Welcome back! There’s a lot of dour stuff going on out there, but let’s not focus on that. Each week you’ll find in this space a set of recommendations from our writers, ranging from TV and film to music and podcasts, or whatever else we might be into at the moment. These things may or may not be new to the world, but that’s not the point. What matters is what’s interesting, and what’s worth your time. This week’s entries include: The Great, Feel Good, Goodbye June, Lin Shaye, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, and a look at the Dune 4K disc release.
TV Recommendation: The Great
Paul Keelan: The Great is the funniest show on television that seemingly nobody’s watching. Well, somebody must be enjoying it. Season 2 has already been nominated for multiple awards this season, and was successful enough for Hulu to just renew for a Season 3. Nevertheless, in comparison to HBO’s recent pop-culture-pervading hits (Succession, Insecure, Euphoria), The Great feels overshadowed and underappreciated—with a scarcity of discourse, hype, and social media frenzy surrounding its releases.
The deafening sound of crickets it has received in the public sphere is a shame. Debuting in May of 2020, Season 1 was blasphemously funny—a rambunctiously satirical start to the sassy series. Season 2, released in November of 2021, really ramped up the ribaldry and fun. With a baby now in tow, we follow the Catherine the Great (Elle Fanning) as she navigates the fallout of her successful coup, misogynistic henchman and underlings, a multi-episode cameo by her overbearing mother (played devilishly by Gillian Anderson), a war-mongering general (Douglas Hodge as Velementov), a pedantic & fanatically-bureaucratic assistant (Sacha Dhawan as Orlo), a suspicious and horny archbishop (Adam Godley), and a spoiled/womanizing/fawning husband (Peter) who might love her or stealthily want to behead her—we never quite know.
With superb comedic timing and one of Hollywood’s most expressive moues, Elle Fanning is an absolute riot and bonafide star throughout. So is Nicholas Hoult, playing the wickedly hedonistic and irreverent Peter with the right mixture of smarmy, cloying, and dimwitted panache. Teeming with gender-defying subplots, crackling surprises, revisionist twists, carnal pleasures, pseudoscientific schemes, and bawdy subversions, creator Tony McNamara and his team of writers are perhaps the purest comedic writers working in ‘television’ today. Due to its stagey sitcom style of storytelling,The Great falls short of earning superlatives, but it more than lives up to its name—Huzzah!
Film Recommendation: Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood
Timothy Glaraton: There are an almost endless number of films out there inspired by the work of David Lynch. Ever since Eraserhead, his unmistakable style has spawned near countless imitators trying to emulate that unmatched feeling.
Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is not a film that could claim to be inspired by Lynch, coming out a full four years before Eraserhead, yet it is the most Lynch feeling film I have ever seen—minus the filmography of the man himself, of course.
Everything in this film feels like Lynch, or at least Lynch adjacent—again, despite coming out before Eraserhead had been unleashed on the world. The story is loosely framed around Vena Norris and her family finding work at a run-down carnival while trying to search for her missing brother Johnny, but it’s more of a suggestion than a strict narrative—supposedly, the script was mostly abandoned partway through filming in favor of becoming more of a surrealist tone poem.
What stands out instead are the bizarre, often beautiful sights and sounds. The centerpiece of Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is Vena’s nearly ten-minute, wordless odyssey through the world below the carnival, seemingly wandering freely back and forth between dreams and reality—not to hammer in the Lynch comparison too much, but this is also the only film or TV show besides The Return where I’ve seen closed captions that simply read out things like “discordant musical notes,” and the whole sequence reminds me of the first half Part 3 of The Return, where Cooper was trying to escape…wherever he was in Lodgespace…to try and get back to the real world, but combined with Eraserhead-esque sound design and an introduction by a knockoff of Mulholland Drive’s magician.
There are other, littler things that remind me of the more bizarre elements of that Lynchian feel. The carnival janitor who menaces Vena looks like a community theater performance of BOB. A dwarf delivers a cryptic warning to Vena that relates to a dream he had. It doesn’t completely nail the Lynch feel and isn’t as tightly constructed as any of his films, but for me at least it’s the next best thing to the real deal, and has quickly established itself near the top on my list of all time favorites.
Music Recommendation: Goodbye June
Steve Swift: They weren’t like this before. Well, somewhat, but not really like this. Goodbye June, rockers yes, but with some Led Zep in last long player Community Inn.
This EP, Stand and Deliver—does. Proudly. First class. And with so much dirt under the fingernails no brush could shift it. Plus an AC/DC riffing; this is phenomenal.
It comes from an album to be released next month and it might be something amazing, a 100 cigarettes a day and whiskey soaked gargle, a strutting attitude and all the leads hanging out.
Amazing work. Goodbye? Not with this quality.
Another TV Recommendation: Feel Good
Christopher Pilbeam: I feel I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I finally got around to watching Mae Martin’s Feel Good. In fact it’s so ridiculously enjoyable that me and a friend watched all of Season 1 in a single afternoon…I already knew of Mae Martin from their stand-up, and found that their writing and performance in Feel Good is as funny and unconventional-yet-relatable as I had come to expect. Their co-star Charlotte Ritchie is equally as charismatic—you’ll know her if you’ve seen BBC’s Ghosts.
Feel Good is a story about love and addiction, and the blurring of the line between the two. It’s also about queerness and the unique anxieties of same-sex couples, particularly as Mae begins questioning their gender identity. I have connected to this show on a personal level because Feel Good expresses things that I can’t recall ever seeing on screen—it is truly heartening and cathartic. Don’t let this show pass you by—I’m certainly glad I didn’t.
Alix Turner: I caught an odd little thriller last night; Room for Rent, directed by Tommy Stovall. It’s about an elderly woman, played by Lin Shaye, whose sense of boundaries and decorum gets somewhat hazy when she loses her husband and takes the opportunity to reshape her life…by which I mean she becomes a little unhealthily obsessive. It’s not a brilliant film, but it’s both thought provoking and entertaining: it’s the kind of film that would have been given a more viciously humorous tone (and in an “exploitation” way) in earlier decades, like Frightmare or Troma’s Mother’s Day. Perhaps these days it’s better to be scared of “crazy old ladies”, rather than make fun of them. So clearly I’ve got mixed feelings about the film, but I found Shaye’s portrayal of her character to be incredibly believable and I figured it’s time to give her a little shout out.
Lin Shaye played supporting film roles for many years; she may be better known for her horror roles (I have some affection for Dead End), but she can also be found in several Walter Hill and Farrelly brothers titles too. Then in 2011, Shaye played medium Elise in the horror film Insidious; still a supporting role, but one which gave her such attention that as the series went on, her character became more prominent. Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key and indeed Room for Rent are truly Lyn Shaye’s films; and about time! She will be 80 years old very soon, and although the talent has been evident in earlier films, it only seems to be in recent decades that she is given demanding parts. In the last two films I saw her in (The Call and Room for Rent) she gave the sensitive and nuanced depiction of an aging personality that would normally be at home in serious dramas, rather than genre fare. Whether screaming, grieving or fighting back, this remarkable star shows no sign of slowing down and her fan base keeps growing too.
Dune 4K Disc Release
Don Shanahan: Leading much of the charge this January on the physical release front is Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction tentpole Dune. The 4K and Blu-ray combo pack hit store shelves on January 11th, right in time for a second wave of exposure for an Oscar season awards push for Warner Bros. While the film fashions itself as a gigantically-scaled epic, the disc offerings are much less than epic in returns.
Before we get to the diminishing returns, the main piece of meat, namely the film itself, comes through just fine with the 4K presentation. The picture and sound characteristics meet True 4K Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital levels that glow and boom on fine home theater setups. A blockbuster with this much technical prowess behind its construction was never going to be diminished or lost when it came to its physical media release. If all you need is the film itself, you’re getting it at its best possible levels.
However, if you’re looking for a richer experience or, for those who were a little lost with the mythic gobbledygook of Frank Hebert’s adapted lore, a more informative batch of companion features to boost your knowledge and understanding, this Dune edition is more of backyard sandbox than any vast continental desert. You’ll see on its plain Jane menus that there are, by headcount, nearly 20 little featurettes when most movies give you a half-dozen.
There’s the tease. The problem is the “little” part. When you add them up, they combine to only last the package-advertised line of “nearly an hour” of special features. Simple math gives you an average of five minutes per item and, yes, they feel exactly that miniscule.
The longest one of the bundle is “The Royal Houses” running eight minutes. It’s an edited go-around of the cast and filmmakers talking about Dune’s characters and story. Essentially, as with many featurettes these days, it’s famous people actor-splaining the story like a school book report in their director chair setups to prove they did the reading. It’s a basic who’s who and what’s what backed by montages of behind-the-scenes footage.
Other featurettes do what they can in their short bursts to celebrate selected production aspects and give some of the under-the-tile collaborators like production designer Patrice Vermette, costume designers Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West, composer Hans Zimmer, and the small armies covering makeup and special effects a sliver of spotlight. The most chummy of those include key cast members Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin gushing about the preparation and execution of fight choreographer Roger Yuan in making everyone look like badasses. Beyond that, some featurettes are merely narrated infographics that look like something someone would click on a museum or mall kiosk. Again, they’re nothing substantial.
By the time you add in zero commentary tracks from writer/director Denis Villeneuve, those aforementioned co-creators, or any of the stellar cast, even a completist’s 50-odd minute sitdown for a film this massive feels like deflating missed opportunity and unsatisfying intellectual experience. Something like Dune should be getting The Lord of the Rings treatment of deep dives into its production processes and artistic feats. Maybe they’re saving up a big compendium for the Part 2 conclusion in a few years, but I wouldn’t hold my sand or my breath.
What are you into this week? Let us know in the comments!