New on DVD: ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden’

Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter in their Galapagos garden, c. 1932 (Zeitgeist Films)

Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter in their Galapagos garden, c. 1932 (Zeitgeist Films)

galapagos affair-dvd coverA 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:

New in Theaters: Nick Cave is Still Alive in ‘20,000 Days on Earth’

Nick Cave drives to parts unknown with Kylie Minogue in '20,000 Days on Earth' (Drafthouse Films)

Nick Cave drives to parts unknown with Kylie Minogue in ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ (Drafthouse Films)

20,000 Days on Earth is a meta-fictional documentary about Nick Cave, art, life, death, and above all writing. It’s beautiful and transfixing and is opening in limited release this Wednesday.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The last thing that audiences need is another documentary about the greatness of another band or artist of the past. It’s all too easy once artists have their glory days behind them to lock all that rough chaos up into a neatly packaged movie, maybe a box set filled with B-sides and rarities. That doesn’t mean that the likes of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Finding Fela and A Band Called Death aren’t worthy films. But today’s documentary audiences could be forgiven for thinking that to be a music fan today is akin to being an archivist. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s new documentary about Australian Goth-poet Nick Cave is a long overdue reversal of that nostalgic trend…

You can see the trailer here:

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:

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:

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: ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’ Probes Activist’s Suicide

Aaron Swartz: 'The Internet's Own Boy' (Filmbuff)

Aaron Swartz: ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’ (Filmbuff)

Netzien Aaron Swartz’s suicide was a rallying cry for many in the tightly-wired community of online activists. The story of this 26-year-old’s short, dramatic, impassioned life makes up the new activist documentary The Internet’s Own Boy.

The Internet’s Own Boy is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Maybe it’s something about Boston. For the second time this summer we’re seeing a documentary hinging on bad behavior in the city’s federal law-enforcement community. Although Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger paints a damning portrait of prosecutor indiscretion, Brian Knappenberger’s melodramatic, idealistic The Internet’s Own Boyis more troubling. That could be because in Berlinger’s case, it’s hard to get worked up about the mishandling of a case against the screamingly guilty and murderous Bulger, whereas with Knappenberger the victim is a widely beloved 26-year-old Internet activist who hung himself, arguably after being zealously hounded by the government. That the film doesn’t quite prove, or try to prove, that (as one unseen voice has it) “[Swartz] was killed by the government,” it makes for disturbing viewing nonetheless…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Whitey’ Gives its Subject Too Much Credit

whitey1

‘Whitey’ Bulger in his younger years (Magnolia Pictures)

whitey-posterJoe Berlinger has worked on some amazing true-crime documentaries over the years, not least the ground-breaking Paradise Lost trilogy. With Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, though, he (inadvertently or not) buoys the facetious mythology of Southie crime boss ‘Whitey’ Bulger as some noble gangster.

Whitey opens today in limited release and will probably show up on cable later in the year. My review is at Film Racket:

Fortuitously hitting theaters well before Scott Cooper’s fictional (and likely mythological) take on Bulger’s life, Whitey doesn’t try to be the feature-length nonfiction take on the South Boston crime lord. Instead, true-crime documentarian Berlinger zeros in on the sort of thing he normally does best: the trial itself…

Here’s the trailer: