The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos (G, 2008, Disneynature)
The nature documentary DVD landscape has been significantly enriched over the last year by the sweeping likes of “Life,” “Earth” and “Oceans” (both the BBC miniseries and the feature-length Disneynature release). But an onslaught of epics has no bearing on the value of a film like “The Crimson Wing,” which hones in on one subject — the life cycle of the flamingo — but inspires as much awe per minute as the genre’s best can conjure. That’s a credit to the film, which follows the cycle from birth through migration to maturation and back to birth and, from the astounding footage it collects, tells a story that at different times is adorable, funny, heartbreaking, triumphant and just plain astonishing. But all that footage wouldn’t be worth a thing if the species being captured on it wasn’t such a staggering model of family and efficiency. Flamingos travel in packs large enough to resemble moving, nomadic landmasses, and watching a stream of chicks march in formation across Tanzania like they’ve been trained to do so is so jaw-dropping as to be humbling. “Wing” devotes a large portion of its time to the journey of one chick in particular, and with respect to all those wonderful epics, his reaction to touching water for the first time might be the moment that outshines them all.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, filmmaker annotations, “Living Planet” interactive learning tool.
— Also available from Disneynature: “Oceans” (G, 2009). Not to be confused with the excellent BBC miniseries, but, thanks to a similar production ethos that powered “Wing,” not to be missed, either. Pierce Brosnan narrates. Extras include bonus footage, a “Disney & Nature” feature, filmmaker annotations and a music video.
Smash His Camera (PG-13, 2010, Magnolia)
Among scum, Ron Galella is royalty — one of the original purveyors of paparazzi photography, a man whose storeroom of old Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Marlon Brando and Andy Warhol photos (among numerous others) could furnish multiple museums. “Smash His Camera” is his story, and it’s a magnificently enjoyable tribute regardless of whether you think the body of work merits celebration or scorn. Galella’s personal story is a predictably important facet of the film, and “Camera” provides him equal opportunity to demonstrate his shameless appetite for charm as well as the intricacies of his photographic technique. But “Camera” doesn’t just dote on its subject, nor does it merely acknowledge its responsibility to join the debate over whether paparazzi are journalists or stalkers. To the contrary, it thrives on the argument and makes it the centerpiece of the whole arrangement. Very few of the film’s interviewees mince words, and neither “Carmera” nor Galella himself shy away from the fact that Onassis, far and away his favorite subject, twice took him to court in hopes of making him disappear. The film does not take sides in the issue, it does not editorialize beyond the views of its subjects, and it does not expect anyone watching to do differently. Instead, it throws the kindle into the ring, arranges it for maximum entertainment effect, and lights one seriously fun fire that burns for the entirely of its runtime.
Extras: Galella/director/producers commentary, deleted/extended scenes, gallery of Galella’s favorite photos.
The Psycho Legacy (NR, 2010, Shout Factory)
The tagline for “The Psycho Legacy” states that it’s the “ultimate retrospective for the most influential horror series of all time,” and there’s a word in there that may surprise some people. That word also may be the best reason to see this no-nonsense documentary, which spends the entirety of its 87 minutes letting those connected with and influenced by the “Psycho” films do all the talking without any narrative intervention beyond visual aids. Naturally, the 1960 original — whose 50th birthday likely dictated the timing of this release — is the anchor, and the stories about the tricks Alfred Hitchock used and the taboos he eradicated run second only to the effect the film had on Anthony Perkins’ prospects as a likable film lead. But even those who have seen “Psycho” may not realize it’s merely the first in a series that also spawned two sequels and a prequel in the 30 years that followed. “Legacy” wouldn’t even exist were it not for that first movie, but its deconstruction of the other three movies — their justifications for being, what they added to the Norman Bates canon, and especially Perkins’ enthusiastic participation in continuing the story — might be the best reason to see this. The film is never flashy, and it really isn’t anything more than a compilation of interview snippets glued together, but those interviews are more than entertaining enough to make this a terrific watch.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, panel discussion with Perkins, reunion panel, two “Psycho II” behind-the-scenes features, feature on “Psycho” memorabilia collector Guy Thorpe, Bates Motel tour, “‘Psycho’ on the Web” feature, serial killer-inspired art gallery.
Until the Light Takes Us (NR, 2008, Factory 25)
“Until the Light Takes Us” pitches itself as an all-encompassing answer to a lot of questions and misconceptions about Norwegian black metal. For a slice of the movie-watching public, it likely fulfills some of that promise. But if you lack even elementary knowledge of Norwegian black metal — and don’t kid yourself, chances are you do — this might leave you asking more questions coming out than you had going in. “Light” devotes a large chunk of its time to select musicians — most notably, Varge Vikernes of Barzum and Fenriz of Darkthrone — and it touches on how the movement grew, captured imaginations, courted controversy, became attached to church burnings and other heinous crimes, and eventually drove some of its stars down bad roads. What “Light” doesn’t do, though, is really share the experience with outside. There’s barely any performance footage in the film, and little attempt is made to paint an accessible picture of what elevated this scene from total obscurity to the fringe of the public consciousness. “Light” staggers erratically with its storytelling, and at its best, it resembles a 90-minute collection of anecdotes and insights that fans already familiar with the big picture will enjoy. But some of those same fans might also bemoan “Light’s” refusal to ask uncomfortable questions about all that controversy. Some subjects — particularly Vikernes, who was convicted of murdering a former bandmate — open up without prompting, but they leave some obvious followup questions unanswered, and “Light” doesn’t act on them.
Extras: Alternate ending, outtakes.
Video Games Live: Level 2 (NR, 2010, Shout Factory)
Video game fans already know what most of rest of the public does not: Some of the best music composition happening today, across a wide swath of genres, is happening in the service of video game background music. Soundtracks for games are an increasingly prevalent commodity, and with the advent of the Video Games Live concert series, they’ve become legit fodder for live performance as well. Though it’s not the same as being there, “Video Games Live: Level 2” is a pretty good representation of what the live show’s all about, mixing in music from different genres and games (everything from “Super Mario Bros.” to “Civilization IV” to “Guitar Hero” and “Mass Effect”) and finding clever ways to incorporate interactivity and other tenets of those games into the production. The feature presentation is a pretty straightforward taping of a live performance, but “Level 2” also insert some brief interviews and behind-the-scenes musics between numbers. The music is the star of the DVD, but these bits, combined with the behind-the-scenes content in the bonus features, offer some enjoyable
insight into the show’s conception, growth and future.
Extras: Creator commentary, “Tetris” 25th anniversary feature (the box calls it a documentary, but it’s three minutes long so don’t get excited), “Dragon’s Lair” making-of feature, interviews, two behind-the-scenes features, music video.
Accidentally on Purpose: The DVD Edition (NR, 2009, CBS/Paramount)
A lot of sitcoms reach cancelation before they reach their second season. Some are unjustly taken before their time; the rest are bad or bland enough to overstay their welcome by week two. So “Accidentally on Purpose” deserves some commendation for being that rare sitcom that gets canceled right on time. “Purpose” centers around Billie (Jenna Elfman), whose one-night stand with a much younger Zack (Jon Foster) gets her pregnant. The good news is that Zack wants to stick around. The bad news is that Zack’s friends (Nicolas Wright, Pooch Hall) also want to stick around, as does the commitment-phobic James (Grant Show), whom Billie just broke up with but who remains her boss. Having that many pieces in acute roles pushes “Purpose” into a bit of a storytelling corner from the start, and it strains not to harp on the same material week in and out en route to the payoff we all know is waiting in episode 18. Elfman is funny and likable, as she always is, and while the show feels a little stale in its allegiance to the laugh track, it’s pretty consistently amusing. At the same time, the characters pretty much run their course by the last episode, which also wraps up the story rather neatly. The cast and crew may mourn the lack of a second season, but it’s probably for the best that it ends this way.
Contents: 18 episodes.
Holy Rollers (R, 2010, Vivendi)
Twenty-year-old Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) has spent his whole life obediently following the strict customs of his Hasidic upbringing, but all the good behavior isn’t doing much good for his bottom (he makes a pittance working for his father) or personal life (even an arranged marriage seems to elude him). When Sam’s brother Yosef (Justin Bartha) fosters an opportunity to make real money delivering so-called “medicine” (wink, wink, it’s ecstasy) for an Israeli smuggler, he reluctantly accepts. And when that job drives him into a wild underground full of nightclubs and vampish women, he’s too frozen to do anything but roll with it. That, unfortunately, is a problem that plagues “Holy Rollers” as well. Sam’s story is based on true events, and there’s an undeniable coming-of-age vibe to the arc it takes. But be it due to biographical accuracy or writing that just falls short, neither Sam nor the company he keeps develop into anything beyond moderately evolve versions of the dramatic archetypes they were when we found them. “Rollers” plods along predictably and ramps up when and how you expect it to, and it hits the customary notes movies like these need to hit not to be bad. Sure enough, this isn’t bad either, but that’s about as spirited as the complimentary language gets.
Extras: Eisenberg/Bartha/director commentary, deleted scenes, interviews.