AEOS Review: Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash is a perfect title for this film, because it made me think it was a great example of onomatopoeia, except instead of Whiplash sounding like what it’s describing, the experience of watching Whiplash makes you feel like you’ve underwent whiplash. Then again, you have to appreciate the metaphorical idea the film presents: watching Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) beat students into beating drums at his tempo provides viewers with an emotional whiplash they get to encounter again and again.

The premise is simple: Andrew (Miles Teller) wants to be the greatest jazz drummer who lived, so much so that he’ll preemptively break up with a girl after having struggled to ask her out in the first place; make a point at a family dinner to educate his extended relatives that becoming part of the core group of a prestigious band ruled by a prestigious conductor at a prestigious conservatory is far greater than making third division on a football team; walk away from a car accident where he’s so badly injured, it’s a wonder he’s able to walk, much less drum; and nearly isolate anyone else who fails to understand his passionate loyalty to drumming.

I think director Damie Chazelle would like viewers to consider that Andrew, himself, is the greatest obstacle he must overcome to achieve his dreams. Yet J.K. Simmons’s best performance-to-date as the dictator-like conductor Terrence Fletcher might prove otherwise. Fletcher knows what Andrew wants. Fletcher’s tactics and attitude bleed brutality. Fletcher appears as a monster to people who are not part of the music world, and yet he’s a true character for many who have climbed the ladder of musical performance at arts schools.

As viewers, we’re waiting for that moment where we see Fletcher shed a moment of vulnerability, and there are even times when we’re convinced that he might have a heart. But his methods are born of madness, possibly drawing from his own insecurities. Fletcher is so set on physically and emotionally driving his students to the edge in order to accomplish . . . what, exactly? Fletcher seeks the best out of his students, right? He’s a teacher, a mode of influence who realizes that saying the words “good job” may be the most harmful to a student’s progress, creating a strain that holds them back from achieving their greatest work. And yet as viewers, we don’t really question whether the lines between his coaching and abusing are blurred, because cussing out a student and hurling furniture at his head would fire many a director, manager, coach, etc. Yet Fletcher believes wholly in his methods, justified or not, if it means getting his way.

Aside from the ending, there are two moments I want to discuss, that I’m willing to allot more time on these points than the rest of the film. Both scenes focus on dialogue instead of the music. The first one I alluded to earlier, when Andrew tries to explain his musical aspirations to his extended family. At a family dinner, family members brush over Andrew’s accomplishments, settling on praising those who have accomplished goals they understand, specifically his cousins’s achievements in sports. Moving up the ranks, going up divisions, getting put on first string, being a starter, catching a ball, making a touchdown, or shooting a basket: all of these ideas are so familiar to us, that they couldn’t help but cheer and acknowledge the accomplishments of an athlete. Similarly in business, a certain protocol is observed and understood: move up the food chain, get promoted, receive a raise, give a presentation, make a sale. Yet in arts, subjectivity plays such a greater role; even more so, being the best has never been enough to make it on Broadway, the Lyric Opera, the Boston Pops, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or to be considered among the greatest musicians and artists in history. Art roles and jobs often don’t pay for college, provide a stable job prospect or salary, or appear as a measurable list of goals that you can check off a list as you climb the rings of the artistic ladder. It’s about attending the best schools, making a big break, talking to all the right people, and offering up all the blood, sweat, and tears possible. And even then, there’s no guarantee one will be successful. So it often confuses those who think in terms of logic and measurable means, because art is not measurable. Liken it to attaining goals in sports or business, and you’ll get a conversation at Andrew’s dinner table. The scene presents the constant misunderstanding between logics and artists, and for Andrew, it acts as only more steam in his heated desire to move forward and prove his desire worthy of Fletcher’s expectations, regardless of his family’s inability to comprehend why being a drummer in the core group of Terrence Fletcher’s band at Shaffer Conservatory is worth praising.

The second moment is especially memorable, because it sums up Fletcher’s character for the entire film. After being let go at the conservatory for his mistreatment of students, Fletcher is playing piano in a small jazz band in a bar. Andrew’s curiosity leads him to the bar, where he fails to avoid eye contact with Fletcher when the song is over. So the two start chatting, and when the conversation leads to Fletcher’s forced exit from Shaffer, Fletcher defends his brutal methods for helping students achieve their goals. Yet Andrew suggests that such actions could actually depress a student, and drive one away from becoming great if a teacher comes down too harsh. Fletcher responds that one determined to succeed would never get depressed and give up. It’s an interesting perspective, to consider that any student would never grow tired, depressed, or frustrated enough to actually give up if a teacher were regularly cussing them out, seeking to emotionally and physically injure them, in an effort to break a student so far down that they could achieve the best. But sometimes breaking a student – a human being – down to that point isn’t as inspirational as most movies make it, and even Fletcher himself believes here. Because for all the realism a movie like Whiplash is staked in, with a hardcore teacher that students across the globe have sat at the heels of, experienced the torture of being made to feel so little in order to accomplish the goals the teacher has set out for them, it is a line like Fletcher’s that reminds us that taking some of the most emotional people in the world (those involved in the arts, for those who haven’t caught on), and expecting them to not emotionally respond, is actually counter to both what he hopes to accomplish by said methods. Artists are not excluded from depression, feelings of failure, or giving up.

*Phew* OK, taking a breath from all of that heavy talk. I know I have to get in a word or two about the ending . . . some loved it, some hated it, some felt indifferent. I thought it was an interesting choice, and honestly, I respect the decision to have an ending like it: you don’t see it coming. That said, I can’t pretend that I didn’t uncomfortably shift in my seat, trying to sort out what exactly was happening, and wondering what would happen next.

Whiplash opens up a lot of discussion about a lot of things, but I think I’d be doing this review a disservice by not mentioning that similarly to the journey Andrew experienced in developing his drumming skills to become one of the greats, Whiplash started off as writer-director Damien Chazelle’s dream project, the script having sat on the 2012 Black List of best “not yet produced” screenplays. Thanks to producers Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions, Chazelle was able to translate his motion picture into a 18-minute short film, which garnered enough attention at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival that Bold Films picked up the original screenplay, giving us what is now Whiplash.

Miles Teller

Andrew’s breakthrough into Terrence Fletcher’s band at the fictional, distinguished Shaffer Conservatory truly mirrors Miles Teller’s graduation into raw, adult performances in film. While he has certainly shined in smaller films or YA adaptations that have him playing the villain (Divergent, 2014), or even occasionally playing an interesting role with promise (The Spectacular Now, 2013), it is Teller’s turn in Whiplash that brings him front and center. What’s more fascinating about his role is that he did a lot of his own drumming after attending a drumming boot camp for two months before filming. However, Teller can’t take all the credit, thanks to the already award-winning editing skills of Tom Cross, who convinced viewers Teller was that good of a jazz drummer. (Fun fact: according to this article, it took two full days to shoot the drum solo in Caravan.)

There isn’t much more I can say about J.K. Simmons other than that this is some of the finest acting he’s ever given. Perhaps he just hasn’t been offered such a meaty role before, but I’d be surprised if his performance in Whiplash didn’t attract at least an Oscar nomination.

Whiplash, however, has more than just career-changing performances. With an impressive jazz soundtrack, sharp editing, and beautiful camera work thanks to cinematographer Sharone Meir, I’d recommend Whiplash to anyone who wants to witness what I believe is one of 2014’s best films, even if I don’t want to see Whiplash again any time soon. (It had that 12 Years a Slave (2013) impact on me that assured me of its greatness, but didn’t make me want to watch it over again.)

I give Whiplash 

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EYES ON SCREEN.

 

It’s your turn now. What did you think of Whiplash? Do you think it will receive any Oscar nominations? Please share your thoughts below.

Top 10 Actors/Actresses I’d See in Just about Anything

When I saw Fernando’s posts on his top actors and actresses he’d see in just about anything over at his site Committed to Celluloid, I decided I would write a post of my own, paying homage to my favorite actors/actresses that I’d be willing to view almost anything they’re in. *Side note: Later, I learned that Fernando stole the idea from Abbi over at Where the Wild Things Are. So please check her post on her top actresses as well.

Unlike Fernando, I didn’t think I could find ten actors and ten actresses. So I narrowed my list down to five actors and five actresses. And then I realized I had more actors than actresses on this list. So technically with the extra, there are eleven (and probably more, if I thought long enough about it).

*Updated note – I talked with Fernando, and we decided to change this topic idea into a little blogathon to be passed around. So to show the string, first, we started with . . .

Abbi choosing her favorites over at Where the Wild Things Are

Fernando was inspired by Abbi, writing his posts over at Committed to Celluloid

I was inspired by Fernando to write this post

And now I’m going to pass the baton over to Jaina at Time Well Spent.

The Extra: Chris Evans

Why does he almost make the list? In a word, Cellular (2004). The concept would be considered odd today, considering the ease we have with the inception of smart phones in our culture. But only ten years ago, we lacked the technological advances and had to live with just cell phones that lacked a certain smartness. Evans sells the role, plays the hero, and gives what I would consider a remarkable performance. The behind-the-scenes features for the DVD inform viewers that no one else even tried to be as convincing as Evans was for his role in Cellular. Of course, an easy role to thank Evans for playing is Captain America (2011) too. But I (along with my hubby) think Evans was the only good part of the short-lived Fantastic Four (2007) franchise.

Favorite role: Ryan in Cellular

The movie he couldn’t convince me to see: I saw The Losers (2010), but I didn’t enjoy it . . . at all.

Favorite movie quote of his: “Oh, this is much better. Costume’s a bit much . . . so tight. But the confidence, I can feel the righteousness surging. Hey, you wanna have a rousing discussion about truth, honor, patriotism? God bless America . . . ” (As Loki in Thor 2 [2013]).

10) Emily Blunt

Why does she make the list? Until Blunt showed up in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), she was still relatively unknown. But I remember her character in that movie vividly, yet I still didn’t imagine she’d be making the splash she is today. From her little role in Dan in Real Life (2007) to her voice work in Gnomeo and Juliet (2011) to her newfound inner action star in Looper (2012) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), I think that Blunt has a huge career ahead of her for the taking. Even though Blunt hasn’t necessarily been a part of major Academy-award winning films yet, I think she’s an actress to key an eye on. I’ve enjoyed watching her versatility getting noticed and tapped into for multiple roles, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll be up to next.

Favorite role: Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, and by extension, her small role in 2011’s The Muppets

The movie she couldn’t convince me to see: Gulliver’s Travels (2010), because I can’t think of any other movie she’s in that I would have no interest in.

Favorite movie quote of hers: “I’m on this new diet. Well, I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight” (Emily in The Devil Wears Prada).

9) Stanley Tucci

Why does he make the list? Oddly enough, one of the roles I think introduced me to the accomplished actor was his role as a fashion editor who worked with Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Soon after I saw that movie, I noticed that Tucci appeared in a number of films. While I’ve made only a dent in viewing his massive filmography, I wasn’t able to think of a single performance of his that I haven’t enjoyed, even if I didn’t necessarily care for the movie.

Favorite role: Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games (2012), Dill in Easy A (2010), Paul Child in Julie and Julia (2009)

The movie he couldn’t convince me to see: Muppets Most Wanted (2014), because it appeared to be a lame attempt at a sequel for the awesome Jason Segel-starring The Muppets in 2011.

Favorite movie quote of his: “I’m bald and no one in particular” (Jerry Siegel in Maid in Manhattan [2002]).

8) Shailene Woodley

Why does she make the list? Plain and simple, Woodley made this list because I loved her in The Descendants (2011). In addition, she has only added to her film credit with roles in The Spectacular Now (2013) and The Fault in Our Stars (2014) that have convinced viewers and critics that she’s not the idiot teenager from The Secret Life of the American Teenager (TV role, 2008) anymore.

Favorite role: Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars

The movie she couldn’t convince me to see: I have liked all her movies, so the only true title I could add is The Secret Life of the American Teenager, even though it’s a TV show.

Favorite movie quote of hers: “But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful” (Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars)

7) Tom Hanks

Why does he make the list? Where to start with a classy guy like Tom Hanks? I know many millennials who don’t care for the guy, but I have to credit Hanks for last year’s impressive performance in Captain Phillips (2013). He’s still got it. It being that chill-down-your-spine, award-winning smile, likable, every-day-kinda-guy personality who still has that rare ability to win you over even after a string of unimportant roles, reminding you he’s the one and only actor who won two Best Actor Oscars back-to-back.

Favorite role: Josh in Big (1988) and Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail (1998)

The movie he couldn’t convince me to see: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011), for the petty reason of hating the title. Truly, I’d actually view it if I had to, and I might even enjoy it.

Favorite movie quote of his: “I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass . . . and I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” (Chuck Noland in Cast Away [2000]).

6) Jennifer Lawrence

Why does she make the list? If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t want Lawrence on this list. She’s big right now, there’s a lot of hype surrounding her as she’s starring in two major franchises. However, I couldn’t not add her to this list, because out of all the actresses that are “big” right now, Lawrence is one of those whom I do look out for. She has the occasional role that I have no interest in seeing, but often, she seems to really stand out, even in just a small role, in whatever movie she finds herself in.

Favorite role: Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012)

The movie she couldn’t convince me to see: I thought House at the End of the Street (2012) looked positively awful.

Favorite movie quote of hers: “I was a big slut, but I’m not any more. There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself. Can you say the same about yourself?” (Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook).

5) Mark Ruffalo

Why does he make the list? The year 2004 was when I discovered Mark Ruffalo in both 13 Going on 30 and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s a little hard to believe that was ten years ago, but it was. I’m not sure what it is exactly about Mark Ruffalo that I love, but perhaps it’s that he established himself as a nice, everyday kind of guy in my mind early on. Since his first recognizable movies, he’s gone on to play multiple other roles. But I’ve always thought Ruffalo was highly underrated.

Favorite role: David Toschi in Zodiac (2008) and Chuck Aule in Shutter Island (2010)

The movie he couldn’t convince me to see: I saw Ruffalo in The Brothers Bloom (2008), but I couldn’t get behind the movie. I would never re-watch it.

Favorite movie quote of his: “I was having a nervous breakdown and then I heard your song. I want to make records with you. Come on. Let’s get out of here . . . ” (Dan Mulligan in Begin Again [2014]).

4) Emma Stone

Why does she make the list? Maybe it’s because Emma Stone is so likable in real life. Or maybe it’s because she appears to make only intelligent choices when it comes to the films she’s a part of. Or, maybe she’s one of the best actresses on the rise. Stone has finally found herself in that enviable position to choose which roles she wants, and which movies to lend her skills to.

Favorite role: Natalie in The House Bunny (2008) and Skeeter Phelan in The Help (2011)

The one she couldn’t convince me to see: I would agree to see only the scene in which Stone appears in Movie 43 (2013), and then be done with it. Gangster Squad (2013) didn’t appeal to me.

Favorite movie quote of hers: “Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80’s movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80’s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life” (Olive Penderghast in Easy A).

3) Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Why does he make the list? Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one-of-a-kind. He’s difficult to dislike. He’s funny, and he has played so many different type of characters. He’s shown up in thrillers, romantic comedies, big-budget action movies, indie projects, and even starred in his directorial debut. Gordon-Levitt prides himself on his company Hit Record, and he values his contacts both inside and outside of Hollywood, noting that he desires to work with name and no-name professionals. He’s cool, he’s geeky, he’s talented. He’s one of my favorites, and he happens to star in my favorite movie.

Favorite role: Tom in (500) Days of Summer (2009)

The movie he couldn’t convince me to see: Don Jon (2013), because I have no interest in seeing a movie about a guy struggling with a porn addiction.

Favorite movie quote of his: “It’s these cards, and the movies and the pop songs, they’re to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything. We’re responsible. I’m responsible. I think we do a bad thing here. People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel, not ya know, some words that some stranger put in their mouth. Words like love, that don’t mean anything” (Tom in (500) Days of Summer).

2) Meryl Streep

Why does she make the list? I think the better question is, How could Meryl not make the list? She’s famous for the most Academy Award nominations in history. Even Saturday Night Live did a hilarious segment on how Meryl Streep could do literally anything well. Streep’s reputation precedes her, and her humility in accepting both rewards praise seems to match the insanely talented actress.

Favorite role: Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

The movie she couldn’t convince me to see: I think she might play her character a little too well in August: Osage County (2013), and I don’t have the heart to see it.

Favorite movie quote of hers: “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us” (Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada).

1) Benedict Cumberbatch

Why does he make the list? I had never heard of the name “Benedict Cumberbatch” until I got swept away with the brilliant BBC show Sherlock (2010), and ever since then, I’ve tried to watch anything and everything that has his name attached to it.

Favorite role: Sherlock Holmes in SherlockFord in 12 Years a Slave (2013), and likely to soon be added, Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2014)

The movie he couldn’t convince me to see: As of now, I would see just about anything Benedict Cumberbatch is a part of. But I wouldn’t re-watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) just because of how much that movie destroyed the character Smaug.

Favorite movie quote of his: “You can’t go far in this world by relying on people. People are loyal until it seems opportune not to be” (Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate [2013]).

OK, it’s your turn. If you had a top (or ten) actor or actress that you’d see in just about anything, who would it be? What is your favorite role of theirs? Please join the discussion below, because I’d love to know your thoughts.