This is not necessarily a year end best of list. Below you will find several entertainment highlights that really stood out for me in 2017. The list includes movies, television shows, concerts and music releases. Besides, best of lists are highly subjective.
Justice League – What a treat to finally see this team on the big screen. Despite all of the harsh criticism leveled at this film, I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much that I saw it twice and I am already impatiently awaiting the DVD release. My only real criticism of the movie is its length, at two hours it was a bit too short. I loved this movie so much I wanted to see more! I am now quite eager to see how the Aquaman movie turns out.
Queen + Adam Lambert Live: 07/26/2017 The Prudential Center – I unfortunately never had the opportunity to see Queen live with Freddie Mercury. I had the great pleasure of seeing Queen + Paul Rodgers live back in 2005. The band put on an absolutely stunning show. It was definitely one of the best concerts that I have experienced. I had extremely high expectations about seeing the band live with Adam Lambert. I am glad to say that I was not disappointed. The band is still in fine form and Adam Lambert is a phenomenal vocalist.
The Ultimate Queen Celebration Starring Marc Martel: 10/20/2017 The New Jersey Performing Arts Center – Marc Martel is an extremely talented man. Watching his career and his public spotlight grow over the last few years has been great to see. He has gone from his own band Downhere to The Queen Extravaganza, to a solo artist to The Ultimate Queen Celebration. Martel has been on quite a journey over the last few years. Seeing Martel front The Ultimate Queen Celebration was an amazing experience. This show is exactly that, a celebration of the great music of Queen. It is not a straight note for not replication of the music of Queen. Overall the renditions are faithful, with some slight tweaks here and there. I sure would love to see Marc Martel given the opportunity to front Queen. I say this with absolutely no disrespect to the great job that Adam Lambert is doing. But Martel singing with Queen is just too good of an opportunity to let pass. Hopefully some day, one day.
Arrow Season Five And Six – Stephen Amell continues to excel as Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow. The show has rebounded greatly after an utterly disappointing fourth season. The addition of Black Siren and the newest Black Canary were well made choices. Arrow as a show has never been content to rest on its laurels. Each new season the show has gone in a different direction. Most of the time the risks have paid off. This season’s story lines include the addition of Olivier’s son to the show as a regular, Diggle’s physical struggles, members of Team Arrow leaving the fold, for now, among many others. Arrow is back on the path to being must see television.
Epica Live: 09/28/2017 The Trocadero Theater and The Solace System EP – Two highlights from one of my favorite metal bands. Epica was the band that introduced me to Symphonic Metal. For my money they are the best band in the genre. One of the strongest facets of the band had been musical progression. Each new Epica album finds the band pushing their craft further and further. The band’s most recent album, The Holographic Principle (2016) is also one of their best. This year they released The Solace System, a five song EP. These songs were recorded during the same sessions that produced The Holographic Principle. The band felt that these songs would not fit the mood of the last album. Yet the songs were too good not to release, so they waited and released the EP. I am glad that they did, these songs are phenomenal and they showcase a different side of the band. Seeing the band live as they were in the midst of promoting their latest album and EP was a captivating experience. The vocals of Simone Simmons, the band’s musicianship and an out of this world light show all added up to one of my favorite concerts. I am extremely eager to see the band live again in the future.
Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot is perfection as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Chris Pine is extremely effective as Steve Trevor. His heartbreaking sacrifice sets up one the movie’s most powerful scenes. Expressing her grief Wonder Woman goes into goddess mode and proceeds to decimate every bad guy in sight. That is just one of many extraordinary scenes in this exceptional movie.
Mike + The Mechanics: Let Me Fly – I have been a huge fan since the band’s debut in 1985. Let Me Fly is the second album by the reformed Mechanics. The album is a vast improvement over their prior album The Road (2011). This new incarnation of The Mechanics has a decidedly heavier R&B flavor. Let Me Fly combines the stronger R&B sounds with some the older band’s flavors and styles. Let Me Fly succeeds due to strong songwriting, exceptional production and amazing vocal performances. Overall Let Me Fly is one of the most consistent albums in The Mechanics catalog.
SEAL Team Season One and The Brave Season One – Two television shows about U.S. military special forces teams. The basic premise may be the same but the two shows are very different. Actor David Boreanez leads the team on SEAL Team. Actor Mike Vogel leads the group on The Brave. Both shows have compelling secret missions full of tension and risk. Both shows also do a fantastic job of showing the humanity of the teams. They may be highly trained special forces members, but they are first and foremost human. The work that they are tasked to do takes its toll on the various members, and their families, in different ways. At times both shows remind me of one of my favorite shows, The Unit. The Unit featured a special forces team led by the incredibly talented Dennis Haysbert. The Unit aired four seasons (2006 to 2009) and was prematurely canceled, in my opinion. One of the pleasant surprises on The Brave has been the appearance of actor Michael Irby. Irby was a regular on The Unit.
The Foreigner – The opportunity to see Jackie Chan in a serious movie with high production values for me was a must. Seeing him face off against seasoned actor Pierce Bronson was an added bonus. Audiences familiar only with Jackie Chan’s American movies will be in for a surprise. There is not a trace of humor in Jackie Chan’s performance. The movie has several excellent action sequences, but do not expect Chan’s typical superhuman heroics. The Foreigner is a drama first and foremost. The movie gives Chan a great showcase for his highly underrated acting skills.
Styx: The Mission – 2017 saw Styx release their best album in over thirty years. I could say so many incredible things about The Mission. The band reached back into their glory years, 1976 to 1983, to produce this 21st century progressive rock gem. Lawrence Gowan and Tommy Shaw carry the bulk of the lead vocals. It is such a joy to hear Gowan sing new Styx songs. Shaw and James Young lay down some of their finest guitar licks. Musically the band truly takes things to a new level. I just hope that this is the start of a new era for the band.
Sing – What an incredible movie! On the surface Sing looks like a children’s movie. It is chock full of singing and dancing animals. I am sure that children did enjoy the movie. But there is quite a lot here for adults. Sing truly is a heartfelt movie. It will have you singing, laughing, dancing and you may even shed a tear or two. In a time when far too much of today’s entertainment is so dark. it is nice when something of such high quality comes along that is positive and uplifting.
Knight Area – Heaven And Earth – The newest album from one of my favorite progressive rock bands. Knight Area are a modern prog rock band that has continued to hone their sound. The band’s sound combines classic rock, 1970’s progressive rock, 1980’s AOR and 1980’s to 1990’s neo progressive rock. The band began their career with a sound quite similar to prog bands like Genesis, Marillion, Pendragon and IQ. As their career has progressed Knight Area has streamlined and refined their sound. The band still wears some of their influences on their sleeves, but the sound is now uniquely Knight Area. Heaven And Beyond is another fantastic album to add to the band’s already impressive discography.
Steve Hackett Live: 02/17/2017 New Jersey Performing Arts Center – It is always an experience to see Steve Hackett live. I have been an immense fan of Steve Hackett’s work as a solo artist and with Genesis. Recent tours find Steve Hackett attempting to do the impossible, pleasing fans of the past and the present. This tour he attempted to promote his newest album, celebrate the anniversary of a classic Genesis album and play some Genesis songs from the early 1970’s. As a fan of his extensive solo catalog I would love to hear more of his solo songs live. As wonderful as it is to hear a great deal of Genesis songs, I found his recent setlist a little bit disappointing. Hackett truly is a progressive artist who continues to push himself and his music to new and exciting levels. Half of his show is dedicated to playing Genesis songs that are four decades old. I love those old songs however, Hackett has so much fantastic and more current solo music. That said, the man puts on an absolutely fantastic show. He has surrounded himself with a group of top notch musicians who are able to replicate his extremely quirky music as well as the Genesis songs. Setlist disappointment aside, it is always a great pleasure to see Steve Hackett live, the man is truly a rock and roll treasure.
Fleshkiller: Awaken – Ole Borud, the mainstay of the progressive extreme metal band Extol, has formed another extreme metal band, Fleshkiller. Borud is a multifaceted musical artist. He provided guitars, clean vocals, the majority of the songwriting and handles the production duties. The rest of the band is sensational. Elisha Mullins handles the extreme vocals and guitar, Ole Vistnes plays bass and Andreas Skorpe propels the whole thing behind the drum kit. This album is a must for Extol fans as well as fans of well crafted progressive extreme metal.
The Gifted – This Marvel television series features a group of young mutants on the run. The group is a part of the mutant underground and they are alluding Sentinel Services. Sentinel Services is a government sponsored group tasked with capturing mutants. The Gifted is a fantastic show that feels more like the X-Men than the movie X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). Standouts on the show include Emma Dumont as Lorna Dane/Polaris, (Magneto’s daughter) and Blair Redford as John Proudstar/Thunderbird. I look forward to see where the new storyline take this exciting show.