Tim’s Vermeer

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I saw this nifty film on my flight back from China. Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary about a friend of Penn Jennett, the magician, who has always loved to tinker and invent. Tim Jenison, who has a software company and earned buckets of money creating various kinds of software, gets fascinated by Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Vermeer made no records of how he worked and his paintings intrigued Tim because they have such an illuminated, photographic quality. As an inventor, Tim knows a lot about optics and lenses (and all sorts of engineering sorts of things). He believes that Vermeer must have used optics to paint and he goes about trying to replicate Vermeer’s technique.

The film demonstrates camera obscura’s and explains the inventions of the day. Narrated by his old school pal, Jennet, the film follows Tim through the lengthy process of recreating Vermeer’s studio and getting the lens apparatus to work. Tim is not a painter, but with this technique, which is quite cool, that’s not a hindrance. David Hockney appears in a few scenes to comment on whether Tim’s on the right track, whether this method might be right.

It’s fun to see a smart amateur take on such a project.  It’s a short film and Tim is very down to earth. I cheered him on as he explored this fascination with Vermeer.

Woman in Green

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Last week I had trouble blogging as the Chinese seem to be keen on blocking VPNs. So I have been catching up on old movies for my New Year’s resolution, I just haven’t been able to blog about them.

I enjoyed The Woman in Green, a Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone ad Sherlock and Nigel Bruce as Watson. The pair set the standard for Sherlock and Watson and I appreciate a Sherlock who consistently shows his good humor towards his sidekick’s foibles.

In The Woman in a rich older man, Sir George Fenwick meets and alluring younger woman. After a night out with her he awakes in a cheap hotel room unable to recall how he got there. When he finds a severed finger of a woman in his pocket, he fears that he’s involved in a series of murders. He’s soon blackmailed.

The police are perplexed by the murders and call in Holmes and Watson, who happened to see Sir George out with a beautiful blonde. Sir George’s daughter brings the finger which she dug up after she saw her father burying something suspicious in their yard. When Holmes and Watson go to interview Sir George, they find him dead. Soon Holmes suspects Moriarty‘s involved.

The movie still entertains without getting quite as gruesome as a more modern depiction might. Rathbone portrays Holmes as a sophisticated genius, who may be a trifle arrogant, but has the social skills to smooth problems over as needed. It’s a classic mystery, still fun to watch.

     

    Het Diner/The Dinner

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    Amazingly, Dutch film The Dinner has no characters that I liked, just one that I could pity, yet managed to keep me fascinated. Paul, the main character, has been out of work for years. His insertion of extreme political ideas in his history classes cost him his job. In contrast, his brother Serge is a successful politician on the verge of running for Prime Minister. The film centers on a dinner the brothers and their wives have so they can discuss how to deal with a troubling YouTube video of their sons harassing a homeless woman.

    Paul narrates the film and offers some background on what happened to his family that influenced his son to get him to this place, how Paul’s temper and prejudices surfaced when he tried to repay a shop owner whose window his son broke and how he reacts to the principal who called him to discuss the extreme ideas his son used in an essay.

    The dinner at a chic restaurant, that Paul could never afford, suspense and tension builds and slowly the nature of the son’s crime gets revealed. The characters surprise with their responses that I’d never have predicted. It’s a thoroughly modern film that grabbed my attention and held it.

    Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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    Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom seems to be a warts and all depiction of Nelson Mandela’s life and work with the ANC. Till I saw the film, I pictured Nelson Mandela as akin to Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., both advocates of nonviolence. I guess this wrong impression is due to my believing rock stars and Amnesty International way too much. Wait a minute. I remember studying South Africa in high school and while the discussions seemed to go in circles and De Klerk was mentioned, but I don’t recall discussing Mandela, who must have been in prison then.

    The film does show how Mandela advocated violence and how much violence against the government and citizens, both white and black occurred. Winnie Nelson was also shown as advocating violence, even urging her followers to kill spies. The film shows mobs chasing and beating a neighbor to death. who reported ANC plans to the police.

    Idris Elba offers a solid performance as Mandela. I liked Naomie Harris as Winnie, but wanted the film to provide more depth to her character, to give her more context. She’s only seen in terms of her husband and her own leadership. No defining scenes with friends, lovers or family members are featured so she’s a character without much context. We see her react and give speeches, but we don’t see enough of how she is as a person prior to Nelson’s arrest. Since she’s key to the film, I wish they’d shown more of her. The film suggests that her infidelity was one reason for their divorce, but we get no sense of the men she was involved with.

    (I also learned from the film that Mandela was repeatedly unfaithful to his first wife.)

    While I in no way believe in racial segregation or injustice as present in South Africa, I do think that nonviolence could have worked. It takes time, but Mandela’s approach also took over 20 years.

    I learned quite a bit about Mandela and South Africa from this movie, but it also left me with an incomplete picture.

    The Men Who Make Us Thin

    This is a fascinating documentary on how Western culture got hooked on diets and the idea of being thin when we really didn’t need to in the 1950s. An insurance executive pretty much changed what “thin” means and convinced healthy people they were fat. The result is perpetual dieting for many that doesn’t work and can just make us gain weight.

    Well worth watching.

    Cemetery Junction

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    I started watching Cemetery Junction with anticipation. Since Ricky Gervais wrote it with Steven Merchant, I hoped for comedy. I didn’t get that. No big laughs here and yet the drama didn’t satisfy. It’s the story of three pals in the 1970s. One, Freddie Taylor, who’s no doubt named after Frederick Taylor who pioneered the science of management, wants to move up beyond his working class status. He sees his grandmother and parents as stuck in a rut. He takes a job selling life insurance door-to-door for a company run by the father of a pretty girl he went to school with. His friends are in dead end, low paying jobs and their lives are rather routine though they have more fun out at the pub or dance club than their parents do watching TV like zombies. Freddie wants something more, for himself. He soon sees through the empty promises of his job and hopes to avoid the mechanical life he sees even those who succeed at his job are stuck in.

    There are plenty of stories and films that address this dilemma and most are more interesting. I’m not sure why this film was made or whom it’s for. Earlier such works were novel and were made for the youth of the 60s and 70s who were struggling to break out of the routine the 50s imposed. Nowadays young people seem to be swimming in choices and from my vantage point it seems fine to choose a different path.