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.
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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.
Netflix has been in the news a lot in the last couple of weeks, mostly because of the outrage they faced from customers after an announced price hike.
We’re still happy with Netflix, although we’ll probably switch to streaming-only before the price hike deadline. Since my post Netflix Instant Watch for birders last October, a few more titles which may be of interest have become available. Last time, I found four documentaries and one drama. This time, kooky-sounding dramas outnumber the documentaries 5 to 3. Note: the images are affiliate links to Amazon.com, where you can purchase the title. The text links go to Netflix.
John James Audubon: Drawn From Nature “This beautifully photographed documentary profiles the surprising life of John James Audubon, one of the foremost naturalists, artists and explorers of the 19th century. Audubon’s stunningly vivid wildlife portraits are examined in detail. A self-taught artist, Audubon was also a showman who reveled in dramatizing his Wild West adventures when he toured European drawing rooms. Audubon’s fierce promotion of conservation is also discussed.”
The Real Macaw “When hard times fall upon gentle bird owner Ben Girdis (Jason Robards), his 149-year-old macaw, Mac, leads Girdis’s teenage grandson, Sam (Jamie Croft), on a quest to a South Pacific island to track down treasure buried by the parrot’s previous owner, a buccaneer. As medical bills are forcing Ben out of his home, Mac and Sam track down the spoils — but a greedy archaeologist who has learned about the plan awaits to steal the riches for himself.” This seems to be unavailable for purchase on DVD in North America, so Netflix might be your only chance to see this one.
Nature: Birds of the Gods “Deep within the rain forests of New Guinea live birds bearing almost impossibly beautiful plumage. Known as “birds of paradise,” these creatures have inspired explorers and ornithologists for centuries. Renowned naturalist David Attenborough heads a team of scientists as they seek to film these elusive animals in their stunning natural habitat. Along the way we learn of their peculiar habits and elaborate mating rituals.”
The Hawk is Dying “Auto upholsterer George Gattling (Paul Giamatti) searches for meaning in his life in Julian Goldberger’s moving drama. An amateur falconer with a questionable track record, George manages to catch a magnificent hawk and is determined to train the wild bird, despite negative comments from his friends and family. Driven to succeed, Gattling refuses to give up, even in the face of tragic events. Michael Pitt and Michelle Williams co-star.”
The Pigeon That Took Rome “American GIs MacDougall (Charlton Heston) and Contini (Harry Guardino) are undercover in Nazi-occupied Rome. When Contini falls in love with a rebel leader’s daughter, the family prepares a celebration, but mistakenly serves all but one of the agents’ carrier pigeons for the feast. To cover up the error, a family member replaces the flock with German pigeons — which in turn bring MacDougall and Contini’s messages straight back to the Nazis.” This seems to be unavailable for purchase on DVD anywhere, so Netflix might be your only chance to see this one.
Birdemic: Shock & Terror “When sexy model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) and software guru Rod (Alan Bagh) head to a motel for an afternoon tryst, they are attacked by a flock of savage exploding eagles and other birds of prey in the first wave of an all-out avian war against humanity. As the lovers scramble to find food, water and safety, they team up with gun-toting campers to rescue a pair of orphaned kids. James Nguyen directs this low-budget indie thriller.”
Ghost Bird “In 2004, a kayaker reported seeing a mysterious black-and-white bird in an Arkansas swamp. This alleged sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to have been extinct for decades, sparked an explosion of interest in the elusive bird. This absorbing documentary chronicles the ensuing obsession that overtook legions of ornithologists and birdwatchers eager to glimpse this giant winged holy grail.” I can highly recommend this one.
A Breed Apart “Vietnam vet Jim Malden (Rutger Hauer) shares a remote island with numerous rare bird species, whose survival he zealously protects. When climber Mike (Powers Boothe) pays the recluse a visit, he fails to mention that he’s come to steal rare bald eagle eggs for a collector. As the men get to know each other, Walker hangs on to his secret, while Malden deepens his connection with Stella (Kathleen Turner), who runs a supply store on the mainland.” This seems to be unavailable for purchase on DVD anywhere, so Netflix might be your only chance to see this one.
Have you seen any of these? I’ve only seen Ghost Bird and Birds of the Gods (both highly recommended); I hadn’t heard of any of the others except for Birdemic. I’m planning on watching that one with enhancement by Rifftrax. 🙂
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.
We love our Netflix subscription. Arthur has been catching up on television series with discs in the mail. We also use Netflix to watch recent DVD releases and the number of DVDs we purchase nowadays is virtually nil. Yay for less stuff! (Actually it means we have more room for books, so it may be a wash….)
Anyway, it’s fun to browse through the titles available on Instant Watch. There are a lot of shows or movies I’ve never heard of, and a lot that sound really intriguing. Here are some of the titles I’ve found that might be interesting for birders. Note: the images are affiliate links to Amazon.com, where you can purchase the title. The text links go to Netflix.
Kestrel’s Eye “This intrepid documentary by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Kristersson follows two European falcons as they go about their daily activities. Two years in the making, the film is shot without any supplemental audio, allowing the two birds to be the sole focal point. As the birds hunt for food and care for their offspring, viewers are treated to a literal bird’s-eye view from their nest at the top of an old church steeple.”
Rare Birds “In this outstanding independent comedy, down-and-out restaurateur Dave Purcell (William Hurt) is ready to close his doors, until his friend Alphonse devises a wacky plan. They fake a sighting of a rare bird, and soon the place is filled with bird watchers, famous folks and a potential love interest. But Alphonse has another not-so-benign scheme that could put Dave behind bars and close the restaurant for good.”
The Life of Birds Of all the titles here, I’m sure this one needs the least introduction… but just in case, here it is. “Presented by world-renowned broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, this arresting documentary series is the definitive film exploration of the most colorful, popular and perfectly adapted creatures on earth. To create it, researchers traversed the globe, exploring 42 countries and examining more than 300 species of birds using a variety of techniques, including infrared, slow motion and computer-enhanced effects.”
March of the Penguins “Award-winning photographer Luc Jacquet takes documentary film to new heights — and depths — with his first feature film, a stunning insider’s look at the life of emperor penguins living in one of the cruelest climates on the planet. The product of more than a year of filming on the Antarctic ice, this Oscar-winning documentary reveals never-before-captured footage of the penguins’ underwater life and explores their steadfast quest for monogamy.”
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill “This poignant documentary chronicles the true story of a modern-day St. Francis of Assisi, a homeless San Francisco street musician by the name of Mark Bittner who adopts a flock of wild parrots as he searches for meaning in his life. With a surprise ending that left festival audiences cheering, director Judy Irving’s film celebrates urban wildness — human and avian — and links parrot antics to human behavior.”
Have you seen any of these? Can you tell me about any other gems you’ve discovered on Netflix Instant Watch? I’ve only seen March of the Penguins and The Life of Birds; I hadn’t even heard of Kestrel’s Eye or Rare Birds. They are in my queue now!