Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Have war films outlasted our actual wars? xkcd digs for an answer

Randall Munroe's What If?, one of the most popular new books of the year, scientifically guesstimates the answers to absurd hypothetical questions. Usually these involve pushing the laws of physics to their breaking point, but once in a while, they just deal with situations of absurd, immeasurable scale. After spending a lazy afternoon browsing the What If webs... er, doing research, we've found a scenario that's directly relevant to our collections: are the total running times of all World War II films longer than the war itself?

Using the massive amounts of tags and data accrued by IMDb – and some clever averaging to save time – Munroe estimates that there are about 300 days of World War II films and movies. That's only about a seventh as long as the war itself, but that's still a great ratio for a multi-year international conflict. Some smaller wars that lasted for only a few days have an edge, but no major conflict comes as close as World War II. It speaks volumes about our broader cultural fascination with one of the last wars that people still refer to as "great."

We don't have all 300 days worth of World War II films in our collection, but we recognize that war films are a popular and perennially relevant genre. To this end, we want to direct you to our war films Pinterest board, which contains over 200 movies ranging from Enemy at the Gates to Courage Under Fire. That's good for about a solid month of war films – still shorter than the Falklands War.

Monday, September 29, 2014

See Men, Women & Children, then grab the T-Shirt!

As we head into October, we're leaving behind summer blockbusters and heading straight into the prestige season, when award-contenders and major dramas are released for the discerning public. One of the more conspicuous debuts this week is Men, Women & Children, the latest film by director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno, Young Adult). Reitman has some pretty strong dramedy chops under his belt, so we have high expectations for this one. But we also have some movie swag!

We currently have a bag full of posters and T-shirts for Men, Women & Children to give away at the Media Services desk. If you're interested in this movie, enjoy Jason Reitman, or just want something to decorate your wall/body,  we encourage you to come by and pick something up! We also have a poster for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader's indie hit The Skeleton Twins and a tote bag for summer breakout Chef.

And of course, we also have passes to see Men, Women & Children this Wednesday evening at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14. Swing by to grab a shirt and a pass. As always, remember that these advance screenings are intentionally overbooked, so show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A eulogy for the Saturday morning cartoon

Yesterday marked the largely unheralded end of a television tradition: the Saturday morning cartoon. For nearly fifty years, network channels devoted a significant portion of their Saturday programming to children's animated programs, but with the end of The CW's "Vortexx" block, no major broadcast networks is airing cartoons on Saturday anymore. After years of criticism for selling kids sugary cereal and toys, it's not surprising (and perhaps for the better) that educational and family-friendly programs have largely replaced cartoons as the go-to weekend staple. Child-friendly animation is still alive and well on channels like Cartoon Network and Disney XD, but the tradition that birthed Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, GI Joe, and the likes is now finished.

Certainly in the pantheon of all television shows, Saturday morning cartoons were among the most disposable. But they were a culturally significant niche, one that influenced generations of children and, if the success of Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this summer is any indication, will continue to inform our media preferences for years to come.

Although our collection has a great selection of cartoons (including classics like Woody Woodpecker the recent The Amazing World of Gumball), we frankly don't have very many that began as part of the Saturday morning tradition. This might be for the best, given the quality of some of them. We do however, have both Captain Planet and the Planeteers (HU DVD 8841) and Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures! (HU DVD 10285). If you're looking for Saturday morning cartoons, you could certainly do worse than these too. But we don't provide cereal and action figures.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No more lasers? PBS takes on the realism of movie space combat

We might criticize special effects for overstaying their welcome on occasion, but without CGI and crazy miniature work, we wouldn't have space battles. Watching spaceships shoot lasers and blow up is among the greatest, basest pleasures of movies. Even the Star Wars prequels, superfluous as they may be, have a few entertaining space fights. Color us saddened if unsurprised that these scenes are very scientifically inaccurate.

As part of his It's Okay to Be Smart series, PBS's Joseph Shoer produced a six-minute video (embedded above) explaining how movie-magic space combat would work in a scientifically accurate setting. Too many factors, especially speed-of-light travel and the feasibility of weaponized lasers, prevent the possibility of flashy movie-style battles. He suggests that realistically, space combat would resemble a war from the 1800s, with cannon-like projectiles and sluggish communications.

So why do the movies get it wrong? Shoer argues that many early science fiction films were in fact reflections on modern war, and their combat scenes stylistically mimicked classic cinematic depictions of aerial dogfights. He juxtaposes footage of the famous Death Star battle scene from Star Wars alongside clips from The Dam Busters (HU DVD 7519), and it's hard to argue against that visual evidence.

If you like sci-fi, have a few minutes to spare, and don't mind a little cheesiness, check this video out. Hopefully it won't ruin your enjoyment of "pew pew pew" in the future

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Acquisitions - September 2014

Everyone settled in for the semester? We haven't brought you a new batch of titles since July, mostly because we've been working through our enormous backlog. By our count, we've cataloged over 150 new items since last time, including a good number of new and returning television shows.

In the interest in promoting a wide variety of content, we want to highlight a few items that are polar opposites. Pretty much everyone loves The Lego Movie, but we also acquired the entire series of The Shield, beloved Korean body-swapping soap opera Secret Garden, Lars von Trier's highly explicit Nymphomaniac, cult British acting tour de force Orphan Black, and a documentary about the unproduced version of Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

(We also got our hands on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, by far the most surreal program ever to air on television.)

Hit the jump to see what we got our hands on in the last month...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dig into television and film corpuses with Bookworm Movies

One handy tool for cultural analysis is to measure how often words are used within a given set of texts, whether that's transcripts from Congress or every document ever written. It's much easier to search through the written word for obvious reasons, leaving audio-visual media left out of the content analysis process. Luckily, a very clever professor named Ben Schmidt has leveraged big data to make movies and television shows as searchable as books.

Schmidt's new service, Bookwork Movies, uses the Open Subtitles database to grab the scripts from thousands of movies and shows. Punch in any word or phrase – and, optionally, a specific show or medium – and Bookworm Movies will produce a detailed graph of how often each word is used relative to its entire corpus. As show in the chart above, Scrubs uses the word "doctor" more frequently than many medical dramas, while it appears comparatively little in Grey's Anatomy. There's all sorts of angles you could go above analyzing that. This is a terrific starting point for seeing how television shows and movies change language over time in comparison to one another.

The best part? The entirety of The Simpsons is included as well. And thankfully, they haven't used the word "selfie" yet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Top 10: Scotland, On Screen and Behind the Camera

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.

Today, Scotland heads to the polls to vote on whether to declare independence. Even if the vote fails, this election may be one of the most momentous in recent European history. In Media Services, we've been abuzz with one question: if Scotland declares independence, do we start looking at their national cinema separate from the United Kingdom too? This is an especially hard question to answer given the fluid national identity of the UK.

Regardless, Scotland has a quality film history, both in on-screen depictions and from their filmmakers. We've done a little perusing, and we'd like to share what we consider the top ten films in Scotland and from Scotland.

(And sorry, but we made the executive decision not to include Highlander on this list.)

This is Alfred Hitchcock's only film set in Scotland, and it's a doozy. Many consider it among Hitchcock's best films shot in the United Kingdom, and its narrative elements – an innocent man on the run, unexpected character deaths, a MacGuffin – anticipate some of his later masterpieces like Psycho and North by Northwest.

Maybe it's a little obvious, but this 1995 Best Picture winner remains the most iconic depictions of Scotland in the history of film. There is perhaps no more widely recognized symbol of of Scottish nationalism than William Wallace screaming "Freedom!" Expect many Braveheart references in tonight's news coverage.

Outside of Brave, there are very few animated films set in Scotland. This one, based on an unproduced screenplay by French director Jacques Tati, follows a magician who sunsets his career in Scotland. Melancholy and wistful, The Illusionist is a gorgeous film that was rightly nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar.

Bill Forsyth is probably the first name you would put on a list of Scottish national cinema directors. His 1983 comedy about a Texan oil baron attempting to buy a coastal Scottish town is a tribute to everything beloved about his country. Critics swooned over it too: Local Hero is among the only films with a shocking 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ratcatcher is a coming-of-age story, but it is perhaps most notable for setting that story against the background of the 1973 Glasgow garbage strikes. That event is an underdocumented, fairly ugly moment in Scottish history, and Ratcatcher engages with this past in rare form.

Yes, Rob Roy is the product of an American studio, and its lead actor is Irish. But this story of one of the great Scottish folk heroes is an indelibly Scottish experience. The entire film was (beautifully) shot in the Highlands and makes use of real castles, though this lead to all sorts of production-related weather and travel nightmares.

Starring a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccelston, this dark crime comedy was a sleeper success that found new life with a 2012 Criterion re-issue. The film is also notable as the first product of frequent collaborators Danny Boyle and John Hodge. This directing-writing duo would go on to produce one of the most famous of all Scottish films...

Danny Boyle's gonzo take on heroin and economic depression in Edinburgh is remembered for its vibrant and manic performances, particularly from then-unknown Ewan McGregor. That one of the most famous Scottish films is about drugs and squalor isn't necessarily a negative. Frank McAveety, a former Scottish tourism minister, called the attention "welcome."

The original Wicker Man (not the regrettable Nicolas Cage remake) is a masterwork of horror that uses the Scottish isles to great effect. Christopher Lee gives one of the most powerful performances of his career as the leader of a pagan cult tied to a young girl's disappearance.

Whisky Galore! is a love letter to an acquired taste in alcohol. When a ship carrying an astronomical amount of whiskey crashes in Scotland, the local village goes nuts defending and/or looting it. This is a certifiably silly movie that probably doesn't help Scotland's reputation, but it certainly doesn't pretend to be anything but madcap.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Simon Pegg fan? See Hector and the Search for Happiness THIS THURSDAY

We've been posting a ton about free film screenings recently, but there have just been a great number happening in the last few weeks. That's certainly not a bad thing, especially if you enjoy quality entertainment for minimal price. But it's been a while since we brought you an advance screening of an upcoming movie. Time to fix that.

We have passes to an advance screening of Hector and the Search for Happiness, an upcoming star vehicle starring Simon Pegg. A far cry from his usual dark comedies, Pegg stars as a psychiatrist who travels the world in pursuit of... well, happiness. To be frank, the movie isn't getting good reviews so far. But if you like Simon Pegg, it might be worth an opportunity to see him doing something strikingly different.

The screening goes down tomorrow night, Thursday, September 18th, at 8pm at the AMC Loews Georgetown. Pick up your advance pass in person at the Media Services desk. As always, please remember to show up early, as these screenings are intentionally overbooked and passes and do not guarantee entry.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

AU Library begins late Friday hours with 22 Jump Street

The AU Library has traditionally always closed on Friday at 9pm, but this semester, we're trying something different. Starting this Friday, September 12th, the library will be open for late-night hours, but not just so you can study. We're planning a series of Friday events, including game nights and free movies.

We're kicking off our Friday night lineup with a free screening of 22 Jump Street this Friday at 9pm in the Mud Box. We love practically anything Lord and Miller put out, and the Jump Street series is no exception. (Plus, we figured the college theme wouldn't hurt.) 22 Jump Street is out of theaters and won't hit DVD until mid-late November, so this might be your only chance to see it until Thanksgiving.

We hope you join us in the library this Friday! We want to bring you exciting evening events more regularly, so if this goes well, expect to hear more in the future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mark the fortieth anniversary of Watergate with a free screening of All the President's Men

August marked the fortieth anniversary of President Nixon's resignation and the culmination of the biggest scandal in American political history. The legacy of the Watergate scandal is still alive in part because of All the President's Men, the Academy Award-winning film about the Washington Post's investigation of the break-ins. Its depiction of real, hard-hitting, grounded journalism has make it a perennial favorite in the communications world.

To commemorate this anniversary, the School of Communication will be hosting a screening of All the President's Men TONIGHT at 7pm in the recently renovated McKinley Building. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor at the Post, will also offer a few words about the role of the press in the Watergate scandal. (Best of all, it's free, and there will be refreshments at 6:30pm!)

Stop by the Forman Theater in McKinley tonight for a screening of a terrific film with some editorial comments from an authority figure in the world of print journalism. See you there!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Alternative programming: What happened to your last iPhone?

If you follow the world of tech, you are no doubt aware that Apple is planning to announce some new products today. These likely include a new iPhone model as well as a possible wearable gadget. The wearable tech arms race is escalating with Google Glass, the Galaxy Gear, and the Moto 360, and Apple's additions are expected to blow this field out of the water.

We love keeping up on phone and tablets, but it's important to recognize the less seemly aspects of the tech industry. Despite electronic devices ostensibly being an investment, they are manufactured with disposability and replacement in mind. Chances are you've gone through several phones in the last few years, sometimes for a stylish update but often because they just peter out at some point. This is hardly a mistake, and the tech industry thrives on your continued purchase of new hardware. Even after your old phone is gone, the resulting e-waste is enormously toxic and disruptive.

After everyone loses their mind over the iWatch or iGlasses or whatever Apple rolls out today, consider watching one of these documentaries that looks at why you're trading in your iPhone and what's happens to it afterwards. There's nothing wrong with wanting to swap out your old phone for the new model, but keep in mind the consequences of and business models built around this behavior.

Terra Blight – DVD 10630
The Light Bulb Conspiracy: The Untold Story of Planned Obsolescence – DVD 10648
Planned Obsolescence: Why Some Durable Goods Aren't So Durable – Streaming video

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cultural fragmentation begets bizarre niche film festivals

If you pay attention to film news, you may have noticed a brouhaha this weekend over the Telluride Film Festival, one of the first stops on the road to Oscar contention and a recurring favorite for independent filmmakers. But back in May, you might have missed out on Blobfest, a festival that only screens movies similar to The Blob.

As told in a recent profile from The New York Times, Blobfest is one of the many niche film festivals springing up around the world. The Times has assembled an impressive list of these weird and unusual events, ranging from the Feline Film Festival (which has come a long way since its first year) to mockumentary haven Mockfest. This is probably a result of the Long Tail-ization of interests and the ability for small audiences to thrive in the digital age, but it still gives critics like Peter Bogdanovich "a headache just trying to think of possibilities."

We saw some of this locally too; among all the various outdoor film festivals this summer, many had very specific themes, such as "flight" or "work." Plus, the annual festival held by the cinema-focused University College group always rallies around a specific, unusual topic. Frankly, it's fun to run with these somewhat silly and specific premises, especially when they can have positive effects (as the Times mentions for the Anxiety Arts Festival). Maybe we too will have a chapter of the Feline Film Festival one day.