Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Acquisitions - January 2016

Rub your weary eyes and put on non-sweatpants; DC has functionally recovered from the weekend's massive snowstorm, and we're back to work. Our first order of business is pushing out the next wave of new DVDs from this month.

Big names from this month include the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy, Marvel's Ant-Man, and Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but we want to talk about the stranger documentaries. We haven't seen Mondo Hollywood, but the documentary's description brags about being condemned by both capitalists and communists. And anyone who was raised on pop culture will appreciate The Wolfpack, the true story of seven children forbidden from leaving their apartment and learned about the world almost entirely through film.

(We are also now the only library on the continent with a copy of the French film Afrique 50!)

Hit the break for a full list of this month's titles...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snow approaches! Lock yourself in with the best movie blizzards

via Giphy

Yes, a massive snowstorm will hit DC in about 24 hours. It will be big, possibly as large as if not larger than the Snowmageddon storm that locked down DC for a week in 2010 and caused some substantial damage on campus. If this is anywhere as bad as the experts predict, prepare to be locked in for a while.

If you plan to hunker in with your TV over the course of the storm, we recommend going for the absolute snowiest possible movies. Maybe you don't want to be reminded of what's happening outside, but arguably, there's no better timing for watching a film about totally oppressive weather.

For your consideration, we suggest the following cold, cold, classics. Stay safe and warm.
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder – HU DVD 446
    Though there's less snow in this one than others, a movie where a snowstorm delays flights at Dulles Airport is too real.
  • The Thing – HU DVD 1410
    Want to feel grateful about being snowed in? At least you're not trapped inside with a shapeshifting monster that makes the Antarctic look pleasant by comparison.
  • The Shining – HU DVD 2168
    Even if something otherworldly was involved, The Shining is still the all-time best argument in favor of mental health check-ins during cabin fever.
  • Groundhog Day – HU DVD 2325
    A blizzard traps meteorologist Phil Connors in small-town Pennsylvania, and in an example we all should follow, his crew eventually gives up on trying to travel. 
  • Fargo – HU DVD 2393
    Long, beautiful shots of snowy rural expanse make this one of the all-time greatest, coldest films. (It's great for other reasons too.)
  • Dead Snow – HU DVD 7972
    Nazi zombies are unlikely in DC this weekend, but this Norwegian horror movie should scare anyone from wanting to head outside.
  • Snowpiercer – HU DVD 11486
    Extreme global cold has become borderline weaponized by the elite in this recent sci-fi hit. Brace yourself when an arm is stuck out the window.
  • The Day After Tomorrow – HU DVD 12586
    New York completely freezes over, and Jake Gyllenhaal becomes trapped in the library. We wouldn't know anything about that...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Film's great directors circled up and talked about their craft

Everyone has probably imagined a fictional conversation between history's greatest leaders, thinkers, or artists. It's a classic hypothetical situation, but unless you're in a science fiction story, you can't assemble centuries of historical figures together. Film is still a young medium, though, and many of the greatest filmmakers are still active. That meeting-of-the-minds can actually happen, and The Hollywood Reporter did it.

In the above video, THR's Stephen Galloway presides over an hour-long roundtable discussion with some of the best working directors, including Ridley Scott and Quentin Tarantino. Their conversation zigzags across tons of issues in film, from working within studios to the lowest points in their careers. Perhaps the most interesting point of discussion is what Alejandro González Iñárritu calls the disappearance of "middle-class films" that sit halfway between micro-budget indies and blockbusters.

It certainly helped that all these filmmakers had films with skin in the awards circuit, but gathering them for an hour to muse on the state of the film industry is an absolute treat.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

This year's Oscars remind about the importance of cinematography

This year's Oscar nominations are out, with the usual mix of surprises (Mad Max!) and disappointments (whitewashing across the board). But the one incontestable standout out on the list is the Achievement in Cinematography award. 2016's lineup might be one of the most competitive races ever.

It's too easy to lump cinematography in with the technical categories (which is what the Academy does), but this award is one of the most important to the filmmaking process. Directors receive all the credit for how a film looks, but skilled cinematographers are the ones who execute their vision. For examples, read The Beat's summary of famous directors and cinematographers who teamed up: when you watch a Christopher Nolan film, the tone and composition of those images were chosen by his cinematographer Wally Pfister. Don't underestimate a great cinematographer.

All five nominated films are outstanding, and a four in particular represent exceptional achievements and pedigrees.
  • Robert Richardson's work on The Hateful Eight was famously the first Ultra Panavsion 70 production in decades, and the work shows.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road has been considered one of the all-time greatest action movies thanks to John Seale's surreal camera work.
  • Emmanuel Lubezki has won the cinematography Oscar for the past two years for good reason, and he stands a chance to repeat for his gripping work on The Revenant.
  • Roger Deakins's nod for Sicario is his thirteenth nomination, but the legendary DP has never won an Academy Award yet (?!).
Of the five nominees, only Mad Max: Fury Road is currently available in the library (HU DVD 12486), but Carol, The Revenant, and The Hateful Eight are still in theaters. If you can see all of them, remember that someone sat behind that camera to get those gorgeous – and this year, chaotic – shots.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

25 years ago, an Islamophobic film dented the public imagination

On this week in 1991, MGM released Not Without My Daughter, a drama film about a woman and her daughter held captive in Iran. It was hacky, received poor reviews, and generally flopped. It also carried the unusual, regrettable status as being one of the only American films about Iran at the time. For years, it served as one of the few contemporary pop culture depictions of Islam and the Middle East, and as Vulture tells it, that's an bad legacy.

In the film, an Iranian man effectively imprisons his American family in Iran after rediscovering his Islamic faith. Vulture's retrospective goes into the constant harmful portrayal of all these elements, from the vilification of Muslim men to the staging of Iran as an dark place. More troubling is the long-lasting impact of these depictions: reportedly, the film was been regularly shown in schools across the county as a cautionary tale about Iran – and was once even intentionally aired on television before a major soccer match against Iran to fire people up.

Gazelle Emami's article is a potent example of the ripple effect that even seemingly throwaway media can have on our beliefs and ideology. By all accounts, Not Without My Daughter is a forgettable, low-quality movie. But for a while, its charged representation of Iran and Islam was the only representation of Iran and Islam, and that influenced the public's perception.

Not Without My Daughter is available from our collection if you want to see it for yourself (HU DVD 2183). As an alternative, we recommend watching an expression of Iran from Iran itself, like the Academy Award-winning film A Separation (HU DVD 10336).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In the latest casuality of physical film, the Air and Space Museum goes digital

The transition from physical to digital projection has been a long time coming, even if Tarantino has tried his best to keep the format around. This Sunday, another stalwart – the IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum – retired their 70mm projector.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted last month, so many people insisted on seeing it at the Air and Space Museum because of the quality of the 70mm projection. But as The Washington Post points out, the aging equipment hasn't changed much from 1976 and requires intensive labor to setup. The projectionists and "hipsters" (not our words, see the article) might enjoy the feel of film stock, but for a theater that regularly shows so many different films, digital is simpler and faster for everyone involved.

Film projection will always have a place, even if just in specialty theaters. The Air and Space Museum's transition feels like a bigger change, though, because of how many people have gone through that theater.

(Also, look at how chunky that projector is! Holy moly!)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Remembering Bowie on film

Like everyone, we're shocked and saddened by the death of David Bowie, rock god extraordinaire and cultural icon. Bowie was a true renaissance man who dabbled in music, performance, games, and yes, film. Attempting to quantify all his contributions to the arts is a fool's errand, but we want to at least acknowledge some of the excellent work on film by a man described by Vice as "fascinated with the moving image."

Everyone probably knows David Bowie best on the screen in the iconic role of Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. If that's any indication, his film choices were eclectic. He also played the starring role in the Japanese World War II movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (HU DVD 10689) and was the centerpiece of the ethereal, influential The Man Who Fell to Earth (HU DVD 2658). And you might not recognized his brief appearance as inventor Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (HU DVD 3831).

Don't forget the countless times other actors and filmmakers have paid tribute to Bowie's work, most notably the David Bowie-themed episode of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords (HU DVD 4831). There's also Velvet Goldmine (HU DVD 687), a film based so closely on David Bowie that the rock star nearly sued the production.

And of course, see Bowie's self-effacing cameo in Ricky Gervais's Extras (embedded above, also HU DVD 2992).

We're glad Bowie brought his enormous talents to film. It's a shame that he never got behind the camera apart from his music videos.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Need inspiration to watch more this year? Track it like Soderbergh

Several of us might have made New Year's resolutions to watch new things – to see more films in theaters, maybe, or to stop streaming The West Wing on loop. There's always that pull to be a more responsible, cultured consumer of entertainment, but committing to a quality movie or television show every week can be a daunting task. A role model could help. Enter filmmaker Steven Soderbergh.

Since 2009, Soderbergh has published a list of everything he has watched, read, or listened to over the year. His roundup for 2015 is voracious: he watched at least a television show every day and tended to watch three or four films per week. For your own purposes, you might notice that Soderbergh picked a good mix of old and new, high- and low-brow. In the realm of true crime television, for instance, he watched The Jinx as well as Dateline.

Around Christmastime, Soderbergh watched twelve movies in a single week. You aren't expected to match the pace of an acclaimed, prolific director. But maybe his tenacity will inspire you to keep a list of your own and be more conscious of what you watch.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Forget Pink Floyd. Watch The Wizard of Oz alphabetically

Supercuts, mashups, and re-edits of popular films are ubiquitous now, and we've made a point of only sharing the most interesting of them. We suspect it'll be difficult to top the absurdity of Of Oz the Wizard, an alphabetical re-cut of The Wizard of Oz.

Filmmaker Matt Bucy broke down the 1939 classic apart based on every word spoken, then re-arranged the clips of those words in alphabetical order. (Judgment calls were made for the spelling of verbal noises like gasps, laughs, and so on.) The resulting hour is one of the most surreal videos in recent memory. Repeated words like "dead," "little," or "you" can recap scenes – or even the entire movie – at rapid speed.

Thankfully, this extremely silly exercise had a positive effect. Bucy said the process gave him a greater appreciation for the film's craftsmanship and the economy of the script: The Wizard of Oz uses less than a thousand words, with many (like "liquidated") only popping up once. That certainly wasn't the goal going in, but maybe even the most ridiculous of these projects can have a constructive purpose after all.

For those who would prefer to see the film in chronological order, we have multiple copies available in the AU Library (HU DVD 666) .

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

National Film Registry's 2015 picks include Top Gun and sneezing

Every year, the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress picks 25 notable films for permanent preservation, ensuring that everyone will have long-term access to these works. Every year includes a mixture of historical items and more current movies, like last year's selection of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the first film with an all-black cast.

For 2015, the National Film Registry once again cast a wide net. Ghostbusters, L.A. Confidential, The Shawshank Redemption, and Top Gun are surely the most well-known, but as usual, the odder choices are probably the most exciting. Of great interest is the Spanish language version of Dracula, produced alongside the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic using the same scripts, sets, and costumes. Other highlights include the New Deal working-class ode Our Daily Bread and an early educational film about menstruation that still had to sanitize its contents.

And finally, at long last, the National Film Registry is preserving Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (above), the first copyrighted film and the subject of many running jokes about the subject matter of early video recordings. It may be the most famous sneeze in history – though it's not clear how you'd measure that.

The AU Library has copies of most every film in the Library of Congress's 2015 list, though several are included on compilation discs with other early cinema. Record of a Sneeze is a rare case where you might be better served with a GIF.