I am terrible at lists and ranking art against other art, so I’m taking some liberties with the concept of “Best of 2014” and sharing six comics and five films that I enjoyed or found thought-provoking in 2014.
Alex + Ada (Image, ongoing) Sarah Vaughn, writing; Jonathan Luna, art/story.
After a rough break-up, Alex’s aunt gives him a female android for “companionship.” Alex is disturbed by Ada’s seeming humanity and takes her to an underground network to have her sentience illegally unlocked. Alex + Ada cleverly subverts the fembot trope, exploring the complexity of relationships and being human, passing, being closeted, and the history of dehumanizing people into property. Luna’s calm artwork is perfect for an android coming into her own in a world terrified of her.
Gotham Academy (DC) Becky Cloonan & Brendan Fletcher, writing; Karl Kerschl, art.
If you like girl detectives in creepy old private schools, Gotham Academy might be for you. At Gotham City’s fanciest private school, Olive Silverlock investigates strange goings on, including a ghost, and her sorta-ex-boyfriend’s little sister Maps tags along. It’s Manga-influenced with neat coloring and just plain fun, and if you like girl detectives, you’ll probably like Gotham Academy.
Red Sonja (Dynamite) Gail Simone, writing; Walter Geovani, art.
Like Saga, which I wrote about last time, Red Sonja is a comic I read every month. Unlike Saga, I never expected that. It’s a subversive, funny, and action-packed barbarian comic. Read as Red Sonja duels a master swordsman, rescues a beautiful dancer (who is also a gay man), refuses to bathe, and desperately tries to get laid. And always make sure to get Jenny Frison’s covers. Her work is gorgeous. (She’s also doing some great covers for Revival.)
Showa: A History of Japan (Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki.
Showa is a stunning achievement. Mizuki presents the history of Japan from during the reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926 – 89) in four volumes. He covers Japan’s descent into fascism and Imperialism, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the American occupation, post-War unrest, and Japan’s rise as an economic power. Mizuki’s draftsmanship is extraordinary, rendering his personal history and Japan’s history in almost photorealistic drawing and in expressive cartoons. And his writing is almost transparent, smoothly presenting a tremendous amount of material that mixes the personal and the political, local and global, the supernatural and the mundane.
The Wicked & The Divine (Image) Kieron Gillen, writing; Jamie McKelvie, art.
The Wicked & Divine comes across as almost a sequel to Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram—books about people whose magical power derived from music. Pop music. Club music. But where Phonogram was a testament to the personal power of music and to a certain time in the London club scene, The Wicked & The Divine is more cosmic in scope. Every 90 years, gods return to earth. They live for three years, putting on amazing concerts, and then they die, only to return again 90 years later. This time, someone dies when the Bowie-esque Lucifer snaps her fingers, turning humans against the gods, and the gods against each other.
Velvet (Image) Ed Brubaker, writing; Steve Epting, drawing; Elizabeth Breitweiser, colors.
Velvet is almost the secret life of Miss Moneypenny, if Miss Moneypenny were framed for murder and, possibly, treason. She’s been working as the secretary to ARC-7′s director, she’s still a deadly field agent, and she uses all her skills to find out who framed her and why. After years of paperwork and dealing with flirtatious, hotshot agents, her colleagues underestimate Velvet, but only for a little while. If you’ve always wanted to discover that Miss Moneypenny has a secret life, you’ll probably like Velvet. As with Brubaker’s Fade-Out, Fatale, Criminal, and Incognito, it’s worth buying Velvet in single issues to get each issue’s closing essay.
Cold In July (2014) dir. Jim Mickle, starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepherd, Don Johnson, and Vinessa Shaw.
Richard (Hall), a husband, father, and framing store owner, shoots and kills a burglar in his home. When the burglar’s father, Ben (Shepherd), shows up at the funeral and threatens Richard very congenially, Cold In July seems like it will be a straightforward revenge thriller. Then the story doesn’t so much take a twist as it takes a turn and the next thing you know, Jim Bob (Johnson) is walking into Richard’s store looking to get a pin-up framed. The chemistry between Hall, Shepherd, and Johnson is fantastic and Don Johnson does some engaging and entertaining work with his character, Jim Bob. Cold In July might be my favorite movie of 2014. It’s based on a book by Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale, which always helps. Jim Mickle really comes into his own with Cold In July. The visuals are a nice blue and red homage to late Eighties film. The exposition isn’t overstated. And the soundtrack is almost perfect, and leaves some room for silence.
Snowpiercer (2014) dir. Bong Joon-ho, starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ko Ah-sung, John Hurt. . . and it’s probably best to go check IMDb.
Snowpiercer is a satisfying dystopian film serving as an allegory for general global inequality and state violence as well as a very particular criticism of South Korean politics and society. Curtis (Chris Evans) leads an uprising of the train’s tail end lumpenproletariat against the elite in the front of the train―with a little help from Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho). Bong Joon-ho is one of my favorite directors and he made two of my favorite films, The Host (2006) and Memories of Murder (2003). But while Snowpiercer is not as good as either, there are two things I love that put it on this list: Song Kang-ho and Bong Joon-ho’s idea of a “cinema republic.” I am so excited to see these actors working together in an adaptation of a French graphic novel shot in the Czech Republic with South Korean and American writers and producers, a British action choreographer, a Korean cinematographer, and a cast of fine actors from all over the world. It’s like Bong Joon-ho picked every every actor he ever wanted to work with and put them on a train hurtling toward the cinema republic. In a time with so many bland blockbusters inspiring bland imitations in global cinema (*cough* China’s bloated historical epics *cough*), Snowpiercer is just plain heartening.
The Duke Of Burgundy (2014) dir. Peter Strickland, starring Sidse Babette Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna.
An homage to the ”Eurosleaze” films of the 1960s and 1970s, The Duke of Burgundy quietly subverts its genre. Cynthia (Knudsen) and Evelyn (D’Anna), colleagues in the study of insects, explore their kinks in a small village. The film explores how fantasy is negotiated in relationships and how relationships, like D/s scenes and films, have their scripts. And I find it remarkable that a film focusing on formal film structure can be so warm and compassionate when so much formalism comes off as cold and misanthropic. (There is also “specially designed furniture” and mole crickets.)
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) dir. Gareth Evans; starring Iko Uwais, Arafin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Tio Pakusodewo, Oka Antara, Alex Abbad, Cecep Arif Rahman, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo.
The Raid 2 gives everyone all the amped-up fighting we were looking for, with brutal new twists: Hammer Girl (Estelle) fighting half a dozen yakuza brothers and killing them with her two claw hammers; an amazing karambit-carrying silat master (Cecep Arif Rahman); prison shivvings; and harrowing car stunts. But Raid 2 is much more of a thriller in the mould of John Woo’s Hardboiled (though without the whimsy) or Andy Lau’s Infernal Affairs. Rama (Iko) survives the events of The Raid only to go undercover in one of Jakarta’s most powerful gangs. Rama serves two years in prison to earn the trust of Uco (Arifin Putra), son of the gang’s boss. But things get complicated, as they always do. There’s another Jakarta gang plus the yakuza involved, and the police themselves might be setting Rama up. If you were curious, Mad Dog (Yayan) might not have survived that fluorescent tube through the throat, but Prakoso (Yayan) really seems to take after Mad Dog in terms of his skills and his singular focus on fucking people up.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014) dir. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement; starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Jackie Van Beek, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and Stu Rutherford.
Deacon, Viago, Vlad, and Peter are vampire roommates in Wellington, New Zealand. A documentary crew follows them as they deal with daily life, encounter stinky werewolves, make friends, try to get into Wellington’s clubs, and prepare for the annual Unholy Masquerade Ball, bringing the vampire, zombie, and witch communities of Wellington together. Who knew the undead community in Wellington was so active? Clever, fun, and hilarious.
Besides writing about comics for The Cultural Gutter and movies for various places, Carol Borden’s short story, “The Itch of Iron, The Pull of the Moon” was just published in Fox Spirit Books’ anthology, Drag Noir.
The songs on Croydon Municipal’s Popcorn Girls defy simple description. They range from R&B burners, to country tinged numbers, to Shangri-La’s-like teen tragedies. Their commonality? In the 1970s Belgian club scene, they were guaranteed floor fillers. There was a certain type of dance endemic of the time, a “slow swing” with a rather specific tempo. As a result, Popcorn Girls is a moody, stone-cold, slow groove from beginning to end.
I love punk rock, always have and always will. When I was younger I had a tough time fitting in because I was awkward. It took me a while to understand that I needed to be myself and people would accept that a lot more quickly than any alternatives. During my middle school years I became really good friends with some punks and they told me to just be myself because that would be best for me. Fred, Nick, Iggy, and Daniella accepted me for who I was, a nerd. Well, a pretty badass nerd.
With Lynsey de Paul having passed away and Noosha Fox now running a restaurant, we only have Suzi Quatro to keep the flame of female Anglo glamrock alive, and I can think of no one who deserves to be its queen more than her. For all the acknowledgement that mainstream music criticism has given her, acknowledgement which is so often denied to female artists, she barely seems to care that she has it. In Performing Glam Rock, Philip Auslander’s analysis of her subversion of the authenticity and masculinity of rock in both her gender performance and musical performance seemed almost too good to be true to me the first time I read it, and difficult to parse based on the German TV performances I knew of her. Only now, after hearing The Girl From Detroit City, do I realize that she’s really even beyond what he describes.
If, like me, your knowledge of New Zealand cinema is limited to Peter Jackson and Taika Waititi, then Housebound will both delight and surprise you. I went into Housebound with zero knowledge of the plot, but you should know that it’s essentially a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a red herring. Just when you think you’ve figured out what kind of movie it’s going to be, it turns into something else. Rather than being confusing, it makes the movie that much more fun to watch.
The Primitives have the distinction of creating—arguably—one of the top ten greatest “one hit wonder” singles of all time with their perfect ‘90s pop gem “Crash.” They’re back with Spin-O-Rama, their first album of entirely original material in 22 years. Fans of their brand of sunshine-infused, jangly guitar Power Pop will be thrilled with this new release.
Spin-O-Rama picks up the band’s sound precisely where they left off in all the right ways, combined with a Byrds-like and ‘60s garage band-tinged influence, along with hints of the Monkees. There is nothing here that quite hits the heights of their delightful earworm “Crash,” but the undeniably catchy single and title track “Spin-O-Rama” as well as shimmering upbeat tracks like “Lose the Reason” and “Petals” make up a solid album from start to finish. It should make old fans deliriously happy and create a large contingent of rabid converts.
Spin-O-Rama was released October 14 via Elefant Records.
By Tyler Hodg
In music, collaboration can often bring out the best in songwriters.The first offering from 3RDEYEGIRL features none other than Prince, who at this point is basically an honorary member of the band (4THEYEGIRLBOY?). Stylistically different than Art Official Age—Prince’s album featuring 3RDEYEGIRL which was released on the same day—Plectrumelectrum is a fairly straightforward rock album, with a few surprises sprinkled in. Ever wondered what Prince would sound with a hard rock band? Here’s your answer!
How does writing an album on piano differ from writing an album with a guitar? For an answer, listen to indie/neo-folk singer Jen Wood’s new album, Wilderness. While her previous releases had been written on guitar, Wilderness is piano based and as a result, even at its quietest and most intimate, has a massive, almost filmic quality. The songs are deep and moving and meaningful, chronicling the last several years of her life.
Dutch singer-songwriter Angela Moyra’s stateside debut album is bound to the ocean. A charming, sweet, throwback record, Fickle Island is full of tropical vibes and lyrical imagery, and the accompanying laid back rhythms. It’s a sometimes-delightful debut.
When the first Madeleine Peyroux album was released, I was managing a corporate store and gave her non-offensive easy jazz debut a lot of play. I remember thinking, “she’s got a nice voice, even if it is Billie Holiday’s.” She had the chops, but lacked emotional conviction. Since it was her debut I thought perhaps she would find her own artistic voice on her sophomore release.