Film review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I wasn’t going to watch this but it came highly recommended by some comic-loving friends so I checked it out.

This is visually stunning, has a great story, has a vibrancy and energy all of its own and must instantly go down as one of the great superhero movies.

I was completely blown away.

• Spare Cycles: Marvel Cinematic Universe: movie reviews Assembled

Film review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

A suitable ending…

• Spare Cycles: Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

• Spare Cycles: Film: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

• Spare Cycles: Film: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

• Spare Cycles: Film review: Solo – A Star Wars Story

• Spare Cycles: Happy Birthday to… The Empire Strikes Back

• Spare Cycles: Review: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition) soundtrack

Mini review: “Daisy Jones & The Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audiobook edition)

This is the “oral history” of a fictional 1970s rock band, as told by the members of the group and is (very heavily…) inspired by the off-stage antics of Fleetwood Mac.

It is simply sublime. It absolutely nails the vibe. For me it was like living in an Eagles song for nine hours and I loved every second.

The audiobook format was made for this book. The many narrators bring the characters alive. I’m sure that reading the book would be fun, but hearing it performed brings out the swagger, the sheer no-holds-barred excess.

This is so easy to listen to – you’re basically just spending some time with guys and girls looking back at their glory days. Living their lives might be an emotional rollercoaster but looking in from outside is just joyous.

The Art of “Bomber” by Len Deighton

One good thing about reading old books is that they have time to accumulate a number of different covers. “Bomber” by Len Deighton is an excellent example…

Also see:

• Spare Cycles: The Art of “Dune” by Frank Herbert

Mini review: “Bomber” by Len Deighton

I’ve had Bomber on my bookshelf for many years, waiting for a suitable time to read it.

Recently that time finally came – and it was worth the wait. Bomber is a stone cold classic.

This is a fictional account of a massive Allied bombing raid carried out on Germany in the summer of 1943 – a 24 hour period featuring the build up, the raid itself and the aftermath in Britain and in Germany.

It is written in a dry, clinical style – and that is where its power lies. The events – both in the air and on the ground – are horrific. It contains some of the most disturbing passages that I have ever read.

The book in no way glorifies war – there is no jingoism on either side. Both sides are portrayed as human. In fact, this is an anti-war novel – it highlights the terrible impact on all involved. Everyone should read this book and I’m sure most would be similarly appalled.

I have read a lot of Len Deighton’s novels now and he has many excellent books to his name but the only one in my opinion that matches Bomber in scope and depth is the brilliant Winter – A Berlin Family. Bomber shows that Deighton is an absolute master when mixing fiction with an accurate historical background.

Also see…

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Winter: A Berlin Family 1899-1945” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

The “Game, Set and Match” trilogy:

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “London Match” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

The “Hook, Line and Sinker” trilogy:

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Hook” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Line” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Sinker” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

Harry Palmer / “Spy with no name” series:

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “The Ipcress File” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Horse Under Water” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Billion Dollar Brain” by Len Deighton

• Spare Cycles: Book: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy

Other:

• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books (my original reviews of the books – including the “Faith, Hope and Charity” trilogy)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “SS-GB” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Review: XPD by Len Deighton

Mini review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman (audiobook edition)

For this audiobook Neil Gaiman reads his own work but in this case he is the “story teller” rather than the “narrator”. It is like he is recounting the stories he loves. They are made for speaking aloud and passing on to others.

They can come over as quite simple but I get the impression that he has chosen his words very carefully in the retelling – to get to the essence of the stories and make them accessible to people today.

I can imagine taking an evening to listen to this book from beginning to end, in front of a fire with a glass or two of red wine. In fact, that would be a perfect way to experience these tales.

Mini review: The Bureau – Season 4 (Le Bureau des légendes)

Guillaume Debailly is on the run, camped out in Moscow and attracting the attention of the Russian secret service but he wants to return to France.

The DGSE has a new head of Internal Security who is investigating how the department dealt with the Malotru case. He sees failings everywhere.

And who is Debailly really? We are still learning…

That would be enough for most series but we also have a new focus on cyber-espionage, agents heading for Russia and a race against time to prevent a terrorist attack on French soil.

This show knows how to ramp up the tension and turn on a dime. It knows how to tie things together. This is exquisite story-telling; exquisite television.

The good news is that a fifth (and final?) season is expected in 2020. I can’t wait…

My reviews of the previous seasons of The Bureau

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Bureau – Season 1 (Le Bureau des légendes)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Bureau – Season 2 (Le Bureau des légendes)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Bureau – Season 3 (Le Bureau des légendes)

Mini review: The Bureau – Season 3 (Le Bureau des légendes)

Season 3 is more challenging.

There is a change of tone in this season of The Bureau – less tension-building and more storytelling. We are now watching the fallout from the major revelations of the first two seasons.

The unflinching action continues as we follow the parallel stories:

Guillaume Debailly /Malotru: held hostage by ISIS

Marina Loiseau: a new mission overseas but her time in Iran has left its emotional scars

Nadia El Mansour: building a new political career

… and that’s just the start. There’s a lot going on – out in the field and behind closed doors.

Impressively, the series still manages to surprise. You also realise how much you have become attached to the characters.

Roll on, season 4…

My reviews of the previous seasons of The Bureau

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Bureau – Season 1 (Le Bureau des légendes)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: The Bureau – Season 2 (Le Bureau des légendes)

Note:

Season 3 is harder to get your hands on in the UK in comparison with the first two seasons, which are either free on Amazon Prime or easily found on DVD.

You should take particular care if you are looking for a DVD on a site like Ebay as often the version on sale is from the US. These are region 1 DVDs which you cannot watch on standard DVD players in the UK – for the UK you need region 2 DVDs.

One option would be to do what I did and buy the complete box set from Amazon France, but this was not cheap and the price has risen in the meantime.

If you are an Amazon Prime customer the best option could be signing up for the Sundance Now channel at £6 per month. You may well be able to watch this season (and season 4) in the free trial period.

Mini review: The Bureau – Season 2 (Le Bureau des légendes)

I’m not typically one to binge-watch a series, but the first season of The Bureau was worth it. This sublime French-language TV series is set in the DGSE, the French equivalent to the CIA.

In my review of season one I summed up the storyline as:

… a French intelligence agent returning from a long mission in Syria and having to get re-accustomed to life back home. Things are not that straightforward and work becomes complicated very quickly. Things are not going well in Algeria and the department is working on getting an agent into Iran.

Season two picks up immediately from where the first left off, and keeps the tension mounting. Iran features heavily, as does the discovery that a French national is an Islamic State executioner.

This season surpasses even the first. Just when you think it might, it doesn’t flinch.

You can stream both the first and second seasons for free if you are an Amazon Prime customer or find them on DVD.

Next up: season 3…

Mini review: “The Hard Way (Jack Reacher 10)” by Lee Child (audiobook edition)

This was my summer reading this year. I was at the airport and the bookshop had lots of different Lee Child books, perhaps 15 or 20 (the series currently has 23). I looked them up on Amazon to see what the reviews were like and decided to go for Never Go Back.

Well… that was one of the few that they didn’t have so I went for The Hard Way instead.

This time the story involves Reacher helping to get back a rich man’s wife who has been kidnapped.

I don’t know about the other novels in the series but the action is not too violent and there is not a lot of swearing. I’m not adverse to either in principal but it made for easy reading.

The narration is that average American blandness you often get. The narrator can’t do an English accent, and when there is more than one English character in a scene they both sound exactly the same. Equally bad. Women don’t come off much better. The main female character should come over as mature, confident and Reacher’s equal but instead sounds like a breathless damsel in distress. The other female character suffers from the same affliction.

This was my first Jack Reacher novel and the author does a good job of keeping the story going at an acceptable pace, throwing in a few curveballs so that you want to keep reading. I’d go back for another in the series – probably Never Go Back (🙃).