How “House of Cards” Season 5 Stacks Up

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By now, viewers know what to expect from Netflix’s “House of Cards” – a bleak portrayal of the American political landscape in which the only constant is the relentless ambition for power. And that’s exactly what Season 5 of “House of Cards,” which debuted on Netflix on May 30, delivers.

1. Raw political ambition and the lust for political power

If anything, Season 5 of “House of Cards” is bleaker and more nihilistic than any of the preceding four seasons. We’re already used to the raw power ambitions of U.S. President Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) and First Lady Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright), but now we’re convinced that nothing is ever going to change. In fact, if anything, it’s clear that America’s timeless traditions and institutions may be no match for the current powerbrokers in Washington.

There are scenes in Season 5 that have deep symbolic meanings – such as when Claire Underwood appears to trample an American eagle underfoot on a rug in the White House, or when Frank Underwood appears to wander the White House alone, almost like a ghost, while music plays at some party he has no intention of joining. The message is clear: America is now a waning power on the world stage, and there’s no idealistic young up-and-comer who is going to save the day.

In fact, one of the trademark plot twists in “House of Cards” is how even idealistic newcomers are quickly brought up to speed on how things happen in Washington, D.C. The people who survive are not those that have an ideology or who want to change the system – it is the people who spend all day thinking of ways to subvert the system to their own whims. They study constitutional law, not to understand how to protect the Constitution, but how to subvert it.

Even the war on terror becomes just another tool for political power consolidation. In Season 5, the Underwoods are intent on inflaming public fears about ICO (the show’s version of ISIS) in order to steadily erode constitutional rights and find loopholes to increase their own power.

2. An underlying pessimism about American institutions

“House of Cards” almost seems to celebrate the men and women who have no ideology and no guiding political philosophy. That, perhaps, is why so many critics have called this the bleakest “House of Cards” yet. There is a sense that any vestige of dignity has departed the office of the Presidency, and all we see, in episode after episode, is yet another lesson in how absolute power corrupts absolutely. The goal of power, it appears, is simply to get more power. In doing so, all the political actors in “House of Cards” go about their nefarious ways.

What is most disturbing about Season 5, perhaps, is that it is not just the men and women who are flawed – it is the very institutions keeping them in power. There is a sense that all the ideals, principles and careful checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had the foresight to create are nothing more than tools now in the hands of the wrong people.

And Frank Underwood has no shame whatsoever in rubbing this in our face. At one point, he turns to the camera and says, “You voted for me, America.” Thus, as easy as it might be to blame a single person (or power couple, as in the case of the Underwoods) for this low point in American politics, we only have ourselves to blame.

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3. The Trump context

Of course, you can now see why so many people are trying to make this season’s “House of Cards” a pointed commentary on the current political environment in Washington. The Trump presidency, in many ways, is a mirror image of the Underwood presidency. You have an egomaniac in the White House, using the Oval Office simply to advance his own ambitions and business brand.

The way that Frank Underwood humiliates his underlings, too, has an analogue in the way that Donald Trump likes to punish and humiliate his underlings – whether it’s forcing Sean Spicer to go out and give a press conference at the most inopportune time, or when it comes to directly contravening statements made by one of his inner circle via a late night Twitter outburst.

And, of course, the way that many say that President Trump has degraded the office of the presidency with his constant half-truths and reckless Executive Orders have a clear precedent in the Underwood presidency.

But here is the thing – whereas Frank Underwood has absolutely no underlying ideology or values, one could argue that Donald Trump is at least following some abstract notion of “making America great again.” In the case of Frank Underwood, it’s not so much a case of making America great – it’s about making himself great.

And many people fail to point out that Season 5 of “House of Cards” actually started production BEFORE Trump was ever elected. Thus, even though the show debuted almost exactly four months after Trump was sworn in, it actually had already been in production long before.

For liberals, Donald Trump is just a slightly more odious version of Frank Underwood. For conservatives, though, the double-dealing and corrupt Underwoods are a slightly more odious version of the Clintons. You can see why we’re at such a political impasse in America these days – both figures are so polarizing that there’s little or no opportunity to meet in the middle.

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So what to make of “House of Cards,” then? Many would argue that it has simply become too repetitive. The characters may change, but the plot does not. There is more scheming, more shifting of alliances and more egomaniacal attempts to subvert the system. Even the newcomers to Season 5 – Patricia Clarkson (as the deputy undersecretary of commerce for international trade) and Campbell Scott (as a top adviser to the President) – do little to change the underlying dynamic of the show.

But something very distinct has changed in the way that we view “House of Cards” in 2017. If, back in 2013 when the show first premiered, we thought that the Underwood presidency was pure fiction and too insidious to ever become true, we now realize that it is, indeed, possible. In fact, it may now be the case that fact is stranger than fiction. The naked power grab of the Trump presidency and all the inflamed rhetoric about making America great again may actually have the opposite effect – it may reveal just how low the American political system has fallen, and how the lust for power has become all-consuming on both sides of the political aisle.

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“Master of None” Season 2 Sparks Social Commentary and Conversation

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When Netflix signed up comedian Aziz Ansari to do a special original comedy series, they couldn’t have possibly expected that “Master of None” was going to spark so much social commentary and conversation. But Season 2 of the show has just absolutely changed the national conversation on so many topics, including LGBT issues and what it means to be a Indian-American.

The show, of course, is a fictional account of Aziz Ansari’s life in which Aziz plays Dev Shah, a 30-year-old New York actor. The show is “loosely based” on real-life experiences, including his travels abroad, his experiences in New York, and the friends and family members who have influenced him.

And here’s where things get really interesting. “Master of None” (the title of the show is a reference to the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none) was really meant to be more of an itinerant series, moving from here to there at whim, showing some funny scenes from Aziz’s life. (In Season 2, for example, Aziz winds up in Italy.)

That approach was a remarkably successful formula for Season 1 back in late 2015, when the show routinely made the list of “Best TV Show of 2015.” Critics loved the show, and ranked it as one of the Top 10 shows of the year. There was a lull, and then in May 2017, here came Season 2, fortified with 10 new episodes.

On the surface, perhaps, viewers weren’t expecting the series to become such a spark for social commentary. After all, one of the key plotlines of Season 2 was the character of Dev Shah going to Italy to learn how to make pasta. There were some funny scenes – like the one where Aziz Ansari and his friend accidentally get their car stuck between two buildings in Italy. But then came “Thanksgiving”…

In “Thanksgiving,” Dev shares the story of how he likes to celebrate Thanksgiving with his childhood friends since his parents do not celebrate the holiday. And one of his best friends from childhood (Denise, played by Lena Waithe) happens to be both black and queer. That led to the idea that the episode would feature Denise talking about her decision to “come out” and announce that she’s queer. The episode also featured Angela Bassett as Denise’s mom Catherine, and that’s where things became explosive – the mom is not so accepting of Denise, and that sparked a major conversation about LGBT life.

In fact, that one episode attracted so much buzz that Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe did a special feature for New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, in which they broke down, scene by scene, how and why they decided to do the “Thanksgiving” episode. Lena Waithe is also gay in real-life, and was willing to share her own experiences and ideas about what it was like to come out on TV.

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And there have been other episodes that have also sparked social commentary. For example, Episode 3 (“Religion”) features Dev and his decision not to be a devout Muslim. He can’t possibly tell his parents that, so he has to fake it in front of them. That led to a lot of discussion in the media and entertainment blogs about Aziz’s “pork-fueled feud with his parents.”

More generally, it gets to the root of what it’s like to be Muslim in America. That’s a particularly sensitive topic right now, especially with all the discussion about a “Muslim ban.” How are Muslims assimilating into America? How are they reacting to the Muslim ban. Aziz is such a funny comedian, that we sometimes don’t even think that he’s thinking about these issues. But he’s only human, and it’s clear that all of his hilarious “brown people jokes” are really meant to be a biting commentary about America and its unwillingness to accept Muslims as equals.

And then, in another episode of the show, Aziz Ansari explores how it’s possible that everyday people can actually be racist in their own way. In Episode 4 of Season 2, for example, he dates a number of different girls, and the one he ends up sleeping with actually has a figurine in her home that the character Dev Shah interprets to be racist.

That raises an interesting question – especially from a social commentary perspective – and that’s how people can claim they have “brown friends” or “black friends” and yet still be racist. It could be that these feelings and emotions are so deep under the surface that they don’t even know that they are there. But the appearance of something seemingly as innocuous as a figurine can bring them to light.

Finally, there was one other issue raised in Season 2 that has started to get traction on the blogs and social media, and that’s the very difficult topic of sexual harassment. Despite all the claims that women are equal to men in America, it’s still the case that sexual harassment in the workplace is rampant. And that’s a topic that “Master of None” hasn’t been afraid to tackle.

So, as you can see, “Master of None” is really more than just a Netflix original comedy. It’s more than just funny insights into Aziz Ansari’s life. No – it’s really an increasingly important platform to discuss important social issues that show up again and again in daily life.

Take the example of LGBT issues. That’s something that Aziz Ansari rarely – if ever – tackles in his standup comedy routines, but it’s a topic that suddenly shows up in “Master of None.” Or take the issue of sexual harassment. Aziz may make a lot of jokes about how he is “human garbage” for the way he acts around women sometimes, but his show takes a deeper, more critical look at the issue.

Ultimately, comedy is a great tool for exploring these issues. And, as we’ve seen with Aziz Ansari and his amazing Saturday Night Live (SNL) hosting gig after the presidential election, he’s increasingly willing to take a stand on tough issues. That’s what makes “Master of None” such a great Netflix show. Even as we’re laughing, we’re also getting incisive takes on deeply important social issues.

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Why Fans Loved Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

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When Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” first premiered back in March 2015, it was clear that this comedy was going to develop into a cult show with a huge fan base. And so, perhaps, it’s no surprise that fans loved Season 3 of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as much as they loved Season 1 and Season 2. This show really delivered everything they wanted – and then some.

#1: More twisted, wacky plot lines

All you have to know about “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is that comedian Tina Fey is one of the executive producers and co-creators of the show. She is really the creative genius behind the show, and it shows up in all the plot lines of the show. Even the major premise of the show – that Kimmy Schmidt (played by Ellie Kemper) was rescued after being imprisoned for 15 years by a doomsday cult and is now living in New York City with a gay Broadway actor (Titus Andromedon, played by the amazing Tituss Burgess) – is just so wacky.

But it’s that 15-year separation from the world that makes Kimmy so endearing and lovable. It gives the show’s main actors a unique vantage point to question the world around them. Kimmy seems to question everything, and especially the Internet. She’s still fascinated by Google, and can’t quite figure out the meaning of Airbnb, asking at one point, “So, it’s basically like a sleepover with strangers?”

And the wacky, twisted plot lines include the appearance of characters like Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline. She plays an Upper East Side society woman, but it turns out that her whole life is really just a façade. In fact, her real name is Jackie Lynn, and she’s a native American who fled her life on a Lakota Indian reservation. And to make things even more farcical – she’s dating someone who is linked to the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Everything about Jacqueline is a hot mess – like how she tries to keep the trappings of wealth even after her divorce by creating cardboard cutouts of jewelry – and that’s why fans can’t stop laughing when they see her.

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#2: The new star power of Tituss Burgess

The show might be named for Kimmy Schmidt, and she may still be the star of the show, but the one actor that everyone is talking about these days is Tituss Burgess, who plays Kimmy’s gay roommate in New York. You’ve probably seen him making all the rounds on the late-night comedy shows, and for good reason: we may be seeing a new star break out on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

The best example, perhaps, is the parody of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” that was touted so highly in the trailer for Season 3. In this scene, Titus Andromedon dresses up in a yellow, flouncy maxi-dress just like Beyonce, grabs a baseball bat, and proceeds to take that bat to both a fire hydrant and a car belonging to his gay lover, a construction worker who happens to be cheating on him. And just like Beyonce sang about jealousy and craziness, Titus also sings about being turned crazy by jealousy. The actual Beyonce clip with the dress and baseball bat (“Hold Up”) has been viewed more than 100,000,000 times on YouTube – and now the parody video with Tituss Burgess is also going viral.

#3: The nuanced return of the doomsday cult plot line

In the first two seasons of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” we learn the basic back story of how she was held captive by a doomsday cult leader (played by Jon Hamm), and how she was kept in some kind of underground bunker for 15 years. But in Season 3 is where we really start to find out all the details. This makes the show much more nuanced and intriguing.

And, in some ways, the details are really dark. There’s the insinuation that Jon Hamm may have continually raped her over those 15 years – and that really gives us pause for thought. Kimmy Schmidt seems so optimistic and so naïve, that we suddenly realize how much of her past life she’s had to sublimate. There’s a dark alternative reality to all her good moods, and it involves both sexual and mental abuse.

In Season 3, the unhinged cult leader (Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, played by Jon Hamm) has a new surprise in store for Kimmy Schmidt, and that’s his plan to marry his jailhouse sweetheart, Wendy (played by Laura Dern). On the surface, Wendy seems like a very established, well put-together woman, but we quickly realize that she’s a lunatic, just like everyone else on the show.

In one plot line of Season 3, Wendy visits Kimmy, trying to convince her to sign some divorce papers so that she can marry the cult leader. That leads to a whole lot of hilarious jokes – like the need to print out the divorce papers using an outdated, archaic dot-matrix printer.

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#4: The ongoing visual and verbal jokes

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has so much humor going on at one time, that it can be difficult to sort through it all. On one hand, of course, there are all the verbal jokes. And then there are all the visual jokes. These visual jokes are really what separates “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” from other shows. In one episode, for example, a water stain on the wall becomes an ongoing sight gag.

In terms of the verbal jokes, Season 3 really distinguishes itself with all the ongoing jokes about young millennials. That’s because Kimmy Schmidt has decided to go back to college in Season 3, and somehow ends up on the campus of Columbia University in New York City, where she learns about all the strange habits of young millennial college students. One of these concerns dating – and the whole need to fill out a “consent form” if the two people plan to engage in any physical activity during a romantic relationship.

On Rotten Tomatoes, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a superstar show, pulling in a total freshness score of 96%. That’s just unprecedented, and it really shows how much fans loved Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The show has so much going for it – the unique comedic talents of Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess, the diverse cast of wacky stars (including Laura Dern, Kane Krakowski and Jon Hamm), and, of course, the continued creative direction of superstar comedian Tina Fey. Fans just can’t wait for Netflix to greenlight Season 4 now.

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I Gave Up Netflix for 60 Days – Here’s the Result

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netflix-master-of-none

Two months without streaming a single movie or TV show on Netflix? When my co-worker first proposed this to me as a personal challenge, it seemed impossible. After all, I’m the type of person who binge-watches entire series over the weekend and who is always streaming video content on the go. But, never deterred by a challenge, I decided to give it a go. I gave up Netflix for 60 days.

WEEK ONE

Once I decided to give up Netflix for two whole months, my entertainment schedule seemed to be a disaster. This must be how people feel when they go on a juicing diet – you start to question how you can possibly follow through with it. There just didn’t seem to be anything to do with all those empty hours in front of me.

But that’s when I decided to take control of all those empty hours in my life formerly filled by Netflix. I started by actually taking a closer look at what was on live television. The problem here was that I had cut the cord with cable a long time ago, so it meant that I was limited to getting broadcast TV shows. And it meant actually looking at the TV schedule for the week and planning my time accordingly.

This was perhaps the hardest part – at least at the beginning  – of giving up Netflix. It meant that I was no longer free to consume content anytime, anywhere. It meant that I had to be on the couch right at 8:00 pm if I had any chance of watching primetime TV shows. And it meant that all of my multi-tasking habits had to be changed accordingly. If I wanted to watch TV, it meant that I had to give up my tablet or phone.

With Netflix, the great thing that I missed the most was the recommendation engine – always getting helpful tips about what to watch next. Staring at the TV in front of me, I reverted back to my old ways – just flipping channels incessantly, fervently hoping that something – anything!  – would be on TV. Only I didn’t have hundreds of channels, because I didn’t have cable. Instead, it meant that I had a handful of channels to choose from. And the commercials seemed to be everywhere! Every time I turned on the TV, there were commercials for medications that I couldn’t possibly use (or, at least, hoped that I wouldn’t possibly ever use).

WEEK TWO

By week two, I had abandoned the whole “let’s rely on broadcast TV” strategy as a way of watching content. Sure, it was fun to catch up on some of the sitcoms I had heard my friends at the office talking about, but what I really missed were all the movies. And, to be honest, there just weren’t a lot of movies on broadcast TV. Plenty of sitcoms and dramas and celebrity news programs, but no movies! And certainly not any art house cinema movies, or any quirky movies – the kinds that I loved Netflix for finding.

So I turned my attention to other things. I realized that all my Netflix binge-watching had been seriously cutting into my gym time, so I started going to the gym every other night. Previously, I might have watched a Netflix show while on the treadmill, but now I was forced to watch the monitor in front of me, showing my progress as I raced around an imaginary (digital) track.

Working out for a change was certainly good for me. Not only did I feel like I had more energy, I also realized how watching Netflix had ingrained certain behaviors in me that weren’t exactly conducive to losing weight or getting into better shape. For example, I loved to munch on chips while watching a movie at night. I bought “low fat” chips or “organic” chips, but still… chips are chips. So by cutting Netflix out of my nightly routine, I was actually helping to work wonders for my diet.

WEEK THREE

This was the week that I resolved to set up more social meetings to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen before. The first brunch date went well, but something seemed to be off – suddenly, I didn’t have as much in common with my friends. We used to talk about the latest episode of “Game of Thrones,” or discuss all the cool new movies coming out on Netflix this month, and now I was drawing a blank. As part of my “no Netflix for 60 days” strategy, I was doing my best to avoid reading any online content that might possible remind me of my glorious Netflix days.

WEEK FOUR

Was it just me, or did it seem like Netflix was inserting itself back into my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined? All of my email newsletters seemed to have a reference to Netflix, or some new show coming to Netflix. Every time I walked down the street from my home, it seemed like there was a billboard for a new Netflix original show. My social media feeds seemed to be filled with people talking about some Netflix show. It was just 30 days in, and I was beginning to feel the effects of Netflix withdrawal.

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WEEK FIVE

OK, I admit it. Week Five was originally going to be my “cheat week.” I knew that I could get through the first 30 days without Netflix, but to keep myself going for the full 60 days, I knew that I knew some kind of Netflix fix. I still wanted to observe the 60-day ban, but wow! It was getting more and more difficult. So I started to watch Netflix trailer videos on YouTube. I started to check out which new shows and movies would be hitting Netflix at the end of the 6o-day period. And I started to gravitate toward entertainment shows on TV, desperate for some connection to my Netflix days.

WEEK SIX

This was the week that I resolved to get through an entire novel. Yes, I was going to beat this Netflix challenge by going Old School. I was going to read an entire novel, cover to cover, during all the extra hours in my schedule that I used to fill with Netflix shows. I looked through my bookshelf and found a title that I had ordered from Amazon Prime years ago, but had never picked up. This was perfect! It was going to get me through the week.

But I found that my all-digital lifestyle – consuming all content on my tablet, or streaming on my TV – had made me flabby when it came to handling a written novel. In the same way that hitting the gym had seemed strange and unnatural after such a long absence, so was actually committing to a period of reading. In silence. With no TV on in the background!

WEEK SEVEN

Two weeks, and I would be done. This was the week that I decided to fill my hours with social media. I started to check out all the “live” broadcasts that my friends were doing, and I started to check out all the Instagram Stories my friends were creating on a daily basis. But you know what? All those brief snippets of video activity only made me realize how much I really missed Netflix. You can’t fill an hour with random “live” video clips that people post on social media, and certainly not the same way you can with a Netflix movie.

WEEK EIGHT

The Netflix detox was finally over! Somehow, I had made it through the full 60 days without watching a single TV show or movie on Netflix. It was finally time to add up all the pluses and minuses to see how it had changed me.

Most importantly, this 60-day challenge made me realize more than ever before how many digital entertainment options are out there that aren’t named Netflix. Believe me, I had sampled a lot of them, and I was now more attuned than ever before to their advantages and disadvantages.

And I had become a bit sharper about life in general. Going to the gym more often had given me more energy, and watching only broadcast TV had made me watch the nightly news – something I hadn’t watched for years. And I became a bit more knowledgeable about the level of programming on primetime TV. There were actually a lot of good shows on these days!

Would I do it again? It’s hard to give an unequivocal answer to this question. Much as some people go on juicing diets, or go on a social media detox, the idea of going on a Netflix detox diet still seems like more of a stunt than anything else. I still can’t imagine not having Netflix in my life. Old habits die hard. Once a binge-watcher, always a binge-watcher. Maybe I was watching too much TV, but I always told myself that I was watching “quality TV.” Somehow that always made me feel better.  At the end of the day, I felt an affinity for the Netflix brand, and what it promised. And I loved the endless stream of content that always seemed to be available. If other people want to cut their ties with Netflix, OK, that’s fine. But I’m planning to hold on to my Netflix.

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“Everything, Everything” Is the Perfect Teen Romance

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everything-everything

If there’s one thing that you need to know about the new hit film “Everything, Everything” it’s that it will make you believe in true love again. The film features two standout young actors, Amandla Stenberg (as Maddy) and Nick Robinson (as Olly), who will simply take your breath away with their charm and sweetness.

If there were ever two young people destined to fall in love together despite impossible odds, it has to be Maddy and Olly. You will be rooting for them every step of the way. And even when you think you know how the film is going to turn out, you find their romantic charm simply irresistible. So what makes “Everything, Everything” such a perfect teen romance?

It emphasizes that love overcomes adversity

The first place to start, of course, is the back story behind the romance. Amandla Stenberg plays an 18-year-old teenager suffering from a rare disease in which she can never go outside or leave her house. Her protective mother has created a sterile, hermetically sealed home environment, in which the only other person allowed to interact with her is her personal nurse.

You can immediately see where this is going, right? When she falls in love with someone, it will be someone who can take her out of her protective zone and show her the world. And yet, if she ever leaves her house, she may succumb to her illness.

In many ways, the story of the tragically sick Maddy sets up the whole “love overcomes all” story. The only way to overcome her illness is to find someone who can help her conquer this illness. And, as we quickly find out in the film, that person is the handsome and well-meaning Olly.

When we first meet him, he’s moving into a new house next door to Maddy. He spots the beautiful Maddy from a window and comes up with a classic teenage plot – he will show up at the doorstep of the home with a bundt cake and then ask about the teenage girl living inside. Of course, Olly – like any teenager – is a bit clumsy in pulling this off, and that leads to another big reason why this is the perfect teen romance: it perfectly captures the awkward nature of any teen relationship.

It captures the reality of today’s teens and digital relationships

Since Maddy can never leave the house, the only way for her and Olly to communicate is via text messages and by staring at each other in their windows. This might seem like a contrived plot device to some, but it’s actually extraordinarily clever, because it captures the rhythm and flow of today’s teen relationships. In 2017, some teens date and break up, entirely by text message. And so this film brilliantly captures this dynamic. Only, in this case, the need to correspond solely by text message is being forced on them.

It features a charming third-party facilitator

Once Maddy and Olly are desperately in love with each other, it’s time for them to meet in real life. The key here, of course, is to get Maddy’s nurse to become part of this plot. She, too, is well-meaning and understands that the key to Maddy’s happiness is for her to meet her would-be suitor in real-life. So the first meeting finally occurs, thanks to her, in which Maddy stays on one side of the room and Olly on the other.

Every teen romance, it seems, needs this type of charming third-party facilitator. In some teen movies that take place in high school, it might be a well-meaning friend who “sets up” two people without their knowing it. Or it might involve a teacher or other mentor, who is able to recognize the first bloom of romance.

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It’s the perfect “girl next door” story

There have been plenty of “girl next door” or “boy next door” romance stories, and this is literally a story of the “girl next door.” Olly is moving in next to Maddy, and their lives will never be the same again. They start by looking through windows at each other, and then follow up by talking via texts. It is only later that they are able to meet in person and explore the full nature of their romantic relationship.

A modern love story based around diversity

What will make this film such a hit for today’s teens is that it’s not the classic story of “blonde cheerleader” and “jock hero.” It’s about two normal teens who just want to fall in love together. And it needs to be pointed out here that Amandla Stenberg is the daughter of an African-American mother and a Danish father. And, in some ways, that’s exactly what this film explores: what a romantic relationship between a black girl and a white boy might look like. At one time, that might have been taboo, but not in today’s liberal, progressive America.

This, then, is a modern romance story for the post-Obama era, in which the color of your skin simply should not matter. So, unlike some films that seem to be geared to white, Hispanic or black audiences, this film has a lot of crossover appeal. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity or race, this is the perfect film for you.

The eternal themes of parental control and running away from home

If you think of most coming-of-age movies, they feature a plotline of young people dealing with authority figures in their lives, and learning how to make decisions in their own lives. And that’s where “Everything, Everything” really excels. It’s not just that Maddy must decide to take responsibility for her sickness, but also she must go up against her controlling mother. And Olly, too, must decide to just run away from everything to be with the girl he loves.

In the film, we realize that Maddy’s mother might be exaggerating the extent of her daughter’s sickness, either to keep closer control over her or to induce certain feelings in others (like pity). If you read a lot of the online reviews, they will refer to a well-documented illness called Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. This means that a caregiver exaggerates problems of those in their care in order to meet their own emotional or psychological needs.

The notion of the tragically short “happily ever after”

Where “Everything, Everything” will really pull on your heartstrings is when it forces the audience to confront the notion of the tragically short “happily ever after.” In fairytales, the “happily ever after” is usually a full lifetime. But in this film, the “happily ever after” might only be a few days, a few weeks or a few months.

As Maddy herself asks in the film, “Would you be willing to sacrifice everything to live one perfect day?” For her, that one perfect day means going to the ocean – a place that she has never seen, but has only romanticized in her imagination. And, of course, the film delivers the ocean scenes we want to see – the two young lovers cavorting in the ocean, learning to swim, kissing, and jumping off cliffs together. Is that not the very meaning of what it means to spend a perfect romantic day with someone else? Just you two together, in touch with nature, and free to explore your relationship away from prying eyes.

We’re definitely looking forward to more films from Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson after watching “Everything, Everything.” Amandla is still a relatively unknown actress – she’s been in “The Hunger Games” and “Sleepy Hollow,” but is still such a new, fresh and charming on-screen presence. Ultimately, she’s one of the main reasons why “Everything, Everything” is the perfect teen romance. She perfectly conveys what it is like to live inside a bubble, and then to have the courage to step outside that bubble to experience the world around her. If you enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s #1 bestselling YA novel of the same name, you will absolutely swoon over this movie.

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Chris Pratt Shines in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

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guardians-of-the-galaxy-chris-pratt

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is the sequel to the hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy. This franchise is very different from many other Marvel movies. It took place in space, was a sci-fi fantasy, and most importantly, the characters were not well-known. They were not household names that had a huge fan following. However, when it did hit the theaters, people had fun watching it and it went on to become a successful venture. Now, making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 could not have been an easy task. Guardians of the Galaxy had no expectations to meet, but for its sequel, it is a completely different playing field. There was too much hype for the movie and it could not have been easy to match.

The good news for the movie is that without buckling under the pressure, it delivered the comedy. The visuals were stunning and the space battles were worth watching. The first movie made the fans fall in love with its characters, whether it is Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, and the adorable Groot and Rocket Raccoon. There are many old and new characters in this movie that will fight for your attention. But, amidst all the chaos, Chris Pratt aka Star Lord has again managed to shine. This must have been especially difficult with the super-adorable Baby Groot, the charming Rocket and the amazing Yondu in the movie.

Chris Pratt is undoubtedly an amazing actor, and more so a comedian. He has made a career acting in comedy series which makes a comedy movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, right up his alley. Even outside of the movie, Chris Pratt was the one who promoted the movie the most. He could be seen on every event and talk show just creating the hype around the movie. He got people excited to watch the movie. Why wouldn’t he? This was a movie that changed his life.

Chris Pratt had to go through his fair share of struggle before he stumbled on Hollywood success with movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, and The Lego Movie. Christopher Michael Pratt was born on June 21, 1979 to Kathleen and Daniel Pratt in Virginia, Minnesota. He comes from a French, English and Canadian ancestry. Later his family moved to Washington where he ended up on the wrestling team. He always wanted to be rich and famous. However, Chris did not make much headway in his early life which included dropping out of community college, working as a coupon salesman, and even a stripper for a brief period of time.

At the young age of 19, Chris moved to Hawaii with a friend, where he again picked up odd jobs to support his life on the beach in a van. It was while waiting tables in Hawaii that an actress/director noticed the young man. She found him to be a good fit for a horror show she was going to make in Los Angeles. This one job made him realize that he wanted to be a part of showbiz and he went around town auditioning for roles. He finally got the role of Harold Brighton Abbott on the TV series, Everwood. After four seasons, the show went off air, but Chris Pratt had already found another gig on The O.C. By this time, Chris was a well-known face, who particularly impressed the audiences with his comedy and did not really mind bearing it all. During this time, Chris Pratt was called on to read for a few iconic roles in Star Trek and Avatar, but it wasn’t meant to be. The producers turned him down on account of Chris lacking the ‘it’ factor, whatever that means. At this time, Chris started rethinking about his career. Dwelling on that time, Chris even commented, “People have to work. I just don’t want it to be at a f—ing restaurant.”.

In 2009, Chris went on to do a small role in the comedy, Parks and Recreation. Andy Dwyer, his character was not supposed to be a significant part of the story. However, the audience loved him so much that the producers offered him a regular spot. As the comedy series became more popular, Chris Pratt’s fan following increased proportionately.

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It was in 2011 that Pratt auditioned for the part of Scott Hatteberg in Moneyball. However, the directors told him that he was ‘too fat’ to play the role. According to Chris Pratt, he had gained 40 pounds at the time, which he could easily blame on his girlfriend (now wife), Anna Faris’ cooking. He took up the challenge and started working out diligently and lost a total of 30 pounds, resent his pictures to the casting director and won the role. That is some determination! Moneyball did a lot of good things for his career. However, the single most important was that Chris was now not typecast to the immature and goofball character he had on Parks and Recreation. He was seen as a versatile actor who could play serious roles too. Chris Pratt was now seen by directors as a possible lead actor. This was the time when Guardian of the Galaxy came along.

The directors of Guardians of the Galaxy had been on the hunt for a movie lead, but had not found anyone who fit the bill. Chris Pratt had been approached for the role, but who couldn’t seem to shake off what the producers had told him earlier about missing the ‘it’ factor. It was during this time that Chris Pratt was asked to meet the director. He was finalized within minutes and the nude scene in the movie, well, played to his strengths. It was the break Chris Pratt needed and he became an international celebrity when the first movie released.

Chris Pratt’s performance in the first edition of the Guardians of the Galaxy was loved across the board. He already had a fan following, but then the unassuming Marvel movie graduated him to the next level of fame. He was now an international star who knew his craft well and a body to make anybody swoon. He was the complete package.

Another important factor that contributed to Chris Pratt stealing the show is the plot of the story. Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie that was all about building the entire world in which the future stories would take place. Yes, the characters were properly introduced, but mostly the movie was doing the groundwork about how sci-fi fantasy fits in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With this job done, the Volume 2 focused on characters. This movie is all about who each of the member of the ‘Gaurdians’ are as people and why they gel well together. They do argue, but still stick to each other because they are pretty much the same. All in all, this is a story or character-based movie, and Star Lord or Chris Pratt is of course the glue that is holding the whole story together. Not to give away any spoilers here, but it is a lot about Star Lord meeting his father and what he tells him.

Given that Guardians was a career-defining movie for Chris Pratt and that the plot revolves around his origins, he really does not have that much screen time. However, that does not stop Chris Pratt from making his Star Lord shine. His constant arguments with the crew and his fight with Rocket are really enjoyable. His background in comedy already gives him an edge over other actors. Other than that, he is an A-lister with blockbuster movies behind him. The first movie was different. He was a lovable actor, who people knew mostly from Parks and Recreation. However, all of that has changed. He is now in the big league. He has garnered a huge fan following now. This alone is enough to make him the star in the movie. But, add his acting chops and his great looks and you cannot ignore him.

Guardian of the Galaxy Vol.2 was a movie that deliberately put Chris Pratt on the back seat to let the other characters develop. It was a bold move that is nothing less of a genius. Each of the actors in the movie did their part well and the CGI delivered too. It was a successful movie that people enjoyed thoroughly. It is difficult for a sequel to keep the momentum going like its predecessors. But, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 has managed to pull it off and the fans cannot wait for the next adventure that the crazy bunch will have next.

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What Fans Think of Marvel’s “Iron Fist”

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iron-fist

When it comes to their opinions about Marvel’s latest creation for Netflix – “Iron Fist” – there’s a sharp divide between fans and critics. Whereas critics offered a mostly negative take on the show, fans were much more accepting. You can see that divide on many movie rating sites, where the ratings can differ markedly.

This is now the fourth Marvel series for Netflix – following “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” – so much of the split between fans and critics was mostly based on how they viewed the entire Marvel universe of characters. This show is obviously the setup for “The Defenders” (which features the stars of each of the four Marvel shows on Netflix) so most fans were willing to give this series a pass, as long as it helped to interconnect all the relevant Marvel plotlines.

#1: Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist

It’s impossible to talk about the new Marvel series without talking about the main hero, Danny Rand/Iron Fist (as played by Finn Jones). In this role, Jones must play a billionaire Buddhist monk and kung fu expert who has come back to New York City to reclaim his business empire (Rand Enterprises) after being absent for close to 15 years. For those years, he has been training to become a warrior with amazing kung fu skills.

The problem is not so much with Jones the actor, as with his martial arts skills. As in, he’s not a big kung fu expert. Although he trained extensively before the series began, and has been practicing Buddhist meditation principles in order to immerse himself in the role, he still falls a bit short of what people were expecting.

Making things worse, this is one of the few Marvel superheroes who can’t hide behind a mask and a cape. That means you can’t have stunt doubles coming in and taking over your scenes. That has led to some pretty tough criticism of Jones, with one  reviewer calling him “a befuddled surfer who wandered into the middle of a kung fu movie.”

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#2: The second-rate fight scenes

If you’re making a movie about a martial arts expert, then you have to have some exciting martial arts action. The only problem is, there’s not a single memorable fight scene in any of the 13 episodes. When you look at the original Marvel comics, you can see the problem: the original comics had Iron Fist plowing through group of enemies and assailants at a single time.

In contrast, the fight action in “Iron Fist” often seems like it’s been slowed down so that Finn Jones can catch up. Reviewers have suggested that Finn Jones is holding back the manic pace of fighting that they were expecting. As a result, you don’t have any of the over-the-top choreographed scenes that we saw even in “Daredevil.” Every scene seems heavily edited, to the point it’s not even possible to focus precisely on the action. It’s like one giant aggressive cut, all mixed together to create the appearance of action.

#3: Too much dialogue

Another fan concern was the proper balance between action and dialogue. While there has to be some dialogue and exposition to explain who Danny Rand is, and why he was training with Buddhist warrior monks (his family died in a plane crash over the Himalayas), the common consensus is that the series just gets bogged down in way too much dialogue.

There are 13 episodes in this series, and the common consensus is that it could have been told in just six! That gives you an idea of just how much extra dialogue there is in this series. There’s a serious issue with the pacing and storytelling.

#4: An underwhelming villain

The centerpiece of every great Marvel comic is the arch-villain. Just consider the Marvel shows for Netflix: some of the great villains have included Killgrave and Cottonmouth. In “Iron Fist,” however, the main enemy is a shadowy organization known as The Hand. There are some ninja enemies, and a lot of talk about how they are preying on people in New York, but we never really get a sense that Iron Fist is facing an arch-rival or arch-fiend. That just brings down the whole series. We wanted super-villains, and they just gave us a bunch of bad ninjas.

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#5: Questions about racial and ethnic identity

One problem cited by both fans and critics is how the series treats the martial arts, as well as how non-white characters fit into the Marvel universe. In this case, it seems like all the good guys are white, and all the bad guys are people of color. Moreover, some fans have accused the series of “Orientalism,” or the desire to characterize and stereotype an entire race with a few simple tropes. In the case of “Iron Fist,” the martial arts are just one more way for white people to triumph over evil, and it’s felt that the Asian characters are never fully developed.

#6: Mad props for Jessica Fenwick

If there’s one character who gets a lot of love from Marvel fans, it’s Jessica Fenwick, who plays Colleen Wing. She’s a sharp, tough martial arts expert who owns a NYC dojo. Fans like the fact that she seems like a no-nonsense New Yorker and someone who makes a worthy sidekick for Iron Fist.

#7: The weakest link in the Marvel chain

The problem, quite simply, is that Marvel shows like “Daredevil” spoiled fans. It featured great fight scenes, a tight script, great pacing and some amazing action. In comparison, “Iron Fist” is commonly considered by fans to be the weakest of all the Marvel series on Netflix, trailing not only “Iron Fist,” but also “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.”

And, most disturbingly, some fans have basically suggested that Marvel is only using “Iron Fist” to set up its next show, “The Defenders.” In order to do that, it had to set up the whole back story of Danny Rand, and explain the powers of his glowing Iron Fist.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why fans and critics diverged in their assessment of “Iron Fist.” Critics tended to judge it primarily on its merits, in terms of acting and pacing and storytelling. Marvel fans took a bigger picture view, and evaluated the series as part of the Marvel universe. And there were more willing to overlook the shortcomings of Finn Jones as Danny Rand. Whatever the case, all eyes are now squarely on “The Defenders,” which is coming to Netflix in August 2017.

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What “Dear White People” Teaches About Racism

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dear-white-people-netflix

The latest Netflix original series, “Dear White People,” has already caused a firestorm of controversy, with people debating whether or not the show is meant to unite or divide people. Even before the first 10 episodes dropped on April 28, there was controversy brewing with the teaser trailer, which led to some people accusing the show of being anti-white and guilty of white racism. Some people even called for a boycott of Netflix. So what exactly does “Dear White People” teach us about racism?

The show explores the various forms of racism through a number of difficult social situations, with many of them exploring ideas like black-white relationships, or whether or not white people can use certain words (like the “N” word) in casual conversation. The show also examines various stereotypes about black people by showing them in uncomfortable situations that challenge conventions.

The goal of the show, according to director Justin Simien, is to show that “there are a plethora of ways of being black.” Thus, for example, there is the star of the show, Logan Browning, who plays Samantha (“Sam”) White, the host of a controversial campus radio show called “Dear White People.” If that sounds somehow familiar, it’s because there was a 2014 movie of the same name by the same director. Through Sam, we see a lot of questions at the heart of what some would call racism.

Take, for example, one of the scenes from Episode 1, where Sam’s white boyfriend posts a photo on Instagram, saying that they are “hooking up.” That raises a lot of uncomfortable questions: Is it possible to have a white-black romantic relationship where people won’t judge you? What type of emotional baggage do people bring into these relationships. So, the show is not really so much about racism, as about exploring the issues of identity and relationships through the eyes of white and black characters.

dear-white-people

Or, take the main plotline of Episode 1, in which a group of white boys plan to throw a “black face” party to protest Sam White’s campus radio show. The boys claim that the radio show is racist, and are taking advantage of this party to make a loud social protest. Only, of course, this is 2017 and you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. That raises a lot of fascinating questions about racism, as well. For example, is it really possible to have racism against white people?

The people who were calling for a boycott of the show certainly think so. The YouTube trailer received a huge number of dislikes, and the goal was to punish Netflix for even thinking of streaming this show. But isn’t that a form of racism as well – saying that blacks aren’t allowed to tell their stories and share their experiences, for fear of alienating whites?

Yes, things are quite complicated, and that’s something that we see again and again in “Dear White People.” One of the discussions that takes place in Episode 1 is about the types of jokes that black people and white people can make. The common consensus is that jokes about white people (e.g. white people can’t dance) don’t lead to oppression by the police or incarceration, while jokes about black people can. Thus, jokes about black people and white people are not inherently the same.

The Netflix original series also looks at the topic of “subtle racism.” This is not the overt racism of a black face party, but the type of racism that black people experience every day in normal society. There’s one scene in “Dear White People” that especially stands out – a group of white people and black people get into a fight, and the campus police is called to break it up. The police then asks one of the black students for his ID, to prove that he’s really a student at the university (the fictional Ivy League university Winchester University). That’s something that would never happen to a white student – the police would just assume that the white guy was enrolled there.

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And the storytelling about racism also looks at friendship between whites and blacks. At what point can a black friend forgive a white friend for a remark or action that’s perhaps unknowingly racist? And is there any way to eliminate racism entirely from a friendship?

One of the role models for the show is Samantha White. Her campus radio show might be highly controversial, but it’s only intended to get people talking about issues that have been hidden for too long. And, in fact, she’s the type of person who wants to be friends with everybody, no matter if they are white or black. She even has a white boyfriend.

As Justin Simien said after all the controversy surrounding his new Netflix show, “Glad you’ve woken up.” If you listen to interviews with the cast members, that’s also a theme that gets picked up a lot – the idea of being “woke.”

It’s not just students at prestigious universities like Winchester who need to be “woke” – it’s everybody in society who lives inside a little bubble, not aware of how racism can manifest itself on an everyday basis. And all of that pent-up emotion can sometimes explode, like we’ve seen in Ferguson and the whole #BlackLivesMatter movement.

So the final takeaway of “Dear White People” might just be that white people and black people need to meet halfway in the middle. Black people can’t just use “slavery” as an excuse to hate the system, and white people can’t ignore the fact that “acting black” (especially if it involves using the “N” word) can be hurtful and offensive to some black people.

It’s a very complex issue, and “Dear White People” is just trying to make sense of it all. The very fact of calling the show “racist” is, in fact, definitely racist. Wrap your head around that for a second. Clearly, more has to be done with race relations in this country, and “Dear White People” is a good step in the right direction.

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What To Expect From “The Handmaid’s Tale”

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the-handmaids-tale-alexis-bledel

The new Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which premiered on April 26, is already generating a lot of buzz from critics and advance acclaim from fans. The series, based on the popular 1985 book of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is sure to draw its share of fans who are eager to check out how faithful the film adaptation is to the dystopian, totalitarian world of Gilead portrayed in the novel.

So just how faithful is the adaptation?

That is bound to be the first question that many people ask, especially those who remember the dystopian world laid out in such stunning detail by Atwood nearly a generation ago. The novel, set in near-future New England, examined what a totalitarian, post-America world might look like, where a woman’s sole focus in the world is to bear offspring for the elite members of society. That society had a language and vocabulary all its own, including terms like “Unwomen.”

A lot has changed between now and then. In the Western industrialized world, women have largely attained full equality and so the feminist message may seem a bit dated. However, that’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world. Everyday, we hear of the Taliban and how they have created their own totalitarian, religious society where women have no rights. Or we hear of ISIS and their religious campaigns against anyone – and especially women – who dare to go against their distorted version of religious law.

Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist

The star of this series will be Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred (“Of Fred”), a handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes). We’ll see how she silently struggles in her new role, and how she attempts to break free of the subservient life.

There are a lot of different storylines that are going to intersect here, especially the relationship between Offred and her fellow handmaids, and the relationship between Offred and the Commander’s wife. No matter what happens, though, the star of this show is Elisabeth Moss, so expect a brilliant performance from her. Alexis Bledel (from “Gilmore Girls“) also appears in the show, so “Gilmore” fans will definitely tune in.

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The visual language of Gilead

From everything we’ve seen and heard so far, the show is “visually stunning.” There are close-ups of life in Gilead, and then there’s also the scenes that appear almost as if they were filmed by low-flying drones. We see exactly what the society looks like from a bird’s eye view – the handmaids walking in perfect lockstep, the rows of handmaids in scarlet capes and white bonnets, and the nearly mechanical way every aspect of the society is governed.

And there are plenty of visual elements from the Atwood book that people are looking forward to seeing. This includes the many references to flowers within the book, and how Atwood uses the flower as a metaphorical description of the women. The role of women is to look pretty, give birth to new babies who will form the next generation, and then passively disappear from the scene. They are like flowers that bloom, and then wilt away when the seasons turn colder. As one reviewer has noted, it’s all “horrifyingly beautiful.”

We can also expect to see lots of women engaged in busywork like needlework. That, too, was one of the big motifs of the book. Women were not supposed to think or act for themselves, and so every spare moment has them engaged in either drudgery (as in the case of the infertile Marthas) or in mind-numbing busywork. This is an oppressive, patriarchal system, and needlework is a way to have the women seen, but not heard.

Socio-political implications of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Let’s face it, we live in strange political times. So there’s bound to be critics (both professional and amateur) who are going to compare the dystopian, post-apocalyptic New England of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with the current situation in America. Just as Gilead was the post-American republic that emerged in the wake of a great dystopian event, half of American society now views the current U.S. as a dystopian world where everything appears to be upside down.

At the very least, there is bound to be some discussion of how far women have come in the 30+ years since the publication of Atwood’s novel. In the 1985 book, feminism was perhaps at its peak as a sociopolitical worldview. Since then, a lot has gone on with gender equality and gender identity, but some aspects of that earlier era have now been replaced by concerns about equal pay in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, sexual harassment in the workplace (just think of the recent examples of Fox News and Uber), and women’s right to an abortion. So this TV show is going to be very relevant.

the-handmaids-tale

Constant suspense

From what we know from the Hulu trailer (which dropped on YouTube on March 23), and from advance critical acclaim, this show is going to have suspense from beginning to end. Surely, the fact that “eyes” (i.e. spies) are watching the women every minute of the day is going to be part of the thriller-like atmosphere. Who can we really trust in this new world? And will the handmaid Offred ever be able to reclaim her past life from “the time before”?

A hybrid release schedule

If you’re used to Netflix and every episode of a series dropping on the same day, then you’re going to have to get used to the Hulu system. It’s really a hybrid system, in which the first 3 episodes will drop on April 26, and the next 7 episodes will be rolled out on a weekly basis (much as you’d expect with a new series on cable or broadcast TV).

Putting it all together, this looks a new mega-hit for Hulu. The advance ratings for “The Handmaid’s Tale” are off the charts: it has a score of 97/100 on Metacritic, a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and plenty of critical acclaim from the mainstream media. Hollywood Reporter has even called this “probably the spring’s best new show and certainly its most important.” If you’re looking for the next big show that everyone’s talking about, “The Handmaid’s Tale” certainly makes for compelling viewing.

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What to Expect From “The Fate of the Furious”

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fate-of-the-furious-movie

The eighth installment of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise is set to hit the big screen on April 14, and already the excitement is building to a fever pitch. Current estimates are for the film to make anywhere from $110 million to $120 million on its opening weekend. And even that might be underestimating things, given that “Furious 7” in 2015 was the sixth-highest grossing film of all time.

#1: The return of the “Fast and the Furious” crew

One thing we can definitely count on is a return of the full “Fast and the Furious” crew, except for the late Paul Walker (who died during the filming of “Furious 7”). That means all the big names – Vin Diesel (as Dominic Toretto), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (as Luke Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (as Letty Ortiz), Tyrese Gibson (as Roman Pearce) and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (as Tej Parker). Plus, we’re going to have Kurt Russell returning as Mr. Nobody and Jason Statham returning as the deadly assassin Deckard Shaw.

For fans of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, this is great news. The only concern, of course, is that this might be the last in the series, with a lot of spin-offs coming from this main franchise. For example, a lot of fans of the series are debating whether or not Dwayne Johnson might take his Luke Hobbs character in a new direction after “Fast 8.”

#2: New faces – and a new villain

The one character who is definitely going to be turning heads is the super sexy Charlize Theron, fresh off her role in the Mad Max “Fury Road” movie. In “Fast 8” she is going to be playing the role of Cipher, a criminal mastermind who is going to try to convince Vin Diesel’s character to work against his friends, allies and even family. Could this happen through some kind of seduction scene, where she tempts Dominic Toretto away from his wife Letty Ortiz? And, speaking of new faces, we’re going to see Scott Eastwood (from “Gran Torino”) and also Helen Mirren.

#3: Amazing exotic locations

From what we know from the trailer clips that have been released, this film is going to feature some really exotic locations. We’re going to see Vin Diesel in a street race in the winding streets of Havana, and we’re going to see some really dramatic scenes in Iceland, including some car races along the frozen ice. (In one trailer clip, a massive submarine seems to poke up out of the ice during a car chase along an iceberg of some kind!) And, in addition to Iceland and Cuba, the film also shot on location in New York City.

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#4: The directorial debut of F. Gary Gray

Every new “Fast and the Furious” film seems to feature a new, up-and-coming director to give the franchise a slightly different look. This time around, it’s going to be F. Gary Gray, the director of “Straight Outta Compton.” He will replace James Wan of “Furious 7.” Other great director who have taken a crack at the “Fast and the Furious” franchise include Justin Lin and John Singleton.

So what can we expect from F. Gary Gray? One thing we know for sure is that he and Vin Diesel are very close, with F. Gary Gray directing Vin Diesel in “A Man Apart.” One year ago, Diesel talked up the importance of getting F. Gary Gray onboard the project. What’s interesting is that F. Gary Gray also directed “The Italian Job,” so we know that he has experience directing movies with heist scenes and dramatic car races.

#5: Fascinating plot twists

In every other “Fast and the Furious” film, it has always been the main crew led by Vin Diesel against some villain or evil organization. But this time around, things are going to be very different. For one thing, we’re going to have two of the main characters from previous films – Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw – actively working “for” and not “against” the main team. And – here’s the big thing – we’re going to have Vin Diesel corrupted to the point where he turns against his friends and family. So it might be the case that we have an epic showdown involving Vin Diesel where he is actually the bad guy! Mind blown.

#6: Plenty of street racing chaos

The scenes from the trailers and advance clips have been absolutely epic. In one, a giant wrecking ball sweeps through a crowd of cars. In another, remote-controlled vehicles turn into kamikaze vehicles. And, in yet another, a giant flaming car races through the streets of Havana. So there’s going to be no shortage of exciting chase scenes and daredevil stunts.

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#7: A new focus on espionage and spy craft

One of the ideas that we’ve heard about the upcoming film is that it’s going to take “Fast and the Furious” in a slightly different direction from previous films. Instead of just being a street racing or heist film, it’s going to feature more of the espionage and spy angles. That might mean a bigger role for Kurt Russell’s character, who has been a kind of black ops CIA operative. And it might also mean an important role for Scott Eastwood, who has been billed as a “protégé” for Russell’s character.

#8: A tribute to Paul Walker

It’s impossible to talk about “The Fast and the Furious” without also talking about Paul Walker. Some thought at first that the series couldn’t continue without Paul Walker. There was an emotional final scene in “Furious 7,” and some have suggested that this new movie might include his brother Cody Walker in some kind of cameo role. And digital effects might be used to recreate scenes involving Paul Walker, just as they did in “Furious 7.”

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It’s hard to think of a film with big box office appeal in 2017. The first “Fast 8” trailer that went up on YouTube racked up 139 million views in just 24 hours, making it one of the most popular film trailers ever. That’s even more than the first trailer for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” received. So we know this new film is going to have some serious box office momentum behind it. The car chases look epic, and with all the plot twists and new villains involved, “Fast 8” is almost guaranteed to be one of the biggest film smashes of the year.

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