One of the Watership Down maps from Plotted

Henson Rarities YouTube channel

Thank heavens for the VHS junkie, the VCR jockey, and the other nonprofessional, copyright-flouting cultural archivists preserving the not-so-recent, videotaped past on the internet. In the highly specialized field of Muppet preservation, there’s no more valuable public resource than Henson Rarities, a YouTube channel overseen by artist, writer, and filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist. Gilchrist has pulled hours and hours of Jim Henson- and Muppet-related footage from video-cassette sources, keeping commercially unavailable odds and ends like The Muppets Go To The Movies, The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show, and The Jim Henson Hour (the last of which proved handy for me on a recent assignment) in circulation. In addition to pulling Sam And Friends and Muppet Inc.’s anarchic advertising work back from broadcast oblivion, the channel also collects material that didn’t make it to air, like the pilot presentation for Handmade Video (a proto-reality show starring, among others, Dana Gould) or video footage from Henson’s 1991 memorial service in New York. Putting aside the ghoulish and voyeuristic subtext of the latter, the memorial service does serve as a testament to the amount of joy, kindness, and humor that Henson put out into the world—then again, that’s the takeaway from nearly every video on Henson Rarities. [Erik Adams]

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Plotted: A Literary Atlas

This stunningly illustrated collection of maps by Andrew DeGraff, all of which are inspired by literary classics, from Homer’s “Odyssey” to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” allows readers a unique look at their favorite fictional worlds. Mine happens to be the center spread, “The Whale,” which visually details the anatomy of Herman Melville’s white whale in Moby Dick and compares its enormousness to that of the largest recorded sperm whales. The volume also contains more detailed entries, such as “Ebenezer Scrooge: Time Traveler” from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which includes five different maps, each dedicated to the routes of certain characters like Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, The Charitable Gentlemen, Marley’s Ghost, and more. Accompanying each illustration is a thoughtful introduction written by editor Daniel Harmon, making it the perfect package for you or a special gift for that literature lover in your life. [Becca James]

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Four Lions (2010)

In an attempt to break my bad habit of loving comedy but feeling lukewarm about actual comedy films, I recently sat down to give Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows a try. And while I came away from Shadows vaguely amused (and definitely charmed), the film mostly served to put me in mind of the last time a comedy really pushed me into that place where I’m not only laughing too hard to breathe, but thinking about what it was that had me on my knees. Hence the recommendation for this masterpiece from Brass Eye’s Chris Morris, one part political satire, one part character comedy, and one part study in human idiocy. The tale of four deeply incompetent quasi-Islamic terrorists, Four Lions pulls the almost-impossible trick of presenting the audience with pitch-black comedy, and then steadily building sympathy for a cast of characters who represent some of the most vilified boogeymen of the modern, Western world. It’s the rare film that can elicit tears of laughter and sorrow in a single sitting, or successfully juxtapose the death of a major character with ludicrous physical comedy or dark satire about the blithe justifications for a mis-aimed police response. Morris (and his amazing cast, including Nightcrawler’s Riz Ahmed as one of the most sympathetic would-be suicide bombers in movie history) manage it with aplomb. Four Lions seems to move in and out of Netflix’s streaming supply at random; it’s worth a watch (or even tracking down a physical copy) the next time it pops into view. [William Hughes]

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