Monday, January 5, 2015

Whiplash [A Fat Jesus Quick Hit]

A lot of people don't know this, but as a teenager I took up drum lessons for quite a few months. I was drumming along with everything and my mom thought it would be good for me to try and take up an instrument. I got the basics down, but between school and baseball (I believe), I didn't have the time and I'll admit, the drive, to continue further than that. I've always loved drums regardless, so when I heard about 'Whiplash', I was excited. Not just because of Miles Teller being pretty good in films lately, but because J.K. Simmons is also one of my favorite actors. The music and emotion of this film is outstanding and it may have the best score you'll hear in a film all year.

'Whiplash' follows the story of Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a 19-year old jazz drummer who has been accepted into Shaffer Conservatory, the best music schools in the country. Andrew aspires to be one of the great drummers, like Buddy Rich. Many of his classmates have learned that infamous teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is looking for a new drummer. Andrew successfully wins the job during a surprise audition. That night he asks out a girl, Nicole (Melissa Benoist), who works concessions at the theater he and his father (Paul Reiser) go to see films. It quickly becomes evident that Fletcher, while at first courteous, is a master manipulator that tends to harass his students. During one of his first classes, Andrew doesn't keep Fletcher's tempo and Fletcher throws a chair at him and slaps him, to motivate him to do better. Andrew is determined to win over Fletcher and to turn into one of the best drummers of all time. Even if it means that he loses his sanity and humanity in the process.

Wow. All I can say is wow. This film is one of the most captivating films of 2014. From the opening scene where Andrew is playing drums alone on a room on campus, you're hooked. The story of a young, ambitious jazz drummer trying to get to the top, getting a push from an overbearing (and borderline abusive) teacher, is one that is good, made better by the actors and director. Director Damien Chazelle, does a masterful job with everything, in just his second feature length film. The performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are outstanding. Both convey emotion to the point that they are the characters they are playing. The hard-ass Terence Flecther who's perceived rants and emotional distress are designed to push students. The hopeful, driven and determined Andrew Neiman who is on a tear to become the best jazz drummer in the world. Simmons and Miller fully embody Fletcher and Nieman. Their interactions and scenes are heavy. The rants are personal and cut deep. While there some genuine laughs at the things Fletcher says, the raw emotion Simmons and Miller bring to the interactions are perfect. The score and music are the other driving point of this film. I'll admit, I'm not a jazz connoisseur, but I've always liked the genre. When I was younger, my dad would always put on a jazz station in the car. Smooth Jazz 107.5, The Oasis. I think it was. Shout-out to that DFW radio station that I think closed or something. What I liked most about the film, is they way they used the drumming (and the shots of drums being played) as a way of turning the instrument into a character of its own. The harshness of a given practice session. The joy in progressing with a piece of music. The sorrow in not thinking that you can succeed in the instrument you've been playing all your life. All conveyed beautifully by Miles Teller and a drum set. The music itself is beautiful as well. Each piece of work sounds effortless and fantastic. The conclusion of the film vaults this from a good film to one that needs to be seen. I was fully entranced for the final act of the film and by the time the credits rolled, there was a big goofy grin on my face. Giving me, and anyone else who watches, the hope that hard work really can pay-off in the long run.

'Whiplash' is one of those films that you won't be prepared for. I wasn't prepared for the very nice story told. I wan't prepared to be completely blown away by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. I wasn't prepared to be sucked in by all the awesome music. But that's what this film did, surprised the hell out of me. I had heard this film was good, but I try not to over-hype films before I see them. Damien Chazelle directs this film well and deserves just as much praise as anyone involved. Full of emotion, full of great performances and full of amazing music, 'Whiplash' deserves to be with the top films of 2014.

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