Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter in their Galapagos garden, c. 1932 (Zeitgeist Films)
A Nietszche-loving disgruntled German doctor and his worshipful, sickly wife; a “Baroness” who believes no man can resist her; an isolated island; weaponry and jealousy. How could anything go wrong? The story of how it really, really did is the subject of The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, one of the year’s curiouser documentaries.
The Galapagos Affair is on DVD and Blu-ray now. My review is at PopMatters:
In 1929, a certain kind of European man apparently thought nothing of packing up and moving himself and his family to a remote cluster of islands far off the coast of Ecuador … The first couple to arrive on the tiny and uninhabited island of Floreana was Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch. From his and Dore’s writings, it’s clear that Friedrich was a walking stereotype of the clueless Germanic intellectual, so slavishly devoted to his beloved Nietzsche that reality didn’t stand a chance. A successful doctor who believed society to be “a huge impersonal monster,” Friedrich moved them to Floreana in order to “make an Eden.” That they were both married at the time to other people and didn’t know much of anything about surviving in the wild wasn’t deemed an obstacle…
Here’s the trailer:
One of last year’s great but overlooked dramas and one of its better-than-average FX blockbusters are hitting DVD and Blu-ray today.
John Wells’ star-stocked adaptation of Tracey Letts’ sprawling and brawling Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan is perhaps a little too truncated but mostly hits it out of the park. For once, Julia Roberts proves herself to be not only not done with acting but able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Meryl Streep. Full review
The second of Peter Jackson’s all-too-much trilogy on The Hobbit packs in even more non-Tolkien material to its middle-part travelogue following the intrepid dwarves and hobbit on their way to steal back the stolen riches of Smaug the dragon. Better by far than the first bloated entry, and possessed of a greater sense of rollicking adventure, still in need of a good pruning. Full review
Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung compare styles in ‘The Grandmaster’
The great Hong Kong romantic Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love) hadn’t completed a feature film since 2007’s misfire My Blueberry Nights. So it was pretty good news to hear that his latest film was going to be a classic martial-arts extravaganza, reuniting Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi with The Matrix choreographer Yuen Wo Ping.
The Grandmaster, which received well-deserved Oscar nominations for cinematography and costume design, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday. My review is at PopMatters:
“Don’t tell me about your teacher,” says Ip Man (Tony Leung) at the start of Wong Kar Wai’s dreamlike heartbreak of a kung fu film, The Grandmaster, “or brag about your style.” Using that same steady humility flecked with a hint of the sardonic that’s made Leung such a crucial counterweight to the Hong Kong school of overkill filmmaking, he preemptively bleeds the hot air out of what’s to follow. This is a good thing, because that scene is intercut with the already-legendary scene in which Ip Man faces down a dozen or so adversaries in pouring rain. He dispatches them all with practiced ease but not a whiff of arrogance, just as the real Ip Man’s student Bruce Lee would do on film decades later…
Here’s the trailer:
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, still romancing each other in ‘Before Midnight’
In 1995, Richard Linklater impressed with Before Sunrise, a sharp, talky piece about Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a traveling American who meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a beguiling young French woman, on a train. Nine years later, in Before Sunset, the two meet again, nine years older. Both films were redolent with romantic longing and possibility. Now in Before Midnight, the two are married, and it doesn’t seem like mere love is going to cut it anymore.
Before Midnight is available today on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket; here’s part of it:
Before Midnight turns out to be a bright, good-humored, and painfully combative love story that stings more than it soothes. In it, modern cinema’s most enduring couple discovers what life is like after peeling back the veil of conjoined love and discovering the specters of selfishness lurking behind. Every moment of this swift yet relaxed film (time-compressed like the first two, it all happens over just one sunny day and moonlit evening) feels like a negotiation or a skirmish, viciously fought…
You can watch the trailer here:
Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker play Benedick and Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
The best of this week’s DVD releases comes to us courtesy of Joss Whedon. His bright and sparkling black-and-white adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing differs from most other takes on Shakespeare’s comedies for actually being…funny.
My full review is at Film Journal International:
While cleaving away some of Shakespeare’s more dragging plot points, Whedon hews to the original text. He also lets the plot breathe and move at its own quick pace, trusting the audience not to require the anxious pushiness of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version…
You can watch the trailer here:
Brad Pitt tries to save his family in ‘World War Z’
In case you missed the last zombie apocalypse to come running into theaters with bloody abandon, World War Z is out today on DVD, Blu-ray, and all other home viewing media.
My review of the summer’s surprise hit (all that talk of reshoots and budget problems), Brad Pitt vs. the Flesh-Eating Undead, can be found at Film Journal International; here’s part:
Zombies are people, too. That’s one truth understood by the better stories in the genre, from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. At no moment in Marc Forster’s churning and unfocused World War Z are the rampaging CGI hordes of the undead made to appear like anything more than swarming bits of computer code. Many of the human actors don’t fare much better…
The rather vague ending left a gaping opening for a sequel, which is apparently being planned right now but has not been officially greenlit yet.
Here’s the trailer:
Rock Hudson discovers his new life isn’t so much better than the old one in ‘Seconds’
In the 1960s, as the old Hollywood studio system started to fall apart, an increasingly paranoid style started creeping into the era’s thrillers. John Frankenheimer’s films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May made a point of undercutting trust in just about every American institution in sight.
The most terrifying of Frankenheimer’s ’60s paranoia-noirs, though, was 1966’s Seconds, which I wrote about for PopMatters:
A bleak and noirish Frankenstein thriller whose DNA is threaded with zeitgeist-heavy satire, Seconds attacks a cherished American myth: the belief that everybody can start over. It takes a science-fiction concept—advanced surgery transforms somebody’s appearance so they can live life as an entirely new person—and turns it into both terrifying existential drama and black comedy. While those earlier Frankenheimer films channeled the anti-establishment distrust gnawing at the postwar American consensus, Seconds tweaked the pretensions of the post-Beat, proto-hippie self-awareness movement that promised to wipe away all the problems of modern life in a blaze of enlightenment and spiritual rebirth…
Seconds was just released in beautiful new DVD and Blu-ray editions from Criterion.
Check out the trailer here: