Whiplash (2014)
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Whiplash (2014)

As far as Hollywood film industry goes, tonight is one of the most important nights of the year, the 87th awards sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Most people know this award better by the nickname bestowed upon it by Bette Davis, due to a resemblance she noted between the coveted figure of a golden man and her husband, Oscar. As always, there are four categories that represent the absolute pinnacle of achievements in their respective fields. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. Cinematic work considered here today is one of the five contending for the best motion picture 2014, ‘Whiplash’. The movie was a personal interest to me in my personal hope for winner because of one point early in my life where I was in training for place in the Symphony playing the bass violin. Of the many mentors I encountered during that time, and in fact, this applies to most endeavors of my life, the most favored and effective were the ones who were the hardest on me. In the spirit of true disclosure, none ever approached the draconian and borderline cruel instructional methods depicted here, but the spirit behind the treatment remains the same; excellent teacher who sees unique potential in a student will be the roughest upon him. As it was explained to me at one point, feel in order to be most effective, must repeatedly meet the furnace and the anvil. I will amend this review with the actual winner at the appropriate time.

The second factor that focused my attention upon this film was the lead actor was also nominated for the illustrious honor of ‘Best Leading Actor’, J.K. Simmons. He has paid his dues as a journeyman actor whose career took root is a much sought after character actor in the mid-90s. Although lately he has been the spokesman on television for ‘Farmers Insurance’, this does not even qualify as the tip of the iceberg of his talent. Throughout his career he has demonstrated an amazing versatility in his ability to portray characters of vastly different personalities. In the HBO series ‘Oz’, he was a sadistic leader of an Arian brotherhood in a penitentiary. One is most notorious scenes in that venue wasn’t sodomizing a new prisoner and burning a swastika into his buttocks. From there he performed the complete 180° turn as a continuing character in Dick Wolf’s ‘Law & Order’ franchise as a psychiatrist who, among other things, help treat victims of violent crimes and provided a psychological profile of the suspects. Of all the worthy men with had been name spoken as nominees from that podium, few have had command, so completely of the range of talent masted by Mr. Simmons.

Acceptance to the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York as for many years been the Holy Grail for lazy and students of music. Although all who are accepted among the best and brightest of their generation, audio rarefied few will become the ‘cream of the crop’. For the young first-year student, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), such ambitions were delegated to the back of his mind; his only concern was surviving his freshman year in tack. This specialty was drumming, especially in the musical art form known as jazz. He has been playing the drums practically as long as she could hold the sticks idolizing the drummer indisputably placed in the Parthenon of jazz musicians, Buddy Rich. The teenager to want to inspire his abilities one such as that is to reconcile oneself to a long and difficult path. He was about to meet a man who would make such a journey more arduous than he ever could’ve imagined, Conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Andrew’s acceptance was considered unorthodox boy freshman to replace a core student, but the freshman’s elation such an honor film gives way to the weighty responsibility of his education. Wanting to impress his new professor, Andrew chooses one of the most difficult jazz drumming pieces known, ‘Whiplash’, made famous by Hank Levy. For a nascent drama, it was inevitable that he would miss the complex tempo of the piece. Fletcher’s response was to pick up a convenient chair and tour set at the humiliated student. The action was not so much a result of the error, but of the hubris for a burgeoning musician to select such a difficult piece that few professionals would actually attempt.

The piece that Fletcher has chosen for his students Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’, a piece considered both advanced in its construction of mature in his themes. Over the course of the classes it is revealed that Andrew was replacing an exceptionally promising student Sean Casey, has died in a car accident. Fletcher, typically a man of brutish displays of emotion, is unusually tearful at the announcement. A friend of Andrew, Ryan Connolly (Austin Stowell), is often an opportunity to fill the vacancy, but after an audition, Ryan beaten out by Andrew. At this portion of any film considering the mentor student relationship, catastrophe has to strike. If the primary focus of the story is on the mentor, such circumstances often global, such as the school losing accreditation or some other administrative death sentence. The filmmaker Damien Chazelle, was recognized for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’, joining Mr. Simmons with his ‘Best Leading Actor, nomination. In his writing and direction of this film, Mr. Chazelle concentrates the focus, collapsing it down to the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew. The requisite tragedy occurs when the bus to attend an important competition breaks down. This forces Andrew find alternate transportation. Unfortunately, but he arrives at the venue. He realized that he has missed placed his drumsticks. Returning back to the car rental agency, he retrieves the sticks, but when returning to the competition’s vehicle is sideswiped by a truck. Badly injured and, Andrew extricate himself from the truck and returns to the competition with his drumsticks. His injuries make it impossible for him to play so Fletcher declares that the young man is "done". Still heavily amped up from the recent events, Andrew flies into a rage attacking the teacher, and his forcibly removed. Understandably, Andrew is expelled from the Conservatory.

The third act of the story concerns a revelation about the young man Andrew replaced and legal action being taken against the school. As a result, and Fletcher in particular, citing his abusive methods of teaching. Fletcher is now fired, but meets up with Andrew and while later while playing at a club. The pivotal moment in a relationship occurs at that spot. While Mr. Simmons had some of his most emotionally intense scenes as the conductor, I feel that it is important to note that this specific scene was one of the primary reasons for his Oscar nomination. Not only did Simmons, they are his cell to his former student in an emotionally touching scene, but more importantly, his long tenure as a character actor afforded him amazing insight into the personality of his character, enabling him to bring out the best in the young actor you share the scene with. Those who are truly earned this much coveted statuette have done so, not only for this singular performance, but also for their abilities extending as a scaffold elevating the performance of their costars in the overall affect the film has upon the audience. At that moment as they experience that pivotal scene, J.K. Simmons went from being one of my favorite character actors to an exceptional leading man that I greatly admired.

Deep within the emotional heart of this film is the considerable emotional effects that it plunges and its juxtaposition to the deeply at intense psychological journey infused that it by the expertly crafted character development. Not only does the excel at displaying the often tumultuous mentor/student relationship of the unique fashion in which both members of this bond both contribute to a catastrophic, life-changing event with the other continuing on each making possible for the other to find the road to redemption. Such a blend of themes with such great potential would have been muddled been confused in the hands of a lesser artisan serving as director, screenwriter. Mr. Chazelle has tended helmed a mere handful of previous films, including a mystery/thriller, ‘Grand Piano’ as well as the dramatic musical, ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’. He also provided the script and story for ‘The Last Exorcism Part II’, a horror sequel that was singled out by a couple of genre oriented awards. For such a young filmmaker in need of getting fitted for a tuxedo in order to anxious the sit in the audience of the most widely anticipated and watched awards show on the globe, is an exceptional achievement. In the case of art imitating life, his position is quite reminiscent of his young protagonist.

Overall, this is a much deserved movie that the man’s to be watched that only by season cinephiles of anyone who appreciates a well-crafted and example of the artistic expression intrinsic to an excellent example of cinema. Even if by some stretch of the imagination, the accolades it has received was not forthcoming. This is still a film that needs to be watched. It is fortunate that a relatively young filmmaker was able to pair a seasoned actor such as Mr. Simmons with a newcomer such as Mr. Teller whose accomplishments as far have been in the critically acclaimed romance, ‘The Spectacular Now’ and the science-fiction action film, ‘Divergent’, both opposite one of the most promising young actresses currently on the scene, Shailene Woodley. Killer is about to be Steve even more recognition both in the sequel to Divergent, that is, assuming the iconic comic book role of Mr. Fantastic in the reboot of the Marvel Comics flagship dysfunctional family, ‘The Fantastic Four’. In harmony with the new paradigm of comic book inspired movies, they are no longer the inconsequential part of the industry. They now encompass some of the greatest directors, screenwriters and actors currently at work. Mr. Teller’s performance in this film is merely one of the initial steps in what is certain to be an illustrious career. Being exposed to the fresh perspective of a new filmmaker in the season, professionalism of a journeyman actor is sure to prove to be the best training this young man can receive. This film is for all the reasons described a milestone in cinema.

bulletTimekeepers" - Famous drummers discuss their craft and passion for drumming
bullet"Whiplash" - Original Short Film with Optional Commentary
bulletDeleted Scene
bulletCommentary with Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons
bulletAn Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Damien Chazelle

Posted 02/22/2015

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