“Tim’s Vermeer”

Have a special interest in art and love science?  See this documentary and mull over a few profound questions when you are not marveling at this inventive plodder, Tim Jenison. Jenison underbills himself as a tech geek. His company and his inventions have paid his way to study a 350 year old mystery: How did the 17th century Johannes Vermeer paint light across his canvases?

Tim has travelled (we feel like we can call this Iowa raised guy by has given name) the world to see all extant Vermeers,even to Buckingham Palace which houses “The Music Lesson”.He credits artist David Hockney and his book with lighting the spark to prove that Vermeer of “The Girl With The Pearl Earring” fame used a mirror and something like the camera obscura to blend images through a lens. Jenison aims to copy this technique by using a lens held at a 45 degree angle to paint his “Vermeer Masterpiece”. The self-deprecating  Jenison considers himself a “bathtub thinker”, and he is easy-going as he pushes the definition of what it means to be an artist painting that light.

The documentary, “Tim’s Vermeer” is also full of great music thanks to Conrad Pope.His music supports the profound questions about art and technology and the demarcations we draw between the arts and the sciences. See this for marvels galore.

“Cold In July”

I was expecting “Cold In July” with Micheal Hall of “Dexter” fame to be a thriller with glimmers of “Cape Fear”, “Straw Dogs” and Clint Eastwood revenge sparkles; but what I got was much more. Let’s say a morality tale with exquisite depth! Find this film and savor the pacing, the suspense, the characterizations and the photography of Ryan Samul. Samul’s frames of half car sides and half foreground are fresh and artful. His slow motion and pan shots campy with gas price signage, hog callers and pimped-out cars:  All capturing East Texas in 1989. One scene has Michael Hall, as Dane, turn blood-red in psychological reflection of the mayhem.

The screenplay writer, Jim Mickle, is also the director. His use of comic relief close to perfection. I would not be surprised at an Oscar nod for best book adaptation. The source material is the novel of the same name. I was so impressed with the story that I checked author Joe Lansdale out on Amazon. Unknown to me,  he is an award winning sixty-two year old Texan with over thirty novels in this thriller genre. The hardback I wished to purchase was listed for 135 dollars, and alas the used hardback was 59. Collectors have taken note.

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s son,Wyatt Russell, plays the vilest part imaginable. His character works for “The Dixie Mafia”, again a new world for me. Sam Shephard portrays Ben, the newly released ex-con, and is outstanding. His relationship with Jim Bob, played by Don Johnson is based on a Korean War experience that saved Jim Bob’s life. Age has been kind to Johnson: his eyes glint with energy to spare. Besides the war buddy history, Jim Boy bursts on the screen as a private investigator whose eccentricities steal more than a few scenes. Michael Hall is praise-worthy, too. From his wife- protecting lies to his outbursts misdirected at his toddler,Dane (Hall) moves from framer/salesman to truth-seeking macho gun slinger.

But now to the morality tale,which I can not divulge without spoiling the joy. Just let me say that this film so well mixes the strata of classes that real growth and human understanding sing out: guns and blood be damned.

“Inherent Vice”

Paul Thomas Anderson is not my kind of wunderkind. I have tried with his “Boogie Nights” 1997,and with his”Magnolia” 1999, and with his “There Will Be Blood” 2007. The “soul of America searching” does not lead me to sociopaths and psychopaths. Anderson’s “The Master” 2012 would be my favorite PTA work, but Scientology and Elmer Gantry antics lead to easy satirization,so credit is easy in coming. His “Inherent Vice” based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel left me antsy to leave the packed  audience of  thirty and forty -year -olds to their snickering. I can’t remember when I was more bored–maybe watching my ninty-year -old mother go through her envelope of grocery coupons.

The setting is my decade, and Pynchon’s. Torrance California ( of “Unbroken” fame) and its L.A.environs provide the background. A narrator is used to tell a hazy and hollow tale of a  private investigator/counsellor type named Larry “Doc” Sportello. (Joaquin Phoenix) Phoenix,who I loved in “Her”, relies on his farcical chia- pet mutton chops and stoner stare in too many close-ups. I think his nomination for best actor is a reaction to his losing for “Her” last year.The hippie culture details were evocative: the Ouija boards,astrological mutterings,the turquoise phones with rotary dials and curly cords,the weed and harder drugs,the police animosity,the easy sex and patachouli clouds, not the farts.  The theme does not come easily,maybe change in love and in loyalty. The key is the viewer does not care. The movie was too long,too nihilistic,and too “unartful”.

Josh Brolin played his type,a big-footed unsavory policeman. His chocolate-covered banana close-ups overdone. A heavier Benito del Toro was excellent in his cameo role,but not worthy of the ticket price and time wasted.The “boulevards of regret” were all mine. I liked the irreverent pizza last supper with matching tablecloth,and wish other religions would be as tolerant of needling sacred images. I worry about PTA,whose friends PSH (Phillip Seymour Hoffman)and DFW (David Foster Wallace) both offed themselves. Maybe,having a comedic partner like Maya Rudolph will keep him from black-humor burnout. Only those who get Pynchon,or enjoy the vulgar, or the silly picking of noses and toes,or like to hear pants growing should bother with this one.

“Selma”

“Come to Selma” may have been a better title for this docu-drama. Martin Luther King is given import as a Noble Peace Prize recipient, and then portrayed as a political strategist intent on capitalizing on 70 million people sympathizing with marchers demanding a vote. This is how protest is done Saul Alinsky style: orchestrating a non-violent disturbance,using negotiating,demonstrating and resistance to gain needed change. The film is a primer for knocking down status quo unfairness.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act is the subject matter here,and Martin Luther King is the community organizer with a mission to create a better world.”Come to Selma” is his rallying cry.

Cinematographer Bradford Young does an absolutely glorious job of filming. The light and dark images play across the screen in headshot close-ups,and in pastels of muted meeting rooms, and pink-lighted, floating, slow-motion tumbles of little girls’ shoes and legs. But to be visually mesmerized is not the only reason to see this film. The acting under the direction of Ava Duvernay is masterclass worthy. David Ogelowo’s facial expressions let ussee the joys and the agonies of giving oneself over to a cause. Tom Wilkinson, as President Johnson, shows his impatience with “all that was on his plate” (Vietnam Nam included) without diminishing his good intentions and ultimate accomplishment.

Ava Duvernay in her womanly direction strengthens  the touching scene between Coretta Scott King and her husband,  as Cory tells Martin that she knows what he sounds like and that the crank call ( probably J.E.Hoover  instigated) was not worthy of her angst. She then asks her husband if he loves her and if he ever loved the others. Carmen Ejogo is simply exquisite. Dignity is paramount and MLK never loses it. The praying on bended knee mid-bridge and the quiet conversations with John Lewis, Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy and Malcolm X are histories videoed. The viewer goes away with missing the cadences of his speeches,but awe struck at this man slain at the young age of 39. That we all could make such a difference is what this film inspires.

“God’s Pocket”

Directed by John Slattery and co-written by Alex Metcalf, “God’s Pocket” is based on the 1983 novel by Pete Dexter. I won’t be reading it, nor will I be viewing the film again.

The cinematography is dull and lifeless and the script worse. I want to say this would work better as black comedy; it is so faulty- cliché filled. So, if you feel it is fun to watch all seven deadly sins committed view “God’s Pocket”, which evidently refers to a Hell’s pocket section in South Philly that the inhabitants renamed.Hubris, Sloth,Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony and Anger all raise their ugly backsides. Dissolution is personified.

The film makes one cringe at the stereotypes of the “gun-slinging mama”, the “deluded playboy” and the “busty Italian”. The bartender, something like the mayor of the enclave, turns on the lights only to see the “cockroaches” scatter. What a depressing film that leaves the audience feeling like the poor deserve laughs. The paper bag “ask-back”, the big- eared photo and the tossed-out corpse could not have lifted Philip Seymour Hoffman’s spirit, and this film deadened mine.

“The Chef”

“The Chef” is a foodie’s comedy/slice of life piece that delights! Whether it is the passion of creating butter-slathered grilled cheeses, Cubanos or sizzled sauces that draws one in, this film centers on parenting and work, and how children are often excluded when they need not be. Emjay Anthony is adorable as a kid that anyone would wish to call his/her own. A softer Sofia Vergara is lovely as the insightful nurturer, and Robert Downey Jr. is more than memorable as the phobia ridden ex with ADHD. Dustin Hoffman adds another character to his repertoire, and Scarlett Johansson does her thing as the sexy confidant. One wonders how Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed and starred in “The Chef” could get so many “sous-chefs” into his “kitchen”. No one upstages another. Oliver Platt is a natural gustatory critic. Comedic actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo both add a special zest to a beautiful cast.

“The Chef” is so freshly current with its social media, with its “lay your hits” marketing philosophy, with its undocumented workers, that the audience immediately connects, or at least recognizes the lay of modern culture.

The music is so engaging that several patrons danced out of their seats and down the aisle as they left the theater. Tito Puente comes to mind. And “Mr. Bone Tangle” and the street artist highlighted our chef’s past laments. This film will cause me to research M. Favreau, who must love and respect women and it not afraid to show his softer side.

“A Most Wanted Man”

Espionage reigns this year and most years. Trust, motivation and ideology interest us. From the popularity of MI5 re-runs, to the publication of Ben MacIntyre’s book “A Spy Among Friends”, to the brilliant film ” The Imitation Game”, to the young adult novel “Code Name, Verity”, saboteurs of all types and genders intrigue. Counter-intelligence is murky and morally suspect, and sometimes necessary. “A Most Wanted Man” is so bleak and haunting that resignation sets in for the viewer. Yet, Director Anton Corbijn”s “A Most Wanted Man” captivates us, too. Based on the John Le Carre novel, Andrew Bovell”s screenplay crafts a cynical and twisted plotline, while a splendid cast has us cringing in our seats. Never have I been so tense while hoping that a charitable gift remain as initially written! John Le Carre is a best selling spy novelist for a reason.

The cast makes this a ” must see “,too. Flawless acting by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is restrained and explosive at the same time, and actors Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Rachel McAdams add depth and irony and obsessive weariness.

The cool, industrial frames of Hamburg are beautifully stark, and the beginning wave-sloshing shot reminds us to look below the surface.The film was morally disturbing and it brings up the question, “Who was the man”most wanted”? Could it be the man we most miss?