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!

The Kiwi Edit

Kiwi NZ landscape

I can feel a road trip coming on…

I’ve never been to New Zealand.

I know.  It’s completely tragic, and more than a little embarrassing — particularly given the teensy tiny three hour flight time from Sydneytown to most places in the Land of the Long White Cloud. (I mean, it takes only slightly longer to fly from here to Cairns, and that’s just in the next state, not the next country).

Kiwi Broods

Georgia & Caleb Nott: Broods

New Zealand has been on my mind a lot lately — not just because everyone else in the office where I work decamped to Queenstown for all of last week, but also because I’ve been listening to some great Kiwi music lately. In addition to enjoying Matthew Young’s song Collect (like just about everyone else I know), and Lorde’s latest stuff, I’ve been loving listening to brother-sister duo Broods for most of the past year, especially their Conscious album.

And while many of my countryfolk occasionally disparage our Kiwi cousins, indulging in quips about Australia being the mainland, snickering at their unusual way of pronouncing their vowel sounds, debating who really invented Pavlova, claiming any New Zealander with an ounce of talent for just about anything is actually an Aussie, or simply making rude remarks about sheep, I’m going to resist the urge to do any of those things.

(I will admit, however, that I failed to resist mentioning all of those things, and for that I sincerely apologise.)

No, I am of the opinion that New Zealand is a place I would really, truly love to visit — so I’ve decided to put together my top five (wildly generalised) reasons why:

  1. The People.  This is a cliché, of course, but I’ve never met a New Zealander I didn’t like. My first memories of Kiwis were the ones who (inevitably) lived in the street where I grew up — the quiet but wickedly funny father of the family next door, and the former wicket-keeper of the Black Caps up the road for whom I used to babysit. Nice blokes. Lovely people. And I can’t think of a single Kiwi I’ve met since whose company I didn’t enjoy. In my experience, they’re far more Footrot Flats than Once Were Warriors.
  2. Their sense of humour. I suspect a large part of the reason that I tend to get on with
    Kiwi Footrot

    Dog from Footrot Flats

    Kiwis is that I enjoy their sense of humour. As I said earlier, I am — quite obviously — generalising wildly while making this list. But I’ve found that New Zealanders are a funny bunch, and in a good way. The aforementioned Footrot Flats is one example. The Almighty Johnsons is another, though perhaps a little quirkier. Or Flight of the Conchords, who used to refer to themselves as  “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”. And if you need any further proof, just check out Sam Neill’s Twitter feed — and do watch the videos of him with his pigs. Really.

  3. Kiwi Taika

    Taika Waititi: Legend

    Taika Waititi.  If you were to combine points one and two above (not that I’ve actually met the man in person), I’m reasonably certain you’d end up with Taika Waititi. Not only has he recently directed Thor: Ragnarok (aka Loki III), which as some of my previous posts reveal, automatically endears him to me. But in addition to that, the guy has some serious talent, a very well-honed funny bone, and he’s New Zealander of the Year to boot. Oh — and he also recently fronted a brilliant ad campaign about racism that is worth a look, no matter where you live.

  4. The All Blacks.  I’m tempted just to leave it at that: The All Blacks. I realise I’m probably running the risk of having my citizenship revoked, but you only need to look at the All Blacks record during the any of their Bledisloe Cup campaigns since 2002 to see what I mean. Respect where it’s due.

    Kiwi Haka

    The All Blacks doing their Haka. (I dare you to make a joke about men in PINK footy boots after that performance).

  5. The Landscape.  Where do I even start with this one?  I mean, seriously — it’s not just New Zealand, this is Middle Earth, people!  Magnificent doesn’t even begin to describe it.  When my kids got a postcard from the Hobbiton movie set recently, it was all I could do to stop them from grabbing my phone, ordering the nearest Uber to take them to the airport, and jumping on the first plane heading straight across the ditch. And now that I’ve reached the end of this list, I’m beginning to wonder why I stopped them…

So there you have it: Blue Jai’s top 5 reasons to love New Zealand. If, like me, you haven’t been there already, getting your holiday plans happening.

Otherwise, hug a Kiwi. (With permission, of course).

They’re quite lovely.

Kiwi Hobbiton

Hobbiton…my children’s dream home…