Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Screenings galore! More passes available at Media Services

Based on the number of early screening promos we've been running recently, we're clearly in the midst of fall movie season. We never want to disappoint, so this week, we have two advance passes for you!

Our passes this week are to see Jake Gyllenhaal go full sleazebag in Nightcrawler on Saturday, October 25th at 9:30pm; and Nicole Kidman's spin on Memento in Before I Go to Sleep on Wednesday, October 29th at 7pm. Both screenings will take place at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14. This is one of the rare occasions on which we have a movie that screens on a weekend, so plan accordingly! Assuming you were able to make it to The Wedding Ringer on Monday, that's three free movies in two weeks. Lucky you.

Come to the Media Services desk to pick up your passes. (We're back to doing physical tickets rather than digital passes for these two films.) As usual, remember that these screenings are intentionally overbooked, and your pass does not guarantee entry. Show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alamo Drafthouse CEO weighs in on the physical-vs-digital debate

The debate over the future of physical film has been simmering for a few years now, with major directors and film personalities carving out a place for the future of celluloid. This weekend, Tim League, film advocate and CEO of independent theater chain Alama Drafthouse Cinema, added his voice to the fray. League has a surprising and perhaps divisive perspective, lobbying in favor of the digital transition as a way to preserve the legacy of physical film.

League's op-ed in Deadline is nuanced and difficult to summarize, but it boils down to encouraging the widespread adoption of digital projection to reduce costs and continue the modern relevance of the movie theater. But more importantly, physical films are far harder to project than digital files, and mismanagement can result in damage to the 99% of films that only exist in reel form. Classic films have cultural value, League argues, and we should screen them alongside modern movies – but with greater expert care and attention.

This is a much more complex view than the black-and-white defend-the-future-of-film line that we usually hear from preservationists, but it comes from an experienced theater owner and deserves respect. It adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing debate, especially from a business perspective. No doubt these stakeholders will save physical film from vanishing in the future, but maybe it can exist alongside digital film as a meaningful alternative rather than a curiosity.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Join SOC and the National Gallery of Art for a new world cinema festival

We certainly think that American University is a cultured place, but our on-campus film screenings are starting to feel more... prestigious. This year, the School of Communication struck up a multi-year partnership with the National Gallery of Art to bring a world cinema festival to AU while the NGA ia undergoing renovations.

The SOC/NGA partnership began last month (sorry, we missed it!) with a series of Italian films. The October festivities kick off tomorrow with "a series of documentary films on rural and urban life in mainland China." The week-long series kicks off with the American premiere of an episode from the series Nostalgia: The Ballade of Village. Screenings continue through the weekend and return for a finale next Friday.

Every month will bring films from a new region: November will feature Czech films, while December focuses on Greek cinema. We'll be sure to update you about these events as they transpire, but you might want to preemptively clear your calendar for the dates on SOC's website.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

See Kevin Hart in The Wedding Ringer MONTHS before it hits theaters!

Free advance movie passes have once more returned to Media Services!

This time, we have passes to see The Wedding Ringer, an upcoming comedy in which Kevin Hart plays a for-hire best man for awkward grooms. Between Ride Along and the Think Like a Man a series, Kevin Hart has been on a hot streak, and his co-star Josh Gad is still on top after his success in The Book of Mormon. This movie doesn't normally hit theaters until January 2015, so details are scarce, but those two actors sound like a winning combination.

The screening goes down Tuesday, October 21, at the AMC Loews Georgetown at 7pm. Claim your pass online at our page on (We don't have physical passes for this one.) As usual, keep in mind that these screenings are intentionally overbooked, and your pass does not guarantee entry. Show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dare you plumb the depths of public domain horror?

Halloween is rapidly approaching (only 17 days away!) so our patrons are understandably checking out loads of horror films. [On a personal editorial note, I find it fantastic that there is an entire month dedicated to fear.] We've previously covered our horror collection on Pinterest, which is still the best resource for finding the various scary movies in our collection.

But what if you want to dig deeper? For the hardcore horror aficionados – as well as anyone who wants to get a good horror movie without leaving their dorm – we wish to direct your attention to Horrortheque.

Horrortheque collects public domain horror movies (essentially, ones for which the copyright has lapsed) and provides videos of them where available. Many films released in the 1930s or earlier have entered the public domain, but others as recent as the 1980s are also freely available. Some of them, like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, are stone-cold classics. Horrortheque grabs many of its videos from public YouTube uploads, many of which have been removed, so their availability within the site is a little iffy. But once you have the names, they should be readily accessible via a quick Google search.

This is a fun site for horror enthusiasts and film history buffs looking for something seasonal that's a little less trodden. The public domain overflows with of all sorts of film oddities, and there's perhaps no better time to dive in than during a holiday about the mysterious and scary.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Get to know Docuseek2, now with new films!

Have you visited Docuseek2 lately? Do you know about Docuseek2? They've put up a whole slew of new content, so now is a good chance to introduce (or reintroduce) you to one of our most exciting streaming video partners. Docuseek2 streams films produced by Icarus Films and Bullfrog Films, two major distributors with a reputation for high-quality documentaries.

We recognize that large streaming video databases can be a little hit-or-miss sometimes, but Docuseek2 is special. Every film is worth watching. We certainly consider many of the films in Docuseek2 – including The Age of Stupid, King Corn, Detropia, and Goodbye Mubarak! – to be among the best in our collection. All of this is free to access if you are American University student, staff, or faculty. We always encourage you to explore our streaming video resources, but consider Docuseek2 a first stop for video in your research and instruction.

Docuseek2 is continuously adding new titles, and American University just gained access to a whole slew of them, like Nanjing, Code Gray, and How Putin Came to Power. You can see highlights from their newest acquisitions on their New Releases page (though several of these may not yet be available via American University's subscription).

This is definitely one of the best video resources accessible through the AU Library. We're very proud of our physical collection, but we also can't wait to see where Docuseek2 grows from here. Seriously consider looking into the new items in their streaming archives; we're certainly excited!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Read the Music Library's review of Minor Threat Live

Our collection has a healthy number of films about music, musicians, and the music industry, so we like to collaborate with our friends over in the Music Library to promote them. Jesse, one of the student workers in the Music Library has been reviewing some of our music DVDs; last week he wrote about our compilation of Minor Threat performances from the 1980s in and around DC (HU DVD 4394).

We'll let Jesse's review speak for itself. Head over to the Music Library blog and see what he has to say about Minor Threat and the role of their show in the history of the DC hardcore punk scene.

Monday, October 06, 2014

"I've got good news!" Twin Peaks will triumphantly return in 2016

We usually don't like to comment on ultra-recent entertainment news, but we make exceptions for stories as big as the return of Twin Peaks. Co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost announced today that the cult classic, which enraptured and infuriated a generation that later tried to warn everyone about Lost, will return in 2016 for a limited third season. Laura Palmer warned viewers at the end of the original series that they'd see her again in 25 years, and it looks like that prophecy has come to pass.

Even decades after the end of the show and the release of its equally confusing film adaptation, Twin Peaks remains a touchstone for serialized television and the template from which True Detective, The X-Files, Fringe, and many similar shows emerged. Fans and casual viewers have misgivings about the second season, which took a dip in quality after David Lynch's departure, but any additional Twin Peaks is frankly a blessing.

Two years is a while to wait, but we figure that's long enough to relive the original run of Twin Peaks in real-time. We have both seasons (HU DVD 14069 - 14070) and the movie spinoff, Fire Walk with Me (HU DVD 5760). If you watch an episode ever other week, that should carry you over for a while.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Tiananmen Square documentaries provide context for current Hong Kong protests

If you've paid attention to international news recently, you may be aware of the large-scale protests (and subsequent government crackdown) occurring in Hong Kong over proposed election reforms that could prevent opposition candidates from seeking office. To outside observers, the so-called "Umbrella Revolution" is turning out distressingly similarly to the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. We won't pretend to be experts on what's happening right now, but if you wish understand the context of these protests, we want to emphasize the importance of China's uneven history with freedom of expression.

From the famous "Democracy Wall" to the more obscene "grass mud horse," Chinese citizens have for decades struggled to make their voices heard amidst a regime that is has repeatedly been demonstrated hostility to dissident voices. The massacre at Tiananmen Square is perhaps the most visible demonstration of the Chinese government's clash with protestors, and many documentaries have been produced about its causes and effects.

Back in June, we posted a list of films in our collection about the events in Tiananmen Square; it is deeply troubling that this post is once again relevant. We've produced this list again below for your convenience. We encourage you to watch them for a greater understanding of how the current movement is another episode in China's persistent struggle with democratic ideals.

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, September 30, 2014

Have war films outlasted our actual wars? xkcd digs for an answer

Randall Munroe's What If?, one of the most popular new books of the year, scientifically guesstimates the answers to absurd hypothetical questions. Usually these involve pushing the laws of physics to their breaking point, but once in a while, they just deal with situations of absurd, immeasurable scale. After spending a lazy afternoon browsing the What If webs... er, doing research, we've found a scenario that's directly relevant to our collections: are the total running times of all World War II films longer than the war itself?

Using the massive amounts of tags and data accrued by IMDb – and some clever averaging to save time – Munroe estimates that there are about 300 days of World War II films and movies. That's only about a seventh as long as the war itself, but that's still a great ratio for a multi-year international conflict. Some smaller wars that lasted for only a few days have an edge, but no major conflict comes as close as World War II. It speaks volumes about our broader cultural fascination with one of the last wars that people still refer to as "great."

We don't have all 300 days worth of World War II films in our collection, but we recognize that war films are a popular and perennially relevant genre. To this end, we want to direct you to our war films Pinterest board, which contains over 200 movies ranging from Enemy at the Gates to Courage Under Fire. That's good for about a solid month of war films – still shorter than the Falklands War.

Monday, September 29, 2014

See Men, Women & Children, then grab the T-Shirt!

As we head into October, we're leaving behind summer blockbusters and heading straight into the prestige season, when award-contenders and major dramas are released for the discerning public. One of the more conspicuous debuts this week is Men, Women & Children, the latest film by director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno, Young Adult). Reitman has some pretty strong dramedy chops under his belt, so we have high expectations for this one. But we also have some movie swag!

We currently have a bag full of posters and T-shirts for Men, Women & Children to give away at the Media Services desk. If you're interested in this movie, enjoy Jason Reitman, or just want something to decorate your wall/body,  we encourage you to come by and pick something up! We also have a poster for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader's indie hit The Skeleton Twins and a tote bag for summer breakout Chef.

And of course, we also have passes to see Men, Women & Children this Wednesday evening at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14. Swing by to grab a shirt and a pass. As always, remember that these advance screenings are intentionally overbooked, so show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A eulogy for the Saturday morning cartoon

Yesterday marked the largely unheralded end of a television tradition: the Saturday morning cartoon. For nearly fifty years, network channels devoted a significant portion of their Saturday programming to children's animated programs, but with the end of The CW's "Vortexx" block, no major broadcast networks is airing cartoons on Saturday anymore. After years of criticism for selling kids sugary cereal and toys, it's not surprising (and perhaps for the better) that educational and family-friendly programs have largely replaced cartoons as the go-to weekend staple. Child-friendly animation is still alive and well on channels like Cartoon Network and Disney XD, but the tradition that birthed Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, GI Joe, and the likes is now finished.

Certainly in the pantheon of all television shows, Saturday morning cartoons were among the most disposable. But they were a culturally significant niche, one that influenced generations of children and, if the success of Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this summer is any indication, will continue to inform our media preferences for years to come.

Although our collection has a great selection of cartoons (including classics like Woody Woodpecker the recent The Amazing World of Gumball), we frankly don't have very many that began as part of the Saturday morning tradition. This might be for the best, given the quality of some of them. We do however, have both Captain Planet and the Planeteers (HU DVD 8841) and Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures! (HU DVD 10285). If you're looking for Saturday morning cartoons, you could certainly do worse than these too. But we don't provide cereal and action figures.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No more lasers? PBS takes on the realism of movie space combat

We might criticize special effects for overstaying their welcome on occasion, but without CGI and crazy miniature work, we wouldn't have space battles. Watching spaceships shoot lasers and blow up is among the greatest, basest pleasures of movies. Even the Star Wars prequels, superfluous as they may be, have a few entertaining space fights. Color us saddened if unsurprised that these scenes are very scientifically inaccurate.

As part of his It's Okay to Be Smart series, PBS's Joseph Shoer produced a six-minute video (embedded above) explaining how movie-magic space combat would work in a scientifically accurate setting. Too many factors, especially speed-of-light travel and the feasibility of weaponized lasers, prevent the possibility of flashy movie-style battles. He suggests that realistically, space combat would resemble a war from the 1800s, with cannon-like projectiles and sluggish communications.

So why do the movies get it wrong? Shoer argues that many early science fiction films were in fact reflections on modern war, and their combat scenes stylistically mimicked classic cinematic depictions of aerial dogfights. He juxtaposes footage of the famous Death Star battle scene from Star Wars alongside clips from The Dam Busters (HU DVD 7519), and it's hard to argue against that visual evidence.

If you like sci-fi, have a few minutes to spare, and don't mind a little cheesiness, check this video out. Hopefully it won't ruin your enjoyment of "pew pew pew" in the future

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Acquisitions - September 2014

Everyone settled in for the semester? We haven't brought you a new batch of titles since July, mostly because we've been working through our enormous backlog. By our count, we've cataloged over 150 new items since last time, including a good number of new and returning television shows.

In the interest in promoting a wide variety of content, we want to highlight a few items that are polar opposites. Pretty much everyone loves The Lego Movie, but we also acquired the entire series of The Shield, beloved Korean body-swapping soap opera Secret Garden, Lars von Trier's highly explicit Nymphomaniac, cult British acting tour de force Orphan Black, and a documentary about the unproduced version of Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

(We also got our hands on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, by far the most surreal program ever to air on television..)

Hit the jump to see what we got our hands on in the last month...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dig into television and film corpuses with Bookworm Movies

One handy tool for cultural analysis is to measure how often words are used within a given set of texts, whether that's transcripts from Congress or every document ever written. It's much easier to search through the written word for obvious reasons, leaving audio-visual media left out of the content analysis process. Luckily, a very clever professor named Ben Schmidt has leveraged big data to make movies and television shows as searchable as books.

Schmidt's new service, Bookwork Movies, uses the Open Subtitles database to grab the scripts from thousands of movies and shows. Punch in any word or phrase – and, optionally, a specific show or medium – and Bookworm Movies will produce a detailed graph of how often each word is used relative to its entire corpus. As show in the chart above, Scrubs uses the word "doctor" more frequently than many medical dramas, while it appears comparatively little in Grey's Anatomy. There's all sorts of angles you could go above analyzing that. This is a terrific starting point for seeing how television shows and movies change language over time in comparison to one another.

The best part? The entirety of The Simpsons is included as well. And thankfully, they haven't used the word "selfie" yet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Top 10: Scotland, On Screen and Behind the Camera

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.

Today, Scotland heads to the polls to vote on whether to declare independence. Even if the vote fails, this election may be one of the most momentous in recent European history. In Media Services, we've been abuzz with one question: if Scotland declares independence, do we start looking at their national cinema separate from the United Kingdom too? This is an especially hard question to answer given the fluid national identity of the UK.

Regardless, Scotland has a quality film history, both in on-screen depictions and from their filmmakers. We've done a little perusing, and we'd like to share what we consider the top ten films in Scotland and from Scotland.

(And sorry, but we made the executive decision not to include Highlander on this list.)

This is Alfred Hitchcock's only film set in Scotland, and it's a doozy. Many consider it among Hitchcock's best films shot in the United Kingdom, and its narrative elements – an innocent man on the run, unexpected character deaths, a MacGuffin – anticipate some of his later masterpieces like Psycho and North by Northwest.

Maybe it's a little obvious, but this 1995 Best Picture winner remains the most iconic depictions of Scotland in the history of film. There is perhaps no more widely recognized symbol of of Scottish nationalism than William Wallace screaming "Freedom!" Expect many Braveheart references in tonight's news coverage.

Outside of Brave, there are very few animated films set in Scotland. This one, based on an unproduced screenplay by French director Jacques Tati, follows a magician who sunsets his career in Scotland. Melancholy and wistful, The Illusionist is a gorgeous film that was rightly nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar.

Bill Forsyth is probably the first name you would put on a list of Scottish national cinema directors. His 1983 comedy about a Texan oil baron attempting to buy a coastal Scottish town is a tribute to everything beloved about his country. Critics swooned over it too: Local Hero is among the only films with a shocking 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ratcatcher is a coming-of-age story, but it is perhaps most notable for setting that story against the background of the 1973 Glasgow garbage strikes. That event is an underdocumented, fairly ugly moment in Scottish history, and Ratcatcher engages with this past in rare form.

Yes, Rob Roy is the product of an American studio, and its lead actor is Irish. But this story of one of the great Scottish folk heroes is an indelibly Scottish experience. The entire film was (beautifully) shot in the Highlands and makes use of real castles, though this lead to all sorts of production-related weather and travel nightmares.

Starring a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccelston, this dark crime comedy was a sleeper success that found new life with a 2012 Criterion re-issue. The film is also notable as the first product of frequent collaborators Danny Boyle and John Hodge. This directing-writing duo would go on to produce one of the most famous of all Scottish films...

Danny Boyle's gonzo take on heroin and economic depression in Edinburgh is remembered for its vibrant and manic performances, particularly from then-unknown Ewan McGregor. That one of the most famous Scottish films is about drugs and squalor isn't necessarily a negative. Frank McAveety, a former Scottish tourism minister, called the attention "welcome."

The original Wicker Man (not the regrettable Nicolas Cage remake) is a masterwork of horror that uses the Scottish isles to great effect. Christopher Lee gives one of the most powerful performances of his career as the leader of a pagan cult tied to a young girl's disappearance.

Whisky Galore! is a love letter to an acquired taste in alcohol. When a ship carrying an astronomical amount of whiskey crashes in Scotland, the local village goes nuts defending and/or looting it. This is a certifiably silly movie that probably doesn't help Scotland's reputation, but it certainly doesn't pretend to be anything but madcap.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Simon Pegg fan? See Hector and the Search for Happiness THIS THURSDAY

We've been posting a ton about free film screenings recently, but there have just been a great number happening in the last few weeks. That's certainly not a bad thing, especially if you enjoy quality entertainment for minimal price. But it's been a while since we brought you an advance screening of an upcoming movie. Time to fix that.

We have passes to an advance screening of Hector and the Search for Happiness, an upcoming star vehicle starring Simon Pegg. A far cry from his usual dark comedies, Pegg stars as a psychiatrist who travels the world in pursuit of... well, happiness. To be frank, the movie isn't getting good reviews so far. But if you like Simon Pegg, it might be worth an opportunity to see him doing something strikingly different.

The screening goes down tomorrow night, Thursday, September 18th, at 8pm at the AMC Loews Georgetown. Pick up your advance pass in person at the Media Services desk. As always, please remember to show up early, as these screenings are intentionally overbooked and passes and do not guarantee entry.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

AU Library begins late Friday hours with 22 Jump Street

The AU Library has traditionally always closed on Friday at 9pm, but this semester, we're trying something different. Starting this Friday, September 12th, the library will be open for late-night hours, but not just so you can study. We're planning a series of Friday events, including game nights and free movies.

We're kicking off our Friday night lineup with a free screening of 22 Jump Street this Friday at 9pm in the Mud Box. We love practically anything Lord and Miller put out, and the Jump Street series is no exception. (Plus, we figured the college theme wouldn't hurt.) 22 Jump Street is out of theaters and won't hit DVD until mid-late November, so this might be your only chance to see it until Thanksgiving.

We hope you join us in the library this Friday! We want to bring you exciting evening events more regularly, so if this goes well, expect to hear more in the future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mark the fortieth anniversary of Watergate with a free screening of All the President's Men

August marked the fortieth anniversary of President Nixon's resignation and the culmination of the biggest scandal in American political history. The legacy of the Watergate scandal is still alive in part because of All the President's Men, the Academy Award-winning film about the Washington Post's investigation of the break-ins. Its depiction of real, hard-hitting, grounded journalism has make it a perennial favorite in the communications world.

To commemorate this anniversary, the School of Communication will be hosting a screening of All the President's Men TONIGHT at 7pm in the recently renovated McKinley Building. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor at the Post, will also offer a few words about the role of the press in the Watergate scandal. (Best of all, it's free, and there will be refreshments at 6:30pm!)

Stop by the Forman Theater in McKinley tonight for a screening of a terrific film with some editorial comments from an authority figure in the world of print journalism. See you there!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Alternative programming: What happened to your last iPhone?

If you follow the world of tech, you are no doubt aware that Apple is planning to announce some new products today. These likely include a new iPhone model as well as a possible wearable gadget. The wearable tech arms race is escalating with Google Glass, the Galaxy Gear, and the Moto 360, and Apple's additions are expected to blow this field out of the water.

We love keeping up on phone and tablets, but it's important to recognize the less seemly aspects of the tech industry. Despite electronic devices ostensibly being an investment, they are manufactured with disposability and replacement in mind. Chances are you've gone through several phones in the last few years, sometimes for a stylish update but often because they just peter out at some point. This is hardly a mistake, and the tech industry thrives on your continued purchase of new hardware. Even after your old phone is gone, the resulting e-waste is enormously toxic and disruptive.

After everyone loses their mind over the iWatch or iGlasses or whatever Apple rolls out today, consider watching one of these documentaries that looks at why you're trading in your iPhone and what's happens to it afterwards. There's nothing wrong with wanting to swap out your old phone for the new model, but keep in mind the consequences of and business models built around this behavior.

Terra Blight – DVD 10630
The Light Bulb Conspiracy: The Untold Story of Planned Obsolescence – DVD 10648
Planned Obsolescence: Why Some Durable Goods Aren't So Durable – Streaming video

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cultural fragmentation begets bizarre niche film festivals

If you pay attention to film news, you may have noticed a brouhaha this weekend over the Telluride Film Festival, one of the first stops on the road to Oscar contention and a recurring favorite for independent filmmakers. But back in May, you might have missed out on Blobfest, a festival that only screens movies similar to The Blob.

As told in a recent profile from The New York Times, Blobfest is one of the many niche film festivals springing up around the world. The Times has assembled an impressive list of these weird and unusual events, ranging from the Feline Film Festival (which has come a long way since its first year) to mockumentary haven Mockfest. This is probably a result of the Long Tail-ization of interests and the ability for small audiences to thrive in the digital age, but it still gives critics like Peter Bogdanovich "a headache just trying to think of possibilities."

We saw some of this locally too; among all the various outdoor film festivals this summer, many had very specific themes, such as "flight" or "work." Plus, the annual festival held by the cinema-focused University College group always rallies around a specific, unusual topic. Frankly, it's fun to run with these somewhat silly and specific premises, especially when they can have positive effects (as the Times mentions for the Anxiety Arts Festival). Maybe we too will have a chapter of the Feline Film Festival one day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy National Ghostbusters Day!

Today marks the startling thirtieth anniversary of Ghostbusters, maybe the most successful comedy film of all time. The film was so successful at release that it stayed the number one film in the country for seven solid weeks, and adjusted for inflation, it is still one of the highest grossing films of all time. Now we are as far from the release of Ghostbusters as Ghostbusters was from Rear Window. There's probably too much hemming and hawing these days about the passage of time, but thirty years is a great milestone for classic film. Considering that we lost Harold Ramis this year, this anniversary feels particularly weighty.

The most exciting part of this anniversary is, by far, the re-release of Ghostbusters in theaters. If you look up any local theater listing, you will find dozens of screenings for the movie over the course of the Labor Day weekend. If you need an excuse to see it, remember that the first weeks of classes is nearly over, and you probably need a break. Bustin' does make one feel good.

If you're in further need of retrospection, the Los Angeles Times published a look back on the franchise from director Ivan Reitman, and SDRS Creative created a terrific infographic of trivia explaining the somewhat complicated production of the now legendary movie.

Who cares if it's two months before Halloween? This is a great weekend for ghosts. Do not perish in flame!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mark your calendar: AU's French film festival is next week!

We always try to share interesting film screenings around town, and you may have noticed that those screenings cluster around the warmer seasons. It's great for those who are around after the school year, but we realize many people are back home or abroad during the summer. For those who are just joining us for the fall – or if you're on campus and have an interest in French film – we have terrific news!

American University's School of Communication has partnered with the French Embassy, Institut Français, TV5Monde, and Wolfe Video to bring you Finding Your Identity: A Festival of French Film. On September 4th and 5th at 8pm, AU will be screening two French films about identity, All is Forgiven and Tomboy, at the Woods-Brown Amphitheater. Don't worry: if you don't speak French, the films will be subtitled in English.

Foreign language film screenings on campus don't happen that often, so this is an exciting event! If you have a hankering for some cinema, set time aside next week for some on-campus movie-watchin'!

(It feels wrong to say "watchin' " in a post about French film.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Usher in Fall 2014 with the 2014 Emmys!

Today marks the star of the fall 2014 semester! After a slow, low-profile summer, we're ready for another couple months of reservations, class screenings, and paper-writing. Today is also the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards. This is highly unusual, given that the Emmys usually air in September on Sunday, but we like to think that the television industry conspired with AU to give you the ultimate after-class activity.

If you've enjoyed television in the last year, this year's Emmy ceremony is one to watch. There are many contentious categories (will Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory sweep comedy awards again, or is it time for Orange is the New Black?), but the big draw will be the showdown between Breaking Bad and True Detective. Both shows had truly standout seasons, and Bryan Cranston and Matthew McConaughey can both make a solid case for being the best Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

The Emmys begin in about four hours, but that's enough time to watch one or two episodes of some of the best shows. There are many, many programs nominated for the Emmy this year, but we'd like to direct your attention to the big ones in contention (though many are not yet on DVD).

Outstanding Drama Series
True Detective, Season 1 – HU DVD 11445
Breaking Bad, The Final Season – HU DVD 14053
House of Cards, Season 2 – HU DVD 14211

Outstanding Comedy Series
Orange is the New Black, Season 1 – HU DVD 11416

Outstanding Television Movie
Sherlock, "His Last Vow" – HU DVD 7958

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!