Thursday, June 30, 2016

Media Services at the Movies: The Purge: Election Year

The summer blockbuster season is here! "Media Services at the Movies" will look at what big movie is coming out this week, then offer a few movies like it from our collection.

To be honest, we dismissed The Purge at first as more thinly plotted horror about people breaking into your house. Maybe it was. By its newest, third installment, the series has slowly morphed into political satire. The seeds were always there – the first movie teases that the annual crime spree started as socioeconomic violence – but reviews for The Purge: Election Year say the movie has its sights on bigger targets this time.

Using dystopian scenarios to comment on modern society has been a staple of fiction for a long time (see: 1984), but film in particular loves the genre. You can see similarities everywhere from The Hunger Games and Idiocracy to the ultra-violent movies of Paul Verhoeven. Is it fair to call the class warfare of The Purge an update to The Running Man?

So if you liked where the newest Purge is heading, consider watching some of these other movies where a nightmarish future has more in common with the present than you'd expect.

Gattaca – HU DVD 1949
A Scanner Darkly – HU DVD 2416 
Idiocracy – HU DVD 2494
Children of Men – HU DVD 2631
Soylent Green – HU DVD 5731
District 9 – HU DVD 6686
RoboCop – DVD 8164
They Live – HU DVD 9020
Logan's Run – HU DVD 11104
Silent Running – HU DVD 11609

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The five years in Chicago when movies were forbidden

from Exhibitors Herald,
via Wikimedia Commons
Today, we learned about a truly bizarre moment in film history that we want to share. For as often as you hear people (usually wrongly) claiming censorship of media, you've never lived through anything like the reign of Major M.L.C. Funkhouser, film censor of the city of Chicago.

As The Chicago Tribune tells it, in 1913, Funkhouser was appointed by the Chicago police as a "censor of public morals," which allowed him to crack down on antisocial behavior. Instead of looking at public drunkenness, prostitution, gambling, or any of the other traditional public vices, Funkhouser focused all his attention on motion pictures.

Funkhouser abused his powers in absurd degree. He banned movies depicting dancing, arguing that they could lead young people to go to bars and drink. He nixed comedies that made fun of authority and required film producers to edit or rewrite the movies to allow them to play. At one point, Funkhouser even rejected a film about the Revolutionary War because it could potentially undermine national interests in World War I.

Filmmakers ridiculed the censorship almost immediately. Their films, stripped of objectionable content, were apparently incomprehensible. And through all this, none of Funkhouser's actions seemed to have any impact on the city apart from aggravating producers and audiences. After five years of this nonsense, the new mayor of Chicago found an excuse to suspend Funkhouser, closing the book on a dark age for expression on film.

To learn more about film censorship in Chicago, check out the article "Reel Life, Real Censorship" from the Chicago History Museum. We're still in disbelief that this happened.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Learn the secrets of directing from Adam Nimoy this Thursday

image via School of Communication website
Maybe you've had to direct a student film for class. Exciting! But that means you have to direct people, and if you don't have experience managing a set, you may be awkward to work with your actors without accidentally being a jerk. You need to learn the best way to communicate with your cast from the experts who have been there before – and who better than Hollywood royalty?

This Thursday, June 30th, the School of Communication will host Adam Nimoy, television director and son of actor Leonard Nimoy, for a masterclass on "Working with Actors." We'll quote the SOC description here:
One of the biggest complaints Nimoy would hear from actors on the set is that, “nobody talks to us,” except to say "move here, move there, faster, slower, louder, softer, cut, print, moving on!” This class is a way for directors to address some of those concerns and provide a deep dive into how to direct actors.
We won't pretend to know what Nimoy does, but it sounds like there's a lot more involved than just ordering your cast around really politely. You don't appear to need to register in advance, so show up before 1pm on Thursday to hear sound advice from the son of Spock himself.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Media Services at the Movies: Independence Day: Resurgence

The summer blockbuster season is here! "Media Services at the Movies" will look at what big movie is coming out this week, then offer a few movies like it from our collection.

Marvel's brand of interconnected, tonally similar action dominates the movie landscape today, but it's difficult to understate what a massive effect Independence Day had on blockbusters in 1996. Director Roland Emmerich, at the point best known for Stargate, took the template of 70s disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure and updated it for the era of $100 million budgets. You can trace its influence to Deep Impact, Cloverfield, Sharknado, and basically everything by Michael Bay.

The upcoming sequel to Independence Day has the chance to re-plant the flag for big dumb disaster movies, but instead of looking forward, let's roll the clock back. As we said, disaster movies had been successful in decades prior, and Independence Day: Resurgence owes its template to that first wave of the genre. So for those looking forward to another wave of people in fleeing in panic while cities explode, the Nixon era has you covered.

The China Syndrome – HU DVD 237
The Towering Inferno – HU DVD 8555
The Andromeda Strain – HU DVD 11322
Airport – HU DVD 11854
The Poseidon Adventure – HU DVD 12591

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

AFI Docs begins tonight with a Werner Herzog treat on Friday

AFI Docs has arrived! For one week every summer, the American Film Institute takes over DC, hosting five days of screenings for new documentaries and documentary shorts. AFI Docs attracts top talent from around the world – including, this year, a special event with Werner Herzog and his new film Lo and Behold.

Tickets for Herzogpalooza are already sold out, but there are plenty of other documentaries to watch this week in downtown DC and Silver Spring. Highlights include...
  • The Man Who Saw Too Much, about a photojournalist who covered crime and tragedy in Mexico City for five decades.
  • Toucan Nation, which looks at toucan rehabilitation programs and animal welfare laws.
  • Sonita, the story of an aspiring rapper living in Iran, where women are not allowed perform music.
  • Obit, a behind-the-scenes look at the New York Times's obituary department.
The festival kicks off tonight with a screening of Zero Days, a new documentary from Alex Gibney (director of HBO's Going Clear) about American Stuxnet virus reporetedly designed to attack Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Tickets cost around $12 each, the usual price for a high-end movie screening. See the AFI Docs website for a full list of what's playing this week. Or you can get the official app!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

See Inside Out tonight in Adams Morgan!

It's been a while since we checked in with all the outdoor movie screenings happening in DC this summer. As it turns out, there's one tonight!

The Adams Morgan BID will be screening Inside Out tonight at the Marie Reed School Soccer Field, just a block or two away from Amsterdam Falafelshop. The movie starts half an hour after sundown – which should be around 8:30 to 9-ish – and the first 50 attendees get free cookies courtesy of Tryst.

If you're still riding the Pixar train after Finding Dory this weekend and need evening plans, why not swing by AdMo for Inside Out? If you leave near AU anyway, it's convenient and, best of all, free!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Media Services at the Movies: Finding Dory

The summer blockbuster season is here! "Media Services at the Movies" will look at what big movie is coming out this week, then offer a few movies like it from our collection.

We can't think of much new to say about Pixar. The studio has some of the best talent in animation – second only to Studio Ghibli and infinitely greater than whoever made Norm of the North. Although the quality of their films has wavered a bit in recent years, you can still depend on Pixar to bring out the heart in their stories.

Pixar sequels in particular can be hit or miss. For every Toy Story 2, they put out a Cars 2. From early impressions, Finding Dory sounds like it lands in the upper levels of Pixar for its poignant take on  disability. Dory will also be beautiful, as Pixar films tend to be. They look even more beautiful in HD; we'd go as far as recommending animation as one of the reasons to make the bump up to Blu-ray.

Don't believe us? We have several of Pixar's movies in Blu-ray (not all, since we bought many before Blu-rays were a thing). If you have a Blu-ray player, check one out and see the quality difference for yourself. It'll definitely encourage you to opt for the Blu-ray of Finding Dory went it comes out.

Ratatouille – HU BLU 3814
Up – HU BLU 6690
Toy Story – HU BLU 7768
Toy Story 2 – HU BLU 7769
Toy Story 3 – HU BLU 7770
Monsters Inc. – HU BLU 8596
Inside Out – HU BLU 12881

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Vanity Fair turns blockbuster movie credits into a budget list

A $200 million movie budget almost seems abstract. We can say that a whole bunch of that money went to the effects, but what does that actually mean? How much does the assistant director figure into it? Does Robert Downey Jr. just get $180 million and everyone else splits it up?

Vanity Fair made a mock movie credit roll to break down how much money goes to each crew member, and the numbers are sobering. Pay rates vary wildly from position to position; cat cameos get paid more than some stuntpeople. The most unusual are the positions where people earn different amounts for the same jobs. Set production assistants, for instance, have a $5000 range, maybe because some spend longer or only work with the second unit.

Watching a giant wall of credits can become a little numbing, but you start to get the sense of the scale of film production when you see that $229,000 went into matte painters. And if you feel a little anger at the lead actor being paid about as much as the rest of the cast combined, we don't blame you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A roundup of Tonys-related films from the Music Library

This Sunday was the 70th Annual Tony Awards, which featured awards for a few adaptations and revivals that have existed on film before. Rather than ramble about it ourselves, we're going to turn things over to the Music Library, which put together a list of all the items in the library collections related to this weekend's big winners.

Of note for us, we have DVDs of The Color Purple, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and You've Got Mail (adapted from the same source material as She Loves Me).

Monday, June 13, 2016

FiveThirtyEight figures out the most and least successful movies based on books

A book is not a film. Each format has strong and weak points, and as common as book-to-movie adaptations are, not every story is well-suited for both. Fans of the original books might bemoan when the movie version misses the point, but sometimes movies end up being the right way to tell a story that started in print.

We were alerted to this quick study from FiveThirtyEight last year that tried to figure out, statistically, what benefited and lost the most in the move to the screen. Using ratings from Metacritic and Goodreads (admittedly not a perfect comparison since Goodreads reviews come from fans), FiveThirtyEight zeroed in on books with the greatest quality disparity from their movies. Many of the most poorly rated movie adaptations are based on young adult or genre novels – which, again, fans may have inflated ratings for.

More interesting are the movies that significantly outperform their books: Up in the Air, Apocalypse Now, The Graduate, and others on the list were either adapted from books with middling ratings or reworked the premise for the zeitgeist (both, in the case of Up in the Air). Metropolis is a particularly interesting case, because the movie brought so much invention to film as a whole that the novel has been almost totally forgotten.

Both versions of Battlefield Earth, meanwhile, continue to be despised about equally.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Media Services at the Movies: Now You See Me 2

The summer blockbuster season is here! "Media Services at the Movies" will look at what big movie is coming out this week, then offer a few movies like it from our collection.

So, we have a weird relationship with Now You See Me. Years ago, we got a publicity package from the film's producers, filled with Now You See Me shirts, hats, flashlights (?), gum (?!), and other strange branded products. Forgive us if we have a soft spot for this deeply silly movie series. It's supposed to be about magic, but it's closer to one of G.O.B.'s illusions.

Instead, let's pivot to actual magic. In particular, let's look at two films about magicians with the same name: The Illusionist. 2006's Illusionist tells a story of romance about magician in 19th century Austria-Hungary; 2010's Illusionist is a melancholy animated film based on a screenplay by late French filmmaker Jacques Tati.

Both are certainly sadder films, but they do a better job capturing the enchantment of illusions compared to... whatever Now You See Me is doing.

The Illusionist (2006) – HU DVD 1779
The Illusionist (2010) – HU DVD 8704

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The next time you need a camera, check KitSplit

The AU Library is happy to lend out cameras, tripods, and microphones for students, staff, and faculty working on film projects, and SOC students also have the option to borrow equipment from the Media Production Center.

But what happens if you graduate, or if you need something higher-end or specialized? You'd normally rent from a production house, but honestly, keeping track of private rental services in the city can be difficult.

Enter KitSplit, a new site that aggregates equipment rental spots around the city. They have an extremely broad audience in mind: renters and rentees range from individuals to major corporations, and models range from the simplest up to experimental virtual reality cameras. The low-rent horror movie schlockhouse Troma Entertainment uses the service too, so if you're looking to make a film with a low budget, KitSplit could work for you.

It's great to see more local resources for film alumni folks. Consider swinging by the site if you need some nice and/or inexpensive equipment if the library isn't an option.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Meet the new canon of black film

As much as we enjoy poring over lists of the best films ever made, Aisha Harris and Dan Kois make a good point over at Slate: those lists are overwhelmingly white. And when film buffs follow those recommendations in search of the great art, they'll watch predominantly white movies. We can lose sight of contributions to film from people of color this way.

So Harris and Kois assembled "filmmakers, critics, and scholars" the produce The Black Film Canon, a list of the fifty greatest films by black directors. Notably, this excludes a few prominent films about blackness, like Coming to America, but it reflects the talent of black filmmakers who are often overlooked in the grand assessment of film history. The list spans decades, genres, and countries, including notable African cinema. (Though we do like that Spike Lee warranted his own category.)

We embedded Slate's supercut of The Black Film Canon above. We have most of the movies on their list; a Pinterest board will be coming shortly, so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Media Services at the Movies: Popstar

The summer blockbuster season is here! "Media Services at the Movies" will look at what big movie is coming out this week, then offer a few movies like it from our collection.

Every generation gets the music mockumentary it deserves. This is Spinal Tap remains the definitive send-up of hair metal rockstar excess. Popstar: Never Stop Never Popping, the newest film by The Lonely Island, continues the tradition by skewering Justin Bieber, celebrity ego, and flaming out in the age of social media.

It doesn't start or end there: you can look back to 1978's Beatles parody All You Need is Cash or the 90s hip-hop spoof Fear of a Black Hat. When a new type of pop star emerges, the world of film has been quick to drag music culture through the mud. Popstar's Conner4Real is the parody we need right now, but twenty years ago, it needed Chris Rock's CB4.

This is Spinal Tap – HU DVD 538
CB4 – HU DVD 6717
All You Need is Cash – HU DVD 10187
A Mighty Wind – HU DVD 10218
Fear of a Black Hat – HU DVD 12653

And because sometimes life imitates art, we also recommend Anvil! The Story of Anvil!, a real rock documentary so silly it may as well be a joke too (HU DVD 3461).

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

New Acquisitions - June 2016

There has been an acquisition.

Have you felt it?

(We have other things this month, too, like Out 1, a twelve-hour odyssey by recently deceased French New Wave director Jacques Rivette. Follow the link to see what else we added.)