ABOUT ME -
My name is Amy and I'm a birder living in central Florida. On this blog I post book and birding product reviews as well as birder gift ideas and announcements related to my birder gift shop on this site. I also have a personal birding blog called Powered By Birds.
Unless otherwise stated, all books and other products reviewed on this blog were purchased or independently acquired by the reviewer. Readers who make a purchase by clicking on links in product reviews or featured t-shirt posts (T-Shirt Tuesday) may result in the blogger receiving a commission or referral fee.
Wil Shriner’s Hoot tells the story of three young environmental warriors who band together to save a colony of Burrowing Owls from the bulldozers of development in Florida. Hoot is based upon a young adult novel by Carl Hiassen.
The story revolves around new kid in town Roy as he tries to overcome local bullies and fit in to his new school. Roy befriends classmate Beatrice and her oddball brother Mullet Fingers. The three young adults band together to stop goofball construction foreman Curly (Tim Blake Nelson) from razing a Burrowing Owl colony in favor of a pancake restaurant.
Hoot is a comedy with a serious underlying message of conservation. The kids use some questionable methods to try and save the owl colony (like releasing potentially owl-eating snakes to combat guard dogs) and confrontations between the conservationists and those who would kill the owls range from silly to over-the-top dramatic. Looking over these goofy plot conventions, I enjoyed Hoot for the most part. The owls were cute (of course), the kids were passionate about their cause, and the anti-development message was clear.
The Hoot DVD is full of extras, including short documentaries on costar Jimmy Buffet and the three young stars, backyard habitat and animals in action. The most enjoyable for me was a short piece entitled “Visit an Animal Rescue Center.” Bloopers and deleted scenes are also included in the extras. The DVD has one of the cutest menu navigations I’ve ever seen.
The Big Year is coming to the home market on DVD and Blu-ray on January 31st. The Blu-ray includes an extended version of the movie, as well as some other extras not available on the DVD version.
In the extended version of The Big Year, the story is told not via Brad Harris but by the narrator of the intro in the theatrical version (John Cleese). Because of this, certain scenes are edited a bit differently, and the movie has a slightly different feel from what was shown in cinemas last fall. The relationship between Brad and Stu is still pivotal, but it has a less one-sided feel (an improvement). In the extended version we also learn just a bit more about Brad’s personal life, which may have been awkward if included in the narrated-by-Brad version of the story.
The narrator talks during many of the scenes that Brad narrates in the theatrical version of the film. In these scenes and in others, John Cleese’s narrator often uses bird analogies when speaking about the characters of The Big Year. Some of these are a bit cheesy, but for the most part they work. In a movie about birders, it makes sense to compare important moments in the lives of the main characters to the pivotal moments in the lives of birds.
Parts of the extended version are framed by scenes featuring a Ruby-throated Hummingbird; the female bird’s migration in particular transitions between certain parts of the movie in a very effective way. The bird is CGI and looks beautiful.
These small differences between the theatrical and extended versions of The Big Year actually make a big difference in the story; I loved what I saw in the cinema but I may have loved the extended version even more. If you enjoyed The Big Year in cinemas last fall, you’ll probably enjoy the extended version, too. And if you didn’t get a chance to see it (its run was quite short!), I suggest you give both versions a try. I give The Big Year extended version 5 Goldfinches out of 5.
Thank you to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Think Jam for providing me with a screener copy of The Big Year for review.
I’ll cut to the chase: I enjoyed this movie a lot, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. I laughed a lot! Like a lot of other birders, I was apprehensive about how our hobby might be depicted. But birders – at least some of them – are actually quite normal (ha!) throughout the picture and do some very cool things in beautiful places. Win!
Now some random thoughts which include mild spoilers.
* Arthur and I were alone in our midnight screening. While I was disappointed there weren’t others in the theater, it was kind of nice to be able to talk with each other during some parts of the movie. I hope next time I see it, the theater will be packed. And I can imagine seeing this at birding festivals with a room full of birders.
* There were more great moments than cringe-worthy moments. I loved seeing the Bald Eagle courtship ritual and wished there were more fantastic wild bird shots incorporated into the movie.
* The Attu scenes were fantastic!
* I would love to see “Bostick!” become a birder’s curse and will get to work on sparking a trend among my peers. Dipped on a mega? BOSTICK!
* I thought Jack Black especially did a great job as an enthusiastic youngish birder. I loved how he shared the story of his favorite bird, the American Golden Plover, with his dad.
* I guess it helps make a movie successful to have a good versus bad dynamic, but having one of the birders in the movie be a rotten villain made me sad.
* The soundtrack is full of bird-themed songs. I really liked the use of the instrumental Blackbird during Stu’s “awakening” after the birth of his first grandchild.
* Big congrats to blogger The Two-fisted Birdwatcher for getting a product placement in the movie! A blog-branded mug appears on Brad’s nightstand towards the end of the movie. I tried unsuccessfully to get merch in the film and so did 10,000 Birds, apparently.
* I’ll leave the bird-type nitpicking to others. But there was one error in the credits that jumped out at me. Towards the end, thanks is given to Lange Elliot – should be Lang.
* I mentioned this in my previous post, but birders can help elevate the movie at least in the archives of the internets by contributing trivia and posting reviews (even short ones) on popular movie websites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.
Back in October I had a look through Netflix’s catalog of streaming titles, looking for bird-themed movies available on Instant Watch. After Rare Birds, I watched Mikael Kristersson’s Kestrel’s Eye, a documentary that follows a pair of Common Kestrels without any narration or commentary.
Common Kestrels are small raptors, measuring just 13 to 15 inches from head to tail. When we lived in the Netherlands we’d see them all the time, hovering over fields in search of prey. We often saw them from the car. Whoever saw the bird first would shout out “kestrel!” and then we’d watch it hover until “woo!” – a dramatic downward plunge towards prey. We were lucky to observe them a bit more closely a few times, which was always a treat. I remember watching this particular kestrel perched on a sign post on a day trip to Zeeland.
It was with this very limited experience in truly observing Common Kestrels that I really looked forward to watching Kestrel’s Eye.
To set the scene, the documentary begins with long shots of the habitat where a pair of kestrels resides. Their home is a church tower window. The church is in a small Scandinavian village, adjacent to an agricultural field. Without any commentary at all, the filmmaker shows us the daily routine of a mated pair of birds as they raise a family together. He hunts, she prepares the scrape (nest site). She lays eggs, they both incubate and brood. The chicks hatch, eat a lot, and eventually fledge. The fledging of the chicks, not surprisingly, is an exciting climax towards the end of the documentary. But there are plenty of other exciting moments throughout the movie. There aren’t really fall-off-your-chair thrilling moments, but I don’t think there have to be in such an intimate nature film.
The human goings-on in and around the church are also highlighted as time passes. A wedding and a funeral fill the church on two separate occasions. I did find there was an inordinate amount of time spent showing the church groundskeepers tending to gardens and raking grave-site gravel. All of these events are shown from the elevated perspective of the birds (seen through the Kestrel’s Eye, get it?), juxtaposing the human priorities with those of the birds.
Overall I found Kestrel’s Eye highly entertaining, but I think this film will mostly appeal to other bird lovers like me. Without a traditional dramatic structure (rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, etc), I think viewers without a great interest in or curiosity of bird life will be bored if forced to watch Kestrel’s Eye. Bird lovers, though – check it out! I give Kestrel’s Eye 4.5 Goldfinches out of 5.
Back in September, Scott Crocker’s Ghost Bird played at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and Arthur and I went down to see it. The movie was pretty limited in its theatrical run, so if you didn’t get a chance to see it, you’re in luck because it comes out on DVD tomorrow.
Crocker’s documentary follows the saga of the search for the (presumed extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and the frenzy that ensued after a video purported to capture an IBWO in flight was made public. According to the official website:
Ghost Bird is a feature length documentary about an extinct giant woodpecker, a small town In Arkansas hoping to reverse it misfortunes, and the tireless odyssey of the bird-watchers and scientists searching for the Holy Grail of birds, the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker.
Promotional material for the movie made me think it would be primarily about the crazy changes that happened in and around Brinkley, Arkansas following the rediscovery. The movie does take a humorous (and ironic) tone when Brinkley is the focus, but the film tells so much more. Bird experts, ornithologists, museum curators, and others all weigh in on the controversy, and the tales they share are maddening, amazing, and fascinating.
Birders and non-birders alike will enjoy this well-made, informative and entertaining documentary. Whether you followed the 2004 Ivory-billed Woodpecker rediscovery story closely or not, check out Ghost Bird. I give Ghost Bird 5 Goldfinches out of 5.
The Ghost Bird DVD is available for purchase via Amazon. My review is based on a theatrical screening.
Rare Birds, starring William Hurt, Molly Parker and Andy Jones, tells the story of a down-on-his-luck chef and restaurant owner. William Hurt is Dave, owner of The Auk, a small establishment in coastal Newfoundland. Dave’s neighbor, Phonce (Jones), hatches a plan to get more patrons for The Auk: fake a super-rare bird sighting by calling in to an ornithological radio program. The birdwatchers will come in droves and business will boom, according to Phonce.
I really wanted to like this movie. I am a fan of William Hurt and I was looking forward to seeing him in this somewhat birder-themed film. And the acting, by Hurt and others, is indeed fine. But the motivations of the main characters are a mystery throughout the film. There are also some extremely bizarre side stories, some of which involve an elaborate, unbelievable invention by Phonce, along with his inexplicable conspiracy theories. Other secondary plots (there are several) don’t make much more sense, and the relationships between Dave and his neighbor and employees are beyond weird. I don’t have anything against odd characters (being one myself), but the writing didn’t give these oddballs any depth and the inexplicable actions were just frustrating. It finally occurred to me that the rare birds in the movie are the main characters.
The fact that birdwatchers are the brunt of the characters’ silly stunt isn’t a bother. After spending the day in the field, it didn’t really ring true to me that those seeking to view the rare bird would be dressed for and up to dining in a fine restaurant, but okay. The search for the one-hit-wonder bird seems to go on longer than I would expect – business is fairly booming at The Auk for what seems like several weeks after just one day of reported sightings. These minor birding missteps aren’t the problem, though. It’s everything else in the movie.
OwlCam: The Hidden World follows a pair of Barred Owls as they raise three chicks in a nestbox in eastern Massachusetts. All of the footage was obtained through nestbox cameras or super-telephoto lenses, both of which provide intimate looks into the private lives of the adult owls and growing owlets.
The adult Barred Owls, nicknamed June and Ward by the filmmakers / nestbox hosts, nested in the box for at least eight years; the film follows the 2001 season from springtime courtship through the branching and fledging of the chicks.
The footage of Barred Owls is remarkable (although as a disclaimer I might say here that I have a big soft spot for this species). We get to see some amazing milestones in the lives of the chicks: hatching; first meals; their first glimpses of the outside world from the nestbox; branching mishaps and triumphs; and fledging. Adult behavior is also fascinating to watch, from June begging for food while continually incubating the eggs, to the two adults allopreening in one of the first moments June leaves the nestbox after caring for the chicks nonstop for several days. The video quality is very good and the fine editing turns the footage into an interesting story.
While the footage of the birds is compelling, I found the narration to be rather poor. The birds are constantly being anthropomorphized, with continual references to their feelings and motivations. Possibly more maddening, however, are the long pauses between narration at key points in the film. For example, as the first chick hatches, June can be seen eating the eggshell. I would imagine if you don’t expect this behavior or already understand it, it might appear to be gruesome, or even gross. The narrator makes no mention of it. As the chicks begin to branch, they are sometimes identified (they are also given names) by text on the screen, but this is frustratingly inconsistent, so viewers are left to guess who is who at some very exciting moments.
Despite the narration flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the look into the lives of these Barred Owls. If you’re interested in bird behavior in general, and owls in particular, I think you will, too. I give OwlCam: The Hidden World 4 Goldfinches out of 5.
The movie is available for purchase from Amazon.com or as a DVD rental via Netflix. The filmmakers also have a website where you can learn even more about June, Ward, and their adventures through the years. The DVD is available for purchase there, too, and there are some video clips from the film.