Sunday, April 27, 2014

We're bored with special effects. Now what?

Comedian Nick Swardson has a terrific routine in which he makes fun of "jaded movie friends" who don't appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making impossible things happen on screen. "If you showed [Transformers] to people fifty years ago," he jokes, "their brains would explode. Everybody would lose their minds." When you hear stories about audiences fleeing in terror during The Great Train Robbery, this seems almost plausible. Nowadays, it takes something with the magnitude of Gravity to impress people or make a dent in the public consciousness. But why have we become so jaded?

Drew McWeeny of HitFix takes a stab at this problem in a recent column on what he calls "casual magic." McWeeny believes that visual effects have become truly spectacular and allow impossible events to unfold onscreen, but that this has contributed to our increasing fatigue with big-budget films. Even the truly spectacular special effects and scenery no longer wow audiences. Our threshold for what will amaze us is constantly moving up, and anything below that is considered boring. It's not just that special effects are dull now; worse, they're obligatory. We pay $15 for movie tickets, and we're expecting a sensory barrage.

McWeeny is understandably upset with this jadedness, but he suggests a solution. If outlandish and impossible worlds are our new baseline, the author suggests that we explore those to their fullest and stop creating films about superheroes or the battle of good and evil. We have reached an unprecedented point at which filmmakers can depict seemingly anything they want, and if that is now our bare minimum requirement for seeing a movie on the big screen, the next generation of blockbusters should explore those impossible ideas. More Inception and less Spider-Man, basically.

It's not exactly groundbreaking to argue that special effects should be used to more exciting ends, but it's always spiriting to hear a major movie critic tackle our increasingly apathy to media. Maybe there'll be something worth writing home about this summer. After all, summer movie season starts on Friday!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Love DC theaters? Support the Avalon's annual fundraiser this Sunday!

With the sad news that Filmfest DC may be entering its last year, we've reached a critical moment for DC film culture. Many of us probably take for granted that we live in a city that our city is home to independent theaters, several film festivals, and the AFI Silver. Once in a while, it's important to head out and support these cultural institutions.

One such opportunity is coming up this weekend to support the Avalon Theater, small non-profit theater in Chevy Chase. The Avalon is a historic theater that, admittedly, has been through a lot in the last 91 years. Originally built to show silent films, the Avalon has had a bumpy time transitioning through the sound era and now into the digital projection era, with much of their facility needing constant remodeling or being stripped down by leasers for other use. At the brink of demolition about a decade ago, the Avalon Theater Project acquired the building and began a lengthy restoration process. That process continues today: last year, the Avalon remodeled its lobby and reinstalled its elevator.

This Sunday, April 27th, at 5pm, the Avalon will host its annual fundraiser to help renovate the theater's second screening room. This year's feature event is a screening of Herblock: The Black & the White, a documentary about the influential editorial cartoonist Hebert Block. The screening will be accompanied by a panel discussion led by Judy Woodruff and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles. This is sort of a big deal!

Make no mistake: this is a very pricey event. But your ticket will be going to a great cause. If you can't make or afford to go to this weekend's event, look for one of the other many exciting film screenings coming to the Avalon in the next few weeks, including a Q&A with Kevin Spacey. It's a lovely little theater that needs support more than ever now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Director Michael Glawogger dies unexpectedly, leaves behind great works on globalization

In a bizarre turn of events, renowned Austrian documentarian Michael Glawogger suddenly died today of malaria while filming on location in Liberia. He died far too young and early into his career, but he leaves us with a number of quality films exploring hazardous products of globalization, from slum living to prostitution.

It's difficult to mourn properly a filmmaker whose career had only yet begun, but Glawogger's untimely death should not overshadow the significance of his completed works. We have two of the director's films in our collection – Whores' Glory and Workingman's Death – and we highly recommend watching them.

It is unclear if Glawogger's final project will see the light of day, but we have no doubt that he leaves a body of work that will enter, as the chief of the Austrian Film Institute puts it, "the canon of world cinema."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Film festival season begins! Union Market kicks off annual drive-thru this Friday

DC outdoor film festivals spring up almost immediately once the weather gets nice out. Usually we have to wait until May or June for the first movie screenings, but this year, at least one is starting early. This is great news if you won't be in DC over summer break!

Starting tomorrow, for the next few Fridays, the Union Market near the NoMA Metro stop will be hosting a crowd-pleasing drive-thru film series. The first film in the festival's line-up is National Lampoon's Vacation, possibly the definitive summer vacation movie. After that, it's Diner, a James Bond film, and a Frozen singalong. (We suspect people will really like that last one.)

Doors open at 6pm tomorrow evening, and the film begins at 8pm (when it's reasonably dark out). Food and unspecified "pre-show activities" will be available for early birds. If you don't have a car, don't be scared away by the drive-thru nature of this festival; pedestrians are welcome too!

Stay tuned for the inevitable summer onslaught of outdoor film screenings. For now, this is a great option for people sick of staying indoors at this time of year. Get thee to the big screen!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Celebrate Emancipation Day with a look at DC history

If you've tried to go to the library or a government office today, you might have noticed that many places are closed for Emancipation Day. And you'd be forgiven if you didn't know what that was; it's a very DC-specific holiday. Slavery in the United States officially and formally ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but months prior on April 16, 1862, Lincoln separately freed slaves in the District of Columbia. DC has honored Emancipation Day since 2005, and it always causes hilarious issues during tax season.

In honor of a very DC holiday, we want to celebrate a few very DC films in our collection. You may be familiar with our Washington, DC Pinterest board, which features movies that take place in DC, but we also want to highlight our Washington, DC filmography. This filmography contains a large number of documentaries from our collection that deal with DC culture, and we can think of no better way to celebrate Emancipation Day then looking back on the unique history of this city.

If you're in the library today, stop by Media Services and ask what DC films we have available. We hope you enjoy this local holiday, and we hope you weren't planning on getting a driver's license today!

Monday, April 14, 2014

See Let's Be Cops TONIGHT!

We're a little last minute on this one, but if you're looking for something to do this evening, consider seeing a new movie!

We have advance passes to see Let's Be Cops, an upcoming action-comedy starring some very funny people. The ensemble includes Jake Johnson from New Girl, Damon Wayans Jr. from Happy Endings, Rob Riggle of The Daily Show, and Keegan-Michael Key from Key and Peele. These are all very funny people, and we're very excited about the idea of them all in a cop movie.

The screening goes down tonight at the AMC Loews 14 in Georgetown at 7pm. (Again, a little last minute, but maybe you're heading down there!) If you want a ticket, follow this link here and print one out! We also have a few print copies left in Media Services, so feel free to visit us in person too.

Again, this is happening TONIGHT at 7pm! We hope to see you there!

(As always, remember that this pass is not necessarily a guarantee that you will get into a screening.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How much food do The Goonies eat? Analysis says: a lot

One of the most fun things about movies, television, and really any entertainment medium is the way in way people break them down and uncover all sorts of weird trivia. Just like when someone recently figured out when Ice Cube had a "Good Day," people across the Internet are always figuring out unusual facts about pop culture. This time, it's The Goonies.

An enterprising blogger from Bon App├ętit (AU's former food service provider) has calculated how much Chunk eats over the course of The Goonies. Needless to say, it's not healthy. Over the course of the film, he consumes (or is implied to consume) close to 3,000 calories, and he has over 20 food-related moments. That leaves only about 5 minutes to breathe between each time Chunk shows up with some food. That's impressive commitment to a one-off character trait.

There's really not too much academic about this factoid, but we love seeing people break down movies like this. We're sure someone out there could write a terrific essay about The Goonies and its thematic use of food. Maybe Chunk has been the key to the movie all along!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Welcome to Television Bubble Month!

As we enter the middle of April, we enter the month of the television bubble, that dreaded period when television shows teeter on the edge of renewal or cancellation. Many unsuccessfully shows are canceled after a few weeks or even one really bad episode, but others manage to get through a whole season without knowing if they'll be back for round two. This has led many shows, including How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs, to set up for potential emergency twist endings which were later abandoned. It's an interesting vagary of a production process that hinges on unpredictable factors.

Deciding whether to bring back a television series for another season is a harrowing process, one that often elicits letter-writing campaigns and grassroots attempts to keep beloved but unsuccessful shows from getting the axe. This year is no different; popular but iffy shows like Hannibal and The Mindy Project could go either way.

In honor of this sort of scary and expectant season, we'd like to celebrate a number of shows that were canceled before their time. Some have seen a revival in movie form or an additional season, but these are classic cases of the television bubble bursting. Come check out these shows from the library, and be warned that your favorite struggling series might be next to join this list!

Freaks and Geeks, The Complete Series – HU DVD 3441
Arrested Development, The Complete Series – HU DVD 4871 - 4873
Firefly, The Complete Series – HU DVD 5301
    (Revived in Serenity – HU DVD 5317)
Deadwood, The Complete Series – HU DVD 7101 - 7129
Pushing Daises, Season 1 – HU DVD 10251
Carnivale, Season 1 – HU DVD 10287
Sports Night, The Complete Series – HU DVD 10611 - 10612
Twin Peaks, The Complete Series – HU DVD 14069 - 14070
    (Revived in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me – HU DVD 5760)
Luck, Season 1 – HU DVD 14098

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The tool for the job

You probably know that has tutorials on all the latest software and cutting edge technology. But sometimes the simple tool is the best one for the job. Learn how to get the most out of Microsoft Excel with Excel 2013: Managing and Analyzing Data. Two hours of tips so you can hit that nail on the head - sorting and filtering data, creating subtotals, and advanced analytics.

As a current AU student, faculty or staff, you have access to all of's tutorials and resources. First, go to and log in with your AU credentials. Enjoy.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Looking back on ten decades of Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney's death this week passed by surprisingly unheralded. For a man once considered one of the biggest movie stars in the world, this is not a judgment on the quality of his work. Instead, it reflects how shockingly long ago Mickey Rooney was in his heyday and for how long after he continued his craft.

Rooney began his acting career in the 1920s and achieved international fame in the dozens of movies in which he appeared across the 1930s and 1940s. He was a song-and-dance man who acted in tandem with other famous faces, especially and notably his collaboration with Judy Garland. Even after his career highs, Rooney regularly star in films through the end of his life. To today's viewers, he is perhaps best known for his appearance in Night at the Museum (at age 85!) and his unfortunate, much-criticized turn as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Mickey Rooney may not hold the same iconic status of the other superstars of his era, but make no mistake: he was a legend of his time. We have a number of his most successful films in our collection, including a number of documentaries and compilations about the era and his work.

Quicksand – HU DVD 203
Breakfast at Tiffany's – HU DVD 501*
National Velvet – HU DVD 5483
That's Entertainment! – HU DVD 5671
That's Entertainment, Part II – HU DVD 5672
That's Entertainment! III – HU DVD 5673
Golden Age of Television. Disc 3 – HU DVD 7093
Babe: Pig in the City – HU DVD 7222
Babes in Arms – HU DVD 7871
Strike Up the Band – HU DVD 7872
Babes on Broadway – HU DVD 7873
Girl Crazy – HU DVD 7874
Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection, Bonus Disc – HU DVD 7875
Beach Blanket Bingo – HU DVD 10337
Beast of the City – HU DVD 11071
When the World Breaks – Streaming video

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Bon voyage to Todd Chappell

We wanted to take a break from our normal programming to wish a fond farewell to our colleague Todd Chappell. Todd has been with the AU Library and Media Services since 2010, and his tenure as New Media Center Coordinator led to a customer service boom. Todd is departing the AU Library to further his career in web development, and we wish the best of luck on his new adventures.

In deference to Todd's sensibilities, we present a 23-minute montage of 80s cartoon intros. Godspeed, Mr. Chappell!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Same as it ever was? Neurological study explains why we miss film goofs

Spotting continuity errors can be both one of the most fun and one of the most annoying parts of the film-watching experience. Sometimes, odd mistakes and slip-ups are amusing and add an extra wrinkle to the appreciation of the film's craftsmanship (Black Dynamite, HU DVD 8479, is based almost entirely around these sort of mistakes). But finding too many noticeable errors can potentially ruin an otherwise great movie. It's understandable if some people don't want to know what their favorite films got wrong.

As it turns out, our brain doesn't want us to find that out either. Last week, UC Berkeley released a fascinating study on our perception of visual change and continuity fields. Essentially, human brains are wired to smooth over discontinuous images and stimuli, allowing us to perceive that objects are changing. If a person smiles, for instance, you understand that their face has simply moved and was not instantly replaced.

This has an unusual side effect when we watch movies. Our brain automatically smooths over small changes between takes and scenes, so long as the image appears largely similar, we won't call foul. We've let our brains tune us out of seemingly huge goofs, like Julia Roberts eating a pancake in Pretty Woman (above). Way to let us down, lizard brain!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Learn about the AU's Cinema Studies program TODAY!

AU's Cinema Studies program is the source of the university's most exciting film happenings. If you're unfamiliar with their work, each year, the Cinema Studies program organizes a public film festival that's held here in the AU Library. This year, their morbid food-themed series has gone swimmingly, with movies like Troll 2 and Chicken Run gathering big crowds. This is on top of providing a close-knit community of film students and scholars.

If you have been interested in pursuing degrees in literature or film, you may want to stop by the Cinema Studies information session today at 5pm! Swing by the Battelle-Tomkins Atrium at 5pm to learn about what this program offers and have a few cookies.