Watched a Midnight Showing at the Kabuki (124/366)

“In the end, it will be every man for himself …”
Tom Hiddleston as Loki, “The Avengers

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Screened a Marvel Movie Marathon (119/366)

“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could … “
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, The Avengers

The Avengers is coming to American theaters next week, and we wanted to be fully up to speed on all the Marvel characters that would be tearing up the screen together. I had seen the Iron Man movies, but hadn’t seen the three others (Hulk, Captain America, and Thor), so we decided what better way to catch up than to screen a Marvel Movie Marathon?

We started with Iron Man:

Iron Man was released in 2008 and stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the genius heir to Stark Industries, a company that builds, among other things, military weapons. In the beginning of the movie, Stark is captured by a terrorist group and told that he must build a bomb for them. He instead builds the first generation of the Iron Man suit as a means of escape. When he realizes that it is Stark weaponry that the terrorists are using, he decides he wants to get out of the weapons manufacturing business. Gwyneth Paltrow plays his personal assistant and voice of reason, Pepper Pots; Terrence Howard plays Tony’s friend and the military liaison to Stark Industries, James Rhodes; and Jeff Bridges plays Tony’s father, Howard Stark‘s partner and old friend, Obadiah Stane.

We continued the Marvelthon with Iron Man 2:

Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow returning in their roles as Tony Stark and Pepper Pots, and the movie is supposed to take place six months after the end of Iron Man 2. The military is fighting with Stark over the Iron Man suit, saying it’s a weapon and it should be turned over to them, but Tony has so far been able to keep control of his invention. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an angry Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke), whose father collaborated with Stark Industries before he was fired and deported back to the Soviet Union, has developed a similar suit based on Stark’s technology, and plans to take down Stark for ruining the lives of his father and his family. Don Cheadle plays the role of James Rhodes in the Iron Man sequel, and Natalie Rushman/ Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) is introduced: an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent posing as an assistant to Stark.

Next was The Incredible Hulk:

The Incredible Hulk was released in 2008, after Iron Man, and starred Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner. We really should have watched this between Iron Man 1 and 2, as it was supposed to happen between the two on the Marvel timeline, similarly to how the movies came out in theaters. The story basically has Dr. Banner as a part of a military experiment, trying to resurrect the “super soldier project” using gamma radiation. When the experiment goes awry, he’s forced to flee and try to stay hidden, and try to learn ways to keep the monster (the Hulk) from emerging. He wants to get rid of the gamma poisoning that creates this double identity, but the military, and General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) just want to capture him so they can study him and try to make more super soldiers, if they can get the experiment right. Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, Bruce’s girlfriend before the accident, and General Ross’ daughter.

After The Hulk, it was on to Thor:

Thor premiered in the US in May of 2011, and stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, strong-headed son of Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins), and heir to the throne of Asgard. When, against his father’s command, he confronts a leader of the Frost Giants for breaking a truce agreement, a battle breaks out and Odin has to exert his power and the worlds are plummeted into further unrest. Because of his arrogance, Odin banishes him to Earth, stripped of his powers, accompanied only by his hammer Mjolnir (the source of his power) which Odin has cast a spell on to allow only the worthy to be able to lift it. Tom Hiddleston plays Thor’s brother Loki, and Thor’s love interest (Jane Foster) is played by Natalie Portman.

Last but not least, we watched Captain America – The First Avenger:

Captain America was released in 2011, and stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a scrawny man who gets denied placement in the military time and time again. When he’s finally let in, it’s because he’s being scoped out to be the perfect test subject for the military’s “super soldier” program. He becomes Captain America, and has to defeat Red Skull and the organization that has plans for world domination using the “Tesseract“. Tommy Lee Jones plays Col. Chester Phillips, a part of the super soldier project, Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt / Red Skull, and Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, a Strategic Scientific Reserve officer and Captain America’s love interest. Other notable Marvel characters in this story include Howard Stark (played by Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s father, the creator of Stark Industries, Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the “Super Soldier Serum” (played by Stanley Tucci), and Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes, Steve Rogers’ best friend, played by Sebastian Stan.

These movies are all so much fun. While I know many people have watched them, I didn’t want to give away too much information for the people who haven’t. I’m glad we got to have this refresher on the movies we’d already seen, and that I was able to see the ones I hadn’t before. I always like to be up to speed on a film that has plot lines or characters from other films in it, whether it’s a sequel, or something new and different like The Avengers. The movie looks like it’s going to be a smash-hit, so if you haven’t seen all of these films, you really should! Assemble your friends, make some popcorn, and get into the Marvel Universe!

Related Links:
Iron Man [Blu-ray]
Iron Man [DVD] (Single-Disc Edition)
Iron Man 2 (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Iron Man 2 [DVD] (Single-Disc Edition)
The Incredible Hulk [Blu-ray]
The Incredible Hulk [DVD]
Captain America: The First Avenger (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Captain America: The First Avenger [DVD]
Thor (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Thor [DVD]

Seen the Movie "Clue" (114/366)

“Communism was just a red herring.”
~ Ms. Scarlet or Mrs. Peacock OR Wadsworth [depending on the ending], “

Never played the board game, never watched the movie. I know to some people, neither is a big deal, but for a kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s it was crazy that I had never done either. And they both went on the list as separate items, because that’s how important they were. It’s like someone of my generation never seeing The Karate Kid … by the way, if you’ve never seen that movie, you need to go and watch it right now.

The comedy/mystery movie “Clue” was released in 1985, and it had an all-star cast, including Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Colleen Camp, and Lee Ving. It was based on the board game, with the same suspects, the same weapons, and even the same rooms all being featured in the film.

The “suspects” from the game are all sent mysterious letters, inviting them to dinner at a mansion in the hills. They are given aliases, and all arrive not knowing exactly why they are there. They are greeted by Wadsworth, the butler (Tim Curry), and we learn of their aliases as they arrive. Eventually it is revealed that the thing that everyone invited has in common is that they’re each being blackmailed, and all by the same person, who they previously didn’t know the identity of. There is even an envelope presented containing damning evidence on each of the guests.

Wadsworth reveals that the blackmailer is in fact the guest Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). Wadsworth informs everyone that he’s called the police, and that the house is locked – Mr. Boddy can’t escape, and the group can now turn him in for blackmailing them (it is later learned that Wadsworth was also a victim of blackmailing, and this was his plan to bring Boddy to justice). Mr. Boddy tells the dinner guests that if they turn him in, he can tell their secrets to the police … he hands out the contents of a box he has brought with him: a rope, a candlestick, a gun, a knife, a wrench, and a lead pipe – one to each of the guests – and he says if someone kills Wadsworth, they can all keep their secrets. At this point, the lights go out and there is panic and confusion. The gun is fired. When the lights come on again, Mr. Boddy is dead on the floor. Whodunnit?! The rest of the film is a roller coaster of insanity as the guests try to figure out what happened, and as other people are introduced to the story. At the conclusion, there are actually three different endings to the film. When it was released in theaters, you only got to see one ending, depending on what screening you were watching. On the DVD, you can see all three, or you can have a random one played. Awesome!

This movie was tons of fun. Although I was a little confused as to how it relates to the game with the exception of the use of the names, I realized that really is the main relationship – the characters, weapons, and rooms are the same, and the movie is built around that. The story is completely its own, and it’s hilarious. Tim Curry is fantastically frantic, the characters are wacky and larger than life, and the humor is classic 80’s. I really enjoyed this one. If you haven’t watched “Clue” or if it’s been a while since you have, it’s totally worth a watch. There’s also a remake in the works that’s supposed to be released next year!

Related Links:
Clue: The Movie (DVD)
Clue: The Movie [Blu-ray]
Clue: The Movie (Amazon Download)
Parker Brothers Vintage Game Collection Exclusive Wooden Book Box Clue
Clue The Classic Edition

Watched The Editing Documentary "The Cutting Edge" (78/366)

“The sad fact was, the shark would only look real in 36 frames, not 38 frames, and that two frame difference was the difference between something really scary, and something that looked like a Great … White … floating turd.”
Steven Spielberg, on the editing of “Jaws

I studied film production and took some great editing classes in college, and have always loved the craft of editing. I believe editing is what brings all the elements of a movie together to tell the story, and that it is one of the absolute most important elements in creating a truly great film. From the time the first film reels were spliced together up until pretty recently (and for the most part still), editing has kind of been the “invisible art”. Most people don’t walk out of a movie they loved and say, “Wow, that editing was just amazing!” – most people don’t notice the edits at all – and that’s the essence of it – to join the pieces together – the scenes, the cuts, the dialogue, the expressions – to create one seamless ride of not just information, but emotion – to make sure the director’s vision materializes on the big screen, and to give the audience the experience of stepping out of their worlds for a while, and into the world created for them in the film. Because it is the “invisible art”, there hasn’t been much recognition for editors until very recently, so I was excited to watch this documentary on something I love so much but isn’t normally highlighted.

Here’s the trailer:

This documentary interviews many great editors, including one of the most respected, acclaimed, and admired, Walter Murch. One of the really cool things about the documentary is that during the interviews, there are also film clips for examples showing what the editors are talking about, and interviews with famous directors and their editors. I didn’t even realize that directors chose editors and stuck with them, but it makes perfect sense – it’s like any other very important and meaningful relationship – you need to find someone who understands you, who you can communicate with, who will be your peer, help keep you on track, and who wants the best for you (and your film, in this case). One of the quotes from a director (I believe it was Alexander Payne) was, “I think successful editors are really sly politicians,” in that they realize that directors may have one thing in mind, but it may not be the best, and a good editor needs to be able to “work with” the director to help them come around, without having the director think that they’re being guided or “managed” – some directors must always feel that they’re the ones making the decisions and coming to these conclusions – and it’s all for the good of the film.

The documentary also talked about the evolution from editing to simply put a story together, to editing in a deliberate manner to create a certain emotional effect, even if the footage was not even necessarily shot in that way – from editing seamlessly just to put the pieces together, to editing specifically to create a feeling. This was an important leap in the editing craft. Nowadays both methods are used.

An interesting fact: early filmmaking editors were mostly women because at the dawn of film editing, it was seen as like knitting or other crafting – like weaving a tapestry – “women’s” work … but when sound came in, men started becoming editors and taking over the scene because somehow sound was “technical” and the job seemed more like “men’s” work.

Another interesting idea that I didn’t think about before: editors actually construct the performance of the actors. All smart actors know it’s a wise idea to be on good terms with the editor. They make your performance the absolute best it can be. Many actors just want to see themselves on screen, but this may not make them come across as so great at their craft – a good editor can make each second (or 24th of a second, for that matter) of an actor’s performance shown be the most sparkling, wonderful moment possible. In theory, they also have the power to make the actor give their worst performance ever. They’ve got all the footage, after all.

A wonderful example of the power of editing in the documentary is the parallel between two films using the same and similar footage: “Triumph of the Will” which was a German propaganda movie with the overriding theme being the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the great leader who would bring glory to the nation, vs. “Why We Fight” – made in direct response to “Triumph” by American film director Frank Capra, splicing in footage from the German propaganda film, but instead using it to show Americans at the time of WWII why they could not stand by and let this monstrously evil force take hold.

This documentary was both interesting and entertaining. With interviews from filmmakers such as Jodie Foster, Wes Craven, Martin Scorsese, Rob Cohen, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and James Cameron, and the editors who really are magicians, helping them to bring their stories to life, if you’re interested in filmmaking or simply the magic of the movies, you won’t be disappointed with this great, behind-the-scenes look.

Related Links:
The Cutting Edge – The Magic of Movie Editing

Attended a Film Screening at the Hearst Castle Theater (71/366)

“A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody ever knows – his own.”
Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane

At first glance, the title of this post may seem a little trivial – I’d never seen a movie at a particular venue before? So what? But like with any good story, it’s the details that are important. This wasn’t just any film, and not just any venue.

Citizen Kane is one of the greatest American movies in history (arguably THE greatest, according to Sight & Sound‘s poll of film professionals, naming the film as such for the past five decades). It was released in 1941 and to this day it stands the test of time as a cinematically engaging, well-written, wonderfully paced movie. Orson Welles was only 25 when he made Citizen Kane (his first film), and he incorporated movie-making techniques previously not seen before (but widely imitated and adopted since).

Here’s the trailer:

Citizen Kane was largely modeled after the story of real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and the Xanadu palace retreat pictured in the film was based on Hearst Castle, here in San Simeon, California. At the time of the film’s release, Hearst took extreme offense to the entire idea of Citizen Kane and felt it was an attack on his character and choices in life. He never allowed the picture to be advertised in any of his newspapers, and he never watched the movie himself.

For the San Louis Obispo Film Festival this year, director Wendy Eidson almost jokingly put the idea out to Hearst’s great-grandson, Steve Hurst, of screening Citizen Kane in the one and only Hearst Castle. Much to her surprise and delight, the immediate answer was not “no”, and eventually the almost unbelievable dream materialized. We were lucky enough to experience this magnificent movie on a fantastic screen tonight.

I could go on about the film, but I’ll just say that if you haven’t seen it, you really should. While the techniques of movie making certainly have changed over the years, it is important to appreciate where they came from – and to see just how much of what we’ve come to appreciate as good filmmaking is rooted in the elements shown in Citizen Kane. Orson Welles had a fascinating subject, a grand scale, but most importantly he told a beautiful, poignant and powerful story of a complicated man – and helped to bring us into his world – and see that our differences may not be as great as what makes us all the same.

A special note from Nick:

There’s no denying that Citizen Kane is not only a great movie, but it has been and continues to be an inspiration for many filmmakers. If you’ve watched movies at all since 1941, you have most likely seen work that has been directly influenced by this fine piece of cinema. Steven Spielberg once said, “Rosebud will go over my typewriter to remind me that quality in movies comes first.”

In late October 2010, David McRaney wrote a post about procrastination on his blog (You Are Not So Smart) where he used the Netflix queue as an example of impulsive behavior (lowbrow movies tend to go above more important flicks). Even as I was reading it, the film many consider the greatest movie ever made was currently in our living room, unscreened.

I saw this film for the first time on November 15, 2010. It had been lying on the floor for weeks after Netflix shipped it to us. After we watched it (and loved it), I thought, “I really should not have waited so long to see this movie!” It got me to think about a lot of the other things I had not done, whether from procrastination or lack of opportunity. A little more than a month later, I came up with the idea for I’ve Never Done That. You might have noticed that I worked from the AFI 100 List during the year. Guess which film sits on top of that list.

Even though it was never officially listed as an item on the blog (though it is mentioned on the splash page), I like to think of “Watched Citizen Kane” as the first “I’ve Never Done That”. If Orson Welles had not made this incredible work of cinematic art, you would not be reading these words today. Citizen Kane did not just influence many of the movies you see now, it’s also responsible for the 365 new things I did last year and the 366 Jenn is doing in 2012.

Related Links:
Citizen Kane (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition) [Blu-ray]
Citizen Kane (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition) [DVD]

Watched Disney’s Nature Documentary "Earth" (65/366)

“The wild creatures of planet Earth, and their struggles and triumphs, are of epic proportions, and are best told on the big screen.”
Roy E. Disney

The Disneynature documentary “Earth” came to US theaters on Earth Day, 2009, and is the feature-length version of the Discovery/BBC TV series, “Planet Earth“. The documentary followed the stories of three animal families over the course of one year, as well as the goings-on in their parts of the world. It has an all-star narrative cast: James Earl Jones (USA version), Patrick Stewart (UK version), Ulrich Tukur (German version), and Ken Watanabe (Japanese version), and was a highly anticipated release. I had really wanted to see the whole TV series, but wasn’t sure if I could devote the time, so I was excited to watch this film. While some may see nature documentaries as “fluff”, the truth is that they contain some of the most magnificently beautiful cinematography, and bring us to places in the world to witness phenomenons that we may never be able to see in person in our lifetimes, as well as bring the realities of these far off places to us, helping us to understand our place in nature, and what effects our actions can have on this planet we all share. “Earth” was no exception – it was not only educational, but also gorgeous, and at many times, breathtaking.

Here’s the trailer:

Interesting notes:
– “Planet Earth” has over 4,000 days of cinematography. The combined budget of “Earth” and the TV series (over $40 million) make it the biggest documentary production ever.
– This is the first production ever to shoot aerials of the Mt. Everest. Due to the altitude it is not possible to use helicopters and jet planes are too fast to get proper results. Unique access to a Nepalese Army spy plane enabled the production to shoot the first aerials ever.

As I said before, this documentary is absolutely gorgeous, and I believe well worth a watch. I have heard critiques that it’s basically a compressed version of “Planet Earth”, which is understandable, but disappointing if you’d already watched the TV series and expected new footage in this version. Since I hadn’t seen “Planet Earth” I was able to enjoy “Earth” on its own. If you get a chance to see this film on disc, be sure to watch the “Earth Diaries: The Making Of earth The Movie” featurette – the lengths the filmmakers went to capturing these images is astounding.

Related Links:
Disney Nature Earth (Blu-ray / DVD Combo)
Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series

Watched the Documentary "Dive!" (58/366)

“I don’t know if dumpster-diving and eating food from the dumpster has made me value food more, or value food less because it’s easier now to throw food away because we have so much of it and so part of me, I think that I’m valuing the food even less”
Jeremy Seifert

A while ago, I saw a trailer for a fascinating-looking documentary called “Dive!” about a group of friends who routinely went dumpster diving for food at big chain grocery stores, and were eating perfectly good, many times super high-quality food that had simply met it’s “pull date” so it was thrown into the trash.

Here’s the trailer:

The film begins with the voice of filmmaker Jeremy Seifert: “Every year in America, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food. $136 billion annually. That’s 263 million pounds a day, 11 million pounds an hour, 3,000 pounds a second. Nearly a billion people in the world are going hungry every day. In The United States, even our trash cans are filled with food. You just have to go get it.”

Jeremy and a group of friends outline their dumpster-diving practices:
1. Never take more than you need, unless you find it a good home
2. First one to the dumpster gets dibs, but you always have to share
3. Leave the area cleaner than you found it

They proceed to show pounds and pounds of food they’ve rescued from the dumpster, most of it still in pristine condition, a lot of it premium quality (read: free-range, organic, etc.), and most with the same basic “flaw” – the “sell-by” date on the package is the next day. His friends note that they are: “Living off the waste of the consumerism of America” and “Eat[ing] much better out of the dumpster than I ever had before.”

Seifert begins to wonder why so much of this still perfectly safe, edible food is thrown away every day, and cannot get answers from the grocery store managers. He gets referred to corporate offices, but still cannot get information from them. He talks to Dr. Timothy Jones, former head of The Garbage Project at the University of Arizona, who tells him that at the commercial food level, there is no regulation or training on reducing food waste. He also says that 50% of the food that is produced in America never makes it to the table.

Jeremy visits the LA Regional Food Bank, where he learns that roughly just over 1 million people in LA County are at risk for hunger at some time in the year, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from. The Food Bank is short of meeting the needs of these people by about 11 million pounds of food every year, even though they work with over 900 charitable organizations and almost all of the major food chains are on the donor list. Jeremy does the math, and finds that in LA County alone, almost 3 billion pounds of food is wasted annually, and that if people were able to save even 1% of that figure, it would be almost triple what the food bank is short every year.

One side note: While the message the documentary presents is of the utmost importance, and it is one that many people wouldn’t be able to fully grasp without seeing the numbers and stories, I did feel the voices of the people in it (Seifert in particular) were a bit self-important and self-righteous. They talk about American food waste and how ridiculous it is, then proudly show off their dumpster hauls, use salvaged food to write words in their stop-motion animations through the film, and yet only gloss over the fact that they are also guilty of wasting food, just like the rest of “us”.

I’m not discrediting any of the great information they put forth in the documentary – again, there is definitely is a problem in our food system that people need to know about. I just feel that the tone is a bit cynical and idealistic at the same time – with an almost affected simplicity – and that grated on me a bit. Like his quote above, when Seifert found that he had an overabundance of food, it was easier for him to devalue it, and that’s unfortunately the situation most of America, in our wealthy, capitalist, consumer society, is in – I’m not sure if he was being honest in that scene of the film and it had not occurred to him that that’s exactly what is happening here, or if he was just acting to make it appear that he was realizing it for the first time. I don’t know if that was Seifert’s true voice, or if he thought he needed to take that tack to make his presentation more easily understood to a broader audience (he does have three young children). In any case, the film is definitely a worthy watch, despite my feelings on the tone.

At the end of the film, Seifert and his friends set out to start a grassroots campaign to rescue the food designated for the dumpster and redirect it to local food banks. They’ve broadened their “Eat Trash” campaign and you can read more about it and get involved at their website. I highly recommend watching the film, but you don’t have to stop there. Visit their website and see what you can do to help end hunger where you are, and hopefully someday, around the world!

Related Links:
Dive!: Living off America’s Waste (DVD) (The documentary is also on Netflix Streaming)