It happened during my first school field trip where we traveled to our city’s zoo. We were in the lion house and I remembered how the pungent smell hung in the still air. I felt I was inhaling musky cotton balls. The big cats were one of my favorite animals so it was worth the odor to be up close to them. While standing in front of one cage with a pacing male lion, a park attendant who was stationed by one of the main entrances announced to all the visitors they would have to remain in the lion house. The reason was one of the animals had escaped from their enclosure outside. It turned out it was one of the zoo’s star attractions, a large silverback gorilla. My classmates and I were nervously excited with all the commotion this caused throughout the crowd around us. Until the gorilla was captured we spent enough time in the lion house to see the animals being fed by park assistants. I recall how frightening it looked to me to see how the lions would attack their fleshy meal. Back then it made sense to me that the animals were in cages for our protection. Little did I know that the time would come where they were there for their protection. From directors Alastair Fothergill (Chimpanzee, Earth) and Keith Scholey (African Cats) this documentary followed one family of bears in Alaska for one year, from coming out of hibernation to preparing for its return. If for nothing else I have to tip my hat to the movie studio for providing exquisite footage of the bears’ habitat. I have visited Alaska and it was breathtaking to see. The camera work not only provided a true sense of the state, but the close-up work in filming the animals was wonderful. Personally I would have liked more facts about the life of the bears but that was just my own tastes. The studio wanted to make a film that was entertaining so I understood why they had John C. Reilly (We Need to Talk to Kevin, Carnage) as the narrator. Children will probably enjoy the humorous spin he put on the animals’ actions; I just happened to find it odd attaching human emotions to animals. Either way this film was an enjoyable experience. I will say my opinion about zoos has changed as an adult now; there are still ones out there that are simply prisons. Once you view this film you just might agree with me.
2 3/4 stars
Perched at the edge of the railing all we could see was the ocean’s slow rolling exhale along its surface. Walls of cold white ice surrounded us as they tried catching our eyes with a spark of reflective bright sunshine. In the still quiet I heard the sound of something cracking. It grew louder into an echoing rumble. Before me I saw a huge slab of white wall snap apart and slide into the ocean below, leaving a trail of icy crumbs. This was the experience I had in Glacier Bay, Alaska; witnessing the calving of a glacier. The idea that I may never see this part of nature again saddens me. Watching this documentary was breathtaking. I am a product of the creative left side of my brain working in tandem with the scientific right side; as I result, I had a deeper appreciation for the way this film handled the subject matter. National Geographic photographer James Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey in 2007. Its mission has been to record the shrinkage of glaciers. There are 34 cameras stationed at 16 glaciers, taking photographs every hour year round. In this movie there was amazing, exquisite footage of James’ hiking along several glaciers, looking for the perfect setting for a photo shoot. As a visual experience I was enthralled seeing places I would never have the opportunity to visit on my own. Helping James in his endeavors were Svavar Jonatansson and Adan LeWinter. Director Jeff Orlowski did an admirable job just based on the working conditions alone. Once the photographs were compiled into a time-lapsed video it was startling to see the change in the glaciers’ sizes. There was no political agenda being fostered on the viewer; in fact, James used to be a skeptic of global warming. This film festival winner left me and the other viewers in the theater stunned. Something so simple as taking a picture made a profound impact on all of us.
3 1/2 stars
Ultimately one must lead the life they choose for themselves, not the one someone has chosen for them. I remember years ago when I was between jobs, I received a great piece of advice: Do what you love and the money will follow. My mother always wanted me to be an accountant; yet, I knew I could never be one. The creative side of my mind would have shriveled up. Even when it comes to one’s personal tastes; do not let people impose their tastes on you. It is funny, no matter what length my hair was, my dad would always tell me to wear it differently. If it was long, he would tell me to cut it and if it was short, he would tell me to grow it out. It was maddening at times. Based on a true story; Chris McCandles, played by Emile Hirsch (Killer Joe, Speed Racer), had to live life the way he felt it was meant to be lived. Seeing the life his parents Billie and Walt McCandles, played by Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River, The Mist) and William Hurt (The Incredible Hulk, Vantage Point), were living; Chris did not want any part of it. After graduating from Emory University, Chris decided to get rid of his material possessions and hitchhike to Alaska, to live with nature. His journey would lead him to unexpected adventures. Written and directed by Sean Penn (Milk, 21 Grams), this was a stunning movie. Sean slowly brought out an amazing performance from Emile; both in acting and with the incredible physical transformation that took place. The supporting cast never felt out of place; they added shading to the adventures. Some viewers may think Chris McCandles was crazy to do what he did. I felt it was better to try something, even if it were to fail; than go through life wondering what would have happened, if I had only tried.
3 1/3 stars — DVD