Sunday, November 30, 2014

Alternative programming: Return of the fanboys

We're back from our Thanksgiving hiatus, and we hope we didn't miss any too importa– is that a new Star Wars trailer?!!?

Everyone has probably watched the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens at least once since Friday, and we're sure there are varied opinions about whether or not it honors the style and legacy of the biggest franchise in all of media. We thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight a film in our collection about the people who feel very, very strongly about the future of Star Wars.

The People vs. George Lucas (HU DVD 10241) is a documentary that captures the incredibly tense dynamic between Star Wars fans (who love the series) and Lucasfilm (which owns the series). The Star Wars prequel film trilogy was highly negatively received by fans of the series, sparking what amounts to a culture war between its diehard supporters and its creators. The People vs. George Lucas examines this conflict and wades into the messy debate over the spiritual ownership of art that becomes  asocial phenomenon. It's certainly the most insightful and complete work about fan culture and backlash.

Give it a watch to prepare yourself for the inevitable grumbling that'll happen over that new, crazy three-pointed lightsaber. Some people are heavily invested in this franchise, and The People vs. George Lucas argues that they might really deserve a stake.

Monday, November 24, 2014

At last, Fandor is the Netflix alternative for film buffs

AU's various holiday breaks are soon upon us, and let's be honest: you'll be watching lots of movies on your couch in a food-enduced trance. The usual suspects will be running cable TV and Netflix, but what if you're looking for something a little artier? Do you have the sort of family that would rather watch Fitzcarraldo than Madagascar? You might want to consider a subscription to Fandor.

Essentially, Fandor is a new Netflix-style service that only includes expert-curated collections of art films and unusual gems. You won't find Iron Man on Fandor, but their staff make a point of finding deep cuts with critical acclaim. Many of these films might be available on other services, but the curation aspect is probably the most exciting. Flipping through the sci-fi category, for example, you'll find German spacefaring comedy Interkosmos and ultra-violent dystopian brawler Riki-Oh. These are some really unique selections that you won't find on, say, Hulu.

We don't want to this to be an outright advertisement for Fandor, but it's a terrific idea for cinephiles. Plus, the site includes the handy option to gift membership. Keep this one in your back pocket for your end-of-the-year shopping...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Who was Marion Barry? This HBO documentary is a good primer

Today marked the passing of Marion Barry, DC political legend and one of the country's most controversial mayors. To describe his decades of public involvement as tumultuous would be an understatement; Barry weathered multiple scandals and a high-profile arrest yet remained enormously popular among his constituents, serving four non-consecutive terms and continuing to serve as a councilman afterwards. His supporters said he fought hard for marginalized people in DC; detractors accused him of corruption and incompetence.

Suffice to say, Barry has a very interesting and complicated career, one that probably doesn't make much sense to anyone new to the DC area. If you're looking for a primer on Barry's history and legacy, we recommend watching The Nine Lives of Marion Barry (DVD 9730), an HBO-distributed documentary about the former mayor's highly elastic career. Barry was, for better or for worse, an irreplaceable politician, and we're glad that there's a comprehensive and even-handed documentary about his life.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The many works of Mike Nichols, EGOTer and prolific director

Mike Nichols, EGOT-winning director of The Graduate, died yesterday at age 83. For an acclaimed and decorated filmmaker, Nichols kept a comparatively low profile in the entertainment world, but he leaves behind an impressive lineup of truly great films and television productions, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Primary Colors, Working Girl, Angels in America, The Birdcage, and Charlie Wilson's War. The director got his start in entertainment as an improv comedian, but in future years, he will be remembered best for his consistent and varied filmography. It's quite an accomplishment that in his 40 years directing films, every single one was a winner.

Chances are that you've watched and enjoyed something by Mike Nichols, so in recognition of his career, we took the opportunity to look up the rest his directorial work. If you've ever been curious about his work or simply wanted a new director to get into, now is the right time to watch his films.

The Graduate – HU DVD 29
Wit – HU DVD 353
Postcards from the Edge – HU DVD 613
The Birdcage – HU DVD 667
Angels in America – HU DVD 760
Silkwood – HU DVD 1647
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – HU DVD 3017
Primary Colors – HU DVD 3606
Closer – HU DVD 4080
Working Girl – HU DVD 4159
Charlie Wilson's War – HU DVD 4309
Carnal Knowledge – HU DVD 5728
Catch-22 – HU DVD 5844

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Films on Demand gets bigger. Try the new content, send us your feedback!

We've previously talked about Films on Demand, a streaming video database we subscribe to that contains thousands of documentaries on seemingly every subject. Although a few of them come from big distributors like Discovery or History, they're mostly smaller affairs. Color us excited that Films on Demand is expanding its offerings to include feature films – and, most notably, the Eyes on the Prize documentary series.

Firstly, Films on Demand has offered us a trial of their new World Cinema database. It includes works by major directors from the earlier days of film, including Kurosawa, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, Chaplin, and more. We haven't yet committed to subscribing to the full version of this database, but it is by far one of the biggest and most substantive we've ever taken a look at. Please take a look at what it has to offer, and if you can see yourself using it in the future, please email your thoughts to our Media Librarian Chris Lewis (

Secondly, and perhaps most excitingly to our many faculty members who use the series, PBS's Eyes on the Prize is now available in its entirety through the main Films on Demand database. Eyes on the Prize is the definitive documentary about the civil rights movement, and its fourteen parts are frequently used for history courses. Eyes on the Prize has been borderline out-of-print for many years, and its release on streaming platforms is enormously exciting given its previous troubled release history.

These are both big additions from Films on Demand, and we can't wait to see what they have in store next. It's hard to beat It's a Wonderful Life and His Girl Friday on demand, though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

See Fredrick Wiseman's newest documentary with a director Q&A!

If you don't know documentarian Fredrick Wiseman, you should. Wiseman has an absurdly prolific career, having directed dozens of documentaries since 1967. His first, Titicut Follies, is a incisive look at the American mental health system and the state of asylums in the 60s (we frequently recommend this one to faculty). His next film, National Gallery, a documentary about the British art museum of the same name, has already been hailed as a masterpiece. This is the director's thirty-ninth film, and for this special occasion, Wiseman is coming to DC to show it off.

National Gallery, which runs for a staggering three hours, will play at the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring for one week starting this Friday, November 14th. And at two showings on the 14th and 15th, Fredrick Wiseman will stop by for a Q&A. This is a rare chance to meet and to speak with a titan of documentaries.

Given the high-profile guest, you'll likely need to secure tickets in advance for this one. Head over to AFI Silver's website to purchase them early.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Be an extra on House of Cards... TOMORROW!

Time for a quick dispatch on the DC film front: House of Cards will be shooting in DC tomorrow, and they're looking for extras!

We got this news very last-minute, so we'll keep this brief. DC's local film office says that if you think you fit the profile of a "Mid-Westerner" and want to appear as an extra:
Please e-mail
===> Include a recent photo
===> Put "HOC MidWesterner" in the email subject line, or the email will be deleted
Again, filming starts tomorrow, so you'll want to move quickly on this. If you're interested, get in touch with their casting director ASAP!

(To emphasize the importance of this, imagine that we're double-slamming our fist on a desk.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alternative programming: Service across generations

In a few hours, the National Mall will turn into an absolute mob scene for an inaugural HBO-sponsored Veterans Day concert featuring Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, and other major artists. This sort of musical event isn't unprecedented on the Mall (like the previous HBO concert for Obama'a 2009 inauguration), but we understand if you find something a little dissonant about holding such an extravagant event on this typically somber holiday.

For those looking for a less raucous to reflect on the work of members of the armed forces, we recommend My Vietnam, Your Iraq (HU DVD 272), a PBS documentary about veterans of the Vietnam War whose children then served in Iraq. We tend to focus on the veteran experience in terms of its effects on families, but the dynamic can be very different in a family with multiple generations of war experience. The film jumps between seven different families, revealing intimate portraits of how war touches multiple generations.

We don't want to denigrate the Concert for Valor, especially because it brings some liveliness to a holiday about celebrating our veterans rather than mourning them. But if you're looking for something more reflective, this film is a great place to start.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Get re-revenge this Thursday at a free Horrible Bosses 2 preview!

There's a scene in Horrible Bosses where Jamie Foxx's character (whose name is not repeatable here) admits to serving jail time for bootlegging a copy of Snow Falling on Cedars. We tell you this to warn you that such behavior will not be permitted at this week's free preview screening of Horrible Bosses 2!

Horrible Bosses was a runaway success in 2011, particularly because of lead Charlie Day in his first major film role. We don't know too much about the sequel, but we expect it to be at least as funny and chaotic as the original. And you can see it weeks before it hits theaters!

This free screening event happens on Thursday, November 13th, at the Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14 in Chinatown at 8pm. Unlike many of our screenings in which we give out physical passes, you can redeem these passes online through our friends at GoFobo. Keep in mind, as with every screening, that these events are intentionally overbooked, so you are encouraged to show up at least an hour or two in advance to ensure that you get a seat.

Hope to see you there! (But please leave your peanut-infected shampoo at home.)

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Top 10: Bonus Features Not to Skip

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.

When was the last time you watched a DVD bonus feature? At the risk of sounding hackneyed, special features aren't so special anymore; so many films now receive limited editions with behind-the-scene footage and interviews. Even among the best movie releases (like anything put out by the Criterion Collection), it can be exhausting to go through every featurette, trailer, and commentary track.

But there are a few movies with particularly unusual or interesting special features that are worth the detour to the second disc. In some cases, they're even better than the film themselves. With the help of the library's Media and RTL staff, we present the top ten DVD bonus features that are worth tracking down.

Some serious historical research went into this Indiana Jones spinoff television show, and the producers clearly wanted to share their homework with us. This DVD set contains close to 100 mini-documentaries about the subjects of each episode, from ancient Egypt to the story of George S. Patton. (And they're really great too!)

Many commentary tracks can feel dry, especially when they're produced very shortly after the film's release. This is not a problem for Big Trouble in Little China. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have a wild time re-watching the cult classic together. It's like sitting in the room with two old friends seeing each other for the first time in years.

Ridley Scott's cyberpunk masterpiece has been issued and reissued repeatedly in the last 30 years, receiving significant alterations that completely change the film's subtext and structure. The Final Cut edition contains all four revisions of the film, including a work-in-progress version that circulated among bootleggers as an unofficial "director's cut."

Never ones to indulge analysis of their own work, the Coen brothers included a mocking faux-critical commentary track for first major film. The commentator, supposedly from the Forever Young Films preservation group, explains in dead seriousness how every animal is animatronic and why the film had to be shot backwards. Hilariously, he intentionally ignores the most famous shot in the movie.

  • Chuck Jones: Extremes & In-Betweens - A Life in Animation (DVD 4176)
This documentary about the life of legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones is a worthwhile watch for fans or students of animation, but the 14-minute "Chuck Jones Tutorial" is the real gem. In this segment, the man behind Tom & Jerry explains, in his own words and with examples, how to animate with style and panache. It's a brief master class from one of the legends of the medium.

In lieu of the original filmmakers, many releases of older movies include commentary tracks from film critics or academics. But only a film hailed as one of the greatest of all time lands commentary tracks from Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert, two of the world's most esteemed film critics.

David Lynch's most recent movie, like most of his filmography, begs for in-depth discussion about its theme and tidbits from production. On the DVD, Lynch doesn't offer commentary and instead includes a video of himself cooking quinoa. We'll take it, I guess.

Memento may have the most confounding DVD menus of all time; the supplemental disc is structured as a psychological test that provides access to different content based on your answers. The most exciting of these is a re-edit of the film in chronological order, an editing experiment that everyone has probably wanted to try or to see at some point. To find it, click the clock on the first menu screen, then answer the question about a woman fixing a flat tire in reverse order.

Appropriate for a film that popularized the mockumentary genre, Spinal Tap's bonus features never drop character and treat the movie like the real thing. The main draw is a commentary track featuring the cast in-character at a twentieth anniversary reunion, but other odd "archival" footage is worth seeking out as well.

  • Treasures of the Twilight Zone (DVD 6478)
In 1959, Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes interviewed Rod Serling about the state of television, commercialization, and censorship. It's a riveting half-hour that's still relevant today, and this collection of Twilight Zone episodes included Serling's interview as a special feature. (Since it was the 50s, both men smoke during the interview and fill the room with a tobacco haze. It's funny but distracting.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

This film critic's child grew up – with some help from the Terminator

Do you remember your first R-rated movie? Many people probably merged into the world of violent and dark films without great fanfare, but for others, graduating from PG-13 to R is a rite of passage and a sign that, yes, a parent figure thinks that you're mature enough to enjoy that sort of movie.

If you're in the mood for a heartwarming, inspiring story about this passage into young adulthood, look no further than a recent post from film critic Drew McWeeny. McWeeny showed his son an R-rated movie for the first time, in a very personal blog post, he explains his son's extreme enthusiasm for The Terminator and what it's like watching a child take that first step into an unexplored, adult realm of culture. It's a beautiful, emotional piece, generally about growing up but specifically about watching the next generation become film enthusiasts.

We'll let McWeeny's article speak for itself. It's touching and highly worth a read if you get the warm-and-fuzzies thinking about the future relevance and magic of film.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

New Acquisitions - November 2014

As you recover from your sugar-induced comas this morning, you might be happy to learn that we have a few new items in our collection.

We have two major highlights this month. Firstly, thanks to a generous donation, we have received a massive collection of Quebecois films. Secondly, we spent the better part of the month processing the entire series of The X-Files! That's 54 discs of Mulder and Scully, including both theatrical movies. That's a lot of aliens and fluke-people.

Hit the jump for a full list of what we've acquired...