Certified Copy

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Certified Copy intrigues and perplexes as it shows us a man, who’s a writer, and a woman, who’s an art dealer, who look at life and marriage in very different ways. I can’t say it tells a story because the film breaks with the fundamental conventions of storytelling. By the end, you’re unsure whether the characters are married or not. Most of what you’re told about them, about what they say about themselves, proves to be untrue or questionable.

Yet because the director switches things up as the woman, who’s unnamed, and James Miller, the hero, spend a day flirting and testing each other. Throughout the film I was intrigued and its one that still makes me think about life and films.

This trailer is misleading. It promises a flirtatious romance, but Certified Copy is a challenging look at expectations and relationships.

If you can’t take a film that plays with your mind, that gets curiouser and curiouser or deviates from the well worn path of story structure as set in stone by Hollywood, Certified Copy isn’t for you. But if you like to be intrigued or enjoy compelling performances, it just may be.

Words & Pictures

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Starring Clive Owens and Juliet Binoche, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380331/?ref_=nv_sr_1 focuses on two talented and cranky high school teachers. Owens teaches English while Binoche teaches art at an élite private school. Both demand a lot from their students and are disappointed with their own ability to produce the excellence they once did. Owens’ alcoholism is the main cause of his writers’ block, while Binoche’s rheumatoid arthritis hinders her painting.

They’re neither warm nor fuzzy ever rather they’ve embraced the “genius must be prickly loners” philosophy.  They are rather interesting and the film moves along quickly. Owens likes to compete and when his students tell him that the new art teacher believes “words are lies,” he dreams up a Words vs. Pictures competition, which all characters do acknowledge is a false dichotomy.

The leads and Amy Brenneman, who plays the head of the school board, are compelling. I thought the students’ acting didn’t ring true. I’ve seen better chemistry and half way through most romantic films, I’m rooting for the opposites to work things out. Here I thought well, I wish these people well, but if they part company perhaps that is better.

All in all, it’s an okay movie, but it could have been better. It did make me think I wish Amy Brenneman had another TV series. I miss her down-to-earth appeal.

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.

798 Art Space

When I was in Beijing, I went to the 798 Art Space. I’d been there a few years ago and this time it seemed more commercialized. While there were cafes and shops before there seem to be more or else there just seemed to be fewer galleries open. Some galleries have started to charge and although they just asked for 10 rmb, that adds up and in a country with so many fantastic museums that are free paying made no sense.

I was pleased that I figured out how to get out to 798 on public transportation. You can just take the subway to Dongzhimen and then a bus out to 798. Beijing cabbies overcharge tourists relentlessly.

Jiro dreams of sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi delights as it presents the story of a sushi master par excellence. Like Bill Cunningham: NY, this documentary gives us a glimpse of a man whose a master in his field and finds great joy in his art. Jiro is 82 and has a small, unassuming sushi restaurant in a mall that seems to be part of the subway pedway in Tokyo. You would not expect this to be a 3 star Michelin restaurant. It’s maintained that elite status for years.

Jiro and his two sons will make anyone appreciate sushi, even folks like me who don’t particularly like fish. He works so hard at making his food perfect. He’s probably the only chef who insists his apprentices massage octopus for 50 minutes so that it’s perfectly tender. Some may find this sexist, but he gives women smaller portions so that both male and female diners finish eating their sushi at the same time. Evidently, he’s noticed that women would take longer to eat the same size sushi as a man.

I found each moment of Jiro Dreams of Sushi mesmerizing. His description of his childhood and getting kicked out of the house to fend for himself at age 7 or so, his reunion with old classmates, the trips to the fish market – it was such a joy to watch Jiro delight in his work.

between the folds

I love how Netflix offers suggestions for my movie queue. Whoever designed the algorithm is a genius. I’ve found so many good picks or they’ve found me. The latest is Between the Folds, a documentary on origami of all things.

As a Japonophile I knew that there’s more to origami than the frogs and birds kids learn to make. Between the Folds shows artists and even scientists who use origami and explore new possibilities with paper. At just 55 minutes, the film explores how and why these Westerners got into origami. Their creations were beautiful and the process is often mesmerizing.