Friday, November 20, 2020

What you see and hear isn't always what you get in 'Vermeer,' 'Metal'

Two movies that played the 44th annual Toronto International Film Festival -- way back in September 2019 -- emerge for good today, as watchable product finally starts to emerge during the theater-closing Covid-19 pandemic. 

Pearce and Bang play well in "Vermeer" tones.
The Last Vermeer, debuting on a handful of northeast Ohio screens, features big Dane Claes Bang in his third straight story involving art (following "The Square," the Cannes-winning film from 2017, and this summer's "Burnt Orange Heresy"). 

In this truth-based historical telling about stolen paintings and Nazi collaborators, Bang easily plays Dutch Allied officer Joseph Piller, now a post-WWII investigator targeting how a most-famous masterpiece came into the hands of war criminal Hermann Goring. Chameleon-like scene-stealer Guy Pearce portrays one of Piller's potential culprits, a vivacious art aficionado seriously named Han van Meegeren and variously described as a "third-rate artist, first-rate opportunist, raging narcissist and cunning devil." So, is he Satan or saint?

Certainly Piller, a Jew and longtime Resistance fighter, becomes the right man to find out, initially during his first-half probe and especially during the final hour courtroom drama of twists, turns and mostly substantial characters. Include a handful of lovely ladies in that mix, too, especially Piller's valued assistant (Vicky Krieps), war spy wife (Marie Bach Hansen) and van Meegeren's mistress (Olivia Grant).

More beauty comes via the talents of veteran cinematographer Remi Adefarasin (most recently "Juliet, Naked") who manages to show off some scenes in the same kind of light made famous by the man in the title, 17th century painter Johannes Vermeer. Looks as if first-time director Dan Friedkin might find more work as well after putting on such a classy show, as based on the book about "The Man Who Made Vermeers."

Rated "R" by MPAA: some language, violence and nudity; 1:57; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Cooke and Ahmed attempt to emerge from the "Metal" darkness.
Sound of Metal, meanwhile, also begins with a kind of legitimate bang. It arrives as the loud, raging noise, mixed with slow-burn intensity, from the shirtless, heavily tattooed drummer frantically pounding his sticks in a timpanist frenzy. His name is Ruben (the magnificent Riz Ahmed in one of the year's most truly electric performances), and we soon learn that much of his young life has been lived the same way. 

Today, he's a recovering addict, having "tried everything, but mostly heroin." That ended four years ago for Ruben, about the same time he met Lou (great support, literally and figuratively, from Olivia Cooke), who is not only his main squeeze but also the singer/partner in their unusual musical duo. Very early on here, Lou attempts to help Ruben with his sudden, sickening loss of hearing, a handicap for anyone, but a likely career-ending tragedy for a heavy metal drummer.

It's probably not hard to predict how that ends up. However, where Ruben goes next for help and how the movie's brilliant sound design team puts us inside his head probably will be. The story comes from Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine"), while another first-time director, Darius Marder, the guy who helped pen Cianfrance's terrific "Place Beyond the Pines," also co-writes here with brother Abraham Marder (who contributes some of the music). Got all that? If not, don't fret. You'll definitely be seeing -- and hearing -- all these movie names again somewhere down the road. 

Rated "R" by MPAA: strong language throughout and brief nude images; 2:00; $ $ $ $ out of $5

("Sound of Metal" is showing exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theater and starts streaming Dec. 4 on Prime Video.)

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