What to Watch This Weekend 9/17/21

New releases are meh, so let's go to the archives for "Tim's Vermeer"

What to Watch This Weekend 9/17/21

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It’s not a particularly stellar week for new releases, either in theaters or on demand. We’re heading into Oscar-bait season, and the first salvo, opening theatrically today, is “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” featuring Jessica Chastain acting with all the technique and cheek prosthetics at her disposal as disgraced co-televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Andrew Garfield plays husband Jim Bakker). In the process of empathizing with an eccentric but vibrant and creative woman trapped in a stiflingly patriarchal subculture, this bio-pic does something odd, even unseemly: It absolves the title character of any role in the corruption and fraud that brought down the Bakkers’ empire. So did the 2000 documentary of the same title, but that one’s much more fun.

Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

There’s a new Clint Eastwood movie, too – possibly the man’s last, but we’ve been saying that for decades now, haven’t we? “Cry Macho” opens in theaters but is also available on HBO Max; it’s a sweet-natured but decidedly minor picaresque about a bronco-busting old coot (Eastwood) named Mike Milo who travels to Mexico to bring back the teenage son (Eduardo Minett) of a longtime friend (Dwight Yoakam). Life lessons ensue, etc., etc. The film is based on a 1975 novel and has reportedly been in development for years. That tracks: If the romance between Eastwood’s character and a small-town cantina owner (Natalia Traven, who’s excellent) might have made sense 20 years ago, it makes none at all now, when it looks like the frail, 91-year-old star could be knocked over by a blown kiss. Still, there’s a gracefulness to Ancient Clint that’s quite touching, and when his character repudiates the concept of “macho” and, indeed, Eastwood’s entire popular persona — “I used to be a lot of things,” Milo tells the kid, “but I’m not now” — you sense some sort of atonement from the man who created Dirty Harry. For Eastwood completists only, then, but I’m one.

Clint Eastwood in “Cry Macho”

Instead, I think I’ll pull up one of many old favorites from 20 years of reviewing movies for the Boston Globe and send you to “Tim’s Vermeer,” a very funny 2014 documentary about art, fame, and value that keeps expanding in your head as you watch it. (You can rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.) Here’s the gist: Texas software maven Tim Jenison got a bee in his bonnet about advances in optics that may have assisted the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer in creating his paintings. Did Vermeer use mirrors and lenses to essentially paint-by-numbers his way to immortality? If so, could anyone do the same? Somehow this ends up with Jenison dropping a load of money to recreate Vermeer’s Delft studio down to the north-facing windows and attempting to recreate the artist’s 1662 masterpiece “The Music Lesson.” No, that’s not quite right – he tries to paint it again.

Fake it til you make it: Tim Jenison in “Tim’s Vermeer”

Does he pull it off? I’m not going to tell you, but know going in that directors Penn and Teller – yes, that Penn and Teller – have the right attitude for the job: An air of highly amused inquiry, an interest in artistic and cultural sleight-of-hand, and an awareness of the many maddening questions raised by Tim’s Vermeer. Is Tim an artist or is he a copyist? What about Vermeer? Is art that uses technology to “cheat” less valuable or meaningful? If so, why? Anyway, aren’t paints and brushes a form of technology? Where do you draw the line? “Tim’s Vermeer” makes going down this rabbit hole absurdly enjoyable, with the emphasis on absurd.

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