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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Even in booming China, independent filmmakers struggle for funding and attention

Last month, we posted about the iffy state of film and television production credits in the United States. You might assume that the recent boom of China's film industry has created a new market for incentives overseas, but evidently, the purse strings are tight there as well.

Although major Hollywood "co-productions" like Iron Man 3 and the most recent Transformers movie receiving full support, The New York Times reports that young aspiring filmmakers in China have trouble finding funding and support for their work. Many of the Times's interviewees attest that there is a large market for films by and for younger audiences, but few distributors and festival organizers seem interested in tapping that vein. Films by first-time directors are less commercially enticing than Transformers, and the filmmakers responsible often don't have the professional experience necessary to make their case for funding.

The article also dives into the interesting generational structure used to describe Chinese film history, and that's certainly at play in young Chinese filmmakers' struggles for attention and success.

China may be on track to become the world's largest film market by 2018, but their independent filmmakers still face the same challenges as our SOC grads.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Head back to dino-school before seeing Jurassic World

 What will blow up the box office this summer? Dino might.

...okay, fine, we're sorry. The point is that Jurassic World, the fourth movie in the Jurassic Park franchise, is going to be monstrously successful this weekend. Nearly every child of a certain age became obsessed with dinosaurs at the same time because of Jurassic Park. In fact, we're certain you can still name your favorite dinosaur.

We want to stoke that excitement again. So in addition to promoting our Jurassic Park movie collection (specifically the bonus disc that came with the trilogy box set, DVD 4904), we want to talk about our educational dinosaur videos. A catalog search turns up over fifty dinosaur-related items in our collection; here are a few highlights to get your dino-juices flowing.

(All these videos are available to watch streaming via the library catalog.)

  • Dino Death Trap: Take a close look at a Pompeii-type graveyard of dinosaur species trapped in lava – and well-preserved!
  • Dino Revolution: This video from 2000 sheds light on then-recent discoveries linking dinosaurs to birds
  • How to Build a Dinosaur: Watch up-close as scientists piece together dinosaur skeletons and reveal how they work on these reconstructions.
  • Reconstructing T-Rex: A 2009 documentary about recent discoveries about everyone's favorite giant terrifying apex predator.
  • Dino Math: So this one isn't really about dinosaurs, but it has kids solving math problems with dinosaur manipulatives. We figured this would bring back some good memories.
Early reviews indicate that Jurassic World is exciting but not quite as inspiring as the original. We hope this doesn't prevent a new generation of kids from having their own overly-excited-about-dinosaurs phase. Luckily, we have educational dinosaur content like the videos above the carry the torch.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What do we lose when we revive a TV series?

The next year will see new seasons of Heroes, The X-Files, Coach, Twin Peaks, Prison Break, Full House, and possibly Arrested Development or 24. Television shows long since canceled have found a second life in the increasingly diversified, well-funded world of digital programming. Surely TV fans of a certain generation looks forward to catching up with Agent Cooper and Danny Tanner, but do we risk settling into a cultural rut by revisiting our favorites too often?

Critic Alan Sepinwall tackled this question in an opinion piece yesterday on Hitfix. Sepinwall argues that revisiting an old series is not inherently bad and can often result in some quality television. It helps audiences and networks alike to work with familiar characters and ideas, especially in the current fragmented media climate. But he notes that this has become a crutch in lieu of producing new, original, riskier television. The shows being resurrected, like The X-Files, were once TV's weird outliers, and those chances still need to be taken to ensure the medium's future.

It's appreciated that Sepinwall chose not to rip into television reboots in concept. He notes that the Twin Peaks continuation is among his most anticipated upcoming shows, and when re-runs on Adult Swim garner higher ratings than NBC event programming, there's certainly reason to tap into known properties. This just can't come at the cost of new ideas. After all, what will we reboot ten years from now?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

New Acquisitions - June 2015 - Part 1

As promised, we're going to start updating you about our new acquisitions every two weeks. We just resumed purchasing for the summer, and the latest wave of titles has begun to pour in.

For this most recent batch, our biggest acquisition is the complete run of the Helen Mirren-fronted British crime procedural Prime Supsect. You might also enjoy Tim Burton's artist biopic Big Eyes and the Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice.

Or you could always watch The Young Ones, BBC's short-lived anarchic comedy-musical series that at one point featured a lion tamer.

Home Use Collection:

Walk Cheerfully = Hogaraka ni Ayume – HU DVD 9951
That Night's Wife = Sono Yo no Tsuma – HU DVD 9952
Dragnet Girl = Hijosen no Onna – HU DVD 9953
Where There's a Will There's an A – HU DVD 12081
Giants' First Steps – HU DVD 12155
The Horse Whisperer – HU DVD 12169
The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives as Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – HU DVD 12184
Happy Valley – HU DVD 12187
Concerning Violence – HU DVD 12188
Big Eyes – HU DVD 12191
54 – HU DVD 12193
Fire of Kuwait – HU DVD 12194
Americathon – HU DVD 12199
Hey Good Lookin' – HU DVD 12200
Fido – HU DVD 12202
Inherent Vice – HU DVD 12214


Prime Suspect, Series 1 – HU DVD 12031
Prime Suspect, Series 2 – HU DVD 12032
Prime Suspect, Series 3 – HU DVD 12033
Prime Suspect, Series 4 – HU DVD 12034
Prime Suspect, Series 5 – HU DVD 12035
Prime Suspect, Series 6 – HU DVD 12036
Prime Suspect, Series 7 – HU DVD 12037
The Young Ones, Series 1 and 2 – HU DVD 12057

In-Library Titles:

Fate of a Salesman – DVD 12181

Monday, June 08, 2015

Oregon Goonies fans never say die, but they're getting on in years

Beloved 80s adventure movie The Goonies turned 30 last week. That's a milestone you probably didn't know or really care about, much like how you missed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie's 25th anniversary in March.

But it was a big deal in Astoria, Oregon, the small northwest town where The Goonies was filmed. Over the weekend, Astoria welcomed over 10,000 fans (more than their total population) to take part in a weekend of meet-and-greets, panels, and other Goonies-centric events. The big draw this year was a screening at John Warren Field, a high school athletic field featured in the movie that will soon be torn down. Fans also participated in the "One-Eyed Willy Treasure Geocaching Hunt," which is about as crudely modern as a Goonies remake would probably be.

We love when people care way too much about their favorite pop culture, and we're sad that we missed The Goonies anniversary. Only one year left to plan for the Short Circuit celebration!

You can also always check out The Goonies from our collection for a belated celebration (HU DVD 3576).

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The unexpected new life of Black Angel

Two years ago, we first told you about Black Angel, a recently unearthed lost film from 1980. Black Angel was an influential fantasy short film that played before The Empire Strikes Back during its first theatrical run; its practical effects and "step-printed" slow-motion paved the way for movies including Legend and Excalibur. But copies of Black Angel vanished, and even director Roger Christian did not have a copy until a film archivist unearthed a print in late 2012.

Now Black Angel has found a second wind. Earlier in May this year, the film was released for free on YouTube (embedded above), bringing this fantasy short to audiences who never experienced it in theaters. That isn't the end of Black Angel's story either. After receiving an enormously warm response to the re-release, Christian began production of a feature-length remake of Black Angel, tentatively starring Rutger Hauer and John Rhys-Davies.

Consider that this movie was unavailable and almost unknown a few years ago. Black Angel's resurgence is a testament to why film preservation is culturally important.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Pretentious-O-Meter picks out films on the critical-popular divide

Independent and art films are often unfairly criticized as "pretentious." We've all slung that word around to attack a movie at some point, even though we probably enjoy some arty cinema ourselves. But the roots of that insult deserve some additional dissection: is a film really better or worse because critics and film buffs enjoy it more than the layperson?

Pretentious-O-Meter might shed some light on that conundrum. This movie review tool compares ratings from critics and audiences and determines – very unscientifically – which movies are "pretentious" or "mass market." It's fun to see conventional wisdom borne out in numbers: Truffaut's The 400 Blows is 68% pretentious, while The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser is 86% mass market. Each result also includes the movie's overall rating: it might be preferred by critics, but it might also be a bad film.

The site isn't perfect, of course, especially since it only accounts for the reviews around a film's release and not its reception afterwards. Sci-fi mind-bender Primer's initially poor reviews netted it a 54% mass market rating, tied with The Firm, which doesn't make much sense.

As with all big data-driven Internet toys, anything Pretentious-O-Meter outputs should be treated with enormous skepticism. But you might have some fun looking at the statistics behind it and seeing where initial critical responses and later popular reception diverge.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Unearthed transcript reveals the origins of Indiana Jones

The National Geographic Museum downtown recently opened an exhibit about Indiana Jones and the films' connections to actual history. This had us thinking about our favorite tenured action hero. Coincidentally, a link has been making the rounds revealing how Indy got his start – and what he might have been in an early draft.

In 1978, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and writer Lawrence Kasdan sat down to discuss who Indiana Jones was and what his films would be like. Barnes & Noble's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog provides a good summary of the most interesting parts of a transcript of that meeting, first posted online in 2009. There's mentions of scrapped characters, like an elderly mentor for Indiana who previously assumed the mantle of daring renegade archaeologist. Indiana was also very briefly inspired by Columbo's Peter Falk, and several ideas from the back-and-forth about his adventures ended up in later movies, spinoffs, and media.

(You can also see some of the unfortunately dated politics and language on display when the writers talk about adding "exotic" characters. Nearly forty years have passed since this meeting.)

This transcript is an insightful slice of film development that offers insights into how three of the brightest minds in movies conjured such a memorable character. Only the general idea of an archaeologist in serialized adventures was fully formed; the rest needed hours of discussion. The full conversation is worth committing a day to read. And relevant to the exhibit, it shows how the directors and writers connected real history to a fantastical movie setting.

The finished product is, of course, available in the collection (HU DVD 3251).

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Did you know we have 3D glasses?

While we were rifling through our drawers earlier, we came across a little-known collection that goes along with a few of the DVDs in our collection: 3D glasses!

Modern displays and theaters use advanced projection systems to achieve a 3D effect, but a few DVDs in our collection opt for an old-school solution. Apart from the classic red-and-blue anaglyph glasses, we also have a set of Coraline-branded magenta-and-green glasses, a reversed blue-and-red pair (pictured, and they're nauseating), and most interestingly ChromaDepth glasses for a film in our Orphans in Space compilation (DVD 9991).

ChromaDepth is an especially strange technique that corresponds certain hues to different depth levels. Basically, objects towards the blue side of the rainbow appear further, while redder objects appear closer. The short films Galaxies and UFOs use this technique to create an optional 3D effect. If you want to see it in motion, ask to use our ChromaDepth glasses. (We have them, we promise.)

These sorts of freebies and supplements come with many of the DVDs we purchase, though they're rarely necessary for watching the films like the 3D glasses are. As weird and out-of-the-way as these glasses may be, we're glad to offer them to give patrons the experience of watching a film in ChromaDepth. Seriously, it's wild!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Animation fan? Check out hard-to-find shorts from The Animation Show of Shows

Yesterday in our new acquisitions post, we mentioned The Animation Show of Shows (HU DVD 12101 - 12154), a giant collection of world animation we recently added to our shelves. We want to talk a little before about this series; it's a remarkable showcase of diverse talent that any animation fan should seek out.

The Animation Show of Shows is a traveling exhibition of animation from across the globe that began in 1999. The event has emerged as one of the leading showcases of short-form animation, especially as it has hosted many Oscar-nominated shorts. As a supplement to their shows, the organizers also publish DVD box sets of collected animated shorts, many of which were previously unavailable or only in limited distribution.

The complete Animation Show of Shows collection – totaling a whopping 54 discs – includes decades of terrific animated shorts in nearly every conceivable format and from nearly every continent. We previously highlighted the famous Logorama short (HU DVD 12148), but there are 161 other shorts worth your attention in this box set. Highlights include:
  • Let's Pollute (HU DVD 12150), a satirical educational video about the benefits of being un-environmental
  • Harvie Krumpet (HU DVD 12127), a Geoffrey Rush-narrated claymation film about a very unlucky Polish man
  • Oktapodi (HU DVD 12121), an octopus love story
  • Ski Jumping Pairs (HU DVD 12102), coverage of the fictional, impossible doubles ski jump Olympic event
If you consider yourself an animation fan (or even if you've just felt guilty about never watching anything in the Animated Short Film category), you'll want to check out at least a disc or two of this collection. Many of these shorts are unavailable anywhere else!