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: 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:

New in Theaters: ‘Begin Again’ Sings

Keira Knightley (left), Mark Ruffalo (right), and a passel of ready-for-anything musicians in 'Begin Again' (Weinstein Company)

Keira Knightley (left), Mark Ruffalo (right), and a passel of ready-for-anything musicians in ‘Begin Again’ (Weinstein Company)

When John Carney made the incomparable Dublin street-musical Once, he ginned up magic from the mundane. With the glitzier and slightly more stock Begin Again, he uses the same starry-eyed formula for almost equally wonderful results.

Begin_Again1Begin Again is playing now around the country. My review is at Film Racket:

Nothing in Begin Again, a grin-machine Roman candle of a film, should work. It features more cliches than should be legally allowed. A starry-eyed and uncompromising songwriter. A bum music producer needing one last shot. A rising star who just dumped the songwriter to get busy losing his soul. The comic relief guy. A fractured family that just needs their dad to get his act together. A basket full of dreams. Some beautiful songs that just need to be heard. New. York. City. But writer/director John Carney gets away with it, whipping through the stock situations with a hummingbird-light grace….

Here’s the trailer: