by Steve Messick
2012 is over, we are less than a hundred years away from the future that the Rush album foretold, (now that the Mayans' prophesy has been deep-sixed). So, let's take this opportunity to take a thankful look back at the year that was-uz-uz-uz.
1. Mitt losing.
Thank fucking God! The only scary (but funny ironic thing) was that 47% of the voting population thought this ... this ... "Mitt" was capable of being anything more than an assistant manager of Staples, (and not a particularly cool one at that). I won't have to hear from chirpy li'l punk-ass beltway pundits how the "Libruls" just don't "get it." Marginal sanity, (even though Obama is effectively an '80s Republican) prevails.
3. The CFL.
With the Ravens fans being unbelievably spoiled bastards, and being indignant about not being a first seed, it's important to remember how many post-season starved towns are out there, just look at the fervor just south of us, where the owner finally found a truffle. It's also important to remember to be thankful for the CFL and the scare it put in the NFL to get Baltimore a team before they lost that market. If not for the CFL ???, we'd still be getting talks about demographics while Cleveland got a new team when Modell moved to L.A.
4. The O's in the playoffs!
Wow, what a season, gotta admit, I was doing a count down to 81 wins to snap the streak of consecutive losing seasons, all yours Pittsburgh!
5. The Westboro Baptists
Wha? Yep! I'm still not completely convinced they are not secretly gay rights advocates. They are the perfect foil! Tying homophobia to metaphorically pissing on the troops? No one on the left has ever done something like that in my lifetime, any conversation with someone that is against marriage equality starts out w/ the line, "look, I'm not one of those crazy Westboro Baptists...". Thank you hatuz!
6. The Teabaggers
Without these idiots the Senate would probably be Republican, and the Mittbot would be running things. So glad the 'baggers insist on having the otherwise middle of the road talkin' candidates parroting the insane right wing drivel in order to get through the primaries. Hey GOP, there's a lot of non-inspiring phony-ass, but sane-talking Dems that would have been beaten if you weren't forced into almost-rubbing-shit-in-your-hair crazy! Thanks, Teabaggers! Hilarious name and just more of the gift that keeps giving!
7. Aging Supreme Court Justices
We are very close to getting back a 5-4 sane majority, start sending Scalia cheesecakes, fancy nacho dip, and cigars, know what? fuck it! Send him percocets, bourbon, and hookers! As many as possible as fast as possible!
9. Atomic Books
Yeah, this sounds like sucking up, fine, but there are so many cool things that go on there, sponsored by them, etc., etc. Think how less cool Baltimore would be without it. We have a book store that stands up to any "cool" store anywhere.
10. My kids getting into D&D.
Sweet! It's a proven fact that one touch of a twenty-sided dice, means you won't get to kiss a girl for at least five years. I won't be a grandfather until at they're out of high school. Now if I can just get them into Star Trek.
by Max Robinson
1. Daredevil by Mark Waid. Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin
2. Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison, Yannick Paquette, Chris Burnham and others
3. Prophet by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Giannis Milonogiannis
4. Hulk: Season One by Fred Van Lente and Tom Fowler
5. Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
6. Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales
7. American Barbarian by Tom Scioli
8. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
9. Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke
10. Godzilla: The Half Century War by James Stokoe
by Sarah Pinsker
Favorite Fiction of 2012 in three mini-lists:
1. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
This is a hideously beautiful, harrowing work of imagination. It's hard to tell which atrocities come from the mind of the writer and which are real. It illuminates a North Korea that seems all too real, while telling the story of a man whose feats of survival would turn him into a folk hero in any other context. Jun Do chooses his own identity from the beginning. Is he ever told he's the orphan master's son, or does he assume it because he gets the worst punishment? Which stories that he tells himself are true, and which are true enough to get him through the situation he faces? He plays many roles in this novel, some of which he chooses and some of which he is forced into. Through all of it, there is a theme of the stories people tell to get themselves through harsh realities. From early in the novel the protagonist is shown the machinery behind the magic. He harbors no illusions. That and his identity as the lowest of the low - an orphan, or a perceived orphan - allow him to what it takes to achieve his goals and maintain his own code of honor. In doing so, he attains mythic status himself. Only he and the reader are privy to the true story, and even that story is subject to question. This one's going to stick with me for a while.
2. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan
Imp is a fabulous, fascinating narrator. She explains in the opening chapter that she has schizophrenia. This makes the entire story suspect. What is truth? What is fact? Is it possible for something to be true without being factual? Two of Imp's own short stories become chapters of the book, but they are part of her own processing of reality. Her ghost story is peppered with references to paintings and painters and writers who may or may not exist. The lines seem sharply drawn at first but blur as the piece goes on, particularly whenever Imp's mental health deteriorates. This is a brave, bizarre, poetic, confusing, haunting book.
3. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
This is a poignant fictionalized autobiography. It chronicles the ways the author/protagonist's life changed after the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia. At first I thought the language a little flowery and overwrought, but it gradually came to represent the lush beauty of the country, in contrast to the atrocities taking place. The author has written a beautiful tribute to her lost family members, and to everyone killed during the violent changes in her birth country.
4. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall: A Novel by Nancy Kress
This novel is pretty much summed up by the title. As always with apocalyptic books, and especially near-future ones, I was terrifically disturbed by the premise. Kress did a great job of weaving timelines and characters. I loved the structure; she managed to create suspense despite telling us the (almost) end right in the title. She is a master of structure and pacing, and she literally wrote the book on beginnings and endings. A moving cautionary tale.
Anthologies and Collections:
1. The Unreal & the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin (two volumes)
My parents have all of Ms. Le Guin's books, including every previous collection, and I grew up reading her stories. When I bought these at Atomic in December I planned to read them all again in Ms. Le Guin's curated order. I haven't made it through yet. I have them by my bed, and I'm reading one story every night, except sometimes I go back and reread one from the night before or the night before that. 'Cause here's the thing: these are GREAT stories. I notice something new every time.
If you had asked me about "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" I would have said yeah, yeah, I've read it a million times. That's the story with the beautiful city hiding an ugly secret about how they can have their happiness as long as they keep a child caged and abused beneath the city. And sure, that is what it's about, exactly as I remembered from reading it in 8th grade. I wasn't expecting to be absolutely floored by the language, the way I was this time. The first sentence is exquisite: "With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city. Omelas, bright-towered by the sea." The early passages of the story are poetry in prose. Then, as the narration turns to the child, the words close down like a prison. They become ugly, harsh, oppressive. I didn't remember any of that from reading this as a kid. The other stories are like that too, revealing new prizes and new challenges on my return.
2. Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin
Beautifully written. I often find my interest in a collection flagging if I read it in a straight shot, but these stories held my attention from beginning to end.
3. Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury (anthology)
The timing of this book might make you think that it's some hastily compiled posthumous tribute to Bradbury. Not so. The loving introduction and the even more loving opening essay by Bradbury himself show that this was meant as a living tribute. And it's excellent. The Kelly Link ghost-stories-on-a-spaceship story is beautifully done. There are a number of stories by authors I wasn't really familiar with that I would count among my favorites here: "Children of the Bedtime Machine," by Robert McCammon; "Young Pilgrims," by Joe Meno; "The Companions," by David Morrell; "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain," by Joe Hill.
At museums, I often get so distracted by the great text on the walls that I forget about the works themselves. I like the sculpture, but I like it even more in conjunction with the story of how it is the only sculpture that its maker ever made, carved out of a log of applewood that he found in the woods on the grounds of the asylum. The notes that accompany these stories are like that. I particularly like that there are multiple writers in the anthology who describe having written to Mr. Bradbury at a young age and getting personal responses. This is a quality anthology that shows the depth and breadth of Mr. Bradbury's influence on contemporary fiction.
4. Near + Far by Cat Rambo
Two excellent collections under one binding. It's a clever conceit: one collection of near future SF, one collection of far future SF, bound back to back. Flip the book over for a whole second set of stories. The gimmick wouldn't be worth anything if the stories didn't hold up, so it's a good thing that they do. Cat Rambo's fiction runs the gamut from character-based to tech-based, with all of the stories grounded in her clear and lovely prose.
Most of my favorites were on the Near side, including "Peaches of Immortality," "Ms. Liberty Gets A Haircut," "Memories of Moments, Bright as Falling Stars," and "Long Enough and Just So Long." "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain" is my favorite on the Far side, and they all get bonus points for great titles as well.
5. Astray by Emma Donahue
I've never read Donoghue's longer fiction, but I love her stories. In this collection, as in The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories, she includes detailed story notes. Each piece jumps off from a news clipping or other factual source. It's great fun to try to figure out what the grain of truth is inside each work of fiction. Most of the stories are somewhat bittersweet; after all, who makes the news? A few are from the other type of news, surprising deceptions carried out on an individual or group. I did feel a bit of distance from most of the stories, even as I enjoyed them, but a few were very moving, particularly those in the last section of the book. The last story in particular - the only one set in the latter half of the twentieth century - had a very Alice Munro feel to it, a comparison I consider to be a high compliment.
All the Flavours by Ken Liu (Published February 1st 2012 by giganotosaurus.org)
A well developed, evocative novella that nests stories of the Chinese God of War within a story about a mining town in the 19th century American west.
by Benn Ray
This year saw an amazing array of worthwhile reads. Despite the desperate e-reader hype, more books I want to read came out this year than I was able to find time to get to. And 2013 already seems to be following that trend as the ever-growing stack of books next to my bed can attest to.
As a result, this list is simply the best of the books I was able to read
So regardless of e-book propaganda to the contrary - publishing is very much alive and well and seemingly flourishing.
1. My Friend Dahmer by Derf
Derf's graphic biography of a high school age Jeffrey Dahmer is also as much an autobiography as it is a study in the creepy teen isolation of the suburban '70s. Dahmer was a psychopath - so that means his brain doesn't function like yours or mine. That is unchangeable. But at the same time, it is fascinating how much red-flag type behavior was overlooked by the adults. This is Derf's masterwork. If you liked Charles Burns' Black Hole, you'll like My Friend Dahmer.
2. Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson
This collection of Jon Roson's shorter pieces are everything from wonderfully hilarious to heart-breakingly sad - sometimes at the same time. A bloated Robbie Williams becomes obsessed with alien abductions. Ronson takes a James Bond road trip but just feels embarrassed by the car. But perhaps the most brilliantly poignant is the story where he interviews Artificial Intelligence robots. When Ronson asks one AI if it wishes it has legs it responds, "Why? Where would I go?" Ugh.
3. Barrel Of Monkeys by Florent Ruppert / Jérôme Mulot
This French comic is mean. Mean and vicious. And very, very funny. A couple of photographers behaving badly in a series of situations connected by an interesting narrative device and peppered with fascinating "mechanical" type spherical drawings that, if they could spin would look like animation.
4. Best of Punk by John Holstrom
Collecting the best of the legendary Punk Magazine - the MAD magazine of punk rock - the magazine that gave name to a lasting genre of music. Complete with backstory insider goodness - Best Of Punk belongs on every bookshelf of anyone who claims to love the punk rock.
5. The End Of The Fucking World by Chuck Forsman (comics series)
This series of minis features a young couple on the run, a classic comics-strip illustration style and psychopathia. 14 installments, each for a buck a pop. This title is also the vanguard of a mini-publishing empire of more excellent $1 mini comics than one can keep up with. The End Of The Fucking World makes a great pairing with Derf's My Friend Dahmer.
6. Animal Man by Jeff Lemire / various (comics series)
Lemire is a rare duck - he's one of those comics writers who is not only capable of writing and drawing his own excellent alternative comics (Underwater Welder), but also delivering quality mainstream superhero comics. But Animal Man isn't your typical mainstream character. Years ago, Animal Man was spun off into the then-flourishing Vertigo Universe - a sort of comics for grownups imprint from DC Comics. Back then Grant Morrison was doing interesting and weird things with oddball characters like Doom Patrol. But now, DC seems intent on burying the Vertigo Universe, forcing adult and odd characters awkwardly back into their superhero universe and Lemire is as much up for the challenge as Morrison was. Sure, Lemire might not be a psychedelic mind-fuck like Morrison, but the nightmare of the Rotworld (paired perfectly with Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing) is an intensely surreal horror story that seems to just keep spinning out larger and larger.
7. Batman by Scott Snyder/various (comics series)
When DC rebooted with their "New 52", I dropped all the Batman titles I'd been reading because they'd reshuffled the creative teams and I wasn't much interested anymore. Then I kept hearing about how good Snyder's Batman was, so I picked up an issue to see for myself, and it's true. Snyder's Batman is a quality horrorshow. The "Court of the Owls" storyarc was an interesting tale of a possible Wayne brother, reanimated corpses, a secret society and a villain finally worthy of the Batman. Then, "Death of the Family" follows that. The Joker returns with his decomposing, fly-riddled face, previously removed by another villain, now tied to his head and a new determination to utterly decimate the Bat family. Snyder's Joker clearly conveys all the gravitas that's been given to that character over the years. His is the dismembered face of pure anarchistic horror. Quality Batman!
8. Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder/various (comics series)
Snyder's Swamp Thing continues to be a joy ... well, given the horrible nature of the stories that might not be the best word ... to read. The fact that I am actually interested in a post-Alan Moore Swamp Thing comic (for my money, Swamp Thing is the best of Alan Moore's work) makes me so happy that every month a new issue comes in, I immediately snatch up a copy and tear through it. Really, Swamp Thing needs to be read in conjunction with Animal Man.
9. So Say The Waiters Vol. 1 by Justin Sirois
Sirois' novel is just screaming to be optioned. Developers create an app that allow players to be kidnapped and it takes off like wildfire. There's the thrill of being taken, of surrendering - it's electrifying. Plus So Say The Waiters is one of those rare books where the setting also feels like a character. This is the first installment in a series too, so there's more fun to come.
10. Dial H by China Mieville/various (comic series)
One of the few successes from the second wave of DCs new 52 is sort of an example of what more mainstream comics should be doing. Here's the formula - you take a talented non-comics writer - you give them a character that may seem dated, ridiculous our somehow nonsensical (yes, this could apply to every superhero) and tell them to go to town, In its heyday - that's what made the Vertigo comics line, under the flagship of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, so good. But as I said above, DC seems determined to bury Veritgo, and Dial H remains in the regular superhero universe (with all its limitations). The story is about a dial that each time it's used dials a new hero that the dialer transforms into. The new and constant flow of weirdo heros is funny - and there's also the conspiracy closing in on the dial holders - it's all so much fun. Look, if you can find it, pick up Dial H #6 and see if you don't think that story - of dialing a racially "insensitive" hero - doesn't deserve an Eisner Award.
Top Ten Cocktails Drunk at Chez Mordo, 2012
We drink cocktails every evening at Chez Mordo (my house). I like to try as many different cocktail recipes as I can reasonably afford the ingredients for. There are several that stand out and have become favorites of mine and Fra Mordo’s. Some are highballs, some are cocktails. Listed in order of frequency and quantity consumed.
1. Gin and Tonic
Old reliable, never fails to refresh. Typical house gin is either Beefeater or Citadelle, depending on which is on sale at Wine Source. House recipe begins with 2 oz. gin in a 12 oz glass filled with ice. Big squeeze of lime wedge, top up with tonic, usually 365 brand or Canada Dry. Good for what ails the body and mind.
2. Rye and Limonata
I’m a big fan of rye from all sorts of distillers but the house brand is Pikesville. I make this in the same proportions as a G&T with a big squeeze of lemon wedge, top up with San Pellegrino Limonata. So tasty, so simple!
3. Richmond Gimlet
This is a recipe from one of my favorite blogging bartenders, Jeffrey Morgenthaler. This is a summertime favorite at Chez Mordo when the mint patch threatens to overtake the front yard. 2 oz. gin, 1 oz. freshly-squeezed lime juice, a handful of fresh spearmint leaves. Shake hard with plenty of ice so that the mint is a bit shredded and makes a nice confetti when you strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. God damn it, that’s a fine cocktail!
As much a ritual as it is a refreshment, I like a standard recipe of 2 oz. rye, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, one dash of Angostura bitters. Stir with ice for about 30 seconds, strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. Garnish with a Luxardo maraschino cherry. Bulleit 95 Small-Batch Rye has become my go-to rye for a Manhattan but Pikesville rye makes a fine drink too.
This is such a delightful cocktail, the only thing that keeps it from being my most-favored is how pricey Chartreuse is. 1.5 oz. cognac, .75 oz. Chartreuse, .5 oz. freshly-squeezed lemon juice, one dash orange bitters. Stir with plenty of ice for at least 30 seconds, strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel. Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Élysées!
6. Greenpoint Cocktail
This lovely variation on a Manhattan is best enjoyed with a high-proof rye whiskey like Rittenhouse or Wild Turkey 101. 2 oz. rye, .5 oz. Chartreuse, .5 oz. Punt e Mes vermouth. Stir with plenty of ice for 30 seconds, strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
7. French Gimlet
St-Germain is fascinating liqueur; its flavors are a challenge to combine with many spirits. The French gimlet is, to my palate, the most successful use of St-Germain, especially with Hendrick’s gin. 2 oz. gin, 1 oz. St-Germain, .5 oz. freshly-squeezed lime juice. Shake with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled 4oz. cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lime peel. Enjoy and “consult your mirror and evince your best gimlet-eyed stare.”
8. Casino Cocktail
This drink made a late run in 2012 for a spot on this list. Most recipes call for Old Tom gin but I find a London dry to be more than serviceable. Luxardo Maraschino is such a fascinating liqueur and the Casino plays it well. 2 oz. gin, .75 oz. freshly-squeezed lemon juice, .5 oz. Maraschino liqueur, one dash orange bitters. Shake gently and strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. Garnish with a Luxardo or other quality cherry.
9. Toronto Cocktail
The Toronto takes advantage of unique flavors of Fernet Branca amaro in yet another variation on the Manhattan from our brethren in Canadia. 2 oz. Canadian whiskey or rye, .25 oz. Fernet Branca, .25 oz. simple syrup, two dashes Angostura bitters. Stir with plenty of ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel. Frisky!
10. Diamondback Cocktail
This recipe was also a late-2012 discovery, otherwise it might have been enjoyed more frequently at Chez Mordo. Created at the Diamondback Lounge in the late Lord Baltimore hotel. 2 oz. rye, .5 oz applejack or other apple brandy, .5 oz. yellow Chartreuse. Stir with plenty of ice for 30 seconds, strain into a chilled 4 oz. cocktail glass. Cheers, hon!
Enjoy these fine drinks responsibly and as ever, drink them while they’re still laughing at you.
Resurrected: Top 12 Reissues, Reprints, and Restorations of 2012
by Eric Hatch
A lot of thrilling cultural items came into this world over the past twelve months. But my 2012 experience was equally defined by books, records, and films that were lovingly restored and reissued—or, in a few cases, discovered and given their first proper release. Here’s a dozen that I can’t get out of my head.
THE DEVIL, PROBABLY
Robert Bresson is that rare filmmaker whose career spanned five decades, yet whose fiercest, darkest visions came late in life. This 1977 film, Bresson’s second to last, was made when the director was 76 years old, but feels like the work of an angry young man. Long unavailable on home video and brilliant from first shot to last, its portrait of the stormy revolutionary energies of its time brings to mind Fassbinder and punk rock more than it does the classic French cinema in which Bresson has his roots.
DONNIE AND JOE EMERSON: DREAMIN’ WILD
Look at the goofy cover to this late-70s, rural-Washington record, made in a home studio by teenaged brothers. Now look past it, and listen. From dreamy post-Beach Boys harmonic pop to harder-edged psych and basement funk, this record (thankfully) sounds nothing like its dollar-bin cover—except, perhaps, in the whiff of wide-eyed rock-and-roll wonder shared by both. The standout track on Ariel Pink’s 2012 release Mature Themes, “Baby,” has its original, superior version here, and that’s a solid point of reference for this bafflingly great, ahead-of-its time record.
HEY CABBIE by THADDEUS LOGAN
When I first moved to Baltimore in the mid-‘90s, my roommate and I discovered this endlessly intriguing time capsule, self-published in 1984 by vice-cop-turned-cab-driver Thaddeus Logan. In an inimitable voice that mixes cop-speak with sophisticated wry humor and street smarts, Logan gives us the real deal about Baltimore neighborhoods and night life 30 years ago. I rank this alongside David Simon’s Homicide (the book) and John Waters’ films and essays of the period as the best documents of Baltimore in the 1980s. For years I gave away each copy I came across as gifts to friends, ending up without one myself right around the time they became highly ebayable, so I couldn’t be more excited that it’s back in print (alongside a promising new sequel I haven’t yet cracked open).
HIGH RISE by J.G. BALLARD
I’d long been hungry to read this out-of-print J.G. Ballard novel, which describes the descent of an ultra-modern apartment tower into Lord of The Flies-esque, Cronenberg-worthy chaos and violence. For my money this disturbing 1975 volume, which you could read in one immensely pleasurable evening, is the best thing Ballard ever wrote.
ALFONSO LOVO: LA GIGANTONA
This one’s a grower. The most obvious sonic comparison for this Nicaraguan Latin jazz record, unreleased for forty years, is early Santana—a reference, I know, unlikely to fire up the imagination of the average Shank reader. But the more youlisten, the more you notice how exceptional the arrangements and production are here, with stabs of R+B horns melting into bubbles of psychedelic dissonance and hypnotic folk melodies, producing an almost dub-like kitchen-sink effect. Santana, maybe: but think Santana sitting in with early Earth, Wind and Fire as produced by the Os Mutantes crew, and you’re a lot closer to this record’s unique sound.
ON THE BOWERY
One of the finest organizations in film preservation and re-release is Milestone Films, a dedicated couple (in life and business) who for 22 years have uncovered and restored such essential, truly independent works as Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep; Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles; and Shirley Clarke's The Connection and Ornette: Made in America. Recently they’ve turned their attention to maverick filmmaker Lionel Rogosin, who gave the world two exceptional features: the Apartheid-defying Come Back, Africa, which we screened within Maryland Film Fest 2012, and this amazing, no-holds-barred look at seedy New York in the 1950s. While it’s not strictly a documentary, Rogosin’s on-location, amateur-cast fictions retain more of the grit, grime, and passion of real life than any documentary could.
PERSONAL SPACE: ELECTRONIC SOUL 1974-1984
I love the focus of this compilation: post-Shuggie Otis soul, disco, and funk music that exploded out of the technological advances in, and affordability of, home studios in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some of these songs have a naive or even novelty aspect to them, but this isn’t one of those compilations of oddball “outsider” music that favors quirkiness over listenability. Quite the contrary, the sleek cuts selected sound as professional and exciting as many big-budget electro productions of the time. These four imaginative sides of vinyl didn’t leave my turntable for several weeks, and work equally well on a lively Friday night or mellow Sunday afternoon.
When asked to name my favorite film of all time, here’s my answer: this 1981 psychedelic horror masterpiece by Andrzej Żuławski, as cinematically soaring as anything from Kubrick, as labyrinthine as anything from Lynch, and as deviant as anything from Fassbinder. In anticipation of its long-overdue theatrical re-release, I collected short written tributes to Possession by filmmakers and noted Baltimoreans.
ECCENTRIC SOUL: A
RED, BLACK, AND GREEN PRODUCTION
Knowing that both Baltimore and DC had active jazz and soul scenes in those genre’s golden eras, I’ve been frustrated with how obscure the music of those regional scenes has remained. This excellent double-LP compilation of ‘70s soul and funk from producer R. Hosea Williams’s Silver Spring, Maryland studio is a welcome step toward fixing that. Expertly compiled by Numero Group, who vie with Light in the Attic for the title of the Criterion Collection of the vinyl reissue game, this is an important and deeply soulful collection.
WAKE IN FRIGHT
The tastemakers over at Alamo Drafthouse, who show me a good time each year within the SXSW Film Festival, are branching out into repertory-film distribution. This first (I believe) restoration project from them, a deranged Australian tale of dropping out of society (“The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence” – Nick Cave), is a stunnner. With enough drinking to make Bukowski look like Mary Poppins, this lost talisman of addiction and nihilism is a bad trip indeed--and a real gift to lovers of uncompromising ‘70s cinema.
WENDY RENE: AFTER LAUGHTER COMES TEARS
For collectors of Southern soul, this is perhaps the most exciting release of the year. Wendy Rene is best known for a handful of singles on Memphis’ sister labels Stax and Volt, most notably the party hit “Bar-B-Q” and the moody title track to this compilation (famously sampled by RZA on the first Wu-Tang Clan album). About half her released output has been hard to track down for decades, and the other half has sat unreleased in the vaults. For the first time we now have a complete collection from one of the greatest voices in ‘60s soul, and it’s uniformly excellent.
WORLD ON A WIRE
The third and final Fassbinder reference on my 2012 list is a hefty work by the man himself, given the much-deserved Criterion treatment. This glorious madman left behind 40+ films in his 17 or so years of activity before dying at age 37. Here we have one of a handful of his films that never previously had a home-video release, a two-part conceptual sci-fi movie made for German television. One of the earliest and most compelling works by anyone to deal with virtual reality, it also ranks among my single favorite filmmaker’s most diabolical and thought-provoking.
by Howard Yang
by Benn Ray
Television continues to thrive as a dominant artistic medium. I mean, I have to force myself to the theaters to keep up with new movie releases, but TV - there simply isn't enough time to keep up with all the worthwhile television that I'm curious about, and I simply don't have enough money to keep up with all the pay channels with quality original programming.
Oh well, there's always the fun of trying to catch up in the off season.
There were a few shows I got behind on that I didn't catch up with until after the year ended (like Breaking Bad) that would have made the list.
On the plus side for folks who loathe such things, it seems to me the appeal of reality tv is finally starting to wane.
1. Republican Primaries/2012 Election (all channels)
This election season was the best reality show ever aired. The Republican slate of would-be Presidents was so horribly inept - it was hard to believe this was the cream of the crop of the Republican Party. And while it was hilarious watching Herman Cain and Rick Perry, it was also tragic - that one of these assmonkeys got so close to the Presidency. But it wasn't just the Republican primaries - it was also the election season in general that was brilliant. A Republican Party ripping itself apart. A Republican Party showing its true face to stunned and repulsed American voters. A Republican Party that introduced phrases like "legitimate rape" into our cultural lexicon. And it had the perfect ending - Republicans freaking out because they had bought the false reality they themselves had constructed - that Mitt Romney - a candidate they didn't even like - was going to win the Presidency and soon, very soon, it would be War in Iran, forced transvaginal ultrasounds for everyone, no more social security, no health care, and an unregulated corporatocracy that somehow was also theological? Instead, America said, "Naw, we'd rather have another 4 years of the secret Muslim, atheist, America-hating, European-style socialist, black guy."
3. Downton Abbey (BBC)
On paper, there is nothing about this upstairs/downstairs Masterpiece classic that would appeal to me. But I can't get enough. I had no idea missing dress shirts and choosing the wrong stemware for supper could be so stressful. I think the thing that confuses me the most about the show, in a good way, is that I almost entirely agree with the politics of the Branson, the Irish son-in-law, but at the same time I keep thinking "Must he be so boorish?"
And then I think, "When do I use words like 'boorish'?"
And then I think, "Damn you, Downton Abbey!"
4. Girls (HBO)
Lena Dunham takes what could result, in lesser hands, as a bad How To Make It In America / Sex In The City mash-up and instead makes a statement as a possible voice of her generation - self-absorbed, self-mocking, and completely funny. The fact that there is a lot of belly-aching about "entitled white girl issues" actually makes me like the show even more.
5. Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)
This bizarre, post-apocalyptic kids cartoon is the best thing Cartoon Network has done in years. The fact that it's outside the parameters of their increasingly cartoon-free "Adult Swim" brand doesn't actually bode well for their adult programming. This cartoon is pure magic - and its ever-expanding mythology is shockingly bleak and heart-breaking - on an adult level - while the fun and joy is still there on the kids' level.
6. Walking Dead (AMC)
Walking Dead continues to improve dramatically after replacing show creator Frank Darabont. To be fair, the arrival of Michonne and the Governor's story arc in the comic series were especially inspired and compelling - so you'd have to try really hard to mess that shit up.
8. The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Perhaps the most brilliant political satirist of our age. Colbert makes you laugh and fills you with anger at the same time. And he never has to result to "punching the hippie" to make himself feel "balanced" like his Comedy Central compatriot, Jon Stewart.
9. Supernatural (WB)
I came to this show late (it's already in its 8th season and burned through all 8 in like 3 weeks). It's Route 66 meets Night Stalker meets X-Files meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer. 2 brothers are hunters - cursed with hunting the demons and beasts that are very real and that feed on the rest of us while crisscrossing the country in (usually) a hot rod and listening to classic rock. There's a war between Heaven and Hell (but not in a lame Christian sort of way - more like in a sectarian good vs. evil/classic Vertigo Comics sort of way - there's even an angel based on the comics character Constantine). With Ben Edlund (The Tick) as a producer and sometimes writer, the show is appropriately self-aware and often as funny as it is as scary, dark and gory.
10. Small Town Security (AMC)
This "reality" show is centered around a small town security company comprised of oddballs. This feels exactly like the reality show John Waters might make, if he made a reality show.
14. Veep (HBO)
HBO's political sitcom about a hapless Vice President is an endless stream of humiliation. It's also fun to watch any number of Baltimore locales (like The Ottobar) stand-in for DC locations.
16. Community (NBC)
This sitcom worked best when it spiraled off from reality - which it usually did. It was so odd, weird, and funny that it actually redeemed Chevy Chase's career of assholedness - that is until his assholedness helped wreck the show.
18. Newsroom (HBO)
This Sorkin-created HBO media drama is a modern combination of Network and Broadcast News. The fact that the mainstream media responded with contempt reveals that they felt spanked - and let's face it - these are the same folks who still haven't apologized for selling us on invading Iraq and are still trying to tell us that our "debt" is the problem. Jeff Daniels is far more likeable than Tom Browkaw - upon whom his character seems to be based.
BEST MOVIES OF 2012
by MAX ROBINSON
1. Django Unchained
2. The Master
4. The Dark Knight Rises
7. Moonrise Kingdom
9. The Avengers
BEST MOVIES OF 2012
by Howard Yang
The Raid Redemption
The House I live In
Searching for Sugar Man
the first 2/3 of The Man With Iron Fists
The Cabin in the Woods
The Dark Knight Rises
Jiro Dreams of Sushi