Tuesday, May 17

The year that was — In films, TV, music and books

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The writer with a copy of Dennis Lau’s book ‘Classic Images of Borneo’.

OF life’s many pleasures and pastimes, the year 2021, which had just passed us by, had deprived us of many – we had, since March 2020, been unable to travel as we did in the past, socialise and celebrate as we had done, nor participated in the many events, social gatherings, festivals and religious rituals that we were accustomed to.

All this deprivation had been because of a pervasive and persistent virus that we call the coronavirus, or Covid-19. As I write this today, we are faced with yet another variant even more infectious – the Omicron variant, even as scientists are predicting that more new variants are on the way!

I believe that it’s time that we learn how to live with the virus and modify our lifestyle towards ‘living with it.’

Even as we totally cease to party ‘like its 1999’ and reduce our social interactions, completely curtail all our holiday travel plans and forgo the annual celebrations of birthdays and occasional ones of weddings (and sadly, funerals), we look towards other pastimes, hobbies and interests that steer clear of human interactions and are less crowd-friendly.

I am referring to the pleasures of watching movies, binge watching television series and ‘made for TV’ films and documentaries; the eternal habit of reading; the manifold delights of listening to and creating music and the joys of cooking, among many other home-based and self-generated means of leisure.

It’s also a good time to learn or study or enjoy a new craft or interest or hobby.

The past 12 months of 2021 have seen a good selection of all these home-based interests being launched, shown and shared – nowadays the Internet and newly available devices and highly effective communication systems have meant that almost everything that we need is at our fingertips.

If I read about a new movie that’s premiered just a couple of nights ago in Hollywood, I only have to wait a couple of days before it’s available on Torrents or on a paid streaming site like Netflix. Television shows and programmes too are almost immediately uploaded for instant viewing anywhere in the world so long as you have an Internet connection and a device made for receiving it.

Similarly new album releases, for example like Adele’s ‘30’, her first album in six years was released on Nov 19, 2021, and it was almost instantly available online everywhere.

As for books and magazines, once published these new titles are available for order, in both the hardcopies on Amazon and on Kindle instantaneously as well – all you need is to pay for it online with your account!

The world is indeed an oyster – our very own oyster – and we’ve never had it so good. There can be no censorship in this day and age. No government, no matter how restrictive, can black out news, views and opinions. Nothing is ‘illegal anymore on the Internet’ – in fact for those who know their way around, the ‘Dark Web’ is out there available for anyone with the know-how to conduct all sorts of contraband and illegal businesses; name it, and you can get it!

(I am not condoning it – just making you aware that it’s out there!)
The past 12 months, the following are some of the many titles of the films, TV series and programmes, music, shows, albums and books that I have personally enjoyed and they all come with my personal recommendation. Some of them are more eclectic than others; some are pretty weird; many are mainstream and populist; and some are just oddities that I have become fond of.

Take your pick, but be warned that my taste may (and should, in fact, not!) mirror yours, as we all have our own individuality and our tastes should in fact differ in so many ways.

Like I would say – my Laphraoig could well be your blue cheese! (I’m sure you get my meaning!)

Films, in no particular order, as like in the other lists:

  • The Power of the Dog – A really powerful tour-de-force from former Oscar winner NZ director Jane Campion with award-winning performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Lessons to be learned.
  • Dune – This year’s sci-fi spectacular, even better than I had anticipated!
  • Spencer – Kristen Stewart is a big revelation as Princess Diana during a few days of her life at the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England. Fiction based on fact.
  • Belfast – Probably the ultimate movie to see and understand the IRA and the Irish/English conflicts of the 1960s. Well-acted, plus a really cool soundtrack from Van Morrison.
  • Roadrunner – A Film about Anthony Bourdain’ – An insightful, touching and reverent documentary about the life of one of the century’s most-loved television celebrity chefs, one whose influence would be felt for a very long time.
  • The Truffle Hunters – A documentary about a handful of men searching for that rare, expensive and delicious (I had tasted it a couple of times) white Alba truffles deep in the forests of Piedmont, in Italy. Soul-searching.
  • The Rescue – The true-life re-enactment of the 12 Thai boys being rescued from a flooded Pattaya cave in 2018, directed with a sure-hand and deft touch by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. It is a rare feature that is the ultimate docu-drama, even though we all knew how it had ended, it was still tense and thrilling throughout the entire film.
  • Days – ‘Days’ by Kuching-born Tsai Ming-Liang scored ‘an almost impossible 98’ in the Rotten Tomatoes’ list of ‘Best Films of the Year’. It’s the ultimate film tribute to what critics term ‘the cinema of slowness’; to understand it better, I had also watched a two-hour documentary called ‘Afternoon’ with just Tsai and his muse Lee Kang-Sheng talking about their life together so far (22 years on); with snippets of his Kuching childhood and his relationship with his grandfather. Insightful, but watch at your own risk – there’s a 99 per cent chance you’d either fall asleep halfway, or switch it off minutes into both.

Television – these include ‘made-for-TV’ feature films, documentaries, series and special shows:

  • The Underground Railroad – Miniseries directed by Barry Jenkins of ‘Moonlight’ fame. Intense, raw, moving, and extremely potent and overwhelming.
  • Mare of Easttown (Miniseries) – Kate Winslet gives a brilliant down-to-earth and amazing performance as a detective investigating a murder in a small town. Awesome.
  • Succession (Miniseries) – Now on Season 3, it’s my favourite of all, incredibly great ensemble acting, superb screenplay, a fictionalised Rupert Murdoch-type multimedia family squabbling as to who’s going to take over from the patriarch.
  • Dopesick (Miniseries) – Based on a true story about the greatest medical scam/crime of the century, the scandal of oxycontin, the pain management drug. It’s as exciting as a Sopranos-type thriller and it’s all based on facts. Michael Keaton shines.
  • Yellowstone (Miniseries) – This is like a ‘Sopranos’ in cowboy hats, filmed lusciously in Montana and has my favourite ensemble cast, starting with Kevin Costner and Kelly Reilly. Now in Season 4, high marks for excellence in writing, acting and all-round entertainment.

’Yellowstone’ – Among the top-ranked TV series of 2021.

Music:

  • Adele – 30 – After a long six-year wait in November this dropped. Great stuff.
  • Coldplay – Music of the Spheres
  • Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters
  • Bruno Mars – An Evening with Silk Sonic
  • Jackson Browne – Downhill from Everywhere – Getting better all the time.
  • ABBA – Voyage – Their first new album in 40 years, no change at all. Superb!
  • Rod Stewart – The Tears of Hercules – Still sounding as sexy as ever!
  • Soundtrack of Belfast – It’s all Van Morrison tracks with a couple of newies.
  • West Side Story – The Spielberg Remake – Have yet to hear it, but have positive vibes that I’d love it!

Books:

  • World Travel: An Irreverent Guide (Non-Fiction) – Anthony Bourdain
  • Lim Kit Siang – Malaysian First (Non-Fiction) – Kee Thuan Chye
  • Empire of Pain (Non-Fiction) – Patrick Radden Keef
  • Taste: My Life Through Food (Non-Fiction) – Stanley Tucci
  • Klara and the Sun (Fiction) – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Fiction) – Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
  • Classic Images of Borneo (Non-Fiction) – Dennis Lau

Bourdain’s ‘World Travel: An Irreverent Guide’.

I am looking forward to what lies ahead in the coming 12 months of 2022 – and I am sure I’d continue to be fully entertained as well as enlightened by whatever movies, films, music and books may come my way.

In the meantime, I wish you many fruitful hours of happy watching, listening and reading. Take care, keep safe and stay home where possible!

Praise God!