THE LAST VERMEER – movie review

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dan Friedkin
Screenwriter: James McGee, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby based on the book “The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez
Cast: Guy Pearce, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 3/19/20
Opens: May 22, 2020

It’s about time that the film industry has come around to portraying a first class melodrama of one of the great forgeries in art history, one of many that allowed Hans van Meegeren to amass enough of a fortune to buy 52 properties and 15 country homes throughout Europe. Van Meegeren’s story has is covered in an elaborate Wikipedia essay, a fellow well known to the residents of the Netherlands but until now unfamiliar to the average American. “The Last Vermeer” is adapted from a book by Jonathan Lopez, “The Man Who Made Vermeers,” available on Amazon, now brought to life before cinematographer Rami Adefarasin lenses with all the splendor of Fort Widley in Portsmouth, England and Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

The film should cast Dan Friedkin in the limelight as a first-time director with a potential future in uncovering the lives of people as colorful as Van Meegeren, who thanks to this picture will allow us in the U.S. to dig further into aspects of the Third Reich rarely illuminated before. This film is graced by a stunning performance from Guy Pearce in the role of the forger who must have been thankful that he did not make the cut as a grade-A painter, but who amassed a fortune of thirty million dollars (that’s in 1943) by swindling the number 2 man in Hitler’s stable, art lover Hermann Göring. Implied in the tale is the certainty that if Göring knew he was taken advantage of, he would have had Van Meegeren shot. Then again, some of Van Meegeren’s countrymen might have done the deed given that Dutchmen who collaborated with the Nazis were tied behind a pole in a central square and shot before a mass of citizens screaming epithets.

The two central characters are Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) and Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang). The movie, like the book, emphasizes the captain’s Jewish background given his disgust with the Nazis for stealing hundreds of masterworks in the art world when Jews escaping the Nazis in the Netherlands as in most of the rest of Europe had to sell their collections for bargain basement prices. Presumably van Meegeren acquired these paintings partly for his collection, but always conspiring to sell them and accumulate vast riches. What Göring did not know was that the painting of “Christ and the Adulteress” that he bought from van Meegeren was not an original Vermeer and that in fact Vermeer had not been credited with the work at all. One must wonder—though the film does not—why Göring could not check on the complete list of the works of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) where he would discover that no such title exists.

The film is bogged down by a large number of characters, most if not all might be unfamiliar to American viewers. Otherwise the story involves throughout with several melodramatic touches, culminating in a dramatic courtroom scene presided over the three judges, with the Dutch people gathered outside seemingly favorable to van Meegeren as they credit him with swindling the Nazis. On the other hand the judges and the prosecutor are adamant about prosecuting the forger and giving him a death sentence, as they consider him a fellow who enriched himself by collaborating with Nazi bigwigs.

The women in the story get short exposure, lost in the maze of personages, including the forger’s ex-wife and his mistress, while Piller, a handsome Dutch fellow with a clear, penetrating voice, has his own bedmates. Yet Guy Pearce, well known to American audiences for roles in “Mary Queen of Scots,” “The Catcher Was a Spy” and as F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Genius” takes a role in which he is almost unrecognizable, giving support to Claes Bang, recently seen in the wonderful “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” which also deals with the world of painting.

An epilogue that tries to imitate some of the novels of John Grisham—wherein a winning case unravels in the final pages—is unconvincing, dealing with a suggestion that the Dutch painter indeed collaborated with Hitler himself.

117 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

BUDDY – movie review

International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Heddy Honigmann
Screenwriter: Heddy Honigmann
Cast: Mister, Kaiko, Utah, Missy, Kay, Makker
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/10/19
Opens: March 20, 2019 at New York Film Forum


Buddy (2018)

Chaser, a Border Collie, can locate 1,022 items surrounding him on the floor at the request of his trainer. Border collies are often considered the most intelligent of dog breeds, and Chaser proves that he can supply entertainment to the folks who view his antics on the ‘net. But that’s all fun. What can dogs do to help us, the people, the folks who lack the intelligence that dogs have and prove it daily by enabling Trump? The enablers in Congress who sit, stay, and mostly play dead at the president’s command? Actually there are many things that dogs do for us according to Heddy Honigmann who wrote and directs a documentary starring Mister, Kaiko, Utah, Missy, Kay, and Makker.

Peruvian-born Dutch writer-Director Heddy Honigmann is a major player in the Netherlands with an impressive array of documentaries including “Forever” – highlighting the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. By contrast her “Buddy”—surprisingly without a dog named Buddy—is all about life. She follows six disabled people whose lives have been made so much better by their bond with our best friends. While these service dogs have learned to do things you wouldn’t not expect of your own pets, what comes across is principally the great love that the human folks have of their four-legged friends who obviously do not consider the canines to be robots following our commands.

Jessica de Koning edits the tale of six pairs, shifting from one couple to move on to another, then returning several times to complete the task. The people with disabilities are one African-Dutch man with post-traumatic stress disorder who relies on Mister to keep him on the right side of functioning human being. Makker, a ten-year-old dog, adds vision to an 86-year-old woman who had been blinded from the age thirteen from a German bomb. Makker is so trustworthy that his owner is able to put her cane aside and jog with him on open grounds. Kaiko works for a human who has a neurological problem not specified in the movie, and is able to move around the kitchen opening drawers including the refrigerator to haul out nutrition—without cutting in to take what he wants for himself. Kay pulls around a young woman who has limited vision in one eye and who uses a wheelchair, being pulled along everywhere as though Kay were a Husky racing in Alaska. A ten-year-old who has epilepsy and autism has the desire to wake up each day with an enduring love for his Utah. They sleep in the same bed and obviously adore each other, though I felt some discomfort watching the kid as he kissed the dog a few too many times.

The sixty-seven-year-old writer-director mostly allows the subjects to speak for themselves, adding interviews in her gentle style—which obviously works best for both the people and their dogs. Since this is a documentary and not a narrative, it lacks some of the excitement you’d find in the best dog movies like “Lassie Come Home,” “Shiloh,” “Hachi” and “Molly and Me.” Some of the chit-chat between people and dogs is likely improvised, thereby taking away from the enthusiasm that viewers have been led to expect in dramatic tales. As it stands, “Buddy” does not overstay its welcome, but don’t expect to be thrilled by plot points and the sentiment you’d expect from any drama about a vulnerable 8-year-old and the dog that got lost.

The dogs understand Dutch. For the rest of us there are English subtitles.

86 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B