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By Karen Martin

This article was published June 13, 2014 at 2:11 a.m.

Tim’s Vermeer directed by Teller

Tim's Vermeer directed by Teller

(PG-13, 80 minutes)

The 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer is revered for the objectivity with which he was able to beautifully record the world in soft focus.

He rendered the play of daylight on his subjects with a kind of photographic precision (achieved despite the sometimes rough layering of his paint); viewers have always wondered how his mind could contain such detail, how could he see so much.

For years, experts such as painter David Hockney and art historian Philip Steadman have argued that Vermeer made use of mirrors and lenses, and may even have converted a room in his house into a large camera obscura. Nobody had quite worked out how he might have made his paintings. Until now.

Tim's Vermeer, a provocative documentary from magicians Penn and Teller, who are as well known for debunking mysteries as for the illusions they perform, details Tim Jenison’s quest to reproduce Vermeer’s famous The Music Lesson using period technology and materials.

Penn Jillette narrates. Teller, whose public persona is silent, directs.

Jenison, an inventor and video engineer with the time and money to pursue his fancy, starts out with no experience in painting. Yet his first attempt at working with oils — copying a black-and-white photograph with the aid of a simple, ingeniously employed mirror — yields a remarkably accurate image. Encouraged, he re-creates a full-scale model of the room in which Vermeer painted and takes on the challenge of producing his version of The Music Lesson.

Using a system of mirrors and lenses, he works to reproduce the scene before his eyes. Over the months it takes for him to complete the project — using this method is no shortcut — several remarkable truths about Vermeer’s technique are revealed. He was painting things the unaided human eye cannot detect.

What emerges from this delightful, brief documentary doesn’t debunk Vermeer’s genius, but certifies it.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (PG-13, 105 minutes) Tom Clancy’s continuing character Jack Ryan, portrayed here as a young man by Chris Pine, reveals in a mid-grade fast-moving thriller how the CIA analyst becomes a spy under the tutelage of his handler, Harper (Kevin Costner). With Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh; directed by Branagh.

The Blu-ray combo pack includes commentary by Branagh, deleted and extended scenes, and featurettes on the character of Ryan and a rundown of his many enemies.

Devil’s Knot (unrated, 114 minutes) Directed by Atom Egoyan, compelling yet ultimately unsatisfying Devil’s Knot concerns how the savage murders of three children bring about the controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual. Sound familiar? No wonder. It’s a fictional narrative that’s based on the West Memphis Three, already the subject of excellent documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Aside from good performances, the drama brings nothing new to the story. With Reese Witherspoon, Amy Ryan, Colin Firth, Mireille Enos, Stephen Moyer.

Omar (unrated, 98 minutes ) This stark, riveting thriller is set in the Occupied Territories, where Palestinian baker Omar (Adam Bakri) fills his non-baking time by being a freedom fighter (or is he a terrorist?). When he’s arrested for the killing of an Israeli soldier, he agrees to work as an informant, which forces him to make some tough choices. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. Subtitled.

The Missing Picture (unrated, 95 minutes) A quest by Cambodian-born filmmaker Rithy Panh results in this unsettling, intimately focused stop-action memoir (using clay figures set up in unmoving scenes) that reveals his family’s suffering, starvation, forced labor and terror during the murderous Pol Pot regime in 1975-79 Cambodia when they were deported from their home in Phnom Penh to labor camps by the Communist Khmer Rouge. In French with subtitles.

Alan Partridge (R, 90 minutes) A savory British morsel, reminiscent of Anchorman, that concerns dead-ended afternoon DJ Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan, smarmy as ever) on North Norfolk Digital Radio, whose hopes for a shot at the big time suffer a severe setback when it emerges that his employers have been taken over by a giant media conglomerate. Alan soon finds himself back in the spotlight, however, when newly sacked fellow DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) returns to the studio with a shotgun and begins taking hostages. That’s when Alan is called in by the police to act as a hostage negotiator, a role he attempts to drag out until the last possible spotlit moment. Directed by Declan Lowney.

MovieStyle on 06/13/2014

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