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.

Monday, June 09, 2014

DC Public Library celebrates Pride Month with a new film series

In case you missed last week's festivities, DC is in the midst of celebrating Pride Month. DC Public Library wants in on the fun too, and of particular interest to this blog, the Southeast Neighborhood Library has announced a three-day Prime Movie Fest starting tomorrow, June 10th, at 7pm.

Though DCPL's website doesn't go into specifics about which films they'll be showing, this is a great tie-in event for a month that, frankly, DC does well. If you live near the Southeast Neighborhood Library (right next to the Eastern Market Metro), be sure to stop by some time this week to catch a few quality films on a great and time-pertinent topic!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

25 years later: Reflecting on the Tiananmen Square massacre

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, one of the most significant events in China's modern history and the country's struggle with freedom of speech. More so than any conflict of the Cold War era, the incident at Tiananmen Square owes its iconic status in large part to the powerful images and videos that emerged. As anyone who has seen the famous Tank Man photo can attest, this was an event told through visuals.

Appropriately, a number of high-quality documentaries have been produced about the circumstances leading to the massacre and its aftermath. We highly recommend viewing these films in commemoration of a landmark demonstration that will reverberate for years to come.

The China Story – VHS 2280
Declassified: Tiananmen Square – Streaming video
The Gate of Heavenly Peace – DVD 10735
The Gate of Heavenly Peace: Tiananmen Square, June 4th, 1989 – Streaming video
Moving the Mountain – VHS 4590
Reform in Crisis: The Aftermath of Tiananmen – VHS 3251 no. 1
The Tank Man – DVD 2251
The Tiananmen Hostage: Fang Lizhi – Streaming video
Tragedy at Tiananmen: The Untold Story – DVD 11328

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

How much does television cost? Millions – if you're a period drama

Movie studios are often hesitant to confirm the budgets of their biggest movies, but we can generally ballpark something like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the $250 million range. Television shows, however, prove a little harder to guess. We know that many networks love reality shows because of their seemingly non-existent cost, but it's unclear how much they're saving over scripted television shows.

If a new (albeit outsourced) report from Uproxx can be believed, it can cost a few million for an hour of quality television. Unsurprisingly, fantasy shows and period dramas cost the most to make. An average episode of Game of Thrones can cost $6 million, while each episode of the miniseries The Pacific cost a startling $20 million. Smaller shows like Friends and ER often ran into the $10 million range, though only in later seasons when their casts had name recognition and could get away with asking for more. That still places each season of these shows far below the cost of the average blockbuster movie.

These numbers certainly provide a little perspective about why a network might be hesitant to renew a series that can cost around $70 million per season. It also reveals how cost-effective television shows can be when they limit their special effects budgets. Would you be comfortable trading Maleficent ($180 million) for thirty episodes of Game of Thrones?

Luckily for our patrons, the most expensive TV shows of all time are free to borrow from our collection!

Deadwood – HU DVD 7101 - 7129
Boardwalk Empire – HU DVD 9421 - 9423
Game of Thrones – HU DVD 10021 - 10023
Friends – HU DVD 14038 -14047
Rome – HU DVD 14072 - 14073
Band of Brothers – HU DVD 14080
The Pacific – HU DVD 14081

Monday, June 02, 2014

Empire readers name 301 greatest films of all time. You may (strongly) disagree

Alright folks, please try to remain calm through the duration of this post while we attempt to contextualize this list.

For the first time in six years, British film magazine Empire has conducted a survey of readers' favorite movies. Their finished list of 301 movies is... let's be generous and say that it's suspect at best. Fritz Lang's dystopian masterpiece Metropolis (#251), for example, ranks lower than Home Alone (#250). Dumb and Dumber (#244) is also higher than The Graduate (#247). And Vertigo (#43) is below The Breakfast Club (#38).

It's folly to suggest that movies can really be objectively ranked, but Empire's methodology is remarkably unclear. At the risk of editorializing, the Media staff universally agrees that this is pretty awful list. Once you get to the top 100, the rankings become less embarrassing, if only because the worst ones are still at least enjoyable.

Approach this list with a grain of salt. It's certainly worth a read to get a gauge on what movies people consider the best. But to quote one of the comments left on the article, "Wait what?"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

House of Cards crew debates filming in DC, misses entire point of the show

We don't like to focus on current film gossip and industry natter, but this recent local film story was too funny and too ironic to pass up.

Netflix's breakout success House of Cards films primarily in Baltimore, and as anyone who grimaced at the "Cathedral Heights" Metro stop scene can attest, there are some pretty jarring cosmetic differences between Maryland's biggest city and Washington. To drive business in the area, DC government is currently debating whether to provide additional tax incentives to lure House of Cards back to the nation's capital. (Plus, it'll spare us all the embarrassment of explaining to friends how that's not really what DC looks like.)

Many officials (and the crew for House of Cards) are hesitant to bring the show back, specifically citing the previous filming attempts that resulted in a clash between location shooters and MPD. According to Washington City Paper, "The fracas left one location scout fuming that the District’s government is 'corrupt and dysfunctional.'"

Let that sink in for a second. The production crew of a series about the corrupt dysfunction in Washington does not want to shoot in Washington because it is corrupt and dysfunctional.

The irony might be lost on the House of Cards crew, but we love it. If you want to experience the dysfunction for yourself, the first season is the show is available to check out in the library (HU DVD 14099). The second season won't be on DVD for another month or so; remember to check back with us about future episodes!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

AFI Docs announces its 2014 lineup, and it looks terrific

For the uninitiated, every year the American Film Institute hosts AFI Docs, a festival for upcoming documentaries hosted in and around the Washington, DC Metro area. AFI Docs is among the most esteemed documentary film festivals in the world, and ever summer, it is perhaps the biggest film event in the DC area.

The AFI recently announced its 2014 lineup, and it looks pretty great. This year's slate includes 54 full-length documentaries and 28 shorts covering a wide and exciting range of subject matter. You might be interested in Mudbloods, a documentary about collegiate Quidditch players, or Bronx Obama, a biography of a professional Obama impersonator. But there's more serious fare as well, including a documentary about Hal Holbrook's legendary Mark Twain stage show and the life of film critic Roger Ebert.

We highly recommend attending, but tickets of AFI Docs will not be available to the general public until June 2nd. Keep an eye on their website for more information as the June 18th start date approaches!

Good slides are good for us all

There are three life skills that they don’t teach in college - how to iron a shirt, how to steer out of a skid, and how to give a compelling presentation. has the last one covered for you. New courses on this month include Presentation FundamentalsPlanning your presentation, designing effective slides and then how to give a strong delivery. Not surprisingly, it comes down to practice, practice, practice, but this shows you where you should be focusing your attention.

As a current AU student, faculty or staff, you have access to all of's tutorials and resources. First, go to and log in with your AU credentials. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Let's talk about X-Men, because you will probably see X-Men

X-Men: Days of Future Past will probably be the biggest movie of the summer. In fact, if you're reading this, you're likely considering seeing it. Putting the troublesome allegations about the director aside, Days of Future Past looks to be the best installment in the franchise, and critics largely agree. The all-star cast is by far the most exciting part of this new movie – Patrick Stewart! Ellen Page! Peter Dinklage! – but surely the prospect of post-apocalyptic X-Men-on-robot action is reason enough to head to theaters. Plus, you get to see Magneto destroy RFK!

In a big draw for longtime X-Men fans, Days of Future Past will merge the franchise's past and future era storylines. You might've seen X-Men: First Class when it debuted a few years ago, but we bet it's been a while since you saw the original trilogy with Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, et al. If you can believe it, X2 came out eleven years ago!

If you want a refresher before inevitably going to the theaters this weekend, we have the first three X-Men movies available in our collection. Swing by and check them out while you can, because we only have one copy of each!

X-Men – HU DVD 1441
X2: X-Men United – HU DVD 1442
X-Men: The Last Stand – HU DVD 1443

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rolling Stone names its favorite sci-fi movies from this century

The past decade or so have been great for the science fiction in film. Even beyond superhero movies and blockbusters, genre fare has seen critical celebration. Movies like Blade Runner have been rehabilitated to classic status, and newcomers such as District 9 and Gravity see major award nominations. This is a great time for fans of futuristic media.

In honor of last week's update of the long-running Godzilla series, Rolling Stone has taken a moment to write about contemporary genre history and declared their favorite twenty sci-fi movies since 2000. You might not agree with their selections, but the variety indicates strong health and a great future for science-fiction filmmaking. Modern blockbuster masterpieces such as Inception sit alongside weirder films like Under the Skin and Moon. At the least, it's an eclectic selection.

Most of the films on this list are available in the AU Library. (We're clearly fans of science fiction too!) As summer movie season ramps up, we encourage you to check a few of these out to revisit the best of our recent past.

Cloverfield – HU DVD 767
Minority Report – HU DVD 1969
Donnie Darko – HU DVD 2174
Children of Men – HU DVD 2631
WALL-E – HU DVD 4950
Sunshine – HU DVD 5287
Serenity – HU DVD 5317
District 9 – HU DVD 6686
Moon – HU DVD 7213
The Host – HU DVD 7652
Inception – HU DVD 8000
Primer – HU DVD 8104
Looper – HU DVD 10899
Gravity – HU DVD 11181
The World's End – HU DVD 11185