DVD Review: The Big Year

Hi again!

Who knew that bird watching, or “Birding” as it’s called by those who pursue it, was a cutthroat pursuit? We have quite a few birds in Colorado, but I have to admit that beyond knowing the difference between some of the birds of prey (Red Tailed Hawks have red tails!) I’m pretty uneducated as far as the different species locally, let alone nationally or internationally.

That said, The Big Year (released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, January 31, 2012) is as much about educating people about the birds as the people who follow them. Narrated by John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python’s Flying Circus), the film shifts between “documentary” mode and regular “movie” mode with the characters in motion. The film stars Steve Martin (The Jerk, Father of the Bride), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda), and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) as birders all pursuing “The Big Year” – a year-long quest to spot as many different bird species in a single year. And each of the characters comes from a different place in their life.

Black plays Brad Harris, a character in his 30s at a crossroads. In a job he hates with a string of failed relationships, he’s passionate about one thing – birds. Can he complete a “Big Year” and get some self confidence back?

Martin plays Stu Preissler, a character at the end of his career pondering retirement and enjoying time with his family and hobbies like birding. He keeps getting pulled back into the business he built because it “won’t survive without him,” which interrupts his retirement plans over and over again.

And Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, a character with multiple failed marriages and another one dying on the vine. He has to choose between his wife who wants to start a family and staying at the top of his game with the most bird species spotted in a single year.

This trio of birders manage to explore some of the most gorgeous parts of the country – Florida, Alaska, East Coast, West Coast, they really racked up the frequent flier miles. Beautiful scenery and bird footage (both real and CGI) along the way make it as much a travelogue as anything else.

Along the way these folks interact with some very colorful characters played by an all-star cast. Joel McHale (TV’s Community) and Kevin Pollack (Red State) play lawyers from Martin’s firm. Jim Parsons (TV’s Big Bang Theory) plays a blogging birder who writes about encounters with other birding aficionados. Angelica Huston (50/50) plays the captain of a tour boat that caters to birding expeditions. Brian Dennehy (The Next Three Days) and Diane Wiest (In Treatment) play Black’s parents who eventually understand their son’s passion. Anthony Anderson (Scream 4) plays Black’s boss. Rashida Jones (TV’s Parks and Recreation) plays a fellow birder who Black pursues romantically…

Though I enjoyed the film, I can see why this film didn’t do very well at the box office. The trailers portrayed it as more of a comedy and it ended up being a dramedy/documentary mix with a few comedic moments and a lot of character drama. With three big-name comedic actors in the movie and little comedy I suspect that word of mouth may have killed ticket sales.

That said, I think this film on DVD, Blu-ray, and on demand will get a fair amount of play. The great cast and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) worked well to tell three intertwined stories and explore the realm of bird watching in a fun way.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with the lack of special features on the DVD. Two versions of the film were included – the theatrical version and the extended version. The Blu-ray seems to have many more features, including a Gag Reel which I would have liked to have seen on the DVD.

Overall, I recommend The Big Year to anyone looking for a bit different viewing experience. The great cast, beautiful scenery, and a bit of education makes the film work great.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Hi there…

Monsters. Undead creatures. Things from other worlds and dimensions. Each has held an appeal for me since childhood. At first they terrified me, but as I got older and started reading, writing, and playing roleplaying games, they became tools and fun thought experiments.

Add to that a healthy dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, War for the Oaks (by Emma Bull), and The Dresden Files books (by Jim Butcher) and you have a love for properties where creatures meet the modern world… These days it’s called “Urban Fantasy,” but in the past it was just horror, science fiction, or fantasy. Now with new urban fantasy titles coming out regularly, I have been in hog heaven…

Enter the 2011 film Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Based on an Italian comic book series from creator Tiziano Sclavi, the story seemed to bring a few genres together into a unique whole. Generally it takes the idea of a Sherlock Holmes or Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow-style, not the animated Disney version) investigator and gives him cases involving the supernatural world with vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Sounds right up my alley, doesn’t it?

Then, when it hit theaters, somehow none of my local theater chains were showing it. I thought that was a bit odd, but started to some very negative reviews coming out in the media, both online and in print. At that point I decided I would have to see it on DVD to figure out if the reviewers were right…

Unfortunately, they were. Dylan Dog is a movie set in a story-rich environment that somehow manages to be about characters I ultimately couldn’t bring myself to care about. How is that possible?

The story sounds good on paper. Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh) is a private eye who used to deal exclusively with supernatural cases. But after the death of his girlfriend/fiancee/wife has fallen on bad times. He and his friend Marcus (Sam Huntington) have been doing cases for cheating husbands and wives, getting footage or pictures of folks in compromising positions.

When a new case comes up and it turns out to have a supernatural angle, Dylan tries to back out of it. But some cases can’t be turned away. After Marcus gets killed by a giant zombie, Dylan is forced to dive back into the world he thought he’d left behind.

All the elements are in the story. A Romeo and Juliet romance between a werewolf girl and a vampire boy. A family of werewolves protecting an artifact for centuries. A group of monster hunters threatening to destroy all unnatural creatures. And a vampire leader (Taye Diggs) taking advantage of a power vacuum with no oversight from inside or outside the supernatural community.

It’s not the location (New Orleans). It’s not the setting, because the world is full of monsters both fun and foul. It has some fun slapstick elements courtesy of Huntington’s role. Even the story seems good at first glance. So is it the actors or the director (Kevin Munroe) who are to blame? Either way it should have been much more fun to watch than it turned out to be.

Beyond the movie on the DVD, there are no extras. This is a very bare-bones DVD release for a movie that totally bombed at the box office.

If you really must see Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, I recommend a rental on Red Box. But if you were looking forward to this flick, you might be better off spending some time reading some of the Dresden Files novels from Jim Butcher or re-watching old Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Video: The Lonely Island + Michael Bolton “Jack Sparrow” Video (NSFW)

Yes, it’s true. Occasionally I like to color outside the lines. This post is a bit out of the norm that I try to post on my blog – but it’s too funny to ignore.

Michael Bolton. The name for me brings up memories of a concert at Fiddler’s Green (now renamed) in Englewood, CO, for Michael Bolton and Kenny G. The sound system didn’t work for the part I wanted to hear (hint: not Michael Bolton). And though I survived, I have to say watching Bolton sing is akin to having a prostate exam.

That said, Bolton just redeemed himself by making fun of his image with the comedy troupe The Lonely Island. The Lonely Island consists of Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg and they’ve been doing off-color humorous rap songs for a while now. Have to admit I’ve not been a huge fan because of the swearing, but this video made me laugh so hard I think I’ll get over it…

Definitely NSFW, but kudos to Bolton for showing that he has a sense of humor!

–Fitz

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