Retrospective Ramble 2017

I’m not a huge fan of list style posts, but at this time of the year thoughts turn to what’s been accomplished and where all the time went.

What’s been accomplished? Well very little in the grand scheme of things, but I’m happy that I will have a new book out on Kindle soon and that my stats for this blog are an improvement on last year – so thanks for that.

Where did all the time go? When I’m not at work or writing my time’s been spent at the cinema, or watching stuff from LOVEFiLM, on Netflix and Amazon Video, or playing on my PS4. I’ve been reading and listening quite a lot too, and so here are the lists in which every item comes highly recommended.

Watching

My top 5 films for the year:

  1. Blade Runner 2049
  2. The Last Jedi
  3. Baby Driver
  4. Valerian and the City of a Thousands Planets
  5. Ghost in the Shell

An honourable mention should also go to another great Ryan Gosling performance in La La Land and the swan song of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in Logan.

I went to see four of the films in my top five twice each at the cinema, the exception being the marvellous Baby Driver which I managed to miss entirely on the big screen. All were visually stunning and of course reveal (if it wasn’t clear already) my love of the science fiction genre. Bladerunner 2049 was by far my favourite film this year and totally surpasses anything else I have seen. The Last Jedi was an unexpected and surprising late addition to this list – I was all set to hate it for all the same reasons as The Force Awakens but was mightily pleased to be proved wrong.

You’ll also perhaps note that my love affair with comic book superheroes is on the wane. I think the market (let’s call it what it is) is super-saturated and I’ve not seen any news iterations from the Marvel or DC stables that have really blown me away.

All the four science fiction films came with a real sense of nervousness about whether they were going to do their respective characters and previous iterations justice. I was not disappointed and indeed in most cases my expectations were exceeded (especially with Episode VIII). I suggested a long time ago that The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was a Marmite-genius in my reviews of Looper and especially Brick.

Top 5 TV shows I’ve seen this year:

  1. Black Mirror
  2. Game of Thrones
  3. Taboo
  4. Star Wars Rebels
  5. Mr Robot

Honourable mentions should also go out to Stranger Things Season 2 on Netflix, and BBC comedies Car Share and Inside Number 9 – which returns to the BBC early next year. Although I blogged a lot about Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, you’ll notice that it’s not in my top five. The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am about it and it didn’t help that Channel 4 cut the series short to return in the new year.

There’s no links on the entries in the TV list above because they’re mentioned in various blog posts due to their episodic nature. Black Mirror was a revelation for me. I put aside my inexplicable disdain for the serious work of Charlie Brooker (it’s very odd, because I love his comedy work) and took the plunge once I realised that all the previous seasons were on Netflix just waiting for me to take the plunge. Dive in I did, and I regret I hadn’t bothered to watch them earlier. Every episode was a treat – great cast, great stories and an aftermath of thoughts that lived on after the show had finished. The new season lands on Netflix today, but I’m going to wait for Siggy to come home and watch them with her – with the intention of back-tracking over the coming weeks to choice episodes I think she’ll enjoy.

Game of Thrones didn’t get a lot of coverage in my blog, but that isn’t because I don’t love it – it’s just that I knew a lot of other commentators were doing a far better job than I could do about each episode of the show. I enjoyed it immensely.

Reading

Top 5 books I’ve read this year:

  1. The Corrections – Jonathan Kranze
  2. Matterhorn – Karl Marlantes
  3. The Circle – Dave Eggers
  4. Black Swan Green – David Mitchell
  5. The Humans – Matt Haig

Honourable mention also goes to Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell, in fact he’s quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. Also note that it’s difficult for me to put these in any order – they all had numerous points of appeal.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen was one of the few books I read this year on my Kindle/Kindle app. It’s one of the best books I have ever read, unlike the stuff I usually read and perhaps more akin to Michael Chabon’s work. It is the story of the lives of two adult sons, an adult daughter and there old aged parents. Their lives are all very interesting and the tale is dramatic, funny and poignant. There’s some really touching scenes around the senile dementia of the father which balance dark humour with biting reality.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes was another big read, interrupted by my summer holiday. I never need to read another book about the Vietnam war, ever, Matterhorn was so good. Amazingly engrossing and atmospheric. It really deserves to be made into a film – it’s so much better than any of the numerous Vietnam films I have seen. It’s full of complex characters, bungling ‘senior management’ and stories of survival against the harshest of country’s and enemies.

The Circle is a near-future story based on the rise of information and social networking giant ‘The Circle’. It starts of introducing the organisation and its utopian targets and page by page descends into painting a picture of a future that feels only a few steps away from contemporary digital-obsessed culture. The Circle eventually comes across as essentially a cultish monopolistic power intent on superseding democracy by allowing everyone access to everyone’s information. The story sits alongside 1984 and Brave New World in creating a picture of how might feasibly arrive at a dystopian society.

Black Swan Green is a beautiful book that left me thinking ‘damn, I wish I’d written that!’. I could relate a lot to the story of thirteen-year-old Jason who has a stammer, secretly writes poetry, has an older sister and dysfunctional parents. It’s set in the early 1980s which is almost spot on the right time for me to get all the cultural references that Mitchell puts into the story. There’s not all that much of a character arc but it really doesn’t matter – it’s a great snapshot of a point in time and if it is not somewhat autobiographical then the author has created a very convincing character in the form of a thirteen-year-old boy fighting to gain control over his life.

The Humans by Matt Haig is the story of an alien sent to Earth to stop a huge mathematical discovery that will set humankind on the path of interstellar travel. Taking the body of the mathematician who made the discovery the nameless alien narrator inserts himself into the mathematician’s life to find out who knows what and kill whoever knows too much. The novel is a darkly humorous commentary on modern life on planet Earth. It is poetic, thoughtful and thought provoking and if reading it doesn’t leave you valuing your life, friends and family more than you did at the start then there’s something seriously wrong with you.

Listening

I’ve not really focused on music this year as much as previous years. The Official UK Number Ones playlist on Spotify took up a lot of time and old CDs from the likes of Kasabian, The Fratellis, Prince and Wham! were in the car when I wasn’t listening to podcasts on my phone.

Top 5 music this year:

  1. Silver Eye – Goldfrapp
  2. Melodrama – Lorde
  3. Masseduction – St Vincent
  4. Spirit – Depeche Mode
  5. For Crying Out Loud – Kasabian

Honourable mention also goes to S Town by Serial/This American Life – an entertaining true life story podcast that kind of lost its direction during the telling – and Adam Buxton’s podcast.

Adam Buxton’s podcast has been consistently entertaining, heart-warming and funny. Underneath the clown-like facade he’s a complex fellow and he’s increasingly able to get a diverse range of personalities onto his podcast – both of these things keep me hooked. Of course there’s silly songs, his Christmas podcast with old buddy Adam and amusing anecdotes about his wife (‘my wife’) and family, but there’s also a red line of humanity and a kind of needy vulnerability that runs through his stuff.

Silver Eye isn’t an album I have written about on this blog before, but Spotify reliably informed me this month that Goldfrapp is my most listened to artist on Spotify this year. I love the style and tone of Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals – mysterious, smooth as silk and seductive – and I love the band’s multi-layered electronic music. Silver Eye sounds like a return to the more atmospheric and thoughtful songs that characterised the earlier albums before they went all disco. There’s tones of Moloko in there and a bit of an Eighties feel in some places – all good stuff.

Melodrama by Lorde only gets a passing mention in my twenty-second ramble this year and I suppose this is indicative of the amount of random stuff I’ve been streaming without paying enough attention to one artist on their own (Goldfrapp being the exception it transpires). The album is a good follow up to the great Pure Heroine containing her distinctive vocals and experimental voice-sample and beat-based dance music. The stand out tracks for me are the low-tempo track ‘Liability’ and the high tempo dance track ‘Green Light’.

Spirit was a bit of a shock to the system, but it was a grower. The songwriting is more mature and political than anything Depeche Mode have done before and it’s great that they’re not just sitting on their laurels; that they are willing to develop while still keep some signature sounds from previous albums. The band does have ‘previous’ on the political front with songs like ‘New Dress’ and ‘People are People’ but these seem naïve and lacking the focused anger on some of tracks on Spirit.

For Crying Out Loud was typically melodic and increasingly poppy compared to Kasabian’s previous albums. It spent weeks in my car stereo with my favourite track being ‘You’re in Love with a Psycho’. The live bonus CD recorded in Leicester also had a good innings in the car.

Gaming

My PS4 has been largely gathering dust this year, but I do really get into games once I decide I have the time to waste. Here’s three that took up most of my gaming time in 2017:

Star Wars Battlefront II has been the subject of a couple of recent posts which you can find simply by clicking on the PS4 tag on the bottom of this post if you are so inclined. I’m still bungling my way through the multiplayer experience rather sucessfully. I’m at around level 26, with my Heavy and Officer characters at level 30, and my not so used Assault and Specialist characters at level 22. My starfighters are at a much lower level as I rarely play the space battles. However, I do take some enjoyment from them when I do – and I’m getting better each time I play.

After getting over my initial misgivings about it, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens was only the third game I have ever 100% completed (the previous being the first Lego Harry Potter game and Lego Lord of the Rings). So that’s 180 mini kits, 250 gold bricks, 18 red bricks, 18 True Jedi, 35 carbonite blocks, 205 characters and 85 vehicles collected. For completeness I also earned 100% of the trophies available on PlayStation for the game. Whoopie doo! Does this make me any more or less of a person? Who knows… it was fun and that’s the main thing I guess. A lot more fun than watching the film.

I also 90% completed Assassins Creed Syndicate. I did what I usually do with AC games and completed the side missions and powered up my characters’ skills and weapons, collected a shedload of money and gang perks, before doing much of the story missions. I didn’t like the male character much and preferred playing the female character who seemed a little better geared up for my gameplay style – lots of sneaking about and nimble kills instead of brute force. That said various missions did quickly devolve into a huge button mashing fight leaving me surrounded by a John Wick-esque pile of dead bodies.

So that’s it for 2017. I wish you all a happy new year and I’ll see you again in 2018! 🙂

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