Saturday, November 8, 2014

Whiplash - Review

Whiplash – Review

J.K. Simmons. Who? J.K. Simmons; you know the actor with the avuncular smile, somewhere around middle aged, always wearing wool vests with the clean shaven face and head who does the “Farmers Insurance” TV spots. You know the same actor who played psychiatrist Emil Skoda for five seasons on TV’s “Law and Order”. The same actor who played for seven seasons on TNT’s “The Closer” as the by the book Assistant Police Chief Will Pope. Who also had supporting roles in several successful feature films such as “Spider Man”, “Juno”, “Up in The Air”, and the recent reboot of “True Grit”.

Still don’t know who he is? Well you will know who he is and likely very soon when you see his picture and hear his name being announced twice in early 2015, once as the nominee for Best supporting Actor and the next time about 6 weeks later in the form of…….. “And the Oscar goes to”.

In the film “Whiplash” J.K. Simmons delivers what is assuredly the front runner’s performance as Oscar winner as “Best Supporting Actor in the incredibly entertaining, potent, smart, powerful, emotional piercing and most viscerally intense film you will see this year.

“Whiplash” feels like a high octane rhythmic action sports drama thriller. In reality it is more of a benign story largely revolving around two principle combatants - characters - actors. The first is by Simmons character a man named Terrence Fletcher, the musical teacher at a fictional highly prestigious New York school called Schaefer Conservatory where specifically he is in charge of its jazz band assemble class.  From the onset to say he is a “driven man” as a regimented task master is the understatement of the year.

Physically he is a mixture of Darth Vader in human form with taut fit muscles dressed stylishly in all black with a form fitting T-shirt and who has eyes that offer the most frightening glances you swear he could actually melt metal. His personality? Well to say he has a unique talent to use profanity in a myriad of creative ways would also be an understatement as well. For him political correctness has never even entered his brain much less been uttered by his lips. He is the General George Patton of music with a singular manic determination and focus to illicit the very best from his students to transcend perfection itself; even if it kills them. Summarily and metaphorically speaking, watching this film if one of his student were to die in practice you are not quite sure Fletcher would even show a single moment of concern. In fact Fletcher is probably more likely to stop conducting just long enough to drag the person’s body to the hall way and walk back in to continue practice as if nothing ever happened at all.  

The second actor and largely the lead character is actor Mile Teller, a 20 something ambitious musical jazz virtuoso on drums named Andrew Neyman. He too is obsessed with music as he wants to be exactly like his musical idol in the form of the real life legendary drummer Buddy Rich. He has practice and played to Rich’s music for years to the point he doesn’t have to read any sheet music to preform it as he can perform it all from memory.

In the beginning of the film we see the very first day when Fletcher and Teller have a chance encountered when Teller is practicing alone. With  what was an obvious effort by the film Director Damien Chazelle to mislead us just a bit, its clear Teller has heard of Fletchers tough reputation but who leaves from their first meeting with a sense of embolden confidence  things may be a little different with him and Fletcher as a potentially young gifted drummer. But when they finally do come together for the first time in a formal practice, the initial compliments and kindness were definitely misleading’ as the sparks fly literally across the room. Teacher Fletcher is in charge now and he makes it abundantly clear that he is not interested in anyone who just wants to be the best. He wants flawlessness every single second.

“Whiplash” while it has some structural flaws, most notably there is simply no way that Fletcher could have gotten away with his teaching methods without serious legal or physical pushback long before Andrew comes to his school, this fictional drama film is still a brilliant piece of acting with amazing and incredible big band music with a crackling pulse pounding execution to it.

I (Lester) played five years in my high school marching band as first chair trumpet. This film took me back to that wonderful feeling I use to get when seven or more different instruments can come together to make a wonderful unified orchestral brass and drum beat  music sound; it got my juices flowing and yours too even if you are not a fan of swing jazz. 

For me words fail immensely to adequately describe just how everything down to the minutest detail converge into one of the best film climaxes I have seen all year. The last 20 minutes were exciting, bloody, sweaty, hot, sexy, stylish, scary, intense, joyous, heartbreaking, exhilarating, and altogether just simply powerfully to watch, hear and  experience. The ending will in deed leave you speechless.

J.K. Simmons has always been a very good actor in every role I have seen him in. But in “Whiplash”, he is nothing short of great acting brilliance. He singularly provides one of the best performances you will see all year regardless of the category. Also, Miles Teller as Neyman appeared to actually be playing a lot of the drum performances in the film as well and was equally great in measuring up to the task of being both a victim and emotionally driven as well.

Finally, the editing in this film is top notch Oscar quality as well as it more than matched up with the real jazz rhythms and the actor’s energy; there were several drum solos that were nothing short of being suspenseful. In short the editing coordination of screenplay words to the visual and music interplay was pure cool genius.

Whiplash" as a story is a metaphor for a persons’ religion verses what constitutes a persons’ addiction. And with that I highly recommend to you all very, very much that this film is well worth you seeing for its many virtues including its notable frenzied shotgun adrenaline story, as well as for its acting, action, strong direction and really crisp galvanizing music.

"Whiplash" is one of the top 10 films I have seen all year as it hits all of the right notes from beginning to end.

4 Stars

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