Thursday, January 30, 2014

ALA names Notable Videos of 2013

Every year, our friends/overlords at the American Library Association release a list of Notable Videos for Adults featuring some of the most significant and interesting videos recently released. The ALA has just released their picks from 2013, and they're good ones. Most of these are in our collection, but since we trust the ALA, we're in the process of ordering the ones we don't have.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – HU DVD 10873
Brooklyn Castle – HU DVD 2826
The Central Park Five – HU DVD 6371
The Gatekeepers – HU DVD 2858
The House I Live In – HU DVD 5094
How to Survive a Plague – HU DVD 11006
The Imposter – HU DVD 10925
The Invisible War – HU DVD 10567
Jiro Dreams of Sushi – HU DVD 3005
Kumare – Coming soon!
Leviathan – Coming soon!
A Place at the Table – HU DVD 2859
Project Nim – HU DVD 9714
Soul Food Junkies – HU DVD 11017
Where Heaven Meets Hell – Coming soon!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Famed Simpsons artist shows off his old sketch archives

Matt Groening created The Simpsons, but animator David Silverman gave them their iconic look. For years, Silverman hand-animated characters from the show, establishing the rules for their appearance that all future animators and merchandisers would follow.

As it turns out, Silverman is active on Twitter, and he recently unearthed a whole slew of sketches he made while drawing some of the earliest Simpsons episodes and commercials. Some of them are rough storyboards or concept sketches for characters, while others are early versions of scenes that made the final cut. They're all quite neat and certain worth a look for Simpsons fans curious about how the sausage is made.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Room director Tommy Wiseau comes to DC this weekend (What a story, Mark!)

If you're in certain film circles, you have likely heard of The Room, a notoriously bad 2003 movie about a sordid love triangle. The Room is remarkably horrible, failing on both technical and creative levels. It's filled with flubbed transitions, rampant misogyny, ungrammatical dialogue, and characters that are recast halfway into the movie. It is an un-masterpiece, one of the truly worst works of the last decade and a Rocky Horror-style classic for cult audiences. Against all odds, The Room is enduringly popular, selling out midnight shows around the country with call-and-response audience participation.

In one of the most exciting DC film events so far this year, writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero will host three screenings of The Room this weekend at E Street Cinema, complete with Q&A and autographed posters. Wiseau makes occasional appearances around the year, but it is rare that Sestero shows up as well. Tickets are likely to sell out in advance, so get them now while you can.

It's guaranteed to be a raucous evening, one that newcomers and veterans alike will enjoy. If you've never gone before, you might want to bring a box of plastic spoons with you.'ll figure out why.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Random Oscar Winner Generator is hilarious, necessary

We still have over a month to go before the Oscars, but we're already excited! Questions about their authority aside, the Academy Awards are a fun time to celebrate nearly a century of great films.

Let's be serious though: there's a lot of hot air involved too. With so many award contenders dealing with serious themes, sometimes it's necessary to make fun of the whole endeavour.

To this end, Time's excellent Random Oscar Winner Generator is a goldmine. Using keywords culled from IMDb for all previous Best Picture nominees, this web widget creates convincing-sounding descriptions for borderline-generic prestige movies. It's a highly entertaining way to look at the types of films that Hollywood likes to reward, many of which apparently feature gay piano players and orphans from Manhattan.

It's all in good fun of course, but it's also vaguely educational. Hopefully this takes some of the bluster out of the buildup to March 2nd.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Seasonal question: How are the Oscar nominees picked?

In case you missed it, the Oscar nominees came out this morning. By all accounts it's a pretty good list, featuring a wide cut of the most acclaimed films of the year. And Matthew McConaughey stands a chance to win his first Oscar!

The question, of course, is how these nominees were even selected. Is it a public vote? Is it a shadowy cabal? Is it just a computer? Realistically, it's a combination of all three.

The good folks at mental_floss have explained in detail how a film goes from a submission to a nominee. The process is surprisingly complicated, involving voting blocs and formulas that set the threshold for potential nominee. This explains why some of the technical categories only get three or four nominees in some years.

If you were ever curious about what happens in this mysterious process [and why Inside Llewyn Davis was robbed! -ed.], give mental_floss's article a read for a clearer look. As for the final voting, that's an entirely different and much more political contest.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Are you gonna bark all day #littledoggie? Reservoir Dogs adapted into Twitter feed

In a bizarre and herculean effort, a fellow name Jorge Zacher has recreated Reservoir Dogs in its entirety in the form of a Twitter feed. Zacher created Twitter accounts for every speaking part in the movie and, with brief narration, reenacted the events of the film as a Twitter conversation. (From a logistical standpoint, this required him to tweet everything backwards to make it readable). It's surprisingly entertaining to read considering how much it reduces the film, which is a testament to Tarantino's screenplay. Yes, the raw visceralness of the ear scene is missing, but there's not a lot that can be done when working directly from the script.

Maybe this is an indication that social media can become a leverageable art form. At the very least, it's an entertainingly weird adaptation of a popular movie.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Footage surfaces from Jerry Lewis's disaster-piece The Day the Clown Cried

Perhaps the most notorious film in Hollywood lore is The Day the Clown Cried, the unreleased magnum opus of comedian-director Jerry Lewis. Intended as a moving drama about a clown living during the Holocaust, The Day the Clown Cried is by eyewitness accounts an unmitigated disaster. Harry Shearer, one of the few to see the final cut, described it as "drastically wrong." Lewis and the screenwriters were reportedly embarrassed by the film and barred its release; to this day, the 87-year-old Lewis refuses to discuss it in interviews.

Despite this, clips of the film have emerged on the Internet. A few months ago, footage from a television documentary about The Day the Clown Cried hit YouTube, containing at least several minutes of a rough cut from the movie. This week, even more footage hit the web, though this latest 15-minute batch consists primarily of behind-the-scenes segments. Still, it's fascinating that this footage somehow saw the light of the day considering Jerry Lewis's insistence that the film remains buried.

Perhaps one day we'll see the final product, but for now, we'll have to settle for this.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Run Run Shaw, godfather of Hong Kong film, dies at 106

Today, we lost Run Run Shaw, one of the most prolific film producers of all time and perhaps one the most influential figures in Asian cinema. Shaw's studio, Shaw Brothers Studio, produced nearly 1,000 films in his lifetime, particularly popular low-budget genre flicks. Among other achievements, Shaw is credited with inventing the kung fu film genre and co-producing the landmark film Blade Runner.

Though more of a keen producer than a creative type, Shaw's nine decades of work in the film industry undoubtedly changed the Asian film industry. Executives of the Shaw Brothers Studio went on to produce landmark action films, such as the Bruce Lee classics Enter the Dragon and Game of Death. Quentin Tarantino has also cited Run Run Shaw's films as a stylistic influence; many elements of Kill Bill are taken directly from Shaw's Five Fingers of Death.

Unlike many notables who have since retired, Shaw remained active in the industry up until his death, focusing on television production at his Hong Kong studio TVB. His lost is felt, and his presence will be missed.

If you are interested in learning more about Run Run Shaw's contributions to film, consider watching the documentary Chop Socky: Cinema Hong Kong (HU DVD 1207).

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A peek at the massive tagging project behind Netflix

Those of you watching a lot of Netflix over winter break might have noticed some odd genre recommendations popping up. They aren't genres by the typical definition – Western, thriller, etc. – but weird amalgamations like "Immigrant-Life Deadpan Action Movies" or "Heartfelt Ghost-Story Mysteries." Those might seem too specific to be useful, but they're a byproduct of Netflix's big mission: the most thorough tagging of films and television ever attempted.

The sleuths at The Atlantic outlined the shockingly intricate system Netflix uses to categorize its 10,000+ film library. Each item in Netflix's collection has been marked with a series of keywords; by combining these, Netflix has produced at least 76,000 "genres" that it can recommend. Most fascinatingly, Netflix can adjust content based on audience expectations. If a lot of people are watching "Race Against Time Satires About Royalty," for instance, they might try to secure the rights to similar movies.

This dataset is of course inaccessible to the public, but it is by far one of the most ambitious projects ever attempted at this scale and accuracy. Netflix's usage of this data suggests a future where film tastes can be quantified and studied by studios at great levels of detail. Big data is already revolutionizing other industries; media will soon follow suit in unexpected ways.