Monday, November 24, 2014

At last, Fandor is the Netflix alternative for film buffs

AU's various holiday breaks are soon upon us, and let's be honest: you'll be watching lots of movies on your couch in a food-enduced trance. The usual suspects will be running cable TV and Netflix, but what if you're looking for something a little artier? Do you have the sort of family that would rather watch Fitzcarraldo than Madagascar? You might want to consider a subscription to Fandor.

Essentially, Fandor is a new Netflix-style service that only includes expert-curated collections of art films and unusual gems. You won't find Iron Man on Fandor, but their staff make a point of finding deep cuts with critical acclaim. Many of these films might be available on other services, but the curation aspect is probably the most exciting. Flipping through the sci-fi category, for example, you'll find German spacefaring comedy Interkosmos and ultra-violent dystopian brawler Riki-Oh. These are some really unique selections that you won't find on, say, Hulu.

We don't want to this to be an outright advertisement for Fandor, but it's a terrific idea for cinephiles. Plus, the site includes the handy option to gift membership. Keep this one in your back pocket for your end-of-the-year shopping...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Who was Marion Barry? This HBO documentary is a good primer


Today marked the passing of Marion Barry, DC political legend and one of the country's most controversial mayors. To describe his decades of public involvement as tumultuous would be an understatement; Barry weathered multiple scandals and a high-profile arrest yet remained enormously popular among his constituents, serving four non-consecutive terms and continuing to serve as a councilman afterwards. His supporters said he fought hard for marginalized people in DC; detractors accused him of corruption and incompetence.

Suffice to say, Barry has a very interesting and complicated career, one that probably doesn't make much sense to anyone new to the DC area. If you're looking for a primer on Barry's history and legacy, we recommend watching The Nine Lives of Marion Barry (DVD 9730), an HBO-distributed documentary about the former mayor's highly elastic career. Barry was, for better or for worse, an irreplaceable politician, and we're glad that there's a comprehensive and even-handed documentary about his life.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The many works of Mike Nichols, EGOTer and prolific director

Mike Nichols, EGOT-winning director of The Graduate, died yesterday at age 83. For an acclaimed and decorated filmmaker, Nichols kept a comparatively low profile in the entertainment world, but he leaves behind an impressive lineup of truly great films and television productions, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Primary Colors, Working Girl, Angels in America, The Birdcage, and Charlie Wilson's War. The director got his start in entertainment as an improv comedian, but in future years, he will be remembered best for his consistent and varied filmography. It's quite an accomplishment that in his 40 years directing films, every single one was a winner.

Chances are that you've watched and enjoyed something by Mike Nichols, so in recognition of his career, we took the opportunity to look up the rest his directorial work. If you've ever been curious about his work or simply wanted a new director to get into, now is the right time to watch his films.

The Graduate – HU DVD 29
Wit – HU DVD 353
Postcards from the Edge – HU DVD 613
The Birdcage – HU DVD 667
Angels in America – HU DVD 760
Silkwood – HU DVD 1647
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – HU DVD 3017
Primary Colors – HU DVD 3606
Closer – HU DVD 4080
Working Girl – HU DVD 4159
Charlie Wilson's War – HU DVD 4309
Carnal Knowledge – HU DVD 5728
Catch-22 – HU DVD 5844

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Films on Demand gets bigger. Try the new content, send us your feedback!


We've previously talked about Films on Demand, a streaming video database we subscribe to that contains thousands of documentaries on seemingly every subject. Although a few of them come from big distributors like Discovery or History, they're mostly smaller affairs. Color us excited that Films on Demand is expanding its offerings to include feature films – and, most notably, the Eyes on the Prize documentary series.

Firstly, Films on Demand has offered us a trial of their new World Cinema database. It includes works by major directors from the earlier days of film, including Kurosawa, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Chaplin, and more. We haven't yet committed to subscribing to the full version of this database, but it is by far one of the biggest and most substantive we've ever taken a look at. Please take a look at what it has to offer, and if you can see yourself using it in the future, please email your thoughts to our Media Librarian Chris Lewis (clewis@american.edu).

Secondly, and perhaps most excitingly to our many faculty members who use the series, PBS's Eyes on the Prize is now available in its entirety through the main Films on Demand database. Eyes on the Prize is the definitive documentary about the civil rights movement, and its fourteen parts are frequently used for history courses. Eyes on the Prize has been borderline out-of-print for many years, and its release on streaming platforms is enormously exciting given its previous troubled release history.

These are both big additions from Films on Demand, and we can't wait to see what they have in store next. It's hard to beat It's a Wonderful Life and His Girl Friday on demand, though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

See Fredrick Wiseman's newest documentary with a director Q&A!

If you don't know documentarian Fredrick Wiseman, you should. Wiseman has an absurdly prolific career, having directed dozens of documentaries since 1967. His first, Titicut Follies, is a incisive look at the American mental health system and the state of asylums in the 60s (we frequently recommend this one to faculty). His next film, National Gallery, a documentary about the British art museum of the same name, has already been hailed as a masterpiece. This is the director's thirty-ninth film, and for this special occasion, Wiseman is coming to DC to show it off.

National Gallery, which runs for a staggering three hours, will play at the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring for one week starting this Friday, November 14th. And at two showings on the 14th and 15th, Fredrick Wiseman will stop by for a Q&A. This is a rare chance to meet and to speak with a titan of documentaries.

Given the high-profile guest, you'll likely need to secure tickets in advance for this one. Head over to AFI Silver's website to purchase them early.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Be an extra on House of Cards... TOMORROW!


Time for a quick dispatch on the DC film front: House of Cards will be shooting in DC tomorrow, and they're looking for extras!

We got this news very last-minute, so we'll keep this brief. DC's local film office says that if you think you fit the profile of a "Mid-Westerner" and want to appear as an extra:
Please e-mail KimberlySkyrmeCastingHOC@gmail.com
===> Include a recent photo
===> Put "HOC MidWesterner" in the email subject line, or the email will be deleted
.
Again, filming starts tomorrow, so you'll want to move quickly on this. If you're interested, get in touch with their casting director ASAP!

(To emphasize the importance of this, imagine that we're double-slamming our fist on a desk.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alternative programming: Service across generations


In a few hours, the National Mall will turn into an absolute mob scene for an inaugural HBO-sponsored Veterans Day concert featuring Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, and other major artists. This sort of musical event isn't unprecedented on the Mall (like the previous HBO concert for Obama'a 2009 inauguration), but we understand if you find something a little dissonant about holding such an extravagant event on this typically somber holiday.

For those looking for a less raucous to reflect on the work of members of the armed forces, we recommend My Vietnam, Your Iraq (HU DVD 272), a PBS documentary about veterans of the Vietnam War whose children then served in Iraq. We tend to focus on the veteran experience in terms of its effects on families, but the dynamic can be very different in a family with multiple generations of war experience. The film jumps between seven different families, revealing intimate portraits of how war touches multiple generations.

We don't want to denigrate the Concert for Valor, especially because it brings some liveliness to a holiday about celebrating our veterans rather than mourning them. But if you're looking for something more reflective, this film is a great place to start.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Get re-revenge this Thursday at a free Horrible Bosses 2 preview!


There's a scene in Horrible Bosses where Jamie Foxx's character (whose name is not repeatable here) admits to serving jail time for bootlegging a copy of Snow Falling on Cedars. We tell you this to warn you that such behavior will not be permitted at this week's free preview screening of Horrible Bosses 2!

Horrible Bosses was a runaway success in 2011, particularly because of lead Charlie Day in his first major film role. We don't know too much about the sequel, but we expect it to be at least as funny and chaotic as the original. And you can see it weeks before it hits theaters!

This free screening event happens on Thursday, November 13th, at the Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14 in Chinatown at 8pm. Unlike many of our screenings in which we give out physical passes, you can redeem these passes online through our friends at GoFobo. Keep in mind, as with every screening, that these events are intentionally overbooked, so you are encouraged to show up at least an hour or two in advance to ensure that you get a seat.

Hope to see you there! (But please leave your peanut-infected shampoo at home.)

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Top 10: Bonus Features Not to Skip



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.

When was the last time you watched a DVD bonus feature? At the risk of sounding hackneyed, special features aren't so special anymore; so many films now receive limited editions with behind-the-scene footage and interviews. Even among the best movie releases (like anything put out by the Criterion Collection), it can be exhausting to go through every featurette, trailer, and commentary track.

But there are a few movies with particularly unusual or interesting special features that are worth the detour to the second disc. In some cases, they're even better than the film themselves. With the help of the library's Media and RTL staff, we present the top ten DVD bonus features that are worth tracking down.

Some serious historical research went into this Indiana Jones spinoff television show, and the producers clearly wanted to share their homework with us. This DVD set contains close to 100 mini-documentaries about the subjects of each episode, from ancient Egypt to the story of George S. Patton. (And they're really great too!)

Many commentary tracks can feel try, especially when they're produced very shortly after the film's release. This is not a problem for Big Trouble in Little China. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have a wild time re-watching the cult classic together. It's like sitting in the room with two old friends seeing each other for the first time in years.

Ridley Scott's cyberpunk masterpiece has been issued and reissued repeatedly in the last 30 years, receiving significant alterations that completely change the film's subtext and structure. The Final Cut edition contains all four revisions of the film, including a work-in-progress version that circulated among bootleggers as an unofficial "director's cut."

Never ones to indulge analysis of their own work, the Coen brothers included a mocking faux-critical commentary track for first major film. The commentator, supposedly from the Forever Young Films preservation group, explains in dead seriousness how every animal is animatronic and why the film had to be shot backwards. Hilariously, he intentionally ignores the most famous shot in the movie.

  • Chuck Jones: Extremes & In-Betweens - A Life in Animation (DVD 4176)
This documentary about the life of legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones is a worthwhile watch for fans or students of animation, but the 14-minute "Chuck Jones Tutorial" is the real gem. In this segment, the man behind Tom & Jerry explains, in his own words and with examples, how to animate with style and panache. It's a brief master class from one of the legends of the medium.

In lieu of the original filmmakers, many releases of older movies include commentary tracks from film critics or academics. But only a film hailed as one of the greatest of all time lands commentary tracks from Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert, two of the world's most esteemed film critics.

David Lynch's most recent movie, like most of his filmography, begs for in-depth discussion about its theme and tidbits from production. On the DVD, Lynch doesn't offer commentary and instead includes a video of himself cooking quinoa. We'll take it, I guess.

Memento may have the most confounding DVD menus of all time; the supplemental disc is structured as a psychological test that provides access to different content based on your answers. The most exciting of these is a re-edit of the film in chronological order, an editing experiment that everyone has probably wanted to try or to see at some point. To find it, click the clock on the first menu screen, then answer the question about a woman fixing a flat tire in reverse order.

Appropriate for a film that popularized the mockumentary genre, Spinal Tap's bonus features never drop character and treat the movie like the real thing. The main draw is a commentary track featuring the cast in-character at a twentieth anniversary reunion, but other odd "archival" footage is worth seeking out as well.

  • Treasures of the Twilight Zone (DVD 6478)
In 1959, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes interviewed Rod Serling about the state of television, commercialization, and censorship. It's a riveting half-hour that's still relevant today, and this collection of Twilight Zone episodes included Serling's interview as a special feature. (Since it was the 50s, both men smoke during the interview and fill the room with a tobacco haze. It's funny but distracting.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

This film critic's child grew up – with some help from the Terminator


Do you remember your first R-rated movie? Many people probably merged into the world of violent and dark films without great fanfare, but for others, graduating from PG-13 to R is a rite of passage and a sign that, yes, a parent figure thinks that you're mature enough to enjoy that sort of movie.

If you're in the mood for a heartwarming, inspiring story about this passage into young adulthood, look no further than a recent post from film critic Drew McWeeny. McWeeny showed his son an R-rated movie for the first time, in a very personal blog post, he explains his son's extreme enthusiasm for The Terminator and what it's like watching a child take that first step into an unexplored, adult realm of culture. It's a beautiful, emotional piece, generally about growing up but specifically about watching the next generation become film enthusiasts.

We'll let McWeeny's article speak for itself. It's touching and highly worth a read if you get the warm-and-fuzzies thinking about the future relevance and magic of film.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

New Acquisitions - November 2014

As you recover from your sugar-induced comas this morning, you might be happy to learn that we have a few new items in our collection.

We have two major highlights this month. Firstly, thanks to a generous donation, we have received a massive collection of Quebecois films. Secondly, we spent the better part of the month processing the entire series of The X-Files! That's 54 discs of Mulder and Scully, including both theatrical movies. That's a lot of aliens and fluke-people.

Hit the jump for a full list of what we've acquired...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Settle in for a night in Halloween town

Tomorrow is Halloween, which, in a rare moment of editorializing, I will declare is the greatest best holiday on the face of the earth. The library's getting into the holiday spirit too; expect lots of the staff to be in costume tomorrow. And as part of the festivities, we're going to show Halloweentown for free!

As part of our new series of Friday night movie screenings, the library has decided to show Disney's Halloweentown in the Mud Box tomorrow at 9pm. (The library held a poll about a month back, and this movie won by a landslide.) The screening is completely free, and from what we understand, there will be some sort of snacks and/or candy involved as well. Embassy trick-or-treating should be done by then, so if you aren't planning on hitting the town for one of the many local festivities, you're strongly encouraged to come by the library and enjoy a Halloween night in.

See you there! Have a spoopy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

AU Music Library gets to know Blind Joe Death

The AU Music Library continues to dig into our combined, meaty collection of DVDs about the DC music scene. This time, they've taken a look at In Search of Blind Joe Death (MUSIC LIBRARY DVD 77), a Kickstarted documentary about a Takoma Park resident and AU alum who became something of an experimental folk and blues legend. Jesse over at the Music Library gives a great summary of this DVD and gives a little history about why Blind Joe Death matters to the local music scene.

We love the local music scene materials that the library purchases, and we love that the Music Library is giving them their due. Swing over to their blog to learn more.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Too much Jason? Our staff recommends obscure horror classics

The day will come that you are sick of watching Hocus Pocus. We all love the Halloween standards, but there are only so many times you can watch the same movies every year before you start looking for something different. According to our Pinterest page, we have over 180 horror films in our collection, but it can be difficult to find the hidden gems without some guidance.

So, to be all wheat-vs.-chaff-y about it, we asked our staff for their favorite out-of-the-way horror movies that you should be watching this week. Our choices span almost a century, from a silent classic to a 2012 sleeper hit.

Chris recommends: The Wicker Man (1973) (HU DVD 6542)
When a young girl mysteriously disappears, Police Sergeant Howie travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate. But this pastoral community, led by the strange Lord Summerisle, is not what it seems as the devout Christian detective soon uncovers a secret society of wanton lust and pagan blasphemy. Can Howie now stop the cult’s ultimate sacrifice before he himself comes face-to-face with the horror of the Wicker Man?
Molly recommends: The Haunting (HU DVD 10161)
"It was an evil house from the beginning, a house that was born bad." The place is the 90-year old mansion called Hill House. No one lives there. Or so it seems. But please, do come in. Because even if you don't believe in ghosts, there's no denying the terror of The Haunting. Director Robert Wise returned to psychological horror for this much admired, first screen adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House." Four people come to the house to study its supernatural phenomena. Or has the house drawn at least one of them to it? The answer will unnerve you in this "elegantly sinister scare movie."
Phil recommends: Berberian Sound Studio (HU DVD 11159)
Mild-mannered sound engineer Gilderoy arrives in Rome to begin work on the soundtrack to a film called The Equestrian Vortex, a tale of witchcraft and murder set inside an all-girl riding academy. Before long he finds himself entranced by the film’s mysteriously terrifying allure, and the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur.
Sean recommends: Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (HU DVD 323)
Grave robbing, torture, possessed nuns, and a satanic Sabbath: Benjamin Christensen’s legendary film uses a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the scientific hypothesis that the witches of the Middle Ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. But the film itself is far from serious—instead it’s a witches’ brew of the scary, gross, and darkly humorous.
Media Librarian Chris Lewis also insisted that we include Vampire's Kiss (HU DVD 6548), an ultra-nutty Nicolas Cage vampire movie. Your mileage may vary with that one.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Drafthouse compiles the greatest movie deaths (WARNING: this is actually horrifying)




This Friday is Halloween, so we'll be attempting to bring you spooky, scary, or otherwise horrifying posts this week! We'll get the crazy stuff out of the way first. To celebrate the impending holiday, Alamo Drafthouse enlisted the filmmakers of the violent short film series The ABCs of Death 2 to curate a supercut of their favorite movie deaths.

Be warned: the results are genuinely horrifying and disgusting. This is basically four minutes of blood and gore. The contents range from famous scenes from Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark to a particularly disturbing moment from Michael Haneke's Caché to the frequently banned war/torture film Men Behind the Sun. It's a mix of highbrow and grindhouse shlock, and if you have a stomach for the content, it's a supremely entertaining look at how we depict death on film.

(Again, tread lightly if this isn't your cup of tea. Don't worry, November 1st will be here soon.)

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 SonyScreenings.com. (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.

Meanwhile...

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.