Thursday, February 25, 2016

Live up the Oscars glitz right here in DC

We've been more mum about the Oscars this year than usual. Maybe the controversies soured us a little bit. Then again, hey, the Oscars are on Sunday! That was fast!

Most people would be comfortable watching at home or catching up on the results the next morning, but a certain level of Hollywood nerd might want something a little... flashier. Enter the Washington Post's Going Out Guide's list of the cities biggest, glitziest Oscar parties.

A few restaurants and bars in the area have specials for the event, but the two clear highlights are the Arlington Cinema 'n' Drafthouse and Malmaison. Arlington's film-and-theater venue will host a full party complete with an Oscar win pool and an autographed movie poster auction. Malmaison, going above and beyond the call of duty, is rolling out a red carpet with imitation paparazzi and press interviews. Not everyone will want something that showy, but if you want the full Oscar experience locally, Malmaison's (pricey) event sounds close to the real deal.

This is all a bunch of hoopla around an arguably meaningless, indulgent awards show, but for film people, it's our meaningless indulgence. This is the one time a year when broader culture talks about the artistic accomplishments of film, and we're going to celebrate that with a mock red carpet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

See Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie early and for free!

Sacha Baron Cohen rose to fame for his prank documentary characters like Ali G and Bruno, but in recent years, he's chosen to hone his character-building in self-produced scripted movies like The Dictator. Cohen has been out of the limelight for about four years since The Dictator – the longest he's gone without portraying one of his many characters. His next film, The Brothers Grimsby, will hopefully be a return to form.

The Brothers Grimsby won't hit American theaters until the middle of March, but we have advance passes to see it early, one week from now!

The film will screen at 7pm on Wednesday, March 2nd, at the AMC Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights. Grab your passes online via this link. As is the case with all advance screenings, this preview of The Brothers Grimsby will be intentionally overbooked, so show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

Cohen is a gifted former, so we hope this one is good. We'll find out next week!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RIP Douglas Slocombe, prolific Indiana Jones cinematographer

Douglas Slocombe, one of the most adaptable cinematographers of the mid-20th century, died yesterday at 103.

Unlike many cinematographers with a distinctive or showy style, Slocombe filmed his projects so closely to the vision of the material that his work was often almost invisible. His far-flung credits are a testament to how smoothly he fit into whatever slot he needed to fill: he began as a photojournalist and director of photography for 1940s and 1950s British comedies; he ended his career filming the Indiana Jones trilogy.

Slocombe retired in 1989, leaving behind films ranging from Jesus Christ Superstar to James Bond movie Never Say Never Again. We never even knew he had a hand in much of his filmography, which, given his style, might have been the goal all along.

Slocombe accrued a whopping 80 cinematography credits in 50 years, so we of course have a few in our collection. You might not see a signature Douglas Slocombe stamp on these films, but you'll certainly see a well-shot movie.

The Man in the White Suit – HU DVD 583
The Great Gatsby (1974) – HU DVD 722
Raiders of the Lost Ark – HU DVD 3251
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – HU DVD 3252
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – HU DVD 3253
A Run For Your Money – HU DVD 3923
The Titfield Thunderbolt – HU DVD 3925
The Lion in Winter – HU DVD 5348
Jesus Chris Superstar – HU DVD 5769
The Fearless Vampire Killers – HU DVD 6513
The Italian Job (1969) – HU DVD 10373
The Maids – HU DVD 10823

Monday, February 22, 2016

New Acquisitions - February 2016

How long can we go in this post without mentioning that we now have Magic Mike XXL? One sentence, I guess.

In any event, our latest batch of acquisitions for February 2016 has highlights all over the map. The big under-the-radar hit you'll want to see is Dope, the coming-of-age movie thatrocked the Sundance film festival last year. Documentary fans have some of the best material to watch: Sex (Ed) is a hilarious, probing look at poor sexual education through American history, while The Yes Men are Revolting shows the famous countercultural protest group the Yes Men reflecting on their legacy and considering calling it a day.

We also now have Minions. You probably already have your mind made up about that one.

We're closing in on DVD 13000. What could it be? We'll find out next month. In the meantime, hit the break for a full list of what's in stock...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Games on Film invades National Harbor's MAGFest this weekend

In DC, film festivals turn up in the oddest places. This city hosts so many non-profits and interest organizations that you can usually find special screenings for any topic or culture, as we've covered in the past. For 2016, you can add gaming to that list: as part of the annual Music and Games Festival in National Harbor, Maryland, MAGFest is hosting Games on Film, a selection of 15 films and 40 shorts about games and gaming culture.

Over the four-day event, which starts tomorrow, Games on Film will screen a mix of feature films and documentaries about gaming. We'll admit that the feature film selection seems less interesting (most are fan adaptations of popular games), but the documentaries caught our attention. Of particular interest are Thank You for Playing, about the production of a game based on a true story of childhood cancer, and The Power of Glove, a tongue-in-cheek look at the infamously poor Nintendo glove controller.

There's also quite a few about the culture around gaming and game conventions, especially costuming Keep an eye out for Shades of Cosplay: A Black Cosplayer Documentary.

MAGFest isn't an inexpensive event – $75 for the weekend or $45 per day – so we're not sure we can recommend going entirely for the film lineup. But if you're interested in gaming anyway (board games too!), you should stop in at this up-and-coming festival.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Apply for a paid internship on the set of Veep in DC!

Attention to AU film students! You might be aware that a whole bunch of productions film in DC, and you might have wondered how to become involved in one of them.

The opportunity is finally here: HBO is taking applications for a week-long production assistant training program on the set of Veep, filming in DC at the end of this month. DC's Motion Picture and Television Development points out that this is not a job, but instead, it's a paid seven-day internship "designed to provide career exposure in a limited time frame." Working on the set of the one TV's biggest comedies is an excellent opportunity for an up-and-coming SOC student – and there's money, too.

We're sharing this now because the deadline to apply is this Wednesday. Get thee to the program's website and fill out the application ASAP. HBO seems to be hiring for production, art, and props, so this should be tantalizing for more than just future cinematographers or key grips.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Top 5: Romantic movies for the disaffected

Valentine's Day is an arbitrary holiday designed to exploit relationship insecurities to prop up the floral and greeting card industries... so let's try to undermine the holiday while still celebrating it. Yay, it's Valentine's Day on Sunday!

Romantic comedies tend to tell milquetoast, often sociopathic stories based in Hollywood ideas romance; you can find plenty of them on our Romance Pinterest board. A few dare to go someplace weirder, darker, or less satisfying than the typical meet-cute story, and we'd like to highlight five standout examples. We briefly considered featuring some more nihilistic movies like Blue Valentine or Lars von Trier's Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, but we're sticking with the ones you could still honestly call romantic comedies.

Paul Thomas Anderson's collaboration with Adam Sandler famously gave the Grown Ups star a place to show his acting range beyond his usual man-child roles. The central romance story is equally sweet and unsettling, involving extortion from a phone sex line and pudding-related airline scam.

Not many romantic comedies deal with death to the gleeful extent of Harold and Maude. Young Harold's obsession with death and repeated mock suicides drives him into the arms of an elderly woman who helps him appreciate life. Critics derided the movie on its release for its overwhelmingly dark humor.

Her staged a love story between a lonely man and an artificial intelligence. Lars and the Real Girl has Ryan Gosling romancing a sex doll. Though similar to Her in its outline, this is a decidedly sillier film but no less sentimental about the concept of love.

A film about a man in the doldrums of his career reconnecting with an old fling at a high school reunion sounds like old hat, but John Cusack's protagonist is a hitman. This is by far one of the most violent romance movies ever filmed; it all builds to a blood-soaked subversion of the typical proposal scene at the ending.

We have to spoil this one: Celeste and Jesse divorce, and by the end, they have overcome their discomfort and amicably separate. It's extremely easy to mine failed relationships for endless will-they-won't-they tension (let's throw shade at How I Met Your Mother for this). In Celeste and Jesse Forever, the filmmakers are more honest about what would happen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

David Lynch evasively answers some questions about Eraserhead in 1979

David Lynch continues to be the favorite director of weirdos everywhere, ourselves included. So much of his appeal is tied to Eraserhead, his terrifying, confusing 1977 feature film debut. Eraserhead still defies explanation and analysis, and fans have for decades attempted to work out the symbolism and meaning of characters like the Man in the Planet.

As the embedded video attests, this isn't a new phenomenon. Two years after the film's release, UCLA film students interviewed Lynch about his inscrutable masterpiece, only to come away perhaps even more puzzled. Lynch defers on many questions about the movie's themes, which he points out are intentionally abstract and open to interpretation. Instead, he seems to prefer talking about stories from its bizarre production, like the time he got a dead cat from a veterinarian for a deleted scene.

The interview is notably the product of amateurs, and you can see Lynch's bemusement as the students read quotes from reviews as discussion prompts. But this nearly forty-year-old clip offers a glimpse of the director talking at length about the intentional choices behind his most famous work. Just don't expect too much clarity: when asked to clarify his description of the film as "a dream of dark and troubling things," Lynch simply answered "No."

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Another challenge for small DC theaters: actually being allowed to show movies

Rendering via Landmark Theaters

We've talked about the struggles of DC movie theaters in the past, especially neighborhood community theaters like the recently re-opened West End Cinema that have to compete with major chains and often need to foot the bill for new digital projection systems themselves. As it turns out, costs of operation aren't even the biggest obstacle to running a small theater: sometimes the big brands can just completely box them out.

The Washington Post recently published an article about the bizarre phenomenon of "clearances" in which major theater groups can pressure film distributors into providing exclusive access to some movies. In the specific case mentioned by the Post, one of Landmark Theaters' new DC locations couldn't play the James Bond movie Spectre because Regal had to cloud to limit its availability. A number of lawsuits are in motion – including from Landmark – and the Department of Justice's anti-trust wing is reportedly investigating these practices.

Such is another odd wrinkle in the life of a local theater. Even if you can afford to operate your theater and maintain its equipment – no small feat even for large theaters nowadays – you might just not be able to show the most popular movies. Remember to support your favorite limited-run theater in the area when they show something you're interested in watching!

Monday, February 08, 2016

Our streaming video partners celebrate the less-known corners of Black History Month

Our friends at Kanopy and Docuseek2 provide access to some great documentaries, often ones with a socially conscious perspective. In time for Black History Month, both companies have collections dedicated to the American black experience – and they're stories you probably haven't heard before.

First up is Kanopy's African American History collection, a group of 14 films often about contemporary issues at the intersection of race, class, and culture. There are a number about history too: of particular interest is The Barber of Birmingham, a documentary about a barbershop owner who was a lifelong civil rights activist and held the American flag during the Selma march.

Docuseek2 also has a Black History Month playlist, which has a much stronger historical bent and focuses on undertold black history. The most exciting-sounding is Finally Got the News, a film about Detroit's League of Revolutionary Black Workers from the 1960s.

Both these sites supply AU with some terrific documentaries, and you owe it to yourself to watch at least one of their Black History Month selections. We're especially thankful that they turned their spotlight to parts of African-American history that are often overlooked.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A salute to Jacques Rivette, craftsman of the French New Wave

Last week, we quietly lost Jacques Rivette, one of the original filmmakers of the original French New Wave movement. As a filmmaker and a critic, Rivette advocated for a more natural, improvised cinema that the New Wave aspired to. Godard and Truffaut captured the spotlight, but Rivette's films are often considered some of the most involved and accomplished. His films are often only critical assessed long and complicated, but they offer more than that.

We'll leave the eulogizing to Glenn Kenny at Flavorwire, who wrote an excellent tribute to a man who never labeled himself a director and preferred a credit for mise en scène. Give it a read.

Rivette's films are often unusually difficult to find in the United States, but luckily, we have a few available to watch in the library.

Short film on Lumière et compagnieHU DVD 283
Who Knows? – DVD 314
Gang of Four – HU DVD 318
Secret Defense – HU DVD 530
The Beautiful Troublemaker – HU DVD 10599
The Nun – DVD 11306

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How copyright law makes Star Wars homage, not theft

The fever over Star Wars: The Force Awakens has faded now (we haven't posted about it in over a month!), but there's still plenty to dissect about it. One of the greatest criticisms of the movie was its tendency to retread themes, imagery, and structure from the original film – ignoring that the first movies explicitly, famously stole from classic action serials and samurai movies.

Rather than turn this into a creativity blame game, the Re:Create Coalition, an intellectual copyright law advocacy group, used this as an opportunity to explain the limits of copyright and the difference between infringement and expression. For one specific example, author Jonathan Band cites the early Tatooine scenes from A New Hope by comparing them to sequences and imagery from John Ford's classic Western The Searchers. This isn't theft since it's building on the ideas of an existing work and expressing it in a new way.

That's a tricky distinction in copyright law for any filmmaker, and Star Wars is a great example of how that can be navigated creatively. Band's article is mostly a list of examples connecting Star Wars to previous films, but they make a strong point: ideas are meant to be adapted, not restricted.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Bill Clinton watched Groundhog Day while in office – and lots of comedies, oddly

Today is America's favorite non-holiday that we're all still obligated to talk about: Groundhog Day! The classic Bill Murray movie with that name came out 23 years ago this month and almost immediately had its fans – including, apparently, Bill Clinton.

That's a clumsy topical segue into a new list from Gizmodo's Matt Novak of every film Clinton watched while he was president. Novak previously rifled through public records for a list of everything Jimmy Carter watched, and Clinton's history is even more fascinating for its variety.

Groundhog Day was one of the first films Clinton watched after his inauguration in 1993, which set the tone for the hundreds of movies that followed. Where Carter's movie selections were defined by New Hollywood classics like The Godfather, Clinton watched far more new-release action movies and comedies. It just makes a lot of sense to read that he watched Demolition Man, Deep Impact, The Big Lebowski, Fight Club, and the third Naked Gun movie.

Novak argues that this surprisinglye exciting list might reflect that Clinton used the White House theater for entertaining visitors rather than his tastes. We chose to believe Bill Clinton was a Bill Murray fan.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Atlas Obscura thinks Fritz Lang may have invented rocket countdowns

Life imitates art, but rarely does art have the chance to define the hallmark of a totally unrelated field. For an example of when a film managed to capture the public imagination that strongly, read Cara Giaimo's article for Atlas Obscura about how German director Fritz Lang essentially popularized the basic ideas of space travel.

Giaimo ties Lang's 1929 silent film Woman in the Moon to the booming popularity of rocketry in post-World War II Germany. Lang worked with a rocket scientist through the film's production to depict space travel as realistically as possible, often making up concepts as needed. A number of their hypothetical inventions, like a multi-stage engine, have become standard in space travel.

But their biggest artistic license was the use of a countdown before a rocket launch. That was entirely a filmmaking technique to build tension in the absence of sound, but it was so effective that it immediately became part of the popular imagination. The next time you watch any sort of space launch, remember that we have Fritz Lang to thank, accidentally, for that countdown from ten.

Woman in the Moon so accurately predicted the future of rocketry that Hitler reportedly banned the film during Germany's development of the V-2 rocket. We have no idea if that's true, but you can certainly watch it now. Borrow our DVD copy at the Media Services desk (HU DVD 1285).