Binge treat: The Umbrella Academy (season 2)

Season one was great, but the second run of this off-beat superhero caper turned out to be my binge choice for the summer.

Picking up straight after their temporal escape from the first season’s destruction of planet Earth (pretty much their fault), our barely competent crew of metahuman misfits land in the sixties, where they have to contend with the awakening the civil rights movement, same-sex relationships, an organisation of assassins tasked with maintaining the integrity of the timeline, the assassination of Kennedy, and a nuclear holocaust that is six days away (again, mostly their fault).

The little fella with blood on his face is in his late fifties, and the guy on the far right is actually dead …

With so much to pack into ten episodes, it cracks along, but amazingly, doesn’t feel rushed. There’s plenty of time and space to delve into Black oppression, attitudes to homosexuality, love, sacrifice and being willing to do anything for your family … even when you despise them.

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

This one’s an odd choice for me: no sorcerers, no ghosts, no guns, no starships, and if I’m honest, there wasn’t really much that would normally hold my attention … aside from the some very fine writing.

The story is set a few years before WWII. America is rediscovering its sense of prosperity following the Great Depression, and New York is crammed full of industrious rich, and the idle children of the industrious rich.

And crash-landing into this world of privileged hedonism, is our heroine and narrator, the unlikely-named Kathey Kontent (Kontent – emphasis on the ent, as in ‘reasonably happy’). Kathey takes us through her time as a wannabe ‘it’ girl, climbing New York’s society ladder aided by a vast array of equally ambitious female friends and somewhat vacuous lovers.

The author draws a world that you can almost touch. The architecture, the cars, the noise, the people … reading this book is really odd; a lot like remembering a forties movie you’ve never seen. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, and the story is beautifully told, and it gets better as Kathey becomes a wiser to the way the world works. It helps that she’s a very likeable character: smart and ambitious, with two very simple aims: a fabulous career and a rich husband.

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Netflix (again!): Extraction

Another popular movie running on Netflix. This is a fairly-run-of-the-mill ‘killer seeks redemption kind of a story starring Chris Hemsworth (y’know … the Mighty Thor) as a mercenary trying to save the kidnapped son of a drug lord.

Image search fail: I had to wade through some pretty gruesome tooth extraction pictures before finding this.

There’s nothing here that really sets it apart from other movies with morally ambiguous action heroes, but I did like it: the film has heart, as well as some of the most devastating action sequences I’ve ever seen (yes, even better The Old Guard from a few days back). Hemsworth manages to deliver a surprisingly sophisticated air of hard-bitten vulnerability, and his young charge (ably played by Rudhraksh Jaiswal) convincingly takes apart the soldier’s emotional armour and finds the makings of a hero inside. Pretty good stuff, actually.

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