traveling alone on his birthday, BUT loses his phone to a thief, so is unable to contact her.

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Dev (Aziz Ansari) feeds Arnold (Eric Wareham) some freshly made pasta.

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Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Arnold (Eric Wareham) ride scooters through the countryside.

Dev’s BFF shows up in E2; Arnold (Eric Wareheim) is going to the wedding of an ex-girlfriend in the lovely countryside. The buddies chat re: dating (incl. a new app Arnold is enthralled w/), eat delicious food, and even get stuck in a VERY narrow alley w/ their rental car. Arnold convinces Dev to go to the wedding, gets angry and emotional, BUT it all works out in the end. 

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Dev (Aziz Ansari) at the BBQ festival with the Tickler’s mascot.

Dev returns home to NYC and we get reintroduced to his (hilarious) father, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari- Aziz’s father). In the much-discussed E3, his dad and mom (Nisha Ansari- Aziz’s mother) tell Dev that he needs to pretend to be a pious Muslim while an uncle and aunt are visiting. Dev’s love of food clashes w/ the religion he eschews. Dev introduces his younger cousin (played by Ansari’s college-aged cousin, Haris) to pork and they end up going to a famous BBQ festival. What I esp. liked about this ep was that the religious elders were NOT one-dimensional. Sure, they planned to go to Mecca, BUT they were also big basketball fans. Dev (finally) read the Koran that his mom has given him when he went away from home! This ep was co-written by Ansari’s younger brother, Aniz. 

…“Religion” took me away from the Islam I see on TV and back to the Islam I’ve lived my whole life. The episode opens on a mother warning her son to abstain from finishing the bacon he’s holding: “Bacon is pork. We are Muslim. We are not allowed to eat pork,” she warns, adding, “That is our religion.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this exact same phrase growing up. Pop-Tarts, Jell-O, gummy bears, marshmallows, almost anything at a Korean or Italian restaurant…

-Aymann Ismail (Slate)

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A young African immigrant cabbie and Dev (Aziz Ansari) watch Death Castle in Episode 6.

[1] Aziz presents us an episode so unique and incredible, yet barely involves him and his co-stars. It explores in a fantastic and diverse way the city of NYC through perspectives that we don’t take the time to appreciate and understand. The creative use of silence during the deaf portion of the episode was absolutely incredible and has such a powerful meaning.

[2] This was an especially excellent episode, I really loved the way it showed the views of different characters, really made you empathize with them. I really loved the minimalist approach, where you guys let the situations speak for themselves and did not overdo it at all. Achieved levels of empathy I have not seen in many other TV shows/movies.

-IMDB comments (re: S2, E6)

E6 is titled (like the 2008 film)- New York, I Love You. The film Death Castle is based on a rejected script written by Nicolas Cage, who also played the imaginary lead role. This is Ansari’s love letter to working-class immigrants and POCs (incl. a young deaf woman). If you loved this ep, check out the HBO film Everyday People.

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Episode 8: Thanksgiving is a must-see!

E8 is probably the crowning jewel of this season; it features a Hollywood titan (Angela Bassett) and a prolific comic/character actress (Kym Whitley). Much of Denise’s coming out story came from actress Lena Waithe’s real life; she co-wrote this ep w/ Ansari.  Do the Right Thing (1989) is the Spike Lee movie that Dev, Denise, and Nikki are watching during Thanksgiving 2016.  It features the scene where police kill Radio Raheem, paralleling their dinner conversation about Sandra Bland and Sureshbhai Patel.

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Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Dev (Aziz Ansari) on a NYC rooftop.

…even though Dev is a adult in his late 20s, this feels more or less like a high school girl next door crush. She is sweet, charming, beautiful and you guys have awesome chemistry together and you enjoy each others company, BUT… she is NOT available. -A viewer’s thoughts on Dev’s relationship w/ Francesca (the main love interest in S2)

The ladies Dev dates (thanks to a Tinder-like app) in E4 (First Date) are ALL different/interesting/unique! They include gorgeous Condola Rashad (daughter of Ahmad and Phylicia), quirky ramen blogger Stephanie (VA-raised comic Aparna Nancherla), and adorable/straight-laced lawyer, Priya (Tiya Sircar). These are ALL women of color who are coming up in Hollywood- VERY cool to see. Check out this show for yourself ASAP! 

House of Cards (Netflix): Season 5

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the latest season of the streaming series. Fun fact: My dad also doesn’t like “sorry” (like Claire). 

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“I will not yield!” Frank (Kevin Spacey) declares to Congress.

“You don’t want me to stand for something,” Frank states to the viewer late in season five. ‘You just want me to stand.” But, uh, reality would beg to differ. We increasingly want politicians to push back against the bland, corporatist kind of politics Frank and Claire represent, to elevate outsiders. House of Cards is a show about the ultimate insiders, and it can’t overcome that central fact. -Vox

Frank’s “war on terror” has deadly consequences for ICO-inspired Joshua Masterson. With a little help from Asst. Dir. Green (FBI), Underwood had stashed the homegrown terrorist in an underground/high-tech prison. Frank tells Green “to get rid of the asset.”So, did you think that Frank was upset re: the reaction of the Millers’ teen daughter at the funeral? It’s like that girl saw through Frank, though she was SO young and grief-stricken (b/c of her father’s murder). 

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Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) drink a toast.

…the name of Frank’s secret society can be traced back to Greek mythology. “Elysian Fields” is said to be a true paradise where gods who are gifted immortality are sent. Basically, only the most favored gods got to go to this place and live out their endless lives in bliss. This is especially fitting for a reference point because on House of Cards, Elysian Fields is essentially a place for important men (and only men) to hang out together in the woods. -Bustle

It was one of the most talked about ep of the season, as I learned from Twitter (and later on- few articles). Viewers wondered: “Is that real!?” once it was revealed that prominent men were behind the masks at the weekend retreat (or shall we call is “glamping?”)

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Marc Ursher (Campbell Scott) and Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman)

Will Conway, the Republican presidential candidate was clearly modeled on Obama (w/ a side of Kardashian-level status on social media, as we saw in S4). We learn that he has PTSD, which he keeps hidden from even Marc Usher (Campbell Scott- still slim and handsome) and retired Gen. Brockhart (Colm Feore- one of Canada’s best theater actors). The CEO from Pollyhop, also Conway’s old pal, knows about the PTSD.

Marc finds out what’s up when Conway loses his cool on a small jet, demanding that pilots let him fly (“I’m going to be the president and you’re going to flip me those motherf****ing controls!”) This rant is caught on tape, then later leaked to the Underwoods. The tall telegenic family man is a damaged individual (after serving in Afghanistan after 9/11). 

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Eric AKA Augustus Underwood (Malcolm Madera) comes to the White House.

At the peak of Frank’s unpopularity, it seems that Eric [who role plays Confederate soldier Augustus Underwood- Frank’s grandfather] is just about the only person left who truly believes that the man could make a great president… -Bustle
Eric never openly states why he thinks Frank could be a good president; I think it’s his youthful naiveté. Eric and Frank get closer over his visits; he starts working as a personal trainer (his day job). Over talking about the world and laughing about how Eric actually made up Augustus’ backstory, the two become fast friends (something rare/unexpected for Frank). Things eventually get VERY intimate (which I expected) and also a BIT scary (nope, did NOT see that).  
Secretary of State Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) decides to testify to the senatorial investigation into the President’s misdeeds. She goes to the White House and delivers the news to her frenemy Frank (VERY bad idea). “You need to take a fall,” he says, before pushing Cathy down a flight of steps. She’s alive, but won’t be testifying any time soon. Poor Cathy- she was one of the FEW good characters on this series! 

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Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson) in the Oval Office.

Something terrible always happens when I go to a party. -Jane tells Claire

…I’m more interested now, going forward, with how this murder [Tom Yates’] will wind up compromising Claire since Mark Usher knows about it and – perhaps Jane Davis too! The two people Claire’s now relying on to steer her forward have a big advantage over her, and she doesn’t fully trust them. -Mark Fowler (IGN)

Some of you on Twitter thought that Miss Davis was NOT a believable character. Is she a war profiteer?  She has created this unassuming personality, BUT under it all, is a force to be reckoned w/, no doubt.

Claire turns more to Jane over time, shutting out LeeAnn (Neve Campbell), who is worried re: her old friend Aiden Macallan (Damian Young). It took me a BIT of time to figure out what was going on w/ Mac! I felt bad for the guy, even though he was NOT the most exciting character.  

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Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) and Claire (Robin Wright)

Stamper has never made peace with killing Rachel Posner – shouldering the responsibility for Barnes’ death is his penitence. –The Telegraph

Lisa (Rachel Posner’s girlfriend) turned to drugs, and also became a threat, BUT Doug (Michael Kelly) decided NOT to kill her. The story of Anthony Moretti being bumped off the organ donor list, then dying to save Frank, is found out by Sean, Seth, and Claire. Back in S2, then VP Underwood murdered Washington Herald reporter, Zoe Barnes, by shoving her in front of a metro train. Over dinner, Claire and Frank share their plan w/ the ever-loyal Doug: “We need you to implicate yourself in the death of Zoe Barnes.” 

Tom, don’t cheat on my wife. –Frank tells Yates (after seeing photos of him w/ a White House tour guide)

Yates’ death cannot be considered a surprise. He had persisted in writing thinly-disguised accounts of the Underwood’s double-dealings and, as his ill-considered interview with a journalist early in the season confirmed, had a big mouth to boot. Applying patented Underwood logic, he had to go. -The Telegraph

Now, I was NO fan of Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), BUT I was troubled by his death. Claire poisoned him; like Lady Macbeth, there is “blood” on her hands now. Did she ever love Tom? We see that Tom became possessive over time, which she was turned off by (duh). 

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Claire (Robin Wright) as the Acting President

Hauled before young/upstart Arizona Congressman Romero (James Martinez) and his House Intelligence Committee, Underwood snaps and says he is resigning- WHOA! 

In real American politics, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is composed of 75 representatives, led by co-chairs Rep. Raúl Grijalva (a Democrat from Arizona) and Rep. Mark Pocan (a Democrat from Wisconsin). There’s a good chance Alex could be loosely based on either of the co-chairs of the caucus or any of the 75 representatives who are members, though the the House Of Cards showrunners have not indicated that there’s any real inspiration behind the character. -Bustle

What is this job? -Angela asks her boss

Not what it used to be. Tom Hammerschmidt replies

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this is that Frank has himself become a leak to Tom Hammerschmidt as the Washington Herald, revealing insider secrets to add press interest on the crumbling administration and justify monitoring of the entire White House and its staff…  –Screenrant

Frank will walk away from it all, so that Claire will step in as the new President, and pardon him for his crimes. Then, in the private sector, Underwood will become a source of power, working in tandem with his wife, to “own this house.” It turns out that Claire will NOT be pardoning him too soon!

If she doesn’t pardon me, I’ll kill her. -Frank states in his last monologue

But while he’s thought of every possibility, like the constitutional loopholes he took advantage of to get here, there’s one eventuality not accounted for; while Frank is functioning on a higher sociopathic level than seemingly anyone else in Washington D.C. and able to connive his resignation and transition of power, he doesn’t consider his wife’s fury. Screenrant

Claire also breaks the fourth wall (NOT a total surprise, as it had been hinted at before). I think MANY of you enjoyed those moments. Did you notice how Claire’s outfits became more conservative, buttoned, and (somewhat) militaristic as the season went on?