There’s been no monthly ‘midpoint’ movie roundup this month because I haven’t seen so many so far this month. Instead I’ve been spending my time watching TV shows, doing jigsaws, decorating the house and listening to episodes of Adam Buxton’s podcast and to the audio version of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman on Audible.

The Sandman is based on the DC / Vertigo graphic novels and is chiefly narrated by Neil Gaiman, who sounds a lot like the late great Alan Rickman. It is not your usual run of the mill audio book though and sounds more like a radio play with performances from James McAvoy (Split, Glass) in the titular role, with the likes of Riz Ahmed (Venom, Rogue One) , Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen and Taron Egerton (Robin Hood) in the supporting cast. It is at times horrible. Savage in its descriptions of violence, hell and dreamscapes. It is everything you would hope for from an adaptation of the comic book series that has engendered a cult following since its inception in the 1990s. I am a big fan and was pleased to pick up the audio version, which has a run time of almost 11 hours, for one credit. 

We’ve been enjoying another comic book adaptation in the form of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. It’s the story of five characters adopted at birth and raised by a mysterious old man with a chimpanzee butler and a robot nurse. The five characters have various super powers and the set up reminded me a lot of E4’s great show Misfits. Indeed one of the cast is from that very show – Robert Sheehan plays Klaus who uses drugs to try to avoid seeing dead people everywhere (including the sixth and dead sibling of the adopted family whose power was that he has powerful Manga like tentacles). 

Sheehan is joined by a very good cast including bill-topper Ellen Page as Vanya (who initially like Sheehan’s character in Misfits doesn’t appear to have a power), Tom Hopper as Luther (who is a sort of super-strong man-beast), David Castañeda as Diego (a knife-throwing fighter), Emmy Raver-Lampman as Allison (who is charmer like my character Stepanova in Black Book) and Aidan Gallagher as the cocky Number Five (who can travel through time and space).

It’s a really fun show which keeps you guessing while exploring some common superhero tropes. The effects are really well done and makes me think that this has more than the usual TV show budget. We’re about halfway through the second season which is based in the 1960s and is even more fun as a result.

As far as jigsaws go I don’t think I’ve done one since I was a teenager and the COVID-19 lockdown conditions have led me to try and think of fun things Siggy and I can do together. We’ve been playing Hasbro’s Trivial Pursuit Live game on the PS4 which is okay but not exactly Trivial Pursuit as we know it – more like a virtual game show with a bias toward American questions – if I get one more question about the NFL or NHL, I may lose my shit. When the weather’s been okay we’ve also been playing the classic ball game petanque – it’s like bowls for French people.

However, the weather took a turn and so I decided to get some jigsaws. Siggy’s sis broke us in easy (or so we thought) with a 100-piece Brussels sprouts puzzle which turned out to be tres difficult, and then we moved on the 500-piece movie poster jigsaws – E.T., The Breakfast Club and Jaws so far.

The E.T. one was a pain to do because of the moon, but then the Jaws one almost broke me. First time around I discovered that at least six pieces were missing and once a replacement arrived, it was the amount of blue second time around that had me resorting to working by shape only. When I closed my eyes at night and saw jigsaw shapes, I knew it was time for a break. The Animal House one is coming from the US and so we’ll have to wait anyway.

I’ve also read Alex Horne’s Taskmaster book and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Taskmaster is a fun collection of tasks based on the hit TV show on Dave and soon to be moving over to Channel 4. It’s mostly impractical to follow during the Coronavirus pandemic, but I look forward to trying some out once things get back to some semblance of post-pandemic normality, and it was fun to look at some of the video posted on their YouTube channel.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is as you might gather from the title a science fiction book about a crew aboard an engineering spaceship which punches hyperspace tunnels into the fabric of the space-time continuum. For a Star Wars fan it was no great leap to read about the various species aboard and it reminded me somewhat of Firefly. However there’s no great conflict among any of the crew mates and while the story revolves mostly around the newby getting to know the established team which includes most of the usual tropes you want to read about and some you’d rather not, there’s not much else to it in the grander scheme of things.

It feels like a very small story on the outskirts of something that could if elaborated upon in further books build up to rival Iain M Bank’s books about The Culture. It took me almost half the book to realign my expectations for how the story was going to deliver anything of substance to me, and then I began to enjoy it based simply on the interactions between the different aliens and humans. I expect it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was a nice change from reading Bernard Cornwell books, and I certainly enjoyed it more than any of Asimov’s Foundation books that I’ve read so far (I have three more gathering dust on my shelf and unfortunately (maybe controversially?) I’m happy to read anything else but them).