An amazing combination of personality, mystery solving, art, and technology all come together in what is billed as "a Penn & Teller film." It, however, gets its dazzle not from the two Las Vegas performers' prestidigitation, but via a delightful documentary investigation of a mystery in the annals of Western art, and a man's obsession with recreating the birth of a masterpiece. Video technologist, inventor, and self-made millionaire Tim Jenison, friend of narrator Penn Jillette seeks to expand on critical speculation that Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer achieved the unprecedented luminosity and singular tones of his interior scenes by using contemporaneous state-of-the-art lenses and an optical device similar to the camera obscura. Directed by Teller, it is no mere art doc, however, as it places more attention on Jenison’s experiment than the process he’s attempting to uncover or the painter who inspired this bizarre journey. And though Jenison’s findings raise terrific questions about the nature of art, the extent of Vermeer’s genius and the interpretation of his paintings, Penn & Teller’s sterling documentary, with a mixture of good-natured humor as well as reverence for both Tim and Vermeer, stands as a portrait of kindred innovative artists, separated by centuries and yet in complete spiritual and procedural harmony. (PG-13, 80 mins.)
The most recent film from writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich; Adaptation) stars Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johansson in a story about a lonely writer who develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need. The brilliance of the film lies in how it uses a sci-fi concept to reconstruct the traditional arc of a romance, from getting-to-know-you to growing apart; how it explores issues of intimacy and empathy in a typically singular style with a thought-provoking fable that’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Visionary and traditional, wispy and soulful, tender and cool, it ponders the nature of love in the encroaching virtual world and dares to ask the question of what might be preferable, a romantic relationship with a human being or an electronic one that can be designed to provide more intimacy and satisfaction than real people can reliably manage. Taking place tomorrow or perhaps the day after that, it’s a probing, inquisitive work of a very high order. (R, 126 mins.)
Tickets on sale now. First opera Oct 5.