Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams: a funnyman and performer of unparalleled range


We couldn't let this week pass without acknowledging the unfortunate and far too early death of comedian Robin Williams. We can only add to the immense outpouring of grief over Williams's death. Many retrospectives have focused on his terrific stand-up comedy and his ability to make us laugh – rightly so – but he was a performer of immense range who appeared in manic comedies as well as memorable dramatic roles. Consider that Williams starred in both Death to Smoochy and Insomnia in the same year, and you'll have some idea of this man's versatility. He will be greatly missed, but the breadth of his work on film and talent will speak for itself for years.

Befitting an actor who worked with such a terrific range for decades, the Media Services collection contains dozens of starring Robin Williams, encompassing everything from the silliest comedies to the most serious thrillers. A perusal of our collection brings up 21 DVDs starring Williams, from Hook to The Birdcage. We encourage you to check one out over the weekend to remember the work of a truly flexible and talented performer we lost far too soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Remembering Lauren Bacall, icon of classic Hollywood

Lauren Bacall, one of the last stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, died yesterday at age 89. Bacall ranks among the greatest screen icons of the 30s and 40s, starring alongside legends including Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and – most famously – her husband Humphrey Bogart. She was an enduring symbol of old Hollywood and one of our last connections to an era of elegance and grace to which the film world still aspires.

Luaren Bacall continued her career well into this decade, and her career runs the gamut from noir classics to animated voice-overs. In honor of Bacall's legacy, consider watching her films from our collection.

Written on the Wind – HU DVD 518
The Big Sleep – HU DVD 1062
To Have and Have Not – HU DVD 1440
How to Marry a Millionaire – HU DVD 2108
Howl's Moving Castle – HU DVD 2979
Manderlay – HU DVD 4147
Key Largo – HU DVD 4679
Dark Passage – HU DVD 5359
The Shootist – HU DVD 7645
Dogville – HU DVD 9013

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Have we reached the age of the post-plot movie?


Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was a massive success this weekend, proving once and for all that people will see a sufficiently entertaining movie starring a tree. Guardians received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, and it may surprisingly end up the biggest movie of the summer. But as one writer points out, it also may signal the dawn of a new era for movies: the end of plot.

Steven Zeitchik's article in the Los Angeles Times argues that in contrast to years of established filmmaking, Guardians and the larger Marvel universe represent a new type of movie where the specifics of the plot rarely matter. This isn't to suggest that Guardians is poorly written; it's just that it has no meaningful narrative. Blockbusters from previous years – Jaws, Star Wars, and even Christopher Nolan's Batmans – are driven by a fairly standard three-act structure that can be broken down into the rising action, climax, et cetera. In contrast, Marvel's movies usually lack that coherent structure, but they're still fun because we enjoy seeing interesting things happen to interesting people. For all intents and purposes, Guardians is a movie about five weird misfits blowing things up, but that doesn't mean it isn't exciting and engaging.

It's not that there's no plot. The plot just doesn't matter in the broader scheme of things. Much like Seinfeld was famously "about nothing," movies may too have reached a stage where plot specifics are no longer the driving force. Zeitchik draws comparisons to the "jokeless comedy," arguing that like The Hangover, blockbuster movies are increasingly about situations and characters. Again, this is not a knock against the quality of movies like Guardians. Zeitchik only means to point out that big movies, far from being uniform behemoths, are changing too.

Plus, when plot doesn't matter, neither do spoilers! We're free!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Famous directors throw money to stall the imminent death of physical film

Ever since the all-digital release of 2002's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, filmmakers have steadily moved away from traditional film reels in favor of the increased power of digital cameras. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Kodak film consumption has decreased by nearly 12 billion linear feet in the past 8 years, a 97 percent decrease in orders. Very few (such as Steven Spielberg) are still developing physical prints of their movies. That spells almost certain death for the film market, but some directors – driven by nostalgia or an insistence that there's a measurable difference in quality – have started a personal crusade to save their favorite format. But they're using an unconventional, business-friendly strategy.

Quentin Tarantino, J. J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, and other have convinced major studios to buy a fixed amount of physical film each year, allowing Kodak to stay in the film business and continue outputting new film for directors to use. Not all of it will be used, but maintaining a certain level of orders will keep film alive – at least as long as the studios keep funneling money.

It's an unconventional idea that's impractical, expensive, and will probably see a lot of film go to waste, and naturally, it's met some resistance. But it will keep the option available for anyone who wants to use a now-antiquated format. Maybe future generations will learn the joys of 35mm after all.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Remembering Dick Smith, acclaimed makeup artist


On this blog, we usually memorialize the deaths of notable directors and actors. But today, we pay tribute to the life of Oscar-winning makeup artist Dick Smith, whose work ranks among the most memorable and iconic in film history.

You probably don't know Dick Smith and couldn't pick him out of a lineup, but his work with facial transformation is immediately recognizable. Smith was the man behind Marlon Brando's jowls in The Godfather, Travis Bickle's beat-up look in Taxi Driver, Regan's demonic turn in The Exorcist, the dramatic aging effects in Little Big Man and Amadeus, and the face-melting goodness of Scanners. Before CGI and motion capture became the dominant way to transform actors on screen, Smith had pioneered and perfected physical effects that, to this day, are haunting and powerful.

Dick Smith retired 15 years prior to this death, but there is no doubt that even his work will stand the test of time. He was an artist for the ages and undeniable proof that the crew of a film can be as important to movie magic as the stars.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Survey claims you rewatch movies more than you're willing to admit

We all enjoy rewatching our favorite movies. Sometimes we get more out of the subtext or themes, but often, it's just fun to revisit our favorites scenes and characters. If you've ever had a Marvel marathon or watched whatever Will Ferrell movie was on Comedy Central multiple times in a row, you probably know this feeling well. But considering that movies are generally two hours long, you could end up dedicating whole days of your life to watching certain films. How bad can it get?

British media conglomerate Sky recently surveyed movies fans in the UK and discovered that a quarter of all Britons will sometimes watch their favorite movies at least ten times. That might seem excessive, but if you're among the most dedicated filmwatchers, that could be a paltry number. In that case, you're probably among the 10 percent that will watch favorite movies up to 29 times. You also might not be surprised to find Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Back to the Future among the most frequently rewatched movies.

And in the worst-case scenario, you might be one of the two-thirds that admitted to rewatching movies because they were distracted the first time around by their phone, email, or social media. Shame on you! Shaaaaame!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top 8: Documentary Sequels


We're proud of the variety and depth of the Media Services collection. In the interest of bringing you some highlights and deep cuts from our shelves, we'll be posting unusual and interesting Top 10 lists of some of our favorite DVDs.

You may often hear self-identified film snobs talk about their love for documentaries as an antidote to Hollywood sequels. That's a pretty silly idea, in part because documentaries have sequels too. While most documentary films are standalone affairs, sometimes their subjects change enough to warrant a follow-up.

This happens infrequently, so we weren't able to round up a full list of ten documentary sequels. But the ones we found are quite good. We present the Top 8 Documentary Sequels.

  • Best Man (HU DVD 2772) – sequel to Best Boy (HU DVD 2772)
Best Boy follows a handicapped 52-year-old man, Philly Wohl, who prepares for independence as his elderly parental caretakers reach the end of their lives. The film ends before we see how Philly manages on his own; a sequel, Best Man, picks up Philly's story twenty years later.

The Dole Food Company came under fire in Bananas!* for allegedly using pesticides that sterilized their workers. Dole considered this an act of defamation and retaliated by suing the filmmakers, distributors, and sponsors. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* follows this lawsuit and examines the legal consequences of free speech.

The filmmakers of King Corn put their venture into farming front-and-center while discussing the broader impact of commercialized agriculture. They bring their personal, gonzo touch to follow-up, Big River, which examines the ecological fallout from their farm experiment.

Gasland caused a huge stir with its infamous shot of a Colorado resident able to ignite their tap water as a result of natural gas fracking. The sequel broadens the scope of the original and takes aim at fracking practices around the globe.

  • Paradise Lost series (HU DVD 4771 - 4773)
In 1993, three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas were arrested for the murders of three children. Though all three were incarcerated, many independent parties asserted their innocence. The three Paradise Lost films follow the lives of the accused from their initial trial to their eventual release.

Cochlear implants still capture the public's enthusiasm, if YouTube clips of people hearing for the first time are any indication. But the transition from deaf to hearing can be difficult and disrupt deaf communities. The Sound and Fury series looks at how cochlear implants changed their recipients lives in the short- and long-term.

  • Up Series (DVD 5271 - 5276, HU DVD 716)
By far the reigning champion of serialized documentary filmmaking, the Up series follows a group of children as the grow from 7 years old to, in the latest installment, 56. The intention of the series was to create a grand defining statement about destiny and growing up, but it works even better as a character study.

  • Return of the War Room (DVD 1013)  – sequel to The War Room (DVD 1013)
The War Room stands tall as one of the best political documentaries, with its ground-level view of a presidential campaign painting a vivid and realistic portrait of political work. In 2008, the directors filmed a follow-up reunion with key figures from the film to reflect on the campaign.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A peek into Mostly Lost, the Library of Congress's mystery film festival


The Library of Congress's film archives, located in Culpeper, Virginia, house hundreds of films from the silent era with seemingly no identification attached to them. Most if not all of the cast and crew of these films are no longer alive, and it's unlikely that the nation's archivists will ever positively identify some of these no-name, undocumented works. But that won't stop them from trying.

Every year, the Library of Congress hosts Mostly Lost, a film event that gives film scholars a chance to watch and dissect some of these unusual films. This is not intended to be a film festival for general audiences; viewers are discouraged from simply watching the films for enjoyment and often bring electronic devices to perform research during screenings. The whole event is deeply academic, especially considering scholarly presentations before and after the films, so this is clearly an event for enthusiasts and experts only.

Unfortunately, we missed this year's event (it went down two weeks ago), but NPR provides some insight into how Mostly Lost unfolded and what sort of people show up for an event like this. From the sound of it, at least a few films were positively identified. Considering how many films from the silent era have been permanently lost, this is a very good thing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con begins! Celebrate with movies based on graphic novels


Every July, over 100,000 people descend on southern California for San Diego Comic-Con, the world's biggest event for movies, comics, games, and all things nerdtacular. The convention has grown from its humble origins as a comic book show to a pop culture juggernaut, attracting everyone from small-time comic producers to the cast of The Hunger Games. Expect big announcements on that thing you're looking forward to, no matter what it is.

We wanted to pay some sort of tribute to Comic-Con, but it would be absurd and impossible to celebrate all the movies that have appeared at the event. Instead, we want to direct your attention to our Pinterest board for graphic novel adaptations. While we do have a good number of films based on superhero comics (the usual suspects, like Batman and X-Men), our graphic novel board highlights some lesser-known adaptations, such as the terrific Ghost World and Persepolis. Comics and graphic novels have a great range, and we think these select movies are a good way to celebrate that.

Realistically speaking, we'll probably be glued to all the news spilling out of San Diego this weekend. But let's not forget that Comic Con is, at its core, about graphic novels and the unique artistic experiences that come from them. Plus. they make good movies too!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Still a boys' club? Only 22% of film crew members are women

Much has been written about how the film industry skews male. Significantly more blockbuster films star male leads, and only one woman has so far won the Academy Award for Best Director. It should come as little surprise, then, that other sectors of the film world have similar issues with gender representation.

According to a recent report from The Guardian, among major movies in the last two decades, less than 25% of all film crews were comprised of women. This includes everyone from special effects artists to set designers. Women tended to appear more frequently in traditionally "feminine" role, such as costume design and makeup, while men overwhelmingly dominated technical jobs such as camera or electrical work. More disconcertingly, critical production jobs such as writer and editor also skewed heavily towards men, with women occupying only around 10% of these positions.

Among the more unusual statistics: of all 2000 films surveyed, only one woman was credited with composing a score. And the Steven Seagal-produced On Deadly Ground (pictured) employed women for only 10% of its crew, the lowest of any major movie in the last twenty years.

Interviewees in The Guardian's article suggest a number of causes, from lack of interest in diversity to institutional sexism. Regardless of the cause, this is a sobering reminder. As much as we like to consider the arts to be a progressive space, barriers still exist for encouraging diversity and participation in film.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Acquisitions - July 2014

One of the interesting narratives in the film industry this year has been the dearth of heavy-hitting blockbusters. So far, the two highest-grossing movies of the year were released before the summer, and the biggest long-term success has come from 2013's Frozen. Even with apes, Godzilla, and Transformers wreaking havoc in multiplexes, fewer people are opting to head to theaters this year. And perhaps not coincidentally, Netflix recently hit 50 million subscribers.

If you're one of those types that stays at home to watch movies, you'll no doubt be excited about our most recent acquisitions. Big-name titles this time around include the first season of Netflix sensation Orange is the New Black, Mary Poppins origin story Saving Mr. Banks, sci-fi action sleeper hit Attack the Block, Despicable Me 2, and weirdo late-night curiosity Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule. And fans of John Waters might be excited by I Am Divine, a biography about the director's drag queen muse.

Hit the jump for a full list of our July acquisitions, and stay tuned for the other 100+ items in our pipeline...

Monday, July 21, 2014

DC's famous Screen on the Green begins TONIGHT with The Karate Kid


The number of summer film festivals in DC has dramatically grown in the last several years, with seemingly every neighborhood having its own screenings. But there has always been one undisputed king of Washington outdoor movies: Screen on the Green, the HBO- and NBC-sponsored festival that takes place on the National Mall. Since it doesn't tie directly to any particular DC neighborhood, it can sometimes fly under the radar for locals, but this is the elder statesman of DC summer activities.

Screen on the Green always has an unusual selection, and this year's lineup is no different. You might not be as familiar with A Soldier's Story and Lover Come Back, but you should no doubt be excited about tonight's inaugural film. At about 8pm this evening, Screen on the Green will be showing The Karate Kid, everyone's favorite story of a high school student learning karate and waxing. Admission is free, and you are encouraged to bring your own food and beverage to the event.

Visit the Screen on the Green website for details about the specific section of the Mall where the movie will take place. If you're big on local film screenings, you'll want to stop by for this time-honored tradition. See you there!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top 10: Remakes That You Probably Never Knew Were Remakes


We're proud of the variety and depth of the Media Services collection. In the interest of bringing you some highlights and deep cuts from our shelves, we'll be posting unusual and interesting Top 10 lists of some of our favorite DVDs.

Last July, pop culture website Den of Geek estimated that at time time, there were 57 movie remakes in production. That seems excessive. So many of these movies are simply attempting to cash in on name-brand familiarity. Even the best remakes seldom escape the shadows of the originals.

But every once in a while, we get a movie or television show so great or memorable that we completely forget where it came from. For your viewing pleasure, we offer Top 10 Remakes That You Probably Never Knew Were Remakes.

These two versions of 3:10 to Yuma, both moderately successful on their release, are based on a short story by the late writer Elmore Leonard. It's one of the few pulp paperback stories to be adapted multiple times.

Without the jokes, Airplane! would still be a corny, ridiculous movie. It comes as little surprise that its script is taken almost directly from the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour! Almost every detail is identical, down to a cameo from a popular basketball player and the search for a pilot who didn't each fish.

  • Ben-Hur (1959) (HU DVD 3857) – remake of Ben-Hur (1925) (HU DVD 3857)
Though many associate Ben-Hur most strongly with its chariot race scenes, the story more substantially is about a prince's life intersecting with Jesus's. The silent, black-and-white version from 1925 emphasizes this in its title, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

Yes, even the master Scorsese himself borrows from time to time. Infernal Affairs follows roughly the same story as The Departed, swapping Boston for Hong Kong and the mob for the triads. Fascinatingly, Infernal Affairs received two sequels, but we doubt Scorsese would come back for another round.

The connections between MP Francis Urquhart and Rep. Frank Underwood were more widely discussed before Kevin Spacey turned in his iconic performance as the ultimate barbecue-loving backstabber. Even with Underwood clearly in command, both versions offer a unique take on the corrupting power of politics.

The 1957 novel I Am Legend is one of the foundational texts of the post-apocalypse and zombie genres, so it makes sense that studios would periodically revisit it for inspiration. These two versions, one starring Will Smith and one starring Charlton Heston, wildly deviate from the book in different ways and have surprisingly little in common.

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) (HU DVD 4911) – remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (HU DVD 3120)
If it weren't for Kevin McCarthy's panicked, climactic screams at the end of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we would probably believe that the Donald Sutherland-starred film from 1978 was the original movie. In fact, many critics consider the update to be among the best film remakes ever produced.

In a battle of celebrity royalty, Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack are a close match with George Clooney's band of handsome collaborators. But compared to Sinatra's original heist story, Clooney's suaveness and Steven Soderbergh's dynamic directing put the Ocean's remake in another class of filmmaking.

The original Scarface is one of the defining old-timey gangster films; the remake is one of the defining celebrations of 1980s excess. The rise-and-fall arc of the Scarface story was perfectly suited to transitioning from one decade to the other.

Critics wondered whether the Coen brothers' story of Marshal Rooster Cogburn would be eclipsed by an earlier rendition featuring John Wayne in one of his last major roles. Based on the acclaim, we feel that Jeff Bridges's version came away quite well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watch 2001: A Space Odyssey this Saturday with Buzz Aldrin and a live orchestra. Seriously.


We see a lot of neat film screenings come through DC, usually in the form of early premiers or classic screenings. But once in a while, something truly special comes along, like that time Simon Pegg visited for a preview of The World's End.

But then there's events like this Saturday's screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the most exciting and star-studded film event in recent local memory. In commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the Wolf Trap performing arts center has partnered with NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the British Film Institute to present 2001 with full orchestral accompaniment. And immediately prior to the event, Wolf Trap will hold Q&A sessions with legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Air and Space Museum curator Dr. Michael J. Neufeld.

This is an astounding event. 2001 is, by acclamation, one of the greatest films of all time, and its stirring classical score remains one of its defining aspects. The opportunity to hear that music performed live – and in the company of one of the only twelve people ever to walk on the moon – is really spectacular. The Wolf Trap is unfortunately not accessible via public transportation, but if you know someone with a car, this is a can't-miss opportunity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Could this (eventually) be the longest film ever made?



Over the years, many films have laid claim to the distinction of being the longest of all time. Whether they're making documentaries about a building decaying or just stitching random clips together to a feature length, filmmakers have slowly escalated their running times in a battle for this ignoble title. From 2006 to 2011, the record jumped from 95 hours to a whopping 10 days. There will always be arguments about what constitutes a film, but it appears that soon, the records will be annihilated.

Filmmaker Anders Weberg recently released a 72-minute-long trailer for Ambiancé, an experimental stream-of-consciousness film that he hopes will be the longest ever conceived. Its trailer already beats the length of some feature films, and Weberg plans to up the ante by releasing longer teasers every few years. The next trailer will run 7 hours and 20 minutes. Then one that's 72 hours. The final film, scheduled for release in 2020, will run 720 hours, which comes 30 days. (Even more bizarrely, the film will only be screened once, then destroyed.)

No one will ever watch these films in their entirety, but the total insanity of creating an unwatchably long film seems to be the point. There's likely a great meaning behind Ambiancé, possibly about impermanence and futility, but frankly it's too big and weird to wrap our heads around.

If you want to learn more about Ambiancé, you can visit the official website. We've embedded the trailer above, but it will be removed in one week. (This is just a disclaimer so future generations will understand why there's no picture in this post.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

DC's only true IMAX theater will soon be Metro-accessible


If you're a fan of blockbuster movies, you probably know the locations of DC's IMAX theaters. There's one in Georgetown, two at the Smithsonians, and another up in Silver Spring. You might've even seen a few big movies there, because who can resist the allure of Gravity in all its splendor?

We hate to break everyone's hearts, but those weren't real IMAX theaters. The Smithsonian theaters rarely if ever show first-run Hollywood movies, and the Georgetown and Silver Spring locations don't project in the full 70mm format. You've been paying extra for a big screen, but unless you lucked out at a Smithsonian screening, you didn't get the true IMAX experience.

Don't worry, Metro-bound filmgoer! The authentic IMAX experience will soon be available to everyone in the DC area. DCist reports that with the impending opening of the Silver Line the reaches to Reston, Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center's IMAX theater will soon be accessible. The Udvar-Hazy Center is a secondary location for the Air and Space Museum that houses notable artifacts including the Space Shuttle Discovery, but for our purposes, it also holds the area's only true-resolution IMAX theater that plays current movies.

If the Silver Line is indeed open by the end of July, then you'll have the perfect place to see Guardians of the Galaxy once it hits theaters in August. That's certainly Air and Space-y enough, right?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Netflix offers job to watch movies, fulfills your deepest dreams


We don't know if anyone from the UK reads this blog, but if you're an ex-pat or for some reason just enjoy reading American library blogs, we want to direct your attention to what may be the greatest job of all time.

As we've mentioned before, Netflix categorizes movies through a massive tagging project that includes superficial and thematic elements of every item in their collection. This is a huge undertaking, and given the subjectivity of art, it needs to be completed manually. We suspected this information might have been supplied by each film's distributors, but as it turns out, Netflix hires in-house taggers to watch each film and supply appropriate keywords. Now they're hiring for a tagger in the UK whose entire job would involve watching movies and describing them.

There's obviously a degree of expertise required, as Netflix is looking for people with a background in film studies who can more precisely describe genres and themes. And we imaging that eight hours a day of note-taking and film-viewing would eventually grow tiresome and might even rob you of the pleasure of watching movies. Still, an opportunity exists to get paid to watch movies. For real!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Today in film theory: A thoughtful critique of "Bayhem"




Michael Bay, love him or hate him, is an auteur, a director with a definitive and immediately recognizable style that overshadows every film he produces. Every moment of, say, Transformers or Armageddon is coated in Bay's fingerprints. His frenetic and explosive style has earned him an ignominious place in the film industry, but even more so than some acclaimed and successful directors, Bay's signature "Bayhem" is unmistakably his.

As befitting a director of such wide consumption and reputation, film analyst Tony Zhou has produced an eight-minute video dissecting how Michael Bay works. His sweeping camera shots, intense angles, and shaking intensity are no mistake; they find root in such classic films as Star Wars and West Side Story. Whatever you think of Bay's films, this video demonstrates that he is not a director who simply throws his movies together. His carnage is meticulous.

Michael Bay's only film in our collection is Pearl Harbor (HU DVD 752), which is featured throughout this video. It's not a terrific movie, but it's arguably a good example of how Bay operates.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

AMERICA! Celebrate 238 years of patriotism with these classic film screenings


America turns 238 years old in a few days, and its honor, the country will collectively take a day off and blow things up and eat red meat. It's a time-honored tradition, but once everything is blown up and eaten, you might be looking for something similarly unique and exciting to fill the rest of the three-day weekend. You might want to see a movie, but if you don't want to watch Transformers, there are few new release options for you.

Luckily, the AFI Silver in Silver Spring is stepping up and screening some truly terrific films over the Fourth of July weekend!

The action begins on Thursday, July 3rd, with a screening of Spaghetti Western classic A Fistful of Dollars, followed that evening by a 25th anniversary showing of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. The next day, on July 4th, the schedule heats up with The African Queen, Lawrence of Arabia, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If you're looking for more patriotic fare, The Pride of the Yankees screens on Friday as well, and the 1984 cheesefest Red Dawn follows on Sunday. All these films are being shown from their original prints, so you'd be getting the original, authentic theater-going experience!

For night owls looking to recreate the summer movie experience in its absolute fullest, E Street Cinema will also be screening Jaws late on Friday and Saturday nights. The theater is sure to be packed, so this is the closest you'll get to 1975 without a time machine.

Washington is an exciting city for Fourth of July for obvious reasons, but don't forget to take advantage of some of the other great resources DC offers during its biggest weekend of the year.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Watch these great Belgian films... tomorrow


In just about an hour, the United States will continue its unlikely World Cup run in a match against Belgium. We normally have nothing against Belgium, which is a perfectly fine country with a rich culture. But for the sake of irrational devotion in the name of an athletic competition, we're joining the bandwagon of swearing off everything Belgian for the rest of the day. Sorry, waffles!

Perhaps the hardest part of swearing off Belgium is avoiding Belgian films. We can probably survive a day without watching a Belgian movie, but only after we swear them off do we realize what we're going to miss. As with many countries, Belgium has a rich history of diverse films. Perhaps because the country rests in the shadow of the juggernaut that is French cinema (many Belgian movies are in fact produced in cooperation with French directors and studios), these films never find the wide audience that they perhaps should.

If you're interested in watching some quality films from a great little European country, we have a few recommendations. Just... wait until tomorrow, alright?

Bullhead – HU DVD 10992
Copie Conforme – HU DVD 10031
Eldorado – Streaming video

My Life in Pink – HU DVD 5315
La Promesse – HU DVD 1490
Rosetta – HU DVD 4609
Rust and Bone – HU DVD 6207
The Triplets of Belleville – HU DVD 1225

Monday, June 30, 2014

Today, we've had 25 years to Do the Right Thing


25 years ago today, Spike Lee released Do the Right Thing (HU DVD 38), a landmark film about race relations that nearly speaks for itself. The film generated enormous controversy at its release, with one critic calling it "dynamite under every seat." It immediately became a cultural touchstone and quickly cemented its status as one of the most significant (and most beloved) films of its time.

In commemoration of a big day for a big movie, there's been a whole slew of retrospectives and essays. For your reading pleasure, we'll leave you with NPR's recap of an Academy-sponsored screening (complete with a stop-in by the Obamas, who saw Do the Right Thing on their first date); Spike Lee's reactions to early reviews that he slams as racist; and a piece from Complex about how the film anticipated today's problems with gentrification. They're all great reads and provide some interesting insight into how this film has stayed relevant and shocking even after a quarter century. You might also want to check out Spike Lee's Instagram, where he's been having some fun with the big anniversary.

Appropriately, it was swelteringly hot outside today. (Maybe not a good day to get pizza though.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Before The Interview: films that drew international and political outrage


Among the more unusual recent film headlines, Kim Jong-un has threatened war over an upcoming film, The Interview, that depicts Seth Rogen and James Franco attempting to assassinate the North Korean leader. It's not often that a mid-budgeted comedy sparks an international crisis and calls for violent retaliation. Come to think of it, has this ever happened?

Though military action in response to a movie is certainly unusual, the film industry is no stranger to international condemnation and high-scale political controversy. You don't need to stray too far to be condemned by a religious or political group, but only certain films prompt a level of outrage that reaches world leaders. If you're curious about a few other films in the same ignoble league as The Interview, here's a quick list of some that have drawn notable international attention.

  • Now regarded as a Russian classic, Battleship Potemkin (HU DVD 43) contains strong Communist, pro-revolutionary messages and took decades to reach the United Kingdom and parts of Germany. Even in Russia, Stalin partially censored the films due to specific contributions from Leon Trotsky.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian (HU DVD 970) earns a special spot as perhaps the most famous movie accused of blasphemy for its critique of religion and faith. Though the filmmakers do not view it as an attack on Christianity, the film promoted countless local bans and challenges in England. Marketers later seized upon this and labeled Life of Brian "the film so funny that it was banned in Norway."
  • Borat (HU DVD 2633) famously lampooned Western perceptions of Eastern Europe as backwards and destitute. It was banned in nearly every Arab country, condemned in Russia, and prompted a massive public relations campaign from Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government later embraced the film for increasing awareness of the country.
  • Death of a President (HU DVD 3310) imagined a documentary covering the fictional assassination of George W. Bush – in 2006, while the president still held office. The voyeuristic experiment was widely condemned by political parties, media outlets, and film distributors; the White House never issued a statement on the film because "it doesn't dignify a response."
  • The Great Dictator (HU DVD 3796) was the first major film to criticize and caricature Adolf Hitler. Chaplin's outspoken views led to accusations of Communist ties from the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee, damaging his image and leading to his essential blacklisting in America.
  • Set in 1970s Iran, coming-of-age story Persepolis (HU DVD 4498) depicted an unflattering version of the Iranian Revolution from the perspective of a young girl. The film is outright banned in Iran and frequently restrictid throughout in the Middle East, prompting outcry and repeated legal challenges.
  • The film adaptation of the novel The Da Vinci Code (HU DVD 9211) rekindled outrage over its suggestion that Jesus fathered a child. Countries with significant Christian populations attacked the film as blasphemous, and the Vatican called for its boycott. At least one cardinal suggested legal action against the filmmakers, but no lawsuit was ever filed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RIP Eli Wallach, supporting actor legend


Audiences might remember him best as Tuco (The Ugly) from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but Eli Wallach was an actor of enormous range. Working on film and television well into his 90s, Wallach was the ultimate supporting actor, a man whose prolific appearances who brought life to every film in which he appeared. He charmed in the days of old Hollywood in The Magnificent Seven and The Misfits, and he brought humanity to recent hits including Mystic River, The Holiday, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Though he won BAFTA, Tony, and Emmy awards, Wallach was never nominated for an Oscar; the Academy realized their error in 2010 when they awarded him an honorary statuette for his lifetime accomplishments.

We're very saddened to hear news of Eli Wallach's death, but we'll never lose his numerous and iconic contributions to film. Media Services's collection contains a startling number of films starring Wallach, a testament to his prolific body of work.

Baby Doll – HU DVD 7752
Brand Upon the Brain! – HU DVD 4638
The Ghost Writer – HU DVD 8010
The Godfather, Part III – HU DVD 2543
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – HU DVD 1001
The Holiday – HU DVD 5407
The Lineup – HU DVD 7294
Lord Jim – HU DVD 10385
The Magnificent Seven – HU DVD 7640
The Executioner's Song – HU DVD 8857
The Misfits – HU DVD 8886
The Moon and the Son – HU DVD 1328
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – HU DVD 8018

(Wallach also hosted a series of stage play character studies for A Raisin in the Sun, The Glass Menagerie, and Our Town. Follow the links to view these programs online via the library.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Newly unearthed first works shed light on famous directorial styles

Directors with large bodies of work often develop distinctive styles. Once you these signatures for the first time, their earlier films become exciting treasure hunts for glimpses of their trademarks yet to develop. You might get a glimpse of the Coen brothers yet to emerge, for example, when watching Blood Simple. If you enjoy playing this game, you're going to have a ball with two new short films that recently emerged online. They're the first works by notable directors Tim Burton and Lars von Trier, and you can already see seeds of each of their styles taking root.



Burton's film, a bizarre 1982 low-budget retelling of Hansel and Gretel with an all-Asian cast, it's almost immediately noticeably his product. Though the production stark, Burton's hand is evident, and the film resembles a live-action The Nightmare Before Christmas. The witch's costume especially screams Burton-esque dark whimsy.



Von Trier's short, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, is a dialogue-less spot-motion adventure starring three bunnies that he directed at age 11. This one bears almost no resemblance to the psychosexual chaos that Lars von Trier would become notable for in the future, but like most of his films, it is totally inscrutable.

These are the earliest known works of both these directors, and they're a great watch of fans of either. We imagine that first films by future great directors will be far easier to find, so it's exciting to find weird gems like this lying around.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mysterious Hellraiser VHS terrorizes London


Well, this is moderately terrifying: London appears to be cursed by some sort of lo-fi demon. Some time in 2011, a VHS copy of Clive Barker's 1987 horror opus Hellraiser appeared on top of a specific bus stop on Old Kent Road. As documented by Time Out London, that VHS has been lingering there for the past four years, occasionally disappearing and resurfacing shortly after. At some point, two Hellraiser tapes appeared at once. No matter how often the local council takes the tape away, another one invariably springs up in its place.

This is probably the work of one or more dedicated pranksmen, but we choose to believe in some sort of localized portal to hell and a demon with a sense of humor. Also, we're slowly going mad from the heat outside, and this was too entertaining not to share. As far as we know, we don't own Hellraiser on either DVD or VHS.. but we should check again just in case one mysteriously appeared.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Acquisitions - June 2014

If the weather for the rest of June is going to be anything like it is now, we're in for a scorching summer. Do you need a good reason to stay inside right about now? What better way to fight the heat than to curl up on the couch and watch movies until your eyes bleed out? Should you choose this sort of AV-enabled respite, we're glad to help out.

The flow of new acquisitions has started once again, and we've got some good DVDs this month. Her and Philomena complete our collection of Oscar nominees, while Men in Black and War of the Worlds fill some gaps in our backlog (Men in Black came out in 1997!). If you're more inclined towards documentaries, consider watching We Are Legion or A Brief History of Time. And if you just want to see things blow up for a while? There's always Ender's Game.

Hit the jump for a full list of what we have this month...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Science confirms that Paul Thomas Anderson is the master of your eyes



The intersection of science and art has always yielded fascinating insights. As much as filmmaking is an art that requires a carefully trained eye and excellent talent to pull off, scientific studies often find surprising and actionable evidence of how we process and respond to images. That might take some of the artistry out of the process, but it tells us exciting things about the human brain.

This great example comes from The DIEM Project, which studies eye tracking of moving images. Researchers tracked the eyes of eleven people who watched the same clip from There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson is a gifted director, and he has a keen eye for composition; the selected portion combines long takes, close-ups, and tracking shots.

As you can see from the circles that represent where a person was looking, we are all immediately drawn to contrast, whether that's a bright object in a dark room or a moving object in a static scene. The most interesting example might be the long shot of a car at the end of the clip. Even when the car is obscured by scenery, everyone's eyes are focused tightly on the right edge where they expect the car to appear.

This video is a great demonstration of how a master filmmaker can command an audience's attention with motion and composition. The next time you find yourself watching a static scene in a just-okay movie, you might wonder where the little eye circles would fall.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alternative programming: Extra time with South Africa


Soccer might not be a big sport in the United States, but the World Cup is without a doubt the biggest global athletic event. Media outlets estimate that over 3 billion people will watch the World Cup this year, and it stands a chance of becoming the most watched event in human history.

That said, as with all sporting events, the organization of the World Cup is not without intense scrutiny and criticism. As we saw during the Sochi Olympics, the years of intense prep work that go into putting on a massive sporting event often disrupt countries and leave them in economic or social turmoil.

We'd like to direct attention to World Cup Soccer in Africa: Who Really Wins?, a documentary that deals with these ripple effects and how they transformed South Africa in the wake of the 2010 World Cup. As you can no doubt tell from the tone of this post and the title of the film, the effects were not positive. The DVD includes interviews with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and soccer star Jomo Sono, both of whom offer valuable perspectives on their home country.

We're all looking forward to the World Cup, but it's important to recognize that any event at such a large scale can have a strong negative impact on its host. With Brazil also hosting the Olympics in two years, one can hope that they find a way to channel their high profile into meaningful social and economic advancement.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Want to see how the Emmy sausage is made? Now's your chance

We've previously covered the shadowy process behind Oscar nominations. It's unclear how films are nominated, and that's a frequent criticism of the Academy. When Ben Affleck was passed over for a Best Director Oscar for Argo, it caused understandable alarm regarding the transparency and politicization of the process.

In contrast, the Emmy's are letting everything spill out publicly. The Television Academy recently posted its complete list of potential Emmy nominees as nominated by their respective studios producers. This is all extra-nerdy inside baseball stuff, but it's fascinating to see what shows are nominated in which categories, as well as which have been omitted. Even without extra analysis (Treme is considered a mini-series! Key and Peele was nominated for hairstyling!), it's an exciting laundry list of all the quality shows currently on television.

If you're big on television, prepare to lose a lot of time looking through this behind-the-scenes look at the nomination process. And prepare to be amazed at how minor of a role you can have and still be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hungry for more free movies? BYT has the master sheet of outdoor film events

Over the last few weeks, we've been slowly trickling out posts about upcoming DC film festivals. Ten days into June, we figure it's time to rip the Band-Aid off.

DC culture hotspot Brightest Young Things has compiled a list of all current and upcoming film festivals in the area. It's a very handy one-stop guide for every outdoor event you might want to attend this summer. You might notice that today, for instance, the only event is a screening of All the President's Men in Adams Morgan. That might not float your boat, but on June 30th, Crystal City will be showing Top Gun! This is a great way to plan your summer movie schedule and, let's be honest, find out the next time that you'll be able to see Frozen (July 3rd and 8th, for the record).

We'll continue to post interesting highlights from these upcoming screenings, but if you want to make a schedule yourself, the list from Brightest Young Things is the first place to head.