Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy National Ghostbusters Day!

Today marks the startling thirtieth anniversary of Ghostbusters, maybe the most successful comedy film of all time. The film was so successful at release that it stayed the number one film in the country for seven solid weeks, and adjusted for inflation, it is still one of the highest grossing films of all time. Now we are as far from the release of Ghostbusters as Ghostbusters was from Rear Window. There's probably too much hemming and hawing these days about the passage of time, but thirty years is a great milestone for classic film. Considering that we lost Harold Ramis this year, this anniversary feels particularly weighty.

The most exciting part of this anniversary is, by far, the re-release of Ghostbusters in theaters. If you look up any local theater listing, you will find dozens of screenings for the movie over the course of the Labor Day weekend. If you need an excuse to see it, remember that the first weeks of classes is nearly over, and you probably need a break. Bustin' does make one feel good.

If you're in further need of retrospection, the Los Angeles Times published a look back on the franchise from director Ivan Reitman, and SDRS Creative created a terrific infographic of trivia explaining the somewhat complicated production of the now legendary movie.

Who cares if it's two months before Halloween? This is a great weekend for ghosts. Do not perish in flame!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mark your calendar: AU's French film festival is next week!

We always try to share interesting film screenings around town, and you may have noticed that those screenings cluster around the warmer seasons. It's great for those who are around after the school year, but we realize many people are back home or abroad during the summer. For those who are just joining us for the fall – or if you're on campus and have an interest in French film – we have terrific news!

American University's School of Communication has partnered with the French Embassy, Institut Fran├žais, TV5Monde, and Wolfe Video to bring you Finding Your Identity: A Festival of French Film. On September 4th and 5th at 8pm, AU will be screening two French films about identity, All is Forgiven and Tomboy, at the Woods-Brown Amphitheater. Don't worry: if you don't speak French, the films will be subtitled in English.

Foreign language film screenings on campus don't happen that often, so this is an exciting event! If you have a hankering for some cinema, set time aside next week for some on-campus movie-watchin'!

(It feels wrong to say "watchin' " in a post about French film.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Usher in Fall 2014 with the 2014 Emmys!

Today marks the star of the fall 2014 semester! After a slow, low-profile summer, we're ready for another couple months of reservations, class screenings, and paper-writing. Today is also the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards. This is highly unusual, given that the Emmys usually air in September on Sunday, but we like to think that the television industry conspired with AU to give you the ultimate after-class activity.

If you've enjoyed television in the last year, this year's Emmy ceremony is one to watch. There are many contentious categories (will Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory sweep comedy awards again, or is it time for Orange is the New Black?), but the big draw will be the showdown between Breaking Bad and True Detective. Both shows had truly standout seasons, and Bryan Cranston and Matthew McConaughey can both make a solid case for being the best Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

The Emmys begin in about four hours, but that's enough time to watch one or two episodes of some of the best shows. There are many, many programs nominated for the Emmy this year, but we'd like to direct your attention to the big ones in contention (though many are not yet on DVD).

Outstanding Drama Series
True Detective, Season 1 – HU DVD 11445
Breaking Bad, The Final Season – HU DVD 14053
House of Cards, Season 2 – HU DVD 14211

Outstanding Comedy Series
Orange is the New Black, Season 1 – HU DVD 11416

Outstanding Television Movie
Sherlock, "His Last Vow" – HU DVD 7958

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams: a funnyman and performer of unparalleled range

We couldn't let this week pass without acknowledging the unfortunate and far too early death of comedian Robin Williams. We can only add to the immense outpouring of grief over Williams's death. Many retrospectives have focused on his terrific stand-up comedy and his ability to make us laugh – rightly so – but he was a performer of immense range who appeared in manic comedies as well as memorable dramatic roles. Consider that Williams starred in both Death to Smoochy and Insomnia in the same year, and you'll have some idea of this man's versatility. He will be greatly missed, but the breadth of his work on film and talent will speak for itself for years.

Befitting an actor who worked with such a terrific range for decades, the Media Services collection contains dozens of starring Robin Williams, encompassing everything from the silliest comedies to the most serious thrillers. A perusal of our collection brings up 21 DVDs starring Williams, from Hook to The Birdcage. We encourage you to check one out over the weekend to remember the work of a truly flexible and talented performer we lost far too soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Remembering Lauren Bacall, icon of classic Hollywood

Lauren Bacall, one of the last stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, died yesterday at age 89. Bacall ranks among the greatest screen icons of the 30s and 40s, starring alongside legends including Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and – most famously – her husband Humphrey Bogart. She was an enduring symbol of old Hollywood and one of our last connections to an era of elegance and grace to which the film world still aspires.

Luaren Bacall continued her career well into this decade, and her career runs the gamut from noir classics to animated voice-overs. In honor of Bacall's legacy, consider watching her films from our collection.

Written on the Wind – HU DVD 518
The Big Sleep – HU DVD 1062
To Have and Have Not – HU DVD 1440
How to Marry a Millionaire – HU DVD 2108
Howl's Moving Castle – HU DVD 2979
Manderlay – HU DVD 4147
Key Largo – HU DVD 4679
Dark Passage – HU DVD 5359
The Shootist – HU DVD 7645
Dogville – HU DVD 9013

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Have we reached the age of the post-plot movie?

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was a massive success this weekend, proving once and for all that people will see a sufficiently entertaining movie starring a tree. Guardians received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, and it may surprisingly end up the biggest movie of the summer. But as one writer points out, it also may signal the dawn of a new era for movies: the end of plot.

Steven Zeitchik's article in the Los Angeles Times argues that in contrast to years of established filmmaking, Guardians and the larger Marvel universe represent a new type of movie where the specifics of the plot rarely matter. This isn't to suggest that Guardians is poorly written; it's just that it has no meaningful narrative. Blockbusters from previous years – Jaws, Star Wars, and even Christopher Nolan's Batmans – are driven by a fairly standard three-act structure that can be broken down into the rising action, climax, et cetera. In contrast, Marvel's movies usually lack that coherent structure, but they're still fun because we enjoy seeing interesting things happen to interesting people. For all intents and purposes, Guardians is a movie about five weird misfits blowing things up, but that doesn't mean it isn't exciting and engaging.

It's not that there's no plot. The plot just doesn't matter in the broader scheme of things. Much like Seinfeld was famously "about nothing," movies may too have reached a stage where plot specifics are no longer the driving force. Zeitchik draws comparisons to the "jokeless comedy," arguing that like The Hangover, blockbuster movies are increasingly about situations and characters. Again, this is not a knock against the quality of movies like Guardians. Zeitchik only means to point out that big movies, far from being uniform behemoths, are changing too.

Plus, when plot doesn't matter, neither do spoilers! We're free!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Famous directors throw money to stall the imminent death of physical film

Ever since the all-digital release of 2002's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, filmmakers have steadily moved away from traditional film reels in favor of the increased power of digital cameras. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Kodak film consumption has decreased by nearly 12 billion linear feet in the past 8 years, a 97 percent decrease in orders. Very few (such as Steven Spielberg) are still developing physical prints of their movies. That spells almost certain death for the film market, but some directors – driven by nostalgia or an insistence that there's a measurable difference in quality – have started a personal crusade to save their favorite format. But they're using an unconventional, business-friendly strategy.

Quentin Tarantino, J. J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, and other have convinced major studios to buy a fixed amount of physical film each year, allowing Kodak to stay in the film business and continue outputting new film for directors to use. Not all of it will be used, but maintaining a certain level of orders will keep film alive – at least as long as the studios keep funneling money.

It's an unconventional idea that's impractical, expensive, and will probably see a lot of film go to waste, and naturally, it's met some resistance. But it will keep the option available for anyone who wants to use a now-antiquated format. Maybe future generations will learn the joys of 35mm after all.