Published on SoCal.com

Actions have consequences, kids. If we take nothing else away from watching The Twilight Saga: Eclipse it should be that our choices may lead to sorrow and pain, or hurt the ones we love, but we shouldn’t be afraid to choose what is right.

Or, you know, whoever is hottest. Whatever.

The third installment in the planned five-movie epic, Eclipse has accomplished what the previous two Twilight movies were far less adept at: selling the story. Based on the wildly popular novels by Stephenie Meyer, The Twilight Saga’s first two movies failed to live up to the expectations of fans or critics, though still reaping huge box office rewards. Eclipse, however, braids together the mythology and fan-favorite moments of the books with action sequences and visual effects that pop off the screen, making the movie a much better balance between chick flick and action-adventure.

If this is your first Twilight experience, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a broody, intense young girl, has fallen in love with 100-year-old teen Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a vampire who has also resolved that life is not worth living without her. Due to events in the previous films, Bella must be turned into a vampire or face the wrath of the bloodsuckers’ oversight committee, the Volturi. She has no issue with this, as it is something she wants as well. She can’t very well be hooked up with a 17-year-old when she’s 30, right? In fact, she wants to do the deed just after graduation, but Edward’s got a condition: she must marry him first.

Here is where Bella has a real problem. If she consents to getting married at 17, people will think she’s knocked up. Or worse yet–foolish. Divorce rates are astronomical, after all (though Edward wryly notes that vampire-human divorces are far rarer). He presents her with an antique ring anyway, and she promises to think about it.

Back home, as her chief-of-police father Charlie (the ever-perfect Billy Burke) searches for a boy named Riley Biers (Xavier Samuel) who has been missing for nearly a year, news reports of a spike in brutal killings in Seattle has him worried. When Edward suggests that Bella visit her mother in Florida, Chief Swan immediately agrees—then finds out that Edward is planning to go along. The chief has his reservations, but allows her to go.

As Bella soaks up the sun with her mom (the delightfully free-spirited Sarah Clarke) and enjoys what will probably be her last visit before becoming undead, audiences are reminded again of what will be lost because of her decision to be with Edward. Back in Forks, viewers reunite with another soon-to-be casualty: the best friend who is in love with her (and also happens to be a werewolf), Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).

Soon Bella has bigger problems than which guy loves her more. A vicious vampire named Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, assuming the role from Rachelle Lefevre) has been hunting her since the end of the first film, in which the Cullens killed her mate, James. Never mind that he was trying to kill Bella at the time. Victoria has her mind set on vengeance against the entire Cullen clan, but must formulate a plan that their psychic sister, Alice (Ashley Greene), can’t see coming until it’s too late. Just days before they arrive, she finally “sees” the attackers—an army of newly made vampires intent on killing Bella.

Apparently, newborns are the most dangerous and unpredictable of all vampires. Brother Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), the only one with experience with these young vamps, resolves to train werewolf and vampire alike in the fighting skills necessary to win the battle. Meanwhile, as the preparations for the turf war are underway, a battle for the heart (and literal soul) of Bella rages between Jacob and Edward.

Does becoming a vampire really mean more to Bella than loving someone she can grow old with? Is everlasting life, albeit always in hiding, compensation for losing her soul? Can sparkly skin and really, really sharp teeth make up for cutting ties with her entire former life? And do any of those questions really get answered?

In response to the last question, the answer is a definite no. In the end, the trading of humanity for immortality comes down to one thing: hormones. As in, the old-fashioned Edward refuses to have sex until he’s married. The unbearable agony of a chaste relationship does what the losing of her soul or fear of punishment by the Volturi failed to accomplish: Bella says yes.

Visually speaking, Eclipse is a masterpiece. The CGI on the werewolves is immensely better than on New Moon, and the representation of vampire speed and strength are improved upon as well. There is a definite suspension of disbelief watching newborn vampires and giant wolves attacking one another. The soundtrack is also flawless, both the songs created for the movie and the ones chosen to accent specific scenes.

If there is one big flaw to be pointed out, it is that all the Twilight movies seem to rely on fans reading the story ahead of time in order to fill in some of the blanks. Meyer’s novels are lengthy, to say the least, and so much of the back-story and mythology that would help the stories make sense to newcomers is missing. Granted, it would make for a sloggy moviegoing experience to include it all, but so many small details are sacrificed in order to keep the film on pace.

Whether you’re a big fan of the series or just like to deepen your movie experience, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Two-disc Special Edition DVD (Summit Entertainment, MSRP: $32.99) and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (MSRP: $40.99) come loaded with special features that are truly worthwhile.

Along with the movie are two full-length audio commentaries that are worth the price of the sets alone. The first, between Stewart and Pattinson, is sure to make fans swoon. Though they were in two different countries while recording the track (she in Vancouver, Canada and he in L.A.), their commentary alludes to the pair’s rumored relationship off-set (“You don’t look like that when you get bitten by a vampire,” Pattinson jokes, watching a scene where Riley has just been attacked and is writhing in pain. “You’re much sexier.”). While never admitting to being a couple, the two have chemistry far beyond that of Bella and Edward. Listening to them argue plot points and acting choices is a welcome glimpse behind the curtain, as well as their opinions of the other characters (“Grr, I really hate that guy,” Pattinson jokes as Jacob snuggles with Bella on-screen). The pair jokes that their commentary might be very soothing when used as a soundtrack to fall asleep. No doubt there are fans out there who will do just that.

The second commentary track, recorded by Meyer and producer Wyck Godfrey, is another jewel. Meyer has been granted the kind of access to these films that many authors would kill for, and she is very active on the set and behind the scenes. It is refreshing to hear her take on the characters on-screen and to know what elements she fought for and of which she wasn’t a fan. She also comments on new material screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg added, some of which, she admits, she likes “much better.” Godfrey, meanwhile, gives viewers the technical view behind the scenes. Film buffs and those who aspire to be in the movie business will find their take fascinating. The two share a lighthearted banter and ease that grows from spending a lot of time together, and it makes for easy viewing.

Disc two of the DVD set has its own set of gems, feature-wise (which are also available on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack). Best and brightest is a six-part making-of documentary that can be seen in pieces or as the entire hour-and-twenty-seven-minute feature. Commentary from the director, actors and Meyer all weave in between snippets of filming from preproduction through final editing. It’s great to see that Meyer is not only the creator, but is a genuine fan of her own work and doesn’t pretend it’s a lofty masterpiece. She talks about the characters as if they’re friends, and it is, again, reassuring to know that she has had a good deal of influence on the final product.

The deleted and extended scenes are standard stuff. One particular scene between Angela (Christian Serratos) and Bella, which producers and Meyer really liked but was ultimately cut for time, shines. The rest are only minor extensions that were better off left out of the film.
Unlike many deleted/extended scene packages, this one also has a commentary feature by director David Slade (30 Days of Night) that walks viewers through the reasons these scenes were filmed and why, ultimately, they didn’t make the cut.

For your eye candy needs, a photo gallery featuring a six-minute slideshow of production stills and photos is also included, many of which are unique to the DVD. With a balance of werewolves, vampires and main characters, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy. Also included are two full-length music videos, one by Muse (“Neutron Star Collision (Love is Forever)”) the other by Metric (“Eclipse (All Yours) ”).

Finally, but most importantly to fans who are firmly on Team Edward or Team Jacob, there is a bonus feature just for you. “Edward Fast Forward” and “Jacob Fast Forward” allows fans to watch the movie via only the scenes featuring their favorite vampire or werewolf. At 46 minutes, Edward’s section is longer, but Jacob’s 31-minute package has far fewer shirts. The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack also features six additional “Fast Forward” options: The Love Triangle, The Cullens, The Wolfpack, The Humans, Victoria’s Army and Action Sequences.

Is The Twilight Saga: Eclipse for you? Can you live without seeing the extras or swooning over the commentary (in which case, single-disc versions of both the DVD and Blu-ray are available that feature just the film for $28.99 and $34.99, respectively)? It all begins with a choice, boys and girls. But be prepared to live with the consequences.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

SEX AND THE CITY 2 - Blu-ray review

Published on SoCal.com

In the late ’90s, HBO launched a weekly series about a single sex columnist in New York City and her three best girlfriends. No one had ever seen a series like this before. In 30 minutes, viewers were exposed to bed hopping, cocktail drinking, smoking and four very independent women who redefined what it means to be single.

Flash forward to 2004. The ladies of “Sex and the City” had gone through many changes: marriage, divorce, childbirth, cancer, infidelity and home ownership among them. By the series’ end, some felt that the show had strayed too far from the original freewheeling formula, though fans universally rejoiced when Carrie finally landed her Mr. Big.

Many of those same criticisms were launched at the 2008 feature film as well; mainly, that these gals were too old, their storylines were too heavy and they just weren’t relatable. But those critics overlooked one critical fact: despite the titillating title, the series was never just about sex. Watching the escapades of these four women was like watching aspects of your own personality (whether it be a fashionista, good girl, career woman or sexaholic) taken to the limits; everyone could relate a little bit to Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda or Samantha.

That said, Sex and the City 2 (Warner Home Video, Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack + Digital Copy, MSRP: $35.99; DVD, MSRP: $28.98) takes this idea of living your fantasy and blows it up. Chris Noth isn’t the only “Big” in this production. There’s a wedding that is like a cross between Winter Wonderland and Broadway; a movie premiere compete with red carpet antics; and, of course, an all-expense paid trip for four to Abu Dhabi, the country in the United Arab Emirates deemed “the future of the Middle East.”

The movie begins two years after the first film ended. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) meets up with her besties, Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), to shop a wedding registry at Bergdorf Goodman, and in the process viewers are treated to an ’80s flashback of each character in their 20s (most of which are truly dreadful).

At an over-the-top wedding in Connecticut, we see the first signs of trouble to come. Carrie unintentionally upsets a fan with her decision not to have children; Miranda’s new chauvinistic boss (the perfectly cast Ron White) bombards her with text messages as her patient husband Steve (David Eigenberg) tries to enjoy the romantic setting; Charlotte tries to downplay her struggle with two-year-old Rose and her constant crying; and Samantha amazes her friends with the sheer volume of supplements she’s started taking to hold onto her youth.

At the red-carpet premiere for Smith Jerrod’s (Jason Lewis) latest movie, an actioner set in the heart of the desert, Samantha meets the Middle Eastern backers who are very interested in her PR prowess. Claiming that Dubai is yesterday and Abu Dhabi is the future, they invite her to visit, all expenses paid, and then meet to discuss ways to get the word out in America. Samantha convinces them to include her three friends and the trip is a done deal.

They fly aboard the sheik’s private airline and arrive at a sumptuous hotel via their own private Maybachs, then are shown to their suite where four butlers wait to satisfy their every whim. Despite the confiscation of Samantha’s pharmaceuticals at the airport and Charlotte’s lack of iPhone service, it seems as if their week is off to a swimming start (especially with the scenes of the Australian national soccer team in the hotel pool). Complications ensue when Carrie runs into the one that got away, Aidan (John Corbett), in the marketplace.

One of the most hotly debated topics between “SATC” fans is whether Carrie should have ended up with Aidan or Big. By bringing him into the picture at a time when her marriage is losing its sparkle, writer/director Michael Patrick King is toying with longtime fans. Will she stray with the married Aidan as she once cheated on him with Big? Or will Carrie realize what she has and stay with her man? The results are surprising, but definitely in character.

Viewers who could identify with the everywoman struggles of this quartet before will struggle to empathize with beyond-first-class flights, luxury car service and $22,000-per-night hotel rooms. In the desert of our current economy, such lavish excess is almost like a mirage. But the lush scenery and exotic lifestyle ultimately fade into the background of storylines that definitely hit home: Why do I hate the job I worked so hard to get? Will he cheat with the nanny? Where did the spark in our marriage go? What happens when menopause hits and you’re still chasing youth?

Panned by many critics, true fans of the series loved this film. For the most part, although the actresses were rarely together much in the original series, Sex and the City 2 feels like a throwback to the glory days on HBO, when their core friendships were the focus and provided the strength to get through any crisis.

The bonus features on the Blu-ray release offer fans an in-depth look at some of the choices made by the actors, filmmakers, stylists and even soundtrack artists on the film. Every line of dialogue, stitch of clothing, camera angle and musical note was created to enrich the story in ways a casual viewer would never notice, and it’s the subtle details and acting choices that really elevate the film far beyond the boundaries of the half-hour series. The insights are fascinating, however they do tend to get a bit repetitive if you watch all of the bonus features back to back. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll see.

For the most comprehensive look behind the scenes, watch the movie with the commentary by King activated. If there was ever a time you thought that Sex and the City 2 was shallow or visual fluff, King reveals many hidden subtexts and deeper meanings behind every scene. Afterward, the viewer definitely has a greater understanding of the psychology behind each character, and the broader social messages the movie explored.

If you’ve ever met a former coworker for drinks a few years after you parted ways, you will understand the vibe during "So Much Can Happen in Two Years: A Conversation with Sarah Jessica Parker and Director Michael Patrick King.” It’s just SJP and King, sitting in fabulous pink armchairs, talking about old times, but it feels as if there’s really a third armchair off-screen—and you’re in it. Though many of their reminiscences revolve around the off-screen process of making the film, it still feels as if the viewer can relate. Incredibly warm and nostalgic, this featurette gives greater depth to some of the commentary by King and reveals the extent that Parker was involved in the creation of this film, both as a producer and as an actor. If there were any complaint, it would be that it was over too soon.

Stylist Patricia Field isn’t the type to hold back when it comes to fashion, and this movie provided ample opportunity for over-the-top ensembles. In “Styling Sex and the City 2,” Field, King and cast members wax nostalgic over recreating the ’80s looks for the four women before delving into the luxe looks created for the trip to Abu Dhabi. The desert locale wasn’t the only lavish production, as they reveal the racks and racks of clothing for each character, shelf upon shelf of shoes and bags and two rooms exclusively for jewelry. They also talk about the sartorial choices made in certain scenes and the challenges (or fantastic opportunities) each provided. If you have a passion for fashion, this segment will be your porn.

“Revisiting the ’80s” (available on both the DVD and Blu-ray release) covers some of the same ground as “Styling Sex and the City 2,” but with more of a focus on the making of the two-minute segment that opens the movie. It explains a bit more about who the girls were when they met, and why King thought it was important to include this montage. It’s interesting, but for those who purchase the Blu-ray release and listen to the commentary track or watch some of the other Blu-ray features, you get most of the same information.

The venerable Liza Minnelli made one of the greatest cameos in the film, and “Marry Me, Liza!” a fitting tribute. Over two weeks, the cast filmed the big wedding scene in which she appears (between whom will remain unsaid so it won’t spoil the surprise). This featurette takes fans onto the set as she runs lines, chats with costars and rehearses the surprising choreography (putting an end to rumors that her head might have been CGI-ed onto another body). This is one person for whom show business is truly in the DNA, and it’s easy to see her come alive in front of the camera. This is also the bonus feature with the biggest faux pas of them all: at the end of the segment, the cast and crew talk about how amazing it was to work with Minnelli and how, on the last day of filming, she did an impromptu performance for everyone on set. They talk about the amazing quality of her voice, the electricity in the air, even the reaction of the swans. The only thing they don’t do is show the performance, although they clearly had footage (a snippet runs behind voice-over commentary, followed by her taking a bow). Why not allow viewers to be touched by her singing “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” instead of talking over it? Anyone who loves Minnelli enough to watch this feature will probably be mightily disappointed at this ending.

Mario Cantone (Anthony) and King are a riot as they take a trip down memory lane with “The Men of Sex and the City.” Like flipping through a high school yearbook, the boys talk about the men (and one woman) that romanced the ladies throughout the run of the series. Naturally, Aidan and Mr. Big are represented (whose team were you on?), but they also talk about the quirky (Carrie’s boyfriend-who-broke-up-on-a-Post-it Berger, Charlotte’s potty-mouthed lover), the sexy (Miranda’s affair with Blair Underwood) and the downright bizarre (Mr. Pussy, Mr. Tookus Lingus and David Duchovny as Carrie’s psych ward sweetheart). At the end, King quizzes Cantone on “which girl did what” (such as who had sex with an Orthodox Jew, which girl had a girlfriend and whose man had less-than-stellar measurements down there). The funniest part of this quiz (deemed “hilarious” by the Blu-ray cover) was that Cantone got most of the answers wrong! This is one of the more original features on the Blu-ray release.

One feature that seems like a total waste of space is “Sex and the City 2 Soundtrack: In the Recording Studio with Alicia Keys,” which is ironic since it’s included on both the Blu-ray and DVD release. Beginning after an ad for the soundtrack, this tiny featurette shows Keys in the recording studio, where she talks about how she came to be a part of the new movie and how much fun she had working on the project. To hear her talk, you’d think that she wrote the score for half the movie instead of just the first three minutes. If the concessions line was long, you would have missed her contribution completely at the theater.

All in all, fans of the series will get more than their fill of luxury, laughs, Louboutins—and of course, love.

Sex and the City 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

OCEANS - Blu-ray Review

Published on SoCal.com

 Over two-thirds of the earth is covered in water, yet the ocean has always remained one of mankind’s greatest mysteries. In the theatrical follow-up to the wildly popular earth, Disneynature turns its focus to the wonders of the deep.

Filmed in each of the earth’s five oceans, Oceans takes viewers along as we literally swim with the fishes. Using a variety of new technologies and pieces of equipment, directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud went to great depths to find imagery that the world had never seen before. From groups of giant sperm whales to the incredibly tiny heartbeat of a reptile embryo still in the egg, no image was too big or too minute for the camera.

Though it might seem that viewers can get much of the same experience gazing at a large salt water tank, watching fish in an aquarium can’t compare to these scenes of sea life in their natural habitat. Some scenes, with their accompanying soundtrack, even play out like an action film (such as one epic sequence in which a school of sardines almost dances in unison as they dodge the jaws of dolphins, sharks, whales and seagulls).

Other scenes contain a more quiet, balletic beauty. In one particularly beautiful sequence, razor fish and garden eels perform an undersea dance that is unexpected and graceful. A blanket octopus is aptly described as “silk scarves rippling through the water,” and a type of sea slug called the Spanish dancer “cuts a path through Australian waters like the swirl of a flamenco skirt.”

Other ocean dwellers that would, at first glance, seem to be awkward or heavy move in ways that are elegant and flow effortlessly. Gigantic whales dance and sing to each other off the coast of Alaska. Massive schools of fish swim so closely together, they create near solid shapes. From funnel clouds and spheres to waves and clouds, they dance as if they are all of one mind.

also focuses on animals whose main sustenance is the sea. From seagulls to polar bears to lumbering walruses, a number of the earth’s creatures depend on the water for their meals.

If young ones are watching, be warned: there are many intense scenes of predators seeking (and devouring) their prey. In particular, a scene in which baby sea turtles fight to make it from the beach to the nearby water is heartbreaking. There are also a few vicious fights, such as one in which a crab has its claws torn off before ultimately being defeated.

Actor Pierce Brosnan was a great choice to narrate the English version of the film, as he brings both a playful lightness and sincere gravitas to the scenes as needed. It’s never easy to make such a diverse group of images into a cohesive story, but Brosnan manages to tie the images together masterfully.

To be expected of any documentary focusing on the ocean, the effect of pollution versus the signs of a healthy ocean are highlighted in Oceans. As disturbing as it is to see scenes of a shopping cart resting on the ocean floor or plastic bottles and bags floating on the surface, it also helps highlight the message: trash has to end up somewhere. That message is delivered with a pretty light hand, however, lightened by evidence of still-unspoiled waters (though images of some elderly Asian sheepshead wrasse are pretty scary). Had this been filmed today, in the midst of such oil spill disasters as the one in the Gulf Coast, there might have been a much stronger impact.

Bonus features on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, DVD MSRP: $29.99; Two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack MSRP: $39.99) include five bonus videos under the heading “Deeper in the Ocean,” each one to three minutes long, which explore a few different aspects of the filming process. “The Importance of the Ocean” is an opportunity to learn more about the ocean’s role in making (and keeping) our planet as hospitable as it is. “The Sardine Run” takes another view of the spectacular action sequence in which a school of sardines is hunted for food. “Activity in the Coral Reefs” offers a deeper look at the variety of life sustained by reefs and of their overall importance in ocean ecology. “‘Jonas:’ The Torpedo Camera” is a fun look at the improvised machinery filmmakers developed to capture some of their shots (and of the patience required to get them). Scenes such as swimming with a school of yellowfin tuna would not have been possible without these innovations. Finally, “Swimming with the Great White Sharks” gives insight into the pecking order of sharks, and the reasons why Oceans’ camera people were given status as high-ranking sharks.

“Disney & Nature: Preserving the World We Share” is a look at how Disneynature is continuing Walt Disney’s vision to encourage conservation in the world. Projects such as Disney’s Friends for Change, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Disney’s Planet Challenge and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are featured. One interesting fact covered was that for every ticket sold for Oceans during its opening week of release, a donation was made to save a section of coral reef (a similar tactic with earth earned enough to plant 3 million trees in the Brazilian rainforest).

Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato star in the music video for “Make a Wave,” a catchy song that is also available for download on iTunes (proceeds to benefit Friends for Change). The song is fairly short, but it features Jonas and the winsome Lovato on the beach and in the recording studio making a plea to support conservation, but with a sweet pop music sound.

Exclusively on the Blu-ray release is the bonus feature Filmmaker Annotations, which offers picture-in-picture commentary, facts, behind-the-scenes footage and expert commentary on the film. This feature adds a depth and more personal feel to the movie, which is so perfectly shot it’s easy to forget that actual cameras run by people (some in, some out of the water) were used to capture the hours and hours of footage. It’s interesting to learn some of the stories behind achieving such a perfect mix of story and narration.

The Blu-ray release also includes a Living Menus feature that allows viewers to select different spots on a rotating globe and get real-time information on the local wildlife. Each month, Disneynature has pledged to provide an update, adding more locations and information via an Internet connection. It's an educational plus that parents should enjoy as well, and adds an extra value to the purchase price of the Blu-ray Combo Pack.

Showcasing everything from the weird to the wonderful, Oceans is a true must-have for any nature lover’s collection. What’s truly surprising, though, is that the drama, heartbreak and humor could find Oceans on the shelves of many mainstream movie lovers as well.

Oceans is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Published on SoCal.com

 “Once upon a time, in the heart of Africa, is a lake of fire…” So begins the beautiful, unexpectedly touching tale The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos.

Disneynature’s second release after the stunning feature film earth (although filmed first), The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos was only screened in the United States at the 2009 Hamptons International Film Festival. Now available on the small screen, the rest of the country can experience the majesty and heartbreak captured over 14 months in Africa.

For many, flamingos are nothing more than lawn ornaments (or, in the case of Alice in Wonderland, croquet mallets), but these birds are truly miracles of nature. They live—and thrive—in an environment most life on earth would find unbearable. The caustic waters of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania can be as acidic as ammonia, and with temperatures as high as 130 degrees, it is, to say the least, inhospitable. Yet, for over two million years, the lesser flamingos have used it as their breeding ground, with nearly one million birds seeking mates and laying their eggs.

The nearby Maasai people are said to claim that the flamingos are made from the water’s soul
that they are the children of the lake. It is fitting, then, that The Crimson Wing follows the life of one chick from birth to young adulthood, as she migrates with her colony from Lake Natron to other lakes along Africa’s Rift Valley. From her first wobbly steps in her mother’s shadow to her gradual exploration of their little salt island, the filmmakers were dedicated to capturing the smallest of details in a new flamingo’s life.

That life is certainly not without peril. The young chicks face a variety of predators, such as marabou storks “that hover above the colony like storybook witches” threatening eggs and hatchlings; a mongoose that stalks the young chicks as they begin migrating away from Natron; a spotted hyena that attacks the colony, seeking older, weaker prey; and even the lake itself eventually takes a toll, encasing the legs of a few young birds in a salty shackle that, once hardened, cannot be removed, therefore crippling the birds who eventually get left behind the rest of the colony. These scenes are not made easy for any audience to see, but children might be particularly affected; this is nature at its most basic.

Because only lesser flamingos are featured in this film, viewers are treated to many interesting facts. For example, the baby flamingo is white and grey; only after feasting on the algae that blooms at Natron after the rainy season do their feathers, legs and eyes develop the signature bright pink hue. The more the flamingos consume, the brighter pink they get—a sign of a healthy, desirable mate.

The landscape definitely plays an important supporting role. From the harsh salt island that forms in the center of Natron to the nearby volcano that spews ash into the sky every 30 years, to thunderous clouds that bring the rain and nearly ripple-free waters that “in its stillness held heaven’s reflection,” viewers should be awed at both the minute details and the breathtaking scope captured by the high-definition cameras.

The images on-screen are visually arresting, never-before-captured moments in the flamingos’ lives. Due to the harsh conditions, it has been nearly impossible to capture these images before. The images get so up-close-and-personal, in fact, that the viewer appears to be centimeters away from the hatching of an egg. One might wonder if the filmmakers disguised themselves as birds in order to capture some of the intimate footage.

Originally released in French, the English version is beautifully narrated by Mariella Frostrup. Her voice brings to life the poetic quality of the narrative, which, along with the breathtaking visuals and the perfect score by The Cinematic Orchestra, make The Crimson Wing so much more than a nature documentary—it plays more like a visual love poem to the flamingo.

The bonus features on the DVD and Blu-ray releases (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, DVD MSRP: $29.99; Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack MSRP: $39.99) offer a glimpse at some of the efforts that went into the making of the film. “Lake Natron Diaries: Behind The Crimson Wing” offers five shorts detailing the filmmakers’ experiences during filming. “Life at the Camp” shows the accommodations of the crew during the shoot, and gives a bit more detail on what life in the wild was like; “Life of the Flamingo” gives a bit more detail on the mating and birthing habits of the pink birds; “Making Of” spills the secrets of getting such lush, detailed imagery; “Lake Natron” delves into the geological peculiarities of the titular lake; and “Music” details the creation of the unique score by The Cinematic Orchestra. Of all these pieces, “Making Of” offers the most interesting behind-the-scenes dish, detailing how the cameras captured visuals no one has been able to capture before. Another thing that jumps out at viewers is the pure joy the crew all had at making this movie. Even in such harsh conditions and with little contact with the developed world, they all seemed more than happy to trade in daily newspapers for salt flats and volcanoes.

Even more bits of info, from shooting challenges to editorial decisions, are contained in the Filmmaker Annotations on the Blu-ray disc. Unlike the usual director
’s commentary track, this is a picture-in-picture narration that gives the movie an extra dimension of personal experience.

The Blu-ray release also contain an interactive feature called “The Living Planet” in which viewers can click on spots on a globe and get real-time facts and information about the wildlife in that area, as well as current time and temperature. This feature does require an Internet connection to be fully optimized. An interesting inclusion, especially for young viewers, this bonus feature offers a new experience each time you use it.

Finally, The Crimson Wing Screensaver is a montage of music and images that capture the essence of the film in a five-minute loop. This is definitely more scenic than your last trip to Phoenix (which are, incidentally, a mythical bird inspired by the flamingo).

As with most nature films, The Crimson Wing touches on the impact humans may have on the ecosystem. According to the end card, pollution and development now threaten many African lakes, where these flamingos have reigned for 20 million years. In the words of the filmmakers, “How many more seasons of life and color do the flamingos have? And who will notice if they are gone forever?” Thanks to The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, more attention may ultimately help save these majestic, mysterious birds.

The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Published on SoCal.com

Recently, an online parents’ site was abuzz over a blog entry asking who, exactly, was the worst Disney Princess. The debate was heated, and respondents from all parts of the country weighed in with opinions from the lighthearted to the fiercely defended. Though the votes were ultimately too scattered to name any one sovereign the biggest loser, it was clear that the most beloved Disney Princess of all time was Belle.

From her kind heart, to her love of books, to her ability to rebuff the advances of the handsome but heartless Gaston, the winsome beauty possessed the qualities most cherished by mothers and daughters alike. And now, proving that good girls can win, she’s getting a diamond from Disney. On the verge of the 20th anniversary of its release next year, the three-disc Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, MSRP: $39.99) offers fans an enchanted castle’s worth of features and bonus material.

For those not familiar with this tale as old as time, here’s a brief recap: madcap inventor Maurice (Rex Everhart) and his daughter Belle (Paige O’Hara) relocate to a small town in France. While undeniably beautiful, the villagers find Belle strange and she, in turn, longs to live the kind of life she reads about in her many books. Despite her unconventional ways, the town hunk, Gaston (Richard White), has decided Belle’s destined to be his wife and begins to woo her (which mainly consists of him telling her he’s made up his mind that she will be his wife).

As her father heads off to enter his latest invention in the fair, he makes a few wrong turns and finds himself at the gates of a seemingly abandoned castle in the middle of a dark, spooky woods. He’s invited in out of the rain by unseen voices he soon learns belong to enchanted objects and settles by the fire. The chateau’s owner, a monstrous, enchanted Beast (Robby Benson), finds him there and throws him into a tower cell where Belle soon finds him.

Her reunion with her father is cut short, however, as she is confronted by the Beast. She makes a deal
her life for her father’swhich he accepts. Belle is soon being moved from the tower to a suite of rooms, where the enchanted objects try to make her feel at home, though the Beast is still temperamental and surly. What follows is their gradual change of heart toward each other, ending, as all good fairy tales do, with happily ever after.

In the Diamond Edition package, viewers get three full-length versions of the film on both the Blu-ray and DVD discs: the original, Academy Award-winning theatrical release (with Disney enhanced picture and sound fit for high-definition); an extended version with a previously deleted portion (a charming scene where the household objects clean the castle, featuring the previously deleted song “Human Again”); and the theatrical release with a picture-in-picture view of the work-in-progress version first screened at the 1991 New York Film Festival. Both discs also feature audio commentary of the extended edition by producer Don Hahn and co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, with special appearance by composer Alan Menken. Additionally, both discs feature Disney Sing Along Mode, in which the musical numbers are subtitled, karaoke style.

If you’re a fan of documentaries, Blu-ray disc number two (or disc three in the set) contains the ultimate in behind-the-scenes peeks. Presented in a format that allows the viewer to call the shots, the in-depth “Beyond Beauty
The Untold Stories” goes way beyond the usual DVD special features. Between each segment, icons offering additional information appear. If you want to know more about the topic just covered, just click on the icon and a new featurette will seamlessly begin. When it’s over, the main documentary resumes. There’s also a special menu feature that allows you to keep track of which featurettes you’ve seen or skipped. It’s interactivity at its finest, and one of the greatest examples of what the new technology is capable of.

“Beyond Beauty” begins at the very roots: the evolution of the Beauty and the Beast folk tale, from the 1700s to the present, and Walt Disney’s fascination with fairy tales in general. Then it’s off to the ’90s, as a struggling Disney animation department is downsized and shuffled off to a warehouse to make room for its live-action franchise (a move which, ultimately, reinvigorated the medium). It’s a fascinating story, told by the artists themselves, which sheds light on both the animation process and the business of making movies.

“Broadway Beginnings” features several of the actors who portrayed Belle, Gaston and even Chip in the Broadway production, including such high-profile names as Deborah Gibson, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Nick Jonas and Donny Osmond. Budding actors will get tips on launching their own careers, as well as advice on how to mount community theater productions of the popular musical.

When watching the finished film, the soundtrack seems so organic that it’s hard to imagine it without song. In “Composing a Classic,” composer Alan Menken takes viewers on an audio tour of the inspirations and versions of the songs that ended up in (and were cut from) the movie. His impromptu piano renditions are fun to watch.

Two of the most surprising entries in the bonus features are the never-before-seen deleted scene and alternate opening. Both show how differently the movie might have played out at one time. The opening sequence, for example, recasts Maurice as the more traditionally seen widowed merchant who fell on hard times. He’s got two daughters and a meddling sister-in-law to support, and his journey to the enchanted castle is quite different. The feel is so much different, even in storyboard mode, that it’s hard to imagine the steps that led from there to the movie audiences know today.

The deleted scene, featuring Belle in the library with four new enchanted objects, was tabled in the storyboard stage. It’s easy to see why, as it doesn’t add much to the story, though it’s fun to watch. One small irritant is the need to select the introduction to the scene, then return to the menu to select the scene. A simple “play all” button should have been inserted here.

Included in the Family Play section are two games: the “Enchanted Musical Challenge” game and the “Bonjour: Who is This?” game, which also utilizes ones cell phone. The games are cute, but provide very limited entertainment. Text message rates will apply, so make sure your little ones have permission to use the feature (or an unlimited plan).

A brand-new music video for the song “Beauty and the Beast” by Jordin Sparks rounds out the bonus features; a more whimsical take than the original by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson (which you can view among the original DVD special features), Sparks’ take is a beautiful tribute.

The sheer volume of bonus features is overwhelming (they can literally take days to consume), and on the Blu-ray discs, they’re a bit difficult to navigate. In the end, however, Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition is definitely a completist’s dream, and a worthy addition to any Disney collection.

Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The 2-disc standard edition DVD will be available Nov. 23.