Berlinale 2024: ‘Spaceman’ is Giant Space Spider Therapist: The Film |

Berlinale 2024: ‘Spaceman’ is Giant Space Spider Therapist: The Film

by Alex Billington
February 21, 2024

One of the strangest films paying at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival is a Netflix sci-fi offering from a Swedish filmmaker named Johan Renck. It’s a strange pick not because the film is experimental or unconventional, it’s strange because it doesn’t make sense this film is playing at a festival. Spaceman will streaming be on Netflix in a few more weeks (starting March 1st). It’s another mostly middle-of-the-road, easily-forgettable Netflix Original, and it doesn’t really do anything crazy or exciting or clever that would make it worthy of a major festival premiere. It’s also just a really strange film because it’s about a giant, benevolent space spider (!!) that appears inside a spaceship that is traveling near Jupiter – astronaut Jakub is on a year-long solo mission to investigate a purple cloud of mysterious space dust that appeared near Jupiter a few years before. It’s actually based on a true story, sort of, about the the country’s first astronaut, Jakub Procházka, raised in the Czech countryside. But this intriguing backstory has nothing to do with what is happening in this movie.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Johan Renck (of Downloading Nancy, “Chernobyl”, “Breaking Bad”), from a screenplay by Colby Day, adapted from the book “Spaceman of Bohemia” by Jaroslav Kalfar – Spaceman is a sleepy, lonely, unremarkable sci-fi film about a space traveler. Adam Sandler stars as Jakub Procházka, a Czech astronaut on a lengthy trip to investigate a purple cloud that appeared in our solar system. While the sets and VFX do look quite good, and Sandler does his job well as a tired and lonely “spaceman”, the film reveals itself to actually be a therapy session. It’s not really sci-fi, it’s not really about a Czech astronaut / cosmonaut, it’s not really about where this space spider comes from. It’s about a guy who seriously needs therapy because he misses his wife so much, and after rejecting it for so long, he’s forced to have a therapy session with this big, fuzzy, friendly spider that appears randomly on his ship. He decides to name it Hanus (and it’s wonderfully voiced by Paul Dano) then the creature forces him to revisit memories and moments in his mind that haunt him. He needs to confront the past to move on, and apparently this is the only way…

As a vehement hater of spiders, the most prominent question that plagued my mind: what is the whole point of visualizing his troubled psyche as a spider? Is it some kind of generic and obvious version of “his deepest, darkest fears manifested in physical form?” That would be my therapist confronting me, for sure. The film never really addresses this because it doesn’t want to, it’s about this space creature being an unexplainable mystery, and no answers will be given. Fine. Fair enough. Thankfully this spider isn’t as scary as it may seem – not only is he a fairly kind, harmless creature, they animate his dialogue by giving him a cute little mouth that is clearly visible in a few scenes (they also learned some lessons from the Sonic mistake). And hearing Paul Dano’s voice coming out of this thing just soothes me. Which I suppose is the point, after all… But it’s still odd and so ridiculous there are a few scenes that may make viewers burst out laughing. Why, out of all the possibilities for space creatures or aliens or entities to encounter, did they have to use a spider (!!) as his guide? Whatever the reason, at least it’s a nice spider that helps Jakub on his mission and his mental health.

It’s essentially just a 106 minute shrink session with a lonely, depressed Adam Sandler astronaut. The other big problem with Spaceman is that the other side of the story is its weakest link. Somehow Renck was able to cast Carey Mulligan as Lenka, Jakub’s pregnant wife stuck down on Earth while he is away for a year (or more) on this mission. She is not happy about this, she is not happy about anything about his career or life. There is no chemistry at all between the two of them. For most of this movie, I was sure Sandler and Mulligan had shot their scenes in separate movie studios on opposite sides of the world at entirely different times. Lenka always seems to be upset with Jakub doing anything besides staying home and taking care of her, which is rather strange when he is (supposed to be) the Czech Republic’s first astronaut – something she should be entirely supportive of. Right? Perhaps this is part of way Jakub is feeling so depressed and hopeless out there. Thankfully Hanus helps him understand what went wrong with his wife, and although he’s about to make the most remarkable discovery any human being has ever made, none of that matters because he was wrong to leave his pregnant wife to begin with. Well, okay… That’s all the wisdom to offer?

As a sci-fi fan, I’m particularly tired of all these modern sci-fi movies that take someone extreme distances for some spectacular discovery out in space, only for the finale to be that oh wait, there’s nothing out there, and it’s more important you go home and take care of your loved ones and your family. Yeah, yeah, we get it. Family and significant others and kids are super important. But why do they have to cram this concept into high concept sci-fi scripts? Why aren’t there a few sci-fi movies that are only about making some incredible discovery out in deep space that does change everything? Then bring that knowledge back to Earth and let everything be affected by how amazing this space stuff is. I wish that was the Spaceman movie we could all be watching. But it’s not. Instead, we get Adam Sandler learning how to overcome his past with the help of Paul Dano as a compassionate, hairy spider that also loves the Czech Nutella stored on the ship. Despite my many complaints, I don’t dislike this movie, it’s nothing I would label as “bad”. It’s just not that good either.

Alex’s Berlinale 2024 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing


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Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix |

Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix

by Alex Billington
February 20, 2024

Every month there’s another headline: Netflix buys that great film that everyone loved watching together for an excessive amount of money. Everyone loves to grumble about the headline, and talk about the film when this news hits, but will they actually watch it whenever it’s released on Netflix? Will Netflix even (properly) promote it? Will they even tell their ~260 million subscribers worldwide about the film when they debut it streaming on their platform? Why does Netflix love buying these great theatrical films and dumping them streaming without any fanfare or celebration or anything at all that connects with the audience experience? Why do care so little for the actual audience? I’m so tired of this routine. I’m not so foolish as to tell Netflix to change their ways – apparently they have no interest in this anyway. Instead, I think it’s up to filmmakers to realize that it isn’t a good idea to sell your movie to Netflix anymore – no matter how much money they want to throw at you. Choose a reputable theatrical distributor first, then let Netflix get the streaming rights later after it becomes an even bigger success. That is the best path to take when your film is a hit at festivals.

The debate about Netflix has been raging for years and years. Old Hollywood doesn’t really like them much, but they’re here to stay whether we like it or not. Netflix’s success means they can continue to do whatever they want and make money and be disruptive – no matter the complaints. However, are they actually being “disruptive” anymore? I don’t think so. They are just being annoying. And everyone knows it – to be frank. What has driven me to write this editorial now is watching Netflix buy three of the best films in the last six months that are three of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had at any film festival. It began with Netflix buying Richard Linklater’s Hit Man out of the 2023 Venice Film Festival – I have never seen an audience of curmudgeonly European critics in Venice go THIS wild during a screening. Pardon my French, but they lost their shit for the film, which was exhilarating. It continued a few months later with Netflix buying Greg Jardin’s It’s What’s Inside and Josh Greenbaum’s Will & Harper at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in January. Once again, two of the most rapturous and exciting audiences I’ve watched films with during any of the 18 years I’ve been going to this fest. That tangibly warm reception, the crowd going nuts, the applause, all of that really, truly matters with cinema. We need to stop ignoring this truth and pretending otherwise…

Netflix doesn’t seem to care anyway. There’s a quote every few months wherein some executive talks about how the theatrical experience is irrelevant or uninteresting to them as a brand. Most recently, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria stated that Netflix will never do theatrical as “our members love films and they want to see films on Netflix.” Do they? Does she even know what she is saying here? I doubt it. In a big THR article from April 2023, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos offered another frustrating comment: “Driving folks to a theater is just not our business. Having big new desirable content drives value for our members and drives value for our business. There are no major changes in play.” What he seems to not understand is that the way you make your “content” (btw – fuck this word) into “big new desirable content” that drives value is by letting it play in theaters first. There is research on this that confirms it’s beneficial – the most successful streaming titles all opened first in theaters. Huh. Go figure… At what point will Netflix wake up and realize that it will actually benefit their business, and their pathetic “hours viewed” metric (because they’re afraid to release all the other statistics they collect – like how many folks actually watched a film from start to finish).

My rant, this article, or anyone’s rant, won’t change Netflix either. The company recently parted ways with Scott Stuber, who was running their film division for years. Apparently even Stuber was frustrated with their lack of interest in theatrical runs and despite arguing with Sarandos and other execs, they would not budge. In another recent THR article from January 2024, they included this nugget which is pretty telling:

“Even as the pipeline has slowed, Stuber has not been shy about his greatest frustration: Sarandos’ continuing refusal to offer any film a full theatrical release. Hope flickered when the streamer agreed to give Glass Onion, the 2022 Knives Out sequel, a broader run in cinemas than any previous Netflix film, putting it in about 600 theaters for a week. The movie grossed $16 million in that brief window and Stuber dreamed that Sarandos might develop a taste for cash.”

This falls in line with most of the way the extraordinarily stubborn corporate world works right now (see: David Zaslav at Warner Bros). If there’s someone smart on the team who might challenge archaic concepts and wants to make things better: get them out! Kick them out, lay them off, fire them, by whatever means necessary, don’t let anyone with think-outside-the-box “maybe we should try this” thinking in your company anymore! Instead, fill the roles with mindless drones & corporate robots who say exactly what the stubborn CEO wants to hear and never anything else (e.g. Bajaria). If Scott Stuber couldn’t change Sarandos’ mind, why do I (or anyone else) think they could instead? It’s a lost cause, unfortunately. And despite experiments like Glass Onion, or even the facade of Netflix buying classic one-screen cinemas (the Paris Theatre in NYC and the Egyptian in LA), they’re so obsessed with being anti-theatrical they have turned into an anti-cinema company. They’re so obsessed with their “content” and “hours viewed” data that they forgot to actually build awareness and excitement around their “content” to begin with. If they were any smarter, they might realize all of this is connected – and that showing films theatrically does not in any way hurt their numbers, it only boosts them. The proof is in the pudding! It will build them into a better brand. When will they realize this?

This brings me to the point I want to make here and now: filmmakers and sales agents and producers and creators need to stop selling their films to Netflix. Yes, it’s a scary prospect, rebellious (and perhaps a bit disruptive) to even say out loud, especially when they’re the highest bidder. But it’s a better move – for them, for the film, for the industry, for cinema itself. Greg Jardin and Richard Linklater shouldn’t have agreed to the deal that was made for their films It’s What’s Inside and Hit Man, respectively. They should’ve said “no” and waited it out, gone with someone else that would actually give their films a proper theatrical release. I’m sure it’s an irresistible pitch: we’ll give you tons of money and your film will also be available in over 190 countries around the world! We’re a big platform! Everyone will have the chance to watch it! Yes, sure, but there’s more to cinema than just that. And here is the kicker – if you play your cards right, and go with a proper theatrical release first, Netflix will eventually want the rights to play the film anyway. Of course they will! Especially once it becomes a huge theatrical hit and everyone is talking about it and telling their friends – maybe there is an even more lucrative deal in the cards if you wait it out. This is how things used to work. But that means resisting a tempting initial offer, and resisting the highest bidder to go with the right bidder.

I honestly don’t have a problem with Netflix in general, I just wish they’d do the right thing and partner with a theatrical distributor before putting it on Netflix because that will actually boost them and their brand and their films – but they just don’t get it. Let me reiterate that I really like Netflix as a platform – it is amazing that they can release a film and it will be viewable in over 190 countries around the world (without worrying about local distribution rights, which is a whole other industry problem to discuss another day). However, they’re not the right place to go if you really care about cinema, or if you want your film to have an impact in the world. Maybe one or two of Netflix’s big films every year go on to have a cultural impact because they have good PR teams handling their marketing & publicity. Most of their films don’t have this enthusiastic support. If a filmmaker sells their film to Netflix right out of a festival because they offer the most money – will that film ever be available on physical media, will it ever get a theatrical release down the line? Is that even possible with Netflix? What if you want to show it in theaters one day in the future – will Netflix allow that to happen? What if Netflix ever shuts down (unlikely, but let’s just go with the hypothetical) – how will you get your film back and how will you show it to your family & friends? Aside from harddrive copies, it’s not available on DVD or Blu-ray (or VHS) anywhere. Does it exist in the real world or only on their servers?

What I find particularly strange is that even when a filmmaker has a bad experience with Netflix, and even if they know they are bad at promoting films, they still end up selling to them anyway. This is exactly the case with Linklater. Netflix released his latest rotoscoped film Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood in April 2022 and told pretty much no one it was out. Most people didn’t even know it was released. Linklater later expressed frustration in an interview: “Then one day it showed up on a platform with no fanfare. It’s always kind of sad when you realize even your friends don’t know your film is out. To me, if anything good happens from this stage on, it’s just lucky.” Yeah that is the same for most films dumped onto Netflix. I don’t buy the claim that Linklater had nothing to do with Hit Man selling in Venice and instead it apparently was entirely handled entirely by sales agents & producers. Even if it that is the case, why could he not express a very strong opinion and do everything to resist selling to Netflix if he isn’t happy with how they handled his last film. Again, it’s more important that a good film finds an audience eventually, and that’s best achieved by a distributor believing in their stellar “content” and supporting it fully (with proper marketing and publicity).

For those who believe there is still importance in what Netflix does for cinema and how they support indie films and filmmakers who usually don’t get this kind of exposure, that has recently been mostly debunked by a study with Netflix connecting with Africa. A report was recently published from Nigeria and the Nollywood movement, which Netflix stepped into and tried to participate in by sponsoring and investing in filmmakers and the local industry. Good thing to do, right? While it did achieve some success, it didn’t have much of an impact overall, mostly because Netflix doesn’t really know how to actually support cinema and the culture. “On the critical streaming side, the report suggests that Netflix in Nigeria might not be fully tapping into its potential market, given low subscriber numbers relative to population.” Why, exactly? Their findings: “[It] critiques the reliance on streaming rankings as mere marketing tools rather than actionable insights that could drive the industry forward. It proposes using rankings as a prompt for better conversations on audience preferences and using these metrics alongside other data points to develop and market Nollywood projects more effectively.” Almost as if Netflix doesn’t really care about anything except their own internal “hours viewed” numbers and not the industry it’s supposed to be involved with & the artists that inhabit it…

The film industry is in a bad place right now, yet the film industry doesn’t like to admit this or talk about it. They want business to proceed as usual… They want to focus on making money. For much of the industry, that means if Netflix is going to pay the most for a movie, it’s a “good” thing. It’s time that we challenge this belief and confront the frustrating reality that Netflix releasing these audience favorite films is actually quite bad for cinema and for the industry overall (and audiences, even if they don’t quite understand it). Simply selling a film for tons of money is not an objectively healthy thing for the film industry, despite what many profit-driven minds think. Sundance is infamous for many films selling for high prices and failing after the festival (yes, from a few theatrical distributors, but this is a much different conversation). I’m a huge fan of Hit Man and Will & Harper and It’s What’s Inside and I guarantee at least one of (if not all of) these films will be released without much pomp & circumstance. They’ll drop it on Netflix, send a few emails out, buy a few billboards in Los Angeles, and call it a day. Netflix needs to evolve and innovate and disrupt again. That means disrupting the theatrical world by participating in theatrical distribution. Apple knows how to do this correctly with Apple TV films. I hope Netflix ends up realizing their mistake… Until then, filmmakers shouldn’t sell their hit films to this streaming company until they can actually prove they care about cinema.


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The Marvels, The Killer, Tiger 3 and More: The 9 Biggest Movies in November

What are the biggest movies releasing in November 2023? The Marvels is poised to continue the erratic Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in style, transporting us to a destabilising universe where Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) powers get entangled with other intergalactic heroes. It is the shortest film in the franchise — running at 105 minutes — and is slated to hit theatres worldwide on November 10. Chase that down with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which serves as an origin story for Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), the future tyrannical president of Panem, as he navigates responsibilities and young love. It’s out November 17 in cinemas.

Salman Khan leads the charge on the local end with a new addition to YRF’s spy-thriller series, Tiger 3, on a mission to save the country from a mysterious threat who’s keeping tabs on his family. This marks the year’s second theatrical release from the Bollywood star, following Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, which was met with disappointment from both fans and critics alike. Khan is also producing a movie dropping this month called Farrey, in which an orphan genius is lured by her wealthy friends at a prestigious school into helping them cheat in exams. Soumendra Padhi — best known for Netflix’s Jamtara — directs the film, which releases November 24.

Other notable releases this month include David Fincher’s highly anticipated return to the crime/ serial killer genre in a twisted odyssey starring Michael Fassbender, who muses about life and philosophy as he begins to crack psychologically. The Killer will be up for streaming November 10 on Netflix. For your convenience, we have curated the biggest November 2023 releases coming to theatres and Netflix, which you can check out below. Also, feel free to browse our Entertainment hub to keep track of any other releases that might interest you.


When: November 3
Where: Theatres

A year into their marriage, Kavya (Tia Bajpai) visits the local police station to file a report for marital rape against her husband Vivek (Gaurav Chopra), a well-respected college professor. As you’d expect, things don’t go her way, with cops and family members not believing her story, all the while her husband tries to threateningly reason with her and suppress the story. Much like real life, it’s a fate other women in Lakeerein also suffer from, some of whom are way too scared to report such crimes. As such, the film plays out from Kavya’s perspective, who takes matters to the court, representing their struggles as she tries to avoid stupid questions like “If your consent isn’t automatically reserved for your husband, whom are you saving it for?”

Representing her in court is Geeta Biswas (Bidita Bag), a patient lawyer who abides by the rules and believes Kavya’s handling of the situation was a bit reckless. Conversely, Vivek is aided by Dudhari Singh (Ashutosh Rana), who even privately meets her as a form of intimidation, trying to divert Kavya from her goal. Directed by Durgesh Pathak, it is worth mentioning that Lakeerein might be a tough watch for some — not just because of the triggering subject, but because the dialogue is entirely written in pure Hindi language (based on the trailer).

The Killer

When: November 10
Where: Netflix

Mindhunter season 3 is not happening, but it’s always fun seeing David Fincher delve back into the realm of thrillers. His latest tracks an unnamed assassin for hire (Michael Fassbender) holed up at an abandoned Parisian WeWork, with a tactile sniper rifle pointing at his target’s location. Killing someone involves a lot of waiting and observing, as you get accustomed to a boring routine, which in this case is heavily OCD-driven — reducing heart rate to 100BPM before pressing the trigger, listening to The Smiths, or sleeping upright to stay alert. Through it all, we’re treated to a lengthy voiceover about his well-paying profession, politics, and the morality of human beings. That is until he overthinks, and his psyche begins to crack, leading to a fatal miss that catapults him on a globe-trotting quest to clean up the mess.

The Killer establishes that being good at a hitman’s job entails that one must ‘forbid empathy’, albeit it’s something he’s unable to fully exert due to his love life. If the film does follow Alexis Nolent’s acclaimed graphic novel to the full extent, we’ll get to see him making mistakes and questioning his choices at such a later stage in his career — ideals that make us normies feel utterly insignificant in the face of the bigger forces at play. Switching between new IDs, vehicles, and cliché tourist shirts, the Killer makes swift work of the baddies and gradually climbs the hierarchical chain as part of a revenge plot thread which I won’t disclose for spoiler reasons.

Marking screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker’s second credited collaboration with Fincher — first being 1995’s Se7en — the film also stars Charles Parnell (Top Gun: Maverick) as his handler, Tilda Swinton (Suspiria) as a rival assassin, and Sophie Charlotte as the Killer’s love interest.

The Marvels

When: November 10
Where: Theatres

Having reclaimed her identity from the ruthless alien race of Kree, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is dealing with being on her own — stuck in the solitary blackness of space, awaiting the routine wholesome phone calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Watching over a now-destabilised universe, she is inadvertently pulled into a wormhole, presumably created by a Kree imperialist Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who intends to restore her homeland to former glory. Oddly though, the act somehow entangles Captain Marvel’s powers with those of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) and her S.A.B.E.R. astronaut Captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), forcing them to work together to save the universe.

Basically, every time a Marvel uses their powers, they switch places with the other ones no matter where they’re located or if they are in the middle of a fight. Understandably, they must now learn to sync up their abilities to perform the best combos and lay waste to oncoming threats, ping-ponging between planets and getting startled by the Flerken Goose’s tentacles. It appears as though all of these problems are caused by a sacred bangle, like the one Kamala wears, granting Dar-Benn the will to harness magical powers designed to destroy Carol. Nia DaCosta, who previously helmed an episode of Ms. Marvel, serves as the director of The Marvels, charting a new chapter in MCU’s Phase 5.

All Upcoming Marvel Movies and Web Series

Tiger 3

When: November 12
Where: Theatres

Following a cameo in the blockbuster film Pathaan, Salman Khan returns as the infamous RAW agent Avinash ‘Tiger’ Rathore, now being targetted by the Indian government over a major conspiracy. An enigmatic villain from his past, played by Emraan Hashmi (Selfiee), has come for revenge, claiming that Tiger stole his family from him. As such, he plans on doing the same by targeting his wife, the former ISI agent Zoya (Katrina Kaif) and their son, while painting them as enemies of the nation. Forced to pick between his nation and his family, Tiger engages in some Mission: Impossible-esque stealth missions and some gung-ho-style gunfights, hoping to unmask the criminal. Directed by Maneesh Sharma (Fan), Tiger 3 is also expected to feature a cameo of Shah Rukh Khan’s character from Pathaan, essentially forming a bridge.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

When: November 17
Where: Theatres

Long before Coriolanus Snow ever became the ruthless dictator of Panem, he was simply the last hope for his dying lineage, hoping to prove his worth at the 10th annual Hunger Games, which serves as a deathmatch for members of the impoverished districts. As a last-minute change, the students are tasked with mentoring the competitors, which the young Snow (Tom Blyth) sees as a chance of redemption since his namesake was tarnished after the war. Enter Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler), his girl tribute who defiantly sings during the reaping ceremony, instantly charming him as Snow forms ideas in his mind to manipulate her voice to turn the contest’s odds in his favour.

But things get complicated when he develops feelings for Lucy, to the point where he questions the Head Gamemaker Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) about the goal of the Hunger Games and the horrific mutations stored within her underground laboratory — which includes a giant tank of rainbow-coloured snakes. She believes that the terror of becoming prey easily turns someone into a predator, presenting the contest as a spectacle for amusement for the higher class. Francis Lawrence, who directed the original Jennifer Lawrence-led trilogy, returns to direct this standalone arc, poised to feature an interesting twist to reveal who between Snow and Lucy ultimately ends up being the snake and the songbird.

The ensemble cast of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also includes Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as the game creator Dean Casca Highbottom, Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Express) as the first-ever host, and Euphoria-fame Hunter Schafer as Coriolanus’ older cousin Tigris Snow.

Watch the Trailer for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Rachel Zegler in a still from The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Next Goal Wins

When: November 17
Where: Theatres

Another Fassbender entry this month, Next Goal Wins sees him as a Dutch-American football coach Thomas Rongen, who’s faced with the choice of either accepting his firing or undertaking a near-impossible job. The latter entails that he convert the American Samoa national football team into an elite squad — considered one of the weakest teams in the world, after their crushing 31-0 defeat to Australia during the 2001 FIFA World Cup. He must achieve this while grappling with his alcohol addiction and language barrier, in addition to dealing with players who are afraid of going for the ball.

He’s basically got the toughest job on the island, but the countless hours of practice help him cope and form an inseparable bond with the folks. In addition to writing and directing this uplifting sports movie, Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) stars in it as a goofy moustachioed American-Samoan priest, alongside Elisabeth Moss (The Invisible Man), Will Arnett (BoJack Horseman), and Kaimana as Jaiyah Saelua, the first trans woman player to compete in the global tournament.


When: November 24
Where: Theatres

Just like Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, Napoleon will first get a wide theatrical release before eventually heading to Apple TV+. Acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott (Alien) paints a deeply personal portrait of the revered titular Frenchman, going all the way from his origins to his self-coronation as the Emperor of France, as he climbed the ladder through ruthless military tactics. All of this is presented through his volatile relationship with his wife Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby), who often claims that Napoleon Bonaparte would be nothing without her involvement. Promising epic war sequences that make use of grand practical effects, director Scott claimed that reconstructing the battlefield made him start to think like Napoleon.

The research also expands to historical paintings from artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, with a scene depicting the Emperor’s Egyptian expedition as he stood before the majestic Sphinx. David Scarpa, who last collaborated with Scott on 2017’s All the Money in the World, has written the script for Napoleon, which also stars Tahar Rahim (Extrapolations) as executive head of the Directory Paul Barras, Ben Miles (Hijack) as Napoleon’s advisor Caulaincourt, and Catherine Walker as the Archduchess of Austria Marie-Antoinette.


When: November 24
Where: Theatres

Niyati (Alizeh Agnihotri), an orphan genius living under her warden’s care in Delhi, ends up topping her 10th board exams, consequentially securing schooling at a prestigious academy. When the other rich kids notice her performance, she gets roped into a cheating racket — starting with simple tactics like sneaking chits into the exam room to gradually evolving into something risky. It appears as though she’s making good money by helping out her friends, but in the process, she might end up losing the honest reputation she’d built since her childhood. Soumendra Padhi, best known for the phishing scam Netflix show Jamtara, directs Farrey, enlisting a cast featuring Sahil Mehta (Made in Heaven), Prasanna Bisht, and Zeyn Shaw (Class).

May December

When: November 30
Where: Netflix

Talented TV actress Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) travels to Georgia to do research about Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), wanting to embody the latter’s personality for an indie film she’s about to star in. A long time ago, the 36-year-old Gracie was involved in a scandalous affair with a seventh-grader, serving prison time and making tabloid headlines for wanting to keep the baby. The unconventional pair now have a family together — one that looks eerily normal to Elizabeth until her relentless and questions start revealing long-hidden secrets and suppressed feelings to the surface, forming cracks in their relationship.

Playing the young husband Joe Yoo is Charles Melton (Riverdale), who’s lived his entire life not feeling like the victim, also begins to see the issue and ponder why the couple never had a proper discussion about their so-called love life. Frequent Moore collaborator Todd Haynes directs May December from a screenplay by debutant Samy Burch, which itself is loosely inspired by the real-life story of the US-based sex offender and teacher Mary Kay Letourneau.

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Review: Chloe Domont’s ‘Fair Play’ Poignantly Tackles Gender Politics |

Review: Chloe Domont’s ‘Fair Play’ Poignantly Tackles Gender Politics

by Manuel São Bento
October 24, 2023

One of the main reasons why the Sundance Film Festival is so popular amongst cinephiles is the total focus on purely indie stories, often handled by first-time directors, writers, actors, and many others pursuing their dreams. Fair Play was highly acclaimed at this year’s edition of the event (here’s Alex’s review), continuing to collect positive reactions during its festival run throughout the year. As it has finally made its streaming debut on Netflix worldwide, I approached it with somewhat high expectations, hoping that Chloe Domont’s feature directorial debut deserved the hype. Domont delves into complex gender dynamics, highlighting the biases faced by successful women in various fields, shining a light on the challenges of couples working side by side in a tense big city thriller that builds up to an admittedly divisive ending. Independently of each viewer’s position regarding this conclusion, it’s the careful study and respective messages that really matter.

The film presents a thought-provoking story underscoring the many disparities women encounter on their journey to success. It raises important questions about the expectations placed on women to excel beyond the ordinary to achieve recognition, while men’s accomplishments often receive recognition based solely on their professional competence. In a world where women are continually held to different standards, Fair Play poignantly portrays the challenges they confront. Their achievements, even when remarkable, are often overshadowed by the stereotype that women must consistently go beyond what is expected – leading to prejudiced sexual comments – to be seen as truly successful. Domont fiercly underlines the importance of dismantling such biases and the urgent need for equal recognition based on merit rather than gender.

Nevertheless, the movie’s core is found in the intricate and intimate dynamics of the romantic protagonists, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich). As their jobs gradually have an impact on their once perfect but now crumbling harmony, the disruptive insecurities faced by couples who are navigating the same career path emerge. Fair Play tackles intriguing issues about what it means for a man when his partner, who shares the same professional ambitions, achieves her goals before he does, just like it depicts what a woman may feel when her counterpart begins to treat her differently due to the new status.

Domont goes into the psychological landscape of such scenarios, depicting the vulnerabilities and pressures both may experience: men when they find themselves in the supportive role or playing second fiddle, and women when they’re the breadwinner and person in charge. The narrative paints a vivid, relatable portrait of the perils faced by couples who share a professional space, working side by side or even operating under one another. It serves as a reminder the journey of love & ambition is often filled with unexpected obstacles, and Fair Play does a commendable job of portraying these nuances. That is, until the crazy ending…

Fair Play Review

The initial stages of the film seductively draw viewers into a world of steamy sensuality and intrigue. The sizzling dynamics of Emily and Luke serve as a captivating backdrop, leaving audiences eager to discover when their professional ambitions will ultimately encroach upon their personal connection. However, it’s within this climactic crescendo that Fair Play undergoes a dramatic transformation. The movie sheds its earlier precision and dives headlong into a sea of chaos, unshackling from the previously controlled levels of tension. Domont abandons subtlety for on-the-nose messaging, and characters turn increasingly shrill. Shocking moments unfold, seemingly for the sake of shock value, leaving viewers with a sense of dissonance.

It’s not a completely unexpected turn, and far from nonsensical, which many male viewers will say to try and defend their gender as if the film is an attack on men. Nowadays, something like what is shown in the final moments of the movie is nothing truly surprising to encounter anymore. The problem is how highly sensitive topics related to domestic violence and sexual abuse are introduced. Domont abruptly dives into troubling territory, and quickly escalates situations, disrupting the narrative’s overall balance. Fair Play was clearly building up to a strong third act, but making both characters act out risks alienating audiences, leaving a jarring aftertaste and raising questions about the film’s intended message.

In the end, it doesn’t hurt Fair Play as much as one may fear. A final remark to the dedicated performances. Dyvenor (best known from Bridgerton) delivers a gripping display, embodying her character with full commitment, and sharing palpable chemistry with Ehrenreich. Certainly it is one of the most memorable performances of the year. Her counterpart is also quite good, although occasionally veering into the over-the-top territory, especially as the story and character become progressively more intense near the end. Both carry Domont’s thematic messages expertly, contributing to an extremely satisfying viewing that, indeed, warrants the positive feedback it has been receiving so far.

Final Thoughts

Fair Play is an emotionally charged exploration of love, ambition, and gender dynamics. Writer / director Chloe Domont thoughtfully addresses these themes, highlighting biases faced by successful women, the personal challenges of couples working in the same space, and the inevitable vulnerabilities that arise from these scenarios. The dedicated performances from Phoebe Dyvenor and Alden Ehrenreich make it a gripping viewing experience, emphasizing the film’s thought-provoking messages about gender politics and seeking equal recognition based on merit rather than gender. And the dramatic conclusion warrants heated debate…

Manuel’s Rating: A-
Follow Manuel on Twitter – @msbreviews / Or Letterboxd – @msbreviews


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Loki Season 2 to OMG 2: Top Movies and TV Series to Watch This Weekend

We’re just a week into October, and our binge list is filled to the brim with new content. No one likes wasting time scrolling through OTT apps for hours, and therefore, we’re returned with an updated list of films and shows that’ll keep you entertained this weekend. Loki season 2 leads the pack of new releases this week, as we follow the God of Mischief’s time-hopping adventures and his encounter with alternate versions of beloved characters. In a similar multiversal vein, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is finally available to stream on Netflix, tasking a young Miles Morales with solving a major conspiracy involving countless Spider-People.

It’s going to be a busy weekend, as Akshay Kumar’s OMG 2 also debuts Sunday, October 8, on Netflix — less than two months since its theatrical release. Oh, and let’s not ignore its box office competitor Gadar 2, starring Sunny Deol in the lead, which drops today on Zee5. With that, here’s a guide on what to stream this weekend:


When: Now streaming
Where: Netflix

Hardened R&AW operative Krishna Mehra (Tabu) is tasked with tracking down a mole within the organisation — one whose actions have led to an undercover spy’s death. Ali Fazal plays the suspect in question, often seen photocopying documents from his workplace and taking them back home, presumably to feed India’s defence secrets to enemy nations. Through 24/7 surveillance and bugs placed in his home, Agent KM and team relentlessly pursue him — across countries — all the while ensuring his innocent wife (Wamiqa Gabbi) and child remain safe. Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, Khufiya also stars Ashish Vidyarthi (Kuttey).

Khufiya to Killers of the Flower Moon: The Biggest Movies Releasing in October

Tabu in a still from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Khufiya
Photo Credit: Netflix

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

When: Now streaming
Where: Netflix

A fledgling Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is catapulted into the multiverse and trapped among an elite army of Spider-People in the hopes of saving its very existence. Joined by Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and the rebellious Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), he encounters the leader Miguel O’Hara/ Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), a traumatised, driven, and almost vampiric leader of the Spider society, who believes the ends justify the means — no matter how severe. But when a choice is offered to prioritise the safety of every multiversal world over one person, Miles rejects it, spawning a wild goose chase where he must fight off and escape all kinds of Spider-Men.

Bear in mind that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is only part 1 of a two-part story, and it also brings in a clumsy new villain, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman). The animated film is also available to buy as VOD across multiple platforms.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Review

Loki season 2

When: October 6 (Now streaming)
Where: Disney+ Hotstar

Lost and confused in an alternate timeline where no TVA members recognise him, the God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is forced to navigate uncharted timelines with a new Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson). His goal is to be reunited with his original team, but his body won’t let him do so by randomly distorting and plopping him into past and future timelines. Things are getting wild and even the TVA archivist OB (Ke Huy Quan) has no solutions to the time slipping. What he does have, however, is some specialised equipment that’s meant to help out our heroes — presumably, with multiversal travel. In Loki season 2, Sylvie is now a McDonald’s employee, Hunter B-15 is a doctor, and Kang the Conqueror appears to be a stage magician?


When: October 8
Where: Netflix

Following a scandal involving his son, Kanti Sharan Mudgal (Pankaj Tripathi), a concerned citizen and strong devotee of Lord Shiva, requests the court to mandate sex education in his school’s courses, spawning an amusing courtroom drama. But his journey there was filled with tragedy, ranging from judgemental jeers from the neighbourhood to his son’s attempted suicide — all of which are subtly prevented by a mysterious messenger (Akshay Kumar) sent by the three-eyed god himself. Amit Rai (Road to Sangam) directs OMG 2, which also stars Yami Gautam as an opposing lawyer.


When: Now streaming
Where: Netflix

Jimmy Sheirgill stars in this heist comedy series as a corrupt politician obsessed with astrology, planning to overthrow the government. Unfortunately, he’s got a quirk — his day-to-day activities are carefully planned based on whether the stars and planets align in his favour. In his meteoric rise to the top, he’s created a bunch of enemies, all of whom thirst for revenge and conjure a strategy to steal Rs. 600 crore from under the politician’s nose. The location is a little tricky though: a heavily fortified party office teeming with 10 armed police officers, over 100 goons, and CCTV cameras at every corner. The team in Choona includes a rebel (Aashim Gulati), a shape-shifting informer (Namit Das), a mute man (Chandan Roy), an astrologer (Atul Srivastava), and a demoted police officer (Gyanendra Tripathi).

Watch the Trailer for Choona, Starring Jimmy Sheirgill

choona ott releases this week choona ott releases this week

Jimmy Shergill (centre) in a still from Choona
Photo Credit: Netflix

Gadar 2

When: October 6 (Now streaming)
Where: Zee5

When Tara Singh (Sunny Deol) goes missing during a skirmish in Pakistan and is believed to be captured, his now fully-grown son Jeete sets out to rescue him, entering uncharted territories from which they both must escape. Ameesha Patel reprises her role as Tara’s wife Sakeena Ali Singh, who’s now in shambles upon hearing about her husband’s disappearance, constantly reciting prayers for his and Jeet’s safety. An interesting thing to note here is that the child actor who played Charanjeet in the original 2001 film is the same person playing the adult version in Gadar 2.

Mumbai Diaries season 2

When: October 6 (Now streaming)
Where: Amazon Prime Video

Dr. Kaushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina) and his team of medics are served with a new set of challenges when a series of torrential rainfalls threaten to submerge Mumbai. The medical thriller continues to focus on the resilience of the crisis doctors, despite limited resources, lack of sleep, and fighting personal battles — some of which is remnant trauma from dealing with the 26/11 attacks. Much of the original cast returns in Mumbai Diaries season 2, including Konkana Sen Sharma, Tina Desai, and Natasha Bharadwaj.

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‘Khufiya’ movie review: Vishal Bhardwaj conjures up a soulful human drama in the guise of a spy thriller

One of the few Indian filmmakers who are not letting art be reduced to content, Vishal Bhardwaj once again employs his command over multiple art forms to generate an immersive experience that turns out to be less than the sum of its parts. In his bid to capture the soul of spooks, Vishal loses grip on the body of the film. He beguiles with the mood and melody but fails to sustain the spell till the end.

Spy novels usually read well on page but on screen, they always run the risk of the audience complaining that nothing is happening. Those who have read Amar Bhushan’s Escape To Nowhere, the literary source of Khufiya, would agree that the fictional account of the real story of an Indian intelligence agent who, despite being under surveillance, disappeared into thin air possibly with the help of American support, is hard to cinematise. The novel has no third act that would trace the Indian response to the embarrassment. Vishal and co-writer Rohan Narula have flipped the gender of characters, invented new players, and spiced up dry portions to suit the Indian palate that seeks to romanticise its spooks and bring the offenders home, at least in films.

Set at a time when some extremist forces in Bangladesh were allegedly falling to the designs of Pakistan’s ISI to create a terror network on India’s eastern border — it is dealt with in detail in Bhushan’s other racy read The Zero Cost Mission — the film follows how a team of Indian intelligence agents led by Krishna Mehra (Tabu) seeks to work with democratic forces in Dhaka to destabilise the then-hardline Bangladeshi government with the help of a local agent (Bangladeshi actor Azmeri Haque Badhon).

The operation is allegedly compromised by an Indian intelligence officer Ravi (Ali Fazal), ostensibly working for the Americans who need to mollycoddle Pakistan to win the great game in Afghanistan. Ravi is already under the scanner but Krishna’s boss Jeevnathan (Ashish Vidyarthi) is not interested in just the puppet. He wants to catch the puppeteer as well. Will the political leadership take on a superpower that seems eager to forge a strategic partnership with India?

Coming at a time when India is locked into a diplomatic row in Canada with the role of American intelligence agencies once again under the scanner, there are passages in Khufiya that will give those interested in geopolitics goosebumps.

But Khufiya is not just a game of cat and mouse played out in South Block and the lanes of Delhi and Dhaka as Vishal loves to transcend from external to internal probe. The title that means secret in Urdu doesn’t stand only for the labour intelligence agencies put in keeping a watch on their targets. It is about the secrets we carry in the crevices of our hearts and the lids we put on our true identity.

Khufiya (Hindi)

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Cast: Ali Fazal, Tabu, Wamiqa Gabbi, Ashish Vidyarthi, Azmeri Haque Badhon, Navnindra Behl

Run-time: 158 minutes

Storyline: Ravi, an Indian intelligence officer, comes under the scanner of his superiors, setting off a complex game of surveillance and counter-espionage

Known for writing strong female characters in a man’s world, after Omkara, Vishal ensures that the three female characters take our breath away and the fourth one leaves us choked. By now we know how Tabu can tease our senses under Vishal’s direction but now he has a new muse in Wamiqa Gabbi. A perceptive actor who marries ethereal grace with steely resolve, it is hard to take our eyes off Wamiqa’s Charulata even when Tabu is around. As the conscientious wife of Ravi, she is the moral centre of the film who questions the cold-blooded work ethic of the intelligence apparatus and takes a stand. Equally enchanting is the performance and character arc of Badhon, the enterprising agent torn between the personal and the professional.

Once again, Vishal collaborates with Gulzar to create melancholy in what seems like a harsh, pragmatic space. Only Gulzar could express deep thoughts through a whimsical line like ‘Kachchi neend jagana ho to mat aana’. Only Vishal could describe a woman as shrouded like a sin, conspicuous like a requital, and unreasonable like fate. Like many things in the film, the word ‘mole’ also has a double meaning.

Also Read | ‘Kuttey’ movie review: Aasmaan Bhardwaj’s crime caper is electric in parts, but lacks bite

A master of the slow burn even before the phrase became routine, Vishal uses the painstaking work of surveillance to reveal the complex identity of his characters. Sometimes, it is as boring as watching paint dry, and at others, it threatens to turn the agents into a voyeur as Krishna discovers when she watches Charu’s striptease to Nahin Nahin Abhi Nahi, the classic teasing-to-please song from Jawani Deewani (1972). The song is not just an interesting device to capture the transformation of Charu but it also projects the upheaval inside Krishna who seems to have struggled to come to terms with her sexuality and when she does, she is not in a position to tell the truth to her teenaged son who asks his father (Atul Kulkarni) what made him let go of such a ‘beauty’.

Similarly, on the surface, Ravi appears to be a shrewd double agent but deep inside he is grappling with the curse of being a mama’s boy. The mother essayed by seasoned theatre actor Navnindra Behl is the surprise package in the spy universe of Khufiya. Perhaps the only fully realised character in the film, she makes you chuckle and fill with dread as well as most of us have lived with old women who are products of centuries of patriarchy and skewed spirituality.

With code names like Brutus and Ghalib, Vishal’s literary influences are sprinkled all over the spy tale. The use of the whistling effect, sarangi, and the everyday sounds in the background score adds a lyrical heft to the thriller. At the same time, he uses the verses of Kabir and Rahim to make a sharp comment on the state of affairs.

On the flip side, there are passages where the plot feels disjointed which gives the feeling of watching a match on a two-paced pitch. In his effort to showcase women with self-belief, the film reduces Ravi to a cliché. And as always Vishal struggles to close out the match. The narrative meanders in its final leg and the final outcome is underwhelming but for a change here is a film that doesn’t feel like running on an algorithm.

Khufiya is currently streaming on Netflix

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‘A Time Called You’ K-Drama review: A pacy time-travel romance

There’s a lot going on in Netflix’s A Time Called You, the Korean remake of the hugely popular Taiwanese series Someday or One Day. This includes friendship, romance, grief, angst, a killer on the loose and most importantly, frequent time travel.

Comparisons are inevitable when an acclaimed show that’s been celebrated by fans globally gets a remake, and A Time Called You has been creating a buzz ever since its cast lineup was announced. While I haven’t seen the original, it has been interesting to see polarising views from both fans of the original as well as first-time viewers play out on social media. Does the remake work, for a viewer experiencing this rollercoaster tale spanning multiple timelines for the first time?

A Time Called You (Korean)

Director: Kim Jin-won

Cast: Jeon Yeo-been, Ahn Hyo-seop, Kang Hoon

Episodes: 12

Run-time: 45-75 minutes

Storyline: Grieving the death of her fiance, Jun-hee finds herself travelling back in time to the nineties, where she meets a high schooler who looks exactly like him.

The 12-episode Korean web-series begins with Han Jun-hee (Jeon Yeo-been), an enterprising working professional in her mid-thirties mourning the death of her fiance Koo Yeon-jun (Ahn Hyo-seop). who died in a plane crash a year ago. She’s struggling to come to terms with his sudden demise, and is mostly in a state of denial. Parallely, we are introduced to the world of high school student Kwon Min-Ju (who looks exactly like Jun-hee), and her schoolmates Nam Si-heon (who resembles Yeon-jun), and Jung In-gyu (Kang Hoon). There’s a lot of intrigue from the get-go, as the names of the characters who resemble each other aren’t revealed until the end of the first episode. Who are these people who look like each other, and yet don’t seem to have any connection whatsoever? Subsequently, suspense builds as Jun-hee is sent a photo where two youngsters resemble her and her deceased fiancé. Soon enough, a mysterious package also finds its way to her.

It isn’t long before Jun-hee finds herself transported back to the late nineties, and finds herself inhabiting the body of Min-ju. This isn’t just a chance for her to simply delve into why her classmate Si-heon bears a striking resemblance to the love of her life from the present, but also to unravel the mystery behind why Min-ju was attacked, as well as her impending death.

As questions begin to pile up, Jun-hee realises that she’s caught in a complex web and nothing is what meets the eye – both for Min-ju whose present timeline she is inhabiting, as well as for herself as Jun-hee in the future. Amidst all this, she forges a quick friendship with Si-heon and In-gyu, who are never unkind, but remain largely dismissive of her claims of time travel. Of course, there’s a love triangle blossoming here as well, but one where it’s evident from the start where Jun-hee’s preferences lie.

Given the constant back and forth, body swapping, and parallel timelines, writer Choi Hyo-bi remains largely consistent with the sharp, pacy writing throughout the show. There’s a steady build-up in intrigue, especially with regard to the whodunit element. Every plot point in this show’s complex narrative finds a place in a time loop, and the effort that has gone into the writing is evident from how it all unravels neatly.

A still from ‘A Time Called You’

The pace also, in a way, becomes this K-Drama’s biggest enemy as it robs the show of much of its emotional nuance and depth. While the high school trio’s friendship and blossoming feelings of love make up the core themes of the show, there’s precious little screen time accorded to this. We hardly get to see the trio bond or are allowed to enjoy their camaraderie, and In-gyu in particular is often forgotten. Something that particularly hurt was how abruptly short a storyline involving Yeon-jun and his classmate (Rowoon, in a surprisingly lovely cameo) is. The show instead constantly shifts focus, and proceeds to march forward in an inexplicable hurry.

The show belongs to Yeo-been, who excels in multiple roles- as a shy, introverted Min-ju, as the grieving, yet high-functioning Jun-hee, and most importantly, as Jun-hee inhabiting Min-ju’s body as she struggles to adapt to a timeline that’s alien to her. We’ve seen how well Yeo-been brings alive grief onscreen in the 2019 K-Drama Be Melodramatic, and here, she’s got even more to do. Watch out for the scenes towards the end where Yeo-been effortlessly plays Min-ju and Jun-hee who are both in despair, as they navigate their feelings. While Kang-hoon has little to do and is let down by a disappointingly underwritten character, Hyo-seop shines as the charming and vulnerable Si-heon whose world revolves around his friends. All three leads are, however, well into their thirties and yet play high schoolers. This is something that many K-dramas don’t seem to tire of, and one can only hope that these casting decisions are re-evaluated in other shows to come.

While it goes without saying that A Time Called You requires a willing suspension of disbelief given the paradoxes of the world it is set in, the writing in the last two episodes stretches this to the hilt. Nevertheless, for a show that’s packed to the brim and has a convoluted plot towards the end, the writing remains taut, and manages to nearly tie up all its loose ends.

Music plays a big role in propelling the story forward and here. We have the lilting strains of Seo Ji-won’s ‘Gather my tears’ and ‘Beautiful Restriction’ by current K-pop sensation NewJeans which stand out in the soundtrack. For all the internal turmoil given the constant time travel and despair the characters face, the world they inhabit, especially in the nineties, is one that’s filled with sunshine, aesthetically pleasing school buildings, and winding countryside roads with an abundance of cherry blossoms. Unrealistic, this might be, but every frame seems to be lovingly crafted and it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of it all, and revel in the heady nostalgia of an era where cassettes made for personal, warm gifts.

For a show where the clever writing and pace lend much heft, A Time Called You could have benefited from more emotional depth. However, the attempt is earnest, and the remake is definitely worth a watch.

A Time Called You is currently streaming on Netflix

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The Hunt For Veerappan: True Story Behind Docuseries on India’s Most Wanted Man

The newest addition to Netflix’s true-crime docuseries is debutant director Selvamani Selvaraj’s The Hunt For Veerappan. The four-part series sheds light on the life and death of forest brigand Veerappan, who was shot dead by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF) in 2004 in one of India’s most expensive manhunts till date.

The documentary walks us through the notorious crimes committed by Veerappan, a former poacher who soon became the country’s most wanted man.

But who was Veerappan really? And what was his story? We explain.

Who Was Veerappan?

Veerappan, whose real name was Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, was born into a Tamilian family of cattle grazers in Karnataka’s Gopinatham village in January 1952. He spent his early years assisting his uncle Saalvai Gounder in smuggling and poaching in the forests of the southern states. He was also an admirer of the notorious bandit Malayur Mammattiyan.

As per reports, Veerappan poached his first elephant at the age of 14 and committed his first murder when he was only 17.

Veerappan was one of India’s most wanted criminals.

Veeerappan entered the realm of crime at the age of 18, when he joined a group of poachers and soon became their leader, expanding their operations to include smuggling, murder, and abduction.

According to reports, the poacher-turned-criminal had been implicated in the deaths of over 120 people, poaching of over 2,000 elephants, and smuggling of sandalwood and ivory valued at millions of dollars.

Most of Veerappan’s victims were police officers, forest officials and others who supported them. In 1986, Veerappan was apprehended and taken into custody, but he fled soon after.

According to a report by The Times of India, Veerappan abducted and lynched a forest officer from Sathyamangalam in 1987. The 1991 assassination of senior IFS official Pandillapalli Srinivas drew further attention to him.

In 1990, at the age of 39, he got married to Muthulakshmi, who was around 14 years at that time. They have two daughters: Vidya Rani (born in 1990) and Prabha (born in 1993).

From Poacher to India’s Most-Wanted Criminal

Veerappan, also referred to as ‘The Robinhood of India’, became well-known for taking the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka hostage at ransom.

According to reports, the bandit’s involvement with sandalwood smuggling came to light between July and December 1989, when he orchestrated huge felling in and around the Makkampalyam, Kottamadain, and Argiyam sections of the Satyamangala forests division in Tamil Nadu.

Veerappan was reportedly smuggling at least Rs 50 lakh worth of sandalwood annually.

A still from The Hunt From Veerappan.

In February 1990, a joint operation was launched by the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu forest and police departments, where reportedly 65 tonnes of sandalwood were confiscated from the Silvikkal forest (the highest to date).

In order to catch Veerappan, the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments formed a Special Task Force (STF) in 1992.

The STF was headed by Superintendent of Police Sanjay Arora in Tamil Nadu and Director General and Inspector General Shankar Bidri, with Walter Devaram serving as joint chief. During the operation, Veerappan’s right-hand man, Gurunathan alias Gurunathachari, was killed by the Karnataka task force, and SI Shakeel Ahmed was solely in charge of capturing him, according to reports.

Gurunathan was second in command on Veerappan’s team. He was a skilled marksman and handled the purchasing and selling of elephants, the acquisition of weapons, and the provision of food for the team.

Three months later, Veerappan and his gang launched an attack on the Rampura police station in Kollegal, killing seven police officers and stealing several arms and ammunition in the process.

Soon after, the STF intensified their searches in and around Veerappan’s birthplace, Gopinatham village. During the operation under the charge of Sanjay Arora and Shankar Bidari, Veerappan’s gang was reduced to only five members.

A Rs 5 crore bounty was also announced on Veerappan. His wife Muthulakshmi was also detained by the STF in 1993 under accusations of aiding her husband. However, she was later acquitted of all charges.

Veerappan’s wife Muthulakshmi.

In April 1993, Veerappan’s single largest mass killing took place at the landmines of Palar, near Malai Mahadeswara Hills (present-day Chamarajanagar District, Karnataka), leaving 22 police officers and forestry officials dead.

As per reports, banned organisations like the Tamil National Retrieval Troops (TNRT) and Liberation Army helped Veerappan secure a Robin Hood image and negotiate with prominent people. Kolathur Mani, president of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, was reportedly arrested as an accomplice but later acquitted due to a lack of evidence.

For several years during the 1990s, the brigand held many police officials, film celebrities and other known personalities captive in exchange for ransom money. It included the infamous abduction of popular Kannada actor Rajkumar and H Nagappa, former minister of Karnataka.

Operation Cocoon & Veerappan’s Death

Operation Cocoon was initiated by the Special Task Force of the Tamil Nadu Police, aimed to end Veerappan’s terror reign in the Sathyamangalam Forest, which spread across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. The operation was led by K Vijay Kumar and NK Senthamarai, who infiltrated and apprehended Veerappan.

As per reports, Operation Cocoon was successful due to the assistance received from tribal people who helped the officers infiltrate the enemy camp.

On 18 October 2004, Veerappan and three of his aids, namely Sethukuli Govinda, Chandre Gowda, and Sethumani, were killed by the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force, resulting in injuries to four policemen, as per reports.

Operation Cocoon was successfully carried out in October 2004.

The operation took an extensive 10 months of planning and 3 weeks of execution, culminating in a 45-minute final attack.

Over the course of time, Veerappan’s troop had been reduced to only four men. The operation was carried out when Veerappan was planning to leave the forest in order to get medical treatment for his eyes (reportedly for cataracts) in South Arcot, Tamil Nadu.

Following the operation’s success, several raised their doubts about the identity of the person killed by the police. However, police soon confirmed that the man was Veerappan through his fingerprints and validation from family and relatives.

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‘Doctor Cha’ K-Drama review: Uhm Jung-hwa aces this journey towards empowerment and independence

In one of the initial episodes of the recently concluded K-drama Doctor Cha, Cha Jeong-suk (Uhm Jung-hwa), who has recovered from a massive health setback, is asked by her mother to stay healthy and live a happy life.

Jeong-suk is quick to retort that she doesn’t know what makes her happy, and when her bemused mother asks her to find something she likes best, we see Jeong-suk confused. “What is it that I like,” she wonders.

Doctor Cha (Korean with English subtitles)

Directors: Kim Dae-Jin , Kim Jung-wook

Cast: Uhm Jung-hwa, Kim Byung-chul, Min Woo-hyuk, Song Ji-ho

Episodes: 16

Run-time: 60-70 minutes

Storyline: After years of living for others, a former medical student in her fifties decides to complete her medical residency and put herself first

Dr Cha’s protagonist, Cha Jeong-Suk, is a stay-at-home mother whose life, for the last twenty years, has revolved around her curt and standoffish Chief Surgeon husband Seo In-ho (Kim Byung-chul), her son Seo Jung-min (Song Ji-ho), who is a tired first-year surgical resident, bratty high schooler and daughter Seo Yi-rang (Lee Seo-yeon), and an exasperating mother-in-law Kwak Ae-sim (Park Joon-geum). Jeong-Suk’s wonderment about what makes her happy isn’t a surprise, given how her life for the last two decades has been largely confined to her home. Her priorities might solely focus on her family, but they in turn are largely dismissive of her. There’s a largely appalling mix of a lack of respect, missing financial independence, and a complete disregard for Jeong-Suk’s needs at play here.

Despite the family being apparently wealthy, Jeong-Suk takes the bus as she hasn’t been given a car, and hardly ever buys anything for herself. Her husband isn’t one for romance, affection or giving her any of his time – because he’s busy having a secret affair with his colleague and first love Choi Seung-hi(Myung Se-bin).

When Jeong-Suk finally snaps, it is courtesy her husband and mother-in-law’s despicable and self-centered behaviour during a life-threatening health emergency. The show thankfully wastes no time in setting this up, delving straight into her journey towards empowerment and self-fulfillment.

Having given up her medical residency twenty years ago, Jeong-Suk, now Dr Cha, goes back to complete it. Only that she’s in the same hospital as her husband and son, and is at least three decades older than most of the other young residents there.

There’s a lot to love in the first half of this 16-episode K-drama, especially when a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Jeong-suk begins her medical residency. She struggles to fit in, realises she has a slower grasp on the subject than she did as a young student, and yet, is earnest, empathetic, and well-liked by her patients. To the show’s credit, the writers don’t go out of their way to show her mess up as a rookie resident – the focus here is instead on how she struggles to strike a balance between her professional and personal life.

On the road to happiness, Jeong-suk battles waves of mom guilt, her mother-in-law’s complaints about having lost someone efficient around the house, her husband’s complete apathy and constant discouragement, and her daughter’s tantrums. This is a complex role, and one that Uhm Jung-hwa aces. She’s immensely likeable as the affable titular protagonist, and makes her journey toward empowerment, independence and growth feel personal and relatable.

While the hospital staff are oblivious to who her husband and son are, there’s one exception – dreamy doc Roy Kim (Min Woo-hyuk), who initially treated her for her health setback, and subsequently grows a soft spot for her.

This initial set-up, coupled with whether or not Jeong-Suk will stumble upon her husband’s meandering ways, is done really well. The writing is sharp, relatable, and manages to walk the tightrope between comedy and drama perfectly. If you’re angered by the patriarchy, sexism and prejudice, you’re equally overjoyed by the little victories Jeong-suk begins to stack up.

This is also why it doubly hurts when the show makes a sharp turn into long-drawn, soap-opera territory after episode nine. There is a sudden shift in the writing – to excessively villanise Seung-hi, the other woman, and too much time spent trying to come up with a redemption arc for the husband. A much-despised villain in several K-dramas, Kim Byung-chul here is perfect as the extremely funny, yet annoyingly self-serving husband.

In the midst of this all, Dr Roy Kim, who begins with much promise, is now thrust into a potential and unconvincing love triangle. Min Woo-hyuk truly is sweet and charming, but needed a role that was better fleshed out, instead of a rather half-hearted story arc focused on his adoption.

The women in Doctor Cha are an interesting mix. While Jeong-Suk’s mother battles health problems and is constantly worrying about her daughter, her mother-in-law is busy falling for a ponzi scheme. There’s Jeon So-ra (Jo Ah-ram), a curt third-year resident, who should have been given much more screen time. In So-ra, a promising surgeon who is in control of her life and decidedly self-assured, we see what Jeong-Suk’s career or life in her early twenties might have been like if she didn’t accidentally get pregnant.

Thankfully, the finale brings back flashes of some of the initial brilliance, and scrambles to make up for the rather repetitive writing in the latter half of the show. There’s a lot of grace and dignity in the way Jeong-suk is shown to move on from one chapter of her life to another. In a show like this, the pay-off is what one is waiting for. Even though it’s rather muted here, it feels satisfying.

Earlier this year, we saw a strong, older female protagonist take the reins in Crash Course in Romance, and Doctor Cha joins this list. It is also heartening that the show is a ratings success, and is hopefully an indication for more stories like this onscreen. Choppy writing aside, Jeong-suk’s journey towards empowerment, putting herself first, and coming into her own is refreshing, and one that you’re left rooting for.

Doctor Cha is currently streaming on Netflix

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20 Netflix Series That Were Canceled Too Soon | Wealth of Geeks

Netflix, a popular streaming service that offers a wide variety of tv shows, movies, documentaries, and more, has been known to put the brakes on fast – canceling shows without mercy. Subscribers have now learned not to get too attached to their favorite shows, as there is always the possibility that the streaming service will just cancel a show without much reason.

In 2022 the streaming service has already canceled many of its shows. Some of these shows that completed their first season with stellar reviews and even cracked Netflix’s most-watched list.

At this point, we are wondering what makes a show successful on Netflix. Here are the shows we think were canceled too soon this year on Netflix.

1. On the Verge

Image Credit: Netflix.

The comedy series On The Verge will not return for a second season, as reported by its creator and star, Julie Delpy. When a fan asked Delpy for an update on season two on Instagram, the actress said that the show had been canceled and that its distributors “forgot to announce it was canceled.”

‘On The Verge’ followed four female friends in their late 40s – played by Delpy, Elisabeth Shue, Sarah Jones, and Alexia Landeau. They chose to use midlife not as a time of mourning their youth, but as an opportunity for personal reinvention, with the hope of finally living lives that embodied their beliefs and values.

The show premiered in September last year and ran for 12 half-hour episodes. The Los Angeles set series was a co-production between French TV channel Canal+ and Netflix.

2. Archive 81

Archive 81 VHS The Circle
Image Credit: Netflix.

Archive 81 was canceled after one season. This supernatural thriller-horror show disappointed many fans when Netflix suddenly canceled it. The cancelation was first reported by Deadline. The cancellation was seen as surprising, as it was featured in Netflix’s top ten ratings for originals and even briefly hit the number one spot in the US streaming ratings.

3. The Baby-Sitters Club

The Baby-Sitters Club Shay Rudolph, Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada, Malia Baker
Image Credit: Netflix.

This contemporary dramedy that follows the friendship and adventure of seven friends as they start their own babysitting business in Stoneybrook, Conn., was canceled after two seasons. This show was based on the book series written by Ann M. Martin.

The show was created by Rachel Shukert and starred Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada, Shay Rudolph, Malia Baker, and Alicia Silverstone. Throughout the two seasons, it garnered attention for its nostalgia. Shukert was confused when Netflix decided to end the show, explaining, “It’s not like no one watched it. For whatever reason, the right people didn’t watch it at the right time for Netflix right now.”

4. Gentefied

Gentefied Ivana Rojas Carlos Santos
Image Credit: Netflix.

This show takes you into the lives of the Morales cousins as they scramble to save their grandfather’s taco shop and pursue their dreams as gentrification shakes up their LA neighborhood.

This show was canceled because it never managed to breach the Netflix Top 10 list in terms of viewership. This probably contributed to their decision to cancel the series despite many positive reviews and a 96% certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.

5. Cooking With Paris

Cooking With Paris Paris Hilton
Image Credit: Netflix.

Cooking With Paris came out in 2021 and was all about Paris Hilton in the kitchen. Reviewers said that she was turning the traditional cooking show upside down. Can she cook? Kind of? She’s not a trained chef and is not trying to be. Paris made various recipes with celebrity friends such as Kim Kardashian, Nikki Glaser, Demi Lovato, Saweetie, Lele Pons, and mother Kathy and sister Nicky Hilton.

But unlike other celebrity-driven reality shows, this one wasn’t solid enough to survive the Netflix ax.

6. Another Life

Another Life Katee Sackhoff Elizabeth Faith Ludlow
Image Credit: Netflix.

Another Life is about astronaut Niko Breckenridge and how her young crew faces unimaginable danger as they go on a high-risk mission to explore the genesis of an alien artifact.

It was in December 2021 that fans got somewhat of a hint that the show may have been canceled.

Responding to a viral tweet, Katee Sackhoff suggests that the original poster saying that Netflix doesn’t allow any show to get three seasons was correct. The second season featured on the Netflix top 10 but didn’t make any meaningful impact. The show failed to appear in Netflix US TV top 10 at all.

On February 21st, there was confirmation that Another Life had been canceled at Netflix.

In a tweet, Katee Sackhoff said:

“I’d like to thank every single person who watched & supported Another Life on @netflix To our crew & cast, thank you for always working so hard & being prepared. I wish we could do more seasons, but sadly it’s just not in the cards 🚀 See you on the next adventure ❤️ Love Niko.”

7. Bone

Bone graphic novel
Image Credit: Image Comics.

Bone was a popular independently published graphic novel series that was written and illustrated by Jeff Smith. The books were scheduled to become a new Netflix series, but the show didn’t even make it to air before it was reportedly canceled in April. Sadly, this is the third attempt to bring Fone, Phoney and Smiley to the small screen, and probably the last.

8. Raising Dion

Raising Dion Ja'Siah Young
Image Credit: Netflix.

Raising Dion is a show about a single widowed mom that discovers her son has super powers and tries to figure out how to raise him safely and responsibly. The show was produced by Michael B. Jordan and was not renewed after two seasons. The cancellation was announced on Instagram by actor Sammi Haney and confirmed by Variety.

9. Pretty Smart

Pretty Smart Michael Hsu Rosen Olivia Macklin
Image Credit: Netflix.

Pretty Smart was about a self-proclaimed intellectual who is forced to move in with her carefree sister and her sister’s lovably eccentric friends. It starred Emily Osmond, Gregg Sulkin, and Olivia Macklin and ran for ten episodes in total. When season one ended, and things were silent for months, it was announced at the end of April that the show was done.

The show was able to reach the Netflix US top ten list but only spent three days in that position. Its highest ranking was in eighth place.

10. Space Force

Space Force Steve Carell, Ben Schwartz, Rahul Nath, Thomas Ohrstrom, Jimmy O. Yang
Image Credit: Netflix.

Space Force was known as one of Netflix’s biggest comedy projects to date with The Office’s Steve Carrell. However, despite major cost-cutting, it wasn’t enough for the show to continue and therefore was canceled as of April.

The show was about people who were tasked with creating a sixth branch of the armed services: The Space Force. Along with Carrell, John Malkovich, Lisa Kudrow, and Ben Schwartz starred, with Tim Meadows joining the show for the second season.

11. Gypsy

Gypsy Sophie Cookson
Image Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa.

Gypsy was known as one of the shortest-running shows on Netflix, having been canceled just weeks after its first season. We think it was due to Naomi Watts going to star in her own Netflix Original series. However, once the director of 50 Shades of Grey came on board, it was clear where the show was heading. This was a low-key series about a psychiatrist who is ultimately bored of her life and seeks new excitements… often with her clients.

12. The Punisher

The Punisher Jon Bernthal
Image Credit: Netflix.

The Punisher surrounds Marine veteran Frank Castle and the murder of his family. Frank becomes the vigilante known as “The Punisher,” intending to avenge his family. The show starred Jon Bernthal, Amber Rose Revah, and Ben Barnes.

The show was canceled at the beginning of 2019, and all of the Marvel Netflix series were removed from the network on March 1st, 2022. The license for all of the ‘street level’ Marvel shows reverted to Disney, and began streaming on Disney+ from March 16th. With Charlie Cox’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin making recent appearances in the MCU, the door seems to be wide open for Berenthal’s Punisher to join the mainline Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.

13. Seven Seconds

Seven Seconds
Image Credit: Netflix.

Seven Seconds is about African American citizens whose tensions run high between them and Caucasian cops in Jersey City when a cop critically injures a teenage African American boy.

Originally the show was laid out to be an anthological series. Despite that intention, Netflix axed the show on April 19th.

Cindy Holland, VP of Original Content at Netflix, said, “We loved working with Veena Sud, Regina King, and the cast and crew of Seven Seconds. Together they created a compelling, timely, and relevant crime drama. The first season is a complete, stand-alone story that we are proud to feature on Netflix for years to come.”

14. Everything Sucks

Everything Sucks Sydney Sweeney, Rio Mangini, Elijah Stevenson, Quinn Liebling
Image Credit: Netflix.

Everything Sucks takes place in 1990s Oregon, where high school A/V club members clash with the drama club. It starred Jahi Di’Allo, Peyton Kennedy, and Patch Darragh.

Earlier in 2018, the show was canceled and faced huge fan backlash. Netflix offered its condolences and explained its cancellation. It also suggested that the show is dead and buried at this point.

Holland says she was passionate about #EverythingSucks, but the completion rate for the season was below average. Thus, the axe. #TCA18

— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur), July 29th, 2018

15. Disjointed

Disjointed Kathy Bates, Aaron Moten, Elizabeth Ho, Tone Bell, Elizabeth Alderfer, Dougie Baldwin
Image Credit: Netflix.

Disjointed is about cannabis legend Ruth Whitefeather Feldman who employs her newly graduated son and a team of young “budtenders” to help run her Los Angeles marijuana dispensary. It starred Kathy Bates, Aaron Moten, and Elizabeth Alderfer.

In the beginning, the show received a 20-episode first season order at the streamer in 2016. The first half of the season debuted in August 2018, and the second half premiered at the beginning of 2019. Chuck Lorre and The Daily Show alum David Javerbaum served as writers and executive producers. The critics, however, were not too pleased with this series, only giving it a 23 percent critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (and an 80 percent audience approval rating).

16. Bloodline

Bloodline Norbet Leo Butz
Image Credit: Netflix.

Bloodline is about a family forced to face their past secrets and scars when the black sheep returns home. It starred Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, and Linda Cardellini.

The show was canceled on Netflix after its third season. Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president of original content, confirmed the cancellation in a press statement.

Bloodline season three will be the show’s final season,” Holland said.

She continued, “[Executive producers] Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Glenn Kessler (KZK) are thoughtful and visionary storytellers who lead a prestigious cast that includes Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn, who have both garnered two Emmy nominations for their roles on the series. Together, with our collaborative partners at Sony Pictures Television, they created a seductive show that Netflix viewers worldwide love and continue to discover. We are looking forward to the exciting climax KZK has in store for the series conclusion in May 2017.”

17. The Get Down

The Get Down Renée Elise Goldsberry
Image Credit: Netflix.

The Get Down was a series from Baz Luhrman about a ragtag group of teenagers who ran wild in the streets of the Bronx in the late 1970s. It starred Justice Smith, Shameik Moore, and Herizen F. Guardiola.

There were a lot of setbacks with production delays, a ton of money, and the show was canceled after only 11 episodes. Originally the show was announced to be 13 episodes. Netflix did not give a reason for the cancellation.

18. GLOW

Glow Alison Brie Betty Gilpin
Image Credit: Netflix.

GLOW gave the audience in its two-season series a look at the personal and professional lives of a group of women who performed for a wrestling organization in Los Angeles during the 1980s. It starred Alison Brie, Marc Maron, and Betty Gilpin.

The show was renewed for a fourth and final season in 2019, but COVID protocols made it too difficult to produce, according to the streaming site. The third season was also halted, and the show concluded without resolution.

“We’ve made the difficult decision not to do a fourth season of Glow due to COVID, which makes shooting this physically intimate show with its large ensemble cast especially challenging,” said a Netflix spokesperson. “We are so grateful to creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, Jenji Kohan, and all the writers, cast, and crew for sharing this story about the incredible women of Glow with us and the world.”

19. The Society

The Society José Julián, Toby Wallace, Olivia Nikkanen
Image Credit: Netflix.

The Society is about a place where everyone else mysteriously vanishes from their wealthy town, and the teen residents of West Ham must forge their own society to survive. The show starred Kathyrn Newton, Gideon Adlon, and Sean Berdy.

The show started in 2018, and after renewing for a second season, Netflix pulled the plug on the series.

Another show, I Am Not Okay With This, another popular teen Netflix show, was also canceled around that time. Both shows had made the list of shows on Netflix that shouldn’t have been canceled. The cast and crew were supposed to start filming the new season in March 2020, but filming was shut down before it could even get started. This was because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

20. The OA

The OA Brit Marling
Image Credit: Netflix.

The OA was about a previously blind woman, Prairie, returning home after going missing seven years ago. She is now in her twenties with her sight restored. While many believe she is a miracle, others worry that she could be dangerous. The show starred Brit Marling, Jason Isaacs, and Scott Wilson.

The show’s first season appeared out of nowhere in late 2016 and evolved into one of the most bonkers shows on TV. Its second installment arrived in 2019 and generated even more praise. In August 2019, Netflix announced the series was being canceled after its second season. In a statement, Cindy Holland, Netflix head of originals, said,

“We are incredibly proud of the 16 mesmerizing chapters of The OA and are grateful to Brit and Zal for sharing their audacious vision and for realizing it through their incredible artistry… We look forward to working with them again in the future, in this and perhaps many other dimensions.”

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.

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