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Author Topic: LFF: Whiplash (A)  (Read 14658 times)
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« on: October 19, 2014, 12:27:16 PM »

Do you know how Charlie Parker became “Bird”? According to legend, he was at the Reno Club one night participating in a cutting session when he messed up his solo. The resident drummer was not pleased, and a cymbal came flying at Charlie Parker’s head as a result. For a year after that Parker practiced like crazy, practiced so hard that when he finally went back to the Reno, he was the THE Charlie Parker. He was Bird. At least, that’s the story pretty much the way Terrence Fletcher (J K Simmons) tells it in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, and the moral he takes away from that story is what informs his treatment of and relationship with Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), the young jazz drummer at the centre of the story with lofty aspirations.

Andrew is an extremely dedicated student at one of the most elite music conservatories in America, and Whiplash portrays his desire to push himself as far as he can possibly go, beyond what would ordinarily be expected of him, but not beyond what is expected by Fletcher, a notorious teacher whose intimidation tactics and violently demanding instructional methods require his students go to extreme lengths to impress. Students are stunned into silence when Fletcher enters a room, his reputation as a bully, a perfectionist and a masterful instructor no doubt preceding him, and Simmons expertly delivers a performance that is at once frightening, humorously endearing, and sage. As Andrew’s passion for music becomes more and more obsessive, to the point where he’s actively alienating those around him in order to focus on the pursuit, Fletcher is there, to guide and to goad. Literal blood, sweat and tears are poured into Andrew’s performances and, most crucially, his practice sessions, which the movie focuses on. The things that you see the main character put himself through are stunning, one memorable shot seems him dunking his bloody hand into a bucket of ice, and that’s relatively minor compared with what he goes on to do. The degree to which Andrew pushes himself does stretch credulity on more than one occasion, but always in a dramatically satisfying way, and Whiplash is ultimately a stunning film from top to bottom. Through perfectly considered character moments and brilliantly edited musical sequences, a movie consisting almost entirely of band members performing and J K Simmons being aggressive is never uninteresting, never tiresome, despite its inherent repetitiveness - it’s kind of like a great song itself in that way.

The pieces of music that feature most prominently in the film are ‘Whiplash' and ‘Caravan’, and they will both be stuck in your head for a good while after your first viewing. The triumphant trumpets on ‘Whiplash’ in particular are infectious, and fittingly for a film so evocative of sports movies (that boasts Raging Bull as an influence) is reminiscent of the Rocky theme tune in the way that it’s centred around those horns and gets you excited for what you’re seeing and what you're about to see on screen.

<object width="250" height="40" classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" id="gsSong319175899" name="gsSong319175899"><param name="movie" value="" /><param name="wmode" value="window" /><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /><param name="flashvars" value="" /><object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" data="" width="250" height="40"><param name="wmode" value="window" /><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /><param name="flashvars" value="" /><span><a href="" title="Whiplash by US Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors on Grooveshark">Whiplash by US Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors on Grooveshark</a></span></object></object>

J K Simmons gives an awe-inspiring performance that producer and frequent collaborator Jason Retiman has expressed a little jealousy that Chazelle directed him to it. You see glimpses of Fletcher being pleasant to people, to Andrew even, but it’s rarely if ever sincere, and always with an ulterior motive. Not only does Simmons completely own the screen whenever he’s on it, Miles Teller is equally as effective as his relentless student. There’s one drum-off scene in particular that features three musicians vying for a position in Fletcher’s band that is absolutely electric, and the rivalries set up between the characters before they even get to that point are very well realised, providing a good sense of their personalities. Whiplash is essentially an inspirational teacher movie, but it’s weird to group it with other films in the genre, because it is nothing like the 120 minute group hugs that they tend to be. Whiplash is a mesmerising, truly effective movie about passion, drive, the will to succeed at all costs, and the dangerous places that people are willing to go to in order to achieve creative fulfilment.

Random Thoughts:
- After Whiplash and The Spectacular Now it would seem that putting Miles Teller on the road is always a bad idea…
- Teller’s upcoming boxing movie Bleed For This sees the main character Vinny Pazienza suffer a near fatal car crash. This is a definite trend.
- Art is imitating life, because Teller almost died in a car accident a little under a decade ago.
- Melissa Benoist plays a spurned girlfriend with not a lot to do other than be cute and spurned, but she's very good at both and we wound up with Rooney Mara from a very similar role. One to watch.
- This is WORLDS AWAY from J K Simmons's voice work as Tenzin on The Legend of Korra.
- Were you rushing or dragging?

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