Thursday, August 27, 2015

We're back next week

Hi everyone! We wanted to apologize for the radio silence in the past two weeks. We've been very busy preparing ourselves and our staff for the coming semester.

Look forward to regular posts returning next week. Welcome to all the university's incoming freshmen!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A look back at Hugo Award-winning television and film

Yesterday marked the 73rd WorldCon, an annual assemblage of science fiction and fantasy fans and writers that hosts the prestigious Hugo Awards. Named after science fiction editor Hugo Gernsback, the Hugos are awarded every year to groundbreaking genre fiction and proudly include legends like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick among their winners. This year's ceremony was steeped in controversy after anti-diversity groups flooded the nomination process to block submissions by and about people of different races and gender identities, and voters responded by, well, just not giving out some of the awards this time. (Probably an appropriate response!)

Among the many awards for short stories and novellas, the Hugos also honor "dramatic presentations," usually films and television shows. This year's crowns went to Guardians of the Galaxy and, for the first time, BBCs Orphan Black. As with the rest of the Hugos, the winners in both the Short Form and Long Form categories have a remarkable pedigree, though we'll quibble with some of the choices over the years. No win for Last Year at Marienbad in 1963?

Below, we've assembled a sample of Hugo-winning titles in our collection. It's not everything, but it's a good representation of what the Hugos tends to honor. There's a lot of obvious major names (of course Star Wars won), which if anything is a great indication of how often they get it right. Congrats to the Hugos on their weird but successful year, and we look forward to seeing what joins these annals in 2016!

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – HU DVD 480
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – HU DVD 808 - 810
Blade Runner – HU DVD 1067
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – HU DVD 1096
Star Wars original trilogy – HU DVD 1643 - 1646
Pan's Labyrinth – HU DVD 2770
Slaughterhouse-Five – HU DVD 5727
Star Trek: "The Menagerie" – HU DVD 6201, Disc 4
Inception – HU DVD 8000
The Incredible Shrinking Man – HU DVD 8968
Game of Thrones, Season 1 – HU DVD 10021
Doctor Who: "Blink" – HU DVD 10803, Disc 4
A Boy and His Dog – HU DVD 11420
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Conversations with Dead People" – HU DVD 14011, Disc 2
The Twilight Zone (television) – HU DVD 14063 - 14067
Star Trek: The Next Generation: "All Good Things..." – HU DVD 14209, Disc 7

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Easily tally up how long you've watched TV and come face-to-face with your mortality

We understand that statistics about how much time we spend watching television tend to be exaggerated, often because we watch it while talking, eating, or working. But it's still shocking to see that our favorite shows run for days if not weeks. How much time have we dedicated to this glowing rectangle?

Rather than parse through episode lists and running times, you can now use to add up the numbers. Using info grabbed from TMDb (a more developer-friendly IMDb alternative), calculates the running times of TV shows per season and adds them to a dreadful running tally of the total time you've dedicated (or plan to dedicate) to binge-watching.

(As of this posting, the site seems to have some technical glitches that prevent it from displaying the tally in some circumstances. You might need to clear your browser history if things go awry. Try not to enter any stratospherically long-running shows which tend to break it.)

We can couch our shameful time commitments by acknowledging that we aren't actually spending a solid week at a time actively watching television, but the numbers are still startling and eventually numbing. For a real shock, see how long it would take you to catch up on every episode of Jeopardy!. We'll see you next year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Flintstones was the ultimate warning about cohesive writing

The second season of HBO's True Detective has not received kind reviews, but in defense of its creative ambition, it is the singular product of creator Nic Pizzolatto. He has almost exclusive writing credit for the series, and for better or worse, it undeniably carries his signature. That's a rarity in commercial film and television production, where rooms of writers edit each other's work down into something slicker. This often results in better scripts, but too many participants can create a tonally confusing work.

That was certainly the case for the John Goodman-fronted The Flintstones, which legendarily had over 35 screenwriters. Den of Geek recently dug into the convoluted history of this committee-driven disaster, and the tale serves as a lesson in terrible writing practices. After roughly a decade with at least six total overhauls and two directors, the final product bore so many contributions that the Writers Guild of America had to rewrite its rules when the studio only credited three names. At least one writer doesn't even recognize their additions anymore.

Though both were disliked, True Detective and The Flintstones may be polar opposites. One failed for indulging a single author; the other floundered from the chaos of dozens. Pick your poison.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

We might see The Day the Clown Cried in 2025

A year and a half ago, now-removed footage from Jerry Lewis's The Day the Clown Cried surfaced online for the first time. For those unacquainted with the legend, The Day the Clown Cried was a Holocaust melodrama about a clown sent to a concentration camp. The film was never released and has acquired an apocalyptically poor reputation, described as "beyond normal computation" and "so drastically wrong" by those who have seen it. Lewis refuses to discuss the film at-length and vowed to block its release.

But thanks to the Library of Congress, we might finally get to witness this disastrous movie. According to the Los Angeles Times's report on the Library of Congress's annual Mostly Lost film festival, the institution's film wing recently acquired a copy of The Day the Clown Cried on the ground that it not be shown for ten years. Jerry Lewis will likely be dead by then, and we can only assume he wanted to spare himself the public attention (and probably ridicule) that would result.

We want nothing more than to see this film finally released, both for its historical and possible kitsch value. Based on the interviews linked above, it sounds like an aesthetic marvel too, with major production design errors and filmmaking faux pas. We'll check back in 2025 to see if that print ever sees the light of day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Four years ago, Scottish environmentalists took on Trump

With all the hot air swirling about Donald Trump in the past week, now because of his debate performance, we often forget that he was a blowhard in business before he was a blowhard in politics. He's received flak for some of his higher-profile real-estate projects, many of which involve taking over historic spaces like his purchase of Old Post Office Pavilion downtown. But once in a while when takes on the little guy, the little guy fights backs.

In the 2012 documentary You've Been Trumped, Trump pressures the Scottish government into loosening environmental regulations so he can construct a golf course on the coastline. Activists didn't take kindly to this, and the film documents their protracted fight to preserve the Scottish coast, as well as looks at the general environmental damage caused by over-development. Trump famously tried to prohibit the release of this documentary and later called it "boring," which to us reads as a glowing endorsement.

AU students, staff, and faculty can watch You've Been Trumped for free as part of our collection from Docuseek2. Log in via the catalog to stream the documentary from your device of choice. We understand if you're sick of the Donald, but this is an excellently made film and a timely opportunity to continue with the pillorying.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

See Vulture's 2-minute primer on the bottle episode, then watch a few

Bottle episodes have long served as a staple of nearly every TV production – whether for creative or budgetary reasons – but many television fans might not be familiar with the concept. To avoid stealing their thunder, we'll just recommend that you watch Vulture's terrific, short primer on the history of bottle episodes and why they're all-around positive for a show to sprinkle in.

Once you're caught up, you might want to watch one of the better ones. Below is a list of recommended bottle episodes that show how much you can wring out of one set – many of which appear in that video!

Homicide: Life on the Street: "Three Men and Adena" – HU DVD 2798, Disc 2
Star Trek: "The Naked Time" – HU DVD 6201, Disc 2
Community: "Cooperative Calligraphy" – HU DVD 10002, Disc 2
The Sopranos: "Pine Barrens" – HU DVD 14032, Disc 4
Friends: "The One Where No One's Ready" – HU DVD 14040, Disc 1
Breaking Bad: "Fly" – HU DVD 14050, Disc 3
The West Wing: "17 People" – HU DVD 14087, Disc 5
Seinfeld: "The Chinese Restaurant" – HU DVD 14133, Disc 2 

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A tribute to analog computers in film

Continuing this week's accidental theme of production design, we came across a terrific article summarizing the history of analog technology in science fiction films. Minority Report's gesture-controlled holographic interfaces and touchscreens changed the popular idea of a futuristic interface, but before that, the future in film looked a lot like the 70s: toggle switches, dials, and LCD displays. These tactile computers had a unique, lived-in aesthetic that's still fondly remembered.

The authors at Hopes and Fears assembled a great collection of some of film's best physical interfaces, most of which came out before 2000. Among the famous examples including Star Trek and Blade Runner, the article includes interesting tidbits from the designers themselves. The ship from Alien, for instance, was built as a single contiguous set. Many ships in Star Wars were apparently built from airplane scrap for the sake of authenticity.

Film production designers pour clear love into their scenery, and this demonstrates the lengths they go to in order to make such memorable technology. We may have left behind the bulky metal boxes from 80s science fiction for the intuitive shiny floaty boxes of the 21st century, but we miss attention to detail like this.

Monday, August 03, 2015

In honor of Rowdy Roddy Piper, a look back on They Live from Slavoj Zizek

Rowdy Roddy Piper's death last Friday leaves a very unusual hole in the film world. Though he made occasional guest appearances in TV shows and movies – usually either playing himself or a similarly hard-knuckled character – Piper is best known even beyond his wrestling career as the star of They Live (HU DVD 9020), John Carpenter's cult 1988 sci-fi thriller. Piper plays a construction worker who finds mysterious glasses that allow him to see the hidden mind-controlling messages throughout society. It's a bizarre but deeply loved film, and Piper's death has prompted plenty of media retrospectives about it.

Our favorite comes from Slavoj Zizek's documentary A Pervert's Guide to Ideology (available in the collection, HU DVD 11194). Zizek uses the film as a critique of the concept of moving outside ideology. It's complicated, and we'll let him explain it; the video is embedded above. He even discusses the over-extended fist-fight midway into the movie, calling it "the extreme violence of liberation."

They Live's second life in the cult film canon isn't surprising given its total weirdness, and we like that critics are revisiting its ideas with a little more acceptance. And even though Zizek's analysis is a few years old, it speaks to what a special movie Piper contributed to.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Production design in an HD world

For all the brouhaha about greenscreen effects changing filmmaking, props, costumes, and sets still matter. Production design continues to be vital to even the most effects-heavy movies: just ask the craftspeople who hand-made all the chainmail armor for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, embedded above. But as high-definition cameras, Blu-rays, and auto-smoothing televisions produce increasingly higher quality images, this traditional side of the film craft has struggled to keep up with the level of detail needed to keep up the illusion.

A terrific article last week from Bloomberg Business of all publications looks at the new lengths propmasters are taking for the sake of onscreen magic. David Marais mentions that props in wider shots used to need to look realistic within two-inches of detail. Now, detail matters down to an eighth of an inch. Plastic props made to look like wood now look like... well, plastic props made to look like wood. For more detailed props like soda cans, names and branding need to look as close as possible without infringing on the actual designs, something that has raised serious legal dilemmas.

There's plenty of other great anecdotes in there. Give the article a read to get a better appreciation for the work that film crews are putting into keeping the illusion of reality in movies and television. The next time you see a big spender with a briefcase full of money, your television might reveal that they say "In Dog We Trust."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Acquisitions - July 2015

Last month we promised more regular updates about our new acquisitions, and... well, we didn't have a whole lot coming in for a few weeks. But we do now! We got a motley assortment of new titles in July, and to avoid going for the obvious bigger names (nothing against Thor), let's spotlight a few the great off-the-track DVDs you can get now from the AU Library.

Before anything else, you'll want to check out Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a remake of the first Indiana Jones movie filmed by three childhood friends over the course of several decades on home video cameras. Music fans should tune in for Nas: Time is Illmatic, a documentary about the creation of rapper Nas's groundbreaking debut album. And anyone interested in gaming or diversity in culture should watch GTFO, a primer on harassment and exclusion of women in the video game community and industry.

We also finally got The Wiz. How did we not have The Wiz? Read on for a full list of what's new.

Monday, July 27, 2015

75 years later, celebrating Bugs Bunny – and looking at his contentious history

Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros.'s de facto cartoon mascot and a symbol of the golden age of animation (and maybe LeBron James's future co-star?). Though Bugs is an immediately recognizable icon today, it took hundreds of theatrical animated shorts and countless years of Saturday morning television shows to get there. And those decades have left behind countless historical artifacts of the birth of popular animation that Warner has thankfully preserved and shared for future generations – including the unseemly current of prejudice and xenophobia that sadly defined Looney Tunes for years.

This DVD set, the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, remains the best collection of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts available anywhere. Across six volumes, the compilation includes a breathtaking 360 animated shorts, spanning from 1929 (before the Looney Tunes name even existed) up to the 3D, CG-created Road Runner shorts from 2010. Each disc includes audio commentaries for select shorts from famous animators, as well as fascinating Looney Tunes ephemera such as interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. If you ever wanted to see Mel Blanc recording the voice of Bugs Bunny, you can find some candid footage on the first disc of Volume 1.

But as mentioned, many of these earlier Bugs Bunny shorts were produced at a time far, far less attune to the hurtfulness of racist and sexist stereotypes. A number of the shorts in this collection traffic in insensitive and damaging racial humor that was unchecked, and Warner Bros. has thankfully included those unedited where possible. Several cartoons known as the Censored Eleven have never been released on home media. Warner Bros. eloquently defends their inclusion in the collection with a message that appears at the top of each DVD:
The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as to claim these prejudices never existed.
That's a powerful statement in defense of artistic history, and with that unfortunate past acknowledged, it's easier to appreciate the wealth of animated joy Bugs Bunny and directors Tex Avery and Chuck Jones helped bring into the world.

The AU Library proudly circulates three volumes of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, as well as a massive collection of Tex Avery's adjacent work from the golden age of animation. Any are suitable viewing for Bugs's big milestone.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 1 – HU DVD 3231 - 3234
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2 – HU DVD 3235 - 3238
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 6 – HU DVD 8181 - 8184
The Compleat Tex Avery – DVD 9781 - 9789
Space Jam – HU DVD 7990

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Watch the suddenly-very-relevant Soy Cuba on the big screen

The normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba this week opens some obvious doors – some are surely counting down the days until legal cigar imports – but it also offers an appropriate moment to revisit cultural history we may have ignored intentionally or otherwise. Post-revolutionary Cuban films are sometimes left out of world cinema discussions.

A great place to start that discussion is I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), a visually stunning work depicting pre-revolutionary Cuba and the spirit of its people, including the country's early cultural tensions with the United States. I Am Cuba was nearly forgotten and languished in Soviet archives for decades before its found new popularity for its striking camerawork and themes. In an almost-too-perfect programming coincidence, the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring will be screening I Am Cuba tomorrow, July 24th, at 4:30pm, with repeat screenings on Sunday and Monday.

Historically, culturally, and artistically, this is a tremendous and once-again relevant film. If you can't catch it this weekend, you can always borrow our copy from the AU Library (HU DVD 331)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Hollywood's color correctors are playing with your emotions

We've talked about the color correction process in the past and how a once-cosmetic technique has become a fundamental part of the film production process. Total control of a film's color range and palette allows filmmakers to tailor create visually resplendent works and sometimes to ignore other steps in the process. But the colors their choose are a separate consideration, one rooted one psychology as much as filmmaking.

A new article from Fast Company dives into how certain color schemes can trigger emotional responses in everything from blockbuster movies to political campaign commercials. Through interviews with colorists, the authors reveal how certain tones can change the mood of scenes for dramatic effect. For instance, greens rarely appear at night in life, so emphasizing those colors in film for an unsettling effect. Or in a case of genuine artistry in Transformers, alien worlds intentionally lack normal white and black light to create the illusion of an unknown space.

This is an interesting insight into why filmmakers employ color correction to suck us into their creations. There's a dark side to these techniques, though: the article also mentions how political campaign ads will play with warm and cool colors to make opponent appear out of touch or distant. We put a lot of stock (no film joke intended) in post-production to sway us emotionally, and like any talent, that can be used for good or ill.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What happened to the makers of Sky Captain?

The 2004 retro sci-fi caper Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was the first major film to shoot entirely on greenscreen. In an era when blockbuster movies eschew physical sets and use CGI wizardry as a crutch rather than a tool, that doesn't seem like a groundbreaking or even welcome accomplishment. But no movie – even the effects-heavy Star Wars prequels – came close to using virtual scenery to Sky Captain's extent. The movie flopped, but it impressed the film world and presaged today's fantasy-soaked cinemas. So what happened to the filmmakers behind this milestone?

The Telegraph released a heartbreaking profile of Sky Captain's creators, Kerry and Kevin Conran, who saw their careers dramatically ascend and collapse in a few years over the anticipation and failure of their only feature film. Sky Captain started as an attempt to prove that independent filmmakers could create exciting blockbusters on small budgets using modern technology, but it ballooned into a massive, Jude Law-fronted boondoggle. Their innovations at one point caught the eyes of James Cameron, George Lucas, and other directors known for their technical wizardry, but they never earned a seat at the table in Hollywood. Kerry Conran continues to be crestfallen over this reversal of fortune and refused to participate in the article.

Given how little the Conran brothers created during their moment in the limelight, we may not know if they're the greatest untapped film talents in a generation or just more indie darlings who didn't work well on a bigger canvas. Their single shot fired, though, was a big one that is largely untold in film history. The next time a movie dramatically alters its setting without needing to reshoot, thank the Conrans for climbing that peak first.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

See which rejected films survive an audience gauntlet tonight at Cheers and Sneers

The annual DC Shorts festival showcases some of the best short films from local talent, but not all submissions make the cut. And every so often, presumably and hopefully with their creators' blessings, DC Shorts celebrates these rejections at Cheers and Sneers, an audience-driven showcase of the DC film scene's near misses, secret triumphs, and total failures.

Cheers and Sneers plays closer to a reality show voting round than a film festival. The DC Shorts folks play three minutes of each film on their program, and audience boos or cheers determine whether to advance that short to the next round or eliminate it from the competition. The winner at the end of the evening earns a spot in the upcoming DC Shorts festival (this year in September). Think of it as a roast of aspiring filmmakers; no malice is intended.

Lest this be too rationally critical, Cheers and Sneers is always held at a bar with ample drink specials, so the audience will be buzzed heading into this potentially disastrous lineup. Suffice to say this is a 21+ event.

2015's Cheers and Sneers unfolds tonight at 7:30pm at Penn Social near the Chinatown Metro. If you're looking for a happy hour spot that happens to be the spot of a near-drunken, vindictive film festival, you are in luck!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coming soon: the most epic slapstick of the silent era

Dr. Strangelove nearly ended with an extended war room pie fight, but Kubrick eventually deemed the idea as too ridiculous for his otherwise subtler satire. The footage was never released, but it might have been one of the greatest on-screen pie fights in history. Pie tossing has been a staple of vaudevillian slapstick since the silent era, and Dr. Strangelove's fight would have topped them all... had Laurel and Hardy not beaten it to the punch forty years earlier.

As The New York Times tells, Laurel and Hardy's short film "The Battle of the Century" features arguably the most epically scaled pie fight in movie history, burning through over 3000 pies in 20 minutes. The second half of the film has been missing for decades, becoming "a holy grail of comedy" as critic Leonard Maltin dubbed it. But just recently, an archivist discovered this missing portion. The existing reel seems to contain most of the pie-throwing, and anecdotes suggest the second reel reveals why the pastry carnage ensued. More pies might not be thrown, but we'll finally hear the setup to the punchline.

We won't get to see the results until it's properly preserved, but soon, we'll get to see the conclusion to arguably the greatest pie fight ever captured on film. Take that, Kubrick!

(The video above is a stitched-up version of "The Battle of the Century" using all currently available footage.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Why should you care about Ennio Morricone?

San Diego Comic-Con wraps up today, and amid all the Batman and Star Wars news, you might have missed a little announcement that has classic film fans in a tizzy. During a panel on Quentin Tarantino's upcoming The Hateful Eight, the director announced that film composition icon Ennio Morricone would score the movie, his first Western score in forty years. That's a big, big deal.

So why the hubbub? Morricone's work is a cornerstone of the Western genre. Picture a Western movie and the music that pops in your head; it's probably based on something Morricone composed.

Beyond his most recognizable work, the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and that film's legendary Ecstasy of Gold, embedded above) Morricone also wrote the music for Once Upon a Time in the West and countless near-anonymous spaghetti Westerns that have been sampled by other films. Bits of his score for Navajo Joe, for instance, was re-used in Election and Tarantino's Kill Bill duology. Morricone's trademark combination of raw guitars, whistling, choral singing, trumpets, and whipcracking have become ingrained in popular film vocabulary often to the point of parody.

A new Morricone Western score is like a new Hitchcock thriller. It's a new work by an artist in a medium they so thoroughly defined that everything afterwards is homage.

Of course, you need to listen to his music for the full effect. Instead of recommending that you watch any of the dozens of films Morricone scored, we'll instead point you to Morricone Conducts Morricone, a streaming video in our catalog of a concert of select notable pieces from his oeuvre. It's a great taste of how he transformed a genre – and what we can expect from him later this year.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

A glimpse behind the Library of Congress's film preservation vaults

You may be familiar with the National Film Registry, the Library of Congress group that annually selects significant American films to maintain in perpetuity. That's only a fraction of the over one million video recordings held by the Library of Congress, but all undergo a rigorous preservation process. For the first time that we've seen, WIRED was granted an inside look at the Library of Congress's preservation center in Virginia to show what the nation's film archive looks like. Turns out it's crowded – way more than desirable.

This profile of the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation is packed with interesting peeks behind the scenes, featuring everything from political process of curating their collection to the prison-like storage facilities. But the most fascinating detail comes from curator Rob Stone, who admits that the Packard Campus receives more items than they can handle and sadly reject a significant portion of them. WIRED writer Bryan Gardiner describes the complex in terms usually reserved for hoarders, but such is the nature of any archive flooded with rarities.

We only infrequently deal with film preservation in Media Services, so it's exciting to see the process involved in this whole other world of media in libraries. The Library of Congress is doing excellent, important work, but we'll take the AU Library over a "nuclear bunker" any day.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Filming permit map reveals NYC's hotspots in film

Many of us who do not often visit New York City are still intimately familiar with its iconic buildings and streets mainly because of its over-representation in film and television. Every other sitcom takes place in Manhattan, and aliens have destroyed the New York skylines more times than we can count. This keeps NYC's film office exceptionally busy, issuing thousands of permits every year to large and small productions filming on public property.

New York-focused data visualization group Metrocosm got their hands on over 10,000 filming permits issued from 2011 to 2013 and plotted them on a map, revealing which streets see the most action. Unsurprisingly, Times Square and the classically styled Financial District saw the most play, but you might notice a few other zones of interest. According to Metrocosm's analysis, those correspond to the city's outdoor and non-private film studios, including the massive indoor space at the 47th Regiment Armory.

We've most interested in productions that shot on the side-streets. Magician thriller Now You See Me shot extensively in Long Island City, and that's a little more exciting than seeing the Flatiron Building again.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

DC's West End Cinema is back!

Great news, DC film fans! The Washington Post reports that West End Cinema, which shuttered back in March, is reopening later this month!

West End was one of the area's most beloved limited-run independent theaters, and its closure earlier in the year left a hole in the DC film market only partly filled by E Street Cinema, the Avalon, and the AFI Silver. High-end movie-going experiences like the new ArcLight, iPic, and Drafthouse theaters in the area crowded West End out of business. The closure also signaled the symbolic end of DC's neighborhood theaters, which used to be everywhere.

Now, the Landmark Theatres chain has revived West End Cinema, still true to its goal as a small arthouse venue. Only two screens will be ready by the time it open on Friday, July 17th, but that's a good start for getting this theater back off the ground.

The theater might be under new management, but we're glad to see it back and operating!

Monday, July 06, 2015

Root around for something good in this fridge shot supercut

We had been looking for an occasion to post this supercut of refrigerators in films, and the post-Fourth of July leftover glut seems like a good occasion to do so.

The classic point-of-view shot of a character look for food in a fridge has become almost background noise at this point. When previously groundbreaking cinematography turns up in a Sunny D commercial, it's probably passé. This minute-and-a-half-long video from an editor under the pseudonym "Roman Holiday" is startling – not because it assembles so many fridge clips but because of how many notable films use them. Ghostbusters, 127 Hours, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes all appear, and Roman Holiday promises he'll continue to extend the video as he finds more.

The original fridge shot surely originated as a gimmick, but is it so ubiquitous as to be essential? Do all respectable directors need the Sunny D shot in their arsenal?

All we know is it reminds us to finally get rid of that weird jar of peppers that's been in the back of the fridge for a year.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Celebrate 'merica with an irrationally patriotic movie marathon

 Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year, so many DC businesses are taking Friday off too – including us! The extended weekend gives us an opportunity to cram in a few more patriotic movies. We have fond memories of spending the Fourth lazily watching Independence Day on basic cable, and for America's 239th birthday, we look forward to three days of the same.

When making Fourth of July recommendations, there's a few classics. Lincoln is a powerful portrait of one country's greatest presidents, and 1776 will always be entertaining for making Benjamin Franklin singing about "sexual combustibility." But for a holiday primarily about blowing things up, we also need to recommend the most aggressively, absurdly patriotic movies. There's a danger, especially in military films, of patriotism turning violent or xenophobic, but the best rootin'-tootin' America-worshipping movies love our country to an exaggerated level that's almost harmless in its total silliness.

So, before we close tonight, we recommend swinging by the library for one of these movies that celebrates America – either in serious reverence of its history or in total, deep-fried excess. National Treasure probably falls hallway between those.

1776 – HU DVD 4969
Glory – HU DVD 1171
Independence Day – HU DVD 3111
John Adams (miniseries) – HU DVD 4991 - 4993
Lincoln – HU DVD 6210
National Treasure – HU DVD 11187
The Patriot – HU DVD 347*
Red Dawn – HU DVD 259
Team America: World Police – HU DVD 2089
Top Gun – HU DVD 2959

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Documentaries answer: what's happening in Greece?

News broke today that Greece is in serious financial straits, having missed a major loan repayment to the IMF and now teetering on the edge of default. We admit to not following this situation closely and to being less literate in international politics than likely a majority of the AU students. As is our tendency, we're turning to documentaries in our collection to get a better understanding of this situation.

We found three quality streaming videos on the Films in Demand database that explain how Europe's greater currency crisis, Greece's particular situation and its relationship with banking, and how many Greek citizens are reacting to the austerity measures.

  • The Great Euro Crash – a BBC documentary about the long history of the Euro, tracing its development from theoretical planning in the mid-20th century to the current dilemma in Greece.
  • Greece's New Odyssey – looks at changing rural life in Greece and how agriculture and barter have become an alternative for young people leaving cities
  • Goldman Sachs and the Decline of Greece – generally about Greece's crisis but specifically about how American investment bank Goldman Sachs fed its financial collapse
This is of course not a complete picture of what's happening in Greece, but these videos certainly fill in the details better than many articles we've read. Films on Demand regularly updates their collections with quality, timely documentaries like these.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Spy a few movies in Crystal City on Mondays

Summer is the season for free outdoor film screenings, and with seemingly every neighborhood and area in DC now hosting its own business improvement district, there's no shortage of places to see a movie outside on a big screen. We felt like pointing out one of the bigger festivals happening in the city, Crystal City's annual Crystal Screen series. Every year since 2007, the Crystal City BID has hosted a specially themed film series, and this year, they're devoting the summer to espionage.

We're a little late to this one; the Crystal Screen events started in June, but they're continuing every Monday night all the way through the end of August. Next week, July begins with RED. Argo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follow through the rest of the month. The series is co-sponsored by the International Spy Museum, which will be handing out free swag and hosting spy-related activities before a few of the movies.

If you've never attending an outdoor movie screening in DC before, the Crystal Screen series is a great place to start. These are probably the most fun summer film events in the city!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How did movie trailers evolve into tiny blockbusters?

Internet nerd-dom had an outrage flashpoint recently when trailers for the upcoming movie Terminator: Genisys revealed multiple major plot twists, effectively spoiling what may have been the most interesting (or only interesting?) parts of the movie. Contrast that with the ominous trailer for the first Terminator movie. How did we go from brief teasers to mini-movies that leave out everything but the ending?

Culture website Hopes & Fears put together an excellent, extended article exploring the timeline of  the movie trailer and, drawing on other writing by film critics and experts, figuring out how film trailers became their own industry in miniature. Author Matthew Schimkowi presents a convincing chronology, starting from their origins as advertisements for serials and following all the way up to the advent of the Inception "BWAAAM" noise. Influential individual trailers get mentioned too, including The Public Enemy, Jaws and Dr. Strangelove. By 2015, he argues, the familiar trailer structure for conveying characters and plot arcs has become its own form of entertainment.

This is a highly recommended read for people interested in the film business, but we warn you that it might ruin trailers for you in the future. You'll be the one yelling about "turn lines" the next time you go to the movies.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Acquisitions - June 2015 - Part 2

As promised, here's our second batch of new titles from June. The most obvious major acquisitions are the remaining seasons of the first decade of The Simpsons that we didn't already own. Woop-woop-woop!

Artsier types might enjoy our additions from The Journal of Short film or Goodbye to Language, Jean-Luc Godard's first film in 3D. (Our copy includes a 3D Blu-ray, but we don't have any 3D screens to play it on. If you own one for some reason, be our guest!)

And if you're looking for a crowdpleaser for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, your clear choice is Drunk History, Comedy Central's American history series narrated by intensely drunk amateur storytellers. You haven't truly heard the story of The Star-Spangled Banner until you hear it slurred.

Home Use Collection:

Three Colors, Blue – HU DVD 2137
Three Colors, White – HU DVD 2138
Three Colors, Red – HU DVD 2139
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 17: Fall 2009 – HU DVD 3727
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 18: Winter 2010 – HU DVD 3728
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 19: Spring 2010 – HU DVD 3729
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 20: Summer 2010 – HU DVD 3730
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 21: Fall 2010 – HU DVD 3731
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 22: Winter 2011 – HU DVD 3732
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 23: Spring 2011 – HU DVD 3733
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 24: Summer 2011 – HU DVD 3734
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 25: Fall 2011 – HU DVD 3735
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 26: Winter 2012 – HU DVD 3736
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 27: Spring 2012 – HU DVD 3737
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 28: Summer 2012 – HU DVD 3738
Made in L.A. = Hecho en Los Angeles – HU DVD 4656
Begin Again – HU DVD 11979
Aida – HU DVD 12014
The Cosmic Man – HU DVD 12054
Strangers from Venus – HU DVD 12055
The Flying Saucer – HU DVD 12056
Il Trovatore – HU DVD 12059
The Lusty Men – HU DVD 12077
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – HU DVD 12078
Code Black – HU DVD 12189
Crossing Delancey – HU DVD 12203
Diplomacy – HU DVD 12204
Last Days in Vietnam – HU DVD 12205
17 Moments of Spring – HU DVD 12206
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – HU DVD 12209
Cathedral – HU DVD 12210
Coonskin – HU DVD 12212
Let Your Feet Do the Talkin' – HU DVD 12215
Paddington – HU DVD 12216
Mr. Turner – HU DVD 12217
Still Alice – HU DVD 12218
The Immigrant – HU DVD 12220
Goodbye to Language: 3D – HU BLU 12211
Selma – HU DVD 12221
Winter Sleep – HU DVD 12223
Wolf Hall – HU DVD 12224
Overnighters – HU DVD 12225
Watchers of the Sky – HU DVD 12226
Le Silence de la Mer – HU DVD 12227
The Johnstown Flood – HU DVD 12228
The Beguiled – HU DVD 12229
Welcome to LA – HU DVD 12230
The Fly – HU DVD 12232
Wizards – HU DVD 12233
Gods and Monsters – HU DVD 12234
Mighty Aphrodite – HU DVD 12235
Maidan  – HU DVD 12236
Reflections in a Golden Eye – HU DVD 12237


Drunk History, Season 1 – HU DVD 11975
Drunk History, Season 2 – HU DVD 11976
Fortitude, Season 1 – HU DVD 12213
The Simpsons, Season 4 – HU DVD 14327
The Simpsons, Season 5 – HU DVD 14328
The Simpsons, Season 6 – HU DVD 14329
The Simpsons, Season 7 – HU DVD 14330
The Simpsons, Season 8 – HU DVD 14331
The Simpsons, Season 9 – HU DVD 14332
The Simpsons, Season 10 – HU DVD 14333

In-Library Titles:

Stromboli – BLU 11972
Europe '51 – BLU 11973
Journey to Italy – BLU 11974
In Bed with the Arab Spring – DVD 12060
No Fire Zone – DVD 12075
What is Catholicism? – DVD 12084
The Greatest Management Principle in the World – DVD 12086
A Clone of Frogs – DVD 12090
Budapest: Communism with Tanks – DVD 12099
Iacocca: An American Profile – DVD 12100
Depression: The Shadowed Valley – DVD 12161
NOW with Bill Moyers, November 22, 2002 – DVD 12162
NOW with Bill Moyers, April 4, 2003 – DVD 12163
Wall Street: Money, Greed, Power – DVD 12164
The Yellow Gash: John-Paul Sartre on Tintoretto – DVD 12165
The Wall Street Fix – DVD 12172
Academy Award Winners: Animated Short Films – DVD 12173
Will There Always be an England? – DVD 12175
Betrayal – DVD 12182
Moliere – DVD 12186
Streetwise – DVD 12207
Being with John F. Kennedy – DVD 12208

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RIP James Horner

We're shocked and saddened by news of the untimely death of James Horner, Academy Award-winning composer of classic soundtracks for films including Apollo 13, Titanic, Braveheart, The New World, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Horner was a world-class composer whose works are among the best in film; he was still an active composer and enhanced every movie he scored. His death is a significant loss to the medium.

Listen to his contributions to any of his films below for a reminder of the enormous talent we've lost.

Apollo 13 – HU DVD 529
Aliens – HU DVD 886
Glory – HU DVD 1171
Testament – HU DVD 1665
The New World – HU DVD 1963
The Name of the Rose – HU DVD 2106
Titanic – HU DVD 2290 
Apocalypto – HU DVD 4052
Braveheart – HU DVD 4787
Troy – HU DVD 6200 
Avatar – HU DVD 7045
An American Tail – HU DVD 7796
Hocus Pocus – HU DVD 7852
The Pelican Brief – HU DVD 7936

All the King's Men – HU DVD 3662
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – HU DVD 9732
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – HU DVD 9733
The Mask of Zorro – HU DVD 10750 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

AFIDOCS is underway!

Time for a quick PSA: the annual AFIDOCS documentary film festival kicked off yesterday! AFIDOCS is a terrific, half-week-long, city-spanning event that showcases new documentary features and shorts from around the world.

Visit the AFIDOCS website for a list of where and when everything will be playing. Many of these documentaries will screen at the AFI's flagship theater in Silver Spring, but other theaters throughout the city are participating if you don't feel like making the trek on the Red Line.

If we have to play favorites with this year's assemblage, we would pick The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to The Act of Killing) and Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, which examines the history of women in computer programming.

Buy your tickets in advance if you can. These screenings will sell out!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Watching all of Star Wars at once is a surrealist nightmare

We understand that the Star Wars movies have exciting stories, loveable characters, and terrific sound editing. Forgive us if, for the remainder of the day, we remember it as a video art provocation that almost gave us a headache.

Archer animator Marcus Rosentrater created Star Wars Wars (embedded above), a mashup of all six of the current Star Wars movies into two hours of total cinematic chaos. Iconic scenes flit in and out of view, often covered by lightsabers, bright lights, sand dunes, or subtitles. Sound effects and now-incomprehensible dialogue slam together into a Star Wars-approximating white noise. People often lazy call any psychedelic or surreal experience a drug trip, but this is legitimately close.

Enjoy before it's taken down... and grab some Motrin or Dramamine.