Boney's Review of 2017
I’ve been trying to figure out if I will be looking back on 2017 fondly. To be honest, I really don’t know, losing Chris Cornell and George Romero was hard. But, looking forward, 2018 will be ace! Right? Looking back on the stuff 2017 has given us, there have been some real gems. So, as is traditional with everyone with an opinion about stuff, here is my Best of 2017 lists, which I’m sure whomever reads this (hello Mum!) has been looking forward too. As a change up to previous years, I’m just going to say the top 3 things (in no order) in a few areas that have really captured my imagination this past year. If I have reviewed them, there is a link to the full review, if not, I still think they are ace. Let's kick things off with the Books.
2017 in Books
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway (Full Review Here)
I have a Love/Hate/Love (The Gone Away World), Love (Angelmaker), Adore (Tigerman), relationship with Harkaway’s novels so far. Gnomon is a beast of novel. Harkaway gives us multiple characters telling his tale, woven through his dead protagonist’s head. The now, in hindsight, embarrassing levels nagging I put Nick and his publicist, Kate, through to get my hands on an early copy of Gnomon, turned out to be totally worth it. It is not an easy read, but one that I need to return to again. How Harkaway managed to stick the landing, I have no idea, but he pulls the many strands together and leaves us with one, stunning, reveal that is just sublime. Gnomon is wholly rewarding.
If you read this site, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Chris’ work. His Eden Trilogy is, in my mind, essential reading. For America City he returns to an Earth, about a hundred years hence. The climate is taking forcing mass migrations and America is facing a major internal crisis as its inhabitants head north. Beckett’s main thread follows Holly, a British ex-pat PR agent working for a US Senator who has a big idea for “Reconfiguring” America. While we watch how Holly uses the communication channels open to her to manipulate public opinion, Beckett cuts to the ordinary folk on the ground, we see how the messaging is received and the effect it has on the individual. America City is a rather wonderfully terrifying read. It is so very close to home, set in a world we can see coming.
American War by Omar El Akkad (Full Review Here)
Omar El Akkad’s debut novel came out of the blue to me. Well, out of Twitter at least. Back in the spring, I saw a tweet about the novel and ordered in a copy from the States. I wasn’t disappointed. Set in a near future America in the aftermath of the 2nd US Civil War, Sarat Chestnut is a girl growing up in a refugee camp on the new border between north and south. The events that happen around and to her, lead to her radicalisation. El Akkad’s world building is impeccable, but that is nothing his description of the subtle, careful manipulation of a young woman. American War is a stunning look at the cultivation of hate and its effects.
Kohinoor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand (Full Review Here)
On the surface, a biography of a shiny rock may not seem that appealing. But when that rock has been (and still is) at the centre of massive political upheaval, the ensuing tale is extraordinary. What is left of the Kohinoor is now affixed to The Queen Mother’s Crown, but how it got there is basically the history of the subcontinent. Passing through the hands of every dynasty, it has been an object of envy and desire right up to when it was handed over by a child to an Empress, half a world away. Dalrymple and Anand split the history and we get an incredibly fascinating journey. You will never think about that jewel in the same way again.
Even now, 72 years on from the end of the Second World War, it is still viewed very much in black and white. “We” were good, “they” (The Germans) were bad, but “We” won. Like all things, context is key. In Clare Mulley’s wonderful biography of two very contrasting, incredibly driven women, we have a look at the shades of grey within a country at war. The women in question were test pilots, Hanna Reitsch was a party favourite, a glamour girl of National Socialism. Her rival was the older, aristocratic Melitta von Stauffenberg. Melitta worked on the dive bombing systems on Junkers bombers and the night flying systems that would prove so deadly to RAF bombers. She was also Claus von Stauffenberg’s sister-in-law. While Hanna’s prowess in gliders was championed by party officials, Melitta had secrets to keep and plots to assist. It is a remarkable work about two incredible, very different women.
The Earth Gazers by Christopher Potter (Full Review Here)
Only 24 men have had the opportunity to gaze back at the world and see it how it is. Getting them there, and what they felt when they looked back, is the crux of Christopher Potter’s wonderfully written book. Potter looks, not only at the men behind the rockets and the astronauts, but those here on earth that challenged the statements about the divine the Earth Gazers made. The book is an utterly fascinating look at the thrill of endeavour and the affect this small blue world had on those who looked up from their control panels and set their gaze home.
2017 in Film
Blade of the Immortal - Dir: Takashi Miike (Full Review Here)
Takashi Miike’s 100th film is about a samurai cursed with immortality who takes on the protection of a young girl. Miike’s film is, quite frankly, insane and all the more wonderful for it. The fight scenes are many and it can suffer from a bit of samurai battle overload, but I utterly, utterly adore it. Takuya Kimura plays the “hero” Manji with a tiredness for life that seeps from the screen. Visually, Blade of the Immortal is stunning, but there is a beautiful heart to it that belies the buckets of blood. I love this film.
Paddington 2 - Dir: Paul King
While Miike’s film was insanity, Paddington 2 was pure and utter joy personified. Paddington, in his desire to get his Aunt a popup book for her birthday, ends up framed for theft and in jail. There, marmalade save the day and allows him to fight back against the dastardly, thoroughly enjoying himself, Hugh Grant. The film is beautiful and I sat there with a smile on my face and warmth in my heart. Paul King and Simon Farnaby have captured something rare and perfect and placed it on the screen for us share in. Paddington 2 is wonderful.
Lady Bird - Dir: Greta Gerwig (Lindsey Bahr's Review)
I’m cheating here as this one isn’t out yet, but Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut was the Surprise Film at this year’s London Film Festival. The coming-of-age battle between Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird and her mother, Laurie Metcalf, is a delight. The almost perfect opening argument sets a perfect tone for the rest of the film. Lindsey Bahr wrote a wonderful review, which I cannot hope to top, and I hope she doesn’t mind me stealing her closing line: “There are a lot of things rotting right now in the world and in Hollywood, and, basically, we should be especially grateful when something as lovely as “Lady Bird” comes along.”
Notable Others: I Am Not Your Negro, Dunkirk, John Wick Chapter 2, The Big Sick, Kong: Skull Island, Colossal.
2017 in Podcasts
Host Thom Tran was shot in the head by a sniper four days into his first tour of Iraq. In his podcast, he interviews other veterans of recent wars and they open up about they experiences, both good, bad and haunting. The honesty Tran gets from his interviewees comes from that shared experience of combat. They talk about the war over there and the hidden war they all fight now they are home. It is a remarkable document of the side of war we rarely see. Talking to both male and female veterans, their experiences were very different. From those who joined up out of patriotism, those who were career soldiers or those escaping from personal wars at home, the stories they tell are enlightening and heartbreaking. My only complaint would be I wished each episode was longer. At a half hour a piece, you only get a glimpse of what is a clearly a much longer chat. Hopefully we’ll get a director’s cut one day. Battle Scars is something really special and I will be writing more about once the season concludes.
Uncivil is a show hosted by Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika and together they debunk the myths of the US Civil War. With the rise of the Alt-Right, the age old myths of “The Lost Cause”, “Slave ownership was a good thing” etc, are finding time and airplay once again. Together with their team, Jack and Chenjerai use historical fact, and liberal use of Occam's Razor, to slice apart the lies and show the truth that "they" try to hide underneath. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with Uncivil, but I’m hooked. Given the people that are sprouting these tales today, a show that looks at fact and history to inform everyone, is vital. That it is done in such an entertaining way with two charismatic and energetic hosts, only makes Uncivil all the more listenable.
Karina Longworth’s podcast is must listen for any movie fan. Now past it’s 120th episode, You Must Remember This tells the stories behind the Hollywood legends and Longworth looks at the impact of movie magic on the people involved. The toll that being made into a star took on so many is heartbreaking, as is the disposable nature of so many young actresses hoping for better. 2017’s series have included “Dead Blondes”, about famous blondes who, surprisingly, ended up dead. “Jean and Jane” about the lives and careers of Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda. And the year has rounded off with a look at Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and the creation of Hollywood Horror. The show is brilliant and Longworth’s high quality journalism make each episode a continuing delight.
Dan Snow’s History Hit empire grows unabated. With new podcasts popping (podding?) up all over the place and now History Hit TV online, it has been a busy year for The History Guy. But the original pod lives on and it is always timely and informative, giving us introductions to authors with fascinating new books out and the history behind the news. Snow’s enthusiasm is infectious and while the show can be a tad jingoistic, it is always interesting. I think the heath robinson production values when compared to the american pods is part of the charm of the show and in now way holds it back. While I await the episode on the centenary of The Halifax Explosion, I shall dive into whatever Dan and his team serve up next.
Roll on 2018.