2017 in Review: And That’s a Wrap

It’s that time of year when I’m charting my personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. Yesterday I looked at books, and today I’m switching to what I’ve seen on screens, big and small.

Much like its literary counterpart, I’ve decided that the Viewing category is open to any movie or television series made at any time, but which I watched 2017.  I managed to list the books chronologically, but this list — like my viewing habits generally — is far more haphazard. There are (hopefully) no spoilers here, and definitely no full reviews.  These are just five of my favourites for 2017…feel free to leave me your suggestions of what to watch next year, or your thoughts on what should have made the list.

BLUE JAI’S BEST MOVIES & TV OF 2017

1. Sound City (2013)

2017 Sound cityI’m kicking this list off with a feature-length documentary about the history of a recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles — a description that sounds somewhat bland and boring until you realise that the recording studio in question is Sound City Studios, and the director of the film is Dave Grohl. It might sound even more banal if I described this movie as Grohl’s love letter to the Neve 8028 analog mixing console at Sound City but, again, once it becomes clear that this was the console he and a previously little-known band called Nirvana once used to record an album called Nevermind that went on to change the musical world as we know it, the whole thing begins to make a lot more sense.

2017 DGThe list of rock music luminaries who recorded at Sound City is astonishing, as is the sheer number of them who shared their memories of making music there: Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig, Josh Homme and Paul McCartney are but a few of the artists associated with the studio who agreed to be part of the film. (Then again, given it was Dave Grohl asking them, perhaps it’s hardly surprising at all.)

Much like the Neve console itself, this movie captures a moment in time, a particular sound. It’s like a trip down memory lane in a leather jacket, and while the  film — much like its director — wears its heart on its sleeve, it manages to steer clear of sentimentality when discussing the closure of Sound City and, instead, celebrates old school technology being given a new lease of life as the Neve console is moved to Grohl’s own Studio 606, where it will no doubt be used well into the future.

If you’re a music fan, this one’s a must see.

2. GLOW, Season 1 (2017)

2017 GlowSo we’re still in the San Fernando Valley, but my second pick for 2017 is the televsion comedy series GLOW — which stands, of course, for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.  I never thought a comedy about the making of a 1980s syndicated women’s wrestling show (it is fiction, by the way) would interest me in the slightest, but the writing is as tight the ladies’ leotards, the costumes and soundtrack are so tacky they’re great, and some of the scenes — Sheila the Shewolf’s birthday bash at the roller rink springs to mind — are unexpectedly moving.

2017 Alison BrieI absolutely loved Alison Brie as the semi-desperate, struggling actress Ruth Wilder (particularly when she’s in Soviet mode), and Marc Maron’s portrayal of Sam Sylvia, the sleazy, disillusioned director who discovers he might actually care, is completely convincing. GLOW is laugh out loud funny, with some cutting edge social commentary to boot.

Bring on Season 2.

 

3. The Crown, Season 2 (2017)

2017 The CrownSpeaking of Season 2, I’ve just binged on another Netflix series — this time, the sumptuous historical drama that is The Crown. The second instalment is every bit as enjoyable as the first, and while political drama plays out on the wider world stage in the form of events such as the Suez Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, for me the most interesting episodes are those depicting Queen Elizabeth II (played brilliantly by Claire Foy) navigating the complexities and challenges of her personal relationships — especially those with her husband and sister.

Vanessa Kirby very nearly steals the show as Princess Margaret, particularly in one powerful sequence that captures her volatility and unhappiness.  In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Kirby described the scene:

She does this melancholy dance. You rarely saw her on her own, and I always imagined her alone in the house, grieving for her father — her sister preoccupied with a husband and kids and so busy being Queen. She would feel redundant, isolated; ostracised. I just imagined these dark nights of the soul, rattling around in Clarence House.

It’s compelling, if not a little voyeuristic, viewing.

4. Avis de Mistral/My Summer in Provence (2014)

2017 provenceThis French film is one that has been panned elsewhere, but I still wanted to see it.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that first drew me in, though I’ve always been a Jean Reno fan and I’m yet to meet anyone worth knowing who doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Provence.  Perhaps it’s also because, as the grandchild of divorced grandparents, I was intrigued by the the possibility that a cantakerous old man might eventually be won over by the three grandchildren he has never met — despite the best efforts of just about everyone involved to be difficult and objectionable.

The generational struggles are played out over the course of a long, hot summer, and despite the disputes between the characters being occasionally petty (two of the grandchildren are teenagers, after all), the ultimate benevolence and humanity of the characters and the strength of the bonds between them are never really in doubt — particularly in relation to the youngest grandchild, Theo, who is deaf (and is played, beautifully, but Lukas Pélissier, who is also deaf). One of the things I loved about this film is that whenever the action is seen from Theo’s perspective, there is no sound — which serves not only as a reminder of his condition, but also as a respite from the boisterous, dischordant world of his older siblings.

If I’m perfectly honest, this is a predictable, safe and sentimental film: the vast majority of the action is telegraphed well before it happens, including the inevitable happy ending. But sometimes, in life, we need movies like this — things that blow in like the mistral, and blow straight out again…and it’s made my Top Five because at the time I watched it I needed such a distraction, and My Summer in Provence served its purpose very well.

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

2017 last jediYou knew there had to be a big-hitting, blockbuster of a franchise movie in here somewhere, didn’t you? Well, The Last Jedi is it — and a big part of the reason why this film makes the list is that I watched it at the cinema with my family.

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the possibility of introducing my girls to Star Wars, when in reality it was two and a half years ago.  During that time, they have become committed fans of the Star Wars universe, have watched all the films, every episode of Clone Wars and Rebels ever made, and have had hours of “Jedi Training” in the back yard with their father. They even insisted on making their own light sabers (purple — just like Mace Windu’s) at Disneyland.

I suspect half of what was written on the internet during the past month was devoted to The Last Jedi, so I’m not going to add to it any more here, save to say that I aboslutely loved this movie. And best of all, I got to see it with Marvel Girl, Miss Malaprop and The Bloke sitting right beside me.

Honourable mentions for other viewing in 2017 go to Thor: Ragnarok, not only because I can’t go past any Marvel movie in which Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, but also because I think Taika Waititi has brought a really fresh (not to mention funny) approach to the franchise; Anne with an E (and a PTSD?), which turned an old favourite on its head in a way I’ve decided I really liked; and Lucifer, Seasons 1 and 2 of which I believe to be the very best sort of trashy television, complete with clever lines and a one very handsome Devil.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…hit the follow button and don’t miss a thing!

Ivy, Oak and Ash

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Ollivanders…where the wand, as we know, chooses the wizard.

I’m writing this at my kitchen table, listening to a beautiful Ólafur Arnalds track he recorded with Nils Frahm. The music, with its high-pitched, bell-like tinkling, has an ethereal quality that sounds unmistakably like…Magic.

And then it occurs to me that this piece, relatively obscure as it is, has conjured up the memory of the opening bars of a much more famous musical score: John Williams’ overture to the original Harry Potter film, a movie filled with mystery and wonder, and more Magic than you could poke a stick at — particularly if that stick should be a wand.

Ah, Magic.

It’s such a powerful thing — such a potent, creative force.

Even though I know quite well that the Harry Potter novels and films are works of fiction, I also recognise them as works of wonder. Of a fantasy that I can — and do — quite readily buy into. And, as I’ve said before, I encourage my children to do so as well. I think that the late and ever-so-great Roald Dahl, who definitely knew wonder when he saw it, probably explained why best:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

 

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Hogsmeade Village, Hollywood style…please respect the spell limits.

For me there can be as much Magic in a well-crafted sentence as there in a beautifully realised fictional world — complete with its own myths and history. But when The Bloke and I had the chance to take our girls to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood during our recent trip to the US, we both knew this was a opportunity to see some real Magic.

And it was.

We explored Hogwarts Castle, drank butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, bought sweets at Honeydukes, visited the Owlery, and browsed through the broomsticks at Dervish and Banges.

And then we went to Ollivanders.

Ollivanders, as all self-respecting Harry Potter fans know, have been makers of fine wands since 382BC. Being a Ravenclaw myself, I could spend hours discussing the importance of the Ollivander family in history of European wandmaking or introducing you to the finer points of wandlore but that, one suspects, would be better done at another time. The most important thing to know, for the purposes of this post, is that the wand chooses the wizard.

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Our Wands, each pointing to the Hogwarts houses we most identify with: Gryffindor, Slytherin and Ravenclaw.

Or the witch, for that matter. Because when we came out of Ollivanders, the wands had well and truly chosen: Ivy for Marvel Girl, Oak for Miss Malaprop, and Ash for me. Not surprisingly, my wand is lying beside me on the kitchen table as a write. It is beautifully balanced, it is perfectly weighted, and it feels like it was made just for me.

And that’s the truly Magic thing, isn’t it?

But there are, as I discovered once again that day in Hogsmeade Village, many kinds of Magic…

After our visit to Ollivanders, Miss Malaprop strode purposefully towards Gladrags Wizardwear, where she proceeded to demonstrate her own considerable powers as she persuaded The Bloke to buy her a full set of Hogwarts robes (Slytherin ones, naturally) complete with house insignia and wand pocket, and some for her sister (Gryffindor, of course) as well. How does she do it? I wondered, as I struggled to calculate the cost of purchasing two sets of robes, plus tax, plus the exchange rate, plus the inevitable excess baggage cost associated with getting two large bundles of heavy black fabric back home…and I knew the answer in an instant: Miss Malaprop was utterly certain that we would let her have them before she even entered the shop, because she knew that deep down, we wanted them too.

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Basic Wand Motions…I think Arresto Momento would be one of the most useful spells I could have in my kitchen.

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than all of us. We all know that there is real Magic to be found in shared experiences, particularly when they involve mutually suspended disbelief.

I know it’s not real.

And my kids know that, too.

(Really!)

But there is much to be said for the transformative joy that is produced when you allow the fictional to enter the everyday.  It’s why my kids have the words Nox  and Lumos on their bedroom lightswitches.  It’s why I’ll tell them I would love one of them to play Quidditch for Australia one day. It’s why Miss Malaprop and Marvel Girl got their Hogwarts robes (or they will on Christmas Day, at any rate).

And it’s also why our wands, which individually and specifically chose us, sit in pride of place in the rooms of our house that we use the most.  Our wands are tangible reminders that our differences make us as strong as our similarities, that our words and actions are powerful and must be wielded well, that there is Magic in us all.

Ivy, Oak and Ash.

Always.

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Ollivanders: makers of find wands since 382BC.

This Little Life

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Adam and Eve…back to the beginning…

Some days I find it hard to believe that it has been two years since I sat down on the sofa one night and started this blog. I can still remember the first time I hit the Publish button — holding my breath and then slowing exhaling as my words unfurled in cyberspace.

Since then I’ve used this space — usually aimlessly, occasionally deliberately — to make sense of it all: thoughts, feelings, marriage, kids, world events, minutiae, books, music, writing, life.

About a year ago, I wrote a post called The Wellspring, which was probably as close to a personal manifesto as I’ll ever get:

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.

I wrote about my First Principles and how I try to align myself with them. I wrote about living authentically and being true to myself. I wrote, also, of my gratitude for the encouragement I had received — and continue to receive — from the farflung readers of this blog.

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In Adam I recognise my tendency to overthink…

Now, another twelve months on, I decided to go right back to the beginning. To get back to basics. So I went back and read that first post I wrote, Just Getting it Out There, and was thankful that I still recognised the person I found there — even though way back then I hadn’t even figured out how to add images to what I had written, and barely knew what a tag was.

Re-reading that post also made me want to go back and revisit the movie that had inspired it, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Having recently returned from a holiday to the US, I wanted to return to the film’s nocturnal landscape, the dispossessed industrial heartland of America — partly because I’m still trying to reconcile what I witnessed only a couple of weeks ago: the carefully constructed Disney dream with all its manicured artifice that I sought to share with my children, and the haphazard existence of the homeless people I saw living in squalor beside freeways or sleeping it off outside shopping centres.

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Like The Bloke, Eve reminds me that there are so many ways to live and survive..

It was The Bloke, my steady and steadfast husband, who reminded me that there are many ways to live this life, and that not everyone finds living in a house in the suburbs (or anywhere, for that matter) fits in with them or with their preferred lifestyle. That freedom can be defined in as many ways as there are human beings. That every single one of us has a story — and that each of those tales matters, and is worth no more or less than the next person’s.

And since then I have been reminding myself, as I reminded my children countless times during that vacation, of that old adage:

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

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Unlike vampires, we get just one, short life…

We are all the product of our choices, of the decisions we make. Some are so small we don’t even register them for what they are or for the cumulative impact they have. Others are so big they are completely and mindblowingly life-altering. And yet, regardless of their size or consequence, whether we overthink them or dwell on them in bed at night or dismiss them or even put them into the fabled ‘too hard basket’, we make them. Each and every day.

And so, ultimately, I remain convinced of the importance of knowing and aligning yourself with your First Principles, whatever they might be. I still believe in that Wellspring and of the incalculable value of connecting with it regularly and deliberately. I continue to contend that it is worth doing your best in everything you do, and in each and every decision you make, and that it is essential to be grateful — oh, so grateful — for this little life.

 

If you enjoyed this post and would like musings from the Daydream Believer to be delivered to your inbox whenever they appear, feel free to click the follow button at the top right of this page…Blue Jai 

 

Just Getting it Out There…

Last weekend, having a rare evening to myself, I sank into the sofa with a glass of red wine and watched Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s take on urban decay and modern life (more decay) through the eyes of a disillusioned and depressed vampire.  I had been wanting to watch the film for a while, and its languid pace and dark palette suited my mood perfectly.  Not to mention the fact that the inimitable Tom Hiddleston plays the part of the disenchanted vampire, Adam, opposite Tilda Swinton as his blood-sucking though weirdly ethereal wife of many hundred years, Eve.

“I’m sick of it—these zombies, what they’ve done to the world, their fear of their own imaginations,” Adam complains to Eve, compelling her to travel from Tangiers — all night flights, of course — to where he is living as a reclusive and very reluctant rock star in Detroit.  The suggestion that it was possible to live in fear one’s own imagination was one of three things that stayed with me long after the film was over.

The second thing that lingered for me was the film’s soundtrack, comprised mostly of moody guitar riffs in minor keys, lit up towards the movie’s climax by a mesmerising performance by Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan.  I had not thought the music would remain with me for so many days afterwards, but strangely enough there it was, the memory of it filling my ears at unexpected moments.

And then, finally, there was the idea of “getting the work out there” which posed such a problem for these long-lived vampire types.  How is it possible for a vampire to create, publish, record or (gasp!) perform, without revealing something of their identity or, shall we say, the “peculiarities” that constrain their nocturnal lives?  And what of the “delicious chaos”, as Eve puts it, that would result from owning up to authorship?  As Andrew Tracy says in his review of the film, “[t]hrough equal parts design and conceptual confusion, Jarmusch sets up his vampiric protagonists as both the secret source of some of our culture’s greatest accomplishments and admiring, discerning critics of the best that we have attained, both participants and observers.”

So why did this third idea, in particular, haunt me?

Because I am neither a vampire, not any other sort of immortal.  The problem of “getting it out there” is not one that I face.

Nor am I afraid of my own imagination.

And so, here it is: my first blog post.  It won’t be Shakespeare (or Marlowe), it won’t be Mozart (or Salieri) either.  What I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine.