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Tribeca Review: An Honest Liar

A thrilling portrait of a truthful man's obsession with deceit.

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An Honest Liar is a funny, moving documentary about the life of James Randi ("The Amazing Randi" which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. The film is funny, heartfelt, and pulls off a few effective narrative twists of it's own as it depicts Randi's obsession with debunking frauds who harmfully deceive others, as well as his intriguing personal life.

Randi is a world renowned magician, escape artist, and ultimately a proponent of magic when the magician is honest that they are doing tricks, but a staunch opponent of deception. The film is broken into chapters, most  of which chronicle different operations and investigations where he obsessively disproves mentalists and religious healers. No matter what, Randi sticks to a strict moral compass.

Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein make use of lots of archival footage of Randi and his rivals' appearances on TV, mixed in with contemporary interviews and new footage. The editing is swift and playful, with lots of montages showing the hypocrisy of the deceitful performers, and the evolution of Randi's vast career. Throughout the film friends of Randi weigh in on his journey, including magicians Penn and Teller (Tim's Vermeer), Adam Savage (Mythbusters), and Uri Geller, a mentalist and Randi's professional nemesis.

One of the most viscerally effective scenes in the film comes when Randi uses his investigative skills to debunk Evangelical faith healer Peter Popoff. Most footage of his for-profit denunciation of medicine, tricking those in need into thinking he was recieving devine messages.

Randi came out as gay in 2010, and his relationship with his much younger partner, Jose, becomes the focus of the third act of the film. What the filmmakers really get is how this relationship is central to the heart of the film, as it delicately and evocatively shows the ways that Randi and Jose's relationship is the key to his incredible moral compass.

Overall, An Honest Liar is a truly moving character study, an honest, funny and moving look at the life of a deceitful man obsessed with the truth. 

Review: 8/10 Stars

Review: Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey

Like Planet Earth meets Men in Black 

"Science is all around us, and science can be not only in our minds, but in our heart" -Neil deGrasse Tyson

I was able to attend an advanced screening for the premiere episode of Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey at NY's Museum of Natural History. This 13-episode docu-series is a reboot of Carl Sagan's classic series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The show has updated with modern technology and a new host: the one and only Neil deGrasse Tyson (arguably the biggest celebrity in astronomy). Having seen the first episode, it's clear the Cosmos will educate and entertain both adults and children if they have even slight slightest interest in the universe. It is part science lesson, part history lesson, and part visual poetry all set to a soaring musical score and stunning images. 

Cosmos uses a combination of hyperrealistic CGI, old-fashioned animation, and live-action footage to take the viewer on a journey through the wonders of the universe. The most impressive aspect of the show is its scope, as it shows us our past, present, and future, zooms in on microscopic molecules, and zooms way out to explore the multiverse (made up of billions of universes). 

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an excellent host, a genius with a a talent for communicating complex theories in a way that everyone can understand, so that they can share in his passion. The only times when the show faltered, in my opinion, where the sequences where Tyson narrates from inside a bizarre ship flying through space. The strange spaceship is not just extraneous, but it distracts from the real marvels that I would rather focus on. I have also previously seen the concept of a "Cosmic Calender" (looking at the history of the universe as if it occurred over the span of one year), but it was still interesting to watch with Tyson narrating and backed by fantastic images.

Moments such as exploring the concept of a multiverse, and Tyson telling his inspiring backstory and paying tribute to Carl Sagan elevated this show from good to great. It can be cheesy, but it is consistently interesting and aesthetically pleasing, and at times, even profoundly moving. 

After the screening, there was a Q and A which included Neil deGrasse Tyson and executive producer Seth MacFarlane (Yes, creator of Family Guy). MacFarlane talked about the goal of balancing science and entertainment, to which Tyson replied: "I'm entertained by the universe every day of my life. Something can be entertaining because it's inspiring". When asked what fact most interests him about space, Tyson said: "The universe never makes things in ones; planets, suns, universes. If you follow this to its logical conclusion, as we did in the show, perhaps our multiverse is just one of many." Seth Macfarlane replied: "You just blew my f***ing mind."

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey premieres this Sunday, March 9, at 9pm on FOX.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Review: Tim's Vermeer

Like Mythbusters meets The Da Vinci Code

Tim Jenison (a non-painter) recreating a photo using his invention. Watch the Trailer above.

Tim's Vermeer is a surprisingly fun documentary about the nature of art obsession, for art fanatics and non-art fans alike.

Magician team Penn (Jillette) and Teller respectively narrate and direct the film, which follows eccentric inventor Tim Jenison as he attempts to test his intriguing theory of famous painter Johannes Vermeer's methods.

Jenison is not a painter, but he is an inspiring and funny subject, who has the drive and the resources to test his theory to its fullest extent: attempting to recreate one of Vermeer's paintings using the the technology he claims Vermeer used to create such realism. The film is at times a speculative history lesson in art, but director Teller explains everything  so that it is not only understandable to non-art experts like myself, but also enjoyable.

What amazed me was just how far Jenison was willing to go to prove his theory, allowing us root for him, and share in his obsessive excitement over the pursuit of new information about a long-dead artist. The film brings up many questions about whether our definition of fine art is too narrow, and allows the viewer to feel a littler bit closer to Vermeer himself.

Tim's Vermeer is an entertaining and thought provoking journey that will leave you inspired.

Rating: 4/5 Stars