Tim’s Vermeer

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Release: Friday, January 31, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Tim’s Vermeer is the documentary that does not discriminate. It does not care how far-removed a viewer is from their high school art course, nor about how much the stigma attached to a genre like ‘art documentary’ limits the potential total audience. Despite a title that might suggest something complicated, perhaps even pretentious, it doesn’t have extremely lofty ambitions (other than to expose its ambitious subject), nor the intention of seeking the approval of the artistic world at large. It does, however, aim to be as stimulating as possible to those who lay eyes upon it — and by the ear of Van Gogh, it succeeds!

Behold the story of Texas-based inventor and the most recent example of me being tricked by a Santa Clause look-alike, Tim Jenison. (Not sure if it’s more the facial hair or his general jolly attitude that gets me more confused. Or his ability to magically create and fix things. Really, there are many parallels.)

With only a brief introduction to this endearingly eccentric man, it’s not long before we understand that, while this documentary certainly focuses on his life, it features only a small part of it. Tim is the type who enjoys staying constantly busy, overseeing the operations of NewTek, a software company he himself founded some years back, all while discovering all sorts of obscure projects and puzzles to work on in his spare time. Not to mention, he is a father and husband.

Where we come in is at a point in his life where he’s taken particular interest in the work of Johannes Vermeer, a 17th-Century Dutch painter most known for his ability to create photo-realistic images well before the concept of the camera had been introduced. Tim’s main objective is to attempt to explain how Vermeer was able to produce such stunning beauty and accuracy so early. Did he use technology to guide his vision or did he simply define the term savant? Tim’s focus turns first towards devising a system of mirrors that would allow him to simultaneously paint directly onto canvas underneath a reflected image of his subject. Sort of like tracing, only without lines being in place.

The experiment itself is difficult to explain clearly, but suffice it to say the results it produces are remarkable. Luckily for Tim, his painting skills are more than passable for a supposed first-timer. His ability to pick up on any number of trades and skills that his current obsession requires is one of the more entertaining and impressive aspects on display. So he’s not a painter, who cares? He’ll try anyway until success is within reach, and then keep trying once its surpassed. The man’s dedication, though it does border on obsession, is something to admire, truly.

In order to solidify his argument — did the famed Vermeer indeed lean upon some sort of technology to accomplish photorealistic paintings? — Tim makes the ultimate goal of recreating ‘The Music Lesson,’ one of the artist’s more intricate pieces. Featuring a woman playing at the piano in the corner of a very small room and a man (presumably the instructor) watching on, the colorful and exquisitely detailed portrait exhibits many of Vermeer’s signature marks including a sophisticated usage of soft, natural light.

Speaking of sophisticated, as our fearless leader faces up to the task of replicating such an image, he recognizes the unique challenges associated with it. His studio set-up will need to be more complex given what and where he will be painting. In order to ensure accuracy Tim rebuilds the room featured in the painting, converting a small section of a Texas warehouse into the space exactly as originally presented. It’s an extensive process in itself, but one that pales in comparison to the daunting prospect of the physical painting — something that ultimately takes Tim a little over four tedious months to complete. There is a statistic at the end of the film which summarizes the length of the entire Vermeer project. Something just over 1,000 days pass since Tim first conceives of the idea. At one point, Tim takes off of work for a week or two to travel to Holland for research. So much for this being a side project.

Narrated by Penn Jillette of illusionist duo Penn & Teller fame, the documented experiment moves along at a brisk pace, and despite seeming like an odd choice for a narrator, Penn never strays from being pleasantly conversational. Actually, it’s less surprising considering the magician’s healthy skepticism tends to balance out Tim’s almost unhealthy optimism. While not necessarily for everyone, there is an addictive quality to what is being filmed that should win over more than just art aficionados. What he obsesses over, we become obsessed with too, as we want to see the finished result. Instead of ostracizing those unfamiliar with Vermeer and the craft itself, Penn’s narrative, along with Tim’s enthusiastic ramblings, are just general enough so as to clue everyone in on what they need to know. And while it avoids condescension, some patience may be required of those well-versed in the medium as they may find a little bit of retread in the simplistic presentations.

Tim Jenison may be a bit of an oddball, but he may also have experienced his breakthrough. His epiphany with the mirrors appears to be less of an invention and more of a rediscovery of a centuries-old technology. His ability to recreate the elaborate oil-on-canvas piece serves as potentially the most convincing bit of evidence that this could have been the method Vermeer relied on in his day. However, without any documentation on the man no one can know for certain.

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4-0Recommendation: Though obscure, this documentary is chock-full of fascinating insight and personality. Tim Jenison is one interesting character and it is good to have met him. For anyone with the slightest interest in art, I highly HIGHLY suggest Tim’s Vermeer. Lightweight, informative and humorous to boot, it’s a quirky little gem that deserves international exposure. The discoveries made herein need to be made more public.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 80 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

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I love the TBT of this week. Few contemporary flicks seem to really be able to pull off the right amount of raunchiness and sentimentality. Most end up being too much of one or the other, which isn’t to dismiss them as ‘bad’ films, per se, but it just seems a large number of films in the rom-com genre favor sensation over sensibility. In other words, rom-coms typically are forgettable experiences. But when these kinds of films err on the side of being more ‘sensible’ — in terms of actually caring about the plights of their characters and finding a satisfactory conclusion for him/her/them — an entirely new experience emerges and we get movies that make us think twice about things.

Today’s food for thought: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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Release: April 18, 2008

[DVD]

Poor Peter. He’s just been dumped by his Red Carpet-worthy girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) — the star of a raunchy and ridiculous murder-mystery T.V. series, Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. At first, Peter (Jason Segel) shows some sense of emotional fortitude when he first hears the news from her when he claims he wants to hear what her reasons are and what he can do to make her stay. Then he becomes naked and everything falls to pieces when he learns of the real reason — “the other guy” reason — and thus, the opening shot of the film.

Segel goes from starring in hit T.V. shows to writing his first (hit) film with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a romantic comedy that tells of a man who’s just been heartbroken and doesn’t see any point in trying to date again anytime soon. . . that is, until the next amazing girl (Mila Kunis) walks into his life and changes his outlook for the better, forever.

In his devastated state, Peter strikes out to find happiness (if it exists) elsewhere. After embarrassing himself at a club one night, he finally goes to Hawaii to shake off the gloominess, and hey — what are the odds! Sarah is vacationing on the same island with her new boy-toy. He immediately wants to leave but then realizes that would make it seem like he’s running away from her, so stubbornly he decides to stay put even when he catches her fooling around with the other guy more than a few times. Just when things seem to be as depressing as they’ve ever been, Peter slowly starts to make friends with some of the locals, including the gorgeous woman who works the front desk at the hotel in which he’s staying. His misery has become so public that she offers him the most expensive suite in the building, a room typically reserved for “people like Celine Dion and Oprah,” and says that he can stay there so long as he cleans up after himself. Clearly it is a gesture out of pity. Peter awkwardly obliges.

However, the longer he stays around the island, the more he finds himself truly connecting with this new girl, Rachael (Mila Kunis), and it’s not long before he finds himself falling for her. She’s cautious about Peter’s forthcoming interest since her past is not exactly free from complications, despite the fact that she lives on the incredible Hawaiian beachfront. Regardless of circumstances — in fact, part of the intrigue here is that maybe it’s in spite of them — the two form a friendship that ends up going much deeper and is one that’s genuinely romantic and believable. There’s a great chemistry between the two actors that should and could afford them more opportunities to work on other projects together in the future.

Perfectly satisfying on most levels, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is both sweet and painfully funny, in equal doses. It has a host of funny supporting roles, the most memorable of which belongs to Russell Brand, as he introduces a character which would end up spanning a couple of films (Get Him To The Greek being the other). His loose-cannon, sex-obsessed and incredibly egotistical Aldous Snow is incidentally the one Miss Marshall cheated on Peter with. Jack McBrayer plays a man unsure of his recent decision to get married; his wife (Maria Thayer), however, is obsessed with him and the two form a highly uncomfortable pair that is both hilarious and somewhat disturbing to watch. They represent something of an anomaly when it comes to thinking how newlyweds might behave on honeymoon. . . in Hawaii. . .

Predictable as it may be, the film is successful in rising above the deep, trope-filled waters of the rom-com genre by providing a sharp, witty script, affable characters in Peter and Rachael, and gorgeous settings. That, and a very strange, albeit memorable, ending. For a first-time writer cred, Segel’s name could be attached to much, much worse. This movie, and later his writing of The Muppets, seem to be the promising beginnings of a career in film writing for the man as well.

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3-5Recommendation: For those who haven’t already checked this out, it’s practically a must-see (if you are into the romantic-comedy, that is. . . this likely won’t change your mind if you’re firmly opposed). Segel and Kunis offer great laughs and some heartwarming moments together, and the supporting cast is very capable as well. One of 2008’s best comedies.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com