Netflix: The Queen’s Gambit

Y’know what … on paper, this shouldn’t really work. I mean, it’s about chess. Now, that’s not to say that’s chess isn’t an exciting game; I watched a few matches on Channel4 a few years back, and I have to tell you it’s the most exciting and passionate commentary I’ve seen for any sport. But still … it is chess, and I while I could imagine a ninety-minute movie working, I wasn’t sure about a seven-episode mini-series.

Well, shows what I know. If anything, it was too short.

With the help of the odd flashback, we follow the colourful life of prodigy Beth Harmon – from her early years being taught chess by the surly janitor in the basement of the orphanage where she grew up, proving her genius in the male-dominated arena of competition chess, and international stardom as a master of the beautiful game (no hang on, that’s football, isn’t it).

Of course, genius has its price, and emotionally-repressed Beth, played brilliantly by Anya Taylor-Joy, is unable to deal with the loss of two mothers, her growing fame, and the demands of being at the top of the intensely competitive sport.

And of course, the drink and drug addiction doesn’t help … or maybe it does … not sure …

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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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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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