Thursday, July 31, 2014

Remembering Dick Smith, acclaimed makeup artist

On this blog, we usually memorialize the deaths of notable directors and actors. But today, we pay tribute to the life of Oscar-winning makeup artist Dick Smith, whose work ranks among the most memorable and iconic in film history.

You probably don't know Dick Smith and couldn't pick him out of a lineup, but his work with facial transformation is immediately recognizable. Smith was the man behind Marlon Brando's jowls in The Godfather, Travis Bickle's beat-up look in Taxi Driver, Regan's demonic turn in The Exorcist, the dramatic aging effects in Little Big Man and Amadeus, and the face-melting goodness of Scanners. Before CGI and motion capture became the dominant way to transform actors on screen, Smith had pioneered and perfected physical effects that, to this day, are haunting and powerful.

Dick Smith retired 15 years prior to this death, but there is no doubt that even his work will stand the test of time. He was an artist for the ages and undeniable proof that the crew of a film can be as important to movie magic as the stars.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Survey claims you rewatch movies more than you're willing to admit

We all enjoy rewatching our favorite movies. Sometimes we get more out of the subtext or themes, but often, it's just fun to revisit our favorites scenes and characters. If you've ever had a Marvel marathon or watched whatever Will Ferrell movie was on Comedy Central multiple times in a row, you probably know this feeling well. But considering that movies are generally two hours long, you could end up dedicating whole days of your life to watching certain films. How bad can it get?

British media conglomerate Sky recently surveyed movies fans in the UK and discovered that a quarter of all Britons will sometimes watch their favorite movies at least ten times. That might seem excessive, but if you're among the most dedicated filmwatchers, that could be a paltry number. In that case, you're probably among the 10 percent that will watch favorite movies up to 29 times. You also might not be surprised to find Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Back to the Future among the most frequently rewatched movies.

And in the worst-case scenario, you might be one of the two-thirds that admitted to rewatching movies because they were distracted the first time around by their phone, email, or social media. Shame on you! Shaaaaame!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top 8: Documentary Sequels

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.

You may often hear self-identified film snobs talk about their love for documentaries as an antidote to Hollywood sequels. That's a pretty silly idea, in part because documentaries have sequels too. While most documentary films are standalone affairs, sometimes their subjects change enough to warrant a follow-up.

This happens infrequently, so we weren't able to round up a full list of ten documentary sequels. But the ones we found are quite good. We present the Top 8 Documentary Sequels.

  • Best Man (HU DVD 2772) – sequel to Best Boy (HU DVD 2772)
Best Boy follows a handicapped 52-year-old man, Philly Wohl, who prepares for independence as his elderly parental caretakers reach the end of their lives. The film ends before we see how Philly manages on his own; a sequel, Best Man, picks up Philly's story twenty years later.

The Dole Food Company came under fire in Bananas!* for allegedly using pesticides that sterilized their workers. Dole considered this an act of defamation and retaliated by suing the filmmakers, distributors, and sponsors. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* follows this lawsuit and examines the legal consequences of free speech.

The filmmakers of King Corn put their venture into farming front-and-center while discussing the broader impact of commercialized agriculture. They bring their personal, gonzo touch to follow-up, Big River, which examines the ecological fallout from their farm experiment.

Gasland caused a huge stir with its infamous shot of a Colorado resident able to ignite their tap water as a result of natural gas fracking. The sequel broadens the scope of the original and takes aim at fracking practices around the globe.

  • Paradise Lost series (HU DVD 4771 - 4773)
In 1993, three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas were arrested for the murders of three children. Though all three were incarcerated, many independent parties asserted their innocence. The three Paradise Lost films follow the lives of the accused from their initial trial to their eventual release.

Cochlear implants still capture the public's enthusiasm, if YouTube clips of people hearing for the first time are any indication. But the transition from deaf to hearing can be difficult and disrupt deaf communities. The Sound and Fury series looks at how cochlear implants changed their recipients lives in the short- and long-term.

  • Up Series (DVD 5271 - 5276, HU DVD 716)
By far the reigning champion of serialized documentary filmmaking, the Up series follows a group of children as the grow from 7 years old to, in the latest installment, 56. The intention of the series was to create a grand defining statement about destiny and growing up, but it works even better as a character study.

  • Return of the War Room (DVD 1013)  – sequel to The War Room (DVD 1013)
The War Room stands tall as one of the best political documentaries, with its ground-level view of a presidential campaign painting a vivid and realistic portrait of political work. In 2008, the directors filmed a follow-up reunion with key figures from the film to reflect on the campaign.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A peek into Mostly Lost, the Library of Congress's mystery film festival

The Library of Congress's film archives, located in Culpeper, Virginia, house hundreds of films from the silent era with seemingly no identification attached to them. Most if not all of the cast and crew of these films are no longer alive, and it's unlikely that the nation's archivists will ever positively identify some of these no-name, undocumented works. But that won't stop them from trying.

Every year, the Library of Congress hosts Mostly Lost, a film event that gives film scholars a chance to watch and dissect some of these unusual films. This is not intended to be a film festival for general audiences; viewers are discouraged from simply watching the films for enjoyment and often bring electronic devices to perform research during screenings. The whole event is deeply academic, especially considering scholarly presentations before and after the films, so this is clearly an event for enthusiasts and experts only.

Unfortunately, we missed this year's event (it went down two weeks ago), but NPR provides some insight into how Mostly Lost unfolded and what sort of people show up for an event like this. From the sound of it, at least a few films were positively identified. Considering how many films from the silent era have been permanently lost, this is a very good thing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con begins! Celebrate with movies based on graphic novels

Every July, over 100,000 people descend on southern California for San Diego Comic-Con, the world's biggest event for movies, comics, games, and all things nerdtacular. The convention has grown from its humble origins as a comic book show to a pop culture juggernaut, attracting everyone from small-time comic producers to the cast of The Hunger Games. Expect big announcements on that thing you're looking forward to, no matter what it is.

We wanted to pay some sort of tribute to Comic-Con, but it would be absurd and impossible to celebrate all the movies that have appeared at the event. Instead, we want to direct your attention to our Pinterest board for graphic novel adaptations. While we do have a good number of films based on superhero comics (the usual suspects, like Batman and X-Men), our graphic novel board highlights some lesser-known adaptations, such as the terrific Ghost World and Persepolis. Comics and graphic novels have a great range, and we think these select movies are a good way to celebrate that.

Realistically speaking, we'll probably be glued to all the news spilling out of San Diego this weekend. But let's not forget that Comic Con is, at its core, about graphic novels and the unique artistic experiences that come from them. Plus. they make good movies too!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Still a boys' club? Only 22% of film crew members are women

Much has been written about how the film industry skews male. Significantly more blockbuster films star male leads, and only one woman has so far won the Academy Award for Best Director. It should come as little surprise, then, that other sectors of the film world have similar issues with gender representation.

According to a recent report from The Guardian, among major movies in the last two decades, less than 25% of all film crews were comprised of women. This includes everyone from special effects artists to set designers. Women tended to appear more frequently in traditionally "feminine" role, such as costume design and makeup, while men overwhelmingly dominated technical jobs such as camera or electrical work. More disconcertingly, critical production jobs such as writer and editor also skewed heavily towards men, with women occupying only around 10% of these positions.

Among the more unusual statistics: of all 2000 films surveyed, only one woman was credited with composing a score. And the Steven Seagal-produced On Deadly Ground (pictured) employed women for only 10% of its crew, the lowest of any major movie in the last twenty years.

Interviewees in The Guardian's article suggest a number of causes, from lack of interest in diversity to institutional sexism. Regardless of the cause, this is a sobering reminder. As much as we like to consider the arts to be a progressive space, barriers still exist for encouraging diversity and participation in film.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Acquisitions - July 2014

One of the interesting narratives in the film industry this year has been the dearth of heavy-hitting blockbusters. So far, the two highest-grossing movies of the year were released before the summer, and the biggest long-term success has come from 2013's Frozen. Even with apes, Godzilla, and Transformers wreaking havoc in multiplexes, fewer people are opting to head to theaters this year. And perhaps not coincidentally, Netflix recently hit 50 million subscribers.

If you're one of those types that stays at home to watch movies, you'll no doubt be excited about our most recent acquisitions. Big-name titles this time around include the first season of Netflix sensation Orange is the New Black, Mary Poppins origin story Saving Mr. Banks, sci-fi action sleeper hit Attack the Block, Despicable Me 2, and weirdo late-night curiosity Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule. And fans of John Waters might be excited by I Am Divine, a biography about the director's drag queen muse.

Hit the jump for a full list of our July acquisitions, and stay tuned for the other 100+ items in our pipeline...

Monday, July 21, 2014

DC's famous Screen on the Green begins TONIGHT with The Karate Kid

The number of summer film festivals in DC has dramatically grown in the last several years, with seemingly every neighborhood having its own screenings. But there has always been one undisputed king of Washington outdoor movies: Screen on the Green, the HBO- and NBC-sponsored festival that takes place on the National Mall. Since it doesn't tie directly to any particular DC neighborhood, it can sometimes fly under the radar for locals, but this is the elder statesman of DC summer activities.

Screen on the Green always has an unusual selection, and this year's lineup is no different. You might not be as familiar with A Soldier's Story and Lover Come Back, but you should no doubt be excited about tonight's inaugural film. At about 8pm this evening, Screen on the Green will be showing The Karate Kid, everyone's favorite story of a high school student learning karate and waxing. Admission is free, and you are encouraged to bring your own food and beverage to the event.

Visit the Screen on the Green website for details about the specific section of the Mall where the movie will take place. If you're big on local film screenings, you'll want to stop by for this time-honored tradition. See you there!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top 10: Remakes That You Probably Never Knew Were Remakes

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.

Last July, pop culture website Den of Geek estimated that at time time, there were 57 movie remakes in production. That seems excessive. So many of these movies are simply attempting to cash in on name-brand familiarity. Even the best remakes seldom escape the shadows of the originals.

But every once in a while, we get a movie or television show so great or memorable that we completely forget where it came from. For your viewing pleasure, we offer Top 10 Remakes That You Probably Never Knew Were Remakes.

These two versions of 3:10 to Yuma, both moderately successful on their release, are based on a short story by the late writer Elmore Leonard. It's one of the few pulp paperback stories to be adapted multiple times.

Without the jokes, Airplane! would still be a corny, ridiculous movie. It comes as little surprise that its script is taken almost directly from the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour! Almost every detail is identical, down to a cameo from a popular basketball player and the search for a pilot who didn't each fish.

  • Ben-Hur (1959) (HU DVD 3857) – remake of Ben-Hur (1925) (HU DVD 3857)
Though many associate Ben-Hur most strongly with its chariot race scenes, the story more substantially is about a prince's life intersecting with Jesus's. The silent, black-and-white version from 1925 emphasizes this in its title, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

Yes, even the master Scorsese himself borrows from time to time. Infernal Affairs follows roughly the same story as The Departed, swapping Boston for Hong Kong and the mob for the triads. Fascinatingly, Infernal Affairs received two sequels, but we doubt Scorsese would come back for another round.

The connections between MP Francis Urquhart and Rep. Frank Underwood were more widely discussed before Kevin Spacey turned in his iconic performance as the ultimate barbecue-loving backstabber. Even with Underwood clearly in command, both versions offer a unique take on the corrupting power of politics.

The 1957 novel I Am Legend is one of the foundational texts of the post-apocalypse and zombie genres, so it makes sense that studios would periodically revisit it for inspiration. These two versions, one starring Will Smith and one starring Charlton Heston, wildly deviate from the book in different ways and have surprisingly little in common.

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) (HU DVD 4911) – remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (HU DVD 3120)
If it weren't for Kevin McCarthy's panicked, climactic screams at the end of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we would probably believe that the Donald Sutherland-starred film from 1978 was the original movie. In fact, many critics consider the update to be among the best film remakes ever produced.

In a battle of celebrity royalty, Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack are a close match with George Clooney's band of handsome collaborators. But compared to Sinatra's original heist story, Clooney's suaveness and Steven Soderbergh's dynamic directing put the Ocean's remake in another class of filmmaking.

The original Scarface is one of the defining old-timey gangster films; the remake is one of the defining celebrations of 1980s excess. The rise-and-fall arc of the Scarface story was perfectly suited to transitioning from one decade to the other.

Critics wondered whether the Coen brothers' story of Marshal Rooster Cogburn would be eclipsed by an earlier rendition featuring John Wayne in one of his last major roles. Based on the acclaim, we feel that Jeff Bridges's version came away quite well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watch 2001: A Space Odyssey this Saturday with Buzz Aldrin and a live orchestra. Seriously.

We see a lot of neat film screenings come through DC, usually in the form of early premiers or classic screenings. But once in a while, something truly special comes along, like that time Simon Pegg visited for a preview of The World's End.

But then there's events like this Saturday's screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the most exciting and star-studded film event in recent local memory. In commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the Wolf Trap performing arts center has partnered with NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the British Film Institute to present 2001 with full orchestral accompaniment. And immediately prior to the event, Wolf Trap will hold Q&A sessions with legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Air and Space Museum curator Dr. Michael J. Neufeld.

This is an astounding event. 2001 is, by acclamation, one of the greatest films of all time, and its stirring classical score remains one of its defining aspects. The opportunity to hear that music performed live – and in the company of one of the only twelve people ever to walk on the moon – is really spectacular. The Wolf Trap is unfortunately not accessible via public transportation, but if you know someone with a car, this is a can't-miss opportunity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Could this (eventually) be the longest film ever made?

Over the years, many films have laid claim to the distinction of being the longest of all time. Whether they're making documentaries about a building decaying or just stitching random clips together to a feature length, filmmakers have slowly escalated their running times in a battle for this ignoble title. From 2006 to 2011, the record jumped from 95 hours to a whopping 10 days. There will always be arguments about what constitutes a film, but it appears that soon, the records will be annihilated.

Filmmaker Anders Weberg recently released a 72-minute-long trailer for Ambiancé, an experimental stream-of-consciousness film that he hopes will be the longest ever conceived. Its trailer already beats the length of some feature films, and Weberg plans to up the ante by releasing longer teasers every few years. The next trailer will run 7 hours and 20 minutes. Then one that's 72 hours. The final film, scheduled for release in 2020, will run 720 hours, which comes 30 days. (Even more bizarrely, the film will only be screened once, then destroyed.)

No one will ever watch these films in their entirety, but the total insanity of creating an unwatchably long film seems to be the point. There's likely a great meaning behind Ambiancé, possibly about impermanence and futility, but frankly it's too big and weird to wrap our heads around.

If you want to learn more about Ambiancé, you can visit the official website. We've embedded the trailer above, but it will be removed in one week. (This is just a disclaimer so future generations will understand why there's no picture in this post.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

DC's only true IMAX theater will soon be Metro-accessible

If you're a fan of blockbuster movies, you probably know the locations of DC's IMAX theaters. There's one in Georgetown, two at the Smithsonians, and another up in Silver Spring. You might've even seen a few big movies there, because who can resist the allure of Gravity in all its splendor?

We hate to break everyone's hearts, but those weren't real IMAX theaters. The Smithsonian theaters rarely if ever show first-run Hollywood movies, and the Georgetown and Silver Spring locations don't project in the full 70mm format. You've been paying extra for a big screen, but unless you lucked out at a Smithsonian screening, you didn't get the true IMAX experience.

Don't worry, Metro-bound filmgoer! The authentic IMAX experience will soon be available to everyone in the DC area. DCist reports that with the impending opening of the Silver Line the reaches to Reston, Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center's IMAX theater will soon be accessible. The Udvar-Hazy Center is a secondary location for the Air and Space Museum that houses notable artifacts including the Space Shuttle Discovery, but for our purposes, it also holds the area's only true-resolution IMAX theater that plays current movies.

If the Silver Line is indeed open by the end of July, then you'll have the perfect place to see Guardians of the Galaxy once it hits theaters in August. That's certainly Air and Space-y enough, right?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Netflix offers job to watch movies, fulfills your deepest dreams

We don't know if anyone from the UK reads this blog, but if you're an ex-pat or for some reason just enjoy reading American library blogs, we want to direct your attention to what may be the greatest job of all time.

As we've mentioned before, Netflix categorizes movies through a massive tagging project that includes superficial and thematic elements of every item in their collection. This is a huge undertaking, and given the subjectivity of art, it needs to be completed manually. We suspected this information might have been supplied by each film's distributors, but as it turns out, Netflix hires in-house taggers to watch each film and supply appropriate keywords. Now they're hiring for a tagger in the UK whose entire job would involve watching movies and describing them.

There's obviously a degree of expertise required, as Netflix is looking for people with a background in film studies who can more precisely describe genres and themes. And we imaging that eight hours a day of note-taking and film-viewing would eventually grow tiresome and might even rob you of the pleasure of watching movies. Still, an opportunity exists to get paid to watch movies. For real!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Today in film theory: A thoughtful critique of "Bayhem"

Michael Bay, love him or hate him, is an auteur, a director with a definitive and immediately recognizable style that overshadows every film he produces. Every moment of, say, Transformers or Armageddon is coated in Bay's fingerprints. His frenetic and explosive style has earned him an ignominious place in the film industry, but even more so than some acclaimed and successful directors, Bay's signature "Bayhem" is unmistakably his.

As befitting a director of such wide consumption and reputation, film analyst Tony Zhou has produced an eight-minute video dissecting how Michael Bay works. His sweeping camera shots, intense angles, and shaking intensity are no mistake; they find root in such classic films as Star Wars and West Side Story. Whatever you think of Bay's films, this video demonstrates that he is not a director who simply throws his movies together. His carnage is meticulous.

Michael Bay's only film in our collection is Pearl Harbor (HU DVD 752), which is featured throughout this video. It's not a terrific movie, but it's arguably a good example of how Bay operates.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

AMERICA! Celebrate 238 years of patriotism with these classic film screenings

America turns 238 years old in a few days, and its honor, the country will collectively take a day off and blow things up and eat red meat. It's a time-honored tradition, but once everything is blown up and eaten, you might be looking for something similarly unique and exciting to fill the rest of the three-day weekend. You might want to see a movie, but if you don't want to watch Transformers, there are few new release options for you.

Luckily, the AFI Silver in Silver Spring is stepping up and screening some truly terrific films over the Fourth of July weekend!

The action begins on Thursday, July 3rd, with a screening of Spaghetti Western classic A Fistful of Dollars, followed that evening by a 25th anniversary showing of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. The next day, on July 4th, the schedule heats up with The African Queen, Lawrence of Arabia, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If you're looking for more patriotic fare, The Pride of the Yankees screens on Friday as well, and the 1984 cheesefest Red Dawn follows on Sunday. All these films are being shown from their original prints, so you'd be getting the original, authentic theater-going experience!

For night owls looking to recreate the summer movie experience in its absolute fullest, E Street Cinema will also be screening Jaws late on Friday and Saturday nights. The theater is sure to be packed, so this is the closest you'll get to 1975 without a time machine.

Washington is an exciting city for Fourth of July for obvious reasons, but don't forget to take advantage of some of the other great resources DC offers during its biggest weekend of the year.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Watch these great Belgian films... tomorrow

In just about an hour, the United States will continue its unlikely World Cup run in a match against Belgium. We normally have nothing against Belgium, which is a perfectly fine country with a rich culture. But for the sake of irrational devotion in the name of an athletic competition, we're joining the bandwagon of swearing off everything Belgian for the rest of the day. Sorry, waffles!

Perhaps the hardest part of swearing off Belgium is avoiding Belgian films. We can probably survive a day without watching a Belgian movie, but only after we swear them off do we realize what we're going to miss. As with many countries, Belgium has a rich history of diverse films. Perhaps because the country rests in the shadow of the juggernaut that is French cinema (many Belgian movies are in fact produced in cooperation with French directors and studios), these films never find the wide audience that they perhaps should.

If you're interested in watching some quality films from a great little European country, we have a few recommendations. Just... wait until tomorrow, alright?

Bullhead – HU DVD 10992
Copie Conforme – HU DVD 10031
Eldorado – Streaming video

My Life in Pink – HU DVD 5315
La Promesse – HU DVD 1490
Rosetta – HU DVD 4609
Rust and Bone – HU DVD 6207
The Triplets of Belleville – HU DVD 1225