New in Theaters: ‘The Green Prince’

The art of espionage in 'The Green Prince' (Music Box Films)

The art of espionage in ‘The Green Prince’ (Music Box Films)

Wars aren’t fought just by armies and weapons. They also need intelligence, which requires spies, who often need to betray everyone around them. It’s a tricky business.

The Green Prince, about a Palestinian who risked his life to spy for Israel, opens tomorrow in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

Restrained, clinical, and yet full-hearted, The Green Prince is one of the year’s, and maybe ultimately the decade’s, great spy stories. A two-hander about betrayal, shame, honor, and murky motivations, it includes nothing more than two men — one an Israeli intelligence operative and the other his Palestinian source — telling their part of a sprawling and many years’ long operation to undermine Hamas. Director Nadav Schirman stitches together their crisp, well-honed interview segments with a textured mosaic of surveillance footage and the fortunately occasional live-action reenactment into a nearly seamless whole. The result both outdoes the invented drama of many a spy thriller and raises more ethical quandaries than can be easily dispensed with…

You can see the trailer here:

Screening Room: The Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies That Never Were

Production art from Alejandro Jodorowsky's never-produced 'Dune' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Production art from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never-produced ‘Dune’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Sometimes it can be better to think about the possibilities of those great unrealized what-if film projects of legend than to actually see them made. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s I Am Legend, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs spinoff; there’s a lot of possibilities there for genius, but also insane overreach.

In the interest of indulging the what if side of things, I posted a highly subjective list at Short Ends & Leader of the “Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies That Never Were“:

Even were it not for the mental anguish brought about by the revival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would be obvious we live in strange times, cinematically speaking. To wit: Every other movie playing in theaters features alien invasions, bionic bodysuit weaponry, time travel, or a half-dozen other elements that make a geeky kid’s heart beat just that much faster. You would think, then, that studios would be dusting off every science-fiction script their D-girls passed on over the past couple decades and working out how to put Matthew McConaughey in it…


New in Theaters: ‘Take Me to the River’

Even Snoop Dog is in 'Take Me to the River' (Social Capital Films, LLC)

Even Snoop Dog is in ‘Take Me to the River’ (Social Capital Films, LLC)

Memphis’s deeply knotted influence on American music gets a timely celebration in the new documentary Take Me to the River, opening this Friday in limited release and then later around the country.

My review is at Film Journal International:

There’s no end of love flowing off the screen in Martin Shore’s thrilled-to-be-here celebration of the Memphis Sound. That should be no surprise, given the legends that longtime producer and (clearly) first-time director Shore assembled for a promising marriage of old and new schools of music. The list of onscreen talent is deep, from Mavis Staples and Charlie Musselwhite to rapper Al Kapone and a bench of murderously talented session men. The organizing principle is that by joining different traditions and generations in the recording studio, the film can divine the source of that alchemical magic Memphis music has produced over the years. It also wants to serve as a monument to these heroes, a few of whom passed away before the film was finished…

You can see the trailer here:

Writer’s Corner: Staying Out of the Rain

Crowd at a Harvard-Princeton football game, Nov. 8, 1913. (Library of Congress)

Crowd at a Harvard-Princeton football game, Nov. 8, 1913. (Library of Congress)

There are plenty of good reasons to become a writer—excepting of course a desire for money, fame, or respectability.

In “Phi Beta Football,” a football-season essay for the New Yorker about his childhood watching Princeton football games, John McPhee identifies another superb reason to devote one’s life to the written word:

…on a November Saturday of cold, wind-driven rain—when I was about ten—I was miserable on the stadium sidelines. The rain stung my eyes, and I was shivering. Looking up at the press box, where I knew there were space heaters, I saw those people sitting dry under a roof, and decided then and there to become a writer.

Department of Weekend Reading: September 5, 2014


New in Theaters: ‘Last Days in Vietnam’ Revisits the End of a Mistake

South Vietnamese try to get on one of the last American choppers out of Saigon, 1975 (American Experience Films / Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

South Vietnamese try to get on one of the last American choppers out of Saigon, 1975 (American Experience Films / Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

No wars end gracefully; some end more tragically than others. That truism is elegantly dramatized in the wrenching documentary Last Days in Vietnam, which opens tomorrow in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

The stark simplicity of Rory Kennedy’s masterful and Oscar-worthy Last Days in Vietnam stands in contrast to the drama of this complex and little discussed historical moment. When modern wars end, they are normally summed up in terms of strategies and battles, of winners and losers, how they impacted the great game of geopolitical gamesmanship. Except in the cases of spectacular events like the firebombing of Axis cities during World War II, the fates of civilians are rarely discussed. The Vietnam War isn’t much different. One of the factors that makes Kennedy’s film stand out is how it refuses to look away from one “burning question” about the end of the war: “Who goes … and who gets left behind?”…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: A Stroll Through ‘Memphis’

Willis Earl Beal in 'Memphis' (Kino Lorber)

Willis Earl Beal in ‘Memphis’ (Kino Lorber)

Musician Willis Earl Beal ambles and agitates through Memphis in this half-film and half-art performance piece that feels like something Jim Jarmusch might have done if he’d never left town after shooting Mystery Train.

Memphis is opening Friday in extremely limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Beal is a musician with a cranky disposition and wild talent—that much we can divine. The film is at first a chronicle of his procrastination. He appears to owe an album to somebody but can’t find inspiration. Fighting off boredom and anomie, Beal walks and drives the tree-shaded streets of Memphis. He lives for a time in a large, beautiful home where the only furniture is a mattress and a never-installed, stubbornly symbolic chandelier. Later on, he starts falling through the cracks, moving into a one-legged friend’s cheap rooms and then into the woods, where he ruminates and burns things like an outsider artist stewing over his inner demons…

You can see the trailer here: