The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, director of the Oscar nominated documentary Super Size Me, is back at it in POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. This time he takes a closer look at advertising, branding, and the power of product placement in films. The film itself was funded by companies that agreed to be featured in the film.

Spurlock embarked on an adventure to seek out companies that would be be seen in the film, and thus have their products featured, and this mission of his essentially makes up the film. So there’s a bit of irony and humor in the fact that he’s researching how and why product placement works while doing it himself at the exact same time. He also talks to other filmmakers and those in the industry regarding the effectiveness and the revenue involved in product placement in films. It is both interesting and funny, which is a great combination for a documentary. (Also available on Blu-ray.)

Note: After watching this film you may desperately wish to drink a bottle of POM Wonderful’s pomegranate juice, as I did. Perhaps this advertising stuff works?

Gasland

Gasland, a film about Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize Winner and was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In 2009, filmmaker Josh Fox learned that his home was on top of a rock formation containing natural gas. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land to undergo Halliburton’s controversial extraction process of hydraulic fracturing. He questioned the safety of fracking, and wanted to dig deeper, leading him an a cross-country, truth-seeking mission to answer some questions: Is the process safe? What are the effects on humans and the Earth? Fox learned fracking has caused everything from illness to flammable water. The film is an educational journey that is both disheartening and warm-hearted.

As part of AADL’s ongoing series of Films & Discussions, cosponsored by the University of Michigan Community Scholars Program, Gasland will be shown at the Downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, November 17, at 6 PM. A discussion led by the faculty and students of MCSP will follow the film. The event is recommended for grade nine to adult.

Ode to a Blanket

Peanuts’ Linus is forever pictured carrying his beloved blanket. He and his ball of wonderful, soft, blue fluff go hand in hand, and he is perhaps the icon of all blanket carriers. Call it a security blanket, call it a woobie, it is a sense of comfort to young Linus. In Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Linus is paid a visit by Grandma, who wishes to rid him of his crutch. The Peanuts gang tries to aid and comfort him during this time, particularly Lucy, the resident “psychiatrist.” I have to ask, is his blanket perhaps the most famous blanket on TV?

Wait, woobie? Charles Schultz never referred to Linus’ blanket as a woobie. One might associate the term woobie more with young Kenny from the 1980s film Mr. Mom. Here the beloved blanket is yellow and ragged, tearing at the edges, as the toe-headed Kenny carries it with him everywhere. The woobie gets stapled together, and at one point is attacked by the household vacuum cleaner. It’s hardcore for Kenny. His father (played by Michael Keaton), just as Linus’ Grandma did, attempts to get his son to give up his woobie with these words…

“I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they're great... and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn't enough. You're out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you're strung out on bedspreads Ken. That's serious.”

This blog post is dedicated to all those woobie carriers out there. I know you’re out there.

Halloween, The Movies

When John Carpenter’s original Halloween came out in theaters in in 1978, the newspapers read “When was the last time you were really scared by a movie?” Coming out several years after hits like The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, horror fans were ready for Halloween, and were not disappointed by the high grossing independent film.

One cannot think of slasher films without thinking of Halloween and the white-masked Michael Meyers. The premise is that as a child, Meyers killed his sister on Halloween, and is thus institutionalized.15 years later he rises from catatonia, escapes, returns home, and terrorizes teenage babysitter Laurie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, in her feature film debut) and her friends. As with most horror films, the film includes graphic violence, and is not for everyone.

Following the success of the first film came at string of nine sequels and remakes, starting with Halloween II, in 1981. Of the films, only the original Halloween and Halloween II were written Carpenter and Debra Hill, and a couple were even directed by Rob Zombie. They vary in quality, but you horror diehards can be the judge. (Blu-rays are also available for some of the films.)

Check out AADL's large selection of Horror films, if you're looking for more flicks that may cause you to sleep with the lights on.

Film Screening & Discussion: City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet that Never Sleeps

In this award-winning film, filmmaker and amateur astronomer Ian Cheney starts with the deceptively simple question, Do we need to see the stars? City Dark explores the disappearance of darkness and the myriad implications of light pollution, from the deaths of thousands of animals disoriented by city lights to humanity's more abstract disconnect from the wonder of the cosmos hidden from view behind the orange haze of its cities.

In this thoughtful film, Cheney passes over both environmental rants and nostalgic pleas to engage us in a more meditative reflection on our relationship with the night sky with stunning astrophotography and a cast of eclectic scientists, philosophers, historians and lighting designers.

The University Lowbrow Astronomers are co-sponsoring this screening and members of the group will be on hand to answer questions following the film.

City Dark | Tuesday, October 11 | 6:30 p.m. | Downtown Library Multi-Purpose Room

Matt Feazell: Comics to Screenplay

Hamtramck Cartoonist Matt Feazell will be at the Downtown Library on Friday, September 30 from 7:00-8:30 pm to talk about how he turned his comic strip into a movie. Join us for a chance to speak to the artist AND a sneak peek of clips from the movie: The Amazing Cynicalman. Feazell has been creating comics since the Carter administration. He was a regular contributor to Disney Adventures magazine (before the magazine was discontinued in 2007) and appears as a character in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

Set Your Halloween Holds!

Halloween is coming up next month and boy does AADL have some great books and movies to get you in the spirit of the season! Just take a look at the lists below. There’s sure to be something for anyone that loves Halloween.

Find non-spooky books for kids that have ghosts, witches, or pirates in them. But what if the kid in question doesn’t scare easy? “Who you gonna call?” You can call on these lists to give them a bookish scare: all-around scary books for kids or something on a more specific topic.

Taking it up a notch, what are some good horror reads for the teen and adult age sets? There is a lot of overlap in this area, resulting in this dual purpose list. Everyone love zombies so teens and adults alike might find something to satisfy their craving with zombie literature and zombie love. Plus there’s always the less cool, more overdone werewolf stories.

Each age group might get a kick out of hearing local lore. Look no further than our list on Michigan Ghost Stories.

After all that reading, kick back with some old school monster or zombie movies. Don't forget to request some milder flicks for ghouls and boys, too.

Put your holds on quick before the list gets too long! Otherwise you’ll end up watching Halloween in December and the timing will be all off. Set your reserves fast!

War, Peace and Love

BBC Radio 4 is currently broadcasting a wonderful dramatization of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, an epic novel about World War II’s Battle of Stalingrad starring Kenneth Branagh, Greta Scacchi and Janet Suzman.

Completed in 1960, the KGB had the book itself arrested because it was at odds with the way Stalin wanted the war to be remembered. Grossman’s portrayal of soldiers and civilians didn’t jibe with official Soviet ideology and wasn’t published until it was smuggled out to the West in 1985. Now it is considered to be one of the most important Russian novels of the last century and many compare it to War and Peace. His daughter said of him “Many people lost their belief in human beings. He never did.”

Russian novels and films that portray the Great Patriotic War (that’s what the Russian people call WWII) present a perspective unfamiliar to many of us.

Living and the Dead by Simonov, written after Stalin’s death, freed the author to question military decisions and mishaps that caused enormous suffering and perhaps could have been avoided. Mirroring real life during the war, the fates of many of the characters remain unknown at the end of the novel.

Forever Nineteen by Baklanov is the story of a young Red Army artillery soldier on the Ukrainian front that depicts war, romance and sacrifice.

David Benioff’s City of Thieves, is a riveting account based on the author’s grandfather’s stories of survival during the 900 day Siege of Leningrad. I loved this book and hope it will be made into a movie.

The Cranes are Flying is a film notable for its realistic portrayal of women dealing with loss and not knowing the fate of their loved ones. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.

Ivan’s Childhood is a film about a 12 year old boy used as a spy on the Eastern Front and the soldiers who exploit and care for him at the same time.

Banned Books Week Film: "Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech"

Tuesday September 27, 2011: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

In observance of Banned Books Week (September 24 - October 1) AADL will hold a special screening of the acclaimed 2009 HBO film "Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech." This 80-minute film is not rated.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Liz Garbus explores the current state of free speech in America and gives viewers a fascinating perspective on the First Amendment throughout our history, using contemporary case studies dealing with the complex issue of limits on free speech at public gatherings, in school, in print and on the Internet.

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Time to LOL: More MST3K Films

If you’ve been scarfing down the many Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs AADL owns, and are ready for some new additions, you’re in luck. Joel Robinson and Mike Nelson, with Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo and Gypsy (yes, all robots!) will keep you laughing as they poke fun of the best of the worst movies- often science fiction B movies. These guys are the best at what they do. Hot off the delivery truck are some new discs for you to get on the hold list for.

Volume 14: Mad Monsters, Manhunt in Space, Soultaker, Final Justice

Volume 15: The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy, The Girl in Lovers Lane, Zombie Nightmare, Racket Girls

Volume 17: The Crawling Eye, The Beatniks, The Final Sacrifice, Blood Waters of Dr. Z

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