Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tim’s Vermeer: A Review (A Magnificent Obsession)

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary that tells the story of inventor Tim Jenison who seeks to discover the painting techniques that were used by Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer, so that he can try and make his own Vermeer-style painting. The film shows that not only was Vermeer a master at his craft, but he was also somewhat of a flawed master.

Directed by Teller and narrated by Penn Jillette, famous illusionists best known as Penn and Teller, Tim’s Vermeer has plenty of humor and shows one man’s obsession with an age-old artist. The film goes into Tim Jenison’s career and life, showing us the various things that he was involved in and helped to create, and then shows us the process of how he started his Vermeer project: first going to Holland in order to visit Vermeer’s hometown, and then going to the U.K. to talk with Philip Steadman, author of Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces.

Throughout the film, we are shown Vermeer’s art and get a better idea of why his art has been so influential. Vermeer’s unique “realistic” style was popular because of its mysterious origins. We have no real idea how Vermeer was able to accomplish his style. The film speculates, though does not prove, that Vermeer potentially had a machine that he used in order to help him with his art. What the film does reveal to us though is that Vermeer’s style was not as perfect as it seemed, and that minor flaws prevent people from copying it.

Teller’s direction is interesting. One scene features a montage with Tim opening cans of paints, building the room, and so forth. The music is interesting, and at times, can be both very “comical” and also very melodramatic. The best use of the music is when it feels like a great discovery has been made, particularly at the end. One flaw I found was in Penn’s narration, which at times, tended to explain things a little more than perhaps necessary. Personally, however, I couldn’t have seen Tim’s Vermeer at a more appropriate time as I’m currently taking a “Survey of Western Art” course this semester, and learning about Vermeer for the first time. So, this documentary was very relevant for me, and in many ways, an eye opener.

On the surface, Tim’s Vermeer is not a concept that would not have necessarily interested me, but what Penn and Teller have done, is not to do a tribute to Vermeer’s art, but rather to show one man’s obsession with Vermeer’s style of art, and I highly recommend seeing this film.

Ernest and Celestine Review (Such a Strange Idea Indeed)

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Ernest & Celestine is a charming, whimsical, storybook-like, animated feature from France that is helped by the likeability of the title characters. Ernest & Celestine tells the story of a world where bears live above the ground in cities and mice live underground. Both species are in fear of each other, believing in different stories. The bears are genuinely afraid of the mice, and the mice believe that the bears will eat them if they encounter one. Celestine, a young mouse who is a dentist apprentice, but really wants to be an artist, helps a bear named Ernest. Ernest follows Celestine to the underground and is caught, resulting in Celestine being exiled. Ernest is also exiled when it is discovered by the bears that he has been involved with a mouse. The two exiles escape to Ernest’s house, and despite their differences, form a strong relationship with one another.

As Ernest & Celestine opens, we are shown a sketchbook being drawn, and it is later revealed that this sketchbook is Celestine’s. Not only does this help to set the whimsical tone of the movie, but it also helps to establish the storybook-like animation of the film which is one of its biggest highlights. The animation lends itself to some interesting and beautiful scenes, especially Ernest and Celestine’s separate dream sequences. In Ernest’s dream sequence, he is eating desserts, but those desserts are to be finished off by mice. In Celestine’s dream sequence, she is being attacked by a sea full of mice. My personal favorite scene is where Celestine draws winter which is before our very eye is transformed into summer, both in the artwork of the sketchbook and in the outside environment of the movie.

The voice actors are especially good and include: Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, and Jeffrey Wright. Most of the actors are unrecognizable in their parts. For example, Forrest Whitaker is the voice of Ernest, but changes his voice considerably, demonstrating a range for animation. Also not easily recognized are William H. Macy and Jeffrey Wright, who play their parts not as themselves, but as their characters.

With an 80-minute runtime, Ernest and Celestine goes by a pretty good pace. Like most great animated features, the film accomplishes a lot in spite of its short running time. The storybook-like animation along with its impressive creativity, makes it a definitive watch.

Philomena – A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Philomena is a movie that felt like I should have found it generic, but somehow, thanks to two great performances, a magnificent score and solid directing, turned into quite the movie. Philomena is about an interview that turns into a road trip and is based off the true story of Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), a journalist who has been dismissed by the Labour Party and is disgraced because of it. Looking for a good story to write about, he runs into Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench – a terrific performance), an elderly lady from Ireland, who, when she was young, had gotten pregnant at a Catholic convent. Philomena is looking for her long lost son, Anthony, who was taken away from her when he was three years old. Thinking that this will make for a good story, Martin decides to help her find her son  and the two set out on a road trip that eventually takes them to America.
As mentioned already, as expected, Judi Dench is terrific in Philomena. She is nice, humorous, and somehow innocent. As Philomena, she plays a no nonsense lady, who clearly wants to have a good time, and is also on a quest to find her long lost son. When she is funny, she is funny. When she is dramatic, she is dramatic. Her performance is one of the best performances I’ve seen from 2013, and definitely worthy of her Oscar nomination.
Steve Coogan seems to be going for the opposite performance.  While Judi Dench is more lively and upbeat for the majority of the film, Coogan, as Martin Sixsmith, is more downbeat and miserable, with his voice being very low. The two have great chemistry together, sounding almost like a man and his mother bickering with one another. Coogan delivers some of the best lines in the film (having written the script as well), and plays a slime bag journalist who clearly isn’t a huge fan of his job, but during the course of the film, has a change of heart due to his journey with Philomena.
The direction and editing in Philomena is top notch. Stephen Frears, an accomplished British director, brings his A-Game to this film, which is shot perfectly, and looks crisp and clear. The interesting thing about the editing is how it incorporates the plot. During the course of the film, Philomena has “visions” that are shot like home videos of what appears to be her son. We later discover these are actually home videos of her son as a child and as an adult. The script by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope is based off the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by the real Martin Sixsmith and is clever and witty, including a funny bit of dialogue by Philomena that pokes fun at the high obesity rate of Americans.
The musical score, by famed French composer Alexandre Desplat, is magnificent, and maybe even the film’s strongest point. It can be at times, uplifting, comical, dramatic and even mysterious. It gave me different feelings throughout the film, as it’s just that darn magnificent.
Philomena is not a particularly fast movie, but it does not need to be. It works well in its own environment. It can be both funny and dramatic at the same time. It’s a very good and well done movie that is worth a look.

Honey – A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Honey: A Review

Daniel Davis

4 / 19 / 2014

            Honey is a human drama that has a decent plot. The film, which is the directing debut of Italian actress Valeria Golino is a well shot, well-made film, that’s only real weakness is just how confusing it can sometimes be. The film deals with the idea of euthanasia, and does not necessarily tell us whether it is a good or a bad thing.

            Honey tells the story of Irene (played by Jasmine Trinca) an Italian woman nicknamed Honey who has dedicated herself to helping people who are suffering, by helping them ending their lives. She tries to find ways to make their problems less severe, despite the extreme decisions they do, because she believes it is the right thing to do. When she meets a middle-aged man named Grimaldi (played by Carlo Cecchi), her self-confidence is challenged, as Grimaldi wants her to end his life not because he is suffering, but because he is bored. A mutual relationship formed between the two as Honey sets out to learn why Grimaldi wants to do what he wants to do.

            An Italian/French co-production partially shot in Mexico, Honey is a movie that shows real human emotions. The performances in the film help immensely. Jasmine Trinca, the actress, playing Honey shows different moods throughout the film, such as frustration, anger and happiness, and she shows them all very well.

The film itself has an interesting idea for a plot that deals with euthanasia which is banned in most countries and it’s not hard to see why. The idea of taking someone’s life no matter had bad they are suffering, does not sit well with many people. Honey does not necessarily say that euthanasia is a good thing; instead the film explains why the idea is actually helpful in some ways. Those who are suffering from a disease that they can’t cure objectively want their lives to taken away from them. The film, however, also shows us why the idea of euthanasia is potentially dangerous, with Honey, the main character, even questioning such a thing once in the film.

 Being a first time director, aside from a short film, director Golino does some interesting camera choices. One recurring motif throughout the film is Honey swimming in the water, which occurs three times during the film. The idea seems to be that water is meant to represent Honey at her most natural state, and that she swims in order to drown out the misery in her life. The soundtrack using both English and Italian songs is also well incorporated. In the scene where Honey is taking her bike ride, the song helps to push the mood of the scene, as we see her going by quite fast on her bicycle.

Honey is not a masterpiece by any means. Some viewers might find the plot to be a little confusing to follow. However, I find the film to be an interesting look at euthanasia and how it affects people.

The Double – A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

            The Double is a bizarre movie, one shot in a very surrealistic fashion with scenes that would confuse the average viewer. While the film is odd, it’s also fascinating to watch, and features a surprisingly effective and powerful performance from Jessie Eisenberg as a man facing an identity crisis.

            The Double tells the story of Simon, a timid man, who is very unfortunate. He is ignored at work, scorned by his mother, and the woman of his dreams rejects him. Simon is too weak-minded to change the current predicament he is in, that is until the arrival of James, a coworker. James sounds and looks exactly like Simon, except James is the man that Simon wants to be. Whereas, Simon is very much a loser, James is confident, charismatic and good with women. Simon soon realizes that James isn’t as nice as he sounds, and that he is actually the villain of the story, trying to take over his life.

            British comedian and actor Richard Ayoade’s second effort as a director, after Submarine (a film I have yet to see), is one of the more fascinating films I’ve watched from 2013, at least, in terms of how the film is shot. When the film opens, we are treated to flashing lights on Jesse Eisenberg’s closed face. This is a very unique and fascinating way of starting a film. The film has everything that an unusual movie is required to have: dream-like shots, scenes without sound or voice, and scenes that don’t make any sense. The film’s use of Japanese songs throughout is especially interesting and seems to be done to give the film a very bizarre mood. Some of the scenes in this film remind me very much of a Terry Gilliam movie, like Brazil.

            The acting in this film is all around very good. Eisenberg gives a very surprising performance as both Simon and James. As Simon, Eisenberg is basically playing the same role he’s repeated throughout more than half of his career thus far, the socially awkward inept dweeb. As James, though, Eisenberg shows range that I’ve never seen him do before. Eisenberg may have been good in films like The Social Network, but his range has never been pushed this far. As James, Eisenberg is controlling, menacing and even at times, surprisingly a little suave. His performance as Simon takes a change in range as well, as Simon begins to lose it. When Simon starts to become insane and has a breakdown, Eisenberg performs so well he’s practically playing a completely different character than the one that he did at the beginning of the film.

            There are other actors in the film, but Jessie Eisenberg, as Simon and James, is basically the only one who actually gets to do something of note, which is somewhat disappointing since the film has a very good cast. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska is Hannah, the girl that Simon pines after. Wasikowska gave a very good but her American accent was inconsistent. Wallace Shawn plays Simon’s boss, Mr. Papadopopolous, a good natured but stern man, and its good to see an actor like him on the big screen again. He has one of the voices that is easily recognizable, and he has even more screen time than I expected in this film. Sally Hawkins, an acclaimed English actress who was nominated for an Academy Award this year for supportive role in Blue Jasmine, is the receptionist and gives a good but very limited (screen time wise) performance. Other notable actors in the cast include Chris O’Dowd as a nurse, and Cathy Moriarty as a waitress.

            The script is also very amusing and this film is very much a comedy/drama. Much of the humor of the film comes from the characters interactions with each other. A lot of the characters in this film are unlikable people, but what they say and how the actors deliver their dialogue, make the humor in the film much more amusing than I expected.

            As a film, The Double is a treat. If you go into this movie expecting something that you’ll understand easily, you’ll be disappointed greatly, but I found the film to be fascinating to watch, not just as a study of man’s sanity and a case of identity crisis, but also from a technical standpoint.