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!

Parental Guidance Recommended

A Let them Be Little

How much should I tell them?

One of the greatest challenges of being a parent is finding the right way to explain things to your children — or maybe not the right way, but the one that is most age appropriate, or the one that they will actually find some way of correctly interpreting and understanding.

I was reminded of this when Miss Malaprop came home from school yesterday and said her teacher had read her class a story about Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. Ever true to her pseudonym, Miss Malaprop didn’t quite manage to say ‘Israelites’, but she had a pretty good go at it — and I must admit I was too distracted by the sheaf of school notices and permission slips that has somehow managed to materialise in my kitchen since school resumed two days ago to discern the exact word she used as a substitute.

Now, being fully aware that my younger daughter is never one to speak to one so lowly as her mother of the knowledge bestowed upon her in the classroom unless she at least seven questions to ask me about various aspects of what she has learned, I braced myself for the inevitable barrage. I presumed — incorrectly, as it turned out — that she probably wanted to know all about the basket into which Moses had been placed among the bullrushes, its capacity, its relative seaworthiness, that sort of thing. Or perhaps she wished to quiz me about exactly what the Egyptian princess who found Moses might have been wearing that day, and whether her ensemble would have included a crown?

Wrong again.

“Mummy, what are slaves?”

This was the question that came from my smallest child’s lips. It came out so sweetly, so innocently, that I was forced to stop, immediately, and turn away from the tottering pile of lunchboxes I had just plonked onto the kitchen bench.

How do you answer a question like that when the person who has asked it is so young that they have only just started school? And how do you explain something as abhorrent and cruel as slavery to that person when you believe it is your solemn and sacred duty to protect them from all that is evil in this world?

A Dobby

Dobby, the House Elf who started it all…

“Slaves,” I ventured, “well, they’re a bit like the house elves in Harry Potter — the ones who have to do everything their masters tell them to, and don’t get paid.”

Miss Malaprop’s greeny-blue eyes lit up with dawning comprehension — somehow, incredibly, I had managed to hit upon a reference she understood straight away.

“Oh, OK then,” she said, nodded her head, and ran off to play.

Now, in my defence, Harry Potter is Miss Malaprop’s current obsession. It is not unusual for me to hear her yell, “Expelliarmus!” in an attempt to disarm her sister during one of their inevitable fights, and when given an alphabet book to complete for homework over the holidays she decided that drawing a picture of Voldemort was an excellent choice to illustrate the letter V.

Moreover, we are currently half-way through reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which details Hermione’s crusade to improve the lot of house elves at Hogwarts by founding the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.), so the concept of slavery — albeit it in a fictionalised, relatively child-friendly context — is not entirely unknown to her.

But should I have said more? Had I just completely trivialised a serious topic? Should I have checked that Miss Malaprop understood that I meant that slaves are individuals who have been denied that most basic and fundamental of all human rights — freedom — and that they are not tiny creatures with large ears and bulging eyes who toil away in the Hogwarts kitchens?

A Cleanup

This wouldn’t work in my house…I’d have to resort to a whole other fandom to get my laundry hampter sorted properly.

If it was a trivial matter we were discussing, I wouldn’t think twice about making an example of Dobby and his kin, or of shamelessly appropriating whatever other popular culture references I need to make my children understand things. Believe me, I’ve even considered putting pictures of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker above the laundry hamper so that my kids learn to correctly differentiate between the Dark Side and the Light Side. (Honestly, the two of them can rhapsodise for hours over the different types of light sabers or various random skirmishes during the Clone Wars, but heaven help them if they can figure out how to separate whites from colours when it comes to doing the washing.)

But that’s just the small stuff.

Anyone who follows this blog with any regularity knows that when I believe it is called for, I am not afraid to put fingers to keys and speak up for what I believe in, regardless of whether it’s to do with Asylum Seekers, Marriage Equality, the Death Penalty or whatever other injustice I perceive in the world. And I think it practially goes without saying that I want my children to be raised with a strong sense of social justice and an awareness of the things that impact other people — not just themselves.

A Jason

The very lovely Jason Isaacs, resplendent in what he called his “Paris Hilton wig”, letting them be little.

I know that in the years ahead there will be many questions, hard questions, that Miss Malaprop and her sister will ask me to answer. And I hope that I have the courage to face those questions with an open heart and an open mind, and to answer them as best I can without diminishing the facts or distorting the truth.

But I don’t think that my girls — my mostly sweet, still innocent girls — are yet ready to open the book on the grisly lessons of the history of humankind, with all its madness, mayhem, murder and misogyny.

So in the meantime, I’m going to keep answering the difficult questions my kids ask by referring them to things that they already know and understand, even if that knowledge and comprehension is partially drawn from reading Harry Potter.

I would imagine that by the time they’re up to reading the Hunger Games, the conversations will be very, very different.

But for now? I’m with Jason Isaacs on this one.

Dobby is in his trailer.

 

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Star Wars: A New Hope

Episode 4

There are certain things I have longed to share with my children since they began their lives on this strange little planet of ours — experiences I hold so dear that I want to hit fast forward so they’re old enough to enjoy them now. You know, right now.

I can’t wait to take them to Disneyland, for example, or to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and I frequently bemoan the fact that they’re still not quite old enough to begin reading The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

But when I caught Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop in the hallway before school last week using their hairbrushes as lightsabers (one Skywalker Blue, one Vader Red), I felt my breath catch and I dared to wonder — could it be? Was it time? Were they finally ready to watch Star Wars?

Ever so casually, I dropped a description of the morning’s Jedi-inspired skirmish into conversation with The Bloke when he got home from work, and saw a thoughtful gleam appear in his eye. After all, this was the man for whom I had purchased a Darth Vader helmet (complete with voice changer) for his thirtieth birthday, just to see that split second upon opening it when he looked like a five year old — and maybe even felt like it too. But that was before we’d even thought of having kids…

Yoda Keep CalmWas it really possible that our progeny were ready to become Padawans? To learn of the ways of the Force, to speak of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobe, of Darth Vader and the Death Star?

It felt like the dawning of a new age. A new hope.

A New Hope! Because that, of course, is where any true believer would begin their journey into embracing the intergalactic. (We don’t take too kindly to that Jar Jar Binks nonsense around here.) No, The Bloke and I were in firm agreement that Episode IV was the place to start.

And so, yesterday, we did. After spending part of the day piecing together part of a huge puzzle of the (actual) Solar System, talking about stars and planets and space travel and the International Space Station, we finished the day by watching the first half of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Marvel Girl, excited and already entranced, read out the famous opening lines to her sister as they scrolled up the star-filled screen. Miss Malaprop, never one to be outdone by her more literate sister, proudly wore her glow-in-the-dark Millennium Falcon T-shirt to mark the occasion.

Leia We Can Do ItOh — they had so many questions!

Why does Tatooine have more than one moon? What exactly are the Jawa people?

Why does Darth Vader sound like that? Why did he have to blow up Alderaan?

Are there men inside all the Storm Trooper suits? And how come Jabba the Hutt looks like a giant slug?

Mum, did you really have a Princess Leia toothbrush when you were little?

Can we go to a Spaceport like Mos Eisley one day?

But why not? Are you sure it’s not real?

We can’t wait to watch the second half with them this afternoon. There are sure to be many more questions, but there will no doubt be moments of pure joy for everyone crammed onto our couch. Our little Padawans haven’t even heard of Ewoks yet, or seen anyone ride a Tauntaun, and they don’t know who Luke Skywalker will met on the swamp planet of Dagobah or that he has a sister.

But seeing my girls enter a new world — no, make that new universe — has been a privilege I am now glad I waited for: they were ready.  Marvel Girl got up this morning and drew detailed pictures of R2-D2, Obi-Wan Kenobi and all the characters she has encountered so far while Miss Malaprop and I finished off the Solar System puzzle.

It’s been a great reminder that life in our own galaxy is pretty unreal.

May to Force be with you.

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